Interview with @jyemenai

@jyemenai and his Pepsi bottle

Hello JapanNewbies! We’ve got another interview for you. This time, with @jyemenai, who has recently returned from his first trip to Japan, which also happens to be his first trip overseas!

Let’s get right into it.

Could you tell us briefly what the KCP program is all about, and why
you decided to participate in it?

KCP International is a school in Shinjuku Tokyo that uses total immersion to teach Japanese to its students. The class is taught entirely in Japanese, with English-support available after classes if needed. It’s for people from all over the world. There are Americans, but each class normally doesn’t have more than five or so, some with only one. The rest of the student body is comprised of Chinese and Koreans, meaning you can’t always rely on English to get through the class.

It was pretty random as to why I decided to participate. My university offered basic-level Japanese courses and I decided to take them, even though I already knew 80% or so of the content. This was a good thing, as in order to qualify for the special program I was a part of, I needed to take the language for two semesters. During the beginning of my second semester taking Japanese, a few of my classmates and I got an email from an office at my school and they told us that we had been offered a chance to study abroad. I jumped at the chance, not really sure of what or how it was going to happen. A friend of mine and I were accepted, and that’s when we were told about KCP and given details of the school.

So how long were you in Japan on KCP? What places did you visit? How many others were you traveling with?

I was in Japan for about 7 weeks, from late June until the middle of August (2010) — KCP’s “Summer Short Term,” which is only available for Americans. I stayed in a male-dormitory-like building with other Americans who were attending KCP, as well as native Japanese college students at other universities, and even a few older males. The female friend from my university I came with stayed in a female dorm not too far away from us.

We went all over Tokyo: Shinjuku, Harajuku, Roppongi, Akihabara, etc. You name it, we probably went. The only place outside of Tokyo that I went to was Aizu, which was a part of a school trip we had. It was beautiful there. We got to experience a lot of things, like seeing “Japan” being made (it’s similar to the Chinese ceramics called “china”), as well as eating negisoba and locust (the actual name for this escapes me right now)!

A pic @jyemenai took in Aizu
Another Aizu pic

Was this your first time to Japan? What was your Japanese level like when you left?

Yup, first time in Japan. Not to mention, it was my first time out of the country as well (I think I know how to handle my next 13+ hour flight now, too!).

After learning basic Japanese I never had actual classes. In high school I slacked off until the end (then realized I actually liked Japanese), so I only retained the ability to read hiragana and katakana, as well as some vocabulary and grammar points.

My university didn’t offer Japanese until recently, so I was “self studying” and learned a bit more. I would assume my level at the time of arrival in Japan was simply “basic.” I could understand bits and pieces However, after having been to KCP and living in Japan, I’d say I learned a lot more.

They shove kanji down your throat there, but since it’s all around you, it becomes a lot easier to learn. The grammar I picked up was useful, some of which I already knew and got a refresher on, and other parts were totally knew. We had a lot of opportunity to speak, in and out of class, so I feel a bit more comfortable with that. I could go on and on about what we did and learned. Lol.

How has this opportunity immediately impacted your life in relation to your Japan studies?

Studying abroad with KCP has changed my life. I’m pretty lazy, so a part of me thinks I’ll never actually be able to become fluent. But after returning, I know that I’m going to keep trying, lazy or not. I have a drive now that won’t let me quit.

Soon, I’m going to start studying hard so when I do return to Japan and KCP, I’ll hopefully be able to skip a level (out of the 6 or so levels, I tested in to Level 2). I also want to try to take the JLPT next year; I’m shooting for N3, but I’ll take N4 if I don’t feel ready. I want to become fluent even more now than ever before.

Was it expensive to participate in this program? And, was it worth it? Many people put off going to Japan because it’s costly. Any advice for them?

Not at all, actually. The office that sent out the invitations to study abroad — the IC-CAE — paid for EVERYTHING. The plane tickets, the schooling, the housing, and even gave us a stipend. The only thing I had to pay for was my passport and shipping a few papers overseas, which is nothing compared to what it could have been. I got extremely lucky with that opportunity. My advice for anyone looking to study abroad is to research different venues that might enable them to go cheaper, if not free.

You mentioned “when I do return to Japan and KCP.” Is this a given already? You’re certain to be heading back to Japan?

It’s a given in the sense that there’s no way I just can’t go back. I’m going to see if the program that sent me before can send me again. I’ll do whatever it takes.

Many other people may feel “stuck” at the basic level. Do you have any advice that might help people get out of that rut?

Hmm… The only advice I can think of is to just enjoy it. The more you actually enjoy studying, the more you will grasp the things they’re trying to learn. When I had to self-study, I didn’t really know what to do. I knew I shouldn’t cram too much down my throat at once, because I knew I would just give up if it got too tough, since I didn’t have anyone forcing me to keep going. So instead I simply watched anything that interested me in Japanese, making sure to pay attention to the words they were saying and not just reading the subtitles; listened and tried to translate Japanese songs, where a lot of vocabulary and even some grammar can be found; and recently began playing some Japanese games.

Kanji Sonomama for DS

That sounds like AJATT techniques to me! Good stuff. Any specific textbooks or websites that you have encountered in your Japanese studying that you consider essential?

Essential… Hmm, well it’s not exactly a textbook but it is a dictionary, Kanji Sonomama. If you have a DS, it’s a godsend.

For actual books, though, I’m not sure. When I was self-studying, I pretty much picked up anything that could’ve been useful.

I really liked “501
Essential Japanese Verbs
,” even though it doesn’t have any kana in it. It’s pretty much a dictionary that provides (pretty much) ALL the different forms of those 501 verbs. It really helped when I was starting out and didn’t know what a particular form a verb meant.

Another book, “Basic Japanese Idioms,” is also pretty interesting. Like in any language, we have phrases we say that don’t exactly mean what we’re saying; this book goes into the Japanese ones. And of course, “Remembering the Kanji.” And, I loooove Tae Kim’s grammar guide.

A pic @jyemenai took in Akihabara

Your first time overseas! So tell us, your #1 positive and #1 negative surprise upon arrival in Japan. Also, what will you never forget about Japan in general…

I guess my most negative surprise would be that everything seems more expensive when compared to America. This might have been because I was constantly taking out money from my American saving accounts, so I always encountered the ever-changing exchange rate. But things just tended to cost more. And the with the fact that 100 yen was a coin and not a paper dollar, I continued to equate them to American quarters and spend them as such (those capsule machines got a looot of my money!).

The #1 positive surprise… Probably the food. I’m used to eating a lot of normal American foods, and I’m pretty picky even with those. So, when I initially got to Japan, I stayed away from certain things. Somehow, in my 21 years of life, I had never eaten curry before, so I had my first taste in Japan. I believe curry (from Japan) has officially made my top five favorite foods list; it’s just that amazing. Not to mention Japan made me overcome my dislike for most seafood.

I’ll never forget the constant walking I did in Japan. For a good reason, that sticks out in my mind the most. I wasn’t used to walking that much, so when I got there I had to get accustomed to the lengths I would be taking to simply get to a vending machine that served a soda I liked (from my dorm, the Pepsi machine was about five minutes away). Not to mention the walk to the train station, then to the connecting station, then the walk to the school in Shinjuku. Needless to say, when I weighed myself back in America, I found out I lost 15 pounds. :)

So what do you want to do with your Japanese in the future? I see in your twitter profile that you are a future profile. Could you elaborate a bit on that and what you’re doing to prepare for that now?

I really want to be a translator. I’m not exactly sure of what I want to translate yet, but I know I want it to be interesting (like maybe games, manga, anime). To help prepare for that, since I’m still in school with a lot of things to do, I’m just attempting to translate songs I listen to and things I find on the internet to help me get used to the entire process, which is tedious! But I know with enough time, I’ll get used to it and love everything about it.

OK That’s a wrap! Thanks so much for sharing all of that @jyemenai. I’m sure it will inspire JapanNewbies around the world. If anyone would like to subject @jyemenai to further questioning, feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll be sure to drag him back over here to answer it. Until next time!

– Harvey

Related Links:
Interview with @Durf!
Interview with @sandkatt!
Interview with a new JET!