月別: 12月 2018

A Message, From One English Speaker to Another, on Japanese

My Story

Before coming to Japan, most foreigners start learning Japanese beforehand. Japan is known to be a monolingual country with a small population that actually truly knows how to speak English (even worse, other languages). For a country that requires English as a language classes for years in their education, most would expect a bilingual population. However, that is absolutely not the case.

To make matters worse for me, I was not one of those foreigners who prepared beforehand. I did not take any Japanese classes. I did not listen to J-Pop or watch anime. I did not even try Duolingo or any of those basic Japanese language apps one can easily download on the phone.

Yet, I chose Waseda University.

Waseda University originally wasn’t my first choice, but the day I decided to visit Waseda University, and see it from beyond the Internet pictures and blogs, changed my college path drastically. When I entered the South Gates of Waseda, I was in complete awe. As I walked down the paved path, tall trees towered and welcomed me, then led me to the heart of Waseda campus. There, the Okuma Statue stood in all his glory, gazing at the Okuma Auditorium straight ahead, where the symbolic clock tower, the representation of the beginning of Waseda University, perched. From then on, I wanted nothing more than to be a Waseda University student.

As one can tell, Japan was a last-minute decision for me. Even though I had a summer to prepare, I did not bother to learn Japanese beforehand, thinking to myself that I was going to learn it anyway: why pay for additional Japanese classes? But when I came to my Japanese level 1 class and my first Japanese class ever, my teacher held a diagnostic test on katakana and hiragana. Needless to say, I knew nothing. I stared at the sheet of paper and asked myself, “What even is hiragana and katakana?” After, my teacher took and glanced at my blank piece of paper – by the look of her face, I knew she was not happy. She quickly announced at the front of the class “If you don’t know any hiragana and katakana, I highly recommend you drop this class and take level 0.” How much lower of a Japanese level could I get, I thought. “Next week’s class, the same hiragana and katakana test will be given to you to see if you can stay in this class or not,” my teacher added. Then, she dumped a thick package with all practice sheets on how to write and pronounce the hiragana and katakana. My heart dropped at the sight.

Figure 1: My First Japanese Class (Comprehensive Japanese Level 1)

That same day, I studied at the lobby of my dorm, trying my best with the first few characters. But nothing would stay in my head because I have never been exposed to learning characters, except maybe learning the alphabet when I was 2 years old, but obviously, I barely remembered that. I had no idea how to study for 46 characters – how to write and read them – in one week. I remember feeling the tears quickly build up, my heart sinking to my stomach, and the general feeling of being so stressed as I stared and counted the seemingly endless pages of the workbook. But I was more motivated than discouraged so, every day for hours, I practiced my ‘a, i, u, e, o… ka, ki, ku, ke, ko…”

And in just one week, I learned my hiragana and katakana.

Now, it has been a year since, and looking back at that instance, my Japanese has grown immensely: from knowing nothing to being able to read, speak, and write Japanese (including kanji) – not perfectly or fluently, but definitely better than Day 1. I will admit that my experiences with the Japanese language were definitely not easy. Learning in such an intensive pace brought so much pressure that some instances I would get so frustrated and cry. Plus, being unable to understand anything, such as being around friends who spoke to some extent, added to my frustrations. In fact, even now, I still get frustrated with learning Japanese.

Yet, throughout all the hardships, I would not take a single moment back because these experiences made me stronger and all-in-all benefitted me greatly. I can look back and be proud that I made it. I can remind myself while I face other obstacles that if I can make it through my first year in Japan, then I can make it through anything.

Ultimately, I don’t regret my decision of Japan. It was my decision to choose a completely unfamiliar environment and challenge myself immensely. I am glad I chose Japan and I am glad I chose Waseda University.

My Message

Honestly, learning Japanese is going to be one of the hardest and longest skills to achieve. This is not meant to discourage you because although it seems much for just one skill to be added to a resume, it is the journey that matters the most. I am still in the path to fluency and I can confidently say, in one year, learning Japanese has also changed me as a person, and for the better. I have learned:

  1. Patience – learning Japanese, or any language for a matter, will take time. It is completely okay to pace yourself so you don’t lose your love for the language.
  2. Hard Work – along with patience is hard work; you cannot learn without effort.
  3. Open-mindedness – learning a language is not just learning grammar, speaking, etc.; it is learning a country’s culture.

I have to commend any English speaker who exits their own comfort zone to learn a language like Japanese. You are learning a whole new way of writing, speaking: all in all, communicating. The grammar of Japanese and English are complete opposites. It is okay to admit you are having a hard times; not to admit defeat but to keep trying.

There is no other path but improvement. がんばれ!

Figure 2: After One Year in Japan

B.P (Student Staff Leader)

Hello, Hijab!

Last October, ICC held an event called “Hello, Hijab!” at Okuma Garden House. I was actually not the one who proposed this event. The one who did it was Ade, an Indonesian student of GSAPS. However, even though I was not the one who proposed this event to ICC, I have always wanted to introduce hijab to non-Muslims through fun and interactive event. For that reason, I was so happy when I got assigned as the SSL in charge of this event. This event means a lot to me not just because it is actually the first event that I organized in ICC, but also because through this event, I can fulfill my duty as a Muslim to introduce our religion’s custom.
The purpose of this event was not merely to introduce hijab, but to let the public, specifically students of Waseda University know that Islam is not a religion filled by pathetic extremist like what the media says, and hijab is not limited to black and white. As we all know, there were many attacks allegedly done by ISIS, a group of Islamic extremist. Along with that, there has been a lot of discrimination targeting Muslims all over the world. That is why I wanted to give Waseda students the opportunity to interact with Muslims from different countries and give other Muslims the opportunity to show that Islam is actually a really peaceful religion.

One of the hardest parts of organizing this event was gathering Muslim supporters. At first, we tried to recruit Waseda students through ICC’s mailing news. Little did we know that there are not that many Muslim women who are wearing hijab in Waseda. We received few replies from male Muslims who helped us spread the news about this event outside of Waseda to find supporters.

To make their task easier, I decided to create a poster for recruitment and asked them to put it in mosques and other places. It took some time and a lot of patience, but long story short, we managed to gather 13 supporters. Since most of our supporters are not from Waseda, it was difficult to hold a meeting where everyone could participate. Consequently, the meeting was held pretty late. But, thankfully, all of our lovely supporters were so enthusiastic and cooperative.

On the day of the event, I was pretty nervous. However, looking at my supportive teammates and cheerful supporters, I felt a bit relieved and grateful that I had the chance to do this event with these people. The event went pretty smoothly without any major problem. During the first session of the event, which was presentation about hijab, Ade-san introduced about hijab a little. Since the purpose of this event was not to give formal education about hijab, she tried to make it as enjoyable to listen to as possible so the participants could comprehend the content easily.

The next session was the tutorial session. During the tutorial and tryout session, the participants all seemed very enthusiastic. They walked around looking at different scarfs that was exhibited and picked their favorites to try on. The supporters were also very kind and friendly to the participants. They all patiently helped the participants to put on hijab while making conversations. Some people even took pictures with each other, filling the room with smiles and laughter.

After the tutorial, the next agenda was the fashion show. We had a lot of difficulties convincing people to join the fashion show because most people were too shy and they thought it would be like one of those fashion shows in fashion events. After failing a few times, 7 lovely girls were willing to be the model for the fashion show. Each of them wore clothes in different theme that show how do Muslim women mix and match their outfits. From the ICC, Kawaguchi-san, which is another person that was in charge of helping the event, and I also did the fashion show. When the models walked the mini runway, the participants seemed very interested; some of them even took pictures and videos.

The last session of the event was café time. During this session, we gave the participants and the supporters more time to interact with each other while drinking and eating snacks provided. We also received snacks for café time from a company called “Osama Rice Cracker” that kindly supported ICC’s event for the second time. Looking at these people who did not know each other interacting enthusiastically somehow made my heart felt warm and my chest was bursting with happiness.

N.M (Student Staff Leader)

Have a Glimpse of Thai in Tokyo

I was born and raised in Indonesia. However, ever since coming to Japan, instead of going to Indonesian restaurant, Thai restaurant is actually the place that I’ve visited the most and will keep on visiting.
When I was in Indonesia, the only Thai food that I know was Tom Yam Kung. For those of you who do not know, Tom Yam Kung is a spicy seafood soup. Please note that what I mean by spicy is like, really spicy, especially for people who is not used to spicy foods. Apart from Tom Yam Kung, I know nothing about Thai food. I was not even interested to try.
However, everything changed after I got close with a Thai girl. She shares the same hobby with me; eating. Whenever we’re bored, we’d open Instagram and watch food porn. Who else does the same thing? Don’t be ashamed and raise your hand high!
One day, we were too hungry and couldn’t stand watching videos of foods anymore. An impromptu visit to a nearby Thai restaurant was the result, which then became our favorite Thai restaurant and our go-to place whenever we miss each other.
The restaurant is called “Baitong”. This restaurant is not one of those famous restaurants that gets high ranking on TripAdvisor, Taberogu, etc. But, I can promise you this restaurant won’t let you down. The owner of the restaurant is a really nice and honest old lady from Thai who has been living in Japan for so many years.
This place opens from Monday to Saturday. I prefer to go to this place during dinner time because the restaurant offers more interesting Thai foods. However, during lunch time, they also offer set menus that are worth to try.

Since it is really hard to pick just one favorite menu from this place, I’ll share my top 7 picks.

  1. Pad Thai
    The first one is their Pad Thai;   a really famous Thai street food. It is a stir-fried rice noodle mixed with eggs, vegetables, and seafood. The Pad Thai in this place is out of this world. Even my Thai friend said that although she lived in Thai for so many years, the best Pad Thai she’d ever had was the one from Baitong. One extra tip: Add chili oil for more intense kick and thank me later!
  2. Tom Yam Kung
    What do you call a Thai restaurant without a delicious Tom Yam Kung?
    See why it is in one of my top picks? Just looking at it makes my mouth water. This is the best food to have for when the weather is cold or anytime you’re craving for spicy soup. This place serves their Tom Yam Kung in a little clay pot. Cute, isn’t it?
  3. Nua Rad Sauce Dang
    This dish tastes quite different from other Thai foods because it is neither spicy nor tangy. However, let me warn you; the sauce is addicting. Like, really. It is a red wine sauce that compliments the beef so well. The texture of the beef is also juicy and very easy to munch on.
  4. Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)
    For those of you who are concerned with health and have little to no tolerance for oily foods, Som Tum is for you. It is a green papaya salad with a lot of flavor; tangy, spicy, salty, even a bit sweet if your tongue is sensitive enough to notice.
  5. Pla Rad Prick
    Don’t get fooled by the pics. This dish may look small, but it is actually big enough to feed two hungry people. It is a deep fried fish topped with sweet and sour sauce with a generous amount of pineapples! Sounds legit, right?
  6. Kanom Mo Gang   
    Baitong only serves few desserts and this one is my favorite. It is not something that you can easily find. It tastes like pumpkin cake. What is unique is they put fried onions on top of it. However, trust me, you won’t smell the onion. It just tastes all wonderful and sweet.
  7. Thai Milk Tea
    Last but not least: Thai milk tea!
    Fun fact: This drink is actually not in the menu, so try asking the owner for it and taste it yourself!

Here is the address of the restaurant if you’re interested:
【English】3-39-15 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo-to 〒150-0002

Give it a try and join the addicted-to-Thai-foods club with me!

N.M (Student Staff Leader)




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