Sunday, May 21

日本人になる


Everyday I study Japanese. And everyday my brain resists absorbing the Japanese in such a direct, forced manner. It prefers passive learning, immersed in the language, absorbing it through physical clues rather than textual insistence. I am rather content to learn my second language in this manner but I have arrived at the point where formal study is required.

There are many reasons I have not engaged in such intense study before. For starters, I was never very certain about how long I would remain in Japan and thus my commitment to acquiring Japanese as a second language was wavering. And yet there seems to be no option of returning to my homeland, mostly due to economic reasons.

Another reason was that I was concerned about how being proficient in a second language would affect my first, especially since I am a writer. I know people who have lost their first language and this fear has kept me from embracing Japanese. Of course, having studied bilingualism for my master's, I know that those people were exceptions. I recently read Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words and was impressed with her endeavor to write in her second language, using it as an opportunity to get beyond the cultural trappings of the first language and enter into a linguistic sphere where she is blind but persistent.

I usually tell people that the logistics were never in my favor for Japanese study (a story which has merits as a working mother of four, living in places where Japanese classes are unavailable) but the truth is that logistics in general are rarely in my favor and yet I persevere if it suits me.

When you acquire a second language, it is not that you are necessarily losing yourself but that you are evolving. Evolving can mean that you must let go of old notions, old attachments, but it also means that you develop new ones. It is an adventure but not in a shiny, glamping sort of way. It is an adventure in the way that your car breaking down in the middle of the night is an adventure. It is an adventure like mountain climbing during a thunderstorm without any rain gear. You feel foolish and unprepared and really wish to be doing anything else, wish to be in the safety of the known and yet you cannot. Because this is just what you are doing, regardless if it was your intention or not. And yet these are the sort of adventures that make you stronger, ready for what lies ahead.

On the first weekend of July, I will be somewhere in Kyushu (location yet declared) to take the Japanese proficiency exam. I chose a level that I thought I would pass easily but now that I am studying, I realize that I will be damn lucky to pass, mainly because of the grammar. Listening and reading (passive skills) come easily to me, and kanji is not really an issue (I have a strange instinctual grasp of kanji). But grammar is kicking my ass. And it is terrible and humbling and yet strangely alluring. I am contrary by nature so the fact that I am failing grammar makes me more determined to learn it. My brain is intrigued by it much as it is intrigued by those subject that it cannot consume readily like calculus and quantum physics. And yet unlike those subjects, I actually need to conquer Japanese grammar.

 I originally signed up for the proficiency exam to help boost my luck with job-hunting. Recently an opportunity has arisen (technically re-arisen) and the odds are in my favor. With any luck, we will be in our new home, off the island, by October. My younger self would take this as an opportunity to quit studying and to return to my usual antics but something has evolved within me. I don't want to return to my usual antics. It turns out that I actually want to be proficient now, that I am comfortable with turning Japanese, or Japanese in my own manner (which is definitely unauthorized by the official Japanese notion of being Japanese but I don't mind being rogue). Of course, I am really just turning into myself because that is all we ever do, the true adventure.

Sunday, May 14

母の日

Today is the first mother's day since this happened.

Let me share a little antidote that illustrates how much my husband loved his mom.

About a month after we first met, we took a hitchhiking, greyhound-bus-riding road trip. We stopped by D.C. to check out the Matisse and from the museum, my then-new boyfriend called his mother to check in with her. She was visiting her sister in the hospital at the time in Massachusetts but my boyfriend had been concerned about her and wanted to make sure she was having a safe journey.

This was very impressive to me, seeing a twenty-two year old guy take the time from his adventures to call his mama.

In our closet, we have a ton of little presents that he had collected for her, gathering them for a box that never got shipped. He was always thinking of her, making sure to buy anything that he thought she would get a kick out of. He talked to her via the computer several times a week. The conversations were usually long, both of them wandering into the dangerous territory of political debate (she was a staunch Republican, Fox News viewer) but each of them emerging without injury.

In our kitchen cabinet, we have about twenty boxes of Star Wars jello that she sent in her last care package to us. We have a hundred little relics of her from those regular care packages, yarn craft magnets, American flag tee-shirts, plastic Halloween cups. When we move, maybe we will find a way of letting go of the jello and worn out tee-shirts but for now, it is our way of keeping her with us everyday.

Today is not going to be easy but we bought distractions: water guns and sidewalk chalk and bubbles. All to be brought with us to the park on top of the mountain where the kids can run and play freely and we can have enough space to remember a very special mother who will always be missed.

Happy Mother's Day, Alice.

Happy Mother's Day, Alice from Tiffany Key on Vimeo.

Friday, May 12

Scenes from the week

-The first week back from Golden Week is always a bit vicious but I survived somehow. 

-It was a week without any mishaps (lost paperwork, forgotten homework, teachers calling- well, S's teacher called twice but that is better than everyday).

-This was also the week when we mad cleaned the house since we were due our annual home visits from the teachers. I like the tradition and having a nice clean house at the end of the week is a bonus. Essentially, the teachers drop by for about ten minutes to get an insight into their students' home life and to talk about their progress so far. I am pleased to report that this year's visits went off without a hitch. The kids, it turns out, are indeed alright. (N needs to master long division and C is really slow with her classwork still but she's always the first the raise her hand in class now so that's an improvement).

-That tall gangly kid up there got his head shaved today for kendo (by moi, of course) so this is probably the last picture we will have of him with hair for a long time, since he is really into kendo now. (Did I mention the everyday thing? Everyday he has kendo. E.v.e.r.y.d.a.y..)

-The week saw the start of the 50 day countdown to my Japanese language proficiency exam. It is hard work, my dears. Grammar at one in the morning is not ideal but I need to pass this test. It gets easier the more I study and I actually have gotten to the point where I look forward to my nightly study sessions and have become utterly boring. But July 2 will be here too soon so I must straighten my nerd cap and go forth.

-We had a wild storm hit us today, lightning, flooding, the works. And it is still going. 

-Speaking of storms, oh my, America. Can't you give a gal some rest? Seriously. You know it is bad when American political news gets into the elementary school newspaper. My, oh my.
-I'm going to get some more coffee and return to my studies. Hope you all are well. 
xo






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Monday, May 8

Golden Week

Everything has been a mad whirlwind of activity since school started back up. It turns out that junior high school is intense. And then there is still elementary school matters and kindergarten matters and work matters and studying for the big Japanese test matters and scheming to move matters. I get dizzy just thinking about my to-do lists.

So it was a great relief to have a proper sunny Golden Week last week, a bank holiday of three days wedged up against the weekend to make five solid days of no work or school. We didn't travel off the island (Sebastian has kendo club everyday which makes it hard to go anywhere) but managed to enjoy ourselves all the same.

Golden Week from Tiffany Key on Vimeo.

xo

Tuesday, April 18

お散歩


Today, as I was leaving the school for my post-lunch break, a parent of one of my students stopped and offered me a lift. I politely refused, explaining that I was taking a little 散歩 (osampo- leisurely walk) which made the mother raise her eyebrows before she drove on. Twice a week I indulge in this small pleasure, to walk from the school to the shopping center where I study kanji with a cup of coffee then slowly walk back to work, stopping occasionally to study a vegetable garden or watch the crows.

Taking the same walk twice a week for over two years means I am an expert on a very small section of the planet. I watch the color of the mountains and fields shift through greens and browns. I know the succession of wildflowers and anticipate each of their arrivals.

Sounds rotate as well, the bird songs, the croaking frogs and chanting cicadas, the wind across an emerald green rice field versus a barren field in winter. Then there are the smells. The slightly sour smell around harvest time as vegetables ripen before they can be picked by the elderly farmers. The rich perfume of the sultry vines and bushes that take over the mountainsides in the summer.




In order to increase my focus during these walks, I have begun engaging in a simple drawing habit. I find a spot and for at least five minutes, I surrender to whatever I am drawing. The drawings are not beautiful and they are not meant to be: they are a form of meditation that includes my eyes and my hand while suspending my Self. To see what is there, not what I perceive to be there.



It is a privilege, I realize, to be able to meander through the Japanese countryside with a pen and notebook at hand. And yet it is also my way of reacting to the madness of this world.
I am painfully aware of all the turmoil and strife and have spent many, many, too many hours worrying about the cruel absurdities that we are all facing. And yet, I am on a small island in the middle of the sea. I can only balance the scales in my own limited fashion and this, my dears, is how I like to do it. Paper rather than screen, the music of the physical world rather than the curated inner world that I sometimes still create through my headphones.

I want to be as much here as I can be while I am here.
It will not stop nuclear war or rampant bigotry. But if I surrender my attention completely to the ceaselessly dispiriting news, then they win, those sad souls who wish to serve their own greed by doing harm to everyone else. In order to keep that from happening, I watch the dragonflies dance over the parking lot, I stop and talk to the old woman pruning her plum tree, I sit down in a cemetery and draw Jizo, the protector of children and travelers.

I go on お散歩。

Monday, April 17

久しぶりな

And that is what we call a blog break.


So, yes, we made it back to Japan. We are now beginning our third year on Gotou Island.

Right now, Colette is busy copying kanji into her daily practice notebook. She's a new 2nd grader.

Luca is washing chocolate ice cream off his face and reading a book about fruit. He's in his second year of youchien and can read in both hiragana and katakana.

Sebastian just came in at 7:30 from kendo and is eating a giant bowl of spaghetti. Because he's almost fourteen. And he's taller than me. And a new first grader in junior high school.

And Nicolai? He's got all his stuff ready for tomorrow and put the futons down and is currently playing his 3DS under the covers. He's in fourth grade now. And also does kendo though not everyday like Sebastian.

So, yeah, it's been a while. After a little bit elsewhere, I have decided to return to this space. Because across the entire internet, this little corner feels the most like home.

Hope you have all been well. xo

Sunday, November 30

餅つき- Mochi Making


I am not sure why it never occurred to me until today, but it is possible to make daifuku mochi in my own kitchen. No pounding of hot rice in a stone mortar, no smushed fingers under the wooden mallet, no rhythmic chant to keep time to. Nope, it turns out all I needed was some mochiko (sweet rice flour), sugar, water, and azuki beans. And a stove. It is a little time consuming but only because you have to soak the beans overnight. The actual mochi making (and eating) took less than 20 minutes. And considering how much the kids love these soft bean cakes, it is really surprising that I had not tried it before.



And with 苺大福餅 (strawberry stuffed mochi) season on the rise, I think I will have to practice this recipe a few more times in the coming weeks. And of course, there is also 白玉善哉 (white ball mochi in red bean soup) which will be a good thing to have when the winter chill does settle in. A very good thing indeed.