Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Well, Japanese is my favorite (and most stressful) class. I took Conversational (no characters, just the romanized phonetic alphabet called romaji) over summer and did miserably, but loved it so much that I signed up for Japanese 1A with the same sensai. After two weeks, this class got cancelled because of low enrollment. Just when I was getting the hang of things! Luckily the same course is taught by another proffessor at the local community college. Tonight I went to that class for the first time, and realized I had never been taught by a Japanese woman before. I don't really care for it.

In Japan, if you are a woman you are supposed to be especially deferential, and most Japanese are plenty deferential in the first place. My old sensai TOLD us that women use tag questions ("Isn't it? Aren't I? Weren't they? these questions are all covered by the word "ne") constantly to show how refned and demure they are, but he didn't actually demonstrate. Shiori Clark sensai is a woman, and thus New Sensai feels perfectly at ease asking for confirmation of her observations and begging for approval left and right: "You're rooking at the board, ne?" "I'm passing around the add sheets, ne?" "You show the rong 'o' sound by writing two 'o's, ne?" I started to loathe the word ne, though at least it is only one syllable- it would be hard to cover much material if sensai had to say "shitsurei shimasu" or something to end every sentence.

And all questions we asked were greeted with an enthusiastic "yes, yes yes, yes" or often, "hai hai, hai" which doesn't mean the _answer_ is yes, it simply means that she is enthralled that you asked. I like to pretend Japanese class is a Japanese class, with insane expectations, rigor, and insane devotion combined with studiusness. And New Sensai was making that hard. I tried to enjoy the new, friendly teaching style, but I felt myself drawing comparisons between First Sensai and New Sensai. New sensai wrote our textbook, whose method of teaching characters is drawing pictures with the characters and memorizing the pictures. This is no doubt effective, but I missed First Sensai's method. I went from hearing "There is no way to master hiragana except to write them over and over again. Expect to put in 5 hours a week if you catch on quickly. Buy graph paper." To hearing "This character is "so", yes? You anki (memorize) this because it looks like a furying "so"cer, ne?" And both methods are effective. I have pages and pages of the vowels and now I can do them from memory, and I am never in my life going to forget the flying saucer story. But I miss First Sensai's no nonsense style.

New Sensai called me over during break to give me the syllabus. She pointed at the textbook I got for First Sensai's class, and explained that it won't suffice for her class. But it wouldn't've been deferential to leave it at that. "Oh, you are using a different textbook!" "Oh, yeah, I didn't get a chance to replace it." "This crass has a different one, ne? I'm sorry, you will have to change books,ne?" "Oh, of course." "I'm sorry." And she really, really meant it. She didn't have an "oh, well" attitude, she seemed to regret her foolishness in ever deciding to assign the textbook she wrote, since it inconvenienced me. I'm sure it was just a formality, but I still felt really awkward "Oh, I love what I've seen of this new book. It's really-" What? How do you convincingly endorse a book you have only seen the cover of to a woman who knows it inside and out, whose life's work it is? It's really thick? It seems thorough? It's so much better than my old book? "-bright (it was yellow). I'll get a copy of it tommorow." "Shitsurei shimasu! I've spent your whole break. I need to go back to the crass, ne?"

But I'll adjust. I love the language so much, it is so beautiful! If the path to fluency is sitting through stories about why snails, toes, samurai and eyes relate to hiragana characters, I shall do it every single Tuesday and Thursday and be thankful.

Dad came to pick me up because Oakland is just so scary at eight thirty, and even before he heard about sensai vs. sensai he picked up on my mood and started making fun of my newfound passion. "Is this Japanese class as hard as the other one? Is Sensai-san as strict as your other sensai, Hiro Yamaguchi?" "Len Grzanka, Dad." "Same thing." Is it any wonder I have trouble deferring without sounding sarcastic? Or that I have even more trouble being deferred to? I think that is at the core of my preference for First Sensai- as a foreigner (American), he made us aware of the culture of Japan without so blatantly showcasing it.

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