A Measure of Proficiency

にほんご うまい
nihongo umai
Your Japanese is good

Today while visting Nara, I popped into a calligraphy shop and picked up all the necessary equipment to do some serious calligraphy. Japanese calligraphy, shodou in Japanese, is something I've been dabbling in since arriving in Japan. After a few months practice, I thought it was time to try the real deal.

It was a small shop in Naramachi, an old part of town, with an elderly gentleman selling his wares. I explained to him, in Japanese, that I like shodou, but that I'm not very good yet (mada jouzu ja arimasen). I've been using a basic brush pen, the Pentel Pocket Brush to be exact (a great pen all around), but I want to buy a beginners set.

Displaying his many years of experience, he proceeded to arrange all the materials I needed. He explained, in Japanese, that I'll need two brushes, one fat (futoi), to write the main characters, and one skinny (hosoi), to write your name. Also, a simple ink stone (suzuri) and a small ink block (sumi). Additionally, it turns out one also needs a writing mat (shitajiki) and a paper weight (bunchin).

I told him that I had been studying graphic design in Osaka and he threw in an extra brush. I thanked him politely (arigatou gozaimashita) and on my way out he complimented my Japanese. It was motivating to hear this. Being able to navigate through everyday situations and to have the ability to learn from and about other people is one of my greatest accomplishments.

It set me back 7000 yen, but it showed me that perhaps there are other ways of measuring ones proficiency in language rather than an exam and a pretty piece of paper. Although, when I get back to the States, I'll give the new JLPT 5 a try.



calligraphy brush


Speaking in Japan

It has been a long time since the last post, over 5 months. During that time, I've been in Japan and haven't mentioned it once. I look back at the previous post and how I said that my weakest area was speaking Japanese. While in Japan, that's all I've been able to do.

As I may have mentioned previously, I am in Japan for a semester to study graphic design. All of my classes have been entirely in Japanese and all the friends I have made speak Japanese. Perhaps the one thing I appreciate most about coming to Japan, in regards to learning the language, is being pressured to communicate in Japanese all the time.

There are times, just after having a conversation with a friend or giving a presentation in class that I think to myself, surprised that I had just been speaking, entirely in Japanese, for the whole conversation. It is becoming a natural process, albeit not the most sophisticated. Although, as time has progressed, I am able to progress into deeper more substantial conversations about the things people have seen and done, what their family is like or things that are important to them.

I've made some good friends, learned many things (good and bad) and regret that I'll be leaving soon, too soon. I hope to write on some of my experiences in hindsight and plan to study the complexities, now that I've gotten over my apprehension of speaking and now knowing that I can be heard and understood.