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日本語モード – 17 August 2012

For a couple months now, I’ve been thinking of what this trip to Nagoya really means – or rather, what it SHOULD mean. I’m about to fly halfway around the world and spend a year in a place where I know (almost) no one. This is most certainly not an opportunity to be wasted – to say this is the chance of a lifetime is an understatement of EPIC proportions. I have a few ideas of what I want to do, though. Let me lay ’em on you.

Quite obviously, the first thing on the list is learning Japanese. I’ve been studying for about a year at Clemson and have a pretty good grasp on the basics, but imagining that my brain will somehow magically switch to 日本語モード (Japanese Mode) as a survival mechanism fascinates the hell out of me. I’m looking forward to hearing Japanese spoken on the streets and understanding it, seeing Japanese signage and deciphering them almost instantaneously, even dreaming in Japanese – ESPECIALLY dreaming in Japanese. That’s how I’ll know I’ve hit the big time, I think. When my subconscious begins thinking in Japanese, I’ll be there. In Japanese Mode, I mean.

Until now, learning Japanese has been something… not intangible exactly, but certainly not concrete. It’s something I’ve termed “laboratory learning,” you know? It’s been really filtered and compressed and sterilized – verb tenses, vocabulary drills, listening to native speakers and stumbling through repetitive and dull formulas that answer the questions put to me in the most basic and juvenile of senses. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been helpful and my 先生 (sensei) have been wonderful in helping me reach the level of understanding in the language that I now possess. And I have many sensei too – not only my professors at Clemson, but the Japanese exchange students I’ve met there, and the American students who’ve been to Japan and have come back speaking (what I consider to be) perfect Japanese. Total immersion is what will trigger Japanese Mode, I know.

There are other thoughts I’ve been playing around with, too. Japanese Mode means more than just speaking the language well enough to feed myself and get shitfaced, though of course that’s part of the bargain. It means experiencing everything The Land of the Rising Sun has to offer, and there’s just so much nearly in hand I almost can’t stand it.

名古屋が僕のエベレストだ。 – Nagoya is my Everest.

One of my major goals is to visit as many cities, towns, and villages as possible, and worm my way through them, beginning with Nagoya. I’m actually looking forward to becoming hopelessly lost and using my wits and linguistic ability to get where I need to be. A baptism by fire is what I need, and by God, a baptism by fire is what I shall have. The whole touristy thing isn’t for me – I get tired of seeing them crawl around the streets of Charleston with their maps and fanny packs and flip-flops, believe me. Nothing against them, but isn’t getting lost and finding your bearings part of the fun of exploring a new environment? Not to mention part of the point. And before you say to yourself “Won’t you be just a tourist there?”, just know I won’t be. This goes beyond a mere visit, as I’ve said in many, many more words. This is about survival in a very, very real sense. I know I’ll get lost anyway, so let’s just call riding a subway line to a random station and working my way back home a preemptive strike of sorts.

Nagoya subway map. Hell. Yes.

Another one – as far-out as it may sound – is to learn to play the violin. I am a musician; I play the clarinet, and was close to professional status until I abruptly dropped it after I graduated from high school. That’s a misgiving I’ve never totally forgiven myself for. I still play when I get the time, but the skills I once had are rusted and weak now, to say the least. I began my musicianship studies with the violin when I was a kid, but there wasn’t much in the way of instruction or space for that sort of thing back then, so I moved off to the trombone, and finally the clarinet. Again, I hear you out there asking yourself, “What do violin lessons have to do with Japanese Mode?” Well, I know that music and language are two intertwined ends of the same cord, and it won’t hurt to try my hand at both simultaneously. Plus, I have a friend in Nagoya who’s a pretty accomplished violinist, and she’s agreed to give me violin lessons. And Japanese lessons, too. See? Many sensei. I love killing two birds.

Trust me, this is merely a shortlist of what I’ll probably do, and Japanese Mode certainly extends well beyond these bounds. It’s speaking well enough that the Japanese understand me, yes. It’s immersing myself so thoroughly in another culture that I become part of it, of course. Japanese Mode is what will ensure that I not only survive the experience, but wring every drop of success out of it, bottle it, and carry it with me for the rest of the time allotted me here, wherever I go.

Word to your mother.

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