While some obtain their foreign language credits by buying a second-hand 501 Spanish Verb Conjugations or reciting French that, to me, sounds like a series of tongue twisters, I learn the language from the “land of the rising sun” — Japanese.
Learning any foreign language is no walk in the park, but Japanese is often considered one of the hardest languages for English-speakers to learn, due in part to its non-Roman alphabets (especially kanji, the writing system with thousands of characters, mostly borrowed from Chinese), “backwards” sentence structure and a plethora of cultural differences.
Knowing these challenges, why would I choose to take Japanese? Though I enjoy its food and aspects of its pop culture — sushi, mochi, takoyaki and the anime K-On!! all have a special place in my heart — I am not so immersed in it that it can wholly account for my enrollment in the class. Racially, I am one-quarter Japanese from my dad’s side of the family, but that can only account for 25 percent of my reason.
The other 75 percent lies with my previous schooling. As a tiny elementary schooler, I not only learned how to spell “hippopotamus” and solve long division problems, but also how to play a little taiko (traditional Japanese drum) and how to write my name in Japanese: (フォーリー・ディードラ). I was exposed to this uncommon blend of subjects in the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program at Clarendon Alternative Elementary, which, surprise surprise, “focuses on integrating Japanese language and culture into the school day.”
I cannot imagine my elementary school years without JBBP. In kindergarten we started each day by singing Ohayo, our good morning song, and ended each day by singing Sayonara, our good-bye song. We folded origami cranes and hearts. We learned about traditional tea ceremonies and got to consume the (somewhat bitter) tea and relieve our taste buds with a sweet afterward. In later years, we received weekly taiko lessons. We got to try calligraphy, or shoudo. We got to exchange letters with our “pen pals” — Japanese students at Lincoln High — and, at the end of the year, got to say “kon’nichiwa” face to face.
Every year around Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day, in March, a beautiful hina doll set would appear in the hallway. I have fond memories of youthful rebellion, being triple-dog-dared to disregard the DO NOT TOUCH sign and boldly tap part of the display. During Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day, we got to create colorful paper banners with koi fish, a craftier version of koinobori.
When I was five, my kindergarten class joined the Cherry Blossom Festival’s (Sakuramatsuri) parade at almost the end, so not to exert our tiny little legs. When I was ten and graduation day was approaching, we marched the whole parade, from beginning to end, proudly carrying the banner that read “CLARENDON ALTERNATIVE ELEMENTARY, JAPANESE BILINGUAL BICULTURAL PROGRAM.”
What started as fun songs and arts and crafts in kindergarten has become so engrained in my that I cannot imagine taking another language now. Although Japanese classes at Lowell are by no means easy, the knowledge and friendships I have gained are well-worth the hard work. So watch out, because this “quapa” will soon be roaming the streets of Japan.