In Japan, the petals of the sakura cherry tree are held in particular regard. They bloom spectacularly, blessing streets and parks with a burst of chiffon pink. Within days, the petals fall from the trees, seemingly without any hesitation. They do not cling to the tree and wither. Rather, they embrace the bittersweet end as a vital aspect of any undertaking. Today, we said our goodbyes to those who had grown so close to us, with heartfelt gratitude. But unlike the sakura, it was very difficult for us to let go. It was hard to watch the screen as each student said their final thanks and bid farewell to our team. Despite spending such a short time together, we have all grown very close. A common love for Japan and an appreciation for each other has helped the class of 2020 to overcome tremendous hurdles and build bonds that many thought impossible for an online academy. It was hard to watch it come to an end. But also unlike the sakura, this ending is far from final. As life carries our members far away from the tree, we know that we will always be able to find each other whenever we reach out. The world will change in time, and soon we may find ourselves gathered together again, perhaps under a real sakura tree. We will find ourselves facing, for the first time, people who we already consider to be dear friends and colleagues. In the meantime, whenever we watch Spirited Away, whenever we open our books to study more Japanese, whenever we see a daruma, we will feel the bonds of friendship that encompass us. And if ever we feel like we cannot stand on our own, we know that we have each other to lift us up once again.
Two weeks of research culminated in today's Chiri Project presentations. Students had been grouped into teams of six or seven, and given a chiho, or area of Japan, to research on their own. The students learned about their area, gathered information, and developed their presentation. They created PowerPoint slides and rehearsed their pronunciation with their teachers. Today, they came together as six teams, and educated each other on what they had found. Students shared information about delicious foods, historical locations, cultural heritage, products, entertainment, symbolic characters, festivals, and more. Each group brought the best of their area to share with the entire Academy, and demonstrated the unique value of the things they found there. Each group did a wonderful job of balancing a wealth of information with the strict time constraints. It was particularly of note how each student behaved with such kindness and politeness as their peers presented. Everyone knows how stressful it can be to give a presentation, and these students did their best to be extremely supportive. This was yet another opportunity for the staff to witness the sheer strength of character of the Academy's students, as they poured their hearts into lifting each other up.
But even that was eclipsed by the cheers that rang out during karaoke! Once the students had finished with their challenging group projects, many chose to join in the afternoon karaoke event, which was held in VR. Students joined the virtual karaoke room in RecRoom, and were able to take turns singing karaoke songs on stage as their peers cheered them on and sang along. Thanks to some first-hand assistance from the RecRoom programmers and support staff, our Academy was able to set up an incredibly unique and immersive experience for the students. Students were able to choose karaoke songs and see them displayed on a giant screen, and sing into microphones that amplified their voices throughout the virtual room, just as if they were in a real karaoke parlor. While one or two students sang, the others watched, sang along, jumped around, waved their hands, and danced to the beat. Some students expressed themselves in a different form of art, drawing giant murals and mounting them for the performers and audience to see. Many of the murals were pieces of encouragement, with positive messages and multicolored images. Oh, and cats. Karaoke naturally went over time - as it usually does in real life - easily bounding past the first two hours and wrapping up at right around three and a half hours. The TAs - Peighton, Joey, and Sana - were the original proponents of karaoke time, and they worked hard to run the behind-the-scenes mechanics of keeping the karaoke room functioning. Thanks to their effort and the eagerness of the students to spend time together, the karaoke activity proved to be one of the most fulfilling and memorable functions of the Academy. It was a wonderful way to deepen friendships and make memories, a last hurrah before our final gathering at tomorrow's graduation ceremony.
Did you think students would be tired after spending their evening making friends overseas? Au contraire, mon frère! Whoops, wrong academy! The students were really getting in the groove as they started the day with more core curriculum classes. As everyone had gotten used to the style of the classes, and become comfortable with their classmates, the classes were operating at maximum efficiency. High expectations were met with determined effort, and the results were clearly showing. Students also poured their inspiration and perspiration into the afternoon Chiho Project meeting, the last time they would meet synchronously to work on finalizing their projects. Tomorrow is the big day to present, and students wanted to make sure everything was perfect. Pronunciation, information, timing, slide design, the flow and ordering of the slides - everything was worked on and polished until the students were satisfied they had something they could proudly show to their fellow Academy members.
The midday class was again a fun and interesting lecture. Today's topic centered on Japanese traditional clothing, presented by the Academy's advanced language instructor, Ichikawa Sensei. Students learned about the differences between traditional kimono and yukata, and the meanings behind things like the length of a kimono's sleeves. They also learned about traditional wedding-wear, and the significance of the colors red and white. Ichikawa Sensei brought a personal touch to the presentation by sharing her own wedding photos and explaining her choices of styles and colors. Kimono production methods and textiles were also discussed, and students were shown the proper way to don a yukata. Perhaps we will all gather together some day to take a group yukata picture! Perhaps by then I will have learned to tie the obi belt properly! Students also got a few pointers on how to write Japanese characters, and practiced by writing their names in katakana, one of the three writing systems in Japanese language.
The TAs hosted another fun mixer in the late afternoon, where students joined each other in Rec Room to chat, hang out, and draw! Apparently the room was broken and turned upside-down...? Must have been all the Earth-shatteringly-good artwork...
Even the sensei got in on the fashion fun!
Through the wonders of technology, we have been able to hold this Academy despite serious hurdles existing in the world around us. For our academy members today, we harnessed technology to allow us to tour the ancient capital city of Kyoto, track down the classical ghosts of Japan called youkai, and transverse space and time to speak live with students at Toyama University of International Studies High School (TUINS) in Toyama, Japan.
Our virtual tour of Kyoto was led by the Academy's own Awazu Sensei, a Kyoto native. She blended colorful pictures capturing Kyoto's energy and spirit with soaring angles and views provided by Google Earth. Students could easily visualize Kyoto's geological layout, and how it is entwined with feng shui beliefs. The symbolism and religious importance of the four city gates and their locations in relation to the city were easily understood as we floated about the city like Kiki on her broom. Students were suggested to try a bus pass or a Suica card during any future visits, however.
Kyoto still carries a great deal of Japan's ancient mysticism, and Awazu Sensei's lecture set the stage perfectly for Dr. Todd Munson, Professor and Director of Asian Studies at Randolph-Macon College. Dr. Munson spoke to our students about the facinating history of youkai in Japan. These spirits have long been a part of Japanese culture, and have recently seen a resurgence of interest thanks to a Japanese animation similar to Pokemon called "Youkai Watch". Students learned about many historical youkai and their meanings, and about the origins or youkai as a whole. Then, students were allowed to let their imaginations run wild as they created youkai of their own to help explain some of the unfortunate phenomena that occur in our daily lives. Creating a youkai to blame life's troubles on is a very cathartic activity! From youkai that secretly pull your charger plug out of the wall at night, to youkai that make your dog bark madly at seemingly nothing, the youkai accounted for everything! The youkai might get along well with the Gremlins....
Our day turned into night as we gathered in the evening to speak via the internet with students from TUINS High School. In Japan, the students were just starting their day at school. This was a wonderful opportunity for students from both countries to put their language studies into practice. Students fought against the language barrier and the distance barrier as they tried to communicate their ideas to each other. Time was unfortunately very short, but both classes were able to give a short presentation and engage in small group conversations until the bell rang in Japan and the students had to move on to their next class. Though the class time was fleeting, it encouraged the students to utilize another piece of technology, Flipgrids, to continue to keep in touch with their new friends on the other side of the world.
There are so many local treats available in Nishiki Market. This class was before lunch so everyone got so hungry. おいしそう～～～～
Monday started our second week of classes at the Academy. Students came ready and refreshed, and hit the virtual books hard in their first period core language classes. It was clear the students didn't forget anything over the weekend. Rather, they brought a sense of deeper understanding as the first week's dose of knowledge had settled and solidified, providing a foundation for the next layer of learning. Students also worked hard in their afternoon Chiho Project classes. Presentation day looms, and the students were eager to finalize their content and check their pronunciation. Presentations are in the final stages now for all six groups, and we are all excited to share them with each other on Day 9.
The students' midday lecture today was taught by Kyle Sensei. He talked about his experience living in Japan for eleven years, and shared his story of living through the Great East Japan Earthquake and concurrent tsunami. He also shared some of his many happy experiences and memories, and encouraged students to visit, if not his home prefecture of Miyagi, at least somewhere in the wonderful country of Japan. Kyle Sensei wanted students to realize that not all foreigners work as language teachers in Japan - you can be an author, a radio announcer, a musician, or anything else you put your mind to! His big tip for studying Japanese was to never be afraid to make mistakes. He fails to take his own advice, however, as he scans his blog entries over and over, looking for spelling errors.
See you on Day 7 for a tour of the iconic and historic city of Kyoto!
The Hokkaido region keeps finding out just how quirky Japan can be, so we’ve decided to be a little ~quirky~ today.
Kyle Sensei begins his talk about life in Japan by showing us where he used to live.
Through the power of digital editing, Kyle Sensei has transformed into an alpaca! Actually, Kyle Sensei was sharing his experiences of being a voice actor in Japan.
The students had a great opportunity to learn about Japanese culture from their senpai today, as the Teaching Assistants took the reigns. The TAs led a hands-on origami class, a class covering the history of Japanese rock music up to modern day, and a class on the newly emerging genre of computer synthesized vocal characters such as Hatsune Miku. Students found success in the origami class, but realized that it is often much harder than it looks! In the end, though, students were able to create butterflies, money shirts, and animal faces by working together with their senpai. The music classes were very educational, and I think everyone found a new favorite song or favorite band. We learned how to create our own artificial vocalists, and we were reminded of how amazing the band X Japan is. Students continued to work on their asynchronous activites as well, and also prepared for the following week. After all of their hard work, the students were free to enjoy their free time but many decided to meet back online in the evening for another fun mixer before finally heading off for the weekend. I hope everyone gets enough sleep and brings all their genki for week two!
Students today were met with a wonderful opportunity to learn from a guest lecturer today. Dr. Lauren Bell was kind enough to lend her time and expertise to us as she gave an insightful lecture on the Japanese political system. What students quickly noticed, however, is how much they were also learning and realizing about our own government here in the U.S. Comparing U.S. and Japanese governments allowed our students to learn about different styles of government, how each government works, and why Japan's government is set up the way it is. If you are a teacher, you revel in seeing students' faces light up with the "wow" of deeper comprehension (I believe the modern lingo is, "My mind is being blown right now."). I can attest that I saw students in constant Wow-face for the entire hour, and more, as Dr. Bell graciously stayed late to answer the non-stop deluge of student questions in the chat room.
All of the students are so attentive and engaged! They already know about the new emperor and new era name!
Dr. Bell puts on her “Dean Hat” and holds an impromptu college admissions advice session.
Students also continued with their core Japanese lessons, and worked with their Chiri Project teams. Each class is learning something different, and students get to interact with each other in their small project groups. Students also had a chance to build closer bonds as they had lunch with their TAs between the second and third classes of the day.
The Hokkaido group is imitating the fierce メロンくま, the mascot for Yubari City!
From the Okinawa Regional Group
More progress on the self- introduction with すきです. 皆はすしとラーメンが好きだと言いました。
The advanced class is learning how to use transient verbs to describe different states of action. We also learned how to express complex ideas such as contradicting prior assumptions by using ~というわけではない.
A full day of classes to fill up the minds of our next generation of international citizens. Speaking of the next generation, tomorrow the teachers will pass the torch to the Teaching Assistants for a day of interesting and fun Japanese culture!
Today was a healthy mix of asynchronous curriculum and synchronous classes, including a guest lecture and our first chance for the students to begin generating their group Academy Chiri Projects. Professor Jim Doering joined the Academy today to give a lecture on music in Japanese cinema, and kindly put special focus on the works of Studio Ghibli, tying in well with yesterday's cinematic analysis.
Professor Jim Doering doing his famous lecture with the creepy sheep (demonstrating the emotional power of dissonant music).
Although Professor Doering had to leave early, the students had fun during the lecture and the chat was blowing up!
A report from the Northernmost part of Japan:
Hokkaido Group is ready to rock this presentation! Everyone is finding out about the weird and unique side of Hokkaido. (and maybe a little scary…)
We are already passing the halfway point of our first week! Full speed ahead!! 頑張ろう皆さん！
Students got down to business as day 2 began with core Japanese classes. These are more intensive classes with smaller student/teacher ratios, and they serve as the backbone of the Academy's program. All of our students gladly met the challenges set before them. It is exciting to think how much they will learn and grow in these two weeks. Students stayed in high gear through to the second session of the day, where we introduced the Chiri Project. This is an overarching student research project, where students will learn and gather information about various regions of Japan, then present in small groups to the whole of the Academy. The students split into their respective groups, and met for the first time with their group members and team leader. From this point they will have a few synchronous classes in addition to their own asynchronous study time to use in researching and preparing for their presentations. We are all looking forward to seeing their final projects at the end of Week 2. The final class of the day was much more relaxed, but still very interesting. The Academy's students joined together in an analysis and discussion of the incredible works of Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli's works are famous in both Japan and the U.S., with Spirited Away winning the 2003 Oscar for Best Animated Feature. In case you're wondering, other animated features nominated that year include Lilo & Stitch, and Ice Age. In a testament to how wonderful the students in the Academy are, many of them chose to stay well after the class finished to continue the fascinating discussion.
It was an exciting first day with "online immersion" at the Governor's Japanese Language Academy! Students and faculty met, mingled, and learned about each other through several fun and interesting classes. It can be very challenging to make sure everyone has a lifeline when everything is being done online, but we were able to ensure all of our students could successfully join our first session this morning. After we completed Orientation, we moved into our second session. There, we had a fascinating and engaging breakout room mixer thanks to our dedicated Teaching Assistants! We have a very interesting group of students with unique hobbies, interests, and stories!
After lunch, we experimented with Virtual Reality. All of the students and faculty logged into a program called RecRoom. Students became more and more used to the platform, and we had some wonderful and hilarious interactions as we talked, drew anime on the virtual whiteboard, and got to know each other better. Despite flying furniture and complicated logon procedures, students seemed to really enjoy themselves in this unique alternative gathering space. Many students expressed their enjoyment and began to think of many new ideas for ways in which to use RecRoom. By all reports, a successful experiment!