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4 posts from November 2012



Japanese does not have plurals, uncountable nouns, or articles. For those of you who are not grammar buffs, the English articles are "a/an" and "the," and uncountable nouns are nouns that you can't put "a" or "an" in front of. For example, you can't say "a water" or "a soap." Instead you would say "a cup of water" or "a bar of soap." Needless to say, using nouns in English tends to be a rather challenging experiance for Japanese people.


  • English: dog, a dog, dogs, the dog, the dogs
  • The Japanese equivalent of all of them: inu

It would be wrong to give you the impression that Japanese is simple. Aside from having two phonetic alphabets and thousands of Chinese characters, Japanese has several levels of politeness. 

Meshiagaru, itadaku, and taberu are all different versions of the word "to eat."

  • When you are talking with your close friends and family: taberu
  • When you are talking with an acquaintance, someone you just met, someone a little higher in the social order, or someone who you're really not sure how you should address, you should use a more polite form of taberu: tabemasu
  • When  you are talking with someone of higher status about yourself (like if you are saying "I eat"): itadakimasu
  • When you are talking with someone of higher status about said person of higher status (like if you are saying "you eat"): meshiagarimasu

If that is just a simple "I/you eat," just imagine what switching between politeness levels is like with more complicated grammar. . .

Cold Seasons Greetings!

Greetings from Japan! 'Tis the season to get colds, so of course I have recently obtained one and I am sniveling as I write. ^^; I think this is the same in every part of the world, so 大丈夫ですよ!

First, I believe introductions are in order! I am joining the blog rather late with this entry, and promise I've started to compose several posts before, but just never finished due to midterms and colds among other things. ごめんね。。。

My name is Gabby and I grew up in Hillsboro, Oregon, a beatiful place with rain and trees everywhere - all the time. Now I'm in my junior year at Harvard University (on the opposite coast, with rain, snow, and not as many trees), and am currently studying abroad through CIEE for the fall semester here in Tokyo (where it rains seldomly yet has a good amount of trees). I'm an East Asian Studies concentrator (major) and love languages. I enjoy communicating with my host family in very broken Japanese and trying not to forget the Korean and Chinese I learned last year at school.

I think this entry will be a very brief summary of (some of) what I've experienced so far this semester along with my promise to write more specific entries soon!

I arrived in September when it was quite hot and met my host family of four (Mama, Papa, then-5-year-old Kohaku, and baby Midori). We live on a utopian-like island surrounded by the Arakawa (Ara River) and Sumidakawa (Sumida River) in an apartment complex full of young families like our own. It's a good thing I love children. ^^

At the end of September, the CIEE crew went on a great day trip to Kamakura where we saw the ocean, 大仏 (GIANT BUDDHA OF KAMAKURA), and ate ice cream to survive the heat. Here is a wonderful visual of the giant Buddha, Daibutsu, for your viewing pleasure:  IMG_0598

In October I experienced my first Halloween without candy, yet did not miss the Halloween décor. Tokyo has definitely mastered the art of decoration and plenty of stores we covered with pumpkins, bats, and witches (though I also found crabs and bunny rabbits) - I give them an 'A' for effort.

The end of October CIEE had a party for host families and CIEE students to interact and play games with the children. A few of us students even wore a yukata, which was a bit too restricting for my taste, but fun to walk about in and recieve compliments for its beauty. Another image! IMG_0657

To wrap things up for now, I also celebrated my host sister, Kohaku's birthday in October. Then in the beginning of November, I sold bubble tea at Sophia University's school festival. Then somehow made it through midterm tests. And celebrated the end of midterms with a very relaxing trip to 大江戸温泉物語, an onsen theme park with an Edo period themed interior. Onsen, if you do not know, is a Japanese bath from natural hot springs and is AMAZING. I felt so rejuvenated after that trip!

Tomorrow we head off to Hiroshima for our big CIEE fall semester trip! Thanks for reading and happy almost December. ^^


Luxury Hiking

Two weeks ago I went on a hiking trip that was kindly arranged by my study abroad program. It was possibly the most commercialized hiking experience I have ever had. Half of the trails were paved with stone (which was aesthetically  pleasing so I didn't mind), and rest areas included shops where one could buy hot food (to be honest it is hard to find fault with that). There were several shines of various sizes along the way, and some of the larger ones sold souvenirs and fortunes. Two girls in my group bought extensively detailed love fortunes, which included the blood type, probable zodiac signs, and chinese year of one's future mate.


It rained (well, drizzled really), but I was wearing three jackets so I was nice and toasty the whole time. I'm really glad I went, despite the rain and the impending midterm on monday. I got some exercise and made a new Japanese friend. We took turns speaking in Japanese and English so we could both get practice in the other's language.


I'm still having trouble telling the difference between temples and shrines. I only know that this one was a temple because my host mother looked it up for me. I found it somewhat heartening to know that just looking at this picture wasn't enough for my my host family to tell which one it was either.



It was really nice to get away from tokyo for awhile, and even if I didn't quite escape the rampent commercialism of the city, I escaped the press of buildings and enjoyed some wonderful views.


Hajimemashite! I'm Bethany Stephens!

As you've probably already guessed from the context, I'm studying abroad in Tokyo through CIEE. Some background information about me: I'm from Virginia, and I go to school at Kenyon College, which is in Ohio, not Africa. I'm a third year student majoring in studio art (painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, etc) and minoring in Japanese. I'll be staying in Japan for a year.

It has been a bit over a month and a half since I arrived in Japan and it has been an amazing experience so far. I've been all over Tokyo and to Kamakura on a CIEE trip. I've even been to Tokyo Disney Sea, which was the first time I've been in a Disney park since I was in 5th grade. Disney is surprisingly big here in Tokyo. I see Mickey Mouse merchandise with much more frequency than I ever did in the US. My host siblings, who are 2 and 4, support a wide range of Disney merchandise from Mickey Mouse bath toys to a collection of Disney movies dubbed in Japanese to a Marie (from Aristocats) tissue box cover.

That’s all for now. Yoroshiku Onagaishimasu! (It was nice to meet you!)

Bethany Stephens