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One of the pleasures of working at Yamasa is welcoming students back for a second, third and sometimes fourth stint. Today I had the pleasure of catching up with Barbara Whooley from Ireland, who I found with a pint of Guinness in hand at the counter of our student bar. Her other hand was in plaster - but judging from the smile on her face I think she found the right painkiller.

Barbara Whooley
Barbara Whooley
Declan: Hi Barbara
Barbara: Oh no no no no, please, I came to the bar for a bit of an escape and....
Declan: Thank you for being such a enthusiastic volunteer.
Barbara: Ahh but...
D: To be honest now, the bar isn't exactly a good place to hide from me.
B: Ahh well
D: Now I take it you just got back from Minami Hospital?
B: I have yes. Its all under control which is good. Nice thing this National health Insurance isn't it?
D: Indeed it is. Now this is the second time you've studied at Yamasa isn't it. The first time you were here was what? Last November or so?
B: Yes I came for SILAC for 4 weeks.

D: And did you come to Okazaki for a brushup or did you start from the hiragana and a, i, u, e, o
B: I started at lesson 16 I think.
D: And when you came back it was after what? a 14 week gap? or something. Didya need to repeat anything?
B: Thankfully no, I was able to pick up exactly where I'd left off. Thats the great thing about SILAC, the flexibility and the levels.
D: So you retained everything then?
B: Yes it was a relief in more ways than one. When I came back I think we did from lesson 30 onwards. Keigo terms and then the ukemi kei. I didn't have to redo anything. Brilliant.

D: That was good. There have been a few people who've come back and need to repeat a bit first. And what about class sizes, I mean you've studied in shoulder seasons in both cases, how have the sizes been?
B: The first time I started at lesson 16 there were only 5 students for the first 2 week module, then I think 9 for my second.
D: And this time round?
B: Started with 6 in the first module, and for this second module it is 12. Little larger but still small.

D: One thing I haven't asked you yet is what exactly you are doing in Tokyo?
B: I'm working for a software company.
D: Wozzit called, can I give it a plug?
B: Um yeah, its Bluemetrix. Its called Bluemetrix Inc.
D: And what do you do there?
B: Basically I do account management. Account and project management. Its a fairly small firm so I do both.

D: Is err, Bluemetrix a multinational firm? I mean did you transfer to Tokyo from an office elsewhere?
B: No no no, I came to Japan without a job, and so sought and found it.
D: Arrived with a tourist visa?
B: Yeah and then got the company to sponsor my work visa.
D: Ahh the old fashioned way.
B: Not quite....
D: Oh... so how long did it take?
B: Only a week actually (laughing).

D: Crikey! Thats the quickest I've heard in a long time.

B: (laughing again) Well I got the job through a few connections yersee.
D: I see. Thats more like it. I was worried that our readers might think it was easier than it is.
B: Ahh I was lucky. There was a link with the company I worked with back home. So after handed in my notice and left Ireland, I contacted the company here.
D: Had you been to Japan before?
B: I had yes. I did an internship with a Japanese bank, a shinkin actually, while I was a student.

D: What were you studying?
B: I was doing Business studies and Japanese.
D: In Dublin?
B: Ah I was at the University of Limerick.
D: In Limerick?
B: Yes.
D: There really is such a place?
B: Yep (laughing) it definitely exists.
D: I'm only joking, I've been there and its lovely.

D: Are you from Limerick?
B: No no no I'm from Cork.
D: City or county?
B: Cork, about 12 miles outside the city, I'm from a farming family.
D: What kind of farming?
B: Sheep and tillage.
D: Sheep! I know sheep. How many sheep?
B: 80 ewes.
D: And a few rams?
B: And a few rams.
D: 80 ewes?
B: 80.
D: You've got bless the Common Agricultural Policy haven't you. I mean, so they all have names then?
B: No no no... (laughing)
D: It sure isn't Nymagee. And you don't round them up by helicopters and motorbikes?
B: God no, I've five brothers and a sister. Who needs a helicopter when there's a bunch of kids.
D: And the tillage?
B: Beets and barley.
D: Ahh, so some of the barley might have ended up in the student bar here in Okazaki?
B: Possibly. I guess.
D: In a nice Cork whiskey? What would be a good one to stock?
B: A lovely Midletons I s'pose.
D: Ahh good. I've got a Midleton's Very Rare on the way here. Apparently each bottle has its own registration number. Now where was I. Oh yeah, how far is it from Cork to Limerick?
B: Umm, about a 90 minute drive or thereabouts.
D: And you went to Limerick for that particular course?
B: I did yeah, because it offered that Business and Japanese combination. The combination that I wanted.


D: So can you spin us a limerick or two?
B: (laughing) Um, there was an old man who...

(this was the bit where the prudish yamasa.org censor stepped in prematurely and stopped the fun...)

B: (laughing) ohhhh why?
D: This is on the surface at least still a family newsletter.
B: Oh sure it is Declan. Sure it is (still laughing)

D: Now, ahh, how long were you in Japan when you were doing the internship?
B: 6 months. I was 6 months in Tokyo.
D: And back then you were living in what, living in a company dormitory?
B: Yes, it was a company dorm. Not too bad actually, kind of like a 1K apartment. Small but self contained.
D: Thats good. I mean you hear so many horror stories.
B: Yes you do. But this was a good one, good for a dorm anyway. Clean, not even a cockroach.
D: Thats good. And when you came back did you have somewhere to stay or did you have to go the dodgy gaijin house route?
B: I was lucky again. I was able to stay with some friends that I'd made when I was a student, so no dodgy gaijin houses for me fortunately.
D: And you found your current apartment with help from the company or did you need to rely on friends?
B: The company. After I got the job I went looking for an apartment and was eventually able to find one near the office.
D: The company was the guarantor?
B: Thankfully yeah.

D: Thats good. Now how long ago was this. How long have you been working away in the concrete jungle?
B: 3 years now. 3 years. My God has it already been this long?
D: It can be like that yes. And now you started at Yamasa at lesson 16?
B: Ahh its terrible isn't it. But thats one of the problems with Tokyo. You are working in English, and in Tokyo you can survive entirely in English.

D: Thats surprising. Actually I know I shouldn't be surprised, but even so I'm surprised.
B: Plus it was a foreign owned company and so when I was in a meeting there was always somebody interpreting or translating if I didn't understand something, so I didn't retain much. Nowhere near as much as I wanted to.

D: Was the SILAC placement interview disappointing at all. I mean in a personal way? Were you a bit surprised at how much you didn't know when the faculty started probing away?
B: Well no, because I already knew that I didn't know the grammar, that is was my weakest point.
D: After the initial interview they were going to put me into a slightly higher class, but fortunately they saw the results of my multiple choice and put me into 16. I mean in meetings I was probably insulting everybody (laughing), so when I came last year I guess I would have liked to have gone up a level but in retrospect it was important to get my basics right. Correct all the holes in my grammar.

D: And did you notice a difference when you headed back to Tokyo. I mean it was only 4 weeks that you were here, but did it help? With your confidence for example?
B: I certainly improved, but to be honest it wasn't me who noticed the improvement, it was the staff. They were amazed. It was wonderful.
D: Thats cool.
B: There was one girl who I had a laugh with. I mean we had always talked in Japanese, or at least I thought we were. But one day she says, "this is so great, I can speak to you in Japanese now", and I said, "but we always speak in Japanese", and she said, "Yes, but until now I'd always had to speak with you using our special barbara japanese".I couldn't believe it!
D: Ha ha ha ha.... thats fantastic.
B: I mean yes, I was shocked - "special barbara japanese?" but to tell the truth I was kind of delighted too. It was nice to remove a barrier, and it made me realise how much I'd learnt. And the office environment changes a bit when you can speak more of the language.

D: Good, thats good. But when you think about it, I guess the pressure is on now too. You're studying again after what, a break of 12 or 14 weeks or so. They are going to be expecting a similar improvement this time around right?
B: Yeah they'll be expecting another quantum leap. I'm feeling the pressure a bit to tell the truth. But its fun.

D: Thats great in a way. And why Yamasa again. What is the best thing about Yamasa for you?
B: Just being able to devote 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to Japanese. There are no distractions and the course here is brilliant. Coming here I can focus on learning.

D: No distractions at all? You don't have to work a bit with your laptop?
B: This time I do, but still it isn't too much.
D: Where are you staying?
B: I'm in the Student Village.
D: Single?
B: Yes a single room.
D: Hozzit?
B: Really good. I'm very comfortable. Fast internet connection.
D: Is the internet access the reason why you chose the Student Village?
B: Yes absolutely. The internet environment was one of the most important considerations for me when I was looking over the other living quarters. I really have to do some work on the laptop.
D: Thats interesting. I mean at the moment we are steadily extending the internet access to the other housing options such as the Residences & Yamasa Villa apartments. Had the internet access been as fast elsewhere would that have had an impact on your choices.
B: Oh yes, I mean the internet was the most important thing.
D: Good. And do you cook your own food or are you eating out a lot.
B: I cook my own food. Buy it all locally. A lot of it in Yamanaka actually.

D: Have you had the chance to see much of Okazaki?
B: Yes, well I did the tour with you to Lake Mikawa and to Asuke to see the autumn leaves. I went to the Okazaki Castle of course. And to the Hatcho Miso which I thought was pretty good. Very interesting, especially the wooden barrels. I couldn't believe the tonnage of stones they balance on top of them during the ageing process. I went there with my homestay family.
D: So last time you were doing a homestay only
B: Yes, just a homestay. This time the Student Village, but I've kept in touch with the family.
D: The choice of Student Village room this time around really was just because of the internet?
B: The internet, plus this time I had to be away for 2 weekends out of the 4, so I figured it probably wouldn't be fair on a homestay family this time around.

D: Now the first weekend you were back in Tokyo for the St. Patrick's day do right?
B: I was yes. For the St Pats parade you see. I was part of the organising committee.
D: Cool. Kinda strange having a parade a few days before St Pat's day though izzinit?
B: Yeah it is, but we wouldn't be able to get the street if it was a workday. Plus I could have Guinness and a breakfast here at the bar on the 17th anyway.
D: Got to do the thing...
B: Of course! I mean, I'm the President of the Japan Gaelic Athletic Association you see.
D: Football or Hurling?
B: Football.
D: What about hurling?
B: We had a bit of a social game two weeks ago.
D: Oh? You have the equipment there? Hurling sticks?
B: Only about 14 of them or so. Enough for a social game.
D: How much do they cost? I've been thinking of getting a few for the bar and the social sports club.
B: I think it'd be about 30 euros or so. Just a guess though.
D: But for you the addiction is Gaelic football?
B: Yes football. Definitely football. We get enough injuries from football.
D: Speaking of injuries, this wound, this grievous wound of yours, how did it happen?
B: (laughing) In Korea. I was playing for the Japan Ladies Gaelic Football team.

D: Hmmmmm...... that sounds gratuitously violent.
B: Well it was in the first half of the very first game, and I was picking up the ball when I was kicked in the hand, I mean its an illegal tackle and everything, and I didn't even get a free.
D: So what happened to your nemesis? Did you run her down?
B: Oh no, I just picked up the ball and kicked for goal.
D: Did you score? Was it a goal or a point?
B: I don't remember to be honest, just remember a lot of pain, and that we kept possession.

D: Were there many Irish on the Korean side?
B: They had mostly Irish actually, the Japan team is more of a mix of Japanese and Irish and others, but the Korean team was mostly Irish. They were a young team too. It seemed that many of them went to Korea for the World Cup the year before last and then just stayed there picking up jobs and things.
D: Interesting. Very interesting.

D: And what are your plans. What are you going to do after your finish this course?
B: My plans? Well I'm going to try to keep my Japanese going when I return to Tokyo. I've booked into a morning course that is from 8am to 8.45.
D: Every day?
B: Yes, 5 mornings per week.
D: And you'll get to work from there on time?
B: I think I can cycle from there to work in about 15 minutes.
D: Where is it? Can I give it a plug in case there are any others up in Tokyo looking for something similar before work?
B: I think its called Yotsuya Ichibei.
D: And you've got your OCJS password too?
B: Yes. It will be a bit hard to type for a while though, until my hand heals. But I did use the OCJS, and I did the CALL seminars with Sugita sensei last time I was here. Its very helpful so I'll keep that going as well. Its good to get the homework feedback, getting feedback from a human and not from just software.

D: And last but not least, do you have any advice for young Irish learning Japanese over here?
B: Umm yeah, I think it helps to do the Irish thing once in a while, a bit of socialising, a bit of stress relief. I mean don't forget that there are a million Japanese things to do out there, and its an amazing culture with so much to see and experience, but I think its also important to get a bit of balance, to get the balance right.
D: Very good advice I think. Intensive Japanese classes are great, but so is sitting back with a pint of Murphy's or a Guinness, listening to the Pogues and having a chat about grave matters of public unimportance?
B: Absolutely!
D: OK. Well Barbara, Gura mile maith agat. And all that.
B: Ta failte romhat. Cheers.

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