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STUDENT INTERVIEW: Chris Wright (Discovery - Option A, SILAC 10 weeks + 12 day tour)

Chris Wright
Chris Wright
Declan: Thanks for coming in for the interview.
Chris: No problem.
Declan: Now you are studying in the Discovery program right?
Chris: Yes. 10 weeks study doing SILAC for the study component and then the February tour to Hokkaido and Nagano.
Declan: When did you arrive in Okazaki?
CW: November, end of November. I started on the 25th I think.
DM: And where were you before that?
CW: Um, I was at my Mom's place for 3 weeks and before that in Germany for 4 years.
DM: What were you doing in Germany?
CW: Programming cellphones in Nuremberg.
DM: Programming cellphones?
CW: Unfortunately, programming cellphones is as exciting as it sounds.

DM: You went to UC Berkeley, so how did you end up in Nuremberg instead of somewhere in Silicon Valley?
CW: In my last year at Berkeley I did an internship with a company that was programming cellphones. They were actually a customer of the German firm, and so I got contacts that way. What happened was that one guy stealthily offered me a job and I thought well, why not?
DM: Had you studied German at all before then? Can CompSci majors do a language at the same time like we can in Australia?
CW: No I did Compsci and Cognitive Science. In cognitive science we did psychology and linguistics. The linguistics is where my interest in languages came from I guess.
DM: That and the travel bug?
CW: That too.
DM: Were there any compulsory language courses?
CW: There were some language requirements, but I did Spanish instead of German or Japanese.
DM: Were there any other required courses?
CW: Some required classes. One class I took that I will always remember was not a language course at all but involved a surgeon showing us photographs of a sex change operation. Photo by photo, slice by slice. Very Berkeley.
DM: Crikey. Not something you are likely to forget in a hurry.
CW: No. Especially a procedure called the "suitcase handle". What that involved was...
DM: Yes yes yes well getting back to Germany, umm why Germany? There are jobs programming cellphones in California, so what made you decide to head across to Europe to program cellphones?

CW: Well I didn't want to join the rat race, and I wanted to do some travel, so I joined the other rat race instead.
DM: Had you been there before?
CW: My brother in law had lived in Germany for 1.5 years and recommended it strongly. I just wanted to go outside the US, get a different perspective of things. Learn German. I figured that the best way to go about it would be to live in a place where they speak it.
DM: How long did it take to reach fluency?
CW: To be comfortable it took about 2 years. After that constant improvement. It was difficult at first because of the company. Everyone in the place I worked could speak English, so during the day I couldn't learn or speak much German. I went to night school to learn.

DM: Why did you start looking for a school in Japan?
CW: I had quit the job in Germany. Well I hadn't quit, what I had done was give notice. You have to give 3 months notice over there to your employer and vice versa. So I'd decided to leave Germany. I was thinking of doing the backpack around the world thing, and Japan was one of the stops of my imagined route.
DM: Do you remember which file on yamasa.org you originally entered on. One of the travel destinations or something?
CW: JET program I think. No what happened was I was thinking about doing the JET thing, and I was on a discussion board, and somebody was complaining that since they were always speaking English as JETs they weren't learning much Japanese. Someone else said "well I'm thinking of going to Yamasa" and I think I googled for it from there.
DM: Which Yamasa came up first?
CW: I think it was the soy sauce Yamasa.
DM: There are a few. None related that I'm aware of. This little pedometer widget I'm wearing says it's made by Yamasa, but I don't know which one. So when was all this, sometime last year or a bit earlier?

CW: I announced that I was quitting work at the end of July, so it was probably August. I found the Yamasa site and started reading through.
DM: Did you look at some other schools as well? In Tokyo for instance?
CW: A little bit, but not too much. Actually I kept coming back to read parts of the Yamasa site. What I really spent some time looking for were critiques of the place. Everything I read elsewhere on the internet about Yamasa was how good it was. I wanted to find some bad opinions. I couldn't find a bad opinion online, so it was one of the reasons I applied.
DM: There are quite a few blogs out there written by Yamasa students and graduates.
CW: Yes. But I figured there would always be at least one person with detailed critique.
DM: That would be my opinion of this place. Maybe I should write a review and sledge the place.
CW: Yeah?
DM: I'm hypercritical. There are so many things that need to be done here before I'll be happy with it.
CW: One of the reviews I read before applying for here was by David, the guy you interviewed in the last newsletter.
DM: Yes. I think on some search strings his review comes out higher than the yamasa.org domain.
CW: It was funny because he was in the student bar the other night. It felt a bit strange because you already know him without having been introduced.

DM: Can I ask you why you chose Discovery? And not say, SILAC only etc?
CW: Having just quit work I didn't want to start working immediately. I figured the language component of the Discovery program would help me get a feel for the place. That way if I liked it I could extend my stay. And if I didn't like it, I wasn't locked into a longer time committment. The travelling part of it was a bonus.
DM: When you chose to do 10 weeks plus the tour, did you choose that particular option because it was Hokkaido? I mean you could chosen 6 weeks and the shorter January tour and achieved similar goals?
CW: I wanted to do the longer tour. You see more, and the small group tour is much cheaper than travelling to the same or similar destinations alone. And I really want to go skiing. I've never skiied in the US.
DM: Never???
CW: What can I say? I'm a California boy.
DM: But there is some good skiing in California...
CW: Yeah, and within 2 hours of LA in some cases, but I never skiied there. My family doesn't like snow or something.
DM: Nothing as queer as folk.
CW: Yeah, but I got the benefit of learning to ski in the Austrian alps.

DM: When you started at Yamasa, what was your level?
CW: I was a beginner. I'd tried unsuccessfully to learn katakana once, but I was a complete beginner.
DM: How many students were there in your first 2 week module?
CW: Just me.
DM: How was that?
CW: Great, but also strenuous. It was great having private lessons at group rates, but when there is only one person there you do all of the talking. Lots of miming. For conversation practice the teacher would take me across to the student services office or into the faculty office, so I also got to meet all the people. The 2 weeks definitely went quickly.
DM: I always mention that class sizes are small in the off season, but a class size of one is very small. Did you feel you were learning quickly?
CW: Oh yeah. Unbelievable. The only down side was that you could feel bad for your teacher if you couldn't remember something they taught you. There was one time when they took me across to the student services office to practise asking questions, and the teacher was standing there next to me expectantly, and everyone was looking at me, and my mind just went blank.
DM: When you started the second two week module were you still alone?
CW: No. That is when Stephane-san from France joined the class. So there were two of us. Made it a bit easier.
DM: And after that?
CW: Next we had Shu-san, who I think is Chinese but a Japan resident. And the two glassblowers from the States joined.
DM: Michael and...
CW: Michael-san and Peter-san.
DM: They are both teaching at the geijutsudaigaku right? (university of the arts)
CW: Yeah. Different universities though, and they are both married to Japanese. They knew each other from before though because Peter was a student of Michael's at college in Rhode Island I think.
DM: So since Stephane has finished now, there are still only 4 people in your class after nearly 8 weeks?
CW: Um. Five now. Stephane-san and Shu-san left, but there is a girl from Korea named Park, and Joyce from Taiwan via the UK.

DM: Thinking back, do you think it was an advantage or disadvantage starting as a beginner?
CW: Coming in as a beginner was good. When I see people joining the program and coming straight into one of the higher beginner levels or intermediate level classes, you can see that they have holes in their knowledge. There are things that they have learnt that aren't required yet, or that they missed that are important. Fitting in is easier for me because I know what has been covered. Of course I can go ahead and say to everyone learn the hiragana and katakana before you come.
DM: How long did it take you to become comfortable with the hiragana and katakana?
CW: I have a good visual memory. Remembering them took a couple of days, writing from memory took about a week before I was comfortable.

DM: Are you living in Yamasa's accommodation or off campus?
CW: Yamasa's.
DM: Which accommodation do you live in?
CW: I'm in the Student Village.
DM: In a single or a shared room?
CW: Single room.
DM: Do you cook a lot or eat out a lot?
CW: The first five weeks I only ate out. Since then I've cooked.
DM: For cost reasons?
CW: No. I'm not saving much by cooking, especially when compared to the time involved shopping and preparing. It's good though. It's good to cook from a social point of view. In the big kitchens you meet people from different levels and from different courses.
DM: Which side of the corridor is your room on? Are you facing the convenience store or the parking lot?
CW: My window is for the parking lot side. It's good. You get the morning winter sun.
DM: Any noise problems? I spotted on your website a comment about slippers...
CW: Oh that. It wasn't the slipper noise that woke me up, but the comment from someone in a room nearby. "Dude! It's quarter to seven! Pick up your feet!".
DM: Are you a light sleeper or a deep sleeper?
CW: Deep. I haven't had too much of a problem with noise. Maybe in the summer when people are up later and there are parties and stuff to come back from.

DM: How was spending Christmas in a country that doesn't really do Christmas? Especially after 4 years in Germany.
CW: Alright actually. I'm not really a Christmassy type. I mean it's nice to see family but I don't miss the shopping and stuff.
DM: Did you do anything interesting over the new year?
CW: Not really.
DM: Have you done much travel yet?
CW: Not yet. I went into Nagoya a few times. Saw the castle there and so on. I went up to Takayama in Gifu. That was nice but I liked the old part of town the most. We also went out to the Hida no Sato village thing.
DM: That's the one with the Gassho zukuri houses relocated from elsewhere?
CW: Yeah. It's a bit artificial but interesting all the same.
DM: There is another one of those across the river from Ogimachi in the Shirakawa-go area. They moved some houses when the dams were built, most were lost, and some more in recent years when road construction etc has been done. The actual village across the river is better though.
CW: Is that the one we are going to on the tour next month?
DM: One of them yeah. Was there anything else interesting you saw in Takayama?
CW: Just outside the Hida no Sato there were these really tall wood sculptures. The guy who arranged it applied to the Guinness Book of Records but they wrote back saying there were Totem poles in America that were larger. Interestingly they then put the rejection letter, which is in English, up on display instead, and at the bottom in Japanese claimed the record for second highest.
DM: You were on the Nara trip in December too?
CW: Yeah. It was good. I like to look at old things. In Germany it was the castles and churches. It was nice in Nara to visit places like Asuka-dera and the big temple at Yoshino.
DM: Kimpusenji?
CW: Yeah. Big wooden temples with world heritage listings are cool.
DM: Where else did you go?
CW: I went to the Asahi Beer Brewery with the Aussies.
DM: The high school teachers of Japanese from Australia?
CW: It was great. It was Christmas Eve so they had extra stuff for us. We drank as much as we could of course.
DM: I could tell.
CW: Merry Christmas Asahi.
DM: This was where you all ended up lying on the grass trying to write Asahi with your bodies.
CW: In hiragana, katakana and at one stage romaji. We were trying to get a photo good enough to make it onto Yamasa's Asahi Brewery page along with all of the other drunks.
DM: Can I see the photos?
CW: They weren't taken with my camera. I think they are on Lisa's and she can't download them until she gets home next week or something.
DM: Were you one of the people dancing on the tables later that night in Zig Zag?
CW: No, I was one of the photographers. I'm not sure if I could have made it up onto the tables.
DM: Maybe next time. It would be nice if there was a bit more dancing on tables in Okazaki.

DM: Can you tell me who your teachers are?
CW: Yokozawa-sensei, Fukada-sensei and Takiuchi-sensei are the main ones I've been taught by. Some others.
DM: Do you remember who?
CW: At the beginner level, Naruse-sensei. Sugino-sensei a little later. And err, Kawashima-sensei from yesterday. Oh and I met Yoshiguchi-sensei at Karaoke for Pierre's birthday, but I don't think that counts. All of the teachers have been really great. They really prepare a lot. Its amazing how late they work.

DM: The tour is still a few weeks away, but other than skiing, can I ask you what you are looking forward to?
CW: I've heard of the Sapporo Snow Festival so I'm looking forward to that and to Hokkaido in general. Hakodate etc. And I really want to ski.
DM: It is written. Thou shalt ski!
CW: Cool.
DM: Where else?
CW: The onsen snow monkeys. The ones that get into the onsen?
DM: Jigokudani in Nagano.
CW: And I want to see the tunnels in Nagano, they sound really interesting. The ones from the war.
DM: The first time I went there was only a few years ago. They are the WWII Imperial Headquarters tunnels, dug for Japan's last stand. Really makes you think.

DM: Ok, well I think that is about it. Thank you very much.
CW: You're welcome.

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