japanese

Digital Artifact: Improving My Japanese Fluency Through Playing a Japanese Video Game

 

Transcript:
In this project, I am using the Japanese PS Vita dating simulator, ToLoveRu – True Princess as a means of improving my Japanese language fluency. You may have read in my previous blog posts that I was using the Japanese children’s television program Doraemon to improve my Japanese fluency, however this just wasn’t working for me. I often found the extremely casual, juvenile speech to be too fast and too difficult for me to understand. I also found myself losing interest quickly as the storylines were not relevant to my interests and were very basic as they were targeted at young children. All in all, Doraemon and I just weren’t working out. My language learning philosophy is that if your method of study isn’t engaging, you’re not going to learn, and I quickly realised I wasn’t learning as much as I’d hoped to.

So I set out to change this. As an avid anime fan, I decided to look at some Japanese video games to help me achieve my goal of increasing my Japanese language fluency, because I thought that this might be more interactive and therefore more fun. Coincidently, my boyfriend James had recently bought the Japanese PS Vita Game: ToLOVERu – True Princess from PlayAsia, a website that sells a variety of goods imported from Asia to international markets. Both James and I had only just finished watching all four seasons of ToLoveRu a few months ago (Japanese audio with English subtitles) so we were really keen to start chatting up our favourite characters in Japanese. No English available. To give an exceptionally brief overview of the ToLOVEru (pronounced ‘toraburu’ or ‘trouble’ in Japanese), it follows Rito, a 15-year-old boy whose house becomes home to a variety of humanoid aliens, who all develop crushes on him. ToLOVERu – True Princess is a dating sim based around this premise, where the user plays as Rito and interacts with the various girls. The girl Rito ultimately ends up with is determined by the player’s interactions with each person.

Autoethnographic Methodology
Without going off on too much of a tangent, I feel the need to justify my autoethnographic research method for this project. I used the personal narrative methodology to analyse my experience playing ToLoveRu – True Princess, as this worked best for my approach. Although the personal narrative style does receive criticism for relying so heavily on one’s own thoughts, experiences and research (Ellis et al. 2011), I felt that this methodology suited my autoethnographic research perfectly and have been careful to include multiple academic sources to validate my findings. Learning Japanese has always been a very important, emotive and personal exercise for me, and I really wanted to look at revolutionising the way I learn the language. In the past, I’ve embraced more traditional learning styles, such as textbooks, drilled repetition and flashcards, however I feel as though now I am at the level where I can branch off and use more creative mediums to further enhance my fluency. I chose this method because I wanted to test for myself whether using unconventional learning methods had any merit, and also, if I succeeded, to provide other language learners with the inspiration to move beyond their comfort zone and engage with authentic texts from their target language.

Experiences –ToLoveRu – True Princess

Accessing the Game
Accessing ToLoveRu – True Princess was actually a lot easier than I initially thought. The growth in popularity of Japanese popular culture on a global scale, combined with the media demands of diasporic Japanese audiences, have undeniably given rise to websites like PlayAsia (Tsutsui 2010) where fans can access exclusive Japanese content and artefacts from almost anywhere in the world. Although you probably wouldn’t be able to go out to your local EB Games to purchase an exclusively Japanese title, international websites like PlayAsia have contributed to the accessibility of Japanese video games to non-Japanese audiences. Although many Japanese video games never get English releases, avid fans can quite easily seek out titles online through resellers like PlayAsia and eBay. Popular gaming titles are often translated into English by bilingual fans and uploaded to the Internet to allow non-Japanese-speaking audiences to enjoy the games in their own language (Lee 2011, p. 1131). Although a fan transaction of ToLOVEru – True Princess was available online, I chose not to use it as I wanted to experience the text authentically.

Epiphanies
Perhaps one of the most interesting epiphanies I experienced while playing the game was that even though the characters still spoke quickly and storyline was more complex than Doraemon, I actually understood so much more of what was going on. The most notable feature of the game that helped me was the fact that the character’s verbal speech was reflected in Japanese text at the bottom of the screen. This is a feature I tended to overlook in most videogames I’ve played as I could usually just listen to what the characters are saying, however here, subtitles in Japanese proved to me vital to my understanding. Not only could I listen to the characters speak, but if I missed any words or didn’t understand, I could read the text box to catch up with what was happening. Even though there were quite a few kanji I didn’t know, I could understand most of them thorough matching the kanji to the character’s speech (for example, I couldn’t read all of the kanji in uchuujin,宇宙人 [alien] however when I heard the character say the word aloud, I matched it to where I was up to in the text and remembered it for the rest of the game).

Co-viewing, or consuming a digital medium when physically accompanied by another person, also played a substantial role in my ability to comprehend what was happening in the game. Co-viewing and co-manipulation of multimedia texts are widely praised in academia for being a driving force behind children’s language acquisition and creating a linguistically enriching experience (Meskill 2002, p. 169), therefore I knew I was doing the right thing by playing ToLOVEru – True Princess with James. If there were parts in the game where either James or I became lost, we’d jump in to help one another, make guesses and discuss our ideas together, or consult our electronic Japanese dictionaries. Often, making inferences based on our individual knowledge of the characters, anime storyline and the gist of the in-game text was enough for us to power through the storyline. Yes, we may not have understood every single word, but as long as you get a sense of what is happening and are enjoying yourself, who cares? Overall, I think that cooperatively translating and playing this game with James significantly improved my Japanese comprehension and retention.

I actually found playing ToLoveRu – True Princess to be a really enjoyable, educative experience that prompted me to look into games as a medium for education on a larger scale. A quick Google search of ‘learn Japanese through video games’ retrieved thousands of results. There were multiple blogs documenting learners’ personal experiences and recommendations for games that could be easily understood by language learners, not to mention a large number of smartphone apps that were games designed for Japanese learners. An examination of academic literature also revealed that videogame-based learning has continued to surge in popularity since the early 2000’s due to the immersive and interactive nature of the medium (Hwang & Wu 2012). According to Squire (2006, p. 19) a player’s understanding of their target language is enhanced by the “developed cycles of performance within the game world.” This notion was reflected in my own experience playing ToLoveRu – True Princess. Not only did I already have a firm grasp of the general plot features and progression of the dating-sim genre, but I also had a deep understanding of the characters’ personalities, individual storylines and the game world in which I was playing in, which was a huge advantage to my ability to understand what was going on.

Although I think using Japanese video games to further one’s fluency is definitely worthwhile, I feel that it is important to note that I would not recommend this method for players who had little to no understanding of Japanese. I felt that in order to enjoy the game’s story, it was important to have a strong grasp of the language in place before trying to translate or understand the Japanese – it would be really difficult. I know that I would have felt a bit overwhelmed had I not already possessed a deep knowledge of the language’s writing systems, grammar and vocabulary. It is for this reason that I’d recommend beginner-level Japanese learners to either familiarise themselves with the language more prior to using games to learn, or use games as a supplementary learning method. This is not to say that you can’t just blast blindly though a non-English game without caring about learning anything – that’s absolutely fine – however I think in the heavily story-line based dating sim genre that it is important to understand exactly what is going on.

 

Reference List

Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed 15 October 2017, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095&gt;

Hwang, GJ & Wu, PH 2011, ‘Advancements and trends in digital game-based learning research: a review of publications in selected journals from 2001 to 2010’, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. E6-E10.

Lee, HK 2011, ‘Participatory media fandom: A case study of anime fansubbing’, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 33, no. 8, pp. 1131-1147.

Meskill, C 2002, ‘Chapter 4: The role of the aural in language teaching and learning’, Teaching and Learning in Real Time: Media, Technologies and Language Acquisition, Athelstan, Houston, Texas.

Squire, K 2006, From content to context: videogames as designed experience’, Educational Researcher, vol. 35, no. 8, pp. 19-29.

Tsutsui, WM 2010, Japanese popular culture and globalisation, Association for Asian Studies Inc., Michigan, United States.

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Love Live – Why I Understand It So Well!

Hey all!

Ultimately, I’ll be changing my DA because I understand Japanese gaming too well. However, I actually really enjoyed realising just how much I understood about Japanese Idol and gaming culture- and then realising that it was making this game easier for me to understand and interpret.

Here’s my podcast:

 

And as always some helpful links:

Iron chef ethnographic

Iron Chef is a Japanese cooking competition where guest chefs battle one of the three Iron Chefs in a timed cooking battle which is built around one specific ingredient. The series premiered on October 10, 1993 and ended on September 24, 1999. Iron Chef is regularly broadcasted on SBS.The host of the show is the flamboyant Takeshi Kaga. The Japanese version of Iron Chef has a back story, which is recounted at the beginning of every episode.

  • A title card, with a quote from famed French food author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin first appears: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.” Then, it is said that Kaga “realized his dream in a form never seen before” and specially constructed a cooking arena called “Kitchen Stadium” in his castle. There, visiting chefs from “around the world” would compete against his Gourmet Academy, led by his three (later four) Iron Chefs.

Chairman Kaga himself is a showpiece, always dressed in outlandish examples of men’s formal attire. This brings me to my first point. The costume details in the Japanese Iron Chef is something I have never witnessed or experienced before. For a typical cooking show, the hosts are often dressed conservatively. However, the Japanese have dramatic costuming which can be seen as crazy for people who have never experienced it before. Comparing this to italian cooking shows which I watched growing up, they are more similar to Australian shows costume-wise. So, watching this show was a shock to me.

Moving onto the actual ingredients which Iron Chef uses, they were crazy and nothing that I had experienced before. Ingredients like whale and river eel are common on the Japanese version, something that I never plan to eat in my whole life.  But these foods are common and not unusual for people from the Japanese culture, which is the same concept for Australian cooking shows. We tend to use basic proteins like chicken, beef and pork and incorporate vegetables which are considered unusual. This is the basis of each challenge.

Iron chef has a lack of dramatisation through music, and utilises the ambient sounds well. This makes the show more enjoyable because the dramatic sound effects constantly playing over in the show can be annoying over time. I really enjoyed how you could hear what the chefs were doing, particularly when they were cutting things and you could actually hear it without some obnoxious squelching sound interrupting it. This is a major difference to the Australian and American shows. The sound effects are used to build unnecessary drama and create tense moments when they aren’t even needed.

Overall, Iron Chef has provided a large comparison to western television shows, which showcases the rare aspects which we aren’t commonly exposed to. For example, the crazy key ingredients are something i’ve never thought about eating, yet this is a common practice in the Japanese culture. The costumes are outlandish in the show, as well as the unrelated backstory, and is an interesting way to provide something interesting. However, this is considered to be something ‘normal’ and sometimes traditional. The differences between the shows and from what i’m used to is vast, however i’m excited to continue exploring the Japanese culture, whether it be through television, food or music.

 

 

 

Analise This!!

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In this blog post I’ll be analysing my previous post on my experience with stand-up comedy in Japan, so for those of you reading this post that haven’t read the post I did before, go read it. I chose to look at Japanese stand-up because I have a huge passion for stand up. I was curious as to what I would find in Japan, the country that has already given me so much. Anime, manga, ramen, sushi, so many amazing video games, all stuff that I love and all from Japan. Surely there stand up would be amazing as well.

In my analysis of my experience I will be looking at the epiphanies I had while I was immersing myself in Japanese stand up and the culture around it. Now the definition of epiphanies given in Ellis et al’s reading on Autoethnography ,

“remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life (BOCHNER & ELLIS, 1992; COUSER, 1997; DENZIN, 1989), times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyse lived experience (ZANER, 2004), and events after which life does not seem quite the same.”

May be a bit strong considering I’m talking about watching Japanese stand up on Youtube, but the premise still rings true. I’m looking at the moments that I remember that changed what I thought about stand up in Japan.

The first epiphany I had, and I’m not sure if I even wrote about it in my first blog, is that there didn’t seem to be a lot of comedians, at least not on stage performing a stand-up routine I’m used to. I’ve learnt that the reason I couldn’t find more comedians isn’t because people just aren’t putting the videos on Youtube, or I just wasn’t looking well enough. It’s because in Japan the way for a comedian to make it big isn’t to go into stand up in the way that I’m familiar with, but to go into television. For the prime time shows in Japan it’s a necessity to have comedians on the show, either as a contestant competing in one of the many weird competitions to come out of Japanese television, or as a host. Some people claiming around 80% of the tv personalities in Japan are comedians, so with such high numbers going into TV it’s easy to see why there aren’t many acts performing stand up like I’m used to.

The second and biggest epiphany I had was that there were quite a few different types of acts, and looking into it I found there were more than I thought. There are 5 main styles of comedy that all of the acts in Japan fall roughly under, and some may be a mix of a few.

The first is Kyogen, an old form of comedy dating back to the 14th century. Kyogen is based on slapstick and satire, and performed in an outdated version of Japanese. Gamarjobat were probably the closest thing I saw to this, though they don’t speak for the most part.

The second is Manzai, which features a straight man, known as a Tsukkomi, and a funny man, known as a Boke, that quickly trade jokes. You only have to watch one Abbot and Costello bit, and you’ll understand what Manzai is. This was probably the type of act I saw the most, and its that’s probably because it’s the style that works best on stage.

Third we have Konto, and it’s really just a subgenre of Manzai. In Konto groups perform short bits that revolve around a comical story, weird situation, or strange encounter. A lot of the double acts seemed to perform in this style if it was a longer performance, rather than just a short video.

Forth we have a style that I missed the first time around, rakugo. In rakugo, the performer sits in a kimono with their legs tucked under and tells a funny story. I don’t know how I missed any of these acts the first time I was looking into Japanese stand up, probably because it’s quite unique. I watched a few after I found out about it and it’s not really like anything I’ve seen before. Even with comedians who just tell stories, rakugo is different. There also seems to be a real mix of what looks like more traditional rakugo performances and modern performances that are trying to change things up. The traditional performances were kind of like some of the really long jokes that your grandpa might tell you, where the modern ones, for lack of a better word, where just weird.

The fifth and final style is Owarai, this pretty much encompasses everything else in the modern comedy seen in Japan. Owarai acts tend to be regulars on Japanese variety shows, game shows, food segments, travel features and musical performances. From what I’ve seen this is where the majority of the comedians in Japan are going.

So here we are at the end of my analysis of my exploration of Japanese stand up. I definitely feel like I have grown in my understanding of the topic, but I don’t know if I got what I wanted. I didn’t really go into this with an agenda, I think there was part of me that wanted to find that Japanese stand up was just going to be the same as the stand-up I’m used to but only focusing on this idea I have of life in Japan that I have in my head. I’m glad I didn’t find that in the end, it would have been weird, and the stuff that I found was funny and I genuinely laughed at most of the acts I watched.

Stand Up Comedy in Japan

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I was at a bit of a loss when deciding on a topic for my digital artefact. We were asked to try not to look at anything we were familiar with, and for me that ruled out a lot of the ideas that had come to my mind for my topic. I’m not saying I’m an expert in Asian culture or anything, far from it. I’ve just dipped my toe into more aspects of Asian culture than the average Joe. What was I going to look at then? My first idea was to look at Japanese cooking shows, I like cooking so why not. One night though, while watching a Hannibal Buress stand up special, I had an epiphany. Why don’t I look at Japanese stand-up comedy?

So I did.

 

I guess I’ll start by letting you know that I love stand up. I’ve been watching stand up since before I should have been watching stand up. The first time I can remember watching stand up is when I was about eleven or twelve, and I was watching Billy Connolly on a VHS tape that we had at home. I thought he was hysterical, and from there my love for stand-up has only gotten stronger. Now at twenty one, I probably watch five or six stand up specials a week. It is safe to say that I have watched a lot of different stand up, but never stand up from Japan.

So, it was time to find some Japanese stand up, and not really knowing where to go, I went to my old faithful Youtube. Something I quickly realised when looking through the search results, is that I had a picture of what ‘Japanese stand up’ would look like in my head, and I didn’t see it, nor could I find it. I don’t know where the image I had in my head came from, but what I expected to see was that Japanese stand up was just, the stand-up that I’m used to, but with Japanese comedians performing in Japanese, to a Japanese audience. What I found was a whole different range of stuff, so let’s look at some of it.

One of the things I saw a lot of was Japanese comedians performing stand up in English to either, a majority foreign audience in Japan, or Japanese comedians performing overseas, mostly in America. I was the most familiar with this type of routine. It followed the same formula I was used to, and besides a few little things like the use of a clip board in a routine, it was the same style of comedy that most of us would be familiar with. I didn’t feel like I was seeing ‘actual’ Japanese stand up watching these. They were admittedly funny shows, but it felt like the stand-ups I watched were just copying what they had seen other foreign comedians do.

The other type of act that made up the majority of the videos I watched was the double act. My experience with double acts in stand up is definitely not as extensive as with single performer acts, and I think I’d be right in saying the reason for this is that there just not as popular in our culture. There are certainly some great comedy duo’s in stand up, I mean even in Australia we have the likes of The Umbilical Brothers, Lano and Woodley, Sammy J and Randy, there all amazing acts. I just think there are less double acts than there are singles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Japan, at least from what I’ve seen.

The acts and how I watched them were all different as well. There’s one duo named Gamarjobat which seem to have done both in Japan and internationally. I’m just assuming this because a lot of their videos show them performing on different television shows from around the world. Gamarjobat remind me of The Umbilical Brothers in their routines. They don’t use their voices as much, for speech or noises, but the use of props and their bodies is very similar. The other acts were a little more foreign (please excuse the pun) to me. They did use some techniques I’d seen before like one guy playing the straight man and the other the zany/stupid/different character. Most of the double acts also seemed to use slapstick in their routines. Watching these acts, I felt like I was getting something different to what I was used to, and I think it was because I could see the audience was Japanese, it also helped that some of the acts were in Japanese, which was interesting when some of them didn’t include subtitles.

It was an interesting experience watching and then writing about Japanese stand up, reading over I feel a little slack saying one didn’t feel authentic, who am I to say that? Hopefully doing some research on the topic will help me understand a few things.

Thinking like a kid: An analysis of my Doraemon viewing and the educational role of children’s television

Epiphanies, epiphanies…did I even have any epiphanies when I was watching Doraemon? This thought bugged me for a good few hours before I realised that I did in fact have an epiphany. No, I didn’t uncover the meaning of life or develop a cure for cancer. Instead, I came to the realisation that my choice to watch a children’s television program to improve my second language fluency was significant in itself. I chose to watch a Japanese children’s program instead of an anime series aimed at adults due to my assumption that it would be easier for me to follow the storyline and understand new vocabulary, as these elements would be simplified for the program’s juvenile audience to promote comprehension. Heitmiller (2015) explains that because children are still in the process of mastering their own native language, using children’s television to improve second language fluency is effective because it encourages viewers to ‘think’ in the foreign language by “listening and forming connections using a visual platform.” I found Heitmiller’s explanation of ‘thinking’ in the language you are learning to be particularly interesting and beneficial. I realised that when I was not relying on subtitles to understand the content of the program, I actually didn’t translate the Japanese to English in my head. Rather, I completely bypassed this cognitive process and thought and (mostly) understood, in Japanese alone.

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分かる – I understand (2017)

My surprise that the structure and content of Doraemon was very similar to other children’s television programs I had watched as a child was also significant. After researching children’s television as a genre, I discovered that most children’s television programs incorporate three key educative elements to aide children’s socialisation and development. These include:

  • Problem solving (eg. cause-and-effect and critical thinking)
  • General foundational concepts (eg. colours, numbers, shapes and time)
  • World knowledge (eg. cultural traditions, weather and history)
    (Cahill & Bigheart 2016)

I like to think that by now, I have a pretty good understanding of these concepts after years of religiously viewing Sesame Street, Play School and Arthur. All of these components were apparent in Doraemon, however the one that caught my attention the most was the ‘cultural tradition’ of mothers performing a tea ceremony at home in traditional Japanese dress.

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Screencap from Doraemon (DoraNobi Eng subtitles 1979)

This particular element stood out to me because up until this point, Doraemon was, in the words of Iwabuchi (2002, p. 94) “culturally odourless,” meaning that the content did not appear to be ‘distinctly Japanese.’ When I reflect on how I understand the phrase ‘distinctly Japanese’ I immediately picture kimono, sumo, calligraphy and sushi. I find this interesting because even though I know Japan and ‘Japaneseness’ is comprised of so much more than just these cultural artefacts, my socialisation in a Western country has led me to immediately conjure these iconic ‘Japanese’ images when I think about Japan. In saying this, Doraemon has since been localised for foreign audiences as its appearance, storyline and morals are universal enough for children from almost any culture to enjoy and understand.

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Doraemon Season 2 aired on Disney XD in 2015 (Green 2015)

The main function of children’s television that interested me particularly was the potential for vocabulary development through viewing. Admittedly, I only remember one word from Doraemon, which is slang for ‘to grin’ (niyaniya – ニヤニヤ), however it is important to note that my viewing habits are different to that of young children. Firstly, accessing Doraemon is slightly difficult as I had to search for the episode for quite a while on YouTube before I found it. Unlike a child, my parents do not choose the shows I watch, and I am also not terribly keen on watching the same episode of a show over and over again. Despite my reservations about repeat viewing, Skouteris and Kelly (2006) emphasise the importance of repeat viewing in a child’s vocabulary development, stating that the higher the number of repeat viewings, the more a child understands the content of the video. My adult ‘intelligence’ has actually failed me in this respect, as I find it difficult to focus on a video that I have watched multiple times as the story becomes predictable and uninteresting. I’ve found that keeping a diary of new vocabulary and grammar structures whilst watching Doraemon has helped to keep me engaged, but I am going to have to seek out some more episodes to keep myself motivated.

(Doraemon rainbow 2015) 

Another important element of viewing children’s television I did not initially think of is the process of co-viewing. When young children watch television, they are often accompanied by an adult who actively mediate the child’s viewing (Dorr, Kovaric & Doubleday 1989). This mediation can take the form of asking the child questions about the show, singing along to songs and choosing what the child watches and when (ibid). Moeller (1996) explains that co-viewing can actually facilitate comprehension of plot and the acquisition new vocabulary, so as a person who loves nothing more than a good family viewing session of Game of Thrones, I decided that next time when I watch Doraemon, I’ll watch it with my boyfriend, James. Like myself, James is currently trying to improve his Japanese, and I figure if I can watch Doraemon with someone who has similar viewing and learning objectives, I may actually retain more Japanese if I can discuss what I have learnt with another person.

I’ll keep everybody posted about my viewing session and am determined to nail down some new vocabulary and grammar structures.

Until next time, じゃね!

 

Reference List

Cahill, M & Bigheart, J 2016, ‘What can librarians learn from Elmo, Sid and Dora? Applying the principles of educational television to storytime’, Knowledge Quest, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 49-57.

Doraemon rainbow 2015, image, Kai-You Pop Portal Culture Media, viewed 14 September 2017, <http://kai-you.net/article/12154&gt;

DoraNobi Eng subtitles 1979, Doraemon Screencap, image, viewed 8 September 2017, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoDf0XP8VE4&gt;

Dorr, A, Kovaric, P & Doubleday, C 1989, ‘Parent-child co-viewing of television’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 35-51.

Green, S 2015, Doraemon on Disney XD, image, Crunchroll, viewed 14 September 2017, <http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2015/06/03-1/doraemon-season-2-starting-on-disney-xd&gt;

Heitmiller, A 2015, ‘Watching children’s TV is a language learning tool’, Liden & Denz Intercultural Institute of Languages, 20 January, viewed 6 September 2017, <http://lidenz.ru/watching-childrens-tv-language-learning-tool/&gt;

Iwabuchi, K 2002, Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism, Duke University Press, United States, p. 94.

Moeller, B 1996, ‘Learning from television: a research review’, Centre for Children and Technology, no. 11, pp. 1-37.

Skouteris, H & Kelly, L 2006, ‘Repeated viewing and co-viewing of an animated video: an examination of factors that impact on young children’s comprehension of video content’, Australian Jounral of Early Childhood, vol. 31 no. 3, pp. 22-30.

分かる – I understand 2017, image, Material.Miyazaki, viewed 8 September 2017, <http://material.miyazaki-c.ed.jp/ipa/kihongoi_sinboru/communication_onnanoko/rikai/IPA-ccc760.htm&gt;

 

Shinto traditions portrayed through modern anime films

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I have always had a fascination with Japanese shrines and temples. It always intrigued me as to how Japanese faith and Christian faith could be so different, yet had the same principals such as prayer, reflection and spirituality.

I wanted to explore a topic such as religion with the focus on spirituality as I had an unusual spiritual journey throughout my own life.

Born to one parent who was of Greek Orthodox faith and one who was Catholic, it was a difficult choice to baptise me in the Catholic church. My family has always had a contentious relationship with the Greek Church as my mother is not Greek but my father is. To compromise, their first child would be baptised into the Greek church. However, not without one last act of defiance, in which I was not baptised into the Greek church properly.

christening-photographer-sydney-G1Greek Orthodox Church in Sydney. Source

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My lost [Japanese] childhood: Using Doraemon to improve my Japanese fluency

“So, are you fluent in Japanese yet?” A small part of myself withers and dies inside whenever I am asked that question. Yes, I have continuously studied Japanese for five years. Yes, I like to think that I am relatively good at the Japanese I know. However, we’re talking about a whole language here. Learning a language is an immense and ongoing pursuit. Sure, I can hold a good conversation in Japanese, I can even read and write hiragana, katakana and a couple of hundred kanji. But it pains me to admit that I am definitely not yet fluent.

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Practice, practice, practice….(Francisco 2013)

This session, I’ve decided to get a bit creative with my Japanese language learning and ditch the textbooks (sorry Genki, you’ve been a great friend to me). I’m aiming to improve my fluency in Japanese through watching the Japanese children’s television program, Doraemon, without subtitles. Now yes, for those of us who love our subbed anime, watching an anime without subtitles is akin to going to a social gathering where you know nobody and attempting to join a conversation, occasionally making an effort to join in but feeling fundamentally lost and excluded. However, I’m on a mission to overcome the uncomfortable and ultimately not feel like a deer in the headlights when using complex Japanese.

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Accurate depiction of my entire life (Norris 2016)

To provide everyone with a bit of background, Doraemon is a classic Japanese television program aimed at young children. The plot revolves around Nobita, a young boy (who is actually a bit of a dweeb) and his relationship with Doraemon, a magical robotic cat who was sent to help him navigate the difficult territory of his childhood. I found it extremely difficult to locate the raw, unsubbed original Japanese episode of Doraemon, so I had to settle for an English subbed version I found on YouTube and tried to avoid reading the subtitles. This was actually a lot more difficult to do than I anticipated. As a person who consumes a lot of subbed anime, I am used to switching rapidly between the English translations and the visuals. It took a lot of self control not to sneak a peek at the subtitles when I was having difficulty understanding what the characters were saying.

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Me trying not to read subtitles and rely solely on the audio (Know Your Meme 2010)

I’d like to take this opportunity to personally call out my sneaky eyes that were trying to undermine my language learning for the entire episode. Training myself to focus entirely on the audio and visuals rather than the subtitles will be an ongoing task that will require discipline and practice.

I was also interested to discover that plot-wise, Doraemon is very similar to the TV shows I watched as a child, namely Sesame Street, or Clifford the Big Red Dog. Each episode is short and ends with a moral or message aimed to educate and socialise young children. Having never watch a television program aimed at young Japanese children before, I must say that I was surprised that the depiction of childhood in Doraemon was almost identical to that of the American children’s TV programs I grew up with. I was actually expecting Doraemon to feel a lot more Japanese than it actually did, however it was certainly interesting to see the universality of the notion of childhood.

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Doraemon (n.d.)

I was relieved that I chose to study a children’s show rather than watch an anime aimed at adults as the characters’ simple lexicon and short episode length enabled me to keep up with the plot and not become overwhelmed and lost by the language.

There were instances when I was not 100% certain about what a character said, or I may have misheard or complete missed a word. However, I attempted to address this by isolating the phrase or vocabulary item that was troubling me, thinking about the context in which is was said and then making inferences about what possibly could have been said based on the accompanying visuals. Using this method, even if I didn’t understand everything, I was able to follow the plot of Doraemon without feeling like the awkward person at a party I mentioned before (it’s happened to me more times than I care to admit, okay?)

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(Doraemon reading 2017)

After the episode had finished, I watched it again with subtitles and was pleasantly surprised. Although there were some parts of the show I had completely misinterpreted, I was surprised at how much I was actually able to understand without relying on subtitles. Whilst there is definitely a large margin for improvement, I really enjoyed watching Doraemon and actually gained quite an interesting insight into the television programs Japanese people grew up with. I’m keen to keep watching Doraemon to continue improving my fluency, and I think keeping a journal of commonly used phrases and vocabulary items will help me do this.

Until next time DIGC330, じゃね!

 

References

Doraemon n.d., image, ProProfs Quizmaker, viewed 25 August 2017, < https://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=doraemon-quiz_1&gt;

Doraemon reading 2017, image, TV Asahi, viewed 25 August 2017, < http://www.tv-asahi.co.jp/doraemon/news/0223/&gt;

Francisco, F 2013, Practice, practice, practice…, image, Tofugu, viewed 25 August 2017, <https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/pera-pera-japanese-fluency/&gt;

Know Your Meme 2010, Derp, image, Know Your Meme, viewed 25 August 2017, < http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/derp&gt;

Norris, A 2016, Conversation, image, Twitter, viewed 25 August 2017, <https://twitter.com/dorrismccomics/status/783995729358520320&gt;

Gojira

After going through the lecture slides, I downloaded Gojira and watched it on a Sydney to Wollongong train trip. In some ways, watching a black and white Japanese foreign film while on an Australian train provided great juxtaposition for cultural awareness. I was sitting in a carriage with fellow Australians, some in suits, some in jeans and converse, some very drunkenly slurring Aussie slang while others shielded their children’s post day care ears from such colourful language. And here I sat watching a film where even the monsters were treated with respect.

As a first generation migrant, to whom English is technically a second language, I have grown up loving foreign films. I grew up in house where children did not often watch TV. If we were watching TV it was a SBS (SBS before 8.30pm ehm ehm) family movie night – popcorn, home made Bengali and Arab sweets, world music soundtracks and subtitles. As a child I had the joy of watching and reading artsy, indie and documentarian Bengali films. As I got a little older, we would go to foreign film festivals. I moved out of home at 17 but like many familial attributes, the love for foreign film moved with me.

Growing up as a person of brown colouring in a multicultural, yet very white part of Sydney, my exposure to Western film was channelled through friends birthday parties and movies watched in school – limited to essentially The Goonies and The Rabbit Proof Fence. It wasn’t until I was in my later years of high school that I turned to Western Film for entertainment – cue The Godfather, Fight Club and Batman (I have two older brothers). Whether I was watching a eastern or western film, I was raised to question what it is the content is telling us to value, what it wants us to question and in turn, what really was the purpose of making it.

For these reasons, when I noted that Gojira the film was produced in 1954, I understood that it was a comment to the Atomic Age. I have always valued the simplicity and creativity of old film techniques. In one of the scenes in Gojira, we hear the singing of children as the camera pans the destruction of the city after Gojira’s first attack. The slow camera movement creates an emotional allusion to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  At first the footsteps of the monster seem to be an expected film sound effect, but upon closer reflection, (as someone who has been trapped in a war zone) each step sounds like a bomb – a sound that unfortunately, would be familiar the films post WW2 audience.

How I make sense of the film is framed by by cultural, social and educational conscious and subconscious knowledge. For me the content was telling us to value peace, it wants us to question political tensions and the abuse of power. The purpose of any film is to some extent entertain, but Gojira is a reminder of what has happened and what can reoccur if we do not learn from our historical mistakes.

ゴジラ

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This week I watched Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Godzilla. It was the first time I’d actually seen the film in its entirety, and I must admit I was a little disappointed with myself for not having watched it sooner. Anyway, here’s my reflection on Godzilla and the characteristics that make up the movie in the context of my cultural background.

Japanese:

I was first introduced to Japanese movies when I was probably about 10, when my Dad showed me My neighbour Totoro, and my love for Japanese film and television really took off from there. I’ve watched a lot of Japanese movies, I will admit that most of them where animated, but even then the amount of live action movies I’ve seen is still probably more than the average person. Battle Royal will continue to be one of my guilty pleasure movies for years to come. So when I was watching Godzilla I felt familiar with what I was seeing, from a cultural/social perspective.

Black and white/from the 50s:

As you’ll probably figure out reading this, I watch a lot of movies, so watching a movie in black and white wasn’t anything new to me. Some of my favourite movies (Seven Samurai, It’s a wonderful life, The Elephant man) are in black and white. My love of black and white movies probably stems from my Dad showing me a bunch of old horror movies, like The thing from another world, Invasion of the body snatchers, Nosferatu, etc. That’s part of the reason I was disappointed I hadn’t already seen it.

It is important to remember when Godzilla was made, 1954 is only nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for the people watching the film at that time the destruction that this monster created by nuclear test bombing it must have been horrific to see. It’s easy for me to see the link between the nuclear bomb and Godzilla, but I’m sure it had nowhere near the impact it would have had on the Japanese audience at the time.

Subtitles:

You can probably guess already that I was fine with the subtitles, along with the Japanese movies that I’ve seen, I also really like kung-fu movies from China and Korea, and many European movies, and with the amount of anime I watch (#subsoverdubs) I’m pretty sure I watch something with subtitles every week.

Kaiju movie:

We’ve finally gotten there, my favourite thing about Godzilla is it’s a Kaiju movie, and not only a Kaiju movie but one of the first. I’ve seen quite a few of the 90s Godzilla remakes as well as a bunch of other original franchises, my favourite being The Host (2003). Something I noticed though is that a lot of the Godzilla remakes tend to get into the destruction faster than the 1954 Godzilla, and have maybe a little less suspense. Also the relationship to Godzilla the monster has changed since 1954, in a lot of the movies now Godzilla is seen as the protector of Japan/Earth rather than just a monster.