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Asian Spirit: Another Kim Hye-gyong    By Keiko Iwata
Chapter 12: Japanese Language School
Asian Spirit Archive

About Asian Spirit

A compilation of nonfiction essays, the book comprises the experiences, both good and bad, that author Keiko Iwata shared with South Korean students living and studying in Japan.

About Keiko Iwata

Keiko Iwata is the representative of the NPO Heart Connections, which provides non-Japanese students with consultation services to help them solve problems related to living and studying in Japan. Iwata authored the book "Asian Spirit" (published in February 2004).

About Larry Greenberg

Larry Greenberg is the founder of Urban Connections Co. Ltd., an enterprising group of professionals that strives to provide innovative solutions to the latest challenges.

This was the three-and-a-half years that she spent at Japanese language school until she started studying at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Hye-gyong reflected back on her student life in Japan, and as she flipped through her picture album, she felt nostalgic for the memories she had built over the past few years.

It was two weeks after she arrived to Japan in mid-September of the year 2000.

She started taking pictures from the day before her very first day of classes in Japan when traces of the fall had started to creep in.

At Japanese language school in Korea, she learnt the basics, starting with the "Japanese syllabary," followed by "Hiragana and Katakana," the Japanese alphabets. Then she moved on to learning Japanese songs, which often served as a study tool. The themes were formed in line with actual life in Japan.

Although the perspective of Korea as a country may have been completely different, Japanese culture, especially music, was extremely popular among young Korean people.

Even now, she quietly hums the Japanese-pop songs she learned back then such as "Love, Love, Love" by Dreams Come True and "White Love" by Speed.

The language school that Hye-gyong entered required students to come Monday through Friday for four classes a day. From nine o'clock in the morning to noon there were 50-minute classes with a ten-minute break in between. The classes were divided in half on the basis of the students' levels of Japanese, or genres chosen by the students such as TV news programs, TV shows, and movies.

With the basic knowledge of Japanese she gained in Korea in addition to her hard-working nature, her improvement was remarkably fast.

A year after she started school, she could not only read Japanese newspapers but also Japanese classics easily. She engaged in reading "The Dancing Girl of Izu (Izu no Odoriko)" and "Snow Country (Yukiguni)" by the Nobel Prize winning author, Kawabata Yasunari, and also finished Mishima Yukio's "The Sound of Waves (Shiosai)" and "The Temple of the Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji.)"

When she picked out books that she wanted to read, she also asked her teacher to add to the list of books to allow her to buy in bulk. She immersed herself in reading books for a while. When her class discussed the "world of Nitta Jiro," she started reading his books. sympathizing with the "family interactions" and the "warmth of the commoners' interaction."

When she was given a choice among several genres, she always selected classes on movies or TV shows. In these classes, which she took for a year and a half, she got absorbed in the TV show, "Beautiful Life" that was popular in Japan back then. Through this show that was used as a learning tool, she became an ardent fan of the actor Kimura Takuya, also called "Kimutaku."

As her abilities in Japanese improved, she gained a deeper interest and sensation.

This teaching method is similar to the way "Hangul classes" in Japan often use "Winter Sonata," the TV show that is said to have caused a social phenomenon.

The actors' conversations were used for "listening tests." First they were expected to write down the conversation they heard.

Then teachers trained the students by making them repeat the questions,

"What did the hero say?"

"What was the heroine's answer?"

It was an entertaining class because they were able to learn new words and expressions by watching TV shows and movies.

In the classes segregated by level, by the end of her third month at school, Hye-gyong had worked her way up to the highest level. Even when she switched classes, her grades were consistently at the top of the class. The school recognized her excellent work, and offered her "exemption from class fees" for the remaining six months until graduation.

In her daily classes, they also often watched the news on TV. In one report on seasonal traditions, she learnt about "Seijinshiki," or the Japanese "Coming of Age Ceremony." She also learnt was about the "kagami-biraki" of taru-zake (opening of the sake barrel), and saw and learnt about traditional male clothing called haori and hakama for the first time. There was so much that she didn't know about this country. These classes introduced her to aspects of Japanese culture that she had previously been unaware of.

Along with the season of the ume (plum) flowers and cherry blossoms, her experiences at the Japanese language school approached an end. When she was getting ready to leave on the end of the last day of classes, her teacher came over and said,

"You worked so hard for the one and a half years you were here. I really don't have anything else to teach you." With her teacher's smile, Hye-gyong felt elated.

"What are you doing after you graduate?" the teacher asked.

"I'm not quite sure yet, but I'm thinking of going home to Korea for a while."

Hye-gyong had thought of going back to Korea as a closure to this chapter of her life, but as she was about to leave, her teacher advised her that studying at a Japanese university was also an option. These words oddly stuck in her mind.

Standing in front of about 300 people, she delivered a speech that had she prepared as a representative of the entire school.

She discussed "the complexity of world affairs," "her thoughts about her home country," and "her attachment to Japan." She spoke to the crowd about her days in Japan and her emotions that complemented these experiences.

Her concluding words were, "Together, we can help create a world free of war and famine!"

That was the day of her graduation at the Japanese language school.

Her decision to continue studying at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies right after she had graduated from the language school was probably the most natural course that she could have taken.

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