I was going to be more explicit in the title, but the thought of someone from Nanzan finding this on Google and chopping off my head was too frightening. I’m not going to roast the school here, but nobody likes ambiguous press floating around where people could see it.

I was a little amused by the number of questions I got about education in the past few days, especially since, with less than three weeks to go, my opinions on school tend to run towards ‘oh God, get me out of here in time for Christmas.’

I’ve paraphrased the questions a bit, to make them fit better in my head, but I think I’ll be able to cover everything.

What is Nanzan University like?


Kidding. I actually think ‘hectic’ would describe it best. I just spent two years taking college level Japanese for a total of four hours a week with three hours of class time, which was spent learning new grammar points and vocabulary, plus an hour of ‘lab’ that was used to learn kanji (Chinese characters) and go over particularly troublesome bits of grammar.

Nanzan University’s Center for Japanese Studies bills their language program as ‘intensive’ and they’re right. As a 400 level student, I spend a total of 13.5 hours a week just in Japanese class. When we were going through orientation, our heads began spinning at the realization that they’d subdivided the curriculum to the nth degree. We had a teacher for speaking, a teacher for reading, a teacher for grammar and one for kanji. Two more teachers were ‘lab’ teachers, covering listening and pronunciation. Later, the designations among teachers became less distinct, but the subject divisions stayed.

There are quizzes four out of five days of the week, in reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, and kanji. There is some kind of homework due almost every day, plus a huge group project that we started in the middle of October and are just finishing up this week. In addition to that, we have occasional classes in speed reading, and a journal that we have to trade back and forth with a Japanese students.

A bit of explanation about levels – CJS has 6 levels, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, and 700. 200 is only offered in the fall and is for people who have never taken Japanese – though you do have to be able to read hiragana and katakana, the two Japanese syllabaries. 700 is only offered in the spring and since 600 level students intimidate me, I have no idea what they’re capable of. So 400 is pretty middle of the pack, covering chapters 1-10 of the textbook, An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese [Revised Edition].

You take a placement test when you arrive. However much of the test you get through determines your level. I failed the test for 400 because I focused too much on kanji (you want to pay attention to grammar). Even when faced with such arguements as ‘my school won’t accept credit for this level and I’ll have to stay at college for an extra semester’ wouldn’t sway them. Luckily, the first day of class you get yet another placement exam – do well enough and they’ll move you up.

And then there’s all the other classes you have to take, because all of the above that I just listed is only worth 8 credits.

There are 2-credit art classes available, in Woodblock Printing, Calligraphy, Ikebana (Flower Arrangement), Tea Ceremony, and Chinese Ink Brush Painting. These occur once a week for an hour and a half. I only do Calligraphy and Painting, but I have no idea what you’re graded on. Basically, you paint or write until you have what you believe (the teacher may disagree) is a submitable piece of work. I have yet to receive a piece back with any sort of grading. These classes and Japanese class are conducted entirely in Japanese, with varying degrees of annoyance at our instances of English.

The Japanese is intensive, in every sense of the word. Complete immersion, slave-driving teachers and lots of work. That’s why I chose Nanzan.

You are only required by CJS to take 14 credits, but if you go through IES (an American company that liasions with programs like CJS to make things easier for American college students), you have to take 15. I’m taking 16, because that makes more sense for my college and my courses happened to fall that way.

So in addition to the classes mentioned above, I take two others – Principles of Language Education and Intermediate Translation. Both of which are a drain on my patience, energy, and hope.

Intermediate Translation is conducted thusly – every week, at the beginning of class, we turn in a workbook in which we have translated 2-3 pages worth of sentences and passages, either from Japanese to English or vice versa. The teacher checks to make sure that we have done this and then we spend the rest of class going over each and every problem. Sometimes we get hung up and spend 15-20 minutes arguing about one point, which can be fun (if you care), or torture (I don’t care anymore).

Principles of Language Education makes Translation look good, however. It is supposedly a class on the principles of language education (surprise!), specifically those of teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. It actually consists of a British professor giving us am English language handout and then reading it to us, making sure he elaborates on the points that may be difficult for the Japanese students to understand.

What is it like in classes with Japanese students?

Hmm. I only have the one class with Japanese students, the education class listed above. They’re all high-level English majors, so they do have some amount of competency in the language, though it varies greatly. One of my co-workers is in this class and she and at least two other people can chatter along as well as any American college students.

We do occasionally split into groups for discussion, but unless you happened to be paired off with one of the aforementioned chatterboxes, most of the time is spent coaxing your partner into speech.

What are the professors like?

Ah. A loaded question. We have many, many professors (okay, about seven) and only one of them has not managed to raise my ire at some point.

On the whole, they are cheerful, extremely energetic people who are incredibly dedicated to helping you improve your Japanese. That said, they are a bit more ‘traditional Japanese’ than your average American Japanese instructor. They are, in fact, a bit more like Japanese high school teachers (strict, high standards) than Japanese college professors (a bit more laid back).

There are strict teachers who turn out to have great senses of humor, cheery teachers who like to pick on one person relentlessly in each section, jokey teachers who occasionally make you feel bad about yourself, crabby teachers who are always coming up with cool stuff for you to do. And then there’s the kanji professor, who, in order to make up for the horrifying subject matter, is absolutely perfect in every possible way.

Any further questions? Tomorrow(-ish) is dorm life, CJS kids versus the local population, and cafeteria food.

Bonus – Venus, Jupiter, and the crescent moon making a smiley face.



Filed under japan

3 responses to “Education

  1. Dad

    Really great essay — expalins very well the hectic week you had while I amused myself riding the trains and people-watching from various venues. And what a nice shot of the celestial conjunction going on this week! This is the last time this will be seen until November 0f 2052.

  2. Sus

    Sounds like you’re pretty busy. How do you find the time to keep up this great blog? Not that I’m complaining. I’ve really enjoyed coming along for the ride.

    By the way, I just went out to look, and we have an upside down frowny face here in Tucson tonight. Thanks for the heads up. I might have missed it.

  3. shizuku_san

    Man, your Japanese class really is intensive. We had a similar schedule of quiz/homework frequency, but only 9 hours of class per week and 2 teachers in my class at Waseda. On the other hand, some of the liberal studies classes were actually worth taking, though it was so hit and miss that if you only took two classes the likelihood that they’d both suck was high.

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