Kanazawa IFIE Spring Course 2016
By Peter Cox
In September 2016 I attended the 2 week spring course in Kanazawa, which involved a home stay, cultural activities and, of course, Japanese language lessons. I had been toying with the idea for a while but never seemed to find time. In truth, although I had been to Japan a few times, it had always been with others who spoke Japanese well. I was more than a little anxious; the thought of getting from Tokyo to Kanazawa and living with strangers without causing some sort of cultural tsunami was a bit overwhelming.
Getting there was my first challenge; my biggest fear was that I would get irrevocably lost and end my days begging on a street corner in Tokyo. While I had some anxious moments and did get lost (only briefly) I managed to find someone who spoke a little English, which together with really good maps and guides kept me from being eternally entombed in Tokyo. Travelling by train proved much easier than I imagined. Probably the worst moment on the journey to Kanazawa occurred when I arrived at my destination. I left the station by the wrong exit and being somewhat directionally dyslexic managed to navigate to a quite seedy area rather than my hotel. The locals were helpful if not a little amused; google maps more than adequate; and I soon found my way to the comfort of my hotel sanctuary.
After a good night’s sleep, a fantastic meal of traditional udon washed down with one or two pints I was ready for the course. I went to the IFIE centre where I met a group of people who, like me, wanted to start or improve their Japanese language skills. The first day (Sunday) was taken up with being introduced to what makes the Ishikawa Institute, Kanazawa and Japan tick and, of course, meeting my host family.
IFIE takes special care to select host families and match them up with the students and in my case it was a really good match. Living with my host family was probably the biggest highlight of the course. Terao Yuriko was gracious, fun, helpful, and very hospitable. I cannot thank her and her family enough for allowing me to stay with them in their home. I was well looked after and shown some of the highlights of the Kanazawa district. In hindsight I could have engaged more with them in practicing Japanese and doing my homework but without them the course would not have been as rich an experience as it proved to be.
On the first Monday it was on with the course after being graded into the right class. I thought language study wou
ld be difficult. In some ways it was. Very little English (almost none) was used but this proved helpful because I was forced to think in Japanese and associate Japanese words and phrases with objects and situations. The stumbling block (at least for me) was overcoming my fear of making mistakes, sounding stupid. The language teachers were fantastic patient and understanding and so were my class mates. I looked forward to each day and enjoyed each class. Bit by bit my confidence grew even to the point where I could ask directions and order a beer in Japanese “biiru futatsu kudasai”!!. I soon learned biiru futatsu is two beers not one – an expensive but enjoyable mistake.
The course was not just about language study, it also included being introduced to the culture of Japan. The activities vary for each course and my course included gold leaf painting, sweet making, calligraphy, and paper making. I enjoyed the activities immensely and gained an insight to the demands of mastering Japanese arts and crafts. Apart from these activities there were visits to craft centres, temples, gardens, and a primary school. The primary school students were excited to meet us and took pride in showing off the highlights of Kanazawa city and their English skills. It was a relaxed fun time especially seeing their glee in beating us at their traditional games.
All too quickly my time in Kanazawa came to an end and as I got on the plane to leave for home there was a bit of a hole, as if I was leaving something behind. My mind holds a lingering memory of sitting in an onsen, looking out over misty mountains, and the mellowing of senses by a bottle of warm sake. There is this unspoken urge to go back, do it again, but hopefully next time with better language skills, and less shy.