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   Now in our eleventh calendar year
    PCR #556  (Vol. 11, No. 47)  This edition is for the week of November 15--21, 2010.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I"  by Mike Smith
"Fair Game" by Mike Smith
The Lost Drive-In: Nature Runs Amuck!  by ED Tucker
USF Japanese Picnic  by Jason Fetters
Don't Grope Me Bro! .... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith

USF Japanese Picnic

Waking up on Saturday morning around 8am, I knew it was going to be a beautiful day. The best time to be in Tampa is during the season when Summer is finally over and Fall is just starting around November. The weather cools but is not too cold and everything feels just right.

I had no idea what to expect as I looked forward to attending a recent Japanese picnic sponsored by The University of South Florida's J-Club. I can't believe all the changes that have occurred concerning the Japanese language program. Not to sound like bitter alumni, but it was so different back in my 20's. Around 1998, I shared an apartment with 3 Japanese roommates at Breckenridge, behind Fontana Hall and close to the Greenery Pub. I was taking a Japanese language class at USF and my teacher was Yoshii-san for Japanese 3.

During the Summer of 1998, I remember meeting all the exchange students from Kansai Gaidai. There was only around 7 with only one male and 6 females. We took everyone to Adventure Island and later a seafood restaurant that I can barely remember eating at. Also during that time, I was a member of the Friends of Japan Club that my friend's wife started. We did things like setup sushi eating parties and showing anime shows like Gundam 0079 on a big projector. Now that same show is streaming for free online. That's progress but is it such a good thing? Anyway that was then, back in 1998 about 12-years ago.

OK now on with the present. I started out on S. Dale Mabry heading towards I-275, took the Fletcher exit and drove about 5-miles, past USF, to a wooded area close to Lettuce Lake Park. Just before Lettuce Lake Park is USF Riverfront Park. When I arrived just before 11am, most of the parking spaces were filled up. I took my bag of salads and went looking for the picnic tables. I saw a Japanese flag and walked in that direction. Arriving, I met Otani Sensei, an older man wearing a hiragana T-shirt and a thirty-something woman, Nozu, who are both professors of Japanese language. The two professors I remember are both gone, including my teacher, Yoshii. After chatting with Nozu, she told me that the current textbook is Genki the same textbook that Kansai Gaidai uses. Genki is a much better book that Youkoso. When I first arrived at Kansai Gaidai back in 1999, I remember studying from Genki II, which was a big step up from Youkoso and better organized. It is much easier now if a USF student wants to study in Japan at Kansai Gaidai because the same text is used and everything seems better coordinated now.

Waiting around, I met my Japanese friend Kazu who works as an Engineer around Sable Park. Then I met the rest of our Meetup group. I belong to the Tampa Japanese Meetup, a social meetup group that encourages Japanese language learners to keep speaking Japanese in a relaxed environment with good people and native Japanese. Otani kicked off the picnic with a egg toss game that I watched from well behind the sidelines. There was two teams of 12-people and each person was handed an egg. You had to toss the eggs back and forth and if you dropped it, your two member team lost. That was fun to watch.

The picnic table quickly filled up with traditional Japanese foods like yakisoba, stir fried noodles, sushi, and fried rice. However the biggest hit for both USF students and Japanese people was the Papa John's pizza. The other big hit was Esther's Japanese beef curry. Esther is the organizer for our Japanese Meetup Group.

I talked with a young USF student who was getting ready to leave Tampa to study at Kansai Gaidai. I told him that in the first two-weeks, everyone takes a test, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and your results place you in one of the many levels. Level one is for beginners with little or no exposure to studying Japanese and Level 7 is the advanced class that allows you to take a class at the college level all in Japanese. He made a wise decision in wanting to live at the dorms instead of the host family program. I did both and found the dorm life much better with less of a restricting curfew to worry about.

I noticed that the current Kansai Gaidai Exchange students from Japan was mixed. There were just as many young men as young women milling about. There were some many Japanese students compared to the 7 from 1998. The people closer to my age were all from the Meetup Group and the Japanese professors.

Through Esther, I met a young lady who had books about Japan and Japanese language study in the back of her car. With left the young college students to play games as we hiked back to the parking area. She told me I could take whatever manga I wanted. There was a small cardboard box, sitting inside the trunk, filled with manga in Japanese. I first saw an old Dragon Ball manga that I quickly passed over, I found one Hentai that I briefly glanced through before finally settling on Monsuta-ro-do (Monster Lord) from Dragon Comics. The cover showed a werewolf growling and various kaiju Godzilla-esque monsters in the background. The art reminded me of my all time favorite manga, Jo-Jo's Bizarre Adventure. Jo-Jo's is about Jonathan Joestar, a young Indiana Jones type archeologist who battles strange monsters and creatures that are similar to the weird creatures from John Carpenter’s The Thing remake. I quickly took my free manga back to my car because I didn't want to look like the middle-aged guy walking around with a comic.

Then it was back to the party to have some fun. Esther brought her Nintendo DX that has a Japanese game that translate to The Beautiful Handwriting Game. Basically, you write the kanji that appears on the left screen, using a pen, and the game grades your handwriting. We had Otani Sensei, who is a master of calligraphy and teaches a class, try it out. He only got a lower middle grade and it was funny to see his reaction. Next we had Kazu try it and he got the same results as Otani. Then we had Nozu try it and at first she was standing up, then after she got a middle rank, she became very determined and sat down at the picnic table bench. Still, she got a middle rank. Each mistake you make shows a red line indicating where your brush stroke should have been. It is a frustrating game but it does help you write Kanji.

Around 2pm, everything wound down, most of the food was gone. Nozu announced that it was close to 2pm and that our reservations for the area was over and we all picked up and left. There were more Japanese professors this time and assistant professors to help out. It is a much better organized program than back in my day. Also, the USF J-Club offers more than the Friends of Japan Club. I remember how we used to set up events for the Friends of Japan Club. I would get together with my Japanese friends and we would get drunk on beer and sake and come up with some activity we thought was fun. Then on Sunday afternoon around 1pm when everyone started to sober up we filled in the details to make it happen. There was no drinking at this picnic. I'm sure someone started pouring sake later that evening. I would like to think so. It was a good chance to see the changes for the better and to see how many people were interested in Japanese language study. My Japanese 4 class only had 5 people in it. Now, the classes were larger and the interest in Japan is growing instead of declining as I had previously thought. Four picnic tables were filled with students on both sides with an even mix of Japanese to American students. Still, I couldn't help feeling like an outsider because I am no longer a USF student.

The gulf between student and alumni is so vast and Thomas Wolfe is absolutely right, you can never go home again.

To comment on this or any other PCR article, please visit The Message Board. "The Asian Aperture" is ©2010 by Jason Fetters. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.