Though you wouldn't know it from my postings, I have in fact been studying diligently for the level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) for the past two months or so. ( as it's name implies, the JLPT's a standardized Japanese language test for non-native speakers, and level one is the top level.)
Well, I HAD been studying hard until about two weeks ago, when a conversation with one of my JET big brothers reminded me that the test is completely optional, its results utterly inconsequential beyond "bragging rights". Nonetheless, I made the trek up to Osaka Sunday with my comrade and fellow masochist Terence to take what was essentially the verbal section of the SAT in Japanese. Bragging rights are important, right?
The tests itself was just as interesting as, well, the original SAT. Except that the testing room was filled almost entirely with Chinese people, with a few Koreans thrown in for good measure and one dour-looking white guy in the corner. Upon reflection, I guess the demographics of the test are not all that surprising (there are a lot of Chinese people, and we are in East Asia...).
The results of this optional, inconsequential test won't arrive until February. Even so, I feel a palpable sense of relief very very similar to what I used to feel back at Amherst after finishing the final exam before the long winter break. I suppose I remain a college boy at heart, and that the JLPT gave me that familiar sense of purpose (and low-level background stress) that I've become so accustomed to. It allowed me to postpone that great, somewhat scary sense of freedom that accompanies a life without deadlines. Many of my fellow recent college graduates will know what I'm talking about. One becomes accustomed to certain certainties after nearly two decades of schooling - a constant stream of assignments during the school year, a sense of the finiteness of breaks at Christmas, spring, and summer. Even for the hard decisions like if/when/where to go to college, I had a limited number of options arrayed before me and a definite sense of the expectations of parents, teachers, peers to push me one way or another.
And now? A great, formless future lies ahead, one that (for the time being at least) offers very little in the way of guidance or pressure to choose one path ahead or another. It's liberating, invigorating, full of inchoate possibility, but I understand how it could also lead to ennui... ennui, of course, is a luxury of the idle and well-off...
But enough of such tedious foolishness. It's time to head over to Ai-chan's place....
Ai-chan is the lovely lady on the left in this picture. She's the mama-san of an eponymous bar in Osaka's Namba district, which she has decked out in the memorabilia of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and other stars and starlets of Hollywood's more glorious past. Plump, sequined, and a little surly, Ai-chan offers an unbeatable all-u-can eat/drink/karaoke special for the equivalent of about $30, whipping up tasty treats like clam pasta and kimchee pork behind the bar.
As fortune had it, my friends from the MY WAY event (see post below), were having a get-together the very same day as the JPLT. Jill-chan, one of MY WAY's masterminds, led us to Ai-chan's place through the throngs of Namba, ever-crowded even on a Sunday night.
Ai-chan maintains a fabulous costume collection in her establishment, and she proceeded to pass around outfits to our group after the first course. In my lap she dropped a polka-dot skirt and light-up Minny-mouse ears with a no-nonsense "here."
There is photographic evidence of course, and with this picture I give up any dreams of running for political office: