Njeri is currently a student at Kenyatta University (KU). She started learning Japanese in 2009. In the same year, she sat for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT exam) and passed. Because of the good mark she got, she received a scholarship from the Japan Foundation to go to a Japanese Language School in Japan for 6 weeks.
In 2010, she participated in the Japanese Language Speech Contest and took the 2nd position. In March of the same year, she met Prof. Ritsuko Miyamoto of Akita University Japan. As a result of this meeting and a series of fortunate events, she was taken by Akita University as an international student for a year.
My Most Surprising Experience
What surprised me most in my life was the differences between Kenya and Japan. Sometimes I was amused, other times embarrassed, other times I was simply amazed. First, Japanese people tend to be very respectful and hardworking. Use of honorific language, bowing, and generally doing their things gracefully. At the convenience stores and supermarkets, they welcome you so warmly until you are tempted to buy more than you had wanted. Once, I had a bad experience with a Kenyan matatu conductor. I wanted to open the window as it was hot but the conductor told me that I was not allowed to. Asking him why, he answered with a stern look that if I thought the vehicle was hot, I should ride on a motorbike!
Japanese people also are very good time keepers. When I made appointments with Japanese, they always kept time. Time keeping skills seem to be something that Kenyans were not blessed with. If you want to meet them at 3, tell them to meet you at 1.30 so you don’t keep waiting.
Japanese people are also very kind and welcoming. They are also fond of giving small presents, a feature that is lacking in Kenya and even other countries. That's why my friends and I always attended talks because we would get free tea, snacks pens, etc. Of course we learnt a lot from the talks but to be honest, as young people, the thought of eating delicious onigiri and such things was always a good motivation for us!
Once I also had an experience in Tokyo that amused me. A police officer approached us with questions. When he came to my friend who had just entered Japan and very poor in Japanese, he was told "nihongo tabemasen" (I don’t eat Japanese) instead of nihongo hanasemasen (I don’t speak Japanese). We just had to laugh at his innocent mistake but the officer thought that he was being rude so he told him to go back to his country.
But the most surprising part about Japan was with 2 experiences I had. If I was White, my face would have turned red with embarrassment. One was when I visited an onsen. Not knowing that towels are not allowed in, I tied one around my body and proceeded in, only to be stopped by a lady who told me to return it. In Africa we are not used to showing our bodies in public when she took my towel I started covering my body with my hands running to the water feeling so ashamed as the other women looked at me! Of course with time I got used to the culture and came to love onsens but the first time was very challenging for me.
Then there was the experience with washlet toilets. Being from a country with very simple toilets, some of them pit latrines, I had become very curious to know the functions of the washlet toilet buttons. So I mischievously pressed a button and alas! Water jetted out instantly. I jumped up in fear shouting in my mother tongue, "ngai baba ndeithia" meaning, "Oh god please save me!" Embarrassing part was that there were other students waiting outside there to use the toilet and they were terrified by the scream; I quickly ran out of the toilet only to realise that I had not zipped my trousers! Aarrgggh!! Am sorry I don't want to tell you what happened next. ...
I started learning Japanese in 2009. I started with a group of 120 other equally excited students at Kenyatta University. Some wanted to learn a foreign language, others because a free Japanese language course had been introduced at the university.
The year 2009 was tough because KU students went on a strike which kept us out of school for close to half a year. During this time, I studied Japanese by myself, using the books and the audio material that my teacher could lend me.
The question that was and is still frequently asked is, "Of all languages, why choose Japanese?"
I found Japanese language to present itself as beautiful and artistic, especially the writing systems. I was also greatly interested in Japanese technology and Japanese culture which is so amazing. And need I say food? There was a lot of new experiences I was sure to encounter while learning Japanese.
When the university resumed, I was glad that I could now consult with my teacher. I was so lucky to have Mr. Kiruri Gachie as my teacher as he did and has always done everything possible to see that I excel in the language. With only about 2 months of consultation, he prepared me adequately to do JLPT. I did the then JLPT level 4 and passed very well, earning me a scholarship from the Japan Foundation to go to a Japanese language school in Japan for 6 weeks.
Around the same time, I took 2nd position in the Japanese Language Speech Contest of 2010.
In March 2010, I was fortunate to meet Prof. Ritsuko Miyamoto of Akita University, Japan. She was impressed by my interest in the language and consequently Akita University took me as their international student for a year. I was in Japan from October 2010-September 2011
During my study in Japan, I had very enjoyable and also sad experiences. I met very warm Japanese people with whom I still keep in touch today. I also met many international students and got to appreciate intercultural differences.
The saddest part of my stay in Japan was the Tohoku disaster of March 2011 that was very traumatic. But it taught me a valuable lesson that life does not always have to be smooth.
When I came back to Kenya in September 2011, I found it hard to adjust again, life in Japan had been so good, especially because I could speak in Japanese everyday.
I still try to study hard though it's very challenging to study by myself. Am glad to have taken 2nd position again in the speech contest held in February 2012.
I intend to study Japanese language up to PhD level, my dream being to become a professor teaching Japanese language to African students.