Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reviewing the Budo Specialization course; Part II

In this second review of the Budo Specialization Course of the Kokusai Budo Daigaku, I am going to look at the Japanese classes as well as the lifestyle in the dormitory and city of Katsuura. Finally, I will give my overall opinion on the course.

Japanese Classes:
Bekkasei are required to attend Japanese language classes apart from their regular Budo training. These classes are generally held twice a day from Monday to Thursday, the exact period varying depending upon the schedule of Judo and Kendo classes. Topics range from Japanese grammar and conversation to culture and history.

In a course that is fraught with weakness, the Japanese language classes emphasize the shortcomings in the Budo Specialization Course of the International Budo University. The problem lies in a complete lack of organization; the course has neither a syllabus nor a coherent structure. The primary sensei follows no textbook, nor does she set forth objectives. Though both the primary and secondary sensei are wonderfully kind individuals, they fail to maintain any authority in the classroom. Furthermore, classes do not relate constructively, building upon what has already been taught. Instead, each class consists in unrelated material. This is the danger of teaching without a syllabus.
Bekkasei are required to take these Japanese classes, regardless of their relative abilities in the language. For this reason, both students with very high and very low levels are mixed together. Inevitably, someone will get board. When bekkasei with a sufficiently high level of Japanese asked to take regular university classes, they were refused. The reason being: Bekkasei are required to take the “Bekkasei” Japanese class.
It is difficult to adequately “review” the Japanese language course without seeming to directly insult the sensei. Unfortunately, the criticisms I put forth here have been made by years of bekkasei before me. Though people have expressed their dissatisfaction for over a decade, nothing has changed. The sensei themselves are very nice, but perhaps also somewhat lazy as regards the classes. In the end, however, a sensei has a responsibility to teach. Being friendly or kind does not forgive failure in one’s work.

The dormitory:
Bekkasei are offered a place in the Kokusai Koryu Kaikan, or International Exchange Hall. For 15,000yenn (roughly $150-$170) a month, bekkasei live in a relatively spacious room with access to internet (in the downstairs assembly hall) free laundry and a public kitchen. Each room is shared, but includes a bathroom and shower as well as heating and air-conditioning.
There are some small complaints that can be made regarding the Koryu Kaikan. There is no internet access available within dorm rooms. In order to use the free wireless, students must sit in the downstairs assembly hall. This means there is little to no privacy while speaking with one’s friends or family. Though the use of washers and dryers is free, the dryers are more often broken than not. In the winter, this means you must think carefully about when to wash your dogis.
Despite some few, small complaints, however, the Kaikan provides the most affordable way to live in Japan. Much of the Kaikan’s atmosphere depends upon the bekkasei themselves; though a cleaning staff does their best to keep the downstairs kitchen and assembly hall tidy, the bekkasei decide whether or not it remains so throughout the day.

Katsuura is located one-and-a-half hours (by local train) from Chiba City and around two-and-a-half hours from Tokyo. Though small, Katsuura attracts tourists year-round for its beaches and festivals. In the summer, people spend as much of their free time as possible on the beach. In winter, on the other hand, Katsuura becomes a very uninteresting place to be.
Possibly the greatest drawback to living in a town as small as Katsuura is the lack of variety in food. There is but one supermarket, Hayashi, which is fairly expensive. Fruit and vegetables are especially high priced. It is sometimes more affordable to shop at the “morning market” in downtown Katsuura. This is a daily market in which local farmers sell their produce starting around 6:30AM. The selection is highly variable, however, and dependent upon the season.
A more reliable option is to take shopping trips to nearby towns along the sotobu train line. Though these towns are all fairly small, each one offers something unique that the others might not.
Finding part-time work in Katsuura, at least, is fairly easy. During the summer, a number of small stores open up along the beach. There is always a need for young men and women willing to work serving in the restaurants or selling merchandize. In the winter, some of the local hotels and ryokan—inns—employ students from the university to help take care of the busy tourist season. AS a bekkasei, the student visa allows for part time work up to twenty hours a week. Since most employers are somewhat… “informal” in their records, the twenty hour limit is often overlooked. Employers do keep their own, generally accurate, accounts, however, and will pay their employees in full…. Even if the lack of book-keeping seems suspicious.

My Overall Opinions:
I do not recommend the Budo Specialization Course at the International Budo University for most people. The difficulty in finding acceptance in the dojo combined with the low quality of both Budo and Japanese classes can result in a very disappointing experience. This being said, I myself do not regret having done this course. As with all study abroad experiences, this program is “what you make of it.” I took every advantage to travel and train at several dojos in Tokyo as well as becoming involved in activities outside the university. I was also very lucky in having had a life in Japan prior to beginning this course.
In particular, my relationship with Nakajima Sensei from the Kokushikan University opened the doors for several opportunities I would not have otherwise had. The winter swimming in Kamakura as well as a trip to Nagano to a seminar on disability sports were both thanks to the intervention and invitation of Nakajima Sensei. Furthermore, I knew my way around Tokyo well enough to freely travel on the weekend. This made it possible for me to visit both the Kodokan and Newaza Kenkyukai (Newaza Research Association) on Saturdays. If one’s only idea of Japan comes from their experience in this course, then this is not a good exposure to Japanese culture. However, if a person is outgoing and willing to take trips, look for training on their own, and make an effort to learn the language, then something can be gained by attending the Budo Specialization Course.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the post. I´ve applied for the IBU and I couldn´t find any opinion about the course. Instead of yours, I hope to be selected.