Obligatory essays are among the more archaic aspects of university life. Doesn’t matter if you’re a language or a maths student, a university still wants to see an essay. Yokohama National University was no different, even with its ‘JOY’ program for international students. It didn’t matter that everyone was from a myriad of countries, or that the majority were not in fact native English speakers, or that they had for the most part all arrived with the single intention of studying Japanese language. Alas no. They wanted an essay in English, and they called it ‘Japan in the World’ (if you have any comfort food, now would be the time to forget your diet). The task was rather simple, albeit broad; write a researched study on anything about Japan within the world community. This was somewhat amusing considering that Japan has an extraordinary disconnection with the rest of the world compared to other countries, which left most of us with writing about Japan, in Japan, where Japanese things happen, to Japanese people, in very Japanese ways.
Luckily for me (I get to say that so few times in life), the success or failure of my essay mattered little as my home university was only concerned with my language exam results. So long as I came back to the U.K knowing more kanji than when I’d left, they’d be happy. As a result I used the opportunity to get a head-start on my final dissertation, choosing to research gender in Japanese video games (a not so surprisingly depressing topic), so that I could reuse extracts for my future it-really-does-matter-this-time dissertation essay. Everyone else however were not quite as fortunate. The grades they received impacted them at home, and they had the added issue with writing in a foreign language that they hadn’t come to study. Naturally many of them were worried about it and needed their writing proofread by a native speaker to check over it. I was foolish enough to make an open offer.
There’s always one good student. Who does everything in advance, gets their research done in good time, writes up drafts and then final drafts of their essays well before any deadlines. Then there’s the majority of us, who really couldn’t care less and just want it over and done with. These people wrote their 7000 word essays (just repeat that in your head. 7000), on the night before it was due in. Not finished the night before. Started the night before. At 11pm, I got sent one such essay with a nice note requesting I check it. At 11:30pm I got two more. Past midnight I had a couple more. The morning it was due, I received half a dozen to check. Perhaps this might have been very annoying if not for the file names in the emails including:
“Please check my awful English!”
“Anyway you want it, that’s the way you need it, anyway you want it, daaa da da daamm”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe I finally finished this fucking Japan in the world essay”
“Poncho? Are you alive right now?”
“Do even the lecturers care about these essays?”
On the day it was due, we all gathered at the university international centre (God forbid foreign students went anywhere else in the university. We might scare some Japanese students), to print out our essays and hand them in, with mere hours left to spare. As usual with the end in sight after so many went without sleep to write their essays, everyone performed the age old tradition of complaint about the work. The injustice of being made to write an essay at all when we’d come to learn Japanese. Somebody suggested it was worse how these essays had to be so positive toward Japan. At which point many heads turned in fright. Did they have to be positive? We were writing about Japan, about Japanese issues with Japanese people but most importantly of all, these essays would be graded by Japanese lecturers. Considering the emphasis on nationality, perhaps over-critcism would not be marked kindly. I considered my own, gender in Japanese video games and how many terrible things I highlighted but then my fears were immediately reassured; it’s video games! And gender! (feminism? What is this black magic you speak of?). Male Japanese lecturers won’t have a clue what I’d be writing about (and funnily enough that’s the gist of the comments I received later). Oh and yeah, nobody cared what grade I got, so that little thing too. I checked with everyone’s topics and some were safe and others not so much.
“Elodie, what did you write about again?” I asked.
“…Bullying culture in Japanese schools” she said. I stared silently a moment.
“Did you write anything positive about that. Anything uplifting?” I dared to ask. She stared at me silently back.
“Bah, putain! I don’t care anymore!” she and so many others cried (although none with as much colourful language as Elodie could demonstrate).
It was in this way that I became an expert English grammar checker (it’s a self appointed title. Well deserved I feel. The greater irony in it though is that I don’t proofread these blogs myself). All of us endeavoured (sleepily made little to no effort) to write something about Japan, as apart of the ‘world community’ (let me just clean up the sick off the keys before I continue on), and discovered one key fact on the matter. Nobody really had anything to say. There was very little to say. But in times like these, when you’re struggling in the fight to highlight the good in something (whether it’s strongly encouraged or not), a little bit of patriotism never goes amiss.