Sunday, June 24, 2007

Zurashi Zubon (ずらしズボン)*

One nice thing about the Japanese major at Stanford is that it is small. Scratch that – it’s “intimate.” The word small conjures up images of a student huddled underneath a desk lamp, reading an ancient Japanese text in preparation for a one-on-one meeting with their professor. Come to think of it, this is a pretty accurate description of the life of a Japanese major…but I digress. I mean to emphasize that the group of professors and students in the Asian Languages Department are a close-knit bunch. We all know each other and we are all friends. I have been in Japanese class with the same group of friends throughout my four years at Stanford. This story takes place during 3rd Year Japanese class sophomore year.

The assignment from Tomiyama Sensei was to read a short article in a series about Japanese educational philosophy from our textbook and prepare an overhead transparency. We would then each use said transparency in our short individual presentations, summarizing the article’s main points for our classmates.

After two thought provoking student presentations, one on bullying in grade school and one on English language education in Japan, a third student got up to present. He placed his transparency on the overhead projector. The title was written in blue vis-à-vis pen and read “zurashi zubon.” Zurashi zubon roughly translates into “loose pants.” More specifically, pants that are so loose that they slide down past the buttocks, leaving the wearer’s underwear exposed. This is apparently a growing fad with young people in Japan, much to the chagrin of parents.

The student got only a few minutes into his introduction of zurashi zubon before he realized that he had selected his article from the wrong section of the book. I had been chuckling throughout the beginning of the presentation, but I couldn’t hold it in anymore; I burst out laughing. Something about the absurdity of two incredibly serious topics about education and one about pants finally hit me. My laughter got louder and louder, spiraling out of control.

The student giving the presentation crossed out his previous title with the same blue vis-à-vis pen and flipped to the correct section of the book, trying admirably to deliver an off-the-cuff presentation on an article he had never set eyes on before. I couldn’t do this in English, let alone in Japanese.

By this point I had removed my glasses, which were damming up the tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t stop laughing – I mean I really couldn’t stop. I hid my face as best I could behind my textbook, but somehow, like a moth to a flame, my eyes kept being drawn to the projection of the now crossed out title zurashi zubon. Every time I saw the title I re-erupted with tears of laughter.

At this point in the class, everyone had become well aware of my hysterics. I hadn’t stopped laughing for the past five minutes, and had now taken to banging on the table while gasping for air. Consequently, other students in the class started laughing at my ridiculous display. Eventually even Tomiyama Sensei started laughing, as did the student presenter. There we were, all of us, laughing like fools at something as silly as zurashi zubon. It would be a long while before our laughter would die down. I honestly don’t even remember what else was covered that day in class.

Over my years working as an office assistant and studying as a student in the Asian Languages Department, I have had many such hilarious, touching, and memorable experiences with friends and faculty. However, something about this particular memory sticks with me. I think it must be the feeling of friendship and support that can only come from a small…I mean…“intimate” major.

If you are reading this, then Ben Whaley has successfully received his B.A. with honors in Japanese. Next year Ben hopes to be living and working in Japan. He plans to wear zurashi zubon on the plane flight over.

*The preceding short story originally appeared in the 2007 DLCL commencement bulletin.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Graduation! (卒業式)

Well, I finally made it! I am now officially a college graduate. Here is a picture of me receiving my diploma from Asian Languages department chair, Professor Steven Carter.

Thank you to all the people that have encouraged and supported me throughout my college education.

This is only the beginning...

Stay Tuned!


This is just to prove that I DID actually graduate! Here is my BAH in Japanese from Stanford University. It was conferred with departmental honors and distinction on Sunday June 17th, 2007.

I won the Kung-Yi Kao Prize for outstanding progress in the study of Japanese. Here is my award. I was a little surprised that my department cut me a check and sent me on my way. Don't these things usually come with a plaque?