Saturday, October 30, 2010


The other day in class, the J teacher and I were doing a lesson on expressing amounts for countable and noncountable items. For example we say "many apples" but not "many waters." "How many oranges" as opposed to "how much meat?"

At one point I added that we can say something like "many breads" but instead of many pieces or loaves of bread, it means many different kinds of bread. In my head I was thinking of white bread, rye bread, various types of bagels, baguettes, raisin bread, sourdough, etc. When the teacher explained it to the students, though, he used the examples of "curry pan, anpan, and melon pan." Bread with curry inside, bread with red bean paste inside, and melon-flavored bread. All sugary or fatty and all very pastry-like.

One thing I miss about living in America is that in Japan, there just aren't as many types of bread available, and (as I believe Orchid pointed out in a comment to an earlier post) most here are packed with calories and sugar. I guess because rice is the prevalent "grain" in these parts, bread has been rather sorely neglected.

Monday, October 25, 2010

That's a lot of pudding...

America has a reputation for being the country with all the unhealthy food. Forget France with its famously tantalizing desserts or its fatty croissants and cheeses - American food is either too greasy, too fatty, or too sugary. While it's true that there's plenty of unhealthy foods to be found in America, such consumables are bound to crop up wherever the demand develops. And though demand for such things may not be so great in Japan, it's on the rise. Don't try to deny it. If it weren't, you wouldn't see stuff like this for sale at Japanese convenience stores:

That's a 480-gram cup of pudding. That's about 17 ounces. For those without a basic grasp of amount, that's approximately a friggin lot of pudding. One cup of Jello pudding is about 1.15 ounces, the internet tells me. And look - it's not like this Japanese one is resealable. Who's being a pig now?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Great Place to Visit #3: My Four Biggest Aggravations of Japan

The best part of visiting Japan versus living here is you never have to deal with the culture shock that comes from overexposure to crazy. When you come for your two week stay, you'll visit Shibuya in Tokyo, take the Shinkansen to Kyoto to see the shrines and temples, and do some other quirky touristy things. Then you go back to your home country with funny stories about toilets. What I will strive to show you today is that toilets are just the peak of a somewhat aggravating iceberg.

Before I moved here I had to attend a couple of random seminars on living in Japan. One of those was how to deal with culture shock, or culture fatigue (as they call it now because scientists always have to change the names for things that have been around forever so it looks like they're doing something). They warned us about how things would be very different here. That you'd have to take your shoes off inside, you'd HAVE to say "good morning" every morning to all your co-workers or be shunned, you can buy hot coffee in cans from vending machines in Winter but in Summer you can only buy cold. Crazy, I know, right? I guess I don't blame them for their choice of topics. Those are obvious differences. You could hold up those up next to your own country and say "yes, Japan is indeed different from my country in some ways." What follows may sound like ridiculous complaints compared to the solid factual differences discussed in seminars, but these are truly My Four Biggest Aggravations of Japan. These pet peeves have caused me to question my own sanity, where the only way I've found to silence the voices is to close the blinds and watch hours of Futurama.

4. Nobody Pays Attention While Walking

Before I moved to Japan, I had this idea that Japan would be a crowded country, and I was right. But along with that idea I made the assumption that due to this, these people must have developed an amazing sense of how to move in small public spaces without colliding. I was actually worried I wouldn't be able to adapt to this new way of moving, whatever it may be. For my first couple months here I believed my fears had been proven true. It seemed that no matter what I did I was always in someone's way. What was I doing wrong? At first I tried walking on the left since the Japanese drive on the left. In the USA we walk on the right, the same as we drive, so I thought that would be a good way to start off. That didn't work so I walked on the right, to no avail. I was stumped at that point and it took me awhile to realize that the reason I always found myself in someone's way was because I actually noticed that I was. The prefered way to walk in Japan is with your head down. Some people may carry a prop, such as a mobile phone, to appear as if they have suddenly become distracted by an important email. Possibly one from the Prime Minister. Others use parasols to simply cover their eyes, in the guise of protecting themselves from the harmful effects of the late afternoon sun. Others distract themselves by staring intently at passing shop windows, fiddling with the contents of their bag, or anything else to keep themselves from having to look forward where they would inevitibly have to move out of the way of someone not paying attention. Because of this you get silly situations such as two people trying to walk past each other on an empty street, easily four car widths wide, and failing. When I see this I can't help but shake my head. And then get out of their way.

3. People Steal Your Umbrella

Do you remember that Seinfeld episode where George asked Jerry why he would buy an umbrella when you can just take them for free from the umbrella stands outside of stores? Now imagine that it wasn't a joke and everyone is George. I've lost count of the number of umbrellas that I've had stolen. In reality I stopped counting after seven. That number is not an exaggeration. I tried my best to get them back. I went to the police station and reported my seven umbrellas missing. I told them my theories on serial umbrella bandits. I gave detailed descriptions of each one (all cheap clear plastic, worth about $3.50 each). I haven't received a call back yet, and I'm starting to give up hope. Most likely they've already been taken apart and sold as umbrella scrap to some underground umbrella cartel. I should add that whenever something is stolen in Japan, everyone swears it must have been some Chinese or Korean person. Apparently that 0.5% of the population does 99% of the crimes. Which brings me to my next Aggravation.

2. Generic, Old-school Racism

Japan is a peaceful country so you're unlikely to be the victim of a hate crime, besides getting targeted for umbrella theft. What you will get instead is distrust due to an overall ignorance of the outside world. Twice I've had old women change seats after I sat next to them. One I sat next to for 3 or 4 stops before she noticed I was a foreigner and then decided a seat further down the train would be much safer. There's nothing we can do in this situation except not shoot or rob them, because then we'd just be playing into their stereotype. I still glare at their quickly retreating backs though. My angry face hides the hurt inside. This type of racism is mostly limited to the older generation. Younger people don't worry too much about meeting foreigners in Japan, since they see us as more of an entertaining novelty. Yet they still have the belief that the outside world is dangerous. Before going back to America to visit, my Japanese coworkers told me to be careful. They said this while looking in my eyes just a little too long, as if trying to remember that moment since it would be the last time they would see me alive. When I came back without a knife or bullet wound, they were very happy for me, like I won the Surviving a Trip to America lottery. It's nice to know they care.

See, they don't hate us. They just don't understand how similar we really are. This is why getting complimented in Japan is so darn insulting. If I take the compliments I'm given at face value I'd belive that my Japanese is incredible and the way I use chopsticks makes women swoon. Every time I open my mouth to speak Japanese, or open my mouth to put some Japanese food in it, I inevitably get a compliment about how dang great I am. You're thinking this doesn't sound like something to complain about. Well, you know those fingerpaintings you made as a kid? Maybe you made a turkey out of your handprint or something. Those were absolutely awful. You were like an anti-art savant. Now imagine if you made one of those paintings now and everyone told you it was incredible. And they were being completely honest. It's like, hey! I know this turkey sucks! Don't patronize me and my turkey.

1. People Only Speak English to Foreigners

"But Joe! You speak English! Why are you complaining about something so clearly convenient??" I will answer that imagined question with an anecdote. I was at the airport a couple weeks ago and found what appeared to be an old man's hat on the ground. Being the incredible human being I am, I took it to an airport employee and said in Japanese, "Excuse me, somebody dropped this." His reply to me was, "thankyu berry muchy." Could you even imagine this happening where you're from? If someone replied to any random black person in Afrikaans, or any random Asian person in Mandarin, they'd get a well-deserved punch in the face. I'm sure that the airport guy had nothing but good intentions. He saw me at the airport and didn't know I live a half hour away. He wanted to show off his English as well as how international Japan is. But by replying to my white skin instead of my words, what he actually said was "you are foreign and you always will be." Also he might have added "I don't know foreigners speak other languages besides English."

This concludes My 4 Biggest Aggravations of Japan. Of course this list doesn't cover everything. I skipped how English is used in non-Englishy ways ("Challenge the ice cream!"). Also I didn't mention the strangely widely held belief that Japan is the only country with four seasons. Now that you know, you can skip Spring cleaning this year.

The customer is not king in Japan

Saw this link tweeted by Gakuranman.


In Japan, “The customer is God” is a common customer service phrase drilled into waiters and waitresses and presented in just about every training session given to a new employee. On the surface, this seems to result in great customer service that is the talking point of many a tourist who visits the country. However, as a long-term foreign resident in Japan, I have been frustrated time and again by Japanese service, and now find it hard to believe that Japan will ever be a world-leading customer service nation.

Really resonates. While it's true that Japanese customer service is great as far as manners and politeness go, it's true that many places, especially the more corporate and cookie-cutter you get, don't have much concept of "the customer is always right."

Makes a teacher proud

I've mentioned previously that I work as an ALT at two different high schools - one normal and one a special part-time school. The students at the part-time school range from handicapped, to victims of bad family situations, to lazy, to extremely bright. One reason I sometimes prefer working at the part-time school is that there are a decent amount of students who will try to participate, even if their level isn't that high. All in all, though, students at either school will usually participate if prompted and certain special individuals may raise their hand or chime in from time to time, but Japanese students are not very pro-active.

Which is why I was very pleasantly surprised yesterday. The Japanese teacher and I were doing a lesson on past  tense verbs for a small, well-behaved, but generally reserved class. After we finished one exercise, though, one boy who is pretty bright but usually quiet unless directly asked something, raised his hand and asked not one, not two, but three questions about the problems we had just checked together. There were some grammar points that he didn't understand, like why "got married" has two verbs "got" and "married." It felt like a moment of triumph that he cared enough to ask! I commended him for asking good questions. Those are the moments it feels good to be a teacher.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Foiled again!

Man, iTunes is a pain. So yesterday I went to Costco to snag some iTunes giftcards as prizes for the contest(s) I'd like to get rolling. Unfortunately, they only had 3000 yen cards, which is a little more than I want to be giving away in one lump sum at the moment. Well, got it anyway. Long story short, apparently you can't use a giftcard to buy a giftcard, so I can't use it to buy smaller ones to give as prizes. Lame.

I suppose I'll have to fish around for some smaller cards. Maybe I'll check out the Apple store in Osaka one of these days...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's coming

This weekend I'm going to be heading to Costco to get some iTunes Japan giftcards, which means that probably sometime next week I'll be posting a new J-Word Play, but this time with the chance to win a prize. I'd also like to hold some kind of contest that won't preclude those readers who can't speak Japanese.

But anyway, keep checking it! It's coming.

Words I Dis/Like #2

Last year I blogged about the word [適当]. It's certainly an interesting one, and it and I have a love/hate relationship. The cool thing / problem about it is that, much like the rest of the language, it's pretty ambiguous. Often that's not a problem, when the context is apparent. In fact, that means often it's really easy to use. But sometimes...sometimes it's a pain in the ass.

適当(てきとう ) means "appropriate" (Edit: "adequate", as Tokyo Five suggests, may be a better translation). It also means something like "half-assed." It seems to me that lately it's used more often in the negative sense. There have been times when I've tried to bust it out and have been misunderstood, and the problem in this case is that it means pretty much means two opposite things. So if you say 「じゃあ、適当にしようね」 (Well then, let's do this right), it could also be interpreted as "Well, let's do this half-assedly (and just finish)."

I suppose this could be avoided by using a different word or making sure your inflection also hints towards your meaning, but sometimes it's just a big hassle.

Edit: Daniel points out that "however the f*%^ you want" is a good alternative translation for 適当.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Words I Dis/Like #1

Occasionally someone (usually Japanese) will ask me what Japanese words I like. Even though I think it's kind of an asinine question, it's one I have seriously entertained. Maybe because I like studying Japanese; maybe because I like language in general. Well in this post, I wanted to tell you a word that I dislike. But first I'll give you a freebie. Here's a Japanese word I like:


Here, have a look at the ACL entry. 「びみょう」is one of those words with a lot of applicability that doesn't translate well into English, as there are a ton of situations where it can be used and no single English word covers it all. The printer's acting up and sometimes doesn't work? That's pretty 微妙. Looks like it might rain tomorrow, even though you have a baseball game to go to? Ah, 微妙. Encounter a Japanese expression that's hard to understand (because of some subtle meaning or nuance)? 微妙. And that's just a taste. Use it often, use it well.

Now for the word that I don't like. This is one that Loco mentioned in a couple blog posts somewhat recently. That would be:


「えらいひと」usually means something like "VIP" or "bigshot." Someone who gets a lot of respect and (supposedly) deserves it. Why do I dislike this one? I'm not quite sure. Got nothing against 「ひと」or 「えらい」 separately. I guess I just have some kind of (unexplored) resentment towards the meaning. In Japanese society, there seem to me to be a lot of big cheeses who just kind of toss their weight around and are highly respected regardless of how they act. Sometimes this is because they hold a well-respected position, and often it's because they (also) have a lot of cash. Money buys respect. Of course there are people like this in any country, but in Japan often these folk not only feel like they have some kind of entitlement, but other people seem to feel so, too. These are people who are used to having their asses kissed. Now I'm sure there are plenty of えらいひと who have worked hard to be where they are, but whether it be some kind of jealous resentment or good old fashioned classism, I just can't help but feel somewhat irked when I hear someone talking about one of these big fish. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let's Enjoy Japanese: The JLPT!

December is that time of the year again - the most wonderful time. Christmas? Oh yeah, uh...that, too.

Photo taken with my new phone!

I kid, I kid. December is time for the winter sitting of the JLPT, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or 日本語能力試験. Many of you are quite familiar with it, I'm sure, but for those who aren't, it's basically the test you take to prove your Japanese ability level. There was also a business Japanese test, but I heard somewhere that it's being discontinued...

The JLPT was recently changed. It used to be 4 levels, with 1 being the most proficient (fluent) and 4 being the most basic (beginner). In 2007, I think it was, I passed the old level 3, which was lower intermediate, I suppose. The brand-spanking new version has 5 levels, with N1 and N2 being mostly the same as before. The old 3 and 4 were bumped back to N4 and N5, and they added a new level, which is the new N3. Apparently the jump from 3 to 2 was considerable.

Anyhoo, I'm taking the N2 in early December. I'm not uber confident, but if I hit the books for the next couple months I think I have a shot. After all, I've come a long way since passing the old 3 (by the skin of my teeth). I mean a long, long way. Anyway, enough about me. For those of you who may also be preparing, here are some resources (I haven't really explored them all thoroughly, but they look good, anyway):

The JLPT Study Page - Because it's official. The lists don't seem very useful to me, but has some free sample questions you can check out.

The JLPT Study Forum - All manner of links, advice, and FAQ to be found, like gems waiting to be excavated from a quarry of, uh...Japanese...uh...language rocks?

For your viewing and listening pleasure:

My Soju - Ignore all the other stuff - the J-dramas and movies are what you want to work on your listening skills.

As for something more practical, probably best for those studying for the N1, some news sites with streaming videos might serve well:

Channel J

And for those of you who don't want to be chained to a screen, I believe these stories can be downloaded to an mp3 player:

Japanese Log

Update (10/6/10): AJATT also looks to have a good Japanese study resource list.

Last, this isn't exactly JLPT-related, but looks like it could be an interesting thing to participate in. Perhaps pique your kanji interest a bit: KRAE. Saw the link originally on beNippon, so a hat-tip to David. Hopefully the registration link will be up one of these days!

So that's it for now. Have any advice, questions, or anecdotes about the JLPT? Sound off in the comments

Update: I may want to resurface this post from time to time with updates to the listed resources. Anyone know if there's a way to keep Blogger posts near the top of the page without reposting or adjusting the post date?

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I was just at Joshin (Japanese electronics store of sorts) and saw some 3D TVs for sale. I checked out one display and used the 3D looked crisp, but I actually couldn't tell that it was 3D.

Are these things for sale already in the US, too?