This one from NazoNazo King:
This one from NazoNazo King:
It's that time of year again, and I always find it a bit sad. The way schools (at least high schools) are administered in Japan, teachers are assigned to a school by the Board of Education for a usually undetermined length of time. Depending on a teacher's age, a guess can be made - for example new teachers generally stick around at their first school for 3-5 years, and teachers a few years away from retirement usually won't get moved around very much. Aside from that, though, it seems pretty arbitrary.
So I just finished reading the first of the Harry Potter books in Japanese. Took me a few months, but it wasn't until recently that I really started to buckle down and read that thing. I just wanted to share a few thoughts, for those of you studying Japanese (or perhaps any foreign language).
For those of you who live in Kansai, an interesting struggle is afoot. From the Japan Times:
This world is full of things. Right now you're reading this on a thing. It's probably on top of another thing. You might even be wearing a thing on your eyes that lets you see every other thing. These are good examples of helpful things. Glasses, computers, desks, anti-bear spray: all very helpful things. Notice how most helpful things are well designed. So on one hand (leg?) you have pants: extremely helpful and well designed. On the other hand you have Japanese textbooks. In the past, pants were not the stain-proof, wrinkle-proof, cargo pocket having space-age wonders you know today. No, they had to evolve to that point from their humble beginnings as itchy wool leg warmers. Pants evolved into usefulness while Japanese textbooks remain stuck in perpetual awfulness. "WHAT?!" I hear you say. "But Joe! According to the your popular 'All About Joe' fansite, YOU use a Japanese textbook!" This is indeed true. I use the popular "Minna No Nihongo" series. Arguably the best Japanese textbook created so far. But as for being well designed, it ain't. Let's go back to pants. Let's say instead of pants all you have is a towel, and that towel is just a little too small. You wrap it around your waist, but now you have to hold it. Does it work? Well, yeah. I mean, no one can see your naughty bits any more, but because it's so poorly designed, to get it to do what you want it to do, you have to manually force it to do its job. This is my experience with every Japanese textbook I've seen. They're like tiny towels. let me explain:
You buy a Japanese textbook for two reasons: you want to learn the Japanese language and you want to learn how to speak it like a normal (Japanese) person. So you open your crisp new textbook and start your first lesson: "Watashi wa Joe desu." They tell you it means "I am Joe." Right off the bat we get LIES. The book is taking a sentence from English, translating the words, and putting them in order according to Japanese grammar rules. Sounds good right? Except nobody talks like this, and even if they did, this doesn't mean what they say it does. To begin, "watashi" is a polite, gender neutral "I". OK. "Wa" just shows you what the topic of the sentence is (which here would be "watashi"). But in Japan they just drop what's not necessary. If you're introducing yourself, we already know the topic, and that the topic is you. So we get rid of "watashi" and "wa". Now we just have "Joe desu". In real life, this is how I introduce myself. It works out well. You might be saying "Ah, I see. Now we just have 'Am Joe.' I guess that makes sense." No, no, no, no, no. This is not English you silly person. The book is just trying to trick you into thinking it is. There is no "am" in Japanese. "Desu" is usually translated as "am" because thinking of it that way makes people feel safe and happy. In reality linguists can't even agree on what "desu" is let alone give it a simple one word translation. In this example "desu" shows that you are politely stating something. And that's it. So when I meet someone I introduce myself by saying "Joe" and add "desu" so they don't think I'm a super-jerk. Wow! That's a lot different from what the book said! So out of your two goals: 1, Learning the Japanese language and 2, Learning how to speak it like a normal person; you have achieved zero. Congratulations! On to chapter 2!
I need to stress that this is true for all the most popular Japanese textbooks.
There is also another way they un-teach you: many don't even bother to have you use the written language. This way you can easily make the same mistake I did and end up buying two versions of the same textbook because the first one you bought was only in Roman (i.e. English) characters, which are never, ever used by Japanese people. So in addition to not teaching you how to actually speak and understand Japanese, textbook companies also conveniently give you the option to not learn how to read or write anything too! How thoughtful!
Why are the books like this? The answer is simple: I have no idea. If I had to guess, I would say the writers are trying to make it easy for someone to "learn" "Japanese". They think it's easier for you if they just hand you a phrase that mirrors English. Of course they won't start you off doing crazy things like dropping subjects like in my example up there. That's too foreign! Doing things their way, you can just plug in your own name in replacement of "Joe" and BAM! You're speaking Japanese! Well, at least a Japanese person will be able to understand your meaning. Of course their response will be incomprehensible to you.
I guess my explanation didn't really clarify the tiny towels simile. For me, the textbook worked, but I had to always give it a hand to make sure it was doing the job it was supposed to. For example "desu" is the polite form of "da". Of course normal people almost always use "da" when talking to each other. When did the book decide it was a good time to teach me "da"? Chapter EIGHTEEN. And it's not just "da". The book ONLY teaches the politely conjugated form of verbs. It's handy when you're talking to your boss, but not when you want to speak to all your new Japanese friends. Since I didn't start studying Japanese until after moving to Japan, and I didn't just study it to sweet-talk my boss, if I just went by the book I wouldn't be able to understand the people I want to talk to for 18 chapters. So like I said, I had to force the book to do what I want. Whenever I would start a new chapter I would de-conjugate all the verbs. This was pretty difficult since they don't even mention conjugation until chapter 14. Using my Japanese textbook to actually learn Japanese involved a lot of guessing and double checking every word in my dictionary. Also, the hilarious part, the un-conjugated form of Japanese verbs are often called the "dictionary" version. Why? Because that's how they're entered into a dictionary! So, by going by the book, I wouldn't have been able to even look up a word in a dictionary for 18 chapters. These ridiculous tiny towels!
So what can you do if you want to actually learn Japanese? There are books and other resources that actually exist that teach you what I can only call the correct way to learn Japanese. The best one I've seen so far is Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese. This blandly named website contains everything you need, in an order that makes sense, to learn Japanese. And it's FREE. I think the guy has a book too, but he still keeps the website updated.
Don't make the same mistakes I did. Never forget: study smart, and wear awesome pants.
Ok, let's start off light:
Living in a foreign country presents a variety of challenges, especially when you're not a native speaker of the whatever it is that they speak over there. Encountering these hurdles can be immensely stressful at times, and overcoming them can be equally rewarding. Although these episodes can sometimes set the tone of your stay, I find that it's the daily encounters, the little things, if you will, that really color your overall experience.
From the time I was a child, as far back as I remember, I've had a fascination with myths and fables. My parents would read me stories from Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, and the like. In elementary school I read collections of Greek myths and the polychromatic Fairy Books (not as fruity as they sound). To my memory I didn't come across very many Japanese folk tales, although there are quite a few interesting creatures and myths to be found here. One of the most widely-recognized, I think, is the kappa.
Our last riddle was: 鈴木さんの好きなものは何でしょうか？（すずきさんのすきなものはなんでしょうか？）
Via the Japan Times:
Soy sauce is a staple cooking ingredient and seasoning used heavily throughout Asia. In Japan, it's known as 醤油(しょうゆ, shoyu). According to Wikipedia there are several different types. I must be frank - I had no idea.
Also known as おやじギャグ(old man jokes), these things are gold. I try to churn them out whenever the inspiration strikes. They're a good way to prove to the natives how funny and hip you are.
"Joe, what was it like to come to Japan for the first time?" Excellent question, Internet. There's hope for you yet. Let's take a trip back in time to the spring of my youth, 2003. My sister had flown west to work in the east. Well, 'work' is a strong word. She was also a part of the same shady Japanese government sponsored English teaching program that I am now. Coincidently so is the mysterious Paul, the man who hosts my blog ramblings. While I was in high school I took a little 11 hour flight to visit my sister over Christmas and spend two weeks in the mythical land of Japan. It's difficult to explain what it's like to go to a different country for the first time. I mean, an actual foreign country. I've been to Canada before, which was just a car ride away and everyone there speaks English. Also I've been to French-Canada, which was just a car ride away and everyone speaks French (and English). Now in Japan, no one speaks English. Well, some people do, but they are completely random. Head concierge at swanky international business hotel? No English. Drunk salaryman peeing in traffic? English whiz (ha!). Also this was the first time in my life I couldn't read any signs. The first time in my white, middle-class existence that I was not the target of every ad. Toothpaste or hemorrhoid cream? A mystery with a terrible ending.
I arrived in Tokyo and since it was only going to be for 2 nights my parents splurged and we stayed in the nicest hotel's cheapest rooms. The rooms themselves were great except it was like looking at a western hotel room through the wrong end of binoculars. The most interesting part to me was that the (tiny) beds didn't have the usual space between the side of the bed and the wall. Next to the bed was just wall. So a cross section would reveal bed, wall, then bathroom, which held the most confusing toilet I had seen so far in my 17 years. Every toilet in Japan is designed to government regulated standards which require everyone pass an IQ test before operating. No two flush the same way. Levers, buttons, switches, pulleys, infra-red motion sensors, voice activated command code required (one of those is a lie and it isn't the one you think). The flush is always in a different place as well, which tends to play out like Where's Waldo. Could it be attached to the toilet? Next to the toilet seat? Above the sink? Beside the red and white striped umbrella on the crowded beach?
After enjoying Tokyo and my first trip to a Japanese Denny's, which involved a lot of ordering by pointing to pictures in the menu and eating onion rings that were made of squid and not onion, we headed to my sister's town in inaka-land. Inaka is any place that you haven't heard of. So Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto: not inaka. Saijou, Takatsuki, Sasayama: inaka. Only mountains, rice fields, and vending machines as far as the eye can see, which is to the closest mountain. As flashy as Tokyo is (imagine New York's Times Square if it spread like electric cancer), the best part of the trip was my sister's little town on the island of Shikoku. Did you read my parenthesis about Times Square? This was the inverse of that. At night it was as black and as terrifying as a giant Japanese crow. Actually I found the lack of street lights charming in a way that could easily lead to you carelessly breaking your ankle. The ambient light level wasn't what put this town on the map, though. That would be its water. Apparently people come from miles and/or kilometers around just to fill up big plastic jugs with fresh inaka water from the fountains throughout the town. They say it works like the Fountain of Youth, whereby drinking it you will look and feel younger. I think it's more likely that it's popular because it works like a Fountain of Free Water, whereby drinking it your are out zero yen. So this town's thing was water, but every town in Japan has its on unique thing going for it. Compared to the others, the water thing is actually neat, in my humble and correct opinion. After all, if we took away your water (and your Coke Zero and your near-beer) you would most likely die an arid death. Though possibly less necessary to life, other towns' source of fame ranges from the substantially more impressive: lighting a mountain on fire; to the inarguably less so: one of the town's train conductors is a cat and he wears a hat. I'll give you 100(!) yen if you can guess which gets more media coverage.
To wrap up the last highlight of the trip, I hung out with some of my sister's students who were about my age. This led to a fun day of me embarrassing my countrymen by getting destroyed in a western sport (bowling), getting confused while they tried to poorly explain the concept of puri-kura to me by calling it "tiny pictures" when in reality they are "tiny photographs" (ha! silly Japanese students!), and me throughly enjoying them piecing together things I said in English to use as insults against each other. Such as the harsh, "your HEART is DIRTY." Lastly they introduced me to my now favorite store on earth, Daiso. There you can buy anything for less than the price of a candy bar (even candy bars!). I got a cool beanie I wore 6 years later when I went snowboarding in Nagano. See, it came full-circle, or something.
So that was my first trip to Japan in its entirety. Actually I'm leaving out the trip to Kyoto, the center of Japan's cultural and spiritual heritage, but whatever. Here is where I get to the point of this article: Japan is a Great Place to Visit. I guess it's the same point as my last article, but this one differs in that I'm not saying it cynically. Japan is a Great Place to Visit. It's so different, so inaccessible, so intriguing. When you look down from a tiny hotel room in Tokyo and see a place that does such a good job of dazzling your eyes, you have to wonder what's going on back where you can't see. The glitz and the rice fields, the crows and the drunken salarymen. All that's on top. Many Japanese people believe, especially the lingering elderly generation, that a foreigner could never understand the true Japan. But, hell, maybe they're right. I mean, is your home town famous for a train driving cat? Yes? How about free water?
That's all for this entry. So savor it! And continue enjoying Paul's near daily updates.
One of the great things about living near Osaka is the exposure to Kansai-ben. For any of you who don't know what that is, Kansai is the south central part of Japan that includes Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Hyogo, Wakayama, Mie, and Shiga. It's also known as the Kinki region. So anyway, Kansai-ben is the special dialect that is spoken in these parts.
My good friend Paul has kindly offered me the position of Minority Opinion Writer under contract on his popular web-log, Just Another Day in Japan. As for the contract, he didn't know but I mumbled my terms while we shook hands, a legally binding oral-contract in any country. Sadly except Japan I learned later ("The Legal Consciousness of Contract in Japan" Kawashima – <-- actual source cited). So here I am, no richer, drinking coffee, writing an article on a napkin with a
stolen acquired ballpoint pen, about Japan, in Japan.
I have spent a good amount of time with these people, not unlike Grizzly Man with the Alaskan murder-bears. I don't mean that in a demeaning way, and as obvious as it may seem that I'm comparing Japanese people to bears, my intention is quite different. My point is that no matter how much time Timothy Treadwell spent in Alaska he was never accepted by the bears. Actually, if you don't know who that guy is you should probably fire up your Google right now and read his wiki or something because I'm going to keep going with this. He spent years there living far away from his friends and family while slowly growing closer and closer to the bears. Closer and closer to joining the bear “in group”. He spent so much time there he began to feel like a part of their bear community and even a part of their bear families. Many foreigners who come to Japan feel the same way. Then they get mauled. The difference here is that foreigners in Japan don't get heart-wrenching documentaries made about them. Also, they aren't so much 'mauled', as they are told by a Japanese person that I can't appreciate good coffee because in Japan “Amerikan” coffee = mild blend, for some incomprehensible reason. God damn bears.
Now let's get into the head of the collective Japanese. First, imagine a world where everything is the opposite of Grizzly Man. Actually, imagine the world of Rupert Bear (Google that wiki, homes!). I imagined living in Japan would be like that. Here I am, an anthropomorphic bear living with my various anthropomorphic friends and I'm going to move to the world of people. In my Rupert Bear world, not only would I be completely accepted, nobody would even comment on how I'm a bear, that I can do things such as speak people language, eat people food and use proper utensils. Sadly real life is very un-Rupert Bear. Imagine Rupert Bear moved into your neighborhood. Would you stare at him? Hell yeah you would! Your new neighbor's a bear! Would you be surprised when he said hello in English? You kidding me? It'd blow your mind! How about when he eats beef stroganoff with a knife and fork? You'd be all like, “Holy crap! That bear is eating beef stroganoff AND can somehow work a knife and fork with his giant, meaty paws!” Welcome to Japan, gaijin. Where everything you do creates wonder.
“But Joe!” You say, “YOU live there! It can't be all bad!” First off, I was getting to that so don't interrupt. Second, yes, it's not all bad. In fact, it can be quite awesome (no open bottle law? Yes please). True, nobody wants to sit next to a bear on the train, but because of this, bears definitely can get away with some stuff. Not enough money for a train ticket? Walk on through! Guy won't stop a bear! If he does stop you, speak some bear language at him. How long do you think he'll try to communicate with a bear before he feels silly and let's you lumber away? Now, you may think that this would just help perpetuate the myth that bears can't speak and act like normal people. You are correct, my cub. Honestly, I try to act like a functioning member of society 24x7. If only for the dream that one day I'll be able to drink my coffee without criticism. Still, I won't blame you if you pull this stuff. The difference here is that I do live here. You don't (well, most likely). And if you are somewhere across the sea there is still hope for you. Here is where I get to the point of this article: Japan is a Great Place to Visit. The country is clean, beautiful, and the food is awesome. Most importantly the people are ridiculously nice to guests. It's when you make the transition from 'guest' to 'guest who stays too long' that life gets tricky. If you've toyed with the idea of moving to Japan and want to know what you should do, I'm not going to make that decision for you. What I will do is give you a sample of my adventures in Japan through metaphor and witty rhetoric. If you decided to join me on this rock island, at least let me prepare you for what you won't see on your animes and read in your mangas, you otaku. So keep coming back and reading Paul's excellent blog while I occasionally fill the spots between. I swear the next one will be mostly bear free.
I just read a Japan Times article about how a certain show has taken off and caught the interest of foreign TV execs. You know, I've seen the show before, and I did find it pretty amusing. But you gotta ask yourself if this is a good idea. Compared to other Japanese TV shows, yeah, maybe this thing is gold. But compared to British or American programming? I'm not so sure.
The last couple weeks have been pretty mild. There was even a day or two that got up to around 18 C (about 64 F). And then it got cold again. And rainy and miserable. Towards the end of the week, though, things may heat up again. This kind of weather isn't unusual for the end of winter in temperate climes.
Learned this one a while back - think it may have been my first, actually:
Our friends drifted off to other side of the stairway, leaving her and I alone again to talk. I expected that now she would answer the question I had asked her two days ago. The question that had been eating at me since then. Instead she pointed at the small loaf of bread I was holding, a present from her excursion into the city. "Think of me when you eat it," she said with a smile. I wanted to tell her that I had been thinking of her almost nonstop for the past two weeks, so that would hardly be a problem. "Of course I will," I answered instead.