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Dear Gaijin Girl,
I really really want to learn Japanese. How do I do that?
My advice is don't. However, if you really really want to learn Japanese nothing I say can stop you, you poor and unfortunate soul.
With that in mind, I highly recommend you watch Japanese dramas. They are the perfect guide to speaking Japanese like real people. (Forget that anime stuff unless you want to sound like you are perpetually ready to either burst into tears or attack pocket monsters.)
You also want to watch live action dramas so you can understand the grammatical value of Japanese facial expressions and what they mean. In order to speak Japanese like a native it's important to learn the fine art of being expressionless. When you master this, you will then able to not react to anything that you perceive as negative or unfavorable. As we all know, in Japan, if you ignore something you don't like, it will eventually go away like the homeless man masturbating in the station, the foreigner trying to get the station manager to stop the masturbating homeless man or the wife at home. It's a handy skill to have when dealing with the police and the NHK man. (And you will deal with them more than you ever wanted to)
Japanese dramas are hour long shows that run for three months and then they are over. If the dramas are popular, they may have a second or third season the following year but that is pretty unlikely.
Japanese dramas are always called dramas, even if they are comedies because if the network were to label a show a comedy they would also find the need to fuck it up with story stopping gags. I'll admit to watching and loving two Japanese comics take turns hitting each other as hard as they can in the shins with metal park swings for half an hour but I wouldn't watch an hour of it every week for a season. It is unfortunate that most Japanese comics on TV have very little or no control over their material or their career and make very little money doing it. If you ever wonder why the contestants on Japanese gameshows are never civilians but are always comedians trying to win things like cheese and ham, it's because they are broke and hungry. They are literally working for food.
Japanese dramas also let you in on some important and commonly held beliefs in Japan. The first being that if you are caught in the rain without an umbrella, you will get sick and probably die. A strange pair of shoes in your genkan or entrance means your significant other is cheating on you. A half eaten boxed lunch means a husband no longer or never did love his wife. Anybody with a necktie around their head is a drunk asshole over 50. Any drama with Kimura Takuya or Kimutaku in it is good. (Though the theme music will be bad.) Any drama where the lead is a female is antifeminist propaganda. Japanese people who speak English too well are evil. (American movies are also guilty of this. In them, the devil is always a white guy ridiculously good at speaking Russian or Chinese.) Marriage proposals are never romantic and if you fall in love with the wrong person (or your ordained by the gods soul mate) you will also fall into a coma or go blind.
Enjoy and good luck,
Dear Gaijin Girl.
Everyone keeps asking me what I'm doing for Golden week?
Golden week, what's that?
I'm glad you asked. Golden Week or GW is officially a time for Japanese nationals to reflect on the turbulent rein of Emperor Hirohito, as well as, honor his obsessive compulsion to document and classify every sea animal and plant in existence to cope with his role in WW II. (To be fair, it is better that hitting the bottle or the wife. It's frankly hard to hate the guy. He was buried with his microscope and Mickey Mouse watch for crying out loud.) The Japanese are also supposed to reflect on the constitution they have but didn't write or ask for.
I should note that when I say " reflect" I mean "spend a lot of money." The entire country takes 3-7 days off work and celebrates being Japanese by leaving the country. Many go to Guam, Saipan or Hawaii and complain about all the other Japanese tourists there. Those stuck in Japan due to inflated airfare might go to Kyoto or Osaka and complain about not being able to complain about all the other Japanese tourists in Waikiki-ken.
The Japanese are also celebrating Boy's Day which is on March 5th. A little FYI, Girl's Day is on March 3rd (Not a national holiday like Boy's Day. Now, that's a surprise.) and Drag Day is April 4th. (Not a national holiday but there is a parade.) I was informed of this by a Japanese man on what I thought was our first date. It then occurred to me that straight men do not offer this kind of info to women they plan on sleeping with. Looking back, I should have known he was gay when I realized our conversation was genuinely interesting and he was considerate. It turns out he'd asked me out because he thought I was a lesbian and he was looking for a "comrade" I don't blame him, I was going through a rock n roll look at the time. I was aiming for heroin chic, but that only works if you are actually on heroin. I was pretty chubby so I looked a bit butch. On top of that, I met him at a birthday party at a gay men's cowboy themed bar named Arty Farty. He came up to me and asked if I "come here often?" I thought he was one of those straight guys that hit on "fag hags" in gay men's bars I’d heard about. (By they way, I hate that term. I prefer the "fruit fly" thank you very much) I don't think I've ever disappointed a man more by telling him I was straight. (except for maybe Dad)
I'm telling you all this because this all happened my first Golden Week in Japan and your first GW won't be anywhere near as awkward as mine was if you take my advice.
Withdraw heaps of cash from your bank account a few days before GW starts because the ATMs will be CLOSED for most if not all of Golden Week. I know, it sounds stupid to not be able to get cash anytime you want. Isn't that what ATMs are FOR?! The answer is yes and no. The thing is Japan is a fairly safe country. (as long as you don't have any family in it) It is also primarily a cash country where the average salaryman/ housewife is carrying the equivalent of $300 in cash at all times. I've seen university students pay for laptop computers entirely in cash, thumping the equivalent of a grand or two on the counter and the cashier doesn't even flinch. Hell, the cashier is already fishing out correct change. It's like watching people play monopoly.
There is another psychological reason for the ATMs to be closed. Credit cards aren't really used in Japan the way they are in the US. Not that many people have them to begin with and the credit limit is usually set way lower than your monthly salary. (Particularly if you are a working class foreigner) Whatever you owe the credit card company is taken directly out of your bank account at the end of the month. Only if your bank account is empty do you incur interest. The interest rates aren't nearly as high as in the States. There are other more predatory avenues to borrow money, these are often called "sarakin" or "gakusei loan" these companies offer short term cash loans for up to 20% interest and are often "family business" related. A great avenue if you want to practice begging for forgiveness in Japanese and sitting dogeiza http://youtu.be/bG6oT5kYI0Y
The phycological reason for shutting down the ATMs is this. As you withdraw more cash than you plan to spend just before the holiday in case there is an emergency, something always happens. (though it’s hardly ever an emergency)
GW is one of the few times you and your friends are free see each other and since nobody goes to anybody's home, you'll inevitably go out to eat, drink and shop. Karaoke box hustlers will try to pull you into their shop where you'll spend ¥5000 yen an hour belting out the latest Taylor Swift in Katakana English and drinking the weakest cocktails on earth, all the while, trying not to touch anything in the karaoke box, knowing it's the poor man's love hotel. (Don't ever stop to ponder where people have put the microphone, it'll spoil your evening. Just bring hand sanitizer and dip the microphone handles in it.)
That’s my advice, withdraw as much cash as you can to get you through a week that will always be much more expensive than you expect it to be. (Oh yeah, and try to get your Japanese friends to do an Eminem song in the karaoke box. Eminem in katakana English is way cuter than kittens on the internet.)
Before I came to Japan, I was told that Japanese people were incredibly mature about the naked body. Not so. The first time I went to a public bath, within seconds of disrobing my boobs were poked and prodded by old ladies like I was an exotic animal at the petting zoo. I was met with a barrage of questions. " Why are your nipples pink?" " Why do your boobs move?"
When I had knee surgery in Japan. I had to have all my vitals checked beforehand. This included a heart monitoring. The head nurse, brought in a group of nursing school students to watch her hook me up. As I sat half naked on the table, the nurse, a woman in her forties, started to put petroleum jelly on my chest. She then stopped, looked a bit perplexed and said, "Forgive me." as she flipped my boobs over, one at a time, to finish applying the jelly. "I've never had to do that before!" she whispered into my ear. Even though it was a whisper the entire room heard and the nurses, students and doctors giggled till they cried as they attached the monitors.
Later I was told I would have to be naked during my knee surgery "Umm... how many people are going to see me naked? " I asked. " Oh, lots of people." The nurse giggled.
My favorite naked in Japan story is a friend's. Japanese gym locker rooms typically have two sets of lockers stacked on top of each-other. My friend was getting something out of a bottom locker when she felt, what she thought was a strand of her hair, tickling her cheek. Since her hands were full and the gym was so crowded, she attempted to get rid of the hair with a cock-eyed blow or two. When that didn't work, she turned her head to find out that the buck naked woman using the upper locker's bush had been tickling her face the whole time! The next time people try to tell you the Japanese are mature and polite, don't believe them.