Education

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #13

Always ready to give you advice on life and relationships because she never has one.
Rapunzel, the Tobacco chewing princess Dear Gaijin Girl,

A friend from the States is visiting me in Tokyo. What is the most Japanese place I can take them?

Sincerely searching,

Samantha

Dear Samantha,

I am so glad you asked this question. Skip the temples, the sakura and the sake. The most Japanese place on earth is Tokyo Disneyland, possibly Tokyo DisneySea. I know you're probably thinking this is American imperialism at it's worst. It's not. In true Japanese fashion, Japan has embraced the brain child of my fellow Kansas City escapee and infamous chain smoker, making it her own. (It was bound to happen. Mickey's head and ears are so circular they are positively zen like and the Japanese love smoking more than Don Draper.)

For starters, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea are crazy crowded but never chaotic. People wait quietly yet excitedly for hours at a time to ride the latest Disney miracle with zero complaints or whining. (The only whining or crying I've ever seen there is by foreigners or children too small to feel the collective burning shame radiating from society.)

The park is ridiculously clean, even by Tokyo standards. Sure, you will find a bit of popcorn here and there.The physical evidence of a small child losing their mind when meeting the absolutely gigantic Mickey Mouse. Unlike Western toddlers, they seldom scream or cry in the faces of Mickey, Minnie or even the Frozen chicks. Instead, they silently implode. That is why the park smells of anticipation. That is to say that the park smells of strawberry and caramel popcorn farts.

The staff are so polite and accommodating to guests every single need that after I left the park, I found it frustrating when my taxi driver was unable to read my mind. Even cast members hauling trash bags full of dirty diapers smile and wave at guests and tourists with a grace and gusto that puts royal families to shame. If you drop your purse or wallet under a seat in a ride or on Main Street, U.S.A it will show up in lost and found within minutes if not seconds and all of your credit cards and cash will have remained in tact. (Unless you'd just come from the souvenir shop. In which case, you wouldn't have anything left to steal anyway.)

If you've spent more than five seconds in Japan, you know how imperative it is to be or have something cute. Life just does not get any cuter than it does at Tokyo Disneyland or Disneysea, nor could it be more embraced by every gender and age. Everyone dresses cute there, it doesn't matter if you're 4 or 400 years-old. You've got your Lolita on. ( I've seen the roughest, toughest pinky missing, pubic hair perm wearing "family man" in an oversized Winnie the Pooh hat giggling into his soy sauce and butter popcorn Donald Duck bucket. (Yes, that flavor exists.)

Each character has his/her own herd of groupies with season passes, many of whom remind you of the groupies depicted in Almost Famous.  Many of these teens,twenty somethings and kyoiku mommas  would let a character have their way with them behind the rocks of Thunder Mountain if Mr.  Big Yellow Shoes only asked. Sadly, the characters are not allowed to talk. Plus, it is damn near impossible to tell at a glance which groupies would take up an indecent proposal because Japan does not make a distinction between dressing cute and dressing sexy. They are one and the same. FYI, to stop dressing cute is to renounce one's sexual activity once and for all.

Just so you know, every one of the Japanese kids in the Disney character drawing class is going to kick your ass. (especially since erasers are banned) Just accept that and enjoy your glorious mistakes. You will be complimented on your "creativity" and "skill"  by the teenager sitting next to you with a flawless replica of Rapunzel as if your making Rapunzel look like she was chewing tobacco was a deliberate social statement on gender equality. Smile and say, “thank you”. Some of those kids think you have direct access to Disney himself. (You've got a better chance at being actual kin than they do)  Maybe you are an undercover quality control expert or an animation talent scout for the next Toy Story movie. Ready or not, you will become apart of their Disney experience. Don't assume they are being sarcastic and resist the urge to pop their Fantasyland bubble. (I still have bite marks on my lips for my last visit a week ago.)

The Japanese have temples and shrines but Disneyland, Disneysea and the Apple store truly is Church. It's where people gather regularly, if not weekly, to worship with varying levels of devotion. If the Japanese like something or someone they like them forever (For example, Mr. Big is still big in Japan)  maintaining a devotion and intensity that can be both charming and alarming. I once saw a what looked like a 6 year-old girl on her father's shoulders in tears screaming between hiccups, " I love you so much!"  like Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GIyTFl4Cb4) as Cinderella passed by in the electric parade. Her surfer father, looking eager but unsure of how to support his daughter in her emotional outburst, thrust two shaka signs in the air screaming, " Hell yeah, we love you Cinderella!" It would be a pity for anyone visiting Japan to miss that.

Good luck,

Gaijin Girl

Ask Gaijin Girl :Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #8

Always ready to give advice on life and relationships because she never has one. 200px-Japanese_The_Spoken_Language_-_Book_1_-_Jorden_Noda

Dear Gaijin Girl,

I’m 16 years old, live in Iowa and want to learn Japanese. What’s the best way to do that?

Sincerely Stoked,

Lori

Dear Lori,

Dear sweet Lori, I know exactly how you feel. You see a Kurosawa, an Itami film or some anime and are blown away by how exotic and mysterious the people and culture seem to be. Whenever people make a list of all the places they’ve visited on their website or in conversation, Japan is always mentioned last because it is culturally and technologically the closest you can get to the moon. Hell, you could have gone to the moon and set up a self sustaining colony there and people would still say, “Really? You’ve been to Japan? That’s fascinating!”

Let me save you hours upon hours spent scribbling thousands upon thousands of angled pretzels into little green boxes or conjugating infixes.  Don’t bother learning Japanese, nobody is saying anything interesting.

I studied Japanese for three years in high school, four years in university (it was my major.) before coming to Japan to find out no one is debating the meaning of life or how many reincarnations it takes to reach enlightenment.  They’re talking about how much cuter their rhinestone Hello Kitty smartphone case is compared to the “old” one they bought two months ago. (and that’s just the men)

One of my Japanese language classmates translated a book and some letters written in pre-Word War II Japanese into English. Because of this, he won an award and got to meet the emperor and empress. (He said they were nice and cordial enough but that their heads were so disproportionately large compared to their tiny little bodies that they looked like bobble-heads on a dashboard.) The night before he flew back to America we took him out for a drink that turned into several. Then this man who I looked up to and whose Japanese ability I absolutely envied said, “Why the hell did I study Japanese! Where can I go? Where will this take me other than Japan?! I should have studied Spanish or French, I’d be able to travel around Africa independently if I spoke French! Where the hell can I go with Japanese?! “ At this point, a Japanese friend and classmate raised a glass proposing a toast in his nonnative English, “May you never remember your time here forever!”  “Here, here!” said my my award winning classmate as glasses clinked. Last I heard, he became a best-selling science fiction writer.  I have no idea if he translates his books into Japanese himself, but somehow I doubt it.

By the way, just so you know, many Japanese people don’t want you to learn Japanese.  It’s much more charming and romantic if you don’t. One summer, I went to the ocean. A twenty-something woman and her two friends approached me in the water.

“Where are you from?” she asked in Japanese.

“From the States. “ I answered.

“Cool, here, you can use my inner tube. Do you like Japan?”

“Sure, it’s great.”

“Your Japanese is pretty good. How long have you been here?

“Thanks, I’ve been here twelve years.”

“Ugh! Give me back my inner tube. You’re not any fun. You know too much about us!” she said as she took back her flotation device and swam in the direction of Westerners with tattoos on their forearms. Fat chance they’d been in Japan longer than a week unless they loved wearing long-sleeved shirts  year round.

If I still haven’t deterred you from studying Japanese even after I tell you that unless you live in California, Hawaii, are Asian or work as a translator for a Midwestern soybean farm, people are going to assume you are pretentious and loaded since you have the time to study such a seemingly superfluous language.  I recommend you have a “Japanese and…” plan. You can only learn a language effectively  if you have something to talk about so pick some skills you can master, get paid for and then talk about. Do you like Japanese manga or anime? Learn how to draw and research the words and phrases that come up during rape. Do you like politics? Practice throwing people under the bus and then become proficient at avoiding direct questions about it. Maybe one day, you’ll be the American ambassador to Japan and when a dispute over whether Japan, Korea or China owns a particular island, as well as, the natural resources under it, you can bust out a pair the binoculars on the first bullet train to Kyoto and say,”My, what beautiful temples you have here!”

My advice? Learn how to code.

Sincerely,

Gaijin Girl

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #6

Always Ready to Help You With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One love-nihongo7

Dear Gaijin Girl, Why won’t my foreign boyfriend learn Japanese? I’m tired of translating for him all the time. Set to spat, Akiko

Dear Akiko, I hear you. There is something emasculating about a man not being able to decipher a McDonald’s menu on his own, let alone all the apologies now hanging in that fine dining establishment promising diners they will no longer find strips of leather in their chicken nuggets nor will their children cut their mouths on ice cream machinery parts that somehow made their way into sundaes. (If he could, he wouldn’t be eating there or currently choking on a piece of leather while nursing a Joker worthy cut on the inside of his mouth.)

I’m assuming your husband is a native English speaker. If your husband spoke native French, Spanish or Italian, you wouldn’t be writing me, you’d be far too busy enjoying comparatively mind blowing sex. Let’s be honest, one of the reasons you were attracted to him in the first place was because he spoke a language exotic and yet oh so familiar to you since the third grade when the English alphabet and pesky letters like b, d, v, r and l were forced upon you. These letters tormented and taunted you to unleash your tongue from the confines of your teeth, bite your lower lip and even cause said lip to vibrate (Gasp!) You couldn’t escape the feeling that you were doing something naughty like Kate Winslet being taught to hock a loogie by Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. And just like with the movie Titanic, you couldn’t wait for the ridiculous English lesson to end.

English has always been a challenge and therefore has always been attractive. This is one reason why Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Keanu Reeves will always be popular in Japan. In any given action movie they are in, their characters have a vocabulary of 50 words max. With dialog like, “Go now!” “Trust me!” and “Shit!” the brains of Japanese theater goers light up with recognition and a feeling that 6 years of intensive English study in junior high and high school weren’t a complete waste of time after all. The other reason is Japan has the oldest population in the world and its senior citizens have the time plus the discount to spend hours upon hours in movie theaters . They want to watch movies that tell them they could still be spies, agents and freedom fighters that have tongue tussles with girls young enough to be their grandchildren if they just ditched the walker.

Let me warn you. If your boyfriend does start to learn to speak Japanese, it won’t be pretty. Actually it will, it will be pretty disappointing because he is probably going to sound a lot like you as he is going to listen to you the most (You’re the one that’s been harping on him to learn the language) and because Japanese has a distinct feminine and masculine ways of speaking. He probably isn’t aware how different the speaking styles are. The only way I could see this working out well is if you are Victoria Beckham and your boyfriend is David Beckham. You also need to ask yourself this question, “Do I really want my pillow talk to include Japanese grammar?” Since English grammar already takes up a majority of your pillow talk, you’ll burn out and finally discover (much faster than you would otherwise) that you two have nothing to talk about because you have nothing in common other than being incredibly horny.

Encouraging him to learn how to write Japanese may cause a similarly unsexy situation as your LDK will be littered with green, flowery and half finished kanji workbooks you haven’t seen since elementary school. You’re boyfriend will treat you even more like a walking google translation app than he does now, as he asks you what some obscure kanji means on the back of his box of condoms. (Of course the obscure kanji in question means “small” but you are not going to be the one to tell him that. ) He will try to impress you with the newfound knowledge that a kanji character depicting one woman in a house means “ a wife” while three equals “a cacophony” and then needle you, the native Japanese speaker, for not being able to write the kanji for “soy sauce” if your life depended on it.

I’d encourage your boyfriend to learn to do something a bit sexier than speak or read Japanese. For example, encourage him to get a job. If you think your boyfriend has enough time to learn Japanese, he’s obviously got way too much time on his hands. Good Luck, Gaijin Girl