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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,
A friend from the States is visiting me in Tokyo. What is the most Japanese place I can take them?
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.
Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman Always Ready to Help you With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One
Dear Gaijin Girl,
I’ve bee invited to my coworker’s Wedding in Tokyo. What should I expect?
Be prepared to be poor! Just so you know, Japanese weddings come in parts of three and they don’t come cheap.
The first part is the actual ceremony. It is the exchanging of vows in a Shinto or Christian style shrine, church, chapel, hotel or beachfront. This ceremony typically lasts no more than twenty minutes and only the bride and groom’s closest family and/or friends attend. ( Count yourself lucky that you are not close friends because that makes things even more expensive for you along the way.) None of these ceremonies are legally binding, by the way. All the legal documents are handled a month or more before or after the ceremony at City Hall in the Department of Marriage, Death and Divorce, where the employees there make bets on why you’ll be visiting them next time.
(I’ve seen Mickey and Minnie sign as witnesses on a Marriage Certificate in a ceremony at Disneyland. I can’t think of a shakier foundation for a marriage unless the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had signed instead. ) The ceremony might last up to an hour or more at a Christian church. At one wedding I attended, the pastor told a long story about how the love between the bride and groom reminded him of the love a child with Down’s syndrome had for the local life guard. I don’t remember what happened in the story other than it was very long and touching but I do remember the bride and groom looking at each other throughout the whole story as if to say, “So, am I the kid with Down’s syndrome or is that you?!”
The second part is the main event and is a cross between a fancy five course dinner and a community theater talent show starring the groom’s company boss. It is customary/mandatory that you give the couple $300 in a special celebratory envelope you can buy at you’re local 7-11. Be sure not to buy the envelope for funerals right next to it. It sends a mixed message and delivers bad juju to the newly joined couple. (You really don’t want to jinx the marriage, because if your coworker divorces and then marries again, you have to gift yet another $300.) Japan’s Got No Talent/Why I Kept My Day Job Showcase part of the ceremony can go on for hours as selected coworkers, friends and family sing songs, act out hastily written comedy sketches, present PowerPoint presentations on how the bride and groom first met while ancient relatives live Skype simultaneously their congratulations and guilt trips for not having a wedding party closer to their respective hometowns. Tears flow freely and often. (Mostly because of the guilt trips.) Not to worry, so much good food will be coming your way that you’ll be too busy cutting your steak into bite size pieces to notice most of the waterworks. (I always am.) The grooms boss at some point will make the equivalent of the best man’s speech, only duller. Japanese style speeches leave much to be desired. They don’t like to get to the point. They would much rather beat around the bush until it’s obliterated. Fortunately, by time the bossman goes to the podium to speak, you’ll be too drunk to care. As you leave the party, one of two things will happen. The bride and groom will give you either a”Thanks for coming” gift, such as a candle or a fancy photo frame, or they will give you a catalogue of gifts ranging from jewelry to home appliances to sports equipment for you to take home and choose a “thank you”to be delivered to your home. (The gifts range in quality from Cracker Jack toy to Argos.)
Part three is the “after party” that will cost you anywhere from $20-$100. It is usually a bar with an all-you-can-drink 2 hour plan. Typically, there is one table for boys and one table for girls. Welcome to the 8th grade with alcohol. Hardly anybody hooks up because of or at a Japanese wedding party. (That includes the bride and groom) Under no circumstances are you to dress sexy. Cute is the order that rules the land. Dress as you would for senior prom circa 1955. There will be very little or no dancing or mingling, just a lot of people asking you when you are getting married again, planning to have a child, and exactly when you plan on retiring to raise your still nonexistent children. In other words, bring a book.
Dear Gaijin Girl,
I’ve just started working at a Japanese office and I have been invited to go to a cherry blossom viewing party with my colleagues but I don’t like to drink. What should I do?
Oh my poor, sweet and ridiculously silly Tom. If you do not like alcohol, why in the name of Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker and Shirley Buddhist Temple are you in Japan of all places?! Did you fly in direct from Salt Lake City or what?
In Japan, alcohol does not merely help lubricate social and work events, it is the fuel that propels society, family and business into the future. As an employee and team member you will be required to eat and drink with your boss and colleagues more often than you ever will with your spouse. You’ll be obliged to pour your boss’s beer again and again whenever the tiny glass threatens to go empty. You are never allowed to pour your own drink. Someone else will be in charge of filling your own glass, probably a coworker that is three years your senior and already hates your guts because your English is much better than his and you get paid slightly more than him as you are as considered part guest, part circus sideshow and part office pet, in that you aren’t expected be around in two years time. This man will do everything in his power to oblige you to bow to the social pressure of drinking too much and then eating ramen until you are projectile vomiting all over your boss at the train station. (A sublime job perk not mentioned in your contract. )
Sakura (cherry blossom) season is upon us. It’s the time when the nation collectively responds to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” with “Who cares?! Look at the pretty flowers! Here, drink this and when you feel sick just be sure to aim away from the blue tarp. We don’t want anyone thinking it’s a monjayaki buffet.”
There are a lot of Japanese people who do not drink. They are a silent minority that frequently “pass” as drinkers in order to escape being socially and ultimately monetarily punished for not “being a team player”. Many pretend to be wildly drunk, dancing around the bar or izakaya singing Elvis Presley until everyone looks as uncomfortable as George Bush did when Koizumi had a religious experience in Graceland.
Women have it easier in that they are not expected to drink nearly as much but also have to sidestep comments from male and female colleagues about their breast size, backside and speculation as to whether they’d be maguro (move like a dead fish) in bed. There may or may not be any groping to contend with. Oddly, I’ve been groped by Japanese women far more than I’ve been groped by men. Women have grabbed or “honked” my breasts on a train platform in the middle of the day. I’d yell at them, “What are you, crazy?” Stop it!” They wouldn’t. My offended reaction egged them on so I learned through exasperation that the only way to make them stop was to grope them in return. If a woman “honked” my boob, I’d honk them right back. If they grabbed my ample life raft of an ass, I’d manage to get a handful of their nonexistent one. It worked.
Once, I was groped on the street by a man on a bicycle. I had just stepped out of a taxi and turned around to go up the street and suddenly this bald dude that was sweating alcohol was in my face. He gave my boob a hard squeeze. I screamed, he grunted and then he took off on his bike. If you have to be sexual assaulted, that’s the kind you want, quick and relatively painless but it really irked me that someone could be so mentally ill and have such good coordination and balance skills at the same time. It’s just not fair. In hindsight, I wished I’d been grocery shopping earlier and had a tin can of tomato sauce to hurl and dent the other side of his bald head with as he rode away. Call me a romantic, it’s just a better end to the story.
Anyway, you will sooner or later be required to drink with your coworkers, clients, and future in-laws. Japanese style bars frequently have plastic potted plants near the table for you to discreetly dump your drink if you want. Learn how to act drunk. Also, develop a repertoire of different kinds of drunk, ranging from mildly tipsy to wandering naked in a park so you are ready for any occasion or alcohol level. Don’t be afraid to get yourself in embarrassing situations. Japanese love nothing more that to be told a story about how you woke up at the station in a pool of your own vomit, decided to write your bicycle home where you lost control, hit the curb, fell off face first into the sidewalk, breaking your jaw. They LOVE stories like that because it’s what their wife did last week after the PTA meeting. (Actually that example came from a Japanese grandmother. That jaw break earned her all kinds of street cred and is now considered a legend in her community.) It’ll bring you closer together as coworkers and comrades.
I don’t judge you for not liking drinking. I don’t drink much myself. (My drug of choice is sugar) It’s just so much easier to fit in Japan if you do. I’m not saying you’ll be any happier or more financially secure. I’m just saying people will be less annoyed with you and see you less as an outsider. I guess what I’m saying is, “ If you’re not planning on becoming a drinker, GET OUT OF HERE!" If you don't, it's only a matter of time before you're cleaning up your inebriated coworker's urine puddle at the station with spare tissue you found at the bottom of your briefcase, on a Saturday night. I seriously doubt your company pays you enough to put up with that.
Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman Always Ready to Help you With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One
Dear Gaijin Girl,
I’m a first year English teacher at a primary school in Iwate. I’ve just been invited to attend the funeral of our principal’s husband. What should I expect?
Just so you know, it doesn’t matter if you teach English at a primary school or not. If you are a foreigner in Japan, you are an English teacher. It’s only a matter of time until your pillow talk includes an exasperated explanation on why you said, “Do that thing I like.” instead of, “Do this thing I like.” that will kill the romance faster than a chopstick up the nose. As grammar takes up more and more of your conversation and he takes note of new vocabulary words you’ve unwittingly dropped, you will soon begin to wonder if he is using you just to improve his TOEIC score and get that coveted, swanky overseas promotion at work. Trust me, it feels better to be used for sex. At least sex is sexy. Having to explain what predicates are while having sex? Not so much.
Sorry to hear about your principal’s loss. That’s a shame but from a cross cultural perspective, it’s kind of cool. You get to experience Buddhism in all off it’s cyclical pond paradise glory. ( I recently walked by a Buddhist cemetery that had on it’s wall an advertisement for the love hotel next door to it. On the other side of the love hotel was a crematory. That busy block represented the circle of life not found as an attraction at your local Disney park.)
You should know that you will be expected to bring money, ¥5000 (about 50 bucks) in a special “Sorry he/she died” envelope. (You can buy the envelopes at your local convenience store for a buck or more. Be careful not to choose the “So happy he died!” implying celebratory envelopes right next to them. These envelopes can look virtually identical unless you can decipher the handwritten style Kanji on the flashy chord embroidered faces. Bring a Japanese person with you to make sure, you don’t want to be the one who lets the cat out of the bag and confirm what everybody is really thinking, that nobody really liked him. Plus, it’s bad juju.
The Japanese aren’t as much religious as they are superstitious. (Though they are beyond fine with opening umbrellas indoors. So much so that if I were superstitious, I’d point a finger at all the rows of open drying umbrellas in schools and apartment buildings and, like a mechanic with his butt crack showing, pronounce, “Well there’s the cause of all your earthquakes and disasters right there.”)
I was recently in a building on grounds that were used as a prison for war criminals. Plus, it was the site of several executions during and after WWII. The building is now a shopping mall called “Sunshine City” and many people working in it are convinced it is haunted with ghosts. When our elevator stopped, opening at the 4th floor when nobody had pushed a button for it and there was no one waiting to get on, the two women in the elevator with me agreed it must have been ghosts and commented that if you were there all alone in the building at night, you could hear the ghosts marching and/or screaming. Interesting for sure, but it doesn’t answer the more pressing question, “Why would a ghost need an elevator?”
Back to funerals, don’t put anymore than ¥5000 in the envelope, or you’ll look happy he died. Also don’t wear anything shiny, hair clip, tie clip or otherwise. This is also considered a celebratory, “yay he’s dead” gesture. Wear all black, and I mean all black, preferably a bit shitty too. If you want to wear jewelry, an unflattering single string of fake pearls is your only option. Men wear a black suit, white shirt with a black tie, a la Blues Brothers. When in doubt, just think “What would I wear or do at a jazz funeral” and whatever your answer is, don’t do that.
Be prepared for very few tears and a lot of smiling and laughing by friends and family before and after the ceremony, particularly if the deceased is old. Everyone will appear to be happy in a “I never thought he’d leave!” kind of way. Some will be, for sure. Generally, the waterworks tend to flood at home after the funeral. The smiling and the laughing are a brave show to a room full of people who are also a little bit drunk or can’t wait to be a lot drunk at the after party.
If you attend the wake, expect shitty food, usually stale finger sandwiches from a catering service specializing in shitty food for funerals and wakes. (Again, if the food is good, it’s the mark a celebration. Plus, grief is a lot like flying in that your palate is shot anyway.)
A super expensive Buddhist priest with pop up midway through the ceremony, put his Rolex watch to the side and then chant a bit, 15 minutes or so, he may or may not wave around a horse hair whip, put his watch back on and then promptly disappear.
You will probably be expected to pinch ash, (not the deceased, something akin to incense ash) and raise it to your forehead with a quick prayer for the deceased.
You might also help place statues of wooden Buddhas and the deceased’s favorite flammable things, pictures, cigarettes, anime figurines, and that sort of thing in the casket before taking it to the crematory. The crematory is usually a private bus ride away from the funeral home, creating a chicken exit for those not able to stomach watching someone go into and out of an oven where guests are expected to help place the biggest bits of the remains in a box via chopsticks. (I recommend skipping this bit if your chopstick skills aren’t up to snuff. You don’t want to be the one who accidentally flung Grandpa’s backbone clear across the room and into a bin.)
Oh yeah, before you leave, you’ll be given a gift. Usually something boring and dull (hints of celebration be damned unless it's alcohol related) like buckwheat tea or new bath towels. I have a stack of these towels in my closet. No matter how hard I try and as nice as they are, I just can’t bring myself to use the “Dead Man’s “towels. I can’t shake the feeling he can see me use them. I guess I’ll have to ask him if he can the next time an elevator door at Sunshine City opens for no reason.
Dear Gaijin girl,
My 45 year-old son isn’t married and still lives at home. How can I get him married or to move out of the house?
Sincerely sick and tired,
For the love of Buddha and the wife and child he abandoned, stop doing your son’s laundry! Stop cooking for him! Stop providing him a rent and utility free existence that enables him to buy enough electronics, game consoles and porn to ensure he doesn’t have to have any real human interaction until there is an electronic apocalypse or too many blisters on his right hand.
I also want you to ask yourself a few questions. If you are married, do you enjoy your marriage? Have you, at any point and time, told him that the only reason you are in the marriage was for your son’s benefit? If you have, you’ve got nobody but yourself to blame by giving him absolutely nothing to look forward to. The relationship between parent and child is typically stronger than between husband and wife in Japan. There was a time when this was necessary for survival but not anymore. (I seriously doubt your husband is a samurai riding horseback around the country burning down temples and shrines. If he is, well done. That’s much sexier than a salaryman getting drunk with his coworkers and projectile vomiting in the station.)
In the West, as you grow older, you gain more and more freedom along with control over your life. In Japan, it’s the opposite. As you grow older, you lose your freedom. That’s why a child under the age of 5 in Japan can resemble a wild animal. Once they enter the school system, the social pressure to conform is as swift and as intense as Anne Sullivan teaching Hellen Keller how to fold a napkin. In a way, life peaks at the age of 6 in Japan. You are surrounded by educated adults whose primary concern is your welfare. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically work past midnight every night (unpaid mandatory overtime) to decorate classrooms, put together activities and festivals in a manner that puts Broadway production values to shame. The typical elementary school classroom resembles Disneyland with desks and slightly better food. (F.Y.I. Disneyland food sucks balls) University is the last shot at freedom before entering a life sentence of doing desk work in a gray office in a gray building in a gray suit while being financially responsible for a family. Ask the average Japanese university student, “What are you reading?” They will reply, “What do you mean ‘reading?’ Why would I be reading? I’m going to Thailand to eat mushrooms and buy a T-shirt in a language I don’t understand that says, “I took home an exotic dancer and all I got was this pukey t-shirt.”
In the West, it’s completely different. Most parents swiftly kick their children out of the house when they are 18 and turn the child’s room into a gym or a dungeon filled with geriatric fetish furniture to host munches. This may seem harsh at first but the nice thing about kids being kicked out at that age is after they leave home, you never have to see them ever again unless you really want to and isn’t that a nice choice to have? You’ll be much less tempted to kill your son in his sleep, which is another option albeit a messy one. I should warn you that freedom works both ways. An American friend living in Japan complains about his mother in New Jersey constantly calling him asking him to visit. I tell him he doesn’t know how to leave a country right. He should have never given her his number.
Your son is fully aware of the fact that life can’t possibly get any better for him than it is right now so make life more difficult for him. Kick him out. Make him pay rent. Try and initiate sex with your husband in front of him. You don’t have to do that but try to rekindle the romance in your marriage anyway. A pickle tickle wouldn’t hurt you none. Frankly, you probably need it. (Oh and stop calling your husband ‘Dad’ your son doesn’t need the reinforcement to call him that anymore plus, it’s unsettling.) If this seems too difficult, move. Move away or get on the Peaceboat if you like just leave all your son’s stuff in garbage bags in front of the home you’ve vacated and don’t tell him where you’ve moved to for at least a year. That’ll get him out of the house and into a pachinko parlor or soapland but at least he won’t be your problem anymore. You’ve been a great mom but now is the time to cut the crusty cord and to stop fantasizing about the death of a person you are supposed to love before you end up on a wideshow for CO poisoning everyone in the house.
Dear Gaijin Girl,
I’m 16 years old, live in Iowa and want to learn Japanese. What’s the best way to do that?
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.
Dear Gaijin Girl,
My American husband and I are going to have a baby in ten months. I want to quit my job to be a full time mom. My husband wants me to go back to work soon after the baby is born. I’m confused. I thought he was supposed to take care of me? What should I do?
First of all, congratulations on bearing the fruit of unprotected sex, as well as, not having anywhere near enough communication on what you or your husband expects, needs and/or wants out of marriage ahead of time. You are going down a path so bilingually beaten you’re actually standing in a queue.
I have some news for you, Yuri. You’re going to be a full time mother whether you quit your job or not. That baby is going to take up more time, energy and money than you ever knew was possible. It appears that your husband is aware of this though he may not be aware that your office is expecting you to quit because it’s easier (and cheaper) for them to throw a farewell party and buy you a bouquet of flowers than grant maternity leave or offer flexible working hours. Japanese companies and medical institutions have a long way to go when it comes to women in the workplace/modern world . (After examining me, my male Japanese gynecologist while still looking at my who-ha, slaps me on the inner thigh shouting, “Good girl!”)
By the way, don’t tell Westerners when you’re 9 and 1/2 weeks pregnant that you’re 9 1/2 weeks pregnant. You’ll scare the shit out of them. They don’t know that you count from the last period instead of the last missed phantom period you were “supposed to have”. It sounds somewhat superhuman, like you are going to give birth to an action hero whose only weakness will be math.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, Yuri but ain’t nobody going to take care of you except you. Don’t misunderstand, I am not telling you to simply look out for #1 nor am I telling you to help your husband look out for #1. I am saying, “Welcome to world of readjusted life expectations!” You might want to take notes with an erasable pen.
Hopefully, you two will learn to look out for, live for and take care of each other. I’m not exactly sure how that works as I am never in a relationship due to my zero tolerance to bullshit. However, as far as I can gather from the 3% of healthy couples around me, this is a learned skill that develops over time through earnest trial and error, as well as, honest and consistent communication. Yuck! I know, it sounds hard and not anywhere near as sexy as the muddled montage of dubbed Beverly Hills 90210, Little House on the Prairie and Full House episodes that has been playing in your head since elementary school subconsciously shaping your international marriage expectations and priming you for epic disappointment. I suggest watching reruns of Roseanne, Married With Children, Raising Arizona and old family movies of my uncle at dinner desperately trying not to laugh while near deaf Grandpa hocks an epic and deep-seeded loogie a foot away from the table before announcing to all that I, his granddaughter, was not a picky eater as a baby, in fact, I “never did let go of that tit.” These are not accurate depictions of what family life should be like either but they will make you feel better about your current situation.
Good luck Momma, you are going to need it,
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
Always Ready To Give You Advice On Life And Relationships Because She Never Has One Dear Gaijin Girl, When I was dating my American husband two years ago, he said he would move back to the States and take me with him. Now he says that he never wants to go back but I want to live in America. What should I do? Troubled in Tokyo, Megumi
Dear Megumi, I can see where you are coming from, but have you been watching the news lately or ever? If you haven’t, let me fill you in on a tinny tiny development, America has done lost its mind. If you see a restaurant advertisement in the States proclaiming the food will “blow your tastebuds away” it’s because the chef can’t handle criticism, can’t afford his meds and carries a concealed semiautomatic gun at all times. And unless you plan on living in New York City or downtown Chicago, you are going to have to buy a car. Buying and maintaining a car in America is like having a financial caesarian every five to ten years: It’s ridiculously expensive and there is always the possibility you might die in it. ( Because somebody shot you.) Oh, and if you move to America, you won’t be able to save a seat at Starbucks by placing your brand new iPhone 6 on the table anymore because people STEAL SHIT there. In Japan, people aren’t robbed so much as we are collectively screwed over blind and we take comfort in the knowledge that everyone is screwed over together, keeping the paramount virtue of harmony perversely in tact. Oh yeah, and being screwed over in Japan doesn’t involve getting shot. That’s a lovely thing about Japan. If someone doesn’t like you, they don’t shoot you. They just make your life so miserable that you want to kill yourself. Anyway, it is easy to project our hopes and dreams onto a country that we’ve never lived in but think we know a lot about. I’m guilty of that myself. I thought I’d move to Japan, meet a nice man and be embraced by his family. Instead, well, let’s just say that did NOT happen and I’m kind of glad my Japanese isn’t good enough to understand every single racist and sexist slur hurled my way. One day on a Tokyo train, what looked like a 6 year-old boy told his father he thought I had pretty hair. The father turned to his son and said, “Don’t you ever bring a white woman home!” before going off on a tirade on how a woman like me would walk all over him, take all his money and leave him with nothing!” When he finished, I walked up to them, look at the little boy in the eyes and said in Japanese, “Listen to your father. Do exactly what he says. He knows what he’s talking about.” and got off the train. I wasn’t upset, I was too flattered that I was skinny or even remotely pretty enough to remind him of the Russian hostess that stole his money. I think you need to evaluate your relationship. Did you marry your husband because he looked like your love handled green card to America or did you want to build a life with him wherever you may be? If you REALLY want to live in America, you don’t have to marry or be married to an American to do it. You can figure something out. One more thing, if you decide to leave your husband and go to America on your own, don’t date a drug dealer, and don’t let them keep drugs in your house/apartment. I know too many Japanese women who got mixed up with drug dealers and ended up in American jail for two years before being deported back to Japan. (And by too many, I mean one.) Life is not a movie or a music video. (That said, her English got really, really good as did her Spanish but don’t you finish this letter thinking American jail is the new Rosetta Stone.) Good Luck, Gaijin Girl
Always Ready to Help You With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One Dear Gaijin Girl, My American Husband and I have been married for three years and have two children. My husband still expects me to have sex with him. Is this normal? Sincerely Stumped, Mizuho
Dear Mizuho, I completely understand how you feel. Actually, no, that’s a lie. I cannot understand why you’d want to turn down a reliable and ready source of the coitus unless it’s your husband is really bad at sex or you don’t know how to enjoy it. In the West, sex is always considered a dish on the marital menu that may or may not be ordered every day but is never completely removed from the bill of fare unless the restaurant burns down. (Even then, I’m sure some people would roast marshmallows over the still burning flames of the building hoping against hope that their charred bits of sugar fluff will taste like sex or at least, a hand job.) As I told the Japanese wife of a Welsh neighbor, “If you want to have a long and happy marriage, learn how to like sex because your husband is going to want to have sex with you until you die and probably after.” (The Welsh husband smiled, nodded and drooled in agreement.) There are many resources you can go to to learn more about how to enjoy sex but I recommend staying away from Japanese porn or anything else that suggests woman are not voluntary participants in the act or involve girls so young they technically haven’t been born yet. Contrary to popular belief, your sexual prowess does not peak at twelve years-old and a satisfying sexual encounter does not have to include tears. If your husband is just plain bad at sex, I have nothing but sympathy for you. Men are very sensitive about their penises. It’s very hard to talk to them directly about how they use it. Japanese people often assume that Americans are super direct about everything, we’re not. The Russians are. You could probably tell a Russian man he was bad in bed and he wouldn’t get upset or take it personally. He’d just wonder why you expected anything positive out of life in the first place. For women, sex is 90% mental and 10% discovery. (You want to put what WHERE?!) I think your safest bet is to practice getting your head in the right space for sexy time. Try to practice fantasizing about things that will really get your juices flowing. Picture him paying all bills on time, for once. (That’s in my spank bank but you might want to aim for something a little more realistic and attainable.) This will take time to figure out and that’s ok. You’re married, you’ve got nothing but time. I suggest trying sex with a side of intimacy. It’s an item on the menu more exotic in Japan than whale, plus you won’t have to worry about Sea Shepherd documenting and live streaming your sexual exploration for the world to see. Good Luck, Gaijin Girl
Always Ready to Help You With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One Dear Gaijin Girl, My American husband complains about the taste of Japanese food and wants me to cook more American food for him. What should I do? Sincerely Surprised, Naoko
Dear Naoko, First of all, if you want him to stop complaining about the taste of your food, you need to STOP POISONING HIM. I feel for you, I really do. When you first met and married that poor liberal arts major with a slightly unhealthy interest in anime, you had no idea how limited his career options would be in your homeland or just how unambitious he was to climb any ladder unless it involved a Mario brother. He’s never going to make enough money for you to be able to stay home with the kids and after you’re done having kids he’s still going to want to have sex with you. I know, it’s a hassle and a massive disappointment after you’re projected all your luxurious hopes and Hollywood fueled dreams onto this poor illiterate dope that can’t even sign a mobile phone contract without your help. You thought your husband would forever resemble Leonard DeCaprio in Titanic, you got a dead ringer for Leonardo DeCaprio in J. Edgar. It is a massive letdown. I will give you that, but it’s not an excuse to consistently poison him so that he’ll die ten years before you do. Among many reasons, it’s just not nice or necessary. If you really want to kill him, just let him eat all the American food he wants, it’ll probably do him in faster and it will be a lot less work on your part. All you have to do is heat the food in a plastic container. (Bonus cancer points!) It’ll probably be less nutritious than the poison you are lacing his food with now. So really, letting him eat American food is a win-win situation for your marriage. I would, however, stay away from Twinkies. He might eat too many and kill you. (Don’t worry, Twinkies are near impossible to get in Japan but peanut butter chocolate is available through Seiyu department stores. Binge eating peanut butter chocolate doesn’t trigger homicidal fits of rage but provides a fertile ground for depression or a degree of self loathing that may weaken the immune system and destroy his self-respect, if you’re lucky.) Of course, you could just talk to him and tell him that you’re unhappy, but we both know that’s never going to happen because that would require intimacy and a profound level of trust. So yeah, I’d start with peanut butter cups and chicken fried steak. Bon Appétit, Gaijin Girl
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.
All new comics want and need validation of their talent and ability to work and get paid. Entering a competition seems like the most efficient way to make that happen. The truth is it can be, but it usually isn't. If a person enters a competition, they need to do four things: prepare the best material possible, pack it into the allotted time frame, spend a lot of time and/or money and be prepared to lose to a better act.
Most comics that enter competitions are prepared to do all of these things. The one thing competitors are not ready to do is lose to inferior or crap acts. Surprisingly, this happens a lot and by "a lot" I mean it happened to me.
In an effort to help other comics avoid the mistakes I've made, I've compiled a checklist for comics to go through before entering a competition so that time, money and opportunities are not wasted.
1. Remember that losing to an inferior act is not 100% avoidable unless you refuse to enter a competition. This is important to remember when you are tempted to think you are entering an "easy" competition. Abstinence is the only safe option. Keep in mind that there are other more productive things you can do to further your career instead.
2. Do your research on whoever is holding the competition.
Ask yourself these questions: What kind of experience does the organizer have in the comedy industry in the country you want to work in? Who does he work with? Have you ever heard of them? Do professionals work with him? What are people saying about him? What does he do for a living? Why is he holding a competition in the first place?What are his prejudices, if any? Ask around long enough and the answers will pop up, trust me. Oh, and don't let the prize money dazzle you.
By the way, if an organizer has a habit of typing in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TO PEOPLE HE HAS NEVER MET REMINDING THEM TO BE PROFESSIONAL AND TO BE ON TIME, this is a sign the organizer is unprofessional, if not mentally ill.
3. Find out what the politics are.
Does the organizer consider himself a comic? If he does and especially if he runs a "comedy class" beware. A student can never surpass his master. If you're funnier than the "comic" organizer, he'll never admit it, particularly if you are not one of his students. -The organizer at my "competition" offered all the contestants comedy classes "at a discount" five minutes before the show started. That's when I threw up in my mouth. That said, if you are one of his students and you like each other, go for it. You've got a better shot than an outsider. What other rooms in other cities/countries/clubs does he do business with? If you're not connected to those places, that's another strike against you.
4.Get as much information about the venue as you can. Does the venue serve alcohol, drinks, and/or food? This may seem like a stupid question, but you need to find out. No one wants or should perform to a room full of punters that paid 20 dollars for a comedy show and suddenly find out they will be sober, thirsty and hungry for the next two hours. ( I had to do this and frankly believe all of the contestants deserved a Purple Heart for performing under these circumstances.) Is there a proper stage, lighting and seats? If it looks like you are performing in some rich kid's family basement, you probably are.
5. Find out who the judges are. The judges should always be professionals in the industry. This is very important, even if you don't win or place. You need to be seen by people that can like you, remember you and help you in the long run. My judges were "friends of sponsors who have seen stand-up comedy once or twice and are guided by the organizer" There were three rounds, nine judges and each judge judged a grand total of one show. If you feel a little sick at this point, you should. The judges should never ever be punters, civilians or sponsors. If you want your creative ability to be judged by unqualified people, I suggest you pitch a TV show to an American TV network instead.
6. Don't travel internationally for a competition. The more money you spend the higher the stakes. If someone else is paying your way or you can travel and get accommodation cheap, go for it. Do not be tempted to spend your savings or money you don't have. If you are rich, hold your own competition and declare yourself the winner. -Side note- If the organizer doesn't or can't help you secure the necessary visa, it is not a professional competition.
7. If you know that a competition is dodgy don't encourage other comics to enter. Be honest with other comics. Puffing up the credibility of a competition you've entered does not raise your credibility as a comic, your honesty does. The competition I was in came highly recommended by two acquaintances that had been in the competition before. It was only after I arrived at the competition that I discovered it was common knowledge that " the organizer picks who he wants anyway." These two acquaintances that recommended me work full-time in the banking business so shame on me for being surprised.
Conclusion Now you've gone through the checklist and decide you want to enter a competition anyway. Remember, things rarely work out as planned. It's the people you meet and the relationships that develop that matter most in the long run.
I was fortunate enough to meet an equally duped and like-minded comic at the "competition" and have made a dear friend and brother for life. Because of this, I now have opportunities in Australia and in the U.S. that I didn't have before.
If you've decided not to enter a competition, good for you. There are other options. Go to a major city with a good circuit, sleep on a friends couch and gig as much as you can for as long as you can and meet as many people as you can. Put a show together and do the Edinburgh, Adelaide or Brighton Fringe. It is more expensive than the first option but the value in terms of developing your craft and meeting people that can help you is priceless.
No matter what happens, keep writing, keep working, keep going. If after reading this, you find yourself a victim of a comedy competition scam...haha! Welcome to the Screwed Over Club and start writing that half hour of material you know the experience has given you.
Just another train ride home...or is it? (not for kids!)Read More
I travel alone a lot. It's not that I don't like traveling with other people, I do. I just hate worrying about whether or not other people are having a good time doing things I like to do. People may assume it's Japanese culture rubbing off on me but I think I've always been this way. In my experience, there are two types of traveling people: people who care too much about whether everyone is having a good time or not, and people who are determined to have a shit time no matter what. My first year in university, I went on a two-week road trip with two Japanese exchange students from Kansas City to San Francisco and then up to Vancouver. Three days into the trip everyone hated each other. The trip wasn't cut short because we all made a commitment to doing this trip and somehow believed the trip was so bad it could only get better. How wrong we were.
In hindsight, it probably wasn't a good idea to go on a road trip with people I didn't really know all that well; but, one could argue that you don't really know anyone until you've been on a road trip with them. In the end, one exchange student and I decided we hated the driver more than we hated each other and took the greyhound bus from Seattle back to Kansas. It was a three-day, shower-less funk fest of a bus ride, but it was paradise compared to sharing a car with that prick.
It turned out that the driver had invited me because, as an American, I could be his personal tour guide of the great American west. He was very upset when I couldn't fill him in on the details of exactly where John Wayne took a dump in Utah. When the other exchange student ( who was invited on the trip by me and could rightfully hate me) landed in the hospital due to all the stress this vacation was causing, the driver chewed him out for being weak.
Since then, I've pretty much travelled alone. I meet up with friends when I travel; but, I always plan plenty of, " in case this all goes to shit" escape routes, so that, by the end of the trip, I still have friends. That said, it's not easy traveling alone as a woman. I meet foreign men, like I did tonight, that believe all American women act the way women in American porn act.
A man from Pakistan followed me to the train platform when I returned his " Hello" at the ticket machine. ( I was on my way home from church and was feeling happy and carefree, sue me) At the platform, I realized that when I returned his, " Hello", what he heard was, " Hey there big boy, why don't you come back to my place?" I then went on and on about my wonderfully big, strong, imaginary boyfriend...a Navy Seal. The Pakistani man promptly shook my hand, wished me a happy life and took off.
I wish that I didn't have to lie about such things but I just didn't have the energy to explain I'm single, not a lesbian and not in need of his sexual services. I had a feeling that if I did try to explain that, all he would hear was, " single, available, open to girl on girl action and in desperate need of your sexual services" So imaginary Navy Seal boyfriend it is...
Having lived in Japan for over ten years and staying in Scotland for a month this past summer, I've realized something about myself. I hate Japanese hugs. I love Japanese people but Japanese hugs suck. Nothing makes me feel more like the carrier of a potentially pandemic disease than when a Japanese person tries to hug me without actually touching any part of my body! I can see it in their faces, the calculating of how they are going to avoid the physical contact that they themselves have initiated! And these are just the hugs from the people I've slept with!
I never got that in Scotland, in Scotland I got wonderful bear hugs that made me feel loved and accepted.
A few people did grab my ass but I didn't worry about it. We were in Scotland, the weather was shit. I just thought their hands were cold.
FYI, in any Japanese TV love story, more emphasis is put on the first hug than the first kiss. The hug can get pretty intense. Depending on the camera angle, it can look like one of the lovers is trying not to fall off a cliff or if they are going to fall, they're determined not to plummet to their death alone.
Like many things, this TV version is infinitely better than the reality.