Tuesday, 28 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon 韓国 대한민국 Korea

Good afternoon. This is my last day of work until next Thursday thanks to the Golden Week holidays over here. Although I would argue that Monday-Wednesday does not constitute a week. Also, if you notice a lot more Japanese people next week then that's because everyone leaves Japan to go travelling. Mainly because it's the only time people can get off during the year... poor chaps.

Tomorrow is Showa Day which celebrates the life of the last emperor and "to reflect on Japan's Showa period when recovery was made after turbulent days, and to think of the country's future." I'll tell you what I'll be doing though... I'm off across the water to visit Japan's bestest friend, South Korea. It'll be good to get a break from being constantly surrounded by Asian people. Even better... the following day I will be getting 12000 yen from the government's economic stimulus policy. Cheers lads. I promise to spend it all on Asahi beer.

Ach... it's a hard life. What with the faltering global economy, the mass unemployment and now the arrival of the swine flu in North America (and now in Monklands, Scotland!). It's going to be so hard to enjoy myself in the spring sunshine of Seoul whilst my strong Japanese yen bursts all over the yakiniku table. Oh the woes of my life.

p.s The amount of people that make puns on the name Seoul DISGUSTS ME.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Office Chat

Hello. I am writing a bigger post but I won't get it finishd this week probably. Instead, I am going through the archive of instant message chat with Noah at work.

2:55 PM Noah: this is gchat
its simple
me: baws
Noah: see that advertisement you found on your desk?
its trash
2:56 PM from the dude to your left
me: haha
i put it in the bin
he smashes his keyboard so loudly
Noah: i saw him looking at it, then he clearly decided he was too important for it and had real work to do
me: the bas

Noah: "there are 3 colors in africas rainbow" = katakana sensei
the whole concept is bs
"uh, eh different countries have different rainbows!"
um well a rainbow is the visible spectrum which has 6 discernable colors in total
that doesn't change

3:49 PM Noah: sack
3:50 PM me: YOURE A SACK

4:07 PM Noah: "noah... mickey? high voice?" = supervisor
"uh... yeah..."
"chip and dale too?"
"yup, pretty high, isn't it"
4:08 PM me: minnie?
Noah: didn't inquire
hes been watching chip and dale recently
me: did he do an impression?

me: oh she was rude there = The woman who sleeps at work
old fatty
Noah: i just don't like the way she talks
me: he was talking... and shes just all nishiokasaaan
not even a how do you do sumimasen. her brain is clogged with cake.

5:15 PM me: theyre talking about us
it's freaking me out man
Noah: i know me: gonna get ma stabby knife

Friday, 17 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Essential Japanese: Lesson 1

Essential Japanese

Japanese is a difficult language to learn and I have failed miserably after nearly two years of casual study. However, it is easy to survive in this land of vending machines and reverse parking with only a few words and phrases. I'm going to teach you them because I am a sensei afterall. Lesson 1: Never refer to yourself as a sensei. That goes for san as well.

すみません = Su-mi-ma-sen = Excuse me

This word can be used when you're interupting someone, getting someone's attention, thanking them for their help or just apoligising for your existence. At restaurants you should use this with a clear and high pitch to get attention. An amusing cartoon about being lost in translation is a Japanese lad at a restaurant abroad shouting "EXCUSE MEEEE" to the waiter.

ご免なさい = Go-men Na-sai = I beg your pardon

This differs from the above in that it's more of a physical apology for walking in someone's way and the like. It is best observed when a waitress drops a used chopstick when collecting your plates. The frantic head bowing and gomengomengomennnaasaai is something else.

ありがとうございます = Ari-ga-toe Go-zai-mass = Thank you

Most people aleady know Arigato or even the full Domo Arigato Gozaimasu. Most people here tend to use this version more often than not. I tend to say Arigato when I would just say "Cheers" in British English but I've been told I should used Domo for that. Just mix and match it with Sumimasen for all conversation and you should be fine.

はい = Hai = Yes

Myself and most Japanese people probably utter this word the most. It is important to let the speaker know every second that you are listening, you understand them and everything is alright. No need to worry hai. Hai... hai.... hai... hai....uuuuhhhh..... hai.

分かりました = Wa-ka-ri-mash-ta = I understand

This one is essential when one is ending a conversation. If you do not say it then the speaker might worry that you have not understood everything and they will have to repeat themselves a few times. If you are foreign then they will keep talking to you until you say it. If you are Japanese then you will need to schedule another meeting to discuss the problem.

分かりません = Wa-ka-ri-ma-sen = I don't understand

I have only heard a Japanese person use this when I try to teach them English. I only use this myself when I do not understand their Japanese. Outside of language learning I would assume that it was a big no-no to use this in normal day life. You would shame the person, be labelled a fool and need to schedule a meeting. For the Japanese student this should be used with Sumimasen. It'll get you through any tough questioning.

There you go. The first things I thought of are all essential to everyday conversation and the importance of understanding one another. However, more often than not these will be used by the foreigner to apoligise and show that they don't have a clue what is going on.
Thursday, 16 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Different Japan: Employment


Just as the new school year begins in April, so does the work year for all the adults. It is a very busy and stressful year for workers in all kinds of employment. The reason for this is that companies and schools feel the need to rotate and move members of their staff around the prefecture or country. I suppose this is a bit of a gamble for people because they could get moved to the city near their house or be sent a two hour drive away in the mountains. I don't think they have any choice or say in the move either and they only have a few weeks notice. The whole system shocks me slightly and when I tell my Japanese teachers this in no way happens at home they almost pass out going "Eeeeeeeeeeeeehhhh".

Anyway, I kind of won in the rotations this year as Katakana sensei to my right has gone to college to study English (this amuses Noah and I immensely) and Slappy sensei to my left (he smashes his keyboard) has moved to Muroto. Also, my awkward "supervisor" has moved desks and I no longer have any communication with him. This was the perfect scenario and I was enjoying my new found peace. However... some new person has moved into Slappy's old seat and she's just as irritating. I almost miss the days of him on the phone going "eeeee eeeeee eeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeee so desu neeeeee eeeeeee eeeeeeeeeee hohohoh honto". This new person is a a goliath of a woman and she moves about with the grace of an elephant on fire. Her job is apparently to scan in every single picture taken in Tano so I now have that sound in my ear all day.

The strangest thing is that she keeps falling asleep onto the computer. She's doing it right now actually. She scans about 5 pictures and then nods off with her head bouncing up and down like a tired baby. I don't understand it at all. I'm wondering if she has some sort of condition.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Looking Awkward in Japan: Picture 56

Thursday, 9 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Bored

It has been a while since I've had one of those days at work where I really couldn't care less about anything. I blame my bad start of the day on the mosquitoes that woke me up by dive bombing into my ear canal. I chased them around my room with a copy of "Burmese Days" by George Orwell. I haven't started reading it yet so its only use is as a swatter.

I had my first school lunch with the class of little gits at elementary today. I gave up trying to communicate with half of them when they started to mock my Japanese despite it being fine. The rest of the time is spent having TV catchphrases shouted at me or being asked rude questions in Japanese. The teacher never intervenes of course, it probably amuses them. Today one of the kids walked past me and stabbed me in the leg with his chopsticks before giving me a cheeky wee stare. I probably could have done something but then I would have to have talked in Japanese. It kind of killed any enthusiasm I had for the new school year to be honest. I't made me realise that I've been here too long to get a kick out of this job anymore. I'm basically here because I like living abroad, having money to blow and I like hanging out at the weekends with my friends. I did talk to two kids about fishing... but my lack of fish knowledge soured that conversation. I've got to go have some meetings in 20 minutes which hopefully will go well as they are new teachers. I kind of want to go sit in the sun and not have anyone bother me.

Ah well. The weather is great today and I can leave this stuffy office by 5:40pm... woo...

Update: Meetings went alright. The new 6th grade teacher talked in really fast Japanese but the 5th was one of those "together we will triumph" types which I like. I still don't have a copy of the materials I'm meant to be using though. I bought a lovely sake onigiri (salmon rice ball) on the wall home and enjoyed the afternoon sun. My mood has increased to content.
Monday, 6 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Yanase Hanami

I'm not going to write too much about my weekend but just upload some pictures instead. I went up to Umaji/Yanase for some hanami drinking. Sunday was a slightly bizarre day in that we went as far as you can into rural Japan. Yanase is a tiny village next to a dam up in the mountains and we were all pretty drunk by lunch time. It was an unusual but enjoyable atmosphere with things like deer stew, amateur magic shows and a terribly slow train that went around in a circle. In the middle of it all were the loud foreigners, speaking broken Japanese and gaining a lot of attention as usual.

At the やなせ (ya-na-se) dam. Naomi (Irish), Khalil (Tunisian) and Kanae (Japanese).

At these festivals it is common for people to throw rice cakes (餅-mochi) to a crowd. Kids and old women go mental over this. It's interesting to see that strong Japanese face break down when it comes to free cakes. The guy in the middle was cool and bought as food.

These women took themselves very seriously.

Naomi teaches these kids in Umaji. They were adorable and bought us a can of coffee each. We then ran around and played tag with them. Afterwards I wondered if they realised we were drunk and that's why they bought them.

安田川 (Yasuda River) Naomi and I went swimming upstream later on. It was absolutely freezing. If I were to say it was so cold I felt like I was on fire... would that make sense?
Friday, 3 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Bad Japan: Banks etc

Banks etc

All serious banks have cartoon characters on them.

When I lived in Scotland it used to irritate me that places like banks and post offices used to have some of the worst accessible opening hours. I never understood how such important places started later/closed earlier than other places of employment. Furthermore, it used to make my mind boggle when banks were understaffed over lunch and postmen wouldn't work on Sundays. I still don't understand it.

Now, the post service in Japan is outstanding so I have no complaints there. Everything always arrives earlier than expected (I live in the middle of nowhere) with a professional Japanese lad with a smile. In Britain the "Royal Mail" is staffed by scumbags who spend most of their time stealing whatever they fancy. Also, on more than one occasion I caught a postman writing one of those "You were out when we came... " only to find he didn't have my parcel at all and I had to drive into town to get it myself. Useless, incompetent morons.

However, the banks/money system in Japan is a lot more frustrating than back home. I believe the opening hours are 9-3 and they are usually stuffed full of ancient Japanese people. I don't really need to talk to anyone but the bank hours still confuse me. My local bank has two ATM machines which are still uncommon in Japan. Indeed, you won't see any "hole in the wall" machines anywhere in Japan. You can only access your bank's ATM machine inside the bank. Of course... the banks keep their doors open so you can always use these machines. That is... until they close those doors at about 6pm. So... if you find yourself without any money at 6:01pm then you are screwed until the next morning.

I suppose you're thinking that you could just use your credit or debit card in this situation but I'm afraid they don't exist either. Japan is full of people walking about with 10000 yen (£70) notes stuffed in their wallets. I've found myself on a few occasions in a distant city on the mainland (Hiroshima/Osaka/Tokyo) with no money. It's my own fault because I buy too much beer/meat and then wake up the next day with barely enough money to buy a coke. The problem with this situation is that some banks on Honshu won't accept cards from my crappy island bank of Shikoku. If worst comes to worst... you can find a convenient store that will accept your card for an extra charge. It isn't over yet though...

Despite the very convenient stores staying open 24 hours... and with perfect access to an ATM all day long... the banks only let you withdraw money when the banks themselves are open! Can you believe it? That's the worst one for me. I've been standing there half-drunk at 9pm wanting more money... pleading... shouting... trying to read Japanese... ない ない ない it shouts at me as I go back outside into the darkness of the night.

This post was influenced by my recent visit to the bank to pay for my upcoming trip to South Korea (yay). Firstly, an old woman 'ran' infront of me in the queue when I walked into the bank. She then took about 5 minutes to withdraw some money. The woman on the other ATM ended up breaking that one for some reason. Then a man who was sitting down decided he was in my queue and walked ahead of me. I bit my tongue and resisted the urge to scream profanities in English at them. I was managing fine to perform a bank transfer (all in Japanese) when some 80 year old woman stuck her wrinkly fingers into my screen. She then selected the wrong bank from the list I was reading! I managed to explain to her what she had done and that I'd need to start again now. I even tried to add some sarcasm into my Japanese but they don't get that.

Seriously... when was the last time you saw Tom & Jerry on anything?
Thursday, 2 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Different Japan: Reverse Parking

Reverse Parking

I first noticed this phenomenon when I was in the empty car park of my local Tsutaya (cd/dvd/books). I nearly crashed into the car ahead of me because they stopped and then reversed towards me. I was caught off guard because the place was deserted and I had to stop and wait whilst the car infront went in the first available space. This has happened on more than one occasion. I could be partly to blame in that I start to head for an empty space when the person infront passes it before reversing into it. However, that doesn't excuse every single Japanese person's apparent neglect of their rear view mirror. Personally, I blame the small television in the front of any half-decent car here. Yep... it's definitely not my fault for not paying attention.

My personal neglect aside.... it is very peculiar that every single Japanese person parks like this. I've seen them do it in car parks that are deserted. I've seen them do it in empty schoolyards where there aren't even any road markings. I've even seen some people drive straight towards an empty space and then perform the maneuver with precision. My main problem is that in all of these circumstances it is far easier to drive into the space and then reverse out. To reverse into some of these tight spaces takes a fair bit of skill and determination. What are the reasons behind this? Are Japanese people just proud of their reverse parking? Are they too stupid too realise they're making it harder on themselves? Or is it more likely that they were taught this way and nobody has bothered to think any different?

My car is in this picture.

The only place I have not seen people reverse parking in is my local conveinent store. This is because there is not enough room and it is too busy. Subsequently... that car park is a death trap with Japanese people swinging about without a care in the world. I fully expect to get knocked down one day. That reason alone is why I haven't classed this as 'bad'.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009

PostHeaderIcon Good Japan: Hanami


I suppose I should write something nice about the country I have decided to stay another year in. I don't really hate Japan but it isn't as fun when I write about positive things. Still, let's give it a show with Hanami (花見)which translates as flower viewing. However, it really refers to this time of year in Japan when the さくら(cherry blossoms) explode into life.

Japan is covered in Sakura trees and so when the flowers come to bloom the whole country has a scattering of pink as far as the eye can see. They are very pleasant to look at and I especially like driving around my local area and admiring them. However, the more enjoyable part of Hanami is the numerous parties which occur under the trees. The parks are covered in blue sheets (buru sheeto in katakana English) and people gather to share food and drink beers. It is a very nice atmosphere and I do quite admire Japan sometimes for the tradition and continuation of these festivals. Sure... people back home will maybe have a picnic in the park occasionally but it would be nice for there to a more entrenched culture for festivals etc back home.

This year has been a little bit cold for hanami and I had one last Tuesday with my English class which was a little rubbish. However, I went to Matsuyama last weekend with my ichiban tomodachis and we got pretty drunk over the two days. We chilled out in the park on the tatami mats and drank beers and ume-shu (plum liquer). We then headed up to the castle on chair lifts to drink more under the trees. We seemed to amuse a lot of Japanese people by 1) being foreign 2)drawing on ourselves 3)being drunk and 4)dancing to Daft Punk. It was excellent. I love 花見.

Interesting note: The cheery blossoms are very short lived and die after about a week. The sakura have a very deep and strong meaning for Japanese people. I'm not generalising because they all tell me this themselves. Their short lived beauty is meant to symbolise life and such. It is very much part of the "samurai spirit" as the young men would go off and die in a blaze of glory. Also, it was used quite a lot as a propaganda "tool" in World War Two because of this.
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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.