Tuesday, 19 May 2009

PostHeaderIcon An Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman walk into a sushi bar...

Good evening. Today has been one of those days where I might have actually earned my wage. I'm knackered and about to head off to bed but I thought I should write about tonight's advanced English class. One of the old ladies gave her presentation on some Japanese "jokes". She used the setting of a restaurant and described the reaction of many different nationalities when they found a fly in their soup:

The British man makes a sarcastic remark but doesn't complain. The American threatens to sue the owner. The Russian man is too drunk to notice. The Frenchman insults the chef and refuses to pay.

It was basically playing up to stereotypes and I was nodding along politely despite being slightly bored by it. That was until we hear about the Chinese man who noticed the fly but ate it anyway. Then there was the Korean man who blamed the Japanese for the fly and burned a flag.... that last one really took me by surprise.

Alright alright fair enough. Chinese people are filthy animals and Korean people hate you. As long as we hear a wee joke about the Japanese being stupid and apologising for noticing it or something? Nope... the Japanese man doesn't make a scene in the restaurant. Instead he quietly calls over the waiter to have it replaced. This is because Japanese people are well-balanced, polite and don't give into emotion. That was the punchline apparently. Look at all these other stupid foreigners compared to us.

She then asked me what I thought of Japanese character. I told her that when we tell these jokes at home then we tend to include ourselves in the mocking. I then asked her if she knew what sarcasm was as most Japanese have no idea. She asked me what I thought of Japanese character. So I asked everyone else instead.

Later on, a new couple admitted that they didn't come to my class last week because I had travelled to Korea. They were scared I would bring back swine flu from a country that had one confirmed case when I left. Ironically, Japan is now the most infected country behind North America. It's first case was announced last Friday and now there are about 200 confirmed in and around Osaka. A friend I know who went to America was quarantined in her house for a week because she was on the same flight as one of the initial carriers. They're acting a bit over the top over here at the moment though. Closing down schools everywhere, cancelling school trips and sporting events. One never does get tired of hearing infrrruenza on the television...

The punchline to my joke is: They ask the owner for some booze but get angry when they are served salmon instead. Confused... they burn the place down and go the pub.

On the way to the pub they meet their Scottish friend who has just returned from Japan. He explains the two meanings of sake. Irritated... they ask their patchy bearded friend if he studied the language because his country doesn't have one of its own. He kills them.
Friday, 15 May 2009

PostHeaderIcon Stupid Gaijin: Death With Honour

Death with Honour

There are a lot of stupid gaijin (foreigners) living in Japan and a lot more tedious stereotypical views of Japan that exist in western society. Therefore, I think it is only fair that I start to address some of them.

I reckon if you were to ask an average person in Scotland what they thought of Japan then they'd imagine a packed Shibuya crossing in Tokyo with hundreds of people buzzing about with cheap, see-through umbrellas. Then they'd have a flashback to a picture of a bullet train passing by Mt. Fuji whilst some cherry blossoms blow past in a breeze of serenity. Then they'd mention stuff like respect, bowing, samurai, sushi, earthquakes, tsunamis, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, suicide, sumo, karate, konnichiwa, sayonara*, ichi ni san, domo arigato Mr.Roboto and the apparent abundance of vending machines that sell schoolgirls underwear. Basically, it's a fair assessment of what Japan likes to portray to the world (maybe not the last one) and what the western world then happily regurgitates in books, television and film.

I was guilty of this myself before moving to Japan and occasionally I still fall victim to it when I try and take a pretencious picture like this:

Indeed, every friend I have on facebook has taken the exact same pictures of Japan. There's the many different angled pictures of temples, a geisha in Kyoto talking on a mobile phone, a close-up shop of noodles and green tea and some bad English written on a t-shirt. Lack of originality aside... these are okay because they are a reality of every day life that is different to us. The problem with some of the stereotypical views in the western media is that they always play up the extremes too much. They are obsessed with portraying Japan as this modern, western country yet still connected deeply to its traditional past. Every source of media must mention something about respect, shame and honour. A lot of this is based on truth of course but it so infuriating when you've lived here for two years yet still witness Hollywood spew out the same, recycled drivel about the samurai spirit of Japan.

Here is the perfect example of what I was trying to put across in this post. It is the trailer for "The Ramen Girl" staring Brittany Murphy in a supposed cash-in on the success of "Lost in Translation".

There is so much in this video that makes me annoyed. Not only does it look like a terrible film in which we're supposed to find sympathy for someone who can live rent free in Tokyo for a few months... but it cranks up the cliches to a ridiculous extent. First off... if some blond American walked into a local ramen shop and started speaking English then they'd apologise for not understanding and subsequently ignore her. Secondly... they wouldn't hire a gaijin on any principle... nevermind one who doesn't bother her arse at the language and doesn't have a sufficient visa.

The worst part is about halfway through when we have the triple entente of despair with "No spirit!" "Begin by putting tears in your broth" and "There's something about the Japanese and the perfect bowl of soup... it's kinda beautiful". No, it's a bowl of bloody soup from China and you eat it. Now shut the hell up.

The main point I was trying to make here is that life in Japan is not like a Hollywood movie. I don't spend my days jumping on and off bullet trains to visit temples where I will walk about whimsically in the rain trying to find myself whilst some music with synthesisers plays in the background. The truth is that life here is just like anywhere else in the developed world. People wear jeans, watch television, enjoy eating dinner, have a hobby, live in the dull suburbs, drive to shopping malls on Sunday afternoon to buy unesscary goods. In between all that there might be an amusing cultural clash, an unusual food for dinner and an evening bonding with a local farmer but it isn't as big a deal. Certainly not something to fill a blog full of...

*Sayonara actually translates better as 'Farewell'. I've never used it.
Monday, 11 May 2009

PostHeaderIcon Hiking-gu

Last weekend was one of the healthiest I can remember. This was because I gave up drinking (well... I had 3 beers) and took up lots of exercising. On Saturday I went to the city to practice for the various sport tournaments I am participating in this summer. First up was football for the infamous KFC (Kochi Football Club). I am pleased to announce that the colours of our new strip are the same as the mighty Partick Thistle. I then played the ever popular (in American colleges) 'sport' of Ultimate Frisbee and a version of rugby that removes all the fun from it.

The following day I was awoken at the horrible time of 7:30am to go hiking in the vicious mountains of Shikoku. I fell asleep on the way there and let Naomi and Joey do all the talking with the Japanese people. I did the same on the way back because I am a miserable and sleepy git. I did get mistaken for another bearded foreigner on Kochi TV who advertises a local fruit juice. In between all this we went hiking in the roasting sun. I was in pain throughout but like all things I experience in life... I enjoyed it in retrospect.

Our crowd of Japanese people dressed like they were off to tackle Everest... rather than a 90 minute hike in 25 degree heat.

I should be a model in a hiking magazine.

Getting our picture taken at the top of 1560m.

Eating a really horrible bento (packed lunch). Fish, gunk, jelly, slime and cold tea. Mmm mmm

PostHeaderIcon An evening with a local farmer

Last Thursday night I was sitting in my apartment and recovering from over indulgences in Korea and the gruelling effects of my first day back at work. I left my house at about 6pm to go for a walk and my plan was to shower, drink tea and go to bed as soon as possible.

I passed Noah's window on my way out and he mentioned some old guy had approached him in the supermarket and demanded we drink with him. As I was thinking of my possible excuses for cutting Noah loose I heard some dirty Tosa-ben (local dialect) grunt at me from behind and I was soon ushered up the stairs. Accepting my fate for the evening... I walked into Noah's apartment and the three of us set about 12 cans of beer and a bottle of Sho-Chu (Japanese vodka).

The conversation did not start off us uncomfortable as I had imagined. We initially talked in Japanese about the food his wife had made and which he had brought. I tried to make fun of Noah for only owning one pair of chopsticks but the old man did not join in with my mocking and I was saddened. I soon let go of my poor conversational skills and let Noah and the man dominate the rest of the evening. I followed the majority of what was said but sometimes it was impossible given his old man rural grumbles.

As the evening progressed he challenged Noah and I to some arm wrestling. I went first and was naively thinking I would let him win after an intense struggle to the death. Instead... the old man almost smashed my arm through the table in about 5 seconds. He's 67 years old. I didn't feel too ashamed later on when he told us he used to fight his way around Japan when he was a trucker. At one point he told us he got in a fight with a few policeman and broke two of their arms and a leg. He then gave a little "Oh.. but I injured myself too so it was alright".

The rest of the conversation I can only remember from Noah's translations which consisted of some strange stories about religion and stuff. He mentioned that his daughter was killed and some man was responsible for it. It was a strange moment because it was hard to reply to that in any language and it was peculiar to have this old man opening up to the only two foreigners he had ever talked too. It was an unusual evening of forced boozing and robbed sleep but I had quite a good time. After nearly two years of living here, he is only one of a rare few to approach Noah and I. He had never been abroad, never talked to a foreigner, didn't care about learning English but brought loads of booze around and hung out with us... so fair play to him I say.
Friday, 8 May 2009

PostHeaderIcon British Color

What a crushing defeat for British English.... or just English in second thoughts.
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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.