I live in Japan. Weird.

“This. Is. JAPAN!”

The fact that I actually live in Japan surprises me occasionally. I guess shock and awe is part of the culture adjustment process, but lately I’ve been having so much fun, that I feel like I’m more of an exchange student than a working resident. Granted, I don’t really stay in my town that often, which I suppose isn’t very good for building community, but I feel like I’m experiencing a lot of really awesome Japanese things. Every day is an exciting new adventure.

When I first got here, the difference in smells and sights mixed with my jet lag was insanely overwhelming in a really bad way. I focused a lot on people’s teeth and clothes for a while and developed a pretty bad view of the locals. Then at one point I realized that I live in pretty much the middle of nowhere  and most of these people are old. Also I was tired and hated everything. As time went on, and I picked up more Japanese, learned more about rules and regulations, and got some sleep, I became more comfortable. That’s how it goes, I guess. Nothing special.

At some point I made actual friends, both foreign and Japanese, and my life in Japan just got so much cooler. I met one of my neighbors who happens to speak excellent English. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and she has had me over for both お好み焼き (okonomiyaki, savory pancakes filled with whatever) and たこ焼き (tako yaki, fried octopus-filled balls of goodness), two of my most favorite foods! Also, her children are the cutest and I love them. Her mother has invited me to 温泉 (onsen, natural hot springs) a few times, but we haven’t been yet. Still, it’s nice knowing someone is willing to be naked with you.

I also have a wonderful host family, and we hang out about once a month. Their children are also wonderful, and I hate seeing their faces when I have to return to inaka land. Every time I leave them, I can’t wait to see them again. Plus, grandma’s on a hunt for a man for me. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Some of my students give me this warm feeling inside, too. I teach at a special school every once in a while, and by teach I mean we talk about KPOP and play 人生ゲーム (the Game of Life, but in Japanese). One of the girls goes to my junior high for most of the week, and I get to talk to her a lot, even though my Japanese can’t usually keep up. I like her because she tries to understand me and takes the time to explain things to me, unlike other kids who find my Japanese amusing. She also gave me a CD. It’s people like her that make this world, in general, a wonderful place to live. I don’t know why she has to go to the special school, or why she can’t go to class at the junior high, but I don’t care. She’s wonderful, and I’m glad I’ve met such a person, even if she is only 15.

And then there are the friends I can talk to. You know, the ones that are from America (and other English-speaking countries). I know some great people near by, and I’ve been meeting more and more  as I travel beyond this peninsula. It’s actually a bit weird how that works out. We’re all here because we wanted to live in Japan, so we have at least one connecting factor from the start. It’s nice being able to talk to people who understand what it’s like to be in a strange place where you can only sort of speak the language and things like walking and eating are looked down upon. Even though I’m in Japan, which is known for being mostly homogeneous, I’ve met so many really different people from all over the world. Thus, this feels like college, just slightly more grown-up.

I gave this guy my camera so he could take a picture of the group I was with, and this is what he did…

I’m at the point now where I can’t imagine leaving this place. It’s still rough on my body (I’m currently at home sick, probably from exhaustion), but I’m having such a great time. Of course, the longer I stay here, I notice more and more things that don’t make sense to my American self, but I think that happens everywhere, right? I’m not Japanese, so I’m never going to completely understand everything. However,t  this country really is wonderful, and as I travel to different prefectures, I’m becoming more and more aware of that. I’m also super motivated now to get really good at Japanese, if only to be able to talk to the girls that work at Lush. Seriously, that place is too expensive to not know what you’re buying. Well, that’s all for this one. またね!

Even the fish are friendly.

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7 & 7

So lately I’ve discovered that Japan is not perfect. I’m reaching the point in my adjustment process where I’m starting to realize all the things that suck about this place. To get it all off my chest, I’ve compiled a list. I like lists. But to keep this from getting depressing, I’ve also compiled a list of things that are awesome and I love. Shall we?

TOP SEVEN REASONS JAPAN MAKES ME WANT TO PUNCH SOMEONE IN THE FACE:

  1. Banking. I knew from the beginning that banks were different here. They’re open from maybe 8 am to 3 pm? I could look it up, but I feel like that’s about right. So if I need to actually use the bank, I have to leave work. That’s fine; I hardly ever need to actually go to the bank. I do however need to use the ATM frequently. If you’ve been living under a rock, Japan is mostly a cash-based society. I wouldn’t even know how to get a card if I wanted one (it could be easy, IDK). So I have an ATM card. Here’s where it gets good. I learned my lesson with ATMs the hard way this past weekend. ATMs in Japan have only slightly better hours than the bank. I know, shouldn’t they be open all day? They aren’t. I think most close at 7 pm during the week, and of course, my bank closes its ATM at 6 pm on the weekend. So I went to Kagoshima City to shop, and like an idiot, didn’t bring enough money. By the time I ran out of money, it was too late to use an ATM. I have two bank accounts, but my other account had about 700 yen in it, which is not an amount you can withdraw. So if it weren’t for the kindness of friends, I would have been stranded in the city with an empty belly and way too many bags. Needless to say, I will always have money in both of my accounts, and I’ll probably be caring around the equivalent of $500 from now on. Don’t tell anyone.
  2. Driving. First of all, the speed limit on the roads I travel is ridiculously slow. Whatever the speed limit would be in America in miles per hour, it’s that in kilometers per hour. It takes forever to get to places that are relatively close. The speed limit, though, is just the beginning. A lot of people here are really scary drivers. In America, when the light turns yellow, most people slow down so they don’t run the red light. Here, people go faster. Here, people run red lights. All. The. Time. It’s not that scary, because the delay between a red light and the other direction’s green light is long enough, but at first it really freaked me out. The best part is that, although running red lights is second nature to people here, it’s illegal to make left hand turns (right hand in America). Actually, maybe that’s why people run the lights; it sucks sitting at a light when you’re turning left and NO ONE is coming. Another scary factor in Japanese driving is the fact that people will pull out in front of you and stop in front of you with no prior warning. It’s illegal to be on your phone in anyway, so when people receive phone calls or need to mail someone, they pull over. I use “pull over” lightly here, because most of the time they just stop in the road. Way to go Japan.
  3. Gas. Speaking of cars, gas is really expensive. And that’s all I have to say about that.
  4. Freakin’ futons. Okay, they don’t actually suck. I just miss my bed. (;_;)
  5. Cute couples. This makes me want to punch people in every country, but there are a lot of super attractive couples/families here. It makes me sick (obviously because I’m super shallow, duh). But good for them I guess.
  6. Stereotypes. They’re getting to me. Yes, I’m American. No, I don’t eat bread with every meal. Yes, we have soba and sushi and sake in America. Yes, there are Japanese people in America. No, I don’t drink milk with every meal. No, I don’t even like milk. Yes, dishwashers and clothes dryers exist in America, and more so than here. Granted, this mostly comes from my students who aren’t at fault for not knowing things about the world, but ya know, I’m allowed to vent, right? Also, no, not all Americans own guns. Just all Texans. Kidding.
  7. AKB48. And most other idol groups for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy gazing at Johnnys just as much as the next girl, but I refuse to acknowledge them as musicians. AKB48 and HKT48 and WTF48 are not singers. No one should be singing their songs at karaoke bars where I can hear them. Some idol groups have decent songs, but the principle of idol groups alone just upsets me. They’re entertainment slaves. They “act”, “sing”, “dance”, and appear on variety shows. They make commercials and endorse the most random products. They’re everywhere. Actually, I think I hate the fact that most non-Japanese people think that Japanese music is completely comprised of these groups. It gives the industry a bad name, I think. And I care about the industry. Educate yo’self.

Alrighty then, that’s enough negativity for one day. And actually, most of those things are not real reasons to get violent. I’m stretching here. But the ATM thing really does piss me off. Anyway, there are good things to come.

TOP SEVEN REASONS I COULD GET USED TO THIS:

  1. カラオケ. Boy do I love singing to my favorite songs in strange keys and tempos. Karaoke is super Japanese and it’s wonderful. Except when you pick a Korean song and it ends up being the Japanese version. I don’t speak Korean, but if you listen to a song enough, you can mimic the sounds enough for it to pass. When something bad like that happens, you just dance. Or try desperately to read the words on the screen. By the way, Japanese is hard to read quickly when you don’t read Japanese. Just saying. Lucky for you, every karaoke place I’ve been to has a crazy variety of English music. Some really random, obscure things too. Karaoke definitely gets the thumbs up. It’s cheap, fun, and even if you don’t know a song, you can read the lyrics and still be involved.
  2. Driving. Okay, I know driving’s on the naughty list, but there is one particular aspect of driving in Japan that I love. A lot of roads have one lane for each direction. This is fine, but some of these streets get a little busy sometimes, so turning across the oncoming lane can be difficult. However, almost every time I have to turn into a parking lot on the opposite side of the road, some kind soul will stop and let me pass. This totally holds up their side, but it keeps everyone behind me from completely hating my guts. And it makes me smile every time.
  3. Clothes. Eventually, I will write a post dedicated to fashion, but for now I will just say it’s wonderful. Of course you have your Engrish, but sometimes it’s endearing, so it can be overlooked. A lot of cheaper places sell the general frilly, fluffy, super girly crap, but there are quite a few good spots in the city. I’m mostly concerned with the humongous sweaters, printed tights and cute socks, funky sweatshirts, and skirts galore. I also really dig guys’ style here, mostly because guys here have style.  Even the sometimes ridiculous use of leopard print and Hello Kitty are growing on me (for a visual, many otherwise “manly” guys have been spotted wearing HK track suits and matching slippers). I’ve been interested in Japanese fashion for a while, and I’ve spent way too many afternoons with my eyes glued to some Japanese street fashion blog. I really enjoy the crazy Tokyo fashion scene, but I also just really like the every day young person look as well. So naturally, being here has been hazardous to my wallet. And I don’t even live near a fashion-hub.  I need a sugar daddy like whoa.
  4. Kids. You’ve heard it. I won’t bore you.
  5. Old People. Freakin’ cute. More on this later.
  6. Boys. Like legal boys. Not expanding too much on this, but I’m starting to think that dyed hair and clunky boots on relatively small guys is my type. I’m totally into guys that can be simultaneously cute and cool, and that’s not something most American guys can achieve. I’m also physically closer to G-Dragon in Japan, and the thought of seeing him in real life one day gets me through the week. (Side note: I don’t dislike my job at all, but Monday-Wednesday is filled with a whole bunch of creepy kids and awkward moments, so I always feel like I need a drink and BIG BANG by the end.) Anyway, my wonderful city is lacking in the attractive and available young man department, but the surrounding areas are not. Do want. (By the way, this is sounding more and more shallow isn’t it? Whatever, I’m young. I can say what I want.)
  7. Life in Japan (in general). I really truly enjoy living here. I’ve experienced so many wonderful things that I could write a Harry Potter sized book. I’ve met some awesome people, eaten some amazing food, and made a lot of great memories. All the bad things (OMG! I forgot to write about mold!) are totally made up for by everything else. And I promise I’m not (that) shallow, I’m just so often taken aback by the beautiful of this country that I get a little giddy and excited.

So there it is. Seven good things and seven not so good things about Japan. I’m sure more things will pop up as time goes on. See you soon!

“Hello, my name is Ikemen.”

I’m sorry if you were expecting this to be about hotties, but unless you’re a pedophile, you’re out of luck! No, I thought I’d take some time to write what is essentially all the tweets I would tweet if I didn’t care about being super annoying. Also, these would never meet Twitter’s character limit.

1. Today I ate lunch with 5th graders at probably my favorite elementary. This particular class’s teacher refers to almost all of the male students as “crazy boy” at some point, because they say the most ridiculous things. They’re really sassy too, but I kinda like that. Anyway, after the kids finished eating, I asked their names because I’m a horrible person and forget almost all of them. One of the “crazy boys” from another lunch group came over and said something dumb, so I asked what his name was in English. “僕?ええと。。。My name is Marumaru* Ikemen.”

Really? For those of you wondering, “イケメン” or ikemen, essentially means a attractive guy. Apparently, it also means someone who is cool (attractive inside as well), but every time I hear ikemen, I think of Hana Kimi (花ざかりの君たちへ), and that manga/show is definitely about hot guys.

To continue with the story, Marumaru Ikemen also gestured toward his friend across the room and said, “Naninani* Ikemen.” Then he asked me if I thought they were ikemen. They’re 11. But yea, one day, I’m sure all the girls will love you.

From here on out, they will be the Ikemen Brothers, because I’m sure I’ll have more to say about them.

2. After all this talk of ikemen, of course they asked me the ALT’s favorite question: “彼氏がいるの?/Do you have a boyfriend?” I always start with, “It’s a secret!”, but they always think of another way to ask like, “Do you have a lover?” “Is there anyone you like?” So sometimes I’ll say something like “it doesn’t concern you/it doesn’t matter” or whatever else other teachers have told me works, but I’ve found the best way to escape this is to ask them the same question. Then they all tell each other’s secrets, and I don’t have to think about how lonely I am.

Here’s a random photo to break up the text!

3. First graders like it when you read their names. I like it too, because they don’t know kanji yet so it’s easy for me plus I look cool. However, today I fumbled. One kid’s name is さとうそうた/Satou Souta. What is that? Difficult to say, that’s what.

4. I don’t like that Japan uses a different romanization system than America/the west. I was reading little notes the kids wrote in romaji (the use of Latin letters for Japanese), and I was like, “What is yorosiku? Isn’t it yoroSHIku?” Obviously I looked it up, and I suppose it makes sense for use only in Japan, but it hurts my English brain, and I feel a strong urge to hold private romaji lessons after school for them.

5. On to junior high moments. These kids are finally opening up to me, and my refusal to speak to them in Japanese has paid off. A lot of them will try to talk to me in English now, and even though they always end up speaking Japanese, I’m really proud of them for trying.

A few days ago, some of the 3rd grade boys were hanging out in a hallway during their after-lunch break. This hallway happened to be on my way to the bathroom, and when I passed, they all said “Hello!” like they do. Usually that’s it, but one kid asked me a question! This is how it went:

  • “Do you like SMAP?”
  • “No, not really. Do You?”
  • “Uh, no.”

So it was clearly a pointless conversation, which somehow makes it even better.

The strictness of Japanese junior high.

6. Some kids really like children’s books. And stickers. And games. Watching 15-year-old kids, some of which are very tall and mature-looking, run around and scream that they need a witch card so they can go trick-or-treating for a Winnie the Pooh sticker is definitely something I won’t soon forget.

7. I’m starting to really like the 3rd grade boys. The other day we had these weird, mushy sweet potato fries that we were expected to eat with a spoon. So of course, I dropped one. I guess I made a disappointed sound, because one of the boys got up, found a tissue, removed the sweet potato particle from my tray, and threw it away.

After lunch, the kids move put their chairs on their desks to prepare for cleaning time. The day after the potato incident, I tried to help the kids move their desks and chairs, but the boys I was sitting with refused to let me do that. They also always pull out my chair for me when I’m given a place to sit. I think in America, it’s normal for teachers to take care of the kids, clean up after them, and all that. Here the students seem a lot more helpful and independent at school. And nice. God, they’re nice.

WHOA, that was long. Oh, but I forgot one.

8. I never particularly wanted kids before I came to Japan, but that has changed. These kids are so awesome. And adorable. And fun. Maybe some American kids are like that, but I haven’t met many. Kids here are just different, and I really enjoy the time I spend with them.

I originally intended for this blog to be about Japan and culture and weird things that happen to me, but I always want to write about my students and school. I should write about Halloween next…

*Names changed to protect the children, not that they will ever read this. I just realized I left Satou Souta, but it wouldn’t be the same if I changed that…

Also, there are exceptions to a lot of the things I wrote, but aren’t there always?