You are browsing the archive for 2007 February.


February 22, 2007 in engrish

Yesterday, I taught a student who couldn’t hear the difference between “straight” and “street.” Since our lesson focused on Western hospitality – “how do you take your coffee?” “street!” – this issue came up several times. First, I attempted to correct his pronunciation to no avail. Then, on a piece of scrap paper, I drew a little street with a car on it and an arrow pointing straight up to show him that the two sounds meant different things. This also, did not work. I wrinkled my brow and in a flash, had another idea. Borrowing from today’s youth, I wrote further down on the piece of paper:


“Ah!!! Straight!!!” said my student at last, beaming. “Straight, straight, straight!” He sat back in his chair. “You are very summatto!” he said.


February 22, 2007 in I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix

after 6 weeks in Sakiio i have:

  • signed up for my internet account, through the magical help of my Japanese friend Carnitas (cheaper than yahoo bb and supposedly will arrive in about 3 weeks)
  • arranged for my first Japanese class (tomorrow!)

I still not have:

  • paid my phone bill (due the 25th)
  • secured my health insurance at the ward office

I eat my pigeon!

February 18, 2007 in I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, My Funny Irish Friend, spazarific

Before I moved to Japan, I did a little Japanese self-study. I bought a (rather lame) book designed to help me learn Japanese in 10 minutes a day and a (rather good) book to help me learn to write hiragana and katakana. Peaches also gave me the gift of a seriously good book on katakana so by the time I moved to Japan I was able to recognize about 15 various characters in hiragana and katakana combined and say the following phrases:

  • (object) wa doko desu ka? (where is ____?)
  • sumimasen! (excuse me)
  • watashi wa Ribu desu (I am Liv)
  • (object) o kudasai! (please give me ____)
  • Oishii desu! (it is delicious!)
  • Arigatou! (thank you)
  • Ohayo! (good morning)
  • Sugoi! (awesome/terrible)
  • Yatta! (we did it!)
  • inu kitte mitara kawaii (try keeping dogs; they’re cute!)
  • nippon kyukuu (Japan has crises)
  • demo ashita wa wonderful (but tomorrow is wonderful!; and, yes, I learned those last three phrases from the song Yatta)

Add to this, the words for who, what, when and why plus various nouns such as “densha” (train), “shouyu” (soy sauce – thanks, momo!), not to mention pretty much every word for fish thanks to my decade-long love of sushi. To put it mildly, I thought I was just Little Miss Fancy Pants and that I would get along in Nihon quite smashingly. My illusions were shattered within my first hour in Japan when I realized that though I could ask very well where something was, I had no idea what anyone was saying back to me. I immediately remembered my mother’s stories from her and my father’s early days in the United States – their Berlitz English classes (taught by Brits) had done nothing to prepare them for the sound of actual spoken Noo Yawk English. Fast forward 30 years to their daughter’s move to Japan; witness much embarrassed smiling from both parties – the hopeful, helpful Japanese and befuddled clumsy gaijin.

I have now been in Japan about 6 weeks. Each day and certainly each week, I learn a little more Japanese.

Week One I listened to my fellow teachers and learned how to say:

  • nama biru (house draft beer)
  • watashi mo! (me, too!)

Week Two I learned how to say:

  • no (a particle that denotes possession)
  • eigo no hon (English book; i.e., what one might request at a karaoke bar or a cell phone company)
  • chotto matte! (please wait a second)

Week Three was rather important as I finally began to understand tiny bits of things, in particular, basic Kanji (thanks to a book I bought in Umeda) and things my students muttered, like “kore? kore?” (this one? this one?). Through my fellow teachers’ descriptions of what their students would say I learned that “wakata” means “I got it/understood” and that in general, things ending in “ta” are in past tense. It became difficult to hide my delight when I realized that I understood a little bit of what a naughty student was saying but fortunately for them and my job, I am still pretty much in the dark.

My neighbor, Sean, likes to send me texts that are often written exclusively in Japanese (when he is not writing texts in Irish). The first few weeks, it would take me nearly half an hour to reply to him; first I had to search through my hiragana and katakana books to identify the characters, then I had to figure out which character fit with what and then I had to plug the characters into my dictionary. Quite a lot of work to decipher a text like “maybe” and “how was your class?” Nonetheless, I was grateful for the impetus to try to commit characters and words to memory.

The other morning, something kind of awesome happened. I was woken by another text from said neighbor and in my sleepy haze, I stared at the characters and to my delight, was able to figure out what he was saying within about 2 minutes (where are you going today?). Even better – I was able to respond to him within about the same time (The market! How was your Japanese class?); SUGOI!!!!

Here are some mini conversations I have had with salespeople in the past couple of days (all based, of course, on the few basic verbs I know; and keep in mind that my grammar might be horrendous and that I only might think I am saying these things correctly but these are conversations that WORKED nonetheless):

Liv: (upon realizing that the dude at the internet cafe had assigned me to booth 15, which I knew wouldn’t allow me to attach files to email) Sumimasen! juichi hoshii desu. Ii desu ka? (Excuse me! I would like 11. Is that okay?)

And it was.

Liv: (to the saleslady, upon realizing that the sweater I was trying on was a size too big) Sumimasen! Kyu desu. Nana ga hoshii desu. Nana ga arimasu ka? (excuse me! This is 9. I would like 7. Is there 7?)

Saleslady: (rapid Japanese basically telling me they didn’t have it)

Liv: Okay! Arigatou …

and upon coming out of the dressing room:

Liv: (apologetically) Aimasen. Arigatou!! (It didn’t fit. Thank you!)

Saleslady: (something something something Japanese)

Of course, there are plenty of slips and minor humiliations. The other night when my neighbors and I were leaving the “British pub” in our neighborhood I realized that I had left my Erma hat behind at our table. This could not be! I ran back to the pub and, sucking in my breath, blurted to the waiter in my best blend of Japanese and katakana Engrish: “Sumimasen! Watashi no hato … taberu!!” He looked puzzled so I just pointed to the table and plucked my beloved hat from the chair. “Arigato! Arigato gozaimashita!!” I said breathlessly and ran back out, reporting to my neighbors what I had said, only to elicit their guffaws.

Apparently, pronounced properly, “taberu” is katakana english for “table” but, pronounced the way I had said it, means “to eat.” See, this is yet another reason why my Japanese book stinks – it says nothing about proper stress. This is why I ended up telling salesladies a few weeks ago that I wanted to buy a grandmother, and why I told a waiter that I eat my hat as opposed to telling him that my hat was on the table.

It gets better; talking with my Japanese friend Carnitas today, it turns out that “hat” isn’t even a word you can say in katakana; “hato” is actually the word for pigeon.

Well. Little Miss Fancy Pants indeed!!!!

Yet another reason why japan rocks

February 14, 2007 in Holidays, Japanese Mix

Aside from kaiten sushi places where all the plates are 120 yen and the ocha is free … aside from visual treats like the fembots and drunken sarari men, aside from the comedic gems afforded to me by Engrish and my earnest students, Japan has managed to further prove itself as being pretty sweet by neutralizing quite easily the most annoying holiday of the year: Valentine’s day. While I was never the type to sit around and hate the loving couples (except for, perhaps, 10 seconds when I was 15), I do find the holiday a bit of a pain in the neck and, as I said, while I don’t despise happy couples on this day (as so many people in my boat do) I do tend to register a moment of embarrassment when yet another Valentine’s Day has come and gone and, once again, I have to shrug and say, “nope, no one special in my life.”

They celebrate Valentine’s Day in Japan, but instead of a “show your lover how much you care by buying them things” day it is a “women buy men – any men – chocolates” day. Thus, this is the first Valentine’s Day ever where I didn’t have to see other women cuddling stuffed bears, popping bon bons and flashing gems, when I didn’t have to think, “That’s nice. But where’s mine?”

So I bought my neighbors Bob and Sean boxes of Men’s Pocky, which I will give to them quite soon when we meet up at the yakitori place after another long day of teaching.

In other news, I had one class of students play the “Two Truths and a Lie” game today and one wrote down:

  • I am from Osaka
  • I once had a dog
  • I like to touch animals

Ah, Japan. Thank you.

no escape

February 11, 2007 in Japanese Mix

I remember something else from last night at the 300 yen bar: Alan told me that he’d taught one of my students, realizing she had been one of mine when he recognized my handwriting in the roll book. “Ah, you took a class from my friend, Liv!” he told her. “Yes!” she said. “She is so nice. She is so pretty! She looks like Phoebe Cates!” I was abashed but secretly pleased, until Alan said:

“Yeah, I mean, whatever. I think you look more like Sarah Silverman …”

Oh, no, he didn’t. Since moving to Japan, I have managed to avoid the scourge of misguided people who for some reason insist on telling me I look like a person who, apart from dark hair and eyes and girl parts, looks nothing like me (not that Phoebe Cates looks much like me apart from said dark hair, eyes and girl parts, but still). After spending a month with the gang of Westerners I’ve come to know and hearing nothing about S.S., I had come to believe I was safe …


deer blocking

February 11, 2007 in Holidays, Looking

In honor of the first day of our 3 day weekend (hooray, National holiday!), my neighbors and I took a day trip to Nara, famous for its temples, giant Buddha and free-roaming deer! Twas most lovely.

We headed off, Bob, Sean and I. There had been a 300 yen bar the night before, somewhere between Sakiio and Kondoa. In short: I am stupid. What I remember, apart from being carted home by Bob and Sean, was one of our conversations. We – Americans, Canadians, Englishmen, Australians, Irishmen – discussed the etymology of the lovely American colloquialism “cockblocking.” There were no real conclusions.

“Your accents are driving me crazy!” I screamed, drunk, the edamame I’d eaten doing nothing to soak up the vodka tonics. Like I said – I am stupid.

Nara is beautiful. Shaking off my hangover, I dashed after deer, seeing Heifer in their furry faces. Bob and Sean, mortified, watched warily from afar.

In honor of the previous evening and our lovely day together, I coined a new term – deer blocking.

Deer Block, verb. When one attempts to feed a deer and another person swoops in to feed the deer themselves, thus drawing said deer’s attention away from the previously mentioned one.

“I bought some food to feed the deer and I started to get one of them to like me but then this woman came up behind me and started feeding the deer herself. She just totally deer blocked me!”

So it was.



Hello. My mother is lost in the fire. Will you help me find her?

oh no she didn’t …

February 7, 2007 in engrish

Today there were only adults. Children are cute, but it’s nice to teach someone who does what they’re told. My adults smile and try their hardest. They do not ignore me or show me their backsides. I like adults.

As a bit of a treat, one of my students today was quite advanced and mainly wanted to chat rather than stick to the material in the book. She told me about her upcoming trip to Los Angeles. She then expressed a desire to see famous people but said she was a bit concerned that she wouldn’t know if they were famous or not because “Well, all foreigners look the same to me.”

Should I be insulted? I’m not. I merely take it as a green light to stop feeling so darn guilty about the fact that I usually can’t tell Japanese apart from Koreans and Chinese. After all, I’ve been mistaken for British or Australian so many times since I’ve gotten here that … oh, just, thank you, Keiko.

And then:

“Do you know?” she asked, doe-eyed. “Do Westerners ever think all Japanese look alike?”


i kill me

February 7, 2007 in Uncategorized

I like to begin each adult lesson with one of the “ice breakers” I learned back in my Global TESOL course. As Bill told us, an “ice breaker” gets the students into “english mode” since for most of them, their classes are the only time they speak English all week. My favorite “ice breaker” is called “Two Truths and a Lie.” I first introduce the activity by telling the students 3 things about myself and asking them to pick which one is the lie.

The game is actually harder to play on the spot than it sounds – the first few times we played it back at Global TESOL, I kept forgetting to throw a lie in with the bunch, or forgetting to make anything true. As I have been teaching for a few weeks now, I have settled on a particular trio of “facts” about myself which I now rattle off to unsuspecting students.

I write down:

  • I am from Canada
  • I have my scuba diving license
  • I used to rescue stray cats

To make it extra fun for me, I introduce the game by telling my students, “All right! I am going to tell you three things abOAT myself …”

No, most Japanese people can’t even tell the difference between Brits and Americans so of course my clever trick goes completely unnoticed (they almost always pick “I have my scuba diving license” as the lie). But I amuse myself.


February 6, 2007 in Uncategorized

My brother, Diego, came to Japan with my parents back in 2002 for the World Cup. When I first moved here and talked to him about living in Japan, he asked, “Tell me the truth – have you ever felt so different in your entire life?” Eh … actually, I’m fine with looking different. I didn’t expect to come to Japan and look like everyone else, after all – my gaijinity is a fact and just isn’t something that bothers me the way it bothers other foreigners so I have maintained a sort of blissful ignorance about the unabashed stares we receive through my first few weeks here.

Sometimes my friends point out the stares as we amble down the street in search of food in our black suits. Ignorance is indeed bliss in this situation – I notice that some of my friends get a little cranky – but for me, the worst thing is the possibility of getting shafted. It might be ugly, but on more than one occasion, Japanese shopkeepers have definitely tried to overcharge us for drinks or various other sundries. Their plans haven’t gone down since several of my friends speak Japanese well enough to argue with them and get the bill back down to what it ought to be but this reality has made me extra careful when I receive change at a conbini.

Apart from my fellow schoolteachers, I catch another un-Asian’s eye from time to time. Yes, our faces do stick out in a sea of Asians and there is sometimes the employment of the phenomenon known as “the gaijin nod” – when un-Japanese strangers pass each other (in a shop, in the subway), they must somehow acknowledge each other’s presence with a nod, a raised eyebrow, a smile of some sort. We do it but laugh because we know that if we were back home we wouldn’t even look at the person. Here in Japan, however, our eyes search and settle on the strangers that somehow look familiar.

My neighbor Bob snickered once as a bicycle whizzed past us while we walked to school. When I asked why he was laughing he said that it was because I had just gotten a funny stare from the person on the bike. He explained that he thinks I get even stranger stares from the Japanese since, from the back, I might be able to pass as one of them but as soon as they get a load of my face they do a double take. Hmm. Business in the back, party in the front?!

Just now, as I tope at the internet cafe, a man sat at the computer next to me and bumped me slightly. “Sumimasen!” we both said automatically but when we turned to grin apologetically we were both shocked to see another Caucasian looking back at us. Our ready apologetic grins turned sheepish. We nodded at each other. And then we went back to typing in English.

i know …

February 5, 2007 in Uncategorized

Today at school as I filled out an expense report, the secretary guided me through the Japanese on the form. I recognized the kanji for Year, Date and Month but was pretty lost on the rest of it. She pointed to the kanji for “signature” and I said, “Ah! Hanko!” in proud recognition and went about to signing my name. The secretary looked at me sideways and, under her breath, said to me with a conspiratorial smile: “It’s okay. I know you speak Japanese.”

At our school, speaking Japanese is discouraged for the Native English-speaking teachers. I am sure that the secretaries are savvy enough to know that many of the English teachers here have a working knowledge of Nihongo, but dear god, I am not one of them.

Iie, iie (no, no!)” I told her. “chotto, chotto! (a little, a little)”

I am actually at a tender point in my understanding of Japanese – when I first arrived in Japan a month ago I could hardly understand anything anyone said to me. Now I am able to pick up little words and phrases here and there – tiny snatches to be sure, but still, I understand. Also, my understanding of hiragana and katakana has progressed to the point where I am able to read menus more easily and even search out the characters on my cell phone when I type emails to Peaches and my Japanese-speaking friends here. It has become precarious, actually – at this stage, it is hard to keep my eyes from lighting up when I realize that I know what someone is saying to me. In the classroom, this is crucial – and because I am proud of myself and naturally a show off, it is very difficult for me to hide my happiness when I understand that a student is saying “this one? this one?” or trying to communicate that her inu knocked over a neighbor’s vase on his walk the night before but can’t remember the English word for inu.

I have begun to resort to handing students a pencil and paper and asking them to draw the noun they mean. This has resulted in some laughs