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Words of the Week part 1

April 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

At first, I blamed my none-too-frequent blog posts on a lack of internet in my own apartment. Now, about a month after the happy home internetting event, I find myself still posting intermittently so, in an attempt to post at least once a week, I shall begin to chart my growing grasp of Japanese in a weekly post sharing the words I have scribbled down on my word cards each week. This week – aside from such valuable words as “important” (daiji) and “example” (rei) – saw my first itty bitty baby steps in the world of Japanese swears.

Fun – a kind word for a pile of excrement. As an “ice breaker” I enjoy asking my students what were the best and worst things that happened to them that day. A shy older woman frowned and told me that when she left the house that morning, she found a “fun” on her lawn. I didn’t know what a “fun” was and she didn’t know the word in English. The other student in the class, a middle aged man, told her to draw a picture. “Ah, so!!” she cried and on a piece of scrap paper, drew a pile of dung complete with a little curl at the top. This is a word – and an image – that I will never forget. Thanks, Nobuko!

Damare – “Shut up.” On Wednesdays, I teach a class of 12 year olds who, after 2 classes, I have yet to “click” with. Thus, the past 2 classes have been 40 minutes of drudgery for them and myself. The class is even more difficult because of a little problem child named Seiya who insists on acting like a cretin for those entire 40 minutes. Last Wednesday, he took delight in torturing Akiko, the shy, mousy girl who sits across from him and when I tried to get to the bottom of the situation he groused at her to “shut up.”

“No, Seiya!” I said, careful to use language graded to their level. “No ‘shut up!’”

“Damare,” he said callously to me. I didn’t know the word – it only sounded like more illegal Japanese to me so I pointed firmly to the “English Only!” sign in the room. He sneered and went back to slumping against his chair.

“English only!” I said again, helplessly. The students looked at me lazily. The clique of girls in the front went back to chattering in Japanese, the stunned-looking red faced kid in the middle of the room continued to stare at the wall, Akiko continued to whimper and Seiya continued to smirk in his seat as he and Yuki chatted – again, in Japanese.

I sighed and began to pass out worksheets.

Later that evening, I discussed classroom Japanese with some fellow teachers. At this point, I can understand when my students say “Got it!,” “That’s wrong,” “Finished!” and “Difficult!” but the rest is often a mystery.

“What does ‘asoka’ mean?” I asked. “My students say it all the time.”

“It means ‘I see,” said Wendell.

“Oh, good!” I said. “And what about ‘damare’? That little jerk in my 12 year old class was saying it to me today.”

“That means ‘shut up,” said Sean.

… jerk!!!

No more Ms. Ineffectual Teacher. That class of 12 year olds is getting a drastic makeover once I get back from vacation.

Shirahama, Here I Come

April 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

In Japan, there are something like four national holidays stretching from the last week of April to the first week of May. Many employers will give their employees the entire week off. Happily, my school is one of those generous-hearted entities. I have been teaching for nearly three months now and readily welcome a break. To celebrate, we shall go to the beach in Shirahama for a couple of days to watch the sunsets and loll about with strangers at the hot springs.

I have never been so excited to be with naked Japanese people in my life.


April 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

When I was 15 – unreasonably angry and burning with a blistering passion for greatness that would extinguish itself by the time I was 18 – I made a list of possible careers. In my diary (hunched over my desk, pausing at intervals to enjoy a handful of crackers) I wrote:

  • Broadway actress
  • Novelist
  • Lawyer
  • Advertising Executive
  • Businesswoman

You will notice that “teacher” figures nowhere on that insidiously ridiculous list. If anything, I considered the teaching profession a sort of death for me; at 15 (and, again, burning with desires to achieve glory) I saw teaching – especially the teaching of English – as the fall back position for one who could not succeed. By the time I was 18 I knew I simply didn’t have the talent, brains or ambition to become an actress, lawyer, executive or businesswoman but I still held out the thought that perhaps I could turn my fondness for words into a career. At 27 and as much of a failed journalist/creative writer as anyone can be, I stand in front of a classroom and help Japanese people improve their conversational skills, all the while thinking of my youthful arrogance.

No More Questions or Why I Love Weird Al

April 18, 2007 in Uncategorized

Each day, the names of the adult students taking classes are printed out on a sheet and taped to the wall of the teacher’s lounge. At this tender stage in my Japanese cultural training, I still find many of the names foreign. Worse, I often have a hard time telling the difference between male and female names. My own Latin cultural training has taught me that feminine names end in ‘a’ while male names end in ‘o’ but in Japanese this is not the case. I have come to understand that when a name ends in “ko” it is almost always feminine (i.e., Makiko, Eriko, Junko) but the other names still give me trouble. When I look at the sheet of paper, I recognize some names but for the most part, I have no idea what to expect – a class of older men who refuse to communicate with the women? A tight group of giggling ladies? It is still usually a mystery until I rock into the classroom.

The other day I glanced at the sheet and once again, the names were foreign. I prepared my materials for class and when I glanced up, a supremely exciting sight met my eyes: Weird Al of the Five Toed Sock journal – who I had regrettably not seen in months – had just entered the building.

“I recognize you!” she said when she saw me. “Let me see. You’re … Amy!”

“Close!” I said.

“Hmm!” she said. “I know – Judy!”

“Tsk, tsk  … uh, Eriko!” I said, with a sneaky glance at the student sheet.

“All right. I give up.” she said.

“Liv!” I told her.

“That’s right!” she said. “Ribu. Ribu!”

Two other ladies made up the class with Eriko and the day’s lesson focused on discussing the towns where we grew up. I partnered with Eriko and instructed her to ask me at least 5 questions about Bumble Fork.

“Hmm,” she said. “Is it far from Los Angeles?”

“Yes, quite far.” I said. “Maybe 6 hours by plane.”

“All right,” she said. “Hmm. Is it pretty?”

“It is sort of pretty. It is near the water and there are lots of fish.” I said.

“Okay.” said Weird Al.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Three more questions!”

“I am sorry.” Weird Al said. “I have no more questions.”

Momo is the old Pink

April 15, 2007 in Uncategorized

New knowledge gleaned the other day that made me happy; in the olden Japanese days – before the katakana English word “pinku” was used – “momo” was the word used to describe the color “pink.”

Protected: Poster Child

April 15, 2007 in engrish

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O Hana Mi, O Hana Mi … How Lovely Are Your Customs

April 15, 2007 in Uncategorized

Yet another of Japan’s most excellent traditions is that of O Hana Mi (literally, “flower look”) – around the beginning of April, friends and family gather to gaze at the beautiful clusters of cherry blossoms cropping up all over the country. Sometimes parties are organized – my school held a sushi rolling-and-corsage making do a couple of weeks ago – but more commonly, people stroll below the snowy and pink boughs while sipping from cans of bubbly beer.

My own O Hana Mi was late in coming since I missed a few school parties due to freelance work and prior plans. I did make it out one afternoon but my fun was spoiled due to rain and – as cherry blossom season only lasts for the scant one or two weeks the cherry blossoms are in bloom – I wondered if I would ever get my moment under the blossoms. Then, to my delight, last week yielded a half day at school so with several other teachers, I finally got my O Hana Mi on during our daytime jaunt to Mt. Sakiio. Beers were bought at the 99 Yen shop, trails were hiked (in our suits and my corporate heels, no less), street pachinko was played and all was well in the land of the sakura.



Further pics are up in Picture Pages….

More Engrish for your Pleasure

April 15, 2007 in engrish

click to make me bigger!


yes, those are my feet.

A Story of Words

April 3, 2007 in Uncategorized

A couple of weeks after I arrived in Japan, I came across a rather cunning little device while nosing around at a department store:


“Word cards” are often used by Japanese students to help them remember English vocabulary - one precise mini flashcard at a time. Ever-determined to improve my mortifying Japanese, I snatched up a set and almost immediately began to scrawl down Japanese words I heard or read during the course of the days. I have toted the set of cards around with me for months now, yanking it out unabashedly and, with the shakiness of a child, printing the words in hiragana (often calling on the assistance of a Japanese person) and, underneath, in romaji. Yesterday, during a teaching shift, I scribbled down words on the last two cards of the ring and, primly satisfied, finished off quite a random collection of words gleaned during the first months of my Japanese study. I give to you, highlights from Volume One of Liv’s Word Cards:

ganbarimasu: I will do my best!

This is the first word I wrote down during, perhaps, my second teaching shift. Carnitas had taught it to me a couple of days before as a suggestion of something that would be good to tell my boss.


“1 jikan” or “3 jikan” is what I have had to tell the folks at the internet cafe for months now.

dekita - I was able to do it!

What young students often cry out when they finish a worksheet or a crafts project

massugu - straight

Taking a cab home one night I asked the cab driver to go “kita,” thinking it meant “straight.” Bob and Sean informed me the next night that, no, “kita” did not mean “straight!” – it meant “North.” Since I was actually traveling South at the time I gave this direction to the cab driver, this was an even sillier mistake. ”Massugu” is a word I have not forgotten since.


from Sean, a fun one to pull out from time to time.


We eat skewers of these quite often at the  yakitori place with frosty pints of beer and they are most excellent.

Taberuto eat.

Not “table”.


From Himalaya-san, my Japanese teacher. I now use this compulsively.

muchi - ignorance

Another one from Bob and Sean, who sniggered over yakitori as they first used it to describe each other and then only told me what it meant after ten minutes.


Nihongo wa muzukashii, desu nee???


the word I kept confusing with “muzukashii”

Kareshi - boyfriend

Peaches gave me a book called 70 Japanese Gestures before I came here – filled with very charming – but as I have learned, old-fashioned – hand gestures f0r things such as “myself,” “funeral,” “money,” and “girlfriend/boyfriend.” Unaware of the negative connotation for the latter, I used the gesture for “boyfriend” while chatting with Himalaya-san, who giggled and after composing herself, taught me the actual word. Later, over Mexican food with Carnitas, I used the gesture again only to invoke his horror. “That’s for dirty old men,” he said. “Don’t do that! It gives me a shiver…!”

Atsukamashi - cheeky old man

like the ones who shove past you on the subway platform.

Namaiki - cheeky little children

like the ones who kancho their teachers in class.


as in “poor thing.” Himalaya-san said “kawaiisou neko [kitty]” when I told her using the worst possible Japanese/spastic pantomime that I had seen a dead cat in the street earlier that day.


I recently mortified Sean by gently suggesting to the waitress at the kaiten sushi restaurant that because of his towering stack of empty sushi dishes he was a buta, wasn’t he?


Fun to say!

Iku - the command form of “go.”

Good to know, since I had mistakenly thought the command form for “go” was “ika,” which actually means “squid.”


This one came from another teacher at school as an example of Japanese words he thought were fun to say.


Thanks to Bob, I can now order things without mayonnaise. Shudder.


What young students sometimes bellow during class.

Otoutoyounger brother

I miss mine.

Kimochiwaruibad feeling

The text book gave the definition as “gross” but the principal at my school said it was more like “bad feeling” - a good word, she said, to describe the man who killed the English teacher at NOVA last week.  She then watched as I used white-out to cover the mistake I made while writing the character for “chi” and then as I corrected it and finished writing the rest, said, “Perfect.”

On to Volume Two …