You are browsing the archive for 2007 May.

One, Two, Three – WHORE!: Part Ichi

May 28, 2007 in engrish

During our initial training to teach at my school, our trainers alerted us to Japanese pronunciation errors we might come across. The infamous “l/r” issue is indeed a reality – in our lessons, there are prates of flied lice, soaps on lopes, crassical concerts and lipped stockings galore. A lesser known pronunciation error of the “l/r” ilk is the “f/h” issue, particularly with the “hoo.” In Japanese, “ha,” “hi,” “ho,” and “he,” exist, but “hu” does not – it is instead voiced as “fu.” There are no other “f” sounds in Japanese – words like “coffee” are translated into katakana as “ko-hi.” The “f/h” issue is why my students recommended I try getting internet from “Yafoo BB.” It is also why, in my class of 2 year olds, I held up flash cards for numbers 1-10 and, as I held up the card for “4,” little Kazuki screamed, “Hore!!!” while nestled comfortably in his mother’s arms.

Again – Japan? Thank you.

Words of the Week Part 2 or “Fluff Post in Lieu of Something Better”

May 19, 2007 in Uncategorized

I have several potentially interesting posts brewing in my head, but until I can sit down to give them the attention I hope they deserve, I give you another round of “Words of the Week.”

ototoi – the day before yesterday. Perhaps meaningful only because it was the last word I wrote down in Western letters; from this point out, all words in my book of Word Cards are written exclusively in hiragana or shaky child-like kanji.

chanto – properly, well. Hollered by the “Bald Guy” character in “Kill Bill” when he shouts at Sonny Chiba’s character in the sushi shop scene: “chanto kikinasai!!” (listen well!), he shouts before spewing nonsense about sake and generals, right before Sonny Chiba twists his finger like a corkscrew and verbally owns him. Sonny Chiba is freaking hysterical. Sonny Chiba is the man.

isoide – hurry! Shouted by Sonny Chibo in “Kill Bill” several minutes before he verbally owns Bald Guy. Thank you, Carnitas, for suggesting I memorize the sushi shop fight scene to further my Japanese study.

deha* – if so

doshi doshi* – rapidly, freely

tondemonai* – outrageous!

narubeku* – if possible; preferably

fusawashii* – suitable

*words I plucked out of my phone’s Japanese-English dictionary while bored out of my skull during a substitute shift that yielded almost no work for me.

and, finally, the week’s gem:

kissho – gross. While being completely ignored by my class of 12 year olds as they chattered at each other in Japanese I overhead flirty Tomiko shouting this word at Seiya, the aforementioned kid who told me to shut up a couple of weeks ago. I have recently stopped caring if my 12 year olds speak in Japanese and dislike me; how many teachers did I listen to or like when I was 12? Japanese kids go to regular school, cram school, clubs, sports and then come to my school for even more English instruction – their attitude probably has very little to do with me. I have begun to be satisfied if they respond properly in English when I ask them a question and if they play the games I set out for them. I also take this opportunity to have a little fun (the other day while dividing them up into teams I dubbed the teams “Team Noisy” and “Team Loud”) and when I am able to catch an isolated word in their hurly burly Japanese, I secretly write it down. “Kissho” stood out to me amid the rest of the hooting, hollering and Seiya’s imitations of me. After class I took my scrap of paper to the Japanese staff members and asked them what it meant. They looked embarrassed. The principal said, “It is not a nice word. Did Seiya say it?”

“No,” I said. “Actually, someone said it to him.”

“It is not nice,” said the principal again. “Children say it to each other. It means ‘gross.’”

… and so the student becomes the teacher.

There is a Smell ….

May 17, 2007 in Uncategorized

… it smells like something decomposing in my sink. A garbage disposal would be nice.

(warning – random grousing to follow)

… so would more than one burner on my stove. I would also like a full-sized bed fit for an adult. Add to that about ten more square feet of space to accommodate said bed. How about another outlet? Walls not made of cardboard that actually block out sound?

Last week, I celebrated my 4-month anniversary in Japan; 5 months since I agreed to live in this teeny tiny apartment in Osaka. Some years ago I lived in what everyone I knew considered to be an atrocity of an apartment in New York City’s East Village – I worked 4 jobs to pay about 1300 a month for a space that was perhaps 14 by 14 (with a 4 by 10 kitchenette shooting off of it). My family thought I was nuts, my friends thought I was nuts; a sleepover with 3 people resulted in arms and elbows tucked into wall corners. And just forget about dinner parties. Yet, in that tiny apartment – which I made over from a festering school bus yellow eyesore into a soothing mint green hideout – I felt proud; proud that I could work hard enough to afford a 1300 dollar rent and proud that I had converted it into something quite pretty. I felt cozy, too – 14 by 14 feet of space will do that for you. When my school offered me a choice between a shared house and a private – if extremely tiny – apartment, I hemmed and hawed but ultimately went to the private apartment. Not only do I relish my private space but I imagined, too, another place as cozy and sweet as my former mint green palace. I was a New Yorker – I knew from tiny places!

Now, in mid-May, I have gone through a series of phases with my apartment. The first – excitement. The second – disappointed disgust as I began to crash into everything and undertook the challenge of cooking dinner with one burner on my stove. The third – grudging acceptance. And now, finally, the fourth – pride. Pride that I have managed to get by in a space that must be about 8 by 10 feet. When I finally got internet, I rearranged the furniture so the new set up is actually much more convenient. I have since learned how to cook several course dinners using my one burner, microwave and the beloved toasted oven I picked up at Muji for 3000 yen.

Nonetheless, it can still be something of a like-hate relationship (see my grousing above). My apartment here in Japan is technically Western-style (i.e., with a bed and a toilet) but with plenty of Japanese touches. Some of the touches are cool; many of my fellow teachers who live in larger apartments have what they call “Fish grillers” in their kitchen; my toilet has two kanji symbols on the flusher – one for “big” and one for “little”; when we enter our apartments we find a kutsu bako – a square impression in the floor to leave one’s shoes before entering. Other touches, however, are far less appealing. My landlord warned me ahead of time that walls in Japan are much thinner than walls back home but I was unprepared for the reality of his words. At any time, I can hear my neighbors talking. Granted, their words are muffled – like adults in Charlie Brown cartoons – but nonetheless I hear them and I am sure they hear me while warbling along to the cast of DreamGirls in the shower or sharing beer with Bob and Sean.

Cardboard walls, two outlets jam-packed with plugs, a twin-sized bed all-too-reminiscent of a college dorm. Cleaned up in 5 minutes; filthy in about the same time. Fear each time I want to sing along to Tenacious D. The ever-ripening smells from trash I’ve forgotten to banish to my 4 x 4 balcony before trash day. The knowledge that I must shut my mouth because were it not for my school, I would have had to find my own apartment and considering how many fees one must pay in Japan to rent and how little Japanese I knew when I got here this would have been a nearly impossible task.

So I am quiet. At least I have my very own washing machine.

Hair in Japan

May 9, 2007 in Uncategorized

In our school, the staff likes to put up photos of all of the English teachers along with personal profiles. At the start of my tenure here, I very much enjoyed looking at what my fellow teachers had to say about their likes, dislikes and hobbies. Interesting, too, was actually meeting the teachers through the course of the days – after seeing their pictures on the wall, meeting them in person was something like meeting a celebrity.

“You’re Mel,” I could say upon meeting the day’s co-teacher. “You’re from Melbourne and your favorite food is spag bol.”

“Fair dinkum,” Mel could say. “And you’re Liv – you really, really hate bicycles.”

I quickly noticed that when I met the male teachers whose pictures I’d already seen that many of them had let their hair grow quite long during the course of their stay – neat and clean the previous January, scruffy by the end of the year. At the time, I chalked it up to the typical loosening up employees tend to do. Four months later and in the throes of hair distress, I now suspect the real reason behind the trend – complete lack of trust in Japanese hair dressers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am sure that Japanese hair dressers are extremely skilled and masters in their own right. When I describe a lack of trust in Japanese hairdressers, I refer specifically to the problems created by the language barrier. Merely a pain in the neck in day to day life – “All I want is to ask if they have any brown bread!” – the language barrier becomes a minefield in the hairdressing realm. Most people have very specific demands when it comes to having their hair dressed – imagine trying to communicate those needs when you have to rack your brains to remember how to ask for another cup of tea?

Here in Sakiio, there is a man. I first heard his name whispered between various other female teachers: Kenji. Kenji, they said, spoke fantastic English and did one hell of a great job. He wasn’t even that fair away, they said – just over in Kokoromura. One day, Velma appeared on the scene with lovely brand new high lights. Another day, Maggie arrived at school with a chic short haircut, over which she was ecstatic. Maggie gave me Kenji’s card. I tucked it away in my purse.

After weeks of hemming and hawing, I decided to go visit Kenji in Kokoromura. Summer approached and I was extremely sick of my frayed, boring, waist-length layered hair. After years of the same style I envisioned something perhaps a little different. As an extra precaution, I brought a picture, chuckling at myself for my anal retentiveness as I cut it out.

Kenji’s salon was unpretentious yet clean. He and his shampoo artist said they would be happy to help me out, if I would just wait while they finished off their last customer. I sat at a table, browsing through American celeb trash mags before Kenji’s shampoo artist gave me an extremely thorough wash and finished the experience off with a “massage” when she whacked at my back with firm slaps for five minutes afterwards.

Kenji is a gentle man and indeed skilled in English. His colloquialisms were spot on – “I think a long, sweeping fringe would be great!” – and he kept up with me even when I felt relaxed enough to speak at a more normal speed. Thus, I kept only a halfway watchful eye as he pulled up strands to snip off the ends. So I offer you a question, my friends. In such a situation, with such a man with such a grasp of English, why did I show him this picture:

and come away looking like this?

I mean … why?!?

Apart from the shock of having had so much cut off without my knowledge or consent, I must give Kenji credit for giving me the hair I wanted – when I was 15. 12 years later, I am mortified to sport what we in 1995 lovingly dubbed “The Monica.” For some reason, Kenji gave me “cute” hair. Bouncy hair. Local newscaster hair. The most popular style in my highschool yearbook hair. Hair that I will be wearing in a ponytail until August. Jesus, if he’d told me he was going to hack off so much I would have had him save it to donate …


Shirahama pt. 2 – or White Rudeness

May 8, 2007 in Uncategorized

Much like President’s Day in America, Golden Week is a moment in time where revelers enjoy the fruits and the shade but pay no attention to the tree. Green Day, Children’s Day, Grapenut Day – these are basically ignored. Yet, crowds of gleeful, celebrating tourists pack in heaving clots throughout any of the major tourist destinations – their presence a scourge to me, though, technically, I, too, do not belong here. Our trip to Shirahama – also a major tourist destination – afforded us a pleasant shock when we realized that, despite its tourist trappings, the area surrounding our hotel was nearly desolate.


We shrugged. Fine with us. Please note the ultra white sand of Shirahama Beach – a special import from Australia.


Quite a craggy island, if I do say so myself.

There is much to be said for a little peace and quiet – Sakiio’s streets and neighborhoods are rough, burly and free from any breaks in concrete, though the absence of Golden Week crowds was, at times, a little creepy. Also slightly unsettling was the lack of Sakiio-style friendliness to foreigners – the service at the area’s restaurants was the coldest we’ve received since arriving in Japan; a crowd of cackling Japanese youths stopped stuffing their faces with yaki nikku long enough to swivel their necks and stare blatantly as we walked in and in another restaurant, the waiter gruffly took Sean’s order and turned to go before even asking what I would like. All one, of course – I don’t let such a thing spoil my enjoyment of peace, quiet and imported white sand.

On a similar tack, slightly amusing – depending on your outlook – was a gift shop find; nestled in a stack of T-shirts was a plain black tee printed with the words “White Rudeness.”

And to think America freaked out over the Abercrombie & Fitch “Wong Brother” tees.

…further pictures up in Picture Pages.

Shirahama, pt. 1 or Surrounded

May 6, 2007 in Uncategorized

The train car was packed during the first leg of the much-anticipated trip to Shirahama so we had to stand, flanked by giggling Fem Bots, grim old men and sneering 13 year old boys in black military school uniforms. Our bags lay at our feet and we clung to the loops as people continued to shove into the car at each stop, cramming us further and further inside.

“You know,” I said. “I don’t think we’re making the most of our gaijinity.”

“What do you mean?” asked Sean.

“How quickly do you think they’d clear out the car if we started being really Western-y?” I asked. “Really, I don’t think we use our gaijinity enough. What do you think? How about we start a few rounds of ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’? That should send them all to the other end of the train and then we can sit!”

“I think I’m going to change cars.” said Sean.