I want to talk about a hot topic
today. The election results. Many Americans are excited about the results
and can't wait for Trump to begin his days as a president, while others are
absolutely furious. They couldn't be
more livid. People are taking off work
to mourn, taking to YouTube and Facebook to vent their feelings and talking
about this "racist" America that Trump is creating. People are rioting and protesting in the
streets in predominantly blue states, ironically. Americans are angry and they are hurt, and
they want to be heard. Is their outcry
being heard correctly? Is their
protesting painting a picture of what America truly is? Or have they forgotten that they aren't the
only people in the world? I want to talk
about what Japan thinks about the election, and what the Japanese people think
about the Americans rioting and protesting the results in the street. I asked quite a few people. Some I knew, and some I never met before, and
here are the collective findings of my interviews.
For starters, Japan is most
conservative. I know that their dominate
party is called the liberal democratic party, but that doesn't mean they are
democrats or liberals. The LDP is
actually pretty far right winged. That
being said, there are still many people who do not agree with the LDP and are desperately
seeking for the current prime minister (Shinzo Abe) to leave office. I know because they drive around in their
campaign cars and their megaphones quite often as they spew their reasoning
behind their distaste for Abe. They don't
throw anything, they just peacefully drive by, wave, and tell you what they
think Abe is doing wrong and how he should fix things. More than half the people I talked to claimed
to identify with the LDP.
Second, the only news sources that
Japanese tend to receive on political matters of the US are CNN and MSNBC. Very rarely do they get news broadcasted from
NHK World, which is also a very liberal news source. Their newspapers tend to be more conservative
I have found but for the most part, unless they are speaking with an American
who is conservative, they are only getting one side of the argument. Most of them get that.
On the day of the election, I watched
it closely. I could hardly take my eyes
off the screen. It was causing me so
much anxiety. Everyone I work with knew
who I was rooting for so when the results came that Trump had officially won
the presidency I was congratulated many times.
I was stunned. Shocked. I couldn't believe my eyes. Trump, actually WON?! How did this happen? I thought for sure Hillary was going to win. I thought for sure that she was going to be
the first woman president and that all the Americans would be jumping for
joy. That is not the case. Apparently, America is annoyed with liberals
running the country and are desperately seeking a change. Clearly they want something different from
the white house.
No sooner had the results been posted
had the ALTs (from various countries) displayed their dismay on Facebook. I expected as much. They lost.
This was probably their first election that they had lost too. So it was understandable that they would take
to Facebook to be upset. I think most
people expected that to happen. However,
it started going a bit too far. Rather
than just accept defeat and move on, the foreigners took to whining and
complaining. They acted like cry
babies. It is one thing to cry about it
silently at home, have a drinking fit at home, alone, it is another to involve
people in your whining. That is exactly
what the ALTs did in Japan. They whined,
they cried, they drank, they threw mourning parties, and they took time off
work. Who does that? Who actually does that? It is not a death in the family or a close
friend, this is simply the presidential election which takes place every 4
years. Have they forgotten that annually
there are state elections? Have they
forgotten that? Not only are they taking
time off of work, IN JAPAN, but back in the states, people are taking time off
school! They are needing time to "process
and mourn the results." Really? Just
because you didn't get your way? REALLY!?
In the wake of these events, I decided
to ask Japanese what they think of Americans and their reaction to the election
results. I was very surprised with what
many of them had to say.
They started off by saying that taking
time off of work because of results not going your way is ridiculous. They found it absolutely childish and
rude. They couldn't believe that people
would even consider doing such a thing. Your
job will continue to be there after 4 years.
The president will change. It is
not that big of a deal. The Japanese
that don't like Trump, don't hate him.
They know that it is really none of their business who is and isn't our
president. One pointed out that the ALTs
are in Japan, and not in America. And
taking time off work to mourn for a country that doesn't directly affect the
one you are living in is uncalled for.
Most of the Japanese have lost respect for the foreigners in their
When news hit here that Americans were
rioting and protesting in the streets.
Do you know what the Japanese did?
They laughed. They laughed at
Americans. They laughed because they
were too appalled to do anything else.
They couldn't believe what they were hearing and seeing. All of them said that "that is not how your
protest." Also, "this is not something
worth protesting. You already
voted. Accept what happened and move on."
One video in particular made it viral
in Japan, and that was of a group of people beating up a Trump supporter. They were proud of beating him senseless and
stealing his car!!! Who does
that!!? 2 of my coworkers were planning
a vacation to the US during the winter vacation. They were going to go to Hawaii and
California. After seeing the protests,
riots, and beatings going on in America, in BLUE STATES I must add, they
canceled their trips. Those 2 in
particular, said that they have lost all interest in going to America and never
want to meet another American again.
The people whom I had just met when I
interviewed them, said that they will think twice now before they approach a
foreigner because they don't know if they are a violent American or someone
from Australia who is friendly. They
told me that they believe "all Americans are selfish children. Don't bother coming to Japan." The ones who work with other ALTs said that
they were told there is going to be a WWIII.
I had to console an entire class at one of my schools because they were
being told that America will abandon Japan now, and they will be nuked by North
Korea. These lies are really having an
impact on how Americans are viewed and the stereotype has really been affected
in a majorly negative way.
These are horrible statements made by
very peaceful Japanese. It is very hard
to upset or offend the Japanese because of the zen society. Congratulations America, you managed to piss
off Japan. To the rioters and
protestors, I hope you really sit and think about what it is that you have done
to the peaceful Americans in the world.
You have tarnished the reputation of America. You have made prejudice and racism a much
larger issue in Japan. Since the
election, my encounters with racism and prejudice have doubled. All because you weren't thinking about
others, you were only thinking about yourself.
You are all selfish, and you are all to blame for the stereotyping you
have put upon us. This is YOUR
fault. And this is YOUR doing. YOU are only to blame for this. YOU and YOU alone. I hope you are happy with yourselves. I hope you are proud for what you have
done. You have successfully made the
world hate you and be afraid to even talk to you. Japanese are now afraid to come near
you. You have some SERIOUS apologizing
Great job America. Great freaking job.
What kind of a person are you? Are you a moth person? Or are you a butterfly person? Unless you truly love moths, you would most likely immediately say that you are a butterfly person without any context, only because butterflies are much prettier than moths. People tend to think of butterflies as dainty bugs while people think of moths as hairy oversized flies. Do you really know the difference between moths and butterflies apart from appearances? Can you really make a decision as to whether or not you are a moth
person or a butterfly person? And now, I am not talking about which one you like more than the other. First, let's get into the science behind each of the creatures to help us better understand the answer to this question, "Are you a moth person or a butterfly person?"
Let's start with butterflies. (When I was little, I used to call them birderflies). There is actually a pretty big difference between moth and butterfly caterpillars. I am going to speak generally, because I know that there are exceptions to this, but to keep things simple, let us just stick to the overall picture. Caterpillars eat nonstop. They eat and eat like crazy. For the most part, they are herbivores but there are those that eat other insects, bones, fabric, and even other caterpillars. If it is in the way of its mouth, it will be consumed. They are immune to all natural toxins and many gardeners have a hard time getting rid of
them because of this. Because of their toxin filled diet, they are also filled with toxins themselves, making them virtually immune to predators. Yet this is where the similarities start to split. Butterfly caterpillars may be filled with toxins but who is to know that unless you eat it first? The predator will die, but it isn't much use if the prey still dies.
Butterfly caterpillars tend to be very smooth when moth caterpillars tend to be spikey or hairy. It is advised that you avoid touching hairy or spiked caterpillars as the hairs and spikes contain venom, which is harmful to humans. Depending on the type of caterpillar, you could be hospitalized. This defense that the moth caterpillar has makes it have almost no predators beyond being a larva. Personally, I find moth caterpillars to be more interesting in that they have intricate designs and colors. Some even look like miniature Guinea pigs to me. Butterfly caterpillars look gooey and seem like they might explode at any moment. The fake eyes they have on their backs freak me out sometimes. Since the butterfly caterpillars have hardly no defense other than fake eyes and a toxin that will be released if they are ingested, butterfly caterpillars remain vulnerable their entire squishy green life.
When moths change, they weave cocoons with their silk. This silk cocoon is very strong, and very well protected. It is camouflaged well that you usually won't be able to see it unless you are looking for it. A chrysalis, on the other hand, is not very strong, nor is it hidden. They hand from sticks and branches while the moth's is permanently affixed to something. The chrysalis can easily be broken from is resting place and easily crushed. When they emerge from
their encasings their differences seem to swap. The once ugly vulnerable butterfly caterpillar is now a beautiful and light weight butterfly. He will hold his
brightly colored wings high and drink the sweet nectar of flowers, all the while assisting in pollination. People no longer view them as pests and welcome them into their garden. Some gardeners will plant specific flowers which attract butterflies so that they may admire their beauty. Every little girl loves to chase them. Every sweet and innocent story contains them. They become the living embodiment of all that is beautiful and happy. Their sole purpose in life suddenly becomes a journey to their parent's birthplace to lay eggs and reproduce.
Moths will emerge from their cocoons during the night. They become nocturnal. Their wings are fuzzy and drape their equally hairy bodies. They become a constant source of annoyance as they lay their eggs in unwanted places, often ruining various objects, such as clothing, with their eggs. Their diets
remain the same and they continue to eat almost anything. They become a constant thing of fright to a number of girls as they flutter around searching for the source of light. I can't tell you how many times those things have freaked me out by flying by my face while it is on the way to the light. Their once invulnerability has disappeared and now there are numerous items available to rid your life of moths.
Butterflies are a symbol of new birth, and new life. I have even heard them referred to the spirit that has left the body. Some funerals will have butterflies on pictures or fake ones in the flowers because of this symbolism. Butterflies are symbolizing new life, and beauty. They are without blemish. And no two butterflies are the same. Each wing pattern is different. Butterflies are the reward to a hard worked and troubled life. They were hated as caterpillars but now as butterflies they are loved and desired.
Moths represent the opposite. They are the symbolism of decay and destruction. Moths are part of the creatures in the night, which cause discomfort and fright. People spend money on research for how to rid your home of them. Consumers will buy any product they can find if only they can stop the destruction of their possessions without the stank of moth balls. Nothing good comes about when moths are involved. They only bring hurt and pain. They make you want nothing to do with them. You will stop at nothing to remove them from your sight. They can exist elsewhere, but not in your home, ruining your things as you sleep.
In the Bible, there are several verses where moths are mentioned. Even the word of God believes these creatures to be nothing good.
19 "Do not store up for
yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where
thieves break in and steal." Matt. 6:19NIV
It is the
Sovereign Lord who helps me.
will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
moths will eat them up.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail
because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your
wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.
Let's see what the Bible has to say about butterflies.
if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold,
the new has come.
So will it be with the resurrection of the
dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
1 Co. 15:42NIV
I know that the Bible doesn't say the word Butterfly specifically, so I did some research into what other languages say. It turns out, that in Greek, the word for butterfly is the same as the word psyche, which the Greeks used (at that time) to mean soul. Upon doing my research these 2 verses kept
coming up so I looked them up in the original Greek. The word psyche was used. So what does this mean? This means that even the word of God views
butterflies as everything good and beautiful.
The verses about moths tell us to not live with a focus of wealth and possessions, because overtime they will be worthless. Having the wrong focus in life will only bring pain. The verses about butterflies are a double meaning with our soul/physical being. The verses mention our new life in Christ. Our bodies die and are recreated in heaven. Just as the caterpillar "dies" so have its new "heavenly" body of a butterfly. Its life as a caterpillar comes to an end so its new life fully of love and beauty may be created.
We as people, are like moths and butterflies. Our human life, is our caterpillar life. Just as the caterpillar has a voracious hunger, so do humans have a
hunger. I hunger for attention, a hunger for fame, a hunger for wealth, fame, whatever have you, we like caterpillars, have a voracious hunger. And like the
caterpillar, our bodies will also change completely. The only difference is what our end goal will be. Will we be a moth, or a butterfly? Before moths become moths they are beautiful, and unique. Everyone knows who they are and no one bothers them. They are left to live their lives as they see fit. Moth people live life without thinking about the end result, because the end result doesn't matter to them. They want to be remembered and noticed now. They don't care what happens later. They want people to think of them as always right and invincible. They try to have the world pay attention to them. During their life they cause destruction and hatred. Sure they may be living an extravagant life, but this life causes pain to others. When they die and stand before God, they have nothing to show for themselves. They may have called themselves a Christian while on Earth, and gone to church every Sunday, but they were too
concerned with the world and how the world accepted them to take the time to think about God and others. They are given a new body, but this body is not a glorious body. This body is hideous, and their eternal life is filled with pain. All the pain they had stored for themselves while they were on Earth. Life on Earth appears short when compared to an eternity.
Butterfly people are much I the same. We all start out as caterpillars, humans. We are hungry for the same things. We all want wealth, fame, attention, but butterfly people keep their eyes on the end goal. Because they have chosen to stay focused on Christ, the world hates them. The world sees them as an easy target and attack them. If they are attacked, the attackers will be punished later, but that makes no difference to the poor person who was attacked. Just like the harmless toxic caterpillar being poisonous, in the end he still dies. Many butterfly people will be oppressed, abused, and destroyed by the world. At
our core, we are all the same, so of course butterfly people cause destruction and seek possessions. Butterfly people are not immune to this. It is the end
result that is different. When they die and stand before God, the butterfly person finds favor in God's eyes because they have chosen to live their life as a life of Christ. They suffered through the pain and suffering because they know it will only be for a short while. A life time of pain on Earth is nothing compared to the eternity of everlasting joy and love with Christ Jesus our Lord. He gives them a new body. A glorious and wonderful body, that is unique to each individual. They live for eternity in God's heaven receiving their reward for a lifetime of pain in following Christ.
It might be difficult to see the end result in a sea of pain and worldly confusion. The devil is hard at work to make us confused and fight against each other. He loves nothing more than to watch the people of God go after one another and cause separation. Don't let the devil win. Don't fall victim to the
moth life. Choose to be a butterfly.
I will ask again. Are you a moth person? Or are you a butterfly person?
So I have returned from my trip to America, and this is a post I have been looking forward to making. I made many notes while I was away so I would leave you with an entertaining read that I bet you never thought about nor knew before. Here is my list of things I never noticed, about America/Arizona.
Americans are rather friendly. I knew we were nice in that you could approach anyone and have a polite conversation with them, but I just didn’t know how friendly we were until I had been living in Japan for over a year. Americans were also greeting each other with a smile, always happy to answer questions, and generally just being nice to one another. Don’t get me wrong, Japanese are also very nice and friendly, but on our commute to work or travel, Japanese don’t tend to smile, wave, or say a hello as they pass one another along the way. They very much keep to themselves. They also don’t really engage in conversation when at the checkout counter. In America, I noticed that almost every single person had a conversation with me during check out. Never really got that in Japan. Maybe once in a while to ask about where I am from but that was it.
This might be something Arizona specific, but there were a lot of blue skies. As soon as I landed it was one of the first things I noticed. The skies were so blue. I don’t remember the last time I saw blue skies in Gunma if not for a brief moment. There are very few times that the sky is clear in Gunma. Very very few. It is usually quite cloudy. All the time. I always get confused and think it is going to rain, because in Arizona, clouds mean rain. It doesn’t mean that in Japan. Nope.
On the same clear skies topic, I also don’t remember the last time I saw the moon in Japan. I saw it so many times while I was visiting my family. I kept staring at it in awe because it was so wonderful and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen it in so long. It was like finally getting the world’s best imported candy, and tasting it for the first time.
There are sidewalks. I didn’t really notice this before, but Japan doesn’t have any concrete sidewalks. The US is filled with them, but Japan just uses asphalt and sometimes brick tiles. There also really isn’t a very clear path to walk on, it is just a section of the road blocked off my either a curb or trees for pedestrians. I think I prefer sidewalks though. They are much more smooth to walk on.
The roads are huge. I mean, I knew we have more space because we are a larger country, but my goodness are we wide. On a similar note, there are no pickup trucks in Japan. Absolutely none. I think we saw one once but it was a Ford that was imported and it wasn’t here for very long. I didn’t know many many Americans have large SUVs or pickups.
Homes have grass. Actually, just grass in general. No one has grass planted in Japan. If they do have something that looks like grass, it isn’t. It is fake grass. Nowhere has grass. Japan just doesn’t like grass or something I guess. I don’t know why I was surprised by this, it was just something I noticed.
Chick-fil-A. More specifically, Chick-fil-A sauce. I took one bite of that and oh my gosh!!!! It was amazing. My mouth had forgotten what it was like to behold something so glorious. I could have eaten that all day! We seriously need Chick-fil-As in Japan. We have KFC. They use the same chicken. It wouldn’t be so hard to just open a Chick-fil-A in Japan. Seriously, what’s up with that?
This is the only negative one I noticed, but we are very wasteful. We have paper for things that shouldn’t require paper. We use extra food when it isn’t required. I went out to dinner and ordered a burrito at a restaurant, and the portion size I got was enough to feed a family of 4! Why the heck is it so big? And people wonder why there is a health and weight problem in the country. Even if you take the food home to eat later, there is no guarantee that it will be eaten, because it may get soggy, or you may have more dinners and completely forget about it. What a waste!
Water is also wasted. At a restaurant, I am glad that they give you complimentary glasses of water, but is it really necessary to refill my glass after every sip? What if I only want to drink just that one glass and nothing more? The amount of water that they just poor down the drains bothers me only in the ironic sense. I personally believe that it is literally impossible to waste water because the Earth just naturally reproduces it, but there are many places, in Arizona especially, that claim there is a water shortage, yet they allow restaurants the ability to waste more water than people would at home brushing their teeth or flushing the toilet.
We also use too much paper. Restaurants give you 30 napkins to go with your to go burger, and bathrooms just use way too much paper. I like what Japan does much better with the bathrooms. They just eliminate anyway for you to dry off your hands unless you bring your own hand towel. I also think this is more sanitary. You have to touch less things while in the bathroom, and you always use a clean towel to try your hands that no germs have touched. The paper towels just sit there, collecting all the germs from flushing toilets, and coughing sick people, but your personal hand towel sits nice and safe in your secure purse, and is only taken out after you have washed your hands. I think we need to get rid of blow driers and paper towels in the bathrooms in America, and force people to just use their own towels. It would save paper.
On a related note, although I was happy to throw something away without having to think about which trash bin it belonged, I did feel a tad guilty about not having a place for my bottles or cans. I didn’t care too much about plastic and paper mixing together, but for some reason, bottles and cans going in the same bin just bothered me.
Anyway, this was my list of things that I had never noticed before, while I was visiting my family. They short of shocked me but it was fun to figure them out. I felt that I had learned new things about my culture, and new things to tell my students. So all in all, it was a wonderful learning experience.
So, it has been a year now, of living in Japan, and I thought I would talk about somethings I have gotten used to and somethings I haven’t gotten used to. I will also touch on identity as well.
Let’s start off with something that no matter how many decades I end up living here, I will just never come to terms with. There is no way you are going to make me accept that this is a thing here, and I cannot get used to it ever. The garbage. What is so wrong with throwing things away? It wouldn’t be so bad if Japan didn’t wrap everything at least 3 times. You can’t just buy a box of cookies. You have to buy a box of individually wrapped discs of baked sugar. Not only has Japan made your gluttony apparent by having the numerous emptied plastic packages stare back at you in shame, but Japan has also caused you to waste trees by creating more trash.
You also cannot just buy any old trash bag either. No. You have to buy your area specific bags. They are really small, and don’t stretch. If you get a package, you have to use more than one bag to throw away all the garbage. You have to throw things away in plastics, then you have both plastic and glass bottles, you have cans, you have clothing, you have paper, you have milk cartons, you have burnable, you have non-burnable, and you also have those items that just do not fit in a stupid bag so you can’t throw it away! For the items that don’t fit in a bag, you have to call someone to come pick it up, pay them, then wait for them to tell you if you called the right company or not, because not all companies collect the same type of items. We have a broken suitcase that just cannot be tossed. I don’t want to pay someone to get rid of it, so it is just staying in our place, useless, and broken.
Well now that you understand that everything must be separated and that every day is a different trash day (and I do mean everyday), let’s talk about exactly how you throw away your junk. You aren’t able to toss it into the correct bin, no. You have to wash it first. Why?! It’s garbage! Who cares! Someone does, because if you don’t throw away your garbage correctly, it gets returned to you. It actually gets returned to you! I am not joking. So you have to wash all your garbage, and once it is all nice and clean, you then have to separate it according to category. I will admit, I am getting to the point of not caring anymore, and if it is small enough, I will shove things inside or between something else so that it can be thrown away without cleaning it or separating it. (Our trash bags are transparent). Let us take a plastic bottle for example. You have to clean out the inside and make sure it is spotless, then you have to throw away the caps (some cities require that you have a separate trash bin for just the bottle caps) then you have to take off the label. Then, and only then, is your bottle ready for bottles day. Which only comes once every 2 weeks. Great. You know what? Just smash it down really good and shove it inside an empty cereal box. I am not having a plastic bottle sit around here waiting for the right trash day.
The reason they actually started separating trash and have removed all publish trash cans is actually because of a crazy movement in the mid-90s. There was a group of people (I don’t remember what they were called) that really wanted to end the world, so they would plant bombs in public trash bins. Many people were killed or injured because of these bombs. The psycho people from this movement were eventually taken care of and to prevent something like this from happening again, they removed all public trash bins from existence. Which makes sense. I am totally ok with that if it means my safety. However, they took it one step further and decided to have every human separate their trash so that there could never be a possibility of bombs being planted. Seriously though? You need to have people separate garbage so strictly in their own homes for fear of them planting a bomb on themselves? I think that is a little too far with that one.
Now that I have thoroughly upset myself by talking about that, let’s talk about something that I absolutely love about Japan. This is something that is just not in the US yet. I have heard that they are in very random parts of California, but as I have not witnessed them for myself, they do not exist. Electric toilets. And not just any electric toilet, but the electric toilets, that use the water to fill up the tank as a sink. That is so innovative and a great use of water. With America being into a conservation mindset, I am surprised that we don’t have them there. It saves space, and money. You don’t have to pay twice to use water. You just flush and wash your hands with the same water used to fill up the toilet. You don’t have to flush, then turn on the sink to wash your hands. I think it is awesome. Plus, with the electric toilets, the seat is warmed. So when you sit on it, it feels nice and cozy. Wouldn’t you rather have a pleasant toilet experience than an uncomfortable cold one? In the winter time especially the heated toilet seat is a dream. Your butt is not assaulted with an ice cold seat when all you are trying to do is your business. When the seat is really cold, it causes you to hurry, and makes going to the bathroom feel like a hated chore. Shouldn’t using the toilet not be so difficult? That is why the Japanese electric toilets are the greatest feat of all time.
After being in another country for so long, you start to develop a new sense of self. I know that when I go back to the US soon, I won’t be the same. There are of course going to be annoying things that just pop up all the time because I have been in Japanese culture, but there are other things that cannot be seen that will be different. I identify with the Japanese culture much more so than I identify with my Arizonan culture. Americans are very flamboyant and loud, and quite often rude. When I think back on the people of America, I most often first think about how rude and loud they are. Japanese people are more down to earth. And if you tell them something that they don’t necessarily agree with, they don’t show their offense by hurling insults at you. They simply respect your opinion and go about their day. I have had many debates with my JTEs here, and never had we ever ended a conversation in anger or hurt feelings. We all just respect that we have different views and move on.
Japanese people are much more respectful and polite. They are also not so loud. Which, since I am an introvert, I value quite a lot. It takes a lot out of me when I have to constantly interact with loud people on their level of energy. I can’t constantly keep it up. At least in Japan, I can keep up.
My love language is gifts, and I am in the perfect country. All they do is shower each other with gifts. I went on vacation, here is a gift, I am moving soon, here is a gift, you waited for 30 minutes to talk with someone at our company, here is a gift, you forgot to pay your bill, here is a gift. Everything and anything has a gift attached to it. Sometimes, I give a gift, just to get one back. That is also something that they do here. If they want you to give them something, you have to give first. My desk has a bunch of pennies in it, and randomly, I will give a penny to someone. They are big on good luck charms here, so I tell them the phrase “find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.” Then they think I have given them a great talisman because it is good luck from America and gratefully accept the penny. Of course I also teach them that Abraham Lincoln is inside his memorial. Then they get out their magnifying glasses and stare at the back of it in amazement. All I have to do is wait about 20 minutes, and there will be a gift at my desk. It is always equal in value to how they felt about receiving my penny.
I also like that Japanese are very much into traditions, and not so much into modernity. They value their history and heritage and don’t see the need to change something if it works. I like innovations of course, but I don’t see the constant need for them like most of Americans do. Japan has wonderful inventions, but they only use them if they absolutely need them or find them useful. Such as the electric toilets. That is really useful. (see above^) In my experience, they don’t go crazy over the next best car, or the next best TV or phone, not even computers. Half of my students don’t even own a computer in their home. They use the school’s computers to study if they need to. (They have their electronic dictionaries they don’t really need a computer). Their philosophy is that if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it. America’s philosophy is that if can be more exciting, then do it. That is just not something I agree with.
Of course there are things that I don’t agree with such as causing students a great amount of unnecessary stress with their studies, or being so freaking strict on millitarianism, for the most part, I identify more with the culture than I do with American/Arizonan culture. This is not something that can be understood unless you have spent a lengthy time abroad. Anyone who has spent quite a bit of time abroad will agree with me, that other cultures influence and change you.
Before this post gets headed to the dark side, I think I shall end it here. I look forward to another year in Japan, and I feel extremely blessed to be here now, doing my dream. Some days I wake up and cannot believe that this is real and that this has actually happened to me. I live everyday with praise and thanksgiving to God for allowing me to be here, and for placing me in the most perfect location I could have ever asked for. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds.
After having lived in Japan for nearly a year, there are many things I have come to understand that is strictly Japanese culture and norm and I cannot expect them to change. Those things are fine. Typically, those things either work better than in the US, or it makes sense why they do things. However, there are just some things, I will never be able to understand about Japan, no matter how long I live here. These are the 5 things that I know are inherently Japanese, yet have no idea why they do them.
Why? Seriously, why?? I get that they want to save money and supposed energy but is risking your health really worth it? The winters are brutal, and the summers are choking. If they really are wanting to be saving money, you would think that they would invest in insulating homes and businesses. It would save them energy costs for heating and cooling, but no, they think it is bad for the environment to have insulation, yet they also think running AC and heat is also bad for the environment. Pretty sure you only have to install insulation once when those units get used indefinitely. I think they have it a little bit backwards.
Strictly Following the Seasons Calendar
This mostly pertains to fashion, but other things stem from this as well. If the winter is scheduled to start on the 12th of December, then they cannot start to wear winter clothing until that date. Who cares if the weather has already dropped below freezing, the calendar hasn’t said winter started yet, so we can’t wear winter coats until that time. The same goes for all the seasons. The summer hit early this year, but the calendar summer was the second week of June. No body wore short sleeves until the exact date that summer was scheduled. They would be walking around in long sleeves and sweaters, sweating profusely, and complaining about how hot it is. Well duh!! You are wearing sweater on top of long sleeves! Spring ended a while ago. At least take off the sweater.
This also extends to businesses too. They won’t turn on the AC until summer has officially started. They have AC at my school, they didn’t start turning it on until the 3 week of June (this week) because summer hadn’t been upon us for long enough yet. I am not sure where they got that idea from because everyone was complaining about the weather, they were using fans, and towels to wipe their sweat. Um, if your employees are suffering, you should probably relieve their suffering. Just saying.
No Regular Sized Spoons
I have never, and will never understand this. Whenever you go to the store and decide to buy plastic ware, they have normal sized cereal spoons. If you go to the store to buy silverware, you will find only dessert spoons, or the big sauce/serving spoons. What happened to the spoons in between? Someone once tried to tell me that perhaps Japanese just don’t use cereal spoons, but that doesn’t make any sense because they sell them in plastic. Why? I just don’t understand. If you have them in plastic everywhere, (and I mean that many many stores sell them) then what is so hard about selling the cereal spoons as flatware? You might be saying, why not just buy imported silverware then? Well, actually, they remove the normal sized cereal spoons from the sets. Why? The only time I have ever seen normal sized spoons as flatware, they were from the Noritake Museum where each spoon was made out of genuine silver and gold and cost about $30 a spoon. I am allergic to silver too; I am not about to spend hundreds of dollars on a spoon I am allergic to. Why Japan? Why you no have normal spoons??
The things that Japan believes they are secure in, they aren’t. And the things they believe shouldn’t be secure, should. I send money to the US every month to pay for my student loans and such. Before my husband came to join me, I had to take a day off work to do that. Now that he is here, he does it for me. I thought there would be issues with him sending the money because they need my IDs to confirm who I am, but apparently, he just needs to have my IDs and tell them that I gave him permission, and they will send the money. I ask another bank the same question, except said friend instead of husband, and they said that as long as he has my IDs and says I gave him permission, then they would do whatever he requests. Um, if I am not mistaken, that is the gateway to identity theft. Apparently, as long as you have someone’s ID and give the OK, they will do what you ask. It is like they cannot fathom someone having another person’s ID unless that person gave it to them. Because you know, no one steals anything these days.
There was another time, where my husband received a package, and he wasn’t home. I wanted to sign for it, but they wouldn’t give it to me because my first name isn’t Joshua. I told the delivery guy that I am his wife and we have the same exact last name, and they refused saying that he would be committing fraud if he gave it to me. He had to come back another day when JD was home so that he could receive his package. Granted, I have only had that happen once, because usually Japanese people can’t tell the difference between and boy and girl American name, but my point remains the same. You are telling me, that giving someone else a package is fraud but possessing another person’s IDs is not? Apparently they haven’t run into any problems, but I guess being from America where identity theft is the Gucci, it is a little absurd to try and wrap my head around.
The thought of having all the food individually wrappe sounds nice right? You never have to worry about finding a clip because all the food is always sealed. Plus, if you are on a diet, you can check yourself by eating only what is packaged. Let me put it to you this way. You decide that you want to buy a box of cookies. So you head to the store, food a decent sized box of cookies thinking you would be going home to eat an entire row only to discover that your$3 box of cookies only contains 4 packages of 2 cookies each. What the heck? You didnt pay for packaging, you paid for cookies!! I cannot tell you how many times this has happened.
Recently, i bought my husband a box of saltine crackers and they were all individually wrapped. Why? I thought Japan was eco friendly. Apparently not. Everything in Japan is wrapped at least twice. I bought cream cheese once and it was in the plastic container, shrink wrapped, and inside a box. You cant just eat a box of candy here because the candy is wrapped in foil, wrapped in plastic, wrapped in a box, with wtapping paper. It can be convenient when packing lunch but the convenience goea out the door when you live in a country that separates trash and sells cookies on average $4 a box.
So these were the list of things that I just cannot understand. I am not saying that Japan needs to change any of these things nor am I really offended by these things, but I have accepted that this is just a part of their culture, I just don’t understand them is all. I still love the country. These are only 5 things that confuse me. I am sure I will never understand them.
If you ever come across a custom from another culture that you don’t understand, it is ok to question, just don’t condemn them, or tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. To me that culture shaming. There are some gaijin here that complain to employees or have written reviews about Starbucks here, and how they only do their limited time drinks for about one month. So Japan only has special drinks for a month, how is that harming anyone? You yelling at the employee or writing a bad review is what is causing the harm. Just accept that you are not in America, where there limited time specials seem to last 3 years and will eventually turn permanent. (that always seems to happen). This is a new country, with different customs and rules from what you are used to. Just accept them for what they are. Not understanding them is totally ok though, hence the blog post above.
Now that I have been back in school for a while, I thought I would share what my schedule looks like on a weekly basis. What I do at work, what do I do in my free time, that sort of thing.
This year, I teach a total of 22 classes. Those classes are split into A week and B week. Each week consists of 12-13 classes. Every week, I teach all the 1st graders and the 3rd grade students are the ones where I have A week and B week. That means that any day I could teach 2-4 classes. At my visit school, I teach 4 classes. Basically the same classes as last time but with different students. I can’t really tell you exactly what my schedule is because 1, that would be weird, and 2 it isn’t the same every week so I can’t really do that.
Depending on what week it is, I will do lesson planning on either Monday or Friday. I usually try to finish the lesson planning as soon as possible so that I have enough time to submit my lesson plans to all my teachers. With there being 2 different weeks for the 3rd graders, I have developed a color coded system. 1st graders are red, A week is orange, and B week is yellow. My planner also has each class listed 4 weeks in advance with each lesson that they are doing. I have found that numbering my lesson plans makes it easier to communicate with all my JTEs which class is being taught which lesson. Because of the school schedule, I teach about 4-8 different lessons a week. It can get confusing and numbering the lesson plans helps me keep my lessons in order. I teach with 10 different Japanese teachers.
I try to prepare for lessons a day ahead of time. I usually go easy on myself and only have simple lessons where I just make copies for each class of handouts to be used. Once a month, I will do something different and that usually takes 2-3 days to prepare for, such as a game or a special lesson. With 22 classes I try not to overwhelm myself. The most recent project that took a lot of my time was creating charade cards. I have to make double because I have over 700 students. They are going to get worn out after doing 10 classes so I need back up when that happens. That project took me about 2 days to prepare for. It is stressful, but know that it will be used in almost all 22 classes is satisfaction enough.
It doesn’t happen as often but when I do have free time I will study Japanese. The next couple of weeks I will have free time due to midterms so I will have plenty of time to myself. Kind of like, a short break. I will be paid for my presence. During lunch, I will go on Facebook, play Kingdom Hearts on my phone, or take a nap in the lounge room. I most often take a nap at my visit school, because those students wear me out the most.
I typically get off work at 410, but I usually leave around 415-420. On Mondays I stay later to finish lesson planning, Tuesdays I have a Japanese lesson, so I get permission to leave early on that day (it takes me about 20-30 minutes to bike there), on Wednesdays I have English club after school so I usually leave close to 5pm, Thursdays I am at my visit school and take the bus, so I don’t get home until close to 515, and Fridays are my “freedom” days where I start gathering my things to leave at exactly 410.
If I didn’t get a chance to study Japanese work, then I will head to Starbucks (2 blocks from my school) and study there for about 2 hours. When I get home, I will immediately change clothes and slouch on the couch with my phone. My routine is Facebook, Vine, YouTube, and Kingdom Hearts. After that, I feel recharged enough to do laundry or dishes and make myself something to eat. If the weather is bad, I skip the Starbucks and leave my texts at work so they don’t get damaged and just study vocab. (I use the app Study Blue, ICYWW). I have a little mini white board that I use to practice kanji. I will also do bookbinding, video editing, or piano playing. Last year I was really into reading and had even joined a book club, but due to the craziness from the school year ending and starting again, the members kind of stopped participating so I haven’t read anything. Plus, I haven’t had the interest to read for a while. I am sure I will pick up a book at some point, but for now, I will just make books.
Well, I think I covered everything. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the guestbook or fb comment. Thanks for reading!
Having been in Japan for 9 months now, I have come to realize the many prejudices Japan holds over the rest of the world. Most, if not all, of them are pretty negative. Let’s start off by talking about each different type of prejudice you will encounter during your stay in Japan.
The western lover
Ok, so maybe this one isn’t so much as a prejudice, as something that is rather noticeable and sometimes quite annoying. Much like (whom I like to call) junkies in America, these people are obsessed with all things western. They don’t care if you are from America or England, they just want to know any all things that they can about western culture. They will also tell you all things that you are wrong about with it comes to your own culture. I once had a person tell me that there are no sushi restaurants in Arizona, and that Halloween is a Christian holiday. There are many others but these ones bothered me the most. No matter how many times I tried to correct them, they insisted that they knew my culture better than me.
The sympathy speaker
These people annoy me to no end. I appreciate that they are being mindful of my language limitations, but they don’t need to be THAT mindful. Just maybe change what you say if I don’t understand a particular word or phrase. These people talk extra slow, pausing after every word, and even increase their volume when speaking. Why? Is all of that really necessary? One person wanted to ask me how long I had lived in Japan. It felt like it was taking 5 minutes just to hear the question. “Jeny wa, pause pause pause, donna gurai, pause pause pause pause, nihon ni, pause pause pause, sunde, pause pause…” “9 MONTHS! 9MONTHS!! I have been in Japan 9 freaking months!!” Is what I want to scream at them. I just patiently wait for them to finish. Letting the angered expression sit on my face, so they know that I am offended, and politely answer their question at a normal pace. They, however, will forever refuse to hear my Japanese comprehension level.
These people have it in their heads, that any white person they see, speaks English, and ONLY English, and they happen to be learning English. So they will run up to you and proudly use whatever phrases they have memorized that day. It is funny at times, but having watched some people get embarrassed, they need to lose this assumption. Not every gaijin that visits Japan speaks English. I have seen many gaijin come to Japan not speak English. They maybe know just as much as Japanese do. Assuming that every white person you see speaks fluent English, is just dumb. When I studied abroad 3 years ago, I met some people from Europe who didn’t hardly know English. The only language we had in common was Japanese. There are also a high number of half Japanese citizens, that may look like they are American, but have been born and raised in Japan and speak absolutely no English. So while it is great that you want to practice your English skills, why not first ask them if they speak English, before blindly speaking to them, and save the embarrassment.
These people get on my nerves the most. I cannot tell you how many times I have been refused service because Japanese refuse to believe that I am speaking to them in English. Usually, I just let it go and move on, but this past week, while visiting Kusatsu, I was pushed over the edge. Kusatsu is world famous. World famous locations employ people, whose only job is to provide information to foreigners. They have people who speak: Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, English, and other languages. So how does it make sense, to refuse service to someone, just because you think they don’t know Japanese? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Story time tangent.
When we arrived in Kusatsu, we knew what we wanted to do, but didn’t know how to get there. They had pamphlets in many different languages, but English was not one of them. I asked for a bus schedule, and they hand me one in Japanese, listing only the stops. As if, visitors know where exactly those particular stops are without also consulting a map. Anyway, we politely asked the information lady that speaks English how to get to where we wanted to go, and she gave us the information. Even writing it down. So we waited for our bus. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. But the bus never came. So I went back down to information and asked her what was up, she said to talk to the ticket counter. So I did. And oh my goodness was this guy rude. I walk up to the counter holding my paper with the stop name on it so I knew what to ask for, and he just rips it out of my hand and starts talking very loudly and slowly in horribly broken English what I “wanted” to know. I didn’t want to know what he was telling me, because what he was telling me was nonsense. I told him in Japanese, that I was trying to get to Mt. Shirane and I guess all he heard was “help me I’m a lost gaijin” or something because he kept cutting me off and not letting me finish. He hands me 2 tickets and says to pay him, and I had no idea what I was paying for, all I wanted to know was when the bus was arriving. I tried to talk to him again in Japanese and all he heard was “English English English English.” Somehow, I was able to get the right bus tickets from him for both me and my husband, but my afternoon was just ruined by his rudeness.
Another time, during that same trip, we were buying food from a combini. During the check out, I was waiting for them to ask whether we wanted the food warmed up but he just pointed to the price, not saying a word, and threw the bag of food at us, then shoved us to the side to make room for the next customer. My husband was about ready to walk outside with his cold food, but I was not having any of it. I stepped back where I was and insisted that he heat up our food and give us chopsticks to eat it with, in Japanese. Red faced, he takes our food and warms it up for us.
Last one, I promise. We were wanting to go to an onsen and as I walk in, the guy was scrambling to prepare an English translation of everything. I didn’t need it because asking for 2 adults and 2 towels is super easy so I just said that in Japanese. He, I guess, didn’t hear the Japanese part. He kept pointing and pointing at different parts of their sign in English, and asking if I wanted one or the other. I politely told him again, in Japanese, what I wanted, but he kept pointing to the English sign he was holding. I never spoke English once, and just pointed to what I wanted while also saying it in Japanese. Needless to say, that day was the worst day I have had in Japan.
This person believes that no one knows Japanese except Japanese, and it is near impossible to learn unless you are Japanese. So when you do happen to say “arigato” they will compliment you as if you are an angel who just fell from heaven. After the showering of compliments, you will get asked how long you have been in Japan. When I tell them how many months, they freak out and just go crazy with compliments. For some reason, they don’t understand that you can learn Japanese in other parts of the word without having to be in Japan. I have to explain to them every time that I have been learning Japanese for 5 years and they just loose it. They cannot contain their excitement in the fact that I know Japanese. It was nice at first, but now it is just annoying and they come across as extremely ignorant. Strangely enough, it is the older generations that do this the most. The younger ones, tend to just look surprised that I speak Japanese, but say nothing on how long I have lived in Japan or how long I have been studying it. They just proceed to ask where I am from and what Arizona is like. The older people, seem to believe that Japan is in a bubble, and the rest of the world has no idea that Japan exists. I guess they need to watch the news more.
The gaijin hater
Finally, you have the hater of all gaijin. This person will be super rude to you. He will purposefully speak Japanese extra fast, saying difficult words and phrases to try and confuse you or hurt you. They hate that any gaijin would come to Japan at all, and they believe it is ruining their lives. They are the ones that will say rude and racist things in your presence, mostly believing that you don’t know what they are saying. You can easily put them in their place by just telling them you speak Japanese, but there are times when they intend to hurt you so that you will leave and never come back. This hasn’t happened to me that much in Gunma as it had in Tokyo. This is more likely because Gunma is the least visited prefecture in Japan.
When thinking about why Japanese act this way, I believe it is because of the other gaijin who have come before me. After traveling during golden week, I have come to realize where we get our person prejudices from. JD and I witnessed several instances of Asian gaijin (Chinese, Vietnamese, Philippian) being just the rudest people we have ever seen. They were insane! We were heading to an empty table with food on our tray ready to sit and eat, but a Vietnamese person ran to the table and removed the chairs from us and just sat down. She didn’t just happen to get there before us, she literally ran to the table. Another time, while we were shopping in a store, they were just pushing and shoving people out of the way and cutting other people in line. Then on their way home as they boarded the train, they literally ran and shoved people out of their way so they could have a seat. I get that in China or Vietnam they have to act that way to get things done, but it isn’t like that in Japan.
I have worked with people from all over the world, and have built up many stereotypes and prejudices as a result of meeting these people. We need to remember, that how we act, is not only a reflection of our own culture, but other cultures as well. What I mean by this, looking at several white people, how can you tell if they are from Poland, Canada, or America? You can’t. Same with seeing a person from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or India. You can’t tell the difference based on looks alone. We need to be aware of how we act around other people. Of course not all Chinese people are rude and maniacal, but almost all of the Chinese people I have met/worked with are. Of course not all people from Arab countries are angry and selfish, but most of the ones I have been are.
I never realized I held prejudice against Mexicans, until I had students from Mexico. All the Mexicans I have ever worked with or met before, were so selfish, rude, and thieves. They had no respect for anything. They expected Americans to cater to them and speak Spanish, even though I heard them speaking English to each other right before they started speaking to me. The students I had from Mexico, were completely opposite of that. These students were the nicest and most polite people I have ever met. They were kind to each other, and even apologized for other Mexicans and their behavior in Arizona. These students were so happy to be speaking English, and really wanted to learn about American culture. They showed me, that prejudice, just only closes doors for you. They also taught me, that we reflect other cultures. Try and keep this in mind the next time you travel or meet someone from another country. I am guilty of doing some of these things I listed myself, but being aware of it, is the only way we can change and make things better.
I decided that today’s post, will be a funny story. Living in Japan, certainly allows for some interesting cultural differences from time to time, and I happened to have encountered one that I thought everyone would appreciate hearing about.
One of my bras made it into the dryer on accident, and as a result, the wires are all bent weirdly. It is unwearable. So I had no choice, but to go bra shopping. I knew the day would come eventually. I don’t like bra shopping because of the size differences in Japan, I just don’t like bra shopping in general, because you have to try on 50 different ones, just to find the one that fits perfectly, only to discover it costs way more money than you can spend. So you end up buying one that kinds of fits, but you would rather not wear it if you had a choice.
I get to the store, and start looking at all the various options. The have the same cup letters that I am used to seeing, but the sizes are in centimeters instead of inches. I wanted to be measured, but had no idea how to ask that. I knew the word for measure in Japanese, but it was the type of measure we use for cooking, not exactly the word for sizing. So I looked up a conversion chart online, and found that they use the European sizing charts. So if you are reading this, and happen to be from Europe, then bra shopping in Japan will automatically start out easy for you.
After looking up the size I figured I was, I began looking for it. Only, that size was apparently the average size because I couldn’t find it anywhere. After looking for a long time, the lady came up to me with a measuring tape in hand and asked if I wanted to be measured. Normally, Japanese associates avoid me like the plague, so this was a pleasant surprise. I said yes because the sizing is so different. After she measures me, she tells me that I am an in-between size. Which doesn’t surprise me. Their sizes increase by 5 centimeters. They increase by 2 inches in the US. As if one gains weight in multiples. So proceeds to tell me how I need to try on a bunch of styles to see which one fits the best. I already knew that, but at least now I had a lady who could find the sizes I needed right away.
She handed me a couple to try on and I head to the dressing room. Dressing rooms are basically rooms with curtains. I get in there, and try on the first bra, check out the fit and move around to see if it will stay in place, then moved on to the next bra. Just after I unhooked it in the back, the lady asks how everything was fitting, and then just walks in. She actually walked in! There was no, “excuse me”, there was no “may I come in?” there was no warning what so ever! She just walked in! As if it were a perfectly normal thing to be doing while a complete stranger is changing. I had just unhooked the bra in the back and was ready to take it off and try the next one on. I was almost naked! Rather than act complete shocked, I just pretended I was having difficulty in hooking it in the back. She hooks it for me, making some kind of a comment on how that particular style was difficult to attach. In my mind I was thinking, “har har har, you just walked in unannounced! What is wrong with you?” After it was attached, you would think that she would just look at me and ask how it felt, no. No, that didn’t happen. She adjusted me. I’ll say that again, she adjusted me! Adjusted! She literally just reached in the bra and moved me around, to get the bra to fit just perfectly, as if it were a totally normal thing to do.
After the groping session, I tried on a couple other bras, and each time, the lady came in. Except she at least gave me a warning. I don’t know what was up with the first time of her saying nothing. I have tried on clothing before, and they have never come in the dressing room before. After this experience, I prefer doors with locks on them. No more of this curtain stuff.
I did end up finding the perfect bra. It was comfortable, it stayed in place, and was smooth enough to wear under a thin shirt without having the designs poke through conspicuously, but alas, it was too expensive. Why are all the good ones too expensive????? Why universe? I don’t understand! So I ended up getting a cheaper one, that fits, but just hates to stay in place. All of my other clothes stay where they are supposed to me, why must the bra be so independent?
Anyway, that was my experience. I hope you enjoyed it! I will be sure to tell you of any other times that are certainly an experience.
I would like to apologize in advance for how unorganized this post is. I just went right into writing without any type of planning. I am pretty sure my train of thought changed courses while writing this. I hope you still enjoy it none the less.
Everyone has thought about learning a foreign language at some point or another in their life, but few have actually fallen through with it. Even fewer whom have gone on to speak multiple languages. Recently, I came across someone by the name of Tim Doner. He is a famous polyglot speaking over 20 languages by the time he was 16. If you want to check him out, please visit his YouTube channel www.youtube.com/polyglotpal where he practices speaking all the languages that he knows. It is really quite impressive and admirable. While watching several interviews that he, and other polyglots have done, I realized that indeed, all language learners are the same. They all encounter the same struggles, and they all face difficulties. The difference between a polyglot and someone learning just one language is the hobby of learning multiple languages. I mean, I love learning foreign languages, but some of these polyglots who speak 30 or even 40 languages are on a new level of obsessed and have a ton of time on their hands. Let’s not focus on the extremists right now, you can research about them on your own time. Let’s talk about how all language learners are the same.
1. Unrealistic expectations
Ok, so it is your first day of language study, whether it be a class or self-study, you have made this decision, to diligently learn a new language. You are one step closer to being multicultural. Immediately, you have all these high expectations: “I’m gonna study every night” “In 2 years time, I should be having a decent conversation with somebody, maybe even watch a movie in my new language!” or “I am sure that by 4 years, I will be fluent.” The expectations go on and on. There are so many goals in mind. Let’s face it though, 80% of them, are completely unrealistic. Studying every night is a good goal, but you are never going to achieve it unless you map out your studying. How long are you going to study every day? What content? And how? If you don’t have a clear plan, you are going to fail. But, let’s take a step back, and try to be fair. If this is your first attempt at learning a foreign language, you don’t know these things yet. You also don’t know how you as an individual get motivated to learn a foreign language, nor do you know your learning style.
When I started learning my first language, (Spanish) I had all kinds of unrealistic expectations. I thought I would be fluent in 2 or 3 years time and that I would be able to watch TV or movies in Spanish. I was wrong. I don’t know where these expectations came from, but for some reason, I thought that fluency meant native level. It doesn’t. Everyone has their own interpretation of the term but in my mind, it means native level, so I use the term proficient. I never even got to the place where I could call myself proficient because after 2 years of study, the extent of my abilities was taking orders in Spanish at Chick-Fil-A. We all have fluency goals, and they are just not going to happen.
We all expect to learn a language the same as we learn math or history, but truth is, we don’t. In fact, none of us learn a language the same way we learn another subject. It uses your entire brain whereas learning math or science only uses one part of the brain, and they are in the same location. For me, I am a kinesthetic learner. I have to hear, see, and apply what I have learned into action. That is how it has always been for me. So when I went into a Japanese language classroom for the first time (I don’t remember how I learned Spanish or Korean. I only remember absorption and regurgitation because I was still young) I applied my normal language learning method into the class, yet I wasn’t learning anything. I would study everyday, any chance I got, and nothing was sticking. I couldn’t figure it out. I somehow magically passed 2 semesters with just a high enough grade to continue, until I figured it out. Once I figured it out, I went back and studied everything from the beginning. I am a visual learner. One day I saw someone writing kanji over and over and over. I asked what they were doing and they told me that they were a visual learner, so they had to write out what they were learning in order to remember it. I went home, and tried it, and I have been absorbing Japanese ever since. Once I started to see how each grammar worked, and how each kanji has its meaning, it all just made sense to me. I started to take more notes, and copy vocab and sentences out and things just started to make sense.
Once you tailor your expectations to be more realistic, then your language learning can proceed. That is not to say that you will never have unrealistic expectations again, because you will. There are always thing you encounter unexpectedly that you were not prepared for. It happens. Just knowing that it happens, keeps you level headed.
Language learners struggle with motivation all the time. It never goes away. You start off your first lesson with high hopes, excited, and ready to dive in. If you encounter issues, no biggie, you are only a beginner, that is to be expected. Once you progress in the class and you start to see the students that are doing better than you, you start to think that maybe you can’t actually learn this language, or any language for that matter. You just don’t have the natural ability to learn it like others and you just give up. You get discouraged, and can’t focus no matter how hard you try. Then it happens, you know an answer to something that the smart person you had been admiring doesn’t know, you jump at the chance and display your knowledge and feel so proud! Suddenly you are again eager to learn the language and dive into the learning. Then, you didn’t do so well on your last test despite the fact that you spent hours and hours studying. What went wrong? Why couldn’t you remember everything you worked so hard to remember? You feel like giving up. Your efforts are all in vain. You just can’t stand not seeing any progression. Then, you watch a drama with English subtitles, and you read a phrase, that you conflicts with what was said. You realize that you just understood the language you had been working so hard to study, and immediately start watching more dramas without the subtitles to try and catch anything you have learned. Your language learning sores. Then you get asked a question in class. You know you know the answer, but you just cannot recall it. It was something you studied at the beginning of the semester yet now it is old news and your mind acts as if you never heard it before. You have failed yet again. Other people get it, but you don’t. Why don’t you get it? Why is it so hard? Then you encounter foreigners who are struggling with something at the store. You recognize that the language they are speaking together is the one that you are currently studying. So you approach them, hoping that your broken understanding will at least do something to help. You ask them what is wrong, and immediately you understand that they are lost and need directions. You just so happened to have just left a class, where you were practicing how to give directions. How perfect! You give them the directions they need and they thank you, fully understanding everything you said. You were successful. You communicated perfectly with native speakers. What a great day! You go home, and dive into your studies even more.
All of these things and more happen to language learners. It is all about motivation. It helps to write out your achievable goals and reasons for taking your language learning journey. One of my goals is to read a novel in Japanese. A more near future goal, is to pass JLPT N3 (I failed it last time I took it BTW). I get discouraged all the time. I sometimes have days where I just can’t be bothered to study Japanese, and almost without fail, something happens where I do something in Japanese that I never have done before and it was successful later on in the day. It is easy to find those moments with living in Japan, but they did happen back in the states. Not as frequently as now, but they still did happen.
3. New cultural identities
When you learn a language, you don’t just study how to communicate in that language, you learn about the culture. Language and culture go hand in hand. For example, in English there are several native speaking countries out there, but what separates them apart from the accents? Culture. In America you would never say “cheers” when hanging up the phone, yet you would if you were in England. You also wouldn’t say “begging your pardon” I America but in Australia you would. There are many things in culture that translates into language without you even knowing it. In America, we say “excuse me” all the time. We use it to mean, “I’m sorry”, “pardon me”, “I didn’t mean that” it means a lot of things. The Japanese equivalent of that word is sumimasen. As Americans learn Japanese and visit Japan, they treat “sumimasen” the same as “excuse me” when in fact, it is not, and the Americans end up confusing and annoying the poor Japanese people. Sumimasen means “I’m sorry” or “could you help me” or “I am sorry to bother you but…” Hardly ever, does it actually mean, “Excuse me.” Also, the Japanese equivalent to “I’m sorry” is “gomen.” Yet, no one in Japan uses “gomen” to mean the “I’m sorry” in English/America. You only use it when you have offended or hurt someone. Saying “gomen” after you accidentally bump into someone, you are going to get strange stairs because the person was neither offended nor hurt by an accidental bump. You are better off just saying nothing or “sumimasen.”
Another thing that happens quite often to foreigners yet is pretty funny to those in Japan is “irasshaimase.” It is said when you enter a store by everyone, at least 20 times an hour. It literally means “you have humbly come.” They use it as a greeting for having entered the store. So many foreigners you are just starting to study Japanese, have not reached the stage of keigo learning (the most difficult conjugation of honorifics) and haven’t a clue what “irasshaimase” actually means. So they hear someone say it to them, thinking it means “hello” when in fact, it is just a “welcome to our store” they say it back to them. Anyone reading this that knows Japanese will be laughing thinking about it, because it is just ridiculously funny. Think about it in English. You say “welcome” to someone who just entered your store, then they smile and wave at you repeating “welcome” right back to you. Wouldn’t you have a hard time containing your laughter? That is kind of what happens in Japan, except they try to be really polite about it and stifle their laughter. They will talk about you later though and have a proper laugh.
I say all of this, because once you understand the culture behind the language, you start to understand how to need to present yourself when speaking the language (I am going to say TL for target language from now on). When I speak English, I am more blunt and outgoing, because that is what comes with the American culture. When I speak Japanese, I am more bubbly and polite. You become a new person when you speak the TL. If you are uninterested in traveling, or learning a new culture, then you cannot learn a new TL. It is just not going to happen. Which brings me to my final point,
Those who are dedicated to language learning in general probably already know this, but you cannot call your language learning complete, until you have traveled to the country whey they natively speak the TL. This is something that is just ingrained in language learners. No one learns a foreign language without also the desire to travel to a country where the TL is spoken. I have yet to meet someone, who just is learning a foreign language for the heck of it. Even polyglots will tell you, that they have traveled the globe using their multiple TLs. It is the only way to curb your learning in the upward direction, as well as give you all the extra motivation you need to keep studying. There is no grater reason for language learning, than traveling. When I took classes at community colleges for Spanish and Japanese, there were a few older people who were learning it because they planned on traveling. So already, they have a realistic goal, proper motivation, and an understanding that there is a new culture involved. When I first learned Spanish, I wanted to go to Mexico, and I actually did. When I first learned Korean, I wanted to go to Korea (and still do). When I first learned Japanese, actually, I never had an interest in going to Japan. The only thing I knew about Japan was sushi, anime, and manga. It wasn’t until I started to learn about the culture in that first class that I grew an appreciation for Japan and made it my life to be here doing what I am doing right now. Learning a foreign language gives you the bug and the bug is pretty hard to get rid of.
5. Continuing the journey
Now you have achieved your immediate goals of learning the TL, and you are ready to move on. So you choose a new language and discover that it is slightly easier to learn a new language than the first time. Especially if that language relates to English or another language you have learned. For me, Korean is super easy. This is because of two reasons. 1, I used to speak it quite well when I was in junior high, so learning it again is like popcorn going off in my brain and grammar just keeps flooding into my brain. 2, it relates so closely to Japanese, just as much as Spanish relates to English. There are so many similar words, it makes it so easy to remember. For example, in Korean, the word for time, or library are sikan and tosagwan. In Japanese, those words are jikan, and toshokan. So similar! Because of this, the more languages you learn, the easier it becomes to gain your level of fluency. It is amazing how many languages relate to each other. That is why there are linguists out there studying similarities for a living. Though, I do happen to disagree with most of them, however, that is a topic for another day because I have a LOT of opinions about most linguists.
Anyway, I hope you too learn a foreign language. It doesn’t matter the language, as long as you choose one that you actually want to learn. Don’t just pick a language out of the air because it sounds interesting, it will have no meaning to you nor motivation. After I learn Korean and go to Korea, I want to tackle Polish next. Simply because I have a Polish heritage. Knowing that cultural identity comes with language learning, it would be interesting to find out the roots of my ancestry and visit “the motherland” as it were. Plus, I am sure that my grandparents would appreciate it. :D
With the school year approaching its end, I thought I would write about what it is that I like to do in my spare time when I don’t have any classes. First, I will talk about what I do when there is no school and I am just a desk warmer, then I will talk about what I do normally during the week, when they are classes.
I hate the days when I literally have nothing to do. It is basically just me getting paid to sit there. My mere presence is charge worthy I guess. Many teachers internet shop and have their items delivered to the school during breaks. It is kind of entertaining. I don’t internet shop, in case you were wondering. Some other teachers will sleep and snore quite loudly. I also do not do this, in case you were wondering that as well.
What I do is actually productive (at least I think it is). I spend the first 4 hours studying Japanese. At first I had to take a break every half hour to an hour, but now I can work a full 4 hours without needing a break. I rarely study beyond 4 hours. I will do vocab review or listening comprehension, but I don’t consider those to be studying Japanese as it does not involve a brain exercise. Studying a foreign language is exactly the same as going to the gym. The brain is a muscle, and when you study a foreign language, you are doing work outs. You are using parts of your brain that were never exercised before.
(Prepare for a lesson on your brain and language learning) When you know only one language, your brain is split in half. You have half your brain doing the active (speaking and writing) and the other half doing the passive (listening and reading). You can actually feel your brain working if you concentrate. Try speaking and reading, your brain will work in either the front or the back. When you start to learn a new language, you brain needs to reorganize. Up until then, your English language files were spread all over the place and you only had one little man pulling up files as you needed them. When a second language comes into play, the poor little man has to now reorganize your entire brain to create an English side, and a foreign side, in this case Japanese. Using Japanese requires your brain to work in ways it never has before. First filtering everything it hears and reads through English, then regurgitating everything it wants to express with writing or speaking through English. After a short period of time, your brain will literally get sore. You will get headaches, and many people experience severe migraines. There are also days where the little man just needs a break from running back and forth between the two languages and will just refuse to work. Those are the times that I like to call a brain shut down. You just run on auto piolet. And no matter what you do, your brain will just not let you retain or recall anything in the foreign language.
After a while, the poor little man realizes that he cannot keep running back and forth and filtering everything Japanese through English and vice versa, and then he will eventually hire new people to assist him. This is when you start to dream in the new language, because the new people are going through training. Then one day, you literally wake up and think, “Oh! I can think in Japanese now.” I am not joking! This has happened to me 3 times (Spanish, Korean, and Japanese). Also, other people have claimed the same thing. You just wake up, and happen to have the magical ability to think in the new language.
Now that you have new hires for your brain, your brain then splits again. You still have the passive and active parts working separately only this time, each of those parts are split into two. You have one section for each skill (reading, writing, listening, speaking). Some scholars will argue and insist that nothing has changed, but you are going to have a hard time convincing me that reading and listening are the same exact skill. It’s not. I can read and understand much in Japanese, but hearing that same passage I just read is difficult for me to comprehend. Same with writing. I can write long cohesive sentences in Japanese, but ask me to formulate them with my mouth and you get a dying cat on Valentine’s Day.
When using the second language, you can more easily feel your brain working in different sections. When I speak Japanese, the front, right of my brain is working hard, when I read Japanese, the back, left of my brain is working. Pretty cool.
Much like working out, eventually, if you keep it up, you will become very fit and in shape. It is the same with your brain. You will be able to do more and more with your language abilities and studying becomes more fun than it does painful. When I speak Japanese, it is really exciting for me. Almost euphoric. Especially when others understand what I say and we have a conversation. It really lets me know how far I have come.
(Back to the original post)I am trying to get to the point where I can spend the full 8 hours studying Japanese. I am wanting to improve my Korean, so if I extend my language learning abilities, then my mind will be stretched enough to handle the 3rd language. I have reviewed bits and pieces of Korean here and there to test my brain so to speak, but I have not gone into grammar focus just yet.
I spend the first hour doing Kanji review. I have a separate book for that. Then I spend the next 90 minutes reading Japanese (45 minutes without the dictionary 45 with the dictionary), then the next 90 minutes is spent on reading comprehension and grammar learning/practice. Then I have lunch, and after that is listening comprehension/practice. I use resources from my text book I am using as well as a fun site I was introduced to. Occasionally throwing in some vocab learning too.
On days where I just cannot be bothered to keep learning Japanese, I will write or read. I feel kind of nerdy and too adult to be saying this, but I read text books about ESL and SLA. Even though I have already read them, there are still things I forget so I read them again. I will also read articles online (scholarly ones I might add) about the same topics. Language learning is an innovative topic so it is ever changing. When I write, I mostly focus on writing for my story. I would say book, but I have finally decided against getting it published. I was seriously considering it for a while, but I feel that it is more of just a recreational hobby than a vocation. On rare occasions, I will read an actual book.
During the time when I have classes, I lesson plan, or read my text book. This past year, I would prepare for my lessons by making copies and such, then teach classes, then start planning for the next lesson. I have two schools so I have to make a total of 5-7 different lessons a week. I also have to fax my lesson plans with all the materials to my visit school by Monday afternoon of each week. Mon-Wed free time was usually spent preparing for lessons, and gathering lesson notes/ideas from all my JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) then I used Thursday and Friday as my lesson planning day because I only had morning lessons on Thursday, and afternoon classes on Friday. The planning typically took the full 2 days. Sometimes even until Monday.
At the end of terms, I like to play games with the students, but that requires me to make all the materials required for said games. Once, I decided to play Apples to Apples with my 3rd grade students, however, the game is not sold in Japan, nor would it have arrived in time before the term ended if I ordered it. So I had to make, each and every card by hand. I found a template online, and printed it out. Then I glued all the papers onto thick card and cut them out. I then colored all the backs of them in either red or green. I went through 3 red markers, a green marker, and a green colored pencil. After they were colored, I then laminated each and every one. Because the guy had me put them too close together in the machine, when I cute them out the sides were pealing. I needed them for class the next day so I took them all home, along with a huge roll of tape, and for the next 3-4 hours JD and I taped each and every side on all the cards. I made sure that these students would enjoy this game, and they did. So much so, that on another day, they asked to borrow the cards so they could play the game during lunch.
Anyway, now you know what I do during my free time. I do get on Facebook during the day, but usually to chat with my family or because I am on lunch and just need a break.
Until next time, sayonara!