Memories of Japan >
Media in Japan can be very self-aggrandizing, intentional or not--one should probably refer to the decades of Japanese isolation rather than a conservative nationalistic movement. Education and media often compare Japan to other countries, which is very good for students, but comparisons can be biased or outdated. For example, a "Secrets of Toilets" book at schools compares high-tech Japanese bidet toilets to Chinese holes in the ground.
Americans love to talk about how exciting, beautiful, or fun their experiences were in foreign countries. Many people especially love to talk about those experiences with natives of the visited country.
Japanese people are no different. Sometimes they tell me how beautiful San Francisco is or how wonderful Vancouver is. They really, really also love to tell me how trains are never on time, how dangerous it is to live in the US, and how fat Americans are.
At times, foreigners can get an unintended feeling that Japanese are shocked a foreign country could have done something so wonderful. And it is very important for some teachers to promote Japanese ideas in comparisons, subtly forcing children to repeat these ideas (one example being "These are Korean, American, French, and Japanese breakfasts; which one is the lowest calorie and healthiest?"). No wonder Japanese have very little interest in experiencing foreign worlds!
Note: kimoi is short for kimochi warui, meaning bad feeling, or gross.
Sometimes I ask children about their parents to get to know them. Most of them say things like "my dad is as tall as you" or "I don't know how old my mom is." One time, I asked a 2nd grader about his mom, and he said, "she's really kimoi." The other kids around him and I were very surprised, and naturally, we asked him why. He explained, "she likes to pull down my pants and bite my butt."That's really cute, isn't it?
Japanese people, like us Americans, like to name things after popular figures. "One of [the students], Naruto, is named after the popular anime character."
I recently made a friend called Taiwa (大和), which is also read as Yamato, the same as the most famous battleship of the Japanese fleet in WW2. When he was in school, one of his classmates was Musashi (武蔵), named for the second most famous battleship, the sister ship of the Yamato--which was sunk a year before the Yamato was sunk.
Apparently, one time, Taiwa and Musashi collided at school--the nurse said both were fine, and sent them back to class--and the boy that turned out to have broken his collarbone was Musashi, thus validating the known fact that the Yamato was stronger than the Musashi.
Sometimes it's dangerous to play with kids, since they like to mime actions. Once, I was at a bowling party, and this cute little boy was drinking a soda. He had slurped up a lot of soda, so that his mouth was bulging. I pretended that my cheeks were bulging like his, and lightly slapped my cheeks with both hands. A moment later, he did the same. He wasn't the one to get wet.
Japanese people have a hard time believing things that are new to them, and it's true for both adults and children. When I tell them that students in the US can actually be held back for poor performance and be forced to repeat a grade, they all say, "maji?!" And kids never believe me when they come looking for someone and I say, "Oh, I ate him. He was delicious."
Note: maji, or majide, comes from the base majime, which means serious.
The other teachers and I like to play with kids a lot. At lunch, I often fold up someone's napkin and stuff in their pencil cases. By now, a lot of the kids are used to it, and they either laugh or do the Japanese equivalent of rolling their eyes and sighing. A student of my coworker, too, said to her, "sensei, you act like you're younger than me!"
Note: sensei is Japanese for teacher. It also acts as an honorific for a very learned or respected person.
Some Japanese names are interchangeable between genders, such as Chihiro. A coworker of mine told me how her high school teacher often called out "Chihiro-kun" instead of "Chihiro-chan" when calling out her name. Other names use characters that are more specific towards genders, such as -ta or -ka. Sometimes the kids and I have a lot of fun playing with these combinations: "If you were a boy/girl, would you be Yuu/Yuka?"
Note: kun is a diminutive for males, while chan is usually used for only females.
Note: one base for Yu (幸) means happiness and is a common base of many Japanese names.
A lot of Americans say that Asians all look alike. Japanese, too, say that all Americans look a like. Neither culture is correct, although people do share similar traits and characteristics. But I do teach about a thousand kids a year, and many kids have very similar names, looks, and styles. So I could only laugh when I got a sayonara note from a student that read, "I really enjoyed all the classes you taught, even though you often called me Risa instead of Rina."
Teaching in Japan can be very interesting at times, especially regarding scheduling. The eigo shunin at one school gave me a schedule with no classes on Friday. On Thursday, at a meeting, she told me that a teacher wanted a class on Friday. Then on Friday, I asked the teacher about the lesson, and... there was no class on Friday.
Note: eigo means English in Japanese.
Note: a shunin is a person responsible for a certain set of duties.
Context is important for both conversation and learning. Once, a girl asked me if I had gone to Shanghai. At that time, I had never gone to Shanghai, but she insisted that I did. It was more than a little confusing. Then, another teacher explained that her grandparents ran a ramen shop called Shanghai.
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