5 Things I Carry From Reading Rainbow

Readingrainbow_logo

I was humming in the copy room, and Reading Rainbow popped into my head. I couldn’t help but smile. I love Reading Rainbow! From the theme song (below) to LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation) to each book, I fell in love with the show. Reading Rainbow taught me many useful things, some things that I still carry into my adulthood.

 The theme song was inspirational. “I can go anywhere” and “I can be anything” inspired me to believe in myself, especially as someone who liked to read. When I was in fourth grade, I realized that most of my classmates hated reading, and if you read, you had a big “Pick on me” sign on your forehead. The first time I heard Reading Rainbow‘s theme song, I realized that it was OK to read. It was a catchy, cool theme song (up there with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters). I believed in it. I could go anywhere and I could be anything–as long as I was reading. Reading gave me the friends I didn’t have, took me places my family couldn’t go, taught me lessons that my parents couldn’t teach. To me, Reading Rainbow said, “It’s not only OK to read. It’s great to read!” As an English teacher, I encourage my students and colleagues to read books.

I’ve been using folded paper cups for over ten years. I learned how to fold paper cups when I was in fifth grade. My English teacher put on an episode of Reading Rainbow, LeVar folded a paper cup and put water in it, and we followed suit. When I got home that day, I showed my mom how to make a paper cup, and she commented, “Oh, this can hold more than water.” Eighteen years later in Japan, I use folded paper cups to hold game pieces, stickers, and laminated papers.

My mom is really a Chinese descendant or she knows the value of woks. My Filipino mom always used a big wok for making pancit (Filipino noodles), and I always wondered, “Why does Mom use that gigantic pot? Is she the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel?” When I watched an episode with LeVar in the Mandarin Inn Pell (above), I remembered my mother saying, “Oh, we’re Chinese descent,” before going on about her roots and Buddha. Now as an adult, I plan to use a wok because it heats the food evenly–and I get to say, “It woks!”

Mummies taught me to love mythology. Episodes about Egypt, like “Mummies Made in Egypt” (above), was a gateway into Egyptian mythology. By the time I hit seventh grade, I loved Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, and my knowledge of them was vast for an eleven year old. When I was a sophomore in high school, I joined a quiz league (not Decathlon) as the mythology expert. Now that I’m a high school teacher, I don’t study mythology anymore, but it does influence the stories I write.

Cultures are awesome! Growing up in a homogeneous area (either black or white people), “culture” was a word that made people uncomfortable. My brothers and I were the only half-black, half-Filipino kids in our side of town, and for some reason, I always felt that my parents were trying to down-play our differences. We weren’t sure what to do about ourselves. It was important for me and my brothers to see LeVar–a black man–appreciating different cultures–Chinese, Japanese, Native American, you name it. I learned that it was OK to respect other cultures no matter what your skin color said.

Reading Rainbow isn’t on TV anymore, but it’s still around for the old and new generations of kids to love. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Anime and Manga is Funnier When You Get It

Since I was twelve years old, I enjoyed watching anime and reading manga. Fourteen years later, I still watch  anime and read manga, but now, I enjoy them in Japan–and they’ve taken a whole new dimension in my eyes. Anime and manga are actually funnier than I realized!

One series that has Japanese culture bombarding every page in big and small ways is Great Teacher Onizuka, or G.T.O. for short. Blow-up dolls, booty grabbers, and bad boys of Japan spring up in a rather simple premise. Among them are the comical antics of the main character, teacher-in-training Eikichi Onizuka. Somehow, the stupid yet charming things he manages to pull off in a rigid society like Japan makes me laugh.

What a bad Japanese application looks like.

What a bad Japanese application looks like.

In one part of the second volume, Onizuka submits his application for a teaching position at an academy. One look at it, and you’d think, “OK, here’s an honest applicant with zero experience.” It’s truthful, but what makes it funny is how some poor applicant in Japan will take this at face value and submit an application identical to this one. As tempting as it is to copy the anime or manga lifestyle, the sad reality is it’s not reality.

If you’re like me, and you’re inside the Japanese educational system, you’d probably change that line to, “This guy is a dumb-ass.” Everything is wrong with the application! You don’t write what you honestly think. Just write what the interview panel wants to read. You don’t put “my physical body” as a personal attribute. What does that have to do with teaching? And you definitely, under no circumstances, use a cute perikura picture for the required picture–it’s obviously not to size.

Aside from G.T.O., many series have cultural points laid out for foreign readers like the hierarchical system in addressing people (i.e. Tanaka-san, Tanaka-kun, Tanaka-chan) and references to Japanese history or pop culture. Some cultural points can’t be explained, but rather, seen firsthand. For example, seeing characters fall over suddenly when someone says something stupid or ridiculous seems to belong in anime and manga. The keel-over reaction is something I’ve seen at work in Japan again and again. Another piece of Japanese culture that most fans readily identify with is the panty vending machines. I’ve only seen one in a ladies’ changing room at a hot springs resort, but other than that, they don’t exist on every corner of Japan. Cigarette and soft drink vending machines can be seen every kilometer you go in Japan.

I started reading a manga called ARISA about a junior high school student by the same name with an outgoing personality. In the first read, I grasped the story and the characters, but in the second read, I noticed some mundane parts of the manga that are hilarious—that is, if you know the cultural significance of it. Arisa clobbers some boys for throwing a carton onto the ground, something that is illegal in many parts of Japan. I found myself encouraging the boys’ clobbering. “Get ‘em, Arisa! They didn’t recycle!” But only if you’ve lived in Japan could you find that funny while claiming a moral responsibility towards the situation.

Although there are some things that are pretty dead-on between Japanese animation and Japanese culture, the funniest part about it all relies on the cultural points—and how much you get them. Once I was able to understand the real situations from living in Japan, anime and manga took on a different significance.

Buying Anime Gifts on a Budget

‘Tis the season to be jolly–or to be more exact, to be mall-y. It’s the holiday season, and that means, buying gifts for friends and family. Unfortunately, if you’re still new to shopping for your anime-lover friend or brother or sister, the mall is the last place I would go to shop. Why? Because it’s expensive! Imagine paying $10–whole price–for a manga volume! Well, if you’re on a budget and paying that much for manga, anime, or Japan-related gifts isn’t something that’s on your Christmas list, I would heed a few points that I’ve learned from buying some great gifts.

Before you head out there, actually make a list of who you’re buying what for. If you make a list, you’re likely to stick with that list instead of buying impulsively and spending all of your money. Also, you should set a price limit as to what you want to buy for each person.

Now that you know more about what to do before shopping, on with the tips!

1. If you have time, go online. There are a lot of websites out there that offer deals just for buying merchandise from them. Websites like rightstuf.com and jlist.com offer savings on anime, manga, apparel, and Japan-related items. And before you decide to roam their pages, sign up for an account with them. You can get additional deals just for making a new account. Re-sell sites, like ebay.com and half.com, offer new manga and anime for cheaper prices outside of regular retailer websites. For instance, you could buy a Bakuman Volume 1 manga for less than $3 on half.com, versus getting it at $7.49 (rightstuf.com) or $9.99 (retailer). The only thing about shopping online is making sure the shipping fee is reasonable, if any, and that the package will arrive on time.

If you’re worried about receiving the gift by Christmas, I would suggest getting a gift certificate. If the gift certificates are still shipped, the shipping fees are really low and it’s more likely to arrive on time because it’s not a box. On some websites, gift certificates aren’t sent out, like on jlist.com. They are sent to the purchaser via email, and all you have to do is print it out (on nice paper, I hope!) and wrap it like a Christmas gift. It takes the hassle out of buying a specific gift for your anime friend and they’ll appreciate not having to return an item they don’t like.

If you live outside of the United States, bookdepository.com offers free shipping to all countries.

2. If you have time and got a dime, get in line. If you already booked yourself to go to a convention, make sure to remember your anime friends and family. For a list of your local anime convention, check out http://animecons.com/events/. If you’re one of those people who don’t go to anime conventions, there’s always the option of going to your local comic book retailer (not a mall one, hopefully), and having them order the manga or anime, if it’s not available in the store. Normally, there isn’t an extra charge for ordering, but sometimes, a deposit of the item’s price will be asked, so come with some cash. In some towns and cities, there are also manga and anime stores. Although they don’t have as many deals as online websites, if you’ve signed up for a point card, you can earn some much-needed points on your Christmas purchases.

3. No dime, no time, draw a line. If you don’t have money but you have some artistic skills, like drawing, painting, or even using Adobe Illustrator, make them a gift. You can personalize it to your choice, and it’s something original for your friend or family to keep. If it’s drawing or computer-generated images, just make sure to frame the piece or put it in a plastic sleeve like the ones used for American comic books (any comic book retailer can sell it to you for less than $1 each).  If you have left over clay or plaster, sculpt a figurine of their favorite anime character, use acrylic paint to color it, and let it dry. Presto! You have a gift that didn’t take hours to construct and zero dollars to make.

How to Survive in Japan: Basics Edition

Many people who have been looking to get away from the dragging economy in their home countries have come to Japan, either as teachers, military personnel, or translators. Though there’s much to be offered in the Land of the Rising Sun, newly Western-world expats still have a thing or two to learn about living comfortably in Japan.

Household

Japan has a lot of humidity in the air, which means that there is a lot of water coming into your apartment or house, becoming trapped in shoe boxes and closet spaces. To deal with the trapped moisture, it’s best to get moisture packs, which can be purchased from Daiso (105 yen shop), the local grocery store, or a D.I.Y. store. If there’s anything that you need in your household, moisture packs are those things. Otherwise, you’ll have moldy sweaters and boots.

COMMAND adhesive hook and strips

COMMAND Adhesive Hook (image from Select2Gether.com)

Although most people don’t come to Japan to decorate their apartments, some people (like myself) feel the urge to make their place as homely as possible. One way is by posting frames, pictures, and posters on the walls. However, if you live in an apartment and there’s no putting holes into the walls for fear of losing a deposit, using adhesive hooks are a good option. But just to say, adhesive hooks from Daiso (105 yen shop) or the local D.I.Y. shop aren’t the best things to use because they leave behind a sticky residue. Tape can also strip walls, especially wooden walls. Best option? Buy some COMMAND Adhesive Hooks in your home country or at your local D.I.Y. shop (online at Amazon also sells them). When using these hooks, the adhesive strips must be applied exactly as the directions state, otherwise, you’ll find some broken frames on the floor soon after.

Of course, clean up is important. My hated part of the household to clean is the bathroom. Do I use toilet paper or paper towels to clean the toilet seat? (There’s no way I’d use a rag or towelette!) Thankfully, Daiso has flushable toilet wipes, strong enough to wipe down the toilet seat without crumbling without worrying about losing a trusty rag or towelette. They’re only 105 yen for a pack of 50 wipes.

Food

Cooking at home is the best way to save money. You can easily rack up a 5,000 yen bill by going to an izakaya (bar) or eating out. Although 5,000 yen doesn’t seem like a lot, when you do it once a week, you’re spending 20,000 yen or more than $200 a month. Instead of spending that much on one meal each time, taking a trip to your local San-A or Marudai can save you a bunch of money. That 5,000 yen can feed you for 3 weeks, or 1,500 yen per week, that is, if you don’t mind making some simple meals. My favorite website to visit for this money-saving cooking skill is RealSimple.com.

Another money-saving option to grocery-buying is purchasing produce from a local produce vendor. Normally, they look like a bunch of obaa selling fruits and vegetables on the side of the road, or there’s a humbly-decorated store with fruits and vegetables in boxes. Either way, these modest vendors sell their produce for dirt cheap. My husband and I saved a bundle of cash (about 200 yen per bag of veggies) just by buying from a local produce vendor. Not only does saving money help you, but purchasing food from a mom and pop shop helps them out too.

Buying frozen foods can save even more money than anything else. If there are no frozen food stores in your local Japanese neighborhood, buying cheap meat in bulk is an alternative. Beef, for instance, can last for over 2 months frozen, so buying in bulk won’t make it go bad. Chicken and seafood are a little more sensitive, but they can be frozen for a while as well. I go to a local frozen food store and buy 7 pounds of frozen chicken breasts for 980 yen. For less than 1,000 yen, I can eat chicken breasts for dinner for a week. Not only does it save money, but your gut won’t expand as easily as your wallet.

Communication

Although English education has been incorporated into Japanese society as its second language, most Japanese people can’t speak English. It’s a reality that most expats realize the first month of arriving in Japan, and it puts a damper on communication efforts. If you’re planning to stay in Japan, learning some basic Japanese starts the process of breaking down cultural barriers. For me, the most useful thing to learn was katakana, a simple writing system that’s used for sounding out words, especially foreign words. I’ve mostly had to read katakana on restaurant menus, product covers, and most sports-related things and events.

Also, it’s good to have a paper dictionary or electronic dictionary that translates between Japanese and English. They come cheap in Akihabara (Tokyo) and in recycle shops. If you only have a paper dictionary and you need to use Japanese immediately, learning certain phrases ahead of time is good. I always use Google’s translation page to help me learn words and phrases that aren’t found in a paper dictionary.

Bank

Depending on where you’re working, getting a Japanese bank account should be pretty easy. First, you need your inkan, or your registered personal seal (it’s as valuable as a signature), your passport, your registered address paper (from your city office), work contract paperwork, and a few thousand yen to deposit. One other thing you need is a letter written by the director or supervisor of your company that states you are working for their company and the length of the contract. Some banks or bank tellers (depending on their viewpoint of foreigners) ask for this as an extra leap of bureaucracy. I personally think it’s stupid red tape when you already have an official work contract available, but you’ll face moments like this in Japan, so you might as well get this letter ahead of time. It’ll save a lot of time and confusion.

Since many people come to Japan with some type of debt or remaining bills to pay in their home countries, sending money home is really important. Still, many people worry about sending cash in airmail envelopes or even just talking to a nice person at the post office and asking them to exchange yen into dollar. Although Western Union is now available in Japan, it has limited offices around Japan. The simplest and best thing to do is link your Japanese account with your home country’s bank account. You can do this by getting a GoLloyds account, a Japanese company that specializes in transferring money. It costs 2,000 yen each time you transfer money, but the transfer also includes a money exchange based on the exchange rate available now.

Clothes

Finding clothes in Western sizes is a little difficult if you’re bigger than a medium size. There are a few places to get some fitting clothing, but the best thing to do is to bring your own clothes ahead of time. If you’re a bigger size (bigger than a size medium for women with a shoe size 7 or smaller, or size 36 pant size in men with a shoe size 9 or smaller), you should bring some comfortable walking shoes, “indoor” shoes, or comfortable slippers you can wear inside only, and a few suits with thin and/or cotton material. Still, if you’ve forgotten something, there are a few places to get clothes. San-A has a plus size section, though it’s very limited, but you can get business clothing there. Uniqlo also has larger sizes, but if you have a bust size bigger than 36″, San-A is better suited with it’s XXL sizes. Another place to get bigger sizes, especially for women on the heavier and bustier side, is Shimamura (しまむら). Like San-A, you’ll find a plus size section.

If you go online to buy clothes, I would recommend going on ebay. Sometimes, sellers ship worldwide (don’t forget to click that option on the left side options) and they’ll give a decent price for international orders. However, if you want something new and right away, some American brand companies are available, especially if you’re on mainland Japan. Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, Old Navy, and the Gap are available brands in Japan.

Car

If you plan on driving in Japan and you have a driver’s license, you can get an International Driver’s Permit (U.S.) or an international permit to drive. It’s good for a year, but before that year is up, transferring your international permit to a Japanese driver’s license is a good way to go. Depending on what part of Japan you’re in, my advice would be to call a driving school and get lessons before taking the test. The Japanese driving test isn’t about driving safely or practically; it tests your ability to follow directions. Many people fail the first time because of the most trivial things, like not looking under the car before getting into the car. In some places, like Okinawa, the tests are more flexible, and in other areas, they’re more rigid. Just be prepared for it!

Using Anime Influences in the Classroom

I’m a big anime and manga fan. I try to put anime into anything I can: art projects, interior decorum, notebook doodles, anything really. Now that I’m an English teacher, I get to expand all things anime into a new area–the Japanese classroom.
You might be wondering, “How does Japanese animation work in a Japanese classroom with Japanese students?” Speaking English is the first step. Although most students don’t speak and understand English, they know their anime. Using words from the anime puts them on track to understanding something, anything.
For example, I did a Halloween lesson about Venetian masks. I did a Venetian mask of Bleach’s Vizard mask. “The Vizards in Bleach have masks.” Maybe students will recognize the words “Vizards”, “Bleach”, and “masks”, and with the visuals, they can put two and two together. Plus, anime has become a medium for teaching, and students can relate to something within their generation. Already, most things in Japan have illustrative instructions, and you can see some recognizable mangaka’s work on something as mundane as hair dye. Bringing a little bit of their world into a class setting with English makes it all more relatable.
Even grammar lessons, like “Are you…” and “What is … doing this Saturday?” works wonders in getting the students to pay attention. I know for anime fans/English teachers like myself, I have fun with it every class lessons.

The Personal Side of Being an “Expat in Japan”

There are many expats in Japan, many of which are under the guise of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I happen to be one of those expats. It’s not so much the fact that I’m outside of the United States, my home country, that makes me an expat. It’s based off of a matter of choice; I wanted to get out of the United States. I felt suffocated being there. Don’t get me wrong, the United States is pretty cool. Home of the Free. The American Dream. But sometimes, there’s a deeper calling in life than the commercialization of everything that was once precious. I decided that I wanted to develop outside of American culture because there was a whole world to experience. Why not go to the country I’ve always wanted to live in?

Now that I’m here, I’m glad I made the choice. Some things I’ve come to realize aren’t tangible or measurable. I came to Japan, thinking the same thoughts as all otaku think when they arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun: “Oh my God! I’m in Japan! Anime! Manga! School girls! Weird stuff!” Of course, Japan’s culture isn’t just about those things. There’s a quiet respect for people–though, some people will argue it’s a facade–and people will come to help someone in need without expecting something in return. You can’t find that freely in the United States. Also, there’s a need to connect to and respect nature, such as appreciating the flowers and the rich, green landscape that can unfold in the middle of nowhere.

Besides those extrinsic aspects of Japanese culture that I’ve come to love and respect, I’ve realized more about myself. This was my first time striking it out on my own without any of my family members to guide me. I was making my own money (which wasn’t new, by the way), but I was responsible for everything–rent, utilities, food, and entertainment funds. I had to learn how to ask questions. If I didn’t ask, I was bound to miss something and pay the price, literally and figuratively.

Not only did I have to come to terms with my responsibilities, I had to come to terms with myself. I had rid myself of the negative aspects of my American life. No more nagging, nosy mother. No more people assuming because I’m black, I’m stupid or lazy or like all of the stereotypical things. No more having to deal with bummy guys. I was separated from those things, and I could develop into someone that I thought didn’t exist. This development prepared me to accept certain aspects of myself that I saw as faults, as well as accepting others more, like marrying and living with my husband. (Let’s just say that marriage is a whole different blog post to begin with.)

Aside from my personal growth, the things that were tangible and measurable became more apparent with life in Japan. My husband and I realized that being in the United States at this time period was devastating to working people. The economy is currently disastrous, and even some of our friends are having difficulty finding a minimum-wage job, though they have a Bachelor’s degree. Frankly, being able to save up in a different country is fun and economical, especially when the dollar is so weak and federal taxes give you a “pass” card the first year abroad. In monetary terms, being abroad is great. On top of the savings, there’s gaining work experience in a prestigious field along with learning Japanese that makes being an expat in Japan pretty appealing.

But being away from the United States gives any open-minded expat a common foundation: there’s a new perspective on the United States waiting to be scooped up. It could be a positive perspective, like seeing how people the U.S. are free to speak out, or simply understanding more of the good points of the United States. The perspective can also be more negative, such as realizing how spoiled Americans can be, or realizing the bad aspects of American cultures mostly visualized through obese people and the growing numbers of prisoners. Either perspective that expats choose to acknowledge, being an expat in Japan is one experience that can never be forgotten.