Chibi Maruko-Chan Helped Me Learn Japanese (RIP Momoko Sakura)
Chibi Maruko-chan helped me learn Japanese. Even at 25 years old, I woke up in my small apartment at 7:00AM and turned on my inherited, boxy analog TV just to catch a few lines of Chibi Maruko-chan. My coordinator at the time laughed–“What a childish show!”–yet he understood how hard my journey would be to Japanese fluency. I suppose the “any way that floats your boat” was his approach to comprehending my methods.
Chibi Maruko-chan helped me feel accomplished despite the language barrier I felt in my daily life. I could understand easy phrases and playful situations when I hardly knew what my co-workers were saying. Instead of feeling discouraged in learning this difficult language, Chibi Maruko-chan lifted me, gave me room to say aloud, “Kore wa oishii,” and “Nandemo ii!”
So I went to Japan 5 years ago to escape the American recession and lifestyle as well as my mother and live out my dream of working in Japan. Now that my 5 years are up and I’m back in the States, life should be better…But there are tons of things people didn’t warn me about when it came to re-adjusting to my home country.
The Constant Stomachaches. In Japan, I became a vegetarian (from July 2014), and since my husband returned to the U.S. first, I could adjust my diet every month to a lifestyle teetering on veganism. I eliminated most salts, refined sugars, and fats from my food by planning, measuring, and cooking every meal, and in 4 months, I lost around 33 pounds (15 kg). The return to America cost me dearly–in a week, I gained 10 pounds (4.5 kg). Everything I eat, even without meat, makes my stomach flip upside down. And it doesn’t help that my husband isn’t considerate of my new eating lifestyle because he isn’t vegetarian. Maybe part of my stomachaches are from stress.
The Wonderful “Gaijin-ism”. Where I lived in Japan, there were few gaijin, or foreigners. When I did see a foreigner, my first thought was, “Gaijin!” That’s how few and rare foreigners are in Japan save for the heavily-populated cities. Back in the U.S., I had to stop myself from being surprised by “foreigners”. Everyone, including myself, aren’t foreigners, so I’m in the middle of re-training my brain to think, “People!”
The Unemployed and Dependent Adult. I had a job and an apartment in Japan for 5 years. Now I’ve got job history and a former apartment that’s already passed to my successor, but no employment or space of my own. I have to depend on my husband’s family before I can look to getting a place, and the job hunt for something I actually want–a position in the writing industry–still makes me ask for help from my in-laws. I’m suddenly a dependent, and it makes me feel small and unreliable. I thought being in Japan would make me more independent, but in returning to America, I find myself in a worse situation than before I left the country.
The Unhomely Home. I got no warning about coming home when you’re not really home. The U.S. doesn’t feel familiar to me anymore. I look at the people and the stores and the houses, and I just think, “I want to go home.” My Okinawan apartment and the places I frequented there pops up in my head, and suddenly I’m finding home to be a far away place in my memories. Part of this foreign feeling comes from my immediate family leaving California. I can’t see my mom or brothers, and it really makes me sad. With the ensuing stomachaches and uncomfortable lifestyle, I just want something familiar, something normal, and that was my family. When I want to eat my mom’s soup because I have stomach pains or I want to laugh with my brothers, I can’t.
The Lost Relationship(s). What kills me is the one thing I’ve left behind: missing someone. I made many friends in Okinawa, and even though I’ve said in past posts that Japanese people are hard to accept foreigners, the friends I made accepted enough of me to let me into beautiful and loving relationships. I just knew that when I got on the plane, I’d never know if I’d see them again. Sure, there’s email, but it’s not the same as facing them at a table in Mr. Donuts or Spicy Kitchen and saying, “How’s it going?” Craving someone’s words or smiles or stories makes me feel as if I’ve lost something really precious in my life.
After I got married, I gained 36 pounds. All my co-workers, even the ones with kids, were skinny. It made me wonder how Japanese people stayed thin without any effort. I’ve turned to anime and manga (and my Kinesiology background) to find the answers.
True or False?
Cousin (Unlicensed) Food and Baths
· Eat brown rice instead of white rice.
· Cook at home.
· Avoid eating out.
· Eat small portions.
· Take 45-minute baths before going to sleep.
·Brown rice has more dietary fiber and fewer calories than white rice.
·Cooking at home will mean you won’t overeat or buy unnecessary food.
·Your body operates on an input-output cycle. Smaller portions mean smaller fat deposits.
·Steam may exfoliate the skin, but 45-minute baths do not cause weight loss. They only cause you to lose water weight, or weight that can easily be regained by drinking water. Sure, your heart rate goes up, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing—some people have heart problems or palpitations. Hot baths also dry out your skin. I would stick with a 20-minute bath for relaxation.
Real Clothes (Unlicensed)Exercise and Heartbreak·· Go running in the morning.
· Get dumped by your lover and pine away by refusing meals.
·If you exercise in the morning, your metabolism will get a wake-up call greater than your cup of coffee. Plus, you get better sleep than people who exercise in the evening.
·Some people experience heartbreak–and quickly ditch their meals to dwell on the shards left by their lovers. I’m not an advocate for skipping meals because it’s counterproductive: you might actually gain more weight when you get your mojo and regular eating habits back. Results may vary.
· Ditch the processed sweets and pick up fruits, nuts, veggies, and yogurt.· If you don’t have a treadmill or gym membership, I would suggest a home exercise program like FitnessBlender Youtube videos or Jilian Michaels’s DVDs.
· Diet programs may help you lose weight, but if you don’t make it your lifestyle, you’ll balloon into a state worse than your previous weight. Certain diet programs were created for specific types of bodies (ex. Atkins’ No-Carb Diet was made for obese people). My advice: re-create your eating habits and stick to it.
·Nothing metabolizes fat better than water. Drink lots of it instead of sugary alternatives. Soda, energy drinks, and sports beverages all have exuberant amounts of sugar that’ll send your energy downhill when it hits 3 o’clock. If you don’t like plain water, squeeze a lemon into it. Also try green tea or black coffee for your energy fixes.
Anime and manga say that this idea of effortless thinness is not so effortless. On a daily basis, Japanese people are mindful of their eating habits, portions, and exercise regiments—something that the rest of us can do in a quest towards weight loss.
I’ve tried all of these suggestions, and the one that has worked for me the most is my diet. Without exercise, I lost 15 pounds by revising my eating habits and sticking with it. I stopped eating meat and processed foods—chips, ketchup, soda—and replaced them with vegetables, fruits, and wheat. Our lunches are measured every day, and they usually include beans, rice, salad, vegetable soup, tofu, and pasta. This lifestyle of cooking most of our meals is a little tough, but we plan ahead.
Exercise won’t account for most of your weight loss. In some cases, exercisers will see increased weight. What exercise does is build muscle, and that muscle will help burn some fat but not all of it. Your waist might get smaller and your arms might get leaner, but the real fix for your fat is your diet. If you’re about to make an excuse for not losing weight—“It’s too hard”, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have money”—I’m sure collapsed lungs (around $20,000), heart failure ($20,000-$93,000), diabetes ($7,000-$13,000 per year), and death ($3,000-$6,600 average cost) can convince you to re-think those excuses.
How to get started for free?
Change 1 meal out of your day. That meal can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Make sure that meal has lots of veggies, fiber, and lean protein such as grilled chicken or fish. When you’re ready to change another meal, do it! You’ll start to see changes in your body after 30 days.
Eat less processed food. They aren’t good for you. Did you know soda is used by police officers to wash blood off the streets? Did you know mechanics use soda to take the corrosion off car batteries? Imagine what it can do your stomach. Did you know most processed food is made up of sugars and salt? Next time, look at the label and find the nutritional value.
Cook at home. A restaurant isn’t going to understand your taste buds or weight struggles. Make your food at home and check out Youtube and websites for awesome and delicious recipes. My favorite is AllRecipes.com!
Try FitnessBlender’s (or any other Youtube channel’s) chair or low-impact cardio programs. They take 10 to 30 minutes, and they’re great for anyone who has leg or knee injuries (like myself).
Go walking with a friend or loved one. When my friend was learning English, we used to take walks twice a week around our neighborhood. If you want to burn more calories, add a 1-minute jogging interval to your walk, and you’ll burn triple the calories of walking.
Laugh those pounds away! Depending on the intensity of the laughter, you can trim 10 to 40 calories off with comedy. If you’re a comedy head like me, watch George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Steve Colbert, Kevin Hart, Patrice O’Neal, Sheryl Underwood, Sommore, and Loni Love.
Squat it out while watching TV or listening to a podcast. Every time I tune into my favorite shows, I do squats, pushups, and tricep dips. It’s better than being a couch potato…and later becoming a potato.
During orientation for a trip to an American high school, I told the students, “If you fall asleep in class, you’ll get kicked out. If you talk during class, you’ll get kicked out. If you misbehave, you’ll get punished.” My Japanese students were shocked. Their eyebrows lifted and their mouths opened after they processed my words.
I’ve worked at seven junior high schools and two senior high schools in Japan, and 95% of the classes are the same. Kids fall asleep, chat, and read books during class. They destroy the stereotype that Japanese students are obedient students.
When I told my high school students that they couldn’t do those things, they couldn’t imagine what class was like, especially when an immediate punishment followed their behavior. Disruptive and sleeping students don’t get punished right away, that is, if they get punished at all. Teachers wait until the end of the day to lecture students or send them to the discipline committee for punishment (writing an apology essay, cleaning early in the morning or after school, parent-student conference). So far, the best schools I’ve taught at had swift punishments for troublesome students. I’ve seen one junior high school student sit on his knees in traditional Japanese style for thirty minutes listening to three teachers yell at him about his disruptive behavior. In the end, he cried, and I never saw him near the teachers’ office again.
Where does this “obedient Japanese student” come from? My guess is what silence means to a Westerner versus a Japanese person. In the West, silence means that you’re listening and being well behaved. In Japan, silence can mean anything. My students will sit and stare at the clock without feeling bothered. When the test rolls around, students leave nearly half of their tests blank, including multiple choice questions. It’s my students’ way of protesting school.
The culprits of such a bad system? Japanese culture. Learning is not designed to be from Person A to Person B and that’s it. Learning is about taking the new information, reshaping it in certain situations, and applying it. In Japan, the direct approach does not exist except in English class (on a varying level). Ask, “What’s ‘cat’ in Japanese?” and 40 pairs of eyes blink at you as if they don’t know what a cat had two pointy ears and said, “Meow”. English is hard to learn–and so is Japanese–but when administrators just want students to parrot words and sentences, how much of that is learning?
Aside from the classroom setting, Japanese culture has one thing that hovers on the shoulders of all Japanese people: wa (和), meaning peace, or “Don’t rock the boat”. There are over 157 million people in Japan, which is the size of California. That’s a lot of people, and that’s not a lot of space. With so many people breathing down your throat, wa is a way for Japanese people to stay sane. Instead of giving your opinion (from Point A to Point B), you say your opinion in a round-about way (from Point A to Point D to Point C to Point B). What you really feel is hidden beneath a guise called honne (本音) while what you say is seen as tatemae (建前). English has an opposite design–I’m going to give it to you straight. Westerners want to be understood regardless of things such as feelings. We don’t have physical space to worry about. But Japan has a space crisis and overpopulation, and this system of wa permeates all of Japanese life, including school.
Even if my students pretended to be obedient Japanese students in the American school they visited, I know it’s just a front.
School festivals are central to all manga and anime centering around Japanese schools as well as Japanese society.
Everyone participates in the school festivals, even the foreign English teachers like myself. Last year, I was faced with the school festival, and though I wanted to do something as typical as a cafe, rules kept the maid outfits at bay. “There are only two places where food can be made, and they’ve already been claimed,” a teacher told me with a sympathetic smile. “You’ll have to come up with some other idea for the English Club.”
Great. I guess my anime dreams of doing a maid cafe couldn’t come true. Ideas, I thought, I need ideas. Of course, my students couldn’t come up with anything. You’ll find that unless you offer Japanese kids ideas, you won’t come up with anything concrete.
For those of you in the same situation, here’s a list of ideas you can do with a small club (3 to 5 members) or more.
1. Cake Walk (Musical Chairs + Raffle): Use Daiso vinyl tape and make footprints or circles on the floor into one big circle. Put numbers in each circle. Participants will stand on the circles, and when the music starts, they will walk to each circle. When the music stops, a number will be called. The participant on the called number will win a cake or a prize. For more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cakewalk_(carnival_game)
2. Costume Booth (Halloween + Photography): Get a lot of costumes and props. Designate someone who will print pictures and put them in cellophane holders. Participants will pick what costumes they want and the theme of their photograph.
3. Skit: Pick a Western-origin or English-language skit such as Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, or Harry Potter. Adjust the script, pick the actors, and perform the skit on stage.
4. Names in Cursive: For more artistic people, participants will get their names written in pretty cursive. If you’re into graffiti, do names in graffiti.
6. Western bazaar: Get lots of new knickknacks (stickers, posters, bilingual books, toys, stuffed animals, bracelets, snacks, etc.). Set up a booth or room with the items all tagged with prices. Get a register or cash box and put someone responsible for it.
7. English wanage (Ring Toss): Make rings and stands out of cardboard and tape. (I would use Daiso colored tape to make the rings and stands more interesting, seeing that cardboard is pretty ugly.) Use vinyl tape as a distance marker. Give participants the rings and prizes after they’ve gotten the rings on the stands successfully. For an English-involved ring toss, put pictures on the stands. Show the participants an English word. They will throw the ring onto the matching picture of the English word.
8. Basket Toss: Make balls out of tape and set up cardboard boxes. For an English-involved basket toss, put pictures on the boxes. Tell the participant an English word, and they will throw the ball into the matching picture. You can also do this with teachers’ pictures and tell the participants a teacher’s profile (where they’re from, the subject they teach, the homeroom they’re in charge of).
9. Western Cafe: Pick any theme for your cafe (find ideas at CelebrationsatHomeBlog.com). Get refreshments (cupcakes, brownies, muffins, breads), drinks, utensils, table clothes, napkins, and props that fit the theme. Set up nice tables and have the club members be waiters (make shifts!). Customers will come and order food and drinks from an all-English menu. The waiters will take the orders in English as best as they can. For the non-food option, still set up the cafe the same way but make a separate table with different candies, knickknacks, and lots of gift wrapping materials (ribbons, wrapping paper, tape, scissors, cellophane bags, hole punches, and stickers). Customers will look at a menu of themes and make a gift for their friends, parents, or lovers. The waiters will only clean up after the customers and offer suggestions to them.
10. Movie: Make a movie with the club before the school festival (summer vacation is the best time to do this if your festival is later on in the year). Sit down with the club, write the script, schedule times to film, practice all the scenes, film, edit, and add Japanese subtitles.
11. English Scavenger Hunt: Give attendees a scavenger hunt paper with tasks such as “Find three married teachers” (３人の結婚したの教師を探してください). If they complete the task, they get a stamp on their paper. They can show their stamps at one location (if you have no room, use a kiosk or table-top cart) and get prizes. If you’re looking for examples of this kind of activity, it has been done at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Okinawa for their annual festivals (おきなわ国際協力・交流フェスティバル[English][Japanese] ).
If you’re having trouble coming up with school festival ideas for your English club or the English Speaking Society, just think of a fundraiser or carnival event and try that.
Maybe you’ve seen a happy-go-lucky bear, maybe you haven’t. If you’re in Japan, you’re likely to see him on everything. Yes, I mean, everything. Tissue boxes, frozen fried rice packages, candy, cookies, soba bags…I think even on Ninja‘s shaved tummy (from her spay).
Kumamon is a mascot bear from the Kumamoto Prefecture. Since his creation in 2010 from the Kumamoto Surprise campaign for tourist through the new Kyushu Shinkansen line, Kumamon has become a hit in Japan. In 2011, he won a national mascot contest, generating a large revenue prize for the Kumamoto region.
Kumamon isn’t just a prize winner; he’s a profit builder as well. Anything with Kumamon is expected to be bought up. Is it because of his sheer cuteness? Who knows? All I know is that Kumamon looks very much like my Bombay cat.
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.
I came to Japan two years and eight months ago, and my Japanese is still broken. What the…OK, it’s not a big deal. I just live in Japan is all. Ever since I stopped doing the self-study Japanese courses (provided through the JET Programme), I haven’t been diligent in studying Japanese. I’ve tried to make up for the slack by entering a Japanese speech contest. My problem: I don’t practice every day. I do speak Japanese every day, but I don’t practice Japanese enough.
I’ve decided to learn a new Japanese word every day. I’ve decided this since Friday. The words I’ve learned since then are kangei (歓迎, “welcome”), ooku no (多くの, “many”), koma (駒, “piece”), and kaikai (開会, “opening of a meeting”). I suppose these choice of words alone show what’s going on in my life now.
At this time, Japanese schools are welcoming new teachers and students–and there are many this year at my school–while opening ceremonies and introduction games are taking place. Can you guess what word goes with what statement? Bet you can.
On top of that, I’ve discovered Japaneseclass.jp, a website designed for self-study (and competition, whatever way you look at it). Every time I pass a vocabulary question, I get points which up my ranking score out of everyone on the website. It’s a bit addicting, so I guess Japaneseclass.jp is doing its job.
In black is the old way of writing. In red is what each kanji means.
In today’s class, everyone went to the calligraphy and art classrooms. There were many beautiful calligraphy and art pieces. Some of the art pieces were impressive, so I decided to take a picture of them. Later on, I’d like to try to make a bag calligraphy.
Today, my husband and I went to the Studio Ghibli Layout Exhibition at the Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum. It was so interesting! Hayao Miyazaki made beautiful layouts.
All of the works featured were from Studio Ghibli’s last fifty years. Works as early as Lupin the Third (1971) and Sherlock Hound (1984) stood among more modern works like Ponyo (2010) and Spirited Away (2001). Though exhibition showed many of Miyazaki’s works, other directors under Studio Ghibli also shared the spotlight. Studio Ghibli’s co-founder, Isao Takahata, showcased layouts from My Neighbors the Yamadas (ホーホケキョとなりの山田くん, 1999), Heidi Girl of the Alps (アルプスの少女ハイジ, 1974), and Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓, 1988).
At the end of the exhibition, everyone could make a black-and-white drawing on a sticker and put it on a wall. There were hundreds of stickers on the wall!
The next Studio Ghibli animations set to come out this year are The Wind is Rising (風立ちぬ) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語).
My husband’s Blubber Island face and me hugging the kodama from Princess Mononoke
Coming to Japan, I thought English education would be more advanced. What I found was a little disappointing: people who have studied English for ten years couldn’t form an English sentence. Even as more English speakers in Japan come forward as English teachers or translation experts, it’s easy to hear some really strange (and straightforward) English phrases in Japan.
David Sein’s 日本人のヘンな英語 illustrates in manga form the differences between Japanese people’s English and native English.
I think one reason why it’s hard for Japanese people to speak English is that it’s so direct. For instance, if someone says, “本を見ました,” the meaning could be, “I looked at the book” or “I saw the movie” (or if there are legs coming out of the book, “I watched the book”). 見る, or miru, has several meanings: look, see, or watch. Just picking which meaning to use is hard for Japanese speakers.
Sometimes, English idioms are taken quite literally. In English, “I cut the cheese,” isn’t used literally—someone cuts a piece of cheese with a knife—but it’s usually the image in Japanese people’s heads when this phrase is said. English speakers, however, see it as someone busting a stinky, dark cloud from their butts. In the Lang-8 blog, the blogger also noted how Japanese people are taught some strange English from Japanese words. Several words in Japanese aren’t translated very easily into English because its particular to Japanese culture. いただきます, or itadakimasu (literally “I humbly receive”), is a word said before anyone eats a meal in Japan. The meaning of it is lost in translation, especially in English when a person usually says, “Thanks for the food,” or “Let’s eat!”
David Sein’s 日本人のヘンな英語 is available for 1,050 yen on Amazon.co.jp.
“You know, CLAMP,” I said excitedly before repeating the name with Japanese pronunciation: “Ku-la-n-pu”. My Japanese co-worker scrunched up his face in the same way my students looked at me whenever I spoke English.
Oh, how I wanted to die. Apparently, he was another Japanese person–who liked manga–who didn’t know the four-member manga group, CLAMP. How could CLAMP, the CLAMP who created Chobits and a dozen other manga titles, the CLAMP who have been awesome guests at Anime Expo, the CLAMP who influenced great artists around the world like Kriss Sison (SevenSeas’ Last Hope), be so unknown among my Japanese co-workers?
I thought that when I came to Japan, CLAMP’s name would be well-known, but sadly, even some of the most ardent manga readers weren’t in the know. The only way I can get recognizing eyebrows to go up is by saying, “They made Card Captor Sakura.” I look on that series with affection; the first volume of CCS was the first manga volume I ever owned, so the CLAMP who got me interested in possessing volumes, and thus, an expensive (outside of Japan) hobby was born.
Come to think of it, CLAMP was the first for a lot of things for me. CLAMP’s Chobits was the first manga series I completely collected and the Magic Knight Rayearth series was the first manga I followed religiously when it was in the throw-back issues of Tokyopop Magazine (before its papery demise). Many of my early drawings were based from studying CLAMP’s work.
What I love about CLAMP is the art style between the three artists, Tsubaki Nekoi, Satsuki Igarashi, and Mokona, and the refreshing writing from the leader, Nanase Ohkawa. The characters are drawn very beautifully and their expressions are spot-on in regards to the writing. Most of the stories have romance in it, but there are more parts of their stories than love (unless you’re reading The One I Love). The consistent elements inside of CLAMP’s stories are magic, endearing characters, relationships, and the child-like adventurous quality from the 1980’s.
From all of their manga I’ve read so far, I think that Clover and Legal Drug (Drug and Drop) are experiments for the artists. In Clover, the expansive negative space in the panels and the minimal dialogue gave a usual story–magical kids are taken into the military to be used as weapons–a completely eerie, sad feeling, one that has resonated in my mind like a heart break. Legal Drug, though typical in story and art style, has only male leads in the entire manga and seems to lead readers towards a close BL style like The Descendants of Darkness and Brother x Brother.
Whenever someone asks me, “What’s your favorite manga?” I always think of a title by CLAMP first. But now that I’ve met another person who’s not familiar with their work, I think I’ll just carry around a picture of Sakura from Card Captor Sakura.
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.
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.
One of the teachers took me to a family restaurant that sold katsudon (かつどん), a dish that’s common in anime and manga.
What is it besides a common anime and manga dish? It’s deep-fried chicken over eggs, rice and onions. It can be made in different ways, but it’s delicious anyways.
This katsudon was huge! It was as big as my face, and it came with miso soup and a small dish of pickled radish. For all of that food, I only paid 500 円 (around $5). What a deal! I only finished half, and I felt so guilty for not finishing it. Normally someone would say, “Mottainai”, which is a way of saying, “What a waste”, but thankfully no one did. (^_^)v
‘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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
If you live and work in Japan, you’ll notice the lack of dark-skinned characters in hand-drawn advertisements, comics, even English textbooks. I’ve decided to alleviate that problem in my schools by drawing short comic strips for teachers to use in English class. And, yes, the character is based on my every day appearance.