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Japandemonium R P G A M E R   -   J A P A N D E M O N I U M
Merii Kurisumasu
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First of all, I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas to all who read this. I hope your day was and is filled with family and friends. My 'Christmas' will also be filled with family and friends, but while most of you are reading this, I will be in the process of going home. For me, Christmas is being delayed two days. I have to work on Christmas day in Japan, but I get to come home for a week on the 26h. I will arrive at roughly the same time as I left due to the time change. Japan is 14 hours ahead of Indiana. But due to me going home, my beloved Japandemonium column will be on temporary hold as I spend my one week in America with my family and fiancee.

To celebrate this special day, I thought I'd make a special column where I just answer some of the many questions readers ask. There isn't much news right now, and I can't just leave you without something to read over the holidays. So this is kind of my present to my readers. I hope you all enjoy it.

Culture Corner: Ask Sensei 

This week, I'll be answering any questions in my mailbox that I didn't already respond to personally. Keep the questions coming, because I like answering them as best I can.

I've heard stories of how xenophobic and discriminative Japanese people can be, especially towards Americans. It was generally assumed by me that Japan is as varied in prejudices as any country, but now I'm questioning this notion. Is there any accuracy in these numerous stories I've heard? How would you compare Japan to America in terms of foreign hostility? Better or worse?

Slush

This question is a bit hard to answer because there are two kinds of discrimination here. One is positive, and the other negative. As Americans are gaijin here, we are considered 'soto' or outside group. As such, we are actually treated with more respect due to that status. The Japanese are forevermore humbling themselves, and they do it to anyone that is foreign.

But, there is some negatives too. It's not a general hatred like we see in American prejudice, but rather fear. I've had some people say that I look scary. I'm big, white, broad, and I must look quite imposing to many people here. I met one little girl who straight up looked startled to see me and then poked her friend to point me out. She did this as I looked at her. A ninja she was not..... I also had a student cancel a contract because she was prejudice against white people. The previous teacher was a small british woman, and I evidently, she was able to handle that better than an American man. She told the manager that she is scared of white people, and she thought that GEOS could help her get over that fear, but she just didn't have the guts.

There is also the fact that no matter where I go, people stare at me. Evidently, I am a walking talking circus to these people, because they look at me as if I were the most interesting thing they've ever seen. Sometimes it's justified like the time when I rode my bike during typhoon to return some CDs I'd rented. I figured an umbrella would do little against a small cat 3 hurricaine, so I took off my glasses, changed into clothes that could and would get wet, and headed into the storm. Quite thrilling really... But when I'm just going to the grocery store to to buy another Gundam model kit, it's a bit strange being stared at. I'm used to it though.

So yeah, there's no real hostility. Mainly just a lot of wonderment and a LITTLE bit of fear. Japan is a country that has had little contact with the outside world for centuries, so anyone that is as different as I am is a bit odd to them.

I was just wondering how you got that job in Japan teaching English. Is being a teacher there tough and are schools somewhat similar to the representation that was in Great Teacher Onizuka with bully kids or suck up teachers?

-Jonathan

How'd I get to be a teacher? Well, I started by applying to GEOS. The online application can be found here. You just submit your resume and a two page essay, and you are promptly emailed as to whether or not you will receive an interview. I found out within 24 hours.

Then, I flew to New York City for my interview. The interview process is three days long and consists of 3 different weed-out stages. The first weed-out stage was a simple 10 minute interview. Then around 22 of us were selected for stage two, which was to learn about the company and do some interaction. There was also a small English test, and another interview. That cut us down to 14. We then learned about the GEOS teaching method and were told to prepare a 30 minute sample lesson. After that, I believe around 8 of us got the job.

After that, I had two LONG correspondance packages to help prepare me for my postion and a 4 day training seminar in Vancouver, Canada. Directly following that, I flew to Osaka and took trains down to Niihama. I began teaching 2 days later.

I would urge anyone with an interest to consider teaching in Japan. There are two main ways to do it: JET and Eikaiwa. JET is the government sponsored teaching program that allows successful applicants to be assistant language teachers in public schools. Eikaiwa are private, for profit conversation schools that are very much a business. Teaching is what we sell. Well, that and books, and homestays, and other opportunities for learning. Eikaiwa is much more business oriented and you do have to help the school function financially by approaching students to renew contracts and such, but you are given MUCH more freedom in your teaching. I more or less have my own room, (my school is small, so there's a kids room and an adult room that I share with the Japanese teacher) and I'm free to teach my lessons as I see fit so long as no one complains. There is also the issue of hours.... My teaching hours are from 1-10 pm Tuesday through Friday and 11 am-8 pm on saturday. It's either a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it, but I happen to like being able to roll out of bed around 10 each morning.... ^_^

As for are there bullies and stuff? Eh, probably. I don't know. My school is not a regular public school by any means, but I can assure you that anything you see in Onizuka is greatly blown out of proportion. I'd say that stuff is universal, but no where nearly the scale seen in anime or manga.

Jordan,

How's everything going? I just have a quick question which I always wondered about: could you explain a bit about Japanese lyrics? From what I see and hear, they almost never rhyme (even Japanese rap don't rhyme 100%- which they're actually supposed to) and I heard it's more about the sound of certain words together (or something like that) and not about whether they rhyme or not. I can't quite imagine what is meant about that, maybe because not the same rules aren't applied as in Western songs (rhyme, alliterations, etc.), but then again, I'm not qualified at listening to the Japanese language as I'm quite illiterate in that sense. Maybe I just overhear it and just don't see it, but if not could you explain it to me (or the column-readers at home) and maybe give a little example of how and what?

Oh, now we're talking about this, what's up with the "sudden" one or two English words or sentences in a lot of Japanese songs?

Thanks for anwsering (in advance) and good luck with your column!

Douggie

PS. Sorry if this question is already asked

You are actually the first to ask me anything about music, so no worries there. As for music, well, I'm not THAT much better off than you, but from what I know of Japanese language, it's not exactly easy to 'rhyme.' So many words end in the same sounds, but rhyming has more to do than just ending in the samy syllable. There's also the fact that rhyming is mainly done with vowels, and Japanese only has five vowel sounds. It's not seen as all that important.

As for the random English, well, it's mainly for coolness factor, but there's also something called 'katakana English.' This are words that have been added to Japanese from English. Some of these words did not exist in the language before they were added, but some like 'power' are used as both 'pawaa' and 'chikara.' The first being katakana english, the latter being the original Japanese word. The connotation is a bit different though I think.

In the end, it is usually to sound 'cool' or to maintain some kind of flow within the song. But sometimes it's because that's the only way to get the thought across.

Hope that kinda answers your question.

Hey Jordan,

What is it like to live there, like your apartment (is it tiny?).

Alex

That would depend upon your definition of 'tiny.' If a main living space of around 100 square feet is 'tiny,' then I'd have to say that the answer is 'yes.' But I prefer the word 'cozy.'

That said, let me tell you all about my apartment. For starters, I live in a mansion. No really, I do. Mansion is a 'loan word,' which are English words that have taken on totally different meanings in Japan. 'Mansion' is a type of apartment building.

I live on the second floor on the corner, which happens to be the top floor. When you first walk into my apartment, you are in the kitchen area. I have a little refridgerator, (that is currently broken... I'll need to call the landlord when I come back....) a one burner electric stove, a sink, a toaster oven that was previously mentioned, a microwave, and a rice cooker I brought from home. My girlfriend is Asian and bought it for me, so it has sentimental value.

To the right of the kitchen is my toilet and bathroom. In Japan, these rooms are typically separate. This is the case here. My bathroom has a little sink and a tub that is very narrow and deep. The Japanese LOVE baths. Showers are not not norm, but I do have a movable shower head attached to my sink. I turn a knob on my sink to use my shower, and it's pretty decent really. The shower head is completely movable, which is typical in Japan. They bath before they get in the bath. The bath water is to be clean at all times, and a family will typically share the same bath water. My toilet is pretty much common, save for the water spigot on the top for hand washing when you flush.

If you walk through the kitchen, you get to the main living area. It's about 10 by 10, and the kitchen area with bathroom/toilet is about the same size, maybe a bit smaller. I have a Japanese sofa that is about one half the length of my body, but the arms both fold down. If I fold one arm down, and use my little chair to put my feet in, I can lie down, and that's what I'm doing right now as I type this. I generally lie on my little couch.

I also have a little kotatsu table with a Christmas tree, a VERY small closet, a little desk that I maily throw stuff on, a bookshelf full of Japanese texts, a TV stand, and a nice 'all singing all dancing' Sony WEGA 26 inch LCD wide screen TV. I got it at the bargain price of 150,000 yen marked down from 300,000. That's around 1,500 hundred dollars. It is simply beautiful. On top of my TV are some various Gachappon toys that I have gotten out of vending machines. Mainly Gundam and Eva.

There is also a ladder to my loft next to my TV. My loft is about 10 x 7 and is kinda 50/50 in my living area and over the toilet/kitchen. That's where I sleep at night. I have my futon, and the futons of the past 3 teachers all stacked up on top of one another. There is another bookcase that I use for clothing and displaying my Perfect Grade Gundams. I have three in all. The Zeta Gundam, Wing Zero Custom, and Char's Zaku II Custom. I also have a pegboard filled with pictures of my family and girlfriend that I wake to every morning.

Other than that, there is also a little balcony with a washing machine that I've never used. All in all, it's not the biggest of places, but I like it even though the rent is a BIT high, (around 450/month). But I'm pretty comfortable here, and I'm in a good location. I live next door to a laundramat and a public bath house that I go to weekly. I also live about 400 yards from a big grocery store, and I'm only 5 minutes by bicyle from work.

So there you have it. That's what my typical Japanese apartment looks like. There are bigger ones available for less money on the fringes of town Could be worse. Apartments in Tokyo are smaller and cost more.

Hey man

I actually have a couple questions. First, you said in one of your answers before that to the Japanese, English is "cool", so does that mean since you speak English and all that you are one of the coolest people over there?

Second, because English is cool have you ever noticed that some people want to play games or watch shows in English? Like would someone import a US release of a Japanese game to hear the English?

Third, in Japan do they make fun of American shows or cartoons like how people in America will stereotype Japanese shows as having really long names or the animation as being weird?

Finally, how prevalent is Judeo-Christian symbolism? Like how in animes such as Evangelion or Trigun, or games like Xenogears a number of references to this religious tradition are made. Do the Japanese understand them or is it more of a matter that they've just heard of what's mentioned? Sorry for going on for so long.

Man, you ask some tough questions to answer.... I'll give my best shot, but I make no promises to how accurate they are.

I'd like to think I'm one of the coolest people here, (it goes without saying!) but I don't think being fluent in English makes me any cooler than anyone else. What actually impresses them more than anything is speaking ANY Japanese at all. You say 'Konnichiwa' and they are impressed and call you 'skillful' even if you mispronounce it. Such is the way of the Japanese...

As for the Japanese wanting to play English games, not really. They wouldn't be able to understand it. They have solid grammar skills, but they lack any speaking/listening skills. And they need more vocab, but that's why they have me to teach them these things. They do watch some English with amazement, but I'm not sure how much of it is for 'coolness' factor. It's hard to explain, but it's cool sometimes, cooler others, and not cool at all at times as well. But as far as English TV go, I get pretty much none, save for educational shows late at night to teach English phrases. It's all Nihongo for me.

Maybe, but I've never seen such stereotyping. The Japanese don't really make fun of Americans that much. It's not really in their culture. I'm sure there are occasional jokes though. Can't be helped.

And finally, I don't see much Judeo-Christian anything really, save for the Mormons who are always looking to recruit. There are a few churches in Niihama, but I've never been to one for a service. As for understanding the symbols, I guess they can to an extent, but I doubt it is the same as a Christian's understanding. I guess it's like we can understand Buddhist references, but not so much as a Buddhist. It doesn't mean we don't get things out of what we see, just not everything. Only 1% of Japan is Christian, so I'm betting that they don't fully understand thinks like Eva. But then again, who CAN say they fully understand Eva?

The Final Grumble 

Whew! What a long column. I wanted to make sure that everyone has plenty to read because it might be a bit before Japandemomium updates again. Christmas is in over a week, and I'm going home for the holidays. I'll try to throw SOMETHING on here, but I make no promises for updates. Maybe something small before I head out. Yeah... maybe...

I'll be sure to keep everyone up to date about new PSP games as I play them and if I am able to turn my PSP into a UMD launching machine. Personally, I just want a machine without dead pixels.... At any rate, it's getting late in Niihama, so I'll leave it at this.

Anyway, shoot me some emails for my Culture Corner: Ask Sensei, or leave me a question via IRC in #questions. So far, I've been answering every question I've received. This means that if you send me a question, there's a durn good chance you'll see it on the site.

I hope you all liked my Christmas present to you. The column will be on temporary hold, but it will return when I get back to Japan. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and happy holidays.
Catch you on the flip,

-Jordan "not your average gaijin" Jackson

Past columns are the ultimate re-gift!

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