Picture This…

Yes, I know…long time no post. I’ve been home in Australia for three and a half months now and paperdoll has taken a backseat to the adventures of resettling back into life here. I admit it…and I apologise. What can I say? I love being home and every time I sit down to write paperdoll I get distracted by…well…everything.

Having said that, lately the first signs I may be missing Japan have crept in (natsukashi)…it started with a craving for ramen…then there was an emotional reaction to a letter from one of my past students…and let’s not forget that living with my parents again has me pining for my 42m² Japanese apartment. Every. Single. Day.

Yes, I have begun to miss Japan and all of it’s crazy, quirky ways. But much like A Picture Says a Thousand Kanji, when I am missing Japan and need a fix, I can just picture this

Sleeping in Japan

Japanese student letter

English signage in Japan

Japanese dessert

Stretching

Dashboard

Takeout menu

Japanese antenna

Japanese fashion

Japanese Kit KatsEnglish sign in Japan

Japanese laundry

English in Japan

Japanese Hello Kitty Mask

Japanese shredder

Japanese Aquarium sign

Japanese glitter suits

Japanese Pepsi flavour

Japaese toilet paper

Japanese Clothing Engrish

Japanese fashion

Funny English in Japan

Japanese Architecture Osaka

Japanese Beauty Products

Japanese giant vegetables

Japanese sign

Train etiquette in Japan

Japanese gift explanation

Japanese fashion

Japanese trinkets

Japanese fashion

English textbook Japan

Japanese ice cream

Japanese toilet slippers

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese signage

Japanese cars

English in Japan

English in Japan

English in Japan

Japanese fashion

Japanese beauty products

Japanese toilets

The Good, The Bad and The Aussie…

In case you didn’t hear me shouting the news from the rooftops, I finally got off that island (Japan). I escaped from the bubble. I jumped ship. I got the truck out of dodge. After three years of life as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), I hitched a flight home to Australia and those people who had begun to forget they’re my family. Some of you might be wondering what will happen to paperdoll now that I’m back? Surely without 400+ junior high school kids and the perils of culture shock to contend with every day, I mustn’t have much to write about now? I beg to differ…

I’ve only been back in Australia a month, but I’m already experiencing reverse culture shock after living abroad for six years (yes, there were another three years in the UK too…my addition skills aren’t that bad). So you see I’m home…but I feel like a foreigner in my own country. Even my family can’t believe I’m back for good and I swear my mother keeps pinching herself every time she sees me (which is a lot…since I’m living with my parents again…but that’ll be a whole other blog entry).

Right now, Japan and the UK are my most recent reference points for home and Australia is this strange land I am getting reacquainted with. As I get resettled, I will continue to write about my aventures in Japan (I still have so much to say about it all) and these new experiences of reverse culture shock…or as I’m now calling it…the good, the bad and the Aussie

The Good…

My family.

It’s the end of April…mid Autumn, with winter coming…and it’s around 25°C every day. Forget hellish Japanese winters!

NO MORE SQUAT TOILETS.

Squat_toilet_Japan_culture_shock

The Bad…

Green tea in Australia sucks. Period.

Red lights actually mean stop, not three-more-people-can-make-it-through-the-intersection-still.

No road cones to feed my weird addiction…

The Aussie…

People wave acknowledgements of kindness from their cars instead of bowing or flashing their hazard lights.

I can say spesh, noice, netty, chook, suss, arvo, sanga, Maccas, cuppa and all other manner of Aussie slang and be understood.

Meat pies.

The Good…

The earth doesn’t shake every day…or…well…ever.

I don’t have to eat rice.

I now work for myself and I love it (WARNING: imminent, shameless self promotion: threefold.com.au)

The Bad…

Australia stinks…literally. After living in Japan I can’t handle strong fragrances anymore.

The speed limit is actually the speed limit.

NO ORIGAMI PAPER.

koala2

The Aussie…

Everyone is up for a chat…the postman, the checkout chick and the pizza guy…

Men. With the ability to grow facial hair. With muscles. With height. With masculinity. Enough said.

Tim Tams, Vegemite, Caramello Koalas…nomnomnom…

The Good…

Anonymity. Sweet anonymity.

One word…organic.

I keep reaching for XL size clothing in stores…only to remember I’m not a giant in this country.

The Bad…

I can feel my Japanese ability leaching out of my brain with every English conversation I have.

Small showers.

No fan club of adoring teenage kids to stroke my ego every day.

The Aussie…

Competitive sport.

Fresh, un(less?)polluted air.

Thongs are things people wear on their feet and there aren’t many Kiwis, Americans or Brits around to refute the point.

The Good…

I can enjoy a restaurant meal without having cigarette smoke billowing in my face.

I don’t have to carry a wad of cash around in my wallet (though the card charges from my first night out in Australia might make this a moot point…).

I sleep on a bed…not the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Bad…

No rainbow of KitKat flavours…though this might in fact be a good thing…

My Converse addiction will cost me double than what it did in Japan.

No amusing Engrish.

kinkakuji toilet sign

The Aussie…

Triple J music.

The Hills Hoist in the back yard…which virtually snap dries my clothing immediately.

This…

Who Cares if They’re Naughty or Nice?

Three weeks before Christmas, I initiated an ‘English Christmas Challenge’ for my students. The concept was simple…if they wrote me a Christmas story or letter in English, I would write them a reply and give them a small present in return. The only rules were that they had to write a minimum of three sentences and they could only receive two presents…any letters after that were purely for the joy of corresponding with me in English (ha).

Two days and 20 letters into the challenge, the teachers started calling me ‘Santa’ as I wandered the halls giving out presents from my Christmas stocking (it’s all about the theatrics…not the hundred yen gifts). With a total of 434 students, I started to wonder…had I bitten off more than I could chew? Come the end of semester, was I going to end up with carpal tunnel from hours of writing replies? Would I be rocking myself in the fetal position having nightmares about the 2nd year boys trying to pillage my stocking?!

I came to realise that children can be bought (quite cheaply apparently) and by the end of the challenge I had received 164 letters in total. I had been Santa to these kids and received letters from all kinds of students. From the ones who can write English in their sleep to the ones who still can’t spell their own names after three years of study. From the kid who never opens his English textbook in class, to the cute little 1st year girl who writes to me every week. The letters and the students who wrote them were many and varied, but in the end I realised… who cares if they’re naughty or nice? As long as they use English…

There were the cute letters with declarations of adoration and love…

There were the comments/pictures regarding my appearance…

There were letters about music (good and bad)…

There were the students channeling Yoda into their writing…

There were the sweet talkers (who were clearly only in it for one thing)…

Then there were the unexpected presents. Some cute…

And some not so cute (a picture of Arashi and a scrunchie)…

And some just weird…like ear buds these pellets that expanded in water?!

There were the letters to make me laugh…

There were the letters containing Engrish…

Oh and then there were the letters from the Gods…

And lastly, there were the hand made Christmas cards from my special needs students…

The experience was possibly more entertaining for me than the students but nonetheless, it got them reading, writing, listening and speaking English more than they would on a usual day.

While I am secretly glad I don’t have 20+ students writing to me every day, I was happy to receive these cards in the mail over winter break and know that at least some of the kids will continue writing for the joy of an English exchange with me…even now that the presents have dried up and Santa has retired…

Still, Only in Japan…

…are VPL (Visible Panty Lines) acceptable in public…or at all.

…are Lilo & Stitch actually popular.

…are snowmen made of only two parts and not three.

Japanese Snowman

…are people only considered sick if they have a fever.

…are you expected to fully wash yourself before getting into a bath.

…are aprons a fashion statement for housewives.

Still, only in Japan…

…does sock glue need to exist.

Girl's gotta have sock glue...

…do shop assistants yell ‘irashaimase’ (welcome) at you repeatedly throughout the duration of your time in their store.

…do elementary school children raise their hand in the air to cross the road.

…does using your hazard lights give you the ability to break any traffic law without penalty.

The hazards of driving in Japan

…do most houses not have an oven.

…do construction workers warm up before starting work with a stretching routine that resembles the YMCA.

…do people’s car dashboards look like a Disney Store shopfront.

Shoe horn?

Still, only in Japan…

…is playing the pokies/slot machines deemed an enjoyable pastime for people under retirement age.

…is it considered rude not to slurp your noodles/soup/tea/any edible substance.

…is Christmas celebrated with KFC and sponge cake.

KFC Christmas

is dancing illegal.

…is there an irrational fear of bugs.

…is a 2.4km race referred to as a ‘marathon’.

Still, only in Japan…

…can peanuts appear on the school lunch menu at least once a month without a student going into anaphylactic shock or their parents suing the school.

…can a person face jail time if a stranger drinking in the same bar as them gets behind the wheel of his car and breaks the law.

…can you make a sport out of sumo and geisha spotting.

Sumo spotting

Geisha stalking

…can I step out of my front door, walk 100 metres in any direction and find a vending machine.

…can trying to heat your apartment become a game of Russian roulette.

…can you find cleaning products sold in gift sets.

Cleaning gift pack? Oh, yes please!

Still, only in Japan…

…will people send New Years cards, as opposed to Christmas cards.

…will you find people own cars bigger than their apartments.

Giant car

…will the movie title ‘This Means War’ be changed to ‘Black & White’.

…will a cars be given names like ‘moco’…which means ‘booger’ in Spanish.

…will you see teenage boys being more openly affectionate with each other than dating couples.

Still, only in Japan are there so many cultural quirks that I could write this threequel to ‘Only in Japan’ and ‘Again, Only in Japan’

A Hard Pill to Swallow

Here in Japan, I avoid going to the doctor like I avoid dating J guys. Aside from my yearly compulsory medical check, I’ve only been twice since my arrival (my last experience during The Cold War is still fresh in my mind). I don’t think anyone likes going to the doctor, but with the additional cultural and language differences, the encounter can become a complete nightmare.

So you can imagine my delight when I realised my contraceptive pill was running low. Trying to avoid a visit to a J doctor, I tried (and failed at) all other possible methods of pill acquisition (save a flight back home, that is). Alas, since my doctor in Australia wouldn’t write a prescription for my sister to mail me (something about it being illegal to send prescription drugs overseas? Pfft), I knew I had to face the unwanted challenge of seeing a doctor here yet again.

I had been warned that getting the pill in Japan would not be as easy as back home (a once a year visit to my GP for a blood pressure check and the $20 repeat prescription) and sure enough, Japan did not disappoint. In fact, the whole experience was a hard pill to swallow

Pill 1. 8:35am, arrive at clinic full of people…forgot that 8:30am opening time in Japan means queuing from 7am.

Pill 2. Make self known to reception, where five staff members (and aforementioned full waiting room of people) stare at me. Whisper discreetly the need to see gynecologist (can’t just see GP for the pill in Japan).

Pill 3. Reception lady asks something in incomprehensible Japanese. Look at her with confused expression. Nicer lady comes to the rescue and am asked in easy Japanese if this is first visit to the clinic.

Pill 4. When answer yes (surely obvious as am quite distinct), am given complicated form to fill out asking kanji, kanji, kanji. Fill out the few questions possible: name, gender, smoke?, drink? (realise the 600+ kanji learned to be Tried and Tested are of absolutely no use).

Pill 5. Return form to five sets of beady eyes at reception, apologising for inability to read form. Nice Lady proceeds to ask loudly, in front of entire waiting room, as to the reason for need to see gynecologist (am teaching 434 kids in a town with a population of 48,000…at least one student’s uncle’s cousin’s father’s daughter was listening to exchange).  Am utterly mortified and no longer think of her as ‘Nice Lady’.

Pill 6. Told to wait for name to be called. Wait. Waiting room of people stare at me (glad others are entertained).

Pill 7. Hour later, name is called. Am ushered into doctor’s office by Short Nurse.

Pill 8. Dr.G (as he will be referred to…due to lack of self introduction) points to chair, proceeds to ask questions about medical history without eye contact or remote hint of friendliness.

Pill 9. Dr.G asks many personal questions. Married? Have kids? Want kids? Want the pill so don’t have kids? All the while scribbling notes. No actual medical examination carried out…not even blood pressure check. Find this mildly concerning.

Pill 10. Dr.G asks if one sheet of the pill is sufficient (month’s worth). Heard from Dr.Japanese Friend this is standard, but if pushed, three month prescription might be issued. Stare Dr.G down, not relishing thought of  repeating torture (and expense) every month for remaining time in Japan. He offers two sheets. Continue to stare him down. He relinquishes and offers three sheet prescription.

Pill 11. Manage to communicate to Dr.G that regular Japanese pill is not acceptable (have heard stories of side effects and lack of effectiveness). Request equivalent to current Australian pill. Dr.G approves of challenge…possibly only one in his week. He takes Australian pill packet and am told to wait in reception while investigation carried out.

Pill 12. Am approached by Short Nurse in the waiting area…assume to provide an escort back in to see Dr.G. No such luck. Short Nurse returns Australian pill packet in front of entire waiting room. Die a little inside.

Pill 13. Am then informed (loudly, in front of everyone) that equivalent pill was found, Dr.G had called pharmacy and is not in stock. Am directed by Short Nurse to pay for doctor’s visit and see pharmacy next door to resolve delivery.

Pill 14. Pay ¥3,500 for humiliating affliction (am not charged by doctor at home) and breath sigh of relief when leave clinic.

Pill 15. Am braced for more humiliation as enter pharmacy. Am surprised when greeted by lovely pharmacist who sits and (discretely) reads the a form of kanji, kanji, kanji questions to ascertain allergies etc. Decide to like pharmacy better than clinic.

Pill 16. Am told prescription will arrive in a week. Leave pharmacy completely drained from morning of exposure and repeated humiliation.

Pill 17. Return to pharmacy week later to pick up pill. Greeted by different pharmacist who thinks Japanese is easier to understand when yelled. Abhor being talked to like deaf person (have perfect hearing…last medical check proved it).

Pill 18. Deaf Talker pulls out pill packets in front of waiting room of people and proceeds to give five minute lecture on how to use the pill (feel like stupid teenager when in fact have been using the pill for ten years). Reevaluate previous estimation of pharmacy being happy place.

Pill 19. Pay ¥6,500 for three month pill prescription. Leave.

Pill 20. Weigh up stress and emotional pain of repeating procedure in three months versus a pill-less life.

Pill 21. Take a look at pill packet when arrive home. Contemplate hysterectomy.

A Pain in the Proverbial…

It’s no secret that Japan is littered with examples of misappropriated English…or Engrish, as we foreigners like to call it. The bane of an English teacher’s life in Japan, Engrish is everywhere…on clothing, in restaurant menus, on stationery…and most frequently…on toilet signage.

In all of those instances I can grit my teeth, take a photo and present it on facebook or Paperdoll (remember A Picture is Worth a Thousand Kanji?!) for the amusement of people all over the world. But when the mistakes appear repeatedly and right under my nose at school, it becomes a real pain in the proverbial

It seems that the teachers and students forget that they have a native English speaker at their disposal to consult in matters like these, before ‘going to press’. But this is Japan and the stubborn mistakes will persist…and besides, sometimes they get it right…in more ways than one…

Backchat…

Last week was the first week back at school after summer break…and a lengthy six weeks off. After the freedom of such a leisurely lifestyle, the start of school was probably more dreaded by ALTs than students (who pretty much still have to go to school every day  in that time). When school went back, Facebook became the soapbox from which ALTs could moan about the misery of hot classrooms, hours of sports day practice and early starts once again.

I on the other hand (surprisingly), was pretty excited about my first week back at school. I had actually missed the kids (well…not all of them) and was looking forward to catching up with my teachers after my ‘Soba Up‘ experience. With all this anticipation I must have been exuding some good vibes, because in my first week back, I have been rewarded with some interesting and amusing back chat both in and out of school…

First day, first lesson back…

Me: ‘How was your summer vacation?’

Student: ‘It was great!’

Me: ‘What did you do?’

Student: ‘I did sex!’

In the teachers’ room…

Me (in Japanese): ‘Excuse me, T Sensei? (who I haven’t spoken to since my bike had a puncture two months ago) I have a favour to ask you…’

T Sensei: ‘Yes, what is it?’

Me: ‘Well, umm, it seems as though my bike has a puncture again…and well…you look really busy…but I was just wondering…if you could…maybe…?’

T Sensei: Shaking his head and laughing, ‘You want me to fix it again?’

Me: ‘Yes, I’m really sorry! You don’t have to do it now, just whenever you have time is ok.’

K Sensei (who was listening in to the entire exchange decides to offer his two sents worth in English): ‘Carla Sensei, no problem!’ Pointing to T Sensei, ‘Professional!!!’ Laughing.

T Sensei: Gives K Sensei a death stare and immediately goes and fixes the puncture on my bike.

I felt so bad about T Sensei that I left this ‘thank you’ present on his desk the next day…

At the grocery store after school, a little old man sidles up next to me as I’m bagging my groceries…

LOM: ‘Konnichiwa!‘ Smiling broadly at me.

Me: ‘Konnichiwa’ Smiling back.

LOM: ‘Chikaku (Do you live nearby)?’

Me: ‘Hai, chikaku ni sunde imasu (Yes, I live nearby).’

LOM: ‘Aparto (In an apartment)?’

Me: ‘Hai, aparto desu (Yes, in an apartment).’

LOM: ‘Sayonara!’ Walks away smiling.

In class with my third year students…

O Sensei: ‘Ms.Carla, what did you do during summer vacation?’

Me: ‘I went to Morioka and did the Wanko Soba Challenge. I ate 60 bowls of soba.’

36 students simultaneously move their eyes from my face to my stomach.

At the teachers’ drinking party with the second year social science teacher (who may have a slight thing for me)…

SS Sensei: ‘If I could take you on a date, first we’d go for a walk in the park. Then we’d go and eat spaghetti. Then I’d take you to karaoke and sing ‘Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma, c’mooooooon Caaaaaarlaaaa.’

Lunch with Class 3-1…sitting next to Ayumi…

Ayumi: ‘Summer vacation. Australia.’

Me: ‘You went to Australia in summer vacation?’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes!’ Screwing up her face, ‘Hamburger, on, red vegetable…NO LIKE!!!’

Me: Giggling, ‘Ahh, you don’t like beetroot?!’

Ayumi: ‘Yes, yes! NO LIKE!!!’

In the third year hallway between classes…

Female Student: Pointing to male student, ‘Up, up!’

Me: ‘What? He got taller over summer?’

Female Student: Looking disgusted, ‘Noooooooo! Dick up!’

On the sports field practicing for sports day with Kazuki…

Kazuki: Grinning upon seeing me, ‘Ms.Carla, Ms.Carla!!!’

Me: ‘Hi, Kazuki!’

Kazuki: Looking very excited and gesturing a lasso above his head, ‘Ms.Carla. Cowboy game, c’mon!’ Dragging me out to the middle of the sports field.

Me: ‘Ok, Kazuki…teach me. What do I do?’

Kazuki: ‘Ball, guruguru’ Repeating his lasso gesture with a rope and ball in hand, ‘Hit!’ Pointing to a road cone sitting on a desk about four metres away.

I complete the task, knocking the cone off the desk on my first attempt. I turn around to be greeted to applause from the entire second grade…they had been watching the whole time.

At the teachers’ drinking party…schmoozing with the big guys…

Sports Sensei: ‘Carla, you’re drinking red wine tonight?’

Me: ‘Well, I was drinking beer, but now I’m drinking red wine. I prefer red wine.’

Vice Principal: ‘Yes, Carla is a strong drinker!’

During English class with 3-4…

Me: ‘Yudai, you have to write your name in English on your worksheet.’

Yudai: Gives me a blank look (Yudai is a jock and a low level student who is notorious for distracting the whole class).

Me: ‘Kengo, can you please show Yudai how to write his name in English?’

Kengo: ‘Sure!’ Writes ‘Youdie’ and grins at me proudly.

It’s now the second week back at school and as the heat continues I hope this back chat does too…

Soba Up

Regular readers of Paperdoll will know that I have become rather cynical about life in Japan of late. After two and a half years here, the culture has slowly worn me down and it has become easy to focus on the bad rather than the good. Despite being a realist and on occasion a cynic, I do try to make the most of my circumstances so this plunge into negativity is rather unwelcome.

It’s lucky for me then, that my favourite teacher at school, Tennis Sensei (from the tennis club mafia), asked me to join her on a two day road trip to the north of Honshu to partake in the famous wanko soba noodle eating challenge last week. Tennis Sensei is around my parents’ age, but has a great sense of humour and spirit for life so we get on famously. A frequent traveller and always up for an adventure, I really feel like she is preview of what I will be like later in life.

Our relationship is so easy and comfortable these days that I didn’t think twice before agreeing to take this trip with Tennis Sensei.  Despite having avoided speaking Japanese of any sort since being ‘Tried and Tested‘ just over a month ago, I had no fears about having to speak Japanese for a whole two days with her…in fact I found myself looking forward to it. I don’t like that I have become so negative about life in Japan and I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to Soba Up and be reminded of all the upshots of life in Japan…

Up and Away

On the journey up to Morioka (home of wanko soba), Tennis Sensei surprised me with a stop in Hiraizumi to see the UNESCO World Heritage site, Chuson-ji Temple. Having not done any travel since spring break, it was lovely to be reminded of the history and constructed beauty Japan has on offer.  The visit was made all the more special with Tennis Sensei there, happily explaining to me the significance of every building and statue, since my kanji reading ability is no match for the descriptive plaques found on site.

To balance the visit to Chuson-ji temple, we also stopped in at the gardens of Motsu-ji Temple. Sadly, the beauty of the lake was somewhat diminished with earthquake damage still prevalent, even 18 months since the event. A pertinent reminder that the areas north of where I live are still suffering the effects of March 11th, 2011 and that these people still continue to rebuild their lives and their country.

Soba Up

Already starting to feel more compassionate about the country I reside in and the people that kindly allow me to teach their children, our destination provided the food and fun portion of the trip. Tennis Sensei has been telling me about Iwate’s famous wanko soba for the better part of a year, so it was amazing to finally partake in the eating challenge with her.

To sum up the challenge for those that have never heard of it (or engaged in it): You are seated seiza style at a table with various soba condiments and a designated waitress. Said waitress is there to top up your soba bowl every time you empty it…usually spouting encouragements such as ‘mada mada (you aren’t done yet)’ and ‘jun jun (you’re getting there)’. The waitress stacks the empty bowls next to you in columns of 15 to keep count of your progress. When you are fit to burst, you have to stealthily get the lid on your bowl before the ninja waitress can dump yet another soba shot in for you to eat. This should give you a fair idea of what it’s like…

My suspicions that Tennis Sensei is as competitive as me were confirmed when we sat down to eat. Her previous record was 32 bowls…which she cleared easily when she saw I was nowhere near finished at that point. We had been told that women usually average between 30-40 bowls, but Tennis Sensei only politely bowed out at 55…looking rather green at the effort. But she refused to let me stop…taking my lid away and joining forces with the waitress in getting my bowl count up. At 60 bowls I managed to outsmart both of them and got the lid on my bowl…signaling the finish of my effort…and the end of my soba eating days for good.

I consumed 60 bowls in 60 minutes…a far cry from the record of 559 bowls, but not bad…considering 15 bowls equals one normal sized bowl of soba. I even got a little plaque to commemorate the effort…just because I am a foreigner.

Up sized

After the post soba grumblings of two people who ate far too much and an overnight rest to let all those noodles settle, we started the journey home. Once again, we had a stop on the way home…this time at Genbi-kei Gorge, for some more food. This time it was dango, a famous Japanese sweet made from rice, but delivered with a twist…across the gorge from maker to consumer!

The delivery team (having spotted my blond hair…even across the gorge), kindly displayed an American flag over their balcony, played the American national anthem and sent me a free dango set for coming to visit them. Tennis Sensei and I didn’t have the heart to scream out that I’m actually Australian and so humbly accepted the gift and the accompanying applause and photographs taken from onlookers. These complete strangers had managed to make me feel so welcome and special in the space of five minutes…and given me some memories to last a lifetime.

Speaking Up

Tennis Sensei is my favourite teacher at school because she is infinitely patient with my slow Japanese and always takes the time to explain difficult concepts or new words in easy Japanese for me. Not only that, she is always genuinely happy to take time out of her day to come and chat to me. I’m never nervous about speaking to her and these two days were a great opportunity for me to get in some much needed speaking practice.

The conversation on our trip was never stagnant…we talked about everything and anything. Most amusingly, because we are so similar, topics often ventured into territory I would never dream of broaching with most Japanese people. I got all the behind the scenes gossip from the teachers’ room (who hates their job, who’s pregnant, who wants to be pregnant, who is stressed to the max…) and Tennis Sensei and I even exchanged our ‘Top Three Most Attractive Male Teachers’ list.

Surprisingly, Tennis Sensei also told me that most of the teachers desperately want to get to know me better but are all too nervous to speak to me, in either English or Japanese.  She told me that our head teacher in particular is very envious of the relationship I have with Tennis Sensei and would love to have more conversations with me. Armed with this knowledge, and my new found excitement for speaking Japanese again, I will be making great efforts to talk with all my teachers when school goes back, and specifically our head teacher.

Onward and Upward

Last week’s trip with Tennis Sensei was so positive and has really helped me get back into a better frame of mind about my remaining months here in Japan. Most days I feel like I am swimming upstream in this culture and I feel like I am up against it more often than not. It’s easy to start ignoring the good and focus on the bad, but just a short break spent with a true friend, seeing all the beauty this country has to offer has helped me soba up.

I had forgotten the warmth and graciousness of Japanese people and this time away has helped restore my faith in why I am here, doing what I do. Japan is full of people who are generous of heart and truly want to make foreigners feel welcome. I feel ashamed that I had started to close off from life here, but thankfully Tennis Sensei helped me wake up to myself and now I can get back to enjoying Japan again…

Tried and Tested

I, the defendant, Carla Bianchi, plead guilty to the crime of taking the N3 (upper intermediate) Japanese Language Proficiency Test without adequate preparation. On Sunday, July 1st, I did knowingly enter into the N3 JLPT to be tried and tested on my Japanese language skills without the necessary ability to ensure a pass verdict.

The general public might have expected me to plead not guilty to the charges laid against me. Having recently had a string of bad dating experiences with Japanese men (the last was married with children…I’m officially cured of Asian Fever), it stands to reason that my lack of preparation for the exam could be attributed to a disinterest in engaging such perpetrators.

That defense will not hold up in court however, and I must own the guilty plea and stand trial for my alleged crime. All that stands between me and a pass or fail verdict now is the evidence and the jury…

Evidence for the defense

Exhibit A shows that I already have an N4 JLPT pass verdict in my criminal file. This prior conviction was obtained in December 2010, a whole 18 months prior to this trial.  So it stands to reason that my Japanese knowledge and general language acquisition abilities should have naturally improved in this period of time, regardless of the lack of premeditated study…giving me a greater chance of obtaining a pass verdict.

Exhibit A

In addition to my defense, N3 is the newest level to be added to the JLPT system (only having been introduced in 2010) and as such, very little study material or past papers are on hand to help as study weapons. While vague lists of kanji, vocabulary and grammar exist, N3 is a largely deemed the ‘wild card’ test. Even after cramming my brain with 600 kanji and almost double that in vocabulary since my N4 exam, there was no way to be sure I had covered all the material that might be required for my trial. Extenuating circumstances warranting a pass verdict no doubt?

The most compelling argument for my defense is that Japanese is an undeniably difficult language to learn. Google ‘Top 5 most difficult languages to learn’ and Japanese will appear in nine out of ten lists as a perpetrator…often featuring as one of the top three most notorious criminals, along with Arabic and Chinese. The person who made the tenth list (where Japanese doesn’t feature), clearly hasn’t been a victim of its difficulty. Add to this evidence that language acquisition does not come naturally to me, and the jury should look on me with a sympathetic eye.

Closing argument for the defense would like to point out the less than ideal conditions at the scene on the day of the alleged crime. Test applicants were told it was admissible to wear a watch into the exam…but not necessary. Having had my watch battery abandon me a week before the test, I faced trial without a timing device…only to find there was no clock in the test room.

There were no facilities to purchase food in or around the scene of the alleged crime either. Try taking the JLPT when your hands are shaking from low blood sugar levels and see if you can secure a pass verdict. Add to this the mitigating evidence that an assailant in my test room read all the test questions out loud and another tapped their pen on the desk for the duration of the test. The jury should see the additional stress I was subjected to on the day of the alleged crime and perhaps issue a pass verdict on the grounds of temporary insanity.

Evidence for the prosecution

Japanese as a language is difficult, but kanji does come naturally to me. The pictographic representation of words appeals to my sense of logic and ability to problem solve. For example: 消 (extinguish) + 火 (fire) + 器 (utensil) = 消火器 (fire extinguisher). Not only that, there are just some kanji (Exhibit B) that you couldn’t forget if you tried…

Exhibit B

But despite this natural ability with kanji, the majority of the vocabulary needed for the N3 JLPT centred predominantly around politics and business. I have very little interest in these two topics in English, let alone Japanese, making the task of studying even more challenging. With the inability to retain such vocabulary, the jury could see fit to issue a fail verdict.

The most compelling evidence for the prosecution to ensure a fail verdict is that my prior N4 conviction was achieved within a mere nine months of arriving in Japan. A 60% overall result was required to pass, and I attained 73%. This 73% score was secured through endless hours of study, enthusiasm and conviction to the task. Despite having double the amount of time to prepare for the N3 JLPT, the prosecution could easily convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt that far less vigor was given to the task this time around.

In closing, in December 2011, 49,235 people sat trial for the N3 JLPT. Of these examinees, only 39.9% received a pass verdict. The prosecution rests its case.

Verdict

The jury is still out and a verdict won’t be in until September. Pass or fail, who knows? It’s a hung jury right now. I am already considering my options and council strongly advises I launch an appeal and retake the exam in December if the verdict comes back fail…if I’m willing to be tried and tested again…

You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long When…

…your body suffers withdrawal symptoms after a day without rice.

…you accidentally write ‘r’ instead of ‘l’.

…you’ve become obsessed with ridding your home of ninja insects.

…you own more chopsticks than cutlery.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you have permanent RSI from filling out forms.

…you choose green tea over black.

…you get excited about curry rice for school lunch.

…you deem a trip to Starbucks or McDonald’s a ‘Western fix’.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…you’ve taught three kids…from the same family.

…you know the names of any Arashi members.

…you fold your rubbish.

…you’ve collected so many key rings you prefer to use your spare key instead.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…’Oh, Japan’ has become common vernacular.

…you forget that aprons should not be worn in public.

…you’ve begun to curse Ibaraki drivers.

…your list of hobbies include purikura, origami and misanga.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…sleeping on a bed has become a novelty.

…studying for the next JLPT is a way of life.

…you have in your possession an umbrella (or many) of unknown origin.

…you contemplate climbing Mt.Fuji for a second time. Or worse, a third time.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

…eating Chinese food feels like a variation in diet.

…you’ve tried at least some of the buttons on the NASA toilets.

…your Japanese speaking ability begins to surpass your English one.

…you feel the compulsion to produce bunny ears in every photo.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when…

natto and/or umeboshi become palatable.

…you can read katakana easily.

…you’ve contemplated buying (or have bought) a matching Adidas tracksuit.

…you lock your bike, but leave your wallet/phone/valuables in the basket.

You know you’ve been in Japan too long when most of your conversations end in ‘I need off this island’.