Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Off To Tokyo!

Well, everyone, I'm off to Tokyo! That is, I will be on vacation from Friday until the beginning of January. Meaning this blog won't be updated for about two and a half weeks. You can expect to see another entry, detailing my trip, shortly before my birthday on January 12th. Until then, I wish you all a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2011


"My, you're looking quite dapper today!"
"Why, thank you!"

I have a habit of complimenting people, no matter where they are from. I've always perceived those little changes, like a new haircut or a new pair of shoes, and responded with approval to blast away self-conscious worries. But in Japan, sometimes I am at a loss. My experience with Japan is that while giving compliments is perfectly fine, accepting them is not.

In my Japanese language class, we studied the proper ways to accept a compliment from a peer or superior. Most of the responses were along the lines of "oh, that's not true," but my favorite and most often used one has to be "no, that kind of thing just isn't so." The Japanese language is built for talking down one's own accomplishments and strengths while praising someone else. It's a deflective mechanism I rarely witness in the United States; usually the recipient of a compliment will say "thank you" and move on.

An anecdote from when I lived with my host family: my host mother came home from the salon with a new hairstyle. My host brother and I were sitting at the table, eating lunch, when she came in. I immediately noticed and complimented her, but my host brother poked me in the ribs and said "Don't do that! Now I'll have to compliment her too!" I found that pretty funny.

Any time I complimented my host mother, whether on purpose or unintentionally, she would make a strange gesture with her hands that resembled churning butter, or perhaps stirring a big pot of soup with two hands. I believe this gesture is akin to calling someone out for "brown-nosing," as I have seen it employed many times by my other (older) Japanese friends.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Japanese ATMs

Coming from America, the land of the privileged, I was completely shocked to learn how restrictive Japanese banks and ATMs are. In a cash-based society, you would except ATMs to be available 365 days of the year. This, however, is not the case.

In Japan, most post offices have ATMs, and many people open bank accounts through their post offices (myself included). However, post offices are closed on weekends, meaning you must be certain to withdraw your money on Friday, enough to last until Monday.

Luckily, stores like 7/11 are open 24/7, and for a surcharge you can withdraw your money using their ATM. Unfortunately for me, my lackadaisical nature often results in me paying these surcharges to make it through the weekend.

Christmas is the biggest spending season of the year, isn't it? Well, you might be surprised to know that most banks close their doors and their ATMs from the 31st of December to the 4th of January, effectively cutting you off from your money for half a week. I have heard rumors that this does not apply to 7/11 ATMs, but I can't be sure. New Years is fast approaching, so we will see...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Blood. No, not the gross kind! Blood types. Whether you love them or hate them, you have one. Personally, I have no idea what my blood type is. I'm 99% sure it's not O, though. But if you ask a Japanese person, they will more than likely be able to tell you. Not just that, but they will be able to read your personality if you tell them your blood type.

In Japan and Korea, it is believed that a person's blood type can reveal many intimate details about their personalities and their compatability with other people, in the same way that Horoscopes in America try to offer vague insight about such things. Ultimately, though, this is just another stereotype perpetuated by scientific racism, similar to phrenology.

In Japan, blood type compatibility is often used in women's magazines, daily horoscopes, matchmaking, and celebrity profiles. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this, known as bura-hara (blood type harrassment). It can lead to profiling, bullying, and division of social groups. Imagine interviewing for a job and having your potential employer ask you "what is your blood type?"

In all honesty, I have never been intrigued enough by this nominal trend to identify my own blood type. Although Japanese natives tend to balk when I tell them I don't know, it's never made into a big deal with foreigners.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Friendly Neighborhood Bonenkai

The word bonenkai is represented by three well-known kanji: forget, year, and gathering. It is a ceremony held across Japan at the culmination of every year, meant to celebrate the completion of another successful orbital period.

These parties are held amongst coworkers, involving heavy drinking and overnight trips. This year, all of the teachers from one of my junior high schools are going to stay overnight at a ryokan, which is something akin to an old-fashioned Japanese hotel. I was invited, but I will be partying in Tokyo at that time. According to this very-hard-to-read Japanese website, bonenkai go as far back as 1400, the Muromachi Period of Japanese history.

Japanese parties are an opportunity for coworkers, who must always act formal around each other as dictated by the unspoken laws of society, to shed their business facades and commingle in a more informal manner. These types of parties are always organized with a set fee to cover expenses, ensuring that everyone pays the same and receives equal treatment. It is a serious attempt by colleagues to make sure everyone is included, one of the many things I appreciate about Japanese culture.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

People in the Streets

One thing that has been gradually annoying me more and more is the state of roads in Fukushima, along with the mindset of the people who drive upon them.

This is a picture of a typical road where I live. Note: lack of a railing on the side of the road. Lack of a pullover area on the side of the road. Lack of any lines denoting the middle of the road, or whether passing is permitted. Sharp turns without warning signs. A steep drop-off to your left, which would leave you in the middle of a rice field. No light fixtures whatsoever, whether they be traffic lights or street lights.

Yes, this represents an average commute for me. Now, imagine that the road is wet, slick with freshly fallen rain. It is pitch black outside, because after 5pm the sun is on its way to the good ol' USA. The driver coming the opposite direction thinks that his brights need to be turned on at all times, even when he is driving toward another motorist. This represents an average evening commute for me.

As you might imagine, it gets frustrating after a while. It is much more dangerous than driving in my hometown, I assure you. But the dangers don't stop here! Plenty can also be attributed to the other motorists themselves, and their disregard for even a semblance of safe driving. Driving twice the posted speed limit. Passing cars on two lane highways in no passing zones. Tail-gating through winding mountain roads. Driving through stop signs. Breaking suddenly to make a sharp turn. Turning from a parking lot into traffic without regard for said traffic. Turning on their hazards, in the middle of their lane, and exiting their vehicle to buy a soda from a convenience store. Yes, this happens.

I wish I could say these are not indicative of the drivers where I live, but it is. More often than not, drivers in my village will pull these stunts, putting both me and other drivers at risk. It makes me wonder what sorts of things they teach at driving school in Japan. Do they teach you how to brake? It's true that every country with roads has its share of bad drivers. But I believe my little Japanese village of 7,000 people has a much higher percentage of bad drivers than my hometown in Oregon of 36,000.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #56: Tokyo Up, Down

So, an amusing anecdote for all of you.

My friend Yuiichi was helping me buy a bus ticket to Tokyo today. As we were trying to decide, I noticed the "Engrish" version of the website had buttons saying "Seat UP" and "Seat DOWN."

"Hey, Yuiichi, what do those buttons mean?"

According to him, "Seat UP" refers to any bus going to Tokyo, while "Seat DOWN" refers to buses coming from Tokyo. During the feudal era, lords would often have to go to Tokyo for a few years and live there. In a way, they were like hostages, kept there to ensure that their fiefdoms did not rebel. Whenever someone would go to Tokyo, they would go up to Tokyo, and when they would return, they would come down from Tokyo.

The Japanese equivalent for these English terms are nobori and kudari, which mean "climb" and "descend." I take that to mean that, as the capitol of Japan, Tokyo was seen as an important place, technically "above" other parts of Japan. What I find most interesting about this exchange is that these types of phrases are still used even today. I'm sure American English also has unique quirks like this, though I can't immediately bring any to mind.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pic of the Day: Santa Claus

Well, there was already plenty of Christmas stuff lining store walls in November, but now the season has come out in full force! Because Japan doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving (and why would they), there is no holiday buffer between Halloween and Christmas. This means that as soon as November 1st rolls around, Santa and his friends are already taking up shelf space. Today is December 1st, and my local market has kicked it up a notch with a giant inflatable Santa Claus, surrounded by all sorts of cute, cheap, and expensive holiday trinkets.

Merry Xmas!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yo-yo Girl Cop [2006]

I used to have a movie review blog. That was back in college, when I watched a movie a day for my film major. For every movie I watched in class, I needed to watch one at home as a sort of palette-cleanser. These days, I don't watch many movies--many one or two a week. I'm a little burnt out.

Yo-yo Girl Cop has been sitting on my hard-drive for a few months now. My guilty secret is that I'm a j-pop fan, and this film stars one of the artists I like--Aya Matsuura--as a teenage delinquent who is enlisted by the Japanese police to track down an organization of terrorist bombers. I think the reason that I didn't watch it for so long was because I knew it wouldn't be very good.

Japanese entertainers have a very short shelf-life. Unlike American movie stars, comedians, and other entertainers, Japanese "talents" fade from the limelight in just a few short years. Aya Matsuura was big between 2000 and 2009, but since then she has faded as well. This film was made in 2006, at the height of her popularity. It is obviously a star vehicle for the pop singer, and as you would expect the soundtracks biggest pieces all star Matsuura.

The plot is wafer-thin, involving the singer infiltrating a Japanese high school and befriending the students in an attempt to find the terrorists. What follows is a series of random coincidences that somehow lead to the discovery and apprehension of the culprits. Most of the characters had strange and unbelievable motivations. The main villain justifies his crime spree with "it's just a game."

But the worst part is that the yo-yo fighting, which is considered so essential to the plot that it is incorporated into the title, only appears in the last twenty minutes of a two-hour movie. To be fair, the yo-yo fighting is pretty cool, but up until the climax the director is just baiting us with shots of Matsuura reaching for her yo-yo, thinking better of it, and then leaving it alone.

I wouldn't watch this movie again, but I would watch the final battle on Youtube. The last twenty minutes is probably the only part worth seeing, unfortunately.

Monday, November 28, 2011

School Cleaning

In Japanese schools, the students participate in a lot of activities and jobs that would, in America, usually be handled by trained professionals or employees. In particular, I am refering to the jobs of cleaning and serving food.

I have already discussed the nature of school lunches in a previous post. Students eat in their classrooms--there is no cafeteria--and serve their own food. Students are put in charge of obtaining the food, delivering the food, serving the food, and disposing of leftovers. Did I mention the students are also responsible for cleaning most of the school?

There are designated times between classes when every student is required to pick up a broom or grab a dust rag and clean as many surfaces as they can. The majority of Japanese schools do not employ janitors for the simple reason of teaching their students useful life skills. One could argue that if Americans spent some time cleaning and serving in school, they wouldn't grow up to be such terrible customers.

Anyway, students clean the blackboard, toss trash, sweep the floors, and even do the dishes in the teachers' room! If I leave a stray coffee cup on my desk, they will snatch it up with their talons and wash that sucker! Much of this relates to building a community and relationships with fellow students, sharing a similar work ethic. I like this quote:

"Education is not only teaching subjects but also cooperation with others, ethics, a sense of responsibility, and public morality. Doing chores contributes to this."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pic of the Day: Ska DJ

I went to a ska dj show in Koriyama last night. A group of ska "enthusiasts" rented out a bar and dj'd all night. The music was good, a combination of old American music and old Japanese music. I was able to learn about many interesting bands I'd never heard of before, and temporarily relieve the stress in my life. Ska, despite its volume and erratic sound, relaxes me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holidays: [Labor] Thanksgiving Day

So, Wednesday was the closest thing I will get to Thanksgiving in Japan. Known as  (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō kansha no hi), it is a holiday celebrating labor and production, and all of the things they bring us. Frankly, I think it is more akin to Labor Day than Thanksgiving, as Labor Thanksgiving Day is bereft of turkey, stuffing, and potatoes. This is yet another holiday that was established in Japan following the ratification of the Japanese constitution in the aftermath of WWII.

Pic of the Day: Separated At Birth

This is me, at the movie theater, standing next to a cardboard cutout of Kaibutsu-kun [Monster]. He is the star of a movie premiering in 3D soon overseas. Apparantly, the property the film is based on is a comic from the 1960's, regarding a monster kid and his friends: Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. They go around having wacky adventures together. Sounds like fun for the whole family!

Here is a link to the movie trailer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pic of the Day: Purikura

This is a picture of my friends and I in Tokyo, using one of the purikura machines I have mentioned in previous posts. Just a fun and nostalgic reminder that I'll be visiting them in December!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pic of the Day: Ika Wrestler

Back when I was in college, I watched a funny Japanese movie called Squid Wrestler, which was about a giant talking squid that becomes the best wrestler in Japan. Today, while walking through the train station in Sendai City, I think I found his real-world counterpart. I don't know what he was selling, but I'm probably not the target audience. I'm human.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pic of the Day: Nutritional Balance Rangers!

You thought the Power Rangers were cool? Well, check these guys out--the Food Rangers, made by one of my workers. You have Drink Blue, Grains Yellow, Meat & Eggs Red, Something Green, and Whatever Pink. I actually wasn't following them too closely. But, wow, they look awesome!

Pic of the Day: Stove

In Japan, the word stove is used to refer only to household heating devices. It does not apply to a kitchen stove, which is called a かまど. Recently, my school installed several "stoves" in classrooms. This is a picture of the stove they've installed in the teachers' room:

It has been placed directly in the middle of the room, making it very inconvenient to walk around. Be careful not to touch it! The stove has no cover, so touching any of the exposed metal will burn you. A pan full of water (or sometimes a tea kettle) is placed on top of the stove to absorb some of the heat. Not to make tea. As you can see, there is a huge metal tube running from the stove to a window, so that smoke from the gas-powered behemoth doesn't flood the room.

Good ol' Japan!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Taimatsu-akashi Festival

 Over the weekend, I attended Taimatsu-akashi, the "Torch Festival," in Sukagawa. Considered one of the three best fire-related festivals in Japan, this one has a 400 year old history. According to my friend, it is a celebration dating back to when residents built massive torches to scare away a feudal lord who was trying to sack their city.
The torches are sponsored by schools and businesses, and constructed by the city. Students then carry small torches from the base of the hill where the giant torches are standing to the summit. From there, trained professionals take the torches and use them to set the larger ones aflame.
 As you can see, this is a line of children carrying the very hot (and dangerous) torches.
 They had an extra torch, so I was also allowed to carry one. Needless to say, the fire was hot!
 These are the pillars that the smaller torches are used with. The writing on each pillar is the name of a business or school. There were perhaps a dozen in all.
Trained professionals took our torches at the summit and hung them from a wire, creating a fence of fire (!) that we walked past when we were finished.
 Afterward, I went back down to the bottom of the hill and watched a taiko show.
 You can see the pillars aflame in the background; it looks like the forest is on fire but don't be fooled! Unfortunately, the summit was too crowded and the police stopped admitting people, so this is the best photo I was able to manage.
This is what remains of a giant wooden castle built and painted to resemble the city's former castle. The story goes that the residents lit an effigy of their castle on fire to convince the invaders that the city had already been sacked. At least, according to my friends.

It was a lot of fun and I'd like to go again next year, so I can have a better view!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

School Lunches

I eat lunch at school every weekday, sometimes with the other teachers but more often with the students. It is a good way to practice English and learn more about them.

Known as
kyuushoku [給食], Japanese school lunches are mandatory meals served to all students between 4th and 5th period, around noon. The meal is specifically made to adhere to a certain set of guidelines concerning its content. It must be healthy and is prepared exactly the same way for all students, no exceptions. Each meal costs around 300 yen (roughly $3.50), and can add up to 5,000 yen (almost $60) per month.

An average school lunch comes with milk, miso soup, some sort of meat, a small salad, and a bowl of rice. The food is delivered by truck every day to each school, where it is then served by the students themselves, who alternate during any given month. No one is allowed to eat until the class leader gives the okay [by saying "itadakimasu" in Japanese, the equivalent of "grace" in English]. The students are taught to eat everything on their plate, and those who finish quickest are sometimes lucky enough to receive second helpings. The students then clean up all of their empty dishes and recycle their milk boxes.

Things to note: there is seldom any dessert besides a piece of fresh fruit, meat is perhaps the smallest portioned food, and all of the food is made fresh, daily. It's honestly the best meal I eat every day. Unless they're serving edamame. Yuck!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #26: Unicycles

In 1989, the Japanese Ministry of Education had made it a part of the national physical education program for all third and fourth graders to ride unicycles. So almost everyone in the country has ridden a unicycle at some point.

Many schools offer unicycling classes and encourage kids to join unicycling clubs, not just because unicycles are fun but also because they help develop a sense of balance. Almost any elementary-school-age kid can learn to ride in just a week, and can become an expert after a few months of practice.  

Each year, the Japan Unicycling Association has held an official contest in the Kansai area, where unicyclists are ranked from levels 1 through 10 according to their skills.  

I think it's pretty fascinating that something like a unicycle, considered a specialty vehicle in America, is so widely acknowledged in Japan.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Culture Day [November 3rd]

Yesterday in Japan, we celebrated Culture Day [文化の日 Bunka no hi] in my village. This holiday was established in 1948 to commemorate the post-war constitution. Before that, November 3rd had been celebrated as the Meiji emperor's birthday, [天皇誕生日 Tennō tanjōbi].

Culture Day is a time for villages and cities to hold parades or festivals. In my village, groups of volunteers carried small mikoshi through the streets, performing rituals and collecting donations to be used in future village-sponsored events. The mikoshi, or divine palanquin, is a small shrine carried on the shoulders of four or more people. The shrine is said to contain a god.

In the ritual, the mikoshi is brought to the door of a home or business. The occupants make a donation and the mikoshi's attendants perform a short dance. The occupants imbibe a small amount of sake and receive a long-stemmed flower for their donation.

I walked around, carrying one of these palanquins, for no less than ten hours. It was an arduous task.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #73: Kotatsu

 Like I mentioned in my previous post, Fukushima is cold. According to a coworker, this morning the weather was -3C. I don't know if I believe him, but I do agree that it is really, really cold. I wore an entire sweatsuit under my business suit this morning to keep from freezing in class. That's why, when I'm at home, I like to relax under my nice, toasty kotatsu.
 What is a kotatsu, you ask? Well, it's a table with a heater built into it, in the past a charcoal brazier built into the floor. As you can see from image one, the heater plugs into the wall and sends a soothing wave of warm air onto your lower extremities. The futon, known as a kotatsugake, keeps the heat collected under the table. It is a completely unique experience you will not find in America.
I was fortunate, in that the previous occupant of my apartment left his kotatsu to me. Although I did have to purchase a futon myself, I still ended up saving about $200. In Japanese families, the kotatsu is often a way of bringing people together. Entire families will congregate under the kotatsu for warmth and have the opportunity to interact. Sadly, I live alone...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Insulation in Japan

It's November in Japan, and it's finally starting to get very, very cold. On average, the weather in my village is somewhere between 10 and 15C (remember, 0C is freezing). I'm going to school wearing heavy coats and underarmor. The heater in my car is always running.

Unfortunately, my schools have neither air conditioning nor central heating, meaning that it's very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Last week, one of my vice-principals brought in a couple of gas -powered stoves to try and warm up the teachers' room. In Japanese the word "stove" does not refer specifically to cooking appliances, but also to heaters. Gas stoves are cheaper than electric stoves. Though I use an electric one, my school uses a gas-powered one.

The biggest problem is my apartment. Most old Japanese homes to not have insulation. As you know, thermal insulation is used to keep the inside of buildings at reasonable temperatures. This type of insulation is meant to increase energy efficiency and save money. However, most Japanese homes are still made without insulation and without double-pane, glazed-glass for windows and patio doors. This means the flow of air between inside and outside is unimpeded. Still, you will find insulation in homes farther north, like Hokkaido, where insulation is mandatory for surviving the sub-zero winters.

Instead of using central heating, Japanese make due with all manner of electric and gas devices. They prefer to heat the rooms they are using instead of the entire house. Perhaps this is because in the feudal era Japanese homes were heated by fires in the middle of the home, using a square in the ceiling to release smoke. In the modern age, it seems impractical to suffer the cold and ignore central heating when it and insulation are such viable and cheap options.

The reason my schools tell me they do not cool in the summer nor heat in the winter is that the cost is too high. Yet another reason to insulate these buildings! My own apartment is only ever about 5 degrees warmer than the outside. I've heard the average lifespan of a house in Tokyo is 30 years. After that, it starts "dying." If this is true, then maybe that's another reason for no insulation.

I guess I'll just keep freezing until I find an answer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Unique Japanese Grammar

I just learned this from my vice-principal, who was telling me about how kanji are necessary for understanding Japanese. The example he gave was 貴社の記者が汽車で帰社した, which (without kanji) looks like きしゃのきしゃがきしゃできしゃした.

It is pronounced [kisha no kisha ga kisha de kisha shita] and means something along the lines of [this newspaper company used to be a train company]. It's similar to saying "I will be present to present you with a present in the present."

I agree with him, kanji is interesting and useful. But it's still tough!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I have edited the "comments" for my blog. If it worked, anyone should be able to post a comment to any post. Give it a shot!

Workin' Overtime

In Japan, a major part of business culture is unpaid overtime. Japanese business culture is very different from American business culture. In Japan, upward mobility in a company is more often related to seniority than skill. A substandard employee who has been working at the company for ten years will be promoted long before an employee of exceptional skill who has only worked there for five. After graduating from high school or college, employees often stay with their first companies until they retire.

Japanese jobs can be very stressful for newcomers because they demand the most from young employees. There is a Japanese term, Karōshi, which literally means [death from overwork]. Usually, this type of death is a direct result of overwork, stress, and unpaid overttime. The Japanese government will often award money to the families of victims. Though I'm not sure how the Japanese government diagnoses victims, statistics indicate that hundreds of employees are afflicted every year.

The Japanese Labor Standards Law states that [employees are to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week and any work above that should be paid 25% more than usual rates]. Unfortunately, in many cases this law is blatantly ignored. In some nursing homes, employees worked from 50~100 hours per week. At my own school, the teachers will often stay hours after their shifts have ended. No one goes home until after the principal leaves. I know this because the principal lives right above me, in the upstairs apartment. My principal will be at work from 7am to 7pm. My vice-principal, often much later. I know this because my vice-principal is my next-door neighbor.

As a foreigner, I am not expected to adhere to these unspoken rules. I put in 30 hours a week and never stay later than I need to. This is not a part of American culture, and I doubt I would be able to perform this job if I was expected to meet the same strenuous expectations.

Needless Surgery

Cold weather is on its way. By November, it will be dropping down to freezing in my village. In Japan, the winter weather brings out surgical masks in droves, strapped on the faces of men, women, and children. It can be a hassle, especially when I am asking a child a question and they respond with "mffmmfbbfmfm."
As I'm sure you know, surgical masks can be beneficial when trying to avoid getting sick. They prevent bodily fluids from entering your mouth, provide a barrier to reduce the spread of germs expelled by coughing and sneezing, and prevent people from touching their mouths after touching a potentially disease-ridden surface.
You can find surgical masks in any drugstore. They also sometimes come with patterns like the ones in the picture above. While it may seem like the only reason to wear one of these masks is to stay healthy, that is only half of the reason. In Japanese culture, it is expected that a citizen would show consideration for their peers by preventing the spread of disease. More than staying healthy, it is a way of demonstrating you possess a sense of social responsibility.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Japanese Country Roads

As an American driving in rural Japan, I've had to adjust to many new rules and regulations. No turns on red lights, one-lane highways, motorbikes skirting the median line, etc. Like the idea of a "common speed" in America, Japan also has many unspoken motor quirks. I can live with most of them, but the one that causes me frustration is the one pictured above. Japanese drivers will often park in the street if they are making a short stop. The picture above is a one-lane road, meaning that I would have to drive in the opposite lane to pass this car. Not only that, but the store where I took this picture actually has a parking lot. The driver is simply too lazy to park his/her car.

It may seem like a small thing, but the fact is that this style of negligent parking comes at the expense of other drivers' safety. Last night, I was driving down a rural road with no light save my headlights. A driver had parked their car in the road, and if I hadn't been as focused as I was, there may have been an accident. To park your car in the road, for any length of time and without even using the hazard lights, is a dangerous decision that you may one day regret.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Two of a Kind

I know I've discussed counters on this blog, but I can't remember if I've discussed plural form. Well, it never hurts to enjoy a refresher, does it?

In English, plural form is shown by tacking the letter S on to the end of words. In Japanese, this is not the case. Japanese plural form, known as fukusuu, is incredibly complicated because it relies on context. In fact, at first glance it might seem that Japanese does not have a plural form! For example:

my book - watashi no hon
my books - watashi no hon

Notice a difference? No? That's because there is no difference. The only way to tell singular and plural apart in Japanese is context. Is the speaker holding one book or two books? Does the speaker own one dog or five dogs? Is the speaker introducing you to their daughter or their daughters?

The best solution to this confusing grammatical form is to be specific when describing amounts. Instead of watashi no hon, say watashi wa hon ga isatsu (I have one book). By using specific amounts, I've been able to avoid many misunderstandings. This lesson directly relates back to my previous language post, regarding counters, because knowing how to use counters in Japanese will make plural form significantly easier.

Obviously, this is not a good starting point for anyone who wants to learn Japanese as a second language. It is simply meant to illustrate one of the many quirks between English and Japanese. Learning how to use plural form is a first-year lesson, but usually comes after sentence structure and verb forms have been learned.

Host Clubs

Host Clubs, part of the "Water Trade" in Japan, are clubs that cater to those who seek companionship on lonely nights. These clubs represent a type of nightlife that is rare in Western culture. Their target demographic is lonely, single women. For this reason, the clubs are staffed exclusively by attractive young men. What these young men (hosts) offer is an attentive ear and drinking conversation. It wouldn't be far-fetched to refer to the trade as "emotional prostitution."

Host Clubs are found mostly in Tokyo and patrons can easily run up bills of over a thousand dollars in a single night. These clubs often serve very expensive alcohol, like champagne, that female customers are pressured into purchasing by their male companions. Hosts are paid to flirt, entertain, and converse, but never to engage in anything physical. Many young men flock to this type of job because the prospect of high commissions seems enticing to someone with no special job skills.

Female customers select their hosts from a menu that contains pictures and short biographies. While patrons are free to choose any host they like, they are expected to eventually settle upon a single host to "keep" as their personal favorite. Ultimately, the business strategy of these clubs is to satisfy their clients emotionally, without resorting to sex. Hosts will often contact their preferred clients outside of business hours and entice them to return, becoming frequent customers.

Hostess Clubs also exist, and in fact Host Clubs rose in response to their popularity. To learn more, I recommend watching the short documentary "The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief." It is a very interesting look at a part of Asian culture that is not well known amongst foreigners.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Village Tour

I spent some of my free time this weekend strolling through my village, attempting to see if I'd missed anything interesting. I took some pictures along the way, so that I'd be able to show you the village's most famous assets. Prepare to be amazed?

 First on our tour. The only clothing store in my village. Which only stocks women's clothing. If you're a man, you're either naked or you're taking a one-hour trip to the nearest city.
 One of the half dozen restaurants in my village. I rarely eat out because most of these restaurants serve food that I can make myself. Why pay eight dollars for curry rice when I can cook it myself for a fraction of the price (and cook it better, in my opinion). I do like the architecture of this place, though.
 The Home Depot of Fukushima, Komeri. This is where you shop for anything you can't buy in a grocery store. They sell kitchenware, bathroom supplies, even furniture! The parking lot is often crowded by construction vehicles, since half the store is full of hardware (I never go to that side).
One of the two grocery stores in my village. Of the two, this one has a better selection. It's not a great selection, but it has almost everything I want. One thing you'll notice if you shop in Japanese grocerie stores is that their food appears to expire very quickly. For example, they'll sell loaves of bread that expire on the same day. The food is always good for a couple weeks longer than advertised, but it's strange that they label them as such.
 My "office" isn't in the village center, so I have to drive a mile or so away to get there. There are also a couple of flower gardens nearby that I hear are beautiful; this isn't the weather for flower viewing.
 This is one of the only bars in my village, but it's been closed since I arrived. Who knows how long it's been out of business?
 Too bad, because it looks like a fun place.
 Most of the village looks like this. Farmlands full of delapidated buildings and trees.
 Random statues on the side of the road.
 The "Buckle Your Seatbelt" Turtle! Right now, he's saying "Drive slowly."
This business provides box lunches to the whole of my village. Here, it's common for employees to order these box lunches (bento) and eat them at their offices, instead of going out for lunch or bringing a sack lunch.
 One of the twelve barbershops in my village. Twelve barbershops in a village of 7,000 people. It sounds like a waste of resources, doesn't it?
 This is the entrance to my village's welcome center. I don't think I've ever seen it staffed before. It's pretty small, and is just a room with some brochures, next to a bike rack and a set of public bathrooms. Pretty dreary way to say "welcome."
 The stationary store / makeup store. You can buy a pencil for your homework and a pencil for your eye at the same time!
 Family photography studio. I came here to get a photo taken for one of my junior high schools.
 There are three post offices in my village, but this is the only one where I can do wire transfers from Japan to America. The other ones are both really small. This one at least looks important.
 I believe this is a senior center of some sort. I'm not really sure.
 I have no idea what this place is. It was tacked on to the senior center.
 Even though my village is small, Highway 49 runs straight through it. You can take 49 all the way to the ocean, where the radiation is, or you can take it in the opposite direction, to Koriyama, a normal city where even men are allowed to purchase clothing.
 One of those boxes you see on the streets with monthly events. It looks disused, and there is only one event per month, since this appears to be an annual or bi-annual calender. Also, notice the heart on the left. In Fukushima, we see these everywhere. It says "Good Luck, Fukushima!" You will see variations of this, such as "Good Luck, Koriyama" or "Good Luck, Japan!" They are just supportive posters made in the wake of the nuclear problem.
 I guess they're doing some construction on the village hospital. Whoa! A new thing!
 One of the few bars in my village. I've never been here because I obviously can't drink and then drive home. Although we do have a taxi service.
 Another restaurant. It doesn't look too appetizing from the outside...
 My village's hospital. I came here about a month ago. The place is nice-looking on the inside, and most of the customers are elderly. I estimate about 70% of the population in my village is over 40.
 The rehabilitation center.
 The second of two grocery stores in my village. It has a really weird parking lot, so I don't go there too often. Also, the selection is smaller than the one I showed before.
 I think this is a bar?
 Here's my problem with Japanese business: often, they don't look like businesses. They look like the outside of someone's house. So how do you know if you're walking into a business or walking into some guy's living room? I play it safe and just avoid these places.
 Wow! I actually didn't know our village had a cab company. I learned one new thing about my village today.
"Island Taxi. Because Japan is an island but you're still drunk."
 I can't remember what this is.
 A ramen joint, "Miracle." Pretty good ramen.
 Kitchen Marufuku. I came here once for a drinking party, but I don't know what sort of cuisine they actually serve. They are usually closed.
 The village bakery. Has some tasty little cakes, but honestly the selection is very limited.
Finally, what village in Japan would be complete without a casino? This casino was so cheap that it used graffiti for its sign. "Slot Whatever." The parking lot has about half a dozen cars at any given time, so I don't imagine they're doing much business.

That's my village. Sorry that it's so small! Maybe one day they'll build a Walmart.