Archive for the ‘Mid-Term’ Category


Something I have come to realise is that homesickness manifests itself in more than one way. For one girl it is a never ending stream of colds and depression. For another it is lack-lustre and not wanting to do anything at all. Other cry their eyes out and walk around like zombies all day. For me however, it is none of the above. It is manifesting itself in irritation or frustration at a whole variety of things.

My first major irritation is learning to work with Japanese people. I have a lot of Japanese friends, and I enjoy spending time with them, but when it comes to group projects they have away of working which is very different to the way I’m used to working. A month or two ago I would have tried to be more understanding of our “cultural differences”, but right now it is pure irritation. One time I arrived at a final meeting to discuss a group presentation but even though we had decided everything that needed to be organised, such as research typed up on USB drives etc, they all came to the second meeting unprepared, with all the research in Japanese (rather than Japanese and English as agreed) and printed out rather than some kind on some kind of media. But worst of all, they had had their own private meetings (which we had not been involved with or invited to) where they had decided numerous and large changes to the schedule.

In Japanese business society, meetings are only a formality and you do not actually discuss or decide anything new that has not been discussed in private beforehand. But in America and Europe, the whole point of meetings is that they are a time for everyone to get together to discuss the various viewpoints and ideas as a team. It was annoying because although 2 or 3 of us had worked really hard, some of the research we did became worthless. Anyway, I’m not saying that the changes they made were all bad, I just wish they knew how to work more as a team. It is precisely this kind of stuff that I would normally tolerate which is really getting to me.

Its all the little things – like when I received my “mojito” the other night, I was given something that honestly resembled cress soup, so small and so few were the leaves of mint! And it seems that no matter what you order in a restaurant, the base flavour is ALWAYS soy sauce! (Joy, Jenny and I had an amazing meal at Outback Steakhouse involving ribs, Caesar salad, a blooming onion and baked potatoes!)

I miss home, my family and friends, London, properly filling hearty food, Colman’s mustard smothered bacon sarnies, ribena, being able to buy shoes, hearing peoples frank opinions rather than what they should say to protect the social harmony, bars where you can just chill out on sofas, night buses… too many things to mention. This week is really the first time that its hit me.

I guess its true what they say about 3rd month blues.

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Good things that have happened recently:

Went to a free food tasting event for the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Agriculture of Japan, where I was presented with an array of about 30 different types of Japans finest exportable goods. It was slightly scary when they interviewed me and took about a thousand photos, and having to explain why the food was good/bad in Japanese but I got paid 3000 yen (£18) for my gaijin opinion on whether things were good enough to be exported to Britain-land, not to mention all the free samples and goodies I got given, and the added bonus of not needing to cook dinner that night!

I found the illusive 100yen Lawson shop. This is going to revolutionise my life. Almost everything is 100yen and you can buy everything from vegetables and meat to batteries and stationary. And its open 24hrs! Its the ultimate student budget shop!

Planning to go to Osaka this weekend to see もみじ – all the autumnal colours of the changing leaves. Really excited as I’ve never been to Osaka before and as there are 7 of us going then hopefully it should be a fun time!

Bad things that have happened recently:

My teacher adding “improvements” to my woodblock print and making it look bad 😦 Somehow I couldn’t find the words to say “Please stop you are ruining it!”

Doing a role-play of working at McDonalds* in class. I am not learning Japanese so that I can get a McJob! My aspirations run a little higher!  The worst part was that it was right before lunch!

Getting my phone bill…

(*On a vaguely related note, McDonalds in Japan are a taste sensation. No, really. When you get one, the burger is HOT rather than soggy and luke warm, and always actually tastes like meat may have been involved in its production at some point! They also have burgers like the teriyaki burger, the king prawn fillet burger, and the ultimate Mega Mac which is made from FOUR BURGERS. Its like the burger that all other burgers want to be when they grow up.)

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My expensive big toe

I went to a clinic today to check out my toe and after a few X-rays, it turns out that it is in fact fractured. Had a very amusing time trying to communicate with the doctor and nurses using a lot of sign language and very very broken Japanese! I was trying to explain how it happened, but the more I tried to explain it, the more ridiculous it sounded. Luckily, the nurse who put on a mini-removable-cast-cap-thing on the toe in question had a good sense of humour, so we joked about me hobbling around and not being able to wear heels, and the perils of late night karaoke sessions.

We actually covered “going to the doctors” in one of our language classes recently, but its one thing to talk about it and another to walk the walk. Everything is different – you have to carry your insurance card with you before they will even let the doctor see you, and although you don’t have to make an appointment I was seen within about 15 minutes. You also have to pay there and then before you leave; luckily I came prepared and it wasn’t actually too expensive (just £15 for diagnosis and treatment) although I have to go back next week for a check up.

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My birthday, which I was expecting to be lonely dull and boring, turned out to be one of the best ever. No less than 5 people made me cakes (thank you to Rumi, Cynthia and Joy, Diana and a random Japanese girl I don’t really know) and although I hadn’t really planned anything, we sat out in the green area of Nanzan for the entire afternoon in gorgeous warm weather (wearing a t-shirt on my birthday has got to be a first!)  eating sushi and snacks. It was lovely because everyone passes through there and I saw a lot of my Japanese friends and other well wishes during the course of the afternoon. We then spent the rest of the evening at Phucs house eating yummy Vietnamese food.

I don’t really remeber why but for some reason Yasha said something which provoked a response and although I thought I could jokingly kickbox-high-kick him, I actually kicked him in the shin and ended up in a world of pain. I think I may have broken or slightly damaged my right big toe, as it is now black all over. I can kind of bend it but it hurts a lot. Its also very swollen. Is this a bad thing? I havent paid my health insurance yet so I think I will leave it and hope it gets better!

Obviously I am also extremely pleased that my birthday coincided with such a momentous day in the world of politics; Hooray for Obama!! I only know one person who voted against him and they shall remain annonymous for their own safety!! Hopefully Obama will live up to his promises. The fact that he got elected shows that the America is ready for change and I believe that he will have a positive impact on not only america but the world in general. I think the right man won so I’m happy.

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The strange thing about living in Japan is that you can simultaneously feel very at home but also like a fish out of water. I know the language (enough to get by comfortably!), how to get around Nagoya, all the do’s and dont’s of Japanese culture. I know a fair bit of Japanese history. I even know how to say “your pants are showing” in comical sign language. But I am still a foreigner. Now, this does have its advantages – if I make faux pas linguistically or otherwise, Japanese people very generously give me the benefit of doubt! However, I am getting slightly tired of always being treated as an outsider. (If I had 100 yen for every time someone asked me if I can eat raw fish…)

We were trying to get into a members club the other night and my half-Japanese friend George rang ahead to see if we could get without being members. The lady told him that it was no problem, that membership was not required. We then went up to the 9th floor and entered reception, where we were told that George could indeed get in without membership as he is fluent in Japanese and looks Japanese. The rest of us (foreigners) would not be able to enter, since we were not members. As it turned out, Japanese people do not have to be members but gaijin do. And to become a member you have to obtain three letters of recommendation from Japanese friends, proof of valid visa status, an Alien Registration Card, and a completed application form. I could of course join, but would I want to join a club which essentially resents my presence? I wouldn’t mind so much if everyone had to apply for membership but such blatant double standards are something I am not used to.

Anyway, it didn’t really matter. We still went on to have a hilarious evening out! It just goes to show that it is the company you hold and not the places you go which define an fun time.

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Halloween already?

This week we’ve been getting into the full swing of Halloween preparations, which I find slightly strange since it is only mid-October but mainly because Halloween has absolutely no relation to Japan in any way shape or form. What one observes here is a bastardised cutsie replica of American Halloween, which we all know is an over commercialised holiday that was in fact trans-mutated from Northern European roots which in turn were preceded by historic traditions that probably nobody actually knows or cares about .

At least some things are the similar between the UK and Japan. In the UK Halloween is only celebrated by children, and university students who should know better but want an excuse for a party during reading week. Similarly, Japan is all about orange black and luminous green iced fairy cakes; ridiculous fancy dress (I saw a lady making her 8 year old child try on a mobile phone suit costume. At least it wasn’t the one which makes your child look like an over-sized milk carton. I wish I had had my camera on me); and as with all proper festivals here, very heavy drinking.

We’ve done most of the preparations for the party on friday, the entrance to our dorm is plastered in bats hanging everywhere, the DJ station is set up and I’ve even got around to buying a sword for my pirate outfit. Tomorow I am on flyering duty…

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This is how sundays should be:

Wake up late. Go for ice cream at a place where they mash up fruit or chocolate with your favourite ice cream whilst singing you a song and clinking their metal spatulas. Enjoy a bit of window shopping. A quick visit to the pet shop where you can cuddle the puppies. A walk around Sakae waving at random people and making small talk with shop keepers. Finished with a drink or two at a nice tea room with a beautiful aquarium.

And back just in time to make the international food party* and make decorations for the halloween party.

* I may have slightly brought gastronomic shame on Great-Britain-land. My wonderful Scottish friend and I tried to make Toad in the Hole. But they dont have ovens in Japan. Or decent pork sausages. So we improvised using a frying pan. And frankfurters. It did not work. Luckily the Japanese and Americans didnt really know any better! It made me a bit homesick though, shopping and realising just how few home comforts we have here. I try to improvise as far as possible, but its almost impossible to make anything authentic. 😦

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Today I was volunteered into doing a presentation about my seminar class to 200 junior high school students. They came from one of the local school and it was a chance for them to see what university is like and what goes on. Essentially, seminar classes are very different to lecture classes not only in size but in the way they are conducted, so three of the Japanese girls did a fantastic presentation on the kind of topics we cover and the way in which we learn. Towards the end, another exchange student Alvin and I spoke for a couple of minutes about what we liked about the class etc. On hearing us speak Japanese there was a loud chorus of 「かわいい!」”So cute!” and girlish giggles which amused us both! It really makes you feel like you are famous or special. (Apparently life back home is very dry when you are brutally made to remember that in fact you are neither famous or special.)

It was slightly scary speaking Japanese in front of so many people – this was a far cry from our speeches and self-introductions in class! For one thing, there were about ten teachers at the back, three who were videoing the whole thing/taking pictures! We got asked questions at the end, and although the questions were fairly straightforward it felt really good that I could freestyle the answers without any preparation, in fact it was quite a rush!

Whilst we were waiting outside after it had finished, I overheard a couple of the girls ask their teacher if they were allowed to ask us for photographs on their mobile phones! I wouldn’t have minded at all but the teacher shooed them away saying something like, “lets not bother the nice foreigners now, shall we?”.

The great thing about Japan is that on the one hand you do get coerced into doing things like this (with the phrase “we would like it if you would….”) but you ALWAYS get rewarded with mugs, stationary, umbrellas or something else, and today was no exception. Not only did we get a goody bag of Nanzan Stationary, but our Professor Mr. Fujimoto took us out for a slap up lunch at a rather fancy Chinese restaurant!

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One of my favorite things about studying Japanese is the subtlety of this language. A lot is left unsaid, words ommitted or abbreviated, and so one has to rely on context to understand the overall meaning. There is also a lot of variety that we dont have in English, such the different first person pronouns you can use in Japanese. By choosing a particular first person pronoun you can instantly make yourself seem more masculine, feminine, humble, superior or a combination of the above. Choosing the most appropriate word out of a selection of five or six is slightly tricky. But what is more interesting is trying to understand what someone is saying when they use a particular word which has three or four different meanings!!  Japanese has so many homophones that misunderstandings easily occur. “Kami” can mean 紙 “paper” 髪 “hair” or 神 ”god”. Japanese people argue that the pronounciation is different, and whilst this may be the case I still have to rely on context to know which one they mean!

Luckily I am allowed to make mistakes as I am not a native speaker, and when I do it is cause for laughter rather than offence. Since the last few days have been peppered with examples, I want to share two which stood out.

On Saturday I went to Nagoya Port and to see the aquarium which was a lovely day out. As soon as we got there my Japanese friend said to me 「さかなみたい」. Now, depending on the context and how it is written or pronounced, this could either mean 「魚見たい」 ”I want to see the fish” or 「魚みたい」 ” (something) looks like a fish”, but the difference is very minimal to the untrained ear. Since we were at an aquarium, it really wasn’t very clear which she meant. To add to the confusion, another friend said 「魚食べてみたい」, which means “I want to taste the fish”. Whether they meant the ones swimming around in the tanks in front of us or ones fresh from the port was unclear, although I hope they meant the latter!

On Thursday evening I decided to get my hair coloured at a place nearby, and on my return to the dorms I met a couple of people I hadn’t seen in a few days. When they asked about my new look I replied “I just got back from the Beauty Parlour”. Unfortunately, the word for Beauty Parlour/Hairdressers is very very similar to the word for Hospital and my friend looked at me half shocked and worried until we both realised my mispronunciation, at which we burst out laughing!

So whilst learning a new language can be a minefield, it is also incredibly funny if you take a step back and laugh at your own mistakes.

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