Before moving to Tokyo, I taught English in a countryside prefecture known as Tottori. I loved it there. My only complaint was my noisy neighbor that liked to play taiko drums early in the morning (usually between 5:30am – 6:00am). He would open all the doors and windows so that it could be heard by all. He would play to no discernible rhythm and consistently modulate the tempo making it all the more irritating.
Unfortunately, the place where all the noise was coming from was a Shinto shrine.
But why should places of worship and the fallible men and women that run them be exempt from criticism? If church and state are indeed separate in this day and age, then I should be able to proceed as if I were complaining about noise from a dance club or pachinko parlor. I had always been told that Japanese almost never complain directly. For example, a noisy neighbor would hear any complaints via the apartment building landlord.
But what about a foreigner? Could a foreigner even complain in Japan—let alone about noise coming from a shrine? This was going to be an interesting social experiment.
Things I Miss About LA
Things I Don't Miss About LA
Things I Love About Japan
Things I Don't Love About Japan
I have a story for you, and it's quite disgusting really. But this is me you're talking to, so that's what you get.
Anyways, I'll get to the point.
I went on an all-day road trip to visit the ninja villages in Japan. It was 4 of us: me, Susumu, Shinobu, and Yoko. Anyways, we stopped to eat in Kyoto on the way back to Tottori. We had this epic feast mostly consisting of tofu dishes. They served tonyu, which is this milky, heavy type of tofu. It's like a dessert. This was my first time eating it.
Well, it didn't sit too well on my stomach, and I actually got a mild case of the shits right there in the restaurant. I went to the bathroom, and took care of it. Problem solved, right?
I'm a major slacker when it comes to studying Japanese, so my New Year's resolution was to seriously up my game when it came to my language studies. I waded through a lengthy internal debate--should I go with an online language learning service or traditional classroom study? Online is generally considered more cost-effective, but classroom can boost motivation with its consistent face-to-face human interaction (aka social pressure, aka a kick in the rear-end). My fear with the online thing was like that of a gym membership. Would I sign up and never go? That would be a damn shame...
A long-time free member of JapanesePod101.com, I decided to pull the trigger and try their premium plus subscription. Why did I go with this? Because it seemed to offer a bit of the best of both worlds--their entire online learning library along with access to a real Japanese teacher. My hope was that the human teacher would give me a solid kick in the pants once in a while to keep me on a righteous academic path.
In true "Mondaiji" style, I summarize the good and not-so-good of my experience below.
At yesterday's office drinking party, some Japanese coworkers told me they were amused as they overheard me on the phone struggling to spell-out my email address to an older Japanese woman. My mind flashed back to earlier that day: Wiping beads of sweat from my brow, it felt like 30 minutes passed as I grudgingly navigated shaky communication waters. In the end I was successful, but I vowed to drastically improve my workflow.
Indeed--I often grapple with spelling-out English words or names for Japanese people. The most common example is when I have to provide my email address or the romaji spelling of my name to a Japanese person over the phone. My long foreign name combined with my company's longer foreign name make this an (unwelcome) Japanese communication challenge. I wondered how Japanese people deal with this situation, and I discovered that they rely upon place names to clarify the letter they're spelling. For example, they'll say something like 「アメリカのA」.
Unfortunately since we Americans use uncommon words like "bravo" and "foxtrot," or person names like "Alex" or "Mike," the American approach doesn't function well in Japan. Therefore, working with some native Japanese speakers, I developed the following phonetic alphabet for spelling-out English words. This list is now posted next to my office phone, and I eagerly await the next time I have to spell-out my email address. がんばります！
I welcome feedback and suggestions. Enjoy!