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September 2003 - I've Arrived in Tottori, Japan

After a very hectic week of training at the AEON West headquarters in Okayama, I arrived in Tottori, Japan.  Training week was crazy busy, but kinda funny.  Our dorm was like Gilligan's Island--no TV, Internet, or any connection to the outside world.  We were lucky to have running water in that place.  The 2 trainers were really friendly and supportive, so they turned the training into a beneficial learning experience.  I left Okayama feeling better prepared than I had expected to be.  We each taught 3 full-length classes to real Japanese students.  I have yet to use the monkey puppet I love so much because he's still in LA.  Plus, I'm not sure if I can work him in cuz I'm supposed to encourage the students to talk to each other (and not a freakin' monkey puppet).

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The Shrine Drummer

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.

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Things I miss, don't miss, love, and don't love

Things I Miss About LA

  • the mahi-mahi burrito (baja style) from La Salsa
  • drinkin' wine and playin' NBA Jams for Super Nintendo with my best friends
  • having stuff in English
  • movie theaters that seat like 1500 people and make you go deaf
  • watchin' laker games
  • having a car
  • clubbing in Hollywood
  • watching "Family Guy" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
  • Costco
  • 24-pack of beer in bottles for
  • $18 (see Costco)
  • beer from countries other than Japan
  • a good martini in a glass the size of my head
  • no snow in the city, but then driving 1.5 hours to go snowboarding
  • drinks the size of a trash can and free refills!
  • eating Mexican food at 3 am
  • Georgio's pizza delivery
  • forced air heating
  • living in the same time zone as your friends
  • using feet, miles, and Fahrenheit as units of measurement
  • dinner at Islands (Island fries with ranch dressing)

Things I Don't Miss About LA

  • sitting in traffic on the 405
  • taking a deep breath of carbon monoxide-infested LA air
  • the 60 minute commute to work
  • doing anything and finding a million people there with the same idea
  • crazy winos potentially with guns
  • those damn SUVs everywhere
  • corporate America (insert double-barreled fingers here)
  • the massive piss I have to take after drinking 4 trashcan-sized cups of whatever at a restaurant

Things I Love About Japan

  • speaking complete nonsense in Japanese and having people still be ultra nice to you
  • T-shirts with really bad Engrish on them
  • people who get really excited when you speak Japanese to them
  • walking down the street at 2:00 am in downtown Tokyo and not feeling like I'm gonna get shot or raped or both
  • people who don't know a word of English, but think it's cool when you speak English
  • okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and gyoza
  • messing with the NHK guy
  • asking a simple question at a store and having 6 people scramble to help you
  • not having to give anyone a tip...ever
  • acting like I don't speak a word of Japanese when in fact I understand most of what you just said to me (see NHK guy)
  • having random people ask if they could take a picture with you
  • getting a haircut, then also getting a shiatsu massage and a drink
  • using foul language and slang and having people not know what the hell you are saying
  • my cell phone has a PDA, a digital camera, a TV, DVD player, email, a color screen, Internet access, and a time machine
  • getting free drinks at bars
  • heated toilet seats
  • it's considered cool to have a big nose here
  • clubs and bars that don't close until 5 am

Things I Don't Love About Japan

  • having to speak Japanese to get anything done
  • 12-pack of beer in cans for 3000 yen (about $28)  OUCH!
  • why does everyone have to smoke??
  • do they have to write EVERYTHING in Japanese??
  • buying a postcard and having it wrapped in 6 bags, then having the receipt wrapped in 8 bags
  • watching a show about "the rules of using chopsticks," and realizing that you have broken every single rule and done every possible taboo thing
  • that damn metric system

The Kyoto Poopie Incident

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?

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JapanesePod101 - The Good and Not-So-Good

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, 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.

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Spelling-Out English Words For Japanese People

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!

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