Friday, June 29, 2007

Host Family Update

There are some times when I think about everything I have been involved in here in Japan, and I can't help but be amazed. I could go on and on about all the fascinating things I have been involved with while an exchange in Kochi, Japan, but one of the most special things, at least to me, is the relationships I have had with my host families. I consider myself, probably one of the most lucky exchange students in the world, for this fact. Now, don't get me wrong, every situation, every moment, has not been easy. I think I'll save that for another time, though. In the meanwhile, I wanted to update about how my amazing families have been.
Captain Jack Sparrow and Masaki Okasan are, as always, genki. Genki is a Japanese words that doesn't have an exact English meaning. But I suppose it has some meaning in combining active, energetic, healthy. And when it comes to the Masaki's, I might also like to add a little craziness. Since my move to the 4th family, I haven't had too much time to visit the Masaki's, however, I managed to stop in today. Yesterday, Captain Jack texted me and asked me to come to his house today after school to discuss the upcoming Short Stay Students Dinner. A delegation of 25 New Jersey students are coming to visit Kochi for a few days, in which Captain Jack is in charge of the committee. He was so eager and proud when he was asked if he was up to the task of organizing the Kochi portion of the trip, but now that the event is nearly here, he seems nervous and quick to get angry. Last weekend, I emailed him and asked if he was ready for his big English speech, and he emailed me back that he hated English and that I ought to be doing the speech. Grr... So I went to the pharmacy a day later, and demanded an apology, to which I got something to that effect. But today, Captain Jack was fretting severely, as I walked through the sliding doors of the pharmacy. I was, as always, in an overly genki mood, and suddenly feeling very nostalgic. The weather was the same horrible humid disgust that I had been exposed to on August 17th, when I fist arrived in Japan and walked through those pharmacy doors. It was all coming back to me, as I took stroll down memory lane, only to wake up and see Captain Jack staring at me with an unreadable glance. He then explained that since he is the leader of the Short Term program, he has to do some the introduction speech alongside of his favorite gaijin daughter. He had it all written out and planned. He was going to say in English, "Good evening everybody!" While I was to say, in Japanese, "Minna-san Konbanwa!" Next he would go, "Welcome to Kochi!" and I was say "Yokoso Kochi-ni!" Then I would pause and say, "Otosan?!? Machigai. Anata wa Nihonjin desu yo. Nihongo shabate kudasai!" (Dad? There's a mistake. Your Japanese! Speak Japanese!" After he recited his speech idea, he asked me if it was as hilarious as he hoped. I admitted it was funny, but that most of the American kids would have no idea what he was saying. He didn't seem to mind, because he was going for the comedy in the Japanese. I took it upon myself to add a few extras, which I knew would be hilarious for the Japanese. After I tell him to speak Japanese, he then tells me to speak English, to which I say, "Muri, Muri, Muri! Eigo ga wasarechouta!" (No good, bad idea, unreasonable! I forget English!) What makes it really funny is that some of the words I use are Tosa Ben, which is the form of speech only spoken in the Kochi prefecture. In effect, I'm a gaijin who speaks like a total hick. Captain Jack and Masaki Okasan nearly wet themselves at my new creation, and I knew I had not let him down in the comedy department. We practiced the speech a few times, including in front of the Masaki's business partner, who roared at my hillybillyness. She then complimented my Japanese, to which both Masaki's agreed, "Julie is definitely a good speaker of the language."
On Monday night I got a text message from Okasan Osaki. "Julie, how are you holding up in this weather? Next week the exchange students are coming. Can we count on you to help us out on Monday with communication?" I chuckled reading this mail, knowing that they expected a reply shortly after I was to read the email. Instead I snapped shut my phone, and ignored it. I had other plans. A week ago, on of the older grade girls who I used to do Synchronized Swimming with, invited me to come to the big concert show on June 27th. I couldn't say no. For one, when I had lived with the Osaki's, I had become the mascot for the team, coming to almost all of the practices to watch. I also ever participated in the insanely difficult sport, which caused a minor comedy and a few new inside jokes for the team members. Plus I wanted to see my host family, the Osaki's, whom I had not seen in just under a month. I'm totally to blame for this long absence. My life has been very hectic and crazy over the month of June. But making time for the Concert Show was a necessity. I decided, though, to keep it a total secret for the Osaki's. I wanted to sup rise Hikari and Maaako, and just show up watch there performance. So when June 27th rolled around, I left school and made the hour bike ride in the blistering heat to Kuroshia Arena and waited for over an hour for the show to start. In the lobby of the arena, I waited, until I saw a familiar 60's Type haircut walking my way. I sat on the bench, watching my host mom, look at me, but not really realize I was there. I smiled, but it had no effect. Finally, she did a whooping triple take, as I rolled my eyes that she didn't see me. "Ja-Ju- Judiii?" She took a look at me, and realized that I was in fact Judii. "Ahhhh! I'm so surprised! But how? Who? What?!?" she asked. I laughed at this point, explained that Aya, had told me that my host sisters would be having a show and that I really wanted to come watch it. And, I mentioned in a joking tone, none of the Osaki's had bothered to tell me to come. Osaki Okasan, ignoring the last comment, was so surprised, while so pleased that I came, that she didn't mention the email which I knew she wanted to yell at me over not quickly responding over. She found me a seat at the pool side, and then told me that she had to help prepare. Before she left, I caught her do a quick check that I really had come. As the rest of the family arrived, my presence seemed to cause more of a store than the upcoming show. Otosan gave me a huge hug, while Obachan sprinted towards me throwing question after question about updates in my life. Otosan told me all about how the 3 boys from New Jersey, that the family was hosting, would be sleeping on the floor in the living room. It was pretty funny for me to think that they had to host again. But they were such a good family, that I'm sure the boys will enjoy it. When the Concert Show started, I watched as the girls that I had often cheered and laughed at performed their very best in their portions of the show. Hikari opened the Show with an easy side swim to M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E. And Maako had a duet to 'Rock'n'Roll Is Here To Stay,' which she performed brilliantly, which came as no surprise. When it was all over, I caught up to my host mom, who was trying to get me to skip school on Monday to help the family out. But I really want to go school because it will be my last full Monday as a Japanese student. When Hikari exited the locker room, her eyes met mine, and a smile so warm was made, that I found myself really proud that I had come.
There really is nothing like Rotary meetings with the Kochi Minami (South) club. It is probably the oldest club in all of Japan, which means probably of the world, because Japan has the highest living rate. The Katou family loves me, and I've become the baby of the family, probably because I'm like a ball of happy energy. Once I start talking, I never shut up, but I never cause problems. That is how the Kochi Minami Rotary club looks upon my host father, Katou Otosan. He is in his mid to late 50's, making him like a toddler, compared to some of the folks in the club. These men are known to drink, as well. I've been to a few of their meetings, all of which Katou Otosan came out drunk as skunk, and me refusing at least 20 offers to do Sake shots. They are awesome... Last night, the Minami club had the annual nightly Karaoke meeting. My host father insisted me and my host mother tag along, and that I should provide some entertainment. I was more than willing, to stand up in front of a bunch of Rotarians and sing in Japanese. No problem. Really, I'm not even being sarcastic. Really. I had written down that I would sing Pepper-Keibu, but I realized that the song was much to fast for my Japanese skills. Instead I opted out for Ashita Hareru Kana. So that, after the meal, I stood in front of the 100 club members and sang a song in Japanese. It's very difficult to read 3 different alphabets, while singing at the same time. Combined with the fact that my voice is truly aweful. The result: It was awesome! Even though the men laughed through most of it, because I held the microphone so far from my face and no one could hear me. When it was over, I discovered that I had saught the contagious Karaoke disease, and an idea began forming in my head. I just had to wait for Katou Stosan to have a few more drinks first. After, I was sure, he was pretty drunk, I asked him if he would do a duet with me. We would sing Pepper-Keibu, which is a song about 2 lovers trying to get a policemen, Pepper-keibu, to stop annoying them. We stood up on the stage, each holding a microphone and began, "Pepper- Katou!" I yelled and laughed into the microphone. My voice sounded like I'd been smoking most of my life. But at least I didn't sound like Katou Otosan. He didn't know the song very well, combined with the drunkedness, he decided to attempt a Pop song in Opera. We were soo bad, that if the men had not all been drunk, I am sure they would have booed us all the way to America. And yet, it was so much fun. We sang the whole song, and I even did the dance when the same came. All the while, Kato Otosan continued to attempt Opera, which probably wouldn't have been bad of I wasn't singing along side of him. The crazy thing is that most of it was written in Japanese Kanji, without Furigana subtitles, which is the one alphabet that I can read thouroughly. All in all, I did very well, and merited alot of compliments, even though many people throught I couldn't read the Kanji after not being able to hear me in my first song. Looking back, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most fun moments I have had in awhile. Oddly enough, Katou Otosan even remembered it the next day. "Julie, Pepper Katou had a lot of fun last night!"
My 2nd host family, continues to pretend that they do not know me. Not that I am really making any effort. But, why should I? I look at how much love the other families have for me, and I think that I did nothing wrong. Except maybe, be me. Which from other experiences, shows that it is much better and doesn't ever cause problems.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Making the World A Smaller Place

Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. Hence, six degrees of separation is somewhat synonymous with the idea of the "small world" phenomenon. There is much skepticism in the theory, but after living life as an exchange student, I'm a firm believer.
Our story begins in the year of 2004, with 2 girls, one Japanese and one American. These two girls had absolutely nothing in common, from lifestyles, schools, nationalities, friends, activities, and those are just the main things. But there was one thing. They both had a dream, to spend a year in another country. And both sought out the Rotary International program to help make this dream come true. Both girls had different reasons for wanting to spend the year abroad in a foreign and unknown country. In Kochi, Japan, Yurie Hirosue, had heard nothing but good stories from past exchange students, and she wanted to become fluent in the language, she had spent to much time struggling in. The American girl, whom I will call Zoe, was interested in studying abroad to to escape home and furthur her interests in her host countries culture. As fate would have it, Zoe's host Rotary club and Yurie's club had a long history of sending kids to each others district. The connection between the Northern North Jersey and Shikoku Rotary club was old and famous for it's world-renowned Short Term exchange program. Kochi, Japan agreed to accept Zoe into the program, in exchange for Montclair, New Jersey Rotary's acceptance of Yurie Hirosue into their program. So in August 2005, Zoe and Yurie left for their big adventure, a year abroad as a Rotary exchange student.
When Yurie arrived in New Jersey, she knew absolutely no one, except her first host family, which also happened to be Zoe's family. But she was in luck, as her host Rotary hosted two other girls from Germany and Argentina. Barely a few days after the girls landed in America, they were given a welcome barbecue, where Yurie met her tow best friends for the first time, Judi from Germany and Ale from Argentina. And here is where my part of the story begins. Ale's first host family, was the Garner's in Verona, New Jersey, which happened to be my family. The Garner's got involved in Rotary, when I began babysitting for a Rotarian's family, and began questioned the Rotary Youth Exchange. I had made the decision to study abroad without really thinking it threw, but knowing in my heart that it was the right thing to do. When Rotary asked that our family agree to host Ale, in exchange for my going abroad, there was no way saying no. And it turned into a great experience for everyone, though things didn't always work out. Anyway a few weeks into Ale's stay with our family, we decided to invite the other Montclair Rotary kids for a barbecue. It was then that I met Yurie Hirosue, who would later go on to change my life. At the barbecue, as well as the countless other times, Ale, Judi, Yurie, and I hung out, I couldn't help but sit in amazement at the whole thing. It's like the world is so big and so different, and yet here I am sitting at a table with girls from 3 different continents. I grew very close to these girls, celebrating Yurie's birthday party at Zoe's house, and attending a few Rotary meetings with them. So close, in fact that in my Rotary interview, when I was writing down my countries, I thought about Yurie when I write down my last and final choice, Japan. And well, to state the incredibly obvious, I got Japan.
On August 17, 2006, I arrived in Kochi, Japan. As fate, and perhaps luck would have it, I was placed in Yurie's city and school. And nearly a few days after I arrived, still knowing no Japanese, I met Masasko Ichihara, Rotex student from Kochi, who did her exchange in San Francisco, America. The 3 of us, Yurie, Masako, and I became the best of friends in Tosajoshi school. And after about 10 months, 3 out of 4 amazing host families, living and loving my exchange to Japan, I asked Masako why she became an exchange student. She told me that it had something to do with hearing stories from another former exchange student, another Masako, who lived in America for a year. I had heard all about original Masako before, so it was a shock to hear it from now Masako. In November of my exchange year, I entered the Tosajoshi Koto club. The club leader, Chiake Yamanaka, who would later go onto to become my very best friend in Japan, helped me learn how to play the 13 stringed Japanese Harp. It was hard work, but I fell in love with the club and my fellow club members. One day, my fellow Ko Ichinensee, Taco, came in carrying a letter written in Japanglish from the Sempie, or Senior, Masako. Masako was studying Spanish at a University in California, America. Taco asked me to help her with the English part of the letter, because her English is not so good. I asked her who Masako was, and she explained that she was a Koto club member, who took a year off to study as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in America. When she arrived home, she was made the leader of the club, and became well-liked from the younger students. Taco then asked me if I knew her, because we were both Rotary Youth Exchange students, but I could not say that I did know her.
Things are still getting weirder in the connection department. Last week, at Koto practice, my fellow Ko Ninensee, Casami, stopped played her instrument and decided to strike up a conversation. She was very worried about something though I wasn't sure what. In a saddened voice she began, "Julie, I'm worried about my cousin. Do you know anything about Essex County, New Jersey?" I looked and a big smile spread across my face, "That's where I come from." Casami breathed a heavy sigh of relief and smiled, "Julie, do you think you could make sure my cousin stays safe. She is going to Essex Country." "Who is your cousin? And why is she going to Essex country?" Casami explained that her cousin was Marina Yamasaki, next years Rotary Youth Exchange student to America. I was shocked because I had known that Marina was going to America, but I had no idea that she and Casami were cousins. I promised Casami that I would make sure to the best of my ability that Marina was okay.
The next day another girl, Ayaka, who is also going to America chased me and Yurie down in the hallway. "Guys, I got an email from my host school! Do any of you know anything about, Montclair, New Jersey?" All Yurie and I could do was smile.
The story, I figure, will never really be over. As long as their exchange students from around the world going abroad, making friends, and becoming apart of host families. But I think it just goes to show that we Rotary Youth Exchange students are making the world a smaller place, slowly but surely. Take for example, and two people from the story. I'll use Ale, from Argentina, the student my family hosted in 2005, and my first host sister in Japan, Naoko Masaki. Now I don't know if the two will ever meet, talk, or become acquaintances. Yet they share a common bond, greater than they will ever know. Me. And if you don't believe in the ideas of 6 degrees of separation, I reckon you should go and meet an exchange student.

Me and My Best Buddy

Here is Japan, I have made a lot of friends. I've made more than probably any other exchange student of the past. I'm fully aware that there are some who only want to be my friend because I am a foreign novelty. Yet there are others, that like me because of who I am. These are the people that want to hang out, not to run back and tell their friends that they spent the entire afternoon with the Gaijin, but because they know I'm a fun person. These are the people that I know I'm going to miss with all my heart come August 13th. There is still another category. Best Friend, which fortunately enough, I am able to say I have. Chiake Yamanaka, who I often depict as being a strict goof in these columns, is my best friend. She and I became friends last November, when I joined the Koto club. She had just been moved up to the position of leader, and was in charge of teaching me the basics. We were friends, but it wasn't until March, a few weeks after I moved into the Osaki's, that I began to realize how important Chiake's friendship was. My new host family lived in Kouda, a 5 minute bike ride from Chiake's house. So together, everyday, after club, we would vroom down the Densha Dori, make a turn at the big bridge, and slowly leave the hustle and bustle of the city. All the while we laughed and talked about life, club, friends, and family. What really proved that we were friends was that we did not let a language barrier stand in our way at all. After Spring Break, I returned to school, moving up an entire grade, to find myself in the same homeroom at CHiake. So even though we didn't bike home together after I moved to the next host family, I ate lunch with her everyday, laughed with her in between classes, and helped her with English class. Her family had also taken an amazement with our friendship. After the bog Koto concert, her Grandmother sent me a huge basket of flowers, and her mother presented me with an enormous Well Done Stuffed animal. They wanted me to come to their home when the opportunity presented itself. And even though we were all really quite busy, in late June, CHiake invited me to the Ochina, a town about an hour and a half outside Kochi City, to visit her grandparents.
The Katou's amazed me. When I asked for permission, I half expected them to have a freak out, like my second host family would have. instead they kind of said, "You can do what you like, just make sure to have fun!" So on June 24th, in front of the Kochi Dollar Store, CHiake and her parents picked me up bound for Ochina. In the car, Chiake and I talked directly through the entire hour. It amazes me how easy it is to talk to her. I find trouble having basic conversations with most people, but CHiake is not like that. I don't care about butching grammar, because she always seems to know what I am saying. Sometimes I tell her to practice English. Her English isn't as terrible as most people, and she has a great vocabulary, but no idea how to use it. As we drove along, I told the family about all my language mistakes, and had them cackling in laughter. Eventually we stopped at a food store to pick up some cake and juice. When I ran off to the bathroom, Chiake and her mother ran to the gift shop to buy me a secret present. But Chiake can't keep secrets to save her life.
When we arrived in Ochina, we traveled along a road parallel to the greenest of green rice fields. The road itself was no wider than a pipe, and I kept wondering why we didn't slide of the side and into a field. CHiake's Grandmothers house is a modern country style home jammed in with a bunch of old style Japanese homes. I can imagine the neighbors remarking about it being an eye sore. Before I even introduced myself, her grandfather called me into the living room. CHiake laughed as I bolted into where I was being called. On a Tatami surface mat, I had become face to face with an huge plaque, the quarter a size of an entire wall. It was brown and it was written in really difficult Kanji that I couldn't even read. On one ide was a small medal with a red ribbon. My first thought that it was a War Medal, but Chiake explained that her grandfather received it upon retirement from the police force. He thought I would like to see it , because CHiake had told him that my grandfather was former policemen. I couldn't help but think that was incredibly kind of her grandfather, and I thanked him for showing me.
Back outside, with her Grandmother joining us in the car, we headed for the destination of the day. A famous Soumen restaurant on the side of Mountain. We had previously planned on attending a Paper Carp festival, but it had begun to rain. The rain meant to festival. But we had a backup. We arrived and filed out of the car. The people at the restaurant led us into a back room, only covered by a tent, and quite wet from the rain. The sat us at a huge rock table that had a fountain type thing carved into it. The fountain connected to a circular river that rapidly flowed in a circle around the table. With 2 full plates of Soumen, I watched as the family members dropped the noodles into the icy water. The noodles were then jetted around the circle in a heavy flowing current. That is until someone reaches their chop sticks into the river and pulls out the Soumen noodles. I was in amazement, never had I seen something so exciting and brilliant. We played a bunch of games, like fighting to get one set of noodles. It much harder than you think because, the current is like a breeze. I lost every round. It was hard, what can I say. But I did end up eating a hefty portion of the noodles and was quickly filled to the brim. CHiake and I took some pictures with this brilliant eating contraption before we headed back to the Grandma's house.
At the house, with nothing to do, CHiake and I sat and watched a special on famous Japanese desserts, while scheming how we were going to get CHiake the money to get her to come and visit me in America. After about 2 hours of doing nothing but talking, looking through her baby pictures, and throwing things at her slumbering dad, it was cake time. Now I was disgustingly full, but I knew I would feel bad not eating the cake. Chiake and I each savored a huge piece of chocolate covered in vanilla and strawberry sauce. At the table, her family raved about my Japanese. Her Grandmother even apologized to me. When asked why, she said, that she had been staring at me throughout the entire day. She told me that I was the first time she had ever been close to a foreign person. Her entire life had been spent in the middle of nowhere Ochina, and seeing a foreigner was like and early Christmas. I realized that Japan needs as much foreign intersection as possible, if I was an early Christmas present.
After Cake, we decided to head home. The car ride was significantly shorter, but no less interesting. I love spending time with CHiake, but am fully aware that I only have a little over a month, and she is really busy with the All Japan Koto tournament. I guess, she will just have to come to America.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Caffeine High

I honestly do not think I've had a decent nights sleep in a month. But this week has been particularly difficult. There isn't any point in denying that it's my own fault. I've been so preoccupied with sewing and spending time with my 4th and final host family, the Kato's, that I don't have any time for a computer at a suitable hour. But since I'm a bit addicted to updating this site, I needed to use the computer. So I found myself staying awake till all hours of the morning, typing new journal entries, researching Japan, and talking to friends on AIM. But there are other times when it truly isn't my own fault. Take for instance, the Gokiburi Escapade, and how World War 3 was waged with me versing a couple household roaches. After that I didn't sleep a wink thinking that at any moment, one of those little buggers was going to start crawling all over me. By each every following morning, I find myself trudging down the stairs, resembling a Zombie, and dreading the thought of a full day at school. To ease the pain, I usually drink a whole pot of 'American' coffee. This cures the sleeplessness, at the cost of giving me a wicked side effect. I suddenly become exuberantly giddy and twitchy from a Caffeine High. When I arrive at school, about 30 minutes later, I'm just as genki as ever. And on one particular 1st period at school, I sat down and began writing a journal entry, later to be typed, and the highlights of my week. Rereading it over again, after the caffeine has died down, and I wonder what honestly made me think to write something so insanely mixed up. ******************
On my Thursday, teaching class, with the new British teacher, Ruth, we were going new Vocabulary. The Japanese alphabet and the English alphabet are entirely different, so we spent most of the time trying to explain why there is an e in Cube, or who the sound of I in Japanese is nowhere near the sound of I in English. As I walked around the room, overlooking the student's papers, and helping correct spelling errors, I heard a small voice from the back of the room. The voice was calling for some help in English, and I always give first priority to students who try in English, which is the point of the class. The student, Sayako, is very friendly, and loves to talk to me in Japanese. She's only about 13, and is always surrounded by squealing school girls who freak out in Kawaii's upon the sight of me. She, on the other hand, is one of the rare cases of Japanese girls who isn't afraid of big scary gaijinness. When I arrived, she stood up and pushed down on my elbow, in an effort to get me down to her level at the desk. She smiled at me and asked me to check her paper. I picked it up and began marking her spellings for cake, phone, and graph. I also noticed that pack of Japanese school girls had surrounded the desk around Sayako, and were chuckling merrily. I put down the paper, and saw Sayako pointing to my arm with a face of pure disgust. You see, I have just begun wearing the Summer uniform with short sleeves, exposing my arm hair (See The Great Plucking Incident) When she noticed I was looking at her, she asked me why I was wearing the Short Summer uniform, when I had not shaved. I was annoyed and told her that since I have blond hair, normal non-Japanese people, never EVER notice arm hair. Looking into my eyes, and she said, "You should start plucking or shaving. Everyone thinks it kemoi (disgusting)." And now I am back to hating middle school girls.
The other day I went to the mall in Kochi. The one mall in Kochi. This mall is only still around because of the movie theater. The one movie theater in Kochi. So the prefecture has about 1 million people or something, and they have one movie theater. In America there are about 5 movie theaters within a 10 to 15 minute drive around my house. But anyway, that's beside the point. I went to the mall to look for some new patches. Since I've taken up a new hobby, sewing, I'm looking to get some cute patches to attach to my backpack. The mall has a little Craft store, and I'd remembered that there was a patch shelf in the store. After I bought some cute patches, I decided to hang around and do some shopping. In the big Jusco Department store, I bought three pairs of socks. I actually needed some socks, because mine have holes in them, which I haven7t gotten around to sewing yet. The reason I'm telling you about this purchase, is that the socks all have Manji on them. Manji is the cross with a the lines sticking out of it. In Western society, it is better known as a Swastika. The symbol as it is used in Buddhist art and scripture is known in Japanese as a manji (which literally just means "the Chinese character for eternally" 萬字), and represents Dharma, universal harmony, and the balance of opposites. When facing left, it is the omote (front) manji, representing love and mercy. Facing right, it represents strength and intelligence, and is called the ura (rear) manji. Balanced manji are often found at the beginning and end of Buddhist scriptures. I bought them, because of their Asian meaning of Universal Harmony, but I can't say I'm not worried what will happen when i bring them back into the Western World. After I bought my Manji socks, I headed to the Village Vanguard, which is like the Spencer's of Japan. I almost bought a clock with Sushi instead of numbers, but I asked myself, when am I ever going to use it? On the other side of the store, there was an exhibit displaying famous products of Okinawa, including the ever tasty Pig's Ear. I wanted to buy some packages for my friends and family back home. But will the American customs department ever let in Pigs Ear. I guess I ought to research that one.
Now that I consider myself highly conversational in Japanese, I essentially refuse to speak English. Don't think me insensitive, but in Japan they speak Japanese< not English. The problem is that alot of Japanese people refuse to believe that a gaijin can speak Japanese. Though most won't even bother talking to me, thinking that they will embarrass themseleves in English, there are quite a few people who hunt down Gaijin for English practice. At Tosajoshi there is one teacher, who I will refer to as Springsteen-Sensei, who Has out right refused to speak Japanese to me. I first met him in November, when my Japanese wasn't so good. Not that he got the chance to figure it out because he only spoke English to me. He approached me in the hallway and asked if he could speak to me about an English conversation Speech contest, in which I was helping to judge. After he gave me instructions on what i was supposed to do and when, he began asking about New Jersey. He told me that he had been to the Garden State, 2 or 3 times. He also said that the reason he is an English teacher is because of his idol, New Jersey born, Bruce Springsteen. How Springsteen encouraged Springsteen-sensei to teach English, I don't know, especially since Springsteen doesn't speak English, but more like raspy grunts. Anyway Springsteen-sensei, was so amazed by the man, that he traveled all the way to Asbury Park to look for his idol. I think I knew then that he was a bit of a loon. Now every time he sees me, he tries to stop me and have an English conversation. On countless occasions have I told him that I will only speak Japanese, but he always ignores me. So I started to avoid him. But then he began going out of his way to find me. What's worse is that when I'm walking with my friends, and he can't get me away from the group, he walks with us. Then he heckles me with English and, which annoys the other girls. And if I'm in a conversation with the girls, he yells at them for not practicing English. The girls all ignore him, and walk away. Time after time, I've politely asked him to stop speaking English, but with no effect. Finally I lost it, and yelled at him, that I came here to learn Japanese and not speak English. He gave me a stern look and said that he needs to practice English, and I'm being uncooperative to his scheme. Now every time I see him, and he calls for me to talk, I say, 'Not unless you speak Japanese.' Thus I haven't talked to him in a long time. There is another Gaijin Hunter, that really annoys me. On one of my favorite runs, I tend to see him all the time. He is about 75, and when he sees me, it's like Christmas has come early. One time I was with another Gaijin, when he tracked us down. He talked for about an hour about how he wants to learn English more than anything, and that he is so glad that more gaijin are coming to Kochi. He was very nice, don't get me wrong, but like I said before, I'm here to learn Japanese, not speak English. Luckily, since he talked so much, I never had to open my mouth, and show him I could speak English, which was a big benefit in the months to come. Often, when I am alone on my run, he tries to wave me down. But I pretend not to see him and blast my IPOD so as not to hear him. Unfortunately, I hurt my knee on a run and had to slow to speedy walk. My annoying Gaijin Hunter sense were not working from the exhausting run, so when he appeared at my side, from seemingly nowhere, sporting a big smile, I knew I was trapped. "Hi, you do remember i, right? I is learned English, and practice I want. You will listen okay? Please. I want practice very much, and running you is not. Okay?" I was exhausted and so not in the mood for the English language, because I have just started thinking and dreaming in Japanese. Speaking and hearing English will only hinder what I'm slowly progressing at. Plus, I knew that this guy would talk for at least an hour, so I made the decision to tap into my family roots for a bruel little joke. "Aa... monsieur. Como esta? Muy bien?our Bonjuer. Bon Appetite. Hasta Manana," I spat out in a mix of French and Spanish. The man looked at me like I was utterly deranged. I smiled and in Japanese said, "I'm sorry I do not speak English. I came Spai-ance." The old man frowned and apoligized profusely, and then walked away. When I ran on the same road the next day, the man would not meet my eye. He was really embarrassed.
My host father loves to drink. It's quite funny, actually. Because he such a interesting drunk. I am strongly against alcohol, because of seeing what it can do to people on personal experience, but Kato Otosan is hilarious. Sometimes he tries to speak English, which he is quite good at when he is drunk. When he is sober, however, he can barely get out a simple 'My name is...' A few weeks ago, he came home after a party, with a box of expensive Sushi, that he could not remember where he had gotten from. It was later confirmed that he stole it from one of the people holding the party. There was no harm done, because the person holding the party was even more drunk and had no idea he possessed a box of Sushi. That night, as we all sat around and ate the raw fish, Kato Otosan promised to take me to Mt. Fuji, but instead of me climbing it, he was going to take me up ON his back. Nearly 30 seconds later he was snoring in his chair with a piece of Tuna on his chin. Recently, after a bottle of something, he decided to teach me the Japanese kanji for all the different types of alcohol. It's just of those random things we learn, that will most likely have no purpose in life. Lately, I too, have been drinking alot. Every morning, my host mom makes a comment like, "Well you certainly do like to drink, don't you?" as I gulp down a whole cup full of this drink, and began pouring another glass. It's totally true, I'm addicted to this particular drink, and I don't why, because I've spent most of life avoiding it. But I can't imagine, why, it's so delicious. Okay, I know what your thinking. But the drink I'm referring to is Gyuunyuu, or milk. haha. I drink probably about half a carton a day. I reckon it's much better then alcohol, because with my strength, I could carry Otosan up Mt. Fuji. Well, eh, maybe not.
My fingers are throbbing, and now the keyboard had some blood stains on it. No, I'm not one of this weird teens who enjoys cutting themselves, I get high from other things, like running, and my latest hobby, sewing. What a dork. I started sewing at school, where Mortita-sensei, the Home Ec. teacher, bought me a Yukata fabric, and all by myself, I have been slowly sewing my very Yukata. At first I hated sewing with a fiery and burning passion, but now, it's quite enjoyable. Well, not really. But at nighttime, instead of spending hours in front of the computer (or sleeping) I've been downstairs watching TV and spending time with my host parents. And when I do this, I have lots of time, and two free hands, so I've taken up sewing patches onto my back pack. It's coming out quite well, actually. I also sewed a Hello Kitty patch on a Trucker Hat for sunny running days. My host mom was so impressed that she said it looked like I bought the hat from the store. Except that no store would sell the insane colors of the hat. All the more reason I like it. On my backpack, I sewed Julie in Japanese Hiragana, which has 4 characters. When I showed my teachers, they all shifted uncomfortably and told me that I might want to add another letter or take one off. Finally someone explained that the number 4 also means death. I couldn't help but roar in laughter. Japan never ceases to surprise me.
Okay so the caffeine has definitely worn off. It's 4th period, Self Study in the library as I'm writing them. Thank god, next period is lunch.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Gokiburi Escapeades

I like to think of myself as a really STRONG person. I think it really comes in the package upon accepting a year assignment as an exchange student. But there are other things that make me believe this. For instance, I run good long distance runs 3 or 4 times a week, in addition to the occasional 40 KM bike ride. I also bike about an hour a day to and from school. But besides the physical side, there is also the fact that I left my Mom and Dad for a year at the age of 15 to live in a country I knew next to nothing about. And I've never been homesick once in the whole 10 and 1/2 months I've been gone. Yet, despite my strength, I have officially been beaten down. I know that I use that line alot, like when I talked about Synchronized Swimming, 6 days a week of school, massive and sudden Typhoons, but this time I really really mean it. First think about the elephant and the mouse. Now think about the gaijin and the cockroach. And this is my story.
On June 21, 2007, after a delicious dinner of some strange Japanese dish that I don't even know the name of, I sat watching the terribly boring Japanese television with my host family. My current host family, the Kato's are really wonderful people. I love this family very much, especially because I'm back to being the baby of the family, like I was with the beloved forst host family. I never suspected that being the youngest in the house would also be the most fun, but that's a different story. So while the news was blaring on about some useless news, probably something about singing Sushi, slow Nato production, or something incredibly Japanese and stupid, the members of the family began gathering up their dishes. The routine is that when we are finished, we say our mandatory prayer and thank you for the meal, then we take our dishes into the kitchen to be washed by Okasan. I performed the task, and then skipped back into the eating area to watch some more television. It's not as though I really like TV, but I do want to spend as much time with my host family as possible. A few minutes after everything was cleared away, and while Okasan was cleaning, my 27 year-old host sister, Michiyo, left to get her Driver's Ed homework. I sat quietly, while Michiyo returned and Okasan made her way into the sitting area. When she entered Michiyo and I both looked at her as she entered the room. She came in with a huge smile on her face, and I could tell she was eager to tell us something. Instead of making eye contact with he, which is a crucial way for communication I've discovered, something caught my eye. Michiyo spotted it as well, because she let out a tiny gasp. Upon closer look, I discovered a Gokiburi, or cockroach, the size of a small bird racing across the wall. I screamed as loud as my vocal cords would allow me. Otosan jumped in his seat at the sound of my voice, while Okasan looked horrified. Michiyo, in a trembling voice, pointed to behind Okasan where the little bugger was training for an Olympic meal in sprinting. Okasan, acting fast, slammed the sliding door hard against the wall, trapping the Gokiburi in a tight spot. I sat in horror in my seat, trying to hold in the pee that has accumilated from nowhere and sprung from fear. Okasan rushed off to the kitchen to get the Roach Killer, while the rest of us sat in total shock. She was back in the sitting room, in a a few seconds. In her hand she held a long spray can that was bright red and bestowed the picture of a dead roach. I could tell from the way that she clasped the canister, that she had alot of experience in the Roach killing field. She looked to the rest of us, with a face so serious and dangerous, that I found myself even more scared. In a deep, but passionate voice, she said, "Everybody ready." Before I could say, "No let me get away first," she slid open the door to where the Gokiburi awaited to restart his race. I jumped so high, that the chair I was sitting on did a flip backwards, and screaming, I ran into the nearest corner. Michiyo followed me, but she was significantly quieter. Okasan, sprayed the Roach Killer with such passion, that I saw in her eyes the old Samurai spirit of the Japanese. She carried her Katana, a rolled up newspaper, and 30 mm assault weapon, also known as the Roach Killer. The cockroach, though physically unarmed, was using its menacing disgustingness to full effect in an effort to thwart all plans. The Gokiburi slowed up, but still raced on towards the spot, where Michiyo were huddled. I found myself in a hug type fearful huddle with Michiyo, but as I saw the thing approach me, I let go. Instead, I grabbed Michiyo's back and thrusted her towards the approaching beast, as if to say, "Take her, I'm much too cute to die!" Michiyo quickly caught on, but before she could do anything, Okasan raced towards us spraying the can with all her might. All she needed was one of those white and red headbands, and she would be the perfect this day and age Kamekaze Roach Killer. Still screaming my head off, I watched as the spray, finally began to kick in. Okasan reached us within milliseconds, and whipped out her Katana. She began the paper efforts but the soldier was quick and well trained. Finally, she had struck him with a force, so powerful that it would have caused instant death to a human. But we aren't dealing with humans, rather bugs that apparently could survive a Nuclear War. And now he was in trouble. Having caught the full blast of the spray and receiving blow after blow with the heavy Katana newspaper he began his decline. Seizing the moment and complete with mighty war cry, Okasan sprayed him with a full blast, just above his head. Not a single centimetre of the area did she neglect. After the smoke had cleared she surveyed the damage. The lone soldier was mortally injured but amazingly still alive writhing in agony from the poison gas attack. The Gokiburi probably did not die instantly, but when Okasan reached it, death was probably the only thing it could have wished for. Another casualty of war.
Thus far, in my 4 host homes, 3 have had cockroaches. And none of the families seem to take them as seriously as I do. I guess it's because since roaches enjoy the Kochi weather of humidity and constant heat, there are just too many to worry about. I have not had a good relationship with the cockroaches in Kochi, though I don't reckon I ever really will get along with these little suckers, wherever I go in this world. I had forgotten that with the lights out late at night, the cockroaches emerge sleepy-eyed from their slumbers and roam free about their territory with relative impunity. They are weird creatures as I am beginning to understand. The thing is they are not inherently evil like Mosquitoes and Horsefly's yet their shape and amazing quick bursts of speed scare and repulse me. They are at least 1000 times smaller and weaker than me. When chased down they attempt to flee rather than stand and fight. (Not that I fight either- but my shreiks force someone do fight.) These points alone should guarantee my safety but it doesn`t. Why is this? If it is true, that Gokiburi are the only thing that would be able to survive a Nuclear attack, then guess what? I don't want to survive. What I've discovered is that while everyone has a fear of some sort, spiders, ghosts, snakes, whatever, I am deathly afraid of Gokiburi.
My first and horrid memory with the Gokiburi was back in September with the Masaki family. I was laying in my bed, reading Harry Potter, when suddenly I heard a clicking sound. I put the book on my chest, to have a look, and was immediately scared out of my wits. Peering up at me, just a foot away from by head, was a little bigger, trying to appear innocent. Now picture it in your mind. Big sleepy gaijin, peacefully laying down reading a book, nodding in and out of sleep, and certainly not bothering anyone. While suddenly, out of nowhere, this repulsive little mongrel decided to take an after dessert evening stroll right across the hill, that was my chest. I was too scared and shocked to scream, but I did fling out of bed and start racing at hypersonic speed through the apartment. Mind you, I was in my underwear, but it didn't matter. I reached Otosan and Okasan's room door and slammed on it a few times. Otosan opened up, still half asleep, but alarmed at my sudden burst of energy, "What's wrong?" In Japanese, I screamed at the top of my lungs, waking up the entire city of Kochi, and probably all of Western Japan, "COCKROACH." Alarmed, he waddled straight into my room, where the little bugger was making it's escape. I was not the only one in my underwear, and I think once the cockroach saw Otosan Masaki, it knew to run away. Otosan Masaki, often referred to as Captain Jack, was not going to let the little thing get away without a flight. So Captain Jack, with the assist of Harry Potter, began beating down on my mattress and trying to catch the Gokiburi. It was not the in the spirit of the Samurai, like my 4th host mom, but more or less like the drunk pirate he pretends to be. Unfortunately, though now in the least bit suprising, he failed, though he keep it quiet, knowing I would never sleep again with a beast roaming around my room. So he swore that he killed it, but couldn't reach under the bed to get it. Liar.
I'd also run into a cockroach with the Osaki's, my third host family. I watched it crawl throught the hallway, while my host sisters laughed at it. My host Mom said something like, "Oh Gokiburi." Meanwhile, I did my best not to cry. I think maybe I am the only person in the world, or at the very least Japan, that is utterly scared out of wits at the idea of a Gokiburi. Perhaps because, it is not considered a normal thing to have Gokiburi the size of small household pets running rampantly thorugh the house in America. But it is just another mystery unsolved about Japan.
Back to June 21, when the Gokiburi was utterly destroyed by my beastly Samurai host mom. I breathed easily, knowing that the little bugger was dead. Usually I would feel sympathy for how painfully it died, but honestly, I didn't. There is just something so foul and disgusting about Gokiburi, that I can't even describe it. After the incident occurred, we all sat back down at the living room table and discussed what had happened. Everyone roared with laughter at the how scared I was. Okasan laughed at the idea, that I'm about 5' 8", queen of stupid and dangerous things, like Bungee Jumping and stuff, but am deathly afraid of little black bugs. Otosan admitted he had never seen someone move so quickly at the prospect of being attacked by a bug, quite possibly .001% of my size and weight. He also said that I sounded like I had come from the Excorcist movie. At some point, it became more than a joke, and was getting me annoyed. Michiyo was angry that I was willing to sacrifice her for my own neck. There was no point trying to get around this one. All in all, I realized that this would definitely go down in Kato family history as the time that Energetic Julie ws annihilated by a Gokiburi. Thinking that the worst had yet to come, I made the biggest mistake that I tend to make quite often here in Japan. I let my guard down, because honestly, I do not think I will ever really learn.
About an hour after the first Gokiburi incident, I asked Okasan if I could enter the shower. She nodded, as I got up and headed to the 2nd floor where my pajamas and towel awaited for me. As I reached the 2nd floor, I saw something out of the corner of my eye move. Or, I reasoned, I THOUGHT I saw something out of the corner of my eye move. The alarm bells began blaring in my mind, but I reckoned that it was just a figure of my imagination. I moved forward, laughing at such a silly idea that another Gokiburi had appeared. I even let out a nervous, yet silly little chuckle, at how foolish I could be. What really were the chance I'd be forced into battle with not just one, but two Gokiburi in one night? Such nonsense. And then... Standing right smack in the middle of my door way, all my bad Karma I have obtained since birth combined with the anger of the great Gokiburi God materialized into the most gruesome black and wretched little beast. I would have vomited, but my mouth was being occupied by the loudest scream ever known to man kind. My legs were frozen, as I shrieked and made eye contact with the horrible thing. Finally, I found movement in my legs, and I began sprinting down the stairs, still letting out an earth-shattering yell. As I raced down the steps, I heard say to Michiyo, "Another one?" Finally I found the words to stutter, "Go-Go-GoKIBURI!" Okasan, reached into her Samurai armor, and pulled out the Katana and Chemicals. The Samurai fire in her eyes was back and in full blare, as she pushed me aside and hurried up the stairs. I followed her, as she hurried to cacth the beast and murder it. On the second floor, she looked around and couldn't spot the little bugger. And I realized that it had disappeared. But before she could question my sanity, it made an appearance. And thus, so did my screaming. Okasan sprayed the can with all her might and chased the beast through my room, tearing through my luggage and laundry bin. The only other sound that could be heard beside my skreiks, was something like 'Smack... Spray... Smack... Spray.' this particular little bugger was tougher to kill, on the count that it was sent by the Gokiburi god with extra protection. But Okasan, in all of her Japanese power, caught up to the little beast and murdered it. And I vowed to pray to the Japanese God of the Samurai. Meanwhile, I ran downstairs and jumped into Michiyo's arms, begging for her to protect me from it. I was so out-of-breath from the screaming, that I was nearly crying. Michiyo, tryed to console me, while fighting to not split a cut from laughing. Within 5 minutes, Okasan hurried downstairs holding an elegantly crafted coffin of tissues for the fallen war hero. Soon Okasan and Michiyo were back to nearly wetting themselves at the fact that a little Gokiburi could really beat me to the pulp. Otosan, who had been sleeping, prior to the second incident, made his way down the stairs. "Julie, I think you should call your mother," he said. I looked at him and asked him why, nervously thinking about bad reasons why I should be forced into calling home. He grunted, and in the middle of a yawn, replied "Because she probably heard your scream and is worried about you."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Earthquake Drill

I know people often say, better late than never. It's a good line, but in safety drills, I don't agree with it. Especially in the case of the Tosajoshi once annual Earthquake/Fire Drill, which took place after my first experience with an earthquake. (See All Shook Up for details) So about a month after my pants wetting experience, I finally participated and learned what exactly to do when an earthquake strikes. Well, sort of.
At most schools in Japan, earthquake drills are held once a month. Though at Tosajoshi, the drill is only held once a year. If an earthquake strikes while in a classroom, students learn to get under the desks, head first, and to hold on to the legs of the desk until the quake is over. After that the teacher leads students out of the building and, once in a safe area, counts to make sure everyone is present, making sure everybody is safe. At schools with three floors, the older students may also practice using emergency chutes to get to the ground from the top level. Another feature of the drills is to pretend that a fire has broken out and to find a safe way out of the school. The location of the imaginary fire is different every time, so we can learn what to do no matter where it breaks out. If a serious earthquake strikes during school hours, we are supposed to stay at school with teachers until somebody from home comes.
Anyway, on possibly the hottest day for an early spring fire drill, the girls were informed that the Kochi Fire Department had arrived and would soon begin the drill. My classmates were all highly anticipating the drill because it meant a free afternoon of no classes. I, too, was quite interested in the drill. After all, when I first learned about Japan, way back in 2nd grade, we watched a movie about the events of a Japanese school. One of the only things I remember was footage of the students flinging under desks, during an earthquake. Since I'd experienced an earthquake, in which I was too scared to get under a desk, I wanted to learn how to get better prepared.
Now I warn you, this is incredibly biased. Which is probably because I come from a school in America, where drills for disasters are more common than fat people. Well, maybe not. The type of drill also various with the location. Like in the Midwestern states, students all know what to do with a Tornado. In California, with the active fault lines, everyone is well versed in Earthquake safety. My school, Verona High School, is a safe one story building far from active fault lines, tornadoes, or other regional mother nature furies. Yet, still, every month we hold Fire Drills, and none of the students are ever warned ahead of time, so that instant preparation is key. Everyone considers the drills to be more of an annoyance, but no one can deny that we aren't fully prepared. And on top of the Fire Drills, due to the increase in school shootings, Lock Downs are held on special occasions.
In the classroom, prior to the said time of the drill, we all waited in silence and patiently to begin. I should have taken this as a bad sign from the start. Honestly, earthquakes don't give time to wait. My homeroom teacher, Fukumoto-sensei, talked to her class about how to pass the upcoming tests. Suddenly, as soon as the clock struck exactly 1:00, the said time of the drill, the PE blared on. The sound that came out was the most dramatic attempt to recreate the sound of dangerous fire savaging a building. It sounded like it came right out of Back Draft the movie. Even my silly Japanese classmates, who usually find these things cute, remarked how lame it was. Fukumoto-sensei ushered everyone to quickly get under a desk. The girls, all experts in these stupid drills, rushed underneath a desk at rapid speeds. I on the other hand, learned that Japanese desks are not gaijin proofed. For all my strong attempts, I could not squeeze under a desk to save my life. I did manage to get under, with just my head exposed, which I suppose defied the whole reason for the desk, which is so to protect you from falling objects. Suddenly the principal came on the PE and in the world's most unenthusiastic voice said, "Okay the drill is beginning. Please be careful when exiting the building."
When we exited the room, I quickly headed towards to staircase. Then Chiake pulled me back and informed me that we had to stand in number order for the attendance. So we all lined up in the middle of the hallway on the 4th floor, blocking the entryway to the stairway and wasting alot of time. I knew that it was was only a drill, but I couldn't help wondering allowed the point of the attendance. Chiake, overhearing me, informed me that the teach needed to get a full head count to see that everyone was alive and safe. Well if he stayed in a burning, crumbling, or whatever building much longer, we were all going to be dead. Then a head count wouldn't be necessary. But I kept my mouth shut, again. Instead I looked an the bright side, knowing many teachers would have done the head count prior to the starting of the drill making it even more pointless.
What came next was pure chaos. Tosajoshi High School has 5 floors, and just about 750 students and teachers. When Fukumoto-sensei was finished with her head count, she directed the class to the closest. Given the chance between staying in a possibly damaged building, and making me way down the staircase, I would probably just take my chances. It seemed like ever student in the entire school had sardined themselves into the stairwell and were pushing slowly to make a way through the crowd. I reckon if someone tripped, they would have most certainly been trampled to death. Luckily, since I'm taller than most of the girls, I stood above their heads and was able to get some air. The rest had to suffer, while contributing to the greatest fire hazard in the history of fare hazards. Outside, I seemed to have lost my class, and looked for someone to help me find my way. I ran into an English teacher, who asked my thoughts about the drill. He was smiling in a way that meant he expected me tp reply that it was really well done, and that everyone was prepared. I shook me head and said it was 'eye-opening.'
Eventually I found my class, and we all sat in the scorching sun, while the slower classes met and took a seat. The unenthusiastic principal welcomed us all and mentioned the success of yet another drill. While he spoke, I thought about where we were sitting. The courtyard is located in exactly the middle of the 2 buildings of the school. So if they caught fire, we'd be sitting ducks. He continued to ramble on, when he announced we would all have one more go. I was heart-broken.
But back in the classroom, I vowed to do this drill right. SO that when the dramatic music began, I dove head first underneath a table, leaving only my legs were exposed. When it was finsihed, I lined up at the headcount skipped through the sardine can staircase. Back in the courtyard, the Kochi Fire Department began doing their share of the program. They had set up long slide chutes from the 3rd and 4th floors, as well as extra stairwells on the middle school side. Earlier in the week, girls from each class were chosen to represent their school in the practice. They all wore their gym uniforms, and had plenty of practice to impress the guests. Japan has totally overlooked that element of sup rise.
While we watched the drills, I had a moment. I was sitting next to my best friend, Chiake, laughing at a stupid joke. I was just one of the 2,000 Tosajoshi students sitting and roasting in the courtyard, wearing the sailor suit, hair pinned up, and laughing alongside friends and classmates. Alot of times, when the whole student body gets together, Chiake and the other girls make comments about how weird it is that everyone is virtually the same, Everyone is wearing the same uniform, hair and eye color, and close in height. But I think it's really amazing. This is probably because no matter how much I say that I think fit in here, I never really will. I'll always be a gaijin, and outsider. But it doesn't matter, because I love it that way.
Ri-chan and Haruka, or class representative on the chute, stood on top of the chute and waved out to the crowd. The Fukumoto-homu girls all screamed and waved back. Haruka let out a huge cheer, "I love Fukumoto-homu!" and then slid down the slide. Ri-chan then screamed, "Best class in all of the school!" then took her turn. Meanwhile, the girls in my class, gushing with pride, had started cat calling their names. At the bottom of the chute, Haruka and Ri-chan spoke to the Firemen about how important it was to do that chute practice. Then they ran back over to where we were sitting and were greeted by immense cheers of affection.
As Japanese fire/earthquake drills go, it was a resounding success. I think it’s safe to say the teachers and kids at that school are going to be 100% prepared for if such a disaster actually happens. Of course, they’ll need to be told about it days in advance and given a special 5 minute warning before hand. What’s that you say, fire drills in your country are random, and meant to actually simulate the experience of being taken surprise by a disaster? That’s so silly.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm Smarter Than You

At Tosajoshi, whole classes are split into a pretty effective according to test scores. And by test scores, I really actually mean brains. The Tosajoshi Ko Ninensee, High School 2nd graders, better known as my class, has about 280 girls, divided into 7 classes. There are 3 A classes, 3 B classes, and 1 accelerated Math/Science class. It's a great system because it really weeds out the morons from smart kids. And at Tosajoshi, it seems as though students are either one or the other.
The school is actually a really prestigious school in Kochi and Japan. It was founded in the early 1900's, and remains the oldest school in all of Kochi. Originally is started off as a school that rich parents sent their daughters to. This was because it focused on manners and all the ways to be a good housewife. But it changed as soon as woman began aiming for higher education. It used to be incredibly hard to get into, because of it's high reputaation in getting it's studious sudents into great Universities. But with declining birth rates in Japan, combined with a lack of enthusiasm over going to an All Girl private school, Tosajoshi is accepting alot of average students. Because of the class system, of separating based on test scores, the girls who really study hard and want to get into a good University are kept together. They are also given a more difficult curriculum, and more help in planning for college and future careers.
Oddly enough as it is, I've been placed into an A class. As a Ko Ninensee, I am a student of Fukumoto-homeroom, which is one of the top classes in the school. I consider myself really lucky to be placed into this class, especially because I adore my classmates. But when I was first placed in an A class, I thought it must really be some kind of joke. After all, my Japanese, is about the level of a 2 year-old. When I visited a B class, I very quickly discovered just why I had been placed in an A class. Honestly, anybody with a working pulse could pass a B class.
Life in an A class is always interesting. Actually for me, it's quite boring. There is a stereotype about Japanese students that I was taught when I was only a 2nd grader. All Japanese students go to school 6 days a week, and study 24/7. They all wear glasses, have pimples, wear sailor suits and military uniforms, and dream of nothing but being smart. There is a lot of bullying as well. When Tanaka-san got a 95 on his Math exam instead of a 100, his classmates all made fun of him for being stupid. A classes at Tosajoshi, single handedly keep that stereotype alive. The gilrs in my class are all very smart and studious. They all want to attend prestigious Japanese Universities, and will not accept a life of being a common housewife. In addition to 6 a week of schools, with 34 classes, most of them also attend Cram school during the night hours. The average schedule of an A classer is as follows. 8:30 to 3:20 is spent studying at Tosajoshi. 3:30 till 7:00, club and sports practice occurs. 7:30 till 10 or 11 is spent at Cram School, continuing their already extensive study life. Bullying still exists, though it's not over Tanaka-san A. Bascially A classers make comments like, "Well at least I'm not in a B class." The problem for me is that all of my friends are A classers, and never have any free time to hang out. Still given the choice, I think an A class is much better.
Because I take many different culture classes outside Fukumoto-homeroom, I encounter many opportunities to converse with B classers. When I converse with certain B classers, I can feel my IQ dripping out my ear. But I can't deny that it's extremely entertaining. My favorite B class, is the Ko Sanensee (High School 3rd year) class of Yano-homeroom. The top scorer of the class is also last years exchange student to California, Masako Ichihara. Now she is by no means the brightest crayon in the box, but she may as well be Stephen Hawking compared to some of her classmates. This certain class is actually well-known throughout the school for being the most brainless class. Most of the girls come from money, and have parents forcing them to go to a Private school. Some of the girls are children of famed alumni or respected teachers. I don't think any of the girls really wanted to attend Tosajoshi because of it's reputation in getting girls into college.
I have a lot of friends in the class, so I don't mind hanging out with them. Plus the conversations I have with some of these girls are just utterly brilliant, and I mean that in a sarcastic way. "Judi, where do you come from?" "United States of America." "That's in California, right?" "Well, uh. It's actually it's own country. I live in New Jersey, which is close to New York City." "Oh so you are close to Ras Angeres?" "Um... well about 5 hours by plane." "Do you know Jack Bauer and Orlando Bloom?" "Who?" "Ras Angeres! Jack Bauer, you know from 24?" "The TV show?" "Yeah. Get me a date, can you? Why did you chose Japan?" "Um... I'll try. Japan was my third choice, but I really like it here." "Why? Everything is so Japanese! The only good thing Japan makes is porn." How I was supposed to respond to something like this?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In Your Language

I'm a total history geek. There, I said, it. Now I'm officially out of the closet. Though anybody that's knows me, could have easily have told you that little fact.
When people say something like, "why do we ever need to learn about [American Revolution]? It's not like we're going to use it." I always annoyingly retort, "If you don't know history, you may as well be doomed to repeat it." If the same is said about Math, I'd have no reason to argue. In fact I'd probably jump in and agree. But then I'm one of those people who loathes Math on principle. The fear of History Repetition is not the only reason why I am always thirsty for facts. It has something do with being in the know. Like when you standing beside the brilliantly crafted ancient 'trick gate' of Kochi Castle, in Japan. And you look at this fascinating piece of history and know exactly what it was used for. And maybe if you are lucky, you can tell someone else about the information you know, pass it on. I guess I've always been a bit of a know-it-all. I remember at the tender age of 10, during the family vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine, my family and my cousins went on a whale watching tour. While everyone stood watching the graceful whales out in the distance, I stood throwing out facts about this beautiful mammal's way of life, eating habits, and danger to it's population. I must have thought that someone actually cared as to what I was talking about. But at some point, my mother pulled my aside and said, "Julie, do us all a favor and shut up."
I mentioned before, that I strongly dislike Math. This is, perhaps, and understatement. I loathe Math with a fiery burning passion. I have never been very good with numbers. I do not think that this will ever really change. Back in school, there was another subject, that I did not like either. In middle school, I studied Spanish, while as a High School student, I studied French. I quickly learned to hate both these classes. In school, language classes do not teach students to speak. Students learn the polite and often unused form of the language. I think the real reason I struggled with language in school, is that just studying the language is utterly boring.
After spending over 10 months in a foreign country, speaking and living in a new language, and fully immersing myself in a faraway culture all at the same time, I can honestly say that the study of a foreign language is an insight into to something more powerful than even my beloved history. In class at school you can read all about how different a country is. Reading helps you to understand and accept it. Yet experiencing is so much better. What I mean is that every book you take out about Japan, will tell you something about the country. A book about the Japanese people will often start off with something really stupid like, "The Japanese people are very different." Besides that being on of the most obvious facts in the world, even to someone who knew next to nothing about the Japanese. Yet knowing another language, or at least a few words and phrases, is enough to go to Japan and discover that this fact is true. What I'm trying to say is that knowing even a little bit about another language is enough to go out and discover that the Japanese are more than different. Every single thing, from language, school, to ways we take baths, and throw out of garbage. It's the big things and the little things that living in another culture and speaking another language teaches us.
Although it is not an easy task, surely there are benefits from learning another language. I once heard a great story from an exchange student from South America, I'd like to share. A skinny cat stood for hours waiting for the mouse to walk out from behind the hole, so he could nab him. He was having little success. A fat cat walked by, inquired about the nature of the difficulty, and volunteered to show the skinny cat the ropes. First thing, he had the skinny cat move out of the way where he could not be seen and did likewise himself. Next, he barked, "Woof, woof." The mouse, thinking a dog had scared the cat away, and it was safe, ventured out only to be nabbed and devoured by the fat cat. "You see," explained the fat cat, "it pays to be bilingual." And it really does.
Language is a unique invention by humans with the ability of speech. The particular language we are raised in, knowing from birth, and speaking in every day life shapes the way we live our world. It's like language makes everything possible for us as a species: culture, technology, art, music, and much more. Within our words lies a history and a rich source of human wisdom. A wisdom that can only be found in the particular language. Every language has it's own window to the world. Every language is a living museum attested to a the culture it has been used by. In the real world, new technology sparks the idea out with the old in with the new. But that's just not the case with a language.
About a month ago, I got my hair cut at a local salon in Kouda, Kochi, Japan. Cutting my hair alone in a huge task for me, but doing it all by myself in a country where I can barely speak the language is another thing. Amazingly enough, the hair cutter was a Half. Her mother was Japanese and father was Chinese, and she grew up in China, only recently learning the Japanese language. She didn't speak English, and I don't speak Chinese, besides "Ni hao." Yet, together we decided what kind of cut would be best for me, with very little trouble. It really puts things into perspective when you and another person are having a conversation with little difficulty, in both your second language. What made it even funnier was that both of us were also speaking in Tosa Ben, which is the dialect of the Kochi prefecture in Japan. It shows how being at least partially bilingual can be beneficial.
I think for me, I really realized how important and fascinating knowing another language is, two days ago. My host father, older sister, and I drove all the way to Matsuyama, where I met up with Australian exchange student, Bron Parks. Bron and I met in February at a Rotary exchange student orientation, and became good friends through our "gaijin alliance." She came to visit me in Kochi, and so it was my turn to visit her in Matsuyama. My host sister, Michiyo, was happy to tag along and watch us. Michiyo, studied English for 6 years, and can understand a good lot of it, but can't speak it to save her life. Bron and I, both crave English on a daily basis, and were excited for the oppotunity to be using it. Yet, we didn't want to leave Michiyo out.
When we first arrived in Matsuyama, Bron and I immediately used Japanese. I don't even think we realized that we weren't speaking in our native tongues, until I came across a word I didn't know and said it in English. Meanwhile, Bron introduced herself to my host family and we continued using Japanese from there. Though, both of us agree, it is so much harder to express yourself in Japanese, the mere fact that we can communicate in 2 languages is amazing. Though Bron is near fluent, because of studying Japanese for 4 years and doing a prior exchange to Japan, I found I had little trouble understanding what she was saying. It is true that I could not speak as well as she can, but I still felt pretty cool with understanding her conversation with Michiyo.
Together we went shopping, and when Michiyo wandered off to look around, Bron and I were back to English. Like, I mentioned before, it is much easier to speak our native tongue, there is no doubt about that. And it became quite apparent when Michiyo returned, and Bron and I stuck with English for a while. But whenever we felt bad about leaving Michiyo out of the conversation, we switched back into Japanese mode. I don't really think many people have the ability to do something like that. Realizing, you are leaving someone because of a language barrier, so just easily without question switching into their native language. I don't claim to be fluent, but I will say that I'm somewhat conversational and can understand a good lot of what is being said.
The girls and I continued shopping in the Matsuyama main mall area, running into amny odd little Japanese quirks. This included the Half- naked madcot for the Matsuyama Pachinko parlor. We also ran into the mascot for the Matsuyama Baseball team. In English, Bron and I both agreed that only in Japan would it be okay for a main team to be called the Mandarin Pirates. Mandarin as in Mandarin Orange. Afterwards, we got the mandatory Purikura, mini friend pictures to celebrate the occasion of hanging out in Matsuyama. From there we conversed in all the little things we've learned about Japanese in our exchanges, like schools, clubs, friends, and just Japanese life. None of which we would have ever gotten the opportunity to learn about had it not been for knowing the language. For dinner, we ate our favorite Japanese meal, Okonomiacki, and switched in and out of Japanglish for Michiyo and our own benefits. Then on to shopping, and finally to a Starbucks. The crazy thing is that I totally Japanized the situation. Instead of ordering the delcious looking White Chocolate Mocha, that I'd been craving for months. I decided to get something I would probably only be able to eat once in my life. Traditional Japanese Azuki, or Red Bean Frappucino. It was suprisingly, the most delicious drink on the whole menu. And as I sat at the table, speaking Japanese to Michiyo and Bron, I thought about the Fat Cat. I reckon he'd be pretty proud that the skinney cat finally learned the ropes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I Dream In Japanese...

This year has given me the opportunity to analyze people. Okay, so that is definitely a weird first sentence. But it is the truth. When you can barely speak the language, and spend most of your time in quiet, you tend to become a little more aware of your surroundings. Now there is a million things that I have learned from just being quiet, but I just want to talk about one thing in particular. And that is, what makes people happy. It's like the attitude may change, the birds may start chirping, there may even be a mini spring in ones step. Whatever may be the case, when something good happens, people get happy. My best friend, Chiake, for instance, gets happy when I tell her how much I love the Koto club. Masaki Otosan gets happy when I call him Captain Jack Sparrow. As for me, I'm a really happy person, in that alot of things make me happy. Yesterday, in a middle school class that I assist in teaching, one of my students told me that she wanted very much to learn English so she could speak to wonderful people just like me. And then are things like last December, when Mrs. Fabian brought me a a giant jug of 100% Orange Juice. I was happier than a fat kid on Thanksgiving. This constant ray of sunshine, called happiness is a somewhat new feeling for me. I had a really hard time in Middle School, and was rarely happy. But the only person I can blame is myself for letting it all get to me. Now, I don't understand how I could live without that warm and fuzzy feeling of being liked or liking something.
Oddly enough, I woke up yesterday morning in a incredibly depressing state. When I opened my eyes, I felt like I a worthless horrible person who had just gotten something really special about themselves taken away. I felt like the only thing I could do was crawl under a rock and pretend I didn't exist. And yet as soon as I thought about why I felt like a dejected piece of trash, a sudden burst happiness and feeling of pride swept through me. Now I'm sure none of this makes any sense. And at the time, it didn't make much sense to me either. How could a dreary gloomy feeling suddenly make me overwhelmed with happiness? Perhaps, because for the first time in 10 months of living, eating, breathing, and now sleeping in Japan, I had a dream in Japanese.
I can never remember my dreams when I wake up, unless I think really hard about them and try to force them into memory. I don't know if that makes any sense, but that's what happens. When I woke up, miserable, and then suddenly exuberantly happy, I decided to fight really hard to remember this dream. The dream goes something like this: I was sitting in my desk in the second row at Tosajoshi All Girls High School in Kochi, Japan. It was just another day, where I was decked out in uniform, smiling, listening to the sounds of screaming excited girls, and pretending to be Japanese. I was sitting at my desk reading a study book in English and Japanese, really concentrating and not paying attention to the girls around me, who were laughing and talking. I took out a pen and starting writing a letter to a friend in Japanese, and was having a really easy time with it, which surprised me even in my dream. Then the bell rang, and my friends all filed into their seats, and quieted down. After a few minutes, the homeroom and Japanese teachers, Fukumoto-sensei hurried into the classroom. When she got to the podium, we students stood up and did the mandatory bow and greeting. Then Fukumoto-sensei began speaking in English, or what sounded like English, I couldn't tell. I guess she said things about she was changing from Japanese teacher to English teachers. But she said it in English, or some weird language, I couldn't understand. The girls all took out their English books and began speaking in English, or some weird language I couldn't understand. Fukumoto-sensei next looked up and down the rooms and said my name, "Julie?" When I opened my mouth the words came out in a weird, yet familiar way. "Fukumoto-sensei? Watashi wa wakarimasen yo" (Teacher, I don't understand!) She looked at me and began yelling at me in Japanese, "We don't speak Japanese in English class. You are embarrassing. You can't even speak English." I was shocked, but ready to retort and I planned on saying something like, "Excuse me? I'm fluent in English, it's you who has the problem." But as soon as the words left me mouth, a horrified gasp came from my classmates. I was rude to a teacher, in Japanese. Fukumoto-sensei smiled and said, "Don't be shocked class. We should feel bad for her. We stole her language." And I sat in my desk horrified, but still in disbelief. I started to argue with her, but all that came out was caveman Japanese. She continued to smile and I listened as my classmates began to laugh at me in ridicule. I began to cry as I couldn't speak my own language because a bunch of Japanese girls had stolen it. Then I woke up, feeling as gloomy and saddened at my lose of the English language as ever. But when I thought about the whole thing, I realized that I was speaking in Japanese. My classmates were speaking in some language, which was supposed to be English, but I really couldn't understand what they were saying. And the teacher spoke to me in Japanese, as that was the only way I was able to communicate with her. So yes, the dream was probably more of a nightmare then a dream. Yet thinking about the whole thing, and I can't help but feel so proud of myself. I, Julie Garner, am now dreaming in an entirely different language. Come to think of it, I should probably even more proud at the fact that I'm having nightmares in a different language. That's got to count for something extra, don't you think? I know it usually takes people less than 10 months when they are fully immersed in another language, but at this point, I could care less. I turned the frown upside down and smiled, thinking that I finally have a grasp this impossibly hard language.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fukumoto-homu Cleaning Adventures

Some time ago I posted an article, titled, "Osouji." It was all about my experience as a Japanese student performing the mandatory act of school cleaning. Well, even though I moved up an entire grade, onto a higher respectful position, my cleaning duties have not ceased. In fact, now they are even more difficult. But this editorial is not about complaining. Partly because, even though I'm still scrubbing Squat Toilets with a slightly large toothbrush, my cleaning crew is the greatest set of girls in the whole school. Well, at least in my opinion. Thus I give you our story on the many Cleaning Adventures we have journeyed on together.
Chiake Yamanaka, captain of the Tosajoshi Koto club, and newly moved-up from dumb class to smart class, is the leader of the 6th Fukumoto-homu cleaning crew. There are 42 girls in Fukumoto homeroom, and from numbers 36 to 41 are placed in the 6th Cleaning Crew. Everyone in the homeroom knows that one of Chiake's closest friends in the classroom is also the Exchange Student. The two are rarely seen apart from each other, and don't seem to have much trouble with a language barrier. This is probably the reason why Fukumoto-sensei always puts the two together. And even though I'm number 42 on the list of students, the girls have taken to referring to my number as 36.5, because Chiake is number 36. Also in the cleaning crew are some other important characters. Tomoko Yoshimoto, or White Eyes, because when she falls asleep in class, her eyes roll into an eerie white glaze. Another student is, Booby, who is given this name in real life. This is because her nickname in Japanese is Boob, though she prefers the English version much better. Then there is Scrappy, Mute, and Jack Bauer. We 7 girls make up the most exciting and insane cleaning crew in the whole school.
When school first began in April, the 6th Cleaning Crew only contained 6 names, missing mine. I was not going to remind my teacher to add my name. And instead I quietly chuckled, and the first 3 groups were assigned Toilets, Classroom, and the Meeting Room, respectively. Unfortunately for me, my dear friend, Chiake, had other plans. When all the names were called out and assigned to places of cleaning, CHiake stuck up her hand high into the air and yelled, "Sensei, what about Judii?" I flinched and then turned around to shoot her the most gruesome and dirty look I could muster. Horrified at the prospect of offending her new best friend, but all the while trying hard not to suppress a laughter at ratting me out, Chiake just gave me a nervous smile. Fukumoto-sensei looked at me and said, "Julie, would you like to join the cleaning?" Now honestly, what kind of question is that? It's like when we were all little kids using the excuse, "But Billy did so." TO which, Mom replied, "Well if Billy jumped off a bridge, would you?" Of course not, woman, I'm not mental, but I'm 5 year's old and trying to get out of trouble. I looked around the classroom and my 41 other classmates all staring and waiting for me to worm up some excuse to get out of cleaning. In fact, I guarantee most of them would have helped me come up with a good excuse, because we all hate cleaning. But then staring at the teacher, and knowing that last year's horrible exchange students refused to do cleaning, and my inner Good Two Shoes personality took full control. "Yes Fukumoto-sensei, I will do cleaning if there is a cleaning crew that needs me." I made sure to add the needing part to allow Fukumoto-sensei the opportunity to get me out of it. Instead she smiled and said, "Wonderful! Chiake, Julie will be joining your group." This made Group 6 have one extra person, or one less toilet that the girls all had to scrub. Some of the girls in the group gave a cheer, at this aspect. When I turned around to look for Chiake, I was met with a pompous smile that translated from body language meant, "Haha sucker!"
We started our cleaning taks on the second week of school. The 7 members of the 6th Cleaning Crew had been assigned the Tosajoshi School Meeting Room. And of the 3 duties that the homeroom has, it is by far the most simple. The room is off limits to students, only used by teachers for large important meetings. And thus, is much cleaner than most rooms. Another benefit is that the teacher in charge of cleaning the room, is a wonderfully kind old Math teachers, who is no where near as strict as the other loons that teach at my school.
Chiake and I arrived earlier than everyone else, and thus were given the most difficult job. Before coming to Japan, I was under the impression that the early bird always gets the worm, but here, that is not the case. Yet even the most difficult job for the Meeting Room, is really not all the difficult. Basically you just take this weird Swiffer type vacuum thing and slide it along the floor trying to collect paper frills and dust. The hardest part is maneuvering it along the chairs and tables. It takes about 10 minutes if 2 girls are doing it at the same time.
After about 3 minutes of waiting for the other members to arrive, the teacher left the room ordering us to start our jobs, while he went to call the homeroom and force the girls to hurry along. As soon as he left the room, I immediately began sprinting up and down the aisles. "What are you doing?" Chiake wondered out loud. I responded that I was getting the cleaning done as quick as I could. She took this to mean that I was trying to out do her in cleaning. And if I've learned one thing about the girls at Tosajoshi All Girl's High School, it's that they are really competitive when you least expect it. Suddenly, with a burst of sudden energy, Chiake fueled past me all the while Swiffer Vacuuming my area of cleaning. Now I was not about to let her beat me in a cleaning competition, no matter how stupid that sounds. Sure enough, we were soon locked in an epic battle, rip roaring around the fancy Meeting Room. And it wasn't exactly a clean race either, Chiake blasted me with her broad shoulders, then rolled her Swiffer Vacuum in front of me, causing me to trip and smack my head on a chair. I had a 2 second rebound rate, and was then chasing her with my Swiffer Vacuum. I ended up catching her foot, and she flew 6 feet into the air. As I victoriously rushed past her, laughing like a madman, she grabbed my leg. We were both on the group, in horrid pain. Chiake was the first to moan, while I grunted and stretched my possibly broken ankle. The doors to the room slid open and in came a burst of laughter. The teacher and the other 5 girls all admitted that they had just witnessed possibly the funniest thing in their lives. The tacher added that since the other girls were not able to stay because of an after school class, he was going to dismiss Chiake and I. But, he added, it's just lucky he did not dismiss us. The room had never been the effectively clean in less than 2 minutes.
Our next duty was on the 4th of school. We were assigned to clean Fukumoto's home classroom, or the room we spent every day in. The way this is set up that one student gets the 'serious' job of scrubbing down the boards, while the other girls do the sweeping and desk shifting. Chiake,36 , as crew leader, was first assigned the boards. Thus 36.5, also got roped into cleaning the boards. Now this would be a fairly simple task, of taking chalk earsers and scrubbing the chalk residue off the board. Unfortunately nothing is ever easy when it comes to Japanese girls.
Chiake and I split up the board. While I began, she stayed rooted to the spot and barked orders at me. "Judii, no, no, NO!" she yelled after I began scrubbing at the Kanji for the date. "I can see that they don't have chalk boards in America" was her comment a hearty sneeze I let out over enhaling some chalk. "It's like this, not that." She lectured about how I was going left to right, when I was supposed to be going right to left. Eventually, I turned around and threw a piece of chalk at her head. She got the hint and returned to her portion of the board.
I was done in a matter of minutes. The green color of the board was clearly visible and quite clean. So as an extra help to Chiake, I thought, I would clear away the chalk and stamp out the earsers. I took the two blue and black earsers and headed to the hallway, with plans to stamp them out from the opening of the window. I opened the window, and stuck the earsers out the and began clapping. If I had dropped 10 bombs on Kochi Castle, it would have had less of an effect. Girls from all over the school came running to under the earsers. I couldn't understand what they were doing, until I realized that they all thought I was throwing them out the window. I tried to explain in Japanese that I was just cleaning, when a voice of pure rage sounded off from behind me, 'JjjjUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!' I turned around to see the fierociously looking cleaning drill Sergeant storming towards me. When she reached me, she grabbed the earsers and headed back in to the classroom. I raced after her, explaining that I was only trying to clean the earsers not throw them out the window. In the room, she pointed to a blue box with a little on switch. She couldn't explain to me what it was, because there was smoke coming out her ears. But I figured it out. And it is the single handed reason that I believe the Japanese society is 10x more advanced than that of my own. TUrning the little switch on, and rubbing the earser onto a little slit in the box, and all of the chalk gets sucked away. Pure brilliance. I was so enthusiastic, that I dirtied up one of the cleaned earsers just do be able to clean it again. When I was technology and cleaning happy, I returned to the spot where CHiake was re-doing my section of the board. She took one look at me, and said, "WHile you were out throwing earsers, I had to clean your section because it isn't very good." Then she cracked up. I stared at her, long and hard, all the air inflating from my face, and said in English, so she wouldn't understand, "You are a cleaning Nazi." ALmost immediately she turned around, and said, "I understand that."
My least favorite of all the cleaning duties took place in the 6th week of school. It was the 6th Cleaning Crew's duty to scrub down the 4th floor High School bathroom at Tosajoshi. I know I shouldn't complain, after all, the bathrooms at this school are really quite clean. It's one of the many perks in going to an all girl school. Still, when you find yourself scrubbing an in ground birdbath with a slightly larger toothbrush, complaining seems to just comes natural. There are quite a few jobs that the girls are assigned to in the bathroom. The easy tasks include the Mirror and Sink scrub, as well as sweeping the tiled floor. The less enjoyable tasks include Garbage, where one has to scoop out of the waste from the 8 stall garbages, and toilet scrubber. Over the course of one week, the girls participate in 2 of these jobs. In my first day, Booby and White Eyes were assigned to Garbage. While Scrappy and I were to wipe down the mirrors, windows, and sinks of the front part of the room. Jack Bauer and Mute got the sweeping duties. Chiake, who, because of her duty as leader, was the own who assigned the tasks. When all was said and done, she looked down at the list and realized she had assigned herself to the more gruesome task of all. She whined really loudly, but then got the brush with no more complains. I tried to imagine how much of a stink I would put up if I had to scrub the toilets. But I didn't have to imagine it for too long. Scrappy and I were very quick in finishing up our cleaning, and it is polite to stay and wait it out for everyone else. But instead of waiting in the front of the bathroom, and being quiet, I decided to go annoy my classmates. I stood behind Booby and chuckled as she gasped when White Eyes dumped a right nasty fowl load into the garbage. Both of us tried not to throw up, especially Booby, because it was her cleaning duty. Then I skittered off to the spot where I heard of splashing around. Inside the last stall on the left, Chiake was grudgingly scrubbing the squatter. I roared with laughter at the expression of loathing on her face. Then as she stood up, probably to chase me out of the bathroom, I closed the stall door and held it for a few minutes. "JJJjjjUUUUUuuuuRRRRrrrrIIIIIIiiiii!" All the girls in my cleaning crew were in pain from laughter. When I finally let her out, she gave me a dirty look, and said, "You think that's funny. Just you wait."
And then the next day, I was assigned the toilet duty. I think the only funnier than locking Chiake in a bathroom stall for the cleaning crew, was probably seeing me jumping up and down and begging pleading not to do the cleaning. I got on my knees and cried to Chiake that it was unfair, and that I would never throw Earsers out of a window, beat her in Swiffer Vacuum races, or lock her in a bathroom stall ever again. In the cruelest expression she could muster, she handed me the brush and pointed to the first stall, then said nothing more. I won't go into the gory details, but when I was on the 4th stall, Chiake came to check up on me. Actually she probably came to shout more harrassing orders, but she could tell I was a broken Gaijin. She came into the stall, a pompous smile on her face, and made a remark, 'you are doing an awfully good job, perhaps we should put you on this duty tommorrow.' The brush was still in the toilet, but at the prospect of another cleaning of toilets, I flung my whole body up, brish in hand. The brush, which had just been soaked in water, sprayed CHiake with fowl Toilet water in an instance. She didn't even have time to scream, but instead she stepped back, right into the next stall. What made things worse was that she stepped right into another Squat Toilet, completely drenching her slipper. I hadn't even cleaning that toilet, which I was afraid of telling her. I watched her face, as it went from horror to disgust. I dropped the brush and ran over to her, "Chiake, are you okay? I'm so sorry!" And it was the truth, because I hadn't actually meant to spray her with toilet water. When I reached her, she looked at me, eyes open to a point that confirmed she was in shock. Then she let out a loud whail, prompting the other girls to come running. Actually it was loud enough for my family in the States to have heard of her. "What's wrong?" "Are you okay?" "What happened? Are you hurt?" CHiake and I remained silent, till I pointed down to her foot. The girls, afraid of the reprucussions of laughing at the cleaning leader, looked at me for more answers. I searched CHaike's face, praying she wasn't mad at me. And her mouth, cracked into a smile. I later found out, that I would be assigned to the toilet cleaning toilet for the rest of the week, just as soon as I helped Chiake dry her slipper.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Funny English Words Related To Me

The weirdest thing has happened. I suddenly find that one of my favorite things to do is just talk. It doesn't seem to matter as to who I'm talking to. All that matters is that I'm sitting there telling someone all about myself, not knowing if they understand me or even caring whether or not they do or don't. And this is coming from a somewhat shy girl, who can barely speak Japanese.
The thing about Japanese is that it is an incredibly difficult language. Way to state the obvious, right? With French, Spanish, and other Western society languages, people seem to have an easier time learning the language. I like Japanese much better than French and Spanish, but I can't deny that it is at least 10 times harder. What makes it even harder for me is that in Japanese, it is impossible to express oneself. Even people who are fluent in the language can't express themselves, because there just aren't any words for it. What I mean by expressing oneself, for example, is cursing. Now don't get the wrong idea. It's not as if I'm some foul mouthed punk, who came to Japan to learn some new dirty words. I strongly dislike cursing back at home. But everyone has those moments when something really annoying happens, and it all kind of just slips. Like say stubbing your toe on a desk, anybody will start screaming, "Oh Sh*t! That hurt." Japanese just doesn't have words for these moments. But there is another thing you can't do in Japanese. In America, it's a social topic, a conversation starter if you will, and often it bonds people in a common goal. Complaining. Getting around with a large group of friends and moaning, whining, criticizing, gossiping, and all around just complaining about something is an occurrence that happens on a daily basis for the majority of Americans and English speakers. I have become convinced that the single reason that English has become an international language, is not because it's one of the most highly spoken languages, but because you can complain about anything and curse at everything. Here in Japan, no one ever complains. It's not as though they are all happy, they just don't have the words to really express what they want to say, or complain about. Plus it's just not part of the culture, and it never has been. But even with all these road blocks, I still find myself talking off the ears of anyone who will take the time to listen.
I talk about all kinds of things, nothing necessarily having anything to do with my life. I talk about the places I liked to run to and from back in Verona, New Jersey, that I was bald and fat as a baby, that my sister has one green and one blue eye, that in America Tomato's are actually fruits. Pretty much, anything and everything. And surprisingly enough, most people just listen. What's the most surprising about it is that I have the worst Japanese grammar, so I probably sound something like a Caveman, and not the smart Geico cavemen either. Sister... has... eyes... blue... one... green... one. It must be difficult to keep up with what I'm trying to say, but no one seems to mind. Most are probably just baffled that I'm even trying to attempt their annoyingly difficult language, that they can't help but listen to my rants. Whatever may be the case, I'm just happy to be talking.
One of my favorite conversations is always about the Japanese pronunciation of certain words. Come to thing of it, this conversation is really my way of complaining. Often I find myself speaking certain words that I just know, no matter how hard I try to help, Japanese people will never be able to pronounce it if their very lives depended on it. Sounds like anything with an L and/or TH are perfect examples of things that the Japanese just can't say. This is because they don't have these sounds or anything like these sounds in their alphabet. Therefore they never learned how to say them rightfully in school or by speaking. It's sometimes even hard for English speakers, though. Almost all little kids say, "fing" rather than "thing." Some of these words mean alot to me, but instead of being annoyed that my friends and family can't say them, I turn it into a conversation starter and joke.
Julie Garner. It's amazing how much I have grown to love my name this year. Okay so my real is Julianne, but I have never actually been called Julianne, and despise it very much. Everyone in Japan, like America, just calls me Julie, or something to that effect. Julie, after all, has an L in it. Usually with foreign words containing an L sound, an R/D sound replaces the L. The sound is right in the middle of an R sound and a D sound. So that even though, in Japanese, Julie is spelled Jurii, it's pronunciation is more or less like Judii. And that's why for the past 10 months, I have been known to everyone as Judii.
I hated Judii for the first few days. Every time someone would call for me and say Judii, I would angrily answer, "What?!" You don't realize how important your name is, until people are calling you something else. I became so annoyed at this name, that it became my mission to correct people. My first, and last, person that I vowed to correct was my first host father, Masaki Otosan, better known as Captain Jack Sparrow. On the 5th day of Japanese adventure, at the Masaki family dinner table, Captain Jack said my name. "Judii please pass the Sushi (or some other strange Japanese food)!" Smoke must been steaming out my ears in fury, because the next thing I did was look at the pirate. "Otosan, juLie. JULIE! My name is juLIE! JULIE, not Judii! Say it! Julie!" He looked at me like I was absolutely insane, which I probably was at the time. "I'm so sorry. It's very difficult to say the L in your name, but I will try very hard," he promised. "JuwLEEIGH. JuwLEEIGH. JuwLEEIGH. How's that?" The way he say the Lee part was so strained, that his whole face resembled someone who looked constipated. "That's a little better, but a little less LEE." He concentrated very hard, thinking very hard how he was going to move his mouth. I watched as the wheels in his head turned and he imagined every possible way to pronounce my name. Finally he smiled, sure that he could do it. "Okay I got it! Juureeeee! How'd I do?" It was in that moment that I knew that for the next 12 months, I would no longer be Julie, but instead Judii.
Garner is even more funny for me to listen to. In Japan, the family name, or surname, is actually considered to be the first name of the person. For example, my best school friend is named Chiake Yamanaka. But it's actually set up as Yamanaka Chiake, with people referring to her as Yamanaka, which is the family name. Japanese people have long tried to figure out how Western names could fit into this jumble. As for me, people just introduce me as Judii, rarely giving my last name. They also rarely give it because barely anyone can actually pronounce it. Even though it contains no L or TH sound, the combination of R's in the middle and end always throw people off. The people that do know that my name is Garner, actually call me 'Ganaa' which sounds a little bit like the African nation of Ghana. Funnily enough, Ghana is also a famous Chocolate brand in Japan, so when people do learn my name it isn't very hard to remember.
A few days after I moved into my fourth family, the Katou's, I tried to help them pronounce Garner the correct way. Needlees to say, nailing jello to a tree is probably an easier task. But they were really curious as to what the name means. The family name if Katou has the Chinese characters, also known as Kanji, making the name mean something like Add Wisteria. For me, it was just another chance to be a right old chatterbox. I explained that most names don't really have meanings, or that even if they did at some point, today the meaning is rarely known. However there is a family legend about the Garners. I do not even know of it is really the truth, but it is a story that is too brilliant not to share to the world. It also explains how the Garner family became an all American family. Smiling and holding back a chuckle, I explained that when I was really young my Grandfather told me that one of my Ancestors was born in the country of Wales all the way in the far away land of England. My Grandfather wasn't sure of they were really poor or just really stupid, but my ancestor apparently stole one of the Welsh King's horses. His punishment was to be sent to America. My host father nearly wet himself laughing about this whole thing, even though I assured him that it was only a family legend. Still, when I finished the story, through his chuckles, he said, "I wonder what the Horse Thief would have said if he knew that one day one of their descendants would end up in Japan."
Back in October, when I knew about as much Japanese as a rock, every Tuesday, my school counselor would give me private Japanese lessons. Matsuoka-sensei is a Chugakkou Ichinensee (Middle School 1st year) English teacher, who speaks fluent English. Though the lessons were always supposed to be about me learning Japanese, I would find myself drifting in and out of Japanglish telling him about anything I could think about. I'm sure he could really care less about the Verona Track team, or that I got all A's in AP Us History, but he always listened and smiled. Since he is fluent in English, he also can pronounce alot of things that most Japanese can't. He even calls me Julie Graner. The GRA in Garner is the closed he can get to it actually sounding like Garner. Now 6 months later, he often sends his student to come and ask me to help them pronounce certain words. The Chugakkou Ichinensee just recently learned how to pronounce Gi and Je, and thus Matsuoka-sensei came up with a wonderful idea. He never could have seen that I would teach his students an English word so difficult, that it would go down in Tosajoshi's history as a 'bad' word. After the word was learned, it became an instant legend. Like when young Elementary School students discover how to use 'bad words.' Think back to those days on the playground when the boy that Mommy always told you to stay away from, comes running and announces he know a 'really really really bad word.' Then he proceeds to say 'Poop,' which causes everyone to gasp. The word that I taught these little Japanese girls, isn't actually a word, but more of a name that a 4 year old came up with. My Jack Russel Terrier is named Gidget, which may actually be the hardest thing a Japanese person can EVER pronounce. At some point, I decided to count all the different ways I heard Gidget pronounced. 3 weeks after it became a school legend, I have 62 different ways and counting. Matsuoka-sensei, one of the few Japanese people, probably in the world, who can somewhat pronounce the word correctly (Gidjuet) is considering teaching it as the first word to every one of his classes. I told him not to, because you wouldn't want the girls immediately hating English, that is supposed to come in Japanese High School.
There is still another word, that causes problems. I think I learned the word for the American famous fast food restaurant at the tender age of 1 and 1/2, upon opening up a Happy Meal and revealing a toy. McDonald's. The fast food chain has most certainly globe trotted to Japan, and even found it's way into the rural countryside of Kochi. It's an incredibly popular restaurant among teenagers, who always eat there when out with friends. But because this is Japan, the Menu's are slightly different. My first experience at a Japanese McDonald's found me eating a Fried Shrimp Burger with Apple Tea. I've also eaten the Chicken Teriyaki Patty. Don't get me wrong, though, I actually strongly dislike McDonald's. And when I tell my Japanese friends and families that I don't like McDonald's, I usually get the same response, "Why? You're an American!" Ignoring this, I command them to tell me how to pronounce the fast food restaurant in Japanese. "Makudonarudo" Then I try to get this to say the English pronunciation, "McDonalds." I have yet to meet one Japanese person who can actually pronounce it in the right way.
Luckily, English speakers don't usually have a pronunciation problem with the Japanese language. But it's alot for me to make the Japanese attempt words that are nearly impossible for them.