Friday, August 22, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Oops, forgot to post this pic after all that. The girl was like 15 years old, so it added a layer of bizarreness to the whole experience. The caption below says "We are the world" (naturally).
This reminded me of my past trip to the U.S. and a girl was getting on the plane with a shirt that had the F-word on it as large as could be. Going to the U.S. I couldn't resist taking her aside and giving her some clothing advice...
Monday, August 18, 2008
I write a lot about how one of the challenging aspects of leaning Japanese is getting in tune with what isn't being overtly stated, learning to pick up meaning from situations or from the air around you. This is called mugon ryokai or "understanding without saying," and it presents special challenges people coming over from English, a language in which the subject and object of sentences are always stated. Once I got a call from my wife, asking if I would drive down to the station where she was waiting. She was sure I would understand that she was with her mother and that I should come pick up both of them in our normal car, yet she left this part out, in essence, saying, "Would you come pick [omitted] up." Of course I assumed she was alone, so I drove my Mazda Roadster (aka Miata) down to pick her up, which caused all kinds of problems since three people can't fit inside. The inability of non-native Japanese speakers to completely master the built-in vagueness of the language has the effect of turning even the smartest and most intelligent foreigner into a buffoon who doesn't know what is going on around him, at least some of the time. When you watch anime series that have a gaijin kyara or a foreign character, they often fit this mold: kind and well-meaning, but bumbling linguistically and generally causing problems for the Japanese around by always misunderstanding the situation.
From a popular book about a Japanese woman married to a foreigner, Darling ha Gaikokujin. Oops, I mean wa, sorry.
It never fails: you're going about our business in Japan, when suddenly you come face to face with some really bizarre English. Like a guy with a hat proclaiming, "Hey bad boy!" or a pretty girl wearing a provocative shirt that asks, "How many people have loved you?" or an air cleaner called "Clean Poo." Often the funny English takes the form of advertising, as companies make use of the kakko ii (cool) status of the English language to evoke emotional responses in customers which may lead to them making purchases, since printing something like "canned beverage makes you refresh" on a can of juice can give an otherwise hum-drum product a real "image up." Similarly, most every can of beer you will find in Japan features an extensive statement of quality, like, "Sapporo beer is made from the finest hops for a delicious taste and refinement," although I've never known anyone's purchase choices to be influenced by the English on the can. Some of my most enjoyable moments as an ESL teacher involved seeing how creative my students could be, like when one wrote that, "Humans cannot travel to Antarctica now, because it is under penguin rule." Although many foreigners in Japan love to find every bit of hidden English around them they can, I find that after being here so long, I almost don't notice it -- it's part of the general background noise of Japan.
Wow, that's a pretty cool T-shirt