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Friday, June 28, 2013

Great Expectations - A Few Notes On Japan

My family's name is Joseph, and my given name is Andrew, and while I had no problem in knowing that my name should be read as Andrew Joseph, it was obvious going to be a state of confusion for everyone else.

Even in Canada, where I am from, people continued to call me Joseph Andrew, perhaps because everyone is so very familiar with the first novel by Henry Fielding: Joseph Andrew, or the History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams.

Ahh… you gotta love long book title names of yore, unlike now when it a single word would do: Coma, Jaws, It, Shogun and Trainspotting just to name a few of the more recent vintages that were also made into a movie/TV film.

Anyhow… like the title of this particular blog - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - the whole diary aspect of my life in Japan is about a young man's attempt to establish an identity and place in the world.

Now, to ensure that any claims of plagiarism are nipped in the bud, let's talk about what some of the great expectations people often have when they arrive in Japan. Won't that be novel?

  • Japan is always warm: It really does depend on where you live in Japan. There are parts where it is hot and humid all year long. There are parts where you get as much snow as parts of the US and Canada. It's a big freaking country, and there is a different bit of weather all over the place. Typhoon over to the west… sunny to the northeast… Godzilla attack in Tokyo, with a slight chance of Mothra.
  • You will be called by your first name in Japan, while they call everyone else by their surname. I was An-do-ryu-sensei... Andrew teacher. People called me Mister An-do-ryu. My buddy Matthew was Mashu-sensei, Ashley was Ashuree-sensei. You will not be Joseph-san... Mister Joseph. For me and my years of being called last name first, it wasn't a big deal to me in Japan. Kind of endearing, actually. My Japanese girlfriends called my An-do-ryu or An-do-ryu-kun (the kun, pronounced 'coon' is a term of endearment but usually means 'boy'... and when a women calls you that, it's downright sexy, in my opinion. You guys can call a woman XXX-chan, with the chan implying the same - young woman or girl).
  • You may not actually see a real geisha walking around town, unless you live in Tokyo or the other big cities...They exist, of course, but are simply not as wide-spread as the movies et al would have you believe.
  • Ninja do exist. But you may never meet a real one. It's just the way it is.
  • There are maybe five different faces - facial-types in Japan. At least amongst the kids: round faced an-pan man; monkey-faced cute ones,... but you know what... despite what I just said, they don't really look alike.
  • Getting international foods will be difficult, but not completely impossible. While I can walk 20 minutes from my house in Toronto and get Korean cuisine, Chinese food, fish and chips and Japanese food, you will find - aside from fast food places, 99% of the restaurants are those that sell Japanese food. When in Rome and all that... try them all! Do not eat all your meals at McDonald's, KFC, Burger King or various pizza shops. There's nothing wrong with them when you want a bit of 'home cooking', but you didn't travel all this way to do that. Hell - go to fast food shop Mosburger and have a Mosburger. Matthew and I (and I'm pretty sure even now, Ashley) think it's delish!
  • Try natto. It's fermented soy beans - it smells bad, and supposedly tastes bad... but if you live in Tokyo and North, Japanese people will automatically believe that you, the gaijin (foreigner) will not be able to eat it. Prove them wrong. Natto in the western parts of Japan is not really a popular dish, but if you get the chance - do it. Please. Your job, while still being a teacher of English, is still to help break people's stereotypes. Do not pull a Jeff Seaman (our good buddy) and refuse to eat Japanese food - he would make sandwiches and eat at Dunkin Donuts. Still, that good American man married a Japanese woman - gorgeous! - so I assume he's eating Japanese now. Wink-wink.
  • To continue the thought from the point above, many Japanese do like to 'brag' about the Japanese way of things - particularly items. I must admit that I believe it is simply a translation thing, but then again, it might not be. I have heard all about: Japanese chopsticks; Japanese rice; Japanese tea; Japanese kimono and Japanese sumo. To be honest, Japanese chopsticks are different from Chinese ones. Japanese rice is certainly different from say Indian rice; Japanese tea is green and is different from English tea; the Koreans have kimono; and sumo is sumo, so that one is strange. But they do like to talk about how only Japanese people will do something, when that's not necessarily true... it's an assumption. They do fully expect foreigners to not want to do half the stuff they do, and I admit, I liked to disappoint them by doing it - and, to quote Agent 86, loving it.;
  • Japanese women are not diminutive little slaves. They are people. Treat them with respect. Yes, they might like you, but for god's sake, teach them about equality. I was doing it 20 years ago, at great sacrifice to my conquest total, but dammit, sometimes they need to know they matter in a male-dominated society... that the rest of the world treats women better than they get treated in Japan.
Anyhow, those are just a few of the great expectations people have of Japan, and of some of the great expectations the Japanese have of foreigners.

To have a truly enjoyable time in Japan, the best advice I can give anyone is not have any any great expectations, except to promise yourself to be open and understanding. Japan is a different culture, but the important thing to note is that the Japanese are fellow human beings with the same basic frailties as you and I. Keep an open mind. Don't sweat the small things. Educate and share.

Andrew Joseph

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