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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Regrets & Failures In Japan

From time to time, I get asked what my greatest failure or regret was while I was in Japan.

My initial response is 'none of your damn business', because I like to joke around.

I suppose I've been buttered up by plenty of people who appreciate my candor - in describing who I am and what experiences I've had… so of course I can't duck the question.

After a moment's thought, I'm pretty sure I don't really have any regrets. You can see from the accurate LEGO diorama I built of my apartment (above) that, aside from the spiders on one of the balconies, I was living in the lap of luxury in Japan.

But failure in Japan?

That's different.

I didn't learn the Japanese language. I did, but what I know of Japanese language I could describe in minutes…

Languages have never interested me. People, society, history… that has interested me. While some might argue that you can never learn everything about a people if you can't dig the lingo, I would argue that there was no way anyone could in three years on the JET Programme (the most we were allowed to do in the old days), anyhow.

The humble, stupid, cute, funny gaijin routine worked for me. Being a nice guy who excelled in making people smile or feel good, people were only too happy to work their broken English into extensive thoughts about whatever deep subject I could come up with…

Have you ever talked sexual equality with someone who doesn't know what it is?

How about providing boyfriend or girlfriend advice when you yourself only blew your cherry a few weeks after landing in the country?

Have you ever tried to talk sumo to people who have watched it all their life?

I talked food - why certain foods were eaten (by that I mean things like whale or even natto); drinks - why is whiskey considered an elite drink when it should be sake; what's with the Lolita-complex; why do the students dress in garb that is right out of the Victorian era; why do JETs make more money than 20 year Japanese teachers; how do you catch ayu fish on the river (the next day I was taken to a river and shown); why are the Japanese fascinated by Americanism? (I never got a satisfactory response - just a lot of confused sucking of air throughout the teeth)… hell I asked about every single thing that came into my warped mind.

I'm curious about everything, and finding people to teach me the Five W's (who, what, where, when and why) plus a How… that was far more fun…

I got to communicate with the people, rather than sitting quietly - by myself - reading a book in English that no one else around me understood - as I tried to teach myself the three Japanese alphabets, Japanese grammar (apparently it helps if you know English grammar, which I am technically proficient at)… instead… by talking to people I was exposed to Japanese slang, average language, and high Japanese - depending on how each person wanted to treat me.

Each level of language was a high level of respect to me in its own way. Seriously… when cool kid talks to you like he would his cadre - that's cool. When the Principal talks to you as though you are his equal - that's cool, too.

My goal in Japan (aside from getting laid) was to learn something new every day.

There was probably a day in Japan (maybe just once) when I failed to learn anything new about Japan… but I probably learned something new about myself even if I didn't know it at the time.

But let's call it failure, anyhow.

I failed to enjoy myself every day in Japan… yes… being sad about my woman problems deprived the internal me of enjoying each and every day in Japan to the fullest. That's on me, not the women, of course. Fail.

Oh… I failed to roll up my futon every morning, and so my negligence caused an entire tatami mat room to have the old moldy tatami removed and new tatami put in (it came out of the allowance set aside by my Board of Education in case of emergency). Fail.

That's pretty much it. Except… I guess I do have one regret.

After a particularly frustrating phone call with my Japanese girlfriend Noboko (in year three), after she hung up on me, I punched my fist through the wall in my living room.

I replaced the map of Ohtawara I had only just removed a week earlier) on the wall to cover up my anger.

I was leaving town in a few weeks anyway… so I hid the hole and ske-daddled.

I should have been a man and told my Board of Education about what I had done and paid to have it fixed. That's my regret.

I don't regret punching the wall. I regret not doing something about it afterward.

But do I regret those failures? No. That would be a failure, and who needs another one?

By the way... in the LEGO diorama above, on the right hand side near where the woman is exiting a room, you can see a map on the wall beside a table lamp on a bookcase... the LEGO version of the one I was just talking about. The woman is general... I can be seen hiding in the room to the far left top, wearing sunglasses and writing.

For the record, I purposely did not build up the walls separating the rooms in the living room, dining/kitchen area or the bathroom to provide a more accurate look. If you are interested, you can see more of the diorama HERE.

Andrew Joseph

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