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In this sometimes chaotic and tumultuous world, one thing is certain: the proliferation of English.

Relating to our situation is how the Japanese have adapted to a world dominated by English speakers. Let’s face it, some of the most powerful countries in the world have a  majority of Anglophones. The Japanese in particular do not seem to have lost that affection for “America” (unlike countless other countries) and so they still try to emulate certain aspects.

This is probably the most noticeable in the English borrow words (written in the Katakana syllabary). While most older Japanese will remember or at least be aware that these katakana-ized words are not native to Japan, as each generation progresses this knowledge is not being passed on.

In fact, sometimes my students will try and tell me something, thinking they’re using a Japanese word (which is actually English) and become completely astonished when they realize that I understand them. It also leads to some frustration when the Japanese say that they can’t speak English and subsequently you are told, “donnto minndo” (Which, if you couldn’t sound it out says, “don’t mind”).

Indeed some even joke that a student of the Japanese language could survive by simply learning katakana (and how to discern English words from it). Essentially, the Japanese have taken what was once something else and made it into their own; another pattern often joked about, that the Japanese are world’s best innovaters.

In some ways one could argue that perhaps this adaptation of English into Japanese is similar to what occurred when the Japanese “borrowed” the Chinese writing system. It seems that even though these words are not authentically Japanese, they have been innocuously entered into the culture and have become genuine components of the language. My father used to say that Japanese (regardless of it being the 9th most spoken language in the world) was a dieing language; however, I would have to argue that Japanese is a fighter and comparatively to the Japanese society, it is also open to new experiences. A necessary trait to save itself from the onslaught of more potent contemporary powers.

And just for fun, my favourite katakana words often thought to be Japanese!

-sutoroberii (Strawberry)
-baibai (Bye-bye)
-chikin (Chicken)
-biifu (Beef)

…any more you would like to add, Osushi-san?

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The Haircut.

Sometimes, when living in a foreign country, a seemingly uncomplex activity can turn into an intricate negotiation with unexpected and dire consequences.

One such experience might be a trip to the local barbershop for a much needed trim. Essentially the guts of the Japanese system are parallel to those found in North America; however, one of the first things you notice when you enter Japan is that the Japanese are, as a population, noticeably more stylish than, say, Canada.

This is because in Japanese culture, image is paramount. First impressions really do last a life-time here and with their high pressure job system (as well as strict rules for hair and comportment in schools) it is no surprise that there might be a few differences in how the Japanese hair/beauty market operate.

One of the most blatant differences is that guys are just as, if not more than, imaculate as the girls. From their hair down to their toenails. (I even read a study that said about 67% of Japanese males prefer to sit down on the toilet to take a tinkle!)

This brings me to my story. I got my haircut just before leaving Canada, so as to assure that I could put it off for as long as possible. When it finally did come time to go, I asked around and found the place most recommended by my Japanese and Western friends. Even then, unsure about the vocabulary needed for a haircut (surprisingly simple, by the way) I coerced my servant friend into coming with me to act as an interpreter.

She did a wonderful job translating, however, what was common practise to her (being from Japan) was less so for me (living in Canada).

It turns out that after you get your haircut, they will wash it. Fine and well enough, but they also give you a shave; a proper, old-fashioned barbershop style one. That was alright by me too, less work in the morning! What shocked me though was that they didn’t stop with my beard. No, they went further. Indeed, they shaved not only my beard, but my forehead, the sides by my eyes and finally they completely reshaped my eyebrows.

Some would say it was a good (and much needed) improvement. But if you’re not used to looking like a pretty Ken doll (like my ex-Marine corps friend) then I suggest you learn the words for “Please stop!” (also, don’t fall asleep while they’re cutting your hair).

Like most situations that are surprising and potentially awkward while living in a foreign country, you just have to laugh it off and smile. It’s all part of the beautiful experience that is immersing onself into a different culture.

Of course, I can say that because I was lucky. Some people have more… unfortunate experiences with the hairdresser, right, Osushi-san?

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The Newcomer.

Konnichiwa!

Hajimemashite. This is my first post on the SushiKimchi blog. Let me introduce myself, I’m betsubara (Japanese for “two stomachs”, as in, one for the meal, one for dessert). I am also an ALT living in Japan, Fukuoka prefecture to be exact. Unlike Osushi-san I teach at the High School level which means I have only one school to attend. I have about 7 classes of 40, grade ten, students.

The goal for my entries here are to primarily provide some insight into cultural aspects of living abroad. As I am also from Canada my viewpoints will be coming from a more Western, North American perspective; I apologize for that!

If you want to know more about Fukuoka, you can try reading my sporadically updated personal blog, found here: http://juanito-japonito.blogspot.com/

Yoroshiku onegaishimau!

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