It was recently brought to my attention that I have a certain American audience (ahem, Vlad) who would like to follow my blog but are consistently facing a very difficult language barrier. I.e, they dont speak or read Japanese. Therefore, I'm going to write more of my blogs in English (after all, I think only like three of my readers speak Japanese anyway).
I was at Mitsuwa Marketplace recently and I asked the man behind the counter if he could wrap my books for me because it was a present for a friend, and I fear that I spoke impolitely in Japanese when I did so. Now, some of you know that Japanese has varying levels of formality, I'll detail them for you in a hierarchical fashion, the most formal being at the top, and the least formal being at the bottom:
尊敬語, Son-Kei-go, is super formal and is used when referring to the actions of superiors.
謙譲語, Ken-Jou-go, is also super formal, and used when reffering to the actions of one's self in relation to superiors.
です・ます, Desu / Masu, formal Japanese, is used when speaking to someone higher than you on the social scale, but not necessarily a boss or a teacher. Its commonly used when talking to strangers or asking for help.
である, De-aru is similar in formality to desu/masu form, it is used in formal writing (like newspapers and essays etc)
辞書,Jisho is Dictionary form. It is informal when spoken, but considered MORE formal when written. Its just one of those things you have to accept. Japanese speak like this when talking to friends, most of the time. I talk to my friend Kazuma and my girlfriend Ai like this.
ヤクザ, Yakuza Japanese. Its not really called Yakuza Japanese, but its basically gangster Japanese. Sounds are slurred together and some things are dropped out of words completely. I use this when I'm telling jokes in Japanese, but it is my impression that this form of speaking is very rude.
Now that I've given you the run-down, lets get back to my story. When I asked the store clerk if he could wrap the present for my friend, I said it like this 「これは贈り物だから、もしかしてラッピングペーパーがないかな」which is somewhat akin to "this thing is a gift, so dont you have any rapping paper (I'm rude, I'm rude, I'm rude)". This was promptly brought to my attention by the person accompanying me, who stepped in and corrected my Japanese to be more polite. It was changed to Keigo: 「すみません、こちら以外の物は細ギフトですから、ラッピングをしていただけないでしょか」which sounds like "excuse me, all but this item is one gift, so can I please recieve the favor of you wrapping it for me? (very polite)".
Needless to say, I felt bad. I need to practice my Keigo. I spend so much time talking to friends in Japanese, that I have become too comfortable speaking informally. When I finally achieve my goals and go to Japan for international study (somewhere, over the rainbow.... haha) I will basically be the rudest person there if I continue to behave like I did at Mitsuwa last week. In Japan, the level of formality that you speak with is a reflection of how well you know the person. If you don't know them well, you use formal Japanese, and if you're asking a favor of someone you don't know well, you use Keigo. If you don't, they'll think you're rude, and they'll be right. Its a function of Japanese society that Americans must learn to live by when we go to Japan. I am adamently trying to correct my manners, grammar and behavior so that I wont make my hosts uncomfortable when I arrive.
P.S.: go yourself a favor and go to http://andii.wordpress.com. He's going to Japan next year. He's one of my two best buddies, and he posted my favorite Japanese song, "LIFE" by Kimaguren, on his blog. Watch it and give me some feedback if you feel like it.
I watched an interesting Japanese movie yesterday, called "Way of Blue Sky", starring Takuya Nakayama (中山タクヤ) as Takahashi, a boy in his last year of Junior high who announces to his class that he'll be immigrating to America in one week. He's the president of the basketball club, and there's a girl he likes but could never express his feelings to and there are five girls who like him. The plot unfolds as the romantic tension builds between Takahashi and his many girl friends (friends who are girls, not necessarily girls he is in love with).
I found this movie particularly interesting, because I have a lot of friends who are Asian American (some of them immigrants themselves and some of them who's parents immigrated to America), and I have even taken classes on Asian American immigration or Asian American cultural neighborhoods in Chicago (where I live). None of these classes have revealed to me, however, just what it is like emotionally to move away from your country to a new home, and for some reason I haven't discussed this with my friends either. If you've read my earlier posts, you know that I intend to study abroad in Japan next year, so I will also be leaving my home for a new country.
My friends, teachers and anyone else that I talk to have always emphasized the hardships after arrival in America (education, finding a job, language barriers, etc) but never have we discussed what it's like to part from friends and family.
"Way of Blue Sky", however, showed me the opposite side of this. Takahashi is never even seen in America in the movie, we don't see him get on the airplane, we don't even see the photo that he text messages to one of the girls after arrival. The story is much more about his friends and how they cope with him leaving. Some of his friends respond to him angrily, refusing to talk to him, hang out with him, and some even go so far as to critisize him outright: "Takahashi, have you even stopped to think about how your friends feel about this?". Of course, Takahashi doesn't have control of the situation, his dad is being tranferred for work, but it gives a little bit of insight into how the friends of an immigrant can react to the situation.
It is also apparent that Takahashi doesn't really want to leave, because there is a running theme throughout the movie that he seems to be packing his belongings incredibly slowly, agonizing over every item. I've moved a few times, and I know that packing makes the whole thing real, once you've packed, there's no going back. Takahashi doesn't want to pack. I think the conclusion is obvious.
One more interesting issue in this movie is sexual orientation. When Takahashi finally confesses his love to the girl he's liked all through junior high, she doesn't respond but doesn't give a reason. Later in the movie, she confesses her love to a girl in their class. All the while, Takahashi's best friend likes the girl that Takahashi likes, and he confesses his love for her every year on her birthday, she always rejects him and won't give a reason. Takahashi and his friend are both in love with a girl who is in love with a girl (who happens to be one of the five who are in love with Takahashi), creating an impossible love pentagon (and I'm leaving out the other four girls in this equation). This girl becomes friends, reluctantly, with all the girls who like Takahashi, but any real internal resolution to her conflict with society and homosexuality is left to interpretation.
Homosexuality is a somewhat taboo subject in Japan, I thought it worth noting that it was addressed in this movie.
Finally, how will I deal with the issues of separation when I move to Japan next year? I'm concered, considering that I am very close with my parents, I'm an only child and I have trouble being away from them sometimes, but they support my efforts to study abroad and want me to succeed. I'm sure it'll be an overly joyful experience to finally get on the plane and take off for Japan, and I'm sure I'll be more than elated when I finally arrive, but once that wears off and normal life kicks in, how will I react to homesickness and the non existance of family in Japan?
I have a very good friend who lives near Ritsumeikan University, Kazuma, who is currently working in the US. I've been hanging out with him a lot, helping him enjoy his time in Chicago, and I hope he'll do the same for me when I go to Japan. It'll make my transition a little bit easier to already know someone when I get there.
Anyway, if you have any thoughts on any of this rediculously long post, please, be my guest.
You may or may not already know me, but my name is Elliott and my major field of study is Japan.
My blog serves a few major functions: for one, it is my goal to spend a year studying abroad in Japan before I graduate from college as an undergraduate, and I use this blog to chronicle my progress towards that goal. I also post any interesting experiences I have involving Japan or Japanese culture and new things I learn along the way. I update it consistently, so please feel free to come back for new entries.