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The Adventures of Banana Teacher 04 - Cold Weather Woes

One of the "strangest" things that I've encountered is how the Japanese deal with cold weather and how my students dress during said weather. Every morning my students enter school dressed for the polar regions. They wear jackets, sweaters, coats, mufflers, hats, gloves, etc. But, as soon as they get into the classroom, they change into their play clothes and go outside. Their play clothes consist of shorts and a long sleeved shirt. They proceed to go outside to play in only this. Then, they stand around shivering and bemoaning their situation while the Japanese teachers encourage them to run around to stay warm. This boggles my mind. I can't imagine this happening in America. Parents there would throw a fit.  I understand the reasoning behind this tradition, but I still feel bad for the poor little ones shivering while I wear 7 layers of clothing.                                  Me. Every. Day.

Can you understand Japanese English?

(My Home )This is a phenomenon that happens all over the non-native English speaking world, in many varieties. Of course there are tons of words loaned to the English language that are pronounced or used incorrectly, for example, the way we pronounce karaoke or tsunami, anyone? (Can we call that English Japanese?) There are a handful of English words you'll see or hear in Japan that aren't Engrish. They are English words, but the way they are used here is sometimes a little different. These range from tons of 'katakana English' loan words like 'teburu' for a western table and less recognizable words like 'pi-shi-' or PC (for personal computer) to words and phrases we use like, “Let's go!” Here are just a few examples of Japanese English I hear often, and in these cases I'm under the impression that Japanese people think they are correctly using English integrated into their language. Don't mind In English this phase is missing a subject, assumed to be “I” as in, “I don't mind.” This is not what Japanese people are going for exactly when they use this phrase. The meaning is more like, 'never mind' or 'don't worry about it.' (Pronunciation is more like, 'done mine, done mine.') Come on I first heard this in a Japanese junior high classroom as a student beckoned me to help with his handout. Within the context I completely understood that he meant as, 'Come here (please),' but didn't realize until later that 'come on' is used in this way in Japan. Come on can have a lot of meanings in English, from the phrasal verb meaning to flirt with someone, to expressing frustration when the other team scores a goal. Said in a sort of friendly and inviting way, as if to say, 'why don't you join me!' Ironically, one of the meanings of the phrase in English. Maybe this meaning is the origin of the usage in Japan. My home This seems simple enough, my house, right? Not exactly. This is used to mean a new home built for the person or family on land they bought. It's common to have your own house built here (new and modern, with the details you choose) rather than buying a home someone else has lived in. It's more like prefab - picking which designs you want from cookie-cutter options and not as expensive as building a custom home could be in some countries. 'My home' in Japan doesn't mean the same thing as my house, as in the place where I live, an apartment or the house I grew up in for example. There are so many others, so what is another Japanese English phrase you've heard?

It Means The Most When It Is Unsaid

The thing that I enjoy most about Japan is the harmonious co-existence of contradictions. While contradictions often create disagreement and chaos in many places, that is not quite the same in Japan. There seems to be this huge invisible force that mandates the opposites to get along with each other, to not interfere and to accept and make peace. I figured that it is this huge set of unspoken rues that guides the peace and these rules seems to reside in every Japanese person. A set of rules that regulates and controls every aspect of their behavior and ultimately forms their very strong social consensus.  “KY (kuuki wo yomu or “read the air”) – non Japanese do this as well, but in a different way and to a different extent. To (most of us) non Japanese, its obvious that we say, should not go to the bank in our pajamas. To a Japanese person, it is obvious in a similar way that in some situations a person who smiles too much is not to be trifled with”. (Kyle Von Lanken) While it is not impossible for one to live here without fully internalizing this mysterious set of unspoken rules, foreigners who are found ignorant or breaking these said rules can be pardoned, but that also mean an automatic exclusion from being “one of us”, a.k.a. Gaijin (an outside person). Social Manifestations Of The Unspoken RulesI reckon that there are a few very Japanese traits that best manifests the rules and also help set the foundation of this harmonious society.- Never be in the face of others- Don't cause inconvenience to others- Always seek agreement not discussion- You can never be too polite - When I doubt, just smile or laugh (politely)Hence it seems obvious that vagueness may be the universal answer to all the above. As long as you are vague (enough), you will never be in danger of breaking the unspoken rules.  Just How Vague Do You Have To Be?It is understood that at the root of all these vagueness, is the way the Japanese language is formed. The language itself is lacking of emotional descriptive, hence the display of emotions not on a verbal level but through explicit self expressions as seen in elaborate festivals, cosplay, anime, performance and art.Even in everyday lives, people don't really talk much.  My husband comes through the door and grunts something to the point of making his presence known.  Your neighbors nod good morning to you and avoid any lengthy conversations.  People answer "domo" to end any exchanges.  It sounds super cold but that's the way it is here.Important guidelinesWe can’t be truly Japanese but it is especially important that we abide by the unspoken rules of this society. Hence, to stay safe while exploring the perimeters of this “Japanese vagueness”, it may be helpful to bear in mind the following guidelines.- Always have inherent respect for others - always consider the comfort and convenience of others- Never impose your own opinions - always leave room for accommodations and self-interpretations- Nothing is being said as it is – always read in between the lines- Playing stupid or providing some kind of comic relief can enable easy exit from situations Hence in Japan, we shall say "Say little and live life!" ;)

Early Hanami in Saitama

Cherry blossoms or “sakura” are not just beautiful flowers but it brings me a certain kind of joy that no other flowers or trees do.  I remember my first visit here in Japan was during Spring of 2012. Together with my then-boyfriend’s mom (now my mother-in-law), I went to the nearest park where sakura trees lined up and we spent moments just admiring the trees.  We took lots of pictures, too.  I fell in love with the beauty of a fully-bloomed sakura tree on the first sight.  But getting a closer look on a single flower made me love it even better. Since then, I always look forward to Spring and witness sakura trees bloom.  This year, I got a pleasant surprise as some trees in our area already started to bloom.   And it's not even March yet.  I am so happy I didn't have to wait any longer.  Also, my mom who is on a one-month visit had a chance to experience cherry blossoms before she comes back home again next week.  Oh, what a joy!  ;) Here are some photos from our February 2017 “hanami” (flower viewing).  Also sharing some photos from my first sakura sighting on March 2012.

Fever Fever!

I don't get sick very often. Even when I do, I can work through most things. This is probably due to my obsession with perfect attendance. I loved getting that certificate at the end of every school year that congratulated me for not missing one day. There were times when my mom suggested that I stay home for my birthday, but I would always refuse because the certificate meant more to me than a shopping trip or going to the zoo. #nerd  My desire for this prestige is only quelled by a stomach virus or food poisoning. It's really hard to work or study with your head in the toilet (trust me I've tried).  So when I call my Japanese boss  and tell him that I can't come in because I am sick, I am truly sick. A normal response would be, "I am sorry you're sick. Get well soon." In Japan, however, my admission of illness is met with, "Yes, but do you have a fever?" It doesn't matter the illness. It doesn't matter that I have just puked up the yakitori that I ate two years ago. No fever = ganbatte. Okay boss, but I might just "ganbatte" all over the floor while doing the Hokey Pokey.

Tulipfields around Sakura City

Every year at the beginning of march the tulip season starts in japan. In Sakura City (Chiba prefecture) you can find a huge field full of different tulips from around the world. In the middle of the field is a beautiful windmill from the Netherlands which has a small museum inside. If you going at the end of march to the fields, you might be lucky to see most of the tulips fully bloomed. But every tulip is different and has different blooming time.  I love to walk around the fields and see the big variety of flowers. Also for around 500 Yen you can collect 10 tulips from the fields and bring them back to home. The good thing about tulips is that they come back every year again. For your entertainment you can listen to a school choir or dress up in a typical Netherlands dress with wood shoes. Also you can have lunch at the nearby restaurant and food stands.I visit that place every year because I like the nice atmosphere of the fields in the countryside and it gives me a little feeling of being back to Europe.

The Adventures of Banana Teacher- 03 Boss Queen

One of the most rewarding things about living and teaching in Japan is seeing how much progress your students are making and how proud they get when the can communicate with you effectively. With that being said, there are...times... when things don't quite make sense or words that you don't normally use every day are thrust at you with so much enthusiastic force that it makes you pause a bit. Here are some of my favorite phrases that my students have come up with.1. "It's 3 hot outside."It was a hot summer day and my students were changing from their swim clothes into their uniforms. I made the comment, "It's too hot today," while wiping the perspiration from my brow. My quietest student Ko-kun looked up at me with a deadpan face and said, "No Banana-teacher. It's 3 hot today."2. "My an*s hurts."One of the requrements for my upper level students is to write a weekly journal. I let them choose whatever topic they want. This gives them an opportunity to tell me things that they normally don't have time to tell me in class. Ma-chan decided that for her weekly journal she would tell me in vivid detail that, "My an*s hurts because I diarrheaed all night." It was definitely unexpected.3. "You are a boss queen."I was reading a story to my kindergarten class when the word "boss" came up. I explained to them what a boss was and how it is an important job. Yu-chan looks at me and says, "Banana teacher, you are a boss queen." Yes, yes I am Yu-chan.crown + power suit = boss queenSituations like these always add a little extra fun to my day. Have your students ever said any interesting phrases?

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