Saturday, August 31, 2013

24 Hour Television

Every year that I've been in Japan, I've stumbled upon this "24 Hour TV" thing. Apparently, it's been a yearly NTV tradition since 1978. 24 Hour TV is a televised charity marathon that, as the name implies, runs for 24 hours. It's always televised on the weekend, starting on a Saturday evening in late August and finishing Sunday evening the next day.

Local NTV stations get in on the action by selling that year's charity T-shirt, airing local stories and organizing volunteers to set up shop around the city to collect donations. For the past four years, Arashi has been the hosts of the event. They also choose a celebrity to run a marathon. The 24 hours is a mix of watching the celebrity runner run, clips of the celebrity runner's training, stories of disabled children, video of handicapped children learning and performing a dance, drama about cancer staring some member of Arashi and, of course, lots of tears.

I've noticed that, aside from 2011, the event focuses on bringing attention to illnesses and those with handicaps. There is no. zero. zip. mention of Japanese living in poverty and how to help them, which I find strange and sad. Since Arashi has been hosting, they've aired some sappy drama (based on a true story!) of some young person who inevitably gets cancer and dies.

The celebrity picked to run this year was a woman that is a part of a comedy group, Morisanchu. Miyuki Oshima is about 5'7, I think and weighs 88 kilograms. That became the focus of her participation, with headlines of "88kg runner Oshima! Heaviest female in 24 H Marathon history!" flashing across screens and announcers' tongues. It also became the distance she had to run: 88 kilometers.

Interestingly, Japan is ranked 119 in the World Giving Index. Whenever I see the donation boxes out, people put in 1 yen or 5 yen coins...much like they do when going to the shrine or temple. That must be a pain in the ass to count up.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Translation Thoughts

I don't think I'm a great translator. I "see" the words when I read a book. And "seeing" what the author/writer is trying to convey is worthless when I need to put what I see into words. Last week I bought myself a used Sony eReader and promptly started downloading books in PDF form to  stick on my SD card.

It's difficult to find books that I'd want to read, and that's of course even more of a problem in Japan. I did find a few and have been trying to read more. I used to read so much back home! What does this have to do with translation? Well, you see, living in Japan for so long hasn't helped my English abilities.

I talk in simple sentences to Japanese people who ask me for English lessons. Even with other English speakers our conversations are somewhat limited. It's not like anyone is taking online classes or something like that. So, my English ability has fallen, while my Japanese hasn't gotten that much better (at least in my mind).

I've taken on a translation task for the wife of a friend. It's an instruction manual. Tedious. Boring. And as I was translating a section, I was stuck on 静か. They wanted the user to close the door 静かに, but the only word I could think of was "nicely." "Quietly" wouldn't do here, because while 静か is quiet, they don't exactly mean "quiet." If that makes sense.

Suddenly, "gently" popped into my head. "That's it!"
It's the little joys that help me get through the day...night...1:18am right now to be exact.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Customer Service

I never had much money for buying things when I was in the U.S., so I can't say with certainty that American customer service is uniformly good or bad. The well-known areas like, for example, Sprint's customer service line or waitstaff have routinely been bashed for having bad customer service. I agree, there are many areas in the U.S. where customer service is lacking.

That's where Japan comes in: Japanese Customer Service is Great! That's what I heard before coming and since then. "The staff is polite!," "The staff wraps up your stuff!," "The staff is so helpful!," etc. I didn't have any feelings towards those words written by Westerners, but, they did peak my interest. And when I go out in Japan, I try to think about what would happen in a similar situation back home (especially if I was in a similar situation).

However, I don't think that Japanese customer service is that much better than what I experienced back home. 

Incident 1: Special Orders
I think I've written about this before, but special orders are non-existent here. I remember the first time I went to McDonalds and asked for a sandwich without mayonnaise. The look from the staff was as if I asked them to detail how each item on the menu was made with a calorie count. Of course I ordered in Japanese, but I might as well have ordered in Greek. 

Incident 2: Pee Cup
Last month I had to get a company mandated health check. Every. Single. Japanese health check requires you to pee in a cup. Japanese people have been doing this since they were kids, I have not. There's nothing easy or delicate about peeing in a cup, and my body freezes up. So, every time it's come up, I've told the people that I can't do it and pass on that part. I did the same this time, and was met with a confused look. I explained that unless they have endless time to wait, I won't be doing that part of the health check. The result? A call to my office about confusion over my refusal.

Incident 3: Make-up
I'm not big on make-up. Outside of ballet recitals, I never wore in when I was back home. But here in Japan, every. single. female makes it a habit to wear obsessive amounts of make-up. I've tried to figure out make-up by myself. My skin tone is obviously darker than the "OMG IvE goTtA b WhYtE!!11" Japanese women, but lighter than the, "OMG IvE goTta B DaRK!11" minority of Japanese girls. Going around to stores to ask for help is slightly more helpful than talking to a brick.
Me: Do you have this in any other shades?
Staff: This is all we have. *looks at me* *walks away*

Incident 4: Hair Tie
I was browsing through a somewhat specialty shop that has stores in Japan and overseas when I spotted a cute hair tie. After thinking it over for a week or 2, I decided to buy it. When I went back, it was gone. The staff said, "That was the last one we had. You should have bought it earlier." and left it at that. I was disappointed and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't meant to be, but decided to look up the shop online. That's when I found that they had another store in my city, so I headed over there on the weekend. I found the hair tie! w00t! 
A few days later, I happened past the original store, and what do I see? The "sold out" hair tie. I wonder why the staff couldn't tell me to check the other store and why she couldn't tell me that another shipment might have it??

I just wanted to buy the damn hair tie you fucking bitch!
Sure, these could all be seen as isolated incidents, me being unlucky, etc. But if you're going to herald your country's customer service as the best in the world, you'd better believe I expect ALL encounters to be great. The tl;dr of this is that shop staff have a manual to follow. If your interaction follows the manual, then great. Everything is gravy. If it doesn't, most people cannot think enough to turn the situation into a good one.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Let's Talk about Trust

Last Friday I got a somewhat frantic email from an acquaintance. She wanted to know if I was free the next day, Saturday to help with a cooking class. The person originally scheduled to lead the class, another American, had called to say that he was ill, but still wanted to go. She told him they'd reschedule and then emailed me.

Fortunately for me, I had time and I knew the group of people. It was a hectic time, but I think that everyone had a nice time...or at least they said so. After cleaning up and getting a ride back home from the lady who contacted me, I heard a bit more about the original "teacher." 

On the ride there, I heard about how that guy had requested that day for a class, but then double-booked himself on an outing with friends. On the ride back, I heard about his drinking, his broken promises, his childlike behavior...Not that he wasn't a nice guy, according to her. But, this is the thing about Japan...maybe anywhere; everything you do counts.

If this was the U.S., people might think, "That guy is flaky." Or, they might not care. ("Oh, you want to cancel our meeting to go to Vegas? Sure!") Trust is something that takes a long time to build up here, and it brings a lot of sacrifice. There are days when you don't want to go out to a musical concert or an outing with a family that isn't yours. The expectations are high, just as high as if you were family or even Japanese.

And really...some things are just common sense. If you make a promise, keep it. If you are asked to be somewhere at a certain time, get there 5 - 10 minutes early. And if you think you are going to be late, call as soon as you know. If you're meeting someone at 2pm, don't wait until 2pm to call them and tell them you'll be late. Don't blow off promised meeting times, don't make sudden changes... Many of these are fine to do in the U.S., some people might not blink an eye. Yes, it's unfair that Japanese people would think that Westerners (Americans) are untrustworthy because of what seems like trifling things, but they are a big deal to Japanese people!

And for heavens sake, West Coast people, stop coming to Japan! Your flaky reputations precede you! I've met too many West Coasters (California people, I'm especially looking at you!) who have a very obvious disregard for anyone besides themselves. If you don't like making time for people, if you don't like being tied to obligations, if you don't like people relying on you...don't come! Ijou desu!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Kaze Tachinu, Barefoot Gen Involved in Protests

The Studio Ghibli film, "Kaze Tachinu" has become involved in a small scandal over smoking scenes. An anti-tobacco group, The Japanese Association of Smoking Control Science, issued a protest to Studio Ghibli over the number of smoking scenes in the movie. The smoking scenes included ones where university students smoke in a professor's office and where the main character encourages a foreigner to smoke with him. In response, the Smoking Culture Society fired back with a response of their own, declaring the freedom of expression in movies. 

On tonight's (Aug. 18) Mr. Sunday, there were interviews with both sides. The smoking supporter representative was taped, of course, smoking...what else? Mr. Sunday looked at smoking in movies from abroad and noted that in American movies, smoking scenes, which accounted for 60% of movies 50 some years ago, only account for 20% in movies today. South Korea also blurs out any tobacco instances. France, on the other hand, doesn't seem to give a fuck.

The Mr. Sunday reporters were obviously sympathetic to the smoker's side. What else would I expect from Japanese men in their late-50s/60s? One lady even equated the decline of smoking scenes in Japanese films to the "Americanization" of Japan. What bull. I hate...HATE sitting in cafes breathing in disgusting tobacco smoke. I hate how smoking is idolized here. And I hate hearing people bitch and whine about PM2.5 coming from China, but don't care that they are poisoning the people around them. 

Next up is Barefoot Gen, a manga written by a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor about a boy who survived the atomic bombing. This was also covered in tonight's Mr. Sunday. However, Mr. Sunday's report differed from Asahi Shimbun's. What happened? Well, Matsue City in Shimane Prefecture has pulled Barefoot Gen from public school library shelves. Mr. Sunday says it's because the school board decided that the scenes were too violent for children. Asahi Shimbun, on the other hand, reports that the manga was pulled because concerns were raised about the level of violence depicted by Japanese troops towards other Asians.'s OK to show the suffering of the atomic bomb victims, but it's inappropriate to show the suffering of victims by the Japanese army? The book was written with the hope that war isn't repeated. That those that were victims of war wouldn't be forgotten. But, does this message only matter if your side is the one that is the victim? Some Japanese feel that anything that paints Japan in a bad light is anti-Japanese. Slavery. Discrimination. Japanese-American internment. These are all awful crimes committed by the US Government. But, I don't hate being American because of it. I look back at the past and try to learn. There's nothing anti-anything about acknowledging that your country did bad things in the past. *sigh* 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Obon Yasumi

Summer is the time when Japanese people visit their ancestral graves to clean them and pay their respects. It's a huge pain when it comes to traffic because EVERYONE is traveling at the same time. But, it seems that the "remedy" for this is staggered Obon breaks for company workers and "summer vacation" days that can be used for obon-related activities or vacation.

When I worked for the Japanese government, we were given 3 "summer vacation" days that could be used in July or August. This year, my company has given us 3 "summer vacation" days this August. Given...hmm...maybe "the company will be closed for 3 consecutive days and if you have paid leave you should take it because if you don't or can't, you won't be paid for that time off" is a better way of saying that.

I was hoping to try and go to Tokyo next month, and seeing that today is the first of my 3 days off, I went downtown to check out ticket prices. That's when I noticed that along with my company, a lot of other places were closed for obon. No price searching for me.

I also recently took a trip down to Baskin Robbins and discovered that they have Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. Did I mention this before? OMFG, cookie dough ice cream! *cries*

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Random Thoughts

Health Exam

At the end of last month, I had a health check. Japanese companies lurve health checks. And the Japanese government, too. Every year that I've been in Japan, I've gotten a health check. And I should use "health check" loosely. It's more like two hours out of my day, and hour and a half of which is spent sitting waiting to be called. The rest involves a chest X-Ray, eye exam, hearing test, weight/height/waist check and this time (new to me!) being hooked up to a machine to shoot electricity through my body.

I'd spent the past 3 months or so trying to diet down to a weight lower than last year (success!) and trying to be healthy in general. It paid off, I was given an "A" on my health exam! w00t!


I hate trying to travel in Japan. I live in a large city. It's not Tokyo, but large enough to be a Designated City. And yet everything imaginable is damn expensive. Want to go to Tokyo by shinkansen? 30,000 yen+ (over $300) round-trip. Want to go to Tokyo by bus? Now I see tickets for 15,000 yen round-trip, more expensive because I'd be traveling on the weekend, but damn. Can't I catch a break? I'm sure that if I made enough to pay my student loans AND save that $300 would be a walk in the park, but...nope. I don't.


Time for bed.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Earthqua--- Psyche!

Late afternoon.
A quiet office. Workers typing and clicking away.

When suddenly, a beeping sound...then another...then another...
Until the whole office is filled with beeps and buzzes of our cell phones alerting us to an earthquake. As the beeps died down, we all burst into laughter.

Before 3/11, earthquake alerts were...rare. At least, I never got one that I can remember. This is the third or fourth one I've gotten since then. The alert overrides your muted phone, which speaks to the importance and severity of the situation.

After checking my phone, I saw that there was an earthquake in Nara. And a coworker did a quick online search and saw that a 7 magnitude earthquake was reported. I did what any sane person would do and went to facebook to check on people in the area.

...And then...


...And then...

False alarm!

Just kidding! LOLZ!!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

BBQ thoughts...

This past Saturday I went to a barbecue with some current and former co-workers. They found a nice spot by the river, but the first thing that bugged me when I arrived was that there was no tent or large umbrella. Even though the weather forecast said rain, the clouds teased us by forming a circle around the city...allowing the hot sun to beam down on us.

No matter, we'll be eating soon, right? Wrong. I guess no one had ever actually BBQed by themselves before. A lot of places offer outside BBQing and all you have to do is show up; the staff sets up the grill and the plate with the meat. A note, Japanese charcoal doesn't seem as easy to light as the American stuff...

The meat. Oh, the meat. It was in the plastic bag from the grocery store...just out on the the sun...for close to an hour... The "cooler", I don't know if the cloth bag that just barely kept things cool constitutes a cooler, but...whatever; the "cooler" was filled with bags of ice and...tea. I'm sure everyone assumed the fire would be started quickly, but about 45 minutes into the whole "how can we light this???" fiasco, I noticed the meat and stuck it in the bag.

The invitation to the BBQ was titled, "Come eat our meat."

Another 20 so minutes later and we had fire! w00t!

There was a possible case of heat stroke...maybe just heat exhaustion, not that that's great. The girl went to sleep on the hot tarp. Her hubby used my parasol to cover her head and put a scarf over her upper body...leaving her legs exposed. I tried to point that out to no avail. I watched her legs change color within 30 minutes :(

I was, quite honestly, hesitant to eat the meat. Is there anything safe about eating meat that's been sitting out in 95 degree weather for an hour? But, I did eat some...especially the burned meat and it tasted like meat. Since it's Wednesday night and I haven't thrown up or shat myself, I will assume that I've dodged the salmonella bullet.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dating in Japan as an American Woman pt. 2

Last week I talked about some of the problems I had dating in Japan (and with my boyfriend). But! BUT! Now I'll go into a bit of the good/fun parts :)

Again, not every guy is the same, and my boyfriend likes to talk about how different he is from "typical" Japanese guys. So, in no particular order...

1. Romantic!
My goodness. I've never been a romantic person, never fantasized about weddings or the perfect man, but my boyfriend... After dating for 2 months, he bought me an anniversary gift. On a different occasion, he put a necklace on me from behind. He constantly tells me "I love you." I'm sure he means it, too. After "I love you," I think "I love you because you're cute and smart" are the words he says most. :3

2. Doesn't expect me to be his mom
I've read that some guys are looking for a second mom. Lucky for me, my boyfriend always tells me that he likes me for me. This means that when we "make" meals together, he helps out! Neither of us are amazing chefs, and when we do eat at my place, it's usually something that can be easily heated up. But, he will make the food and a number of times he's made some tasty things from scratch.

3. Doesn't mind paying for things
Let me say first and foremost that I never, NEVER expect that a guy SHOULD pay for my things. It's nice if he does, especially if I'm short on cash that time. But, I always try to make it up and I always offer to pay for him. I am flattered when he does pay for me. 
I've read that a lot of foreign (Western and non-Western) women are disappointed that Japanese men automatically try to split the bill when dating. However, this has been a small thing with us. I don't want him to think that I'm taking advantage of him, so, I always pull out cash to pay, or slip the cash into his pocket afterwards. I remember one time he said that he paid because he wanted to, but he accepted my money because I gave it to him, not because he wanted it. :x

4. Agreeable
I mentioned in the previous post that my boyfriend doesn't like fighting. I also mentioned that I think that some fighting is good for a healthy relationship. With that said, I certainly do not think that drama is good. Drama causes unnecessary stress and, again, I'm lucky that my boyfriend doesn't want to cause unnecessary drama. Even when he's angry, it's not apparent. He doesn't get jealous if I talk with other male friends or co-workers. He doesn't ask me to choose between him and some other thing.

5. Annd...
He loves holding my hand in public (nothing surprising back home, but it seems that a lot of Japanese guys aren't big fans). He's willing to give me a back/shoulder massage...and it feels good! Will freely give hugs. Indulges my love of Sailor Moon and video games, etc., etc.

While I'm no love expert, if you're looking for love in Japan, it is possible. It will probably be a fight, it probably won't come as easily as back home, but, if you're willing to wait for the guy that matches you, then surely he'll come your way.