Countdown

Time for an update… I paid for the summer program so we’re full speed ahead on that. Last Wednesday I put in my official two weeks’ notice at work and my last day is in a week (what the) so now I am above board with everyone in my life about my crazy future plans, which is something that was not happening for a really long time. And after the summer, I’m moving to Japan… to teach English. Because I didn’t get any funding from the 10-month program.

I didn’t get anything.

Ugh. I’ve accepted it now, but it was really rough when I first found out. It was mid-afternoon on a Friday a couple weeks ago, and I got an email with two attachments. At first I was scanning them so frantically I couldn’t parse where the award amount was listed and emailed the stateside program administrator back in a panic. Then I located the line: “I accept the award of: NONE.”

None?? None? Nothing at all? But… I had been told that once you get into this program, they work really hard on your behalf to get you money. And I thought I was a great candidate, and I’ve been working towards this for a year, and preparing so hard. And this was my last chance because I’m ineligible for most other awards. How could I get… nothing? And how come they were telling me about it without any “I’m sorry to inform you…” or anything like that normally used when hard news gets broken to you in a formal letter? How come they used the same template as if I had gotten an award?

I was so confused I sent a few more emails to the administrator asking her to confirm that this was real… and unfortunately, it was.

I went straight to Kirk’s after work and burst into tears pretty quickly. Fortunately, he was wonderful, and just listened to me until I calmed down somewhat, then said he’d take me out to dinner wherever I wanted to go, his treat (even though money is tight for him right now despite the fact that he makes twice as much as me since he’s been working on his car project). And we went out to one of my favorite places and had a great dinner, and we came back and watched Iron Man per my request and I felt a whole lot better by the end of the night. He’s the best.

Over the next week, I took stock of things and made some decisions and had some realizations. I had already accepted the teacher job, but it was still a Plan B until this news. Now it’s Plan A, and it actually feels right. I’m going to work for a year, saving money (and getting even more when I convert from yen to dollars!), and re-apply for everything again, hopefully a lot smarter this time around. I re-read my essays and realized what I did wrong: I didn’t talk enough about how me achieving my personal goals is going to give back to Japan and the larger global community. I just talked about how it’s good for me, so I should deserve to get it, and blah blah. Um. Not what scholarship committees want to hear. So I know why I didn’t get anything, and I just hope the next time around I can do better. I talked to a pro translator who did the program too and he gave me some good advice–including a suggestion that I might not even need the program after all if I can do enough self-study, since not everything the program makes me do (giving speeches and writing essays) will be what I do as an actual pro translator, and that’s true. So, we’ll see. I do plan to self-study, I’m hoping to get N2 in December and N1 in July. If that happens it’s true that I might not need the program. In any case, I need to get to Japan and figure things out from there, and I’m doing that.

It still stung to find out that the one other accepted student for the next year that I could track down and contact online, a graduating college senior who also wants to be a translator, got $23,000 in funding. And she admitted I sounded more prepared and committed to this than her.

There are a few more rounds of awarding (mostly, I think, re-distributing awards returned by people who decide not to accept them) and I suppose there’s a slim chance that I could get something then. That will run until July so I’ll be sort of waiting until then. But even if I do get an award, which I probably won’t, I don’t think it will be enough. So I’m not holding my breath for that. At this point, starting the program next year doesn’t feel right anymore. I wouldn’t feel like I deserved any awards because my essays weren’t properly reflective of what I have to offer. Weirdly enough, at this point I would rather go to Japan to work, even as a teacher which has never been my favorite prospect, and spend the next year formulating a stronger plan of attack. I understand everything so much better now, and unfortunately I didn’t before. It might also reflect better on me if I demonstrate that I’m proceeding with my goals and living in Japan regardless–who knows. Although I know the separate full-ride scholarship is so image-conscious and “prestigious” that there’s no way they’d want to award to a mere English teacher, especially someone not even doing JET. Short of going back and getting an Asian Studies BA at Harvard before grad school at Ohio State researching the fascinating topic of 16th-century woodblock prints for my thesis (when not practicing the koto and writing award-winning haiku in my spare time, of course) there’s no way I can hope to get that scholarship… but I’ll try again anyway.

So this is it… six years later and I’m finally returning to Japan. Does not seem real yet, but it also seems like I never thought it would be this long before it happened. Of course, everyone wants to know when I leave and where I’ll live, but I know none of those things yet and won’t until closer to the end of summer. I’m excited for orientation in Tokyo though. Funny that this will be the first time in my life I have my own apartment. It’s also strange to think that I’ve basically been working towards this since college graduation in some form, and that was four years ago by the way. The plan has changed a lot over the years–fortunately Kirk and I stayed together throughout that time–and some might say I’ve taken too long to make it happen but now it’s finally happening. Better late than never I guess!

And I have about eight days (!) left here in town before I leave for the summer program. I’ve been trying to finish things up, but it still feels like I have so much to do. I’ve had two going-away parties so far. One was organized by one of the Japanese women I’ve met volunteering, and it was for me and another Japanese woman who was going back to Japan (just about all these women are here because their husbands have been transferred here for work, and a few are just married to Americans, but they are all married, so it’s interesting). It was held at my favorite Japanese restaurant and it was a Japanese-only conversation. I had a really great time, and Aro was there too. There were so many silly moments, so much giggling, and I kept up with the conversation well (except for a few moments when I’d missed the initial topic) and left feeling pretty good about my Japanese and so grateful that I could participate in something like this locally. I also learned some things, like that ochazuke (one of Kirk’s favorite dishes) comes at the end of a meal, not the beginning. And that the sight of croquettes can bring back childhood memories. At times the conversation turned to “There’s no good English translation of this Japanese word! How would you translate it?” and such things, which as a translator I enjoy instead of minding. At the end when we were splitting up the check they were like “Warikan… what’s that in English?” and I was like “Splitting the check” and they were like “Not ‘go Dutch’?” and I said “No… that’s uncool,” and Aro was like “Hey! I say it!” and they started calling Aro an oyaji (old man) and nodding and agreeing. Hilarious.

So it went much better than the last time I attempted a Japanese-only dinner a couple years ago (with the same woman who organized this party, but different other Japanese ladies, and another white girl whose Japanese was better than mine) when I remember feeling miserable and out of my depth. Also, I love talking to Japanese people living in the US, because even though you’ve just met they’re not shocked by every little thing you can do (there was no “Jouzu!” when I spoke or used chopsticks or anything). What a difference a couple years have made, and it’s all been self-study! I haven’t even gone to Japan! (Can’t overstate how much we can credit that to the two months of literally nonstop studying I did earlier this year, and the more relaxed but regular weekend studying I’ve kept up with since.)

The other going-away party I had for my friends here last Saturday. We went to a Korean bathhouse/sauna and had sooo much fun roaming the place in a large pack and taking over sauna rooms where we’d make jokes and giggle. At one point we went to a quiet room that wasn’t too warm, and I fell asleep and had an amaaaaaaazing nap. I woke up to an empty room and went out in search of everyone, to find them all sitting at a table and I joined in the conversation seamlessly. It was awesome. Of course soaking in the baths was great too. Then we went to Vi and her boyfriend’s apartment and had pizza and cupcakes (from some of my favorite places of course). They had made me a laser-cut wooden Pusheen magnet and a cute purple banner! Awwwww it was great. And then on Sunday I went to yoga (gave my instructor the last of the cupcakes and told her I was leaving soon! Now we are Facebook friends!) and then had a massage and the therapist got into all my knots and left me sore in the best way. I wish I could get massages like that regularly. Before the massage, which was at a fancy gym I am not a member of, I got to use the fancy outdoor pool area where there are body slides. You can bet I rode them twice… I love water slides (and water parks). And then Kirk’s parents had me over for dinner in anticipation of me leaving, and it was lovely and I really appreciated their gesture. So it was a wonderful weekend! After baths/saunas, yoga, swimming, a massage, and too much good food, I was super super relaxed. Trying to keep the returning tension at bay for as long as I can now…

Last week I also attended a going-away party for a former coworker, went shopping at the Anthropologie semi-annual sale with some friends (and had dinner at another favorite place), and on Friday (after getting let off work at 1!) I had margaritas and dinner with my parents and then my mom and I went shopping and I got to hit Anthropologie again, another location this time. It’s been a long time since I let myself go shopping and I got some good stuff (all on sale; I never buy Anthro full price) so I am happy. Looking back on it the whole past week was fantastic and I couldn’t ask for more. Kirk and I are going on vacation this weekend so that will be fun too! My last days here are basically going to be so jam-packed I don’t know when I’ll pack… not that I’m looking forward to that, or hauling my giant suitcase full of bedding around…

Other things… super into The Avengers lately, holla. And listening to a lot of new music as I try to cram in everything I’ve put off listening to and organizing or deleting as necessary. Also my favorite artists are pretty much all releasing new stuff this year so I am swimming in music lately. Wish I could go to several summer shows but pretty much can’t since I’m moving around too much and/or need to stay on campus where I am immersed and busy with activities anyway.

It’s really happening!

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“I am not American!” — on speaking English to the French in Japan

Probably one of the most frustrating things about being a westerner in Japan is that people see you, notice you’re white (or not Japanese/Asian), and assume you’re a tourist/outsider, that your stay is short-term and temporary and thus you have not learned Japanese. Even once they find out you’re a student of Japanese, they still probably assume your Japanese must not be very good. (Because Japanese is such a special and esoteric language that it’s almost impossible to learn for non-Japanese! Of course!). Their next assumption is that you are a native English speaker, and based on that most people will avoid you because they are shy, ashamed of what they perceive to be their poor English (despite studying it for years in school–but speaking is the skill least emphasized there so many are weak at it) and don’t want to have to speak English with you because they might be embarrassed. Or, although this is a minority, they do want to try speaking English with you to improve their abilities so you are accosted for free English conversation practice/lessons.

To throw a personal anecdote in here, once I attended a fall festival with my host mom and sister where my host mom was performing with her gospel choir (I know!). After the performance, she introduced me to some of the other ladies in the group, most of whom were older, like 40s-50s. Several of them were the type to pursue English as a hobby, and evidently wanted to speak to me in English, so they did (even though it had already been established by that point that I had come to Japan to study abroad, studying Japanese, and they had heard me speak Japanese). This was maybe one of the first times this had happened to me, and I didn’t know what to do. What I did know is that my brain was in Japanese mode. I had been speaking nothing but Japanese with my host family for a day or so by that point, and I was enjoying the immersion. To just switch to English because some older ladies wanted to practice their English with me–because I’m non-Japanese and different!–seemed ludicrous to me at that time. So, I responded to their English questions in Japanese. I wasn’t trying to be rude; I just honestly didn’t know what to do, and I was in Japanese mode, so I spoke Japanese. Maybe they did think I was rude because their interest in me seemed to fade after that point.

Thinking back on the whole situation makes me feel crappy, because–did I do the right thing? If not, what should I have done? I feel like I was rude by speaking Japanese to them when they wanted me to speak English, but if I’d spoken English it would have negated the whole reason I came to Japan–to practice my Japanese! As the person spending the money on the abroad experience as opposed to the person who is just taking advantage of free opportunities from home, shouldn’t I get to dictate the terms? Or is that just typical American selfish thinking? I really don’t know. Maybe I will write a Japanese entry on lang-8 about this and see what kind of responses I get from Japanese people. In any case, as my story demonstrates, it’s sort of a lose/lose for you as a westerner in Japan (whether you’re avoided or too-eagerly approached as a presumed speaker of English), especially if you do want to interact with Japanese people and speak Japanese with them.

It couldn’t possibly get worse unless… you’re non-Asian and yet you’re not even a native English speaker… and you may not speak English very well at all! I suspected this might be the case for nationalities like French; I figured many French people had visited Japan only to meet with the expectation that they speak English when many do not (let’s be real, largely out of that French-language-superiority pride). It’s often occurred to me to consider answering anyone who insists on speaking to me in English instead of Japanese with, “あ、フランス人です [Oh, I’m French]” and see if that gets them to switch to Japanese (sometimes people are so flustered by the sight of a foreigner that they will answer your Japanese query in English). (This could backfire if the Japanese person turns out to also be fluent in French, but those chances are slim, and besides I do speak French, more or less, just am obviously not a native speaker.) I was curious to see if I could find French people complaining about this phenomenon happening to them, so I did a Google search using some key French terms… and I hit paydirt! I uncovered some really interesting stuff. We don’t read a lot about this in English because, naturally, those it happens to (non-English-speaking non-Asian-appearing people) are not going to write about their experiences in English. I thought it would be cool to translate some of it so all can enjoy the French perspective on the assumption that all westerners in Japan speak English. Naturally, there’s a lot of complaining!

First I found this thread (active from 2006-2007) on the France-Japon forums. In a subforum entitled Japanese Society, someone started a thread called The Japanese and English. (I translated the below into English.)

I have a little problem sometimes in my relations with Japanese people – or I should say in my meetings with Japanese people, as this doesn’t happen anymore with those that I know.
There is a reflex deeply implanted indeed in the Japanese consciousness: when they see a foreigner, they start to go off in English. That irritates me, that irks me, it puts me off and that’s only the beginning: I am NOT AMERICAN!!!!!

For some reason I’m ignorant of, but which is maybe linked to the American occupation after World War II, the Japanese developed a complex which borders on paranoia about English and that makes some of them particularly aggressive. As a foreigners, we find ourselves approached like this by two types of people on the street:
– those who will ask the time with no Japanese on hand…
– those who will try and get free “English lessons” through contact with a foreigner.
The second category is – by far! – the largest.
And it’s incredibly exasperating when English is not our mother tongue and when, like me, you speak it very badly. One time, fine, two times, okay…
By the 150th time in 3 months, you start to want to take swipes – which have escaped from me the few times I’ve reached my limit…

Again – I am sure of this – for those that speak Japanese easily while not speaking English, these “approaches” by Japanese in search of English teachers can give way to friendly meetings and eventually continue as friendship. The problem is that the aggression about English is so developed that these people will fall all over you until they understand that you don’t speak English well and, in any case, it’s exhausting for them to make the effort to come practice it regularly with you (this has often happened to one of my Filipino colleagues).

This morning again, there was one who came up to give me his little spiel (hello, how are you etc. I am sooooooo happy to see you… I want to speak english but…), and it almost took my entire cup of coffee before I contented myself with asking him if he knew how to speak Japanese. Like always, that stunned him for one whole minute, then he asked me where I came from, a little polite conversation for 10 minutes and goodbye…

This attitude isn’t flattering to the Japanese or to the foreigners. I’m aware I have an all too French perspective on this, but I find it particularly depressing to see Japanese people self-destruct in the way they “stoop” to speaking English to any old foreigner. As if the Japanese didn’t value their national language in any way and as if it were normal for a foreigner to live in Japan for 2-3-5 or 10 years without learning to speak the first word of Japanese (and there are some like that!).
In France we wouldn’t imagine for a second that someone would come to live more or less long-term to work or study without learning at least the basics of the language. But the Japanese seem to find that natural.

Moreover, their attitude is so simplistic compared to the outside world, which has been reduced to an English-speaking country. You really get the sense that in the Japanese mind it’s “outside Japan, it’s America, and if it’s not really America, it’s the same because outside Japan the whole world speaks English (that’s a fact)”.
See how that’s not flattering to Japanese culture (there was even one – just one, I’ll emphasize – who asked me if France was in Europe) and is particularly insulting to the Russians, Arabs, Greeks, etc. who are not necessarily seasoned English speakers but who have a separate language that is also worth studying!

[…]

My “problem” is that I speak Japanese or Arabic or Italian but not English (or a little…), so it has a strange effect on me to be categorized as “English speaking” just because I’m white. Especially because the opposite is false, when I was in France and I saw an Asian person on the street, I didn’t really think he was Japanese. He could have just as easily been Chinese, Korean or Indonesian and would not really have appreciated it if I came to speak to him in Japanese!

Of course, it’s relatively innocent but it’s still very urusai!!!

[…]

What I find shocking is that the Japanese find it normal for a foreigner, even one living in Japan for 5 years, not to speak Japanese and they beat themselves up because THEY don’t speak English in their own country. I would understand that attitude from a Japanese person who lives in the US or even in England but I don’t really see why English should be “THE” language in Japan.
I’m not talking about tourists, they won’t invest in learning Japanese for a 15-day vacation. But in my office (and this is just an example!) there’s one guy who’s worked there for more than 5 years and, except for “konnichiwa” and “chotto matte kudasai,” he doesn’t understand the first word of Japanese. It turns out that this guy has two school-age kids and he berates the teachers because they don’t know how to speak English. I swear, any French person in the same case would throw this idiot out, but since they’re Japanese they apologize, saying they’re sorry, and go out to accost the first foreigner they see to try and improve an English they don’t have.

[…]

A guy comes and speaks to me in English, so I explain to him gently (this was at the beginning of my time in Japan, before it bugged me) that I am French and that I don’t speak English. He keeps going in English, so I repeat myself, insisting that “eigo ga dekinai,” I ask him if he understood and he answers “I understand” and continues in English – which must have been very good or very bad because I didn’t understand a word of his speech!
If his English had at least been at my level, somewhere between bad and passable, or if he’d spoken to me in his language or in mine, maybe we would have understood each other. But there was nothing to be learned like that….

Responses in the thread range from “true, but what can you do?” to “English is THE language of international communication, and the Japanese know this” to “this has been happening to me for 25 years, and it doesn’t bother me! Then I give them a lecture on how appearances can be deceiving, because I’m not a foreigner even though I look like it!” — and someone even proposes a humorous “counter-attack” that entails speaking Chinese to Japanese tourists in France!

Someone else chimes in:

Yes, let’s not confuse “foreigner” with “Westerner” at least! The vast majority of foreigners in Japan are Asian and the languages most spoken by foreigners are Chinese, Korean, and certainly Portuguese and Spanish, rather than English…

Yes, it’s true that they automatically speak English to us. Whether in thinking that we’re actually American, or in simply thinking that we naturally speak English. Even worse, there are even people who come talk to me (in Japanese) about this or that random fact about the USA for 5 minutes without even asking me if I come from there…

To me there are two reasons:
– They think that Westerners in Japan don’t speak Japanese (and they are unfortunately often right!)
– They think that all Westerners speak English

I don’t know more but I read someone who said he’d answer, when someone spoke in English to him automatically, “And would you like it if everyone spoke to you in Chinese when you were abroad?” I think I’m going to test this argument some time… 🙂

And again, we are rather well served being French. Everyone knows France, and most of the time people really LOVE the country. I have friends who are asked if their country is really found in Europe, if “that’s a country?!” etc…

I can’t conceive either how you could live in a country without trying to learn the language.
But we also have to tell ourselves that it’s also a little our French culture that makes us have this reaction: in France, for us it’s inconceivable for foreigners to emigrate without learning French. But in other countries there isn’t really the same implicit “requirement.”
Let’s think also of all the immigrant communities in the USA where only the second generation speaks the language – when they do speak it…!

Another perspective:

I don’t think it’s worth getting upset over, let’s give them a good image of France by keeping our calm and our good manners! And by doing so, that will make several more Japanese aware that not every foreigner speaks English.

I would add that the French have the reputation of not liking anything but their language, and of refusing to employ English out of loyalty. I’m not at all like that, as I love all languages, English included, but I didn’t know that we have a reputation for also being narrow-minded.

The French are, on the other hand, very inclined to confuse Japan with China, when you return to France, your kids will automatically be labeled “Chinese.” And when you go to Spain it was “Chinos”!

The OP responds to that:

There, I am absolutely in agreement, last year when I returned to France for my brother’s wedding, I wore a kimono for the ceremony. All my family congratulated me on my elegance but on the street between the church and city hall, I couldn’t count the “Ooooh, what a pretty little Chinese costume.” I tried to explain to several of them that the outfit was Japanese and not Chinese but I was hit with indifferent looks and “Ahhh, it’s all the same!”
It may be, moreover, that the French become unbearable in the eyes of foreigners by their refusal to speak in English, but as I am French myself and totally schooled in the language, I have a little trouble realizing it. We need the perspective of a foreigner who lived in France.

In my case, they find that I really don’t speak English well, so I have to say “sorry” again when someone bumps into me on the street, that’s not a big deal, what exasperates me is the number of people who, after having chatted for 2 minutes, ends by saying to me “pliiiiiiiize, teach me english.”
The cherry on top was this winter in the Hiroshima region. It was really cold and I was struck with a desire to go in an onsen. I get to a hotel and ask the man I see at reception (in Japanese) to tell me where the baths are. And he answers me “nanakai, second floor.” Stunned, I ask him again, because I’m really bad at English, I understand “second floor” anyway and I get the same response. Assuming he spoke better Japanese than English, I found the baths quickly enough on the seventh floor but what to say to him then about forgetting English…
I heard it said – but I don’t know if this is true – that the Americans never went to the baths, maybe because they were being directed to the wrong floor at the same time!

And someone else hits the root of the issue right on the head:

What I don’t really like is when I’m put in a box right away, a stereotypical category (whether American or French) I would just like to be taken for me, with my level, my body, as a human being, to be able to exchange natural things from everyday life, to adapt as much as one can from one to the other in order to evolve based on that. But for that, their image of the foreigner would have to change, and apparently that’s not happening tomorrow.

The OP also says:

If by chance I run into a foreign tourist in town (which never fails to happen in summer), instead of going to talk to a Japanese person that everyone knows doesn’t speak a word of English, he will come talk to me just because I’m white! That’s happened to me many times and I hated it, but not more or less than if it had been a Japanese person…

Initially, and this is why I started this debate, what stunned me was the Japanese complex towards English. The French, totally known to be monolingual, the majority of the time had no reason to know or speak English in daily life. While a Japanese person, even if he finds himself in a professional and personal situation in life that will never ask him to use English daily, will have nightmares at night because he doesn’t know how to speak English. I’m exaggerating a little but I don’t think it’s far from the reality in which I see them coming towards me, desperate and pleading “teach me english”…

On the contrary, in France if a foreigner comes to stay 5 years to live and work in France, the average French person will not imagine that this person doesn’t apply himself to French. The average French person will find it totally normal that all the administrative documents be in French (and in the case of “This is France, you understand” it’s likely you’ll get it!), the butchers won’t know how to speak English and the school delivers diplomas in French and not in English or Moldovan (something that might change – at least I hope – with Europe and you’ll maybe have a choice between European languages).
On the other side, the basic Japanese person, so quick to say “ここは日本だから” at every turn, will find it normal that a person who lives and works in Japan for 5 years doesn’t even know how to say konnichiwa, goes to help him every year to renew his visa, every month to pay his electricity bills, and every day to his classes saying it must be “tsurai” for this poor man!

When it comes to English, there’s no more “nihon dakara,” it’s “sumimasen,” “gomennasai” and “shippai.” There are many ways to answer – or not answer – when you are spoken to in English and you don’t like that. In French is one and returning “nihon dakara” to them is another. College kids ask me often why I speak Japanese and I answer that it’s for the same reason as them. They are always very disappointed because I think they were anticipating very elevated, Zen philosophical reasons (but maybe I’m kidding myself, I haven’t had a lot of success yet in closing in on the problem).
You can also not answer if you’re tired, as far as with people you’ll never see again. But if it’s teachers at your kids’ school or your gym buddies, it’s worth the pain of explaining once and for all, right?

This remark was also very interesting:

In the end, you will also realize to what point the Japanese person is an American colony from a cultural point of view. It’s something harmful, as you would like for them to declare their independence, but there are certain Japanese who don’t want it and others who can’t. Those must be taught the idea of patriotism in a cultural sense.

(Also in that thread, hilariously, a French person calls a Québécois out on bad French! Damn! Typical French bluntness, I love it.)

I also found a Japanese who speak English thread on another forum, Forum Japon. But I think it says mostly the same things as above, so I’m not going to translate excerpts.

Then I came across this: Je ne suis pas Américain ! [I’m not American!], a journal essay by one Alain Delon accompanied by a drawing.

For most Japanese, France is an American state somewhere between Kansas and Idaho, and French people in Japan are inevitably American. Usually American tourists.

It’s very hard to speak Japanese with a Japanese person.
Believing it will please you, and too happy to be able to put to use two patient years of night classes with Nova, a Japanese person will always do what he can to respond to you in English. Don’t bother telling him that you don’t understand anything Anglo-American, he will be totally lost. But tell him you’re French, and maybe things will start to clear up. “Sasuga furansujin!” (“Just like a French person!”) he’ll say, “Amerikagirai!” (“Anti-American!”).

What’s never occurred to any Japanese person is that if the French balk at speaking English, it’s not because they hate the United States or England, which are their allies, but very simply because they love their own language. What the French refuse at the core is very naturally what no English speaker has ever accepted for himself throughout the world: to change languages like you change shirts.
Also, how could the French be able to hate the English, since England doesn’t exist…

But French speakers don’t just love their language, they also love all languages. A Frenchman in Tokyo, if he’s enlightened, will want to speak Japanese above all, and French on the side (despite all there are some lying dormant, and I know a certain number of French-Japanese couples who persistent in loving and fighting in English… It’s very sad).
The Japanese, for their part, well, they clearly make less of a fuss: you can count today infinitely more Anglo-American words in the neon signs of Tokyo than German phrases on the walls of Paris during the occupation, and the announcements of certain train lines, like the Toei Mita, are in Japanese and English (but the New York subway announcements are maybe in English and in Japanese?).

In short, this is not the time to be French, Italian, Greek, or Swedish living in Japan. To do it well, you’d almost have to be able to wear two T-shirts nonstop: one “Boku wa kankôkyaku ja nai! Nihon ni sundemasu!” (“I’m not a tourist! I live here!”) and the other “Boku wa beikokujin ja nai!” (“I’m not American!”).
With a little luck, the face of your interrogator will clear up: “Naruhodo! Aran Doron ni niteru!” (“I see! He looks like Alain Delon!”). This will signify that the message is passed, that in their eyes, finally, you are not just a mere American in Tokyo!

I also want to say that I really enjoyed discovering my ability to read these French forum threads and understand the vast majority without once consulting a dictionary! I also learned some new words and phrases that amuse me, such as abbreviating c’est à dire [that is to say] with c.à.d. — hee! (Those cute colloquialisms are always what I love learning best, no matter the language!) I can only credit this to completely throwing myself into French spring 2007, reading only in French, doing my best to talk to my host family and express myself as best I could (even though I failed miserably so many times). I arrived in France only a month after leaving Japan, so in many respects I was experiencing culture shock not from the U.S. but from Japan (such as wanting to continue to have totally impersonal shopping/dining experiences, whereas in France it is extremely rude not to greet people in the service industry with “Bonjour” when you first come up to them–something I unfortunately didn’t learn until after I left), and I missed my wonderful experience there terribly especially when my time in France began shaping up to be not as ideal. Nevertheless I did my utmost to immerse myself and the fact that I can still read easily in French today is proof that it was worth it. I do enjoy many aspects of French, and learning and reading about the relationship between France and Japan, in any of those three languages, is one way to keep my interest in it alive despite my need to focus the majority of my attention on Japanese, the language I’ve finally chosen as #1.

Pre-immersion

Ahhh. Future plans are starting to come together more and more. I need to pay the rest of my summer program fees (never came off the waiting list for the scholarship, but financial aid still covered half the cost), and we’ve also been sent literature that makes it all feel a little more real. We have to sign a language pledge vowing not to use English (or any non-Japanese language) except when strictly necessary (this basically means when communicating with family, and in my case boyfriend) and that includes reading English. Um, yikes. I mean, I knew all this going on, but it’s just hitting harder now. I read tons of things daily, and I’m going to have to give all that up. Checking a multitude of blogs throughout the day, Facebook, Twitter, webcomics at night, sometimes a fic or scanlated manga or two, reading from a library book before bed–none of that. Do you know how much media we take in every day, and how much that eliminates when anything in English is completely out? This means no progress on my to-read list, falling behind on celebrity gossip and my favorite blogs and webcomics, not being able to chat daily with my friends on Gchat and Skype, not getting to read my friends’ tweets and family’s status updates OR post any of my own… including on this blog! It’s going to have to lie completely dormant from mid-June to mid-August. This also means listening to music in English (or any other foreign language, for that matter!) is out, so I am going to have to reconfigure my iPod and music library to only hold my Japanese music, and only listen to that for two months, which is going to be hard because sometimes I feel like a particular style of music and the language is not Japanese. My guided relaxation recording, which helps me de-stress when I need it, is also in English and would technically be out. I was also planning to get my yoga teacher’s DVD and do yoga to de-stress as well; obviously her narration is English. But, this just occurred to me, they let you go to church and stuff if you’re religious and obviously those services are going to be in English. Perhaps I can consider yoga and guided relaxation my religion, and therefore the English is okay? Ha, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need all the sanity-saving techniques I can get; it’s a year’s worth of study crammed into two months, and I can only communicate in Japanese. All of this is going to be hard.
(Yes, no one is going to be checking my iPod or what I read/look at on my computer in the privacy of my room–except my roommate but I doubt she’ll be out to tattle on me–and anyone patrolling is mostly going to be checking to make sure I’m speaking Japanese to the other students and teachers, but I do want to get the most out of this program and I’m interested to see how well this full immersion thing actually works. Even if I get to attend the intensive program in Japan, there will be a language pledge when at the center with other students but no restrictions outside those walls, and I can just tell you now I’m not giving up non-Japanese music and literature for 10 months. So this is probably the one time in my life–including the times I spend living in Japan!–when I have the opportunity to live in a completely, fully immersed Japanese-only world. It’s two months, not forever, so I’m really going to try to stick to it as much as I can even though I know I could easily get away with less than total commitment. I’m going to try to make the extent of my English maintaining communication and my relationship with Kirk, as well as staying in touch with my parents–maybe my sister and I will start emailing in Japanese instead–and let that be it. I just don’t want this to be like the language house in college, which was supposed to be immersive but I can tell you we only spoke nothing but Japanese when we had to, mostly because we were all lower intermediate level and it was just too hard.)

I am sort of excited though to put as many computer programs as I can (including my laptop itself) into Japanese… my iPods are already in Japanese so that’s done… and I have several Japanese books, magazines, and manga I can bring with me to read, although it’s going to be hard as several of them are translation projects and I quite obviously won’t be able to translate into English. That’s another thing–no translating. Just like reading and consuming media in all forms, translating is something I do at least several times a week, and not doing any (and thus not updating my website) for two months is going to be hard. I’m just glad TV shows will naturally be on hiatus over the summer so I wouldn’t be tempted to watch those. There will be TVs with access to Japanese programming there so I’m looking forward to catching some dramas. They also screen Japanese movies weekly and I’m guessing there will be newspapers and stuff too.

I really am looking forward to a lot about the program, not just the fact that it means I can quit my job and not have to work. It will be fun to live on a college campus and in a dorm room again. Meals are totally covered and we all eat from the cafeteria buffet, so for two months I don’t have to worry about buying and/or preparing food, which sounds like such a luxury to me now. Although until I find a group to sit with–and learn who I want to avoid, because I’m sure there will be some–going to meals is going to be nervewracking. There are a couple summer festivals, so I’m going to bring my yukata and geta. There’s a lot of interest clubs you can (okay, pretty much have to) join, and while most of them revolve around things that have always bored me (tea ceremony; calligraphy) there are a few I’m interested in checking out. I can tell you I’m going to arrive at the program and immediately seek out the other people who speak fluidly with good accents to be friends with, as much as I can. Hopefully others will feel the same way about  me. I do hope I can make some good friends there, and I also hope I get a roommate I can deal with who won’t hate me. I have only shared a room for two school years, and the last time was in 2005-2006. I also only had to share a communal (not attached/en-suite) bathroom for one of those years, so that’s another thing I’m not thrilled about. Shower caddies! I got rid of mine because I thought I’d never need it again; how wrong I was! Actually, I’m not excited about all the typical dorm room furnishings we have to bring when I’m flying there from halfway across the country. It was different when I could jam-pack my car and drive an hour north with all my crap; not so easy when I’m boarding a domestic flight with a giant-ass suitcase that will incur charges. I will probably have to ship a big box of extra stuff to myself too (and then back home at the end), which is not going to be fun since big boxes are not cheap to send! Also, from what I understand the campus is more or less in the middle of the ghetto and I won’t have a car so I won’t really be able to make emergency runs for any supplies I  need, so I have to make sure I have everything I’ll need with me when I start. Fortunately, however, an old classmate from Japanese and someone who went on the January Japan trip with me lives in that city now, and I’m hoping at the very least he can give me a ride from the airport to campus.

In many ways I’m sort of preparing for this as if I’m about to join a convent and take a vow of silence. And I guess in some ways, I am! At the same time I’m going to miss my boyfriend and my cat terribly. I will miss my friends and family too, but I’ll miss those two the most. I love that my cat sleeps right next to me every night, sometimes even sharing my pillow. I love that Kirk lives here now so I can go over to his place pretty much whenever I want and see him often, and I am giving that up (temporarily!) with this.

As for what I’m doing after the program, it is still not ironed out, and at this point I’m just trying not to think about it so it doesn’t cause me more stress. Program scholarships will be awarded over the next month or two, and I can’t make any decisions until I know those results (soooo worried though). In the meantime, I now have two English teacher job offers to choose from, although I have to accept or deny one soon or lose it (the one I interviewed for last month–glad I got an offer out of that!)… and I have no idea what to do there. We’ll see. It does look like one way or another… by hook or by crook… I am headed for Japan in the fall like I’ve been planning, which is good because I’d hate to quit my job, do the summer program, and then have nothing! But until I have a plane ticket, it still doesn’t feel real; it’s like it could be snatched away from me at any moment. At least the summer program is very real and becoming imminent.

With all of these thoughts comes an increasing sense of senioritis and impatience at work. I have about five weeks left and I’m ready for the end–although at the same time I want to maximize the time I have left with people here, so it’s hard! Conflicting emotions! As we saw when I tried to change jobs and hated the new job more than my old/current one, it’s not that the work itself is bad or hard. I don’t just want to quit and find a new job in the same field because there’s no guarantee it would be any better; chances are it would probably be worse. As spoiled as it sounds, I still just don’t want to be here anymore! I’ve been here so long now, seen so many people come and go, and if I wanted to I could probably keep doing it until the company folds (something I see as an inevitability) which is a thought that’s terrifying in and of itself.  But really the thing that’s gotten me through so much until now has been the thought of my pursuit of my next career awaiting me at the end of all this. If I didn’t have that in front of me it would have been much harder to deal with stuff like coworkers trash-talking me over perceived (imaginary) slights, almost everyone else in my department leaving including my mentor, ridiculous policy changes, getting lectured by someone not even in charge of me for not doing every little thing perfectly, the realization that I don’t respect or believe in what the company does… even the constant toilet issues in the upstairs women’s restroom (apparently we’re too cheap to buy new toilets which are like $100 each!). The thought that something better or at least different is waiting for me after I’m done putting in my time here has propelled me through all of that. I can’t possibly imagine staying here indefinitely, but I also know there’s a limited number of (non-teaching) jobs in my city for someone with just an English writing/editing background, and not many of them are appealing to me as something to do for the rest of my working years. I also know that I never wanted to graduate college only to end up right where I started. These are things I have to explain many times when people ask me why I want to do this.

It’s funny how long this post-grad journey has gotten, and how many times my plans have changed over that period. First it was teach in Japan (just to be there and pick up the language by osmosis, apparently–I hadn’t really thought that plan through beyond “get to Japan”) with Kirk, then it was go to Japan by myself to study, which led to the discovery of the 10-month program which now seems like the only and best way to do this. In some ways I wish I’d had it all figured out sooner so I could have planned for this since age 15 and made much better, more informed choices. But I can’t deny I’ve had so many great experiences along the way, and of course met some people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, while I’ve been working it all out and waiting. I’ve reconnected with my high school (and earlier) friends, I had a fabulous time being roommates with Aro (the night we stayed up until 4 a.m. inadvertently and had no choice but to go out for freshly made doughnuts will go down in history), I’ve dealt with my anxiety/OCD issues that cropped up, and Kirk and I have built an extremely solid relationship foundation that means I can leave without worrying (too much) that our connection will fall apart with the distance. It’s all been worth it, though just a little vexing when I think about how long it’s taken. I’m impatient for the rest of my life to get started.