Losing Japanese

By bluemist on January 25th, 2008

It’s been half a year since I came back to my homeland after the one-year stint in Japan, and I can say that I lost the memories too easily. I guess there is really no place like home, but still there are some things to think about. Like, was the whole year exposure to Japan worth it? Did I fulfill all my wants, needs, and err fetishes? Also, would I want to go back? These are some of the things that bug me everyday ever since.

I’m still working in the same company that brought me there, and so there is still a minimal need to speak and understand basic Japanese. I also tried the JLPT Level 4 (results pending) to see if Konata-style test cramming and general anime viewing works in a language test. Despite that, the best language learning style aside from formal education is really by experience. You have to be in Japanese areas and talking to Japanese people. I can say that I lost some of my knowledge indeed. Today I tend to get fansubbed stuff more than raws, and even if I watch the raws, I would still watch the subbed ones to confirm minute details. On one hand, I could say that I’m getting more meticulous in learning the spoken language by repeating what I have heard, but on the other hand, I was frustrated to discover that even I am struggling to understand dialogue on simple-dialogue shows like Clannad. What more if I go into complex-dialogued anime? Even worse is my ability to read kana and the few kanji I know. I feel so much ‘slower’ today in comparison. I remember every night I turn the TV on and tune to primetime Japanese shows. They have LOADS of text on-screen. It was fun to try to read those quick text, especially when my forte was in hiragana (simple Japanese alphabet) rather than katakana (alphabet for foreign-borrowed words) which is an unusual case for most people I know. Well I read less of them of course, but imagine the pain of inching my way through untranslated Shugo Chara manga. A minute for two pages is a very very turtles pace. Never mind the kanji. JLPT required me to memorize 100 of them. After the test… I basically forgot them all. Give me a pat in the back if I pass it ok?

Life in Japan is certainly hard, but if you have high ambitions to embrace its culture, I think you’ll do fine. Well, at the very least do it in moderation, especially if you are into anime and stuff like that. Remember, despite the Densha Otoko boom and the mainstream popularity of anime and manga elsewhere in the world, any otaku-ish tendency is really frowned upon among the majority of Japanese. On the positive side, being in Japan, you would discover things that are possibly way more interesting than your lolis and animu. Come on, you are in another country! See the sights, go to nice places, meet interesting people. There’s so many stuff to do over there, and even I haven’t broken out of the Kantou or Kanagawa regions yet. It’s so easy to go places, most anything is just a train ride away. If you’re out to live in Japan doing the hikki, otaku or any similar way you’re clearly wasting your time, and life. If that’s really your drift though, let me tell you that Japanese are more likely to ignore a gaijin anyway, so mind your own business as they really are minding their own too. It’s an interesting culture that embraces social interaction and politeness yet at the end of the day they basically don’t care about people who are strangers to them. It is an extreme reverse of our own “bayanihan” (good samaritan-like) culture in my country, and is an interesting thing to notice.

Whenever I ride a train in Japan I have practically no one to talk to. It’s not just the language barrier that hinders me, but of course even a Japanese won’t talk to a stranger Japanese unless weird situations happen. Here in the Philippines though, everyday commute is a busy and social experience, from the random cab driver talking crap about politics to you while listening to the radio, to fellow commuters who always seem to ask questions to other commuters when they don’t know where to go. After a year of gloomy air outside my workplace it feels rather refreshing to interact with a lot of people when I came back home. Of course, maybe my faint tunnel-visioned view on social Japan is too uninformed, but the experience was really different for me.

Well, weird situations do happen though. One time I was commuting in a train at night when one ‘very drunk’ middle-aged man… well… started to pu*e inside the freaking train! If it continues on it would be a smelly mess inside the cramped and crowded room. Thankfully some old-aged grandma helped the guy while a teenage girl gave her paper bag to do the thing. I understood their conversation a bit, and even though it wasn’t their stop the grandma escorted the man outside the train when it stopped at the next station. Why is this rare? I’ve seen other drunk people having a hard time holding it in, and other bystanders merely just give them space… yep, they run away. Even if they have plastic or paper bags. Even me. I ran away. I wouldn’t, and other people wouldn’t, if we were in the same situation but in a different country. I can gladly say this is one example when losing a Japanese quirk can be a positive thing. Who would want to be anti-social? Sometimes I wonder why they look down on their own lowlifes or otakus when in hindsight they are essentially the same anti-social being on certain situations. Again, this is a very tunnel-visioned opinion based on experiences and it doesn’t necessarily show the whole picture to me, so if I’m wrong about social Japan, sorry, and please correct me.

Sometimes being a gaijin in foreign land can have some advantages. Since we are more clueless than their own clueless people they can be more courteous sometimes. Sometimes I ask directions from the police, and they were so polite trying to hard to understand my broken Japanese speech. Sales persons are so attentive whenever I browse their products and ask questions. Ok, maybe it is not biased at all towards foreigners, service folk in Japan may be really good, but that’s where the difference lies. I miss that kind of service. Here in my country, sales persons are so lame. sometimes they can’t even sell their products right. There is a very notorious local tech shop here where the salesladies don’t even know the products they are selling. It’s horrible service… even if some of them are cute (lol). Also, some police here are control freaks, and their arrogance gets to be mile-high. You can’t rely on them too much on mere asking of directions (that’s why we do it on our own common folk). I certainly like the way sellers take my money away due to impulse buying because they really know how to market their stuff. Having a reliable policeman around would be very helpful too, which adds to the general peacefulness of Japan.

Ahh, peace and quiet. While socializing is okay, there can be times when you want to isolate and refresh yourself. Japan’s the perfect place for that. Even in noisy cities, there is an air of peace and prosperity such that you feel like nothing ever goes wrong. While there are rare crimes like any other country, Japan is very, very, very peaceful. I could go most anywhere without fear of robbers or stuff like that. Again, this might be tunnel-visioning, because I don’t go to every street corner on the map. Anime and drama may depict yakuza or biker gangs or violent youths, but I don’t see those often. In any case, when compared to my country the difference would be very vast. When you come down to it, this is a dangerous country, and I always have a sense of paranoia. I have ipods and cellphones which are thief magnets, so I hide them from plain view often. And I have my share of near misses coming from other people around me getting robbed and such. Again, it would depend on the viewpoint. A foreigner coming to our country may regard it as fairly safe in the same way I regard Japan as perfectly safe… mostly because we are going only to popular and usual places.

Finally, there’s the animu. Admittedly, because of the busy life I lead over there in Japan, rarely do I give my fandom some refreshments, aside from the almost weekly Akiba trip. I rarely watch anime, and tune in to TV shows like some mainstream prick. I didn’t buy a lot of Akiba goods, and some of those I even sold to other people by now. Basically, I didn’t go all-anime frantic. Back at home though, I have lots more free time, and started to eat anime like crazy. I’m actually lagging in blogging anime reviews because I finished a lot of them lately. If I may so summarize some of them in one word:

Lucky Star: Fansservice.
Gurren Lagann: Epic.
Genshiken 2: Ogiue
To Heart 2 OVA: Ma-ryan!
Hitohira: Surprise!
Minami-ke: Azumangashimaro
Nanoha StrikerS: Lolis?
Lovely Complex: Nandeyanen?
Da Capo II: Zzzzz
School Days: Niceboat
5cm: Awww
Nana: NANA!

Hayate no Gotoku: Spoof-fest
Shugo Chara: Unlock!
Clannad: Kyou!
ef: WOW
Myself, Yourself: Backlogged
You’re Under Arrest: Nostalgia
Winter Anime: LAAAME

While I am lacking in the Japanese gaming area (bishoujo blood not boiling yet), the past few months have been relatively fine. Consider the fact that I was so into gaming last year (it was an awesome year for PC games), having equally enjoyable anime time has been wonderful.

And so we go to today, having lost a bit of Japanese within me, and yet gaining memories of those times, some wonderful, some sad. Would I want to go back? ABSOLUTELY! Why not? It has been a very fruitful year, and a very transitional half-year after that. I hope you got a little glimpse of Japan through my tunnel-vision, and maybe you could share your own experiences too.

2007: Year of the Modern Doujin

By bluemist on January 2nd, 2008

If I would remember 2007 in anime terms, it is definitely the year when the legend of fan-based content finally entered my consciousness. I know, stuff made by fans (doujinshi, doujin games, etc.) have been around even before the first Comiket, but never has it exploded as much as today. I would mostly blame the internet for that, as with many other things related with such an easy way to connect with other people. Because it’s related to computers though, the term “doujin” would have changed for me. A few years ago, I would consider the majority of doujin as either manga drawn by fans for fans, or programmed games by fans for fans. In 2007, “doujin” now encapsulates almost every form of media ever created. Music, accessories, video… you name it… the fans got it.
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