Monday, July 25, 2005

Barbarians Unite

Yeah, so this weekend I went to an Obon Dance festival. Obon is a Buddhist holiday. If you're interested in knowing more about it, click here. In any case, I was invited to go up to Ichigaya to the JSDF's little obon dance festival, and I knew even before I went that it would be an exciting 3 hours or so of me being mildly insulted. Kinda like being hit in the face with a dry dishcloth for a few hours, but feeling obligated to smile and weather the goofy shit.

Random reader:
"Hey jerkwad, what could be irritating about experiencing Japanese culture? Japanese people are so kind and wonderful, you should just have a good time, smile, and enjoy the cultural exchange!!!!!"

That's probably what some people would say to this, to which I would simply respond, "Eat ass!" I think the next time I go to one of those things, I'm going to have a [real live] Japanese person get on a mic and announce the following:

Good evening ladies and gentleman, this is a white dude. He just got off the plane yesterday, so this is his first time experiencing any of our wonderfully superior Japanese culture. You can be damn sure he doesn't use chopsticks, so clap with glee and compliment him profusely if he can figure out this impossibly difficult system for consuming our amazing food, which he will undoubtedly find unappetizing. He doesn't speak a word of Japanese, and he is a man whore. The only reason he is here is because he is obsessed with Japanese women. He has 10 girlfriends right now. His previous relationships were ruined because he cheated on everyone, because that's what white guys do, and following this he will be headed to Roppongi to engage in more lewd activities.

Random reader:
"Why would you have them introduce you like this?!?!"

I think it'd be a good idea to be introduced like that because that's what everyone thinks anyway, and when they ask me questions throughout whatever festival I go to, that's what they wanna hear. Here are some no-shit samples of some conversations I had with people:

Conversation #1:
  • Do you have a lot of girlfriends?
  • I'm single.
    (Someone sits down at the table)
    Table: HAHAHAHAAH (kung-fu style laughter)
    Note: It wasn't a miscommunication. "I'm single" and "I have 10 girlfriends" sound VERY different in Japanese. =) (I should note too, however, that the response from this was kinda witty. One of the guys said, "Can you lend me 5 of them?", which elicited more kung-fu style laughter.)

    Conversation #2:
  • Where are you going after this?
  • I'm gonna go hang out with some friends.
  • Ah, you are going to Roppongi to chase after girls!
    HAHAHAHAHA (kung-fu style laughter)

    Conversation #3:
  • So what do you like about Japan?
  • (Long, drawn out, complicated answer requiring thought and reflection)
  • (blank look) ...What else?
  • (More of the same)
  • (blank look) ...And?
  • You're asking me about the women aren't you.

    Hey fuckers, don't live your life vicariously through me.

    I also refused to speak English. My time, my language choice. I go up there to help out with their interpreter clinic, but I'm not an English teacher. That's something I do cuz I thought it would be fun, which it is, but I'm not gonna speak broken English and smile and giggle and complement people's English when they suck. Here's a sample of how I enforced my policy:

  • Old Japanese guy: WHERE FROM ARE YOU
  • Me: Squeeze me?
  • Me: Hmm?
  • Me: Say again your last, over?
    **End English, Commence Japanese**

    Random reader:
    "You're a real fucker, you know that?!?! They're just trying to be nice old men and you're being a shit head! Why don't you just be more patient with them? They don't mean anything by it!!!"

    Ok, that may be a valid point, but I don't think that too many self-respecting people in my position could weather such storms without becoming at least slightly irritated. Plus I'm getting a little bit tired of restraining myself from outrage/acts of violence simply because people don't "know any better." Just because someone doesn't "know any better" doesn't make me "any less pissed off" and "less inclined to throat punch them." Maybe they don't know any better cuz no one has ever told them they're being a jackass??? Anyway, imagine if a black guy came to a party in the USA, and he was asked the following questions:

    1. I bet you like our women, don't you? Do you have a lot of girlfriends?
    2. So you must be pretty good at sports.
    3. You can't eat our food huh.
    4. Do you have a gun? Have you ever shot anyone?
    5. Your people seem to like violence.

    I'd say most Americans would be horrified to hear that someone had to be asked stuff like that and was simply expected to smile, and I don't think me saying "Oh, but they didn't mean anything by it!! They don't know any better!" would mitigate things at all. I'm asked "all of the above" on a fairly regular basis, and it doesn't usually really bother me, but when it's my own personal time and I'm constantly asked stuff like that, it gets to be a little much.


    I knew it was gonna happen before I went, because those guys don't hang out with "foreigners" very much, so whatever... I may be irritated, but I'm not surprised in the least. All in all, I had a pretty good time, but the initial 5-10 minutes of talking to people was a little rough. Japanese people kinda play this little language-head-butting game where they will insist on speaking ghastly English. I feel like I'm playing a tennis match with someone who refuses to hit the ball back, and just return with a fucked up serve every time. Here's a possible example of a conversation in English:

  • Him: Hello!
  • Me: *grunt*
  • Me: USA.

    This is obviously an exaggeration, but still, sometimes it feels like that. After 5 minutes of exhausting everything they know in English, we switch languages, and after the embarrassing Q&A session that follows, it's possible to have some really cool conversations with folks, which is what ended up happening for a large portion of the time I was there. While this is a bit of a rant, it was a pretty cool way to spend an early Saturday evening. Every time some girls walked by it was announced that I was single and they were ordered to sit next to me, which wasn't a bad thing. One of the girls in the interpreter class had a friend who was actually at the same university at the same time I was when I was studying in Japan. Weird eh?

    Click on this, it rocks:

    Anyway, that's all for now. I hope yuns had a good weekend too.

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This made me laugh a lot. I experienced this on a much smaller scale in Spain. The comments were "you don't look American", "why are Americans so obsessed with fitness?", "You've gained a lot of weight since last year" (In Spain, it's not an insult to talk about weight. They say that as easily as "my, haven't you gotten taller"). I also liked the "You speak Spanish well" after I'd been there 7 times and was working and living there". I also got a lot of comments like "For an American you do ______ well" or "It's surprising that, as an American, you can't do _______." You know you have the right attitude- laugh, get annoyed, but try and have the corrective conversations and realize there are jackasses all over the world.

    Your sister

    4:44 AM  
    Blogger Jinxy said...

    Yes, Clown Ops is dead.

    Long live Son of Clown Ops.

    Glad to see you've got a new blog as well. Now start posting.


    11:52 AM  
    Blogger boudica of suburbia said...

    I think its great that you carry on speaking japanese regardless.

    As for the questions, I know what you mean! I lived in Ukraine for a couple of years and was subjected to endless questions. Actually, far worse were the incessant questioning I got upon coming back to Britain. "So did you like Ukraine?" "Do you speak Ukrainian?" etc etc The most mundane questions asked again and again and again.


    1:32 AM  

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