Living in a foreign country means more than just learning that country’s language. It also means subtly taking the local culture inside you, something that can really sneak up on a person — one day you’re shunning natto and forgetting to take your shoes off when you enter a house, and the next you’re serving “coffee jelly” to foreign guests for dessert. An interesting yardstick for how much of this culture a person has internalized are the gestures that we all use every day, since unlike spoken language, gestures are something we don’t consciously think about. A big part of body language in Japan involves bowing, and Japanese are known to bow out of reflex even when talking on the phone — nothing is funnier than seeing a gaijin do this too. Another famous gesture is “tegatana,” meaning hand-katana, made as you move throw a crowd while simultaneously bowing and cutting an invisible path with your hand, karate-style. You can communicate some complex concepts using a simple gesture; for example, one salaryman might pantomime throwing back a sake glass to his friend (“Do you want to stop for drinks on the way home?”), while his friend might make little demon’s horns with his forefingers and shake his head (“I can’t, my wife would be really angry”).
The word eikaiwa means “English Conversation,” and this is probably one of the first Japanese words a person interested in teaching ESL in Japan encounters. The market for helping Japanese people learn English quite large, and is mainly dominated by the four chain schools ECC, AEON, GEOS, and the largest school, Nova. Unfortunately for the 5000+ native English speakers who work in Nova’s “study abroad in front of your local train station” schools, the company is currently going through a rough period that might result in its total meltdown. When most foreigners have experience with Nova it’s usually as a teacher — there are plenty who will give you an earful of the various abuses of the company — but in my own case I actually considered having my daughter study English there, a considerably rare thing for an American living in Japan to do. It soon became apparent that the company was really interested in signing us up for a 5 year contract in which we were required to pay, even if our situation changed or teachers that we liked at our local school left, with no refunds, either. Turns out, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled this practice illegal, and Nova was ordered to suspend part of its business for six months as penalty. Now it seems that the company is having trouble paying its foreign staff as it tries to keep out of bankruptcy. Incidentally, I generally advise anyone interested in coming to Japan to teach English to steer clear of these large chain schools if you can, since based on my own experience you’ll be happier at a smaller school that will provide a more personal approach to teaching English.
I’ve written before about how the Japanese like to commemorate interesting days. June 4th is Mushi no Hi (Bug Day), when we should all appreciate the things that the insect world does for us, while March 11 is Panda Day, the date when the first panda bears were discovered by a French missionary in China in 1869, and who could forget Fried Chicken Day on November 21st, the date the first KFC opened in Japan back in 1970. October 10 is is Moé no Hi, the day to celebrate the Japanese concept of moé (pronounced mo-EH), which is a slang term that essentially describes the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when looking at your favorite anime or dating-sim game character, although the character itself just means “bud” or “sprout.” The reason today is Moé Day is rather silly — it’s the 10th day of the 10th month, and when you line up the kanji for ‘ten’ above the characters for ‘day’ and ‘month’ you get a large version of the moé kanji. If you like the look of this kanji character, we’ve got a really cool moé calligraphy T-shirt, available on the site now.
There’s been lots of news for fans of Japan’s PC dating-sim games recently, including the recent announcement that the upcoming game Bazooka Cafe had gone “golden master” and would be shipping in a couple of weeks — can’t wait for that. We’ve also got a new game coming from the creator of Bible Black, called Discipline, which features an amazing game story and huge lineup of memorable characters that will quite blow your mind. Preorder this great game now!
J-List sells many T-shirts that use kanji, hiragana and katakana to creat fun and wacky designs that are fun to wear. This month’s “Wacky Japanese T-Shirt of the Month” is our famous “It Is Forbidden To Urinate Here” design, which is — incredibly — a sign you can see quite often in Japan. It seems that Japanese males aren’t shy about taking a leak in rice fields, by the side of the road, or sometimes near people’s houses, and so you can see these signs forbidding tachishon, that is, outdoor urinating. Our T-shirt features a great symbol of a torii, a traditional Japanese arch, since one place these signs are common are near Shinto shrines (don’t want to offend the gods by peeing near them). This shirt is available at a special price this month only!