One of the engines that drives Japanese society and makes Japanese people the way they are is called hito no me (HEE-toh no meh), which translates as “the eyes of others.” In all that you do in Japan, there is the sense that you’re being watched by everyone around you, and that if you stray too far outside the invisible lines of what is acceptable, you’ll be judged harshly by your neighbors. This tendency to be concerned with appearances is a big part of daily life here, and it’s part of the reason why Japan can seem a very homogenous place when viewed from the outside. In Japan, you throw your garbage out on set days, and knowing what kind of trash is okay to put out on any given day can require a Masters Degree in Trashology. But if you don’t follow the rules and put exactly the right trash out that morning (not, by the way, the night before, even if you’re a gaijin who works til 11 pm at an English school and prefers to sleep til noon), you’ll suffer the ire of the ever-watching people around you, which subtly causes you to conform in ways that no threat of punishment could. Since most people in Japan are considerably thinner than they are in the States (at 100 kg, I am gargantuan for Japan, and have been asked if I was a professional wrestler), there is always that pressure to conform to the others around me and lose weight — which is a good thing of course, if it improves health. In the U.S., we try to value adversity and individuality, and if we saw someone walking under an umbrella even though it wasn’t raining outside, we might chuckle and say that he dances to his own tune. But in Japan there’s less chance that doing something that no one else is doing will be viewed in a favorable light.
I think I found studying Japanese at SDSU enjoyable because it was so different from English — there were so many linguistic concepts that didn’t exist in my native language, which sometimes made constructing sentences easier in Japanese (no messing with past participle and present perfect tense, as they don’t exist), and sometimes more challenging. One group of intriguing expressions that fall into the latter group are “repeating phrases” the are pregnant with meaning. The phrase soro soro adds the idea that the time for something has come to a sentence (e.g. soro soro ikimasho, “Let’s go (because it’s time we should be going)”). Another similar phrase is waza waza, meaning “to go to all the trouble” (waza waza motte kite kurete arigato, “Thanks for going out of your way to bring it to me”). If you have a sparkling new car, it’s pika pika (pee-KA pee-KA, gleaming with newness), but if you don’t take care of it, it’ll be boro boro (old and rusty). These descriptive repeating words get blended with English, too, with words like rabu rabu (love-love, describing a couple that is very much in love), and ero ero (which describes most males I know, similar in meaning to ecchi).
The true bellweather for a restaurant is how good its ice coffee is, and Denny’s was really good, right up there with Kizoku no Mori and Silk Road, two local restaurants whose ice coffee we revere.