Posted in cultural differences, flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Christmas LIES!!!

Before we go any further, I feel the need to explain that Christmas isn’t as near and dear to me as Halloween. That being said it’s definitely the second favorite, and for reasons that are quite beyond me, I always get irrational when people who aren’t from America try to tell me how Christmas in America “actually is.”

LISTEN HERE, I am American, I am a Kentuckian, so don’t try to spread these LIES on my watch you KENTUCKY FRIED LUNATICS!


MERRY KENTUCKY FRIED CHRISTMAS LIES!!! AND OTHER CULTURAL CHRISTMAS DIFFERENCES

Once upon a time, I’m innocently gallivanting through the Aeon Mall in Narita with my good friend, Ai. We’re checking out different stores, and I’m squealing like a ten year old at every little cute thing in the huge shopping area. Basically, I was squealing at everything. Japan is full of cuteness, that makes me happy.

Anyway, just as we’re swinging through the last bit of mall, I catch sight of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in a food court. I remembered that I promised someone I would look at the price of their Christmas bundle of grease, so I walked over there with Ai to find it.

You see, in Japan people can’t get turkey. Turkey is hard to find, and if you find the bird it is really expensive. Instead of turkey, Kentucky Fried Chicken is used as a replacement.

Most foreigners find this tradition a little baffling, since Christmas usually also implies all the food is cooked by a grandmother or mother. Why would you want to eat fast food for Christmas? Honestly, it’s just a cultural thing. Why do Americans blow stuff up to celebrate the birth of America? Because we’re Americans and that’s what we do.

Anyway, I found a sign that looks like this:

KFC Christmas LIES.png
Yes, I do kind of want it. 

I picked up a pamphlet and began to walk away.

But then, I discovered an atrocity.

There,  sitting on the table with all its disgusting merriness, was a Christmas plate. Did the plate say, “Merry Christmas!” No. No it didn’t. It said:

“Kentucky Christmas.”

Ai got to experience one of my rants that day. It’s been a long time since I just let one off out of blue, and I might have scared some poor Japanese people in my near vicinity.

I believe I said something along the lines of, “We don’t eat KFC for Christmas! For the thousandth time, we eat ham and turkey! HAM AND TURKEY! Not fried up  grease attached to dead poultry!”

Ai was laughing pretty hard, and she wished she had recorded it all to put up on YouTube. I’m really glad she didn’t. I do not want to be an overnight YouTube star.I do not want to go down in internet history as “The Kentucky Fried Lunatic.”


Hahaha, let’s all laugh together at past me who thinks she’ll never be on YouTube. Joke’s on you, past me!


The thing is I wouldn’t care so much if not for the unfortunate problem that some Japanese people do believe that folks in Kentucky eat KFC all the time and must eat it at Christmas (for the plates tell them so). It makes me want to beat the marketing people senseless.

I’m resigned to the fact that people will forever and always associate my state with a gross fast food chain. However, Christmas is a sacred time of family, presents, and real food. For someone to dare tarnish the reputation of my beloved commercial holiday memories throws me into an irrational fury.

As Christmas draws near, the number of people asking me questions pertaining to my Kentucky heritage and my version of Christmas has increased. There’s the common question of, “Do you eat KFC on Christmas?” I respond, “No. No I don’t. Most of the people I know eat ham and turkey.” With a hundred side items and desserts, but I never get to that part.

People usually then respond, “Oh, really?” (I’ve come to recognize this phrase as something thrown at Japanese in English class, and I know this information because I’ve been wincing every time my students have to use it in class.) I usually respond with a small sigh and say, “Yes, really. And we have fruit cake.”

“What’s a fruit cake?”

A gross concoction  that looks like food. I’ve had very few good experiences with fruit cake. However, my mom just gave me a recipe for chocolate rum fruit cake. I’m kind of excited about that one, but I’m not ever excited about the prospect of fruit cake otherwise.


Funny thing, I made two batches of that chocolate rum cake (after, of course, taste testing one batch for science purposes). I gave those to my two main junior high schools, and surprisingly they loved those cakes! I was so terribly pleased with myself.

You’ll be horrified to know that fruit cake is sold in grocery stores over here more and more. Pretty soon, the annual tradition of passing around a fruit cake until it ends up in someone’s garbage will soon be a thing in Japan, too.


Japan has a decidedly better improvement. It’s called a Christmas Cake, and it looks delicious.

christmas-cake
Yum, yum!

I want to get one, but they’re apparently in really high demand. I don’t know if I will, but I’m going to try!


As I recall, I bought one at my local liquor store. Apparently, that’s where all the single people went to celebrate Christmas, so they had mini-Christmas cakes there for the lonely types. It was freaking delicious, too, like super packed with strawberries.


The other questions pertain to what I do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I told my friends and JTEs about how Christmas Eve is usually reserved for getting together with family and friends. I have a family tradition with my Dad’s side of the family that involves invading my grandmother’s house so we can eat good food and open up presents together. Most families reserve the present opening until Christmas Day, and I open my presents from my mother and her side of the family on that day.

A couple of people have asked me if I’m going to spend Christmas with a boyfriend, to which I responded two different ways:

“Where’s this imaginary Japanese man that’s fallen madly in love with me and why haven’t I met him?”

and

“Why would I celebrate Christmas with a boyfriend?”

Apparently, Christmas time is couples’ time in Japan. Boyfriends apparently do romantic things for their sweethearts, like buy them a present or take them out somewhere nice. If they want to be really beloved by their girl, they will take her to Disney Land or Disney Sea (depending upon the age. Disney Sea has drinking.). I won’t lie, if I had a boyfriend, I would totally beg him to take me there. Do you know how cute that place is? Ridiculous I tell you!

Christmas at Disney Sea.png
Come on, you totally just went, “Awww!” 

I explained that it’s really a big family time of the year, so I would not celebrate with a boyfriend on Christmas. I would celebrate on Christmas Eve with him before my Dad’s family time, but I don’t think I could’ve done it on Christmas. Dedicating the whole day to a boyfriend would get me disowned.

I’ve also discovered that Japanese parents have it tougher than American parents when it comes to sneaking the presents. American parents just have to sneak into the living room and put the presents under the tree and fill up the stockings. Japanese parents have to put presents beside their children’s beds at night. I couldn’t do it. I would wake up my child instantly due to some klutzy error.


Japanese parents, though, don’t generally buy a lot of presents for their kids. It’s usually only one or two kind of nice toys and that’s it. See, kids generally get these money envelopes on New Years Day, so pretty soon after Christmas they’ll have more presents. So it’s not like they’re going in the room with like a whole Santa bag, mainly just one or two boxes, which does make a bit easier.

Still, ninja skills, man.


Apparently, Santa Claus is pretty much the same jolly man in red. I’ve been asked if Colonel Sanders in Kentucky dresses up for Christmas, and I had to really think about it. I couldn’t remember our KFC even having a Colonel Sanders statue. I said I think so, but I honestly don’t remember. I know for a fact that Colonel Sanders does dress up as Santa Claus in Japan. It actually looks pretty neat.

Colonel Sanders Santa.png
No thanks, Colonel Santa. 

Right now, I’m trying to avoid KFC, lest I fly off the handle again and cause an international incident. I’m sure I’ll eventually eat there (I do love the biscuits), but until the holidays are over it’s best to just stay clear.

I will say that some cultural things about Christmas are the same. It’s about being with the people you love and showing you care. Regardless of where the presents go or the thrice damned chicken, both Americans and Japanese jump through hoops to get those special gifts for their beloved people. Just as in America, parents have got it tough, and in the name of love for their children they will do anything to get that stupidly popular (insert item here).

Christmas cheer is everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The Christmas music started earlier than America because there’s no Thanksgiving to hold it back, and oddly enough it’s mostly the same American choices for music. For example, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” plays all the time. I kind of like it, but I’ll be sick of it by the end of December.

There are Christmas trees, too. They’re a little smaller than the average American tree, but that’s to be expected since most Japanese homes are smaller than the average American home. I’m considering getting either a small tree or a poinsettia. I was surprised to find the poinsettias over here, but they’re apparently just as popular here as in America.

Alas, I will not be celebrating Christmas in Japan, however. I will be going back to Kentucky for Christmas, which means no KFC for me! Yay! Instead, I’ll be chowing down on ham and fudge and pie and burritos and tacos (because Mexican food is only found in all of two cities, and I live in neither of them) and more pie and cheeseburgers and…Well, you get the idea.

I’ll be back in Japan for New Years, so until then TTYL and Merry Christmas!

P.S. Here’s a link to Badger Girl and a recipe for fruit cake so you can make it for the unsuspecting person of your choosing:

http://learntocookbadgergirl.com/?p=1761


Alright, so I’ll be restarting flashback Friday, but I think I’m going to do it every other Friday instead of every week like I was doing before. See you all in two weeks then!

Posted in cultural differences

Dear Japan, I’m Not An Eikaiwa

Dear Japan,

I understand, I do. In Japan it’s difficult to find cheap English lessons that are convenient for a hectic schedule. Usually, real eikaiwa lessons run at about ¥20,000 per month on average. That’s one month where you might only get about three or four lessons because you need to cancel most of your lessons due to work, kids, hobbies, etc.

You also think perhaps, due to a very common misconception, that all foreigners don’t find random interruptions as rude. You see foreign people in movies and TV shows randomly finding each other and becoming friends, and your teachers may even encourage you to find a foreigner to strike up a conversation.

“Don’t be shy!” Your sensei might say, “Be brave and try it out!”

However, foreigners aren’t all the same. Some Americans are fun loving and extroverted people who love to make new friends, but then there are some Americans who don’t want to interact with new people, they like their own people and don’t really want to extend their social circle any further. Some Australians are adventurous and want to try everything, but then there are some who want to chill at cafes and never go out past city limits.

Basically every person, no matter their nationality, is different. Each person will have an introverted or extroverted personality, a good day or a bad day. I know you want to find people who will sit down with you to talk, because natural English can be hard to find at eikaiwas or school, but don’t expect every foreigner to be willing to talk with you.

I’m more of an introverted person at heart. I like to sit and talk for hours with my friends, but when it comes to meeting people for the first time I’m not very good at chatting. I like to meet new people through friends of friends, through commonalities, not randomly at cafes or on trains. It makes me nervous, anxious, and just all around uncomfortable.

I know many foreigners who aren’t like me, who come to Japan to teach English and feel it’s their obligation to teach English to everyone. Be they friend or stranger, some people take on this mantle of English teacher both inside and outside of the classroom, because they believe it’s so very important for Japanese people to learn English.

I applaud their enthusiasm and their commitment. Personally, I will gladly teach English in my classroom, I will talk with my Japanese English teachers, I will sometimes teach my Japanese friends new English words, but I don’t want to be an English teacher for every single member of Japan’s population.

Although, I wasn’t always in this mindset. I used to be the go-getter, the one who did free, random English lessons. But then I discovered there are people who can’t be trusted, and I shouldn’t be a free eikaiwa.

Usually, it was at cafes, and it was usually a man but sometimes a woman. They would say something like, “HELLO! My name is ______! Can I sit with you? I would like to practice my English.”

At first I just said, “Sure, no problem!” and I would have interesting conversations with new people.

Then many times, after I’ve allowed someone to use me as a free English lesson, I will get harassed again at the same coffee shop. They will come up to me the next time, and the next, and they will ask for my LINE or Facebook, or they might look me up on Facebook without my permission to add me. As a single woman living in Japan, this scared me, and I blocked these sorts of people, and then I would never go to that coffee shop again.

“But they’re Japanese!” You may say, “They can’t be dangerous!”

I disagree. Whether someone is Japanese or foreign, they can become stalkers. Perhaps they only wanted to be my English speaking friend, but I don’t want to be that kind of friend. I don’t want to be used for my friendship, it just feels wrong to me. Also, I don’t want to risk my safety, just for a possible “friend.” I would rather be cautious.

Still, people would ask for English lessons, over and over again. I would get so frustrated, because I felt it was necessary to teach them, so I tried to keep it to simple and short chats. In the five years I’ve lived here, I can’t count how many times I’ve been approached to become, essentially, a free English teacher.

By year four, I was done. I couldn’t let my job become my life, and I couldn’t let strangers take away my coffee shops from me.

Nowadays, when I sit down at a cafe, I want to sit in peace. I want to browse the web on my iPad and sip on my coffee. If I’m approached by someone like you, who wants to practice English, I’m sorry, but my answer will be no. Well, I’m usually very polite in saying no, “I’m sorry, but I just want to have some coffee and relax, so no thank you.”

Sometimes people are kind, they smile and say, “Ok, I understand!” and they leave me alone. Sometimes people are a bit upset and ask, “Why?” and I have to say something like, “Because I’m busy.” and then ignore them. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to be a walking, talking eikaiwa anymore.

Sorry, but it’s just how I am. However, if you want to talk to people in English that’s more natural, here’s some advice:

1) Join an Language Exchange– There are many groups available on MeetUp. Search for one near your area with English and Japanese available. These are usually free or the price of a coffee, and they’re usually at cafes too!

2) Find a Teacher to Fit Your Needs- There are so many sites. My-Sensei or Hello-Sensei  are both great resources for finding a personal teacher for cheaper than the eikaiwa. Also, there aren’t any package deals, you just pay per lesson! No contract, just direct message and contact. You can choose between one on one or group, so you and your friends can learn English together.

3) Go to International Events– Unlike at cafes or restaurants, international events will have many foreigners who are talking and mingling, and it’s less rude to strike up a conversation with someone foreign here (it’s actually expected). Find out where your nearest International Association is and sign up for their event newsletters.

If you take my advice, you’ll find that these settings are better for learning English instead of finding random English speaking foreigners anyway. After all, not every foreigner comes to Japan to teach English, and some foreigners don’t even speak English. And as I said before, different personalities means there will be different reactions to asking for an English chat. Besides, women like me who are very cautious simply don’t want to take risks with strangers.

Please don’t give up trying to learn English, but please keep in mind that not all foreigners are free eikiawas.

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

Posted in cultural differences, From Kentucky, Japan News

My Students are Scared of America

The Orlando shooting at gay club Pulse is now the largest recorded mass shooting in the United States. It comes right on the heels of another shooting in the same area, where Christina Grimmie was shot and murdered right after a concert. My students know all about both incidents, although the Japanese news has been leaving out that the club was “gay” for some reason and instead just calling it a club (because I suppose viewers wouldn’t sympathize with hate crimes? I don’t know).

When I ask them nowadays where they want to go abroad, most of them respond, “France! Phillipines! Canada!” If anyone says, “America!” There’s an automatic reaction of shock and cries of, “No! No! America kowai! Sugoi abunai!”  America is scary, dangerous, especially at the schools.

Ever since the Sandy Elementary School shooting in 2012, my schools in Japan prep students going to America about what to do if a shooting occurs while they’re abroad. I didn’t realize it was standard procedure until I accidentally walked in one a PowerPoint presentation, with pictures of guns and videos of lockdown drills. I remember looking around the room and feeling such shame. I left to go cry in the bathroom.

Some schools in Japan have started dropping exchange programs in America out of these fears, and also because less students want to sign up for America. Australia, Britain, and Canada are becoming the top picks for English speaking countries. The schools are safe there, people with guns aren’t going to come in and shoot them.

People will disagree with me about the idea of gun control. I’ve heard all the arguments, that it never works, look how prohibition turned out, blah blah blah. I’m tired of it. I’m exhausted with listening to people try over and over again to justify keeping assault rifles legal, that we can’t even bother to try saving lives on the off chance that we might fail.

“Bad people are always gonna do bad things!” Right, but I counter with, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Staying stuck in our ways isn’t solving the problem. Allowing the NRA to have such a big hold on our government and its decisions on gun control is outrageous.

Florida NRA control.jpg
Washington Post

In Japan, firearms are illegal. The only legal gun allowed within the country is a shotgun, and it’s an expensive gun to get, have, and continue having. The yakuza don’t even like to use guns because of the immediate imprisonment sentence attached. When caught with a gun and you are foreign, it’s deportation and blocked from the country, end of story. I don’t know if that’s ever possible for my homeland.

That doesn’t excuse America from at least trying. We should make it more difficult to get a firearm, as in heavier background checks and longer waiting periods. Every single person should be required to go through a gun safety course, and if you’ve been arrested for precious violent activities, ban them from entering a gun store. These are all easy and simple steps to take, but America refuses to budge on the Second Amendment, calling it their “God given right to bear arms!”

Meanwhile, in Japan I can go to work every single day knowing that the odds of my students getting gunned down is near nil. I don’t live in fear of having to barricade a door and use my body as a human shield to protect them. It’s a shame America not only allows that fear, but that its politicians profit from it.

My students shouldn’t have to consider getting shot and killed en masse as part of their pros and cons options for first world countries to visit. We keep trying to give people leeway to clench onto deadly weapons instead of trying to think about protecting the lives of the children, teens, minorities, LGBTQ affiliated persons, and so on. There are people praising the attack on the gay club, as in there are people who consider this guy a hero.

It’s only a matter of time until another school, another club, another event is the next “record breaking” massacre. When my students go to the United States, I don’t tell them that I fear for them, that I worry about it just as much as they do. I don’t believe in allowing that fear to control our lives, though. We all need to go out into the world and see other cultures, and many countries have their own sorts of dangers to face. At the same time, mass shootings seem to be a contagious and consistent problem in America, one that could be solved if we’d just try.

Posted in cultural differences

Dorky Comic Reviews: ‘Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo’

I’m reblogging this from my other site as it’s really more at home here, I think.

Dorkitude!

Grace Buchele-Mineta continues her adventurous comic book series with “Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo,” the third installment featuring her life as a Texan woman married to a Japanese man, Ryosuke Mineta, while living abroad in Japan.

I reviewed the second book earlier this year, and much of the same themes from the previous book return in the sequel. Grace and Ryosuke go through the trials and tribulations of Tokyo’s great metropolis, some of which involve cultural differences, along with the other everyday struggles of basic adult life in an intercultural marriage. With witty one liners and a great cast of characters, the comics elicits warm laughter in its blatantly honest portrayals of these struggles, but also hurts the heart at times with some harsh truths.

Shopping cheap and sacrificing heat to keep the bill down, Grace and Ryosuke definitely live the life of an average Tokyo couple…

View original post 829 more words

Posted in cultural differences, Uncategorized

Japanese School Lunches: Not That Great

 

Sometimes people share things with me and ask, “Hey, is this true?” One of the recent questions someone posed also came with a link to the video above. From the short film, one would think that Japanese schools have the healthiest lunches EVER and that American schools are the WORST when it comes to healthy food at school.

But actually, as with most cultural comparisons, the truth is a bit more complicated.

First of all, while it’s true that students in Japan do prepare lunches in elementary and junior high school, they don’t cook the meals themselves. That’s ridiculous. If a child burned their hand while cooking up soup, you can bet that parents would raise hell about it. No, there are usually food prep people who cook the food for the students.

Also, ATTN seems to believe that the food is all made “from scratch.” I saw the people prepping the food at my junior high schools, and scratch is a bit of a stretch. The soups are the add boiling water to dry ingredients type, and the rice is rice. You throw water in a pot and cook it, it’s not hard. The fish is fresh because Japan is an island nation and surrounded by fish. In short, the food isn’t terribly labor intensive, and that’s on purpose. This way the food prep people can get everything done quickly and it’ll be done in bulk.

Second, Japanese students do take mandatory classes for home economics in elementary and junior high school, but most of those classes aren’t labor intensive either. Students learn more along the lines of “How to Peel Potatoes and Apples” and less like “How to Make a Full Course Meal for Yourself.” And keep in mind that budget cuts can happen, and when they do, one of the first classes put on the chopping block (pun intended) is the home ec and music classes, just like in the good ol’ USA.

Next, what the video left out for obvious reasons, I think, is that the students do not get a choice about what they can or can’t eat at lunch. The food they get from the food truck that comes everyday is the food they get to eat: milk to drink, fish or pork, 1/4th a plate of rice, and some kind of soup. Everyone eats in their classrooms, so unlike in America, they’re not choosing this healthy lifestyle. The students eat what they’re given or they go without. If you’ve got allergies? Too bad, go get water from the water fountains. The flexibility you’d find in other countries isn’t here.

Japanese School Lunch
Actual school lunch I had at a JHS

The food isn’t as healthy as one would think. The rice is white, which means it gets stripped of all its nutrients. Unlike brown rice, white rice fills up the stomach, but it doesn’t add nutritional value. Basically, it doesn’t hurt but it doesn’t help the body. Since it’s 1/4th of the meal, it gives everyone the illusion of eating a lot, but in fact nutrition wise they didn’t eat enough. The lunch system is set up to just be a hold over until the students go home and eat dinner after school.

However, the positives outweigh the negatives. One good aspect to the lack of choice is the small portions sizes. Because America has cafeterias designed similarly to buffet style restaurants, portion sizes are generally bigger than most other countries in the world. Meanwhile, Japan has one tray plate with appropriate portion sizes. In addition, the fact that children are regularly from an early age eat lighter meals means that they’re less likely to over indulge when they get older. Americans have the idea that children need so many calories to grow, but the Japanese way of thinking is that children should just be given “enough.”

Finally, putting Japanese people up as a paradigm of good health is fine, but the reason so many people are healthy is because they’re active. Japanese schools have recess and P.E. They haven’t budged so far on cutting those kinds of activities, and I don’t think they ever will. In junior high school, nearly all students are in some kind of club, with the majority of students choosing sports. Sports clubs practice both in the morning and in the evening, especially the basketball and baseball clubs. When the students go to high school and the university, most Japanese people remain active and do physical activity. Most people ride bikes in the countryside if they want to go to the convenience store, they don’t hop in their cars. People in Tokyo walk everywhere instead of drive. People in Japan are just on their feet more than the average American person, and they do sports and such for fun.

In my opinion, yes American schools could learn a thing or two from the Japanese school system, but it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. I would suggest simply looking into cutting down the food options available at school. Less desert or no desert might be a good place to start. American’s love it, and it’s a big part of our culture, but desert isn’t really a big part of Eastern culture, so I’ve learned to stop having it at lunch and dinner. Then if we make it so that students can have only healthy options instead of constantly eating grease, cheese, salt, and sugar products then we’ll definitely have thinner waistlines and better minds.

When students eat better, they also perform better in school, fun fact. I hope that America will still give students options, because learning to make healthy choices is a vital part of education, and taking that away seems a bit too far. Fighting obesity would mean also bringing back recess in elementary schools, and getting all students more active. Until we have a more physically active culture, unfortunately we’re not going to see much change.