Stuff I will miss – sour grapes edition

I must reiterate that I will miss these things, but in the spirit of the cynicism I’ve been feeling since Nov. 9 (in Japan) here is a revised list that puts a negative twist on everything that I like.

  1. Varieties of tofu.  On the other hand, the low level of awareness of vegetarianism results in a ton of “vegetable” dishes that merely contain slightly more vegetables than usual in addition to chicken or pork, and many tofu burgers that contain parts of 3 different animals.
  2. Service.  If I’m with anyone more Asian-looking than I am I can look forward to barely needing to participate in the transaction at all.
  3. People generally maintaining a minimum standard of hygiene in public.  What is called “casual” in the US would be “homeless” here.  If you want to go out with a minimum of attention to your clothes, you have to stay in your car.  And if you’re a woman, wear a surgical mask to hide your un-made-up face.
  4. Natto. I will be happy not to have to do the dance of negotiating the abject shock on people’s faces when I confirm that I “can eat” it though.
  5. Kurumipan, or “walnut bread”.  I have nothing cynical to say about this.
  6. Cheap paper.  Japan uprooted much of its native forests in favor of industrial cedar before everyone noticed wood from China was cheaper.  I live near an area famous for papermaking, but apparently they mostly make food wrappers now.  Printer paper comes from China.
  7. The feeling that when you buy food you’re paying more for quality than for quantity. Recall the Lagunitas-Michelob principle – you don’t have to worry about the quality of the average product as long as there is enough selection to enable you to choose what you really want.  In Japan the selection for most things is small and of above-average quality, and you pay twice the price you would in the US for even the lower-quality option.
  8. Citrus.  Of course I’m going to California, so it’s not like I’ll be lacking in options or quality.  And mangoes are sold at dollar stores instead of being 800 yen each.
  9. The steady stream of subject-verb agreement and literal translation mistakes that I can instantly identify and that have little room for interpretation. I have a lot more to say about this. English teachers in Japan focus quite a bit on motivation as I said in the last post, partly because they absolutely cannot count on students being motivated about communication in general and English in particular.  This shows up in a lot of essays where you end up focusing on minutiae because you very rarely feel like the student actually tried to say something.  A lot of those minutiae are translation mistakes because students regard English writing as an application of translation techniques to a perfunctorily written Japanese document.  The feeling is similar to giving brush stroke-level criticism of hand-painted copies of artwork featuring dogs playing poker.
  10. Predominance of shiba inus, a generally smart and independent kind of dog (I have one!).  Lately the only things I hear about shibas are “a shiba attacked my toy poodle… damn shibas” and “shibas are very popular overseas“, part of a “foreigners love Japan” meme I have never liked.
  11. The relative lack of the politics of personal affiliation and aggressive anti-elitism.  The most common arc for learning a new acquaintance’s political beliefs is that on a night out drinking after several months of knowing each other you finally find out 1) their first name, and 2) that they think the Chinese made up the Rape of Nanking.
  12. Mini Stop.  Convenience stores are huge here because they enable the anti-social norms of contemporary Japanese society.  You can pay your taxes and buy Shonen Jump at the same place, and without having to talk to anybody.
  13. Shocking students with root beer candy.  Another nail in the “gaikoku is weird and dangerous” coffin.
  14. Indian food.  I’m part of a “mixed roots” facebook group, and one thing I always think about when folks bring up minority rights is that the children of ethnic minorities in Japan who are not even half ethnically Japanese have very few advocates.  Many owners of Indian and Thai restaurants in Japan are long-term residents or citizens with kids here, and unlike other ethnic minorities can’t change their names and hope to “pass”.
  15. The feeling of being able to surprise people with something I know about Japan or the US that they didn’t.  It’s good that people want to know things, but you get to a point pretty quickly where you find yourself thinking, “how can you graduate from high school and not know that kanji came from China?”
  16. On a related note, the feeling that one doesn’t need to have an opinion on everything or to stick with it as a matter of principle.  That doesn’t excuse being intentionally uncommitted because you just don’t know anything.
  17. Since we’re moving to California, the cold.  Actually only our dog will miss the cold.
  18. Hwameis, garrulous birds that make fall walks in our neighborhood extra fun.  People call these 外来種 gairaishu “imported species”, as if other species of birds here emerged straight from Susano-O’s spear.
  19. A few beers, particularly Shiga Kogen IPA and other beers from Tamamura as well as our local Bayern Meister Bier.  See Lagunitas-Michelob principle.
  20. The kind of job security that comes with belonging to an ethnic group designated Japan’s English Teachers. This is a poison pill for English education – the status of “authentic English user” being reserved for white people means that none of your students think they can ever be as good as you.  I can’t think of a worse assumption for a teacher-student relationship to be based on.
  21. In the classroom, the overwhelming focus on motivation as opposed to more nuts and bolts aspects of language teaching.  Actually, I’ll be glad to teach classes where a majority of students already see the use for the thing I’m offering.  I don’t want to have to trick students into wanting to learn anymore.
  22. Having the time to blog like this.  Maybe I’ll have a job that will be more personally fulfilling than writing for strangers!
See you soon!

3 thoughts on “Stuff I will miss – sour grapes edition

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