Month: September 2014

Studying Japanese Style.

610 611 612 613609study aids 

Seeing as school in BC is finally back in session after a lengthy labour dispute, I thought I’d do a ‘back-to-school’ themed post. When I taught in Japan many moons ago, my students ranged in age from 4-84, with about one-third being high school students. The others were housewives, businessmen, the odd senior and a handful of kids under twelve. My classes were privates, shared classes and small groups (never more than four). Most of the high school kids brought in homework and they often studied before class or brought their English homework to class so I could help them. I noticed that they all had clear plastic sheets in red or green or both. They were happy to introduce me their favourite Japanese method of studying—particularly useful in Japan as there is considerable memorization required for an abundance of standardized tests. There are tests to get into elementary school, high school and university. Once you GET to university, apparently it’s not that difficult, it’s the getting in that is the challenge. This system might come in handy for those studying for the SATs? Or memorizing vocabulary?

Anyway, this is their system. It comes in a tidy package (of course) with the deluxe package having both a red and green sheet of plastic (in various sizes) AND a red and green highlighter pen. The highlighters have neutralizing ink on the end so your notes don’t necessarily have to stay marked up with red and green. When studying, if you use the green highlighter and the red plastic, it blocks the word so you can test yourself. The red highlighter and the green plastic work the same way. It’s quite ingenious, particularly if you are studying languages, definitions or trying to memorize lists of facts and formulas. I bought some for Karis and her friends…we’ll see if they find them useful. You could probably get them at Daiso in Richmond if you want to try them out. I was there a couple of weeks ago and noticed that it’s no longer limited to $2 items–they still have the majority of items at $2 but they’ve definitely branched out in their pricing. If you’ve never been, I HIGHLY recommend it! It’s hugely entertaining as well as offering some unique and affordable household and gift items.

Editing from an Anthropological Perspective.

Words of wisdom on writing paper

Words of wisdom on writing paper

An inspirational little quote on the cover of a small notebook/folder

An inspirational little quote on the cover of a small notebook/folder

My eco-bag for groceries...could not resist

My eco-bag for groceries…could not resist

All this in a notebook retailing for 60 yen ;-)

All this in a notebook retailing for 60 yen 😉

Awww...very nice sentiment

Awww…very nice sentiment

A lovely sentiment for a plastic organizer file

A lovely sentiment for a plastic organizer file

One of the best things about Japan is the fact that so many items have these charming English slogans on them. One of the most maddening things is that often there are charming English slogans but no useful information in English such as instructions for use or even a clue to what the product might be. Nevertheless, it makes for an amusing and informative diversion when you are spending time in a society where you are, for the most part, unable to read or understand much of anything. Depending on your personality or even your mood, you may find this incredibly peaceful or maddening. My anonymous friend loves it…he loves being left in peace and being able to focus on his thoughts and pursuits with minimal interruption from society at large. I deeply suspect he understands, and could likely speak, Japanese much better than he lets on. Because I used to be fairly fluent in Japanese, I found it frustrating at first but I eventually relaxed and found the absence of constant messaging to be a good thing. I was less tired and had energy to read and write more, perhaps motivated by a lack of interaction in daily life? I think my experience is a good illustration of the effect of information overload in today’s relentless global 24/7 society. Kind of unexpected to experience being ‘unplugged’ in Tokyo.

Back to the English words and phrases on items ranging from toilet paper (“fresh and heavenly softness with relaxation”) to laundry soap (“lemon for your fresh cloths”) to clothing (“smart baby and stylish”). I often wonder who gets to write these little sayings? Do they have complete editorial freedom? How does one get these jobs? Is the author chosen by default because they are the best/only English speaker in the company? Or is there some sort of computer program or online word bank they use? (“enter product here for a list of suitable English words and phrases”) Are they subtly mocking us? (Unlikely) Where does this fascination with English come from? They could definitely use an editor if I could ever figure out where to apply for the job 😉  I do think the usage and understanding of English has definitely improved as there are far fewer instances of truly butchered syntax and word choice than there were when I first came to Tokyo. Indeed, my favourite experience of the misuse of English happened when I was in Tokyo in the 90s. I saw a expensively-dressed young woman in her twenties wearing a fitted long-sleeved T-shirt with ‘Fucking Shit’ embroidered in an elegant script. Back in the day, there weren’t a lot of non-conformists in this socio-economic bracket particularly shopping the streets of Ginza. I think things are coming full circle now as our society has developed a fascination with characters from other languages and the internet is full of instances of Westerners getting tattoos that they think mean ‘peace’ or ‘love’ that actually mean nothing of the sort.

Whatever the sociological or cultural reasons behind it, I for one, appreciate these little homilies found on countless items in Japan. It gives me something to read that is easy. I can read hiragana (phonetic alphabet for Japanese words) but it is a time-consuming trial and often if I manage to actually decode the word, I rarely can remember the meaning as I’ve forgotten most of my vocabulary. Think back to kindergarten or Grade 1 when you weren’t completely sure which letter made which sound and you’ll have an idea of my reading level in Japanese. It’s hard. No wonder Karis was so tired when she came home from Kindergarten!

Got this for my mum...not that she's 'olb' or anything

Got this for my mum…not that she’s ‘olb’ or anything

I'm not sure I want to know where horse oil comes from...

I’m not sure I want to know where horse oil comes from…

Adjectives were problematic for me when I learned Japanese and French

Adjectives were problematic for me when I learned Japanese and French

A little slice of Tokyo here in Vancity.

Osaka supermarketSo it’s been a week or so since my last post. Had a short family holiday to Whistler where I was happy to hear a fair amount of Japanese spoken and see some Japanese families enjoying beautiful BC but I’m back at it now. I went to the Osaka Supermarket the other day (part of the T&T chain) in search of green tea in bottles for the child. I was most excellently surprised to see a few items that I wasn’t expecting to find in Vancouver, albeit at much higher prices. First of all, Tsubaki/camellia oil. Same packaging as Japan, same stuff BUT it was a little over twice the price. Still good to know that I can get it here as apparently you can’t ship it because it’s an oil and I’m not quite sure if I’ll be back in Japan before I run out. Next, Karis was happy to hear that the magic fat burning detox gel is also available here if she decides that it is worth using at about three and a half times what it costs in Japan. Green tea–the powdered matcha NOT tea bags–is also available which is no surprise; however, the EXACT same bag that I bought in the Japanese dollar store for 100 yen (about $1.03) was seven dollars! Glad I stocked up on those as I use matcha every day. The 1L bottles of green tea that Karis bought daily in Japan are much harder to find. The first bottles I bought had sugar and honey in them which sort of detracts from the idea of ‘health’ and ‘detox’ but I went back and managed to find a couple of unsweetened varieties. Almost ALL of the brands available in Canada, from various Asian countries, are sweetened. The ones that are not sweetened are $7/IL bottle. A little expensive for a daily habit.

Finally, oh happy day, something completely unexpected. They have green tea Popsicles! Same price as Japan. Go figure…

green tea popsicles