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Japanese Radio Exercises

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One lovely Spring day when I was teaching in Japan, I had planned an awesome lesson for my first graders – the cute little kids who had just graduated from elementary school and come to our junior high school. I told my team teacher about my awesome plan, but she replied that there would be no English lessons – or in fact any lessons that week, while the first graders learn “radio taiso”.

She told me to go spy in the sports hall to see this radio taiso in action – what I found was rows and rows of the children waving their arms about while a recording of a guy counted and lead them on. One of the PE teachers was walking round them, shouting at them to make more of an effort while they were doing so.

Radio taiso is a set of movements that is printed into the brain of all Japanese people. The routine was brought to Japan in 1928 after some Japanese people went over to the US and found people doing a warm-up routine to a voice on the radio. It was used heavily during the war to keep the soldiers fit, but after Japan lost the war they weren’t allowed to do it for a while due to it being pretty military-tastic. In the 50s they brought it back, though, and now the routine is used in schools as well as in a lot of workplaces in Japan, and Japan-related groups abroad.

The first time I saw the radio taiso for real was at the sports day at the school. I turned to my coworker and said that it’s what I imagine North Korean students to be doing – it is pretty hardcore. But of course, it’s nothing more than a set routine that must be perfectly performed by all.

This is what the routine looks like:

Last week at work, the company magazine for the Japanese expats came through with a whole double page spread dedicated to the routine. I asked my colleagues if they had to do radio taiso in the Japan HQ – and apparently they do, at 3pm every day. Can you imagine having to do this every day?

However, there is a video that I always like to go back to – Obvious Exercises [atari mae taiso]. This sketch was made by some Japanese comedians and I think it’s pretty funny and a great example of Japanese comedy. See below for my explanation:

If you put your right leg out, then put your left leg out… You can walk!

If you bend both of your knees together… You can sit!

If you bend your wrist out in front of you a few times… Someone will come! [In Japan this is the “come here” gesture]

If someone comes but they get too close… You’ll get angry!

If you make your move a bit late when playing “rock, paper, scissors”… You will win!

If you bend your knees to knock someone in front’s knees… Their knees will also bend!

[Silliness]

If you pinch, it hurts

If you crouch, you’re low

Farts are stinky

I want money

Obvious exercises

If you change from your skinny jeans to jogging bottoms, it makes this a lot easier!

 

If we were to make obvious exercises, what should we do?!

 

Notes on Being Japan-sick

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It all started with a manga comic I was reading. It was about girls around my age who were having boy trouble, and every time something bad happened, they texted each other and met up at a cheap Japanese restaurant to eat and drink their worries away.

Then it got me thinking about the restaurants in Japan I used to go to with friends that were like that; cheap, warm, friendly and with never-ending beer. Ahhh… Those were good times.

Something snapped in my brain, and every time something looked to be a bit crap, the little voice in my head said “why are you struggling with your life here when you can just move back to Japan and enjoy the life you used to have?!”

Why indeed.

Life in Japan was fun. As a foreigner, I had very few responsibilities – teach English, pay rent and bills at the local shop, don’t get into trouble. Teaching English, while being a legit job and very worthwhile, can often use up very few braincells, especially when you get into a routine with it all. After a non-taxing day at work, we’d bike to town and drink and eat and be merry, singing in the local karaoke boxes. At the weekend, we’d visit lots of local places, meaning that we were more clued into Japanese tourism than the Japanese themselves.

It was such a good life.

But I came back from Japan for those exact reasons – I wanted A Career. I wanted A Life. Like Belle singing in her French town, I was stood shouting “there must be more than this Japanese life!!”

The truth is, there is more. But it’s not all good things. Sure, I have a career, but it’s as a personal assistant, because the pay is better than anything else I could do. I could work as a translator of video games again, but I’d get a much smaller salary. I could work as Japan-related sales, like tourism sales, but the salary for that is even worse. So I chose to do something that isn’t quite as exciting, but brings home the bacon. But there are times when I’m sat wondering if doing something mindless like document printing is any better than doing something in a routine like teaching English to kids.

There are positive things to being home. When I left for uni (which was very far from my hometown), my two sisters were in primary school. Now they are two young ladies ready to go out into the world. I missed all those years with them, and I feel guilty about it. Now, I can be here for them; go back for weekend trips to take them out, or give feminine guidance to them that dad can’t. If I left, I wouldn’t be able to have my sisters in my life anymore, which I don’t think I could do again.

I can also do those things that I need to do to be an adult. You know, like get a credit card to build up my rating, and put money towards a pension in the same country I’ll be retiring in.

It takes a lot of time and shit-dealing to get over all this stuff and into a stable life here. Since I spent so many years away, coming back, I’m pretty much where I left off when I graduated from uni. I need to put in the hard work to make my life back here work, and hope that in the end, it’ll all be worth it.

While the route that takes me back to Japan is one that would lead to a simple, fun life, I have to think about the big picture, and look to me building a proper life for myself. No matter how homesick I get for Japan, in my heart of hearts I know that I am in the right place and that I’m making progress. Even if it’s grey and expensive and challenging here.

I guess no one said any of this would be easy.

How to Work in a Japanese Office

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Learn to behave or feel the pinch!

As promised, I have for you a post on how to survive in a Japanese office, should any of you be as unfortunate enough to work in one. My current Japanese office is very unJapanese, and has hardly any of the following rule in place. However, my last place was very much like all the things you are about to read.

These are all cultural tips I’ve collected after having worked in Japan, and then in Japanese companies outside of Japan. Sometimes companies make these little booklets on how to work with the Japanese, which I find hilarious because they are often very wrong.

Age over talent

Looking to climb the ladder, so you’re putting in extra effort to wow your boss? Save your energy, because your sparkling talent won’t get you that promotion; putting years into your company and growing through the ranks is how Japanese companies work.

While this is meant to show dedication to your company, it often means that useless people sail up through the company without being any good at what they do. I’ve certainly known some 60 year old Japanese men who seem to be doing pretty much nothing (more on that later!)

Don’t break the wa

Whatever you do, don’t break the 和 – the wa, meaning peace. This isn’t regular peace, like flowers down the barrel of a gun or opposing war. This is all about not sticking out and trying to be different in your Japanese surroundings. If there’s something you don’t like, do you complain about it? NOPE! Get your head back down and carry on paper pushing, you crazy westerner! It doesn’t matter if you see corporate mistakes on a ridiculous scale, bad things will happen if you try to act out.

You should be harmonious with the rest of your team, and your company at all times. You should not disagree or try to do something different.

A friend of mine met me hungover in a cafe in Frankfurt sometime last year. I asked if he was OK, and he told me he’d been a victim of “aru-hara”. “You know ‘seku-hara’; the Japanese term for sexual harassment? Well ‘aru-hara’ is alcohol harassment”, he explained. His boss had started to be really mean and spiteful to him when he said he wanted to stop drinking after just a few beers, until my friend had succumbed and drank more than what he was capable of. This is a common thing in companies, and I’ve heard stories from foreign friends in Japan as well of them being encouraged to drink so much that they just tell their colleagues they have an allergy.

Don’t break the wa.

Look Busy All the Time

This was something I noticed while working in Japan – a lot of the time my colleagues just looked busy, but were in reality doing very little. Then, once home-time came, they actually started doing their work – stacking up the overtime hours.

They’re not trying to gain extra money from overtime work – they don’t get paid overtime. They’re trying to prove to the boss that they are going the extra mile, even though the race could have been finished at 5pm.

Another great outcome of Japanese people trying to look busy at work is the “Japanese office run”. You know the kind of run where you’re actually walking, but putting as much upper-body effort into it so to make you look like you’re properly running? Yeah, you can often see that done by Japanese people. Again, I don’t get this so much in the current office; we’re much more chilled and I think it’s probably more likely that I’m the one doing the Japanese office run…

Get Some Proper Polite Japanese

Think you can speak Japanese? Nah, not until you’ve been in a Japanese office, can you know what it’s like to feel the brain burn of Japanese. Pretty much everything you say has to be said in totally new ways, depending on how high above you the person you’re speaking to is. The difference is similar to:

“Yo, morning, dawg”

“Good morning!”

“I wish you a pleasant morning”

“I humbly wish you the most wonderful morning and if it so happens that your morning is not full of sunshine, rainbows and fluffy bunnies, I will offer my life to the gods so that you can forever more enjoy mornings knowing that my blood has been spilled”.

No matter what your level, try to get some polite Japanese phrases down, because they’re always good to impress. For example, before you leave the office, it’s common to say “oh saki-ni shi-tsu-re shimasu” which vaguely translates as “I am so rude as to leave before you, please forgive me”. Yeah, tell me about it. But it’s a good phrase to use, and whipping that out for your Japanese colleagues will always impress.

 

I didn’t expect to be so completely negative with my Japanese office tips – though I guess after my experiences, it’s not surprising. Working in a Japanese working environment can be tough and strict and seemingly without fun, but I enjoy working with Japanese people very much (unless they are old smelly Japanese bosses who need to get with the times), and I do love my current Japanese office and colleagues very much. Last week I found an area of the building I’d not been to before and found a library area with Japanese and English business books. There was a book in Japanese called “Japanese Companies are Pretty Weird”, which I thought was hilarious.

If you’ve ever experienced a Japanese office, I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Reasons Why I Love Japanese

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When I meet people for the first time, the same conversation often comes up. Maybe I tell them that I’m a PA at a big Japanese company, maybe I mention that I studied Japanese. But people always want to know how – and why – I know Japanese.

The “how” often bothers me. It seems simple. I sat down and studied it really hard, just like everything else. No one just woke up one morning and had maths down. Or could play the piano. You have to study, practise, and work really hard at it. That’s how I got to know Japanese.

With the why, well, there’s a story that I have told on here before about why I started Japanese – but there are certain things about the Japanese language that have kept me going when things get tough. It’s a great language, and it has things which I think are pretty unique, that makes it amazing to use. When I’m having a conversation in Japanese I feel happy. I feel I can express myself in ways I can’t in English. The rhythm, structure, sounds of it, all make it such fun to speak.

But here are some of the reasons why Japanese is a really cool language!

Furigana

So Japanese uses Chinese characters called kanji. These are the really complicated characters that you see, like this 愛 (love), 尊敬 (respect), 水 (water).

But here’s the thing, depending on what these kanji are doing, they are pronounced differently. Let’s take that water 水. Just by itself, it’s “mizu”. But sometimes, it’s pronounced “sui” like “水族館” which is an aquarium and said “sui zoku kan”. Sometimes, when it’s with other kanji, it can still be “mizu”, like with swimwear 水着 “mizugi”. Literally “water clothes”.

So furigana comes in. These are little letters that sit either above (when the writing is horizontal) or next to (when it’s vertical) to help you know how things are said.

This is what furigana usually looks like.

tenshi nanka jyanai

 

This is from a young girls manga called Tenshi Nanka Jyanai (I’m Not an Angel). Since it’s for a younger audience, they put lots of furigana on the words, to help them along.

But this isn’t the only usage. Sometimes, they use furigana to give extra information to people. Here’s another photo from a manga –

indo manga

This is a manga for adults and is about a Japanese woman who is married to an Indian guy. The kanji on the right there is 亭主 meaning head of the household (referring to her husband). But the furigana says インド人 Indian person, so when she’s talking, she’s wanting to make it clear that it’s important to know he’s Indian. (She’s saying that he doesn’t think a man should change diapers/nappies and that it’s a woman’s job. She wants to point out that he thinks this way because he’s Indian).

This one time, when I was dating a British-Indian guy, we went to an Indian restaurant and when we ordered, I asked him to make sure the guy knew not to make it too spicy. When the food came, I was crying because it was just too much for me. I said to him “I thought you told the guy not to make it spicy when you ordered!! What did you say to the guy when you went up there to order?” He replied “don’t make this one too spicy, please”. “No! That’s the wrong thing! You should have said ‘my girlfriend is white’ then it’d be fine!” If there was ever a time when furigana is needed in English, it would be then – “not too spicy” (furigana: girlfriend is white) hahah!

Picture words

So as you can gather probably already, these kanji things – they are complicated but they also look like little pictures. This makes them pretty easy to learn if you can see what they are trying to be. For example 人 this looks like a person standing, right? That’s because it means person. 馬 kind of looks like a horse – and it means horse!

It gets even better when the kanji evolve like Pokemon. (You think I’m going crazy now, right?)

木 is a tree. Can you see how it has a trunk and branches coming down? Cool, huh?

林 is two trees together – some woods!

Now for the final evolution of this Pokemon – 森 is three trees together – a forest!

See? Japanese is easy! (Just don’t complain to me when you have to work out how 安い cheap is a woman under a roof… I don’t know…)

You can tell a person’s character from how they speak

There is a slight problem with guys who go to Japan, date Japanese girls and pick up Japanese from them. It’s that they end up speaking like girls.

I’m not sure how many other languages there are where the way of speaking differs so much between guys and girls, but in Japanese it’s pretty different. Girls speak softly – even in a more high pitched tone. They also use endings like “wa” to make them sound extra girly, and refer to themselves in 3rd person. These are all things to make you sound more girly.

To sound more manly, you have to use different words. Instead of saying “oishii” to mean delicious, you get to use “umai!” It just sounds more manly when you eat your steak sandwich and yell UMAIIIIII!

If you’re reading a book, you can tell exactly what kind of person the character is, just from how they are speaking. I think with English you can to a certain extent (“like if you, like, use all kinds of stuff to, like, make your sentences sound more, like, young, and stuff”) but I love how you can tell exactly who a person is in Japanese.

The better you get at Japanese, the worse Japanese you can use

As I mentioned, I used to study Japanese pretty hard. I was a horrible person to be around at uni because I just wanted to be the best. I was so competitive and wanted to come out on top. I’d sit and memorise correct grammar all the time, remembering which particles to use and how verbs should end.

Then I got to live in Japan and realised that to speak Japanese like a native speaker, you have to forget all the grammar rules. The lazier you are with your language, the better you speak it. So I started dropping the articles, not finishing sentence and just being generally lazy!

Even better still, I found that if I didn’t move my mouth so much when I spoke it, my Japanese even sounded more natural! To be super good at Japanese, you just have to be really lazy – it was awesome!

You know how people use “literally” in English incorrectly? Well they even have something similar! “Zenzen” means not at all. But some time in the early 2000’s, people started using it with positive sentences, like “Don’t worry about it”, “zenzen ii yo” (not at all/good). It’s grammatically incorrect, but everyone uses it. So, if a Japanese person ever says sorry to you or bumps into you or does something that they think is wrong, just say to them “zenzen ii yo!” Now there’s some cool Japanese!

So there are some of the reasons why Japanese is so cool. Maybe I’ve tempted you to pick it up? If so, give me a shout and I’ll put you on the right track.

You’re probably wondering what’s up with that leaf at the top, right? Well that’s shiso leaf. It’s a Japanese leaf used in things like sushi and also can be found in tempura sometimes too. And it’s DELICIOUS. But quite rare outside of Japan. I love shiso as much as I love Japanese. And that’s a lot.

 

 

 

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