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What I’ve learned about Japan in 2015

Some thoughts on the things I have learned about Japan that I didn’t know in 2014

By 5 min read 1

Later this month, I will turn 32, it also marks something of a turning point for me. As of this year, I will have spent more of my adult life in Japan than I did my country of origin, Scotland. Looking back it’s been a challenging past 12 months, with plenty of experience gained and lessons learned.

So with that in mind, I thought perhaps I might take the chance in this, my latest blog, to offer a bit of introspection and some thoughts on the things I have learned about Japan that I didn’t know in 2014. It’s been an interesting year in more ways than one.

Here’s my top 5:

Japanese people have a much funnier sense of humour than you may think

The common stereotype of the average Japanese, to those who haven’t spent much time here, is one of a very servile, serious, polite yet friendly and sincere person. Indeed many Japanese do possess these traits in abundance. However, it belies an often untapped, yet wicked sense of humour. Coming from Glasgow, a city noted for the many great comedians it has produced down the years, I value humour highly when it comes to choosing my friends.

I’ve had some great laughs with my friends and colleagues this year, but there is one particularly memorable event I would like to share.

I was teaching a class of students about how to use comparative sentences. For example “Tokyo Sky Tree is taller than Tokyo Tower”

I put a sentence skeleton on the board for the students “The cat is________ than the dog”

I showed the students a picture of a large cat, next to a small puppy.

I said “who can fill in the missing word”. One student, who has always been something of a joker in my classes, tentatively raised his hand. “Big” he said.

“Almost,” I replied. I then clasped my hands together in front of my chest and then slowly moved them outward, as I said to the student “make the word longer.”

Smiling cheekily, he replied “ok, Biiiiiiiiiiiiiig”.

The whole class, Japanese English Teacher and myself included, burst out laughing.

The youth of Japan aren’t quite as politically apathetic as they seem

Recently, moves have been made to lower the voting age in Japan from 20 to 18. Detractors of the legislation say “what’s the point? Young people aren’t interested in politics”. However, recent mobilisations and protests, both for and against certain government policies, would suggest otherwise.

Even in my junior high school classes, for the first time since I came to work in public schools in Japan, I have had students ask me directly about political issues. It’s a fascinating site, to finally see the political awakening of generation dormant for all too long. Whatever you may feel about past and current governments in Japan, getting more people engaged in politics can only be a good thing moving forward.

Japanese movies are awesome

I’ve always been something of a cinema buff, but I hadn’t really had the time or the inclination to get into Japanese film until quite recently. Of course I had seen some of the classic Kurosawa movies back in the day, and of course as someone who did Kendo, Zatoichi was required viewing when I was at university.

However, through recommendations from friends I have been introduced to plenty of other, lesser known but no less enjoyable movies. Whether its classic Japanese horror movies such as “Ju-on” or “Ringu”, or perhaps gritty actioners like “Battle Royale” and “Violent Cop” both starring the legendary “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, there’s a huge diversity of film out there in Japan, waiting to be experienced.

I even tentatively dipped my toes in the oft-tread waters of anime, when my friends introduced me to classic works such as Akira, Fist of the North Star and the utterly stunning Howl’s Moving Castle.

Of course some movies I enjoyed more than others, but finally getting into Japanese movies has not only enriched my own appreciation of the movie-making craft, it has also shone a brighter light on some of the as yet unseen aspects of the Japanese psyche for me. Once my Japanese ability improves a bit more, next year I may actually be ready for the challenge of going to the cinema and sitting through an entire Japanese movie without subtitles.

Video Games are a great way to learn and practice Japanese

It was one of my proudest moments this year when I finally finished Metal Gear Solid 4, for my PS3. Yes, I know this game has already been out for several years, but I am proud of the fact that I played through the Japanese version in its entirety. Despite the story having a level of complexity and convolutedness that perhaps only its creator, Hideo Kojima, could fully understand, I was able to maintain a reasonable grasp on what was going on throughout. Next up, I’m going to try and see if I can track down a copy of the old PS one classic Bushido Blade 2. It was only ever released in Japan, and now, with my Japanese getting better, I am looking forward to finally giving it a go.

There is still so much about this wonderful country I don’t understand

Japan was always a land of great mystery and mystique to me as a child. Indeed it was probably my natural sense of adventure, more than anything else, which brought me here in the first place. Today, admittedly, some of that mystery has been eroded, but to me this country still remains a place of great intrigue.

Every day I seem to learn a new word, a new cultural titbit or a new perspective on something I thought I already knew inside out. That sense of wonder fuels me in good times and motivates me during the bad ones. However many more years I may have left in this country, and hopefully it’s still several decades, I hope that is something that never changes.

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  • Lamilly says:

    Teaching my adult class to sing Imagine. I asked a student, where is heaven. He replied, I don’t know, I’ve never been there. Everyone rolled up…….



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