Friday, October 3, 2008

Japan tries the McRib

I remember growing up with the idea that the best fast ever created by man was the McRib. All other fast food meals just cannot live up to the taste and legend of the McRib. Usually in the states, the McRib is offered about once or twice a year. Everyone looks forward to McRib time at McDonald`s.

I had all but given up on ever tasting the McRib again considering that I live in Japan. I had almost forgotten what it taste like when all of sudden the McRib found it way all to the land of raising sun for all of us to enjoy! As far as I know the McRib has never been offered in Japan; I could be wrong about this. Now, I am sure that all the gaijin in Japan will be storming McDonald`s in Japan for the nest month. I cannot blame them for their mad dash to wrap their lips around a wonderful McRib.

I do wonder how most Japanese people are thinking about the McRib? My wife is an instant sucker for it; I made the mistake of introducing the McRib to her in America. She has been waiting for this day for years it seems. She went as far as to have a McRib on the first day it was offered. She ate two of them and wanted one more! I do not know if the rest of Japan is going crazy for the McRib but I for one am damn glad that it has arrived.

I recently had a double McRib which was everything I image it would be. All the good taste was just liked I remembered it. Although, it was a little different from what I am used to of course. They really are tight with the BBQ sauce and no pickles! I guess the Japanese are not big fans of pickles. Anyway, it is cool that the McRib is in Japan. If you have not had one yet run out and eat one before it is too late.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Family Affair: On Teaching an entire Japanese family to speak English

I knew that by getting into the teaching business that I would come across some interesting situations for sure. Being a teacher in Japan seems to be a little different from America. Unlike in the states, in Japan the teacher is a person who attains some amount of automatic respect. I remember back during my school days in West Virginia that there was the common thinking among my classmates that all the teachers had no level of coolness and given little respect. The Japanese, not all but most, look at a teacher as a slightly special person. A lot of times students treat me as if I am the master of knowledge. It is like I am suppose to know everything about American culture. They ask many questions and I do not always have the answer they seek. With that said, it appears that I have attracted the attention of one family in Japan who have chosen me to teach them English.

I did not even notice it at first. I think that the mother was the first one to take a class. She seemed no different from the other students at the time. She talked but not as much as other more confident students. After as few lessons she enrolled her 8 year old boy for lessons. The boy is a ball of energy and at times can be a real hand full, but he likes the lessons which is good enough for me. After about a month of teaching the boy another member of the family started attending lessons. This time it was father`s turn to start brushing up on his English skills. I must say that he is one heck of an upstanding guy for sure. He appears to be very happy with life. He loves his kids more than anything else in this world. He also asked a lot of questions about street slang(I usually tell him a few if he does a good job with the lesson). The father was so impressed that he now brings in his 12 year old little girl for lessons.

There are days in which I teach the entire family. Considering that all of them are at different ability levels I have never had the entire family in the same class. I never expected to be teaching an entire Japanese family to speak my mother language. The reasons for which the whole family is taking classes I will never understand. The situation is both strange and interesting at the same time. Each member of the family has a very different character makeup. It has been interesting so far getting to know and understand how they behave and think. Sometimes the father brings the kids for lessons too often and I struggle to have new lessons ready for the kids(there is only so much you can teach a kid in a month). The father is learning faster than the others but the mother is right behind him. I think that they are trying to best each other sometimes. The kids are learning OK. I am pretty sure the little boy is only coming to lessons because this father brings him and he likes all the games I play with him. The 12 year old girl is very clam and as a result very easy to teach.

I wonder how advanced the family will get with their English ability? It will be a thing of pride for me as a professional if I can get the mother and father both on at an advanced level. Only time will tell the outcome of their speaking ability. I am just lucky enough to be their teacher.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Glory of Being Gaijin

Japan can be a real trip for westerners who have never experienced the land of the raising sun. The first time I stepped foot on Japanese soil I was taken aback by many things. My first taste of Japan was like cotton candy flavored vodka; it tastes good but left me feeling very dazed and confused. Japan can be a mixed drink from hell or a horny gal you just cannot get enough; either way you will come back for more. After a while Japan can wear down even the best of us to the point of total mental and emotional exhaustion. You can look into the eyes of some gaijin while walking down the streets of Tokyo and see a cry for help. They have that look in their eyes that speaks to the masses and says, `dammit enough already! I am gaijin. I am different. Cut me some slack already!` They have tried with all their might to fit into a culture that, at times, expects perfection even when such a goal is obviously impossible. These battle warn gaijin have forgotten their one big advantage; they are gaijin.

I figured out very early in the game that I have an advantage over the majority in Japan. No one is really expecting me to fit into society. While I am not being excluded from society by the majority, there is a unspoken feeling by the majority that it is perfectly fine by them if I am kept at kicking distance. On the surface this may sound like a bad thing but it is actually a very good situation for me and most other gaijin. In Japanese society we have the unique ability to move in and out of society with relative ease. For the most part the Japanese are very accepting of minorities. Most even welcome the diversity of having people from all over the world visit and live in their nation. I must may that Japan is one of the most accepting cultures in the world. While they do not roll out the welcoming carpet they do greet you with a warm smile and hot sake.

With all of that said there are many gaijin who feel a certain pressure to try and fit into Japanese society in every way, shape and form. More often than not those who do jump balls deep into aiming for total acceptance find themselves burnt out and jaded within a couple of years. While I have only been a resident of Tokyo for a little under a year I have realized that I am not expected to become a full card carrying member of Japanese society. This may sound strange but it is very true. I have figured out the basics as to what is expected of me as a gaijin on a daily basis:
1) maintain a productive job which is a benefit to Japanese society.
2) pay your taxes(for the most part. There are ways to get out of this in some situations).
3) Don`t make too much trouble.
4) Be cool and keep your head low
5) learn at least a little of the Japanese language

Believe it or not that is about all that is expected of gaijin in Japan. At least this is what I have experienced in my personal journey living in Tokyo. These five very simple things really do not take much effort. As long as I mostly stick to the basics of expectations I am free to do and say whatever I want at any given time. I can slip in and out of societies strict social order as long I am not getting in the way of the natural flow of things too much.

I know that some people will disagree with me about this but those people have their reasons for feeling in such a manner. I do not have any problems with someone who wants to dive head first into Japanese society. I say go for it and you are a bigger person than me if you achieve such a task of 100% acceptance. Maybe you can share some insights with the rest of us. As for me I am ok to stand tall at the edge of Japanese society dancing around like a monkey on acid. Most Japanese laugh their ass off at me anyway. They do not laugh in an offensive manner rather they laugh at me because I make little effort to become `oh so Japanese.` Because I am gaijin it is ok for me to get away with being a little KY from time to time.

Overall, I really do love Japan. I love living in Tokyo even more. The people and the culture is a true wonder to me and most likely always will be in some ways. The important thing for me is to never forget that I am a mountain boy from West Virginia. It would be a shame for me to forget the lessons I learned from the people who had been charged with the duty of making a man out me. I have a hell of a good time living in Tokyo. Japan has given me more than I will ever be able to return. All the Japanese are asking of me is that I be cool do not cause too much shit for them to deal with. If you wanna hate me for that it`s ok by me because I am not the one with a problem you are. If you wanna be friends with me I welcome you with open arms.