Tuesday, August 01, 2006

From the Depths of the Forest, a Call Still Sounded

"...the strain of the primitive, which the Northland had aroused in him, remained alive and active. Faithfulness and devotion, things born of fire and roof were his; yet he retained his wildness and wiliness."

Jack London

The heart of an adventurer in the land of the rising sun. All too often during the day I do feel quelled, like this corporate industrial world has seized upon my wild spirit and pounded it into submission; it's hardly the first time - with all due respect, I hate the corporate life. I hate paperwork. I hate filling out forms. I hate company politics that require you to know how to act around co-workers and a manager. I hate messing with xerox machines, gluppity-glupp, and also schloppity-schlopp! You really should read The Lorax.

I'm not against work, but cubicle work, 24/7 computer screen work, or office work is just, for lack of other words, soul-sucking. Of course there are escapes - Hiroshima, running around the country, the Shinkansen, anywhere your feet will take you. But sometimes I think about the mindset of the Japanese person. I would say Japan is one of the most creative countries on Earth. Their ideas about fantasy worlds in Manga and video games are beyond comparison.

But what exactly causes these innovations? I think, and I may be completely off base here (remember, only been here for two months), it's a lack of stimulation in the rest of their lives. The group mentality in the corporate environment of Japan is so all-encompassing it's a world no one has his own life to live. This is not the American dream - work short hours, make lots of money, and don't stress yourself. The Japanese seem to pride themselves on these traits: come in early, don't take breaks, be the last one to leave, and never let yourself get distracted by anything fun. I won't deny this is certainly productive, but what does it do to the workers?

I remind myself almost every week that I am in the country, the world that created my favorite story, The Legend of Zelda. A young hero called by fate to battle monsters of unimaginable wit across great lands and rescue the beautiful princess from her demon captor. An amazing story which has survived for over twenty years in the Japanese world. But what went into this? Is the Japanese workforce so mentally suppressed during the day, being nothing more than corporate drones, that these kinds of worlds are the only outlet they have? I don't know, but I want to. And I certainly don't want to turn into one of them.

On a lighter and more positive note, today was a day where everything just seemed to go right. Our teachers are typically required to come in around 1:00 or 2:00 on weekdays, and I arrived, receiving a smile, not a glare, from my manager. Ironically, today is my busiest day next to Saturday. Six lessons, but all adult classes, and most of them with a high teacher:student ratio.

On the other hand, my engineering and science skills are coming in handy. I have private lessons with a student who wants me to proofread his lab report on the ionization of particles due to a Xenon laser (don't worry, I'll never use technical jargon again). Now, I'm not exactly one to be selfish anymore after the lessons of last week; I know I sounded pretty bad for someone starting in a new company and still learning the ropes; also, I should have been more respectful to everyone. However, I don't see how your typical teacher could do this for a student; I would have a somewhat difficult time doing it if he spoke perfect English. There are just certain grammar rules that only engineers or science majors would know in writing lab reports, and how many of them come to Japan to teach English??

Well, regardless, at least I feel useful. Another one of my nice students may be interested in learning Latin to hone his English skills. I didn't realize it before, but some of the digital pocket dictionaries for Japanese -> English actually provide Latin words for a translation into English. I know we use a few expressions (id est, nota bene, PS, AD, BC, etc), but even these can be translated into English.


A note on banks in Japan - be careful, especially with your bank book and ATM card. Bank books (like an American checkbook transaction record) can be used in the same capacity as your ATM card to withdraw cash, make deposits, etc. Fees are roughly the same - use your own bank, it's free most of the time. But ATM's are never open 24/7 - shut down during major holidays, fees after 6 PM and on Sundays, and fees if you withdraw over ¥20,000. If you already have an account and an ATM card, here are some useful Kanji.


This is not as easy as it seems. Haircuts in Japan are incredibly expensive, usually starting out about ¥3000-4000. Don't ask me how, but I found a decent place for ¥1400. The process is somewhat the same - enter the establishment (I doubt you need to take off your shoes, depending on how nice the place is), and state you want a haircut. They will take you to a chair. One major difference is the haircut is a team effort; one barber is in charge of cutting the top with scissors, the other trimming the sides with a clipper. Below are some useful phrases I picked up and will have the chance to try again.

Hairkat-to o onegaishimas "Haircut, please"
Kit-te kudasai "Please cut" (point)
Kono gura (Show with your thumb and index finger the length to cut)
Buroo "Blow dry"

That's all I have for you citizens of Earth at the moment. I thank you for reading this installment, and hope you will continue to do so. Send me your words, and I will feed upon them like Dr. Pepper.

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