Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#38 My Darling is a Foreigner

So last week I posted about Essay Manga and introduced 2 series that I really like.  I decided to introduce the 3rd series in its own post because it really deserves its own bit of attention.

This series is called ダーリンは外国人 or My Darling is a Foreigner.

It’s about a Japanese cartoonist (漫画家)living in Japan named Saori who is in a serious relationship with a foreign (ie: non-Japanese) man named Tony.  She chronicles their relationship and their cultural differences in her works.

The very first manga that was put out in this series has very fortunately also been released in a bilingual version!  You can read the text in both English and Japanese.

My Darling is a Foreigner (in English) (Darling ha Gaikokujin)

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, none of the other books have been released in a similar way, and are only available in Japanese.

Here’s what the Japanese version of the first book looks like:

My Darling is a Foreigner 1 (Darling ha Gaikokujin – Gaikokujin no kare to kekkonshitara dou naru ka)

I find the series interesting for a lot of reasons – of course, the cultural differences between Saori who is Japanese and Tony who is American is interesting to read. The first and second books focus mainly on this aspect.

My Darling is a Foreigner 2 (Darling ha Gaikokujin)

Also, Tony is a linguist and terribly interested in foreign languages and languages in general, and he gets to geek out sometimes. Saori even devoted 2 whole books to what goes on his mind, subtitled “Inside Darling’s Mind”

Later on they have a baby, and there’s a whole book chronicling the decision to conceive, Saori’s pregnancy, the birth, and the first few months with their baby.

My Darling is a Foreigner 3 (With Baby) (Darling ha Gaikokujin 3 (with baby))

I liked this book in particular, as someone who has pondered having a baby at some point.

I also recently discovered a whole new set of books in this series where Saori, Tony, and sometimes Baby all travel together to different countries or places and chronicle their adventures there. They have books about trips to Italy, France, Australia, and Hawaii.

My one complaint about this installment in the series is that instead of them talking about some casual trip to these countries, and thus using easy language explaining the sights, the sounds, the food, whatever, they tended to do more structured activities there – wine tasting, jewelry making, glass making, mosaic making, a short acting class, talking with renowned chefs, etc etc, such that a lot of the terminology is really technical and quite a slog to get through in Japanese. It felt like more of a chore, personally, than a divertisement when reading these (I bought the Italy and France ones).

But, of course these books are not aimed at a foreign audience, but rather at a Japanese one that does like technical details and facts and can understand Kanji and technical words just fine. Though, in all honesty, I do feel the need to say that through reading these books I’ve gotten more interested in Italy specifically (I’ve been to France before) and want to try and make it over there some day now! It wasn’t on my list of places to visit before. Though I can’t give it all the credit, because the book Eat Pray Love is what first piqued my interest in Italy.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

Going back to this series though, there’s also been a movie made based off of the first book of My Darling is a Foreigner but I do NOT recommend it. I think it’s pretty lame. Why? Because they totally emasculated Tony and made him more palpatable for Japanese viewers (who are used to their men skinny, well dressed and well groomed).

Here’s the movie poster:

This is a nice poster in that you can see the characters along with their cartoon counter parts.  But the actors are a lot younger than the actual couple.  Also, in the cartoon you may notice that Tony is rather shaggyand depitcted as having a wide face, whereas the actor Tony seems more clean-cute and streamlined (styled hair and everything).  I admit, they did seem to make an effort to approximate them.  Perhaps I’m judging too harshly.

For a comparison, here’s what the couple actually looks like:

The thing that bothers me though is the personality of Tony in the movie.  I don’t know what the real Tony is like in terms of mannerisms and whatnot, because I’ve never met him or even seen video of him.  He is indeed described as being a sensitive person in the books, but still, I feel like they made the Tony in the movie far too quiet and unassuming like a Japanese person might be like, and it seems to remove all tension between the couple because of a lack of “foreignness” between them.  Still, if you’re interested, go ahead and see the movie anyway.  Just don’t have too high expectations of it.

Let me end this post with an article in English from the Japan times that talks about the manga, so those of you that don’t read Japanese or can’t get access to the books can still get an idea of what this series is like!

Drawing on Love


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#16 My favorite Japanese Podcast – JapanesePod101.com


First off, I want to point out that JapanesePod101.com (which is the original site, and what I will focus on today) has a ton of sister sites that do lessons in the same way.

Most of them are located at <Language>Pod101.com, but some such as Korean and Chinese use a website address with the term “Class” instead of “Pod.”

They are provided by a company called Innovative Language Learning.  A full list of the languages available (and they have quite a selection!) can be found here:

Important things to note about this podcast provider:
-Some lessons are free, but most are not.
-They are thematic lessons, meaning each lesson is about a certain topic, and will introduce vocabulary and grammar as needed.  While they’re often organized into levels (absolute beginner, beginner, intermediate, etc), the lessons do not actually build that much on each other as far as I can tell.

You can usually download their free podcasts via iTunes.  The podcasts that are free are usually the first several lessons per level, as well as the latest lessons that they’ve released (available for free for a limited time).  To access the entirety of the lessons on the website, you will need a basic subscription (charged monthly).  If you want access to their review materials and other study tools, you’ll need to get a premium subscription (also charged monthly).

If you want to view the podcasts directly on their site, you need to sign in.  To sign in, you need to sign up first, which can be annoying.  BUT, listen up, because this is important.  When you sign up, you get a free 7 day trial of ALL the features on their site (as if it you had the high-class premium subscription).  This is a great opportunity not only to try out their site features and see if you want a subscription of your own; this is the time to MADLY SCRAMBLE to download as many lessons and lesson transcripts as you can while you have access to all their content for free.

My personal experience:
I loved JapanesePod101.com – I’d already taken many years of Japanese in college so I enjoyed having thematic lessons to learn new vocabulary and the occasional new grammatical structure.  I mainly used the Upper Intermediate lessons and the Advanced Audio Blog lessons.  I actually paid for a basic subscription for a few months when I was studying for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) Level 2.  I used to listen to podcasts every day during my lunch break from work.  I can’t vouch for any of their lower lessons since I never listened to them, but for their higher lessons, they have people doing quality voice acting for the dialogues, there are thoughtful and insightful teachers explaining the words and the grammar (mainly in Japanese), and they cover some interesting topics.  I found it worth my time and money, and thanks to the help of the site, I passed my proficiency test!

I briefly explored KoreanClass101.com and ChineseClass101.com.  I really enjoyed the culture lessons they had on these sites, since I knew basically nothing of these cultures, and every little thing they could tell me about was new and interesting to me.  However, being a beginner in both languages, I was often frustrated by their thematic approach.  I wanted basic grammar, basic expressions, basic vocabulary; I wanted to be able to build up my knowledge and learn how to string together a sentence, not just learn a handful of vocabulary each time.  So I gave up on these lessons and looked elsewhere for Chinese, and shelved my Korean learning for the foreseeable future.

Lucky for me though, there is a fantastic Chinese podcast site that I eventually found and am happy to share with you all, but that’s for another post!  Stay tuned.

Isn’t it wonderful the internet age we’re living in?

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#15 The Japanese take on the alphabet…oddly?

Okay, so I’m an English teacher in Japan.

To borrow a meme from the internet:

What my friends and family think I do:

What Japanese people expect me to do:

What my employer thinks I am:

What I often feel like:

What I actually do:

And some of this too:

And I make students do this all the time:

Less because they don’t understand me (I know Japanese and use it often) but more because they don’t remember what they learned before or how to answer a question.

Anyway, on to today’s topic.

In the public schools, kids don’t start reading and writing in English until middle school (grade 7).  In elementary school they do purely speaking and listening activities, with the exception of possibly learning to write their own name (often in all capital letters).

Another ALT in my town thinks this is really bad, and I agree, to a degree.  It’s a huge shock for kids to go from elementary English classes to middle school ones and all of a sudden have to read passages out loud, remember the spelling of words they’ve never seen before, write whole sentences….  It’s a better idea to introduce the letters at an earlier age, and maybe a few basic words and some basic things like how to write your name properly (with both upper and lower case letters).  Then they can begin to focus on the massive amounts of grammar and vocabulary the middle school throws at them without worrying about letters too.

In the current elementary national curriculum, ABCs are introduced in grade 6, but only briefly and for exposure, not in terms of writing.  Starting this spring they’ll be introduced in grade 5, but again, mostly just for sight exposure.  They don’t even teach the proper way to write the letters, much less how to write them at all during this time.

Now, in grade 4, students do learn how to write their ABCs under the guise of “romanization” of their language.  For example, Tokyo.  We can write it in English right?  But in Japanese they write 東京 in Chinese characters.  For kids who haven’t yet learned their Chinese characters, or forgot them, or whatever, you can also write it in hiragana, as とうきょう。 Most kids learn romanization in schools because it is used sometimes in Japan for signs or whatnot.  Sometimes you need to write or read place names or other information in “Roman Letters.”

Now, because Japanese use Chinese characters that have very particular stroke orders and rules about what comes first (such as horizontal vs. vertical lines, etc) it seems like Japanese people looked at the English alphabet and decided to do it their own way.

I was shocked, literally shocked, when I saw a middle school student write their upper case N as | then | then connect the two in the middle with with \  so that it looked like |\|  It was a little more closed than that, but I was like, “that’s totally ridiculous!  Why do 3 disconnected strokes like that?  It should be a single movement!”

While we in the US are taught to write our letters in an efficient way (picking up the pencil as little as possible, so we can write fast) the Japanese are not taught the letters the way we are.  Here is what is taught in Japan instead:

I find letters such as N, M, V, and W completely unreasonable.  What normally takes a single stroke can be as many as 4 completely disjointed strokes!  A is similar.  I start at the bottom left hand-side, go up, then back down, then do the center stroke.  Don’t most people do it that way?

It also tends to bug me that they write Y like that, which technically is acceptable, but it takes 3 strokes whereas writing a lower case y in a large, upper case position is more efficient (and how I write it, since it only takes 2 strokes).

Also take a look at R and K.  They don’t connect to the left hand vertical stroke.  I guess that’s okay, but seems odd to me.

Also J doesn’t have a horizontal line at the top, and I know that’s perfectly acceptable, but I thought that the basic form had that 2nd stroke, while you could also just be lazy about it and leave it off, but ideally it has that horizontal bit.  Same with I.  I personal tend to write capital I with just one stroke, making it look more like a lower case l, but that’s out of laziness.

Now here’s the lower case letters in Japanese form:

These don’t look as unreasonable (except for v and w), but they also don’t trace back over letters like we do in the US.  Like, a d, or an a, or b, is one continual movement.  You don’t just draw one part, pick up the pencil, and draw the other part; it’s all connected.

I learned my letters like this, with the tails and everything.  Of course when you get older you start leaving the tails off, but this is the way I started out writing.

Some people might be like “I don’t write k’s like that!” but I think, honestly, we first learned them like that, and eventually you start doing it in a more block form.

In any case, it’s mind boggling to me that the Japanese learn their letters differently.  Yes I realize it’s just their way of doing it, but it seems terribly slow and laborious and sometimes the letters don’t quite look right if there’s spaces open when writing a letter such as M as |\/| if you’re trying to write it fast.

When we study Japanese, we learn the proper stroke order of the Chinese characters and the syllabic kana characters of hiragana and katakana.

For example, here’s the character for “ability” and there’s only ONE way you can write it, and that’s doing the strokes in this order:

Here are the first 5 letters of the Japanese syllabary (a, i, u, e, o), and we all learn them the exact same way, in this particular stroke order, which is also how Japanese children learn them:

If we don’t write our characters based on the Japanese stroke orders, they can look sloppy at best, or all disjointed and unbalanced at worst, possibly even looking like a different character than we intended.  I think the same is true with letters; sure you can write them in the blocky Japanese way or however you want, but it’s going to look really odd and unnatural on paper, possibly even ending up looking like something other than what it was meant to be.

Also of note, the Japanese pronounce the letter “Z” as “Zed.”  I was really confused by this at first, but later learned that they do it like that in Canada (I think).  Plus it’s Zed in French.  So I guess they took Z from a non-American form of English.

Anyway, I’ve had the opportunity to teach my 6th graders this year how to write the alphabet MY WAY (read: the efficient way) so hopefully they’ll be a little better prepared for their middle school classes than they would have been otherwise.  Still, it’s a huge jump in expectations between 6th and 7th grade.  I wish them luck.

Oh, and if you didn’t know, the Japanese school year ends in March and begins again in April with only a 2 week break in between, so my current 6th graders are soon to be graduating and will enter middle school very soon.

Also, did you know that all elementary schools go until 6th grade?  Some in the US go until 5th grade.  And here in Japan, all middle schools encompass 3 grades, 7, 8, and 9 which they refer to as middle-1, middle-2, and middle-3.  High school is also just 3 grades, of grades 10, 11, and 12 which are referred to as high-1, high-2, and high-3.

Some misunderstandings can happen when English teachers call their students “1st graders” when actually they mean middle-1 or high-1.  If I hear 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade I can’t help but think of elementary school.  Many of us ALTs would prefer they use the term “year,” as in “the 1st years” but some Japanese teachers don’t pick up on this or are too entrenched in their old ways.  Sigh!

That’s all for today.

(PS this post is a day early.  Enjoy!)

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