I’m well into my second month here now, and I’ve begun to realise that I’m feeling very settled-in. …TOO settled-in.
The people of Tokyo have quite a distinct set of mannerisms to other places in the world, and I have definitely adopted basically all of them. I’ve been told several times BY Japanese people that I’m very Japanese, or have a Japanese spirit. It’s a relief to know that I fit in, especially since the white-person stereotype here is something along the lines of too loud, too open, socially tactless, overly-sexual, not Confucian in any way at all… Yeah, you get the picture. But I’m sure that when I return home, I will be renowned as the girl who acts really weird. So here is a brief account of what happens to you when you come here and you’re susceptible to picking up mannerisms…
Many of these habits are linguistic. It’s been a fair few weeks since I began intensive Japanese lessons, and my Japanese and my English speech are definitely merging to form one overly-cute, not-very-understandable mega-language. For starters, I can’t write the letter ‘J’ any more. Capital Js almost always come out as the Japanese character ‘し’ (which is, yes, facing the opposite way to J…). This is especially unfortunate when I’m trying to write my postcode on letters and end up wasting a lot of envelopes. Speaking is even worse. The Japanese use a lot of English words in everyday conversation, which they’ve sort of adopted into that language and say using Japanese syllables. After having used these in Japanese, I now use them in English too. Tatoeba, I mean for example, after someone performs well, I used to say ‘wow that was great’ or something equally as normal; now I say ‘gutto jyabbu!’, which is supposed to resemble ‘good job!’ but actually really doesn’t. As well as this, I also sometimes full-on replace English words for Japanese words naturally in conversation. ‘Jya’ is a word that I now use basically every hour at least twenty times. It translates as something like ‘well then…’ or ‘so…’ and is used before a Japanese sentence, or in my case all sentences no matter what the language.
A special paragraph should be dedicated to the use of ‘eeeeeh’ in speech. Japanese speakers use this ALL THE TIME, FOR EVERYTHING. And so do I. ‘Eeeeeeeh’ I guess is just to express your interest or your thinking on what a person is saying to you. It can be used in any situation, from ‘I had tempura for lunch’ ‘eeeeeh…’ to ‘senpai confessed to me’ ‘EEEEEEEEHHH?!’. In Japanese it’s very useful. In English people think you’re a bit deranged.
As for non-linguistic mannerisms, there are many. But these are a few stand-outs… Firstly, bowing at practically everyone all the time. We’re probably all aware of Japanese bowing culture – it’s an apology, a thank you and an ‘excuse me’ and a request all at once, which means you do it when you leave class, when you buy something, basically after every service, when somebody moves for you, when you go into someone’s house, when you meet someone… Every morning and evening I pretty much bow myself out of the train as an apology to everyone collectively for having to push past them (ah rush hour). Bowing is super catchy and if you tend to pick up other people’s habits you will definitely be bowing all the time after about a week of Japan. Another Japanese mode of politeness which I find catchy is dainty eating. Traditionally in Japan, it’s shameful to be seen eating, specially in public places, especially especially for women. It’s not like that so much any more, but in the company of others people still eat really daintily. If you have burger or cookie or something in a packet, you do not talk it out of the packet to eat it. No way. You nibble it from inside the packet, so your hands don’t touch the food, the food can’t really be seen and you partly cover your mouth. It’s actually really cute – I always feel like a little squirrel.
Again a special paragraph, this time for SLEEPING. EVERYWHEREREE! All the time! If there’s one thing the Japanese are not ashamed of it is showing everyone their sleeping faces. It’s like ‘I am shattered, I don’t care who knows it, and I am going to nap at this desk/across this table/right in front of you in class’. A biggie is sleeping on the train – I swear that at any time on the train in Tokyo, about half of the train is completely zonked, mouths open, heads falling… People even fall sleep stood up (I don’t know how either). I have never been a napper, and when I first got here I found it really odd. Why are there businessmen falling sleep on both of my shoulders? But now every time I get on the train I have a casual sleep too. I guess the Japanese working day catches up th you – sometimes I’m on campus from half eight to half eight doing various things. It is tiring.
So these are a few ways in which I’m turning Japanese (I think I’m turning Japanese I really think so). Others include a rice dependency, and embracing fashion trends like wide trousers, blush right under your eyes and socks and sandals. My tastes are serving me well so far – I’ve already done some modelling and been scouted three times (which I like to boast to everyone who ever mocked my pale skin and weird fashion sense mwahaha).
Since there are no pictures in this post and that makes me sad, here are a few from the past month! I am still having the best time ever.
Jya, until next time!