Ask Sensei: “Will That Be On The Test?” Edition

Ah, fall. That special time of year when young people’s thoughts turn lightly to … exams. My first one is tomorrow as I type. Are you ready?

This time, our very own Samuru asks, Do your students know you watch anime, or have you shared that with them? If yes, what were some of those experiences like? A few of my students know, but only those who hang around my office after asking their questions. Sometimes I get into conversations with such students. The subject of language learning often comes up, because I think learning a foreign language is one of the best things you can do for your brain. If the subject then turns to Asian languages in general, or Japanese in particular, sometimes a student will ask me what prompted me to start learning Japanese, and the subject of anime comes up that way. In fact, just this past week something like that happened. Not only that, it turns out that one of my former students is planning to go to Osaka University as an exchange student this coming term, and I am hoping to catch up with him in Japan the following summer. You never know what you’ll find out about your students!

Also, Joshua Rubley asks, What is an anime you enjoyed the most or noted specially for its use of jokes that require understanding of Japanese culture or other things that are unique to Japan? One show that falls into that category for me, as well as the category of I Can’t Believe I Watched The Whole Thing, is Yakitate!! Japan, whose very title is a pun. And the puns certainly don’t end with the title. Back then, I was just starting to learn about Japanese language and culture, and how intertwined they are. While I don’t remember much in particular about the show (apart from one especially horrible pun on umai, “delicious,” which used the character for 馬 uma, “horse”), I realize now that it was through such shows in my early anime-watching years that I really began to soak up basic everyday elements of Japanese life. These ranged from the required onsen episode (of COURSE we went to the onsen, as well as to the beach, where I’m nearly positive we smashed watermelons as is contractually required), to typical city and small-town streets with their abundance of vending machines; from a language that is so full of double-entendres that it sometimes seems difficult to make any statement that doesn’t involve a pun if one wishes to pursue it, to the Japanese sense of nationalism and pride that shows through in the care they put into making food, whether it’s something authentically Japanese like nattou or something borrowed like bread. When I finally arrived for the first time in Japan in 2012, I perhaps shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to find that it seemed familiar somehow, thanks to the faithful rendering of typical Japanese settings in many anime series — even those like One Punch Man or Boku no Hero Academia, neither of which we’d normally associate with the expectation of realism.

But reality sets in again for me too at the moment, and I should get back to my students. Surely someone will be along with questions fairly soon. Right?


3 thoughts on “Ask Sensei: “Will That Be On The Test?” Edition

  1. My sister has exams this week,then after she finishes her exams her fall break starts,then next Monday is her birthday! she’s turning 19

  2. Thanks for answering my question! Ok so reading this post gave me another question about Japan. I have been so wanting to go but the money involved makes it tricky since it would be my wife and I so its paying for two people + an airbnb. Do you have any Japan tips for newbies who have never been, or maybe some ways you save up for the trip? Tickets are like $1000 roundtrip per person so it is not cheap 🙁

    Also do you find people are very friendly there?

    1. My immediate gut response is that if you can get a round-trip Japan ticket for $1000, either you’re doing extraordinarily well, or it’s one of those flights that has two or three stops, one of which is Beijing. Which is OK if you’re prepared for the ordeal. I use only direct flights, but then again I’m one of those people who can’t sleep on airplanes. The flight there is worse than the return flight, and by “worse” I mean “longer.” I think it’s because of the jet streams or something like that.

      Saving money is pretty easy for me, but then again I’m a lifelong bachelor with no children, so I have no one to spend money on but myself. You’re already mentioning airbnb, which is good. It took me a while to try out airbnb, and now that I have, I’m never going back to hotels. Although even some of them aren’t too expensive, if you’re OK with “business hotels,” which have tiny rooms akin to staterooms on a cruise ship.

      My experience with the majority of Japanese people is that they are always polite, and usually want to be helpful and friendly, but have an almost inborn discomfort with foreigners. Of course this is a gross overgeneralization, and there are always exceptions, but I think it was C.S. Lewis who said, “we are not surrounded by exceptions.” Always remember that Japan is a monoculture, and as such is something entirely foreign to Americans. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, I think we are all used to multiculturalism, and expect to encounter people from all kinds of different cultures on a daily basis. Not so for the Japanese. The best advice I can give you is to watch carefully, and try your best to fit in. Though it’s often difficult to find people who speak English at a decent level (except at the airport, where sometimes they speak perfect unaccented English), I would say the majority of people are well-intentioned. I remember someone on the subway staff going out of his way to point me to my hotel the first time I was in Japan, using what little English he knew. Between that and the little Japanese I knew, it somehow worked.

Leave a Reply