You know you’re a Japan fan when…
I’ve always considered that I did not like Japan but rather some very limited aspects of japanese culture. However after a few years, when you open your cutlery drawer and you find more chopsticks than forks, you start questionning yourself… I do not know if other japanophiles will recognize themselves in this article but as far as I’m concerned, here are the things that made me realize I had crossed a point of no return.
You know you’re a Japan fan…
… When a “gateau à la fraise*” is no longer a “gâteau à la fraise” but a “short-cake“.
(I kept it french, the english version would be “strawberry cake”)
… When fried chicken is no longer fried chicken but karaage. It’s not pronounced “caraje” but “kala-aguè”.
On these two points, you have to understand that Japanese people have a way of doing things in a particular way. So even if it remains a “vulgar” strawberry cake / fried chicken / mayonnaise / Caesar sauce /…etc in the eyes of ordinary mortals, for you it’s a whole different world. To better explain the idea, here is a short scenario:
You invite some friends to enjoy a typically japanese diner. You want to surprise them with something different from the everlasting sushi or makis : karaage and short cake are on tonight’s menu, your guests are intrigued and impatient. As you enter the room, you start with a miso soup and seaweed/tofu salad, so they’re not totally disoriented. Then BAM! you land a smoking plate of hot karaage on the table. At this moment, one of your friends says with a disillusioned air :
Wait a sec… Isn’t it plain old FRIED CHICKEN?
There you go. You made them dream and you broke everything in an instant… They thought you were going to surprise them with a koala en papillote, baked in his banana leaf… but no, it is “just plain old boring” fried chicken until they taste it, but that’s another story…
… When you’re being told that dashi is nothing more that Knorr broth or Bouillon Cube and you want to :
Even if the comparison is somewhat relevant.
… When you can’t figure out how you could spend all these years without a rice cooker and a hot water dispenser. When you didn’t possess any, you used to view them as mere gadgets. Why spend more money when you already have your kettle, your pan, your pressure cooker and so on… And then comes the day you actually try. To give you an idea, it’s like having a Nokia 3310 and trying an Iphone 6 for a week.
… When you take a magazine (at the doctor’s, at the newsagent’s, at the airport, at the toilet …) and you flip through it, starting from the end. By reflex. (1)
… When you put some :
– “naruhodo” when you just figured out something, (2)
– “omatase” when you arrive with a little late at the meeting room, (3)
– “otsukare” when you leave from work at the end of the day, (4)
– “mendokusai” when you have to sort your mails (or any other boring stuff), (5)
– “morai” oy “itadaki” when you steal something to someone, (6)
– “iyo-iyo”, when… the moment has come, (7)
– “giri-giri sēfu” when you squizz your body into the closing doors of the metro, after you hear the signal (8)
No need to mention that everytime you use those expressions, you lose everybody in the process… but for you, it’s natural. Personally, I don’t say “arigatou” to thank people or “konnichiwa” to greet them ; I really limit myself to these little words which have no real translation but can express a thought, a feeling in a few syllables. For instance, I could say “sorry for keeping you waiting, [I’m a bit late]” but I think “Omatase” slides well. Moreover, most of these expressions fit well in a monologue (aaaand yes, I often speak alone – or rather, think aloud)
“Want some hojicha?” (to my colleagues)
“Some what ?!?”
… When you no longer use the term “voice actor” or “voice” to describe the professional who lends his voice to a character, but “seiyu“. That being said, it only works for the Japanese voice actors, once you leave the borders of the archipelago, it’s over!
Let’s take the example of the anime “Knights of The Zodiac” (“Saint Seiya”) : the main character, Seiya, is voiced by Tōru Furuya in japanese and Illich Guardiola in english. In other words, Illich Guardiola is Seiya’s voice actor. Tōru Furuya is Seiya’s seiyu (kind of funny to say… seiya’s seiyu). However, it doesn’t work the other way around… weird, isn’t it?
This distinction is all the more strange since seiyu (声優) is literally translated by “voice actor”. So in theory, a seiyu is a voice actor, whether he’s Japanese or Ethiopian… although the term “seiyu” only applies to the Japanese. In the same vein, why do we say “anime” when it’s japanese and “animation / cartoon series” when it comes from another country? Anyway, I digress.
… When you happen to know the seiyus, actually. You know their names, you recognize their voices every time you watch a new anime, you know their resumes…
“Oh by the way, you know, the guy who does the voice of Gintoki…?”
“Tomokazu Sugita? Yes, so? What’s going on, is he sick?”
That’s it. You used to say “the guy who does the voice of”. Actually, no, you used to say nothing because you didn’t care. Now you directly say his name. It comes to you as naturally as George Clooney or Jay Leno. And when you don’t know, as I stated above, you just say “X’s seiyu…” (say meeeEee♫ -> I’m out)
… When your colleague, a japanophile married to a japanese woman gives you a metal box (I collect them) and tells you “so this [日本], you know, it means Japan“. You give him an irritated look and you mumble “thanks, I can read”.
… When you go to a chipanese restaurant (japanese restaurant runned by Chinese) and you’re outraged when you see a customer stick his chopsticks in his bowl of rice. (9)
… When you eat in bowls and use chopsticks at an abnormally high frequency.
Personally, the japanese way of eating corresponds to how I’ve always preferred to eat : a wide variety of foods (meat/fish, vegetables, starches, soup …); each food is separated and often cooked in its simplest expression (grilled/steamed); being able to pick bites here and there…
… When you eat tamago kake gohan under the astonished stares of the crowd, in all nonchalance. The crowd in question can be colleagues, family, friends, it doesn’t matter as long as they’re not Asians.
For example, you’re on a business trip with several colleagues. In the evening at the lodging, everyone gets hyped for pasta alla carbonara. Everyone but you.
First of all, when you tell them “no no, thanks but I’m gonna eat something else”, they give you a suspicious look. But then, when they see you showing up with a bowl of rice topped with a raw egg in the middle… Priceless.
Eeer… what are you eating? one of them asks.
It’s tamago kake gohan, you answer innocently, as if to say, “well it’s obvious, isn’t it?” (but in your head, you truly know you lost them faaaaaaaar away in the abyssal depths)
So, you get a reaction like :
Basically, you know you are the curious beast but you accept it and play with it, sometimes.
That’s it, I think I’ve listed all the points that came accross my mind!
(1) In Japan, we read “from the end to the beginning”, from right to left. That’s the case for manga, books, magazines, newspaper…
(2) The expression naruhodo is translated most of the time by “I see”, “I get it”. As in “ooooh ok, I see what you mean”.
(3) Omatase, from the full expression omatase shimashita means “sorry I made you wait” or “sorry I took that long”.
(4) Ostukare, from the l’expression otsukare sama (in full version, otsukare sama deshita) is used to thank or encourage. It means “thank you for your efforts”, “good job”, “well done”…; at work, when playing a sport, everywhere there’s a notion of effort (tsukare means fatigue).
(5) Mendokusai is the contraction of mendou which means “trouble”, “problem”, “care” and kusai, which means “stinky”. So mendokusai is the equivalent of “annoying” or “pain in the ass”.
(6) Morai and itadaki come from Morau and Itadaku which both mean “receive”, “take”, “accept” with a notion of gratitude. They’re often used to say “thank you”, in a playful manner, though. Example: you’re playing soccer, your opponent foolishly loses the ball. You take the opportunity to steal it and tell him “hey, thank you!”…
(7) Iyo Iyo means “Finally”. But not “finally” as in “First blablabla, then blablabla and finally, blablabla” ; that’s the “finally” from “After 12 hours of interminable flight, the captain FINALLY announces the descent of the aircraft to the airport!”. In the text, I was saying that I use this expression when the moment has arrived : you wait or prepare something for months and finally comes the moment. That’s iyo iyo.
(8) Giri Giri Seifu: giri-giri means “just in time”, “at the last moment” et sēfu comes from the english safe. So it’s like saying “pheeww, I’ve made it” or “weeew, that was a close call”.
(9) As in all cultures, there are customs and codes of conduct. Planting your chopsticks in the rice bowl is a major DON’T in Japan.