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Are You Culture-Shocked Yet?

JAPAN | Tuesday, 23 February 2016 | Views [318]

Tuesday began the normal way, with several hours of Japanese class. We were finishing up chapter , which was nice, since chapter 1 wasn’t particularly interesting, and especially in conversation classes, I was starting to get sick of the same dialogues. Due to the fast-paced nature of the course, we should be finishing a chapter every week, so we only have comprehensive exams every three weeks. So there’s really no disadvantage to finishing a chapter and moving on. Other than more vocabulary and kanji and grammar, but those are all good things, right? (They're certainly good to know. They’re less fun to learn.)

After class was over, I headed to the J-chat lounge to eat my lunch. And I discovered a sign on the door telling us that there was a mandatory meeting at 16:00. This date might have been given to us previously (like at the very beginning in a calendar included with 20 other loose sheets of paper) but that was the first I was hearing about it. I don’t think the sign had been up the day prior, and I definitely hadn’t gotten any e-mails about it. But apparently there was a meeting today. Joy.

After eating quickly, I went to my individual meeting with Yamaguchi-sensei. As before, it seems to be scheduled to make sure I always have a slight break between classes, but not a break long enough to really do anything.

For the first half hour, we finished up with the story. It actually had a pretty happy ending for stories where genies appear. And yes, it’s definitely a genie. He said he could do anything, and the main character was like “really? Can you make a gold coin appear?”

“Pff, that’s easy.” So the genie made a gold coin appear. And the man asked for another one, and the genie made another one appear. And soon there were stacks and stacks, and the genie was going “OK, but seriously, what are you going to do with all this money?” And the man said “shut up and make me more.” So the genie did, but eventually the weight of all the gold was too much, so the man ran to shore as the ice started cracking, and genie, magic bottle, and gold fell straight down to the bottom of the lake. And the man was left as he’d been at the beginning of the story, without even a fish.

Like I said, all of that lasted half an hour. The individual meeting was supposed to last an hour. Yamaguchi sensei gave me a choice of another really short story by the same author or a much longer one by a different author, and I went for the latter. (I hadn’t liked the story or writing style that much. Hopefully I don’t detest the new author’s writing style, since that will take me much longer.)

And we still had half an hour left. So Yamaguchi-sensei asked me what I would wish for if I had a genie, (so many ideas) and when my response was something boring like “love” or “happiness” and not “money,” she asked why. So then I tried to explain that money can’t buy happiness, or at least that happiness does not go up as net worth increases. And then I was trying to explain why that was in Japanese, and that required that I go to the board to draw a lame kind of graph (read: graph of a function, not graph theory graph) showing happiness as a function of money. (It was kind of a nu shape.)

We still had a lot of time left. So Yamaguchi-sensei asked me if I was going to be on the right side of the graph, since I was studying mathematics. And then I explained that I wanted to study pure mathematics, so I really wasn’t. Which led to needing to try and explain the difference between pure and applied mathematics. Which led to trying to explain matrix multiplication. In Japanese. That didn’t go very well.

One thing led to another, and by the end of the class I was trying to explain my high school and my friends as well. And I was discovering just how difficult it was to communicate about things of importance to me without mathematical vocabulary. The thing about mathematical vocabulary is that even if I study it, there’s no guarantees it will help other people understand me. Because whoever I’m talking with would also need that vocabulary, which isn’t exactly a given.

During Spirituality, we moved onto a story about the Snow Woman. In this one, two woodcutters, one young and one old, are taking shelter in a hut during a snowstorm. During the night, the boy wakes up to see a woman bending over the older man. She comes over to the boy, leans over him, and says “You’re so pretty, I can’t kill you. But if you ever tell anyone about this night, I will kill you.” Then she leaves, and the boy discovers that the older man is dead.

The next morning, the two are found, the boy is treated for hypothermia and severe psychological damage, and he goes back to woodcutting. One day, he walks along a girl with a nice voice, and the two of them get into a conversation. Her name is Yuki (literally, “Snow”) and she is on her way to try and find work as a maid or because her parents have recently died. The two return to the boy’s house, (“Hey, mom, guess what? I found a girl in the woods and I’m going to marry her!” “That’s nice, sweetie.”) and soon years have passed, the girl has had ten children, and she’s generally seen as being nice enough, but she hasn’t aged a day since he met her.

Then one evening, she’s sewing, and the man says “you know,you remind me of a beautiful woman I saw once.” He describes that horrific evening in the hut, finishing by saying that was the only person he’d ever seen who could rival his wife in looks. Kind of as an afterthought, he adds that she’d told him she’d kill him if he ever told anyone.

His wife flies into a rage. “She was as beautiful as me because she was me! I told you I’d kill you and, if it weren’t for the ten children we have sleeping, I would. But you had better treat them well, since if they ever have cause to complain of you, I swear I’ll kill you, and this time I really truly mean it.” And then she disappeared.

It’s going to be fun when they get to be teenagers.

Class ended, there was an insignificant break, and it was time for our pop mandatory meeting. This meeting turned out to be all about culture shock. The timing on that was pretty terrible, since the entire time that we were there, I was watching my sunlight disappear through the window and wondering when the meeting would be over.

Which is ironic, since some of the signs of culture shock they were explaining were things like “tiredness” and “irritation.” Which definitely described my mood at that point. A lot of the other symptoms were things that describe me on any given day, even under the best of circumstances, and their “solutions” sounded pretty terrible. Again, because they don’t seem to realize that introverts exist.

Even when I have my own room to retreat to and am surrounded by people who I know and feel comfortable with, if I’m asked “Hey, want to go do *,” where * is pretty much any new activity, my response to that will be “mmn… let me think about that.” And though I’ll usually agree, especially if it’s something that seems like I’d enjoy it, I tend not to just jump into things without thinking about them first. So the fact that I come to Japan and do the same thing is not a sign that I’m adjusting poorly to Japanese culture.

At least this program acknowledged that people who don’t experience culture shock exist. That makes it better than the last class on the subject I took.

At last, the course was over, and I could flee to the outside and get in a bit of natural light before the sun set and I needed to start my homework.

Tags: culture shock, genies, japanese, yokai

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