I was reading a very interesting and somewhat comical blog post about things that the author dislikes about Japan. Now, while I might not have the same amount of experience as this author when it comes to living in Japan (heck, I don’t have any experience compared to him!), I can still relate to some things he discussed and would like to give you my own ideas and impressions about them.
What are sentence-words you ask? To be honest I don’t think this is even a real linguistics term but, it suits my purposes here. What I would define as being a sentence-word is a single word (usually a greeting) that combines several other words or meanings together. For example, take the words”ittekimasu” & “itterashai”.
☆ 行って来ます -> Ittekimasu combines two verbs: 行く (iku: to go) and 来る (kuru: to come). Ittekimasu is used when e.g. someone is leaving their house. In actuality, it means “I’m leaving but I’m coming back”. The overall meaning is a lot more profound than the simple English counterpart “I’m off!”
☆行ってらしゃい -> Similarly, itterashai basically means “Go and be safe”. Again, it has more feeling compared to the rather dry English reply “See you later”.
Why should this drive you insane you ask? Because, as the author mentions in his own post, sentence-words appear every day in office settings or in shopping malls and restaurants. You might recall the infamous “irasshaimase!” cry coming from every shop assistant across Japan.
The first few times you hear it, it’s cute. It feels like ‘Japan’ and it’s something you’ve always dreamed of hearing in real life (when you’re a serious anime/manga fan). However, after the first few billion times of hearing it in every single store and restaurant, you get irritated by it, even annoyed to the point of having to leave the store not to hear it anymore.
Another word the author references is “otsukaresama desu“, literally “you’re tired”, but really means “you’ve worked hard”/”thank you for your hard work”. My Japanese teacher uses this expression all the time after class, which in itself doesn’t bother me. It’s bothersome in a Japanese setting, such as when I was studying in Japan. The teachers, the staff and the cleaning lady used to say it all day long. Every time I would bump into the cleaning lady, she would tell me “otsukaresama desu” and bow several times.
Which leads me to my second point:
This irritates me to no extent. It’s not the act of bowing itself, but rather the fact that it makes me feel very uncomfortable when people bow to me. Now, where I come from, we don’t bow to anyone. This is strictly a Japanese concept that is used to show respect to other people by bowing to them. I don’t agree with it, I find it demeaning, and I always want to stop them from doing it. For example, last year when I was studying abroad in Japan, I went to thank my teacher for a wonderful year and all the things I learned with him. He then proceeded to bow so low, I genuinely felt awkward and ashamed to have my teacher lower his head to me, as if I was more important. Now I know what you’re going to say: it’s customary, it doesn’t mean that one person is subjugated to the other, etc. but I still can’t accept it. I felt really bad for my teacher because, as usual, I don’t bow to people on automatic pilot like Japanese people do. I really have to stop and remember to do it, or else I forget that that is their custom. Having said that, while my teacher sunk is head really low and I remained upright, my other teacher looked on disapprovingly; my behaviour was not correct for the situation.
Well now, I’m sorry I feel ashamed when people bow to me, and that I want nothing more than to raise their heads back up to a normal level rather than subjugate them to “50 shades of shame”.
COMEDY (or lack thereof)
Now this is truly sad. Coming from a western civilization, I find comedic relief to be essential to our lives. I’m a funny kinda gal and I love to laugh however, I find this pleasure to be restricted in Japan. Indeed, humour in Japan is quite different from what we know in the West. When you think about Japanese comedy acts, you imagine manzai, or comedy duos, usually consisting of one goofy clown-like character and one straight faced partner (like Abbott & Costello, for e.g.). This type of comedy is mostly physical stunts like throwing pies and hitting each other. While I do appreciate a form of physical comedy, I have a soft spot for stand up comics and improv which, up until now, I haven’t come across in Japan. Even though manzai is technically considered as stand up comedy, it doesn’t have the same feel nor pattern as ours.
Now, I’m not saying that these guys aren’t funny -because they are- but it’s not the same kind of ‘funny’ as improv master Robin Williams (my personal GOD) or talk show host Ellen DeGeneres or even comedy genius John Cleese. Now obviously, I shouldn’t expect to find the same kind of humour in Japan as I would here in the West but still, my heart yearns for good comedy and sarcasm.
On this subject, Japanese people are 100% immune to sarcasm. Why you ask? I have no idea. Maybe it’s because of the structure of their language that doesn’t allow for sarcasm to take place, or maybe it’s just that they are not as sensitive to it as Westerners are. Unless you make it blatantly obvious that you are using sarcasm, don’t expect the people to understand this type of humour all on their own.
For such a passive-aggressive society as Japan -and this I understand all too well, Canadians are masters of passive-aggressiveness-, it’s a wonder they haven’t discovered the wonderful world of sarcasm and its power!
On that note, I’ll stop for today, simply because I’m about to run out of paper (see that? sarcasm). Don’t forget to visit this blog post for more cynical comments, much more profound than mine.