Wednesday, June 25, 2008

天の邪鬼 あまのじゃく (Heavenly Evil Spirit)

Today, my email word-of-the-day was "devil's advocate". I really enjoy the word, as well as the concept behind devil's advocacy. Though some people enjoy playing the devil's advocate because they enjoy argument, others do it for the much more fulfilling purpose of opening their minds as well others' to ideas in which they don't necessarily believe. These people are often thought to be liars and as a result of their advocacy, they are commonly misunderstood.

Wordsmith defined devil's advocate as a noun meaning "One who argues against something for the sake of argument, for example, to provoke discussion and subject a plan to thorough examination."

The etymology of this term comes from Latin "advocatus diaboli". The Roman Catholic Church used to have a person appointed as a devil's advocate to argue against elevating someone to sainthood. The person arguing for the proposition was known as God's advocate (Latin advocatus dei).

A habit I've come to develop as a foreign language learner is that when I commend a word on its coolness, I immediately wonder "how do you say that in Japanese?" The closest equivalent, says my sexiest Japanese English teacher, is "ama-no-jaku" or a "heavenly evil spirit". This teacher did warn me though, that it is not as commonly used as its English counterpart. I imagine the reason may be that it is not really typical for Japanese people to create argument or discord, especially if it involves opening your mind. Ouch. That was harsh. I take it back, but only in words, not by actively pressing backspace. Of course, everyone is different, even if most try to be the same. Or perhaps I, myself, engage in the evil pleasures advocating for the devil.

This concept is actually quite new to me. Very early in my Japan days, I learned that there are many words in both English and Japanese that do not have exact translations or even exact meanings. There are things you can express in Japanese that are near impossible to exactly say in English, and of course, vice versa. (You see, a new wonderment popped up in my brain's inbox. "how do you say vice versa in Japanese", but i digress) So even though I learned that early on, it wasn't until a sunny day in Yoyogi Park, that I realized how language is dependent on culture and a society's behavior. On one early spring day, Chu and I had bought pastrami sandwiches and rode the motorbike to the park. We ate, talked and people-watched, enjoying the warm sun and happy park sounds. We were very close, and I wondered "How do you say "cuddle" in Japanese?" She thought about it for about three seconds and answered, "there is no word for it". I was a little taken aback and sat there pondering her answer with that weird-looking, confused face I sometimes get. She must have sensed my long silence and read my face, because she then said "i think the reason there isn't a word is because Japanese don't cuddle". My response was immediate. "What are you talking about? Of course Japanese cuddle! Come on." She laughed, and I could tell she was joking, but then I thought about it more, and finally felt the realization that there are things without names in Japanese because it is a culture based more on sensory communication rather than verbal.

There's this thing called KY, or 空気読めない (kuuki yomenai), which means a person who cannot read the air. It describes that dumbass who isn't sensing the mood of the others around him and either destroys it or makes it worse. I can't help but wonder how many times I've misread the air. Anyway, we say things like "kill the mood" or "oblivious" but I wonder if the sentiment is similar. So, this makes me wonder, since English lacks a direct translation for this, does that mean that we have less of a tendency to be able to read air? I wonder. Perhaps, i will counter the opinion of the unlucky sap who unknowingly brings up the topic. However, I'm not sure how heavenly my evil spirit can get. Gambarimasu.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Living Laps

We Live in a Fantasy World was the literary mirror of not only the physical, but also psychological break I was trying to make with America in 2006. I had made a decision nine months before that I was in need of a significant change. The experience could be compared to a pregnancy. I did the deed late at night, as a spontaneous, almost angry response to something not even worth mentioning anymore. It was done with love in mind, certainly. A few months later, I received confirmation that conception was a success. The following months were spent in anticipation, careful planning, and strongest of all, the unknowingness of what gifts would be given to me.

I’m ridiculous and dramatic, I know. Considering that I am still that way, I might as well try to suggest a point will come soon. There really is no need to make pointless metaphors and/or exaggerations. I just needed change, and well, I received.

It has been almost 3 months since I’ve last updated my fantasy world. I last spoke on the beauty of spring in Japan. The seasons have again shifted, as one might expect. Today was cloudy, hovering in sprinkley showers. It is June. I am giving you facts, however, unless you are here, standing outside with me, would you understand how beautiful this weather really is. The warmth is above average, almost to the point of hot. The word is humid, mushi atsui in Japanese, but in this weather, you can’t complain because the complaint of humidity is masked by the kimochi ii (good feeling on your body) of the cool misty rain.

Besides the weather, June also offers other pleasantries. In late May, the local farmers in my countryside town plant their rice. Do you know how rice is grown? Well first, they soak the dirt for about a week, then plant the sprouts, all the while keeping the field filled with water resembling a rectangular pond of green, grassy rows. Since the water simulates a pond, it attracts a home for creatures such as frogs, and uh, mosquitos. This phenomenon makes nighttime a conundrum. On one hand, the soothing nighttime sound of froggies and open windows make for the perfect lullaby. While, on the other hand, open windows must have screens that shut properly, otherwise you become the sleeping dinner to annoying pests.

Since we’re on the topic, don’t trust screens. What am I saying? No, don’t trust mosquitos. They are rotten, little disease bags. My summer night ritual consists of filling up two large water bottles and placing them in the fridge for the next day, then chasing mosquitos until I have reclaimed all the blood they have stolen from me. Not until then, can I enjoy my cold goodnight shower, only to recoil beside my nay-saying fan as I read or study myself to sleep.

This time of early summer also beckons the ume. Ume means plum. Gabe told me that he believes that ume is not plum, but unripe apricots. I am seriously considering his hypothesis, but am waiting until my ume ripens before I taste and finally make any conclusions. This onset of the plum makes two very exciting promises. My personal favorite is Umeshu. Last year, I came across a recipe for Umeshu (plum wine as it is called in America) in the grocery store. That’s the cool thing about the Japanese, they make it incredibly easy to follow seasonal traditions. How sweet of the grocers to move the large bottles of white liquor and rock sugar over to the produce section of the store. Right there beside the tall piles of ume bags (perfectly measured to wash and throw into the bottom of the 5 litre bottles)! How wonderfully convenient! Last year, I made some. It takes 3 months to soak in the ume taste properly, which means that this concoction becomes fit to drink upon the onset of Autumn. The other big use for unripened ume during this time is to prepare umeboshi. Umeboshi are salted plums that are eaten with rice, usually in bento boxes.

As shown by my blatant abandonment of updating my blog, time runs fast in Japan. Seasons change suddenly. You will just start getting used to mikan season, when suddenly it becomes ichigo season. (Translation: Mikans are Mandarin oranges, sweet tangerines, that grow during the autumn. Suddenly, they disappear from the shelves, and ichigo appears. Ichigo are strawberries. The oncoming of strawberries marks that winter is now here. The sakura then begin to populate the naked trees, and before you have the chance to pull your camera from your bag, the wind blows them down, and suddenly the pink and white trees become a light, leafy green.

I am now finishing my second year in Japan. I have experienced each of these yearly phenomena twice now. Finally, I think I understand. Go ahead and call me stupid for barely figuring things out, I don’t mind. This place has made me feel stupid and unprepared for things since I’ve first arrived. However, I am about to cross the third year mark. I arrived here in August 6th, 2006, and we are rapidly approaching the anniversary of that date. This is why I am writing today.

Despite nine months of preparing to move to Japan, I was still a bit in shock and awe throughout my first year here. That’s what life as a first year JET is, really. Adjusting, exploring, and walking around like someone afflicted with Down Syndrome. As a second year JET, you begin to realize and understand the purpose of things, and you are given the chance to improve things that you botched the first time around.

Like I mentioned earlier, I will soon be beginning my third year. There aren’t any excuses I can make for myself anymore. I intend on doing things better this time around.
I am basically referring to things at school, such as teaching and participating in school events, however, it extends into other important areas such as daily life and Japanese study.

I am best at tending to my goals, when I have collected them all together in one place.
Some things I will focus on (chronologically speaking, yet at the same time, no specific order):
1) Making Summer count----swimming (our school has a pool), riding my bike by the river, drinking by the river, standing in the river, camping, and making goals for the school-less days ahead of me.
2) Welcoming and truly helping the new kiddies who have been placed in Shimada and close areas.
3) Seminars---doing them well this time
4) Saving money
5) Visiting home during Christmas (successful America shopping)
6) Taking on more responsibility at school during the new school year
7) Caring and preparing for bunkasai much earlier
8) Traveling around Japan—specifically Okinawa and the south
9) Get my license and buy a motorbike, in order to explore in more depth.