Musings about Japan and life as a human, a cosplayer, a minority, a music lover, an English teacher.

Category Archives: language

Using Japanese.

This is a draft from March 1st. I tend to write things and not publish them for some reason…I guess because they feel incomplete and I don’t feel like completing them. I may post a couple of other drafts in the future.


It’s one of the greatest feelings to be able to do things in another country using their language.

I used to get nervous when contacting people and telling them my name, and having them deny me just because they can tell I’m a foreigner. And I would obsessively check online dictionaries to make sure my Japanese was as correct as possible. I would have to sit and ponder about what I would say before making a phone call, and if it was possible to avoid phones altogether, that’s what I did.

The other day I was able to call the post office to cancel a redelivery request, because I decided I would pick up the package right away. Without even hesitating, I found the post office number, dialed it, and even as loud background sounds on the other end almost got me distracted, I managed to get my request across.

I’ve also managed to post messages in BBS (bulletin boards) about two extra concert tickets that I have right now. I was worried I wouldn’t get a response, but within hours two people contacted me. Even if the deals don’t go through, at least I know that people will contact me, even if my name isn’t Japanese and my Japanese isn’t perfect.

Even though I still don’t feel confident about my conversational Japanese speaking ability, I feel confident about being able to carry out everyday tasks (and not-so-everyday tasks) with my current abilities, and that’s what really matters when living in this country.

If you ever come to live in Japan or even just to visit, PLEASE learn the language, or attempt to use as much as you can. (Most) Japanese people are very kind and accommodating, but that’s especially true when they hear you using their language.


This is what I get.

I’ll elaborate later, but for now just enjoy this little message I received on a dating/friendship/language exchange community:

Chocolate Car.

I made a 2D car out of chocolate and icing for a co-worker. Let’s just say I wanted to show my appreciation for his kindness. It was a follow-up to a card with a message in English that I should’ve known would be misunderstood: “Will you be my Valentine?”

So in response he said that he wanted to get to know me as a friend first. He was even nice enough to write a response to me in English accompanying his verbal reply, probably thinking that I can’t read Japanese (or something along those lines).

So, leaving work, I felt really embarrassed about such a miscommunication that could have easily been avoided on my part. So while I was at my other school on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wrote a letter in Japanese clarifying that I know we don’t know each other very well, that I appreciate him as a friend, and that if the car I made was too sweet, he didn’t have to eat it.

I gave him the letter on Friday after his students’ English lesson, and told him that, in America, “Valentine” doesn’t necessarily mean “lover” or boyfriend,” depending on the relationship, and that in some cases it means “special person” or even just a good friend. I asked him if he thought I meant “boyfriend,” and he said he did, which is why he was so shocked. So I apologized and told him to read my letter whenever he had time. He was busy for the rest of the day, so I take it he’ll have read it over the weekend, and maybe even write me a response (which I told him to write in Japanese if he was going to write anything at all).

Oh, the joys of intercultural miscommunication. Sentence examples

Whenever I’m working on something Japanese-related (which is all the time) I use to look up words I don’t know. It uses the same database as the famous Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC, but the interface is more user-friendly. Every once in a while I look up example sentences for certain words and a peculiar example comes up.

The example sentence of the day is this:

American consumer group identifies RealPlayer as ‘badware’.

The translations aren’t always 100% accurate; neither are the original Japanese sentences. But it’s amusing to find such examples in the dictionary, as if we would really use them in real life. Who knows, maybe someone will find themselves in a conversation with a Japanese person about RealPlayer.

Where do I go from here?

(I know this is long, and you’re probably going to think I’m being ridiculous, but just bear with me. I’m trying to be as detailed as possible. It’s my blog, after all.)

Once upon a time, I was a customer at a host club.

When I came to Japan last September, I never thought I’d set foot in a host club. I had no interest in such a thing. But one day, something sparked my curiosity. Perhaps it was the opportunity to research something that most people wouldn’t want to mess with. To figure out why I wasn’t like these women, wanting to spend hundreds of dollars for fake love and affection.

Observing hosts turned into visiting a host club, and a single visit to the club turned into four more visits, my most recent one being Thursday. That night was going to be my last one for a while, since classes are going to start up on Monday.

And now that visit (at least to that particular shop) is probably my last one.

My host is quitting this month.

I can’t say it was like he was breaking up with me. Because I’m sure breaking up is many times worse. But I was still upset. He never said a single thing about quitting even once, not when I told him on Monday that I was visiting him, not when we met while he was on ‘catch’ duty on Wednesday, not when I spent that entire hour with him at the club on Thursday, or even when we said our goodbyes after that hour.

I was really happy after that night, because it had been awhile since I saw him. He was starting to e-mail me less frequently, and his messages were getting somewhat short and meaningless. He said he had been really busy with his job at the company, which is his primary job (he only works as a host two nights a week). I was starting to lose motivation to go to the club, wondering if I would get bored with him eventually, but decided that I would go to the club once more before the vacation was over. And when I got there, I was glad that I went, as usual. We made a lot of small talk, drank straight tea and had french fries. Usually I would go to the club somewhat early in the evening, like 5 or 6, but this time I arrived there at around 10 p.m., because I wanted to see what it was like being a little more crowded. Unlike the other nights, I didn’t talk to the other hosts that came to the table–in fact, only one came (whom I had met back in January) and stayed for about 15 minutes. The rest of my hour was just me and my host.

When we were talking, something about him seemed different, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Actually, I had sensed something changing ever since he contacted me the day of the live I went to in late March. I don’t know how I sensed it, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. But after I left the club on Thursday night I was happy again. I really like my host, not as a boyfriend type or just because he gives me attention or just because he’s a host. I’m not sure what it is but I just got along with him well. He wasn’t the best or most flirtatious or even the most good-looking, but I liked him.

Yesterday I went out to Yokosuka and Yokohama with Kenisha. We were going on base so Kenisha could do some grocery shopping, and then to Yokohama to take pictures. I was still in a bit of a daze from the fun I had with my host. I was wondering when I would visit again, when he was going to e-mail me, etc. And then that’s when I found out that evening. He sent me an e-mail thanking me for yesterday and that he had something he had to say.

Now, the last time he told me he “had something he wanted to tell me,” it was just him being silly, trying to trick me into thinking he was going to confess his love to me, when actually he just wanted to tell me about the discount for the Valentine’s Day event. But this time, I knew it was something not along the lines of anything humorous, and that it was a little more serious. Thanks to my learning the context of Japanese phrases as well as the uses of various cell phone ’emoji’ (emoticons), I could tell this was not a joke, and I knew exactly what he was going to say. I wrote a reply telling him I had fun the night before and asked him what it was he needed to tell me. After sending my reply, I told Kenisha, who was looking for directions to the BOOK-OFF in Yokohama, “I bet he’s quitting,” by which I was semi-serious. But I was right after all.

We exchanged a few more messages that night, with him citing that he had been so busy that he felt he had no choice but to quit hosting, and that this month would probably be it. I told him that if he quit, I wasn’t going to the shop anymore. And I absolutely meant that. I meant it from the very beginning: I told myself that he is the only reason I go to the host club, and that if he ever left, I wouldn’t want to go back there. He wasn’t just a host or someone with whom to flirt, he was someone to talk to, someone with whom I shared common interests, and someone who wasn’t going to be fake and over-the-top in order to get in my wallet (as opposed to pants, I guess).

I was a little distraught over the news, but just ask Kenisha–I didn’t let that ruin my night. In fact, I’d have to try really hard to feel absolutely depressed and start bursting into tears. I made jokes with her about all this too. “He’s breaking up with me!!! And by e-mail!!! Why would he do this to me?!?!” and saying how I wasn’t going to be ready for another host yet, and pointing out all these constant reminders of him. I was laughing because in my e-mail I wanted to ask him, “Can we still be friends?” Instead I asked if he and I can still speak to each other, which he said was absolutely fine. I was hoping he wasn’t going to just cut me off just because I was a customer. Even so, I don’t know how sincere he was, and if we’d ever speak or meet again. That’s what usually happens…I lose contact with people with whom I really wanted to be friends.

I’m still a bit confused as to why he didn’t tell me earlier, and waited until after we met on Thursday. Kenisha guessed that it was because of the Japanese tendency to not want to have to explain things in person, and to avoid face-to-face confrontation. I thought that perhaps he didn’t want to make our last meeting awkward or depressing, since the host club is not supposed to be a place to cry, but to smile. Not that I would’ve cried right there in the club, but at least if I had known I would’ve cherished that hour even more.

When I think about it, perhaps he was giving me the tiniest little signals of his resignation, and I just didn’t think much about it. A few weeks ago he wrote in his blog that he had dyed his hair a little darker, to set an example for the new workers at his other job. When I went to the club on Thursday, he was a little more enthusiastic that night, and even a little flirtatious and always looking me directly in the eyes when he spoke. He gave me his new business card for when the host club changed their name, and said that was his last one (by which I thought he meant his ‘last one’ before he printed out more, not his last one altogether). When I showed him the purikura I took before coming to the club, I pointed out that I had a double of one of them (a little bit smaller than his business card) and cut it out, and he held out his hand for it before I even said I was giving it to him. He enthusiastically accepted it and put it in his business card case, replacing the last business card that was there. Then he talked about my classes starting on Monday and told me to do my best, and then said he was going to do his best at his other job. I didn’t think much of it at all.

So that’s it, I guess. I haven’t asked him when his last day would be. If I could, I’d go to see him once more, but I’m thinking that perhaps we should leave it at that. It was a short ride, but a wonderful experience. I did spend a lot of money in all, but honestly it was worth it. A lot of you might think I’m ridiculous, that I was wasting my time and money. And some of you are probably laughing at me, which is perfectly fine because I’ve been laughing at myself too, joking about how my host is dumping me. I’ve learned so much about life in general and about myself, knowledge so deep and so valuable that I don’t think a lot of people would understand if I tried to explain it to them.

So where do I go from here? I was originally planning to see my host right before I left Japan, but I had a feeling he wouldn’t make it all the way to July/August. There’s no more reason to visit the club, really. I did like some of the other hosts, but not nearly as much as my own. I’m not all that enthusiastic about going to a different club…it’s kind of like trying to jump into the dating scene after just breaking up with someone you cared about a lot. But you’re not going to see me crying in a corner about this. Please, I don’t have time for that.

On one hand I’m really going to miss my host, but another part of me is somewhat relieved. He’s better off devoting his time fully to his primary job, and it gives me more time to start diving into other things and focusing on school and potential careers (which I was going to do anyway once the semester started). In addition, because he’s no longer going to be a host, I wonder if that means I can interview him for my research. My plan from the very beginning of my project was to interview a former host, or at least someone who was going to be more honest than a current host. Although I imagine my host would have been honest with me from the start anyway, this would probably be better. I pray that I can keep contact with him for as long as possible.

With that said, I’m going to go wash my hair and get ready to go out. I’ll write another post about my visit to Yokohama and all of the photos I took.

In closing, this is the purikura I gave to my host:

He may not have had an ‘ace’ customer but at least he can say he had a gorgeous one 😉

Host Club Gossip: My own little J-Drama

Can’t be at the host club everyday, or even once a week?
Always wondering what’s going on when you’re not at the shop?
Eager to know the prices of what you can’t already afford?

Enter Host Love, a BBS where people (mostly girls) gossip about all kinds of things related to host and hostess clubs, as well as the fuzoku (sex shops, or ‘legalized prostitution’ if you wanna go that level).

I discovered this site in a host club wiki/dictionary while trying to figure out the meanings of certain shop terms. It was listed under the entry for a ‘bomb site’ (爆弾サイト), in which ‘bomb’ refers to rumors or exposure of details about a host. Of course I was very curious, so I visited the site and found that there were tons of threads about different shops, discussions about top customers (called ‘aces’) and individual host topics, provided that someone creates the thread. I’m not particularly interested in any of the threads except for the ones related to the club I visit, but if I ever wanted to visit a particular shop or find out something about a certain host before I go, I can look it up on Host Love.

Of course, the site is labeled as a ‘gossip’ site, so you can’t take everything you read here as truth. It’s up to the reader to decide whether he or she will believe something. Everyone on the site posts anonymously as well, for good reason of course. A lot of the stuff I’ve been reading is the same old talk about makura and whose ace ordered what, but I did come across some interesting happenings, and some discussion about my own host. It’s nothing really important; he’s still a ‘new recruit’ so he isn’t as popular as the club’s top hosts. A lot of the girls refer to him as a ‘good kid,’ which is kind of cute, I guess. After all, he’s only 19 and I imagine most of the customers are in their early to mid-20s.

Needless to say, the gossip site is in Japanese, so if you don’t understand the language it’s not very helpful. Also, there is a lot of slang, from general Japanese slang to host club-specific terminology to chatspeak. It was really hard for me to understand at first but I’m starting to get used to it. Now to go study some real Japanese…

A slice of the nightlife in Kabukicho

So…ever heard of a host club?

That’s where I went last Tuesday near the end of winter break. As I mentioned a while ago, hosts and host clubs were the focus of my research paper for my Japanese Society class. My plan was to walk around Kabukicho and observe some hosts, and maybe interview some former hosts to find out what they thought about this kind of work.

Here’s the basic idea of what a host club is: A place where young gentlemen are paid to cater to women. Here’s a wiki article about host clubs if you want some more details.

So what was I doing here? Research, of course. My interview fell through so I decided at the last minute that I had to do SOMETHING…so I actually went to a host club, thanks to a friend I met a few weeks earlier. I wanted to find out why a lot of women get hooked on hosts and host clubs, knowing that the affection and love they are given is, for the most part, fake. In addition, host clubs are VERY expensive. Spending thousands of dollars in one night is not unusual here. (Before anyone starts to get concerned, I only spent 3000 yen–a little over $30–that night. This was the fee for first-time customers.)

I met several hosts that night, talking about being an exchange student, my hobbies, etc. I was kinda of nervous (okay, REALLY nervous) because I was in a room with a lot of attractive, older guys, trying to communicate with my bad speaking skills. But they were really patient with me, and very kind. I thought they would be more forward and perhaps a bit seductive, but that wasn’t the case at all; they were friendly and funny.

At the end of the night, I was asked if I had chosen a host. It was difficult at first because I didn’t feel enthusiastic about any of them, until I met the last host. I won’t mention his name (some of you might know it already) but he was pretty cool. He was really interested when I told him I play bass guitar, and when I told him that I liked Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (I said the Japanese title, 逆転裁判, of course), he was surprised. Apparently he likes the game too ^_^. He’s 19 years old, and even though I JUST turned 20 a little over a month ago, I still think it’s cute that he’s younger ♥

I didn’t plan on choosing a host, or even going to the club again, but I’m curious, I admit. (Curiosity kills the cat, I guess…but I’m a ninja cat.) The common idea is that host clubs are dangerous…all the articles, documentaries, interviews…they always tell you the extremes: Spending $10,000 on a bottle of champagne, customers asking for sex from their hosts, women going into debt and working in the sex industry to pay it off, etc.

But I want to know, is it ALWAYS like this? Isn’t it dangerous only if a customer ends up falling in love with her host, or if she becomes jealous that another customer is getting more attention, or if she’s basically not keeping count of how much she’s spending? The most important thing is that a woman must remember that her ‘relationship’ with a host is a game. Anything that her host says to her can’t be treated as truth so easily.

Every time I write about this experience, I feel the need to defend myself from people’s judgment. But my reason for entering the world of host clubs is much different. I will not explain how it is different, but I will say that it has nothing to do with deep emotional fulfillment, in terms of romance and that kind of thing. It’s very hard to describe; I think most people just won’t understand or won’t believe me.

I just want to figure out if host clubs are always as they are described in the media. You know how the media likes to manipulate, exaggerate, and dramatize everything.

"Oh, your Japanese is so good!" and Chopsticks.

When a Japanese person says about your Japanese language skills, “上手ですね!” (‘jouzu desu ne!’ or, “You’re good!”), what does that really mean?

Well, sometimes it’s not always literal. Sometimes it can mean something along the lines of, “Oh, you’re trying very hard, but you’re still not there.” It’s like telling a four-year old that her drawing is so pretty when…well, you get the idea.

Sometimes, I have no idea what it means for someone to say I’m “上手.” Last week, this nurse at the health center asked if Japanese was okay for me, and before I could answer, one of my classmates said (in Japanese), “Oh, she’s good at Japanese!” My classmate meant it (I think), but then the nurse would sometimes tell me that I was “上手” when I hadn’t even said anything other than, ‘hai’. Other times, when trying to explain something or ask a question, I often don’t get to finish because they’ve figured out what I was talking about. (However, I’ve learned from Japanese classes in the past that a lot is implied and not spoken anyway.)

Also, when I ask a question in Japanese to a Japanese person that happens to also know English, they almost ALWAYS answer me in English.” Why? Are they trying to practice their English? Do they think that I won’t understand their response if it’s in Japanese? It’s a mystery to me. (Needless to say, when a Japanese person asks me a question, they usually ask me in English.) Because of this, I often feel like I really don’t know Japanese.

About chopsticks: I wish I could tell some people, “For goodness’ sake, YES I KNOW HOW TO USE CHOPSTICKS. And OMG, it’s NOT because my mother is Korean!” As most of you already know, the ability to use chopsticks is learned, not genetic. Being able to use them at a somewhat earlier age than most Americans might have to do with the fact that my mother had chopsticks available in the kitchen…but it’s not because she’s Korean. If those types of things were genetic, I’d be able to speak Korean as well! I’m sure most of us non-Asians who use chopsticks can relate to this. I wonder what would happen if I asked a Japanese person if they can use a fork…lol.

So, to learners of Japanese: Do Japanese people often tell you, “Your Japanese is so good!”
And to chopsticks-users: Have people from a chopstick-using country ever asked you if you use chopsticks, or express utter amazement if they see you using them?
And Japanese natives: 外国人は日本語が上手じゃなくても、あなたはその人に「上手ですね」って言うことがある?

You probably know this, but…

The majority of Japanese commercials are weird. VERY weird. You can probably watch most of them on YouTube; some of them are really funny and most of them are just weird and random.

Japanese “game shows” are very different from American ones. It’s not really about the grand prize or any money that could be won, and the contestants are often celebrities/TV personalities, especially comedians.

These game shows are often general knowledge quizzes of some sort, including Kanji! Yes, even Japanese people don’t know everything there is to know about Kanji. But then again, Americans don’t know a lot of complicated words in the English language either. I’m particularly amused every time there’s a question involving English, and someone is completely clueless. Such as knowing how the word ‘number’ is spelled. One person thought it was NAMBAR.

I’ve also discovered a few people on TV, one in particular while watching a special of a game show called ‘Nounai Este IQ Supli.”

His name is Eiji Wentz (ウェンツ瑛士). His father is German-American and his mother is Japanese. He’s a musician, and TV personality on a number of shows, and does acting as well.

He’s the one on the left, in case you couldn’t tell which one was “less Asian-looking.”

Now, I get the impression that most mixed-race people in Japan are fluent in two or more languages, usually Japanese and English. Such examples are Jero and Crystal Kay. Anna Tsuchiya isn’t fluent, but she speaks some English and has some control over her accent.

Eiji speaks just as much English as the average Japanese citizen. This is apparently because both of his English-speaking parents worked a lot to support the family, and thus he spent most of his time with his Japanese grandparents. His older brother is bilingual, however. So he’s the only person in his family who doesn’t speak English.

I’m sure a lot of people in Japan expect him to know English, or at least have a better understanding of it because of his background. However, it’s said that he did very badly in English while he was in school (he also happened to do very well in Kanji). This goes to show that language ability has nothing to do with nationality, race or anything of the sort. I wonder if he ever gets depressed about that kind of expectation or assumption from other people. I used to feel the same way, after all. If I went to South Korea and people knew that my mother was Korean, they’d probably have the same assumption, or at least they would ask. If I didn’t tell them anything they probably wouldn’t think that way.

But let’s get to happier thoughts. Eiji’s really cool. Kenisha’s already referring to him as my “man” (not “mine,” but rather “that guy that gets my attention when he’s on TV”). I can’t seem to find any of his music–he’s part of a duo called WaT with Teppei Koike–so I guess I’ll have to stream it and see if I like it, and then buy some CDs. Ugh…expensive Japanese CDs…or get the songs from iTunes, maybe. If they’re there. (Just checked: they’re not.)

In other news, my first celebrity sighting: Comedienne Edo Harumi gave an interview on the Rikkyo campus on Friday. No one seemed to know or care, and neither did I, really. But I saw her. I didn’t even know her name; one of the CIS advisors told me who she was.