2017-04-24

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Bendy Brains and Niggles

Author: Duncan Vaughan, Issue: April 2007, Topic: Japanese Language

April is a month when many new foreigners arrive in Tsukuba. April in many ways is the real New Year in Japan because that is when things change. You arrive from your home country and “hey man” everything is new, exciting and then there is the language.

There are three groups of “gaijin”. There are those that are new to Japan and know how to say about 4 things in Japanese – Arigato, Kon-nichi wa, Ohayo gozaimasu, Watashi wa … desu. To which Japanese will immediately respond, “How wonderful your Japanese is” that can be translated as “Keep going in Japanese please I don’t (want to) speak English”. Then there are new comers, usually from Korea, but occasionally from other countries that have bendy brains that master Japanese in all its aspects rather rapidly. If they are from certain countries hey appear on TV and are usually irritating.

So you have just arrived you are in the first group would love to be in the second group but you are realistic. You want to join the vast majority of us long timers who are in the middle. The basic truth is all gaijins just want to feel comfortable in their new home environment with the language. But since you are new in Tsukuba you have to master many things, not just language, and getting on top of your new job (usually research or study) is the top priority. But always there is a niggle in the back of your mind – the language. What do should you do?

Well, I am now in the middle group, what did I do to get there? I knew I did not have a bendy brain. So I went to have a haircut. To my surprise the guy that cut my hair said he was trying to learn English. After I left the barber (they are not necessarily expensive) I thought he wants to speak English (to be comfortable) and I want to speak Japanese (to be comfortable). So I contacted him and said shall we try heping each other. He said yes and that was the way I was able to go from classroom Japanese with the sensei to getting to know Japanese the language and more of the people. So my advice is to find that Japanese person that you are comfortable with and is comfortable with you and set a time to get together. A problem with this approach is that the Japanese partner is likely to be better in English so be careful to get your share of speaking Japanese.


J-Cool owner Masaru Kubota (left) and my family
experiencing real Devon ice cream in Dartmouth, UK
August 2000

But my story does not end there. My Japanese friend and I met once a week for quite a while. My friend was ambitious and said he planned to go to study in Vidal Sassoon’s school in London. He did and while he was in the UK we were able to meet there. After his study at Vidal Sassoon’s he joined my family and I during my home leave. So he saw some of my country as I have been privileged to see some of his. He then set out on an adventure in the US for several years before returning to Tsukuba.

Well if you have just arrived in Japan my hope is you will make a Japanese friend that you will be able to share some of your country with. Then you will move from the uncomfortable 4 sentences category to the comfortable at home category in Japanese. But equally important is that your Japanese friend will also have gone from feeling uncomfortable in English to comfortable in English.

Now if you have read this far – do you want to meet my friend? If so please go and visit him - and get your haircut, styled, coloured - whatever. Masaru Kubota now has a unique place that men or women can have a wonderful Japanese hair experience – while watching MTV on your personal TV monitor!! His place, J-Cool, is between Ninomiya Park and Doho Park not far from JSPS Ninomiya House or Takezono House. If you need help with your hair visit Masaru Kubota you will leave refreshed. To check his place out before you go try looking at his very clear English website: http://www.j-cool-japan.com. There is a map at this site to help you find his place. If you visit J-Cool remember to practice your Japanese.

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