Japan 101: Welcome to Japan! (Surviving the Flight)

日本へようこそ!

Welcome to Japan! – (Surviving the flight)

actually me the day I arrived

Now, I’m sure that you’ve imagined every possible scenario for what it’ll be like to step foot off airplane, it’s actually time to board your flight. Make sure you didn’t forget your passport (and certificate of eligibility if you’re not on a tourist visa- available at your local Japanese embassy which is likely a 2-5 hour drive away).

Oh, and plane ticket, that’s pretty important. Be ready to not sleep for however long your flight is and arrive in Japan looking like you just lost a roshambo challenge to a weed-whacker.

No matter how nicely you dress to arrive, an overnight plane trip is going to make you look like you’ve lost a fight to a very persistent mongoose. Don’t even try to sleep if you’re not in business class. What, you think airlines try to make you comfortable? Pretty sure I wouldn’t spend my flights strapped into a carseat if that was the case.

But if you’re ever feeling angry at being the last to get off the plane, last in line, crappy economy seat- just remember that those in business class are the most likely to die in the event of a crash.

Take a moment to realize that you could be paying more to end your life in a fiery flame and then settle in, feeling more confident that yes, aisle 52, seat C is exactly the safest seat on the airline *(not actually proven to my knowledge.)

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Japan 101: Where Are You From?

出身はどこですか。/ どちらからですか

shusshin wa doko desu ka. / Dochira kara desu ka?*

Cab driver talking to me, and I’m like

One of the most common phrases I hear as soon as I get in a cab and before I can jam my headphones back into my ears is “Where are you from?” It took me a few times listening for the key words as, strangely, in my Japanese class, this is not one of the topics we spent a lot of time on.

I used to be able how to tell someone my major in perfect, formal Japanese, but after being out of university for over a year, I’ve even lost that ability. Best part is when I haven’t switched over to my Japanese-speaking-brain, I fumble for a second and they translate for me first. They know more English than I know Japanese! It’s just embarrassing. Sometimes I’m just sitting there in a morning daze like “Where am I from?”

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Japan 101: Do You Speak Japanese?

日本語ができますか.

Nihongo Ga DekImasu Ka?

Realizing that was not a Yes/No question…

This question does not mean what you think it means. It’s true, hidden meaning is “Are you fluent?” You can see the look of sympathetic shame on other people’s faces when you answer “sukoshi…” before they do their best impersonation of English and you realize that you will both have to briefly take up the art of miming to get your points across.

A lot of foreigners living here who have either a.) moved here solely for work or b.) given up on their Japanese classes early on will know the struggle. It’s not that you’re bad at Japanese, but if you don’t have to learn it, the pressure is completely off, and if you’re a student, depending on your ability for a grade that will reflect in your GPA is not appealing. In fact, it takes a lot of fun out of the learning and is stressful enough to make you cry into your textbook when your teacher announces a pop quiz that, while you studied all night for, you’re suddenly blanking on everything as soon as you hear the word test.

So, no, I do not speak Japanese. At least, not at the level you’d expect of someone who has been here as long as I have. Damn, I should be at least beyond conversational by now. But I’m not. And there’s always that one person in the room asking. “Why don’t you speak Japanese? You live in Japan. If you move to a country, you need to learn the language.” And they’re right, to some extent. It’s not like I can’t speak a lick of it. I can get around my daily life, communicate basic thoughts, and nod along like I understand until I realize that I was not asked a “Yes/No” question. Then I proceed to stare at them like Bambi’s mom in headlights until they repeat the question more slowly or, god forbid, I have to ask them to repeat it. At least I know that phrase. And I use it for everything, including getting more of the free side dishes at restaurants.

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Japan 101: Why did you come to Japan?

何しに日本へ?

Nani shi ni nippon e?

I don’t got this.

Everyone is here for a variety of reasons. I already went through my anime phase during my teenage years where Japan was the end goal until I got smacked upside the head with a smart-stick and learned that Japan is like every other country with its ups and downs. I also spent a good majority of my time and resources on KPop merchandise once I figured out that 2D got me no D. Why didn’t I choose, you know, Korea? Everyone agreed this would have made more sense, except that I wasn’t fetishizing the country I was going to live in. Besides, I knew how to say “Hello” in Japanese in four different ways!

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