On Sounding Unnatural

So I’ve been back for a few weeks. My Japanese isn’t 100% back yet, but aside from me no one really seems to care. I stop midsentence, yell out すいませえ~ん日本語忘れてしまった dramatically, and everyone is confused because for the most part I sound the same as before. It’s quite funny. I’ve been practicing my Spanish, too, and am amazed to find that I had so many basic grammar mistakes in my everyday Spanish. I guess no one really cares?

I mean, sometimes I’ll have other foreigners around and they correct my Japanese. Or, say, people know that I have an exam coming up and will correct me to help me out. Or maybe it’s just my usual 日本語チェック coming back with a red word every other phrase. I am aware that I make basic mistakes, but so long as no one points it out and I’m not having a lapsus I don’t really care. Probably the most intimidating interactions I’ve had in Japanese were the ones where I had another learner around, and I knew that they were listening to what I was saying and trying to remember it (‘how did you ask for that?’ ‘I don’t know’ ‘But you just said it’ ‘Yeah, but…don’t listen to me anyway, my Japanese is terrible’)… Occasionally I will use a really weird word, and people will stop in their tracks and comment on it; maybe I will just notice that a word I just said is getting rephrased when people are repeating the sentence. I’ll make a mental note, and often times instantly adapt to it, but it’s really quite a rare thing. I am aware that my Japanese is not *correct*, but since the meaning gets across, it doesn’t affect my everyday life, and frankly most people are satisfied with my current level, I don’t really see any reason to improve it. Maybe I’m just lazy?

(now, the fact that my non-everyday Japanese is slowly decaying since I stopped actively practicing it, that there is a problem, but… motivation >_<….)


Japan as Home

A lot of the foreigners here refer to ‘home’ as their home country. ‘Going home for the holidays’. ‘When are you going home?’.

I had a pretty set attitude when I got here; I know that I’ll go back to Romania, but my home is in Nagoya now. So when people would ask me, they would be quite irritated by my answers. I think most people think it’s a coping method, and for a long time I also thought it was. I mean, just because a city is wonderful and it’s the best experience in my life and I am growing so much as a person here and have people that I feel close to doesn’t make it ‘home’, does it?

I went to South America for the holidays. It was pretty rad. But after a month or so, for the first time in my life, I got seriously homesick. I would start crying about wanting to go home. And throughout, I did not want to go to Romania; I wanted to go to Nagoya. I got back afraid that I’d forgotten Japanese and how to get around the city, but every time I stumble across a street that I haven’t seen since I left I feel this intense pang of nostalgia. It is lovely. My Japanese is objectively worse, and I’m having some trouble finding words, but It’s not as bad as it could be. I think that this experience was definitely a confirmation of my feelings about Nagoya.

It’s good to be back home.

A Problem of Mentality

In Romania, being a student is something that is usually frowned upon. The moment a professor walks into a classroom, he is in a position of absolute authority. Corporal punishment may be forbidden (though it’s not unheard of, and many people insist that corporal punishment should be brought back as the norm), but anything else is ok.

Teachers tend to have some of the lowest salaries and respectability levels, so usually people do not want to become teachers, they simply end up in a teaching position for lack of a better alternative. Saying that you want to be a teacher is laughed at. With very few exceptions (STEM fields at higher levels, the rare idealist), being a teacher is a matter of happenstance and lack of alternative. Which is why many teachers are under-qualified and hateful, so they often emotionally bully their students. I’ve been called useless, laughed at, hated, or humiliated by teachers for as long as I’ve been in a classroom (almost literally; I once corrected my 1st grade teacher on the first day of school… it went downhill from there. Kept getting serious humiliation all the way to my senior year of Uni). Things that are not done in Romanian academic environments:

  • Ask questions (Unless you’re trying to be a prick)
  • Make mistakes (instantly punished; always your fault)
  • Make orthography mistakes (instantly thought of as inferior)
  • Misunderstand
  • Fall behind
  • Go ahead of the curve
  • Question decisions
  • Stutter
  • Do anything a professor might find offensive (I once had a prof who genuinely thought that I was making fun of her since I stuttered every time she made me read my essay in class; I was stuttering because I had developed a serious case of anxiety whenever I was in a classroom – hers was the first prof I started doing that with, but eventually I started stuttering whenever talking in public)

Though of course, you don’t have to do anything bad to get your sense of self-value obliterated. You’ll constantly be referred to collectively in a disapproving manner, as kids these days are only able to enter a classroom thanks to the global PC agenda, and any ‘respectable’ institution would have kicked you all out long ago. You’ll never get anywhere. Your only hope is to leave the country. That should be your only goal: not to learn, not to help the world, not to make something of yourself in a non-material manner, but to leave the country.

I always thought this was normal, but I’m feeling my inferiority complex dragging me down.

Objectively, I’m not falling behind; I’m catching up to most things; everyone except me places my Japanese level above the dept average; most of my profs are pleased with me; me and the colleagues are getting along lovely. Everything is great.

But then I make a mistake. The prof laughs it off, corrects me and asks me to move on; I start stuttering again. I keep apologising. I forget some information which everyone else seems to know (or not; it doesn’t matter) and it feels like the end of the world. Sometimes I’m tired and can’t follow a discussion for a few minutes and I always feel like I’m doing a crime and will get caught. Many of my classes have started having regular encouragement interludes for me since by now profs and colleagues alike are concerned. I joke about my lack of self-esteem, but it doesn’t stop it from getting to me. I’ve been making these terrible presentations. The presentations aren’t really all that bad, but if I were to present them in Romania they would be an instant fail, and that thought is always at the back of my mind. I still have nightmares about presenting them to class and the profs asking them why I bothered coming to Japan. This semester I have a tutor who has been helping me proofread them, and every time I e-mail her it has so many apologies that you’d think I murdered her dog.

I realised recently that I’ve not been insulted in class since I’ve come to Japan. I mean, sometimes there’s the very friendly jokes when I make some sort of silly mistake, but even then they’re not really meant to be discouraging. At some point I stopped going to class out of spite and just praying to pass my exams, and started going to class to learn and felt bad when I don’t know stuff because of personal disappointment rather than some grade. It’s pretty amazing, though I wish I could get over myself and move on.

1 year update

Oh my god, have I really been here for a year (and a week)? Time flies.


So I managed to pass the admission exam somehow, and I’m starting my MA this week. *hyperventilate*. I got this. I’m taking way too many classes, all grad school level and in Japanese, and this time I’ll actually have to pass them. This will be interesting.


Finally managed to get a bit of travelling, see the sights, what not. It was pretty cool. I’ve grown weary of travelling over the years, but this round was quite refreshing, even though it was esentially me walking around a lot and spending way too much time reading in trains. Seriously, I’m in the land of Shinkansens and here I am spending 11 hours on a train to Hiroshima.


I’m still confused about my Japanese. Sometimes I’m all confident and awesome. Sometimes I get flustered and my level goes down the drain. Sometimes I read novels without having to look at the dictionary. Sometimes I avoid one-paper pamphelts because I can’t bring myself to read them. All in all, I got this, but I think I could use some more confidence.


I had made a resolution to become fluent in Spanish and conversational in Portuguese by August (when I’m taking a 2-month trip to avoid the Japanese summer), but that does not seem to be happening. 3 months into my resolution and I’ve not spent a single moment studying. My other resolution is to start learning Chinese in October for my Taiwan trip next February, and combined with my Chinese colleagues getting bored in class sometimes that means that I’m learning basic phrases rather quickly. Unexpected.


I also got to be a miko at the Penis festival. This was interesting. It’s my job for the next 5 years ^_^.


A lot of people have come and gone, and though I appreciated their presence in my life, I’m still pretty overwhelmed by this social life thing.


I still can’t believe these were all my posessions when i came to Japan. I have an apartment full of stuff now, like an adult and shit.




All in all, it’s been a pretty good year. Let’s hope that this one will have less anxiety. For now, I’m still going from idea to idea and from place to place, metaphysically speaking. It’s been a year full of revelations and rethinking and thinking about things that I’d never knew existed before. A lot of anxiety, a lot of frustation, but ultimately quite rewarding.

End of the year

Wow, what a year this has been. Flew by so fast, I didn’t get to do much, really.

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My one resolution last year was to get out of my slump. I did. Sort of. It’s been a rollercoaster. Me and Japanese? We’re love-hate. But it’s alright.


I rather like living in Japan. Sometimes I get all-Japanese experience. Other times I remember that I don’t interact with Japanese people, like at all. Sometimes I get along with them; sometimes I think it’s a bit too much of a bother. So, like normal people I guess. It’s really hard to de-orientalise things. Sometimes I chat with people on FB and they start asking things about how Japanese people are, and I can either honestly answer that it kind of depends really, or give them what they want, which is a really generalised desscription full of stereotypes that I learned about from the Internet and reinforce whenever possible.


I like Nagoya and its inaka like atmosphere. I managed to face Tokyo for the elections and found that I can find a nice relaxed atmosphere there as well. Guess they’re just normal cities after all – who would’ve guessed?


Sometimes I’m all hurr Japan is a weird place and I live an unstable and uncertain lifestyle which changes too quickly but that’s me more than Japan. It’s a bit weird how people come to sort of represent the places they’re at, even though if I were to describe myself in one word it would be ‘exception’. I lived a sheltered and good life in Romania so I am not really one to talk about what counts as normal there. I live a sheltered and good life here in Japan so I’m not really one to talk about what counts as normal here. IMG_0381

I am afraid or wary of many things and I am critical of many things but to be honest half the time that is because I didn’t even try, or it’s just me. I see all these lovely coffee shops and want to go it but find myself unable to do so, and many of my friends here stated that they share my fears but no one really knows why. I definitely feel that I stand out as a foreigner but to be frank almost all the Japanese people I’ve interacted with here have been nothing but lovely. I’ve seen very few acts of blatant racism, and I’ve had more words or obvious gestures of ‘you don’t belong here’ back in Romania.

Though I notice every 日本語は上手ですね.


So I guess all in all I don’t really know how I feel about Japan yet?

I keep waiting for the culture shock to hit, and am uncertain whether it’s hit me yet (it’s funny how ambiguous the whole thing is). I don’t really feel that much different from when I was just switching cities back in Romania. I have some moments where I outright blame Japan for whatever trivial matter bothers me, even though it’s not really the point. I sometimes complain about things ‘in Japan’ even though I’ve never experienced them differently, or had it way worse in Romania. I really, really, feel that I am expected to generalise things and do so without putting much thought into it. Been reading about Edward Said’s Orientalism lately, and trying to figure that shit out.


Speaking of Said, I don’t really do that many Japanese things. I’ve gone to like 5 festivals and events and it all felt really normal after a while. The first float I saw was amazing. The second was really cool. The third was with a tourist friend and I realised that I had very little interest in the whole matter. Weird how fast you just get used to it. Sometimes my friends post things about exotic or cool Japan on Facebook and I’m all ‘yeah that’s totally normal?’. Maybe I’m just a very blase kind of gal?

What I do, instead, is read like a motherfucker. Part grad school, part my own bookworminess, part my everlasting dread that I am really ignorant of worldly matters. I also spend a concerning amount of money on books. Almost all of them online, because *shrug*.


Grad school is interesting. I think that for me life in japan is maybe 90% normal grad school, 5% Japan, 5% first time of the country experience. Lots of anxiety, lots of worrying, lots of blase, a rollercoaster of emotions and books and theory and learning and reconsidering the world and worrying a lot.


(sometimes, having mochi thrown at you is a great reminder that oh my god you’re in Japan)

One thing that stood out for me is the consumerism around here. The conbinis, the stores, the convenience of it all. I’ve become really consumerist. Aside from the remarkable 30 pounds gained from all the conbini sugar that I’ve grown addicted to, I’ve really become rather disappointed with myself as a corporate being. I’m trying to cut down. I was blaming Japan for this.


But then I realised that my town has quite a few farmers markets and second hand stores (though book off is by far the biggest, and all of them are chains). There are non-chain coffee shops, though they *are* a fair bit more expensive. There *are* alternatives, I just stopped seeing them for a while there.


I mean, it’s not like Romania doesn’t have malls. I’m fairly sure my experience of never having bought anything at a mall is a really individual one. I just avoided them. Part of it was the convenience; malls are expensive, local second hand shops are cheap. You have to go out of your way to go to the mall,whereas the local shops are everywhere. My lifestyle was definitely easier in Romania, but that was because I had trained myself for it, and because I stopped considering the malls and retailers as viable options. Here, I embraced them instantly. I’m trying to slowly change that.


There is definitely a lot of peer pressure against it, though unsurprisingly it’s not just Japanese. My host in Tokyo had never walked from Shibuya to Roppongi. My friends here take the subway. When looking for an apt, I was met with a lot of surprise when I stated that I wanted to live a bit farther away from Uni to avoid convenience. Frankly, whenever I say no to convenience I feel like a prick.


And though it seems to be a general thing, it is definitely worse with Japanese people. I like them, I really do, but going for a night out with Japanese people is *weird*. It’s oddly organised and quite expensive, and I’m never exactly sure why.


A tax on convenience? A tax on social life? it sounds rather legit. I’m sure they’re normal everywhere.


I guess I should just try to figure myself out more.


Oh, but one thing about Japant hat I *can* generalise. The weather sucks balls. Throughout the year. If it’s not the amazing heat it’s the od-awful wind, the way too strong sun which burns my sensible European skin, the cold, oh my god the god-awful cold, it’s 30 degrees warmer than my home town but I feel constantly cold. The weather here is awful. Seriously awful. I mean, May and October-November were Ok. But aside from that? AWFUL.


And what is up with these houses? I am seriously freezing inside my own hourse. And at school. my knees have started hurting like an old man, and the constantly-on AC (cold in Summer, hot in winter) might have something to do with it. Why don’t these people thermally isolate their houses? Dear god. And I live in a corner room, so all my walls are FREEZING to the touch. The cold is embedded in everything. I feel it in my bones. Even though, temperature wise, it is what I would call late autumn.


I mean it; This is the kind of weather in which I go outside and take off my coat, then I go back indoors and put on a few sweaters while cuddling with my hot water bottle.


So yeah, that’s about that for this year. It was a good year. I guess. Now, to gather up the courage to leave the bed…

I’m totally alive guys


Life in Japan:
I have to read a lot and catch up a lot and live through impostor syndrome (I hear this is universal for postgrads around the world)

I’ve embraced conbini culture and eating out since I don’t have time to cook much (I hear this is universal for students everywhere). Somewhat related, i gained like 10 kg in 2 months. Like, wow.

I was also so stressed that my hair went crazy and I just cut it all off.
My Japanese doesn’t really feel like it’s improved despite my using it on a daily basis.
I got over my burnout :D:D:D:D
I have my admission exam in February and it’s a really hard Japanese language test D:D:D:D: because….
I’ve decided to do my postgrad in Japanese D:D:D:D:
The bureaucracy continues to be hell.
Been reading a lot of よしもとばなな lately.
Actually, been reading a lot, full stop.

I’ve been sunburned almost every day since April, despite the 50SPF sunscreen and my 99% UV block parasols. My skin is *awful*.
I’ve come to be wary of English, the academia, the Humanities, my concepts about Japan, my concepts around the world.
I’ve come to realise that I grew up in a really isolated community and that getting out of my country is not running away from it so much as gaining new perspective.
It’s really amazing to be in a university setting here (I think this goes for *any* renowed university in the world).
I’ve embraced my gaijin bubble.
I’ve only left my prefecture once in the past 6 months.
People ask me about japan and I can’t say that I’ve gotten much first-hand information on it. Whenever anyone questions things about it I tell them the stuff I know from books. This despite having talked to dozens of Japanese people since I’ve come here. It’s a bit weird, me and Japanese people. I’ve bonded with people from the US, from Australia, from South America, from Europe, from the Phillipines, from India, from China, but though I’ve talked to more people from Japan than from anywhere else I’ve not really felt that much bonding.
Japanese people think my Japanese is really cute.
The one time I left Nagoya everyone kept talking to me in English and I felt so bad since Japanese people can’t understand my accent but they try really hard. It made me really appreciate Nagoya since it’s a place where people default to Japanese and only switch to English if they’re really fluent in it (which makes sense), if there are people around speaking English (which makes sense), or if they’re only talking to you for kaiwa practice (which is helpful since I know not to stick around).
I get really flustered about what language to talk to foreigners when I meet them in the wild. Speaking of which, why *do* I notice foreigners in the wild? I swear, I’ve remembered a crazy amount of faces of people I never talked to despite having huge problems with face sin general. I also have this interesting phenomenon wherein I find myself sitting around foreigners, even if I’m not actively engaging them (case in point: I went to a 200 people parade last Saturday which had a grand total of 7 foreigners. I somehow, when completely randomly joinining in, managed to get right in the middle of it. Me and my friends actually tried to separate ourselves a bit further back or in front but we kept ending up in the middle of it. It was odd. I’ve had this happen multiple times, rarely consciously.

Things that I have trouble with that I wasn’t expecting:
Names. I learned Aristotle as “Ah-rees-toe-tell”, and had to familiarise myself with the English pronounciation of Aristotle as well as the Japanese one of アリストテレス. This goes for almost every name I’ve ever studied.
Academic terms.
Academic concepts.
The concept of research.
Taking notes.
That awkward moment when you actually start figuring out things in your field and then you can’t to back to being normal about things. A.k.a. did you ever deconstruct institutionalised values so hard that you don’t really know what’s genuinely your own thoughts and what’s simply your perpetuating embedded cultural values?
Cafes. Japanese has many corporate cafes and chain stores and izakayas. It has some genuine cafes, but I’m always afraid of going in since I feel like I’m intruding. It’s all really expensive. I never realised how much I need cafes in my life.
Whenever I meet someone from the same side of the continent as me I talk about things we have in common, which made me reconsider my country’s history from a colonial perspective and made me realise that we fit colonial values way more than I had ever thought.
I’m totally impolite. I cam here being all です・ます and then when I realised that people don’t talk like that to one another I dropped it for casual speech. Now I find it genuinely hard to go polite. Fairly sure I forgot my keigo entirely. On the plus side people compliment my Japanese all the time (not in the 日本語は上手ですね way), so that’s pretty cool.
Being a 早口 is both a blessing and a curse. on the plus side, you sound crazy fluent. On the other side, fewer people understand you than if you were to talk like a normal person. This goes for japanese and, to a much greater extent, to English.

God I miss dairy products.

Food habits

Almost 2 months in and I think I’m starting to get a hang of the food here. Sort of.






Whenever I go out I’m still pretty confused by everything. I have no idea how to eat many things. Usually I just wait for someone else to start eating and do that they do. If it’s a group outing I just have other people order things, and then silently blink back the tears as I realize that i have no idea what I’m eating and therefore it is unlikely that I’ll have it again since I don’t know what to order.



But in truth, I don’t eat out all that much. Not even at the cafeteria. I just had my first bento lunch last week, which amazed everyone. I’ve not had tempura yet; I don’t think I’ve even seen a place with tempura. I’ve eaten at the cheap cafeteria about 5 times, almost all of them in the very first week. This confuses many people.


And I can see why, frankly. 300-700 yen for a meal out in town sounds really cheap, especially for  Japan. It’s delicious. It’s also ridiculously fattening, sodium filled, and in huge portions (no idea where the  “Japanese people eat low-fat small portions” myth started from, but trust me, it’s a lie). If I eat out, it’s only for social reasons; there is just no good reason to do so otherwise. Going out in Japan is crazy expensive compared to staying at home, and food is no exception. Seriously, how do these people get social lives? One coffee at a cheap cafe costs more than a bag of coffee that lasts you a few weeks, one beer in town is roughly 7 beers in the supermarket, and one meal in town is tenfold compared to buying it frozen. Image

And I’m not talking conbini fast food here. Nor about crazy sales-hunting habits. Not even about being extra picky. You don’t even have to be a good cook. You just have to adapt a bit and voila, everything becomes cheap.

Everything Western is expensive and most likely low quality. I have already accepted the fact that I won’t feel taste of sour cream, cheese or tomatoes again anytime soon. Seriously, this thing was supposed to be sour cream. It was pretty expensive too.


Cheese is low quality and highly expensive (and hard to find); tofu is 45 yen for 350g. Western sausages are 500+ yen for a small kinda tasteless bag; fish sausages are 40 yen a pop. Tomatoes, bell peppers, etc. are 100 yen a pop, and they don’t pack much taste (this is highly subjective, by the way, as people from the US haven’t complained about it much but for someone growing up on a farm they might as well be made of plastic), but cucumbers are pretty damned good. And 200 yen for about 6-7 big ones. Apples are ridiculously expensive (haven’t even tried one because I am *not* paying that much for an apple), but bananas are as cheap 90 yen for a hand. rice averages at 300 yen/kg if you buy it in bulk. 200g of beans is under 100yen. Western pasta is about 200 yen for a small bag, but yakisoba or udon is affordable. Things get really cheap really fast (though it’s ridiculously easy to overdo it). Lots of my meals are less than 100yen, and they’re not exactly cup ramen (had it once; it was like an explosion of salt that left me hungrier than i was before I ate it).

Of course, there is that problem of everything is different to what I know, I live in a dorm room equipped with a single-burner-kitchinette, so I have to relearn cooking from scratch. After a few more-or-less successful experiments with food that I used to know how to make, I’ve decided to redo it from scratch. My cooking style, that is.


(these sarmale cost me a fortune, but they were delicious)

It was a bit weird at first; I still don’t really know what I’m buying half the time. As in, I know what they are but not how to cook them. I recently bought a bag of kintoki beans and spent quite a bit of time googling how to cook them before realizing that they were already cooked and could be eaten as such. They were absolutely delicious, by the way. I’ve basically given up on recipes completely. I just throw some rice in the rice cooker and throw a bunch of stuff on it to see what happens. It’s rare that the result isn’t pleasing. Very not-washoku style, though. I like to joke about how I’ve turned into an everything-is-yasai-itame kinda gal, where I just throw a bunch of stuff together and call it yasai itame to make it sound legit. For the record, every Japanese person that I’ve told this to said that they do the same, but with yakisoba or curry. It’s all good.

That being said, I definitely have a problem. I am fairly sure that I eat more sweets in a week here than I used to in a month. It’s just so easy to go to the conbini and want to try out a new type of pan, maybe some funny looking candy, a new kind of pocky, and get a delicious daifuku while you’re at it. But it really piles up, and I think I’ve built a sugar addiction =/.

By the way, to put everything into numbers…

Money spent on food this month: almost 16.000 yen. 6000 were spent eating out 8 times, 3000 on various ready-made sweets, and the other 7000 on groceries.