かりゆし58 & My Progress Update

My Okinawan friend recently introduced me to a really amazing Okinawan band called Kariyushi 58, and I’ve been listening to their music non-stop for close to a month now. I don’t always have something well thought out or profound to say about Japanese (to be perfectly honest, I’ve been distracted this week so I haven’t studied as much as I planned) so today I’m just going to post a few YouTube Videos of the songs I’ve been listening to, I hope you like them.

This last one is a live version, and I feel like it really gives you a good feel for their personality and spirit. These guys are really uplifting.



I finished the book “上級へのとびら” last week, and I moved on to the second book on my plan: “日本文化を読む”. So far, it’s pushing me harder than any text book I’ve used so far. The vocab is really intense, using mostly kanji I’ve never even seen before. I’m 2 chapters into the book and i’ve learned over 300 new words already! I just hope I can remember them all…



Live Like Great Teacher Onizuka

I just finished watching the live action drama version of “GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka”, and I was so moved that I think I can actually say Onizuka changed my life. Like a lot of anime fans, I also really liked the “Great Teacher Onizuka” manga and animated series as well, but there was something about the live action version that touched me in a way that the anime couldn’t. I was on the brink of tears at the climax of almost every episode. I found myself thinking about Onizuka while I wasn’t watching the series, contemplating ways that I can improve myself in his light, or wondering what he would say about my problems and situations.

Who is Onizuka Eikichi?

Onizuka is a biker gang delinquent turned high school teacher. He graduated from a 3rd rate college, he’s not particularly smart or good at studying, but he loves kids and he wants to change the world. What more could you want in a teacher?

What makes Onizuka Eikichi so great?

For starters, how many characters exist in American literature (television, movies or print) who are as inspiring, caring, fun-loving and tough all at the same time as Onizuka? As a character alone, Onizuka is incredibly loveable. He plays video games, he ditches school for “open air lessons”, he shoots fireworks off the roof of the school and he beats the crap out of adults who disrespect his students. He has a condom with the message “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR FIRST TIME” written on the wrapper, and he’s saving it for his one and only love. He has real a real sense of morality. He’s a fighter when he needs to protect those who are weaker than him, he’s gentle when his people need him to comfort them, and he knows how to practice tough love when his people don’t know what’s best for themselves.

He cries too. Not when he’s sad or upset though, only when he’s happy or he’s going to miss someone who’s gone off chasing their dreams. A real Onizuka-Man doesn’t cry when he can’t get what he wants, he just fights harder until he does. He’ll cry when his student’s accomplish their dreams though, and he’ll cry when they express their studently love for him. And when he cries, he cries with the biggest smile on his face.

What does Onizuka do when someone challenges him? If the challenge is stupid he’ll take it seriously (who can stand still in front of an on-coming truck the longest perhaps?). But if the challenge is serious, he’ll take it like a joke.

“Onizuka-Sensei, if you don’t pass this test, you’ll be fired! What do you have to say about this?!”

“MY HORSE WON! THAT’S $100 IN MY POCKET! YES! I’m sorry, were you talking?”


“Onizuka-Sensei, if you can’t beat me at Street Fighter, I’ll never acknowledge you as my homeroom teacher!”

“Bring it on! I’m a 5th degree black belt!”

When one of his female students is about to be raped by a bunch of boys, Onizuka ruthlessly pummels them into the ground, and then searches for her lost necklace with her until morning despite a very important appointment first thing in the morning. When one of the boys in his class is being bullied, he hangs the bully over the roof of the school by her feet to teach her what fear feels like. When these kids are in tears and or bloody after his “extra-curricular lessons”, what does Onizuka do? He pats them on the head with a big smile and says “well, there you go, you won’t be doing that again will you?” and walks away.

Most important of all, though; is that Onizuka seriously believes in everyone. He knows that everyone around him has an inherent goodness, even if they’re behaving badly. It’s all temporary to him, he treats them like they’re really just good people who’ve lost their way a little bit and just need a good lesson to open their eyes. Onizuka looks at his students with tears in his eyes and a grin on his face and yells “You guys are all… GREAT!”

If he has a dream, he follows it relentlessly. If his students have dreams, he smacks them around (mentally or physically, whichever works better for the student in question) until they understand how to follow their dreams and DO IT. Life is about dreams to Onizuka. What’s the point of living if you can’t follow you dreams?

What’s Onizuka’s one and only motto in life:

“Whatever you do, be GREAT!”

Those are words we can all live by.

CONCLUSION: I know this drama is old school, but just watch it. It’s pretty much the most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I don’t care that Onizuka is fictional, he’s a life changer. I give this series 10/10.

Personality Split

One of my friends told me over the weekend that my personality changes when I speak English and when I speak Japanese. She had never heard me speak English before and she is bilingual, so she’s probably a very good judge of personality in speech styles. We were speaking Japanese most of the evening, and I was speaking my normal “silly Japanese”, which is when I purposely fake a Yankee accent or Osaka-Ben. She told me it sounded “funny” when I did that, but I chose not to take that to heart. I like the way I speak Japanese, it reflects just how I feel when I’m speaking it: silly happy.

When I spoke English however, she said that my personality seemed to completely change. She said I had a “sekinin-kan” or “a sense of responsibility”. Well, I always have a sense of responsibility, that’s just the kind of person I am. Is it possible that the way I speak Japanese, while serving the purpose raising the spirits of those around me and allowing me to have the most fun possible, might also make me look… irresponsible? Do I sound like a delinquent when I speak Japanese? Do I sound stupid? Do I care?

There’s a pretty obvious reason for this split. When you speak a foreign language naturally, you are forging a speech style. I am not a native Japanese speaker. Japanese isn’t my base language. My real self is still “in English”, and it probably always will be. So when I’m speaking English, that’s the real me. That’s the “my focus isn’t on language but content” me. When I’m speaking Japanese, I have to concentrate on my language, almost more so than on content. I have to actively pursue natural sounding Japanese. I choose my incorrect conjugations, contractions and slurs very carefully to sound like a real Japanese person. No one really speaks like the text books teach. The real stuff is learned on the street, but unless you grew up there that stuff won’t come naturally to you. You have to make it a part of your speech, and that takes concentration.

I actually sat down one day and thought “what is the best way for me to talk in Japanese to try to express my personality appropriately?” I consider myself to be a little bit wild, a little bit strong headed, and a little bit reckless. I do what I want, I follow my dreams, and I don’t take no for an answer. I don’t like to be controlled and I face challenge with a grin. What’s the best speech style for a person like that? Yankee-Talk, right?

Well, now I’m not so sure. Now that a real Japanese person has told me that my personality seems different in English, I’m realizing that from a pure language standpoint, maybe this speech-style doesn’t work for me. I don’t mess up English usually. I don’t say things like “ain’t” or “got nothin’”, and I don’t talk like a gangsta. Yet I don’t feel like the gentle calm soul that correct careful Japanese portrays.

A real “Badass” is tough on the inside, not just on the outside. A real badass wouldn’t be thinking about “how do I talk to sound badass”. He talks how he talks, and if anyone has a problem with it they can get lost. Well, I have to think about how to talk, so maybe I should just speak Japanese like I speak English: correctly and with a “sekinin-kan”.

Don’t Forget Where You Come From

It’s easy to lose yourself in the quest for complete language immersion. I’ve said recently, more often than just once or twice, that I almost exclusively listen to Japanese music, watch Japanese TV, and read Japanese Magazines, books and Manga. Is this good for my Japanese? Of course, it’s made me nearly fluent without ever actually going to Japan for a substantial amount of time. But is this good for my identity as an American? I’m beginning to think that it’s not.

I live in Chicago. My family is Caucasian. I don’t live in a heavily Japanese neighborhood. Almost all of my friends are Japanese and somehow I’ve managed to spend more than 50% of each day living in a virtual Japan. I now identify more with Japanese people than I do with Americans.

I see people talking loudly on the train and I look at them out of the corner of my eye thinking “jeez they’re loud. They have no sense of social proximity.” I have found that I now have trouble establishing and maintaining strong eye contact when I’m speaking to someone; I have to break away and look at something else for a moment.  I am now overly sensitive to word choice over content.

This is just a small list of Japanese habits and thought patterns that I’ve inherited recently that don’t work particularly well in American society. Of course there are some benefits as well, as any culture has aspects that one would do well to learn from.

For instance, I am now much more polite. I can tell what someone’s thinking without them speaking, simply by reading their gestures, tone of voice and posture. I know what someone really wants to say from hearing them “non-answer.” I have a stronger work ethic and a deeper sense of hierarchical respect than I used to.

Now, all of these things I’m complaining about, anyone can look at and say “that’s not a big deal, get over it.” But here’s where the problem lies.

Let’s pretend I meet an American girl, and she says “do you like this singer?” and I say “I’ve never heard him before, who is he?” She says “OMG, he’s at the top of the charts right now! How could you NOT know him?” and since I am now more Japanese than American, I think “you don’t mean the Oricon Charts do you? Unless it’s Oricon I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What’s your favorite TV show?”

“I don’t watch American TV”

“Who’s your favorite actor?”

“Kimura Takuya”

“Who the heck is that?”

I don’t relate to my own people easily any more. These are superficial examples, I’m aware of that. But every new relationship starts on the superficial level and then moves deeper.

“Why do you love Japan so much?”

“there are so many reasons, it would take a week to explain.”

“ok, what’s not good enough about America?”

“I don’t remember any more.”

People like me are no longer full on American, and we’re not Japanese. We fall somewhere in the middle, but there’s really not a place in the middle to be. It’s like deciding that your best place in life is the hallway between the waiting room and the examination room at the doctor’s office. You can’t stay there forever, either go home or get a checkup.

There’s nothing wrong with loving another culture and the people who live it. There is something wrong with forcing your way into that culture when you can’t stay there forever.

We need to learn how to love Japan as real Americans (if America is where you’re from), not as a proxy-Japanese.

Are You Japanese?

It was my friend FK’s birthday yesterday and one of his friends (who I’ve met once) invited me to a surprise party for him at a Chinese restaurant. She told us all to be there by 7 PM because she would be arriving with FK at around 7:30. I arrived a few minutes early, and since I didn’t want to be the first person to arrive in a group of people who I mostly didn’t know, I sat in my car and stared at the clock. When 5 minutes passed, I decided to finally enter the restaurant, only to find that there was only one other person there: KR, a guy I’ve met a few times. We filled out a birthday card while we waited for the hostess to seat us at our table for 14, and naturally I forgot how to write the kanji for “birthday.” Where’s my electric dictionary when I need it?

Our huge round table was in a special room towards the back of the restaurant, and in this room were two more empty, huge round tables. We sat down and one by one people began to trickle in. It seemed to me that KR also didn’t know most of these people yet, so I got the pleasure of experiencing the “nice to meet you” moment alongside him. Have you ever had that moment in Japanese? Here’s how it goes. (Please keep in mind that this is not word for word how it went, but a rough translation from Japanese into English)

ME: Um, KR-san, is this your first time meeting this guy too?

KR: Yeah, I’ve never met him before.

Both of us half stand up, hunched over like we have stomach aches.

KR: Ah, Ni…Nice to meet you. I’m KR.

Stranger: Nice to meet you, I’m XX.

Ok, here’s what I’m inevitably thinking at this point. Very soon it’ll be my turn to introduce myself and exchange pleasantries. There are two ways this can go: one way I look like a jerk, and one way I probably don’t (although who really knows?). If this new Japanese guy, XX, introduces himself to me before I introduce myself to him, he’ll definitely speak English to me. That’s obvious, I mean, I’m white and since he has never met me before, he has absolutely no reason to think I speak Japanese. If he introduces himself to me in English, but I respond in Japanese, I look like a grade-A jerk. He’ll think his English wasn’t good enough for me to bother listening to or responding to, and he’ll think that I have decided my Japanese is better than his English. I’ll look selfish and rude. After that attempt by him to speak English with me, if I start speaking Japanese later, it’ll only seem strange and forced – like I am struggling to practice Japanese and not like I just naturally speak it and belong to the group that I am here with.

My solution is to introduce myself to XX before he has a chance to introduce himself to me, and I do it in Japanese so there won’t be an uncomfortable “oh yeah by the way I speak Japanese” moment later on.

ME: Nice to meet you, I’m Elliott.

XX: EH! Ni-nice to meet you! I’m XX. Um… are you… Japanese?

Did he just ask me if I’m Japanese? Oh my… this is now officially an awesome day. He has no idea how happy he just made me. He didn’t just say “wow, your Japanse is good!” which is how Japanese people usually compliment a racially non-Japanese person who speaks Japanese. He actually thought I am Japanese. This was a first for me. I’m not going to lie, it felt really good. What am I learning this language for if I don’t want to sound like a real Japanese person, right? It just means I’m accomplishing my goals as planned.

ME: Nah, I’m American.

XX: Ah, yeah that makes sense, of course.

I don’t like to give more information than that unless asked. Usually I’ll be asked why I speak Japanese (since I didn’t grow up there), and then when I say that it’s simply because I study obsessively and have a lot of Japanese friends they will usually ask me why I’m interested in Japanese. There are a lot of answers to that question, but the big one that I like to give (that’s easiest to talk about and easiest for people to relate to) is that I did karate all through my childhood, and studying Japanese was the natural progression of things when I went to high school.

The rest of our party arrives, all Japanese, and half of them I have never met. I repeat the situation above with each of them (they don’t all think I’m Japanese, but I introduce myself just the same). By this point, the other two parties have arrived. They’re also Japanese. Is this a special room for Japanese customers? I am now the only American in a room of maybe 30 Japanese, all speaking Japanese. I have never felt more like I was in Japan than I did last night… and we were in a Chinese restaurant.

Now, usually my Japanese friends like to speak English with me at least some of the time. But when in a room full of Japanese people, I guess the mood just takes over and they forget about it. They were at home. The whole situation became somewhat of a “we’ll speak Japanese normally with each other. Elliott will sink or swim” scenario. Well, lucky for me, I live for sink or swim. This is what I’ve always wanted. How do I measure up in a room full of Japanese people who aren’t slowing down their language to my level? Do I understand? Can I participate?

If I had to grade myself on last night, I’d give myself an 90%. I had to adapt myself to the situation. I sat back and just listened for a while to get a feel for the flow of conversation. Eventually I began to interject into the conversation, and almost every time I opened my mouth, everyone stopped to listen to me. Actually, this was kind of intimidating. But I can’t blame them, they were curious and excited to hear me speak Japanese. They also probably wanted to make sure I wasn’t being interrupted or confused by peripheral conversation.

I messed up my grammar a couple times, I had to maneuver around a few vocabulary words that I didn’t remember, and I occasionally didn’t understand what people were talking about. That last problem could very easily be due to a lack of context, however, since some of these people already knew each other. I won’t take off too many points for that. I’d say that overall, I didn’t sink.

I was in the middle of saying something when a 10 year old Japanese girl needed to sneak behind me to get out to the bathroom. When she walked by me she said,

「すみません」 excuse me.

A little girl I don’t know said “excuse me” in Japanese. She thought I was Japanese too.

The waitress came by and asked me if I wanted more water.

“oh, yes please. Thank you. And can I please have another napkin?” I answered in English.

“Wow! Your English is good!” Said one of my Japanese friends (in Japanese).

Everyone stopped and looked at her. We all laughed.

For the first time all night, I didn’t know what to say.


If you’re in a situation where you’re a little bit intimidated by the amount and level of Japanese being spoken, just sit back and relax. Let it come to you. They will understand your efforts to learn and practice Japanese. If you mess something up, just keep going. They won’t stop you and say “Jeez, I can’t believe u screwed that up. You suck at Japanese.” They’ll keep listening politely, even if you aren’t making any sense. So talk, have fun, and jump in the deep end. You won’t drown.

One Final Note:

I am not making fun of any of the people I have described in this post. They are all my friends, and I talk about them with the utmost affection. Obviously, when I say that I think it’s cool that they ask me if I’m Japanese, I don’t mean that they are asking me if I’m racially Japanese. I mean that they’re asking if I grew up in Japan. I write about this topic from a place of humility, and realize that while I do consider myself to be an advanced language learner, I do not consider myself completely fluent.

The Hidden Magic of Singing in Your Car

In modern America, it would seem that there is one place where a person’s true nature comes out with un-compromised purity. In this place people shed their shells of embarrassment and discomfort and behave as the innermost core of their soul dictates, unaware of the reactions of other people and unashamed to behave like idiots. What is this magical place?

The driver’s seat of a car when no one is riding shotgun.

I am not exempt from this pattern.  My car is packed to the brim with Japanese music. I have one American CD (The Killers “Hot Fuss”) and about 20 Japanese CD’s. When I’m driving alone to work in the morning, or home from work at night, I almost always listen to these Japanese CD’s, and at first it is just that: listening. But after a few minutes, a tune will come on that I love so much (let’s just say it’s SMAP: “Dear Woman”) that I start to mouth the words.


I turn up the volume.  I almost can’t help but to blast my speakers.


Before long I’m screaming along with the lyrics, even if I don’t know what every word means, I’ve heard it so many times that it doesn’t matter anymore. I just know the song.


I’m sure I look like a maniac when people are stopped next to me at a red light, but I could care less. The window is closed and I’ll never see them again. So what’s to stop my glorious performance?


きれいだね、君こそ我が誇りDear WOMAN!

Then I move on to Yuzu “Sayonara Bus”, then Hilcrhyme “Daijoubu”, then Mongol 800 “Chiisana Koi no Uta”….

Can you imagine how good this is for my Japanese, and how good it could be for yours?

I listen to the same song over and over again, and if I realize there’s a word I don’t know somewhere in the lyrics, I look it up when I get home. A good website to help with that is 歌マップ, which is listed on my blogroll. You can search for music by artist, then by song, and you’ll find the lyrics to just about any Japanese song. After checking out the lyrics, I listen to the song again. Next time I drive some place, I can really let loose.

A lot of people are embarrassed to speak Japanese in front of real Japanese people because they are afraid their accents won’t be good enough. Well, there’s no fear when you’re driving alone in your car. No one is listening. No one is watching. You can stink to your heart’s content and no one will ever know. It’s unashamed, unrestrained practice. The more you sing, the more you can work to match your voice with those of the singers. Match their tone, match their pitch, match their rhythm. Essentially, mimic their flawlessly natural Japanese accents. And no one can make fun of you.

There’s another way to look at this whole thing. Is there really any fundamental difference between what I’m talking about here and the mundane listening practice your Japanese teacher makes you do in class?


To be perfectly honest, none of us really care about Alice and Tanaka-san, or how much they wish they could get out of the library and just go on a date already.  But we do care about music that we like. Music stirs up emotion. It’s fun. It takes all the study out studying. I’ve met a lot of people over the years who learned Japanese as a second language, and those who listen to Japanese music regularly are among the most skilled.

So next time you get in a car when no one’s around, blast L’arc En Ciel or Yui and be a rock star. You may never get a record label, but you’ll be better at Japanese.

Discover Kimutaku: Part 3

Welcome back to my mini-series, “Discover Kimutaku”! I hope you all had a great Christmas weekend! Can you possibly imagine a better way to start the last week of 2010 than the shocking conclusion of Kimura Takuya’s interview? Well, let’s get rolling.

What are your plans for tomorrow?

The beach, and playing with dirt.

What’s your favorite season?


What is one place you would like to try to live at in the future?

I’m always debating this with myself. Maybe Malibu.

Of all the places you’ve been, which place impressed you the most?

Utah in the United States. Where the Utah family of Native Americans lives.

What is one place that you’ve never been, but want to go to no matter what?

Barcelona, Spain.

What age is your oldest memory of?

Kindergarten, I think.

Do you watch foreign dramas?

I do.

What is your favorite foreign drama?

I love “Dr. House.” *

What part of Yakiniku* do you like the most?

Skirt steak!

What do you often eat when you go out?


What was the first movie you ever saw in a movie theater?

“Space Battleship Yamato” or “Tomorrow’s Joe”. Which one is older? Ah! Yamato? Then it was Yamato!

What is something that, if you lost it, you’d be in serious trouble?

Right now, my cell phone.

What antique clothing do you take the best care of?


How do you decide to buy antique clothing?

If it’s called antique.

How long to you sit in the bath tub usually?

45 minutes!

What part of your body do you wash first when you take a bath?

I start with my head.

On average, how many hours do you sleep each night?

5 to 6 hours.

Are you a morning person? Or a night person?

These days I’m a morning person.

Are you good at waking up?


What do you do first thing when you wake up in the morning?

I gargle.

What is a Kimura-esque power spot?

The ocean.

[skipping one question and answer that I don’t think is interesting and I don’t think any of you guys will care about – it’s about what rout he takes when he drives to work in the morning]

What is something you often do when working on “Smap X Smap”?*

Instead of spending time with the group, I tend to talk to the studio staff.

Of all the characters you’ve played so far, who is the most like yourself?

Kuryuu Kouhei (“HERO”)*

What is something women do that really turns you on?

Something they do… rather than that, it’s more like I love to see a woman who is totally immersed in her work.

Have you failed at anything recently that made you think “Oh shit, I really did it now!”

I cracked a glass that I really loved.

What is your favorite word?


Are you good at drawing portraits?


Do you bring small luggage on trips? Or big luggage?

Small luggage.

Do you do laundry before you go on vacation? Or do you leave it?

Laundry?! … I do it!

What “friend making scene” in “One Piece” do you like the most?


If you could date any female character from “One Piece”, who would it be?

Eh—- I wonder who…

What’s your favorite Science Fiction movie?

“Star Wars”

Until you were 20, what was one thing you thought “I must do”?

I wanted to do a part time job.

How many CD’s do you own?

As many as 200.

What music do you normally listen to in the car?

I listen to Steven Tyler constantly right now; it’s the opening song for “Space Battle Ship Yamato”. But if I’m driving stick shift I don’t listen to music.

What is one thing about yourself that you feel like you can brag about to others?


When was the last time you cried?

Right after the Chilean mining accident. When the miners were saved, they each came out and hugged their families.

And the last time you laughed like an idiot?

When I saw a puppy at the pet shop.

Did you believe in Santa Clause as a kid?

I did.

Until when?

Until first grade probably.

What do you want this Christmas?

Well, my birthday comes before Christmas you know. But if I was going to get something from Santa, I guess I’d want a Goro’s Accessory. Not Goro-Chan the SMAP member of course. I’m talking about Goro’s in Harajuku*.

If you were Santa what would you give to Moriyuki as a present?

Shampoo and treatment.

Please teach us how to motivate ourselves like you.

Um…. Watch movies!

If you were a director, what kind of theme or genre would you like to shoot?

Before I talk about what kind of “theme or genre”, the question of “if I was a director” is really loaded. Being a director is a very difficult job. If the timing was ever right, I think I’d like to try directing.

Who do you consider to be your hero at this point in life?

Akashiya Sanma-san.

Is there something you do regularly to take care of your health?

I gargle. And I wash my hands.

And that concludes the “Men’s Non-No” Kimura Takuya interview! I hope you enjoyed reading! Stay tuned for my discussion session in “Discover Kimutaku: Epilogue”!


*He means “House M.D.”

*grilled meat, often cooked by customers at a table in a restaurant over coals

*Kimura Takuya’s boy band is called “Smap”, and their weekly variety television show is called “Smap X Smap”

*Kuryuu Kouhei, if you haven’t seen the drama, is a lovable, goofy and relentlessly passionate and determined prosecutor who will stop at nothing to find the truth in every case he takes on, no matter how small – be it a panty thief or a murderer. I love that drama. I highly recommend you watch it if you like Kimura Takuya. I’ve seen it twice and I could watch it a third time without being bored.

*Kokorozashi = will, intention or motive. This seems fitting, if you know anything about the characters he tends to play.

*Harajuku is a street in Tokyo that is pretty much all clothing stores, and it’s really edgy. Not like classy clothing, almost like exclusively goth or biker clothing. At least that’s what it was like when I went there.

[Interview and Pictures from “Men’s Non-No” Magazine]