Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spam, Eggs, and Rice

Hawaiian culture is like Spam, eggs, and rice.

The American culture present in Hawaii would be the eggs. It is, after all, the 50th state. What makes it American? Well, besides the fact that English is spoken and the dollar is accepted, it still feels like the mainland. You have burger joints, pizzerias, and taco trucks all on the same block. People across all races and cultures mix together creating a melting pot.

Want some pizza with that ramen?

Unlike the mainland, though, there is a stronger Asian influence that is apparent in everyday life. Most noticeable is Japanese culture. Since Hawaii caters to Japanese tourists, many stores and restaurants will have signs in Japanese. Some malls and stores won't even bother English at all. Moreover, Japanese is commonly heard on the street, particularly in more touristy areas. 

However, you can't say it's only the flocks of Japanese tourists that make Hawaii seem like Japan. For example, for you Hawaiians out there, how do you say 'yakiniku' in English? This influence of Japanese culture is not limited to the language either. Hawaii may be lacking the ever present コンビニ, but at least in Waikiki, how far do you have to walk to find an ABC store? (Answer: 1 block) They sell everything from beach gear to gifts to booze to... spam musubi? It's like a Hawaiian Famima

So in our breakfast analogy, this part of Hawaiian culture is the rice.

"Wait, Hawaii isn't it's own country?" -Common Japanese Misconception

Yet even with these two cultures, Oahu has managed to maintain its own, well, Hawaiian-ness. The Spam, so to speak. Locals use the 'hang loose' sign to mean chill out. When you don't hear English or Japanese, you'll hear 'Pigeon,' a pidgin English and Hawaiian mix. And even if you don't understand a word of it, you pick up aloha and mohalo pretty quick--from the moment you step off the plane, you hear them used constantly.

Put them all together and we create the perfect breakfast that is uniquely Hawaii.

Spam, eggs, and rice--even at McDonalds

The result is a destination that may be touristy, but it's touristy for a reason. Its amazing weather, friendly locals, and scenic beauty notwithstanding, Hawaii's blend of mainland, Asian, and Pacific Island influences provides a cultural experience that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

So to Hawaii, I say Aloha for now, maholo for a great trip, and a hui hou!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock

Don't get me wrong. I still have my American tendencies. I'm loud when I laugh. I like standing out when the occasion calls for it. I love my McDonalds. However, I have had a bit of reverse culture shock coming back to the states. I noticed it right away, and in just these few days, I've accumulated a short list of... things I appreciate about Japan. Below are some of my observations after living abroad for over half a year.

--Price of soft drinks
In Japan, I can be sure that a bottle of soda will cost 150 yen and a can 120 yen. Anything less (like a 100 yen vending machine or buying a bottle of soda for 88 yen at a grocery store) is a steal. However, most of the time, I can be assured that I will get ripped off no matter where I go. It's sort of nice to know--no matter what I do, which Lawson or 7/11 I go to, the price is uniformly expensive. Everyone is equally screwed.

In Hawaii/USA, the price varies depending on where you go. Some stores will sell it for a lot more (like an ABC store versus a Longs Drugs). It may still be cheaper than getting a drink in Japan, but it sucks to buy a 20 oz. soda for $2 only to find a vending machine down the street that sells it for $1.25. It's not the price. It's the principle.

--Being able to cuss/use slang without being understood
Don't lie--you do it too. When you can use words that would make a sailor blush because you know people around you don't understand... it's sort of natural to let loose. English in Japan is spoken somewhat (though less so in my area), but when you use slang and other colorful language, most people won't understand (with the exception of the F-word).

In other words, I have to watch my mouth in front here. I mean, think of the kids.

--Talking on your cell phone on public transportation
I know it's really not that big of a deal, and I used to do it too. But seriously? If you're going to talk on the phone on a bus, use an indoor voice. Your cell phone microphone picks up your voice fine, so there's no reason to raise your voice as if you're talking on a Nokia brick from the 90's.

In Japan, I've gotten scolded by an obachan only once for answering my phone on a bus. That was enough.

--Driving on the right side of the street
Not too much to say about this one, except that I've had my life flash before my eyes a few times because I now look the wrong way for oncoming traffic.

--Really obese people
Definitely rude of me to say, but I gotta say it--some of us Americans are monstrous. I definitely caught myself staring at someone the size of 4 fully-grown Japanese girls.

Even with my reverse culture shock, I must admit, it is nice being back in the states. It's comforting. I've forgotten how much I've missed the little things, like being able to read signs perfectly, seeing ethnic diversity, or even getting unlimited refills on soda.

Being that it's Hawaii definitely helps, too.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Monday, March 7, 2011

Time to Man Up

I study Japanese everyday. Sometimes is active studying, such as when I use my textbook for the JLPT. More often, though, I'm passively learning Japanese. I read manga. I watch TV. I listen to people around me and then try to mimic them.

My current textbook of choice

That last method is the I one I must be the most careful about. It's not the whole casual versus formal dilemma. I'm not too worried about sounding casual--as a foreigner, I figure I'll be given a bit of leeway. As long as I don't cuss out someone, informal speech is much more useful since it's spoken everyday. And when needed, if I try to mix in -masu form and desu enough, it'll show that I want to speak formally but don't really know how.

What I worry about is that at school everyday, I'm surrounded by female colleagues. After school, my Japanese tutor is female as well. Most of the Japanese I hear everyday comes from women.

Therein lies the problem.

In Japanese, men and women sound different. This makes sense if you consider there is different vocabulary for the different sexes. Gender roles are clearly defined in Japanese society. This distinction carries over into speech. This means that if a woman uses really strong words that only a man should use, she is thought to be lesbian (or at least, very masculine). So if the reverse is true as well...

This whole time, I've been talking like a girl.

Don't get me wrong--I don't use blatantly feminine words like 'あたし' for I, or 'わ' at the end of a sentence. I don't giggle like a school girl nor does my voice sound like I'm whining. However, when I speak, I don't sound very... strong. So a phrase that may sound OK in my head, a normal Japanese man would never say. One example is adding 'よ 'to the end of every sentence. In a textbook, it's described as a strong male ending... but in the real world, men use it a lot less than women.

For example, when someone used to ask me '本当か,' my instinct was to reply, 'そうよ.' I recently started thinking about that phrase (and why my tutor laughed at me when I said it). I've never heard a man say that expression, whether in anime, TV, or real life. I wondered why it sounded so natural... and then I realized that at school, the teachers surrounding me say it all the time. If you listen to men speak, though, they would respond with 'そう.'

Another very basic thing I say all the time is 'ね.' I may respond to someone's statement with 'ちょっとね.' Normally, it's when it's something bad and I want to agree but not fully sound negative, so I just reply "a little bit, huh?" "Oh today's very cold." "Mmhmm... ちょっとね." In English, there's no real difference saying, "A little bit,"  versus, "A little bit, huh?" However, in Japan, men don't use 'ね' as frequently. It's much more feminine in Japanese to soften what you say all the time. Another instance: Women say 'そうね.' Men say 'そうだね.' Guess which one I've been using this whole time...

Note that this only applies for my everyday speech. When I drink, this problem disappears. My Japanese becomes a lot more masculine, albeit vulgar, as a night progresses (though the same is true of my English, or any other language for that matter). I don't necessarily want to use my drunk Japanese as my normal speech, but it'd be nice find a mix between the two. I'll just have to keep on trying to find that balance.

No, that sounds too weak. I ought to use something stronger. Otherwise, it's no better than when I speak in Japanese.