Are You Living a Rose Colored Life? | Anime Episode Review

The Springtime of Youth. A Rose Colored life. These are phrases that are meant to encourage and inspire at their core. Usually found in high school anime, characters wish to write their own stories – create memories before their lives shotgun into the unknown. The Springtime of Youth also reminds me of Rock Lee’s ridiculous Naruto Spin-off show, but today we’ll discuss something different. Another show that takes this philosophy to the next level. Read on, and be inspired.

Oh, it really has been too long. Taking a break from anime for over a year makes you somewhat forget exactly why you watched in the first place. It all blends together, a huge amalgamation of jumbles in your mind. Then you see something, cliché or cheesy as it is – and deep down you feel it. “This is why I watch” you say out loud, suddenly self-conscious sitting in your room; in the library at school; on public transit.

The Springtime of Youth is something always covered in anime. Or to live a “rose coloured life” is the goal of an apathetic high school student who you know is the main character because they have a window seat in the classroom. That feeling when you’re young that anything is possible and that you only have a certain amount of time to achieve it before it all slips away. Before jobs, college and other things where suddenly it’s no longer acceptable to have fun. To be curious, to laugh, to do something crazy. It’s a common fear of working years towards a goal, only much later in life to realize it was all for naught. Regret, not taking the chances you wished you had because of fear. I felt all of this with a cliché shot of two characters who do not know one another sharing the same space. One character is preoccupied with their current task, and the other character stops to look at them. This is where I got hooked.

A Place Further Than The Universe [ 宇宙よりも遠い場所], Uchuu yori mo Tooi Basho is aptly named. The episode begins with our main character, Tamaki Mari, having a dream that illustrates her fears. In the dream she is a child, playing with a boat in a basin of water.  She’s in an empty plane of what looks like an endless, colorless beach; alone and engaged in her activities. Later on in the episode she explains that she wants to live a fulfilling life, but she is utterly afraid. Tamaki finds an old notebook of things she planned on doing once reaching high school and cries that she hasn’t completed them yet. The next day she tries to go on an unplanned adventure by ditching school and “walking opposite the usual way”, but she chickens out and goes to school. Her close friend supported her, but it just wasn’t enough.

After she chickened out, she happens to run into the girl who is about to change it all for her. The girl with the long black hair and 1 million 円. Some circumstances work out under what I’d like to think of as fate, and Tamaki is able to return the money to the mystery girl because they attend the same school. We never get the mystery girl’s name or a proper introduction, but we learn her life story. Her reputation proceeds her.  Kobuchizawa Shirase’s mother was some sort of Arctic researcher and went missing when she was younger. Kobuchizawa saved up money working part-time jobs to go to Antarctica to find her, and even tried to start a club to find support. In most school anime we find that you need at least four club members for it to be official (Free! Iwatobi Swim Team, Hyouka, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Charlotte, Doki Doki Literature Club….etc.)

 

No one supports this girl. She is a second-year student who doesn’t seem to be interested in preparing for entrance exams, has no friends, and seems too eager about going off to the end of the known world. Everyone thinks she’s crazy. She is almost bullied into giving some of her money away, but Tamaki comes along at the right time with a distraction. Kobuchizawa thought that the teachers really did find out she’s walking around with a million yen and got scared.

In Japan, many high schools see their students as a reflection of their reputation. Some schools even enforce the uniform dress code outside of the classroom. If a student, say does something unsavory like get into an argument with a jerk from another school – a person of authority (let’s say a restaurant manager) could step in and reprimand them by reporting it to their school. The school would discipline the students as would the parents most likely. I’m not sure if Kobuchizawa lives alone (we haven’t heard anything about her dad yet) or with relatives, but in a Japanese societal context you can begin to understand why she is such an outcast. Her (parentless) situation could also explain why she has the freedom to do this. This is not to say that all Japanese parents are stuffy and care about what others think, but it seems to be a dominant cultural trait to not “cause trouble” for yourself or your high school. (College I believe is much different.)

To Tamaki however, Kobuchizawa is a dream. A chance to change her life. A chance to support a fantasy that involves everything in her vague sense of adventurism. Kobuchizawa mentions that she is used to people disappointing her and letting her down, but still hands Tamaki a flyer for a boat show. It’s in Hiroshima and they live in (I’m assuming) rural Gunma prefecture.

When it’s shown that although scared, Tamaki decides to take the step forward and runs into Kobuchizawa while she’s entering a train car to look for a seat…her smile was everything. I literally felt like jumping up and cheering. They tried taking pictures of Mount Fuji and ate onigiri on the ride to Hiroshima. I’ve heard that bento are best on long train rides (they couldn’t afford the expensive ones on board), and that you should buy one before boarding.

Many bigger stations in Japan also have vending machines and sometimes small food stalls where you can purchase sustenance before your ride. I imagine that when I finally do get to Japan, I’d like to do as they did. I’d buy my bento beforehand however, with a drink from a vending machine and I’d ask a conductor which side fuji-san would appear on our ride.

The episode ends with the two girls in Hiroshima, looking at the Shirase. I wonder if Kobuchizawa was named after the ship, or vice versa. Either way, I will continue watching this show and give a review of my final thoughts in a post at a later date. It seems that the girl working in the konbini, Miyake, will join the group next episode. There was a No Game No Life poster in the store and it seems Ishizuka Atsuko directed that show as well as this one.

I feel very hopeful and inspired after watching this episode, so I wanted to share my first impressions. Too many times in my life I’ve gotten scared to try something new and later came to regret it. Or I tried something and it didn’t work out because I didn’t try hard enough. I once had a YouTube channel I loved that didn’t work out. For a very long time I thought I just wasn’t good at it, and I stopped making videos about things I loved. Now I started this blog, and sometimes I doubt myself but I want to make this work and create a fun place where people can talk about their passions and build a community. It’s going to be a lot of work, but sometimes even the smallest things can keep you going. Small things like A Place Further Than The Universe.

Have you seen this anime yet? Did you watch No Game No Life? One more question – If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Tell us about it in the comments, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to share the article & follow us for more inspiring anime!

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(I would go to Iceland btw. I’ve always wanted to see The Northern Lights. Maybe I’ll go soon…)

Understanding Japanese Paying Etiquette | Anime Culture in America

During my time working at a Japanese Cultural Center, I frequented any and all Japanese grocers nearby. It was the “Japanese” part of town and fresh, authentic places were readily available. Through watching anime, I learned a lot about paying etiquette and social rules that one should follow. Of course, gaijin are held to a lesser standard than a Japanese, but if you’d like to impress someone with your cultural sensitivity skills – read on.

During my time working at a Japanese Cultural Center, I frequented any and all Japanese grocers nearby. It was the “Japanese” part of town and fresh, authentic places were readily available. Through watching anime, I learned a lot about paying etiquette and social rules that one should follow. Of course, gaijin are held to a lesser standard than a Japanese, but if you’d like to impress someone with your cultural sensitivity skills – read on.

Welcome to our first article on the Anime Culture series – where we cover Japanese culture topics and how the average anime viewer is probably privy to more culture than they consciously knew!

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There are a lot of social nuances in Japan. Luckily if you’ve watched anime during any time in your life (which I am sure you have – consciously or not) you may have been introduced to a few. Taking your shoes off indoors, bowing, slurping loudly when eating noodles are just a few.  Did you know that there are unspoken rules that you should follow once you are in a restaurant or shop? Let’s focus on what to do after you’ve grabbed a bunch of cheap snacks and are standing in line to pay.

Most publications or websites talk about Japan’s queue culture. Standing in line is important, but it’s also important where I live, New York, so I’m not sure I could add anything to that argument that would be prudent. I’ve read that when using escalators or stairs in Japan, one should stand on the left side idly or shift to the right if they would like to move quickly. (Other prefectures tend to differentiate this, so be sure to check up on local prefectural norms before your visit). This is essentially reversed in New York. A good way to remember this is to think of traffic rules – Japan uses the left side of the street and America uses the right. People take this seriously, and they will yell at you or politely call you out if you do not follow this unspoken rule.  In the land of the rising sun they will not yell of course, but the culture relies heavily on non-verbal cues; so if someone is staring at you and it’s not just because you are a foreigner….please take notice. You will find out what is taboo in Japanese culture simply by being very aware of your own space.

When in line in both Japan and any Japanese store in America, try your best to assemble your money beforehand. In both contexts (especially if you are in a long line) you will slow everyone down and waste their time – even if you do not mean to. Give others the same respect that would most likely be given to you. In Nihon there will sometimes be little plastic trays where you are meant to place your money. You are to place your yen in this dish, do not hand the money to the cashier. Pertaining to yen, usually anything under 1,000円 (Equivalent to around $10.00) will most likely be coins. It is acceptable to use a 5,000円 note (equivalent to around $50.00) when paying for meals in restaurants. In America, generally big bills are frowned upon due to high volumes of fraud. With this in mind, I have never used anything over $20 in stores.

After you have placed your money and/or coins in the plastic container, the cashier will count the money in front of you before handing it to you. Don’t recount it, it was counted in front of you for this reason. Simply slip it in your wallet and move away for the next person to have their turn. In local stores there is no plastic tray, but there is a way to be polite when handing the money to the cashier. If you have time, you can order the bills from largest to smallest, if not its fine. When it’s time to pay, hold the money with both of your hands stretched outward, with the bills facing the cashier. Usually you will be met with a look of surprise or a smile, and a bow. If you are bowed to, bow back (deeper if they are a bit older or slightly higher ((a noticeable nod)) if they are younger) and if you don’t it is okay! You will then usually receive the money as you handed it with a smile. It’s not a mandatory thing to do, but it is a nice gesture of respect that will be appreciated and remembered if you start frequenting the establishment.

Same rules apply to leaving, the money will not be counted for you but please step away and discretely count it. Then leave the store as you normally would. If you’d like to speak some phrases of Japanese (such as おはようございます) do so during the interaction – but make sure the person is actually Japanese and not from a different Asian ethnic group. It will embarrass both of you and it’s just not cool.

So that’s it, for now. If you are in Japan, read up on local customs and look out for the money trays. In America, remember to be respectful and if you’d like to add a bit of pizazz to your interactions with Japanese people – show some respect and use both hands. Little gestures go a long way, and it will definitely give you more confidence if you are studying Japanese or planning a visit soon.

Do you have any tips for paying in Japan or an experience you would like to share? Leave it in the comments below, I would love to hear about it! Also be sure to follow the blog for more updates on our Anime Culture series.

Do We Take Anime Culture in America Seriously?

Do you actually take Anime Culture seriously? Anime Culture as in watching anime, reading manga, studying Japanese language, going to cons, buying figures, etc. Do you see it as something cool and foreign or as actual stories told by Japanese people using the medium of animation?

Just some background on why I am asking this. I’d been into anime since middle school, staying up late watching Adult Swim because I was bullied and could never sleep. I gradually started watching fansubs online when my mom brought us a computer. Switched from dubs to subs, I started buying books on Japanese culture and studying the language. A few years later I created a YouTube channel doing reviews of niche anime and manga, but it wasn’t popular. Due to the fact that the standard channels were talking about whose waifu is trash, fmk, who had the best teet-hair color combo. I refused to do that, plus in hindsight I didn’t promote the channel well enough. I was in film school at the time (I finished btw) but I would actually talk about character growth and development, plot events context in Japanese society and customs, etc. and it was dirt compared to people who squealed about mainstream show episodes by saying “the pacing was good, the animation was on point, the music – OMG – I was so hyped” to the crowd they catered to.

After college, I got a job at a Japanese cultural center for a year where I continued to take language lessons (I’m currently intermediate level and I will be trying for the JLPT N4 in December) and I had a good time there. I didn’t watch any shows, mainly because I didn’t have time but also because I felt like I was living in a Slice of Life. I knew a lot of customs (meishi koukan, correct amount of times to bow and the degree, how to accept or give items, how to be conscious of my body language i.e. not a lot of hand gestures, even nuances like how to refer to myself by pointing to my nose) and I knew literally all of that shit from watching anime and glazing older cultural books. My colleges were always impressed and I received a lot of respect. I had no problem surviving in the thick Japanese atmosphere where I heard Japanese spoken each day and dealt with businessmen and workers from well-known international brands. I had friendly convos with the older ladies in Japanese at local grocers by my job, could find my own non-English manga at book stores; I never felt out of place going to summer Matsuri or other ceremonial things. I didn’t feel like a total gaijin, even though we were still here in America.

When we had events for anime and those in the community showed up, they were looked down upon. It wasn’t fair, but it’s not a secret that Japanese don’t put a lot of stock into any sort of subcultures. The fans showed up in their Black Butler T-shirts and Shingeki no Kyoujin backpacks (which was fine) but didn’t even try talking to some of the Japanese people who were also there. There was such a clear divide between people with similar interests, where the Japanese were probably “too foreign” despite Americans consuming their media that does have a lot of traditional aspects in it. The Japanese were probably intimidated by the language barrier and thought it was a pain to try to speak to them.

Do you watch anime consciously knowing these stories are told by actual Japanese people, or do you just enjoy the aesthetic and don’t really care about the culture behind it? There are so many reasons why anime has educational value and why it is so popular. The bridge can definitely be crossed I think. I just don’t know if each side is ready.

The Importance of Chopsticks

If you’ve had any interest in Japanese culture via exported anime Americanized into your favorite childhood memories or by other means, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Gaijin Smash’ in some context. So, for reference, let’s talk about this phenomenon. 

If you’ve had any interest in Japanese culture via exported anime Americanized into your favorite childhood memories or by other means, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Gaijin Smash’ in some context. So, for reference, let’s talk about this phenomenon.

A 外人 or gaijin, is a foreigner to the Japanese. The kanji is a literal combination of ‘soto’ (外) in romanji or outside and ‘hito’ (人) or person when translated into English.  There is a P.C. term for this word that is learned in most formal classes, which is gaikokujin – 外国人- or foreigner. In spoken Japanese, this simply adds the counter for person. The literal kanji reading however, changes to outside country person.

Why is this important? Honestly, on the surface it’s not – it is simply semantics. When we dig deeper however, it is a pretext for one’s journey of delving into Japanese culture in an attempt to assimilate.  Unless you are a Japanese living in Japan – you will never be Japanese. I have even heard whispers of Japanese leaving Japan to go abroad and upon returning home experiencing considerable cultural shock. Mannerisms shift, polished nuances like the back of your hand are suddenly gone – a feeling of being alien in your own world. For the visiting American going to Japan, knowledge necessary to abide by Japanese social norms is not expected. This leads to a ‘Gaijin Smash’ of the rules; you are not expected to act as a Japanese person would. Sometimes that can be endearing and even refreshing in favor of cultural exchanges.

Working at a Japanese cultural center, I was surrounded by American co-workers with so much more tangible ‘experience’ with the country. Japanese majors who had studied abroad, JET Programme alumni who had lived in small rural villages where the thick, old world vibe of eras past was strong; co-workers completely fluent in the language and customs. In comparison, I was quite the odd-ball. I vividly remember one of my first weeks on the job being asked:

“So, what is your connection to Japan? We all have one working here”

I staggered. How could I say it came out of re-discovering anime that I thought were American cartoons while watching Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim late at night in middle school? Graduating from ‘dubs’ to ‘subs’ when getting my first computer at sixteen? Countless hours spent on the floor of my local Barnes & Noble with friends reading Japanese language books and English translated manga? Watching as much admittedly illegal – Crunchyroll wasn’t even legit during that time and fan sub teams ruled the landscape of the early internet – anime, J-drama and Japanese films for cultural context? Trying to learn hiragana and katakana by pausing the ‘流れ星’ – Home Made Kazuko’s – “Shooting Star” Naruto Shippuden season 1 ending to write the sing along characters on flash cards to study continuously? Watching raws of episodes in terrible 240p quality and refreshing the link hours later hoping it was subbed and not taken down for copyright infringement? Listening to J-rock bands over and over trying to make even one word stand out in my mind so I could automatically translate it and to pretend to sing along? Making translation notes in antiquated cultural and custom books? Gravitating toward anything Japanese at NYCC and even laminating a travel map I received at a tourism booth to hang up in my computer room to glance at for times when I felt particularly hopeless in my studies? How could I encapsulate a ten plus year passion ignited within half madness into a few spoken sentences that wouldn’t make me sound like a complete loser?

“Oh haha, I’ve always just been really into the culture ya’know?”

Clearly she did not know.

I received a mildly bewildered and disapproving look from the former JET who had been with the company around three years.

I kept telling myself that I would not tell anyone how I arrived to the destination I was at – the journey truly embarrassed me. Sometimes people who enjoy Japanese subculture are looked down upon, and the ‘weeaboos’ and ‘American otaku’ of the world do not help this. With this in mind, I was determined to show everyone just how much I knew about Japanese culture; what I had learned from what I believed to be looked down upon media. Something that for years was my own treasure trove of solace that helped form the world I’ve build for myself today; my reality.

If you were wondering, I did give her a proper answer months later during a job interview for her position. I didn’t get it, but it felt good to set that disapproving look straight in my mind’s eye.

I believe my work ethic changed many people’s minds about the initial impression I seemed to give off. I am a woman of color with natural hair who had no access to any facets of Japanese culture outside of the digital and literary world. Why would I know in the local Japanese groceries to hand money (or any object really in a multitude of situations) with two hands “the Japanese way” instead of throwing the money down with one hand as is unfortunately the American way? Regarding this practice at work, that had always received mixed responses.

From other gaijin, the response garnered a knowing smile and sparked deep conversation of how they had lived in Japan or studied there and warm feelings of that life experience. Others would bow back and say a quick ありがとうございます before continuing the interaction in an American manner. In an American manner being to remain in American contexts. This is a counter to a Japanese interaction that could include a polite bow the length of a simple head nod or simply acknowledging the sign of respect and continuing the interaction how they would with a Japanese person. It’s a very strange phenomenon to try and explain on paper when I cannot clearly articulate the exact implicit differences in these interactions.

Others (usually Japanese) would exclaim “the Japanese way!” with a beaming pride. Pride for me? Of course not. Pride that I had knowledge of this social nuance and it reminded them of home? Most likely.

Others however, would suddenly act as if I had shown them the road to El Dorado on Google Maps. “How did you know to do that? Were you taught that as part of your training? It’s great that they taught you that!” were some of the dismissive things I heard. Again, why would a person of color know anything about Japanese culture despite working at a Japanese cultural center? For the most part I did not have to deal with many of those types of people for extended periods of time, and for that I was grateful.

The correct amount of times to bow and名刺交換meishi koukan etiquette were things I also thankfully had knowledge of.  From film and anime I learned the ideal angle to bend when bowing and when stuck in an ‘infinite bowing politeness loop’ to bow up as to not inconvenience the other person. If I kept bowing deeper that meant the other person would have to return that bow out of social obligation and for fear of losing face. The biggest thing I think I’ve learned working around Japanese is just how easy it is to accidentally slight someone and cause them to lose face from a simple misunderstanding. I won’t go into the details, but one of my first days at the company a misunderstanding caused one employee to write up an incident report to another Japanese company, apologize, and caused the employee to literally not talk to me for months.

Although I knew I could have Gaijin Smashed my way through that situation, after seeing the fallout I decided to try my hardest to assimilate to the thick Japanese work culture. I mentioned the American portion of my co-workers had tangible experience with Japan, but the other half was mainly Japanese people from Japan with a few Chinese people sprinkled in for good measure.  If there was a delivery from a sake company or a Japanese guest for one of the cultural center’s many departments I made sure to address the guest by their last name if that was the name given and if handed a business card I tried my best at emulating meishi koukan I’d seen in media. Meishi koukan can be translated as Japanese business card etiquette. It boils down to accepting the business card with both hands, studying it front and back for a good amount of time, and then placing it in front of you or in view of the other person. Only when that person leaves would you put it away, as to not offend. In the same vein, whenever the administrative assistant received paper deliveries she never put the papers away in the closet until the delivery man left as to not offend. Putting those newspapers away would signal that they were worthless and not deserving of being out on display. In an American context, that sounds silly. In a Japanese context, it is a courtesy to save face and be considerate of the delivery man.

When at my work station, I tried my very best to assimilate culturally. In the kitchen break room however, this slightly slipped whenever chopsticks were involved.  Forget to bring plastic utensils and can’t grab freebies from a store on the way to work without reproach? There were the traditional Western metal utensils to wash, but being the germophobe I am I always went for the plentiful wooden chopsticks. Were they cheaply made? Absolutely. Did they get the job done? Absolutely. Did I know how to use them? Absolutely not.

Honestly, chopsticks had always been the absolute bane of my existence. I remember my parents bringing Chinese food from a few towns over home and I would always dig into our utensil drawer and fish out a pair of antiquated wooden pillars with writing unbeknownst to me. I used what I referred to in my head as the scissor method – both sticks together side by side in a queer position using a peddling method with my fingers which hardly yielded any rice. After a few attempts the hunger would always get to me and I would grab a spoon in defeat and lovingly lay the chopsticks in the sink for washing later. I made the mistake of bringing this mentality to work.

Often there would be food leftover from events, or co-workers would bring back omiyage in the form of finger snacks. A couple of months in, there was Americanized Chinese food left over from an earlier event. It was myself, one of the maintenance staff and my Chinese department head in the kitchen grabbing food. I thought I could Gaijin Smash my way through the meal without reproach.

I was wrong.

I got what many would refer to as the subtle ‘glance of disapproval’ from the department head. I ignored it, surely it didn’t matter if I couldn’t use chopsticks correctly, right?

Wrong.

Feeling self-conscious with glances that suggested I should have known better, I noticed the maintenance staff member holding the chopsticks correctly. I put my head down and when they both left used the bastardized scissor method best I could and finished what was on my plate. Did I go home and try to learn the correct method of holding chopsticks?

A fool, I continued to tread down a dark and dangerous path.

The chopsticks came back to haunt me months later during a language class I attended.

The sensei had always treated me like a co-worker, as she did a Chinese girl who volunteered in the language center after her internship ended. Interns were generally truly part of the company environment and were treated as actualized employees. I know many companies boast that their interns receive the full employment experience but they are lying – interns there were valuable members of the company.

I was always greeted warmly by this sensei. Many cultural points we covered in class it was assumed I had some knowledge of, and I was even told お疲れ様 which can translate to “thank you for all of your hard work today!” in English. From an American lens, this means absolutely nothing. When looking at the Japanese cultural context and thinking of the rigid social hierarchy and system of honorifics, it was an amazingly welcome gesture. I’d only ever heard this spoken from one Japanese co-worker to another, and honestly I was very touched the first time it was said to me.

I felt so included.

Overall, I did not feel like a complete gaijin working for the company when I tried my best to weave and bob through the social nuances and unspoken methods of saving face. All those years of anime had paid off, as cheesy as that sounds to write or even to read for you out there. ☺

At the end of semester party, we were each asked beforehand to bring snacks to eat during that day’s lesson. I choose to bring senbei, or Japanese rice crackers. I first tried senbei years prior when I brought my mom with me to a conversation cafe at a prominent Japanese organization that offered language classes. It was an acquired taste and I had picked up an affinity toward the cheap and plentiful varieties offered at the local Japanese grocer in proximity to my job. Of course, I was the only American who brought something super un-American to the palate. My Chinese friend who worked at the center brought lychee fruit gummy candies. It was the second ‘exotic’ food at this gathering that included vegan American sushi. The vegan sushi had two different types, the hypnotic purple colored one proving to soon be my undoing.

Glancing around with subdued hawkish tenor, I observed that many of my American classmates also had not mastered the use of chopsticks.

I foolishly thought I was in the clear.

During a break in lecture we all assembled around the table to grab from our combined store-brought bounty. I watched one classmate fumble for almost two minutes (I slyly glanced up at the clock) when trying to obtain one of the vegan sushi rolls. It was my turn, and using the scissor method, I smugly tried to grab one piece.

It failed.

It was a lot thinner than it looked, and I didn’t want to break the piece in the process of trying to bring it to my plate. I struggled and this had caught the attention of my Japanese teacher. As I valiantly persevered, I heard the words spoken that would bring me to shame:

“シャノンーさん、だいじょうぶですか“

Translated from Japanese to English, this means “Shannon, are you alright?” to which I replied yes I am.

“はい、だいじょうぶです。すみません。”

From a Japanese cultural context to English, I interpreted this exchange as “Shannon, I see you are struggling trying to grab the sushi with your chopsticks. Is there something preventing you from completing this task?”

I was embarrassed.

My inability to use chopsticks caused me to lose face, and inconvenienced my sensei to the point that she asked if I was alright. I thought I could employ the Gaijin Smash amongst Americans that had no knowledge that I worked at the cultural center, but soon realized that I could not have it both ways.

I could not just turn off my brain to cultural nuances I had knowledge of when there were people in the room who knew I knew better. For the remainder of the class my Chinese friend barely spoke to me and the sensei did not call on me as much.

For those of you wondering what was so bad about being asked if I was alright when I was clearly struggling, I will try to explain it.

One, no one else in class was held to this standard or essentially called out for their inability to use chopsticks. They are Americans taking a Japanese course. I was an American employed at a Japanese cultural center who had demonstrated knowledge of cultural customs consistently.

Two, だいじょうぶ is often a word I associated with feelings or social situations.

Ex: “先生、宿題を忘れって。すみませんでした。”

“だいじょうぶです。”

These rough sentences translate to something along the lines of:

“Sensei, I forgot to bring in my homework. I am sorry.”

“It is alright.”

In this format, it is fine. It is referring to an action. Now in the situation I described earlier, a verb like 出来る which denotes the ability to complete a task or knowledge of a skill could have been used.

Or hell, maybe I overthought the entire situation and it really was just a genuine question of concern over not being able to pick up a slice of purple vegan sushi with cheap wooden chopsticks.

 

That night, I went home and literally Googled how to use chopsticks. I came across a video on RocketNews24 in 360p that demonstrated the agreed upon correct way to use chopsticks in Japan. I practiced with those old wooden Chinese chopsticks in my utensil drawer at home until my hand was sore.

Next event involving food at work, I showed off my skills gingerly. I sat up straight and tried to emulate a swan, graceful in my movements and daintily clumping sticky rice into balls to plop into my mouth.

Once I was alone, I placed my chopsticks down to give my hand a rest. For some reason, my American hands were determined to resist the proper way. For the remainder of my time at the company, I never received another disapproving glance when using chopsticks. My usage no longer set off internal radars that boiled over to subdued glances of inner fury.

Japanese language and culture relies heavily on context and nonverbal cues. I’ve also heard that this is true for other East Asian cultures but I do not have first-hand experiences to speak upon that prevalent belief.

So, what was the point of this self-deprecating retelling of a cultural mishap in relation to the Gaijin Smash I wrote of earlier?

I mean it to be a cautionary tale.

Wry tone aside, if you do ever travel to Japan, or any country foreign to your own – it is best to try to learn a bit of the local customs. It will go a long way, even if you don’t think it will.

In my case of working at a cultural center, the Gaijin Smash stopped being an option long ago.

I’ve noticed that when you truly immerse yourself in a culture, you will try your best to not offend and assimilate. This is common knowledge, yes, but it was not common knowledge to me in regards to how I was already perceived by my co-workers. I was perceived to essentially know better than to feign ignorance in something so basic in most Pan-Asian cultures.

I was perceived as someone who tried their best at having social fluency in Japanese culture and lost face by having no knowledge of how to fundamentally break bread.

If I went to Japan tomorrow and ordered a bowl of ramen, would I be looked down upon if I misused my chopsticks and did not slurp loudly to show my appreciation for the food in front of me?

Probably not, I am just another tourist gaijin.

Gaijin smash rules would be in effect.

If there was ramen brought to the workplace, would I find my co-workers slurping loudly? Probably not, no. At least not in my presence. That is not American culture, but properly holding chopsticks would be a must. It is that simple dichotomy that taught me the difference between when and where not to try to employ Gaijin Smash while at the cultural center.

It taught me the importance of self-examination and questioned my own sense of cultural integrity – a lesson I will not soon forget.