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775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
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708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
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677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
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592: Culture crash
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583: The Great Divide
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581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
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578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
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572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
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569: Good company
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565: Winner or Loser?
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561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
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550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged
By Tom Bidwell

Culture crash

If Japanese people really want to learn about life overseas, they should ignore foreign “experts”

Tom Bidwell is a lawyer who watches too much television

As is evident from the large number of language schools in Japan and the plethora of TV programs that feature language classes, the Japanese are hugely interested in learning foreign tongues, especially, but not only, English.

Coming from Britain, where most people are monolingual despite the proximity of other countries, I think that this appetite for learning is a wonderful thing that should be celebrated and encouraged as much as possible. However, we should be careful not to conclude that this interest in learning our language stems from a belief that our culture is superior or because the Japanese have a desire to ape whatever we do. In short, we should approach this task with a sense of humility.

Naturally most of us will acknowledge this as a self-evident truth, but I fear that the treatment of English on television occasionally shows us in a very bad light.

I saw a program recently that purported to be teaching British, or at least English, culture. It featured a British guy teaching a Japanese woman how to serve and enjoy proper English tea. I really dislike these programs and, unfortunately, the type of person who tends to present them. Apparently, the only talent one needs is to be born British and to exploit that ruthlessly.

This particular guy, we were told, is a well-known chef who has now lived in Japan for many years. Well, his Japanese was worse than mine, and his attempts at teaching culture were an embarrassment to anyone British. I had no idea we were such a patronizing and arrogant bunch until I saw this “cultural expert” joylessly intone the correct way to enjoy a cup of tea and some food at around 4pm of an afternoon. It was as if he were bringing sophistication to a previously savage nation.

He went on to show how to eat scones properly. “We have a rule in England,” he laboriously explained, “jam first, then clotted cream” Excuse me? Is that a rule? It sounds to me more like a custom that one can take or leave—though I may be wrong, as I’m not such an expert on tea like this chap. How can this man have any self-respect trotting out such obvious rubbish?

The worst thing was his supercilious attitude. “Oh very good, you’ve got the hang of pouring hot water on top of tea leaves very well,” he said, as if it were incredibly complex and he had spent a life time mastering it. “Perfect, just the right amount of jam on that scone,” as if there is a correct amount and not a matter of personal taste. I hope that Japanese people in their earnest way will not feel the need to try and follow his instructions when they visit the UK.

On another program, a different British host took a Japanese reporter to tea at the Dorchester to see how it should correctly be served. I am not sure where to begin when thinking about the obvious incongruity of taking someone to a smart hotel in central London to experience a typical English tea. From my infrequent visits to the Dorchester, I would say that having tea there is an entirely foreign experience and far removed from a typical tea time.

Some of the “learn English” programs fall into the trap of simply being vehicles for the host to show off his ability to speak Japanese. On some shows, the foreigner does not utter a word of English. I would have thought the benefit to having a gaijin on the program would be to provide the viewers the opportunity to hear some native speaking. Instead, all the English in the sketches is explained in Japanese by one Japanese presenter to another. I wonder why the foreign guy is being paid? Although the producers have ultimate control over their shows, foreign hosts should recall that most of the viewing public wishes to learn English, not watch a foreigner speak Japanese.

These programs contrast with the excellent German and Spanish language shows. The Japanese co-hosts are a mix of experts in the language and some students. The experts explain the grammar in Japanese while the foreign presenters sensibly and helpfully speak in their own language. They correct the pronunciation of the students while the translations of new words appear as subtitles. When students try some local food, they take it off the plate and put it in their mouths without any, “Well done, you chewed that chorizo perfectly.” On one show, a Japanese woman learned to make all sorts of different types of German bread, but they stopped short of telling her how to eat it.

Perhaps the English-speaking world still has something to learn from the Europeans.

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