Issue Index

  Mini Features
  Cultural Features
  Life in Japan
  Big in Japan
  Rant & Rave
  Cars & Bikes
  Health & Beauty
  Money Talks
  Tokyo Tech
Web Watch
  Food & Drink
  Restaurant Reviews
  Bar Reviews
Word of Mouth
  Travel Features
  Japan Travel
  International Travel
  Tokyo Talk
  In Store
  Japan Beat
  CD Reviews
  In Person

I first noticed the phenomenon several months after I'd started studying Japanese - at about the stage where I thought it possible to stop crawling and begin walking, only to take one hesitant step and fall face down in the mud. Usually under the influence, I would attempt to practice with any locals unlucky enough to be nearby, and no matter how bad, mispronounced, hesitant, poorly structured and unintelligible my Japanese, always they would respond "Nihongo ga o-jozu desu ne" ("Your Japanese is good"). In a restaurant, izakaya, department store, whether it was the third, fourth or fifth poor soul they had summoned to try and understand me, the reply to merely stammering out the time of the day would be the same. "Nihongo ga o-jozu desu ne."

This should be a rave. They are trying, no doubt, to encourage me. And, I'll admit, I use the same tactic in my classes, praising students profusely for the simplest of constructions, never mind the articles and prepositions since they're not so important at this stage (and yes, I am an English conversation teacher). However, should ever the day come when I do in fact utter a reasonably complete, well-phrased Japanese sentence, politeness perfect for the occasion, nothing the other party says will convince me of the fact.

Encourage me, yes please. Let me stumble through my sentences without breaking out into English or sending immediately for someone who can. But please leave the praise for the praiseworthy. It's not just language. I practice a noisy instrument on my balcony. I am not good. Windows shake, cups shudder on shelves, birds flee crying from the trees, yet when I have finished, every dog in the district howling like the Day of Atonement is at hand, there are often one or two locals standing on the road outside politely clapping - "o-jozu desu ne."

Not so long ago I had a common gaijin experience. I saw a very smartly attired mannequin in a store window. It had the desired effect, and I walked in to see if I could acquire the jacket. My first mistake was to say "here" while pointing at "that thing over there." There then followed ten minutes of hesitation, silences, embarrassed laughter, giggling and constant rustling through the pages of my pocket dictionary. My only coherent utterances were "large" when I meant "too tight," "anything delicious" instead of "anything bigger," and "thanks" rather than "where do I go in this #%^$% country to #%@# find something to %$#&* fit me?" Leaving, I hesitated a moment in the doorway. I turned to the prim, doll-like shop assistant, whose face was flush with suppressed laughter. Bowing slightly, I remembered a stock phrase - "I am sorry, my Japanese is very bad." She looked at me a second, and a slow smile spread upon her face. "Nihongo ga o-jozu desu ne."

Many thanks to James Gard for this Rave.

Metropolis Online
381: The Crisp Linen Suit Syndrome
Unbearable heat and crisp linen suits
380: Smile
Smile when you see another foreigner
379: What sign are you?
When signs start to complicate life
378: Off with the gloves
Battle of the readers
377: Stop before you shop
Stores that scare away gaijin
376: Home sweet home
Modern housing in Japan?
375: Nihonjinron
Theories of Japaneseness and insecurity
374: Plastic bags
Do we really need them for everything?
373: Doctor knows best?
A scary visit to a Japanese hospital
372: Don't forget the finger wagger
So you've never complained about Japan?
371: A-choob tale
The Sneezing Salaryman
370: The gaijin language snob
Dare to cross his path
369: Nihongo
One man's struggle...
368: Making sense of Roppongi
Why do I keep going back?
367: Hateus Japanus Expatricus
Great bar bores of the world
366: Plants and animals
Darwin's turning in his grave
365: No more groping - for now
Women only train cars
364: Man's best friend
Pets have it rougher
363: In praise of Tokyo taxi drivers
A good ride all around
362: The Big Boot Brigade
Masters of the oversized-shoe
361: The case of the missing garbage cans
Where art thou o garbage can?
360: Ramen for the soul
Japanese chicken soup
359: Revenge of the nerds Part II
Geeky guys with hot girls
358: Little old ladies
Grandmas packing a punch
357: Starbucks sanctuary
Stop the Starbucks insanity
356: Pet name problem
My sweet little... carrot?
355: Unclean Jeans
Jeans McNasty
354: My chosen profession
Lindsay Nelson's the name, English teaching's the game
352/3: Merry Christmas... sort of
Merry and not-so-Merry Christmas in Japan
351: Last temptation of rice crackers
Breaking big bills the hard way
350: Revenge of the nerds
Gaijin girls are just jealous

ISSUES 300-349
ISSUES 250-299
ISSUES 233-249