Saturday, April 10, 2010

Nagori Cooking Spray

So today, among other things, I went to the Post Office to set up a Japanese postal bank account. This is common here, and postal accounts are the best because Post Offices here are open very late. They are also happy to have foreigners set up accounts with just the paper you get from City Hall saying you will soon have an Alien Registration Card, instead of needing the card in hand. As the card takes a month to process, and my work schedule seem to make it impossible to go to a local bank, the Post Office account is 100% the right choice. Also, Post Office ATM cards are accepted nationwide, while other accounts apparently aren't. (I have no idea why everyone doesn't just use a Postal Account, but I'm sure there are good reasons)

You think trying to choose a cell phone and buy a cell phone plan is hard if you don't speak the language (and if you do think that, you're right), it's nothing compared to setting up a bank account. Okay, as I haven't successfully bought a cell phone, but have managed to successfully get a bank account today (with the help of Medina, a wonderful woman who spot translated for me when she saw that I was completely lost), maybe these things are a tie. But we're getting ahead.

It's the little things that trip you up in when trying to live and work in a foreign country. For example, certain things just aren't easy to find here, like cheddar cheese, horseradish, and cooking spray. And some things, just because you are a foreigner, take a bit longer and are a bit harder to do. Like setting up any kind of account. Add that with the complication of being barely conversational (conversational is a bit of an overstatement I think) and you get a recipe for constant confusion.

First: the order of things on forms is different here than what I'm used to in the States. This is not just with the bank account form, but also with most forms. In the States, usually the spot for the year is on top, followed by your name, with two separate blanks for last name then first name. Here, sometimes the year is towards the top, but the next thing is usually your address. I can't tell you how many forms I've screwed up by putting my name in the address spot. Luckily I can recognize the Kanji for “name” (氏名)and “address”(住所)(thank you Heisig and Kanji Movie Method!) but sometimes, like at the bank today, these forms do not use the same vocabulary. I couldn't find “address” anywhere on this bank's form. So I had to ask one of the ladies working there for help, which is when I found out that I'd written my name in the address spot, again. (Which is what happens when you go on autopilot).

Another confusion about Japanese forms is that not only do they make the spot for date really small, so it's next near impossible to find, but also at least half of the time they use a different dating system for the year (which has to do with what year we are in the current Emperor's reign I think). I'm pretty sure I was born in Showa 22, and now we're in 53, but that's just a guess hazarded from looking at how people have corrected my paperwork, and not a sure deal (I really should look this up...why haven't I?). Lastly, Katakana and Kanji are the preferred ways of filling out forms. I'm actually still pretty bad with Katakana. The Katakana I don't use a lot, I'm always forgetting. Like NA (ナ)which is easily confused with ME (メ)(pronounced MAY) and NU (ヌ)among others.

A final point of confusion: because I have a middle name and it is listed on my passport, every form I fill out is expected to be filled out as it is listed on my passport (in Katakana, of course), which mean that I have to remember to use my middle name. I never do, because I never use it on forms at home. So usually a kind person has to remind me. And my middle name (Naima) has NA in it, and so it goes.

Oh, and I'm still memorizing my address. I've got the Kanji down, but the actual numbers of my street, etc, I keep forgetting. (Remember, small streets like mine aren't labeled here, so I never use it). I usually keep a copy of my address form in my bag so I can do this...even the Karaoke place requires that you write your address down every time (sigh) but I still don't have it totally memorized yet (wtf!).

But getting through the form aspect is within my Japanese capabilities (with a fair amount of questions, etc). What proved to be beyond me was the followup conversation. I take my number, go to the desk when called, and we're moving along nicely until...there's SOMETHING he (the postal banker guy) can't do. Then it's all “moshiauku arimasen” and “sumimasen” (so very sorry, sorry) but what it is he can't do, I haven't the foggiest idea.

I take a stab at asking, “Bank account, can't do?”

“Janakute. (blah, blah, blah) Moshiaku arimasen. (blah, blah, blah).”

“Bank account,” spread out my arms, “Yes” wave right hand, “or no”, wave left hand.

“You can do the setup here, but I can't give you,” holds out what looks like my bank passbook. “because you don't have the alien registration card.”

“So I don't have a bank account?”

Repeats the same thing faster and louder. (this is no help)

It's clear at this point that we're both getting very frustrated. And here's where my translation angel Medina comes to my rescue. She'd been mailing something at the window next to me, and like a ray of sun from the sky, she asks me “do you speak English.”


“Is it okay if I translate for you?”

(is it okay?! Of course it's okay!!! It's amazing!)

Within one minute, she's found out that what the nice gentleman was trying to say (at 90 miles an hour; I am going to work so hard to speak slowly for my kids...seriously, this was my object lesson): I do have a bank account, but instead of giving me the passbook now, because I don't have an alien registration card, they have to mail it to me.

That's it! I'm pretty sure I have most of the vocabulary necessary to try and understand this concept, but not with the speedy keigo the banker was using, and I was too stressed to remember how to ask for “kantan na nihongo”, ie: easy Japanese, so there we were.

I say “no problem” and we're moving along smoothly again.

It seems at this point, the guy has decided I'm an idiot because I didn't understand the first thing he was trying to say, so he gives me a detailed explanation about how it's important not to make my pin number for my ATM card my birthday or 1234 or something of the like. (really? But I love the ATM password I got from Spaceballs) All of which Medina gracefully translates, and then I have to sit and wait for a bit more before we complete the process. Which gives me the opportunity to chat with Medina. She's a really interesting (and busy person). In addition to running her own English School, she also runs a Church (clearly God sent her to me—I'm not a big church-goer but I know a miracle when I see one. She's from the Philippines but she has lived in Japan for 20 years. Hence her Japanese is top notch, of course.

I finish the bank account process--hopefully the card gets to me because I wasn't sure about my postal code so I told the post office it was most likely theirs, but it it doesn't arrive they'll send it back to the original Post Office, at which point, I can get a cell phone, yay!

After a brief stop at Jusco for groceries (and drying rods which I still don't have, but I seem to be doing okay drying my clothes outside on hangers and over the railing so oh well) and to see if there's somewhere close to buy a printer (I may end up just printing everything at the convenience store...for the next week...sigh...) I figure the next step is to try and find my schools.

I first turned to the materials I was given by Paul at Aisatsu: a train map of every train leaving the two Toyota Stations on one sheet and an incomprehensible bus schedule written in Kanji, of course. Both of these things are probably useful once I actually know where I'm going (I guess).
Next I turn to Google Maps, and am (with some work) able to get decent directions to four out of six of my schools. For the last two “Kosema” (Old Lake Interval) and “HigashiYama” (Eastern Mountain), Google Maps can only give me walking directions. So if I'm prepared to walk for an hour out into the wilds of Japan, I should easily be able to get to these schools. Right. I'm assuming the bus schedule is for these two schools. The bus's last stop is in Kosema Town (古瀬間町) but once I get off the bus, what to do next? And where is the other school on this bus route?

As an aside, I have no idea how anyone gets around without reading some Kanji in Japan. In a big city like Nagoya or Kyoto, sure, it's possible to get by with Hiragana, Katakana and Romanji, but in a smaller city like Toyota (which has English at the train stations, but only at some parts, and nothing on the buses), knowing some Kanji has been utterly essential towards me accomplishing basic tasks. Like running my appliances, setting up my internet, riding the buses, finding stores, etc. And if I was in a smaller town or in the countryside, I think my level of literacy wouldn't handle it at all.

And this is with being familiar in some way or another with about half of the Kanji (though I sometimes forget some), and knowing all of the common component primitives (which I memorized for Kanji Movie Method)! With Kanji Movie Method, I got through about 1,100 Kanji, but the last 200 or so were done in a real rush and didn't stick well. Also, like all of the quick memorization techniques, Kanji Movie Method is incomplete, you learn the meanings, writings, and the ON Yomi. No KUN Yomi. And since I couldn't finish it in the States (2 months isn't long enough), I only have about half of the On Yomi, so some Kanji I've memorized still have additional readings I haven't learned—I really wish I'd been able to finish this but I could only memorize so much in a day. The brain literally taps's annoying. I also know most of the very common Kanji either from my last run through Heisig, from reading Manga and/or attempting to translate song lyrics.

Still, it's not enough. I'm doing my best to create little mnemonics to associate both new readings to Kanji I come across on a daily basis. Some I've already partially memorized and some are completely new to me. The trains are very nice for introducing you to new Kanji in a bite sized way because they usually give you the pronunciations of the next station as well as having a little LCD display of the Kanji for the next station as well. For example, the second Kanji for one of the train stops is 坪(TSUBO), so I think of it as being a little TSUnami that comes through in Japan every night and makes the DIRT EVEN. (the left half is EARTH/DIRT, the right half is EVEN). In Japan, they call these TSUBOs, but noBOdy talks about them. This sort of thing is a fun way to while away a train ride. Another one: Train station, EKI, has a team of horses on the left and a Shakuhachi flute on the right (I looks like a capital R) so I remember a team of horses running through the ShinToyota Station playing the flute and leaving R shaped hoofprints behind. Entertaining and educational!

Having tapped my resources for Japan Land Navigation, I called my supervisor and asked him for more detailed directions. He asked me to email him with the information about the schools, which I did, including the school's websites (maybe he can read them—it's all Japanese to me) It's now Saturday and I'm still waiting to hear back from him. I'm also going to go to the train station Visitor's Center with the bus schedule and see what they can do for me. The people at the Visitor's Center, like the people at VITS Karaoke, are beginning to recognize me. (at VITS, they even automatically give me a Coke...maybe I'm going there a little too often...)

Which leads me to the less stressful part of my day: Karaoke! Yesterday (I started this blog entry last night and am finishing it up today, hence the confusion with time), I went to VITS and found a whole new section of awesome music: Nagori Songs. I found these Nagori songs because I have Nagori Yuki on my Ipod sung by Masaharu Fukuyama called Nagori-yuki. Last week, I thought it meant “bound for Nagori” but actually, what it means is “sorrow at parting with snow.” or “vestiges of snow.” The Kanji are 名 (name) + 残 (remainder), though it is usually spelled out in Hiragana. Nagori = sorrow at parting and/or vestiges of: it's a sad word. I didn't know the dictionary meaning of Nagori when I was singing, but judging by the music videos, which generally (with the exception of NagoriGrass x 2) featured a woman in Kimono staring wistfully at a body of water or beautiful field while standing under and umbrella (and in NagoriAme, there was a line about Nagori Umbrella), and/or a man in Yukuta drinking Sake and looking very serious/sad, I figured the word meant “longing,” and I think there are some aspects to that within the dictionary definition, at least if these music videos have any say it it.

There are a huge ton of Nagori songs: NagoriFune (pronounced NagoriBune = Sorrow at parting with a ship...for pretty much all of these Nagori songs, the first syllable of what is being Nagori'd about is voiced, though typically for the words alone the first syllable is unvoiced), NagoriZake (sorrow at parting with Sake), NagoriGawa (river) NagoriNatsu (summer), NagoriZouZou (This was a rock style Nagori song by the artist Kra with the Kanji for “grass” repeated 2x), NagoriAme (rain) etc. I worked my way through most of the Nagori songs (except the one which I couldn't read the Kanji for what was being Nagori'd, so I'm going to look that up this weekend) before moving to musicals again, where I found out that the “artist” that I'd thought on Monday was the musical Cats is really just all unfiled music. That was awesome, because I even found songs from Beauty and the Beast in Japanese!

After that, it was dinner at home and then off to Izakaya. Great times, too much Shuucho (tastes like gin but apparently isn't) and I got to try Akamiso (red miso) sauce over fish: a delicious specialty of this region. I also tried Ikka, one of the few things in Japan so far I haven't liked. Ikka is squid with liver in a stinky sauce. I'm not calling it stinky, Ito-san who had me try some told me specifically not to smell it because it was stinky. Since he enjoyed it, I thanked him kindly and let him finish it. For some reason though, he was very surprised I liked the Akamiso sauce (he said it was difficult to eat), which is funny because the akamiso sauce tasted like a sweet vaguely honey bbq sauce without the tang...what's not to like? Whereas the Ikka tasted like rubbery squid mixed with bits of liver in a stinky sauce. You get the idea.

Well, that was yesterday! Today I'm off to find these four schools, after which I'm going to head back to the city in time to meet up with Mie for dinner (who hopefully won't stand me up like Arisa did, go figure). With luck, when I return, I won't have spent too long wandering around a rice field.