Emotions and thoughts gather at night to remind me of my mistakes, my flaws, and the unworthiness of my existence. So many emotions, so many thoughts, I don’t fight them anymore, I can’t fight them anymore.
I let them crawl over me like dark spiders; dark spiders whose eyes shine in the obscurity of the night. They knit their web around my hands, they tie my hands and my fingers until they bleed.
Fear and anxiety blur my thoughts, my vision and I can only see walls, impossible goals, and heartache.
I can’t write.
The sunrise scares them away, and their spell disappears momentarily, long enough for me to write these lines.
They are gone long enough for me to believe they might not come back. But they do, they always come back. They don’t forget me. They can’t. For I am their mother, their creator, and master.
Seven years ago, on this day, I worked my last shift as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). Yes, I used to teach in elementary schools as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) I used to create games, some of them planned well in advance because my motto is ” be prepared for everything and anything.” However, some of the games were created in the spur of the moment, when the ocean of little faces told me my games weren’t up to their standards.
They wouldn’t say it with words, but their little eyes did the talking for them. And those little shiny eyes were very VERY convincing. And I obliged not because I wanted them to like me (which they did ❤️) but because I wanted them to learn, and to remember that learning something new needn’t be scary. And I have to say; I think I did a good job because from time to time, those little ones, who are now not so little anymore contact me and tell me that they STILL remember my lessons. My dear friends, can I tell you a secret? When my students contact me, it moves my heart because in every lesson I created for them, I put something of me in them. So, for me, when they remember my lessons, I feel like they remember me. That somehow the games, and my teaching methods as unorthodox as they were (still are), I was able to share my knowledge with them. But most importantly, it means that in those lessons while singing, sharing laughs and studying together for an ephemeral moment we were family. And once you’re family, you are always family.
Japan is my home, and its beautiful language, the Japanese language, brings back warm childhood memories as if its beautiful sounds could melt time at will; But as beautiful as melodious as it is, we somehow misunderstand katakana changing its meaning, and confusing katakana with English.
And it was during this last summer that my nemesis, katakana, and I engaged in frenzy battles.
At work, I entered the room full of expectant faces; they all looked at me with anxiety. I could sense their nervousness without “reading the air” (空気を読むkūki o yomu), I smiled at them trying to break the ice and I following my motto “when in Rome, do as Romans do” I decided to sacrifice precious lessons minutes of class to introduce myself, my likes and dislikes; telling my students about the random things I love doing.
“My name is Yoneko, I love sewing, and I love cooking,” I started.
Excuse me, Shiraishi-san, what does that word mean,? someone asked
“Which word,? I asked “Sewing?, perhaps?,” I tried replying
“No, the word you said before that,” he said
“Oh, you mean love,” I answered only to be welcome by ghostly silence.
I tried saying “love” again with more emphasis. But again their blank expressions told me I was getting nowhere. So I tried again this time but with the katakanize version of love = rabu (ラブ）Then I saw understanding blossoming in their eyes like sakura flowers in warm days.
I spent the summer traveling and lecturing in various places in the island, facing the same conundrum, as soon as I said the word love; using its English phonetics love「lʌv」I was received with clueless stares, but as soon as I used the katakanized version of love 「rabu」(ラブ in katakana) people understood what I was saying. In the summer of 2018, I traveled around the country lecturing 150 people from which 140 people didn’t understand the proper pronunciation of the world love favouring its katakanize version instead.
This made me understand that we not only misuse katakata when it comes to borrowing words from other languages but what’s worst, we think our katakanize pronunciation of English words are actually English pronuntiation.
As I mentioned in one of my posts on consult-culture.com, misunderstanding katakana “as most Japanese speakers will keep using the katakana pronunciation when speaking English because, as aforementioned, Katana is the alphabet that helps us understand sounds we are not familiar with, we rely on it. Therefore, some people, as it is logical, trust that the sound katana is providing us, it is the sound in the original language, which is, unfortunately, not always true” Indeed, not always true, if we keep relying on katakana as if holding onto a crutch to avoid a false move, we would never actually reach port, furthermore, I would like to assure you that making mistakes are an important, if not vital, part of learning. Do not feel afraid to make mistakes, because those students who make mistakes are the bravest of all.
But I do understand the apprehension to speak English and not to make mistakes, after all, the Japanese language has a very specific set of rules that must be followed in order to make the message clear to the listener, but remember those rules do not apply to English.
Moreover, the hesitation of Japanese people when learning a language can be traced to their cultural characteristics.
In the graph above we can see six cultures dimensions (hofstede-insights.com) in which the hesitation of making mistakes can be understood in the dimension of uncertainty avoidance according to Professor hofstedes means “The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity”. Thanks to Professor Hofstedes we can understand in depth the hesitation of Japanese people, when exposed to the unknown and new, and this also allows us to create teaching methods suitable for our students.
Taiwan was a long overdue expedition for me. Its history and culture have always attracted me with a magnetism I can’t quite define with logic. And the opportunity to visit this fascinating place, presented itself when I least expected it, as a gift from the Gods themselves.
Taiwan’s history is longer than I imagined, it was a surprising realization to discover that agriculture was developed 3,000 years ago and that the aboriginal occupants of the island presented more than one unshakable obstacle for the forays at conquering many tried.
In Asia, the calendar indicated the beginning of autumn, but not in the tropical Taiwan, where there’s sun, mango ice cream, and tea everywhere to ease any discomfort its everlasting summer might cause to its visitors.
According to legends and myths I came across, Taiwan was created by the tears of a goddess. And its women were born from the ashes of bamboo trees. However, whatever its origin, there is something undeniable special here, and lucky us, the Gods have blessed this journey.
I upload my contents like every day, and like every day, I take a second to thank whomever deity might make people click on my posts,
I upload today’s post. And instead of the delightful thrill, I get by seeing my posts flying on the web. I get chills because the generous spirits (genies or angels) that have been helping me, putting my posts out there, are not doing it anymore.
All I get is Error 5440. Click again and as many times as my trembling fingers allow me, and the same message comes out: Error 5440
I’m sweating cold, and the anxiety’s invisible hand is tightening around my throat.
I try again: Error 5440. And another message: the website you are trying to find is nonexistent.
This is too much for me
I decide to leave it for now and to make myself a cup of tea, but something is missing. Maybe biscuits could go well with this fiery cup of glory.
I leave the house, and right in front of the door, I find a group of funny looking spirits who seem to be having a jolly good time. They look at me and flee into the house like a group of mischievous children.Something tells me I should get a better set of helping genies because these are more bananas (crazy) than I am
Anyway, I think I’ll better get to work again because if I leave my genies to their free will, I will never get anything done.
As I arrived at Kichijōji station, I couldn’t help but notice little gnomes, faceless ghosts and other “magical” creatures walking around. They all seemed busy and preoccupied.
And although I gave them the best of my smiles, they were not kind because they didn’t stop to help me when I asked them for directions. They just ignored me.
And neither the scarecrow that so kindly helped Sophie in the moving howl’s castle seemed to be carrying out good deeds this morning.
I knew the Ghibli museum was close to Kichijoji station, but all those “magical” creatures were taking the whole station for themselves. The volume of their voices was growing louder and louder. And they didn’t seem to be going anywhere but rather waiting.
But waiting for who, I wondered.
And just after few minutes, my question would be answered.
Because just before me, Mr. Miyazaki himself appeared at the ticket gate. And those magical creatures, his creatures, jumped to attention.
He was wearing a wool checked jacket along with a hat of the same print. He, all of him, was just as colorful, enchanted and fascinating as the characters he creates. And they all followed him on to the next train like obedient and lovingly children. And without him, the Kichijõchi station became gloomy and silent.