Why hello. Fancy meeting you around here.

Another thoroughly satisfying day, really enjoyed it. This uni malarky, you should give it a try.

In this morning’s grammar class we debated the use of polite / ultra-polite Japanese. I have a major issue with Keigo. The thing is, I feel that it is the very personification of the social blockade that prevents Japanese people from removing their tatamae masks of politeness, and thus inhibits the process of developing meaningful relationships. The thing is, we are constantly told that it is better to be safe than sorry, that it is better to use keigo than to risk offending someone who you don’t know too well by adopting casual speech (the kind used by friends).

I have a major hangup about this, which goes way back to before I even knew where Japan was. An aversion to doing anything that society dictates one ‘should’ do. It was this feeling that first led me to quit college and hitch-hike to Switzerland. It was this feeling that led me to write my resignation note on a till receipt when working at a certain supermarket, despite having a mortgage to pay. It is this feeling that makes it difficult for me to adopt formal Japanese, no matter who I am speaking to. Ultimately, I think the pressure exerted upon those in Japan to conform to their alloted roles will prove to be too much for me: I can’t stay here forever. My personal freedom is very important to me, and having to constantly battle for it is quite exhausting. It’s all very well, to say, “well, just don’t give a shit”, but when you are constantly harrassed (albeit behind your back), it wears you down. It can only get worse the more Japanese you understand.

We were given an interesting insight into this kind of pressure today: a non-Japanese teacher working at Rikkyo told us of pressure that the foreign staff are under to conform to their roles as “Sensei”. The distinction between staff and students is, apparently, very important. Thus, the wearing of casual clothes (such as jeans) by the sensei is heavily frowned upon. Comments are made in the staffroom, even when they are present. The belief that no foreigner can really understand Japanese is strong, no matter how many times they have heard that foreigner speak Japanese. It’s such a load of bollox. Life is about living. Having a list of rules by which one must abide makes it positively dull, and whilst I personally do not abide by them, it makes me pretty sad to see so many people feeling that they must.

I guess I should just be grateful that I’m not Japanese.

It’s not all bad though. As we know, the flip side is, is that Anything Goes. And it does. Aghh, the bloody contradictions! Next thing you know I’ll be posting some picture of a 300-year-old teahouse surrounded by 21st century skyscrapers, or admiring the one cherry tree in the midst of the concrete jungle!

Anyhow, back to the grammar class, and my conclusion.

It seems that by stubbornly sticking to my theory that the use of polite Japanese leads to glass walls I am in danger of a) appearing to be desperate to get into a girl’s knickers, b) offending everyone else in general. Thus, I have decided to take the advice of my teacher (that’s a teacher dressed in smart teacher-clothes by the way); I will take into account the 7 rules of keigo, which can be divided into social and psychological categories. The difficulty is remembering which rule takes precedence. In the event of memory failure, just use the same level of politeness as the person with whom one is talking.

So yes, that was a jolly heated debate.

Lunch, which was spent in room X108 as usual with the International Friendly Lunch Brigade, before heading off for my second Multicultural Bradford class. Well blow me down if I didn’t actually manage to follow the whole lecture! Once again, this was largely thanks to last year’s Contemporary Japanese Society module, in which we looked at issues re. immigrants etc. Background knowledge – the key to understanding what is going on!

It was quite funny actually. Thing was, the professor, a very quiet man in his early 60s, had to explain to us why the number of filipino immigrants has decreased in recent years. Essentially, the decrease is due to the fact that in response to US pressure, the Japanese government has tightened restrictions on Filipino women coming to Japan to work in the sex industry. Anyhow, it was quite amusing, as the Professor kept on mumbling, “erm, well, I don’t really want to talk about this, but I have to…”

So yes, that lecture was great.

It was followed by the (English language) Society and Culture lecture. Now that really was fascinating. She is a bloody clever woman, after my own heart too, seeking to break down barriers and not taking any shit. The energy she must have to have lasted here so long with a personality like that – astounding. I salute you, maam.

She also revealed the origins of the lastest fad that all the sheep must be seen in – mini-shorts. Were talking very short-shorts here, that no fashion-concious girl can be seen without. Bare legs from just below the naughty bit to just below the knees. From there on down its either long boots or those ridiculous stocking things. I think I may have mentioned these in a previous entry, but anyway, they are everywhere. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing though. Look, don’t touch.

No wonder they have to have women-only carriages on the trains.

Speaking of which, the number of overweight Japanese seems to have increased a lot in the last 3 years. It may just be my imagination. If the trend continues it’s gonna play havoc with a public transportation system that’s already under strain.

I spent 4 hours tonight in Denny’s again, famed for it’s free refills of tea and coffee, and for giving homeless people a warm chair for the night on the understanding that they buy something. It really is the key to getting a lot of homework done.

Looking through the window of the Konbini this morning I noted that my 100kg of rubbish were no longer stacked beside the tills awaiting collection by Kuro Neko. Let’s just hope that they were actually picked up by the courier, and not taken home by a member of staff who was short of a microwave, kettle and collection of assorted boxer shorts. Following lectures tomorrow, I shall be picking up the keys to our new apartment, and then attempting to find it. We’ve not actually seen the place yet! *Twinkle* won’t be moving in until later in the week, as her sister has decided to have a baby within the next couple of hours (fingers crossed all goes well!).

Anyhow, I’d best be on my way. No internet for the next couple of days then. Don’t miss me too much.

xxx joseph

One Response

  1. I understand where you’re coming from with the keigo, but I really don’t agree with your stance. I was caught up in a conversation the other night in which Japanese and Chinese people were discussing how important it is to take shoes off before entering your bedroom so that you aren’t living in filth. One member of the group was an adviser who, a couple of days before, had followed me into my new bedroom to show me around but kicked off his shoes at the door after I had already tramped in with my rained-on boots. He used the rain to justify it at the time, but I felt absolutely mortified in the conversation when I realised his real reasons for it.

    Effectively being told that your natural habits are wrong, or even just repellent, is not a fun experience, and I firmly believe in the “When in Rome…” mentality. I wouldn’t walk into a Japanese person’s house in shoes, and I appreciate it when, as was the case in England, they follow my lead regarding how to behave in my space. It’s not social pressure that sees me taking off my shoes at Taku’s genkan, it’s the fact that he doesn’t like shoed feet in his house.

    This isn’t a perfect analogy, obviously – social interactions are far more complex and balanced situations than entering another person’s home – but I think the use of teineigo could have more to do with personal comfort a lot of the time, exactly the same way we use small talk in the West. You don’t instantly jump into asking someone about their love life without first discussing their job, current location and the state of the weather right now (unless you’re drunk, which in my experience and very likely yours too leads to Japanese people forgetting social boundaries as much as any Westerner). We restrict our use of language to an extent, maybe curbing profanity or sarcasm so as not to potentially offend people, but since the Japanese language has an entire type of speech that ensures that you won’t offend, it makes sense to me to use it.

    My experience with teineigo so far is that it functions in much the same way as that small talk in the West: you can soon tell whether the person you’re speaking to is going to be a friend or not, and drop the politeness pretty quickly if you like or keep it up if you feel there’s still some distance between you. It’s exactly what would happen in England, or anywhere in the world where personal space is of any importance, and I don’t think it’s social pressure in the slightest, just holding back a little until your relationship is established.
    Granted, it’s more obvious in Japanese that you’re doing this than it is in English, but I think it’s worth noting that, as a woman, the more obvious it is that you’re keeping your distance from some people, the better. Using plain form makes it look like you want to get in some girl’s knickers; for a girl to continue using polite form can contribute to making it clear that she’s not interested. I would LOVE the power of such clarity in English.

    Of course, this is a different situation entirely to that of teachers or people within a hierarchal situation, in which obviously social pressure plays a huge role, but I was responding to the fact that you seem to resent speaking in teinego to new acquaintances. However, while on the subject, besides social pressures I think that simple comfort may play a part in hierarchal relationships as well.

    Growing up, I had a lot of friends like you who became very friendly with their teachers, spoke to them on a personal level on a regular basis. That was never me. For reasons unknown even to myself, I feel more comfortable when the teacher-student gap is preserved, and that’s with English teachers in my home country. To do so in Japanese feels natural to me, and no doubt feels twelve times more natural to Japanese people.

    Just as it’s perfectly possible to be polite when using plain form, it’s equally doable to make your polite form informal to the point of teasing or rude should you so wish. I’m pretty bad at teineigo now, having spent so long last year trying to make my plain form natural, so it takes a lot of effort to carry out a whole conversation in it that obviously makes that conversation much less natural. Taku, however, chats and jokes with his fairly new boss over the phone using the kind of teineigo that chops ‘desu’ into ‘su’ and chops the formality level in half as well. I really don’t think the use of teineigo automatically restricts relationships with Japanese people unless you, like me, are personally uncomfortable with it, for whatever reason.

    As I said at the start of this now too-long comment, I understand your viewpoint regarding keigo, but I don’t agree at all with the way you express that viewpoint. Any change that is effected must come from Japanese people, and deliberately abandoning basic rules of etiquette is not the way to influence the Japanese people you meet to effect such a change. I didn’t realise your views on this subject were so strong, but your expression of them would come across to me as either “My country’s way is better than yours” or “I don’t know enough about Japan or basic etiquette to speak appropriately in this situation,” neither of which is representative of your character or your opinions.

    I’m sorry this thing has become so long, but the truth is that I’ve been thinking about my views on the use of keigoever since you wrote in your first few days at Rikkyo that Japanese people speaking to you in polite form really gets your goat. I frowned at the time, because to me, being spoken to instantly in plain form would be the equivalent of a Japanese person saying, “I don’t expect you to have any manners,” “I don’t think that you understand polite words” and/or “I don’t feel the need to afford you basic respect,” and I’ve been turning over my views of the topic ever since. I wish I’d been able to sit in on the class of your heated debate, I bet it was really interesting stuff.