For this month’s Japantics, we’ve gathered a few funny stories from peeps around the prefecture as they remember adjusting to Japan. We have all experienced language slip-ups, cultural trip-ups, and new challenges that we faced with a smile. They say that laughter is the best medicine. But does that include sick burns, sometimes self-inflicted, you ask? We’d like to think yes, yes it does.
“The Ramune Master” by Mel Tee in Towada
Have you ever chugged Ramune? (Ramune: A carbonated soft drink that comes in a glass bottle sealed with a marble. You push the marble into the bottle to open it. The marble rattles around inside the bottle’s neck while you drink.)
Due to self-consciousness, I rarely try things I suspect I won’t be good at. Nonetheless, at one ES undoukai, I allowed myself to be convinced to join an obstacle course-type race where the final obstacle was chugging a Ramune. I am a slow runner at best, so I joined just hoping not to be last. Amazingly, I was one of the first to reach the Ramune—I actually had a chance to win!! I quickly opened the bottle, put it to my lips, tilted my head back, and…nothing!
The thing with Ramune is the marble tends to drop down to block the opening while you are drinking unless you hold the bottle at just the right angle to keep the marble away from the mouth. In my case, the marble probably got stuck every 30 seconds or so. The carbonation (I don’t drink pop very often) combined with my general inexperience with chugging also slowed me down a lot.
I ended up dead last. At the end there was probably a good 2-3 minutes—felt like an eternity!—where everyone had already crossed the finish line but I was still drinking. At first I was really embarrassed, but everyone was good naturedly cheering me on, so in the end I was able to cross the finish line laughing.
The next year—determined not to finish last again—the night before the undoukai, I practiced drinking Ramune so the flow wasn’t being constantly disrupted by the marble. When I finally figured out the trick, I felt confident that I could do better this time.
The result? Dead last again. Although I had learned how to efficiently drink from the bottle, I hadn’t practiced/learned how to deal with the carbonation to drink quickly! But again, we all had a good laugh about it at the end.
Lessons learned: Chugging Ramune is darned difficult. But more importantly, putting aside fears of embarrassment/failure and just trying stuff out can be a lot of fun.
“One Memorable Shopping Spree” By Sera McHale in Yokohama-town
My first months coming to Japan, I took things way too lightly. I was unprepared in certain situations that I ignorantly assumed were done the same as the states. Therefore, daily tasks were constantly interfered or took longer to complete because of the tiniest differences. It was very frustrating. Maybe I should have known better where credit cards were concerned, but I couldn’t have. So I hope my next piece of advice will come in handy for some new JET’s, because in Japan even a swipe of a credit card is done differently and it can lead to a BIG monthly bill if you are not careful.
When in Japan I wanted to shop big and travel around, therefore went to the local bank to make a credit card. Now, I’m sure my bank teller told me in the beginning how, where and when payments are done, but I wasn’t paying attention. It’s a credit card; you swipe and pay later, easy.
My first trip to Tokyo I went on a shopping spree, bought airplane tickets, bullet train tickets, hotel and a couple nights out on the town all courtesy of my credit card. The next month when I got my bill it was BIG, but no worries. I went to the bank and said, “I would like to pay 80,000 Yen towards my credit card bill!” The teller gave me a crazy look and told me to call the number on the back of the card. Oh, maybe I have to pay via phone with customer service, no problem, so I call them. “Ummmm, Ms. McHale you have to pay everything on this month’s bill, not just the amount you want to pay. Plus, you don’t have to call us, it will ALL be pulled out of your checking account automatically.” WHAT, ALL at once!? What is the point of having a credit card then!?
I found out that in Japan, when you use a credit card at a store the cashier will ask how many times you want to split the payments, one, two, three months etc. It all worked out in the end, but it was scary! Bottom line, we are all going to make mistakes, and the majority of those mistakes are nothing detrimental and make a great story when you get back home. Keep an open mind in knowing things aren’t always going to go as planned and take in as much advice to cover your bases; you will be fine!
“Awkward? No! Awesome!” by Jackson Pietsch in Hirosaki
Most of my adaptation stories are little and just come from experimenting with words on my host family in Kyoto and generally failing. One time I was trying to mess with “manly” casual language and said some meal was “umai ze!” and they just started laughing. Another time, I was trying to use Kansai dialect, and they laughed again. Another time, I was trying to describe a car accident I heard about, and I used the wrong word and said someone got “punched” by a car rather than “hit”. Same result; they laughed. In retrospect, I’m glad I had this happen with my host family before I started trying to actually talk like that among people who could CHOOSE whether to associate with me or not!
I do have one story about getting on the wrong train. In my first couple days in Kyoto, I was half asleep one morning and accidentally got on a women-only train car. Didn’t realize until I started feeling a little stink-eye. Fortunately my hair was still down past my shoulders at that point in life, so I just hid my face and shuffled out of there as unobtrusively as I could.
Oh, and the very first night I arrived I had to fend for myself for dinner, so I walked to a 7-11 and grabbed some pre-made dinner thing. Had no idea what the guy at the counter was saying when he asked me if I wanted it warmed up, so I just mumbled “daijoubu” and so my first meal in Japan was a cold plastic bento of pork cutlet.
All of these are funny now, even if they sometimes didn’t feel like it at the time. IF you can get through the awkward parts of adjusting to living here, soon you’ll be bringing your stories up for laughs too!