Not so Sino

28 Aug 2003

So I’m now in Japan. All things considered, it was a pretty smooth trip here, although leaving my place and the few days leading up to my departure were pretty hectic. None of that is so important at the moment, though. I’m here in Japan because a good Japanese friend is getting married this Saturday. With the new semester at ZUCC approaching fast, I can’t stay in Japan long this visit, so there’s nothing I can do but enjoy it. And that I am.

Since the purpose of this visit is to attend a wedding, I had three big fears about my return to Japan: (1) that I don’t have the right clothes for the occasion (and clothes in my size are pretty hard to come by anywhere in Asia — I don’t know where Yao Ming shops), (2) that I’d be asked to make a speech, and (3) that my Japanese has gotten worse than I thought (which related also to #2). All of my fears have been realized!!!

My dark gray suit has gotten tight, so I didn’t bring it, electing instead to go with khaki pants, a blue long-sleeved shirt, and a nice tie. Turns out at the formal Japanese wedding ceremony (I’ve never attended one) the suits should be dark. The difference between Japanese wedding and funeral menswear, it seems, is that at funerals the ties are also black, but not at weddings. So I need a black suit, fast. We’re looking. The actual couple are way laid-back about it all, though, so if we can’t actually find the right clothes it’s not a terribly big deal.

My Japanese is still very functional, but I get a bit flustered at times, which is annoying. After a few trips to Japan from China, I’ve stopped responding to Japanese in Chinese (which is really embarrassing), but the Japanese doesn’t come readily enough, and I’m impatient, dammit! I guess the worst thing is that I keep comparing my Japanese level to my Chinese level, and since I can express myself in Chinese with relative ease, it’s frustrating to be so limited again in a language I once considered myself to be quite proficient in. If I were here for a month, though, I’d be OK….

The speech thing is actually no longer a problem. Shingo (ex-Japanese homestay brother) and I had quite a few beers at dinner tonight and decided to write my speech. I told him in Japanese and English (Shingo has spent time in Australia) what I wanted to say, and we worked out the Japanese. It’s fairly short and to the point, yet kinda moving without being at all silly, since the formal occasion does not warrant an ounce of silliness. (Oh, and yes, we did try it out on soberer people before declaring it officially “good.”) Fortunately after the formal ceremony there’s also an informal party. That’s when the fun begins.

The wedding is going to be fine, but I really wish my Japanese was better. There was a really interesting conversation going on last night involving the true nature of Japanese patriotism/nationalism, the question of Japan’s attitude toward China and revisionist history, and the political manga of Kobayashi Yoshinori in particular. The fact that I can even still attempt said discussion is reason for encouragement, but I really wish I could have followed more of what was said — I mean the complex, juicy stuff — and actually added something substantial.

Ah, well. I think I’ll return to the task at hand for the time being: enjoying Japan.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

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