Friday, November 14, 2008

Having a Kid in Japan

So yeah. I promised back when I had my son in August, that I wouldn't be posting stupid pictures of him throwing up with 'awww izznt dat da cutest wittle ting u evr saw' bullshit captions. Nothing is more boring to me than other people's children, and I only really tolerate my job (elementary school teacher in Japan) because I know they'll be going home to annoy the shit out of their own parents at the end of the day. That, and the girls are awesome. I pretty much teach the girls, and if the boys pay attention, power to them. I can't stand little boys, they're such intentional shits all the time that I end up just wanting to punch them in the throat every 12 seconds. God! Anyway... people like hearing about adventures in Japan, and I figure this is a pretty big one, so here's the lowdown on having an inbred half-whitey son in Jap-an.

One of the things about living in Japan (probably the one big thing) I don't really like is the feeling of being trapped in my current line of work. I can't just stop teaching and go get an office job, or even work the drive through at the local Mac Deez. My grasp of the Japanese language isn't as good as it could be (completely my fault, and fully within my own boundaries to improve), but it's good enough to get by, and that's what I do. I get by. As long as I continue to teach school, getting by is sufficient, and doing so actually probably helps my situation in some ways. There's a girl from Australia that majored in Japanese before coming over here, and since she speaks the language fluently, she's somehow expected to know and follow all of their fucked up high, mid, low, mid-low, high-high-mid low, mid-low high-low bullshit systems of addressing one another. Nobody just says "dude" or "sir". There are like 57 ways to address a superior and grovel before them, and lord help you if you chose rank 15b when that guy was clearly an 18f. I just trample all over it, using the 'talking to a child form' with the principal at school, write it off to a general misunderstanding of their wacky culture, and get away with it. Even if I become fluent in the language and customs during my time here, I will never LET ON that I know the drill. It's much easier to exercise the gaijin smash (omfg please read that link, it's priceless) and just be done with it.

Now that I have a kid here, it's become more apparent that I'll be here for some time, or that I should hurry the fuck up and get back to America ASAP. I think having Roy start elementary school here, then getting to about 3rd grade and being like 'yeah, fuck this, let's head back to the states' probably wouldn't be a very healthy thing for a kid to go through, so we gotta kinda figure this out now (well, soon). The final plan is for my wife to open a hair salon over here, and have me do part time lessons in an after school English Juku kinda thing, but that's such a long ways off that I'm not sure I can handle teaching the same 'where are you going? i'm going to the zoo' lessons until then. There's actually a big program underway in Japan to normalize the English curriculum for 5th and 6th graders, so it's an interesting time to be a teacher here, but the new text books they're introducing are at my 1st and 2nd grade kids' level. My district is unique in that we have full time English teachers at the elementary level, and the books are aimed at schools who have never had an English lesson. They're trying to ramp the kids up for junior high, where it's a full time subject. That being the case, teaching my fifth graders "how are you? i am happy" is a huge bore for them. The official program starts next year, so we'll see how that goes...

Children with one foreign parent are called 'halfs', and whether that's a half-empty 'you are only half Japanese' or a half-full 'wow you're half American, cool!' is up for debate. In general, halfs get taunted and tormented during their elementary and junior high school years for being anything other than 'regular Japanese', then everyone jumps on their nuts when they get older, because by then everyone is sick of regular Japanese and wants to stand next to anyone that stands out in a crowd (98.8% of Japan is Japanese). I mean, elementary school kids are shits wherever you go. I grew up in a white neighborhood, and the one black kid at my school was being called a nigger every day by all the retards before they even knew what it meant. While a half Japanese half White kid is run of the mill in America, everyone here spazzes out about it like a giraffe had sex with a gorilla and created some freak abnormality.

After 5 years living in Japan, I still get random people that just blatanly stop and stare at me when I walk down the street, or push a cart in the supermarket. I've had Japanese teachers tell me I remind them of Will Smith. I'm a white guy. I recently bought a pretty big and fancy camera, and after carrying it around for a few days I realized that now, in addition to being a 'foreigner', people think I'm also either a huge fucking tourist or that I want to sell pictures of their daughters to porn sites or something. For the most part, I'm able to just ignore gawkers, but that's because it was my choice to come here; I brought it on myself. Do I really want to subject my child to that kind of shit, though, when he had no choice in the matter? Imagine you are a child with 3 eyes on your face. Would you rather grow up where that's normal, or in some land where everyone is going to stop and stare at you every time you leave your house?

I'm blowing it out of proportion, but only slightly. To say this doesn't exist would be untrue, and like I said, I can ignore it myself because I brought it on myself. I do love living in Japan, and think it's got a lot of things going for it. Random Japanese people have a strong (crazy strong) sense of unity with one another that just doesn't exist in America. But again, Japan is 98% Japanese, so of course it makes sense that they would. They also don't try to sue each other everyday, the police aren't complete assholes, and generally the vibe is that you're free to do your own thing as long as you aren't killing people. There aren't stupid amounts of guns and drugs everywhere, children's playgrounds still have play structures made out of honest-to-god real wood and cement (not foam and pillows), and Japanese teachers are free to drag a kid out of the classroom by his ear.

It's far from perfect, though. The glass ceiling for women is ridicuclous (women in general are still at a heavy disadvantage in many situations), the education system's content is pretty lacking (learning is done my rote, history books conveniently gloss over WW2), and politicians are screwing people over (hardly unique to Japan)... The question becomes one of 'which system would I rather raise a child in?' and more often than not I'm leaning with just staying here.

The question of language pops up again, as Roy will be attending Japanese schools and surrounded by a country that speaks Japanese. As I said earlier, I have the tools at my disposal to learn Japanese, I just haven't bothered... I have a wife at home that speaks English. I intend to continue speaking English primarily to Roy, and have my wife (and the country at large) speak Japanese to him, hoping he'll get a grasp on both. I have this fear that eventually he'll get sick of speaking English to me, and just be like 'Why the fuck doesn't dad speak Japanese?' but children have a huge advantage in picking up languages. It's actually been documented that the language pathways in our brains are formed at an early age, and since we use language so regularly (even talking to ourselves in our heads), those pathways become 'deeper' with use. Common neurons are always firing down the same paths to produce certain word associations, and that's why it gets harder to pick up a language as you get older. Hopefully Roy will develop the bi-lingual pathways at an early age, and while it may be confusing at first that dad says "car" and mom says "kuruma", eventually it'll just make sense. People I've talked to about this say there's nothing to worry about, but it just seems so strange to me.

Blegh... this is a bit of a ramble, and hinging awfully close on that whole "hey this is all about my kid, isn't it interesting" that I despise so much, so I'll cut this short with the promise that if this is something you're into, I can always expound further on the subject if desired.


Anonymous said...

"I've had Japanese teachers tell me I remind them of Will Smith. I'm a white guy"

Wow. Just wow.

It's true about the elementary years, though. Once he reaches the teen years, he's probably gonna be a looker and then he'll have to chase people away.

Tom Phoenix said...

'awww dat be da cutest wittle ting i evr saw' ;)

Anyway, since I have been in a similar position Roy will be, I will try to share my experience. Hopefully, it might help you in some way.

My parents come from another country and most of their kids, including me, were born here. As such, I preety much lived in a bilingual einvironment. Actually, it would be more correct to say trilingual since I learned a lot of my English through television when I was little. But I digress.

The important factor when it comes to languages is the einvironment. Depending on what language is mostly spoken in that einvironment, that language will be the more predominant compared to the other. So if you will live in Japan, Roy will undoubtedly spreak better Japanese then English. This might make him feel akward when you will be visiting your family in the US. A good way to soften the diffrences a bit is to allow him to learn about the language and American culture early on.

But the biggest issue someone in a bilingual einvironment faces is the eventual identity crisis. Regardless of how much one is welcomed in the country they live in, he will still be considered a foreigner. Likewise, in the other country where he has relatives, he will never be considered one of them. Beacuse of this, he lacks the sense of belonging that most other people enjoy.

But being a bilingual child is not all completely bad. It still gives you the basis from more then one language and in today`s world, having knowledge of more then one language can be quite handy. Plus, it also grants you a wider perspective on things. If you live in a monolingual einvironment, your perspective on things will always suffer from the constraints of the culture you live in. Whereas someone from a bilingual einvironment will have more of an open mind on things.

Ultimately, what you decide to do is your own choice. However, if you decide to stay in Japan, my recommendation would be to live in a place where caucasians are frequently present. Since Japan is an important economic and military country, there are bound to be places where the local population is used to seeing non-Asians (like Okinawa, for example). While I cannot guaruantee this will prevent Roy from being a victim of prejudices, it will still soften the relations between him and the Japanese society.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I've been reading your articles for the past few years on WoW and related topics and this is the first time I'm making a comment, when you sort of stray from the subject.

I'm European, even Hungarian and I think you might have a rough idea where this place is. What makes me contribute is that I'm in a similar situation with my family. My wife is German and we have a 2 year old girl living all together in Hungary. What makes the situation unique, is that my wife does not speak Hungarian and I do not speak German.

We speak English to each other and our respective mother tongues to the little girl. She's just starting to talk, and the funny thing is that she does not say a word in English, but whatever she says in German to her mother, she can immediately repeat in Hungarian to me. Seems pretty natural to her and of course it is, as this is the only situation she's ever been in.

Her looks do not differ fundamentally from the other kids, so I don't think she'll have immediate trouble by the other children. Although I can already see her schoolmates being jealous, as most Hungarians are not able to learn foreign languages very well. This is also the case with Japanese as far as I could see on my one trip there.

Oh, to finish this up: I would suggest that you stick to English and your wife sticks to Japanese when speaking to Roy. This helps kids figure things out and tie the languages to people, this way being able to differentiate. But I also believe that whatever you do in this regard, you cannot make a big mistake. If the kid is healthy and intelligent, he'll sort everything out faster than you'd expect.

Greetings from Hungary and all the best...

Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin said...

There are definitely two sides to this coin. On one hand, I think you would lose your edge if you had to constrain yourself to the speech of Japan. But on the other hand, well, let me tell you a story:

In fourth grade I had a friend down the street named Sammy. We became fast friends after an afternoon spent at his house playing his massive collection of wacky pirated games - including an SNES tennis game where your player would shout the f-word into a speech balloon every time they missed. Anywho, his entire family had moved to Colorado from Japan when he was just a baby. His parents had enough of a grasp on English to ask me "how is school?" and tell me to "stay in school". The grandma was completely a lost cause and walked around the house muttering things in, what I then assumed was Japanese, but could have been some secret twin language.

I remember Sammy had received a puppy from a family member who had also migrated to the states. After a few weeks I stopped seeing the puppy chained in his usual place in their front yard, and Sammy told me that the dog had run away.

A few days later I overheard my parents talking about Sammy and his missing puppy. Somehow my mother had pieced together the evidence and determined that the crazy japanese dad had killed the dog and ditched the body in the trash. The moral?

Whether or not you end up killing your son's dog at some point, without a grasp of the native language you'll never be invited to any of the neighborhood parties.

Anonymous said...

My biggest fear about raising a kid in japan would be that he would adopt the emo/metal/hardcore extreme ideals that seems to be prevailing in the japanese youth.

Not that I have a huge problem with any of those 3 but it'd be so annoying to put up with.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a site I read for a while, years ago, of a black guy that moved to Japan to teach, and talked how all the kids used to try to grab his junk and that he was concerned he'd be made out to be some creep with a lolita complex. o_O

The absolute weirdness of some of the stories he told was awesome, and extremely interesting. I wish I still had the link, or knew if the site even existed anymore...

Rich said...

noob, i linked the site in the story!

Gaijin Smash


Anonymous said...

you should just move back to the town and buy Roy a gold grill with gold dollar signs $$$$$$$$ :D HYPHY

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize they were one and the same! (Although, honestly, how I could have thought there would be more than one guy with Kancho Sense so acute, I have no idea.)

In my defense, it wasn't "Gaijin Smash" when I first started reading it. It was some bunch of editorials on a weird subdomain.

Now I know, and thank you for reintroducing me to the hilarity. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a Turkish married to a Catalan living in Turkey. (Yes I'm that guy who wrote almost on the last day of notaddicted) No kids yet but this feature will be implemented in a future patch. I know couple of families like us and the kids just learn dual languages so easy. I'm 100% Turkish and I learned English at high school. I didnt go to any language schools etc. and never lived abroad but extensive business travelling and my interest in FRP games and computers and reading made me a bilingual. Hell I can even speak enough German to get beaten. So language is really not an issue if especially its English we are talking. Better for him to learn Japan there until he is 15-16. Someone wrote that you should speak to him in English and your wife in Japan which is really the best thing to do. Dont freak out from the identity crisis. Think of yourself and how you survived. Treat him an intelligent adult from the begining instead of thinking him as one of those tadpole murlocs that need your help constantly. Btw they are so cute and funny sounding in the NW corner of Borean Tundra. Dont miss them leveling.