Don't Mess With My Seaweed
I was planning on heading to the barber's here in Japan so, in preparation for the expedition, I trialed a useful piece of Japanese on my wife. What I intended to say was "Leave the parting as it is" but my wife informed me that what I had actually said was "Don't mess with my seaweed".
The phrase that I came out with was "Wakame sono mama". The term "sono mama" means "leave it as it is", and is something you could say, for example, at the cashier's in a convenience store, to indicate that there was no need to put your purchase into any kind of bag. Just leave it as it is, thanks.
However, I confidently used the word "wakame" thinking that it means "parting". Actually, it means "seaweed". The word I needed was "wakeme", and one vowel can make all the difference.
(Over the years, in the classroom, while teaching English, I have quite frequently heard Japanese students of English saying things like "I know for a fucked" when they mean "I know for a fact". On such occasions I have made a point of correcting the vowel to the "a" in "have", without ever elaborating on the reason why I was picking up on that particular pronunciation point.)
Thanks to the assistance given by my wife, I was able to sally forth confidently to the barber's, confident that my parting would not be messed with.
If you're living in Japan it really helps to know some Japanese, because then you can say how you want to get your hair cut.
You can also use your Japanese to obtain useful information as and when you need it.
At Waniguchi, for example, I found my way to the local stationery shop. Go down the road from Waniguchi Gakko, take the first right and it's on the left.
When I got to the stationery shop, I was able to use my Japanese in a clumsy but communicative fashion, eventually getting across the desired meaning, which was that I desired to purchase an indexed address book with the index in Roman letters rather than Japanese script. They told me they had no such thing but cheerfully assured me that I would be able to buy just such an item at the bookshop just along the road from the bank. Did I know the bank in question? Yes, I did.
Thanks to the useful information obtained from the stationery store, I ended up at the bookstore. There I was told that they did not sell address books of any description. However, they gave me a useful piece of information. They cheerfully informed me that I would be able to buy the desired address book at the stationery shop, which I would find easily if I went down the road, took the first right then looked for the shop on the left.
Despite my Japanese skills, then, I drew a blank as far as the address book was concerned. However, earlier, in the stationery store, I was able to successfully purchase a hotchikisu, a stapler, which I approximated as something like "hotch kiss". (The name derives from the brand name on the German staplers which, way back in history, brought the stapler revolution to Japan.)
At first, in the stationery shop, they didn't understand what I was on about, but I only needed to take two shots at it before they got the meaning, as there are no competing Japanese words in the hotchikisu range.
The more close competitors a word has, the more exact you have to be with the pronunciation, as in the case of "wakame" and "wakeme". (And, similarly, "I faxed her" and "I fuxed her". And, to take a pronunciation problem which one student had, the difference between "Quantas" and "Kuntas".)
Although my pronunciation was not entirely accurate, I did, nevertheless, get my stapler. If I'd been unable to communicate verbally, I would have mimed stapling two pieces of paper, or, if all else failed, I would have hauled out my notebook and would have drawn a stapler.
(I once had a Japanese student, an architect by profession, who was sent to Indonesia. He was housed in a house which had a number of staff members, all there to assist him, but he had no language in common with them. So what did he do? "I am an architect, so, of course, I can draw. So I drew.")
Without needing to draw, I was able to achieve linguistic success, my purchased hotchikisu the proof of this.
My reason for buying a stapler was that I need one for work. At work, some pieces of paper need to be stapled to the cardboard folders which contain student files, particularly the all-important mark-off sheet which shows you which lessons have been taught and which have not. Since the same students tend to recur during my morning shift, it is in my interests to do my best to maintain any files that I come across, since I will quite possibly be needing them again in the near future.
I need a stapler, then. But, although there is a stapler in the teacher's room, it is not easy for me to find.
My eyesight is adequate for teaching because, when wearing my reading spectacles, which are optimized for reading at book-holding distance, I can read even the smallest print in the textbooks. I have, when required, the visual acuity necessary to read any kind of documentation, from textbooks onwards.
Only one thing has defeated my eyesight since I started teaching, and that was the text on the back of the small button batteries which my wife dug out of the electronic keyboard of our daughter's jungle noises book. But my wife was able to read the tiny little engraved letters, and so we ended up getting the necessary batteries successfully.
But because I have a visual field defect, my eyesight is not adequate for a hunter-gatherer existence. I cannot easily hunt through the visual complexities of the world. Locating small items such as dropped pens, intruding mice, discarded hand grenades and the like is very, very difficult for me. Certainly, I am not really capable of hunting down a cunning and elusive stapler which has the habit of transmigrating through metaspace to emerge in the teacher's room in an unpredictable quasi-random fashion.
I quite simply can't hunt down small missing objects in an efficient fashion, and that is a problem for me in a teacher's room which is Time Pressure City.
The stapler is not the only object which has eluded me recently. A few days ago, a teacher who was teaching English to a five-year-old kid lost the ball that he and the kid were playing with. The ball ended up in the cubicle in which I was teaching.
"Could we have our ball?"
I asked where it was and he pointed at it, but I could not see the dark ball against the dark carpet, and, in the end, the teacher had to come right into the cubicle and retrieve the object.
I told him that if the ball ended up in my cubicle again then they wouldn't be getting it back.
I hit a similar problem, the problem of the small invisible object, when I and my two-year-old daughter Cornucopia were using the Internet together up in my personal room. I had clearly and unambiguously tasked Cornucopia with the job of monitoring my Internet so she could update herself on the contents of slashdot.org and other such important sites.
But, somewhere along the line, Cornucopia lost the plot, not for the first time, and I emerged from a hypnotic Internet daze to find that she had been messing with my stuff while my attention was diverted.
Quite a bit of my stuff, including the contents of an entire box of rubber bands, which had ended up sprawling across the floor.
And she had also gotten her hands on my address stamp. Her hands were inky with black ink and the cap of the address stamp was missing. Without it, the ink would dry up, so I wanted the cap back. But how to find it in my room? I could have searched for ages.
In the end, I called on the assistance of my wife, who, earlier, had dropped in on our father-daughter Internet session, and had offered to remove Cornucopia from my personal room
Once her assistance was requested, my wife almost immediately spotted the missing cap, which was sitting on top of a dictionary in a shadowy recess of the bookshelf which stands to the left of my desk.
Similarly, faced with the problem of hunting down the elusive stapler, I have been resorting to the simple expedient of asking the other teachers where the stapler is. I asked for help in finding the stapler at least five times in the working week just gone, and on one occasion a fellow teacher told me "It's down the other end of the room". I went there but couldn't see where the stapler was, so said, frankly, "I can't see where it is". The other teacher kindly went and got it for me. However, I figured that Hugh's constant requests for the stapler could, potentially, become an issue.
Since the hunter-gatherer component of office life is very small, I don't see my inability to hunt down wayward playballs and absconding staplers as being a serious demerit. But, even so, I felt I needed to solve the stapler problem.
And the simple solution, the smarter animal solution, was to go buy my own stapler, as these things are very small, very light and, additionally, very cheap. So now I have my own, tucked away in the small backpack which also contains, amongst other things, my reading spectacles, my pencil case, the novel I am reading on the train, a flashlight, my emergency supply of water, my collapsible umbrella and my raincoat.
My week ended, on balance, as a success. I conquered the stapler problem and, yes, I got my haircut done to my satisfaction.
The one place where I failed, sort of, was at the conveyor belt sushi place. My ambition was to extend my sushi-eating range by sampling the mysterious "suzuki" which I saw a customer order on the previous week. But they were out of suzuki that day. So next week, then. Maybe.