My Single Story of Japan

Note: This post is an english translation of a post that I wrote in Japanese. If you would like to read the same post in Japanese, it is called 私の日本のシングル・ストーリー

This is actually a term that came up in my scholars seminar, but the idea of a Single Story is one that is relevant in many different contexts. But what is a Single Story? You may understand after I tell you my story, but here is my definition of the term.

“A Single story, to me, is a stereotypical image that you personally hold of a country, ethnic group, or an individual because of the environment that you grew up in.”

The me today understands how great of a country Japan is, but before, I did not necessarily have the same feelings towards Japan.

Because I was born in California, from childhood we learned bits and pieces about Japan at school, but the image that I had of Japan when I was younger to the image that I have now are totally different. In Elementary School, during the time we studied the California Gold Rush, we also studied the immigration into the United States by many Japanese people, explaining the current large population of Japanese people in California (this was not the only reason though). However, during that time, I did not have any friends or acquaintances were were Japanese, so I did not notice at all this idea that “In California, there is a high population of Japanese people.”。

goldrush

I still did not have any Japanese friends in Middle School (at least that I can remember…), but during this time, we started studying World War Two more in depth. While learning about the Japanese Kamikaze and The Attack on Pearl Harbor, we learned about Japanese internment camps and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I did not really know what I was supposed to think about Japan as a country. Of course, I understood that the Japanese government has done some bad things in the past, but America has done horrible things to other countries, and what happened in Pearl Harbor was not the fault of Japanese-Americans. When I was in middle school, I started watching Anime, and even though I liked anime, I still did not really feel like Japan was a “good country.” However, it turned out that because America tends to avoid discussing their own actions during World War II, my textbook was written in a way that did not completely explain both sides of the story, especially when it came to the Kamikaze, and that is why whenever I thought of the Kamikaze, I had the image of them being truly evil beings. At that time, I was ignorant of the ways of the world (although I still am in many ways).

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Because of the bombing on Pearl Harbor, Americans felt like they could no longer trust the Japanese people, leading to the creation of Japanese Internment Camps.

kamikaze

I had never really thought of the Kamikaze as human beings.

I only really understood the American perspective of the war, but when I entered high school, I took a class on World History, allowing me to at least understand japan a little better. However, despite taking three years of Japanese, I still did not know much at all about Japanese culture or politics. At this time in my life, I still thought that I would be pursuing a major in Biology someday, so I did not get the chance to really study Japanese culture outside of what I would see in Anime. However, during the Summer of my third year in high school,  I went to Japan, totally changing what I wanted to study in college. From my first year in high school, I had always loved Japanese class, but since I changed my mind and decided to study Japanese, I had no idea what kinds of jobs that I could get, which was very troubling.

During the first semester of the my fourth year of high school, I actually lost most of my confidence in speaking Japanese and didn’t know what do do, but after consulting my Japanese teacher, she told me that instead of quitting, “Why don’t you challenge yourself a little bit and see how you do?” Thanks to my teacher’s encouraging words, I entered our high school’s Japan Bowl Team. But what the heck is Japan Bowl anyways? Japan Bowl is an academic competition. In teams of three, high school students are tested on various topics related to Japan. Every year, the topics that we study change, and there are certainly many of these topics to cover, so the year I participated, I focused on learned about Japanese daily rites of life, performing arts, and religion.  In April of 2014, I went to Washington D.C. 2014 along with my team to participate in this Japan Bowl competition and we ended up winning Second place in the whole nation.

私の学校(クパチーノ高校)のチームだ。私は下列の真ん中の女の子で、私の右にいる二人はチームメイトです。

This is my schools’s (Cupertino High School) Japan Bowl Team. I’m the girl in the middle on the bottom row, and the boy and girl sitting next to me are my two teammates.

After competing in Japan Bowl, I felt like ,”Yes, I can actually be good at something!” and as I longed to learn more about Japan, I was really looking forward to college. Even though I am still just a Freshman, in just one year, I have already learned quite a bit about Japan (although there is still much for me to learn). After learning about Japanese history, culture, politics, and art, the feeling of not knowing what to think about Japan has disappeared. Like other countries, Japan has stains on its past, but now, I feel like I’ve begun to understand Japan’s strong points as well.

In the world, there are many countries that I barely know anything about. Even though I am racially Indian, I don’t know much about Indian history or politics at all. In the case that I had never studied Japanese, I would probably still mostly associate Japan with kamikaze, WWII, and Internment Camps. This is why I think that in order for the people of this world to start getting along better, emphasizing the study of languages would be the most important decision we could make. Through studying a country’s language, one can more easily understand that country’s unique culture, etc. In the world, especially in America, discrimination happens very often. Its a shame, but no matter how many times we oppose the ignorance of the people, they will still have single stories (myself included). Before I started studying Japanese, I had a single story about Japan and Japanese people. To learn from my ignorance and prevent myself having any more single stories about anyone, I have decided to try to learn as much as I can about other countries. Because I had this feeling, I ended up leaving California and coming to Ohio State.

In the case that you want to learn more about what a single story is, this Ted Talk would be very interesting to watch.

In this video, Ms. Chamamanda talks about her own single story. Ms. Chamamanda is from Nigeria, and when she came to America for college, her roommate was surprised that she wasn’t poor or uneducated. This is a single story that Ms. Chamamanda’s roommate about people from Africa.  In addition, Ms. Chamamanda herself says that she had a single story when it came to Caucasian people from America. So, no matter where you are in the world, there will be people who hold single stories in their hearts.

I also have had a similar experience. When I first met my roommate, she had various single stories about Indian people. I asked her what came to mind when she thought about Indian people, and she said that she thought of someone who was very religious, good at math and science, and someone who cannot speak English very well. However I’m completely the opposite of that description.  Although I really enjoy learning about religion, I am not a very religious person, math and science are my worst subjects, and since I was born in America, I am a native speaker of English. Because of this, my roommate was rather surprised when she first met me.

「Big Bang Theory]というアメリカのテレビ番組からのラジュはアメリカ人にとってインド人の例です。

Raj, from the Big Bang Theory, is a good example of what Americans often think of an Indian Person.

In the end, single stories will never really disappear, but having patience and treating each question someone asks me about my race with sincerity, then maybe I can reduce the single stories people may have about India. That is why, if you have a single story about a person based on their race, ethnicity, etc, then without making any assumptions, genuinely ask them whatever questions you may have about them.

Does watching Anime count as “studying?”

This is actually a question that people not only ask me, but one that I often ask myself. I enjoy watching Japanese anime, so can I use the excuse of “it’s kind of studying…” as a justification?

The answer is, surprisingly, yes. Hold up, let me explain.

OnePieceNakamanarutoshuriken

Depending on what anime that you watch, you can actually learn a variety of useful – though sometimes not so much – vocabulary. I mean, heck, I wouldn’t know what a shuriken was if it wasn’t for watching Naruto, and without watching One Piece, I probably still wouldn’t understand the concept of nakama, but the truth is, for beginners who are barely learning how to converse, these words are like background noise that get in the way of learning the language. Watching fantasy shoujo anime like Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles (one of my favorites) can help you learn concepts such as “inevitability” (hitsuzen) and “coincidence” (guzen), or watching historical anime like Rurouni Kenshin might teach you “Old Japanese,” but anime should act as a supplement to your Japanese study, not a substitution.


Watching Anime helped me.

Although my Japanese pronunciation is no where near close to being perfect, watching anime did indeed help me with understanding how Japanese people pronounce certain words. Honestly, anything where you can actively listen to Japanese being spoken – dramas, music, even those random Japanese variety shows – will help you improve your pronunciation. However, I still know many people who watch tons of anime and still have a very thick American accent when they speak Japanese. Why is this? The best way to get rid of that accent is to listen carefully to how Japanese people speak and copy them, but it all depends on what kinds of anime you watch and how you use anime as a tool to learn.


What kinds of anime should stay away from as a student of Japanese?

As a student of Japanese (especially if you are a girl), I would stay away from shoujo anime that have a cast full of girls with squealing, ultra high-pitched voices. Not many people actually speak like this, and it is definitely not considered “abnormal” if you have a lower voice in Japan. The reason why I am saying this is because it is something that I was concerned about when I was younger. When I was first learning Japanese, I felt like I was weird for having such a low voice for a girl, and it bothered me, so I would raise my voice ever so slightly on purpose when speaking Japanese. It is natural to speak Japanese in a slightly higher pitch than your normal voice in your native tongue, and I’ve also heard from many of my Japanese friends that they speak in a slightly lower tone in English, but you should learn a language in a voice that is comfortable for you!

If you are just beginning, I would also try to stay away from watching certain shounen anime that are full of weird attack names or anime based on magical beings that use named spells if you are trying to learn vocabulary. Yeah, “Secret Technique: Hidden Dragon Spinning Kick,” may seem frickin’ cool, but you really don’t need to know random attack names like this to function as a Japanese language speaker.

Finally, If you are watching anime to learn more Japanese, I would stay away from the “weird” part of anime. Ya’ll know what I mean. Hentai, Yaoi, etc. are not the kinds of anime that are going to teach you anything other than probably the word for “penis” in Japanese.

Although I said all this, I’m not trying to stop anyone from watching any of the above mentioned types of anime. All I’m saying is that if you are watching anime for the purpose of learning more Japanese, these would not be the most useful for you. I have watched (and absolute loved) anime like Cardcaptor Sakura, which has plenty of characters with high-pitched voices or anime like Naruto which has names for every little ninja technique. Go ahead and watch Hentai or whatever, just don’t expect to learn anything important from it.


So what anime should I watch if I want to supplement my Japanese learning?

I’m going to suggest anime that I have read in my experience that seemed relatively applicable to what I have learned through my years studying Japanese, but this is only my experience, and there are probably plenty of anime out there that I haven’t even watched that would still be very useful.

First, I would like to suggest anime that are historically/culturally relevant to Japan. These will not only often be about everyday life in Japan (something that is definitely important to keep in mind if you hope to go to Japan some day) and thus uses relevant language, but will also teach you something about Japan, instead of fueling what you may think Japan is like. Many Shoujo anime are like this – often depicting the girl and her love interest going to Japanese matsuri, festivals that are often seasonal, together, visiting Shinto shrines for hatsumoude, the first shrine visit of the new year, or even participating in the unique-to-Japan way of celebrating Valentines day with the girl giving the boys chocolate. Anime that are historically relevant are often very subtly referencing important figures in Japanese history, so if you take the time to look up these names, you will not only learn a lot about Japan, but have a great way to remember the facts through the characters in the anime.

Anime that show Japan’s cultural aspects

  •  Kaichou wa maid-sama – this one might be a bit of a stretch, but it is about a girl who is the class president at her school but since her family is not very wealthy, she works as a maid at a maid cafe. You can learn more about Japanese high school students and high schools through this!

kaichowamaid

  • Tonari no Kaibutsu-Kun – this is another Shoujo anime, but it was kind of unique and interesting. Again, you can learn about high schools and pressures that Japanese students often face to do well in school.

tonari

  • Kimi ni Todoke – I read a bit of this manga and it was relatively interesting, it’s just that Shoujo isn’t really my thing. Although I’m sure its exaggerated, this anime talks about the problems with bullying in Japan. If I remember correctly, they also go to festivals and shrines quite a few times. (**This was also made into a live action movie!)

kiminimovie kimini

  • Koe no Katachi – I don’t believe that this has been released as an anime yet, so reading the manga (unless you read it in Japanese) would not be very good language practice, but I thought that this manga was rather interesting. It’s about college students, so it is a little bit more mature, but it really takes into account the consequences of bullying for the victim and the bully.

koeno

Unfortunately, I can’t really think of many Shounen manga that take place at a school and are relevant to everyday culture. Most of them are totally fantastical like Beelzebub or Katekyo Hitman Reborn!.

Historically significant anime (These tend to be Shounen or more mature)

  • Samurai Champloo – This is actually my favorite anime of all time. Not only is the music great, but the anime is very historically relevant. It takes place during the Edo Period a bit after the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637. The anime is very significant in showing the way people from the Ryukyu Kingdom were treated in Japan, as well as the ways the Hidden Christians of Japan had hid from the government. It does talk about prostitution and Shunga (erotic woodblock prints) during the Edo Period, so just keep that in mind. The characters speak in modern Japanese, so it is easier to understand.

champloo

  • Rurouni Kenshin – I have never gotten through the whole anime because it is rather long, but this anime is really interesting. If you want to learn how people spoke during the late 19th century in Japan, this would be the anime for you. Rurouni Kenshin is about a Samurai after the Meiji Restoration and how he wants to use his sword to protect others to atone for the sins he committed during the war. Although the main character Kenshin speaks in an older style of Japanese, most of the other characters do not, so it is still easier to understand. (**I think that there are 3 live action movies out right now for this anime series, they are rather well done and the actor is pretty good!)

kenshinnn kenshin

  • One Piece – An anime that I have been following for years, One Piece is a rather unexpectedly historically relevant anime. If you have the patience to watch the whole thing, then it is definitely worth it. Events in the anime often are referencing real events that happened in Japan or other parts of the world, and many characters are modeled after real famous people.

 op

 I may be a little biased in my choices, but all of these are really cool anime and I would totally recommend them to about anyone! I will soon be making a post about all my favorite anime, as many of them wouldn’t fit well with these anime.


How to use anime as a tool to study language?

Just watching anime is not going to be enough to help you supplement your Japanese studies. Subtitles are indeed useful, but they impede you from learning the language properly. Here are my steps for using anime to study:

Step 1: Watch an anime with the subtitles. If you are a student of Japanese, you have probably already watched some anime, which is a great start. If you are already an avid anime-watcher, chose an anime that you haven’t seen in a while, but remember the general plot line.

Step 2: Watch an anime that you have already watched before, but watch a raw version (no subtitles). For popular anime, this is generally easy to find on the web.  Watch the anime again, but since you already know the story, it will be easier to pick up the actual language parts of the anime. I am generally too lazy to search for raws, so I just ignore the subtitles, but sometimes it is difficult. If you can’t find raws, then try to find a DVD of the anime at your library. I don’t know how available anime is at other libraries, but my local one in California has tons.

Step 3: While watching, try to look up any words that you don’t understand. This is why I would suggest not watching anime with tons of very specific vocabulary – stick to something about school life/ everyday conversations.

Step 4: Once you are comfortable with watching anime without the subtitles, you can move on to other anime that you have never seen before!


All in all, watching anime can help you supplement your Japanese Studies, but there are many other better sources like dramas and music, for which both I will create separate posts.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

A very good place to start~

皆さん、今日は!

I thought that I would start off this blog by telling my story of how and why I started learning Japanese. Similarly to most who begin studying Japanese, I was introduced to anime and manga from a rather young age. My older brother loved shows like Naruto and One Piece, and so, naturally, I started liking them too. However, unlike many people, my interest in anime and manga did not prove as a motivation for learning Japanese. To tell you the truth, I kind of just took Japanese because a.) My brother took Spanish and I wanted to be somewhat different from him, b.) The French teacher at my school was well known throughout our district for being, well…, and c.) Chinese just seemed way too difficult. I felt cool doing something different from all my friends and it was the only option that I felt comfortable with, so I ended up taking Japanese.

I think taking Japanese in high school made me realize how much a good teacher can make a difference to an unsure fourteen-year-old. My Japanese teacher in high school is not only a great teacher, but to me, she was my biggest role model (other than my brother). Soon enough, I fell in love with learning Japanese, but I never thought that I would continue studying Japanese in college.

By my Sophomore year of high school, I still believed that I would hold up to the “Indian standard” and devote the rest of my life to a field of science. Maybe something like Biotechnology. Taking Biology sure made me happy, but soon enough, I realized that I just liked learning random facts about animals, not really doing lab work. So, if I did not want to pursue a career in science, and I was horrible at math, what was left that was socially acceptable?

After my Junior year of high school, I went to Japan for the first time through the Japanese National Honor Society’s trip that they planned every 3 years. I did not expect much other than awesome food out of the experience, but meeting Japanese people and finally getting to use the language made me realize that I want to speak Japanese for the rest of my life. That is when I decided to major in Japanese, despite the many obstacles I would face. It was really tough finding courage when many people did not support me in my decision, but right now, I know it was the right one.