Chapter 1:

Prologue: 11:00 a.m.

The Kimochi Warui Diary

“The last thing you want to do in Japan,” the Professor said. “Is to appear like some idiot foreigner.” Bookmark here

The classroom erupted in laughter.Bookmark here

“Anyone here taking Japanese?” he asked. “Come on, raise your hands.” Bookmark here

Before anyone could, he was already speaking again. Bookmark here

“They probably teach you to use watashi to refer to yourself. And that’s not wrong. At the same time, it’s not right, either.” Bookmark here

My professor was a 40 year-old white guy with shoulder-length, curly brown hair. He paced back and forth across the front of the room as he centered in on his main point:Bookmark here

“Watakushi, wagahai, ore, uchi, jibun These are all Japanese pronouns, but you’ll sound weird if you use any of them.”Bookmark here

I rarely took notes in “Japanese Culture Through Films,” but this time was different. I had my Pilot fountain pen at the ready for the professor’s next words.Bookmark here

“Let me explain,” he said. “Some years ago, I was in Japan for a conference. While waiting for a train, I saw an older Japanese woman struggling to carry her luggage. I ran up to help her, and when I did, I used my best Japanese to greet her…”Bookmark here

The professor slowed down his frantic pace, ran his fingers through his hair, and took a breath.Bookmark here

“…and I used ‘boku’ to refer to myself. And when she heard that, she stopped. She looked me straight in the eyes, and she said to me in fluent English: ‘Don’t use boku. It sounds like you have an Oedipus complex.’”Bookmark here

The classroom was silent. A couple students chuckled nervously.Bookmark here

“Okay, okay, weird example,” the professor said. Then he revved himself back up to his normal pace.Bookmark here

“I just thought of a much better example. It was during grad school, in Japan. A colleague of mine said he was having a hard time fitting in.”Bookmark here

My pen was uncapped, ready to write down what came next. Bookmark here

“He said no one wanted to hang out with him. He was envious of our colleagues who had found girlfriends. In the classroom, everyone appeared to be friendly with him, but outside of that, they had no interest in him. To him, it was a complete mystery. But if you saw how he walked… How he carried himself… How do you explain it?”Bookmark here

The professor held up his hands as if he was grasping the words as they appeared in front of him.Bookmark here

“He was the kind of guy who spoke louder than everyone else in the room. He had no sense of personal space. He was the kind of guy who couldn’t keep to himself—he had to touch everything as he walked by it. I wanted to say to him, ‘Look around, do you see anyone here acting the way you do?’ But no one in that society would ever tell him that directly.” Bookmark here

The professor stood there in silence for a few seconds.Bookmark here

“Anyways, sorry for the tangent. I promise it’s relevant to the film we’re about to watch.”Bookmark here

I was capturing the last of his words in my notebook. Before he could leave the topic behind forever, my hand shot up.Bookmark here

“About the pronouns,” I said. “You never said which one was best to use.”Bookmark here

He laughed softly and wagged a finger.Bookmark here

“None of them, actually. A fluent speaker will use the context of the conversation to make it clear when they’re referring to themselves.”Bookmark here

I didn’t know how to respond.Bookmark here

“Okay, I see you’re confused,” he said. “I’ll make it easy: You’re best off using ‘watashi’ in almost every case—just don’t blame me if someone says you’re being too polite.”Bookmark here

I nodded my head and scribbled a nearly illegible note:Bookmark here

“I don’t have to call myself anything, but if I do, I can be Watashi.”
Bookmark here

This Novel Contains Mature Content

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Jio Kurenai
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