The Kimochi Warui Diary
My world view wasn’t shattered by this revelation. In fact, it made plenty of sense. You hear about it all the time:
White guys coming out to Japan—whether they’re students or military—and eventually finding Japanese girlfriends or wives.
Apparently, just being white and living in Japan for the right amount of time were the only qualifications you needed!
But as I completed that thought, I already wanted to take it back. I couldn’t discredit Noah and Kumiko’s relationship with some harsh generalization like that.
“You guys want to eat anything in particular?” Noah asked.
They decided on taking us to a place that specialized in donburi—rice bowl dishes accompanied by meat or vegetables.
I couldn’t decide what I’d wanted. It all looked so good! I could have spent every day the whole week eating authentic Japanese meals, just at this restaurant alone.
The pork cutlet bowl looked like a savory meal to hit the spot, but at the same time, I was curious how eel and eel sauce would taste in a rice bowl rather than on a sushi roll. Or maybe I should try something completely different and go for the chicken and egg bowl?
“I’m just gonna get the chicken fingers,” Noah said.
I looked through the menu and, sure enough, at the bottom of the second page was a menu option for just “chicken fingers,” right next to the French fries.
Kumiko laughed. “Noah! You always get the chicken fingers!”
He let out a short chuckle. “Yeah. I like chicken fingers.”
I was shocked this restaurant had a “chicken fingers” item at all. Hold on, is that why we came here!?
I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why would you choose American-style fast food over a genuine Japanese meal while you’re in Japan?
The only time we’d eaten American in Japan was when we had McDonalds—and that’s only because we didn’t have time to spend looking for restaurants that morning.
The food in Japan was better in almost every way! Even the food at the 7-Eleven was on an entirely different level than what you’d get back in the states. In fact, I’d rather eat 7-Eleven egg sandwiches for the entire week than eat one greasy chicken strip!!!
“Hey Noah,” I began. “Do you have to know any Japanese to attend your school here?”
“Nah. They do the classes in English, since the main school is actually located in the US.”
“Makes sense. But you’ll learn more Japanese eventually, right? Like, if you plan to keep living here?”
“Yeah, I’ll learn some words here and there.”
Kumiko laughed. “It’s true! Just the other day, he finally used some Japanese words! I was like, wow, so proud of you, good job.”
Noah laughed, too. “Yeah, those words will probably carry me for the rest of the year.”
They both laughed together at that.
After dinner, we stopped by an arcade. This one was full of actual video games instead of UFO catchers and claw machines.
The games looked top of the line, with a level of graphics typically reserved for PCs or consoles. They even had their own unique controllers—well past the simple age of a single joystick and some buttons. But that just made it all the more difficult to understand how to play them.
I tried an anime styled hack-and-slash game. I figured my knowledge of hiragana and katakana would help me through the menus and into playing the actual game, but somehow I had accidentally selected the option to view the tutorial.
After numerous screens of dialogue and text boxes, the game forced me to perform certain actions as part of the tutorial. It wouldn’t let me progress unless I performed them in the exact way they wanted. A couple of minutes had passed, and I was still stuck in the tutorial.
“Hey, Kumiko,” Noah said. “Help [Watashi] with that one.”
She admitted to me that she wasn’t much of a gamer, but she’d do her best.
“It says you need to press an ‘action’ button three times. Which button is that?”
Kumiko was full Japanese, but she was incredibly fluent in English. If she hadn’t been, I wondered if there would be any relationship between her and Noah at all. Someone in the relationship had to step up and become bilingual, right?
But how long would that take?
How many kanji would I need to learn before I could get past a video game tutorial on my own?
We cleared three more actions but were still in the tutorial. Noah and Jotaro were off to the side waiting for us to finish. So even if we did get to the actual game, they’d just be there watching me play.
“Let’s just get out of here,” I said. “This is taking too long.”
“Are you sure? You just put money in, so…”
“It’s fine,” I insisted. “I’d rather look at some of the other games.”
After exploring some more of the games—and coming to the conclusion that neither I nor Jotaro wanted to spend any more money on them—we decided to just go back to Noah’s apartment.
His building was as plain and non-descript as any apartment complex could get, it seemed, but I hadn’t seen many Japanese apartments to compare it to. From the outside, you wouldn’t have been able to guess whether it was an apartment or office complex.
His room was a bit smaller than an American studio apartment, and it looked even smaller due to Noah’s gaming computer setup—the computer tower itself, his gaming chair, and a desk wide enough for three widescreen monitors. He even had a shelf for displaying a few anime figures.
The other corner of the room was occupied by the kitchen essentials like the sink, the stove and oven, and a slim refrigerator. However, the clothes and furniture spilling over into that section suggested that he didn’t do much cooking.
Perhaps to save space, Noah didn’t bother with a TV. Instead, he used a high-def projector to cast his computer screen onto the blank, white wall on the opposite side of the room.
Since no one else had any idea on how to pass the time, he started throwing random YouTube videos onto the projector.
“Noah,” Kumiko said. “You should show them that one video…”
“The Pokémon guy!”
A smirk came across Noah’s face. “Ohhhh, haha. Okay, let me find it.”
Noah did some online searches and eventually found a video of a chubby guy wearing fingerless gloves, a baseball cap, and a vest. The guy was singing along to a Pokémon song. Meanwhile, the video playing behind him was a series of clips taken from the Pokémon TV show and video games. It was a compilation of just one female character from the series. He’d created his own lyrics to go with the melody, expressing how much he loved the character. He even went into detail about how hot her boobs and exposed midriff were.
The entire video ran for more than three minutes, but we stopped it early.
“Yeah,” Noah said. “We take a class with this guy.”
“He’s sooo creepy,” Kumiko said and laughed. “Kimochi warui!”
“And the thing is,” she went on, “Is that he’s actually pretty good at Japanese… but he talks like he watches too much anime. You know?”
I was familiar with the idea. For one, characters in anime don’t always talk to their friends, elders, coworkers, and classmates the way they actually would in real life. But that’s a bad habit that could be learned in any language.
And second, for the Japanese language in particular, there were many verb conjugations no longer used in common speech. Many of them had been relegated to the movie screen, the pages of manga, or in the scripts of historical reenactments. Using them in a normal situation would make you sound a bit odd.
The video he made displaying the celebration of his 2D love and obsession was one thing, sure… But I was more concerned about how he’d been ousted as an otaku just for the way he spoke.
Is there really a right way to learn Japanese aside from talking to normal, Japanese people, in Japanese, every single day, as much as possible?
Before coming to Japan, what other options did he have for learning to speak the language other than anime?
I looked at the clock. It was getting late.
“I think check-in for our hotel ends soon,” I told Jotaro.
“Yeah, you should get going,” Noah said. “The trains close at 12:00 am.”