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Sunday, Sept. 17, 2000


Never enough thanks for living in Japan

Santi, a reader in the United States, will be moving to Japan soon. He wants to know how to prepare for living in Japan. Here are some of my suggestions for anyone who wants to acclimate quickly to life in Japan.

* Practice eating dinner to loud music. In Japan, background music (called BM for short) is really FM--foreground music. They play the music so loud at restaurants you can hardly hear the other person talk. When you walk into a convenience store, loud music will be blaring to help you shop and when you go to a gasoline station, loud music will infiltrate into your gas tank until you've got rock 'n' petrol.

* Practice listening to the stereo and the TV at the same time. Music is often played on TV programs while the people on the program are talking. There's even music during some news programs. It is not uncommon for TV shows about true crime to suddenly break into the theme from "Mission Impossible." It's no wonder one of the most popular hobbies in Japan is listening to music.

* Bring a stadium umbrella and fishing waders. You'll need these to get around during the rainy season.

* Brush up on your English. Even native English speakers should go back to school for a refresher course in English grammar. In Japan, where studying English is a national obsession, people will often consult you to settle debates on dangling participles and adverbs twice removed.

* Review your weights and measures. In Japan, a cola with no ice equals half a cup of cola. A cup of coffee equals half a cup. A container of milk is one skinny liter. A dozen eggs is 10. A loaf of bread is five slices.

* You'll also benefit greatly from studying the different kinds of seafood eaten in Japan. If you've never seen them before, at least you will have heard of them and can say, "Yes, of course, I've been so looking forward to trying sea anemone." Or, "I've got a real hankering for the jellyfish they serve at that Chinese restaurant."

* Learn to say "thank you" in succession. In the West, one or two thank yous is enough, then you start sounding weird. In Japan, you can thank someone as many times as you want in a single minute. People often take part in little thank-you competitions before they part company. If you got to a restaurant, you will be thanked repeatedly by the chef and the restaurant staff as you leave. The last thank you occurs just as you touch the doorknob to exit, when they'll toss at you the loudest, most deafening thank you of all. They may even follow you out the door and see you off, bowing and saying -- guess what? -- "Thank you!"

I also suggest anyone learn a few words of Japanese before coming to Japan. The most important words are, "arigato gozaimasu," (thank you), "sumimasen" (thank you) "domo," (thank you), "domo, arigato gozaimashita (thank you very much) and "gochiso sama," (thank you after eating).

So, Santi, I hope these tips help you prepare to move to Japan. Thank you very much for writing me and thank you so much for reading this column. Thank you for moving to Japan and thank you for, well, everything. Hey Santi, thanks!

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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