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Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010


How about a gaijin circus in gazelle land?

The other day, my husband bought a shirt at Uniqlo. "Wow, the sleeves are long enough!" he marveled. Clothes in Japan are getting bigger and even now foreigners can almost wear them. But there was still a problem. The arms of the shirt were too tight. This confirms a suspicion I have long had about the Japanese people — they are descendants of gazelles.

Now, this may be contrary to what you have heard, that the original Japanese people were descended from heaven. Hell no.

Consider that gazelles and the Japanese share some striking similarities: They are both fine boned and graceful and the females have pretty little feet with high heels, making them look like they are tip-toeing along. Now, put a cow next to the gazelle and you have us gaijin.

A crowd of Japanese people looks tidy but a crowd of beefy foreigners looks like a stampede. The Japanese, with their long, elegant limbs and quiet demeanor cannot possibly be descendants of the caveman.

Upon some careful research on the habits of gazelles, I found that mountain gazelles eat easily digestible plants and leaves. It's no wonder that these are the same things you'll find at a traditional Japanese restaurant: kuwai (arrowhead buds), ginko nuts, mitsuba leaves, shiso leaves, and even chrysanthemum leaves.

But wait, you protest, gazelles are from Africa! Well, why do you think it's called the Japanese "race"? Because they raced here from Africa during the Jomon Period to escape the hot, dry conditions of the African continent. Once here, they adapted and became mountain dwellers.

Sometimes it seems that we foreigners, descendants of the caveman, are a species unto ourselves. Living in Japan for us can sometimes feel like a circus, with all the attention and curiosity given to our movements.

And while the Japanese can be amazed, at times, at how fluently we can speak their language, I have found that what amazes them much more is listening to gaijin speak gaijin! Nothing fascinates them more than sitting around listening to us foreigners speak among ourselves in our native tongue. I can't tell you how many times Japanese people have complimented me on my English.

Much of this admiration comes from the fact that many Japanese people dream of being able to speak two languages, in the same way that I dream of having those gazelle-like movements and pretty little feet. But for most Japanese people, there is no pressing need to learn another language. Thus, in order to learn, the desire has to be great. It's equal to me trying to convert to gazelle.

There is no doubt there is a mutual fascination between our cultures. But while foreigners living in Japan have ample opportunity to study and expose ourselves to the Japanese, their culture and language, the Japanese have little chance to observe us while we are here.

Thus, I'd like to propose a novel way to teach the Japanese people English language and culture in a way that wouldn't take so much effort. My method is called the gaijin circus. Here, Japanese people could freely watch gaijin interact in an entertaining environment while learning practical English that goes along with it.

For example, how many Japanese people know how to call for help when atop a runaway horse? Or how to properly greet a parrot? Under the gaijin big top, we could teach things such as "Help! Save me!" and "Polly want a cracker?"

Wouldn't learning new English vocabulary be much more exciting if we spewed them out while tight-rope walking in size 13 Hello Kitty slippers? Flame throwers would teach English words like "piping hot," "scorched," "charred," and "overdone."

At the gaijin circus, we could show people how even lions can learn simple English commands, proving that language acquisition can be a roaring success.

Can you think of anything more fun than singing karaoke in English while balanced on the back of a cantering horse? And what better way to explain a "helping verb" than a verb hand-off in mid-air via a flying trapeze! (And don't pass a dangling modifier by mistake, mind you.)

At the gaijin circus, clowns could juggle vowels, synonyms and pronouns while repeating, "Sally sells seashells by the seashore. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?" Dancing bears would dance the "Two-step" and elephants would not bow, but shake hands.

So easy would it be to understand English that for the last act, gaijin basketball players could collect all those old English grammar books and dunk them into trash bins because no one would ever need them again.

Especially not gazelles.

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