A Guide to the Tohoku University Festival: Part 2

Just like those of the previous years, the 2019 Tohoku University festival has a wide variety of performances scheduled. This includes dancers, singers, bands, and comedians. However, the full list of entertainers has not yet been released. It will apparently only be available once the festival is opened to the public. 

Aside from the entertainers, the university festival also has trial lectures on various topics. This year, there will be six lecturers: Mr. Kiyotaka Naoe, Mr. Yutaka Furuya, Mr. Toshiaki Muramoto, Mr. Norihiro Nakamura, Mr. Tomoyuki Yambe, and Mr. Hajime Mushiaki. Each lecture will be held at Room 202 at Building B for 1 hour. Forty-five minutes of each lecture is dedicated to the speaker while fifteen minutes will be allotted for questions from the audience. We have summarized the dates, lecture time, and topic of each lecture below. Sadly, for the people who cannot understand Japanese that well, the lectures will all be in Japanese. 

Lecturer

Date Time Title (translated from Japanese)

Mr. Kiyotaka Naoe

November 2 10:30 to 11:30 

What is learning? Liberal arts? Literary fusion? Questions from scientific history and scientific philosophy

Mr. Yutaka Furuya November 3 13:30 to 14:30 

The History of Economics: Following the “Economic Principles” of Philadelphia 

Mr. Toshiaki Muramoto

November 4 10:30 to 11:30 Word, mind, and communication

Mr. Norihiro Nakamura

November 2 13:30 to 14:30  Big history that unites history and natural science

Mr. Tomoyuki Yambe

November 3

10:30 to 11:30 

Introduction to human-machine theory: Basic and clinical aspects of artificial organs

Mr. Hajime Mushiaki November 4 13:30 to 14:30 

Brain rhythm and frontal function: brain network and human network 

However, there are other activities that even people with little experience in Japanese can enjoy. Some students have planned to set up a “haunted house” in one of the rooms on the campus. The premise behind it is that the location is an old, abandoned hospital where illegal human experiments were once conducted. The ghosts of the patients that died there still roam the halls, and they don’t want you to leave. 

The university festival will also have a popular comedian’s performance. In 2017, around 1,000 people graced this show and enjoyed the event.

Finally, there is the Mr. and Ms. Tohoku University pageant. It is highly popular amongst Japanese universities to host personality pageants, and it has become quite a rage across the country. In every way, the university festival this year is surely expected to be something of dreams while living the mortal life. The committee is excited to welcome you from November 02!

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A Guide to The Tohoku University Festival: Part 1

Schools in Japan regularly hold festivals on-campus, and Tohoku University is no different. For the past 70 years, Tohoku University has held its own school festival. This year, the 71st Tohoku University Festival will be held from November 2 to 4 at the Kawauchi-Kita campus. The festival, which is open to the public, draws in large crowds every year. In fact, last year alone, 41,000 people visited the festival. 

The university festival celebrates and showcases the activities of the students. As usual, there will be several exciting activities, such as food and refreshment stalls and booths for children (Ennichi). As always, there are a variety of performances scheduled for the festival, but these performances will be split into two groups. Some will be performed at the main stage while others will be held at the plaza stage. 

Every festival has had its own theme. For example, the 2017 festival had the theme of “recalling the memories of our childhood and celebrating the passions of our youth”. The theme of the 2018 festival was “laugh and bring good fortune”. The theme of the festival this year is “dancing in the mortal life, living in the dreams”. The festival committee has chosen to follow an Edo period vibe as they will decorate the festival with Japanese lanterns. 

Tohoku University festival is no small affair. In 2017, the festival attracted 33,000 visitors and the 3-day festival costed ¥10 million to put on. It was also the first year where an approach towards internationalization took place and English translations for several stalls and general information were made available.

The festival committee itself is an official club at the university and anyone who is interested can join. The 2017 festival leader Ryuhei Notsuke, spoke to The Sentinel in an interview and explained the process. He said, “Anyone who wants to make a change and has a strong feeling for the school can join the club. The selection of the executive committee is random. The leader of the festival is chosen through voting by former members. The leader is always a sophomore and this activity is meant for freshmen and sophomores only.”

With the year-long planning finally taking shape in early November, the university festival is a memory enshrined by the students, their year-long activities and more importantly, the celebration of university life.

A Farewell Letter

To the ones who showed courage :

If you walked around Tokyo’s Ginza, it is dazzling at every corner. The Tsutaya store is lit in pale yellow lights and katanas (Japanese sword) are being sold for millions of yen. Pierre Marcolini hides in an alley but queues don’t seem to end. There are shops where five generations of the family have gained expertise in making the finest sweets and a huge clock tower reminding of the old and the new. Yet, 50 years back, this was turned into a fortress which the world witnessed on television.

The streets of Ginza boiled in blood and revolt. Dissent was out on the streets and no shield and no barricade could stop the students from wielding their iron rods on the police. Symbols of the protectorate of power, the police, lay injured. Red flags were raised and visors and smoke became inseparable garments. Student newspapers’ harsh criticism was far more pointed at times than the questions raised by the mainstream newspapers. Such was the opposition against the US-Japan Security Treaty and the questionable land acquisition by the government for Narita airport, then Japanese PM Nobusuke Kishi had to resign while US President Eisenhower cancelled his visit to Japan. The diet was dissolved and power faced a blow.

50 years have passed and Kishi’s grandson, Shinzo Abe, occupies the PM office. The student revolution led by Zengakuren, died down. Student newspapers which once questioned the authority, started writing about new plants growing in the campus. The idea of internationalisation was minimised to meeting foreigners over a drink and studying abroad. The public apathy was aching and being a foreigner, just to witness it in front of my eyes, was appalling.

50 years since the revolution, I found myself discovering Japan as an international student. I was writing since I was an elementary school student and over the years, the media fascinated me. I would be lying if I say that I did not tear-up when I saw Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’. The sheer power of media to make truth accessible to all was my infinity stone. So, it was natural to me within the first few months to search for such voices on the campus. Alas! The university and the other former imperial universities, had no trace of an English newspaper.  It could definitely be argued if an English language newspaper is really a necessity but in the process of internationalisation, I saw it as a huge potential to bring the Japanese academia to the level of a layman’s understanding. Something which was far more accessible.

2 years since then, the establishment of ‘The Sentinel’ took its own tides and turns. On one hand, we were able to reach more than 100 global cities and about 7,800 readers while on the other hand, we had no funding and the website got hacked on the New Year’s Eve of 2017. The stories we did for ‘The Sentinel’ were far from the accepted norm. The team took no step backward and asked sharp questions to the administration. ‘The Sentinel’ did not shy away from the massacre of 3,000 jobs at Tohoku University even when the administration expressed displeasure in publishing the story. It tracked down stories ranging from North Korean workers in Poland to the student who escaped from the university after nearing his arrest on charges of drug possession or usage.

‘The Sentinel’ did not stop asking questions.

Such is the freedom that is practiced, it was made clear to the team that the newspaper should not shy from publishing its own criticism. It should not hide from making its own finances public with balance sheets kept ready. The only thing that the newspaper has to protect is its own principles and integrity.

Over the last 2 years, ‘The Sentinel’ spearheaded the establishment of NESMAJ : National English Student Media Association of Japan. Keio University and University of Tokyo joined in as founding members and thought at an infant stage, NESMAJ was established with an aim to generate conversations between various student media groups in the country.

What began as a small team of three members and especially through discussions with Rohan Raj (Who went on to become the Managing Editor) in the corridors of the student dormitory, expanded to a team of 10 and also undertook volunteer activities such as imparting soft skills to high students at a local school in Sendai. The newspaper brought together talent from Venezuela, Germany, Thailand, China, Phillipines, Japan, Indonesia and India and tried its best to make a shift in the Japanese society. The Sentinel cannot be thankful enough to Prof. Yumiko Watanabe at Global Learning Centre for supporting it from the beginning to now.

Yet, there have been failures and as a leader, the responsibility shall be entirely mine. At times I expected too much and my communication broke down. I cannot offer anything more than a sincere apology to the team and the readers. To hold on to this newspaper would be utterly selfish and robbing opportunities from the younger members. Considering these, I decided to resign from the newspaper and pass the baton to Shenelle Lim and Arun Balaji as joint editors of ‘The Sentinel’. This, I hope, shall help in furthering the progress of the newspaper.

In a society where questions are often seen as a disruption rather than catalysts for change, ‘The Sentinel’ is an experiment worth trying. It shall encounter many more challenges but whenever the history of student English media shall be written in Japan, ‘The Sentinel’ cannot be ignored.

To the power of truth, dispelling all fear,

To the voice of the youth, In a little world here.

With this, signing off,

Trishit

November 9, 2018

A nation’s dilemma: Part One

Most people would think that the craziest president in the world right now is Donald Trump. I do not think these people have ever heard of the name of Rodrigo Duterte, the current president of the Philippines. While Trump has done crazy things, like claiming that he would build a great wall across the Mexican border, he has never received a warning about violating human rights from the United Nations. And he never told the United Nations to not f*** with him. Duterte did it and other crazy, stupid things as well.

My nation’s president seems to delight in making obscene and highly inappropriate comments. Aside from giving quite the colorful reply to the United Nations, he has also joked that he would pardon soldiers who raped women by claiming responsibility for it. He also proclaimed that he would pay people 500 USD per communist they killed and has likened himself to Hitler. Hitler, the man who killed over 3 million Jews and was one of the instigators of World War II. For some bizarre reason, this man, who appears to have never heard of the life-saving advice “Think before you speak.” is now the president of my country. While he has irreparably damaged the image of the Philippines with his lewd and brash words, his choice of words is the least of my nation’s problems.

Duterte has spearheaded the “war on drugs” in the Philippines. Other nations would attempt to jail drug users, pushers, and lords and try to stem-off the drug trade through socially acceptable means. Instead of heading to jail, some drug users could be sent to rehabilitation centers, giving them a second chance at life. In the mind of this strange man, a “war on drugs” also means giving the go-signal to kill people who are related to the illegal drug trade. He is firmly entrenched in his stance. When the United Nations came upon his doors shouting “This is a violation of human rights! A crime against humanity!”, he bluntly said, “Crime against humanity? In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you. Are they humans? What is your definition of a human being?”

With this this policy in mind, he mobilized the Philippine National Police to perform anti-drug campaigns, such as “Oplan Double Barrel” – an operation that was performed against high-value drug targets. In addition, he has also encouraged civilians to take up their own arms and to brutally punish these drug personalities.

The result? 12,000 Filipino lives snuffed out in a matter of 14 months.

The Philippine National Police killed 2,555 Filipinos. The other 9,445? Slaughtered by vigilante groups through extrajudicial killings, killings which are performed without any legal or judicial sanction.

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A victim of extrajudicial killing left on the streets, dead (the carboard sign says, “I am a drug lord.”)

Now, Duterte wishes to give 42,000 guns to the public in order for them to effectively combat crime and drugs. His harsh and unforgiving anti-drug campaign is still ongoing and has lowered the number of drugs users in the Philippines. The drug personalities are being snuffed out one by one and the public knows better than to start doing drugs, as the fear of being targeted by an extrajudicial killing runs high. In fact, a 2016 Social Weather Stations survey reported that 78% of Filipinos feared that either they or someone they knew would be assassinated via an extrajudicial killing.

Duterte is on his merry way to winning his drug war through the use of fear and violence.

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Behold, the President of the Philippines in all his glory, holding a gun

Yet, the anti-war drug cannot solve the dire problem of poverty, a dilemma that affects at least 26 million Filipinos. It cannot build the 30,000 classrooms that children and schools across the nation need. It cannot stop corruption from occurring throughout the government. All it can do is raise a death toll and cause fear. And as history has shown, a leader ruling through fear will not last forever.

In 2022, Duterte’s presidency will end, and a new president will take his place. If this president were to be against such violent policies, such as I am, then where would Duterte’s war on drugs go? To the garbage bin, never to see the light of day again. What would happen to the illegal drug trade? It would probably spring up again and recover, given the right conditions and amount of time. What would happen to all the lives lost, the time and effort spent, the money dedicated to the cause? Utterly wasted.

Everything my nation’s current president has campaigned so much for, gone in the blink of an eye. My nation would be back to square one, with its bloodied hands holding all of its old problems and making space for new ones.

And this is why I can only say, does this war on drugs not sound crazy and stupid?

Until next time.

As expressed by Jose Edelberto de Santiago. Jose is a student of Tohoku University.

Image References:

  1. https://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.com/2017/08/stop-wasting-human-lives-manila.html
  2. https://nypost.com/2018/06/15/duterte-wants-to-give-the-public-42000-free-guns/

Tohoku University’s systemic massacre of 3,243 jobs

Exactly 50 years back, the streets of Japan boiled in revolution. The protests against the Narita airport and alleged collusion of then Prime Minister Eisako Sato with the United States in the Vietnam war brought the cities to a halt. Tear gas, water cannons and the occupation of University of Tokyo’s infamous Yasuda auditorium have been etched as vivid memories amongst people of that generation.

50 years later, the streets are silent or at least, the mainstream Japanese media projects it to be. Japan’s largest media corporations came under fire for deliberately not reporting protests and people’s opinions after the 2011 Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami. Not very long after that, in 2012, the Japanese government amended the labour contract law.

The amendment in the labour contract law implied that all fixed-term employees can give themselves a permanent status if they have been employed for over five years. The lawmakers have claimed that it is for enhancement of job security and were challenging the rising fixed-term employees at various institutions. As of 2015, Tohoku University has 5,771 irregular employees as opposed to 4,686 regular employees. Yet, institutions have found a way to exploit the loophole: To not renew a fixed-term employee beyond five years.

Since the implementation of the law starting from April 01, 2013, five years have been completed on March 31, 2018. This implies that institutions can officially decline to renew any fixed term contracts and prevent the irregular employees from becoming regular. Tohoku University, like many others in the country, has decided to do so.

With very little reporting about the same in the mainstream English media apart from the exception of Hifumi Okunuki’s op-ed article in ‘The Japan Times’ in 2016, the issue remains unclear and unknown, to the student community and the outsiders. The regular protests by Tohoku University Kumiai on the Katahira campus have attracted very little attention from the students. “We really want the students to know about it,” said one of the Kumiai members to the Sentinel who has decided to remain anonymous.

 

23550173_1176120152488279_2484981982150248999_o
Protests against the administrative decision near Kawauchi station

 

The university has already initiated the process of terminating the contracts of the fixed-term employees by not renewing them. It has substituted them with new employees who may face the same fate 5 years from now. “The university says that it doesn’t have any money to guarantee our employment in the future but they have been constructing buildings after buildings and a lot of them have also been for the sheer symbolism of reconstruction and revival post-2011,” the Kumiai member said. “The lawyer representing the university is from Tokyo. Appointing someone all the way from Tokyo costs a lot of money,” the member added.

Last year, the university put in place an examination for the irregular employees, some of whom who have worked for nearly a decade at the university. The set terms were clear: The ones who fail to clear it, would be terminated immediately. In a somewhat expected move, only 30% of the test-takers cleared the examination. “Everyone from the Ryugakuseika department cleared the test which could probably be reasoned for their ability to communicate in English,” said the Kumiai member.

This year also saw the shift in leadership as President Hideo Ohno stepped into the shoes of presidency, succeeding President Susumu Satomi. “There has been no change due to President Ohno stepping in. It is all the same,” the Kumiai member said. “He said he requires time for studying the topic deeply,” the member added. President Ohno replied the same when ‘The Sentinel’ asked him about this issue in an interview back in January 2017, few weeks after he was announced as the President-elect. ‘The Sentinel’ also tried asking this to President Satomi in an interview but the secreteriat refused to give us permission to ask him anything about the issue.

It is also surprising to note that most of these 3,243 employees are female employees. Since most of them have a family to take care of and the household expense is majorly supported by the husband’s income, they choose to take an irregular job. With Prof. Noriko Osumi stepping in as the new Vice President for Public Relations and Promotion of Diversity, it is expected that the gender imbalance will be seen with greater importance in administrative decisions. She is the first female professor at the School of Medicine and is also the Director of TUMUG (Tohoku University Centre for Gender Equality Promotion). Yet, the Kumiai member thinks otherwise. “She has focussed only on researchers and regular workers. She has not addressed any of the gender issues that the 3,243 employees who are on the brink of losing their jobs are facing.”

The fine prints and implications of this new law which was supposed to guarantee more jobs bring in new details. “After completion of 5 years, the fired employee can re-join the institution after a break of 6 months for another 5 years. So, some of the employees who left the university in March this year may be able to re-join in October. This is absolutely incomprehensible. I cannot do without 6 months’ pay,” said the Kumiai member. Questions like what would happen if the university hires new employees in the period between April and October remain ambiguous and no clear answers were found.

Like Tohoku University, Hokkaido  University and Osaka University are also amongst other centres for higher education who have decided to axe the jobs. On the other hand, the negotiations between the labour union at University of Tokyo and the administration has been somewhat successful and irregular employees are still holding on to their jobs. The union at Tohoku University is always in constant discussion with administration about important issues but the number of members have fallen over the years. “Many are not concerned unless their jobs are affected,” the Kumiai member said.

A part of this problem can also be traced back to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision in 2003 to turn all Japanese national universities into institutions with corporate status or, ‘national university corporation’, as they are now known as. This has pressured the universities to look out for their own funds. With MEXT reducing its subsidies to the national universities by 1% each year, the universities have responded by hiring more irregular staff and axing clerical jobs. United Kingdom adopted similar idea back in 1988 under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher but responses from citizens have been mixed.

Back in July 1974, the Supreme Court delivered a historic verdict in the Toshiba Yanagi-cho Factory case where seven plaintiffs worked on revolving 2 month-contracts and one of them was renewed 23 times. The Supreme Court upheld it as jotai-setsu (Legal principle of abuse of the right to dismiss applies if circumstances suggest that employment is in effect permanent, even if written contract indicates a fixed term).

The court case between Tohoku University and the 3,243 workers shall witness its first hearing on August 22 this year. The workers are represented by a voluntary lawyer from Sendai city. “Well, the court case will take a long time,” the Kumiai member said.

Article 02 of Japanese Labour Standards Act says, “Working conditions should be determined by the workers and employers on an equal basis.” When asked if the goal of attaining this equality near, the Kumiai member responded, “There is a long way to go.”

For updates about the court case, visit the website of Tohoku University Kumiai : http://tohokudai-kumiai.org

The Sentinel shall also publish the official statement from the university once it receives. 

As reported by The Sentinel Bureau.

Photos Courtsey : Tohoku University Kumiai Facebook Page (Public)

References :

  1. No legal cure-all for fixed-term job insecurity (April 24, 2012): https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2012/04/24/issues/no-legal-cure-all-for-fixed-term-job-insecurity/#.WzWEu62B2qA
  2. Labour Standards Act : http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail_main?id=5&vm=2&re=
  3. ‘Five-year rule’ triggers ‘Tohoku college massacre’ of jobs : https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/11/27/issues/five-year-rule-triggers-tohoku-college-massacre-jobs/#.WzWG8a2B2qA
  4. 1968 : The year Japan truly raised its voice : https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2017/11/19/arts/1968-year-japan-truly-raised-voice/#.WzWzsa2B2qA
  5. Japan’s universities struggling under corporate status : https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/05/14/commentary/japan-commentary/japans-universities-struggling-corporate-status/#.WzXbqa2B2qA
  6. Tohoku University Kumiai : http://tohokudai-kumiai.org

 

Cokes of the world

I LOVE COCA-COLA. There is just something amazing about that fizziness and sweetness combined into one drink. The lack of a medicinal aftertaste is definitely a plus too. In fact, I was drinking Coke as I was typing this article. That is how much I absolutely love Coke!

While the classic Coca-Cola is great, there are a lot of other interesting flavors of Coca-Cola out there. Some flavors sound promising while others just sound downright weird. Apparently, there are also several flavors that are exclusive to some countries only. In this article, I have searched the internet far and wide to piece together six unique flavors of Coke from all over the world that any Coke lover should try if they can.

  1. Vanilla Coca-cola

Picture1

Vanilla Coke is a special flavor of Coke, not because of its flavor, but because of its history. It was first released in North America in 2002 but was pulled from shelves in 2005. In 2007, it was reintroduced to the North American Market and has thankfully not been discontinued since. It is said to taste like cream soda, a very dark cream soda. Its reviews online are mixed. But since it is still being sold today despite its initial discontinuation, I think that it is worth a try.

 

2. Coca-Cola California Raspberry

Picture2

As its name hints, this Coke is an American-exclusive flavor. It was released this year in tandem with Coca-Cola Georgia Peach as a part of a special line of Coke that traces back to its “artisanal roots”. Raspberries may not be commonly associated with California, but someone at the Coca-Cola company thought that it would be a smashing name anyway. Despite its strange moniker, I am willing to take a chance with this flavor. After all, the combination sounds a lot better than Green Tea Coke (yes, they did create such a flavor once).

3. Coca-Cola Blak and Coca-Cola Coffee

Picture3

Coca-Cola Blak was initially introduced in France in 2006 before it was sold in the United States and Canada in the same year. It was a mid-calorie drink that combined Coke and coffee. It was sold in hopes that the Coca-Cola company would be able to tap into the premium coffee markets. However, it was discontinued in 2008 because of a lack of financial success.

Picture4

Strangely enough, the company did not give up on their efforts to combine Coke and coffee. In 2017, they released “Coca-Cola Coffee” in Japan. It supposedly has 50% more caffeine and 50% less sugar. Sadly, it was available only as a vending machine drink. For the avid Coke lover who wants an even higher sugar high, this might be the drink for you.

4. Peach Coca-Cola

Picture5

This is limited flavor of Coke was also released in Japan on January 22, 2018. While the date may seem strange, research has shown that peach flavored drinks rise in popularity in Japan from January to March. This is because of a few reasons. First, the date is close to the day of the Momo no Sekku, which translates to “Festival of the Peaches” in English. Second, peaches are an extremely popular fruit in Japan, as they are believed to have the power to chase away evil. Given these two reasons, it seems somewhat reasonable for this flavor to have been released on that date.

I actually managed to try this flavor of Coke. While my friends did enjoy it, I did not find it to be as great as they told me it would be. In my opinion, it tasted too much like a drink from Fanta and not Coca-Cola. Despite this, I believe that it is worth a try, especially if you find a store that still carries it. (For my dear readers who are living in Sendai, the Co-op store located near Tohoku University’s Faculty of Agriculture on Aobayama Campus still sells it.)

5. Coca-Cola Clear

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There was clear coffee. There was clear milk tea. And now, we have clear Coke. As much as it looks like water, it is really Coke. In fact, like many other clear drinks, Coca-Cola Clear was originally released in Japan on June 11, 2018.  Unlike the other flavors on this list, this version has zero calories. It also has a slight hint of lemon mixed into it. This drink seems to be created with the clear drink trend in mind, even the wrapping of the bottle is clear, as if it wants to emphasize its “clearness”.

I tried it as soon as I could get my hands on one, and I was sorely disappointed. The “zero calories” label was really pronounced in its taste, as it was not as sweet as the Classic Coke was. It also had this strange aftertaste, similar to the one I get when I drink Coke Zero. For me, Coca-Cola Clear just tastes like a watered-down Sprite. Still, Coke lovers in Japan should give it a try. After all, being able to say that you have tried a Clear Coke should be a nice bragging right.

6. Coca-Cola Ginger

Picture7

Sadly, the last flavor on this list can only be found in the land Down Under, Australia, and its neighbor, New Zealand. Released in late 2016, it is said to taste like Coke that is mixed with ginger beer. According to the Coca-Cola company, ginger flavored drinks have been growing in popularity in Australia lately. So, Coca-Cola Ginger was released just in time for the Australian summer season. However, its unique flavor combination has left many Coke fans divided.

7. Phillipine Coke

Picture8

While this is not a special flavor of Coke, I thought that it would be nice to highlight my country’s version of my favorite drink. Philippine Coke is much sweeter than Japanese Coke because the aftertaste stays for a much longer time. However, the interesting part of my country’s Coke is not its taste, but its can. If you look closely enough at the back of a Philippine Coke can, you may notice something special…

It says, “Produced by the happy workers a Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines, Inc.”. Isn’t that a nice surprise?

 

References :

  1. https://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/world-first-launch-of-coca-cola-ginger-set-to-flavour-your-summe
  2. https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/news/coca-cola-clear-hits-stores-in-japan-today-061118
  3. http://designtaxi.com/news/397780/Peach-Coca-Cola-Is-Arriving-To-Ensure-Your-Year-Starts-Off-On-A-Sweet-Note/
  4. https://www.highsnobiety.com/2017/09/14/coca-cola-coffee-japan/
  5. https://www.flickr.com/photos/hyku/3159647121
  6. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vanilla_Coke_Wiki.jpg
  7. https://www.walmart.com/ip/Coca-cola-California-Raspberry-12oz-4pk/555250712

As reported by Shenelle Lim. Shenelle is a first year student of Tohoku University from the Phillipines.

Lost in translation : When culture shock shocks

One day, I introduced the Kawauchi campus of Tohoku University to international students. I was going to introduce ‘danwasitsu’ in Japanese. It is a room where students can relax, drink tea and do their homework. I wanted to tell them about it, but I couldn’t recollect the English word so, I just said, “This is the restroom”. After I said that, I realised that I made a mistake. Restroom is ‘toire’ (Toilet) in Japanese. I was very embarrassed about it but, I didn’t know how should I call the room otherwise? I thought that rest means ‘yasumu’ only and room means ‘heya’ in Japanese. Therefore, it can directly translate to ‘yasumu heya’ in Japanese. This is the reason why I made a mistake and I said ‘restroom’. Now that I have learnt from my mistake, I know I should use terms like ‘resting room’ or ‘break room’ and so on. English sometimes causes misunderstanding. This experience is very funny but embarrassing at the same time.

However, Japanese can also lead to similar mistakes. For example, take a case of a foreigner who wanted to ask his girlfriend’s father “atama ga itai desuka?” in Japanese. It means “Do you have a headache?”. But he misunderstood it and rather asked “atama ga warui desuka?”. It means “Are you stupid?”.  In English, the word of ‘warui’ and ‘itai’ are very similar. They can totally be lost in translation and hence, it is very confusing.

There are so many other examples in culture shock. Here are some examples that I read in a book: A man thought that Japanese always use chopsticks and so he tried to eat curry and rice with chopsticks! Another example is about the song of ishiyakiimo. The song is played when they sell baked sweet potatoes. The melody sounds sad and so when he listened to the song for the first time, he thought it is a funeral song!

I asked some of my friends from overseas about culture shock and funny stories they have experienced in Japan. A Chinese friend told me four stories. First, the size of a crow is big in Japan and she had never seen so many crows in China. So, she was very surprised. Second, Japanese eat dumpling with rice and most Japanese eat grilled dumplings. However, Chinese don’t eat them so often. They almost eat boiled dumplings. Third, she confuses with the phrase “iidesu”. It can translate both ok and no in Japanese. Even Japanese sometimes misunderstand. The phrase “sumimasen” is also confusing. It can translate to “thank you” and “I’m sorry”. The words are sometimes very convenient, but we often misunderstand them.

A Swede friend shared two interesting experiences in Japan. First, he was overwhelmed whenever he entered stores because every employee greeted with ‘irasshaimase’ which literally means ‘welcome’ and is a terminology often used in customer service. He was overwhelmed but he felt happy. Second, he thought the word ‘benjo’ is more polite than ‘toire’. They mean ‘restroom’ in English. He thought because ‘benjo’ is written in kanji whereas ‘toire’ is written in katakana and he believed that kanji is more polite than katakana. Usually, kanji has a more polite impression than katakana and hiragana but I had never considered such a thing until I heard from him.

One of my professors who has been to several countries shared some of her experiences of culture shock in Japan. First, Japanese are very punctual. The conference was scheduled to begin at 12:00 noon. However, when her friend arrived at 12:00, the conference had already started. Indeed, Japanese people always occupy their seats at least five minutes before. Second is the delivery system. The delivery item is always delivered to our home or company on time. Third, molds grow on the tatami. Most Japanese houses have tatami but, she didn’t know she had to take care of them. Fourth is the complicated hierarchal system. If she wants to inform something to another professor, at first, she has to tell her secretary. Then, the secretory will tell the professor’s secretory. At last, the secretory will tell the professor who she wants to tell. I don’t know if it happens only in this university or only in this campus, but it’s a very cumbersome process.

Here is a culture shock I experienced recently. When I went to an Indian restaurant with my Indian friend, a clerk brought water for us. He gave my friend water without ice but she gave me water with ice. Therefore, I wondered why she made this distinction. Then I found out that Indians don’t drink water with ice. It was very surprising. He thought it is since very hot outside in India, so if we drink something very cold, it may affect our body. He told me about some culture shocks in Japan. First, when he came to Japan for the first time, it was surprising for him that Japanese eat raw eggs. It looked so strange, so he can’t eat them even now. Second, he realised that there aren’t many trash cans outside such as on streets or in parks in Japan. Actually, when I went to Canada, there were so many trash cans that I could easily throw away my trash. I think that’s why Japanese usually bring back the trash. Third, he is in trouble that he has a lot of Japanese coins in his house. It’s because there are a lot of coins in Japan and it’s difficult to understand which coin is worth how much. I experienced the same thing in Russia. There were also so many coins with similar sizes that I have many Russian coins in my house now.

Many people have experienced culture shocks and they’re almost very funny stories. I was very interested in their culture shocks, because though it is usual for me, for foreigner it is unusual. Therefore, I learnt a lot of things. Culture shock depends on country, where it occurs, and nationality and character and so on. Have you ever experienced some culture shocks or funny stories so far?

I would like to express my gratitude to my foreign friends who help to answer interview.

As expressed by Shuka Endo. Shuka is currently a second year student of nursing at Tohoku University and has a keen interest in knowing about the world.