Listening In

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Put to the test, one year on

10th October 2007

And here's another column I hadn't planned on posting. Some people who missed it when it appeared on Oct 6 ( ) seem to want to read it though, so here you go.

Just don't tell other people you got it here.


A year and a week ago, I moved to Kyoto.

So in true Japanese fashion, I marked the milestone by taking a test. The questions below have been floating around the Internet in various forms for more than a decade and give you an idea of how you’ve adapted to life in the country.

According to the quiz, you know you’ve been in Japan too long when:

- You find yourself bowing while talking on the phone. (Guilty. Well, you have to be polite, don’t you?)

- You return the bow from the cash machine. (Not guilty. Haven’t met any cash machines that bowed to me.)

- You’ve forgotten how to tie shoelaces. (You have to remove your shoes so often in Japan that it makes more sense to wear the slip-on type. Recently, I walked past a convenience store a few days before it was opened to the public. Inside were workmen and manager types. And at the door were all their shoes. But I do remember how to tie shoelaces. You take one end in one hand, the other end in the other hand and…do that shoelace-tying thing.)

- You buy an individually wrapped potato in the supermarket. (Not guilty. Nearly bought an individually wrapped banana though.)

- In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields and abundant nature, you aren't surprised to find a drink vending machine with no visible power supply. (Guilty. Vending machines are bad news for the environment but what else can you do about the trees trying to buy a can of coffee after midnight?)

- You think curry rice is food. (But it is. And those bright red pickles that come with it make up one of the two servings of vegetables you should eat every day.)

- You buy a potato-and-strawberry sandwich for lunch without cringing. (Not guilty. But next month, who knows?)

- You really enjoy corn soup with your Big Mac. (Not guilty. I don’t enjoy corn soup with anything. But I bet miso soup would go nicely with a burger.)

- You are outwardly appalled to see someone pour miso soup over rice but do it in private yourself. (Hell, I do this in public. I very low class one.)

- You think cod roe spaghetti is a typical Italian dish. (What do you mean, ‘mentaiko’ isn’t an Italian word?)

- You think it's all right to stick your head into a stranger's apartment to see if anybody's home. (Not guilty. But it’s not unusual in Japan for the foyer to be considered public space so unless you want a door-to-door salesman to see what you look like in a towel, keep your front door locked.)

- You have discovered the sexual attraction of ‘sailor outfit’ school uniforms. (Not guilty. Whew.)

- You look forward to the porno reviews at midnight on Fuji TV. (There are porno reviews? On television? What channel is Fuji TV? Just kidding, Mum.)

- You don’t think it’s unusual for a lorry to play It’s A Small World when backing up. (Because it’s a small world, after all.)

- You’re arguing with someone about whether the green light of a traffic signal is actually blue…and you think it’s blue. (Not guilty. It’s green – unless you’re speaking Japanese in which case you have to say that it’s blue despite its obvious, undeniable, Kermit-worthy greenness.)

- You vow to “ganbarimasu” before every little activity you engage in. (A word that means to persevere or to do one’s best. Hmm. Not really guilty. I use it only for the significant and semi-significant activities.)

- You find yourself apologising at least three times per conversation. (Not yet. Sorry, I’ll try harder. Ganbarimasu.)

- You automatically remember all your important years in Showa numbers. (Not guilty. I still find it hard to remember when I was born according to the Japanese system of years. I guess I’ll keep messing up forms until I get it right.)

- You can't have your picture taken without your fingers forming the peace sign. (Not guilty. The day this happens is the day I book a flight back to Singapore. A French classmate once asked my form teacher why so many Japanese made the peace sign when a camera was pointed at them. Her brow furrowed. ‘Then what do you do in France when someone takes your picture?’ she asked. ‘Nothing! Just smile,’ he said. The furrow in her brow deepened as she wrestled with this novel concept.)

- You have trouble figuring out how many syllables there really are in words like ‘building’. (That’s easy – it’s ‘bi-ru-di-n-gu’.)

- You find yourself asking all your foreign acquaintances what their blood types are. (Not guilty. People are often categorised by blood type in Japan and according to this system, those with O blood are outgoing, energetic and sociable. As an O+ person who can go for days without talking to anyone, I have this to say: ‘…’)

- You use the ‘slasher hand’ and continuous bowing to make your way through a crowd. (Guilty. This is how it’s done: Stick one hand out in front of you, move it up and down as if gently karate-chopping the air and bow all the while. Reports indicate that Moses didn’t do this when parting the Red Sea but I bet that it’d have worked if he did.)

- It all seems normal.

Not guilty. It’s still bewildering, funny, moving and endlessly absorbing. Guess I’ll have to stay here a little longer.

To see the quiz in full, go to

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