Updated: 09 December 2009
A considerable amount of time has been dedicated by Americans observing various aspects of Japan. To further this cause, I elected to make an enormous sacrifice (purely In the Name of ScienceTM, of course,) toward this understanding by getting married to a Japanese woman. Through this, I figured I could be the envy of Nihon-otaku across the country and gain new insight into the functioning of that most alluring island nation.
Seriously though, you have no idea how strange things are in your own country until someone starts pointing things out. Thus, without further ado:
Rumi-chan tells it like it is.
On extra-curricular activities:
"Ne, Mike-kun?" She is at the bottom of the stairs leading to the upper floor of our house where our shared office and bedroom are located. "You're not playing garuge are you?"
"WHAT?" I ask in genuine outrage. "What in the name of all that is right and holy makes you think I'm doing something like that?"
"Because you're otaku, and you're sneaky, so you play dating game when wife is not looking."
"I'm just reading something on my computer right now." I say in strangled frustration.
"Suuuuuure you are." She says and then walks away from the stairs, talking to one of our two cats.
"And for the record," muttering to myself is occasionally therapuetic, "I was reading manga, not playing some damn dating simulation. What kind of nerd do you take me for, anyway?"
"So why shouldn't we have kids?" She asks, obviously steeling herself for some manner of debate.
"Because children are dangerous." I reply immediately and almost as if by reflex.
"Because children are like pet tigers. They're all cool and stuff when they're small, because they've got little tiger paws and little tiger stripes and they like scamper around and play and stuff, right?" My logic is irrefutable, my reasoning sound.
"Okay," she says in a tone suggesting some manner of disbelief.
"Nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks about pet tigers when they weigh 350 pounds and are eating the neighbor's dog in the driveway at two in the morning." I pronounce. "Do they?"
"Yes. But our children would be like me, and I am not dangerous." If tigers could speak, they would say this.
"This is precisely my point, you are dangerous." Bad move Mike, bad move.
"I am not dangerous. I am Rumi-chan."
On Pearl Harbor day:
"Ne." Rumi-chan wanders into our living room and sees me watching the World War II Channel. "What are you watching?"
"Eh?" I say without turning around. This being December 7, there is of course a disproportionately large serving of Pearl Harbor-related programming. There are battleships exploding in CGI rendered glory flashing across the screen at the moment. "Just a show about when you sneaky Jap bastards attacked us at Pearl Harbor."
"SNEAKY JAP? You call me sneaky Jap?" She shouts in mock anger, and then slaps me across the back of the head. "We weren't sneaky, we were tactical, and we would've won if you hadn't cheated with nuclear bombs."
"Yeah, but." I turn around and find the living room empty. "Honey, where'd you go? Dammit how does she disappear like that?"
On separating the trash:
"Ne. Doshte?" She is using the unhappy tone and pointing at the paper trash bag on the floor. We segregate our trash into paper (junk mail, random advertisements,) non-paper (which goes in the kitchen,) and paper that needs to be shredded (bills, three-year-old credit card statements and the like.)
"What?" I know why she is pointing at the trash. Oh boy, do I ever.
"Why you throw that there?"
"Throw what?" Somehow I suspect that playing innocent is not going to work.
"Why you throw that there?"
"You mean the cat nails?" I was trimming the claws of one of our two cats, I took the cuttings and chucked them into the paper trash bag.
"Yes, that does not go there."
"Why?" Exasperated. What comes next I say as I conjure up images of me throwing the paper trash bag into our gomi-bucket and wheeling said out to the curb. "It's all going to the same place."
"That does not go there. You need to learn to separate gomi." She says, mockingly. "Like in Japan."
"Well look here, woman, this here is the United States." In my best impersonation of Shigemi-chan. "And in this country, we throw all our garbage into one bucket."
"Dame. You should separate. Recycle more. This is why United States has so much debt. You use too much." I am, as usual, losing.
"So let me get this straight, the national debt has everything to do with recycling?" Straight, 200-proof incredulity.
"Of course, everyone knows this."
On naming states:
My parents have moved to Las Vegas. As such, a road trip was required to the land of Wayne Newton and the perpetual worship of Elvis. We packed Rumi-chan, Rika-chan, Miho-chan, and myself into the car and trucked up the I-15. Along the way, someone purchased a package of Pringles with trivia questions printed on them.
"Where is the city of Fargo located?" Rumi-chan reads. I have been barred from answering because the prize for being correct is a potato chip. I ate half the can before my mad trivia skills were crippled by protests of being American.
"North...north dokodate?" says Rika-chan.
"Hai hai." Rumi-chan affirms brightly and hands over the chip.
"Chotto matte, chigaoyo." I protest from the front seat.
"Doshte? Doshte north dokodate wa chigao?" Rumi-chan protests immediately. There is a debate starting here, I can feel it in my bones.
"North Dakota, not North Dokodate." Returning fire, I try to flee the scene and find it hard to escape a Honda hurtling down the freeway at eighty miles an hour.
"Omoshiroi, North Dokodate, North Dakota. Sounds same." For some reason, Rumi-chan, Rika-chan, and Miho-chan find this to be the most amusing thing they have heard in weeks. I have no idea why.
On being naked:
"But if we take your parents to onsen, you know you wind up being hadaka with your otosan." Rumi-chan says around a mouthful of salad during dinner.
"Say what?" I manage to yet once again, almost swallow my fork.
"Hadaka, desho." She stops eating and looks across the table. "You went in onsen last time we were in Japan, diijobu, ne?"
"Yeah, but like." Sighing, there is no way out of this one. "It's just I don't particularly want to be naked, in a public place, with my father."
"You know, you can't understand Japanese culture if you can't be naked."
"What?" The hell you say, woman.
"Very important. You don't really know someone until you see them naked. You don't know this?"
"Of course not, but all Japanese know that, right? Like burned food gives you cancer, and you need to know your friend's blood type, and a million other things." I really should have known.
"Yes, of course." After a pause, she adds, "and burned food does too give you cancer. Everyone knows that."
On violence and conflict:
"I don't like it," Rumi-chan says, staring at a large case filled with canteens, helmets, and other personal effects in the museum attached to Yasukuni.
"Don't like what?" It should go without saying that these helmets and other bits of war-type apparatus are authentic, have not been restored, and feature customizations probably delivered by M1 Garand rifles.
"Too many obake, yurei here. Nanka, angry feeling," she turns and begins to walk out of the room. "People should not be happy about war."
"Yep." We leave.
On things not being as they seem on first impression:
"So, where are we getting drill?" Rumi-chan asks as we are walking through the toy department at Sears Essentials on the way to the exit.
"Lowe's. Or Home Depot." Replying, I note that we have stopped next to a small rack of toys. These are metal cylinders about the size of a large coffee can, decorated with musical notes and animals, which have a two-foot long yellow plastic handle attached to them.
"And?" She says, selecting one of the toys from the rack and examining what is presumably the business end. Following this cursory evaluation, Rumi-chan hefts it by the handle like a hammer.
"So we go to Ho..." B O N K. Actually, it had more of a metallic ring to it, but you get the idea. In a very small, high-pitched voice, I manage to spit out "ittai."
"GOMENE!" Rumi-chan says loudly, there are now about half a dozen customers and employees staring at this evolution. "Gomenesai, Mike-kun. I thought it was a hammer. You know, the kind that make squeaking noise."
"Well, that's a different kind of thing." Rubbing my head, I make a goofy half-grin at her. "But you get points for being adaptable."
"Is your head okay?" She says in earnest.
"Yeah, let's go before they call the fuzz. This is California, might think it's some kinda domestic dispute."
On exactly what is for dinner:
"So, we have asparagus and Greenpeace." Rumi-chan says, stabbing a specific recipie in the cookbook.
"We are asparagus and what for dinner?" I ask, incredulous.
"Greenpeace." She replies, quite firmly while pointing at the picture. "Mo."
"Green peas, honey. Those are green peas." Momentarily relieved, I begin to notice a sinking sensation while reading the Katakana for 'green peas.'
"Nani." Rumi-chan says, underlining the word with her finger. "Look, in Japanese, it gu-ree-nn-pee-su."
"Well, see, in English green peas are things you eat with butter. Meanranch, back at the while, Greenpeace is a large multi-national organization that drives in front of nuclear aircraft carriers and gets blown up by the French Special Forces." I smile. This is going poorly. A switch in tactics is called for, "so we're having asparagus?"
"Moo. Mike wa baka."
On American business names and misnomers:
"Ne." We are driving around San Diego, trying to find an avacado tree for our yard. "What do they do there?"
"Where?" Looking around, I find which building at which she is looking. "There?"
"Nanka, do they smash cars on purpose there?"
"No, that's where they fix cars after an accident." I reply, sensing a growing menace in this, our happy Honda-chan.
"Then why do they call it 'collision center?' Sounds like things getting smash." This in a quasi-irritated tone of voice.
"To confuse and demoralize the enemy." If I had an alarm and an announcement system in my head it would be saying the following right about now: "DANGER! DANGER! YOU ARE BEING A DUMBASS!"
"And who is enemy?"
"Um." For this hesitancy I am rewarded with a smack in the arm. "Hey, ow. Dammit that hurt."
"That's what you get for discriminating. Lousy Americans. Why don't you name crash repair or something. Collision center. Confusing. Majii de. Mooooo. Americans discriminate against people that don't speak English. Don't you agree?"
"Yep, I sure do. Jerkwads. We ought to sue someone over this."
On intelligence in the animal kingdom:
"What happens if we go off the road?" Rumi-chan says as we are driving down Card Sound Road inside John Pennecamp State Park in south Florida.
"We'd hit the swamp." The road is lined by large amounts of shrubbery and very little else, occasional flashes of muck interrupt the foliage. Our guide book classifies this as 'scenic.'
"What about the alligators?"
"Like nontoka hunter on Discovery Channel?"
"Steve Irwin? The Croc Hunter?"
"We'd roll up the windows, we're armed with phones. We'd call 911 or something." Somehow, I do not particularly like where this is going.
"What if they use tail to smash window?"
"Alligators can't get their tails up that high, besides, they're not known for attacking cars."
"But what if they cooperate?" Rumi-chan adds after several moments of silence.
"If they like make a pile." She says this with all seriousness.
"You mean if they climb up on one another?" I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or continue to pray for an airliner part to fall out of the sky and put me out of my misery.
"Surely, you jest." I say, comitting myself to a course of action of which I can neither see the end or understand. "Well, I suppose that in that case they could get in the car."
"See? We should have plan for alligator," she says triumphantly.
More on intelligence in the animal kingdom:
Pointing at the television and the Steve Irwin displayed by it, Rumi-chan says in an I-told-you-so sing-song voice: "Ne. Steve Irwin-san says that alligator can cooperate."
"Uso, majii de. Surely, you can't be serious." I note with some dismay that he is indeed, discussing this very fact.
"So who is right?"
"Rumi-chan." Beaten again, I return to the kitchen to continue cooking dinner.
On saying the same thing at the same time:
"So like, uh, you want to eat dinner?" I ask, as she unintentionally says the same thing that I do, word for word.
"Happy Ice Cream." Rumi-chan sparkles.
"Nani? Doshte 'happy ice cream' na no?" I am befuddled and confused, as usual.
"It's what you say when you say the same thing as someone else."
"Why ice cream, and happy ice cream at that?" There is something coming that I can almost tangibly sense.
"Good luck, jan."
"Wait, wait, don't tell me. All Japanese know this right?" I ask, with a certain degree of dry sarcasm.
"Of course, don't be dumb.
On the death of Pope John Paul II:
"So, when they bury, do they cremate?" Rumi-chan asks, as we watch throngs of people weeping over the recently passed Pope on television.
"No, they just straight bury the dude."
"Ah. So Pope could be zombie, desho?"
More on the death of Pope John Paul II:
"Ne," Rumi-chan says as I am half paying attention to an essay I am writing for a college course and while watching yet more footage of Cold Pope on Slab.
"Doesn't he stink?"
"Doesn't who stink?"
"Pope, desho. He's dead jan, doesn't he stink?"
"No, honey. They pump him full of junk so he doesn't go bad and keep him cold. Sort of like a refrigerated sandwich."
"Sandwich? Saiaku Mike-kun."
On statistical terminology:
"What's this, 'beta,' what does this mean?" This as we are trying to figure out in which of approximately six billion four hundred and three mutual funds we are going to invest. The process is not going well and I am about to find some way of bringing the entire free-market economy to a screeching halt to avoid any further dealings with this whole mess. "'Cuz there's like this r-squared bit, and then the whole standard deviation thing, that I understand but what is 'beta?'"
"It's geek," Rumi-chan says authortatively.
"Eh? Like geek how?"
"It's geek letter."
"Um. You mean 'Greek' letter?"
"Eeeeh," this is followed by a smirk and some giggling. "Majii de?"
"Pretty sure it's Greek, not geek."
"Well you understood, desho?"
"Then it's geek and Greek term. You are geek, you understand."
On American humor:
"Ne. Mike-kun," Rumi-chan says as I am quite asleep one night. "Ne, ohayo, tell me a joke."
"Errr." Following someone shaking my head around like a cheap maraca for several seconds, I roll over and manage to open one eye long enough to realize that the clock no longer makes sense. "Ne, ni-gi han desu."
"Hai, haiyaku, tell me joke ishte. Nothing dumb either."
"Hmm," think carefully, think very carefully, okay don't think, just run the yap. "Alright, what's the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts?"
"One's a dollar thirty-eight and the other is under a buck," I wait for at least a slight giggle as a reward for the effort. I would be better off waiting for pigs to start migrating south for the winter with geese.
"I don't get it."
"What part don't you get?"
"Whole thing, jan."
"Okay, a male deer is a called a 'buck,' right?"
"And a dollar bill is also called a 'buck,' right?"
"So the deer nuts," there is some pointing at nether regions, "would be under the buck, right?"
"And the beer nuts, those are okashi so they cost more than a dollar, which means they are not under a buck. Get it?"
"No. Mooo, you suck, jan."
---One hour, a dictionary, and several hand-drawn visual aids later---
"So, do you get it now?"
"Hai," Rumi-chan says pensively. "Demo, that's not funny."
"Fantastic. Can I go back to sleep now?"
"No, you still haven't told me a joke."
On Parking Lot Construction:
"Mooo. Toii." She says after we are forced to park some distance from the front entrance of the grocery store.
"What? It's not that far."
"Toii, jan. They should have spot."
"What, one just for you?"
"Yes, there should be Rumi-sama spot. In the shade. With heater for winter, wherever we go."
"Oh, yeah, that's rich."
"Why do Americans all drive all the time anyway? They should build trains here like in Japan. Kuruma ga mendukusai desu. Desho?"
"Couldn't agree more, honey."
"Good. Carry me to grocery store. Toii."
On the American concept of 'Friend':
"What's Greg's blood type?" Rumi-chan says in the same voice that you might ask for the current interest rates.
"Greg's? Uh, I dunno."
"Um. I dunno why I dunno. Never asked him."
"I dunno, never came up. Why?"
"It's important, he's your friend you should know."
"So you know if you are compatible friend."
"What? That's the most bizarre thing I have ever heard."
"Just like you too, you type A. Ne." Ne, is pronounced nay and is used when I am being an idiot and it is plainly obvious to anyone born and raised in Japan that this is the case.
"Huh?" On a second note, Americans have some dumb noises.
"You type A blood, you're aggressive, jan." Rumi-chan DESTROYS Yurei, WITH AN ARGUMENT CONSTRUCTED ENTIRELY OF IRREFUTABLE LOGIC!
"Where did this come from?" I plead, already knowing the answer.
"All Japanese know this."
"So you know the blood types of everyone in your office?"
"Of course, we had meeting the other day and talked about it."
"Ask Greg ishte."
"I'm not asking him that, he's going to think it's weird."
"ASK. Mo." ASK OR DIE, FOOL!
---So, the next day in a hanger somewhere in southern Maryland---
"So, Greg, got a kinda weird question for you."
On making fun of the English:
"I...speak...English...verrrrry...goooood...I...learrrn...it...frooom...a...booook." This, from me, in a vague impression of Manuel from Fawlty Towers.
"Are you making fun of the English?" Rumi-chan says, in a vaguely accusitory tone of voice. Vaguely accusitory in the same way that the Spanish Inquisition kinda-sorta accused people of heresy.
"No." This is followed by an immediate right cross to my arm. For someone that naps as much as she does, she sure can move fast.
"Ow, jesuschristonnacrutch, whadya have to hit me for." It hurt too. No really. Don't go saying any shit about getting beat up by a girl either, woman can hit hard.
"You made fun of my English."
"No I didn't." Your puny weapons are no match for our Japanese intellect.
"Fine. Say Macudonarudo."
"Err...macadamiarudyboy." Failure, miserable failure.
"HA!" Utter triumph radiates outward from Rumi-chan.
"You're making fun of my Japanese then?" Be advised, this is not a wise tactic to employ.
"Yes. It's okay, I'm allowed."
"But I can't make fun of your English?" Don't do it, Yurei.
"No. That's insen... That's insense..." Don't, I mean really.
"Insensitive?" Oh you giant moron.
"Mooooooo." Right cross.
"Ow, whadya hit me for again?" Dumbass. Told you so.
"For making fun of the English."
More on making fun of the English:
"Do you know what Shigemi-chan said today?"
"What did he say this time?"
"He say new-cue-lerr instead of new-cle-are. In speech. Doshte he does not speak English?"
"Uh, he does speak English, he just speaks a different sort of English."
"'Cuz he's the president."
"Well, he suck."
"Tell me about it, really."
"Shigemi-chan wa your president, though, right?"
"Hey, I didn't vote for the guy."
"Ahh, you American, Americans elect Bush, he's your president."
"Well, you live here, right? So that sort of makes you an American." I am losing here, I can feel it.
"No. I'm Japanese. I can't vote, remember."
On the social caste system in the United States:
I am editing one of Rumi-chan's English papers, when I come across the phrase:
'...mediocre people, such as myself, cannot afford to commit the sum of money...'
"Rumi-chan, you can't say this." As I speak, I point at the phrase. "Actually, you can't use the word mediocre like that."
"Doshte?" Confused, annoyed.
"Because, mediocre doesn't mean what you meant here." I say, somewhat exasperated.
"Why? We're mediocre."
"No, we're not. We may be middle-income but we're not mediocre."
"Mooooo. Same thing, jan. Mediocre, in the middle, desh-o?" This in the I-trump-your-argument-with-inscrutable-Japanese-logic voice.
"No, mediocre means like crappy but not really crappy." I say, trying to suplex the argument.
"Right. Same thing." She says, firmly kicking me in the metaphysical testes.
"Holy cow, where's the Japanese-English dictionary?"
On Psychic Powers:
"Ne." We are slogging through afternoon traffic, after I picked her up from work in D.C.
"Why didn't you bring okashi?" Spoken in a seriously annoyed tone.
"You wanted a snack? Why didn't you say something, I would have stopped and gotten you something."
"You didn't know? Mo, mokatsuku."
"Why are you angry? What for, you didn't say anything to me?"
"You should have known. I was thinking snack." Putting her fingers to her temples, she rotates her hands and says "buzu buzu buzu buzu. I was thinking snack, you should have known."
"Honey, I'm not psychic."
"Doshte you can't read my mind? Maybe you have defective brain?"
On Situational Awareness:
Rumi-chan is dozing on the couch while I am quietly watching television. Her feet are propped up across my lap. Being the deviant that I am, I elect to take advantage of the situation.
"Uhh." This is the yes-type noise, by the way.
"Can, I eat something?"
"Can I uh, eat the rest of the ice cream?"
"Is it okay if I shave all the hair off of my body, set random shit on fire and say that Satan made me do it?"
"Is it okay if I go buy a Subaru WRX STi this afternoon while you're taking a nap?"
"No." This is followed immediately by light snoring.
"Che. Shipai." Defeated, I slink off to eat ice cream.
"Honey, I swear to god." I am trying to get something heavy out of the top of the closet and Rumi-chan has decided that now would be an excellent time to repeatedly poke me in the kidneys. It also bears mentioning that I am extremely ticklish. "Quit."
"Because it's annoying."
"Chigaoyo, majii. You don't believe in god, right?"
"So why you always swearing to god?"
"It's a figure of speech."
"Well, you shouldn't swear to something you don't believe."
On Jesus Christ:
Rumi-chan and I are looking at a Christmas card, the front of which bears the words "GLORY TO THE NEWBORN KING" in large gold script.
"Dore?" Rumi-chan says. "Who is the king? I thought Elvis was the king?"
"Elvis?" Befuddled, I turn her hand so I can see the front of the card. "No, that would be Jesus."
"Jesus is king? Doshte? I thought Jesus wa nantoka, Christian guy, desho?"
"Rumi-chan, the deal is that Christians think of Jesus being the king. He was also referred to in the bible as being the king of the Jews."
"Maji? Elvis is the king, Jesus wa Jesus." There is clearly no arguing with such statements.
"Right. Hail to the king, baby."
On the Virgin Mother:
Rumi-chan is singing the lyrics to Silent Night, in English and from a hymnal that a chaplain gave to me some time ago. This was found in a box of junk that we had excavated from the closet:
"...round yon virgin mother...nani kore? What's this mean, virgin mother? What kind of a mother is a virgin?"
"It's generally accepted with Christians that Mary was a virgin when she got pregnant with Jesus."
"Neee...chotto. What kind of people believe this?"
"Christians. Quite a few actually."
"Henna. So who did it?"
"God made her pregnant, I think it's called the 'immaculate conception' or some such thing."
"Asoka. Cho baka hito."
On U.S. Navy Uniforms:
"Omoshiroi. You look like a Japanese schoolgirl." This, as I am trying to determine if the ribbons on my Service Dress Blue jumper top are cockeyed. They are. They always are. They're impossible to adjust properly, some sort of cosmic joke on enlisted people played by the ghost of John Paul Jones.
"What?" Looking around, I realize that I do, somewhat.
"Eeeeeeeh. Hentai Mike. Wearing girl's clothing. Hentai hentai. I didn't realize that I married with pervert."
"Grrrrr." I believe that the color of my face at this point might be classified as maroon.
On inedible food:
"I'm not eating this part." Wiggling finger at brownish end of baked pasta dish, fresh out of the oven.
"Well," he says, making an examination of the offending foodstuff. "I suppose. Why?"
"Burnt food gives you cancer."
"WHAT?" He says, nearly swallowing his fork. "Where did you get this idea?"
"You don't know? All Japanese know this."
"Mrrrgh. I should have known."
On noder gatherings:
"So are you going to go with me?"
"Chotto, ne. Kawai desu. Otaku people are going to be there?"
"Rumi-chan. I'm going."
"Right, so otaku people are going."
"Otakujanai, maji de. They're people."
"You otaku, they your friends. Therefore they otaku."
"Yeah, but you're married to me. What does that say about you then?"
"I'm Rumi-chan. Impossible for me to be otaku."
"Oh. I see. That explains everything."
We were watching a program on Discovery channel some months ago about the construction on Kansai airport. Upon being shown footage of protesters chucking Molotov cocktails at a bulldozer, she exclaims:
"SEE! SEE! JAPANESE ALSO DANGEROUS!"
"Everyone is tall in America. It has to do with all the beef you eat."
"Why can't Americans speak English?"
On my contributions to E2:
"You should write less violence. Write love story next time."
On intelligence levels in the United States:
"Americans so stupid."
"Rumi-chan, what like there are no dumb Japanese people?"
"No, Japanese stupid too. Just Americans are stupid."
"What's wrong with corn? And squid? You LIKE squid."
"Yeah, but I'm not sure about it on pizza, that's all."
"Moooooo, cho baka Mike-kun."
On George W. Bush:
"Does this man speak English?"
I love my wife, I really do.
Thanks to allseeingeye and IwhoSawTheFace for the title and pushing me to create this node.