A Beginner’s Guide to Engrish

How the Japanese adapt English: Step one, can it be shortened? Step two, can it be forced to conform to the rules of Japanese pronunciation? Step three, can it confuse native speakers of English?

Check. Check. Check. 😀

Some days I’m the teacher. More often than not I’m the student relearning English. Welcome to the world of teaching English in a foreign country and the many adventures that come along with the territory.

Pants (n.) – 1. In America: trousers; 2. In Japan: underwear

Basket (n.) – 1. In America: a container made of twigs, rushes, thin strips of wood, or other flexible material woven together; 2. In Japan: shortened form of ‘basketball’

Hamburg (n.) – 1. In English: a German city; In Japanese: fancy hamburger patty and sauce with side of vegetable, rice, and miso soup.

Ice (n.) – 1. In English: the solid form of water, produced by freezing; 2. In Japanese: shortened form of ‘ice cream’.

Sand (n.) – 1. In English: loose grains of weathered rocks, primarily made of quartz; 2. In Japanese: shortened form of ‘sandwich’. An Ice Sand is… you guessed it, an ice cream sandwich!



Curried Kidney Beans and Potatoes

It’s been a while since I updated the recipe section. After three weeks of convalescing (basically the whole winter break), I found myself confronting a dilemma that all the single people across the world must one day face: an empty refrigerator and no one to send on an errand to the super. Subsisting off of batches of chicken soup, I’d depleted the pantry of everything but a bag full of kidney beans, some left over potatoes, and an intense spice rack. Not going to lie, the idea for curried kidney beans came from the Great Oracle of the Googles when it spat out recipes for Rajma when I typed in key words for ‘kidney beans’, ‘spices’, and ‘recipes’.

My variation isn’t true to Rajma per se… for one, it has potatoes. For seconds… I am allergic to rice so instead I’m toasting some bread and pretending that’s naan but Rajma sounds amazing and I look forward to making a true batch one day. Note: The amounts listed for spices are approximate. My coriander bottle practically emptied a quarter of its contents when the lid fell off… it should however be 1 teaspoon. So no worries if you fudge the numbers!



Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 tsp ground ginger
1 can cut tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 tsp garam masala
Ground chili pepper to taste
2.5 cups red kidney beans
2 potatoes, cubed

0. Set kidney beans aside the night before in a bowl of water. Kidney beans must soak overnight before they will be ready to cook next day. Minimum 7-8 hour soak, can soak for longer but not less time. You can also boil them in advance so that when they are added in the final step, it cuts simmering time in half.
1. Coat deep sauce pan in olive oil. Heat onions and garlic on low heat until translucent.
2. Add potatoe cubes and fry on high heat for about three minutes. Add ground ginger as you stir potatoes, onions, and garlic.
3. Stir in kidney beans plus the can of cut tomatoes as well as any water/sauce that comes in the can. Add cumin, coriander, tumeric, garam masala. Lower heat and cover sauce pan, stirring and taste testing occasionally. Allow the mixture to cook for 45 minutes to an hour.


So it was my first official week back to work. I didn’t realize just how much I missed my kids until I was up at the front again, teaching. Some days I’m so afraid that I’m doing it all wrong – I have legit freak out moments with thoughts ranging the spectrum of: “Oh my God, oh my God, they’re confused, right? I should have explained it differently! Now they’re going to fail the test… I’m the reason they’re failing English, right?” to “What if I’ve traumatized them?! What if they never want to meet another foreigner ever again?!”

This is probably a small scale version of what it’s like to be a parent.

Today one of my first graders was playing by himself on the stairwell. He’s a funny kid who’s startlingly un-Japanese. He speaks his mind. If he has questions he asks directly. He wants hugs and love and attention… he rarely sees his mother (who is remarried) and his father is quite strict and does not have much physical contact with his son. Today he was quieter than usual, ignoring me until I sit down on the stairs with him, when he asks:

“Where is your mother?” He wants to know what it’s like for foreigners to have a home life.

“In America,” I reply, munching on the last of my apple and unable to satisfy his curiosity about my home life. Lunch was late and I still had food to finish before going down to the teacher’s offices. I’m pretty sure my kids think I’m living with my parents still and that my mom’s got dinner cooking on the stove by the time I get back. The fact that I make my own bento surprises them every time.

My little first grader is unfazed by my answer. “What about your father?”

“Also in America. With my mom.”

“Grandma? Grandpa?” he asks.

“Not in Japan either.”


“Because I moved to Japan to teach English… so I’m living alone now.”

“Why?” he persists.

A little confused, I ask for clarification: “Why did I move to Japan or why am I living alone?”


“My parents couldn’t move with me and I’m teaching English to find out what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

At which point our conversation is cut short by the vice principle, who is going around collecting photos for the year book. He likes the picture we make and has us pose on top of the stairs together. The camera is a shiny toy, it distracts the little one. He’s forgotten our conversation and now follows the vice principle as he makes his rounds through the classrooms. By then, I’d whittled the apple down to the core. I could eat it, like I normally do, but I’m not in the mood anymore. I chuck it into the nearest bin, remembering that I’ve got to do the grocery shopping tonight or starve.

I once read online that most twenty-somethings thought that becoming an adult meant no longer having a bed time… The reality: it just meant having to be in charge of one’s own bed time. How very true. It also means getting to decide where one will be working for the next year. In my case, I’ve just finished signing my contract for 2015-2016. Year two as an English teacher in Japan commences. And I couldn’t be any happier, or any more frightened, if I tried 😀

Heisei 27!!!

It’s been a bit of a shock that the New Year came and went so quickly. Even though logically the span of any given day is no different than the next, honestly it feels as if those first three days of 2015 zipped by like a horde of consumers on their way to a Black Friday sale. Doesn’t help that I’ve been having one drawn out battle with the cold outside and with the one I caught three weeks ago, which has kept my lungs dancing a messy tango. So it was pills, kotatsu, and mikan for me. What a great way to end 2014 and start 2015!

There’s something daring and novel about 2015. My gut feeling is that this is the year when Things will finally begin to Occur. But of course everyone is probably saying that right now: This is the year! This year unlike any others! Perhaps the symptoms of growing old should not be the onslaught of debilitating arthritis or creaky knees or a failing back but the realization that there’s only so much to do with so little time.  I should probably be obsessing less on my age and more over the fact that North Korea may blow up the U.S. to avenge their dictator any day now or that Russia is (still) making things awkward in Eastern Europe (again) or even fixating on Japan’s clever, political re-interpretation on the constitutional prohibition of maintaining an ‘army’. But here I am with a dozen half-finished manuscript on my desktop, moping over the certain (uncertain) fact of failure and that I will be a starving writer with nothing to show for it but stacks upon stacks of unpublished poems and short stories to line my coffin once I finally die from that infernal cold. Worse yet, to be an obscure writer, published but never read. Such is my pre-midlife crisis. And, yes, I know it’s ridiculous.

But between then and now I’ve got a lot of living to do, which I intend to begin by posting about the calendar system in Japan and some other frightfully educational information that first timers to Japanese culture might not know. Cheers!

As George and Ira Gershwin once famously composed: “You like to-may-toes and I like to-mah-toes” though essentially they are equivalent in meaning. As go tomatoes so go calendar systems, in a manner of speaking. In the Western tradition, the Gregorian Calendar is a series of sequential years that are independent of who reigns/what ministerial cabinet takes over/presidential assassinations/etc. It’s 2015 C.E. (or A.D., depending on educational background) and it will remain so until January 01, 2016. Japan, on the other hand, has three ways of counting years that are in current use.

First, there is the Gregorian calendar which was adopted for convenience’s sake in the 1870s. And second, there is the more traditional method of counting the number of years since the current emperor’s ascent to the throne.

For example, when filling out your birth year in the Japanese calendar system for official forms, one must first list the reigning era’s name then the year since that era began and then the birth month and the birth day.

My birth date thus looks like: Heisei 03. XX Month. XX Day.

Basically it’s the same as writing:

1991/XX Month/XX Day


XX Day/XX Month/1991 (if you’re European)


XX Month/XX Day/1991 (if you’re American)

It gets a little confusing for obvious reasons: a) you must memorize the date and month on which each era began and ended, b) prior to Meiji, era names changed not just for enthronement (though that is the current trend) but also for wars, eclipses, plagues, etc., and c) it doesn’t translate very well into English (which has no history of using kanji). There have been other eras known as Showa, easily differentiated in Japanese by the type of kanji used.

Meiji Era: 23 October 1868 to 29 July 1912

Taisho Era: 30 July 1912 to 24 December 1926

Showa Era: 25 December 1926 to 7 January 1989

Heisei Era: 8 January 1989 to the present

Calculate from 1989 and some simple arithmetic will reveal that in Japan it is currently the 27th year of Heisei Era. Basically anyone born in 1989 will forever be reminded of their age while everyone else counts in their heads for a couple of seconds before receiving the same shock 😉


Finally, the traditional Chinese zodiac. Most people will know this one but not many are aware that the zodiac is still in use – albeit mainly only to mark the New Year and to associate the birth of a new child with a certain animal. 2015 is the year of the sheep. Anyone born in Heisei 03 (otherwise known as 1991) was also born on the year of the sheep. It’s a perpetual twelve year cycle, somewhat similar to the monthly zodiac of the West, only eleven months longer. Everyone born in 1991 will share the following sheep qualities, according to the Washington Post:

No one wants a baby born in 2015, the dreaded Year of the Sheep.

Sheep are meek creatures, raised for nothing more than slaughter. Babies born in the Year of the Sheep, therefore, will grow up to be followers rather than leaders, according to some superstitions. The children are destined for heartbreak and failed marriages, and they will be unlucky in business, many Chinese believe. One popular folk saying holds that only one out of 10 people born in the Year of the Sheep finds happiness. -Wan, William. Washington Post. 9 May 2014.

Quite the flattering portrait. Not as disconcerting once you realize that many a dragon (Emperor Nicholas II of Russia) and horse (Frederic Chopin) and snake (Queen Elizabeth I) have suffered from the aforementioned Sheep afflictions as well. Dragon is supposedly the luckiest of the twelve but that didn’t do the Russian monarchy any good. Michelangelo, on the other hand, enjoyed a wonderful career despite being a dreaded sheep.

And that is the calendar system as concisely as can be explained! Happy New Year to you all! 😀