I was in the Japan Times last week with a close look at some of the Japanese in the Queer Eye episodes on Netflix that were set in Japan: “Being your best self in spoken Japanese with the cast of ‘Queer Eye.’”
I wish I’d had a little more space to talk about some other phrases (I took over 1,400 words of notes and the column was only like 750 lol), but I focused in on the prevalence of 自分 (jibun, self/myself) in a lot of phrases. If you can master this word you’ll be able to say a lot about yourself, and you should be using it instead of first-person pronouns quite often.
If you haven’t seen these episodes yet, I would highly recommend doing so!
I haven’t followed their reception too closely, but apparently people have been divided, with some (many?) criticizing the show of appropriation or misunderstanding Japanese culture.
I don’t think I agree with everything they tried to do. The approach to cooking, in particular, fell flat most of the time (the omuraisu was a serious culinary crime!) and didn’t really understand how to be creative in a Japanese kitchen.
But I do think the Fab Five helped in many of the situations. I think one long quote from the mother in episode three really helps provide some perspective.
When asked about the last time she told her daughter Kae that she loves her, the mother responds:
日本にはやっぱりI love you言ったり、ハグしたり、キスしたりという文化がないので、本当はやりたい気持ちものすごくあるんですけど、抑えている (Nihon ni wa yappari “I love you” ittari, hagu shitari, kisu shitari to iu bunka ga nai no de, hontō wa yaritai kimochi monosugoku arun desu kedo, osaete iru, In Japan we don’t really have a culture of saying I love you or hugging and kissing each other, so while I do strongly feel like I want to do and say these things, I suppress those feelings).
It was easy for the Fab Five to provide some openings to these four people precisely because they’re not suppressing those feelings.
There are aspects and expectations of different cultures in the U.S. that also suppress these feelings at times in similar ways, perhaps to different degrees than in Japan, and it can be incredibly liberating to finally realize that you can safely express these feelings without fear of being hurt.
And sometimes it’s not even a cultural issue, I don’t think. Japan does provide avenues for people to express their feelings clearly, so sometimes it’s an individual’s experience. They’ve somehow convinced themselves that they need to live with their feelings kind of shut down. It’s incredible to see what happens when they get a little help becoming more comfortable expressing them.
It definitely got a little dusty in my apartment while I was watching!