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Silicon Rose

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Japan: Overview [Oct. 20th, 2008|03:14 pm]
Silicon Rose
[Current Mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]

I spent ten nights in Japan. The first four were in Tokyo, after which we caught the shinkansen to Atami and from there the local to Izukyu-Shimoda, where we spent two nights in the Kagetsutei ryokan. At the end of our stay in the ryokan, we took the local train back to Atami, the Kodama shinkansen to Kyoto, and spent two nights in Kyoto before returning to Tokyo on the Hikari for the last two nights.

It was an interesting experience. I've never been the translator for the group I was with. Neither genedefect or Mel, our companion, spoke a lick of Japanese. In general, I've found that while most hotel staff speak a bit of English and you can negotiate your way through a remarkable number of transactions without having a common language with the store keeper, when you go off the script you can suddenly find yourself in the middle of a misunderstanding. I usually just start with Japanese, now.

Still, I don't know what causes it, but a lot of the people I speak to tried to repeat what they're saying in English as if I didn't understand. Sadly, they don't say in English the stuff I actually have trouble with... instead, I'll get "Futsuka." "Hai." "Futsuka. TWO DAYS." "Hai." "TWO DAYS." It might be a problem with my aizuchi (I suck), or I may just not be saying the words I need to say (saying "wakarimashita" instead of just "hai" helped, but didn't always result in a completed conversation), or perhaps it's my pronunciation. I just don't know. It was really frustrating.

As usual, I felt really disconnected. I mean, fundamentally, Japan isn't that much of a foreign atmosphere for me. I'd be more weirded out by a visit to Germany. I understand the language. I glance around and I understand the names of the shops, what they're advertising; I easily read the signs that tell me where to go and what to do. I don't have to plan much for an excursion, because I can just pick it up as I'm going along. Hell, I even learned how to really read maps to navigate this time around. However, I still don't understand the culture. I don't know how to actually negotiate the simple conversations, like how to act at a restaurant, how to handle a shopping transaction, and how buying clothes works. I can do it well enough, but when I do I feel like I'm causing trouble to the staff.

But I do recognize that there's only so much I can do. The flight attendants on JAL will probably always address me in English, because I'm Caucasian and they have to make a snap decision on what language to use. People will stare at me the way they did in Izukyu-Shimoda, because I am foreign. I can't magically assume a Japanese face when I go to Japan. I will almost certainly have an accent for the rest of my life. I will always be different.

On a brighter(?) note, the kitties appear to have missed us as much as we missed them while we were gone. Azuki's being even more of an amaenbo than usual. ^^

[User Picture]From: harinezumi
2008-10-21 04:26 am (UTC)
Welcome back! Eat any bee grubs? Find anything cool at Akiba?
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2008-10-21 03:24 pm (UTC)
I don't think we ate any bee grubs, not because I know what we were eating (I didn't and don't), but because our ryokan specialized in seafood. I picked up a new electronic dictionary at Laox which I'm very happy with. It has 100 books of content to pull from, including an electronic version of the Brittanica Encyclopedia, a lookup for prescription drugs, a second Japanese dictionary, and (finally!) a free memo system. It also has stylus functionality, something I elected to do without in my first dictionary purchase. The kanji recognition is, well, a bit so-so, but that could be more my writing than the recognition abilities of the dictionary. It HAS helped, I've just needed to enter the kanji two or three times to get it to pull the right thing up for more complicated kanji. I'm also still learning how to use it.

Other than that, I didn't find any great surprises, but I did pick up quite a bit of stuff, including a couple of your requests.
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[User Picture]From: cyfis
2008-10-21 04:58 pm (UTC)
Being mistaken for Japanese and then asked directions isn't really all that much better though :P
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From: dvarin
2008-10-21 06:16 pm (UTC)
I don't usually get people switching languages on me (either we start in Japanese and stay that way, or we start in English and stay that way), but I'm not sure what I'm doing to get that effect, sorry. Though I suspect your guess about aidzuchi is close--any time you pause without making a response, it seems people assume that you're confused by or didn't catch whatever was just said, and repeat it louder.

As for going off the script... sometimes it's impossible to help, because you don't know what the script is supposed to be. One time I was trying to buy tickets from one of the private rail companies, assumed it worked like passless JR, and then crashed against the rocks when it didn't. (I'm still not sure how I was supposed to have done it, but making Poor Gaijin faces at the clerk until he finally gave me a ticket was probably not it.)

Edited at 2008-10-21 06:18 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2008-10-21 07:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was using aizuchi frequently, but not effectively. I said "hai" quite a bit to indicate I was following them, but I think I also needed to incorporate more "confirmation" (repetition of what they were saying) in order to make it clear I was understanding them. Unfortunately, I have a buffer problem in Japanese. I understand the content of most of the conversations I have, but sometimes it takes me a second after they finish speaking to "clear the buffer" and get the full concept. That leads to unnatural pauses. I could probably get rid of that with more conversation with native speakers.

Also, if I just say "hai", they don't end the conversation. I must say "wakarimashita" or some confirmation of what they told me, or they will keep repeating it again and again. I learned that fairly early, but it was surprisingly difficult for me to put it into practice.

As for the script... yeah, I've run into the weirdest "off script" problems. Who would have thought that asking for the charges for an international call at the front desk of a hotel that serves quite a few international customers would end up being such a train wreck? Or trying to just order from a menu at a restaurant on the first floor of a hotel in which the check-in was entirely conducted in English? Seriously? I mean, don't get me wrong, even just having the check-in supported in English is great for foreigners, but it's so strange when you just get a blank look for asking what seems to be a simple question. Maybe I needed to speak slower?
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From: dr4b
2008-10-22 03:34 am (UTC)
All of this is completely normal, it has nothing to do with your speaking level, it's how Japan is. I've run into all of this all the time in the last year and change of living here. But of course, since you guys apparently forgot I live in Japan and wasn't worth stopping by to say hi to, I couldn't be a sounding board to say "no, it's not you, it's them". Or more like, "it's the others".

The stupidest thing here is honestly that the things people will tell you in English ARE the things you already understood in Japanese; anything you don't understand in Japanese they basically won't know how to tell you in English. I run into this all the time. And hotel clerks piss me off to no end because I'll start everything in Japanese, ONLY speak Japanese, will sit there and write my address in kanji and everything and then they'll insist on saying in slow condescending English, "Is this correct, maam? You live in Saitama?" Jesus.

I've been told that it's because people want to practice and/or show off their English, AND that they pretty much assume foreigners can't speak any Japanese or read any kanji or use chopsticks or anything (I get this all the time, even from friends, students, whoever, people who have known me for all my time here), so they want to be helpful. And since basically most of the white people they see here ARE tourists who have no fucking clue about anything, and/or English teachers who are causing problems, they basically assume, white skin, you are one of them.
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[User Picture]From: siliconrose
2008-10-22 04:49 am (UTC)
Sorry, I didn't get on the internet for anything but making a reservation with Pasela and looking up international ATMs from the time I posted my message saying I was leaving and when I got back. ^^;; It was a deliberate choice, to avoid checking my work email and similar unwise things to do on a vacation, so when I did get on, I didn't do anything but the immediate task in front of me. I even went to a manga kissa to *gasp* just read manga. ^^

It's good to know it isn't just me. I was confused through the entire trip, wondering whether my pronunciation and sentence construction was seriously so bad that they just assumed my Japanese skills were completely primitive. I wish it didn't happen at all, though. I wasn't offended when the kids on school trips were chirping "haro!" at us at Nijijo castle, or when the guy accosted us for an English conversation in Kyoto Station (aside from his insults, probably unintentional, towards the third member of our party), and I appreciated the ryokan staff's attempts to translate the seriously obscure types of seafood they were serving us into English when I obviously couldn't place the terms. It only bothers me when we appear to have been doing great up until that point, and all of a sudden English gets pulled out on me.
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