||[Oct. 20th, 2008|03:14 pm]
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. ^^