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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: 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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