Communicating in Japanese Isn’t Always Easy

By Donald Ash | Articles

Last weekend I went to K’s Denki, one of the largest, most famous electronic store chains here in Japan. I went, intending to return an item. I had purchased a Sony Voice Recorder back in early August, and just never used it…ever. The recorder cost about 10,000 yen or just over $100. I’m a bit of a penny pincher at times, and I thought $100 was rather expensive for a dust collector. I hopped on my bike and went to K’s with a “what’s the worst that could happen” attitude. I was completely expecting the clerks to say “no,” because it had almost been two months!! But as it turns out I got a full refund of the item purchase price. Problem solved, right? Well, not exactly. Getting the refund was great, but I still left K’s Denki unhappy. Why? Because I was SO disappointed with how bad my Japanese is.

I’ve been in Japan now for 2 years, 8 months, and 27 days. Granted that’s not enough time for me to become fluent in Japanese, but I was really shocked that I so much trouble communicating. I don’t remember exactly what words were being used, but I could only pick up bits and pieces. After bumbling and stumbling over my limited Japanese vocabulary, they called one of the clerks who spoke English to come and help me. I was devastated. I thought I was getting better. Although this was inspiration to help me study more, it’s still a blow to my language ego when setbacks this bad happen.

So what have I been doing wrong? Well, to be frank, I realize that I’m simply not practicing as much as I could be. I currently work at an Eikaiwa, a relatively large, privately-owned language company here in Japan. It’s a really cool job and all, but I hear/speak mainly English for the portion part of my day. Is that a good excuse? Not at all. People work in all kinds of places, and just never make the effort to learn Japanese. I don’t want to become one of the statistics. I don’ t want to live in Japan for years and years, only to have command of Frankenstein Japanese (vocab & grammar pieced together to make atrocious, monstrous sentences). I have to take steps to hear Japanese as it’s used in everyday speech. I have some great text materials, CDs, and computer programs (which I think are important, too) but if I can’t do something as common as making an item return…there’s definitely a problem. It’s a problem I am desperately determined to resolve.

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • lissa

    hello! i stumbled upon your blog via youtube (needed help to operate a japanese washing machine, and your youtube vid was very helpful). i’m in the same (perhaps worse) boat as you, i’ve been here in japan more than a year and i still do not have a good grasp of japanese. english is the medium of communication where i work but, you’re right, that shouldn’t be an excuse as there is always a way.

    anyway, best of luck to you with mastering japanese!

    • Donald

      It can be pretty tough, right? But I am determined to figure it out…somehow. Thanks for visiting. I am so glad you found the video useful. If just one person gets something from these videos, I am a happy dude. Thank you for your comments.

      I hope we both figure out this Japanese thing!

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