A karate friend and I were chatting last weekend about about general foreigner-in-Japan type things. The conversation started off with the upcoming release of the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 video game. I personally don’t own a video game system anymore, but I was a big fan of the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting franchise, and seriously thought about buying a system just to play that game. Anyway, somehow the conversation changed directions and we started talking about what living in Japan is like. I believe my friend Lavon has been in Japan for seven years or more. He has a wife, and two beautiful daughters (one a newborn). So I was asking him about what he did to improve his Japanese, and he said that he used to live in the sticks…where there were no other foreigners in his area, so when the only way for him to survive was to learn Japanese. He eventually met the woman who would become his wife, and he said this was when he made the most significant improvements in his Japanese (his wife doesn’t speak English). Lavon then went on to tell me about a friend of his who has been living in Japan for years and simply refused to learn any Japanese. Whenever he would ask his friend why he wouldn’t learn Japanese, his friend would reply “Why can’t they (the Japanese people) learn English?” I laughed because, at the time, it struck me as funny. But in hindsight, maybe it’s not so funny.
I have definitely run into foreigners who simply refuse to learn the language or even attempt to adapt to the Japanese culture. I know that Japanese can be a difficult language to learn and all, but even trying the basics can make a tremendous difference. I truly think that Japanese (in general) people respect foreigners who are making an effort to understand and learn aspects of their culture.
For those foreigners who can speak REALLY well and truly embrace the culture, they earn/command an even deeper level of respect. Respect is nice, but beyond that, those who can speak, read, and write in Japanese, and can understand Japanese customs, create a wealth of opportunities for themselves in Japan. It sometimes frustrates me to see foreigners who get irritated with Japanese people for not being able to speak English…THIS IS JAPAN FOR GOODNESS SAKE!! That’s like me going into someone’ s home for the first time and getting mad at them for not following my rules; it’s not my house. Now I’m not saying that you have to be fluent, but at least try to be respectful of the culture all around you.
I am definitely trying to learn as much as I can about the culture and the language because I think it’s cool, and I enjoy it. I try to speak whenever I can, I try new foods, and try to have new experiences (as best I can) in Japan. I also think that being able to speak with people in their own language will allow me to build much stronger relationships, communicate in Japan much more easily, and experience Japan more fully. I definitely feel that when in Japan, we should do as the Japanese do.
What do you think?