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Maciamo
Feb 19, 2005, 13:58
In the thread Fluent Foreigners Now Accepted In Japan! (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?p=173253), we pointed out that many Japanese assume that a foreign-looking person cannot speak Japanese and therefore use sign language with them (as if foreigners were monkeys) even if addressed in fluent Japanese.

We discussed whether the Japanese should even ask foreigners whether they can speak Japanese (nihongo wo wakarimasu ka ?) or just assume that they do and address them in Japanese and only resort to using sign language (or English) if the person cannot understand.

MikeCash has remarked that it would be discriminatory to ask someone whether they can ask Japanese just because they do not "look" Japanese (but could have been naturalised, or born and raised in Japan, or just have stayed there for many years). I tend to agree with that.

Indeed, in Western countries, people usually don't ask any foreign-looking person if they can speak the local language, and do not start making gesture assuming they don't because they look Asian or African, but just speak to them normally as with anybody else. This is also true in rural areas where there are only Caucasians, not just in cosmopolitan areas (I have tested it with my wife in several countries).

Foreigners like me may feel that the deeply-rooted attitude of the Japanese to assume that foreigners do not speak Japanese can be quite irritaing, especially when we address them in fluent Japanese, or have been repeated times to the same shop, spoken to them in Japanese, and they still make gestures to us as if it was the first time they saw us.

My question in this poll is "how should Japanese behave when dealing with an unknown person who 'looks like' a foreigner (in a shop for instance)" ?

1) They should assume that most foreigners can't understand Japanese and use gestures
2) They should first make sure that they can speak Japanese by asking them
3) They should assume that they can speak Japanese and only use gestures if the person really doesn't understand.

Mycernius
Feb 19, 2005, 17:58
I think that it is only polite to ask whether they speak Japanese or not. Normally if I am meeting a person who doesn't speak English that I don't know, whether they do or not. I think it comes down to good manners. Japan being a polite society would naturally assume that any gaijin would not speak japanese because they don't look japanese. To be polite they would make the effort to address them in English. The same does happen to me when I am out delivering around Leicester and Birmingham. There are many companies that employ Indians that do not speak English very well. I feel it is polite to ask whether they do speak English if they have had a problem understanding you. I never had any problems and have always left on good terms, even if we do not share a common language. Good manners maketh the man. Bad manners make you a ****

quiet sunshine
Feb 19, 2005, 18:30
MikeCash has remarked that it would be discriminatory to ask someone whether they can ask Japanese just because they do not "look" Japanese (but could have been naturalised, or born and raised in Japan, or just have stayed there for many years). I tend to agree with that.
Oh, I'm a Chinese, but I might have the same "discriminatory" behavior if I met a foreigner. And I never knew that would be "discriminatory", :relief: got a new recognition, thanks. :-)


Indeed, in Western countries, people usually don't ask any foreign-looking person if they can speak the local language, and do not start making gesture assuming they don't because they look Asian or African, but just speak to them normally as with anybody else. This is also true in rural areas where there are only Caucasians, not just in cosmopolitan areas (I have tested it with my wife in several countries).
May be you westerner are too proud of yourself so you think foreigners went to your place should use your language? Hehe, just kidding! :p I hope someday everybody would learn Chinese then people here needn't be so crazy about English. :cool: :p

lexico
Feb 19, 2005, 18:39
We discussed whether the Japanese should even ask foreigners whether they can speak Japanese (nihongo wo wakarimasu ka ?) or......just speak to them normally as with anybody else.

My question in this poll is "how should Japanese behave when dealing with an unknown person who 'looks like' a foreigner (in a shop for instance)" ?

1) They should assume that most foreigners can't understand Japanese and use gestures
2) They should first make sure that they can speak Japanese by asking them
3) They should assume that they can speak Japanese and only use gestures if the person really doesn't understand.I was a little baffled with the choices and couldn't vote because I was expecting, from reading the other related posts, that there would be an option

4) They should assume that they can speak Japanese; however if the foreigner seems to speak a little but not fluent Japanese, they should try to speak slower and with enunciation .

Reading Mycernius' post, I am also reminded of yet another possibility. For example,

5) They should assume that they can speak Japanese; however if in doubt, should address the foreigner in both English and Japanese asking "Do you speak Japanese," and decide upon a common language before moving on to converse in anything.

Another point that is tricky is that of being asked the same question three, four times in a row which can be very frustrating for the foreigner in a host country. A little bit of personal history. I had a kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Walters. We had an art class. One day, some of the kids including me did a spray painting with the brush. Obviously she was not happy. But she let everyone else go with an easy excuse. Although my answer was no different from the others' I was questioned 6-7 times the same thing, methodically; Did you draw a ball or a bird? That was traumatic experience for me.

There should be an internationally acceptable protocol for such situations. Being doubted multiple times can seriously undermine one's sense of wholeness. I just hope the poll can address some of these nerve racking issues, too.

Maciamo
Feb 19, 2005, 19:43
I have adapted a bit the options to suit Lexico's ideas.

I didn't mention whether they should ask "Do you speak Japanese" in Japanese or English, but it doesn't really matter in term of concept. What's more, some Japanese (especially older people) might not even ask that simple question in English.

I have added "or speak more slowly" in addition to gestures, in case the person doesn't understand. The idea is that they first speak in normal Japanese, assuming that the foreigner can understand.

Kama
Feb 19, 2005, 20:22
I haven't been in Japan, but it's more common I suppose that foreigners don't speak Japanese. Maybe when somebody looks like foreigner they don't want to trouble him with asking in a language he doesn't know. Ands I suppose it's a stereotype that foreigner = english speaking person.

Maciamo
Feb 19, 2005, 20:45
Ands I suppose it's a stereotype that foreigner = english speaking person.

Yes, that's also why I thought that it didn't make much difference whether the Japanese asked "nihongo wo wakarimasu ka" or "do you speak English?". Over half of the Westerners do not speak English as their mother-tongue, and maybe 1/3 of this half cannot speak English at all.

Elizabeth
Feb 19, 2005, 22:24
Yes, that's also why I thought that it didn't make much difference whether the Japanese asked "nihongo wo wakarimasu ka" or "do you speak English?". Over half of the Westerners do not speak English as their mother-tongue, and maybe 1/3 of this half cannot speak English at all.
Although I think most Japanese would use 'ga' instead of 'wo,' I've never had a shopkeeper ask if I speak English, either out of a lack of confidence in their ability to carry a conversation or because it really isn't necessary for the business at hand.

To smooth the encounter along, I usually take it on myself to make a point of speaking Japanese first which is generally sufficient for making the transaction work and finding what I came for. There has never really been an issue of not being remembered or of the clerk/owner insisting on practicing their English. :relief:

ArmandV
Feb 19, 2005, 23:49
In shops and department stores, I have never had a problem in communicating with the clerks. I just generally point to what I want (I find out first if the clerk or someone else there can understand English) and the prices are generally plainly marked.

In other places, I usually have no problem finding an English-speaking Japanese person. A lot of Japanese that I've encountered have a decent, rudimentary command of English. Generally, I have not found the communication problem that a few are sensitive about.

I look at it this way, when I am in Japan, I am a guest in their country. I find it a little odd that foreigners who know Japanese, who are also guests, should get upset if they are asked if they speak Japanese. Since I don't know Japanese, maybe I am not a good person to ask.

lexico
Feb 20, 2005, 00:15
In other places, I usually have no problem finding an English-speaking Japanese person. A lot of Japanese that I've encountered have a decent, rudimentary command of English. Generally, I have not found the communication problem that a few are sensitive about.

I look at it this way, when I am in Japan, I am a guest in their country. I find it a little odd that foreigners who know Japanese, who are also guests, should get upset if they are asked if they speak Japanese.Good points you make here, which I'm sure have crossed the minds of anyone in an ambiguous situation involving this language/foreign-looks/is-that-person discriminating,-patronizing,-or-making-fun-of-me sort of problem.

It can go either way, if it happens only rarely or someone is justing passing thru. But if you're there for more than a brief stay, or decided to live there as a permenent resident, you'd definitely want to be fully integrated to the host country's social setting. For example in the US, there's a label following around a second generation Asian termed 'banana.'

Depending on the individual 'banana,' he can feel deprived of an equal opportunity in US society. Although he may have been fully 'white-washed' like the inside of the yellow fruit, his 'yellow' skin may become a cause of inequal treatment. Now whether that is generally true or only so in isolated cases is hard to determine. He may have become fully Americanized inside, but has he really? Socially?

Keiichi
Feb 20, 2005, 01:36
I think it's justified for the Japanese to think whatever, but I think they should mostly speak to them in Japanese at first, assuming they may know at least a little be, because that is the country's language. Just like how foreigners come to the US, many people assume everyone knows some English. It's more of the responsibility of the person that entered the country not knowing the country's language to let others know they don't know the language, and residents that do know the language should assume who they're talking to knows at least some of the language.

Keiichi

:blush:

lexico
Feb 20, 2005, 01:57
1) It's more of the responsibility of the person that entered the country not knowing the country's language to let others know they don't know the language, and

2) residents that do know the language should assume who they're talking to knows at least some of the language.You have put two complicated ideas in very clear language, in one sentence!

I took the liberty to delineate the two ideas, just so that it looks like a legal document. ;-)
Nice job, Keiichi!

Duo
Feb 20, 2005, 02:19
From what I can make of these threads, I think the question should be changed into should the japanese stop assuming that foreigners are stupid ? ;)

Elizabeth
Feb 20, 2005, 02:53
You have put two complicated ideas in very clear language, in one sentence!

I took the liberty to delineate the two ideas, just so that it looks like a legal document. ;-)
Nice job, Keiichi!
Although in reality the number of short-term visitors/tourists entering Japan with have a better command of Japanese than the typical residents do of English is extremely small, so I agree it is up to the foreigner to learn a few basic phrases (I can't speak Japanese etc) but neither party should assume any business can be conducted entirely in Japanese nor should the English speaker begin with "I don't speak Japanese" or "Do you speak English?" in English. For purposes of shopping/tourist destinations/airports, there's usually at least one person on standby who is more fluent and can mediate most situations. It really isn't really necessary for one side to 'inform' the other in my view....the foreigner just begins speaking in either language and understanding is either there or not.

Most likely an conversation will be end up being an unholy combination of the two. :bluush:

Glenn
Feb 20, 2005, 03:25
I think it's justified for the Japanese to think whatever, but I think they should mostly speak to them in Japanese at first, assuming they may know at least a little be, because that is the country's language. Just like how foreigners come to the US, many people assume everyone knows some English. It's more of the responsibility of the person that entered the country not knowing the country's language to let others know they don't know the language, and residents that do know the language should assume who they're talking to knows at least some of the language.

I completely agree.


From what I can make of these threads, I think the question should be changed into should the japanese stop assuming that foreigners are stupid ? ;)

I think you're right. I, too, was thinking about that. One thing that drives me crazy is when Japanese people say that their language is hard. Maybe it's just me, but it's all a matter of familiarity. Once you get used to the syntax you're ready to go. There are so many things about Japanese that are so much simpler than English, Spanish, or French that it was quite a refreshing change to learn Japanese. I mean, the language only has two truly irregular verbs! How difficult is that?!

I will grant them that their writing system is probably the most complicated in the world, but that's a separate issue from knowing how to speak.

It seems that on the whole Japanese people think that they have the hardest language in the world, and there's no way anyone non-Japanese could possibly learn it. I would guess, though, that this way of thinking is probably on the way out with the high numbers of foreigners in Japan who speak Japanese. But it does point at a trend of Japanese pride and a belief that no one can understand them and that they are uniquely unique.

lexico
Feb 20, 2005, 03:29
From what I can make of these threads, I think the question should be changed into should the japanese stop assuming that foreigners are stupid ? ;)Well, you obviously hit it on the nail for the accuser, so to speak. But at the same time it sounds a little unfair for the accused somehow.

What makes me say this is the importance I put on member Hiroyuki Nagashima's vote for the first poll option. From his many posts that I have read with keen interest, I find nothing but respect for any foreigner on this forum; actually even more than that. This to me is a cultural characteristic of Japan: to go out of one's way by using jestures for the sole purpose of preventing any embarassment on the foreigner's part.

Using gestures can be very self-humiliating for the Japanese (is it true? this also needs to be verified) ; but they do it anyway for the benefit of the foreigner who is the guest, who deserves, in the mind of each individual Japanese person, the greatest respect.

How gestures are interpreted in general, and what each gesture means in each particular context can vary widely across different cultures. I don't know the details of it; perhaps someone can fill in, but I feel that this difference should be addressed before making a sweeping judgement from a Eurocentric point of view.

lexico
Feb 20, 2005, 04:05
Although in reality the number of short-term visitors/tourists entering Japan with have a better command of Japanese than the typical residents do of English is extremely small, so I agree it is up to the foreigner to learn a few basic phrases (I can't speak Japanese etc) but neither party should assume any business can be conducted entirely in Japanese nor should the English speaker begin with "I don't speak Japanese" or "Do you speak English?" in English. For purposes of shopping/tourist destinations/airports, there's usually at least one person on standby who is more fluent and can mediate most situations. It really isn't really necessary for one side to 'inform' the other in my view....the foreigner just begins speaking in either language and understanding is either there or not.

Most likely an conversation will be end up being an unholy combination of the two. :bluush:I think what you say is closer to the real situation than not. So the solution to the tension that has been addressed in thisthread (and others) could use some formulation of a universal rule (is that is possilbe) that will minimize miscommunication and personal resentment such as Maciamo has described so eloquently. Any thoughts in that line? Obviously the natural good-will, good-wll chemistry seems to have failed in this case....

And why do you say unholy ? It must be just an expression of the difficulty in defining a clear cut solution it seems....as when one reads Godzilla and Vanna White would make strange bedfellows....Can we make it holy in any way?

Elizabeth
Feb 20, 2005, 04:47
This to me is a cultural characteristic of Japan: to go out of one's way by using jestures for the sole purpose of preventing any embarassment on the foreigner's part.

Using jestures can be very self-humiliating for the Japanese (is it true? this also needs to be verified) ; but they do it anyway for the benefit of the foreigner who is the guest, who deserves, in the minds of each individual Japanese person, the greatest respect.
I had never stopped to think about the implication of gestures like this because I've never had to use them as a substitute for the language. But it is an interesting idea. The second most embarrassing scenario (or offensive/ exasperating, for those Japanese that resent any attempts to learn their language, particuarly when it becomes too good) is for foreigners to struggle with their grammar and vocabulary in front of Japanese speakers more familiar with English (pronunciation is not such an issue if things can be written down or repeated). Which is why you rarely hear it initiated on their side -- most will wait to see how much the other person can understand, if anything, first.

There isn't any controvery about English or other speakers working on a few emergency words and phrases for the sake of modesty and goodwill, but at least in the beginning they will likely be stopped very quickly and asked for the English version. :blush: Even those few truly interested in practicing, unfortunately....and even very close Japanese friends can still be embarrassed at having to say 'I don't understand.'

Mike Cash
Feb 20, 2005, 08:45
I look at it this way, when I am in Japan, I am a guest in their country. I find it a little odd that foreigners who know Japanese, who are also guests, should get upset if they are asked if they speak Japanese. Since I don't know Japanese, maybe I am not a good person to ask.

Have you ever considered that the people who have it happen to them often enough and over a long enough period of time for it to begin to irritate them aren't short-term tourists here?

Duo
Feb 20, 2005, 09:01
Have you ever considered that the people who have it happen to them often enough and over a long enough period of time for it to begin to irritate them aren't short-term tourists here?

I'd further like to note that, here in belgium, the people don't ask foreginner lookin people whether they speak or not, for example the lady at the supermarket treats everyone the same, you dont see belgians going up to asians and asking them if they speak the language or not, and brussels is a city of 30% foreingers and bilingual. I always get people coming up to me asking me stuff in flemish, a launguage that I don't know, and even here that lanuage is such an undecided factor i haven't noticed people asking me if i spoke french or flemish before talkin to me. They assume I do. So I thi nk in Japan it should be the same.

sgt. Pepper
Feb 20, 2005, 09:58
Well, Sweden has a lot of foreigners so i assume that foreign-looking people i see speak Swedish, because most of them do. The same should go for Japan i think...i don't know how many foreigners they've got...but still.

quiet sunshine
Feb 20, 2005, 10:35
What's foreigner's proportion in Japan? And what's foreigner's proportion in western countries? Among those foreigners, how much is the proportion of people who can fluently speak the language of the coutry he stays?
May be westerners have the impression that all foreigners can speak their language but Japanese have the impression that most foreigners can't speak Japanese so they usually assume they can't?
You suppose Japanese' psychology in your thinking way through your experience, how do Jananese think about this issue on earth? Hm, there should be some real Japanese to participate into discussion.
Anyway, even if it would be "discriminatory" as you thought, I think it would be "friendly discriminatory".

Have you ever considered that the people who have it happen to them often enough and over a long enough period of time for it to begin to irritate them aren't short-term tourists here?
To those who first know you, they may contact with you according to their general impression about foreigners. You contact many Japanese everyday, but to many Japanese you contacted, although they might contact foreigners before, it's their first time to contact with "you".

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 11:14
In other places, I usually have no problem finding an English-speaking Japanese person. A lot of Japanese that I've encountered have a decent, rudimentary command of English. Generally, I have not found the communication problem that a few are sensitive about.

The problem is not for the foreigner to be understood (that's pretty easy), but the attitude of many Japanese to refuse to talk Japanese with a foreign who address them in fluent Japanese.

What's more if you only went to the touristical areas and your ony concern for communication is to buy something from a shop, how could you have encountered any problem ? But most Japanese outside the big cities, and most people over 40 or 50 do not speak a word of English. Even in central Tokyo, when going to my local dry cleaner or bento-ya, the women there (over 50) always use sign languages with me, eventough I have been going there regularily for over 3 years. When I come in, they act as if they had never seen me before and look all confused. At the bento-ya I might say with a confident air "honjitsu no makunouchi bento kudasai" (making it longer than what the Japanese usually say on purpose). My pronuciation cannot be bad, as they never ask me to repeat (except if they are visibly too nervous to notice that I'd said something). But when asked to pay, they show either write teh price down on a piece of paper or show it on the cashier's stand - rather than even saying it once before in Japanese. Everytime I say "ahh yon hyaku kyuju en desu ka ? shosho omachi kudasai (check in my wallet), hai, yon hyaku kyuju en desu." to show them that I prefer being told in Japanese. No matter if I go there 4 times in a month, sometimes with my wife with whom I speak Japanese expressedly to show them I am fluent, but these dumb women keep writing the price down on a piece of paper and showing it to me with their finger without a word. This happens even more frequently once we go to the countryside. Now I try to avoid these "blacklisted" shops, even if I have to go more far away to find another where that doesn't happen.


I look at it this way, when I am in Japan, I am a guest in their country. I find it a little odd that foreigners who know Japanese, who are also guests, should get upset if they are asked if they speak Japanese.

There is a big difference between a short-term visitor and someone living in Japan and fluent in Japanese. But as Japan is not such a touristical country, quite a few of the Westerners there are there at least for a year and so should at least understand the numbers (that can be learnt in an hour) and basic greetings. I also don't buy the typically American idea of "guest country". Once you live and work there and pay taxes, you are no more a guest than the locals. Anyway the very concept of "guest country" and "home country" (and "patriotism") don't make sense to me, but maybe it is because I grew up in so many different countries.

Anyway, thinking that someone is a tourist might excuse them for the occasional time, but not when one goes to their shop regularly for 3 years.

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 11:28
From what I can make of these threads, I think the question should be changed into should the japanese stop assuming that foreigners are stupid ? ;)

Exactly ! I mean who can't learn some basic greetings and numbers, even as toursits ? When I went to places like Thailand or Indonesia (for about 2 weeks), I learnt what I could because it's not always easy to be understood in English there. In one day I had reached the same level in Thai as most Thai tuck-tuck drivers in English. If I didn't know, I checked in my phrasebook, because I hate using sign language.

I think that most Japanese assume that foreigners cannot learn their language because its "ooh so difficult". In fact it may be one of the easiest language in the world except for the particles (which even the Japanese have problem with) and the kanji (not difficult, just a matter of time and practice). The pronuciation and many aspects of the grammar (no gender, number, declination, conjugation, few tenses...) are easier than in about any European languages. I'd say that the main difficulty of Japanese is that it is too simple and therefore confusing (homonyms, lack of grammatical nuances..).

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 11:53
Once you get used to the syntax you're ready to go. There are so many things about Japanese that are so much simpler than English, Spanish, or French that it was quite a refreshing change to learn Japanese. I mean, the language only has two truly irregular verbs! How difficult is that?!

I will grant them that their writing system is probably the most complicated in the world, but that's a separate issue from knowing how to speak.

Completely agree with you !


It seems that on the whole Japanese people think that they have the hardest language in the world, and there's no way anyone non-Japanese could possibly learn it. I would guess, though, that this way of thinking is probably on the way out with the high numbers of foreigners in Japan who speak Japanese. But it does point at a trend of Japanese pride and a belief that no one can understand them and that they are uniquely unique.

I couldn't have said it better. :cool: In my opinion and experiene, French is one of the most difficult languages in the world (pronuciation, twisted grammar, very irregular spelling, inflexibility, tendecy of the French to prefer technical words even in informal situations, etc.) but the French take the opposite attitude of the Japanese. Although they know that theur language is ver difficult (esp. for beginners, who can't even hope having an easy sentence right), they expect foreigners in France to at least try to learn it.

It usually goes so far that even when they can speak English or another language in which they are addressed, they often pretend not to undestand or just answer in French. In fact, the French usually do more efforts to learn the basics of the local language (and culture) of the country they are visiting (especially in places where the locals aren't supposed to know French) than many other people, and they expect people visiting France to do the same, wherever they come from, and no matter how long they stay. That's why they will address any foreigner in French. If the foreigner cannot understand most Frencg will prefer speaking more slowly, or using simpler words, rather than switching to another language that they can speak.

The reason hidden in a typical French mind is that they should encourage foreigners to learn their language, rather than the opposite. However, the Japanese seem to do all they can to discourage foreigners to speak their language, even refusing to answer them in Japanese when addressed in Japanese.

Another interesting Japanese reaction is to laugh when they see that a foreigner can understand what they are saying between them or replies in Japanese to a question asked in (broken) English. They laugh because they feel uncomfortable with the idea of a foreigner being able to speak their language, especially if the foreigner speaks better Japanese than they can speak English.

quiet sunshine
Feb 20, 2005, 12:07
Even in central Tokyo, when going to my local dry cleaner or bento-ya, the women there (over 50) always use sign languages with me, eventough I have been going there regularily for over 3 years. When I come in, they act as if they had never seen me before and look all confused. At the bento-ya I might say with a confident air "honjitsu no makunouchi bento kudasai" (making it longer than what the Japanese usually say on purpose). My pronuciation cannot be bad, as they never ask me to repeat (except if they are visibly too nervous to notice that I'd said something). But when asked to pay, they show either write teh price down on a piece of paper or show it on the cashier's stand - rather than even saying it once before in Japanese. Everytime I say "ahh yon hyaku kyuju en desu ka ? shosho omachi kudasai (check in my wallet), hai, yon hyaku kyuju en desu." to show them that I prefer being told in Japanese. No matter if I go there 4 times in a month, sometimes with my wife with whom I speak Japanese expressedly to show them I am fluent, but these dumb women keep writing the price down on a piece of paper and showing it to me with their finger without a word. This happens even more frequently once we go to the countryside. Now I try to avoid these "blacklisted" shops, even if I have to go more far away to find another where that doesn't happen.

Ha, now I'm curious too! Why they discarded the easiest way--talking with you, since you can speak Japanese fluently? :? Did you ever ask them directly why they don't want to talk with you in Japanese?

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 12:07
Using gestures can be very self-humiliating for the Japanese (is it true? this also needs to be verified) ; but they do it anyway for the benefit of the foreigner who is the guest, who deserves, in the mind of each individual Japanese person, the greatest respect.

I don't buy that. See my reply about the dry cleaning and bento-ya above. Why would they insist on not speaking to me, when they know I can speak and understand Japanese ?

I think the real reason is that the Japanese are uncomfortable with the idea that foreigners can learn their language so quickly, while they were taught (by "the group") that Japanese was so unique, difficult and superior, and that only the superiorly intelligent Japanese race could master such the language of the kami. They might not know it consciously, but deep inside them it is what motivates them to act as described in this whole thread.

The Japanese only realised that their system, culture and language was not superior to others after the burst of the Bubble in 1990. They only slowly start realising that their education system sucks, that they are mostly unique for not being able to learn foreign languages as well as people in Europe, India or (to their utter embarassment) in neighbouring Korea. There is now a new national complex of Japan as a (relative) failure. Politicians are only more corrupted than in Japan in third-world countries, the economy has been going down for 15 years (which developed country can boast half as much ?) and the vast majority of the Japanese are so completely ignorant of the rest of the world that they would still think that Japan is unique for having 4 seasons or sending New Year greeting cards ( :okashii: ).

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 12:22
I'd further like to note that, here in belgium, the people don't ask foreginner lookin people whether they speak or not, for example the lady at the supermarket treats everyone the same, you dont see belgians going up to asians and asking them if they speak the language or not, and brussels is a city of 30% foreingers and bilingual. I always get people coming up to me asking me stuff in flemish, a launguage that I don't know, and even here that lanuage is such an undecided factor i haven't noticed people asking me if i spoke french or flemish before talkin to me. They assume I do. So I thi nk in Japan it should be the same.

Maybe you should explain to our non-European members that Brussels is a city where both French and Dutch are official languages, and to make things more confusing it is in the Dutch-speaking area of the country but 80% of the people speak French, and there is no way to know who speaks which (anyway most locals are bilingual French-Dutch and usually also speak English or another language). But even in remote, non-touristical villages of Belgium, the woman at the supermarket will not ask an Asian if they speak the language.

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 12:25
Did you ever asked them directly why they don't want to talk with you in Japanese?

No, and it's not an easy thing to ask. I could also just tell them that they should speak Japanese as I understand, but it seems so obvious... I asked my wife, and she doesn't know why this happens. She just says "well you are a foreigner, so they don't expect you to speak Japanese." If even her, who has lived abraod and with whom I usually only speak Japanese, says that, I think it's jut too ingrained in the Japanese mindset to change.

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 12:35
What's foreigner's proportion in Japan? And what's foreigner's proportion in western countries? Among those foreigners, how much is the proportion of people who can fluently speak the language of the coutry he stays?

There are about 2 million registered foreigners (i.e. residents) in Japan, most of whom are Japan-born Korean and Chinese and speak so well Japanese that the Japanese couldn't tell they are not Japanese (because they don't look foreign). There are only about 120,000 Western residents in Japan (0,1% of the population), but most of them can speak at least some Japanese. Those who can't are mostly tourists, and stay in touristical areas (you know around temples, Tokyo tower, shops in Ginza and Shibuya, etc.).

The Japanese think that Koreans and Chinese living in Japan also can't speak Japanese !

The other day I saw a TV programme about the Korean community in Japan. Those Koreans have lived all or most of their lives in Japan, and speak perfect Japanese. But when the Japanese TV interviewer came with the camera into the Korean shop in Tokyo, the first thing they said upon hearing "konnichiwa" from the Korean shopowner, was "oooh, nihongo jouzu desu ne !" (or you Japanese is so good). Not something one should say to a permanent resident who may have been born and raised in Japan. This certainly proves that the Japanese think that any foreigners (not just Westerners) are unable to learn their "unique and difficult" language. It's very offensive, and that's just daily occurence on Japanese TV.

Westerners coming to Japan usually learn Japanese

Keep in mind that most Westerners living in Japan or just visiting are people interested in Japan (the only exception being the expats sent there by their company, or business people on short visits and usually staying in expensive hotels and having little contact with the locals, or US soldiers, which I didn't count in the 120,000 Western residents). Japan is far from Western countries, it's an expensive place to travel, and the only worthwhile beaches are limited to Okinawa (not really Japan). What's more, most Japanese products can be purchased at similar price in Western countries, so shopping is not even a reason to come to Japan (except for some "otaku" maybe).

So Westerners usually come here for the culture (traditional or modern) or for the people (including boy/girlfriend), which both require them to learn the language. Therefore, no matter whether they are tourists or residents, most Westerners should at least speak some Japanese (depending on how long they have been there and their individual language skills).

ArmandV
Feb 20, 2005, 12:41
Have you ever considered that the people who have it happen to them often enough and over a long enough period of time for it to begin to irritate them aren't short-term tourists here?

Yes, and it really shouldn't make any difference. Whether or not a person is a short-termer or long-termer in Japan, the fact is that he/she is still really a guest in their country and one has to expect things like this. To me, it is silly to get bent out of shape and let it irritate them.

I used to have breakfast at Denny's in Shibuya and every morning the hostess behind the cash register always spoke to me in Japanese. I wasn't offended (especially since she was a cutie with a cute voice).

Maybe people should suck it up and grin and bear it? (Just playing devil's advocate here, folks.)

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 13:39
I used to have breakfast at Denny's in Shibuya and every morning the hostess behind the cash register always spoke to me in Japanese. I wasn't offended (especially since she was a cutie with a cute voice).


You really seem to get it all the wrong way round ! The problem is that the Japanese tend too make too much fuss when dealing with foreigners (gestures + "sorry no speak english" when we talk to them in Japanese) instead of just talking normally as we Japanese(-looking) customers.

Another annoying thing we haven't mentioned yet is that when a Western-looking and a Japanese-looking person person are together, the Japanese you are talking to will always automatically turn toward the Japanese-looking person. If I am with my wife, no matter if I ask information about trains, ask for a receipt at the restaurant, check-in at the airport, or buy tickets at the cinema, the Japanese staff always answer my question back to my wife, just ignoring me. That is very irritating when one wants to practice one's Japanese.

But to show how stupid this Japanese mania really is, let me take these two cases. When I am with a Korean friend of mine, no matter whether we pay the bill at the restaurant or ask information in a department store, the Japanese always turn to my friend, who doesn't speak better Japanese than me (and actually asked me to ask the staff for this reason). But I also have a Canadian friend of Chinese origin, who doesn't speak much Japanese. Whenever we go somewhere in Tokyo, the Japanese always turn to him, while I am the one addressing them, because they think he is Japanese, while I am visibly not. I just hate the way Japanese are so disrespectful not to even answer to the person who is talking to them and avoiding them on purpose just because they don't "look" Japanese. Is there any more disrespectful nation on earth in this regard ?

Keiichi
Feb 20, 2005, 14:09
Wow, this is an interesting point of view of the matter. Especially since I probably can never relate to the situation (since I look Japanese).
So generally, it all comes down to looks, and whether it looks like you can speak Japanese, or not...

Keiichi

:blush:

ArmandV
Feb 20, 2005, 14:54
You really seem to get it all the wrong way round !

Huh? This sentence does not make sense. Are you always this way to someone who has a different point of view?



I just hate the way Japanese are so disrespectful not to even answer to the person who is talking to them and avoiding them on purpose just because they don't "look" Japanese. Is there any more disrespectful nation on earth in this regard ?

Okay, since you put it that way, I can see your annoyance.

Mike Cash
Feb 20, 2005, 15:30
And you can see how 5, 10, 20+ years of it can get a little old.

DoctorP
Feb 20, 2005, 16:30
Another annoying thing we haven't mentioned yet is that when a Western-looking and a Japanese-looking person person are together, the Japanese you are talking to will always automatically turn toward the Japanese-looking person. If I am with my wife, no matter if I ask information about trains, ask for a receipt at the restaurant, check-in at the airport, or buy tickets at the cinema, the Japanese staff always answer my question back to my wife, just ignoring me. That is very irritating when one wants to practice one's Japanese.


I've been reading this thread and holding back my response until now...I originally thought that you were blowing this out of proportion, but now I am unsure. I can say that I haven't had the same problems that you describe. On the contrary, I find that people are more willing to speak to me (the man) vice my wife. (and I will acknowledge that my Japanese is probably at a much lower level than yours!)

I will comment on one thing that you mentioned. Japanese responding to you in English instead of Japanese....maybe they want to practice as well?? Many of my friends will do this to me...which results in me speaking Japanese and them speaking English (which can make a very confusing conversation!) Also, sometimes I find myself interupting my wife's friends on the phone when they are searching for words in English, I cut them off in Japanese answering their question before it is even asked. Just another example of people wanting to practice on each other.

As for the dry cleaners and bento shop...maybe by using longer sentences (as you mentioned that you do sometimes) you are actually confusing them more? Some of these people are not the most educated themselves and would feel more comfortable using slang or shorter statements? (just a thought)

I only lived in Ibaragi for a short period, but I did not run in to the same problems as you and I was living in the countryside, so please understand that I am only commenting on my own experiences...I can not honestly comment on what you are experiencing since I am not there :?

Pachipro
Feb 20, 2005, 17:44
Quote:
Originally Posted by Duo
From what I can make of these threads, I think the question should be changed into should the japanese stop assuming that foreigners are stupid ? ;)

Well, you obviously hit it on the nail for the accuser, so to speak. But at the same time it sounds a little unfair for the accused somehow.

What makes me say this is the importance I put on member Hiroyuki Nagashima's vote for the first poll option. From his many posts that I have read with keen interest, I find nothing but respect for any foreigner on this forum; actually even more than that. This to me is a cultural characteristic of Japan: to go out of one's way by using jestures for the sole purpose of preventing any embarassment on the foreigner's part.
Very well said lexico. I also find it very interesting that members Hiroyuki Nagashima and Yellow Emperor both selected Option 1 in their answers. I can't speak for Yellow Emperor, but we know that Mr. Nagashima is a Japanese whose English is not perfect, but uses translation software to offer his advise on these boards. I commend him on his efforts. However it would be nice to have his input on this topic as he selected a choice that most fluent residents abhor and sparked debate on this subject.


I've never had a shopkeeper ask if I speak English, either out of a lack of confidence in their ability to carry a conversation or because it really isn't necessary for the business at hand.

To smooth the encounter along, I usually take it on myself to make a point of speaking Japanese first which is generally sufficient for making the transaction work and finding what I came for. There has never really been an issue of not being remembered or of the clerk/owner insisting on practicing their English.
I have always had the same experience. I always walk into a place with confidence and speak Japanese first. If I can't find what I'm looking for I always ask and am treated with the same courtesy and respect accorded any Japanese customer. Maybe the Japanese sense this by my demeanor. I don't know.

Pachipro
Feb 20, 2005, 19:19
Another annoying thing we haven't mentioned yet is that when a Western-looking and a Japanese-looking person person are together, the Japanese you are talking to will always automatically turn toward the Japanese-looking person. If I am with my wife, no matter if I ask information about trains, ask for a receipt at the restaurant, check-in at the airport, or buy tickets at the cinema, the Japanese staff always answer my question back to my wife, just ignoring me. That is very irritating when one wants to practice one's Japanese.
This is true as the same thing occassionally happens when I am out with my Japanese wife or Japanese friends. They will usually address them instead of me when it is I who am speaking in Japanese. My wife and I like to have fun with this aspect of the culture and have overcome this dilemma in two ways.

1. When they address her instead of me when it is I who am speaking, she will turn to them and say in forceful Japanese (unusual for a woman) something like, "Why are you asking me? Is his Japanese not good enough to understand? Did you not hear him? Please don't be disrespectful to my husband!" :evil:

They will usually be quite taken aback at this and become embarrassed. :shock: They will usually bow and apologize and start addressing me. :gomen:

2. This one can be alot of fun. If they address her while ignoring me, my wife will start speaking English which will throw them for a loop! I will then say to the person, in Japanese, that my wife is not Japanese, but was born in America and cannot speak Japanese. You can just imagine the look of confusion and embarrassment on their faces when a foreigner is speaking Japanese and the Japanese-looking person is speaking English. :cool: From that moment on, especially in a restaurant, it is I who they will address.

We usually decide before going out or into a place what situation we will use before hand so we will both be prepared to act it out. Maybe you and your wife should try these scenarios.

Maybe your wife could say something similar to number 1 above while adding "He's been here 4 times this month and you still can't underestand him? Is his Japanese that bad or do you always discriminate against foreigners who can speak Japanese?" or "Is something wrong with your hearing? Can you not see that my husband is speaking Japanese?" Or something to that effect. I don't know what will work for you, but we have alot of fun and laughs with it rather than get irate over this aspect of their culture.

This may not be unique to Japan, but may be an aspect of Asian culture in general, I don't know. As an example, some time ago my wife and I went out to a Korean restaurant here in the states for some great Korean barbeque. The waitress being Korean started addressing my wife in Korean. When my wife began speaking English, she apologized and began addressing me. So even here, in the states, they addressed the Asian looking person assuming she was Korean while ignoring the Caucasian and this was in MY OWN COUNTRY! It didn't bother me in the least. We just had a laugh over it and enjoyed a great meal. :gohan:

quiet sunshine
Feb 20, 2005, 20:11
2. This one can be alot of fun. If they address her while ignoring me, my wife will start speaking English which will throw them for a loop! I will then say to the person, in Japanese, that my wife is not Japanese, but was born in America and cannot speak Japanese. You can just imagine the look of confusion and embarrassment on their faces when a foreigner is speaking Japanese and the Japanese-looking person is speaking English. :cool:
Hahahaha!That's so funny! great originality! I can imagine their expressions, poor Japanese!:lol: :lol: :lol:

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 21:50
Maybe your wife could say something similar to number 1 above while adding "He's been here 4 times this month and you still can't underestand him? Is his Japanese that bad or do you always discriminate against foreigners who can speak Japanese?" or "Is something wrong with your hearing? Can you not see that my husband is speaking Japanese?" Or something to that effect. I don't know what will work for you, but we have alot of fun and laughs with it rather than get irate over this aspect of their culture.

I'd like to try, but my wife is not at all the person to reply to people like that (too polite and soft-spoken). Just the fact that I mention the problem at home tend to make her uncomfortable. Her English is probably not good enough to try answering in English either. They will know immediately that she is faking. :relief:


This may not be unique to Japan, but may be an aspect of Asian culture in general, I don't know. As an example, some time ago my wife and I went out to a Korean restaurant here in the states for some great Korean barbeque. The waitress being Korean started addressing my wife in Korean. When my wife began speaking English, she apologized and began addressing me. So even here, in the states, they addressed the Asian looking person assuming she was Korean while ignoring the Caucasian and this was in MY OWN COUNTRY!

I have never had this problem in Chinese or Korean restaurants outside Japan. Even when we went to Korea, the locals seemed to understand that my wife was Japanese. Maybe that is a way of dressing or her face that looks more typically Japanese. She also had light brown eyes, which is extremely rare for East Asians.

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 21:55
Huh? This sentence does not make sense. Are you always this way to someone who has a different point of view?


You said "I used to have breakfast at Denny's in Shibuya and every morning the hostess behind the cash register always spoke to me in Japanese, I wasn't offended (especially since she was a cutie with a cute voice).
".

What we have been discussing since the beginning of this thread is not that it is offending for a Japanese to address a foreigner in Japanese, but at he contrary, not to, assuming that they are too stupid to understand.

So it's not that I disagree with you, but I can't understand the point of this remark.

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 21:57
I also find it very interesting that members Hiroyuki Nagashima and Yellow Emperor both selected Option 1 in their answers. I can't speak for Yellow Emperor, but we know that Mr. Nagashima is a Japanese...

Yellow Emperor seems to be from Taiwan.

ArmandV
Feb 20, 2005, 22:21
You said "I used to have breakfast at Denny's in Shibuya and every morning the hostess behind the cash register always spoke to me in Japanese, I wasn't offended (especially since she was a cutie with a cute voice).
".

What we have been discussing since the beginning of this thread is not that it is offending for a Japanese to address a foreigner in Japanese, but at he contrary, not to, assuming that they are too stupid to understand.

So it's not that I disagree with you, but I can't understand the point of this remark.

I think there was some confusion over the point of this thread. Other posters here have also indicated as such. Then you mentioned the manner of the Japanese persons ignoring you and talking to your wife instead. That cleared things up. I agree, it is thoughtless at least and just plain rude at worst.

As for the hostess, I had been in the restaurant several days straight and presented my money to the same hostess. Yet she still addressed me in Japanese even though I've indicated to her that I don't speak Japanese.

Maciamo
Feb 20, 2005, 22:28
Yet she still addressed me in Japanese even though I've indicated to her that I don't speak Japanese.

Well, she could have the excuse of not being able to speak English or another language. However, when greeted with strange gestures, and the gestures continue when we start speaking Japanese, their only excuse would be to be mute, and in the cases I experienced they weren't as they talked to other customers.

Lina Inverse
Feb 21, 2005, 00:56
I think it would be the best if they addressed foreigners normally in Japanese. I wouldn't be the least offended if someone asked if I could speak Japanese.
However, I would be certainly offended if someone addressed me with gestures :auch:
Guess the best thing to do in such a situation is to answer "わかりません。 日本語を話すください。" and repeat that until they start speaking Japanese with you :D

Hiroyuki Nagashima
Feb 21, 2005, 01:46
ここの議題について私は、よく理解していなかったよう に思います。
翻訳ソフトを使った結果下記のように翻訳されました。
「どのように、日本語は外国人を扱わなければならない か? 」
「1.彼らは、彼らには日本語がわかることができなくて 、ジェスチャーを使うことができないと仮定しなければならない。」
「2.彼らは、彼らが日本語(日本語では英語では)を話 すことができるかどうか、最初に彼らに尋ねなければな らない。」
「3.人がわからないならば、彼らは日本語で彼らに講演 しなければならないか、ジェスチャーを使うだけで るか、よりゆっくり話す。」

選択1について。
私は、英語を正しく話す自信が りませんので
自分が外国人の立場で考えたとき、英語で話しかけられ たら困ります。
また、日本のジェスチャーと海外のジェスチャーはいくつか違うと聞いています。

例えば、「ごめんなさい」や「 りがとう」を表すジェ スチャーは、両手を わせて
拝みます。
また、「こっちに来て」は手のひらを下にして手を振り ますが、海外では「 っちに行け」となる
らしい・・です。
人の前を横切るとき、腰を屈めて片手を顔の前にだして 拝む形をとるのは日本独特だとも
聞いています。

選択2について。
「日本語が話せなければ、相手にしない」といっている ようなものなので
相手に対して まりにも失礼です。

選択3は
翻訳の意味が不明だったので除外しました。

東京で道を聞かれたときは、片言の英語と電子手 の英 語辞書で対応していました。


もし、議題の意味が違っていましたらご指摘ください。
英語に翻訳する自信が無いので、日本語で記載します。

lexico
Feb 21, 2005, 02:27
Thank you for posting that, Hiroyuki Nagashima-san.
It helps to understand your vote, and possibly other things.
I don't speak Japanese, but this is what Infoseek (http://honyakuinfoseek.infoseek.co.jp/amitext/indexUTF8.jsp) gave in machine translation.
Is the translation correct?
The title seems to be quite opposite from what I read.
The translation says not as "How should the Japanese approach foreigners," but "How are the Japanese approaching foreigners."
The original question in English, "How should the Japanese deal with foreigners" seems to have been mistranslated into Japanese.
I did not understand well about the subject for discussion here -- as -- I consider.
As a result of using translation software, it was translated as follows.

"How is Japanese which must treat a foreigner? "

"1. -- them -- them -- Japanese -- it cannot understand -- You have to assume that gesture cannot be used.

(2.) them -- Japanese (Japanese -- English) -- talk it does not ask [ whether すこと is made and or not ] them first -- if ら -- there is nothing "

"3. -- people do not understand -- if it becomes -- them -- Japanese -- them -- lecture It must carry out, gesture is only used, or it talks more slowly. "

About selection 1 Since I did not have the confidence which speaks English correctly, when he thinks in a foreigner's position, I am spoken to in English. たら困ります.

Moreover, it is heard that some overseas gesture differs from gesture of Japan.

For example, "I'm sorry" and JIE showing "thank you" SUCHA unites and worships both hands.

moreover, "-- here -- coming -- " -- a palm -- the bottom -- carrying out -- a hand -- shaking -- seemingly, ます will become "go there" overseas -- it is ..

When crossing a people front, the waist is bent and one hand is taken out before a face.

It is heard that it is peculiar to Japan to take the form to worship.

About selection 2 It has said, "It is not made a partner if Japanese cannot be spoken".

Since like, it is too impolite to a partner.

Since the meaning of translation was unknown, selection 3 was excepted. the time of being asked to a way in Tokyo -- English of babble, and the U.K. of an electronic notebook It corresponded in the word dictionary.

Please point out, if the meaning of a subject for discussion is different.

Since there is no confidence translated into English, it indicates in Japanese.

Duo
Feb 21, 2005, 02:52
ここの議題について私は、よく理解していなかったよう に思います。
翻訳ソフトを使った結果下記のように翻訳されました。
「どのように、日本語は外国人を扱わなければならない か? 」
「1.彼らは、彼らには日本語がわかることができなくて 、ジェスチャーを使うことができないと仮定しなければならない。」
「2.彼らは、彼らが日本語(日本語では英語では)を話 すことができるかどうか、最初に彼らに尋ねなければな らない。」
「3.人がわからないならば、彼らは日本語で彼らに講演 しなければならないか、ジェスチャーを使うだけで るか、よりゆっくり話す。」

選択1について。
私は、英語を正しく話す自信が りませんので
自分が外国人の立場で考えたとき、英語で話しかけられ たら困ります。
また、日本のジェスチャーと海外のジェスチャーはいくつか違うと聞いています。

例えば、「ごめんなさい」や「 りがとう」を表すジェ スチャーは、両手を わせて
拝みます。
また、「こっちに来て」は手のひらを下にして手を振り ますが、海外では「 っちに行け」となる
らしい・・です。
人の前を横切るとき、腰を屈めて片手を顔の前にだして 拝む形をとるのは日本独特だとも
聞いています。

選択2について。
「日本語が話せなければ、相手にしない」といっている ようなものなので
相手に対して まりにも失礼です。

選択3は
翻訳の意味が不明だったので除外しました。

東京で道を聞かれたときは、片言の英語と電子手 の英 語辞書で対応していました。


もし、議題の意味が違っていましたらご指摘ください。
英語に翻訳する自信が無いので、日本語で記載します。

lexico suggested that i had misunderstood the purpose of this post, i however don't know what to make of it and why it is in japanese and not english, but I guess i'll eat my words and just say sorry if I misunderstood, and thanks to lexico for clearing things up to me, although i'm still confused. :?

lexico
Feb 21, 2005, 03:05
For Duo: From the other posts, Mr. Horoyuki Nagashima is a Japanese software engineer who has been participating on the forum discussions offering help in any Japanese matters with what he knows as a Japanese. But feeling uncomfortable with his English, uses translation software to offer advice and information. You can see for yourself some of his posts here Horoyuki Nagashima (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/member.php?find=lastposter&f=28).

*a little history: There were several remarks about his vote in this thread which was a little surprising at first. I think he understood that situation and wanted to make sure he did not misunderstand the question. He posted how he perceived the question in Japanese which he believed the foreign speakers of Japanese could verify for him.*

Glenn
Feb 21, 2005, 12:15
i however don't know what to make of it and why it is in japanese and not english...

The answer is this:


私は、英語を正しく話す自信が りませんので...
英語に翻訳する自信が無いので、日本語で記載します。

The first sentence means "since I'm not confindent that I can speak English correctly..." and the second one is "I don't have the confidence to translate this into English, so I wrote in Japanese."

Glenn
Feb 21, 2005, 12:26
永島さん、その三つの選択肢を和訳してみます。

選択一:
They should assume that they can't understand Japanese and use gestures
日本人は外国人が日本語が分からないと仮定し、ジェス チャーを使うべきだ。

選択二:
They should first ask them whether they can speak Japanese (either in Japanese or in English)
日本人は最初から外国人に「日本語が分かりますか」( 英語でも日本語でもいい)と尋ねべきだ。

選択三:
They should address them in Japanese and only use gestures or speak more slowly if the person doesn't understand
日本人は外国人に日本語で話すべきで、その外国人が分 からない場合だけにジェスチャーを使ったりもっとゆっくり話したりすべきだ。

これで分かるといいですね。もし私の和訳は足りなかっ たら、誰かがもっと適当な和訳をしてください。

[Edit] It just hit me that I should explain what just happened here. :relief: The above is my attempt at translating the poll options for Hiroyuki Nagashima, because the translation software didn't do such a good job. I didn't mean to leave anyone out; sorry to those who may have felt that way. :sorry:

SkippyDaStudent85
Feb 21, 2005, 12:57
I guess I am in agreement with the idea of politely asking first if someone can speak Japanese or not. It seems like the most logical thing to do.

I know that Americans, in general, tend to have this image of being the ignorant citizens who go around asking non-"American" appearing persons whether or not they can speak English, which can come off easily as an insult. However, (assuming the person is not trying to be a jerk) it is just a matter of clarifying the possible level of communication between the persons involved.

I don't thing that it is a matter of insult, but finding out a vital piece of information for accurate and respectful communication.

Hiroyuki Nagashima
Feb 21, 2005, 20:24
"Lexico san" "Glenn san" Arigatou gozai mashita .
I'm sorry to have troubled you. :sorry:
I feel a feeling of resistance to "choice 2".
I seem to talk with a person inferior to oneself.
It is rude for a stranger. :?
With the foreigner who worked together in an office, I talked as common language by broken English and computer language. :relief:

My curiosity seems to have interrupted you.
I'm sorry. :sorry:

Elizabeth
Feb 21, 2005, 21:29
I guess I am in agreement with the idea of politely asking first if someone can speak Japanese or not. It seems like the most logical thing to do.

I know that Americans, in general, tend to have this image of being the ignorant citizens who go around asking non-"American" appearing persons whether or not they can speak English, which can come off easily as an insult. However, (assuming the person is not trying to be a jerk) it is just a matter of clarifying the possible level of communication between the persons involved.

I don't thing that it is a matter of insult, but finding out a vital piece of information for accurate and respectful communication.
Because it has all the hallmarks of politeness to most Americans, asking first may seem to be the rational compromise. The practical problem is imagining a real-life situation where it would actually be very useful, unless your Japanese partner thinks they may have just enough English to be of help or they assume the foreigner knows more than they are attempting, out of fear or discomfort....If you are just talking about receiving change or asking for a sack at a convenient store, I don't think most people have a problem with gestures for those sorts of minor transactions.

akeenan
Feb 21, 2005, 22:02
it annoys me when a japanese person expects you cant speak japanese and then continues to speak english when you answer in japanese... sometimes with some people its like a showdown of languages .

lexico
Feb 22, 2005, 04:47
No trouble at all, Hiroyuki Nagashima-san! :-)
Thanks for participating, actually.
Your participation is probably the most important one we have.

With the foreigner who worked together in an office, I talked as common language by broken English and computer language. :relief:I don't know the actual details, so this is my impression only.
Please correct me if I guessed wrong.
I am assuming that you speak Japanese as you mother tongue, and the foreigner is proficient in English.

1. As professionals, you and your foreign coworker needed to communicate.
2. When deciding upon a common language, you had two choices.
3. The two choices were Japanese and English.
4. You and the foreigner weighed both languages by comparing your English proficiency and the foreigner's Japanese proficiency.
5. It turned out that your English was better than the foreigner's Japanese.
6. The two of you agreed to speak English rather than Japanese because it would help work proceed more efficiently.

Did I guess correctly?

I feel a feeling of resistance to "choice 2".
I seem to talk with a person inferior to oneself.
It is rude for a stranger. :?I would like to ask you these questions.
It may be common knowledge for the Japanese, but foreigners can only guess.
If you can give your ideas, then it will help greatly to understand and hopefully solve the issue raised by this poll.

People of all cultures have their own way of dealing with guests.
I understand that the Japanese are also educated to be polite to guests.
In your opinion, how is the Japanese way of hopitality different from other countries' hospitality?
Since this can be a broad topic, let us concern ourselves with only these two simple situations.

"When the guest/stranger is Japanese."
1. Is using simple, polite gesture, together with polite words, considered acceptable in Japanese culture in general?

"A Japanese person meets a foreigner (US citizen, American, European, African, Asian, Australian) as total stangers on the street or in a shop."
2. What is the standard way for a Japanese person to greet the stranger who looks like a foreigner?
What are the first things to say/do to the foreigner?

3. Do many Japanese think that speaking Japanese to a foreigner is impolite?

4. Do many Japanese think that asking a foreigner's Japanese ability is rude?

5. Is it emabrassing for a Japanese to say, "I cannot speak English."

6. Do many Japanese think that a foreigner will be embarassed to say, "I cannot speak Japanese" ?

7. Do many Japanese wish to practice English with an English speaking person?

8. Do many Japanese think that the Japanese language is unique, and difficult to learn for Japanese themselves? (speech, reading, writing, etc.)

9. Do many Japanese think that a foreigner (Mongoloid, Negroid, Caucasian,) speaking Japanese is bad, unusual, surprising, suspicious, or intimidating?

10. Is complementing on someone's skill in anything (including language) considered okay when you it many times?

11. Is complementing someone many times ever considered rude or sarcastic?

I'm sorry I'm asking you so many questions. :sorry:
I hope you can answer some questions, even just a few.
I hope to understand Japanese culture better with your answers. :relief:

EDIT: I failed to include one important question.

12. Do many Japanese know that many foreigners speak at least some Japanese, and would very much like to practice their Japanese ?

These foreigners have come a long way to learn more about Japan including its language. Some of them can get very upset when Japanese hospitality takes away that chance (very expensive, too) by speaking English with a Japanese person. (Sorry to say this. But this seems to be the main motivation of this topic.) :relief:

Elizabeth
Feb 22, 2005, 05:12
it annoys me when a japanese person expects you cant speak japanese and then continues to speak english when you answer in japanese... sometimes with some people its like a showdown of languages .
That irritates me as well....if I have enough confidence I just continue in Japanese and if the native speaker is pretending not to understand the simplest phrases I put on my best sarcastic tone and querry them -- what about this can possibly be so confusing ? hopefully all without deliberately leaving them feeling too stupid in their own language. :D

lexico
Feb 22, 2005, 05:18
what about this can possibly be so confusing ? hopefully all without deliberately making them feel too stupid in their own language. :DThe little humor with which you exposed the imposter's little lie sounds quite effective and without malice; what an intelligent and honorable solution of face saving and still getting what you want!

Mike Cash
Feb 22, 2005, 05:23
I guess I am in agreement with the idea of politely asking first if someone can speak Japanese or not. It seems like the most logical thing to do.


No, it isn't the most logical thing to do. Think about it a bit.

lexico
Feb 22, 2005, 05:28
No, it isn't the most logical thing to do. Think about it a bit.I've never lived in Japan, but learned how to see this fine point since I got here.

epigene
Feb 22, 2005, 08:53
Hello, everyone!

I was thinking of digesting what is being discussed here first before ever posting, but it's hard for me to follow everything (lack of time and my low-vision problem). So, here goes:

I chose #2 immediately, just thinking what I would do meeting a stranger who externally appears to be foreign, in some street in downtown Tokyo.

I have lived most of my life in Japan and in living where I live (western Tokyo) and working at home, I almost never meet Westerners. Only those I meet are people I know through work (an environment where everyone is expected to be able to speak at least Japanese and English--so I speak either language and no one minds) and tourists with their eyes glued to maps, standing in the streets of Shinjuku. (I really wonder where I can meet people like Maciamo-san and Pachipro-san!!)

I grew up seeing Americans (GIs) who never learned anything more than a few phrases in Japanese after several years or even decades of living in Japan and Japanese so hung up on their inferiority of not being able to speak English. When I saw Westerners speaking Japanese on TV (like Jeff Berkland (spelling??) and Thane Camus), I was in awe. I'm really happy to see the growing number of Japanese-speaking foreigners but never had the opportunity to meet them.

Well, I made acquaintance in the past with some married to Japanese, but their Japanese capabilities were limited. So, I ended up speaking English to avoid misunderstandings. I also felt that they would feel their limitations in communicating in Japanese and become embarrassed.

So, my choice is based on my past experiences. (Sorry for the disorganized ramblings.)

epigene
Feb 22, 2005, 09:30
This is interesting, so I'll give my own answers, too.

"When the guest/stranger is Japanese."
1. Is using simple, polite gesture, together with polite words, considered acceptable in Japanese culture in general?
Depends on what gestures you're talking about. :blush:


"A Japanese person meets a foreigner (US citizen, American, European, African, Asian, Australian) as total stangers on the street or in a shop."
2. What is the standard way for a Japanese person to greet the stranger who looks like a foreigner?
What are the first things to say/do to the foreigner?
I don't know what's standard, but a short greeting in Japanese followed by observation of reaction of the foreign person. Personally, I think reaction on the part of the Japanese depends on how the person feels about his/her English language ability. Most people have no confidence and react strangely, even from my point of view--such as speaking in Japanese only, leaving the location altogether to seek help, etc. I think the people living in the "shitamachi" area are more tolerant and confident of themselves, regardless of English skill level, and will speak to a foreigner in Japanese regardless of whether the person understands them or not.


3. Do many Japanese think that speaking Japanese to a foreigner is impolite?
No. The need to speak English to a foreign-looking person is imprinted in the minds of the Japanese through education, with teachers imparting this belief.


4. Do many Japanese think that asking a foreigner's Japanese ability is rude?
Depends on how you met the person, I guess.


5. Is it emabrassing for a Japanese to say, "I cannot speak English."
Yes, embarrassing, but they do it to escape what they think is humiliation of not being able to speak English.


6. Do many Japanese think that a foreigner will be embarassed to say, "I cannot speak Japanese" ?
No, I think the number of Japanese-speaking foreigners is not large enough for the Japanese in general to think that there are in fact foreigners who speak Japanese well.


7. Do many Japanese wish to practice English with an English speaking person?
Yes, VERY, VERY MUCH!!


8. Do many Japanese think that the Japanese language is unique, and difficult to learn for Japanese themselves? (speech, reading, writing, etc.)
Many say so, but that claim is for self-justification (the other side of not being able to speak English) and theories on linguistic uniqueness propounded in the past.


9. Do many Japanese think that a foreigner (Mongoloid, Negroid, Caucasian,) speaking Japanese is bad, unusual, surprising, suspicious, or intimidating?
Yes, it's still unusual and surprising.


10. Is complementing on someone's skill in anything (including language) considered okay when you it many times?
Once is enough! But, people (especially the elderly) who are really impressed would say it many tiimes.


11. Is complementing someone many times ever considered rude or sarcastic?
Depends on the situation, as mentioned in #10. I think most don't have malicious intentions--only sense of inferiority, backwardness, and lack of awareness that Westerners, especially Europeans, have toward the cultures and languages around the world.

Maybe I'm not typically Japanese, but I think I speak for many Japanese (at least the ones I know).

Glenn
Feb 22, 2005, 09:46
Maybe I'm not typically Japanese, but I think I speak for many Japanese (at least the ones I know).

I think this is funny, because I thought the same thing of myself (replace "Japanese" with "American") after reading Cultural Divide between US and Europe (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=14937), and a few other threads similar to that one. Maybe none of us here on this forum are typical any nationality. :p

Hiroyuki Nagashima
Feb 22, 2005, 22:31
1. As professionals, you and your foreign coworker needed to communicate.
2. When deciding upon a common language, you had two choices.
3. The two choices were Japanese and English.
4. You and the foreigner weighed both languages by comparing your English proficiency and the foreigner's Japanese proficiency.
5. It turned out that your English was better than the foreigner's Japanese.
6. The two of you agreed to speak English rather than Japanese because it would help work proceed more efficiently.


There were two cases in my work.
The case that a foreigner does not understand Japanese.
When I send an email, I can use translation software.
I came so that an engineer heard explanation about a tool of Y2K from Taiwanese IBM when I did work of Y2K.
Because they cannot speak Japanese, they engaged a student of Sophia University as Japanese interpretation.
However, she gets impossible to tell an engineer my explanation because she did not understand a computer term.
I quoted a language of a computer and explained it to them. :bluush:
I felt it then.
Even if English is proficient, it is useless when there is not knowledge of a technical term.
By the way, the student who asked for interpretation was a Japanese, but Japanese was strange. :relief:
The case which worked with the foreigner who spoke Japanese.
He completed a Japanese training course of Tokyo University.
In addition, he graduated from an American university.
He understood English and Japanese and a native language with a Malaysian.
I managed a system of joint enterprise of an American oil-related company and a Japanese company.
Japanese accounting person in charge and he often caused a trouble.
The computer system used an American thing
The accounting person in charge makes a request him by system improvement so that this system is different from the Japanese accounting.
However, most firstly he refuses it.
He explains a reason of refusal to the accounting person in charge next.
The reason is because work of system improvement of a factory is given priority to.
The accounting person in charge is angry.
Talks are done among him with the accounting person in charge with me.
There was often such a case.
The accounting person in charge did not gradually ask him for work.
If the accounting person in charge did this request to me.
I answer it in this way.
Now system improvement of a factory is given priority to.
I confirm whether improvement of an accounting system needs it immediately.
I confirm whether there are not other measures when I cannot do accounting system improvement.
In this case I understood that a problem could be settled by doing a revision on documents.
I do a promise to accept a request of the accounting promptly after system improvement of a factory was finished.
Firstly, in the case of a Japanese, I do not say "NO".
It is a premise to respect a viewpoint of a partner.

Pachipro
Feb 22, 2005, 23:05
My curiosity seems to have interrupted you.
I'm sorry.
Please don't be sorry your input is wanted and is just as important as anyone else's. I give you much credit for trying to communicate in English on this topic. Thank You.


(I really wonder where I can meet people like Maciamo-san and Pachipro-san!!)
Thank you for your input on this topic. Your answers are very informative and most important coming from a Japanese person. Concerning the above quote, I'm a little unclear as to what kind of people are you referring to? I think I have made it quite clear in my posts that I am in disagreement with Maciamo concerning the kinds of Japanese people he meets and the kind of Japanese people I have met over the years in Japan.

The way he says the Japanese treat him when he speaks Japanese and the way they treat me when I speak Japanese are quite the opposite in that I have not experienced some the things he has.

While my experiences in speaking and dealing with Japanese have been pleasent, his has not been so pleasent and we sort of disagree on the reasons.

If you're talking about the Japanese who sometimes do not "hear" us when we are speaking Japanese or the Japanese who ask us many times if we like sushi, can use chopsticks, etc., then you are correct. However, it happens all the time to many of us on this forum. Maciamo and I also disagree on our reactions to these questions and such.

I am leaving for Japan tomorrow morning for a 12 day visit :) and will be interacting with the Japanese on an almost daily basis from shopping, eating out, meeting friends, playing pachinko and pachislo etc. and will be extra diligent this trip to notice the reactions of the Japanese when I interact with them in Japanese.

Maciamo
Feb 22, 2005, 23:15
That irritates me as well....if I have enough confidence I just continue in Japanese and if the native speaker is pretending not to understand the simplest phrases I put on my best sarcastic tone and querry them -- what about this can possibly be so confusing ? hopefully all without deliberately leaving them feeling too stupid in their own language. :D

Hey hey, I have done that too. :p

Pachipro
Feb 22, 2005, 23:19
I think most don't have malicious intentions--only sense of inferiority, backwardness, and lack of awareness that Westerners, especially Europeans, have toward the cultures and languages around the world.

Maybe I'm not typically Japanese, but I think I speak for many Japanese (at least the ones I know).

I am in complete agreement with you on this. In your opinion, epigene-san, what do you think would be the best way for the Japanese to overcome this? Must it start at the government level down through the schools? A public awareness campaign supported by the government? Or do you think it will ever change?

Are most Japanese even AWARE of some of the problems and frustrations experienced by foreigners in Japan and expressed on this forum?

For me, I don't think it will ever change without some input from the government first. The problems and frustrations expressed by some on this forum have been around since my first visit to Japan 30 years ago and not much has changed since. As far as I am concerned, it wouldn't bother me one bit if it never did change except maybe for the discrimination experienced when looking for a place to live. Either way I still love Japan!

lexico
Feb 22, 2005, 23:47
Your experience tells me that real language situations are much more complicated than simple small-talk, especially in professional settings.
The case that a foreigner does not understand Japanese...Because they cannot speak Japanese, they engaged a student of Sophia University as Japanese interpretation.
However, she gets impossible to tell an engineer my explanation because she did not understand a computer term.
I quoted a language of a computer and explained it to them. :bluush:
I felt it then.
Even if English is proficient, it is useless when there is not knowledge of a technical term.I understand that technical jargon has nothing to do with proficiency in conversational language whether English or Japanese.
Without a basic and clear understanding in the specialized field, an otherwise fluent speaker of English or Japanese cannot perform as usual.
In this case your technical knowledge proved far superior to the language skills of the interpreter.
the student who asked for interpretation was a Japanese, but Japanese was strange.If the Japanese interpreter were not trained spedifically for technical interpretation, then it is understandable that the English translation might not not have been accurate enough at natural speed, or even impossible.

Or could the interpreter have been a foreign-born Japanese who returned to Japan rather late to acquire full fluency?

Or was the highly techincal nature of the task overwhelming for a college student?
The case which worked with the foreigner who spoke Japanese.
He completed a Japanese training course of Tokyo University.
In addition, he graduated from an American university.
He understood English and Japanese and a native language with a Malaysian.
I managed a system of joint enterprise of an American oil-related company and a Japanese company.

Japanese accounting person in charge and he often caused a trouble.
The computer system used an American thing
The accounting person in charge makes a request him by system improvement so that this system is different from the Japanese accounting.

However, most firstly he refuses it.
He explains a reason of refusal to the accounting person in charge next.
The reason is because work of system improvement of a factory is given priority to.

The accounting person in charge is angry.
Talks are done among him with the accounting person in charge with me.
There was often such a case.
The accounting person in charge did not gradually ask him for work.

If the accounting person in charge did this request to me.
I answer it in this way.
Now system improvement of a factory is given priority to.
I confirm whether improvement of an accounting system needs it immediately.
I confirm whether there are not other measures when I cannot do accounting system improvement.
In this case I understood that a problem could be settled by doing a revision on documents.
I do a promise to accept a request of the accounting promptly after system improvement of a factory was finished.

Firstly, in the case of a Japanese, I do not say "NO".
It is a premise to respect a viewpoint of a partner.Again your experience goes to show that language proficiency (of lack of it) is not the real problem in work situations.
More than language itself, but a general understanding of "communication between humans" seems to hold the key to successful communication.

Although it is difficult to generalize, your two examples offer very good material and insights to help understand our problem, which can involve quite complex situations.
I wonder if the communication skills that you have excercised are something learnable, and whether many Japanese persons share those skills.
Are they (the Japanese) taught these (the communication skills) in school, or during on-job training?

Maciamo
Feb 22, 2005, 23:57
Concerning the above quote, I'm a little unclear as to what kind of people are you referring to? I think I have made it quite clear in my posts that I am in disagreement with Maciamo concerning the kinds of Japanese people he meets and the kind of Japanese people I have met over the years in Japan.

I think Epigene meant that she didn't know where to meet foreigners who speak well Japanese like us, not the kind of Japanese I or you were referring to.

Maciamo
Feb 23, 2005, 00:04
I think the people living in the "shitamachi" area are more tolerant and confident of themselves, regardless of English skill level, and will speak to a foreigner in Japanese regardless of whether the person understands them or not.


Well, I live in Tokyo's shitamachi (so East Tokyo), and that is where I have had the most problems with people making gestures and feigning not to understand (they were almost all above 50 years old, though, but there are lots of older people in shitamachi). But it's true that it is also mostly in shitamachi that some yakuza-looking guys start shouting strange things when I quietly walk in the street (very un-Japanese !), although that only happened 3 times in 3 years.

jt_
Feb 23, 2005, 00:50
When I saw Westerners speaking Japanese on TV (like Jeff Berkland (spelling??) and Thane Camus), I was in awe. I'm really happy to see the growing number of Japanese-speaking foreigners but never had the opportunity to meet them.This may be a bit off-topic, but I just wanted to comment that in Thane Camus's case, he (at least to my knowledge -- I might be wrong about this) spent a significant portion of his childhood in Japan and went to elementary school (and middle school too?) in Japan, so he's basically a native speaker, and thus really shouldn't be lumped in with Westerners who have _learned_ Japanese as a second language.

What surprises me is when some Japanese people, even after hearing this, continue to be impressed at how well he speaks Japanese ("He sounds just like a Japanese person!"). To me, this sheds some light on the attitude that some (not all) Japanese have towards their language. It's as if the fact that he is ethnically Caucasian should somehow preclude him from being able to speak Japanese like a Japanese person, when in actuality, of course, a person of any nationality/ethnic background who grows up speaking a certain language(/languages) from childhood will typically grow up to be a native speaker of that language(/languages).

It's just kind of interesting to note, as nobody (or almost nobody) in the United States (and most other English-speaking countries, no doubt, but I'm only qualified to talk about the US) would be surprised to see, for example an Asian-looking person speaking English like an American. Hell, for all they know, the person might very well be (and most likely probably is) American.

Yet I get this sense that there would be some (again, not all) Japanese who would have a hard time accepting that a Westerner -- even one who was born and raised in Japan -- could be a native speaker of Japanese. I have the feeling this would be somewhat (though perhaps not completely) mitigated if the person in question were half-Japanese.

Of course, I don't believe that this is because the Japanese people who would feel that way are consciously prejudiced or racist -- it's simply that ethnically Western individuals raised in Japan are extremely, extremely rare while there are countless numbers of ethnically Asian individuals raised in English-speaking countries. Still, it's a rather interesting phenomenon.

(Just to clarify: though this post is in response to epigene-san's post, I don't mean to suggest that she holds any of the opinions I make reference to here -- it was just her mention of Thane Camus that got me thinking about this)

Elizabeth
Feb 23, 2005, 01:05
Well, I live in Tokyo's shitamachi (so East Tokyo), and that is where I have had the most problems with people making gestures and feigning not to understand (they were almost all above 50 years old, though, but there are lots of older people in shitamachi). But it's true that it is also mostly in shitamachi that some yakuza-looking guys start shouting strange things when I quietly walk in the street (very un-Japanese !), although that only happened 3 times in 3 years.
I've also been patronized and encountered more discrimination in Shinjuku or Kamitakaido (where I stay) than Yanaka. Shitamachi people do tend to be older and practice a more relaxed lifestyle, so someone has always had time to show me around, discuss the cemetaries, point to the still standing Nagaya structures, generally showing great patience with my Japanese (which at last visit was still quite formative).... :relief:

lexico
Feb 23, 2005, 01:27
Welcome to the thread, epigene-san! :balloon:
Of all the interesting things that you said in your first post, I find the following especially worthy of attention.
I almost never meet Westerners. Only those I meet are people I know through work (an environment where everyone is expected to be able to speak at least Japanese and English--so I speak either language and no one minds) and tourists with their eyes glued to maps, standing in the streets of Shinjuku...
I grew up seeing Americans (GIs) who never learned anything more than a few phrases in Japanese after several years or even decades of living in Japan...
I made acquaintance in the past with some married to Japanese, but their Japanese capabilities were limited. So, I ended up speaking English to avoid misunderstandings. I also felt that they would feel their limitations in communicating in Japanese and become embarrassed.Does everyone mean every Japanese, or both Japanese and foreigners?
From interacting with the few foreigners you'd met or seen thru work, those tourists in Shinjuku, the American GI's, and those married to Japanese, few of them spoke much Japanese, and none like Maciamo or PachiPro. (correct?)

If that was the case, the Japanese are not to be blamed for having the preconception that Japanese is indeed hard to learn, and that Westerners are genuinely handicapped when learning Japanese.

Now this is in comparison to the learned Japanese who were able to accomplish the highly difficult task of culturally assimilating most Western notions either as phonetic loans (normally written in katakana) or calques via classical kanji more than a hundred years ago.
Back then, the Japanese cultural elite learned everything they could about the West, including the Western languages.

But Westerners in general ignored the importance of learning Japanese. (true?)
Then who should be considered superior, just looking at the language situation ?
(historically, in the 1860's-1900's for example)
In other words, Westerners brought it upon themselves in a way; they inherited the sins of their forefathers !
Do you think this kind of explanation is far-fetched ? :relief:
But then, why didn't these Westerners not learn Japanese when they had the chance ???
Do you think Westerners at some point in time felt vastly superior to the Japanese (or Asians) in general, and because of it considered the Japanese tongue unworthy of learning ?

and Japanese so hung up on their inferiority of not being able to speak English.Do you think this feeling of "inferiority" can also be the result of losing WWII ?
(in all the possible connotations of this negative history from the Japanese' view)

Is it possible that this "feeling inferior" came first, and then the "language block" came about as a result of it ?
Again, do you think I am overly stretching my imagination ?
Just wanted to ask you these troubling questions to get it off my chest. :relief:

EDIT: I agree with jt's observation because of the reasons I find probable in the above.
What surprises me is when some Japanese people, even after hearing this, continue to be impressed at how well he speaks Japanese ("He sounds just like a Japanese person!"). To me, this sheds some light on the attitude that some (not all) Japanese have towards their language. It's as if the fact that he is ethnically Caucasian should somehow preclude him from being able to speak Japanese like a Japanese person...

Yet I get this sense that there would be some (again, not all) Japanese who would have a hard time accepting that a Westerner -- even one who was born and raised in Japan -- could be a native speaker of Japanese...

Of course, I don't believe that this is because the Japanese people who would feel that way are consciously prejudiced or racist -- it's simply that ethnically Western individuals raised in Japan are extremely, extremely rare while there are countless numbers of ethnically Asian individuals raised in English-speaking countries.The extreme rarity of a Westerner speaking fluent Japanese in the past may very well be the cause of the misconception in the minds of the Japanese as you say here.

jt_
Feb 23, 2005, 01:47
But then, why didn't these Westerners not learn Japanese when they had the chance ???
Do you think Westerners at some point in time felt vastly superior to the Japanese or Asians in general, and because of it considered the Japanese tongue unworthy of learning ?I think it's much more likely that they simply felt that they could get by without learning it. I mean, when you consider that most of them were living in military bases where they could get by speaking English all the time and had more contact with English speakers than Japanese speakers, and that most of them probably had no intention of remaining in Japan any longer than they had to, is it really that surprising that they wouldn't put forth the massive effort that would be required to achieve advanced proficiency in Japanese? I'm not saying that I agree with this line of thinking, but it certainly isn't completely bizarre to me -- especially if I try to put myself in the position of e.g. an American serviceman in Japan. I think saying that they necessarily felt "superior" to Japanese/Asians or found the language "unworthy of learning" is a bit too strong.

lexico
Feb 23, 2005, 02:04
I think it's much more likely that they simply felt that they could get by without learning it. I mean, when you consider that most of them were living in military bases where they could get by speaking English all the time and had more contact with English speakers than Japanese speakers, and that most of them probably had no intention of remaining in Japan any longer than they had to, is it really that surprising that they wouldn't put forth the massive effort that would be required to achieve advanced proficiency in Japanese? I'm not saying that I agree with this line of thinking, but it certainly isn't completely bizarre to me -- especially if I try to put myself in the position of e.g. an American serviceman in Japan. I think saying that they necessarily felt "superior" to Japanese/Asians or found the language "unworthy of learning" is a bit too strong.I'm sorry. I've been excercising a bit of anachronism and extreme characterization here.
Now for clarity's sake, let us limit ourselves to the occupation period and thenafter. Your saying is that in the minds of the US sevicemen during that time, Japanese wasn't necessary and wasn't worth the effort of learning.

Pachipro
Feb 23, 2005, 03:34
I think Epigene meant that she didn't know where to meet foreigners who speak well Japanese like us, not the kind of Japanese I or you were referring to.
Epigene, if that is what you ment, I apologize for misinterpreting your statement. :sorry: 20 lashes with a wet Udon noodle for me! :-)

Pachipro
Feb 23, 2005, 04:11
I think it's much more likely that they simply felt that they could get by without learning it. I mean, when you consider that most of them were living in military bases where they could get by speaking English all the time and had more contact with English speakers than Japanese speakers, and that most of them probably had no intention of remaining in Japan any longer than they had to, is it really that surprising that they wouldn't put forth the massive effort that would be required to achieve advanced proficiency in Japanese? I'm not saying that I agree with this line of thinking, but it certainly isn't completely bizarre to me -- especially if I try to put myself in the position of e.g. an American serviceman in Japan. I think saying that they necessarily felt "superior" to Japanese/Asians or found the language "unworthy of learning" is a bit too strong.


Your saying is that in the minds of the US sevicemen during that time, Japanese wasn't necessary and wasn't worth the effort of learning.

I can't speak for jt_, but I agree with what he is saying and what lexico is surmising as I can speak from experience. I was stationed with the US military for the first 4 years of my stay in Japan beginning in early 1973. I moved off base to a Japanese apartment within the first year and began learning Japanese and living like one except for the 8 hours or so per day that I would spend on the base. Not one of my friends, peers, or higher ranking personnel that I knew on that base took any time or effort to learn the language save for a few phrases that would get them by. In the end, I only knew of two people, both Navy personnel that did learn the language and eventually live and go to school in Japan like myself.

As jt_ said there was no need for them to learn. All business and shopping was conducted on the base in English and living on a base is no different than living in a small town in the US as everything is there. Shopping, bowling alleys and other sports, fast food restaurants, bars, etc. I knew of some people who were stationed in Japan and almost never ventured off the base save for one or two times a year. And even then it was with a group of other Americans. I knew some retired personnel with Japanese wives who worked as civilians for the military and have been in Japan more than 15 or 20 years and they hardly knew a lick of Japanese. What a shame and waste. When I questioned them about it they said there was no need to learn Japanese.

This is not only true for the US military. The same holds true for a lot of the kids of international businessmen and embassy people that I went to school with at Sophia University's International Division. Alot of them knew almost nothing of the Japanese culture or language and had no desire to learn. Even their parents were surprisingly ignorant when it came to Japanese and the Japanese culture. Most of them were wealthy, lived in huge, western-style houses in Tokyo, (some of their houses were so huge and western that I thought I was back in the states!); they shopped at the international food stores, ate mostly western food and hob nobbed with only other foreigners or those of their culture. These were not only Americans, but Canadian, Middle Eastern, English, Dutch, German, you name it.

Again, the same holds true for Japanese here in the states. Granted, most of the Japanese men do know a fair amount of English, but their wives do not, nor do they have the desire to learn about English and American culture. Even here, in dinky Nashville, most of the Japanese wives of the company I used to work for, and those of other Japanese companies, spoke almost no English. They would go shopping in a group with at least one wife who knew English fairly well. They would buy their food at Japanese food stores, subscribe to NHK satellite TV, socialize with other wives from the company, and all send their kids to Japanese schools on Saturdays. They would cook their husbands Japanese meals and the men would usually only socialize with other Japanese on their days off to play golf or play mahjong. The men almost NEVER socialized with Americans on their days off unless those Americans played golf.

Therefore, when one has access to anything and everything from their own culture in a foreign country and are only going to be there for a few short years, why should they, or would they want to, learn of another culture if they don't desire? I think the pendulum swings both ways in this case. It is not only limited to foreigners in Japan.

SkippyDaStudent85
Feb 23, 2005, 07:18
No, it isn't the most logical thing to do. Think about it a bit.

I see your point. Although it would seem logical that someone in a foreign country would know the language (unless they are completely mental) of the country, you can't just assume they do. That is why I said it is more logical to ask, even if it it barely more logical.

Elizabeth
Feb 23, 2005, 08:30
I see your point. Although it would seem logical that someone in a foreign country would know the language (unless they are completely mental) of the country, you can't just assume they do. That is why I said it is more logical to ask, even if it it barely more logical.
Are you talking about asking a Japanese-looking person if they know Japanese or from the perspective of them asking a foreigner ?

Maciamo
Feb 23, 2005, 09:26
I've also been patronized and encountered more discrimination in Shinjuku or Kamitakaido (where I stay) than Yanaka. Shitamachi people do tend to be older and practice a more relaxed lifestyle, so someone has always had time to show me around, discuss the cemetaries, point to the still standing Nagaya structures, generally showing great patience with my Japanese (which at last visit was still quite formative)....

FYI, shitamachi is not Shinjuku, but what used to be the centre of Edo, that is Nihombashi, Kanda, Asakusa, Kagurazaka, Fukagawa, Mukojima, etc.

Maciamo
Feb 23, 2005, 09:37
... it's simply that ethnically Western individuals raised in Japan are extremely, extremely rare while there are countless numbers of ethnically Asian individuals raised in English-speaking countries.


Not sure if that is "extremely, extremely rare". I know a few people in that case. A few famous Japn-related writers have also been raised in Japan : Alex Kerr (author of Lost Japan (http://www.wa-pedia.com/shop/showproduct.php/product/2/sort/7/cat/all/page/1) and Dogs & Demons (http://www.wa-pedia.com/shop/showproduct.php/product/1/sort/7/cat/all/page/1)), Nathalie Nothomb (author of "Stupeurs et Tremblements", famous to French speakers). I think it's more common with Americans, as many were children of US staff during the occupation, or US soldiers later. In Nathalie Nothomb's case, she was the daughter of the Belgian ambassador to Japan. A French guy I know who was raised in Japan, studied only a Japanese school (and still live in Japan), is also the son of someone from the embassy. I guess there must be quite a few cases like that, given the number of long-term embassy staff and US soldiers in Japan.

Contrarily to adults, those children raised in Japan have a greater chance to pick up the language, especially if their parents allow them to go to Japanese schools or if they get the opportunity to get Japanese friends.

Maciamo
Feb 23, 2005, 09:48
Then who should be considered superior, just looking at the language situation ?
(historically, in the 1860's-1900's for example)
...
But then, why didn't these Westerners not learn Japanese when they had the chance ???
Do you think Westerners at some point in time felt vastly superior to the Japanese (or Asians) in general, and because of it considered the Japanese tongue unworthy of learning ?

I don't think that all Westerners overlooked the learning of Japanese. Take someone like James Curtis Hepburn (1815-1911) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Curtis_Hepburn), who created the romaji system in 1867 (just one year before Meiji !) or European writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), who became Japanese (and took the name "Koizumi Yagumo") and became one of the most famous "Japanese" writer of his time.

Elizabeth
Feb 23, 2005, 09:53
FYI, shitamachi is not Shinjuku, but what used to be the centre of Edo, that is Nihombashi, Kanda, Asakusa, Kagurazaka, Fukagawa, Mukojima, etc.
Of course not, I've only been to Yanaka and the museum in Ueno, but I was trying to draw a contrast. :p

SkippyDaStudent85
Feb 23, 2005, 10:12
Are you talking about asking a Japanese-looking person if they know Japanese or from the perspective of them asking a foreigner ?

It was from the point of view of anyone dealing with foreigners, in general. Let me clarify my statement.


I see your point. Although it would seem logical that someone in a foreign country would know the language (unless they are completely mental) of the country, you can't just assume they do. That is why I said it is more logical to ask, even if it it barely more logical.

Let's say that I am a Japanese person. I see someone who seems obviously foreign (say a VERY caucasian American, like me IRL) to the country. Now, as someone with common sense, I would like to think the American knows Japanese, being as he is in Japan. Being the same person of common sense, I cannot assume he knows Japanese because not everyone who travels to a foreign country knows the native language of that country's people. For this reason, it would make slightly more sense to ask him if he knows Japanese and have to apologize than to assume he does and address him as such.

Elizabeth
Feb 23, 2005, 10:19
It was from the point of view of anyone dealing with foreigners, in general. Let me clarify my statement.



Let's say that I am a Japanese person. I see someone who seems obviously foreign (say a VERY caucasian American, like me IRL) to the country. Now, as someone with common sense, I would like to think the American knows Japanese, being as he is in Japan. Being the same person of common sense, I cannot assume he knows Japanese because not everyone who travels to a foreign country knows the native language of that country's people. For this reason, it would make slightly more sense to ask him if he knows Japanese and have to apologize than to assume he does and address him as such.
There is nothing about going to the country that is going to make you learn it unfortunately besides years and years of study....something you would assume vacationers or short-term tourists are willing to put in for the pleasure of pachinko or a Japanese baseball game ? Sorry to burst your expectations, but even a great many foreign students of the language living and breathing the air can barely hold a reasonable conversation. :sorry: I was thinking it was illogical to know a priori which language you'd ask in....

SkippyDaStudent85
Feb 23, 2005, 10:26
I understand what you are saying, but I wouldn't say that I had any "expectations" to burst. I was just saying what seemed most logical.

And I never said being in a country made you able to speak the language. What I did say was that I would like to think someone in a foreign country could speak the language of the native people, but it would be silly to assume that they could automatically. That was why I said asking would be better than just rambling at them in Japanese (or whatever language applies), hoping they understand.

misa.j
Feb 23, 2005, 11:04
I voted for the 3rd choice;
They should address them in Japanese and only use gestures or speak more slowly if the person doesn't understand

Assuming that someone doesn't understand what you are going to say is nonsense and arrogant in my opinion.
I hope those Japanese people stop freaking out whenever they see a foreigner, just be natural and speak Japanese to them unless they are asked for other languages.

Why do people who work at the bento shop where Maciamo frequents think that writing things down helps? I think that's plain rude.

epigene
Feb 23, 2005, 11:39
I voted for the 3rd choice;
They should address them in Japanese and only use gestures or speak more slowly if the person doesn't understand

Assuming that someone doesn't understand what you are going to say is nonsense and arrogant in my opinion.
I hope those Japanese people stop freaking out whenever they see a foreigner, just be natural and speak Japanese to them unless they are asked for other languages.

Why do people who work at the bento shop where Maciamo frequents think that writing things down helps? I think that's plain rude.
Misa-san, I think you've lived in the US too long to forget how strange people behave in front of persons who look foreign. I think the normally functioning brain of the Japanese becomes "paralyzed" and dysfunctions from "fright" (maybe the word isn't appropriate, but I hope you get what I mean). :relief:

To Maciamo-san:
Regarding the reactions of the "shitamachi" people toward you, I really want to be there and see what happens with my own eyes!! Don't people get used to your presence?

Though I don't know if this works for you and if you have the time for it, why not volunteer and participate in the local "jichi-kai" (community association)? I have heard of a number of Westerners finally being accepted into communities through having their children go to local schools and joining PTA. Since shitamachi tend to be closely knit, you may need to break in through community activities...??

Just an idea... You may have already tried this.

There have been many prominent Japanese-speaking foreigners in the past, but they are still few in number and are considered "exceptional," I think. The problem is you don't see fluent Japanese speakers walking around in the local community or at work.

On what can be done to address the problem, I think it will take time--more international marriages, more Japanese who have overseas experience and can speak English or other foreign languages fluently, more foreigners speaking Japanese so that people lose interest in Japanese-speaking "gajin tarento." In short, more intercultural interaction.

In the meantime, Maciamo-san should willingly stand prominent as the "preeminent gaijin resident" of the community and exercise leadership. :yeahh:

lexico
Feb 23, 2005, 11:51
From what I can make of these threads, I think the question should be changed into should the japanese stop assuming that foreigners are stupid ? ;)
Japanese people say that their language is hard...
I will grant them that their writing system is probably the most complicated in the world...
It seems that on the whole Japanese people think that they have the hardest language in the world, and there's no way anyone non-Japanese could possibly learn it...
But it does point at a trend of Japanese pride and a belief that no one can understand them and that they are uniquely unique.
I think that most Japanese assume that foreigners cannot learn their language because its "ooh so difficult". In fact it may be one of the easiest language in the world except for the particles (which even the Japanese have problem with) and the kanji (not difficult, just a matter of time and practice).Let's hold there for a moment and find out what was the cause for the Japanese to consider their language unique and difficult to learn. While many Westerners passed thru Japan and were exposed to the language, not many bothered to learn it as can be seen in the posts of epigene, jt, and pachipro in the folowing quotes.

I almost never meet Westerners. Only those I meet are people I know through work (an environment where everyone is expected to be able to speak at least Japanese and English--so I speak either language and no one minds) and tourists with their eyes glued to maps, standing in the streets of Shinjuku...
I grew up seeing Americans (GIs) who never learned anything more than a few phrases in Japanese after several years or even decades of living in Japan...
I made acquaintance in the past with some married to Japanese, but their Japanese capabilities were limited.
I think it's much more likely that they simply felt that they could get by without learning it. I mean, when you consider that most of them were living in military bases where they could get by speaking English all the time and had more contact with English speakers than Japanese speakers, and that most of them probably had no intention of remaining in Japan any longer than they had to, is it really that surprising that they wouldn't put forth the massive effort that would be required to achieve advanced proficiency in Japanese?
Not one of my friends, peers, or higher ranking personnel that I knew on that base took any time or effort to learn the language save for a few phrases that would get them by. In the end, I only knew of two people, both Navy personnel that did learn the language and eventually live and go to school in Japan like myself.

As jt_ said there was no need for them to learn. All business and shopping was conducted on the base in English and living on a base is no different than living in a small town in the US.
...
The same holds true for a lot of the kids of international businessmen and embassy people that I went to school with at Sophia University's International Division. Alot of them knew almost nothing of the Japanese culture or language and had no desire to learn. Even their parents were surprisingly ignorant when it came to Japanese and the Japanese culture.
...
they shopped at the international food stores, ate mostly western food and hob nobbed with only other foreigners or those of their culture. These were not only Americans, but Canadian, Middle Eastern, English, Dutch, German, you name it.According to these posts, during the occupation period until quite recently, US servicemen considered the Japanese language "not necessary and not worth the trouble of learning." Furthemore they did not mingle with the Japanese either for practical purposes or for socializing.

Now whether this fact corroborated by the three individuals can be generalized to all foreigners during 1945 to recent times remains to be seen. Also, the general attitudes of foreigners in Japan from the Meji era down to 1945 regarding learning Japanese remains to be examained.

Although I should probably have to stack up more evidence to prove my point, I would say that the majority of foreigners/Westernere in Japan were not much different.

So I would hesitate to point the finger at the Japanese for believing that
1. Japanese is difficult to learn for foreingers.
2. Japanese is therefore unique.
3. It is very unusual that a foreigner should speak fluent Japanese because it is known that such proficiency is not possible.

Now who gave sufficient cause for the Japanese to think so?
1. The majority of Westerners since the Meiji era to 1910 did NOT learn much Japanese except a select few that Maciamo mentioned. (Of course there should be more. But how many more? Perhaps 1-5% of all foreigners in Japan at that time?)
2. The majority of Westerners during the occupation by US. According to PachiPro, none else than him, (with the exeption of two individuals,) were eager to learn Japanese throughout his military career, and the projected ratio is near 1% of all US personnel in Japan.

The beliefs that you claim that the Japanese are holding tight to are not the result of some supernational linguists propaganda, but the majority of foreigners/Westernes in the late 19th century and the post occupation period who simply thought Japanese was not necessary for survival, and that learning Japanese was not worth the trouble.
I would guess, though, that this way of thinking is probably on the way out with the high numbers of foreigners in Japan who speak Japanese.No doubt, with many people like you, the old ideas will be replaced. Japanese will eventually be understood as an easy language to learn.

Japanese may be unique in its isolated typology, (with some paleo-Asiatic, or Altaic connection) but not so unique that it defies all efforts to learn it to proficiency. Foreigners of all color, including Westerners/Caucasians, are no more handicapped than the avearge Japanese.

But this is a recent trend. And if anybody is going to see the changes happening first, it sure looks like you will be the first witnesses to this positive change.

Maciamo
Feb 23, 2005, 12:28
The beliefs that you claim that the Japanese are holding tight to are not the result of some supernational linguists propaganda, but the majority of foreigners/Westernes in the late 19th century and the post occupation period who simply thought Japanese was not necessary for survival, and that learning Japanese was not worth the trouble.No doubt, with many people like you, the old ideas will be replaced. Japanese will eventually be understood as an easy language to learn.

Thanks for this analysis. I think you have hit right on the target. The problem was that until recently (1980's, 90's ?) most Westerners didn't care about learning Japanese, probably because Japan was still seen as a developing country, and because most Westerners in Japan were military men who had to stay in Japan (well, in their 'enclave'), and not people who came voluntarily because of a genuine interest in the Japanese culture, language or people.

However, when we look at other Westerners living in Japan now, most of them came because they like Japan or Japanese people and want to learn the language to communicate with the people (maybe a girlfriend/wife or boyfriend/husband) or just because they are fascinated by the kanji or the exoticism of the language, or want to understand anime/manga/games/J-pop in Japanese, etc.

This is a completely different kind of people, and most of those people who finally make it to Japan (sometimes after years of planning or waiting) do speak at least some Japanese, and certainly know quite a lot about Japan.

That is why I find it rude and irrespectful of the Japanese to assume that those people who came to Japan because of a real interest or a Japanese lover/partner, cannot possibly speak Japanese (because of its uniqueness and blablabla). In fact, it would be more correct to assume that any foreigner in Japan that did not come for their work (army, embassy, expats) is vert likely to know at least some Japanese. Even the short-time visitors, because tourists who choose to visit Japan rather than another country are usually interested in its culture (traditional or modern) or people, otherwise they'd choose some cheaper, closer or more touristically interesting destination.

The only short-term visitors that may not be very interested in Japan are relatives from people working/living there (eg. when my family come to visit me) and are unlikely to try to start a conversation with the locals in the street anyway.

Mike Cash
Feb 23, 2005, 17:36
I see your point. Although it would seem logical that someone in a foreign country would know the language (unless they are completely mental) of the country, you can't just assume they do. That is why I said it is more logical to ask, even if it it barely more logical.

That wasn't quite my point. My point about it not being the most logical is that the answer to the question soon becomes evident even if you skip it.

If you just start out talking to the person in Japanese and things go well, then yes, he understands.

If he stands there with a blank look on his face, then no, he doesn't. Switch to English and try again.

Asking them if they do or do not understand Japanese is a needless step.

misa.j
Feb 23, 2005, 22:30
Misa-san, I think you've lived in the US too long to forget how strange people behave in front of persons who look foreign. I think the normally functioning brain of the Japanese becomes "paralyzed" and dysfunctions from "fright" (maybe the word isn't appropriate, but I hope you get what I mean).
Yeah, I do understand what you mean, and I remember people's reactions when confronted by a foreigner, that's why I posted. What I don't understand is the reason of that. I don't think normally functioning brain of Japanese should get paralyzed or dysfunctioned.

Wouldn't you listen to what the other person is saying when you start a conversation w/ someone? Why don't some Japanese people even pay attention to what language a foreigner is speaking and just try to assume that the foreigner would have a hard time understanding them?

DoctorP
Feb 23, 2005, 22:38
One question for the long time residents (Mike, Maciamo, anyone else)

Do your Japanese friends treat you this way or just aquaintences, shop owners, etc??

Maciamo
Feb 23, 2005, 23:54
Why don't some Japanese people even pay attention to what language a foreigner is speaking and just try to assume that the foreigner would have a hard time understanding them?

That is basically my point.

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 00:00
One question for the long time residents (Mike, Maciamo, anyone else)

Do your Japanese friends treat you this way or just aquaintences, shop owners, etc??

I suppose you are referring to people not wanting to address us in Japanese and prefer gestures or write things on paper instead. That only happens with people I don't know at all, like in shops, and not even by employees in combini or department stores (who have orders), but almost always in privately owned shops. It's mostly with traditional-minded (and not so well-off, from their appearance) people. That's also why it's more frequent in shitamachi or country areas. It has never happened to me in, say, Shibuya.

jt_
Feb 24, 2005, 00:29
Misa-san, I think you've lived in the US too long to forget how strange people behave in front of persons who look foreign. I think the normally functioning brain of the Japanese becomes "paralyzed" and dysfunctions from "fright" (maybe the word isn't appropriate, but I hope you get what I mean).I've kind of gotten used to this by now, but I remember how I felt the first time I experienced this sort of reaction to me. There was a small family-run okonomiyaki shop near my apartment, and I thought I would go and give it a try. I had avoided it for a while because I had been afraid that, as a foreigner, my entering the shop might cause a bit of a scene and make people uncomfortable. But I thought, "Oh well, how bad could it be?" and decided to go in.

What happened next, I remember vividly. There was only one empty seat at the table (it was one of those shops with a bar-like seating style). All of the (Japanese) customers turned around to face the door, stared at me with a petrified expression, and then almost immediately started turning to each other saying things like "Oh no, I can't sit next to him! I don't know English!" "You got good English grades in high school! You sit next to him!" "No, no, no -- you're taking English conversation classes, aren't you? You sit next to him!".

I can't describe how terrible this made me feel. I had never experienced (and never thought I would have to experience) a group of adults being so absolutely and completely petrified of me. It made me feel ill and I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, but I thought it would be rude to just walk out of the shop, so I sat down and ate anyway. Still, I was really too shaken to enjoy my meal at all. Once they found out that I spoke some Japanese (though this was quite a while ago and my Japanese wasn't at the level that it is now), they relaxed a little bit, but this didn't really help. I mean, I felt miserable -- mostly because of what I felt like I had done to these people. I felt like I had ruined their evening just by my deciding to try out this place's okonomiyaki. They had been eating, drinking, and having a good time, until my presence sent the whole place into a panic.

Of course, this was a while ago and I haven't had an experience _quite_ as severe as this one in a while, but it's still there in the back of my mind, reminding me that in certain circumstances in Japan, I have the 'ability' to send people into a panicked frenzy just by virtue of my physical appearance. This is probably to me the biggest downside to living or being in Japan. I don't like making people uncomfortable, and I don't like drawing attention to myself, but simply by virtue of my mere _presence_ as a foreigner, I very often can't help but do just that. This frustrates me a bit.

I think epigene is right, though, that the only thing that can be done about the situation is to give it time. Wait until foreigners in Japan (and Japanese-speaking foreigners in particular), international marriages and the like become more common, and as foreigners become less "unusual", then people will gradually open up to them. Already, now, I think it seems like the younger generation is more comfortable with foreigners than the older generation. As this younger generation grows up (and an even younger generation is born) I'm hopeful that things will gradually change.

Malaika
Feb 24, 2005, 01:55
I picked the second one.

"They should first ask them whether they can speak Japanese (either in Japanese or in English)"

I mean I'll feel comfortable with the one I picked.

Leroy_Brown
Feb 24, 2005, 07:33
If I see an Asian person in the U.S., I'm going to speak English to him/her.

What's the big deal?

Why should foreigners get special treatment in Japan? If you're going to live in Japan, you should learn the language.

Besides, there are many foreigners, I assume, in Japan who don't speak English either, so why should the Japanese sweat over what language they should speak to foreigners?

lexico
Feb 24, 2005, 09:16
If I see an Asian person in the U.S., I'm going to speak English to him/her.

What's the big deal?(1)

Why should foreigners get special treatment in Japan? If you're going to live in Japan, you should learn the language.

Besides, there are many foreigners, I assume, in Japan who don't speak English either, so why should the Japanese sweat over what language they should speak to foreigners?(2)Good points you make in this thread, Leroy Brown. I find these quite refreshing, and it makes me think about how the US, Western European countries, and other open societies could have developed their natural ways of dealing with foreigners in terms of language: just address them in the coutry's own language.

But Japan has a unique history as the first Asian country that Westernized by choice and one that did it quickly, methodically, and with success. This was no accident for Japan, but at the cost of certain things. What certain things exactly? I don't know, either. :relief:

(1) It used not to be such a big deal a while ago. Most Japanese and most foerigners seemed to be happy with the standard soltuion: English rules!

(2) It looks like foreigners coming to Japan preferred to speak their own language while in Japan. The quickly modernizing Japan's leaders seemed to have devloped a way to ease the process by telling their people to "always address foreigners in their language, not Japanese." (This needs to be verified historically!) But epeigene said that Japanese teachers tell that the sudents MUST speak in English when they meet a foreigner. Even when they feel that they are not fluent in English, they do so because they were taught from an early age that this was how they should address a foreigner.

The Japanese, terrified with the prospect that they have to communicate in a language that they do not know, had the choice between

1. Learn English (Why English, and not French, German, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Russian, Greek, Polish, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, Mongolian, Swahili, Hausa, Vietnamese, Thai, Hindi, Turkish, or Korean ? I don't know. Maybe it has to do with English becoming more and more accepted as a World Language perhaps ?) and use that to the best they can.

2. Just use the International Sign Language if English is not available.

With many recent foreigner with a good preparation of adequate to fluent Japanese coming to Japan, and living in Japan, and wanting to fully appreciate their time there, these two choices by the everyday Japanese whom they met was vastly disappointing. I hope I gave you a sense of the seiousness of the poll, and all the fuss about what langauge should be spoken by the Japanese when meeting a foreighner for the first time. That was long answer to your brief comment. Sorry I couldn't make it any shorter. :relief:

epigene
Feb 24, 2005, 09:47
It's a very good summary, lexico!

English remains THE language to learn, despite the recent attention directed toward Chinese (for business reasons) and to Korean (Yon-sama!! fever and infatuation with Korean actors/actresses carrying an atmosphere of dignity and uprightness that resembles the great Japanese actors of long ago).

I was fortunate to have learned English while young (thank you, Mom & Dad!) and taught my kids to speak English, too. (My husband was determined to make his kids English-Japanese bilingual due to the bitter failure he experienced trying to learn the language through the Japanese school system.)

An episode from my kids' junior high school years:
As part of the school curriculum, junior high school students go on an extended trip headed by their teachers commonly on their second year (when they are about 14 years old). The most popular destination is Kyoto/Nara.

My son and daughter (two years apart) attended a local junior high school and went on school trips to Kyoto in their second year at the school. In both cases, they were given assignment by their English teacher (different teachers) to grab any foreigner (i.e., Western-looking) strolling around in Kyoto/Nara and speak to them in English!

My son, the reserved type, simply refused to do this and played dumb while his classmates babbled whatever they can to the surprised tourists.

My daughter is more energetic and chose another alternative. She made sure she was the first to spot a foreigner, ran to the person, apologize and inform him/her that her classmates will soon come to flood the person with silly questions and ask his/her permission. This succeeded, and the tourists told her they had fun answering the questions! (This is followed by "20 Questions" toward her (reverse of what Pachipro-san described in his post)--oh, you speak English very well! Where did you learn to speak...etc., etc.)

That's English language education in Japan.... :blush:
Westerners beware of junior high school students in Kyoto!! :giggle:

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 10:21
If I see an Asian person in the U.S., I'm going to speak English to him/her.

What's the big deal?

Why should foreigners get special treatment in Japan? If you're going to live in Japan, you should learn the language.

Besides, there are many foreigners, I assume, in Japan who don't speak English either, so why should the Japanese sweat over what language they should speak to foreigners?

From the tone of your post, it seems that you are disagreeing with the purpose of this thread. However it is exactly how I and many of the people who voted at the poll, see it. :p

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 10:37
I can't describe how terrible this made me feel. I had never experienced (and never thought I would have to experience) a group of adults being so absolutely and completely petrified of me. It made me feel ill and I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, but I thought it would be rude to just walk out of the shop, so I sat down and ate anyway. Still, I was really too shaken to enjoy my meal at all. Once they found out that I spoke some Japanese (though this was quite a while ago and my Japanese wasn't at the level that it is now), they relaxed a little bit, but this didn't really help. I mean, I felt miserable -- mostly because of what I felt like I had done to these people. I felt like I had ruined their evening just by my deciding to try out this place's okonomiyaki. They had been eating, drinking, and having a good time, until my presence sent the whole place into a panic.

This has also happened to me a few times. After the first time, I said to myself that I had been unlucky, and gave it another try, but the same happened again and again in this kind of places. So now I have decided not go to to such places (izakaya, okonomiyaki, oden, etc.) by myself. The only kind of bar-like restaurant I found it was ok to go alone in Japan are ramen-ya, kaiten-zushi, or chains like Tenya (tendon), Yoshinoya, etc.


This is probably to me the biggest downside to living or being in Japan. I don't like making people uncomfortable, and I don't like drawing attention to myself, but simply by virtue of my mere _presence_ as a foreigner, I very often can't help but do just that. This frustrates me a bit.

Well, now you understand why I post thread like this. :p


I think epigene is right, though, that the only thing that can be done about the situation is to give it time. Wait until foreigners in Japan (and Japanese-speaking foreigners in particular), international marriages and the like become more common, and as foreigners become less "unusual", then people will gradually open up to them.

I am bit pessimistic about the prospect for the future. The situation may indeed change as more foreigners learn Japanese, more Japanese speak English, etc. but the image of the foreigners may only change in areas with a high-density of foreigners like Central Tokyo. I think it will take longer for it to change in rural areas or less cosmopolitan cities or suburbs. Then there is always this Japanese attitude of the "soto vs uchi" which doesn't facilitate the integration of foreigners.

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 10:47
(2) It looks like foreigners coming to Japan preferred to speak their own language while in Japan. The quickly modernizing Japan's leaders seemed to have devloped a way to ease the process by telling their people to "always address foreigners in their language, not Japanese."

Let me disagree with that. As you said in point (1) : English Rules ! I have never seen a Japanese trying to address a person who was visibly Italian, South American, Chinese or Indian in their own language. In my case, I have never been addressed in French rather than English even by my wife's friends who knew I spoke French (but also English and Japanese, so maybe that's why). The main reason is that most Japanese just can't speak any other language than English. But even when they can, they tend to suppose that all foreigners (Westerners at least) speak English anyway - probably because many Europeans do, and many Singaporians, Malaysians, HKers, etc also do - but many also don't !

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 10:59
My son and daughter (two years apart) attended a local junior high school and went on school trips to Kyoto in their second year at the school. In both cases, they were given assignment by their English teacher (different teachers) to grab any foreigner (i.e., Western-looking) strolling around in Kyoto/Nara and speak to them in English!

Ah that's why those school kids asked me all those questions about how I liked the city when I was in Nara ! I thought they were asking Japanese people too (I think I talked to them in Japanese anyway). If I was the director of the school I would fire the teacher(s) for teaching kids that any foreign-looking person speaks English. Combining the population of Western countries (Europe, Russia, North America, Australia, NZ), there are about 960 million people, and only about 400 million live in English-speaking countries (but probably 1/3 of those are not native speakers). So only about 30 to 40% of Westerners are in fact native English speakers (and again why not address them in French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc. ?).

epigene
Feb 24, 2005, 11:14
Ah that's why those school kids asked me all those questions about how I liked the city when I was in Nara ! I thought they were asking Japanese people too (I think I talked to them in Japanese anyway). If I was the director of the school I would fire the teacher(s) for teaching kids that any foreign-looking person speaks English. Combining the population of Western countries (Europe, Russia, North America, Australia, NZ), there are about 960 million people, and only about 400 million live in English-speaking countries (but probably 1/3 of those are not native speakers). So only about 30 to 40% of Westerners are in fact native English speakers (and again why not address them in French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc. ?).
I understand your complaint perfectly. After seeing countless bizarre episodes, I have become resigned to the situation and actually find them amusing.

I think most Japanese think that if they speak English, they will be able to communicate with most everybody! (Japanese assumption: All foreigners speak English in addition to their respective native languages.)

When I worked at an office, I was forced to handle every foreign caller, including Europeans and Russians who did not speak English!! :bawling:

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 11:56
I understand your complaint perfectly. After seeing countless bizarre episodes, I have become resigned to the situation and actually find them amusing.

Well I don't mind answering the kids' question at all. What angers me is the ideas they are inculcated by the teachers (read : Ministry of Education) from a young age. I am appalled that people in charge at the government should tell teachers nationwide to brainwash children with such prejudiced views.


When I worked at an office, I was forced to handle every foreign caller, including Europeans and Russians who did not speak English!! :bawling:

I want to cry too, hearing such things... :bawling:

Elizabeth
Feb 24, 2005, 12:04
I am bit pessimistic about the prospect for the future. The situation may indeed change as more foreigners learn Japanese, more Japanese speak English, etc. but the image of the foreigners may only change in areas with a high-density of foreigners like Central Tokyo. I think it will take longer for it to change in rural areas or less cosmopolitan cities or suburbs. Then there is always this Japanese attitude of the "soto vs uchi" which doesn't facilitate the integration of foreigners.
And even in Central Tokyo I've heard even Koreans and Chinese born and raised in Japan, speaking only Japanese, are treated with extreme prejudice and disregard....much worse than the relative 'hospitality' Europeans and Americans are accorded. So the poll options are a unrealistic and limited not only regarding Japanese English skills but strains of assimilation and accomodation in more outlying areas. And even in Tokyo and other major centers, far from insisting on English or simple Japanese you find some people obviously unused to foreigners who apparently don't even understand how to simplify their speech and who repeat the same explanations over and over in natural language until it becomes a silly game of who gets more exhausted first... :relief:

quiet sunshine
Feb 24, 2005, 12:51
I found an interesting topic which is a little similar to Maciamo's experience, in that topic, the foreigner in China felt puzzled about why Chinese didn't talk back at him in Chinese. I'd like to post the link here, but I don't know if it's a proper way, if it is not, please delete my post.
Here's the link:http://bbs.chinadaily.com.cn/forumpost.shtml?toppid=28296

lexico
Feb 24, 2005, 13:35
I remember vividly. There was only one empty seat at the table (it was one of those shops with a bar-like seating style). All of the (Japanese) customers turned around to face the door, stared at me with a petrified expression, and then almost immediately started turning to each other saying things like "Oh no, I can't sit next to him! I don't know English!" "You got good English grades in high school! You sit next to him!" "No, no, no -- you're taking English conversation classes, aren't you? You sit next to him!"...I don't like making people uncomfortable, and I don't like drawing attention to myself, but simply by virtue of my mere _presence_ as a foreigner.What you say reminds me of when I boarded a plane among a few new passengers at Soko Airport (San Francisco) originating from some small city in central US. The plane was half full, all caucasian looking, and they looked rather homogenous as I recall.

As I began wiggling my way to my seat, I couldn't fail to notice the many pairs of eyes turning towards me. I am not much of a spectacle either this way or that, so I was a bit surprised, but I pretended that I didn't notice them lest they should feel embarassed. They almost immediatedly turned their eyes the other way as if they had found something else interesting.

Since this all happened simultaneously and in a forced manner, I understood that it was my Asian feature that grabbed their curiosity. Plain courtesy dictating, "don't stare at people; it's rude." Innocent eyes don't lie, and one little child about the age of 5 stared at me as long as he could for about 10-15 seconds savoring every moment of my visage. I sat alone laughing to myself, wishing them a pleasant flight. :D
Similar scenes could be seen in the Korean setting some yrs ago (before 1990's), and they usually involved people getting all excited about having to deal with a foreigner. It was more of an unusual experience that they enjoyed more than feared.

Now it is definitely a thing of the past. Not many people are either very afraid or hyperconscious of dealing with a foreinger. There are many Koreans fluent in foreign languages, and the same goes for foreigners in Korea. It is always amusing to see a foreigner on TV speaking spanking fluent Korean, but there are so many of them. It's quite natural to see Koreans speak an assortment of foreign languages. There's no governing rule if you're coming this way.

EDIT: I asked my children and nephew in 7th, 4th, and 2nd grade, if they were instructed to address a foreigner in any particular language or manner. They said they don't remember being taught anything in that line. As far as I remember, I don't remember anything myself. This should be only natural. If the majority could not speak a foreign language, it would not make sense forcing them to. If many of them spoke some foreign language, it would still make no sense in telling everyone to speak either English, Japanese, Chinese, or other, because everybody's different. Korean schools don't bother with that problem letting each individual do what seems right at the moment.

lexico
Feb 24, 2005, 14:18
Let me disagree with that. As you said in point (1) : English Rules ! I have never seen a Japanese trying to address a person who was visibly Italian, South American, Chinese or Indian in their own language. In my case, I have never been addressed in French rather than English even by my wife's friends who knew I spoke French (but also English and Japanese, so maybe that's why).Yes, that is noticeably one of the weak links in my argument which still makes me wonder. Before the end of WWII, it was French that ruled ! President Wilson's delegates to the league of nations (?) had to rely on French speaking secretaries to handle international meetings. Also many techincal terms in medicine, law, philosophy, chemistry seem to derive from German.

There must have been Japanese scholars and translators fluent in these languages. There were great westernising movements via Dutch and Portuguese earlier. What happened to those traditions in Japan ? That's really something that I would like to know. When did Japan become English dominated regarding foreign languages and foreigners ? Captain Perry's expedition ?

Why do we not hear much of the Japanese bilinguals or polyglots which must exist somewhere (Yes, on the forum we have misa.j and epigene, but there should be more.) Is it another aspect of Japanese culture to excercise extreme modesty and keep silent ? Is the pressure to confrom so strong in Japan ?
The main reason is that most Japanese just can't speak any other language than English. But even when they can, they tend to suppose that all foreigners (Westerners at least) speak English anyway - probably because many Europeans do, and many Singaporians, Malaysians, HKers, etc also do - but many also don't ! I've heard that, too, and you are probably right in pointing that out. I think knowing why and how this uniform perception is being perpetuated is crucial to the solution. It may turn out that the king isn't naked after all, but all too well dressed. I really don't know what to think of this strange phenomenon???

-Yu-
Feb 24, 2005, 15:13
I haven't read all of what is written here, it seems to take a lot of time,,,,

Anyway, I just want to say this


Why Japanese people do not speak Japanese to a foreigner looking person, I think this is partly because of the attitude of some English-speaking people in Japan. For example in Yokosuka there are tons of Americans due to the location of their Military bases/residences. When I was in a live-performing place with my friend, there were many western-looking people, from the accent of their language, I think they were all American, plus it's natural they were there. There was a guy by himself and looked kind of bored before live performance started. He was trying to speak to Japanese ( he can speak only Eglish), but they refused to do, the common way, saying something noone would understand, smiling for no reason and slowly going away from him. When he came to me, I responsed to him in English and we started conversation which I didn't really feel like doing at the time cause I was with a friend who can't understand English. After talking for about 10 to 15 minutes or something I politely said " I'm sorry, I'm with my friend now, so I should stop talking with you" so we stopped. I'm saying he could see I was with a friend and he couldn't understand English since he was silent.


After some bands finished, one band informed us of where and where their next live would be in Japanese, then some american guys started screaming "TRANSLATION!!!", I honestly didn't really like their attitude, as if they deserved to have a translater everytime they needed.

I think, this kind of atiitude makes Japanese feel responsibe to be able to speak English.Well, it can be conversed, English-speaking people see Japanese always trying to speak English, this fact indulges them?What do you think?

epigene
Feb 24, 2005, 16:28
There must have been Japanese scholars and translators fluent in these languages. There were great westernising movements via Dutch and Portuguese earlier. What happened to those traditions in Japan ? That's really something that I would like to know. When did Japan become English dominated regarding foreign languages and foreigners ? Captain Perry's expedition ?
I can't speak for all Japanese, but I think Western heritage via the Dutch and Portuguese is now remote memory. Perry is just a name in history books. (He didn't bring high-tech things with him, just demonstration of power by firing canons from his ships.)
For the middle-aged and elderly, the greatest impact was defeat in WWII. You can find a very accurate observation of how the Japanese saw the Americans in the postwar years in John Dowers' "Embracing Defeat." I have heard of episodes almost identical to what was written in the book from my relatives and other Japanese I have known in person. The impact of American wealth was immense--Hersheys chocolate bars, chewing gum, ice cream, American pop music and Hollywood movies.

My mother learned to pronounce English by singing Doris Day songs. My husband said he thought all American women looked like either Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe. With more than four years of hunger and destitute living, the Japanese were certainly overwhelmed by the Americans. Also because General Douglas MacArthur was a "benevolent" ruler, the Japanese embraced American occupation eagerly. The drive to work and build the economy most probably stems from the desire to live like the Americans. That was so with my parents and many others. See, there was no significant European presence there. To the Japanese, the world consisted of "the Americans and us." Combined with the insular tendency of the country, I think it's pretty natural for the Japanese to be what they turned out to be.

As jt_san mentioned, we hope to see more open-mindedness in the younger generations, as they get more information and see more of the rest of the world.


Why do we not hear much of the Japanese bilinguals or polyglots which must exist somewhere (Yes, on the forum we have misa.j and epigene, but there should be more.) Is it another aspect of Japanese culture to excercise extreme modesty and keep silent ? Is the pressure to confrom so strong in Japan ?
I think it's not a very deeply important issue. In Japan, people with advanced language skills are in great demand and are very busy. (I myself should be working right now but got addicted to this forum. :relief: ) I have a lot of bilingual friends and co-workers, but they're not modest or conforming--just too busy!! I would never have posted here if it weren't for a Google search I did for my research into the rising popularity of Japanese anime and manga. I wasn't really interested in discussing Japanese affairs until now. I got hooked to the interesting people here! (I minimize this window when someone approaches me. :relief: )

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 22:15
... For example in Yokosuka there are tons of Americans due to the location of their Military bases/residences. When I was in a live-performing place with my friend, there were many western-looking people, from the accent of their language, I think they were all American, plus it's natural they were there.
...
After some bands finished, one band informed us of where and where their next live would be in Japanese, then some american guys started screaming "TRANSLATION!!!", I honestly didn't really like their attitude, as if they deserved to have a translater everytime they needed.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Yu.

I think Japanese shouldn't feel responsible to translate for foreigners, especially those "GI Joes" you mentioned that behave like in occupied land (and certainly believe that Japan is still occupied, or otherwise they wouldn't be there). I am pretty annoyed that a bunch of US soldiers should set the standard of the "typical Westerner" in Japan, because these people usually (there are exceptions, though) share little in common with people genuinely interested in Japan and its culture. The first difference being their reluctance to learn Japanese.

kirei_na_me
Feb 24, 2005, 22:19
Thanks for sharing this with us, Yu.

I think Japanese shouldn't feel responsible to translate for foreigners, especially those "GI Joes" you mentioned that behave like in occupied land (and certainly believe that Japan is still occupied, or otherwise they wouldn't be there). I am pretty annoyed that a bunch of US soldiers should set the standard of the "typical Westerner" in Japan, because these people usually (there are exceptions, though) share little in common with people genuinely interested in Japan and its culture. The first difference being their reluctance to learn Japanese.

Yeah, and a lot of those same guys expect to get a Japanese gf/wife. :okashii:

DoctorP
Feb 24, 2005, 22:23
Well, that goes along with them having the belief that all people love Americans and anything American! Understand that the American male typically doesn't mature quite as well as other males...not quite sure why this is, but we tend to stay pretty immature for quite a long time (yes I said WE!). There are exceptions, but as a whole, once they move away from home...many tend to "cut loose" for a period. For some this is 6 months to a year...for others it may be 30 years! Either way, many people form their opinions on what they see and assume that everyone is like that

Maciamo
Feb 24, 2005, 22:35
For the middle-aged and elderly, the greatest impact was defeat in WWII. You can find a very accurate observation of how the Japanese saw the Americans in the postwar years in John Dowers' "Embracing Defeat." I have heard of episodes almost identical to what was written in the book from my relatives and other Japanese I have known in person. The impact of American wealth was immense--Hersheys chocolate bars, chewing gum, ice cream, American pop music and Hollywood movies.

My mother learned to pronounce English by singing Doris Day songs. My husband said he thought all American women looked like either Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe. With more than four years of hunger and destitute living, the Japanese were certainly overwhelmed by the Americans. Also because General Douglas MacArthur was a "benevolent" ruler, the Japanese embraced American occupation eagerly. The drive to work and build the economy most probably stems from the desire to live like the Americans. That was so with my parents and many others.


Very interesting explanation, Epigene ! :cool:

Indeed, the American influence in the aftermath of WWII was tremendous, and there was little European presence (as Europe needed to be rebuilt too).
But that was a few decades ago. Nowadays there are more European residents than American ones in Japan, and as there are much less European companies in Japan (due to the restrictons until recently, which did not apply to the US), there are also less expats, and thus a higher percentage of people who come to Japan for the culture and people rather than just business. Maybe it's time for Japanese to start differentiate not only tourists from residents, but primarily "cultural residents" from primarily "business residents", whatever country they come from.

Hiroyuki Nagashima
Feb 24, 2005, 23:51
I can't describe how terrible this made me feel. I had never experienced (and never thought I would have to experience) a group of adults being so absolutely and completely petrified of me. It made me feel ill and I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, but I thought it would be rude to just walk out of the shop, so I sat down and ate anyway. Still, I was really too shaken to enjoy my meal at all. Once they found out that I spoke some Japanese (though this was quite a while ago and my Japanese wasn't at the level that it is now), they relaxed a little bit, but this didn't really help. I mean, I felt miserable -- mostly because of what I felt like I had done to these people. I felt like I had ruined their evening just by my deciding to try out this place's okonomiyaki. They had been eating, drinking, and having a good time, until my presence sent the whole place into a panic.



When I traveled in Germany, I had a similar experience. :blush:
When I traveled in the German southeast on a motorcycle in 1995.
The salesclerk solidified with the visitor who was in the shop where I entered in a supermarket. :D
The others
When I camped in the suburbs of Berlin, it was surrounded by children.
They did a gesture to insult an Asian. :okashii:
I introduce myself with the machine which I translate for German
They were surprised very much. :blush:
They looked in me for curiosity the next day.
It was interesting experience. :cool:

Leroy_Brown
Feb 25, 2005, 05:06
My daughter is more energetic and chose another alternative. She made sure she was the first to spot a foreigner, ran to the person, apologize and inform him/her that her classmates will soon come to flood the person with silly questions and ask his/her permission. This succeeded, and the tourists told her they had fun answering the questions! (This is followed by "20 Questions" toward her (reverse of what Pachipro-san described in his post)--oh, you speak English very well! Where did you learn to speak...etc., etc.

That's cute. And very considerate of your daughter.

"classmates will soon come to flood the person with silly questions"

like "Is this a pen?" LOL!

Only problem is, again, what if you run into Gaijin-san who doesn't speak English? WHose problem does it become then?

Emoni
Feb 25, 2005, 06:47
If I see an Asian person in the U.S., I'm going to speak English to him/her.

What's the big deal?

Why should foreigners get special treatment in Japan? If you're going to live in Japan, you should learn the language.

Besides, there are many foreigners, I assume, in Japan who don't speak English either, so why should the Japanese sweat over what language they should speak to foreigners?

Agreed. You're other point of not every foreigner speaking English is also true. I'm signed up for a study abroad program to Japan, and the program includes international students throughout the world... which of course counts non-english speakers.

As for the requirement of speaking Japanese to live in Japan, I think it just makes common sense. You are going to be severely limiting yourself and creating a lot of problems if you don't learn the language of the country you live in. Of course you can go to the subject of the requirement of speaking English in America, but really it gets down to personal oppertunities. If you don't speak the language you are going to hinder yourself a great deal when there are just too many benefits to learning the language of the country you are in.

I'm not sure what to expect in Japan when I/if I go. I expect a mix of people who may assume I speak English (if they speak it as well) and those who will quickly find out how limited my Japanese is. I will be going to Japan mostly to raise my language skill so I will welcome those trying to speak Japanese with me, and I hope they will have lots of patience! (I'm trying! It's not an easy language to learn though!) It will be especially interesting using Japanese to communicate as between other international students who I don't expect speak much English. There is a lot I can only expect.

epigene
Feb 25, 2005, 07:10
Very interesting explanation, Epigene ! :cool:

Indeed, the American influence in the aftermath of WWII was tremendous, and there was little European presence (as Europe needed to be rebuilt too).
But that was a few decades ago. Nowadays there are more European residents than American ones in Japan, and as there are much less European companies in Japan (due to the restrictons until recently, which did not apply to the US), there are also less expats, and thus a higher percentage of people who come to Japan for the culture and people rather than just business. Maybe it's time for Japanese to start differentiate not only tourists from residents, but primarily "cultural residents" from primarily "business residents", whatever country they come from.

Maciamo-san, it comes back again to the sense of inferiority that developed from this experience. The people who are now in their sixties and fifties grew up seeing all of this in action--through personal experiences, through the media, through their parents (and schoolteachers) who displayed their awe toward the Americans. PM Koizumi is in that generation. Many in the position of leadership today belong to this generation.

This hangup was represented by the term 戦後.
Although a prime minister (Ikeda Hayato, I think) claimed many decades ago that the "postwar period" is already over fpr the Japanese. It is still ingrained in the Japanese psyche of the older generations. Today, the pursuit of American style of life has evolved into the pursuit of American (and European) quality of life (in social welfare, infrastructure, etc.). Japan still walks with dregs of "sengo" hanging from its back. That is why I have hopes for the younger generations who have less, if any, memory of that.

As for the growing number of "cultural" residents you have pointed out, you may notice more because you are European--that is, you can identify the nationality of a Western-looking person in most cases because of your experience and knowledge. To many Japanese, all Westerners look American/British/Canadian. I'm pretty sure quite a lot of Japanese can't even distinguish between English and other European languages because their brains start to malfunction in front of foreigners! :emblaugh:

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I don't see so many as you claim, living every day within my radius of activity (except through work).

Maciamo
Feb 25, 2005, 11:16
Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I don't see so many as you claim, living every day within my radius of activity (except through work).

I don't often meet Westerners ("see" yes, but "talk to", rarely) in Japan, but it's usually easy to tell from the facial expression, features, style, etc. where they are from. Can't miss an Italian for example. :p Among the Westerners I have talked to, there were more Europeans and Australians than Americans.

epigene
Feb 25, 2005, 12:53
Hummm...

Maciamo-san, I myself can't tell the difference between an Italian and an Italian American (or British and American of English blood) from appearance only...:?

If you really can tell, it probably is based on your extensive intercultural experience, which you assume as a given. I can tell the difference between a Japanese and Japanese American but am not that familiar with people of European ancestry...

Because I have more intercultural experience than my relations and the ordinary Japanese I meet on a daily basis, I'm certain most Japanese can't tell the nationality of Westerners.

lexico
Feb 25, 2005, 16:18
Epigene & Maciamo-sans!

Reading your posts have taught me so much about what is going on in Japan.
I should probably have to go there myself and spend some time there to get a real feel of it, but I'm getting a pretty good idea of the varied experiences that I'll get.

Face recognition that you are discussing seems to be highly influenced by experience and culture. I've noticed new arrivals from Asia to the US have a hard time telling non-Asian people apart unless they met the same person quite frequently. Eventhough my wife spent 7 years in the US, she still says this person looks like that person which I cannot agree, but that's because her vision has not been taught to distinguish them. She studied graphic arts, so it's not her vision that's causing her inability.

On another note, the "sengo" psychology that you mentioned, and all the details of it including the hyper-reaction to the Western-looking foreigner might take some time to lessen and to eventually disappear. Are there any art forms that deal with the "sengo" physchology regarding foreigners?

Theatre, film, comedy, manga; these things seem to be possible art forms to express (or to seriously make fun of) the uncomfortableness and foreignness of dealing with a Westerner, which might be quite effective at raising awareness of the problem. If they can amuse and make people laugh, we are one step closer to a rational solution. Are you aware of any ?

lexico
Feb 25, 2005, 16:29
When I traveled in Germany, I had a similar experience. :blush:
When I traveled in the German southeast on a motorcycle in 1995.
The salesclerk solidified with the visitor who was in the shop where I entered in a supermarket. :D
The others
When I camped in the suburbs of Berlin, it was surrounded by children.
They did a gesture to insult an Asian. :okashii:
I introduce myself with the machine which I translate for German
They were surprised very much. :blush:
They looked in me for curiosity the next day.
It was interesting experience. :cool:What you say is a real interesting story. :cool:
I had a good laugh, and learned something, too.
It appears that those children wanted to connect with an Asian-looking person by saying their children's natural sign of hello=friendly insult! :relief:
And I liked part when they came to you the next day because they wanted to know.
It's not all bad, and you seemed to have taken it all with good humor!
My wife's aunt lives in Germany.
I can only imagine what she's been thru in some remote parts of the country.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
I'm amused when I think those German children will keep thinking that all Japanese people a serious bikers, carry a machine translator, friendly, and extrmemely patient and understanding, which is partially true!!
You are a brave man!! :cool:

TheKansaiKid
Mar 20, 2005, 13:55
I don't mind how I'm approached while overseas wether it be in the native tongue or English. I have blonde hair and blue eyes, generally Japanese think I will not understand them if they talk to me in Japanese and from the foreigners I met while in Japan I would say that was a fair assumption. Some guy I met at a Styx concert in Osaka said to me "ya I've been here 4 years now and have a pretty good handle on the language" then I heard him order a beer in Japanese and it sounded closer to English than Japanese his pronounciation was horrific and he thought himself fluent. Does it hurt my feelings a bit when I ask a question in Japanese and am answered in English well maybe a bit but hey that person spent a lot of time studying English they want to use it. Is it rude? I think rude is in the heart of the partyinvolved. If they honestly are just trying to do their best to communicate with you, I think a good round of charades now and then is entertaining. I will always bend over backwards to think higher of a person then try to assign them negative traits like; rude, ignorant, backward, prejudiced. I hope others give me the same consderation when I inadvertantly do something they don't like.

Maciamo
Mar 21, 2005, 10:00
I don't mind how I'm approached while overseas wether it be in the native tongue or English. I have blonde hair and blue eyes, generally Japanese think I will not understand them if they talk to me in Japanese and from the foreigners I met while in Japan I would say that was a fair assumption. Some guy I met at a Styx concert in Osaka said to me "ya I've been here 4 years now and have a pretty good handle on the language" then I heard him order a beer in Japanese and it sounded closer to English than Japanese his pronounciation was horrific and he thought himself fluent. Does it hurt my feelings a bit when I ask a question in Japanese and am answered in English well maybe a bit but hey that person spent a lot of time studying English they want to use it. Is it rude? I think rude is in the heart of the partyinvolved. If they honestly are just trying to do their best to communicate with you, I think a good round of charades now and then is entertaining. I will always bend over backwards to think higher of a person then try to assign them negative traits like; rude, ignorant, backward, prejudiced. I hope others give me the same consderation when I inadvertantly do something they don't like.

I think you haven't grasped that the main purpose of this poll/thread was that many (older) Japanese won't even address you in any language. Don't assume that the question " Should all Japanese directly address foreigners in Japanese ?" means that they can only address us in Japanese or English. As I said (if you read my posts), what I dislike the most is to be met with gestures or people writing numbers to me in shops when I address them in Japanese (and I think anybody who knows me can say that my Japanese pronuciation isn't bad - on the phone I have even been mistaken for a Japanese as long as I don't say something a bit unnatural for a native speaker).

I also dislike complete strangers who just walk to me and start practising their English on me. In fact I dislike any stranger starting talking to me for no reason (if they want to ask me the way, it's no problem though). There is no reason to start a conversation with somebody you don't know in the street. But I think Americans and Australians usually do that (from my experience). We discussed that in another thread (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=14465) (see posts #9 and #11).

It may be due to a cultural difference, but I find that responding to someone who talks to you in your language with gestures, like if he/she was a monkey, is very rude. Starting to talk to a stranger in the street, in this case to a Westerner in the hop to practice English is odd, annoying and somewhat rude.

TheKansaiKid
Mar 21, 2005, 17:45
sure they may over gesture when they speak to you, but my point is look at it from their side. The older people who won't say a word were indoctrinated that all foreigners were monsters coming to their land to pillage and destroy, sure they found that was wrong but it has to leave some psychological scars, so if I freak them out and they feel I can't communicate with me I'll choose to say it's just not that big of a deal. Old or young, if they act foolishly when they speak to me I don't take it as a personal affront I assume something in their past causes them to act this foolish way and its simply not MY problem but THEIRS.


And you're right those damn yanks and Auzzies are too friendly they need to learn some manners and be more standoffish after all they are guests here.


Look, I just think giving EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt is a more comfortable way of living on this crowded little ball of mud we call earth.

Maciamo
Mar 22, 2005, 12:17
sure they may over gesture when they speak to you, but my point is look at it from their side. The older people who won't say a word were indoctrinated that all foreigners were monsters coming to their land to pillage and destroy, sure they found that was wrong but it has to leave some psychological scars, so if I freak them out and they feel I can't communicate with me I'll choose to say it's just not that big of a deal.

Only those born and raised before 1945 would be indoctrinated in such a way. That means only people who are over 70 now, but I was talking of people who are still working, so mostly in their 50's or 60's (raised with the Americanised education system of post-WWII).


Old or young, if they act foolishly when they speak to me I don't take it as a personal affront I assume something in their past causes them to act this foolish way and its simply not MY problem but THEIRS.

Maybe I should take it like this too.


And you're right those damn yanks and Auzzies are too friendly they need to learn some manners and be more standoffish after all they are guests here.

No, not what I meant. I think Americans and Australians anywhere (not only in Japan) are more easy-going in their approach of strangers, in a way that sometimes make me feel quite uncomfortable. But it doesn't really matter. Just an observation :p

FireyRei
Mar 23, 2005, 23:52
I'm literally vexed with being spoken to in English, it is simply demotivating me to not bother with Japanese at all when most Japanese people who speak with foreigners merely want to practise their English, period. I speak Japanese, they respond in English, how fooking stupid can a MF be?

dadako
Mar 25, 2005, 11:57
just don't speak.

you can't make anyone do anything, thankfully most humans don't get hung up on methods of communication. Because at the end of the day, if you can both understand each other, it doesn't matter what language is being spoken.

I've often been approached in the street by japanese people, ranting in english. Although try to do that in the UK to a japanese person and they will run a mile.

alexriversan
Mar 30, 2005, 20:15
for tourists it is o.k. if they are addressed in english.

sometimes hotel staff etc. will greet in japanese, immediately after that in english as well. this is an assumption.

this would let the customer choose:
to reply in japanese shows japanese is understood.
to reply in japanese and add information about little knowledge (i.e. "i do not speak japanese") expresses good will/politeness.
to reply in english simply shows one does not speak/understand japanese at all.

people who stay longer should give up the dresscode where they came from, especially if it is out of fashion, including everything: clothing, items, shoes. even to avoid places especially designed for foreigners, except on purpose to meet such persons. i know the sentence "such persons" sound a little bit cold.

if one does not look like a tourist, running around with camera and big outlandish watch, one can expect to be addressed in japanese, or should initiate the communication in short english sentences.

japanese initiating communication to foreigners can perform the "double greeting" to offer a choice.

non-japanese should not use gestures as this is inpolite. but sometimes it is difficult to be understood even in "england", it is usual to point on desired items. to point on people is something very rude, needless to say.

personally i have never been to japan.
i do not expect communication difficulties.
not more than i have right now.

my hope is this post will decrease "peoples un-knowing-ness how to behave". most things are easy to understand. it is good if people ask and not a shame not to know something. one who not asks stays un-knowing forever.

Bramicus
May 3, 2005, 06:58
I would have no problem with Japanese asking me whether I speak Japanese, or just assuming I don't at first, because I look like a Westerner -- who, after all, don't usually speak Japanese. Not only wouldn't I take offense, I would consider it friendly of them to ask.

However, I can't understand why they would continue to use sign language even after being addressed in fluent Japanese. Is there some reason they would feel uncomfortable speaking Japanese to a Westerner? Anyway, I would think saying something (to the Japanese person making monkey gestures) like, "nihongo ga hanasemasen ka?" would solve the problem -- wouldn't it? Apparently, from reading the above, it appears not. I wonder why?

As for Japanese people speaking English to me while I'm speaking Japanese to them, I have no problem with that either. Why shouldn't they be able to practice their English speaking to me while I'm "practicing" my Japanese speaking to them? Fine with me. Besides, if they believe I speak English they may, from their point of view, believe they're being courteous by speaking my native language, so I wouldn't take offense at that.

As for people who just wander over to you and start speaking English when you don't wish them to, I would think a simple "sumimasen, eigo ga wakarimasen" would solve that problem. :-)

Kama
May 3, 2005, 17:16
I haven't been in Japan, yet, but I already had similar kind of problem.

on one page for penpals I said that I speak english and japanese. Guy some years older than me (2X) in a mail asked me if I speak japanese, cause he doesn't speak english too well. I wrote back in Japanese, of course I heard "your japanese is good". some words, like ore were translated. next mail he translated ore again. :D he asked if I know shimauta. I said yes, I know. And told him that The Boom's vocalist was performing it in Poland, and that I heard shimauta before this because I'm interested in Okinawa. in the next mail he wrote that shimauta is an okinawan song. :D and he translated words like "umi" "tori" "kaze" from the first verse of the song and also "ore". :mad: :eek: After I wrote him that of course I know about this, because as I said earlier I'm interested in Okinawa, he never wrote mail to me. And that's good, I suppose. :relief: I don't want to be treated like an idiot.

This was the only one situation like this. I have some friends from Japan, and they didn't ever treat me like this. Quite the opposite, unless I say clearly that I don't know/don't understand what they are talking about they assume I know/understand everything. We speak english, when I can't understand/say what I want to say in Japanese. I like it better this way.

Earlier, I was amazed with the things you were writing, I couldn't believe it. Sadly, I do believe it now.

Maciamo
May 3, 2005, 19:35
As for Japanese people speaking English to me while I'm speaking Japanese to them, I have no problem with that either. Why shouldn't they be able to practice their English speaking to me while I'm "practicing" my Japanese speaking to them? Fine with me. Besides, if they believe I speak English they may, from their point of view, believe they're being courteous by speaking my native language, so I wouldn't take offense at that.

This is because you live in the States, and when you meet Japanese people it is either to practise you Japanese or make friends. But if you were living in Japan, use Japanese on a daily basis for practical reasons, you don't want to have to start decoding the broken English of the shop assistant that serves you, or like Index said, the nurse/doctor that treats you.
1) You are not there to socialise.
2) It's annoying when you can't make head of tail of what they are saying but could understand easily if they just spoke Japanese.
3) They shouldn't suppose that all Westerners speak English (2/3 of white people in the world do not have English as their mother-tongue, and maybe 1/3 doesn't speak English at all).
4) If you talk back to them in English and they don't understand, what do you do ? Go to another shop, hospital, company or government office ? (well, I have to admit that it never happened to me in a government office, especially not at the immigration office where it is most needed).

Maciamo
May 3, 2005, 19:50
for tourists it is o.k. if they are addressed in english.

sometimes hotel staff etc. will greet in japanese, immediately after that in english as well. this is an assumption.

I agree. I don't mind being addresses in English in touristical places, especially luxury hotels where the staff should speak at least English fluently. That's their job. I just hate it when I address someone in Japanese, and although they can't make a comprehensible sentence in English, they won't talk to me in Japanese, but in unintelligible babblish or with gestures. That's the only issue raised in this thread.


people who stay longer should give up the dresscode where they came from, especially if it is out of fashion, including everything: clothing, items, shoes.

Wouldn't make any difference. All my clothes were purchased in Japan (mostly Japanese brands). Most people cannot tell the difference anyway.


even to avoid places especially designed for foreigners, except on purpose to meet such persons.

I almost never go to places for foreigners (Roppongi, Shibuya...). Anyway, I wouldn't have a problem with being addressed or talked back in English in such places. When it's the old woman of the local dry cleaning that won't speak to you at all, what can you do ?


if one does not look like a tourist, running around with camera and big outlandish watch, one can expect to be addressed in japanese, or should initiate the communication in short english sentences.

Not true ! I have never looked like a tourist in Japan, except when my family came to Japan and I showed them around. No matter how I dress (suit, casual...), there are places where it's unavoidable, and it's usually in places where they rarely meet foreigners. I often go to Ginza, but never had any problem with people who don't want to talk to me in Japanese there.

Anyhow, recently I haven't had any such problems. There are bad periods. Now I just avoid any shop with an old, lower-class person, as they are the most likely people to make gestures or feign not to understand me. Never had problem with young people (up to their 20's) in fact.

I guess there are just too many old, traditional-minded (narrow-minded) people near where I live. That's what irritates me. Let us not forget that 20% of the Japanese population is over 60 years old, and in my immediate neighbourhood it's well over 50% (among residents, without counting the people working in nearby companies). I could just move somewhere else - but shitamachi has its advantages (15min by bike from Ginza).

Bramicus
May 3, 2005, 23:32
But if you use Japanese on a daily basis for practical reasons, you don't want to have to start decoding the broken English of the shop assistant that serves you, or like Index said, the nurse/doctor that treats you. You are not there to socialise. It's annoying when you can't make head of tail of what they are saying but could understand easily if they just spoke Japanese. If you talk back to them in English and they don't understand, what do you do ? Go to another shop, hospital, company or government office?

I'm sorry, I thought you said you speak Japanese fluently. If you can't understand their English, why don't you just tell them (in Japanese) that you can't understand them well, and ask them to speak Japanese? If you think that would be too offensive, and you don't want to offend them, you could say that you don't remember your English well anymore, or (if you don't know them) just say you don't understand English. What's the problem?

zeroyon
May 4, 2005, 16:42
Whenever I meet foreigners in the USA or Canada, I talk to them in English first, as if I assumed that they would speak English. If it seems that they are having trouble speaking english... THEN I ask them if they can speak english. and if they cannot... i try to communicate with them in their native language, if I know any of it, that is.

I would prefer to have this used on me as well in other countries. If i am going to visit or live in another country, I would like to feel as a part of the country than to be singled out as a weird individual. So when I visit japan, I would prefer a japanese person to address me in japanese, and if i can't understand him/her, then for them to ask if i can speak japanese, and If i can't speak it (even though i can speak an okay amount), then try to converse with me in my native language. It wouldn't make me feel so odd, and like the "ugly ducking / weird foreigner", and more as a part of society. That is why I follow that method for forigners here.

I think its rude to ask anyone right off the bat if they can speak the native country language without knowing if they can or not.... it kind of makes me feel that the person thinks i am dumber than he/she is when i am asked that. Which is why I don't do it, and I think the japanese shouldn't as well. I kinda clicked the wrong button on the poll...

remember that this is completely in my own opinion, and doesn't mean im right :-)

Also... i wouldn't really be offended being spoken to in english by a japanese person in japan while im speaking to them in japanese. I see it as japan is a mostly homogeneous society, and japanese people rarley have a chance to practice their english as people living in countries with a largely mixed population do. Sure... a lot of them will probably think that im a dumb foreigner, and they can't speak japanese to me becuase i won't understand them unless they use english... but I won't look at it that way so won't bother me :cool:

alexriversan
May 8, 2005, 22:29
what about to prepare an office for new workers:

fitted with:

a large box of banana's
typewriter
old-fashioned ink based pens
a list with obviously unnecessary work tasks, which requires months
computer terminal, which does not operate properly

and to watch the facial expression, when the candiate enters?

this says more than a sophisticated essay.

a japanese would: happily begin to eat the banana's, and would start to draw manga.

------------

of course, i am not that cruel. i let people play old-fashioned games, especially these ones, which were stupid even for their time.

for hours, of course. if they do not have fun, well that's it.

because i burst out into laughter because of the stupidity once... now, i got an idea...

and, of course, i make a hi-score board, check mark: cheated/saved/played through authentically to be ticked in by the player. i use to save, sometimes.

cyber ape
May 11, 2005, 23:35
Just speak Japanese. If it is apparent that they do not understand Japanese, and the designated Japanese stranger does not know their native language, it is best they do not persist, right?

cheryl.ak
Dec 20, 2005, 11:33
I actually had an experience like this..but in Nice, France. Most people would automatically assume I was an American (I don't know how they guessed it so well... lol ) and they wouldn't even try speaking to me. It kind of blew the whole idea of practice makes perfect. But! One lady in a clothing store tried to speak French to me and I gestured that I couldn't understand her. She said something like, oh.. and walked off!! :auch:
If I'm visiting a country.. personally, I think it's better if someone first speaks to me in their language, maybe dumb it down for me. Then I can at least say I tried to communicate.. and it's more fun that way, isn't it??

Maciamo
Dec 21, 2005, 01:27
I actually had an experience like this..but in Nice, France. Most people would automatically assume I was an American (I don't know how they guessed it so well... lol ) and they wouldn't even try speaking to me.

But it's not so much a problem in that case as you are American (from your flag). And believe me, it can be quite easy to spot some Americans in France.:p The problem would have been if they all started talking German to you... :D

cheryl.ak
Dec 26, 2005, 22:38
The problem would have been if they all started talking German to you... :D

In that case...I would have just pretended that I understood.
:? You know, nod every so often.
I've done that a bit before with Japanese.. If I can't follow what someone says to me... I just try and look smart. :emblaugh:

Bucko
Dec 29, 2005, 20:39
I don't really have too many problems with Eigo-bandits nor people addressing me in English here in Osaka. In Osaka I've never had anyone try to blatently practice their English on me. I occasionally have people make small friendly comments to me in English, but never an attempt at conversation. Although last week a pervy old dude approached my girlfriend and asked if he could practice his English on her, who she politely ingnored, but this was the first time that type of this has happened to either of us. Is this a Tokyo thing? I use to live in Kawasaki but that's when Japan was totally new to me. Has anyone here lived in both Tokyo and Osaka? If so, is there a difference in the language culture?

Elizabeth
Dec 29, 2005, 21:39
I don't really have too many problems with Eigo-bandits nor people addressing me in English here in Osaka. In Osaka I've never had anyone try to blatently practice their English on me. I occasionally have people make small friendly comments to me in English, but never an attempt at conversation. Although last week a pervy old dude approached my girlfriend and asked if he could practice his English on her, who she politely ingnored, but this was the first time that type of this has happened to either of us. Is this a Tokyo thing? I use to live in Kawasaki but that's when Japan was totally new to me. Has anyone here lived in both Tokyo and Osaka? If so, is there a difference in the language culture?
It may explain other aspects of your experience too but Kansai people are well-known for the fierceness of their cultural pride, I would personally say even to the point of rudeness or bias but that's for another discussion, and strong defense of the dialect and traditions....in light of that I guess any reluctance to speak English it isn't too surprising.

yaminohaka
Jan 7, 2006, 03:27
quick comment, i think nihon-jin should address any 外人 in nihongo.

Mike Cash
Jan 7, 2006, 08:58
Quick question: Why in that sentence with three Japanese words did you write only 外人 in kanji?

yukio_michael
Jan 7, 2006, 13:11
Japanese people should address gaijin using only the Sony PSP talkman, just like in the mortifying commercial.

JerseyBoy
Jan 8, 2006, 00:19
I have been away close to 12 years from Japan. So, I cannot comment on this thread from my own experience. But, by reading various comments on this thread, I am surprised to hear practicing English on white foreigners by Japanese seems getting worse and worse as years go by. I am very doubtful their command of the English language will improve by practicing a few sentences on the street. It seems some Japanese are resorting to the guerrilla tactics by ambushing foreigners who look like an English speaker, to augment their English lessens they took at Nova. As far as I am concerned, I am for the concept visitors speak the local languages. However, in the business setting, all the participants need to be flexible on this as deal-making & money-making have to be a priority over the choice of languages.

pipokun
Jan 8, 2006, 16:52
I have been away close to 12 years from Japan. So, I cannot comment on this thread from my own experience. But, by reading various comments on this thread, I am surprised to hear practicing English on white foreigners by Japanese seems getting worse and worse as years go by. I am very doubtful their command of the English language will improve by practicing a few sentences on the street. It seems some Japanese are resorting to the guerrilla tactics by ambushing foreigners who look like an English speaker, to augment their English lessens they took at Nova. As far as I am concerned, I am for the concept visitors speak the local languages. However, in the business setting, all the participants need to be flexible on this as deal-making & money-making have to be a priority over the choice of languages.

I was surprised to watch a TV program about Aichi EXPO last year.
The program showed lots of funny stories about Osaka EXPO'70.
The funnies story went that "No Photos" after a lot of non-Japanese staffs asked them to take photos with.
It turns to be a joke even for Japanese now...

I don't know if there are eikaiwa kids on streets, but just use your critical mindset on the thread like this.

Kara_Nari
Jan 28, 2006, 09:32
Hmm seems to have gone off topic a bit, but I havent read the whole thread.
My bit: IF in Japan, sure Japanese should address foreigners in Japanese, especially if they cant speak english, why should they try? Its their country, and wouldnt it be more offensive if they spoke english to a foreigner who doesnt speak english?
It would be like me speaking Japanese to Koreans and visa versa.
Take the saying 'When in Rome', I know in NZ there are few places that make an effort to speak foreign languages to foreigners, because NZ is typically an English speaking country, we barely even speak our native language to each other. However if a foreigner comes to NZ and speaks Maori, it is much appreciated. As it would be in Japan if a foreigner were to speak Japanese.

I have seen programmes on TV where (typically, as its usually american tv that I watch) Americans will go to a non english speaking country and get frustrated and annoyed that they cant speak english.

Having worked in tourism and hairdressing, I dealt with many foreigners. Sure I can speak enough Japanese and Korean to get by basically, but if someone came upto me and started speaking French, or Italian, I had no idea what they were saying, so why should we expect Japanese to know what we are saying if we go there and speak to them in english?

Should everyone have to know every language, just to have basic conversations? No, I think that if you go to another country you should at least try to know a few words, enough to get by, not just assume that they can speak your native tongue.

Ewok85
Apr 6, 2006, 17:29
I've been here 3 months now on my 3rd tour of duty, and things are going much smoother. I wear a suit 80% of the time and most of the people I meet daily either know me well or recognize me. I walk into shops, bars, government offices, reception counters and I'm greeted in Japanese. I've not had someone greet me in English the whole time I've been here EXCEPT once when I was out with 2 foreign friends who don't speak Japanese (at a family restaurant, the girl did really well serving us and giving the totals at the end :))

Overall I'd say I'm getting a good experience this time.

zeroyon
Oct 14, 2006, 17:45
I've been here 3 months now on my 3rd tour of duty, and things are going much smoother. I wear a suit 80% of the time and most of the people I meet daily either know me well or recognize me. I walk into shops, bars, government offices, reception counters and I'm greeted in Japanese. I've not had someone greet me in English the whole time I've been here EXCEPT once when I was out with 2 foreign friends who don't speak Japanese (at a family restaurant, the girl did really well serving us and giving the totals at the end :))
Overall I'd say I'm getting a good experience this time.
I seem to be getting the same Language treatment as well. Even though this is my first time in Japan, and although i've only been here for 2 months so far, almost everyone I have talked to or greeted me at a store, etc, has attempted to talk to me in Japanese first. Even though I can speak a little Japanese, once it comes to a point where I can't reply to their question in Japanese, they switch over to english, even if they speak english almost fluently anyways, which I found interesting.

For example, I was at a resturant with a bunch of other gaijin (who all can't speak much japanese at all) in kyoto, and the waiter asked us everything in Japanese, talked to us in japanese, until no one could respond, then he busted out fluent english on us, and we were all astonished. He looked like he was only 18 or so.

The only thing that sometimes gets on my nerves is when the second you sit down they put an english menu infront of you, or if you go to a fast food place, they turn the menu on the counter around immediately so you can just point to stuff, even before you say anything to them. It's kinda annoying and feels like you are being profiled, but at the same time is kinda convienient if your japanese language skills aren't up to snuff I guess (and assuming you speak english).

craftsman
Oct 15, 2006, 08:37
I also dislike complete strangers who just walk to me and start practising their English on me. In fact I dislike any stranger starting talking to me for no reason There is no reason to start a conversation with somebody you don't know in the street. ...... but I find that responding to someone who talks to you in your language with gestures, like if he/she was a monkey, is very rude. Starting to talk to a stranger in the street, in this case to a Westerner in the hop to practice English is odd, annoying and somewhat rude.


I sense a lot of aggression here. I speak Japanese and am foreign but when this happens to me - I laugh and usually the other person laughs with me.

It's a state of mind thing.

thistle
Oct 15, 2006, 10:06
OK, I've been living in Okinawa tooo long, where all japanese assume you do
not speak japanese if you are a foreigner, and in the summer visited Kumamoto where I was pleasantly surprised when I asked directions and spoke to japanese there. As soon as I started talking to them they would just chat away to me like I was a native, without batting an eyelid, without making the usual 'nihongo ga josu' comment. I even began to wonder if my physical appearance has suddenly changed, but oh it was so refreshing.


My feeling is that outside of Osaka, Tokyo, & Okinawa, japanese are more accepting of foreigners actually being able to speak japanese. It's like 'well they live here, they must speak some japanese'. Just my impression, but then I have not been back to Tokyo or Osaka in 12 years.

nice gaijin
Oct 18, 2006, 09:43
Well, I'd venture a guess that the more metropolitan areas see a lot more short-term tourists with no language abilities, so the whole "nihongo umai ne" song and dance is our bread and butter. In the areas where a foreigner is a rare sight, one might assume that they would at least know how to function in the language; how else would they find their way into the sticks, unless they were really lost.

The polite thing to do would be to ask which language they speak, and try to accomodate them. But no matter where you go, people will always assume things about you. Taking offense is an exercise in futility.

A ke bono kane kotto
Sep 4, 2007, 06:28
In my country the government wants people to be able to speak the official language, and if they can't they won't be able to stay in the country anymore. The law is not yet passed but maybe soon.

How would you feel if you had to speak Japanese in order to be allowed to live in Japan ? This does not apply to visitors.

Mike Cash
Sep 4, 2007, 18:59
How would you feel if you had to speak Japanese in order to be allowed to live in Japan ? This does not apply to visitors.

I think requiring some degree of Japanese proficiency as a condition for permanent residency would be just fine.

jmwintenn
Sep 5, 2007, 07:48
I wouldnt mind at all if they required some basic japanese language skills

nhk9
Sep 5, 2007, 14:50
I think the issue of Japanese speaking English to western looking foreigners stem from a few factors:

The OP did not discuss the number of western looking foreigners who are actually fluent in Japanese. I don't have the stats, but I wouldn't be surprised that those who can't speak (a word of) Japanese comprise of the majority. This is not America where we are used to seeing East Asians speaking in perfect English. Back in the wild west 100 years ago the cowboys probably had to ask Chinese railway workers whether they spoke English or not, simply because there were few who could speak it.

Another factor lies in the culture thinking of "meiwaku". They think that it's a meiwaku to ask the foreigner to speak in their language, since they would have to learn it, which is a "tough" task. They feel that they shouldn't be asking so much from the foreigner; rather, the hosts of the country should speak their visitors' language so to make them feel more at home. The Japanese feel that it is their job to not let the foreigner visitors feel troubled.

w1ngzer0
Sep 7, 2007, 23:44
i chose option 3 because well, its Japan not England. People of Japan speak Japanese just like the people of Russia expect you to know Russian and Mandarin in china. ect ect.

lilyofthevalley
Sep 14, 2007, 13:26
I think it kind of depends on the situation. Maybe someone who looks like an obvious tourist it's good to address first in English, but a foreign man in a business suit probably okay to ask if he speaks Japanese or not. I don't really know. I wasn't offended when Japanese people spoke English to me, or said Nihongo Jyouzu to me saying "iie" or something...I think many people who visit Japan can't speak Japanese ne? Though I guess if you lived there for many years it would get grating...only speaking from personal experience obv. ><

On Mixi I've had people who after we've written long messages to each other suddenly ask me if I can read kanji, and I thought that was weird..

genmai
Sep 16, 2007, 14:26
I think the issue of Japanese speaking English to western looking foreigners stem from a few factors:
The OP did not discuss the number of western looking foreigners who are actually fluent in Japanese. I don't have the stats, but I wouldn't be surprised that those who can't speak (a word of) Japanese comprise of the majority. .... They feel that they shouldn't be asking so much from the foreigner; rather, the hosts of the country should speak their visitors' language so to make them feel more at home. The Japanese feel that it is their job to not let the foreigner visitors feel troubled.
1. Do you like Japanese thinking for you?
Ex: In a store, the staff may think...'Ah, a 'foreigner' (stereotype), he can't speak Japanese. Thus, I must speak English to him. Wait, do I even know if he speaks English? Oh, well 'all foreigners' must speak English (stereotype).'
2. I think in this day and age it is hard to tell where someone comes from. Yet the Japanese continue the trend of 'westerner stereotyping' to the fullest degree.
3. In most 'western' countries I don't believe they try to guess the nationality of everone they meet, then try to speak that language. They just speak their native language. It is up to the visitor to communicate in the language of the country they are in. Japan may be a different case due to their history with the US and their already ingrained stereotyped behavior, yet they do not take the 'easy' route, speaking Japanese, they take their own route.
4. I have rarely had a 'normal' conversation with a Japanese citizen. Most just lack common sense. As soon as most of them see a 'foreign' face they immediately change into robot, idiot mode. They speak bad English, rude Japanese, and use gestures. They don't care and won't ask if you understand or can speak Japanese/English, etc. Of course they'll tell you they can't speak English yet keep stuttering on in their clipped tone. If they CAN'T speak English, then don't keep trying. The Japanese language is based on rank and politeness, yet they display none when speaking to 'gaijin.' Bowing all the while the saying 'sank you' and 'haaro' don't quite cut it.
5. People come to Japan for many reasons. So, why do the Japanese think we are all tourists who can not speak any Japanese? Is this one of the lovely reasons to think for us and try to use 'English'? Some people come here to work, study, live, etc...We wan't to speak Japanese, yet the locals won't engage (because they don't know how, or have been mis-guided by society, school, parents.)
6. It is a complex situation....yet as noted many times before, it can be simple. Just speak your own language in your own country. If you need to speak another language if asked by a visitor, they do so if you can.
When Japanese come to the US, do Americans try to speak Japanese? No, of course not. Japanese expect to speak English when they visit an English speaking country. Thus, why is it any different when we visit Japan? If we save thousands of dollars, plan heavily, fly across the ocean, enroll in school, get a job, study hard.....why can't we 'practice' our Japanese in Japan. Of course we can try, only to get hit with rudeness, crap English, gestures, or 100 mile an hour native Japanese. Oh, and ask them to repeat or slow down, you just get the good ol' broken English reply or pointing.
If the Japanese feel that it is their job to not let foreign visitors feel troubled, then just answer the questions that are asked in the language that they are asked in. If I say "Ikura desu ka?" Don't reply "twoooo hundoredo satee en" Just say "nihyaku sanju en". If I say "How much is it?" Just say "250 yen." If you don't understand English, that's not your problem, that's MY problem. I should use Japanese.

SushiShin
Sep 17, 2007, 02:09
this is logics himself? you have always to ask to the people if they speak the same language as you. in belgium (still one good thing:okashii:) they always ask before they continue to ask their question if you speak the same language as her/him.:cool:

maushan3
Sep 17, 2007, 21:19
It is simple. If you ask someone in Japanese, then with all due right, they should address you in Japanese.

I just cannot get over the fact that I have studied a lot the phrases to the point where I say them in Japanese and the people just finish their answer with some English. Just funny to me.

Mauricio

Chris K
Sep 17, 2007, 21:41
I think its very polite of any indiginous people attempting to speak the language of a foreignor to make their visit easier. Lets face it, the majority of westerners in Japan will be tourists with limited japanese skills. If you know the language just respond in japanese and Im sure they'll be relieved to continue talking in their mother tongue.

~Dei~
Sep 25, 2007, 05:33
I just cannot get over the fact that I have studied a lot the phrases to the point where I say them in Japanese and the people just finish their answer with some English. Just funny to me.
Mauricio

If you really want to avoid that, you could tell them in Japanese that you don't speak English.

I chose the third answer by the way.

I mean, I wouldn't walk up to an asian in the street and speak Chinese (sterotype) to them.

White Girl
Sep 27, 2007, 22:11
They should absolutely address everyone in Japanese! It's quite possible that my child will resemble me, and I think it's horrid that everyone will just assume they are "foreign." It's very ignorant on their part and Japan is very socially undeveloped on this level.

I used to live in Europe, and believe me, there are TONS of white people who cannot speak English. In fact, MOST white people in this world cannot speak English very well if at all, I am fairly sure of that. Also, I have met a few individuals here in Japan who are white but born and raised in Japan, and thus are Japanese. How arrogant it is to assume so much about someone simply based on the fact that they are white.

I also don't like getting asked if I speak it or not, because they are again making an assumption based on my ethnicity, which is stupid.

I can't imagine asking an ethnic Asian in the U.S. or Europe if they understand English/German/French/whatever language of the country I am in, and I most definitely wouldn't address them in Chinese. This is not so much an issue of exposure, but an issue of respect. If you respect others, you will think of how they might feel.

Nowadays, if someone tries to address me in English, I respond in Japanese with, "Do you speak Japanese?" and if they say yes, then they usually follow up by asking me where I am from, and then I just walk off without answering or ask them what it is they need (the answer of which which almost always necessitates me walking away without any further dialogue though anyway...).

If someone harasses me enough or spits out "Harrooo" or "Yay!" I just whirl and tell them I don't speak English. When my child is born I will speak English at all times to him/her and my lie will be found out, but I don't care...if they call me out on it I'll just say "I lied, so what?" I've turned into such a snob since coming here...^^ But respect is a two-way street.

maushan3
Sep 27, 2007, 23:38
[QUOTE=White Girl;517698]I can't imagine asking an ethnic Asian in the U.S. or Europe if they understand English/German/French/whatever language of the country I am in, and I most definitely wouldn't address them in Chinese. This is not so much an issue of exposure, but an issue of respect. If you respect others, you will think of how they might feel.[QUOTE]

And I cannot imagine Japan having as big a population of foreigners as Europe and America. Just never. America is a melting pot and this is definitely not the case for Japan.

Mauricio

White Girl
Sep 28, 2007, 00:09
And I cannot imagine Japan having as big a population of foreigners as Europe and America. Just never. America is a melting pot and this is definitely not the case for Japan.
Mauricio

As I said, it's a matter of respect, not exposure. I guarantee you that Tokyo has a larger percentage of ethnic minorities than some of the places I have lived in the U.S. Not saying there is no racism there, but they are at least trying to combat it and the majority of people don't give a crap what race you are. The vast majority of the people here do, and use it to influence their every interaction with you.

genmai
Sep 29, 2007, 02:45
Yo, Chris K and Dei, if it was just that easy then why are there pages of posts here? Why do people even talk about this? To simply say, Oh I think it's polite of them to speak English or just tell them you don't speak English is naive and ignorant.
1. Is it polite for Japanese to speak English? Well, I use this example:
I tell a Japanese person, imagine you study English for many years, work hard, save lots of money, buy a ticket to the US, enroll in a school to study English, then fly across the ocean, with hopes and dreams to study and speak English. Yet, when you get there, everyone addresses you in Chinese, Korean or Japanese. Everyday, someone uses hand gestures like you're a child or a dog. They use simple or rude English and won't speak 'normaly' to you. How would you feel? 100&#37; said they would be frustrated, angry and disappointed. They also say it would be strange. Oh, really? Strange?

2. Again, I've asked Japanese this: If you ask someone, maybe a foreigner, a question in Japanese, what language do you expect them to use in reply? 100% say Japanese. Oh, really? But usually just minutes before, I had asked them a question in Japanese, yet they 'tried' to respond in English. When I point this out, they are always amazed, yet quickly agree with my point.

3. To simply tell Japanese people to Speak Japanese is funny. Why do I have to tell anyone to speak their own language? Next, as students of Japanese we most likely can not understand native speed Japanese, yet Japanese don't get this. It's either full speed, or broken English. When I say speak slower or repeat, it doesn't mean point or use 3 yr. old English. This is the point where Japanese people have been missguided or have no common sense.
4. Having a 'normal' conversation is nearly impossible. Most Japanese can not deal with the gaijin. They just go into robot mode and disappear. Oh, Soori, eye kyant speaku ingurish. Oh, really, you can't? First, I didn't ask you, Second, although bad, you just used English, Third, What the F are you doing, just answer my question. Not once in the US when at a store did the staff point at the register when I looked at them or had a question. If I didn't hear them, I asked them to repeat, as I do in Japan, yet most Japanese can't nut up and answer.
If these things happened once or twice while here as a tourist, then no harm to foul. Yet these things happen to many people everyday. For me, everyday, 3 or 4 times, where ever I go. And to those who say, oh, it's how you say it or what were you wearing, or it's your intonation, blah blah, can fall on a sword. Sucking up to the Japanese and making excuses for this backward behavior just keeps this country of contradiction in social darkness.

Calchas
Oct 8, 2007, 20:55
.....How would you feel if you had to speak Japanese in order to be allowed to live in Japan ? This does not apply to visitors.


I could see where this could be abused. In America we don't demand you know English before coming here, but we do ask that you at least try to learn it once you get here if you plan to stay. If you want to be a citzen then we ask you know English and some of our history.

It may sound far fetched but its not far from "you must speak our language" to "you must prove you have our bloodlines/race/religion" before you can live here. What do you do, at that point, about those there under the old laws? Place them in camps or ghettos? Or perhaps you issue them special cards so they can keep working. And what is the percentage of proficiency needed to gain your way in? How would you setup testing that proficiency and again how would you apply that to those already there?

Its the same slippery slide the Germans made to the Nuremberg Race Laws. Though, you could argue, they jumped more then slipped into that hell.

otoko
Feb 26, 2008, 13:01
I think some people are just too sensitive. I don't care whether they think I speak Japanese or English or whatever stereotype they initially have of me. After the initial contact and we start to converse I just tell them I speak Japanese or if they speak English really well we can speak English.

Foreigners are a very small percentage of the population compared to western nations like America, the UK and Australia. Within the foriegn population in Japan, westerners comprise a smaller percentage than Chinese, Brazilians and Koreans. I don't know why I would have to expect Japanese to know if I was a long-term resident, Naturalized or nikei. Or why I should expect them to think about it before addressing me.

The Japanese have different ideas if nationality. Ethinicity and Nationality are linked. It isn't like in America where ethinicity is a separate idea from nationality.

I think the Japanese Americans have it worse in Japan. They look Japanese, have Japanese names but are sometimes expected to speak Japanese and/or know how things are done in Japan. Being constantly expected to speak a language you don't know seems much more irritating than other westerners being irritated because Japanese don't think you can speak Japanese.

otoko
Feb 26, 2008, 13:16
I also don't like getting asked if I speak it or not, because they are again making an assumption based on my ethnicity, which is stupid.

Accepting isn't always about liking it or not. It seems it is natural in Japan that ethinicity is inseparable from nationality. If you understand this then it isn't terrbly difficult to understand why they would think someone who is white is 1: not Japanese thus 2:doesn't speak Japanese. I think people have a problem with the idea that ethnicity matters. What follows is just the results from this idea. I can't compare it to America, it isn't the same. Using America(or wherever) as a reason to justify my stance does what for me? It would just make me angry and frustrated as to why Japan doesn't do things the "right" way.


I can't imagine asking an ethnic Asian in the U.S. or Europe if they understand English/German/French/whatever language of the country I am in, and I most definitely wouldn't address them in Chinese. This is not so much an issue of exposure, but an issue of respect. If you respect others, you will think of how they might feel.

Sure I think this is reasonable to expect back in the states. And that is all it is reasonable in the states and other western countries.

Kyoto Returnee
Feb 26, 2008, 15:45
I don't believe they should or they shouldn't.

It's up to them.

If they think you speak English, German, Chinese, Korean, etc. and they can speak your lingo. and wish to address you in your same, well so be it.

If they wish to address you in Japanese, well so be it.

I personally think it is up to any individual as to what language they address another person.

Because they are Japanese, they speak Japanese and possibly another language, as do any of we from any given country.

akita
Feb 28, 2008, 06:42
I don't thing this should be such a problem. Most of people try to be polite and yes they make some assumptions that maybe are wrong but I thing it's up to you to correct them explaining that you know Japanese or you don't speak English. It happened to me also to start a conversation directly in English without asking if the guy in front of me speak my language. I was once in Belgium in an exchange and at some point I've end up in the French part of Belgium. Everybody there assume i have no idea about French and all the time they were speaking with me in English till I answer them in French they got the point and switch the language. The bottom line is You can't know who speak what so you use the most common language learned by people witch in the last years is English.
I meet people upset that others assume they speak the language of the country they are. In Moscow it was really a problem for some of my friends that were really beginners and couldn't understand almost nothing. Imagine going to metro station and everything is in Russian, going to a shop and everybody starting to speak fast in Russian assuming that the rest of the world is fluent in this language. Now imagine you meet a cop and he start to ask you fast in Russian about your papers and you don't have a clue why or what you need to show him and he is losing patience....:p
I thing this situation might create a much bigger problem that the other one.:-)

Goldiegirl
Feb 28, 2008, 06:54
I guess I don't see why they shouldn't, I mean they are Japanese in Japan, why should they do anything different. It's absolutely great when I am helped with someone who can speak English. However, it makes me feel selfish and embarrassed that I can't speak Japanese. That's not there problem though, it's mine. When I think of it no one talks to me in English first, only my friends.

Chi65
Feb 28, 2008, 07:04
The very first time was funny, because a Japanese dad with daughter tried to communicate via french, which I also speak, but not as good as english. I simply did not expect it, when I came from the plane. But he was soo happy, that I could do this right away, that we had a fine contact indeed.
This already made me feel very welcome in Japan (I have some french ancestors btw)!

Chi65
Mar 4, 2008, 20:54
Usually they tried to communicate via english first, btw, which was fine for both sides.
I did use a few Japanese words then too in return.
When they realised, I was German, some even switched to singing german songs for me, very happily, actually. This often lead to singing together, and made me sad for not knowing how to sing a japanese song properly, so far.

digitalshoujo
Mar 9, 2008, 20:42
Hmm... I'd almost want to say something in the middle, like, if someone wanted to talk to you, first going " のう。。。" and wait to see what language the person responds in :blush: It's not a failsafe method, depending on your mindset at the time, and I suppose "Hi!" (in English, obv.) would be a possible response to that but it seems unlikely to me but still...
To me, even more than the initial non-Japanese spoken approach, is when they would continue to speak to me in English even after I'd responded in Japanese. I suppose they might've wanted to practice, but it was a little weird. I most often was approached for this sort of thing at train stations where I'd be looking at the maps to plan out my route and some middle-aged man (it was always this, without fail) would come up to me and say "Can you read the maps?" which, in general is a very nice and helpful thing for someone to do, but I got kind of tired of it after a while... plus I was worried I was getting subtly hit on, somehow... :okashii:
But shopgirls and the like always addressed me in Japanese first without checking to see if I understood. Which was nice :blush: made me feel normal, haha~

I sam
Mar 27, 2008, 23:37
Interesting poll...

I started to see so much more non-Japanese people speak Japanese, which is good thing.

But those who have felt Japanese often don't reply back to you in Japanese even though you are fluent in Japanese...you have to understand, there are not many Japanese speakers out there, so the expectations are low. Besides, majority of Japanese people have lived their entire lives without having any interactions with cultures and people outside of Japan, so they are just not used to it, or simply incapable of such interactions I wonder...just look at how much money Japanese people spend for English lessons and still so few people actually speak it. Keep spending...spending...spending...

Dominiku
Apr 20, 2008, 19:12
Calling it discrimination is silly; wouldn't you all agree that, if most of the foreigners you met couldn't speak Japanese, it'd be fair to assume the one you're talking to doesn't either? If you're part of the minority, those who ARE fluent, it'd be your job to take 2 seconds to say that you can speak Japanese since it's fair to assume you don't.

Derfel
Apr 20, 2008, 19:17
They should start swearing and cursing indirectly in an everyday laid back tone, the reaction of the foreigner would indicate whether he can speak Japanese or not.
What do you say?

Shineko
Apr 20, 2008, 19:48
They should start swearing and cursing indirectly in an everyday laid back tone, the reaction of the foreigner would indicate whether he can speak Japanese or not.
What do you say?

There are many people who just ignore people who curse; there will not be a reaction to pay attention to. It might work for some, but it does not fit the Japanese culture to run around and curse.

I have had rather good experience myself when I was living in Japan. In fact, I had an police officer ask me if I spoke Japanese after I had listened to his orders. Only once I had some trouble, but that was because I was looking for a rather strange thing from a supermarket. I could not find it myself, so I had to ask someone who worked there where to find yeast. I knew it might happen, so I had prepared by finding out the kanji for "yeast" before going to the store. Otherwise I was always addressed with Japanese, even when my own Japanese was far from being fluent, but we were able to communicate without problems in the end. It just took longer than if my Japanese would have been better.

Once a Japanese business talked to me in fluent English when I was looking at the big map on the street. I could not find the place where I was looking for, he asked in clear English if he could help and gave me directions. Very nice of him.

uchimizu
Apr 21, 2008, 04:51
Hi,

while I heard most English-speaking expats complaining of being adressed in English even if they speak Japanese, I never really had the problem. When I start speaking japanese, Japanese people answer in Japanese also.

Now, I am almost never in Roppongi, Azabu and other "gaijin gardens" in Tokyo. Maybe this explains why. Also, while my japanese is not very refined, I am speaking it fast enough to make a conversation work. Maybe that also explains why...

hanbun
Apr 30, 2008, 11:08
Interesting poll...

I started to see so much more non-Japanese people speak Japanese, which is good thing.

But those who have felt Japanese often don't reply back to you in Japanese even though you are fluent in Japanese...you have to understand, there are not many Japanese speakers out there, so the expectations are low. Besides, majority of Japanese people have lived their entire lives without having any interactions with cultures and people outside of Japan, so they are just not used to it, or simply incapable of such interactions I wonder...just look at how much money Japanese people spend for English lessons and still so few people actually speak it. Keep spending...spending...spending...
I am half Japanese and can carry a "light" conversation in Japanese. Because I grew up in North America w/a Japanese mother, my accent is quite correct (but not always my grammar or vocabulary). My other half is asian so i look 100&#37; japanese to most people. Usually, i can carry a conversation a few sentences until a native Japanese person figures out I am not "one of them".

I want to write about something related that has been confusing me for many years here in New York: Why then would Japanese restaurant workers IN NEW YORK (i presume they would be able to get by and interact in English if they have a paying job in this city) consistently ignore that i can speak to them in Japanese and reply to me in English when i order in Japanese - it is not perfect, but often much better than their English! I could understand this reaction if i were caucasian, but perhaps no less irritating.

I have found this to be a REMARKABLY consistent reaction to me when i order or ask questions to them in Japanese. What is going on in their heads? Does each person have a different reaction, b/c we are all individuals and thusly "unique" or is their culture driving most of them to react to me in the same way- which i take to be exclusionary and unfortunately typical of Japanese institutions.

I feel that once they recognize you are not purely Japanese most of them immediately respond to me as if I were unfamiliar - there is no room for nuance, which i have so thankfully taken for granted among other New Yorkers. The thing is, aren't most of these young restaurant workers here to experience life outside their own conservative country? aren't many of them aspiring rock stars, musicians and other transgressive types? Is their cultural DNA that deeply ingrained that they react this way to foreigness? There is an ugly word for it and it is xenophobia...

I'd like anyone who is a native japanese person to respond to me as this is starting to really perplex me. I obviously do not want to think the people who represent my own heritage are xenophobic so i deeply feel the need to understand.

Is this a defensive reaction on their part? Is it threatening or confusing for Japanese to deal w/ someone who looks 100% japanese but cannot speak japanese fluently? why wouldn't they want to encourage me to speak their language like other cultures i have come into close contact with ( i have learned and spoken fluent Chinese, French, Indonesian and some Italian)

Anyone out there know the answer? I would really appreciate a candid opinion! Thanks

Ed

Chidoriashi
Apr 30, 2008, 12:37
Hi hanbun, I guess I have a couple questions for you. One, do you think it could be restaurant policy that they speak to customers in English? Have you seen them speak in Japanese to fully Japanese customers before? Along with that, maybe they speak in English because they are in America. Which I would find quite refreshing, thinking back to my college days and hanging around Japanese people, some of which refused to hang out with Americans and really practice their English, and well.... big surprise, never got any better.

I do also feel your frustration though sometimes. I am white guy, and I live in Japan, but I do speak fluent Japanese. Almost every time I go out somewhere with my girlfriend (who is Japanese) i get completely ignored. Now, that in itself is annoying, but it is even more annoying because my girlfriend is 70&#37; deaf, and has to read peoples lips to understand them, but many times they speak too quickly for her. So here I am making all the responses to them, but they just speak towards her (sometimes the entire time). It can be really frustrating and quite awkward. So I really look forward to dealing with the people who are sharp enough to catch on to our situation, and quickly start addressing me.

Chidoriashi
Apr 30, 2008, 12:52
oh one more question. Are the wait staff you deal with mostly women or men? because, (nothing against women at all here) but it seems like the guys that I deal with always catch on more quickly than the women do for some reason.

pipokun
Apr 30, 2008, 20:02
...
Is their cultural DNA that deeply ingrained that they react this way to foreigness? There is an ugly word for it and it is xenophobia...
...

First, correct my English if it is right to use the word, xenophobia, in a situation where someone, probably Japanese in your opinion, who speaks English in an English dominant country.
I don't think you went to all Japanese restaurants, so it might be possible that the guys in the restaurants were not Japanese. I cannot forget strong protest against "Sushi Police" were mainly from non-Japanese restaurants overseas. (*snip* also, please keep in mind that the police stuff was less autocratic than the Italian one.)

I don't know how to sue the (poor) English-speaking staffs in NYC for the genetically intolerant discrimination, but before that, how about trying to be a French person who does not speak any English, but Japanese?

Keep posting!

Chidoriashi
May 1, 2008, 10:13
Pipokun>What is "Sushi Police"?

And yeah xenophobia is definitely not the right word in this situation. Japanese people, living in the USA, speaking English. I don't see the xenophobia either.

hanbun
May 1, 2008, 11:55
To Chidoriashi, et al

No, it is not restaurant policy. I go to these places all the time and everyone is speaking japanese everywhere, except when the staff encounter foreignness. Also, I don't believe it has much to do w/speaking English in an English country b/c i would consider a japanese restaurant as a Japanese milieu, which in an ultra-cosmopolitan place like NYC is extremely common. It is one of the wonderful aspects of living here. I can go to the Polish part of Brooklyn and only see Polish signs and have great Kielbasa- a mini-vacation. I guarantee you, though, that if i spoke Polish to someone they would respond back with delight that I am even trying to speak their humble tongue.

you see, that's one aspect of it that i perceive among the Japanese restaurant staff and other expats here- that perhaps they do not consider it flattery but a bastardization of their "beloved" language. They would prefer NOT to here you struggle with it. Ironically, they would prefer me to suffer their own imperfect command of the language!

My mother just responded to me and said she feels that the chinese are similar and it has to do with saving face and being "mentally frozen" when an unusual person like me confronts them. That may be the case, but since i don't speak chinese so I am immediately distanced from anyone in chinatown, which i accept.

As for the Japanese, my mother told me to "give them a break" and don't worry about it...but, i do because otherwise how do I ever get to practice my nihongo? Talking with my mother for all these years has made me talk like a woman...

BTW, i stand by my use of the word " xenophobia" b/c i do feel many japanese think that racial purity and commonality with other japanese is an immutable equation. Anything other is NOT Japanese and not understandable, not worth the consideration, time and even - dare i say it - manners.

someone help me change my mind! I would love for it not to be true!!

pipokun
May 1, 2008, 19:44
Chidoriashi, thank you.

hanbun, ask your mother, maybe in Canada, about the racial purity there.
If Japanese Canadians were in need of the said purity, they all would have to come back to Japan.
I think your mother is a good living example to deny your pointless argument.

I don't know the Canadian culture, but from my xenophobic opinion, a restaurant is not a place where customers learn another languages with staffs. Just go to school where you can speak Japanese as much as you want. Starting your Nihongo cafe like the Eikaiwa kissa in Japan may also be an idea in NYC.
Or why don't you use your strong frustration in other ways?
This is just my personal opinion, but you can find more people who learn Japanese here than other Japan-related sites. So it is good of you to use your English and Japanese skills to help them.

Of course, I highly welcome some controversial topics in the Japanese section here.

diceke
May 8, 2008, 16:05
you see, that's one aspect of it that i perceive among the Japanese restaurant staff and other expats here- that perhaps they do not consider it flattery but a bastardization of their "beloved" language. They would prefer NOT to here you struggle with it. Ironically, they would prefer me to suffer their own imperfect command of the language!

Then, what makes it ok for YOU to make them suffer your imperfect command of Japanese (assuming that the staff really are Japanese speakers)?

You don't pay them tuition, so they are not obliged to encourage you to practice Japanese. Learning any language at school costs money, and it's not free, you know.:okashii:

hanbun
May 9, 2008, 00:43
it is about generosity. as i said, i speak many languages. My family represents 5 nationalities. I am not naive or hostile. I am making a very common observation about what makes Japanese people difficult to the rest of the world.

i will repeat myself. Why do so many other cultures welcome foreign speaker of their languages and not the japanese? In my case, i think there is a latent animosity toward people like myself who are not pure-blooded.

i think this is true for all cultures to an extent, but is particularly acute among the japanese.

I thnk i need to stop this thread. i am only threatening people. nobody wants a diaglogue about this point.

Shineko
May 9, 2008, 00:56
hey dick
it is about generosity. as i said, i speak many languages. My family represents 5 nationalities. I am not naive or hostile. I am making a very common observation about what makes Japanese people difficult to the rest of the world.

Sorry to barge in, but it does not really matter how many language you speak or how many nationalities your family represents. I do not know about Japanese people in the United States, but all the Japanese people I have met so far, be it online or real life, have been more than willingly to help me with my Japanese skills.
Some of them were indeed surprised that I actually spoke Japanese, hesitated speaking normally first, but they soon realized that that was not case and changed back to normal speaking speed.

In my personal opinion and experience Japanese are not harsher on foreigners any more than many other nations. For long time the French people were not even willing to speak English, even though they could speak it. Slowly that is changing as well, with the new generation coming out. The many of Germans are still racist inside their minds, even though most of them do not realize it. They also have big prejudice towards foreign nations.

I a not trying to say that everyone of the above mentioned nations are like that, but in my experience it is rather common. Nor do I have anything against the French people itself. Having a problem with Germans though, but that has nothing to do with this topic, but my personal experience and opinion, so just forget that.


i will repeat myself. Why do so many other cultures welcome foreign speaker of their languages and not the japanese? In my case, i think there is a latent animosity toward people like myself who are not pure-blooded.
i think this is true for all cultures to an extent, but is particularly acute among the japanese.

Not all of them do, believe me. Japanese it not a special language in that sense. Also other nations do not want to teach their language to foreign nations, or they just insist on talking their own language without even trying to encourage you to learn their language.



I thnk i need to stop this thread. i am only threatening people. nobody wants a diaglogue about this point.

Nah, a good discussion keeps trolls away.

hanbun
May 9, 2008, 01:32
thank you. I do agree that the japanese can be generous w/their time outside of the expat restaurant environment. I am not condemning anyone wholesale. And i think people (french, german, etc) can be just as difficult when encountered IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY. In this respect, i think all cultures are teh same. I AGREE. Also,what i am talking about is a face-to-face thing, not a limited online experience of japanese people - i am sure they are very nice.

BUT, I am just refering to something VERY SPECIFIC about my own experience in New York, which i believe highlights something xenophobic that is deep in the japanese character. If one comes to New York City, you I would expect they WANT to engage with the world and be around all kinds of diverse people. Otherwise, why come at all? I am not talking about conservative businessmen here; I am talking about "cool" downtown, seemingly liberal thinking young japanese people.

I thnk by shedding light on this, i am in my own small way, improving matters.

I want people reading this thread to know that I still love japan mostly b/c of the generosity of Japanese people while i was in japan. My experience w/the expats here in New York has been different b/c while i look like them, can communicate w/them, and share many cultural reference points there STILL seems to be an unbridgable void that separates me from them. I don't know why and i want to understand this more.

what more can i do than look like them, speak japanese (albeit not perfect) and love their food and culture? In many ways, and this is important, i think it is easier to be completely foreign to a japanese. That way the distinction is VERY clear and they know how to react. I am more difficult a case...there seems to be no room for nuance in the average japanese. Unforgivable, in my opinion in a city like New York!

how is that for provocation? will someone who is a japanese expat try to explain?

Shineko
May 9, 2008, 01:56
thank you. I do agree that the japanese can be generous w/their time outside of the expat restaurant environment. I am not condemning anyone wholesale. And i think people (french, german, etc) can be just as difficult when encountered IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY. In this respect, i think all cultures are teh same. I AGREE. Also,what i am talking about is a face-to-face thing, not a limited online experience of japanese people - i am sure they are very nice.

Not only in their own country. Some of them really believe that they should get service in their own language outside of their own country, which is totally ignorant, or as a tourist they have the right behave badly etc. There are always reasons to go to other countries, for some its to learn the language and the culture, for some it is to have a break from their daily life etc.

I think anyone can be difficult in any country, if they do not want to adapt to the country they are in.



BUT, I am just refering to something VERY SPECIFIC about my own experience in New York, which i believe highlights something xenophobic that is deep in the japanese character. If one comes to New York City, you I would expect they WANT to engage with the world and be around all kinds of diverse people. Otherwise, why come at all? I am not talking about conservative businessmen here; I am talking about "cool" downtown, seemingly liberal thinking young japanese people.
I thnk by shedding light on this, i am in my own small way, improving matters.

It does not necessary mean that they are xenophobic, but did you consider that this Japanese person actually game to the United States to learn English? Especially young people, nowadays usually go to other countries to learn the language of the country.

Think about it, you see a Japanese person in United States and you see an opportunity to train your Japanese. Now turn the table around, a Japanese person sees a American in the US and sees an opportunity to train his/her English instead.

The fact that he preferred using English instead of Japanese makes the probability of him/her wanting to learn English rather high. If the person would have no interest in learning English, I doubt they would prefer to talk the language. I know this very well, as I hate Germans and their language over anything else, so I avoid talking it any time I can. Living in Germany does not make this easier at all, luckily I will get out of here soon.

Derfel
May 9, 2008, 03:19
Lol, what did I miss? A sparkle of illiteracy perhaps?

Mars Man
May 9, 2008, 10:30
The question, or matter of ponderance, you have presented here hanbun san, has its own right in a way, to a certain degree, yet has led to a somewhat off topic exchange in the meantime. I thereby suggest, most strongly, that we let that line of discussion either be raised elsewhere, or dropped--at any rate, it does not belong on this thread, really, as this thread is related to being in Japan.

Please let this thread return to such matters as the OP brings up, as they occur here in Japan. Thanks. (PS this is a soft warning, so please take heed.)

hanbun
May 9, 2008, 11:22
gomenasai

this is actually my first time talking to people online like this. I think I divulged too much and perhaps in the wrong place...

this is a very well policed thread, that much i will say.

Chidoriashi
May 9, 2008, 11:52
Yes, I too have to point out that, I think I could understand your situation better if you were in Japan coming across all this. Honestly, when I am home in the states, I expect to certain degree that people will speak English. And I dont mean expect as in "you better speak English!" I mean i more or less assume people will be speaking English. So I am having a hard time seeing your point about xenophobia. Does this problem you are having go beyond the restaurant, do you get this treatment from relatives etc..? Well anyway if you want people to speak to you in Japanese come to Japan and hang out with me... they will talk to you everytime! :-)

pipokun
May 10, 2008, 00:15
Unforgivable, in my opinion in a city like New York!


Just start a thread about it.
I simply think a restaurant is the place where you eat.
And it is good of you to think that one unforgivable personal experience could allow your generalization.

Charles Barkley
May 10, 2008, 12:18
I think it is quite ironic that hanbun is complaining about not being able to use Japanese people for Japanese practice in America when one major point of the thread is that it is not ok for Japanese people to use Americans (and others) for English practice in Japan. Keep on fighting against that xenophobia there, hanbun. :okashii:


I will chime in to say that this is by no means limited to Tokyo/areas where people are used to dealing with lots of tourists. I live in rural Tohoku and the same thing happens all the time. The worst incident for me was in Kamakura(I think) up in Akita. Went up there for a snow festival, and of course my group of friends (mix of ALT's and Japanese) included the only foreigners there. There was a sign near one of the food stalls, and I asked my Japanese friend who was standing about 10 feet away, in Japanese, if the sign referred to the catholic cross (i.e., what I later remembered to be 十字架, though I was initially mistaken, as the word in question was a name that contained 十 and 字)。

Some random Japanese man working at a food stall stepped in between us and began to repeat the word no, which he must have said 10 times, while waving his arms in according gesture. I moved to the side, so he wasnt blocking us, and asked my friend again, though this time I also asked what the sign actually did mean, but the man moved between us again and kept saying no (which at this point was no longer even answering my question). I then had to literally move directly next to my friend, turn my back on the man, and walk away before repeating the question, which he answered in about 5 seconds, satisfactorily, of course in Japanese. I was absolutely furious at that. And the most astonishing thing is that the man of course had initially understood my not entirely basic question, which I had asked in Japanese, yet that fact somehow slipped clear out of his mind.

From people asking Japanese friends sitting next to you whether you want the set with your order, to people repeating in English the same thing they have just said in Japanese every time they speak, even in tohoku people run the gambit in terms of pushing the buttons of a foreigner trying to learn Japanese (or simply trying to live without being condescended to). The cause, in my mind, is definitely a lack of familiarity with foreigners, which is understandable but nevertheless infuriating, especially since, unlike perhaps in Tokyo, I have run into a grand total of maybe 5 people during my two years here whose English is at the level of my still not all that great Japanese (and in that number I am not excluding the 7 Japanese teachers of English that I have worked with, as they comprise only 2 of the members of that list).

Having one's able Japanese ignored by another's able English is one thing--having one's able Japanese tossed aside to throw the conversation into shambles or endless, tautological greetings is another.

I am looking forward to finishing my role as a teacher, moving to tokyo, and responding to any English with either 'なんで英語で言うの’ or 'ごめん、英語が話せない’ Only 3 more months...