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View Poll Results: How should Japanese deal with foreigners ?

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  • They should assume that they can't understand Japanese and use gestures

    4 2.76%
  • They should first ask them whether they can speak Japanese (either in Japanese or in English)

    92 63.45%
  • They should address them in Japanese and only use gestures or speak more slowly if the person doesn't understand

    49 33.79%
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Thread: Should all Japanese directly address foreigners in Japanese ?

  1. #51
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    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. 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.

  2. #52
    Kendoka/Iaidoka SkippyDaStudent85's Avatar
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    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.

  3. #53
    TAN Hiroyuki Nagashima's Avatar
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    "Lexico san" "Glenn san" Arigatou gozai mashita .
    I'm sorry to have troubled you.
    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.

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

  4. #54
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkippyDaStudent85
    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.

  5. #55
    谷塚 日本
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    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 .

  6. #56
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    No trouble at all, Hiroyuki Nagashima-san!
    Thanks for participating, actually.
    Your participation is probably the most important one we have.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hiroyuki Nagashima
    With the foreigner who worked together in an office, I talked as common language by broken English and computer language.
    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?
    Quote Originally Posted by Hiroyuki Nagashima
    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.
    I hope you can answer some questions, even just a few.
    I hope to understand Japanese culture better with your answers.

    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.)
    Last edited by lexico; Feb 22, 2005 at 10:28.
    Z: The fish in the water are happy.
    H: How do you know ? You're not fish.
    Z: How do you know I don't ? You're not me.
    H: True I am not you, and I cannot know. Likewise, I know you're not, therefore I know you don't.
    Z: You asked me how I knew implying you knew I knew. In fact I saw some fish, strolling down by the Hao River, all jolly and gay.

    --Zhuangzi

  7. #57
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by akeenan
    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.

  8. #58
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth
    what about this can possibly be so confusing ? hopefully all without deliberately making them feel too stupid in their own language.
    The 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!
    Last edited by lexico; Feb 22, 2005 at 09:16.

  9. #59
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkippyDaStudent85
    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.

  10. #60
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikecash
    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.

  11. #61
    相変わらず不束者です epigene's Avatar
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    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.)

  12. #62
    相変わらず不束者です epigene's Avatar
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    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.

    "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).

  13. #63
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    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    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, and a few other threads similar to that one. Maybe none of us here on this forum are typical any nationality.

  14. #64
    TAN Hiroyuki Nagashima's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    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.
    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.
    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.

  15. #65
    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hiroyuki Nagashima
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    (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.
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  16. #66
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth
    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.
    Hey hey, I have done that too.

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  17. #67
    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    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!

  18. #68
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Your experience tells me that real language situations are much more complicated than simple small-talk, especially in professional settings.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hiroyuki Nagashima
    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.
    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.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hiroyuki Nagashima
    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?
    Quote Originally Posted by Hiroyuki Nagashima
    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?
    Last edited by lexico; Feb 23, 2005 at 05:17.

  19. #69
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pachipro
    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.

  20. #70
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    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.

  21. #71
    悲しい話だと思いませんか jt_'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    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)

  22. #72
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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)....

  23. #73
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Welcome to the thread, epigene-san!
    Of all the interesting things that you said in your first post, I find the following especially worthy of attention.
    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    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 ?
    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 ?
    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    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.

    EDIT: I agree with jt's observation because of the reasons I find probable in the above.
    Quote Originally Posted by jt
    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.
    Last edited by lexico; Feb 23, 2005 at 05:19.

  24. #74
    悲しい話だと思いませんか jt_'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    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.

  25. #75
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jt_
    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.

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