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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. #76
    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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. 20 lashes with a wet Udon noodle for me!
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  2. #77
    JREF Resident Alien Pachipro'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.
    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    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.

  3. #78
    Kendoka/Iaidoka SkippyDaStudent85'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 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.

  4. #79
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkippyDaStudent85
    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 ?

  5. #80
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth
    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.

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  6. #81
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jt_
    ... 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 and Dogs & Demons), 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.

  7. #82
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    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), 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.

  8. #83
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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.

  9. #84
    Kendoka/Iaidoka SkippyDaStudent85's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Me
    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.

  10. #85
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkippyDaStudent85
    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. I was thinking it was illogical to know a priori which language you'd ask in....

  11. #86
    Kendoka/Iaidoka SkippyDaStudent85's Avatar
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    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.

  12. #87
    Regular Member misa.j's Avatar
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    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.

  13. #88
    相変わらず不束者です epigene's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misa.j
    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).

    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.

  14. #89
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    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 ? ;)
    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn
    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.
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    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.
    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.
    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?
    Quote Originally Posted by PachiPro
    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.
    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn
    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.
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  15. #90
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    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.

  16. #91
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkippyDaStudent85
    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.

  17. #92
    Regular Member misa.j's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epinege
    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?

  18. #93
    Junior Member DoctorP's Avatar
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    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??

  19. #94
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by misa.j
    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.

  20. #95
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    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.

  21. #96
    悲しい話だと思いませんか jt_'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epigene
    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.

  22. #97
    Chibi Chibi Malaika's Avatar
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    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.
    *~[Inuyasha x Kagome]~*

  23. #98
    Heimin
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    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?

  24. #99
    Chukchi Salmon lexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leroy_Brown
    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.

    (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.

  25. #100
    相変わらず不束者です epigene's Avatar
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    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....
    Westerners beware of junior high school students in Kyoto!!

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