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Thread: English-friendly Japan

  1. #26
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    As for other countries not using bilingual signage. In the US we tend to use International symbols and a numbering system so that you really don't need to be able to read English in order to drive.
    Well, when I went to the States, I found that there was a lot more written signs ("Yield"...) that in Europe. I was mostly referring to traffic advisories on electronic board above highways, or maybe a "slow down, children playing" when arriving in a residential area or village (in addition to the circular red and white '50' indicating a speed limit of 50km/h). In fact, all those 'interntaional signs' are supposedly the same in all Europe (as the driving licence is the same). Or else a pedestrian zone sign with "except delivery" written in the locak language under it.

    Some countries have a few unique signs. Belgium has a harasssing "priority-on-your right" rule marked by a red and white triangle with a black X in the middle. When nothing is indicated, it is the default, except on main roads marked by a yellow and white losange.

    I mean...if you have a map, you really don't need to read the signs in order to know where you are going.
    In a densely populated country like Belgium, with motorway exits every few kilometers, when you are looking for "Mons" and signs only show an exit for "Bergen", what do you do ? Yet, it's the right exit. Then, road signs are not just about finding your way. If you find a no No Stopping Zone sign, but another sign under it mentioned "only from Monday to Friday" in a language you don't know, you may miss an opportunity to find a parking place on a weekend. And European towns tend to have narrow streets and few parking areas...

    Here are some examples of European road signs (Italy in this case, but there is hardly any difference, except the few with Italian words).

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  2. #27
    遠いから行きません GaijinPunch's Avatar
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    And what if a tree fell on my house during a typhoon ? I have never been locked out of my house and neither do I know someone (close to me) who has.
    Happened to me. Keys can fall out of pockets. I'm not saying it's going to happen to everyone, but it can. Anyways, it was just an example of a time when you'd be screwed if you didn't speak the langauge. That's to say, when signs won't help you, you have to rely on people, in which case it's NOT an English-friendly place to live. In my case, there were no neighbors, and the landlord wasn't home. At the time I had about 3 or 4 years of Japanese to fall back on though, so no worries.

    Never had any problem with that. Just go to the supermarket and see by yourself what you need.
    Well, you obviously aren't a vegetarian living in Japan. People that are picky about what they eat want to know the ingredients of what they buy. I"ve not been to any country where a cabbage has a list of ingredients. A bottle of dressing or something else that might contain something does though. Also - not everyone cooks.

    She could recognise the various kinds of sauces (bulldog, soy sauce, etc.) or guess from the image that one puding was "pumpkin" taste, while another was "mango". Even a child could do that.
    I could go on about a friend that was hospitalized due to an allergy she had to an ingredient in some food.

    Not sure what you mean. It's impossible to confuse in a supermarket (ketchup is red, FYI). In a McDonald or something, either ask (the Japanese words are the same : "masutaado" and "ketchappu") or see by yourself the colour of the package.
    It was a joke. If you ask for Mustard instead of ketchup, you get a look of confusion. It will take a second to register that the person actually does want mustard. Or at least it did 5 years ago when I last ate in a McDonalds.

    Bilingual mobile phones have been there for a while. My first one in 1998 was bilingual, so they're nothing new. Not all models are bilingual though. PCs in English have been around as well, but you gotta pay for them. If you think about it, you can get just about anything in English you want if you don't mind going out of your way or paying for it, which is why I quickly got out of the habbit of going the English way.

    English-speaking emergency services (police, ambulance, medical information, foreign residents advisory, etc.),
    I've got a story about that one... ambulances/hospital specifically. I guess it's not too geared towards English speaking though, although langauge barrier was a big element. It'll need to go into personal stories though. It's a little long.

    and 2) you forget that this is a compared to other countries in the world, not what you'd personally wish to find.
    I'm basing it on other countries I've visited (not lived in).
    South Korea, Thailand, Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, and McAllen, TX.

  3. #28
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GaijinPunch
    Well, you obviously aren't a vegetarian living in Japan. People that are picky about what they eat want to know the ingredients of what they buy.
    Well, my sister (in the example I gave) happens to be a vegetarian. She just asked me or my wife what kind of food had no meat in it. Once you know them, it's no problem. It's very easy to ask a (Japanese or Japanese-speakung) friend. I doubt that there are many foreigners in Japan who don't have at least one Japanese friend to help them a bit from time to time (that would be very sad).

    I"ve not been to any country where a cabbage has a list of ingredients.
    Sorry, I thought you meant your shopping list of ingredients to cook something at home.

    I could go on about a friend that was hospitalized due to an allergy she had to an ingredient in some food.
    That's again a special case. I also don't know anybody with food allergy. Such people are special cases and should always be extra careful (e.g. double check with a Japanese friend), even in their home country.

    PCs in English have been around as well, but you gotta pay for them. If you think about it, you can get just about anything in English you want if you don't mind going out of your way or paying for it, which is why I quickly got out of the habbit of going the English way.
    Check the link of PrimePC. Their English PC's are very cheap, and the exact same price as the Japanese version (E.g. laptops in English vs laptops in Japanese). And that is one of the biggest PC shop in Japan with about 100 shops nationwide.

  4. #29
    遠いから行きません GaijinPunch's Avatar
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    It's very easy to ask a (Japanese or Japanese-speakung) friend.
    Let's see. I ordered "Spaghetti Carbonara with no meat" once and it came covered in bacon. Of course, I was reassured that it was "bacon --- not meat". I also ordered a Vegetable Gratin once after carefully reading the menu, only to learn that it had a patty of ground beef in the middle... and I was an intermediated speaker/reader at worst at the time. Japan's painful as a vegetarian even if you do eat meat. I'd hate to try it w/o being able to properly communicate to anyone.

    I suppose you could learn how to say "niku nuki" after everything and look like a complete tool, but then you need to understand their canned response on how they can't do it.

  5. #30
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GaijinPunch
    Let's see. I ordered "Spaghetti Carbonara with no meat" once and it came covered in bacon. Of course, I was reassured that it was "bacon --- not meat". I also ordered a Vegetable Gratin once after carefully reading the menu, only to learn that it had a patty of ground beef in the middle... and I was an intermediated speaker/reader at worst at the time. Japan's painful as a vegetarian even if you do eat meat. I'd hate to try it w/o being able to properly communicate to anyone.
    Being a vegetarian is hard enough in most countries. You can't blame that only on language abilities. There are countries in Europe where vegetarians have a hard time finding something to eat in restaurants too (Belgium is one).

    I suppose you could learn how to say "niku nuki" after everything and look like a complete tool, but then you need to understand their canned response on how they can't do it.
    For my sister, I wrote on a piece of paper for her "vejetarian nanode, niku nashi de onegai shimase", which she would tell the staff or show them when she went out with her partner. She didn't have any problem, but limited herself to Italian and Indian restaurants or Tempura ones. No need to try a sushi-ya or yakiniku-ya if you are vegetarian.

  6. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    And what if a tree fell on my house during a typhoon ? I have never been locked out of my house and neither do I know someone (close to me) who has. These are extremenly rare situations (I have never had to deal with a locksmith in my all life in any country). If it happens, it wouldn't be a big deal to ask a local friend for help, or again resort to an electronic dictionary (which you should always have on you if you live in a country where you don't speak the language, until you get reasonably fluent).
    I locked my keys in my car once in a rest area off the expressway in Kyusyuu once, if that counts. I had no local friends around, and even had I brought an electronic dictionary, it most likely would have been with my keys, in my car. Fortunately I knew enough Japanese to figure out what to do, but I couldn't imagine calling JAF using English only.

    Another time I forgot to turn off my lights or something and my car battery died. Luckily I knew how to call JAF and take care of it in Japanese. Once again, I couldn't imagine trying to explain to the guy what was wrong and more importantly, where I was in English.

    When I visited Korea, I thought it was more English friendly than Japan, but since then Japan has become at least as English friendly as Korea in my estimation. (I'm talking about the Subway system mostly.)

    Japan is certainly more English friendly than say German-friendly.

    But if you have a problem, it's still difficult. Or at least I would imagine so. Unless you have a lot of experience with speaking broken English in such a way that Japanese people can generally understand, I find you mostly get blank looks when people are presented with English.

  7. #32
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikawa Ossan
    Japan is certainly more English friendly than say German-friendly.
    That is partly the point of this thread. English speakers can't complain. What should someone who only speaks French, Spanish, German, Korean or Chinese say ? In fact, the Koreans and Chinese residing in Japan represent respectively 6.5x and 5x more people than all native English speakers. Even assuming that all Westerners in Japan can speak English (which isn't the case, as I have met French people whose English was really not brilliant), all the Westerners still don't make more than 15% of the Koreans and Chinese combined. So why has Japan become an English-friendly country, when it could have more logically become Korean-friendly or Chinese-friendly ?

    I don't think it's just a matter of international image ("kokusaika"), as there would be no need to translate so much, especially outside big cities. I was surprised that even in smaller places like Nagasaki, Shimonoseki or Takamatsu, English signs are as present as in Tokyo. That's quite a lot of money to change tens of thousands of signs just for the sake of "kokusaika". Anyway, most foreign investors and politicians who may care about "kokusaika" probably will never see such rural places.

  8. #33
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Romaji != English

  9. #34
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikecash
    Romaji != English
    What about this ?





    I also remember seeing signs indicating "highway XX" (not Kousoku-douro XX), "X Airport" (not X Kuukou), etc. Exit are called "Exit" not "Deguchi" and "Post Office" are called like that not "Yuubinkyoku" in romaji. Now, I don't think that translating "Big Slope" for "Osaka" or "Broad Island" for "Hiroshima" are going to help more foreigners - on the contrary.

  10. #35
    遠いから行きません GaijinPunch's Avatar
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    Maybe I'm biased b/c I come from a very bilingual state. Even in the northern parts of Texas, lots of police officers speak Spanish, as do hotel personel, super market managers, etc. Government offices always have a Spanish speaker/translator and even Spanish speaking public schools.

    There's ALWAYS someone at the larger police stations that can speak Spanish. If you're incarcerated in Japan (in Shibuya anyway) you have to book a translator in advance to speak English with your English speaking vistors. Otherwise, it's nothing but nihongo since none of the monitor can't understand English.

    I do understand that the Mexican population has a huge impact on that, but that's incidental. The reason people feel Japan isn't English friendly is due to the relatively small foreign population.

  11. #36
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GaijinPunch
    Maybe I'm biased b/c I come from a very bilingual state. Even in the northern parts of Texas, lots of police officers speak Spanish, as do hotel personel, super market managers, etc. Government offices always have a Spanish speaker/translator and even Spanish speaking public schools.

    There's ALWAYS someone at the larger police stations that can speak Spanish.
    So, we could say that Texas is Spanish-friendly. But is it French-friednly or Japanese-friendly ? That's good that many people speak Spanish, but are there signs in Spanish everywhere as well ?

    If you're incarcerated in Japan (in Shibuya anyway) you have to book a translator in advance to speak English with your English speaking vistors.
    I don't think police officers are a good reference of how "foreigner-friendly" a country is, especially Japan. However, many Japanese business people do speak at least some English. How many American business people speak Japanese ? I think that business-wise Japan is more English-friendly than Western countries are Japanese-friendly. You just can't expect everyone (like the police) in a non-English speaking country to speak English. But as I said, Japan is almost only English-friendly, as other languages are almost completely ignored (except for a few signs that also have Korean and Chinese, mostly at Narita aiport or the Oedo-line in Tokyo).

    I do understand that the Mexican population has a huge impact on that, but that's incidental. The reason people feel Japan isn't English friendly is due to the relatively small foreign population.
    But compared to the tiny percentage of English-speakers (0.07% of the population), Japan is justly remarkably English friendly. France receives tens of millions of English-speaking visitors each year and is not more English-friendly (well, for some things a bit more, but for others less). I think it is essential to always think in terms of 'relativity' (i.e. as a comparison to other countries, and, in this case, to the number of speakers of a language in each country).

  12. #37
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    I think the comparisons with Europe are a bit fatuous to be honest.

    Two points:

    1. In Europe, it is far easier for any Westerner to navigate round a different European country (e.g. for an English speaker in France, or a Spanish speaker in Italy than it is to navigate Japanese. Obviously this is due to the inherent similarities between the European languages, and the use of a shared alphabet.

    1. Japan is not visitor friendly for an English only speaker, regardless of how many English speaking residents there are.

    There is nothing wrong with this - after all Japanese is the national language and English isn't.

    Not criticising Japan in the slightest, just putting the point of view from a non-Japanese speaker. I've only been here four weeks and my experience is much closer to GaijinPunch than Maciamo.

  13. #38
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    What about this ?
    Tokyo != Japan

  14. #39
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikecash
    Tokyo != Japan
    I saw bilingual signs and information in most cities I visited in Japan, from Kyushu and Shikoku to Hokkaido (sorry if I didn't take pictures to "prove" it to you, except those of Sapporo here). It's true for bus and trains timetables, highways, ticket machines, area maps, or almost anything I cited (of course, computers, mobile phones, emergency services, government information, and other nation-wide stuff). There is just in the "countryside" (outside cities and towns of at least 100,000 people) that English translations are harder to find.

  15. #40
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    I didn't say they don't exist; I just think you overstate the case of how English-friendly Japan is.

  16. #41
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikecash
    I didn't say they don't exist; I just think you overstate the case of how English-friendly Japan is.
    I have been to about 20 countries in Europe, 3 in the Middle East and North Africa, India, Nepal, all North-East and South-East Asia except 5 countries (North Korea, Mongolia, Burma, Laos, Brunei), Australia, North America...

    Japan is about as English-friendly than countries that have English as non principal official or communication language like Malaysia, the Philippines or India. Some former British colonies like Egypt, are less English-friendly. In most of Continental Europe, people may speak English as well or better than the Japanese, but few countries can boast as many government-sponsored actions to make the country English-friendly, like translating the most useful public signs, government websites, ads, etc.

    The Japanese government just has so many websites translated in English (e.g. National Tax Agency, Meteorological Agency, Statistics Bureau, National Diet Library, Geographical Survey, Prime Minsiter & Cabinet's website, Self-Defense Forces, National Police Agency, most ministries and many prefectural and municipal government's websites, just to name a few), unlike countries like most European countries (except Germanic ones).

    In comparison, the official websites of the national police of Belgium, France, Spain, Germany and Austria are only in the local language(s), although the Italian, Dutch or Swedish ones have an English version.
    The national tax agency's website in France, Spain, or if they don't have a seprate site from the finance ministry Italy dont have English versions. The German, Austrian, Belgian and Dutch finance ministry are the only ones I found that have an English version. The meteorological agency's website in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands are also all in the local language only (Belgium's or Sweden are in English though). Even the national parliament's official websites in Italy, Sweden, Austria, Poland or Belgium's Lower House don't have English versions, although those of France, Italy, Spain or Germany do. Italy even has Italian-only websites for things as basic as national government and national statistics.

    I could continue the list with any other government website (don't want to spend all the evening on that though), and we will see similar results, with many Western European countries that do not have websites in English. Japan is the only non-English speaking developed country to almost constantly offer English translations.

    National train companies in Europe usually have websites in English, like Japan's JR or metro companies. However, the biggest difference between Europe and Japan, more even than for government websites, is that all major news agencies have English websites (not just corporate info, but translations of most of the news articles), and NHK offers bilingual (Japanese-English) TV programmes. The only two multilingual channels I know in Europe are EuroNews and EuroSport, as they are pan-European. As you still need cable or satelite to get them, it does not make a big difference from watching directly international channels like BBC World, CNN or NBC.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Oct 25, 2005 at 22:00.

  17. #42
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I have been to about 20 countries in Europe, 3 in the Middle East and North Africa, India, Nepal, all North-East and South-East Asia except 5 countries (North Korea, Mongolia, Burma, Laos, Brunei), Australia, North America...
    "My name is Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht"

    Bugs Bunny

  18. #43
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikecash
    "My name is Elmer J. Fudd, millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht"

    Bugs Bunny
    Actually, I travelled on an average of 150 US$ a month around India and South East Asia. I actually managed to save money while travelling in Asia, compared to what accommodation and food only would have cost me in Europe or Japan.

    In Europe, I have lived in 5 countries and travelled from there, and used the 60-day Eurolines pass (now only 40 days) which gave me unlimited travel inside most of Europe for about 300 US$ for 2 months at the time. I slept in the bus on long journeys to save money on hotels.

    Almost anybody from a developed country with enough time and willing to stay at cheap hotels and sleep in night buses can travel like I did at minimal cost.

    I visited Korea and China from Japan. They have flight+hotel packages from about 30,000yen (260 US$ at current rate, or 230 US$ 2 years ago). It's more expensive to take the train or pay the highway fee and petrol from Tokyo to Osaka and back.

  19. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I have been to about 20 countries in Europe, 3 in the Middle East and North Africa, India, Nepal, all North-East and South-East Asia except 5 countries (North Korea, Mongolia, Burma, Laos, Brunei), Australia, North America...
    Maybe you could put this information into your signature to save yourself the effort of having to re-type it every time you make a point.

  20. #45
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Need to tack that "I have lived in Japan for 4 years" bit in there, too.

    And Maciamo, you entirely missed the point of the Bugs Bunny quote.

  21. #46
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    Sometimes it is better to let the argument stand on it's own merits, without having to bolster it by telling everyone how great you are, how high your IQ is, how much you've travelled, how less money you spent doing it etc.

  22. #47
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikecash
    And Maciamo, you entirely missed the point of the Bugs Bunny quote.
    So what was the point then ?

  23. #48
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gaijin 06
    Sometimes it is better to let the argument stand on it's own merits, without having to bolster it by telling everyone how great you are, how high your IQ is, how much you've travelled, how less money you spent doing it etc.
    What's wrong with telling people who I am (not how great I am, but on what personal experience my analysis is based).

    As for the IQ, I only mentioned it once when I was asked for it (maybe I shouldn't have as immature people tend to think it's a form of show-off). I don't understand people who react so negatively about telling one's IQ. It's as natural as telling the colour of your eyes or your body height. It's just a fact that one cannot decide or change. Knowledge can be aquired, but not IQ. IQ does not determine success or even intelligence, since intelligence requires acquired knowledge (i.e. a personal effort), a good memory (not related to IQ), and maybe also a good imagination, creativity, interpersonal and artistic skills, which are all unrelated to IQ. (Non-verbal) IQ is about reasoning and spatial skills - nothing more, nothing less.

    As for letting the argument stand on it's own merits, you don't understand how much I dislike people who come and criticise my analysis based on nothing but their own desire to argue. If Mikecash or GaijinPunch had wanted to demonstrate that other non-English-speaking countries were more English-friendly than Japan, they would have found some kind of evidences, as I did. They could have said that they had checked various government websites, found information about TV channels or area maps in other countries, and that there was no reason to believe that the Japanese government tried harder to accommodate English speakers than European or other Asian governments. But they didn't. They didn't spend hours of research before posting their arguments as I did. Then Mikecash find it amusing to find a way to contradict me with a single line post, or quoting Bugs Bunny. I feel it is lowering the level of discussion and seriouness of this thread. People are free to disagree, but if you want to publicly affirm that I am mistaken, then try to provide facts - photos, links, or whatever.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silverpoint
    Maybe you could put this information into your signature to save yourself the effort of having to re-type it every time you make a point.
    I wish I could add a small biography in my signature, but that would be too big. As I said before, people who read posts on this forum are not limited to a few habitues. We have thousands og unregistered visitors or occasional members that come here, don't know me or any of the regulars and their background. That is why it is sometimes necessary to understand an argument, to give some background. In my eyes, an argument against a thread I start is not just between me and one other person; thousands of people are reading, or could read tis thread in the future. Therefore I cannot let some clows make fun of me when I am serious about one topic.

    Just to make it clear, I am not talking about this thread in particular, but any "serious" thread.

  24. #49
    Junior Member DoctorP's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I don't understand people who react so negatively about telling one's IQ. It's as natural as telling the colour of your eyes or your body height. It's just a fact that one cannot decide or change.
    I bet a well placed tire iron could change someone's IQ!

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I wish I could add a small biography in my signature, but that would be too big. As I said before, people who read posts on this forum are not limited to a few habitues. We have thousands og unregistered visitors or occasional members that come here, don't know me or any of the regulars and their background.
    Why not write an article about yourself? Then you could do two things that you love at once...writing, and telling about yourself! (ok...that was a little rude, but I was serious about posting a bio!) Being that you are one of the creators of the site, and that you do all of the articles, I think that it would be a resonable thing to do! Many news sites that I go to have links to the staff bios.

  25. #50
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    When discussing Japan, I don't feel a need to constantly do it in terms of comparisons with other places and don't understand why you think I would need to find evidence of the relative English-friendliness of other countries.

    The Bugs Bunny quote was what our British friends refer to as "taking the p*ss", I believe. You seem to be incapable of making any point whatsoever without resorting to the use of statements of personal experience meant to serve as authoritative authentification. This is why I give you crap about constantly going on and on with your "I have lived in Japan for 4 years blah blah blah blah". Any statement or point that can't be presented in a way that it can stand on it's own without resort to length of time in Japan to serve as a crutch to prop it up isn't deserving of serious consideration, in my opinion. The amount of time one has spent in Japan serves as a reliable indicator of one thing and one thing only: the length of time one has spent in Japan. It gives no indication of the merits of one's opinions or assertions and tends, in most cases, to be inserted into statements as a cheap (and ultimately meaningless) method of establishing to others who have not been here that long (the bulk of JREF members/visitors) that one's credentials for opinions offered are authoritative and unassailable. It serves to establish some sort of gaijin pecking order and I find it to be crass in the extreme.

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