I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Japanese essay I wrote for my course on Japanese Linguistics & Pedagogy Course

I'm currently taking a correspondence course offered by the JET Program to its participants (we're always referred to as participants, never as employees interestingly) in the area of Japanese Linguistics and Pedagogy. I'm hoping that this training will help give me the opportunity to teach Japanese back home, should I choose that path. Right now, who knows...

Anyway, for the recent test I had to write an essay on the topic of 'Living in a foreign culture,' and they asked us to use examples from experiences in our respective towns. Here's my story in Japanese and English. I guess it will be pretty apparent (if it isn't clear enough already) that I'm out of the 'honeymoon' phase of this relationship, although I care very deeply about Japan and many of its issues, good & bad. Right now art is on a high, hence the recent posts on Hokusai and pottery, but as a whole on foreign diplomacy...needs improvement.

I find that the people who are most considerate and understanding are those who've lived abroad for a significant amount of time or who at least strives to look beyond easy conceptions, while the average person, who knows little of foreigners but believes what cultural myths and stereotypes egregiously misinform, their assurance in ignorance sometimes hurts to watch and experience first hand. (Notice I didn't use any nation-modifiers in the above sentence; I believe it applies to all countries, all people.)



***In my article I’ve kept the word meaning foreigner as the Japanese ‘gaijin’, because I think it’s vital for people to understand how significant the literal meaning “person from the outside” is ingrained into Japanese language and thought***

Internationalization and Humanity

The number of Japanese people who want to travel abroad is enormous. When those people see a gaijin, their eyes sparkle with a mix of admiration and awe. This large group generally strives to achieve internationalization within Japan. Thanks to this attitude, I and many other gaijin English speakers are able to come and experience Japan’s unique culture while teaching our native language.
During my stay in Japan I’ve met many interesting and kind people and have been able to spend some great times with them. I’ve traveled from everywhere from Tokyo, to Nara, Aomori, and even Yakushima, all while learning much about Japan and its culture. At school I’m happy to have reached the point where students some can communicate naturally with me in English, using words like ‘gotcha.’ Being able to build this kind of relationship with new people, regardless or race or nationality (or language for that matter), is my ideal for humanity.
But to tell the truth, for a gaijin living in a monoculture like Japan, it can be quite difficult at times. Japan’s population consists of 99% Japanese people, and because gaijin stand out so starkly, Japanese people often accidentally discriminate against us. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m viewed as an English tool rather than a human being. If I try to start a conversation with someone in Japanese, they will (seldom, but frequently enough) respond with, “I don’t know English” (as if that has anything to do with speaking Japanese). Other times, people will look at my exterior, and will begin a conversation with me in English (a common misconception of Japanese is that all gaijin, especially Caucasians, speak English--how do they know I’m not German or Italian and do not speak English?). Many times I get no reply at all to my overtures. I’m extremely shocked and disappointed by these occasions, mainly because I enjoy my life in Japan and I wish to be treated the same as everyone else. Times when I’m separated based on my appearance, I don’t want to stay in Japan another minute. It’s lonely and I feel isolated.
I think internationalization and international exchange are important things. While enjoying each others’ company, we can form a new rapport and learn more about ourselves as well. But above this (internationalization), I believe we must always keep our partner’s feelings in mind.
The other day in my neighborhood I took part in a rice cutting community event. Even though I was the only gaijin, I felt entirely accepted and treated equally as everyone else in the group, so much so that I even forgot for a while that I was a gaijin. That’s the humanity I’m talking about.


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