Introduction – What you are facing
Do you want to know how to learn Japanese? I started my website not long ago with the objective of helping people study Japanese as efficiently as possible. So far so good. I have provided some valuable resources and tips to encourage people in their studies. I have also provided a review of the most popular online Japanese course.
What I have not yet mentioned is something that many western Japanese students don’t get to learn in their Japanese courses – The Japanese culture.
Figuring out how to learn Japanese might be challenging but doable. But adapting to the Japanese culture might be even more difficult. The culture of Japan is very complex. Learning the language and using it properly will only get you so far. One of the most respected cross-cultural researchers Edward T. Hall described it perfectly when he presented the terms High- and Low context cultures in 1976. In high context cultures like Japan, communication is so much more than just words.
Before I took a leap and moved to Japan, I felt lucky that I had just finished my business course in Intercultural communication. A course that is very descriptive in the difference between High- and Low context cultures. I did well in the class and felt confident that I was more prepared than any of the other fellow students in the Japanese language school. But the course wouldn’t mention the biggest obstacle of all for a foreign resident in Japan. That is how to be let in, how to be excepted as a part of a group with Japanese people.
The language barrier is tough at first, but ones you are getting to a conversational level and start to take some initiatives in making conversation with the nationals, you are starting to realize that the language barrier is not the only challenge you have to overcome. Some Japanese natives will take an initiative to talk to you, but more likely than not they have another reason for it besides making a foreign friend. From my experience, many of them will consider you to be their future tutor.
The Japanese willingness or eager to learn is probably unseen in the rest of the world. They are restless in their goals to make their résumé and cover letters seem irresistible to possible employers, and you can help them achieve that. English teachers are constantly sought for in Japan, But they are expensive for the Japanese. Many of them will instead try to make a foreign friend and learn for free. But they won’t let you know that. This creates an uncertainty and hesitation in the Foreigner-Japanese relationship.
There are examples when people in my surroundings have had nights out with a group of people, had a great time, had the feeling they have made new friends, but just days after been asked by his or her new friends to teach them English. Often without being offered compensation. If they show unwillingness to do so, they run the risk of not hearing from them again.
Not only does this point out an obstacle for foreigners, but it also highlights one of the few real problems in the Japanese society. The conditions for Japanese people to learn English is bad. This problem can only partially be blamed on the schools. But the biggest blame should be put on the media, but that is another subject.
Like I mentioned, this was the biggest issue for me when I first moved to Japan. People put on a very nice exterior but are more often than not unwilling to have a genuine friendship with you. How to learn Japanese turned into how to adapt and socialize. If you intend to spend a long period of time in Japan, this is the toughest challenge you have to face.
The Japanese culture is of course very complex therefore I have decided to do it in different parts. Click here for Japanese Culture Part 2 – losing face