35° 41′ 22.1568″ N, 139° 41′ 30.1416″ E
Studying abroad can be very life changing. When I first arrived at the airport, I realized that I had stepped into a whole other world, full of things that I had never experienced. It is very exciting, but it can also be very scary. When I first arrived at the Narita Airport in Japan, I do not think that I was ready to start speaking Japanese. Luckily, I took Japanese the semester before so everything was still fresh in my head. However, I also had a nice, long break after the semester ended and I had not used any Japanese.
Language barriers can be frustrating but can also be a fun challenge, especially when you are studying the language and want to practice using it. Since I am currently taking a Japanese language class, I always try to use my new vocabulary when I talk to my host family. However, there are also many times when talking consists of a lot of hand motions, “um” or “ano” (pronounced ah-no) which is the Japanese version of “um” and electronic dictionary usage.
Other times I really do not have to use much Japanese to get my point across. Although I would like to be able to speak as much Japanese as I can, sometimes not having to speak works to my advantage. For instance, I was on the train by myself at night after hanging out with some friends in Roppongi, an area in Tokyo with a lot of restaurants and karaoke. I was on a train that I do not normally use and I wanted to ask a woman next to me if the train went to Yokohama Station. I said “ano kono denshya wa Yokohama eki…” which would be in English “Um this train….Yokohama Station.” It is not a complete sentence at all and yet she knew exactly what I was trying to say and answered me in English! I was really surprised. We had a whole conversation in English. In school, Japanese students are required to take English class. Therefore, many Japanese people can understand some or even a lot of English.
A lot of the time in crowded, busy cities like Shibuya or Harajuku someone will stand outside advertising a restaurant and say something like “There is good food here.” They will say it in Japanese and then when they see me they start speaking in English. Also, in Japan English is used a lot more than I expected. Some store signs are written only in English. There are many multi-language signs as well that have Japanese, English, and Korean written on them. Even the train system is made easy for foreigners. Information about the train line and stops will be given in Japanese and then English! Even the computerized screen that shows the stops in Japanese will also show it in English. I was so surprised at how easy those language barriers became less of a problem and how much easier it was for me to adapt to life in Japan.
Actually, ever since I started learning Japanese I have been learning English words too, but in the Japanese pronunciation. It is interesting because when speaking in Japanese, I have to use the Japanese pronunciation of a word that is used in English. Otherwise, they will not understand. For example, “orenji” is the same this as “orange,” “yoguruto” is “yogurt” and “depato” is “department store.” I have to remember to say the words with the Japanese pronunciation, because I have slipped into English before when talking and made it harder to get my point across.
Recently, my friends Sharon and Yvonne and I went to an art store and bought pens that can be erased by the small eraser at the end of the pen, which we thought was really cool. They work really well and come in so many different colors. After we bought them we went to a huge department store which everyone calls the Wal-Mart of Japan and we found the same pens for a cheaper price. Sharon said she wanted to return the ones she bought and get the cheaper ones. In America, we would have easily without a thought gone to the store and returned the pens. However, we stood there going back and forth about whether or not we would be able to return them. Luckily, I had recently learned how to ask to return something in Japanese in my class. It was perfect timing! On the other hand, Sharon was having some difficulty because she does not study Japanese. I told her how to ask to return something but then the woman asked her to write her name on the back of the receipt. She looked at me and said “Uh…I don’t know how to write my name in Japanese…help!” Yvonne and I sounded out Sharon’s name and tried to write it in Japanese.
After we returned our pens we felt so proud of ourselves! That sounds strange right? Well, when you are in a foreign country the things that normally come easy to you on a daily basis become a difficult task, especially when another language is involved. You suddenly feel like you are learning to do all the easy things all over again. It took me a while to get used to the train system here (I still get confused by the Philadelphia area transportation system, too). I even have trouble finding the flush button or lever when I am in bathrooms in Japan. Sometimes it is on the wall written only in Japanese. To add to that, Japanese toilets can squirt water from inside the toilet bowl. You do not want to accidentally hit that switch! Sometimes I can’t help but laugh at myself for getting so confused. It is all a part of the experience and what makes it all so interesting and fun!