Sorry … This should have been posted 2 months ago… but is still true now. At seven months living as an expat in Tokyo… it is all true.. It is still the same.
After five months living here in Tokyo, I have to say that I really do love it here — most of the time. I am enjoying learning about this country, and the people and the culture here. There are days — yes — that are a struggle, and some things that frustrate me. The language barrier has been the biggest struggle for us, but the Japanese people have been so kind and patient and eager (for the most part, anyway) to help, that it really hasn’t been that much of a problem. Our Japanese teacher told us that we really could get by here without learning the language, and I know for a fact that many expats do just that. I personally don’t want to do it that way. I want to learn the language and be able to converse with people here. I am learning Japanese, but I am no where near able to understand or speak it yet. I know it will take time.
Today as I walked into the “su-pa-” (supermarket) an employee started talking to me in Japanese and handed me the store’s loyalty card. All the supermarkets and convenience stores (“con-bi-ni”) around here have them. The fact that he targeted me to give me the card was what really gave me pause. I shop at this store probably 3 or 4 times per week. I am sure that by now all the employees have noticed me. I mean… there aren’t that many non-Asian-looking people here in Shibaura. I am sure that I stick out like a sore thumb, but sometimes I forget how different I must look to them. But… lol… this is the first time anyone has actually approached me to “speak” to me. Unfortunately… I couldn’t speak Japanese,and he couldn’t speak English. We were still at an impasse with the language, but everyone was so friendly trying to help. I was just trying to find out how to register the card so that I could actually use it. Finally, I told them in broken Japanese that I would have my Nihongo (Japanese language) sensei (teacher) help me with it. *Phew*… what an ordeal!
When I got to the check-out, the girl waved the same loyalty card at me and I showed her that I already had one. She took it from my hand and peeled it off the cardboard card and swiped it… And I think she said something to the effect that I could get credit for the purchase before I had the card registered. Hey… all the better! As I accrue points, I can get discounts… I’ll take that! Groceries here are kind of expensive!
When I walk through my neighborhood back in Georgia, I always speak to the people I meet. Here in Tokyo, they rarely do that. Everyone is in their personal bubble, and tries not to interfere with anyone else. It is that “Meiwaku” thing. (See previous post about Meiwaku.) I used to think it was because I am a foreigner, but they treat everyone the same way. But then, when we went hiking at Mt. Takao last weekend, just about everyone we met along the trail said “Konnichiwa” (hello/good day.) Sometimes the little kids (who are learning English in school) practice their English on us. We will get the occasional “hello” or “hi” from them. Sometimes in this isolation of not knowing the language, I start to feel like I am unwelcome here, but I really don’t think it is true at all. When I have had the opportunity to actually interact with them, I have found nothing but kind and friendly people, as eager to understand and learn about me as I am about them.
The point — and I have trouble explaining this — is that it isn’t just about the language. The language is a hurdle, but I can learn words. This experience living in Japan is also helping me to understand about the attitudes and the culture, and the history that produced this culture. It is all so different… so unique… so fascinatingly diverse. We need to embrace this diversity… Love it. Nurture it. Internalize it. Be it.