Oh No I Can’t Read


There is a list of several things that were my “first impressions” of Japan, and from my perspective of hoping to live in this country someday, I took notice I’m about 5% literate after stepping out of the airport. Some things are written in English, some things are even written in bad English(there’s also a lot of bad French). In Japanese 101, we learned the two Japanese phonetic alphabets and 50-60 of the thousands of Kanji in existence. The things we learned and things I already knew are present – but the vast majority of written communication I’ve seen in the few days I’ve been here relies on the reader’s comprehending of Kanji.  On the sign in the image above, I know roughly seven of the 18 characters, and none of them give me any clue as to what it means. From it’s placement and the arrows, I can guess it’s probably a road sign. So it might be important if I weren’t following a group of students with two teachers that know how to read leading it. It might not be anything important at all, I don’t have any idea.

What this means to me is that if I’m going to continue to hold this goal of living in this country and navigating road signs, restaurant menus or apartment listings on my own I have an elephant to eat first. I’ll add here, I’m not surprised by the prevalence of Kanji usage, I was aware that most writing is done this way and I already had the mindset that learning it would be an absolute necessity. I knew it, now I’m living it. I found myself going to the convenience store when the professor said she was going because on my own I can’t tell which items are vegetarian and which aren’t. The above image is part of a project I started during our first full day here – photographing any kanji that look interesting or like they might be important. In the future this (already humongous) collection of images will serve the purpose of self assessment. After aggressively running many miles of Kanji learning throughout the coming year, I can look through the collection and perhaps read the ingredients and nutrition label on this mysterious thing I bought and drank from the convenience store just now.

Yogurt Drink     Yogurt Drink Ingredient Label

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