An Unspoken Language

I am trilinguist and I can understand few other languages from India. My initial thought before going to Japan was that people would be speaking a little bit English and I would be able to survive there on my own. However, I found myself helpless at many times as most people I met could not speak much or any English. The country has been modernized and is very advanced structurally; however, I felt that the universal language English need to be progressed in Japan. I am not sure if expansion of learning English would hurt language sustainability in any ways!!

DSC01131None the less, I feel that speaking without understanding is better. There were some high school students who we met on the train could not communicate directly with us; because of not having a common language. However, we all were really happy after meeting with them and trying a fail effort to talk to them.






   An adorable lady working at the gift store


One of the most memorable experience I had was shopping at the gift shop. All the sellers were really nice and welcoming. I had very unique experience of understanding and communicating with what I call ‘an unspoken language.’ I spent almost two hours talking to them and looking around, we had a very good time and I think they all loved me.



This gave me confident that I would be able to survive very well in Japan even by myself. As, a the last day three girls in our group including myself had a success navigating and using train by ourselves.






I Feel Like a Kindergartener Again…

I guess this comes across as cocky now that I’ve said it, but I was pretty confident in my Japanese abilities before I left on the trip.  I mean, I was a beginner – there was no way to deny that.  But I had my phrases memorized, and I had constantly quizzed myself on hiragana, katakana, and some kanji.  I thought that I’d be able to at least read some signs or menus, and then ask either Armstrong or Takahashi-sensei what the words actually meant.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

Most of my language experiences involved me cycling through head nods, bows, “hai”‘s (“yes”‘s), and “wakarimasen”‘s (“I don’t understand”‘s).  This was mainly due to my lack of knowledge concerning kanji.  I found that meals turned into games of Russian Roulette if I didn’t ask one of the senseis what was in a certain dish.  Luckily, I only got one or two bad things (they had mayonnaise in them, yuck!).

However, my difficulty speaking the language led me to come to the realization that many of the Japanese people were in very much the same boat as me.  The hotels tended to have someone who spoke English, and a few of the more popular restaurants for tourists had English menus.  That was about it.  Despite English being a global language, it seemed that many of the Japanese people only knew a bit of it.  I believe that that shows how ingrained their language is in the Japanese people’s lives.

As for me, I’m going to devote myself to my Japanese studies and further build up my vocabulary and my knowledge of kanji.  That way when I return, I’ll actually know what I’m eating!!!



Does ability to fluently speak a language mean that you will not have any troubles and misunderstandings communicating with people from a culture where this language is native? Neither of us can really speak Japanese yet, but even without knowing Japanese perfectly, we clearly understand now that the answer is no.

Cultural Sustainability

I have heard about specifics in Japanese culture several times, but never had a clear idea of how exactly all this looks like. It is hard to say what is more important in this country – to know the language on an appropriate level, so that you can say what you want to say and understand what people tell you, or to be aware of cultural peculiarities, social norms, and unspoken rules. Such peculiarities are very important in every culture, but I believe that in Japanese culture they have their own, special place, and people of all ages value them a lot. We, foreigners, can be forgiven for not knowing and thus unconsciously violating them from time to time. However, the impression that we make in such situations is not the best one. But Japanese people are really delicate and tactful, so they may never tell you that you are doing something wrong. Japanese people themselves, on the other hand, can never be forgiven for violating the rules and norms that they are all supposed to know.

All this may sound too complicated and completely unnecessary, and yet it is not so at all. I personally see some kind of charm and specialty in this subtlety of communication. This shows that Japanese people have brought their own traditions and customs through ages without being completely influenced by other cultures. They have not lost their mentality, which I find worthy of great respect.

Cultural Sustainability


Language Sustainability

But mentality is not the only thing that Japanese people have been keeping for ages. I find Japanese language magnificent as well. There is no surprise that it is difficult to learn for non-native speakers, but I am certain that it is worth learning. Though kanji characters may sometimes seem complicated, if you look at them closer, they all make perfect sense. Besides, the characters are not meant to be written in a hurry, and that is why each of them carry special atmosphere of calmness and concentration in every stroke. Exceptions are common in Japanese language, the amount of characters is enormous, but all this is an essential part of the whole Japanese culture, and it cannot be replaced by any other type of language.

We talked to a lot of people during our trip, and most of them did not know English, which is known as an international language. It may be seen as an inconvenience in communication, but for me it is clear evidence that Japanese people value their language very much and do not want to change it for any other, even if it could open lots of new opportunities to them. It is an illustration of self-sufficiency, rather than estrangement.


Environmental Sustainability

The self-sufficiency which I mentioned above can also be seen in a way how environmental resources are used in Japan. Land of the Rising Sun is small, especially considering such big population, and the situation with resources can be tough. But our visit to Takayuki Mori’s environmental friendly house left a deep impression on me – not only because it was very cold in it (which is not surprising, as Mori-san does not waste the energy when it is not necessary), but mostly because it showed that people in Japan know how to efficiently use what they have and how to live in harmony with the environment that surrounds them. Using solar panels, reusing, recycling, and consuming only the amount of energy that they need without wasting it for nothing – everything mentioned is clear evidence of wise usage of resources that Japan has got.

A lot of places that we visited, both in big cities and in the countryside, were surrounded by strong green trees, crystal clear water of lakes and rivers, and were full of fresh air. On the other hand, everything is made for people’s lives to be convenient. The recycling system is greatly developed, and no garbage can be seen on the streets. Even when me took a local train (which I cannot call a subway train as it is not underground), we could see beautiful mountains most of the time, which fascinated me a lot. People and nature are neighbors in Japan. They are friends, not a consumer and a prey, and not rivals.

Golden Temple

IMG_1827 (1)

Nuclear Sustainability

Another thing that I found surprising was a lecture on nuclear sustainability in Japan given to us by Professor Hiroaki Koide. I am strong in neither biology nor chemistry, so there were things that I did not completely understand, but I got the main point from the very beginning: most of what I had thought about nuclear power is not true at all.

First of all, nuclear power is not as sustainable as it is believed to be. It uses uranium, and we do not have a large amount of it left, so soon enough people will run out of it. Second, nuclear power does not prevent global warming; rather, it makes it worse by heating the oceans and the whole atmosphere. So this is just another myth about the benefits of nuclear energy, which is not actually true. Also, the harm caused by radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants is enormous. And the worst thing about it is, there is no safe way to dispose it.
All this, along with most people’s unawareness of what the nuclear power plants really are, is not just a problem that needs solution. It is a disaster that can by no means be ignored, but yet it often is. And this is really frightening.
I, however, believe that the way out of this situation can and will be found soon. During these eight days, I saw myself that Japanese people care a lot about environment of their country, and nowadays they tend to use more and more environmentally friendly resources and products, which shows their deep concern in what is happening in their country. This not only gives me hope, but also assures me that the solution will be found soon.


In conclusion, I can tell one thing: after visiting Japan myself I realized that I had had no idea what this country is. And this is normal, I guess, as I barely can imagine the whole country with its people, nature, and language by only reading my textbook and searching information on the Internet. After all, it is better to see something once than to hear about it hundred times, right?
But actually, there is one more thing that I know for sure: I will definitely visit Japan again, when I have an opportunity to do it. Eight days are enough to have some adventures and to form an idea about the culture and current state of Japan, but it is definitely not enough to explore this fascinating country.


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