Monday, December 10, 2012

Confusion and Listening

Learning Japanese is very difficult. It's probably one of the most difficult languages in the world. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to learn. I just have to work very hard to understand what people are saying and to be able to speak.

When I arrived in Japan, I had the basics. I could express wants and desires through my simple vocabulary and bare basic sentence structure, but that was about it. I needed more to function through daily life. My rotary club has been gracious enough to pay for Japanese classes for me.

A tutor comes to my school twice a week to help me improve my language skills. These lessons last about two hours each. My teacher patiently explains new words and teaches me new sentence structures. With her help, I've been able to improve my Japanese considerably, but I still have a long way to go.

I can have a basic conversation with someone, but I can't spout philosophical words. I'm afraid I even have a hard time interacting with my friends at school. They speak very quickly and I often can't understand what they are talking about. When I do understand what they are saying, I can't formulate a sentence fast enough to join in the conversation. By the time, I am ready to say something, my friends have moved onto a different subject, so I tend to stay quiet and listen.

When people communicate, they do it through many different means. Not only do people talk, but they use facial expressions and gestures to add more meaning to their words. But when people talk to me, I have to focus very intently on their words to find meaning in the strange sounds. ONLY on their words. There are times when I can't even look at someone’s face, so I walk away from a conversation and think, "Now who was I talking too???". I have focus so hard that I cannot even begin to watch for gestures or facial expressions. This means I get less information than normal out of a sentence, leaving even more room for miscommunication than language barriers already create. If you add in cultural differences to the language barrier, you have a very confused exchange student. But the confusion is just part of being an exchange student. Once in a while a light bulb goes off, and it's a moment of pure bliss. There's nothing like finding understanding in what's normally complete confusion.


When you're honest about your language abilities:

   pic source: whatshouldwecallme and blazersandpins

The Rabbit on the Moon.

Rabbits and bunnies are everywhere in Japan. Now, I don't mean I see them hopping down the street and around my school. I mean bunnies are a popular icon in Japan. There are adorable rabbits pictured on obentos (lunch boxes), chopsticks, dishes, and other objects. Sometimes even food comes in the shape of a rabbit.

The Japanese believe that if you look closely at a full moon, you can see the image of a rabbit in the shadows. This lone rabbit is supposed to be making Mochi, a sticky, smashed rice delicacy. This rabbit is also supposed to be a symbol of weath.

I, myself, have gotten into this "bunny" mania. While I've always considered rabbits cute and cuddly, I've become quite obsessed with these furry creatures during the last 4 months in Japan. My poor exchange student friends have had to endure more than one outburst on the cuteness of an object bearing the picture of a rabbit.
For more info on the history of rabbits in Japan and through Japanese culture visit: