JLPT BC 72 | Culture has to be Absorbed

So, I have been making slow but steady progress with Mr. Itoi’s book. I’m on about page 147 and reading around 3 to 4 pages a day. To tell the truth, I’m getting a bit impatient with it. I prefer stories a lot better. I like to read something that flows. But, the book is still pretty good, it talks about how and why he created his website https://www.1101.com and since I’ve done my fair share of website creating it’s getting pretty interesting.

I have also been making my way through the N1 list of vocabulary on StickyStudy: Japanese, which is essentially a very pretty flashcard app. I’m at about 10% so far. I’ve been coming across a lot of words that I’m a little familiar with so it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought. I always had this image in my mind that N1 vocabulary will be unbelievably difficult, but it is turning out to pretty simple really, just a matter of practice.

I just stumbled upon a iPhone app called Vocre, that just recently became free. It is essentially a voice translator that you can use for several languages. One of the available options is Japanese, so I’ve been toying with that. The machine translation is of course utterly laughable for everything but the simplest of phrases, but it is good practice for your pronunciation. I’ll try to get a video out about it.

You have to Absorb Culture not Learn It

Before I came to Japan, I did a lot of reading about what Japanese culture was like. I had a couple of books written by so-called experts on Japanese culture. I thoroughly read any book I could get my hands on that dealt with Japanese culture.

I even waded through a 1000 page book about the modern history of Japan, which was actually quite useful for understanding modern Japanese history. It took me forever to get through the book, but I made it. And now I’m actually quite glad I took the time to read through all that because I have a much deeper understanding of all the places I visit.

In general, I just wanted to be prepared for Japan. I didn’t want to end up being that guy that is incredibly rude and does absolutely everything they are not supposed to. In other words the dirty American or dumb foreigner stereotype.

But, Japanese Culture is Different

But, I quickly found out that Japanese culture really isn’t anything like what was described in my books or the headlines you see. It definitely wasn’t what I thought it was.

Now, first off, I live in Kyoto, which is pretty thick with culture for obvious reasons. And just a stone’s throw away is Osaka. Both of these places have pretty distinct cultures. That doesn’t really seem all that likely given that they are basically one big interconnected city area. There is a strip of suburbia that connects the two.

These two cities are nothing like what I read about in my books. Kyoto is obviously rather traditional, most people have exceptional manners and everyone seems to love to drink gallons of coffee every day. This is compared to Osaka, where people considered a red don’t walk light as a warning to look both ways before crossing; where people love to eat; and occasionally throw Colonel Sanders in the river for fun.

Obviously not the picture of Japan I had in my mind before I came here. I read that people in Japan never hold hands or kiss in public, which they do, maybe not as much as say, people in some European countries, but they do.

I was also told that people were always on time. My Japanese professor told me once that Japanese people almost always arrive 15 minutes before every appointment and patiently wait until the appointed time to meet with people. I don’t know any of my students (young and old) that have always matched this stereotype. Some people can come as late as 15 minutes to an hour long class.

Come to Japan

If you have a strong interest in learning the Japanese language, which if you are taking the test you probably do, then you should strongly consider coming to see Japan for at least one visit. There is so much that you just absorb by being here that you simply can’t read in a book or on a blog. And even a short one week trip can fuel your motivation for your studies.

At the very least, if you can’t afford a trip to Japan, try to pick up a Skype chat buddy to talk with on a regular basis. Having some exposure to real culture really helps bring you closer to understand the ‘Japanese mind’.

Having a deeper understanding of the culture will help your language skills as well. The more you study Japanese the more you’ll begin to realize that people in Japan simply don’t usually talk about the same stuff we usually talk about. This is what sometimes makes the reading sections of the JLPT so difficult to understand.

How about you?

What’s something unexpected that you found out about Japan? Are there some stereotypes about Japan that you’ve always wondered about? Let me know in the comments below.

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What Should the Podcast be About? (select up to 3)

  • What I am doing to study and prepare (25%, 76 Votes)
  • What's it like to live/work/study in Japan (18%, 55 Votes)
  • Focus on grammar/vocab/kanji for one level (per year) (18%, 54 Votes)
  • Interviews with test takers (15%, 47 Votes)
  • Mnemonics for Kanji/Vocab/Grammar (15%, 47 Votes)
  • Japanese Culture (9%, 28 Votes)

Total Voters: 165

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Music by Kevin MacLeod

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Ken March 25, 2012, 4:58 am

    One of the reason why Osaka people are rude and wild unlike other areas is that Osaka has the largest oversea originated people mainly Korean ethnic.
    Osaka is paying public welfare the most though it does not have the largest population in Japan.

    • Mac March 26, 2012, 2:41 pm

      I wouldn’t really say they are rude. But most of the folks I’ve meet just love food, drink and being around people more than working. Nothing wrong with that 🙂

  • Tim March 26, 2012, 1:51 am

    I totally agree with this. Every area of Japan has its own sub-culture. You can’t pin down Japanese culture to just a few things that everyone does. And you have to experience culture for yourself, not just read about it in a few books.

    One example I always use is: try explaining to someone what denotes good white rice, as opposed to bland or even poor tasting white rice. Before I lived here, I thought rice was rice. Now, my wife still gives me a hard time whenever I comment on how good good rice is, because of my old, non-Japanese, ignorant mentality. :p

    There is too much culture to experience; especially when you live far away from the major parts of Japan. But one thing you can be sure of: customs and culture cannot be affixed to specific stereotypes wherever in Japan you happen to go. 🙂

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