Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lost in Translation & Cultural Differences

"I just don't know what I'm supposed to be."
"You'll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you."

This is more of a serious matter, but one which warrants concern, both inside and outside of Japan. I admit, I do quite a bit of analysis on this blog, examining cultural differences between the Japanese and American worlds, patterns of behavior, and undermining certain misconceptions. However, I'm not advocating any type of racial hatred, stereotyping, or trying to attack anyone personally. I'm an eikaiwa teacher in Japan, and I'm not Japanese. There are certain situations that come up, that have come up before with other teachers, that I believe it's important for others to understand. That's why I created this blog - as an outlet, to be true, but also to inform others of the ways of the world.

Also worthy of note - my opinions are not set in stone, nor do I want you to take them at face value all the time; if you haven't noticed, I frequent programs like The Colbert Report to use as an example for satire. Sometimes I'm making a very satirical, very comedic statement. And it's not designed to make anyone feel bad, it's just poking fun at other cultures - it's funny, sometimes.

I'm 24. I just graduated from college last year. I worked independently before coming to Japan. This is my first experience in the corporate world, in the teaching world, and in the Japanese world. Be that as it may, these are my opinions about Japan, and that's all they are - opinions. You are free to disagree with them, be insulted by them, admire them, or write me and counter them. Nevertheless, I feel the need to tell people about certain situations that come up, to learn from my experiences, both good and bad to teach them about what life is like over here in general. It may be completely different in other parts of the country, in other schools, with other people, but the fact remains that some of these cultural differences are universal - there are always going to be differences between the Japanese and American mindset, and I want to tell you about some of them.

Regarding my Japanese readers (and I know there are a lot of you, either as eikaiwa teachers or natives) - there is an expression we use called "lost in translation". This is not insulting your knowledge of English - I personally believe that you could study English for years and still have something lost in translation. Nor is this confined to Japanese people - English speakers studying Latin, Greek, other languages all lose something in the translation. Why? Because regardless of how much studying we do, how many expressions we know, we're still not native speakers, and privy to the original intent of the message. You can study pronunciation, intonation, emotion, and still might be off by miles (or kilometers). Nor does "lost in translation" apply specifically to people speaking a different language - think of how you studied famous writings, books, poems in school; did you understood the full meaning of the author's words, even though they were written in your language? Maybe so, maybe not - but regardless of how skilled a writer he was, or how observant a person you are, some feelings, the mood of the piece, may never be truly understood.

Am I happy living in Japan? Yes.

Am I happy living in a mountain town? Yes, but sometimes there are disadvantages, which I talk about.

Do I enjoy teaching English? Yes, but I don't believe it's my destiny or "true calling" - it's a job, plain and simple.

Do I like my co-workers? Of course. Without them, I never could have learned Japanese, become familiar with this town, gotten into my apartment safely, set up a bank account, gotten my gaijin card, etc. My eikaiwa does a lot for you when moving to Japan.

Do I enjoy the office environment? No, not at all. But this is NOT implying I hate my co-workers or that they hate me. Sometimes I just get certain impressions that are lost in translation, ones that I comment about on this blog.

And I believe that has happened quite a few times with people reading my stories. I've even tried to be careful about stating my newness in Japan, that these are my observations, and mine alone, and I'm entitled to my opinion. You don't have to like it, but you do have to respect that I'm allowed to express it. Let me give you an example: I have mentioned a few times that I'm uncertain of just what my co-workers think of me... do they respect me, think I'm stupid, down the middle, or what? Well, guess what? That isn't exclusively Japanese, and I'm not saying they do think that, I'm just pointing out certain impressions I feel, certain cultural differences that make me feel this way. They may be true or not, but the fact that I'm feeling that way means nothing except to me, and me alone. Lost in translation.

And sometimes I feel like things are a little hypocritical on this end. What do many Japanese blue-collar workers do at the end of the day? Go home to their families, have dinner, go to izakayas, travel...? I've known many to go to izakayas, have a few drinks with some food, and just rant about the events of the day. What's the difference between that and what I'm doing? The fact that you heroes can see my words? It's a technological age - the subject of blogs in the workplace is still under speculation.

Issues with Blogging in the Workplace

French Blog
Business Week

In my humble opinion, I hope to promote discussion about these differences and issues, nothing more. But people who have such a one-dimensional mindset, see these things at face value, and aren't willing to accept this explanation, probably shouldn't be reading my blog. This is to analyze, not criticize. I don't want to scare away people by thinking I'm going to be apologizing every day (although, as a foreigner in Japan, I do that quite often in the real world); my opinions will continue, with the same attitude. Read the truthiness, and speak softly and clearly. Enjoy my world, and I will certainly appreciate the advice of you heroes.

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