Through your English to the Heart of Japan

Every time we find ourselves in a foreign-speaking environment in the East, we, as people of the West, and just foreigners from anywhere, feel the gazes of people on ourselves and react to the attitude towards us as foreigners through the prism of English and the native language for ordinary people. Here are some significant exposure moments as it happens in Japan.

1. Ask about meals, “Can you eat?”

When Japanese wants to ask you as a foreigner living in Japan if you can eat natto, what do you say in English? Perhaps most people will hear the Japanese phrase “Can you eat natto?” In English as it is.

But this is exactly the wrong way to hear it.

When you say “I can’t eat natto” in English, there are only three possible cases.

Cases where you cannot eat because you are allergic to soybeans

Cases that cannot be eaten due to religious reasons, vegetarian (in the case of meat)

I hate it so much that my body can’t accept it, and when I eat it, I vomit, so I can’t eat it.

The Japanese phrase “Can you eat natto?” Includes the meaning “Do you like natto?” Because there is an assertion that people who dislike it cannot eat it.

However, English does not have such nuances, so the correct way to ask is to ask “Do you like natto?” Instead of “Can you eat natto?”. Even if you ask a foreigner “Can you eat natto?” And answer YES says there is no guarantee that he or she is not bad at natto.

In Japanese, when someone asks “Can you eat natto?”, You can guess that you want to ask “whether you like natto” unconditionally. Conversations between Japanese people who are required to understand what the other person wants to say are very vague for foreigners, and when talking to foreigners in English, it is necessary to be more specific about what they want to say.

It seems that some foreigners are irritated when suddenly asked “Can you eat?”

2. Ask about the seasons, such as “Do you have four seasons in your country?”

Is it because we hear everywhere that “Japan is a country of four seasons” and “a beautiful country of four seasons”? One hardly knows reason, but it seems that many people have the illusion that there is no country other than Japan that has four seasons. There are books and sites that introduce Japan overseas state that “Japanese people have the illusion that only Japan has four seasons for some reason.”

Most Western countries have four seasons, and even if they proudly talk about Japan, which has four seasons, it seems difficult to answer. Also, in large countries like the United States and Australia, the climate varies from region to region, so the question “Does your country have four seasons?” Is a very difficult question to answer.

Instead of asking “Do you have four seasons in your country?” In English, ask this question.

“How is the climate in your country / state / region / hometown?”

What is your country / state / region / local climate like?

“How is the weather at the moment in your country / hometown?”

What is the current weather in your country  / local area?

“Is the weather in Japan very different than where you come from?”

“Is your hometown and the climate of Japan quite different?”

For those who have stayed in Japan for more than one year and have experienced the four seasons of Japan …

“Do the seasons start and end at different times of the year where you come from?”

“Is the beginning and end of the season different from your country?”

“How would you compare the climate in your country / hometown and Japan? How would you compare the climate of your country?”

The English questions spoken by Japanese people are so simple that people who are asked seem to think that they were suddenly asked a blunt question. As explained above, when using English for foreigners, it is indispensable to “embody what you want to say” so as not to be rude.

In conversations with Japanese people, the other person can feel the nuances without explaining everything they want to hear, but in the case of foreigners, they rarely understand the word (deep understanding of Japanese culture). (Excluding foreigners with). Better to always keep in mind that the Japanese wording is not enough, and the expression “I’ll explain it one by one” is just right.

If the person has lived in Japan for a long time

“Do the seasons start and end at different times of the year where you come from?”

“How would you compare the climate in your country / hometown and Japan / (place where you live in Japan)?

It may be good to use expressions such as.

A common question asked by Japanese people is that it is too simple. In conversations between Japanese people, the conversation is established by reading the context, but in English conversations, questions that are too simple to understand what you want to ask sometimes sound naive and should be avoided. Stop asking about without thinking about what you want to hear.

3. Ask, “Can you do?”

Foreigners living in Japan often ask, “Can you eat with chopsticks?”, “Can you sleep on a futon?”, “Can you sit upright?” However, this is a rude question when asking a foreigner who has some experience of staying in Japan. He feels that he cannot do it because he is a foreigner, and he gets frustrated, angry, and hurt. Some foreigners don’t care at all, but many foreigners feel discriminatory and unpleasant.

When you ask these questions to foreigners who had just arrived in Japan or who had never been to Japan, they were taken to boast that “Japanese people who can do this are amazing!” It seems that it will end up. Whether you are a foreigner living in Japan or not, it is safe to avoid such questions.

So what should I do if I want to ask if it’s okay to take a foreigner to a tatami room restaurant? that is…

“I hope you don’t mind if we go to a restaurant where we have to sit on a tatami ”.

“This restaurant doesn’t have chairs; is it a problem for you?” This restaurant doesn’t have chairs, is that okay?

Foreigners living in Japan talk! There is a way of hearing such as 5 rude behavior patterns of Japanese people who are irritated.

In this example as well, if you ask “Can you sit upright?” In Japanese, Japanese people will think that it is a “question that you care about yourself and you are not sitting upright.” You cannot avoid sudden questions that start with “Can you ~?” As much as possible, and use your wits to convey the background of “why do you want to ask that question?”

4. Not foreigner = American who can’t speak Japanese”

Foreigners other than Asians are very noticeable in Japan. It seems that such a prominent foreigner can talk to various Japanese people in the city. 

In the eyes of many Japanese “westerners all think English is their mother tongue”

But all foreigners can’t speak Japanese.

Talking to foreigners just to practice English.

A foreigner speaks in Japanese, thinks for about 2 minutes, and answers in poor English.

It is a bit unbelievable, but it seems that there are quite a few people who speak only in English in most of Japanese cities. When you are riding a bicycle and waiting for a traffic light, reading a book at a cafe, walking to work, shopping with my family, etc., you may be suddenly talked to by a Japanese person and asked, “Where are you from?” , “What are you doing in Japan?”

Certainly, from a foreigner’s point of view, having to talk to someone who obviously just wants to talk to a foreigner (and suddenly) is very tiring. This kind of rude behavior is embarrassing as an adult, so don’t do it.

But Japanese want to talk to foreigners in English! It’s not rude to think that. They talk to them in places where you want to communicate “with each other”, such as when you go to a party or cafe.

5. If a foreigner talks to Japanese …

Then what should Japanese do when a foreigner talks to them? Foreigners need to be more careful when spoken in Japanese than when spoken in English.

When a foreigner speaks in Japanese, if there is a Japanese person next to the foreigner, many people will look at the Japanese who understand the language and speak in Japanese, but this is for foreigners.

When you go to a Japanese station, restaurant, shop, etc. with, say it, your French husband, almost all the Japanese clerk of the other person talks only by looking at your face even if the husband asks a question in Japanese. 

There was also such a thing.

One lady went to a restaurant with her husband and a Chinese girl friend who couldn’t speak Japanese better than her husband. The waiter was from the West and asked a question in Japanese. However, when a Japanese-speaking Chinese who was less proficient than lady’s husband asked a question, the waiter was speaking by looking at the Chinese himself, not the lady.

Japanese at times may seem very strange, and there seems to be a prejudice that people who can be clearly seen as foreigners cannot speak Japanese.

However, when a foreigner speaks in Japanese, it is a manifestation of his desire to speak in Japanese. Even if it sounds like Katakoto Japanese, it is a language that they have learned by studying hard. 

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