Question: Why Japan? Everything in its right place

“Why Japan?” is the question I hear the most either here in Japan or back home. Going to live in a country on the other side of the world doesn’t seem to be an easy decision.

For me, Japan was kind of a dream.  I thought about living in Japan for a long time before actually coming here, so it could, but the right place.

Indeed, Japan is a dream. Many people dream about Japan because of it is strikingly beautiful landscapes, unique culture and people. Amazing sakura petal rains, magical temples, manga and anime super planet and delicious food.

Indeed, it is one of the best places for traveling. Living and working here may belong to a completely different universe. In my case, at the workplace I am the only alien and  some of the rules we have to follow require flexibility and patience for someone who finds them unusual. I have no choice but to adapt, accept all my differences and at the same time try not to stand out too much.

“When are you coming back?” is the second question.

How long should I stay? When should I leave? Is it early to go home? Is it late to go home?

Dreaming a dream and living a dream may be very different things. In any case, I realize pursuing a dream may not come easy. It may be a very hard work and it takes a lot of patience.

Fortunately there is a reward.

During one year living here I feel I learnt so much and I realize there is still so much to learn. I am glad I pursued my dream. For instance, as my Japanese language level is progressing (still love fighting!), with each time it is much easier to communicate. I have also met the most wonderful people while being here. Being here taught me to learn to be more flexible and understanding. We are human after all.

Dream is a challenge.  I realize now I have other dreams and maybe something new to discover. This is not a final destination, but a journey.

Everything in its right place.

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Feature picture: The Gion Shrine in Snow, Utagawa Hiroshige, in 1834

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Reading, June 2017

Hello!

Since I’m also quite fond of books (reading or smelling them) I would like to share some impressions about the books I’ve been reading lately. Sometimes I share my reviews on Goodreads.

Have you read any of the books below? Also, if you have any questions or suggestions about these or similar books, feel free to let me know!

  1 – 星の王子さ, The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I have been coming back to reread some parts of this book and every time I’m amazed by its truth in such a magical form. This is a recommendation just for anyone!

This time, I am trying to read its Japanese version. Its translation is also simply written and easy to understand. I am still struggling through some phrases and always looking up new words.

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  2 – 中級を学ぼう 日本語の文型と表現56 中級前期 Chukyu wo Manabou, Nihongo no Bunkei to Hyogen 56 [Intermediate Japanese]

Keeping on dedicating time to my love (previously discussed here), this is Japanese language text book I’m using (the most) right now. Along with my Japanese language teacher, I went to a bookstore in order to choose a text book which would match my level.

It’s been a very useful manual with a variety of exercises and grammatical points. I find themes particularly interesting, like onomatopeias usage, music therapy, sneeze (yes, there is a text about why we sneeze!) which makes you more comfortable while speaking about free topics and thinking in Japanese as well. In my opinion, while speaking in a specific languagle, one should also think in that language, until of course it becomes natural.

  3 – Geography III, Elizabeth Bishop

My first read by Elizabeth, a short set of poems which I’m discovering to be a real treasure.

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seemed filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster”

  4 – 1984, George Orwell

A well known dystopian novel I could finally put my hands on.

The novel is set in a dystopian world under totalitarian regime, where everyone is constantly being watched and controlled. It is infinitely intriguing, yet quite frightening. What impressed me the most is the idea of changing the language by eliminating and reducing the existent words (in this case in English) in order to make a human not only behave, but even think in a specific, almost robotic way goodthink.

More than a novel, it is a warning, very actual nowadays.

Fortunately there are more to come!

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Can one be in love with a language?

About two years ago I was finishing my thesis and since I didn’t have to follow a rigorous schedule I decided it was a good time to pick up a new language. Not really for work purpose, just for the sake of learning a new language itself. I thought about Hebrew or Japanese, since I was interested in a non-European origin language with a different writing system and interesting pronunciation. The chances I would use Hebrew were remote, so I picked up Japanese, at least I thought I was closer to Japanese culture.

Fascination

So I enrolled in a course. Now as I look back, it seems one of the happiest times in my life. From the beginning I enjoyed learning every new word, a character, a grammatical pattern. Learning was a sheer pleasure. Whenever I came in a contact with the language, be it simply in the class or watching a movie or listening to a song would make me truly fascinated.  I think this fascination could resemble being in love with a person and craving for getting to know more about this person and spending time with them as much as possible. I was happy to know there is still so much more to learn.

The course was a little slow and in the end I was left with rather basic skills.  I kept on studying Japanese on my own, sometimes dreaming I could actually talk to people in this language. Little did I know.

Slap in the face

It also happens that I have a deep appreciation for Japanese architecture and was lucky enough to get an offer for internship in a studio in Japan. My first times were rather complicated especially due to so many hardships with communication in Japanese. First of all I realized and became instantly disappointed that everything I learnt didn’t matter much. I could understand very little and speak almost none.  This slap in the face hurt for some time, but I kept on this stormy relationship with my language-partner.

Foreign language anxiety?

I guess if I studied Japanese in a university, things would be much easier, but I wouldn’t experience nor learn some valuable lessons.  In my case I have to work while living learning the language.  I still get excited whenever I learn a new word, a character or a grammatical pattern, but speaking belongs to a completely different universe. With my language level, upon meeting a person for the first time, it seems I have to adapt to their voice, pronunciation and way of speaking as they were carrying out a conversation in a completely different language. Here the language gets very personal and sometime it’s really complicated for me to get over a sort of social anxiety. Being in Japan and trying to communicate with a native also reminds me of being an outsider still not fully familiar with the culture and the language, making a bad impression or not offending a person with something inappropriate I might say. On the other hand, speaking undoubtedly accelerates learning process.

Mishima

I believe that every language reflects way of living and thinking, culture, society and ethos it is related with. Of course, being able to communicate in a specific language brings you closer to people.

When people ask me why Japan or Japanese language I cannot give a fully logical explanation. The answer I usually give is my interest in the culture and wish to read Yukio Mishima in the original (good luck, maybe in 20-30 years from now on). It may sound pretentious, but it is true, I do like this guy’s books and his personal story. Fair enough, everyone seems to understand this explanation.

Personality check

It’s been said that passing from one language to another may induce a personality shift.  I have had an intense second language experience with English, Portuguese and now Japanese and I do agree to a certain point that it influences one’s personal identity: speaking a specific language makes us unconsciously do it in a certain tone of voice and adapt some expressions and even gestures related to that language.

As I said before, I am really afraid of being inappropriate and it will take me some time to interact naturally in Japanese, but at the same time, sometimes I get out of my comfort zone and try to say things I wouldn’t say in circumstances before. And I question: why am I doing this? This is so not me. Thinking this way makes me realize what I am and what I am not, what I could be and what I couldn’t.

So, of course, there is an influence on one’s behavior, thought and feeling. But speaking different languages inducing personality shift is a pure myth. Luckily, there is so much more to personality and personal identity. No matter how many languages you speak and unless you suffer a mental disease, at the end of the day you are still your old self.

Back to demanding yet dear partner

Language is not a solid stone, it’s rather a flowing river. I consider the languages I have been learning, no matter the level, in need of improvement.

In my case of Japanese, trying to communicate in a language I am far from proficient, adds up to everyday stress and overwhelming situations. In the beginning I would misunderstand and even make up things. It happens when I have no a complete notion of something, my mind automatically fills in with different alternatives which maybe sometimes far from reality. Hello, confusion.

For instance, I fail miserably in trying to tell a joke, which in its turn, result in a new amusing situation. Comic, because it is funny to see myself struggle so much with the language and tragic, every time I realize how much of a failure my language level is. While it is getting better, I realize limits are where you draw them. Despite all these let-downs and being-out-self-comfort-zone situations, the joy I feel learning it is bigger and every time I am happy to come back to this demanding yet dear partner.