Japanese and me, so far [part 4] (IS 6)


About two weeks into the semester at Kansai Gaidai, I found myself enrolled in a Shorinji Kempo martial arts club.  The clubs in Japan are similar to our school teams as they meet several days a week for long hours and you are expected to show up if you are part of the club.  Here I faced extremes of “Speech Communities.” Speakers that participate in interactions based on social and cultural norms and values often regulated and recreated through differentiating practices, such as neighborhoods, villages, clubs, religious settings, work settings,

co-workers, boss-associate, etc. are considered  “Speech Communities.” (Duranti) Once the practice started, I always had to use polite speech to anyone I spoke with, and sometimes even Keigo when speaking with the head instructor.  Everyone else could speak down to me in a sense by using more casual speech to me because I was the least knowledgeable in consideration of this style of martial art.  Yet as soon as the formal class ended and informal practice started my speech patterns changed depending on who I was talking to and so did theirs.  Since I have a about 18 years of martial arts experience, I am treated equally by most of the upper ranks and spoken with in casual speech and those that are new to martial arts speak up to me as I am more experience and out rank them.

This sense of speech community also extends into my personal “identity” and my identity in relation to everyone else around me.  “Identity” is the linguistic construction of membership within one or more social groups or categories, language and communication provide important criteria which members define their group and the group is defined by outsiders. (Duranti) I can relate to an article called “Language Ideology and Racial Inequality: Competing Functions of Spanish in an Anglo-owned Mexican Restaurant.”  After reading this article I thought back on my identity in social situations and realized that I do not fit 100% into American English speakers or Japanese speakers.

I am always automatically part of both of the groups and yet not fully part of either, due to language, martial arts, ethnicity, and more.  In the article there were “Anglos” that were looked down on by other English speakers for befriending Spanish only speaking employees and vice versa. (Barret)

“Language Ideology and Racial Inequality” continued on with how language ideology influences interactions between different language groups. (Barret) For the majority of the time without prior knowledge of a person we create situational identities using communicative symbols to assess them and they do the same to assess us.  (Duranti, Barret)  In doing so stereotyping occurs and animosity often follows suit.  Several times I was approached in Japan with the expectation that I knew no Japanese.  The person would sometimes start saying a few English words like “Hello”, “Hi, my name is…” or “English menu.” Thinking that they spoke English, I would start talking to them in English, just to have them apologize in Japanese and to get the point across that they didn’t speak English. Then when I would switch into Japanese to say that it was alright and that I could talk to them in Japanese, they would be very surprised and say that even basic responses were amazing.  A few other times I would ask people for directions or if they knew where a building was or what not, only to have them stiffen, to look away from me and practically jog past me.  I wonder if I had done something to upset them or to seem dangerous.

On another note, time and time again I would try to make a joke in Japanese, only to have blank stares in response.  A few times jokes were taken poorly and I had to tell them it was a joke in order for them to understand I meant no personal offense.  This is when the concept of “humor” comes in to play.  Humor is the practical achievement of language gesture, imagery and situational management in such a way as to lead to the physical manifestation of a smile or laughter. (Duranti)  I could say the direct translation of a joke in English and say it in Japanese, yet no one would understand it, yet if I said it in English, and if they had a high level of competency, they would either laugh or react negatively and say it was a bad joke.  My command over the language and what is considered humorous is not at the level where I can make jokes that everyone can understand or even realize that what I am saying is a strike at humor.

Studying Japanese has been a struggle and yet I continue to push myself each day thanks to all of the people that have met and hope to meet in the future.  When I was in high school the Idea of learning Japanese let alone studying abroad in Japan were some of my life goals that I had thought to be out of my reach.  After about eight years I have accomplished one of my goals and I am continuing with the development of the other.  Out of everything that has influenced my Japanese study up until this point I am still convinced that motivation is the key part to coming to where I am now as well as moving forward.

Barrett, Rusty. “Language Ideology and Racial Inequality: Competing Functions of Spanish in an Anglo-owned Mexican Restaurant.” Language Ideology and Racial Ineq… Preview & Related Info. Department of Linguistics University of Chicago, n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. <http://www.mendeley.com/catalog/language-ideology-racial-inequality-competing-functions-spanish-anglo-owned-mexican-restaurant/&gt;.

Duranti, Alessandro. Key Terms in Language and Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001. Print.


About mindofryan

spontaneity - check open minded- check optimistic- check 一期一会 - check I am a College grad, managing the daily work load, a social life, and personal hobbies. I love martial arts and am interested in seeing the world and it's cultures.

Posted on April 28, 2013, in College, Japan, Life in Japan, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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