Don’t Trade In Your Culture
Fully immersing yourself in Japan’s culture is absolutely key to mastering Japanese. Japanese culture is amazing. It is wild. It is weird. It is deep. If you have yet to visit Japan, you will be in for one of the best adventures of your life. If you get the chance to study abroad for a semester, take it. If you can live and work in Japan after college as an English teacher, do it. And if you can make Japanese part of your career, live the dream.
With all this non-stop contact with Japanese culture, there is a bad habit you need to avoid that sometimes starts to creep up among foreigners. Foreigners start making too many comparisons to their own culture, start developing a dislike of their own culture, and eventually try everything they can do to avoid it and put it down.
For the most part this shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s your life; do whatever you want. Follow whatever you want. But there are 2 things you need to watch out for if you start to fall down this dangerous path.
1. You will miss out on gaining a deeper appreciation for both your own culture and Japanese culture
Learning to appreciate your own culture and Japanese culture results in a double reward. You see things that you never saw before in both. You achieve a modern cultural enlightenment. Don’t underestimate the benefit of this.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, more practically:
2. Japanese people are dying to talk to you about your culture
When you meet or talk with Japanese people, culture is one of your biggest conversation points. It’s what will intially get Japanese people interested in you and gives you the ability to easily make friends. Enter a conversation with “I don’t really like my country, I don’t know anything about my country’s media, or I don’t know anything about what is happening in my country” and you will very abruptly end the possibility of many long lasting conversations and relationships. Japanese love foreign culture and you don’t want to turn them away.
Try reversing it for a moment. You love Japan, Japanese and Japanese culture. You meet a Japanese person and want to dicuss something related to the above three. The response they give is “Yea, I don’t like Japan or the Japanese language.” Did you just lose a bit of interest?
Solving one final contradiction
The point of the Japanese Level Up method is to fully immerse yourself into Japanese/Japanese culture for as much as you can every day. You don’t want to be spending time on English things when you don’t have to. The simple way to keep up with your own culture while fully immersing yourself in Japanese is to keep up with your culture in Japanese. Read Japanese newspapers of your country’s news. Read Japanese websites discussing your country’s current events and media. Read best selling books of your country translated into Japanese. Watch your country’s movies dubbed into Japanese. Keep this mentality: do whatever a Japanese person would do who was interested in your country but spoke no English.
What do you think? Keeping your own culture not worth the trouble?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
I’m conflicted about this one. I have a hard time relating to my classmates outside of my Asian Studies major, because I honestly don’t know much about my country’s pop culture. It’s not interesting to me. I don’t want to fake an interest in it just to get a conversation started with a Japanese person either. However, I think enough Japanese people are interested in their own culture, from my experience, that it makes it not much of a problem to not know your own culture’s pop media.
Of course, I’m coming from a different perspective. I started the immersion method four years ago while a junior in high school who since childhood has been interested in Japanese culture. I never understood why people are going towards the Japanese translations of English books to learn Japanese, because the heart of the culture is not within those books. But for people who don’t want to let go of their own culture, it must be a relief to know they don’t have to.
As for the last word of advice, it’s really useful. I should start reading Japanese newspapers about American news, because whenever I take a trip to Japan or am too focused on Japanese to listen to the news, I end up so out of the loop.
Just to add to this, I’m not a complete isolationist from American culture, even though it may seem like it to my peers because I don’t now all their pop references. I’m American, and I could never become fully Japanese. I think it’s good for everyone to realize that it’s okay to like American shows, books, etc. I love watching The Office and Being Human, and was surprised to find out there’s a following of Supernatural in Japan. Though, I don’t know if I’d watch these things in Japanese. Just as much as I don’t like the idea of watching something Japanese in English. But some people are perfectly fine with it.
I used to be the kind of person that actually puts down her own country because of their love for another back in high school. But I’ve realized that every country has their dark sides.
Great post. I ran into a few gaijin during my study abroad in Japan that bashed anything non-Japanese. Most Japanese I meet are fascinated by America, so I can see it being a conversation killer if one were to say American culture sucks as a conversation starter.
When I was in first year uni, our teacher made us watch Ramen Girl and assess it according to the Bennett Scale of Intercultural Sensitivity. It’s a stupid film but very well suited to the task. Bennett warns against devaluing your own culture and lauding the new culture as superior. He said that both lauding your own as superior, or lauding the other, is a simplistic, dualistic, view of culture. There are 6 levels in the Bennett framework and denigrating one culture at the expense of another is the second level, i.e. very naive.
Wow, this is really interesting. I had never heard about this scale before but it makes a lot of sense. I had actually seen that movie, and one surprising thing is that they got a really famous and talented Japanese actor (Toshiyuki Nishida) to be in it. Someone who is way more famous in Japan than the American actress was in America.
So what was the conclusion of where it ranked on the scale?
Thanks for sharing!
Oh dear! Now you’re asking me to peer back in the cobwebby memories of years ago! .^_^. As I recall she made it to Level 3 Minimization of Difference and maybe showed signs of reaching level 4 but when her boyfriend (played by a Korean BTW) is sent to China for work she falls back on “Denial”, saying something like “Don’t tell me you have to go because you’re Japanese!” just as Bennett predicts.
As well as Toshiyuki Nishida, they also got Tsutomu Yamazaki to make a cameo, which I suppose was a reference to Tampopo?
Brittany Murphy died of pneumonia at age 32, BTW!!
Recently I’ve read “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari and that really altered my view cultural differences. A really worthwhile book to read IMO.