15. How Japanese culture has changed me

Everywhere you go, everyone you meet, everything you encounter, changes you somehow. Picking up Japanese, having Japanese friends, living in Japan for half a year has changed me. Once you learn so much about a certain culture, there’s this social obligation to conform to it. I guess here are some of the aspects that I feel that I’ve changed in.

1. I think and speak to myself in Japanese.
Someone once told me that for learning new languages, the turning point is when you start to think in that language and not think in your native language before translating and saying it out loud. And I think this is very true. Thinking in Japanese has helped me to get more practice too. And well, since I already talk to myself in English talking to myself in Japanese will only help to improve my pronounciation :3

2. I find myself thinking of whether I’ll cause unnecessary trouble to people.
Japanese people often act in a way so as not to “人に迷惑がかからない”, which means not to cause trouble to others. For example they don’t talk on the phones in trains to keep the peace and quiet, and they often answer with ambiguity so as to allow the other person to save face. Like saying that you’re sick or very busy when someone asks you out instead of rejecting them outright. So whenever I want to make a request to someone, I’ll always tell them that it’s okay if they’re too busy or they don’t want to do it, or that if I’m a nuisance they’re free to ignore me. Because I genuinely don’t want to cause trouble for them.

3. I have become more skeptical of people when they invite me to events or to join them.
In Japan, people have 本音(honne) and 建前(tatemae), which is your real feelings and your mask respectively. Tatemae is like inviting someone to visit you but they are only saying this because of a social obligation, and in reality they do not want you to pay them a visit at all. It’s very confusing in Japan because it’s really difficult to tell honne from tatemae, so most of the time you’re unsure if the person is really inviting you over or is just saying it for show. In Singapore this doesn’t really happen as much, but I’m still cautious.

4. I am guilty of 90% of the following. Except for チンチン欲しいな.

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One thought on “15. How Japanese culture has changed me

  1. 本音and 建前 are 2 aspects of Japanese culture that many foreigners find difficult to understand. However, there are ways to figure out which is which.

    For example, if someone invites you to their house, you can follow up by asking a related question, like what does he like. The response will usually give some indication as to the seriousness of that invitation. If there is some hesitancy or a desire to switch the topic quickly, then usually it was done out of politeness.

    If the responder describes his surroundings and living conditions at length positively, and urges you to visit him repeatedly, then this is probably 本音.

    You can also use the “eye test”. Can you see sincerity in their eyes? Do you believe them? After all, there is a saying that “eyes do not lie”.

    そうですね。本音と建前のことは本当に難しいです。でも、日本文化の重要な部分です。もしこのこと知ったら、日本人の世界観詳しくなります。

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