This isn’t the beginning of a Japanese urban legend, although there are quite a few of those floating around that are guaranteed to give you nightmares if you are as easily frightened as me.
However, like the purpose of these legends are to warn the listeners, this is a sort of alert to avoid the bubble if one decides to study abroad. What is this bubble, you may ask then? It is that invisible barrier between you and the locals of whichever country it may be. It is an unconscious act of grouping oneself with the other study abroad students or fellow Americans and then placing everyone else in the other group. Without realizing it, it is harder to notice that your time and attention is focused on people with familiar customs rather than the people whose customs you’d like to learn. I know that in the first month that was kind of the case for me, since I did not speak the language and had no idea how to communicate what I wanted. It was very much an in and then out process. I would duck into a store, purchase what I wanted without word, and then back out just as quickly. Not to mention, I stuck close with other study abroad students.
But then I realized that I wanted to actually talk to the people here, and hiding behind what was familiar was not conducive to getting anywhere close to that goal. I wanted to improve my Japanese, and if I was not speaking it, I obviously wasn’t improving. The only way to get around that was to leave my safe bubble. Part of the difficulty is that all of the classes I had chosen were dominated by Americans, so it didn’t leave that many opportunities to chat with actual Japanese students. This might have been because all my classes were focused on Japanese studies and language, and Japanese students are less likely to take classes in things they are already well-versed in. However, I ended up using the HelloTalk app which allows native speakers to search for people who are native speakers in another language so they can exchange help in order to better learn. It even comes with an option to correct the other’s text so they can see where mistakes were made, which is very helpful. Actually, the Japanese friend that I had mentioned before in “A Natural Beauty Beyond Compare” is one of the people that I talked with while trying to learn Japanese.
It was really interesting to hear what these people had to say, especially their perceptions of what Americans were like. I think the stereotype that seems pretty prevalent is over food, as in we have a lot of fast food, which okay, yes, admittedly we do, but also that we are into hamburgers. I personally don’t eat fast food that often. I don’t think the average American eats as many hamburgers as they think we do though. From those that I have talked to, it seems to them that we eat a lot of meat, specifically beef. Ironically enough, being in Japan, I have eaten the most meat and the least amount of vegetables in my life. I have been asked several times about the diet of an American, which I found hard to explain because of the cultural diversity that makes each family different and as such, eat different things. For them, it was equally difficult to compute that there isn’t really a standard meal for all families since they come from a mostly homogeneous country in which there are standard meals.
I think I have been able to experience and learn a lot from my conversations with the people I have met in Tokyo, and I really hope I have been able to return the favor. Even more so, I hope to maintain these friendships even after I return home!