4 Reasons NOT to Learn Japanese while Living in Japan

December 5, 2018

Am I out of my mind? Perhaps, but that’s beside the point of this piece. I’ve been in Japan almost two years. My kanji and conversation skills increase day by day, but I noticed that while I was trying like mad to understand the details of the daily morning announcements at work, I was just as disappointed to discover they were pointless once I could finally pick up the words.

Travelers to another country don’t often spend enough time passing through to become fluent in the local tongue. I’ve found there are certain situations making it better for expats to not understand everything spoken or written abroad, particularly in a country like Japan. Here are some reasons you should not bother to learn fluent Japanese while living in Japan.

4. You can filter it out

The advantage of speaking Japanese to a high degree of fluency is that you can understand almost everything. The disadvantage is… you can understand almost everything: every conversation spoken on a train, every time someone decides to ridicule foreigners thinking you can’t understand, everything. There’s something relaxing about moving through a crowd of people and only hearing your own thoughts.

3. Weaker Japanese skills make people more comfortable

At least, in my experience it does. Since you’re going to be labeled as an eternal outsider for the duration of your stay in Japan, it can actually throw (some) people to hear flawless Japanese coming from your mouth – just ask those who have lived here for 10-20 years how many times they hear “jouzu” even from people with whom they speak regularly. You need enough Japanese to be functional, while not so much that it challenges the sheltered worldviews of the public at large: the Goldilocks zone.

2. Keep up the mystery

Yes, this is actually a choice to live in ignorance, and I don’t blame you if you don’t take it; it’s not for everyone. Ignorant and stupid people generally lead happier lives, because informed and intelligent people are always questioning their reality. However, willful ignorance is not a choice given to many aside from those in the GOP and their supporters. By choosing not to completely understand every sign and know every facet of the Japanese language, you give yourself more to learn; Japan seems more of a mysterious place. You’ll eventually absorb enough to dispel this notion, so revel in your blissful ignorance as long as you can stand.

1. Ignore the NHK man

Every expat in Japan knows the NHK man. He doesn’t live on Drury Lane, but he does come knocking right after you’ve sat down for a decent meal or settled in for a Game of Thrones marathon. Proffering his wares and enticing you to buy extended service, the NHK man’s only known weakness is an ignorance of the English language… never let him even sense you understand the word “konnichiwa”.

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