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Kyoto: Understanding the Japanese Culture

Yong Jeng (3rd from left) enjoying herself at a festival

Having Japanese Language and Literature as my major in university, and being involved in an outside-of-school activity that consists of mostly Japanese, many of my friends here are locals. As a result, I often end up being the only foreigner in groups that I mix around with, and this has allowed me to experience what a foreigner might feel amidst natives, or people who share the same different culture.

As I now know how foreigners might feel with Singaporeans while we always talk about our childhood, how things were like in school and such, I now do try to make an extra effort to explain things to foreigners so that they can also join in our conversations. However, understanding how tedious it is to be doing so all the time, I also try to be more understanding towards my Japanese friends who do not do so all the time. However, they have actually become quite used to explaining things to me most of the time when necessary, especially when I give them a blank stare, indicating my inability to follow their conversations at times. I guess the most important thing is to ask whenever you are unsure or confused. While most Japanese do not know that foreigners may find it hard to understand what they are trying to say, as it is afterall in their culture to not state things directly, they can be understanding towards foreigners when told that what they have said has not been clear to the other party. For this, I am thankful, and it has definitely made me more considerate towards people who come from a different cultural background.

Men of the village carrying an 'omikoshi', a tradition in Japanese festivals.

Immersing myself in an almost-all-Japanese environment has also allowed me to gain a better understanding of their culture, and see Japan in a way most foreigners are unable to have the chance to. Through a good friend(who is Japanese) I made here, I have had the fortunate experience of visiting the suburbs of Japan and going to some of their local festivals which has allowed me to learn a lot about their traditions, some of which I probably would not have been able to learn even through the Internet. I guess the best way to really get to know a culture, its people and its language is to be totally immersed in the environment.

Yong Jeng (currently reading Japanese Language and Literature at Kyoto University, 3rd from left in 2nd photo), July 2009

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