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Osaka: A Brand New Language

Table tennis teammates (Kegan: 2nd from right)

Having stayed in Tokyo for a year, shifting to Osaka and settling down into Kansai life was no easy task initially. Kansai-ben, or the Kansai dialect, was something I really couldn’t get used to despite attempts to prepare myself for it beforehand. Although it was essentially still the same Japanese language, the intonation, accent, certain verbs and expressions are totally different from those of the standard Japanese language which I have learnt. It was a steep learning curve as it felt as though I was learning a brand new language.

Huge floats parading during the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto

Here in Osaka, the majority of students come from various parts in the Kansai region. In fact, only one student out of 83 students from my department for my year came from Tokyo. While attempting to get used to Kansai-ben as quickly as possible, I came to realise that, my newly made Japanese friends from the Kansai region are genuinely unaware that they are actually speaking in Kansai-ben. They have been brought up all their lives speaking Kansai-ben and it has become a norm for them. Some of my friends only noticed that they have been using Kansai-ben when I asked them specifically about certain Kansai-ben expressions and grammar. There have also been amusing situations where my friends, in turn, asked me how certain expressions are being said in standard Japanese.

Interacting with the Japanese students has taught me that it’s important not to assume that the other party understands your position and your way of thinking, especially if both parties come from different cultural backgrounds. It is crucial to remember that things that may seem plainly obvious to you might be something that the other party has never thought about, and vice-versa. This led to me to look at the way we communicate with one another back at home in a different light and wonder if we have been subconsciously making similar assumptions.

Typical “nomikai” (drinking party) in celebration after a competition

Joining the Table Tennis Club in University also exposed me to the other side of Japanese culture and allowed to me to have a glimpse of Japan’s social structure. The strict pecking order gives rise to many interesting and unique practices, any of which were beyond my imagination until I joined the Club. It is particularly interesting because it accurately reflects the work environment and culture in Japan and shows how the Japanese students are preparing for them. Observing such cultures and learning how they have evolved to what we see today makes the experience an enriching one.

Breathtaking scenery at neighbouring Hyogo Prefecture

The greater the differences between one’s personal values and culture and those of one’s environment, the more one has step out of his or her comfort zone and consciously think about his or her own actions and speech. That is the value of receiving tertiary education here in Japan for me.

Kegan Lee (currently reading Physics at Osaka University), September 2010

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