Being in Japan while barely knowing any Japanese is either very impressive or very stupid. I’ve been lucky to not have too many mishaps. The problem that I felt I faced when it came to talking to others was that I had no confidence. I knew next to no Japanese and this made me feel unqualified to talk to Japanese people. So I just didn’t.
This pattern shifted during the beginning of this week. I was sitting in the common area of my floor. My room sometimes felt way too cramped, so I liked to come to the area and spread out. I also secretly hoped to start a conversation with one of the Japanese girls on the hall. After all, what’s the point of coming all the way to Japan if you don’t bother having a conversation with a Japanese person? No dice so far but Monday was when my luck changed. A girl had come back to the hall with a bunch of Japanese treats. She called my attention and pointed to the box. I got that she was offering one to me. Not one to turn away from free food, I looked and asked, “What, I mean, nan desu ka?” Thus began our first true conversation. She struggled to explain what the treats were in English, but with the help of her phone she was able to explain what each one contained. With my practically non-existent Japanese and simplified English, I managed to ask her about the school she attended. The conversation developed rapidly when she asked me if I liked any Japanese music and I told her of my all time fave: Bump of Chicken. Turns out the band is way more popular in Japan than America and she loved them. Before I knew it, we were trading favorite songs. For anything we didn’t know how to communicate, we Googled and showed it to the other. What this experience taught me was that language is not a barrier to friendship. That and Googling is universal. All joking aside, I had to learn to embrace the awkwardness of not having an easy-flowing conversation with someone. There were moments when neither one of us knew what the other was trying to say and we just had to give up on that point altogether. I was never completely sure if she got what I was actually saying and vice versa. Be reassured in knowing that it’s not one-sided. The girl I was talking to also felt the awkwardness but she kept trying. To be honest, that’s what kept me going, knowing she wanted this conversation as much as I did. Now that I’ve experienced the awkwardness of being in a conversation that is not 100% English, I feel more confident in my ability to talk to the Japanese people surrounding me.