(In January, 2012, my site was catastrophically hacked. I managed to get most of the content back, but unfortunately all my Japanese posts and comments have been rendered illegible. This was one of my best-loved posts, with some of the most interesting comments, so it is a loss greatly felt. I hope to keep the Japanese continued in my posts.
(edit: Managed to find the original Japanese text in the .plist file of my old Ecto software…an offline blog writing application, no longer available. Unfortunately, still can’t find the comments, though I know I have it somewhere on a .PDF copy of my old blog.)
(編集：やっと元の日本語長文を古いブロッグソフトの .plist ファイルにみつかりました。残念ながら、まだコメントの方がみつかりません。しかし、もしかして、昔ブロッグを .PDFに変えた時のファイルがまだ有るかもしれないです。)
27 replies on “渡り鳥”
Great! I have no idea what it says, but I like its challenge to the hegemony of English.
Pete, your comment brought a smile to my face after quite a devastating week. I really needed a bit of a laugh.
The reason I laughed is because it almost seemed as if you actually read the message! Are you sure you don’t read Japanese?
Here’s what the post said:
The title is “Watari-dori”, crossing-over bird, or more accurately, “Migratory bird”. The Japanese word has a feeling of danger and adventure and loneliness in it that “migratory bird” with its rather utilitarian meaning doesn’t quite bring across. Probably the connotations in the word “geese” carries much more meaning in English, though the Japanese word doesn’t necessarily refer to geese.
After that I talk about how it is a sleepless night for me, that the sky is clouded so the stars are not visible. People are asleep all around me. Alone in the early hours before dawn I sit in front of my computer screen punching keys, while outside lonely jungle crows call to one another across the rooftops.
Here’s where your words rang out: I wrote: “Until now I have only written in English so that I have mostly only appealed to readers from the States, but I thought I ought to make an effort to fully unfurl my point of view. My Japanese is not perfect, so any of you Japanese or Japanese readers out there, please forgive me if you see mistakes here. When I only write in English, how I think and what I learn tends to get caught up in the narrowness of the these limited feelings and viewpoints. Having been raised and having lived in different enviroments [around the world] (this is implied in Japanese) I don’t want to lose the experience and identity that those places gave to me. I want to experience [and express] the spirit and awareness that welled up in me as I grew up in Japan, with the same sense of importance and influence as the culture and voice I was given growing up in America and Germany.”
Hereafter I set down a series of images and cultural icons and experiences that can only have meaning to someone who grew up here and for whom the culture and history makes up part of their identity.
Then I ask, “If this is not my world, then where is my world?
“I am a Japanese who is not Japanese. Something from outside that is is not accepted.
“Like a migrating bird.”
I’m REALLY pleased the comment made you smile. And no, I really do know the meaning of only about half a dozen Japanese words and none of the characters.
Hope this is turning out to be a better week for you.
When you first posted this, I pasted it into an online translator; it sort of half made sense, but only half… Thanks for posting the English version.
You touch on something that remains hidden from most people for most of the time – the fact that our very thoughts are channelled and made to fit in the framework that is formed by the language that we speak.
One of my best friends in my early school years – up to age 11 – was Japanese. We carried on writing to each other for several years after he returned to Japan, but eventually that correspondance ceased. I well remember in one of his last letters -we’d have both been about 20 I think – he said “it is hard for me now to get the feel of English”. I thought at the time he meant simply the grammar and vocabulary, but later as I looked back over some of our letters I realised that it was our ways of thinking that had diverged; I think what he meant was that it was hard for him to think within the framework of the English language.
In a similar way, the earth-bound, nation-bound human looks up at the migrating bird and sees one who seems to have no home – living within physical borders sets our thought-patterns into a framework where we associate a sense of belonging with a sense of physical place, and the bird seems without home, nowhere to belong. Yet I’m sure the bird, if it could but think in such terms, would see quite the opposite – how confined we poor humans are by these imaginary lines we draw over the ground; how artificial, how unnecessary are these borders! How much wider, more expansive, his experience is than those earth-bound creatures.
Indeed, like a migrating bird, and in more ways. Perhaps many of us internet-dwellers are like that too.
I’m rambling a little. Too tired to think clearly, but wanting to share some thoughts. As Pete says, I hope things are better for you this week.
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Silly me! And a rather embarrassed me, too. I jumped to the rather self-centred conclusion that the previous comment was in reply to mine, carried on in the spirit of the original post. Doh! Apologies to one and all!
Pete, thanks! Andy, thanks very much for the considered response and the, as always, much-broadened follow up on the ideas. You’ve got me thinking again about all sorts of connotations and even got me into a long discussion with my father as we drove out to the airport to pick up my brother who was arriving from Boston yesterday. ãƒžã‚ã•ã‚“ã€ã‚ˆã†ã“ãï¼å¤šåˆ†ãã‚“ãªã¤ã‚‚ã‚Šã¯ãªã‹ã£ãŸã‹ã‚‚ã—ã‚Œãªã„ã‘ã©ã€ãƒžã‚ã•ã‚“ã¯ã“ã®ãƒ–ãƒãƒƒã‚°ã®åˆã‚ã£ã¦ã®æ—¥æœ¬äººæ³¨é‡ˆè€…ã€‚ã‚ªã‚ªã€œã‚¤ï¼ã‚·ãƒ£ãƒ³ãƒšãƒ¼ãƒ³ã¨é…’ã¨æžè±†ã‚’å‡ºã—ã¦ã‚¯ãƒ¬ã€œã‚¤ï¼
Pete, I’m not sure if things are any better, yet, (last week I was summarily laid off from the company that I had been working at for the last ten years. It comes especially hard because I was very close to the people working there, especially the boss, and I worked my butt off for the place), but my brother arrived from Boston yesterday afternoon and spending time with my brother always makes me forget the more unpleasant aspects of waking up each day.
Andy, so much to reply to. I’ve had another sleepless night and so I’m not sure if I am quite up to making a full reply right now, but I did want to say something about how your comment by your childhood Japanese friend tells so much about how language affects our lives. Language curbs how we see things and what we do not see. Not only does the environment in which we dwell present us with certain building blocks with which we can present our point of view just so, but the language either allows you to express certain emotions and modes of awareness or prevents you from being aware that other points of view, equally valid and true, exist.
For instance, English tends to be a very direct and point-by-point logic language. People who speak English tend to revel in controversy and spend a lot of time analysing things. There is a lot of talk about “right” and ” wrong”, and a need to find solutions to problems and a calling out for speakers to explain themselves.
For me this often allows me to formulate complicated ideas or to hash out intellectual stances on philosophical or scientific problems. The whole history of the culture behind English carries a certain tone and atmosphere which is quite different and quite antitheitical to the character of Japanese or German. When I speak English the words flow very easily and a certain aspect of myself comes forth, but it does not feel complete. I find that I tend to constantly enter into debates when speaking in English, as if the whole world was something to be analysed and categorized.
I never do that in Japanese. Though my vocabulary is quite a bit smaller, Japanese holds an emotional and intuitive feel that allows me to draw close to the people I speak it with. The Japanese language abhors controversy and is designed to find a balance between people. It is also a lot more visually oriented than English and when you speak Japanese you are always acutely aware of your surroundings and of the body language of those around you. Instead of explaining everything outright, a lot of Japanese relies on the two speakers already picking up on visual cues that the other is making and understanding without words what the other means. At the same time it can be quite frustrating to solve conflicts once they happen, and, because it always tries to avoid controversy, it is difficult to express disapproval or anger.
One of the most interesting effects of Japanese, at least in my own way of seeing the world, is that when discussing ideas or anecdotes, Japanese will often jump around and pick from a variety of related experiences or events that are put in to give the topic or subject more validity and depth, things which, to the English speaker’s eye, seem totally off the wall. Japanese doesn’t usually follow the straight line that English does. So, often, when English speakers debate with me, in English, they get very frustrated with my tendancy to “go off on a tangent” or “disrergard what they are saying”, when really I am attempting to expand on the central idea and keep the perspective that the world is not a linear or one-topic place. That doesn’t go over very well usually, and I end up not making sense to the other and often making enemies with English speakers. In my whole life I’ve never lost a friendship with a Japanese because of an intellectual argument.
That just goes to show how difficult it can be to cross cultures and how easy for misunderstandings to proliferate.
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Well, it’s 5:30 a.m. and I’ve been awake all night. Not sure if it will work, but I’ll give a few hours of sleep a try. Hopefully my traitorous mind will cooperate!
Well, Andy, actually the English comment after your Japanese one was rather charming! No harm done, and your comment makes it a friendlier place!
Commenting in English now, so we can all participate! And Andy, those translation sites are sometimes worse than not having one at all.
I’ve actually never lived in Japan for more than a couple of months at a time [summer breaks with grandparents], so I haven’t had a chance to make very many friends there, but this summer, I’m going to work in Japan, so it’ll be a hugely new experience for me. I’m rather excited, but scared — my Japanese is definitely rusty. But still, I find certain days that I can’t really get my point across in English and I can in Japanese and vice versa; it probably also depends on the topic. Aside from keigo, sonkeigo, kenjyougo, all that good stuff, I think nuances will be the most difficult for me to grasp, since understanding Japanese entails picking up on nuances from the way a person speaks and their diction. The thing that gets me about Japanese is that a person may be saying something with a smiling face, but be phrasing it so that it’s a roundabout insult or scolding. Too bad we can’t carry around emoticons and flash those, haha. [Uh oh, my inner nerd is shining through.]
Anyway, your photos are lovely and I’ll be visiting back. I hope that you’ve gotten some sleep!
That’s so strange, Maki. I grew up in Japan, but only lived in Germany, my birthplace, a couple of months at a time visiting my grandparents.
No need to be scared. You know how the Japanese are about people who can’t speak Japanese as natives… they think it’s quaint. (though you are in somewhat of an awkward postion, being Japanese. Just imagine how my grandparents felt when they introduced their grandson who looked like an Indian or Brazilian!) Still, from reading your earlier Japaense comment, your Japanese level is definitely not a beginners, or even an intermediate level.
May I ask where you will be working?
I finished Japanese compulsory education [through middle school] and I’ve been working on Japanese retention since by reading the paper and such, but it’s hard considering I have nobody to consistently speak to in Japanese.
I’ve procured an internship at a biotech company in Tokyo for the summer. It’s a company in conjunction with the University of Tokyo, so I’m feeling a bit outclassed. 😛 Where in Japan are you located?
Sorry to hear about your job. I wonder if you have ever thought of going private? I mean perhaps teaching private students at home but also starting a few of your own classes in rented spaces?. It might give you more flexibility in your schedule for your other interests. You could also try to get contracts at places like community centres; they are lovely places to teach, often with retired people, who are among the best students there are. That’s the kind of teaching I do, along with a rather eclectic schedule made of part time teaching at a juku, at a kindergarten and high school and a few other classes. If I can help you at all with any ideas, or if you just would like to chat about it, please feel free to email.
Glad to hear you have family there now; what a blessing.
from a researcher in the field of robotics, especially biped robot.
Oh, I’m sorry too to hear about the job.
And as one of the blunt and brutal English speakers you’ve had to endure, I’d like to apologize again.
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Your beautifully written comment over at via negativa sent me back here to check on you! Sorry to hear about your job – hope things improve for you soon. The comparison of English to Japanese, even German is fascinating. I’ve some idea of Japanese communication from a daughter who was an exchange student there one winter, as well as from a Japanese homestay student here, and many Japanese friends. But I know that is still only a surface understanding of a complex society and language, so I’m learning from you. Take care!
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Just wanted to comment on what you mentioned about English speaker’s blunt and straight-line-logic-driven conversations and how this might cause frustration with speakers of other languages.
I teach some English as a second language students and have noticed this *off on a tangent* thing is so typical in their writing – took quite a bit of getting used to to stop myself always telling them to *be concise* and *get to the point*.
Your comments about language as culture and Japanese as a high-context culture ring very true with my experience.
I like your new banner – it reminds me of a quote by Andre Gide: “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
Andy, thanks! I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out what the new design of the page needs to be, but these days putting so much time into my blog just seems like frivolous indulgence. So I inserted this picture from two days in 1994 spent kayaking around Lake Biwa, the biggest lake in Japan.
Laura, it’s nice to see someone comment here with experience of teaching here in Japan and a direct view of the differences in how people around the world perceive things. It’s usually very hard to convince people of any one culture, where they only speak one language, to recognize the limitations of their own parameters and see the alternatives out there. And it’s the direct experience of these alternatives that allows a person to expand their understanding. Like a friend of mine told me a while back, “There is a big difference between standing outside the restaurant looking in at the cutomers eating their food and sitting at the table inside the restaurant and acutally eating that food.”
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2nd May is my birthday and all I see, instead of words, are little squares. Sigh.
May- I think the reason you can’t see the Japanese text is that Japanese characters are written in two-bit encoding. In order to see it you must change the text encoding of your browser. Go to the “View” menu (I’m not sure what is used in FireFox on Windows), scroll down to “text encoding”, and change the encoding to something like “Japanese (Shift-JIS)”. If that doesn’t work, try one of the other Japanese encodings. One of them should work. If that still doesn’t work go to “Unicode (UTF-8)” and that will probably do it for you. Let me know if you still have trouble.
OK, I’ll try. Thank you.