Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

1/31/2014

Japan: An Alien Place

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to chronicling my travels! Here's the next chapter, perhaps my favorite: Japan.

We travel to get outside ourselves. I can think of no better place to do that than in Japan. Despite physical similarities to me, Japanese people seem to occupy a totally different frame of mind, which makes the Land of the Rising Sun a thousand more times appealing.

A lot of Japanese signs in Nara. No translation in sight. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
Perhaps the biggest indication of this strangeness is their language. I'm fairly conversant in Mandarin, but Japanese characters are a different bucket of bolts altogether. All around me, Japanese signs are obviously hawking something in their expressive script, but I don't know what.  Every so often, I would see a sign that reads, "English menus available." It's salvation for a starving tourist, but probably a sure sign their prices have doubled.

I think this was a restaurant. Photo by: Carren Jao
My Japanese-knowledgeable sister ordering from the all-Japanese menu. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Another example of an incomprehensible menu. The food photos look mouthwatering though. Photo by: Carren Jao.
When spoken, any resemblance to Mandarin is obliterated, leaving me scratching my head and wondering, "What did he just say?" Though the Japanese have a few years of mandatory English classes, most of them are really more comfortable speaking Japanese. That leaves me quite lost in the conversation, opting to use hand gestures for pretty much everything. At times, I felt like a mute, with so much to say, but with no words to express it. That's frustration.

It's a good thing, the Japanese are also so kind. Though we had a massive language barrier, they would often go out of their way to explain and set me straight.

It's a good thing that this alien territory seems to host friendly beings.

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