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Japan attracts foreigners of all kinds and people decide to come here for all sorts of different reasons. But, as with any culture different from one’s own, there can be some aspects of Japanese culture that are hard for foreigners to wrap their heads around or get used to, such as deciding if you should help a crying girl.

Ashiya, a beautiful Russian expat, recently shared some of her difficulties upon coming to Japan on her YouTube channel*. We have a feeling that these will strike a chord with many other expats and internationalists interested in Japan as well, Russian or not.

Growing up with an interest in Japan, Ashiya began her language studies at university, then eventually moved to Nihon. Although new to the land, she’d had some exposure to Japanese culture over the years, but there is only so much you can learn through textbooks.

Ashiya was pretty confident in her Japanese upon coming to Japan, which was supported by locals saying, “Japanese is difficult, you must have studied hard!” However, she has found the culture to be the more difficult hurdle to jump.

“The expression, ‘language barrier’ is often used, but I think the ‘culture barrier’ is more of a problem. For example, sometimes you might understand the words the Japanese person is saying, but if you don’t know the cultural intricacies behind the words, you won’t really understand.”

“In Russian culture, people say things directly. Japan is the opposite.”

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Being direct is a common trait among many Western cultures, but it can sometimes come off as rude in other regions. In Japan, people are rarely frank with you. A good example of the difference can be seen when refusing something. Ashiya explains that Japanese people will often say things like, “Hmm.. that’s kind of difficult,” to mean, “No.” In Russia, that phrase would be taken more as a reluctant acceptance, rather than a refusal. When Russians mean “No,” they just come out and say it directly– a habit, which, Ashiya noted, caused some problems for her when she first arrived.

Her message to Japanese people:

“It’s understandable that you want to be polite, but when speaking with a foreigner, it may be better to say things directly if you want them to understand what you really mean.”

Some words can have both positive and negative meanings.

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Depending on the context or feeling in which you use certain words, you could be expressing approval or disapproval. This can be really tricky for non-native Japanese speakers to decipher at first! A few main culprits of this are “daijoubu” (alright, okay), “ii” (good), and “kekkou” (splendid or sufficient).

Ashiya relates a good example:

“One time at a store, I wanted to buy something, so I told the store clerk, ‘Daijoubu desu.’ However, the clerk understood it as, ‘It’s okay, I don’t want this.’ So now, if I want something, I say, ‘Onegaishimasu.’ (This, please). “

Ii can also be used to refuse things. Ii means good, but it can be used to say, “I’m good,” as in, “No, thanks.” So in the example above, if Ashiya had alternatively said, “Ii desu,” to the clerk, she would again have been misunderstood as not wanting the item.

Then there is kekkou. As Ashiya points out, “kekkou ii desu,” is a term to express something as better than just good, it’s really good. However, if someone offers you a second helping of cake when you’re already bursting at the seams, you can respond with “kekkou desu,”  to politely refuse.

Despite these difficult aspects of Japanese linguistic culture, Ashiya parts with some motivational words for her fellow expats who may still be struggling:

“If you live in Japan for a while, you’ll most certainly start picking up on these kinds of sensitive or minute details of Japanese. You’ll learn through your experiences and be fine.”

Japanese can definitely be a frustrating language to learn sometimes. I’m sure all non-native speakers have a few gripes of their own, but as Ashiya says, the more you’re exposed to it and learn from your mistakes, the more you’ll understand. So keep it at, guys!

*Ashiya actually has two video blogs on YouTube, one in Japanese and one in Russian. She vlogs about Japanese fashion, makeup, food, her daily life in Japan and sometimes teaches Russian. 

Source/Images: YouTube (ロシア人が日本で困ったことは?Жизнь в Японии: трудности с разницей культур) via Toychan Net
Image: Pixabay 1, 2 (edited by Rocket News 24)