Maybe I Know More Than I Think: Reflections On 2.5 Years In Japan And Comprehension Of Culture

Back when I was preparing to graduate from college I remember looking back over my time at school and thinking, “Wait, did I learn something?” Please don’t misunderstand me: I loved my time at university. I was diligent with my studies while learning to back off and not push myself to academic perfection I sought in high school. I especially loved my general education classes, and I truly believe I learned an abundance from them. It was my major that I had a harder time with. I chose to study anthropology because I saw a judgmental nature within myself, and I wanted to lose that. I wanted to be more accepting of American culture and lose the ethnocentrism I saw within my heart. And I was successful, at least to a certain extent. I don’t know if I’ve lost all of the pride, but I know I have a lot less of it now than I did when I was 18. I know studying anthropology was a good decision for me. But when it came to explaining what it is that I learned over those 36 credit hours, that was a little bit more difficult. 
Recently I’ve been asking myself a similar question about Japanese culture. I read an article in a recent issue of Smithsonian magazine that taught me about an element of this culture with which I was entirely unfamiliar. (For that article, see here). “Have I learned anything in my time here?” I wondered. 
Then came today. My seventh graders have already learned the grammar to give descriptions in first and second person. Soon they will learn how to describe a third party. My Japanese Teacher of English asked me to put together a series of flashcards with characters the students could describe. I was happy to oblige, and sat down to piece a list together. 
In some ways, I feel like I don’t know anything. The lead singer of any band in Japan could pass me on the street and I wouldn’t have a clue that I brushed by fame. I can’t describe the likes and dislikes of the most popular anime characters, and I don’t know where Dragonball is from. But the longer I looked at the list, the more I realized that it illustrates what I HAVE learned during my time here. I know the names of the bands my students like the most, even if I can’t tell you the songs or the names of the band members. I know that Mickey and Minnie are popular but Goofy and Pluto are not. I know that everyone knows Snoopy and no one knows Charlie Brown. Winnie the Pooh is popular, but Piglet is basically unknown. I know that even a preschooler knows who Santa Claus is, but no one here knows he lives at the North Pole. I can tell you the most popular soccer player from Japan’s world cup team, and I can name the most popular anime characters. I may still feel out of the loop, but I have learned enough to teach well, or at least to come up with a list of characters the students will know.  
It’s something. It isn’t everything, but it is something. 
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Maybe I Know More Than I Think: Reflections On 2.5 Years In Japan And Comprehension Of Culture

  1. I asked myself the same q
    Would you share the link to the article again? (^_^) I love reading interesting articles and books about culture, especially japanese 😉

  2. *(sorry got cut off)
    I asked myself the same question after my graduation from university.
    Of course I know what I learned in terms of courses and textbooks and so on, but I for a moment I really stopped and pondered wether I learned something more. Maybe it was more the question “Did I grow here?”

  3. I think your blog documentation and exploration evidences more familiarity, or at least awareness, of the culture than you even give yourself credit for here in this post. I wish that English made the distinction that French makes between knowing and knowing, between head knowledge and personal experience, between savoir and connaitre. Anyone can memorize a list of pop stars within a culture, even from across the globe; applying the time and attention to become more intimately acquainted with a culture or more intimately acquainted with particular people within it, though, seems more meaningful and more rare. By immersing yourself, I think you are learning, in a connaitre, first-hand sense much more than you realize.

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