Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Will Miss #197 - cultural story exchanges

English language schools ("eikaiwa") and foreigners working in them get a bad rap among the foreign community in Japan, but I can say without hesitation that they are the best cultural exchange environments around. A big part of the reason for this is that foreigners who are studying Japanese tend to want to speak mundane Japanese for practice outside of the eikaiwa, and those who work in an office no longer find the environment appropriate for certain types of conversations. Another reason is that the point of eikaiwa lessons is to get students to talk as much as possible, and a lot of territory gets covered to keep the topics fresh, so you find yourself talking about a broad diversity of themes. I learn more about Japanese culture, both past and present, from teaching English than I ever did while working in a Japanese company. One of the things that I frequently hear about are the old stories that form the backbone of the shared cultural experience in Japan. The stories we know from our childhood are different, and it's interesting to see some marker of our stories (like the Lady Godiva icon on Godiva chocolate shops) in Japan and to explain the underlying meaning to Japanese people as well as to have them tell their culturally shared stories.

Sharing these types of stories is a big part of appreciating the charm of each particular culture, and it goes some way toward understanding the values instilled in people from childhood. I will miss that.