Week 3

This week had a fun mix of things going on in and out of work. At work, I dove into the interviews, talking with at least two employees each day. The variety of people’s lifestyles and opinions really fascinates me, so I feel lucky to have the chance to converse with so many people! On Wednesday afternoon, Michael, Mr. S, and I went on an outing to see one of the company’s cold storage buildings. The inner storage rooms were extremely frigid, but the people there treated us warmly. They explained to us about how the facilities work and did fun demonstrations like blowing bubbles that would instantly freeze and shatter in the air. On Friday, we met for a free discussion with some employees from the customer service department.


The weekend held an experience that I’ve wanted to do for a long time: gawking at and making our own fake food! In Japan, restaurants will often put display cases outside full of plastic/wax versions of their menu offerings in order to entice passersby. For this reason, an industry has developed to produce extremely realistic fake food items for restaurants and anybody else who loves food. On Saturday I went with a couple of friends to a district called Kappabashi, which is full of shops that sell kitchen supplies, in order to see a few fake food stores and take a class where we could make our own wax tempura and cabbage. It was truly a beautiful experience.


In the few weeks I’ve been in Japan so far, I’ve certainly felt my language skills developing, but it’s also been a humbling experience. I can have conversations with people and generally communicate, but spending time around Japanese people speaking naturally has shown me that I am nowhere near fluent. There are a lot of challenges and nuances that I feel uncertain about, but am slowly getting used to. For my speaking, listening, and reading skills, I can feel improvements happening bit by tiny bit each day. Doing the interviews has helped develop my food-related vocabulary a lot. The interview format makes things easier by providing an established context to guess at the meaning of unfamiliar words, and transcription lets me hear and see those words over and over until they stick in my head. However, as for writing the more complicated kanji characters, I’ve definitely regressed. Today I realized that since arriving in Japan, I’ve probably written out kanji less than five times! But for the most part, since people do so much nowadays by typing rather than handwriting, my lack of skill has only become an occasional minor embarrassment rather than a daily hindrance.


There are a lot of language subtleties that seem small, but come up a lot in daily life that I still feel unsure about. For example, at what point in a friendship should you start using casual style speech? Is is appropriate to mix both casual and polite speech in conversation? What suffixes should I use for friends, if any? Also, sometimes I feel overly repetitive during conversations because my vocabulary or language confidence is limited and I don’t know what different expressions to use. It’s a little frustrating sometimes, but I’ll just try my best to listen to Japanese people speak and respond to each other in the hopes of picking up some more varied vocabulary.


Some of the finer works at a fake food shop in Kappabashi


The craftsmanship on these desk ornaments, even down to the visual and tactile textures, is unbelievable!