Communication issues in Japenglish

Some of you may of laughed at my last few posts about how so undoubtably alien I have felt in this country over the last week and rightly so. We should learn to laugh at the things that happen to us in life and if I amused you then that makes me happy, maybe there is hope for me as a sit-com writer or comedy drama (my life sometimes feels like one) writer or something. But the strangeness never seems to end and I only have a few more days of it, for this I am thankful.

Lets take yesterday for an example (19 Oct 2013). Shimohara san I think has never really had to deal with a person who does not understand his language. I don’t think this is a failing of his it’s just he has never had to do it, he talks to me in sometimes what feels like quite complex sentences, but then everything is complex when you understand only every 10th word perhaps and he rarely (if ever) tries harder to explain by using something simpler. Maybe I am spoiled by having lived and worked with people where English is not their first language and I am used to making things more simple. We head out yesterday to the field across the road from the farmhouse and he begins to take logs from the field that are rotting and stacking them onto a pile of other logs. I look at him and ask if I can help (in Japanese) he points at the logs and basically tells me to move them all to the other place, fine, no problem. I have no idea why he want’s these rotting logs but he does and even if I could ask him what they were for it is unlikely I would understand the response so I just get on with it. While I am lifting logs he begins to weed and harvest a Myoga field. With the logs finally moved I tell him I am finished and he just points back to the place where I was and mumbles something. Now this is NOT down to my misunderstanding (I think), some Japanese people I have noticed have a way to speak that is not really speaking they just sort of mumble things and I am sure to other Japanese people it sounds fine but to my ears I have no clue what he wants or anything Shimohara san is the second Japanese person i have met like this. I go back to the place, double check there are no logs, find one that is rotten to the core but bring back and tell him there are no more logs in very broken Japenglish.

All the time I have been picking up logs he has been harvesting the Myoga and making a pile of weeds, he has stopped taking the Myoga plants (since it’s only the flower that is the good bit) onto the pile giving me something to do. I ask him (in Japanese) if I should put the plants on the pile he says yes (barely audible) and I get on with the work. We are done soon after and he tells me to take the Myoga back so I do, forgetting my coat which he calls me for and I run back to grab and we both walk back. At least I am doing things right? Well yes sort of… He takes the Myoga off me and walks them up to the house and I follow awaiting to be useful. He puts them in a big bowl and begins to wash them, now he could of told me to do this easily (I understand the verb to wash and he knows it) but he seems hell bent on doing it himself. He picks out the good Myoga from the bad which I could not of done having no idea which is which but I do pick one up that he throws into the good basket and bounces into a nearby drain (which is thankfully dry and clean). Not one word was said to me about this, and I think Myoga is expensive so if he is looking to sell then I may of saved him a few yen there. We take the washed Myoga back to the workshop which is a metal container on his property where I begin to dry the Myoga and again he comes in, takes over saying nothing and begins to box them. All the time I have to remember that he is 64 and he has his ways and I should not take this personally, I also have to keep reminding myself I have no idea how frustrated he is with me not understanding, the pressure I am feeling is coming and being created by me. He has and probably never will express his frustrations but I am really beginning to hate this feeling of uselessness. The next job involved planting.. Yes I could not believe it either I actually planted something! We had prepared a field a few days before by making sure the water channels were nicely made and the ground nice and flat. We covered the ground with some black plastic with holes in for plants to go in, then make holes in the earth for plants to go in which once showing me what he wants he lets me get on with (this is more like it) meanwhile he begins to plant. When I am done with making holes he points at the plants and a nail on the floor saying something. I grab the nail (assuming it’s rubbish) and place it in a box out of the way and the plants and begin to try pushing from the bottom of the container to get the young plant out. He comes from the other side and shows me that if you use the nail to push the plant up it makes life easier which is I am sure what he said about it earlier but again I really think he has not had to deal with someone who understands as little Japanese as I do and sometimes demonstration is a much better media of communication. Okay now I am planting and all goes well and we break for lunch.

Lunch is over with and instead of planting more things we go out on the road driving some of these bags of black seed cases he makes to various shops. It’s hard to explain what this is but it looks like wheat or rice husks which come to him a golden colour. He throws them into a bag vat, starts a fire on the top, closes the lid with a chimney on the top and turns them black. Not exactly smoking but charring I guess which must add something to the husks which are used for planting. We drive around taking things from here and putting them there all the time I try to help where possible, when he puts labels on the bags I put the bags in the same place as the other bags without instruction. I have seen him do it so I guess this is what he wants and I am using the theory of if it’s wrong he will say something, When we are done we head into Sera town for some sort of meeting about a festival that happened today (more on this in another post). Now I know this is going to be mostly people talking about whatever is happening and I know I am not going to have a clue so I stand and wait, answering whatever questions I understand thrown at me by the Japanese people preparing for the festival, it’s the usual, how long area you here, where are you from, how old are you, are you married? We leave after I get to be useful helping to set up tents for the festival and return back to the farm to pick up his whirly blade thingy and head back out with crates and a rake. Goat food hunting time I feel is back with me and I am right, we turn into another farm where he begins to attack the plants which his whirly blade thing (I must google what this is) and I after being given no instruction make some nice neat piles with the rake and eventually put them in the crates. He cuts a lot of weed, way more than I could fit in the crates so I continue to make neat piles, maybe we come back for them maybe we don’t. I mess up here a little putting one rather large pile I have made right in the path of the car and he tells me that we need to get out so I need to move it.. okay fine, done. I then gather what grass I could and load up the truck, he continues to cut and I sort of give up. I have no idea if I am doing right or wrong, he gives me no indication if I should rake more or do whatever so I stand so that he can see me doing nothing and await instruction.

When he thinks he has cut enough he then picks up the rake and begins to rake the grasses I have not touched at the top of the field into another pile he had made near the top of the hill to make it clean. This is where I get a little angry and frustrated in my head, he could of told me to do this and it could of been done while he was cutting but my brain keeps reminding me maybe he does not know how to tell me or maybe he is just a stubborn goat (pun definitely intended) who likes to do things his way. I have a quiet conversation with my brian that is yelling at me to shout at him and confront him about this. I think I have mentioned before just how much I hate confrontation and it’s going to be an even worse experience in a language I cannot make myself understood in or understand the response. I actually begin to devise a way to maybe sit him down and use google translate to help us have a very basic conversation about his communication and if he even wants me here which at times feels like he doesn’t. Of course I don’t go through with this, it’s a lot of hassle, it’s a lot of stress and it’s a confrontation that I really do not want to have unless it’s absolutely necessary. I have just six more days here and I am asking myself can I stand this for six more days?

Thinking about this confrontation put me in a spot I have not been for about a year now. I felt powerless, frustrated and unable to communicate what I wanted, does this sound familiar? It felt familiar it felt like I was back in the office I was in over a year ago with the same feelings. It made me want to listen to certain bits of music very loudly indeed so I could shut out the noise in my head and concentrate on what I need. The most important thing about all this is that I recognise this and I have done so before it has taken hold and got worse. So even though it looks like I am going through hell and I am pretty much trapped here until the 25th it could be worse. To look on the bright side for me it’s very powerful for me to recognise these feelings so quickly, it may not sound like much to you as readers but believe me it is, just hope I can do the same when they happen again in a language I know and I hope I can actually do something about it.

One thought on “Communication issues in Japenglish

  1. Self awareness and recognition is a good thing, and a skill to learn.
    I very rarely loose my temper at work mostly because I feel it achieves little. In fact I find it more necessary to be become slower and more deliberate. That’s what going home and decompressing is for

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