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Was I a date, a friend or just a potential English teacher?

170 Comments
By Mike Oakland

I don’t understand Japanese people. Forgive the crude analogy, but studying the Japanese is like observing an exotic species in the wild. You can dedicate your whole life to understanding your subjects but eventually, inevitably, they will do something that surprises and confounds you.   This revelation stems from an unfortunate falling out I had with a Japanese friend recently. This friend - we'll call her Yuko - and I have known each other for a little shy of two years now and things had been going swimmingly. We had a lot of similar tastes and I saw her as a very progressive, gaijin-friendly Japanese; very thoughtful, great sense of humor, boundless wit. I had known she had some experience abroad but the lingua franca for our friendship, it was generally understood, was Japanese rather than English.   A few weeks ago, I sent Yuko a text message about putting some friends together for a drink over the weekend. Imagine my surprise and complete befuddlement when what came back was a large block of English text. I pored over her response which I had to admit was pretty well-worded for someone with limited English experience. I wasn't trying to make sense of the words. What perplexed me was: how do I respond?   The more I pondered it, the more it came to light that nearly all of my Japanese friends and relationships, at some point or another, had brought up the idea of getting some English practice with me. It would be casually mentioned while watching an American movie, or injected strategically into a conversation about culture. Sometimes it was a friendly request, other times it felt more like a sinister ultimatum: Teach me English or we are no longer friends. Some even offered to pay me, the very idea of which made me feel dirty and used.   I'm not an English teacher by trade - not anymore, anyway - and the majority of my Japanese friends know that I don't have the first clue about teaching any subject, especially English, which I have always just known in a way that I can't put into words or explain. Yet, there still persists this image in the Japanese psyche that one can simply absorb a second language by being engaged with people who speak it.   What astounded me about Yuko was that she had never displayed even the slightest interest in learning or using English. I admired her because she managed to get along with foreigners in her native language, in a country so rife with those who want nothing to do with gaijin. Then comes this big paragraph from Yuko, in serviceable English, and it turned all my perceptions of her upside down. Immediately, the questions began rolling around in my head: Am I being used? Was this her goal the whole time? Is my Japanese somehow not good enough?   It's my experience that people have a lot of pride in their chosen second language. Put two foreigners claiming to be Japanese-fluent in a room together and sparks will fly. I'm the same way. Whenever a Japanese person unexpectedly changes the language of the conversation from Japanese to English, I can't help but take it as a personal affront. I'm proud of what I've accomplished on my path to fluency and my Japanese relations at times seem painfully oblivious to the hard work and money I've sunk into learning their language.   I thought long and hard about how to respond to Yuko. I didn't want to speak English with her. We had great conversations in Japanese already, and I felt that switching the language suddenly like that might change the whole dynamic of our relationship. I didn't want to give her the impression that her English wasn't good enough, but I didn't want English to become the new standard for our communications. I didn't want her, in the future, asking me questions about grammar I couldn't answer. I didn't want to go through the delicate process of deciding when to correct her English and when to let mistakes slide. Suddenly, I felt like our friendship was on the precipice of becoming a student/teacher relationship.   I literally broke into cold sweats as I delicately punched out a message in English, to show some good faith: I'm sorry, but can we speak in Japanese together? I don't want to complicate our friendship.   Wrong answer. The response was swift, concise, and icy: "Wakatta." Got it.

Feeling I may have presumed too much, I desperately tried to defend my position and stave conflict, but it was too late. A few short exchanges later, our friendship was pretty much finished.

The whole debacle got me to thinking about an ugly double standard foreigners in Japan often face: The Japanese we meet and interact with expect us to understand and adapt to their culture and way of life while also serving as an inexhaustible fountain of knowledge about our own culture, which they are apparently free to tap into whenever they please.

We are, in many ways, expected to fulfill the “Token Foreigner” role: acting foreign, speaking in foreign languages, and guiding the Japanese through the intricacies of interacting with foreigners – all the while carefully treading so as not to offend Japanese sensibilities.

In this pantheon of disparity, the expectation of foreigners I struggle most with is in the subject of language: Why am I expected to understand Japanese, while at the same time constantly acquiescing to requests to teach my language to the natives? When I object to speaking English with Japanese friends and acquaintances, I am often confronted with pleas of: “But, you can already speak Japanese!” and I wonder just how these people think I would have ever come this far in their language if I never insisted on speaking it day to day.

At the end of the day, language brings us together at the same time that is pushes us apart. We are fiercely proud of the languages we can speak well, and are constantly, desperately striving to attain the status of “fluency”. Language and culture are, unsurprisingly, inextricably linked. Isn't it about time we add language etiquette to our utility belt for interacting with others?

What do you think? Have you ever felt pressure from a Japanese friend to play teacher? Have you ever had a falling out over a cultural double standard? Let me know in the comments!

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Was going to save this for a future column here on JT, but in all my years of practicing kendo, I have never been approached to teach/speak English with the other members of any dojo I have been to. Guess there has been an unspoken rule of not mixing kendo with business. As everyone knows my "business," the rule applies to English as well and this is another reason I love to practice kendo! Not sure about other people's experiences in other martial arts/dojos but this has been mine.

Having said that, I am sorry to hear about your experience with Yuko.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

What do you think?

Storm in a chanwan.

Have you ever felt pressure from a Japanese friend to play teacher?

No. I speak Japanese with my friends, neighbours, acquaintances. Sometimes someone does have a question about English grammar or vocabulary that the have to deal with in their life or work. Why not help them out? Lots of people have helped me get this far in Japanese, why would I object to helping them with their English when they need it?

Have you ever had a falling out over a cultural double standard?

No. Not even sure what this means.

Let me know in the comments!

Poor Yuko, she makes the effort to put together a bit of English text thinking to surprise/impress her good friend Mike, and he slaps her down with his insistence on using Japanese. You deserved that 'wakatta', in spades. You go on about 'language etiquette', but it was very bad-mannnered of you to push her away like you did. Would it have 'complicated your friendship' that much to compliment her on her English, and then reply to the content of her message in Japanese? To dismiss what she was saying simply because of the medium she used to say it in was a slap in the face that she didn't deserve. Shame on you.

20 ( +24 / -4 )

In my experience (30 years of speaking Japanese and living and working mostly with Japanese people), I find it helps not to get too caught up in the question of motives. I'm not an English teacher, never profess to be one, and my Japanese friends all know I'd probably be pretty useless trying to instruct them in my own language. But if someone want's to communicate in English--for whatever reason--I respond in kind. Unless someone specifically asks me to "correct" their English, I won't, any more than any of my Japanese friends would presume to "correct" my Japanese. If a friend comes to me in all seriousness with questions about learning English and/or improving their abilities in the language, I try to direct them to someone more qualified than I am to give them advice.

Since the writer doesn't indicate what the nature of his friend's response was, I assume it was an innocuous reply to his suggestion of a get-together, which for one reason or another she had chosen to write in English. In that case, would it have been such a big deal to simply reply to her mail in English as well? I hardly think it would have set any relationship-shattering precedent, neither would it represent an irreparable blow to the pride he has in having mastered Japanese.

This doesn't strike me, necessarily, as a case of that fabled (mythical, even) Japanese "inscrutability," and I think the writer may have been mistaken in treating it as such.

Go with the flow, consider the source, tamp down the ego, and things usually work out regardless of linguistic or cultural misunderstandings.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

Want's --> wants. Like I said.

1 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't know, but I wonder if maybe this is something younger people have to deal with more often than the more established folks here in Japan. I mean, exchange students and people in their 20s (like the writer, I think). I think the Japanese are more prone to thinking you're an English teacher if you're a 20-something, since English teachers seem to come young and stay a year or so, and especially if you're white, and Japanese college students and younger employees are probably under a lot of pressure to learn English.

I run into this too. There's a woman in my office who can speak only the barest minimum of English but insists on constantly using it with me even though my Japanese is far better than her English and quite frankly it feels a little racist and insulting to me, like she thinks the heathen foreigner can't grasp Japanese well enough to get by without her help. What really baffles me is that even though she knows I understand everything uttered in the morning meeting (all in Japanese), she feels the need to translate her conversation about the weather she has with my coworker nearest my desk.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

To be unceremoniously dumped implies Ms. Yuko was a fair weather friend. However perhaps it would have been more prudent if you'd asked her "Why?". That said, congrats on attaining fluency.

I'm not Japanese, I'll never be Japanese, don't want to be Japanese, will never be accepted as Japanese - and don't particularly care - I'll always be an outsider, regardless of how close our friendships are and I'm quite comfortable with that. And I'm asian and can blend comfortably (the GM of my former famous brand multinational employer once made a seriously illegal comment about getting rid of all the gaijin in the company - at which point all of the Japanese staff looked at me - the only gaijin in the meeting - guess I blended too well that day - but kind of amusing).

6 ( +7 / -1 )

My background is somewhat different from most of you in that my first language is Japanese. I began learning English prior to attending grade school and now my English is much stronger. I have been in a similar situation as the author of this piece countless times. I would meet a Japanese person, and things are simple as long as he or she is monolingual or mostly so. However, there is a problem if he/she has a half decent command of the English language. 99% of the time, my Japanese is obviously stronger, so I would insist in sticking with Japanese (After all, it’s odd to switch back and forth). But, there’s always those who are either interested in showing off in English or actually believes that his/her English is stronger and therefore insists on speaking English. I just don’t know how to deal with this group. It’s awkward.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

mountain.....molehill

3 ( +6 / -3 )

If she wanted to use you, she'd have done so earlier.

11 ( +12 / -0 )

Yet, there still persists this image in the Japanese psyche that one can simply absorb a second language by being engaged with people who speak it.

This sentence struck me as extremely odd. We come into the world not speaking any language besides baby talk and gibberish, and it's only through being engaged on an hourly basis with people who speak it do we start to absorb language. I would submit that this holds just as true for a second language as well. The better that we can attain the attitude of a child in approaching the language, the more rapid the progress of most will be.

I believe it would have been more appropriate to have responded to Yuko in English, including your feelings of how her message surprised you. Attempting to communicate in another language leaves many of us feeling vulnerable, and how the receiver of the message handles it can either affirm or undermine the basic relationship. I believe the way the writer has relegated Yuko to just another person looking for free lessons indicates that the relationship was never going to anywhere from the start.

2 ( +4 / -1 )

Boy tells girl, 'I don’t want to complicate our friendship.' - and then wonders why she goes off him?

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Yet, there still persists this image in the Japanese psyche that one can simply absorb a second language by being engaged with people who speak it.

This sentence struck me as odd, too.

On the one hand, typical language education in Japan has woefully little to do with being engaged with people who speak a particular language; on the other hand, Japanese people studying a language outside of the formal education system are frequently told they won't make real progress in actually communicating with people unless they immerse themselves in the language and use it regularly (presumably by engaging with people who speak it).

Some use i-Pods and smart phones; some use the internet; some hang out with foreign friends; some rent movies and turn the subtitles off. But I think most of these people are smart enough to realize these are just some of the things they need to do--short of moving to a country where that language is spoken--to improve their skills, and not the path to some magical process of osmosis.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

ha ha. two years... "friends"... not even close.

seriously, who writes a column because some japanese girl sends them an email in English? and not even hint at the english she wrote. yeah dude, she was just using you. what a cold, heartless woman Yuko is. lucky to have missed out there. "serviceable english yuko". sayonara.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Hey guys,

This is Mike, the author. I happened to be checking JT over my morning coffee and noticed the number of responses.

First, thanks for the comments! I don't want to or expect to change anyone's opinion, but I did want to quickly note that the situation was more complicated than the article lets on. For the sake of brevity, I cut some things out, like how Yuko and I had discussed language preferences in the past and we had verbally settled on Japanese as our mode of communication. I suppose that's why the situation felt like a betrayal.

I agree with Godan that there are a variety of situations where language is not a contentious issue. At work, at the gym, in line at the grocery. If I had to peg it at a percentage, I would say I spend 80% of my time speaking with Japanese people in Japanese without issue.

I do note, however, that many people my age (late 20s) do press me to teach them English or at least converse with them in English. I don't mind it. However, I do find that it can make a relationship/friendship very "clunky", as it's almost as if you must verbally agree upon the "language of the day" and inevitably someone breaks the rule at some point. Perhaps it's just me.

And, @Cleo, I'm glad you're here! Obviously, my articles will be from a male perspective and I think your insight will be very balancing.

Anyway, thanks again for the comments and I hope the discussion continues.

-Mike

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Why are you allowed to make Japanese friends in order to practice Japanese, but Japanese people aren't allowed to make foreign friends to practice their English? It is called cultural exchange, and it is expected in any international relationship. If you don't like it then make gaijin friends and practice Japanese with them.

10 ( +15 / -5 )

A lot of Japanese people (not all of them) think in an uncomplicated way. They assume and act upon it. Usually not with bad intentions. The problem arrises when they are trying hard for something unnecessary. Yuko in this case tried hard to write the e-mail in English. She did so, because she wanted to show the writer how much she cares and appreciates him (She feels sorry that he has to speak Japanese to her all while she is not good at understanding his culture and language). However she failed at thinking how to show appreciation to the writer. In her token of appreciation, she stamped him as a foreigner and confused him. When the baffled response came, she felt angry because even though she tried hard, it was all for nothing and he didn't appreciate it. It would be similar to if a Japanese person goes abroad to a Western country and someone makes that person green tea or miso soup, buys her a yukata, gives them chopsticks to eat, takes them to a Japanese restaurant, goes to a Japanese art museum and like in this case addresses them in Japanese even though it is not necessary. (Depending on the person, they might actually appreciate any of the above)

Like in the other comments somewhere. Just compliment her on her English and send back in Japanese. If someone sends you a gift you really hate, you fake a smile and take it anyway.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This is why i don't waste money socialising with other foreigenres in Japan. The bloke is a a stereotype Japanophile that is often joked about by many foreigners. Notice i call fellow overseas people what they really are not the trendy "G" word that we shouldw ant stopped being used in this day and age.

If you can't be polite to your own friends and put yourself first you may end like the man in this article.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

"I'm sorry, but can we speak in Japanese together? I don't want to complicate our friendship."

Response: "Wakatta." Got it.

Ja, mondai nai darou! Hey, no problem!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think you are taking this issue way too serious. If people want to communicate with you, be happy. It doesn't matter what language it is. If someone wants to speak Japanese with me, I reply in Japanese. If someone wants to speak English, I reply in English. If someone wants to speak Greek to me, I reply in Greek. It doesn't matter, as long as someone talks to me, I am happy. If someone wants to learn from you, teach him. Don't always think about money. The Japanese who helped you with Japanese didn't charge you anything either. I also think you should apologize to Yuko.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

This had nothing to do with english / japanese, mike over thinks everything, it is really common for foreigner men to learn english from woman, they even start to act like woman, Japanese woman don't like that, it is cute for the first month and your get alot of attention as a foreigner but your soon boring and seen as a gimic.

Wakata is not icy you just read the message that way.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I just care about good communication and nothing else. Even if it takes pictograms to get ideas across.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

steve@CPFC: Yep your are correct, he is more concerned about being Japanese that foreigner, he serious is trying to fit into a world that will never accept him as Japanese no matter how much he dislikes speaking english. Learn to fit it an accept your roots and be happy.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@seaforte03

I'm not Japanese, I'll never be Japanese, don't want to be Japanese, will never be accepted as Japanese - and don't particularly care - I'll always be an outsider, regardless of how close our friendships are and I'm quite comfortable with that. And I'm asian and can blend comfortably (the GM of my former famous brand multinational employer once made a seriously illegal comment about getting rid of all the gaijin in the company - at which point all of the Japanese staff looked at me - the only gaijin in the meeting - guess I blended too well that day - but kind of amusing).

Good for you, honey. Be yourself no matter what, never try to be something else in order to impress or please someone, I know that when I went to Korea, many people looked down on me because of my nationality, but I kept my head straight and kept walking. In my experience, being Japanese is not something to be proud. There are countless countries that find you inferior and worthless (I thank my corrupted lying government for that!!) but still I try to blend in as much as possible and always keep myself motivated. I consider myself lucky because this English I'm using I learned it living abroad when I was in University, but it took me several years to accomplish this level of fluency, yet I'm far from fluent, I keep making grammar mistakes and something confusing words and stuff, but I'm thankful for all the people that helped me in my journey to learn a second language. Be proud of yourself, and look in the mirror. You are as unique as every star shining in the sky. Never let anyone else tell you otherwise.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I think you are seriously over thinking it.

If you can speak both languages, and so can she, what does it matter which you speak, as long as you are both understanding each other?

It is a common fact that many Japanese people can read and write English, but not speak it. Maybe she just wanted a chance to shine? Hell, probably she thinks you are using her for HER Japanese language ability... Personally, If I have a friend who wants to send me the odd email in English, whatever. No probs.

I kind of feel bad for her...

8 ( +9 / -0 )

Yet, there still persists this image in the Japanese psyche that one can simply absorb a second language by being engaged with people who speak it.

Really, you can't? You'll certainly get conversationally fluent quickly that way.

This is a pretty strange article. Why is it important to choose one language and communicate in only that language? I tend to communicate in English with my work friends in the office and Japanese outside the office. Frequently I bounce back and forth between languages with other friends. What's the problem with that?

And if someone wants to practice their English with me, why should I mind? God knows practice my Japanese on enough people - is that somehow different? Those people aren't "Japanese teachers".

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Nice to have the writer here to "defend" his piece - good on you, Mike.

I have some sympathy as I can imagine the situation to be somewhat awkward (although based on the limited info available I tend to agree with others - you appear to have over-reacted).

I do, however, disagree with this quite strongly:

The whole debacle got me to thinking about an ugly double standard foreigners in Japan often face: The Japanese we meet and interact with expect us to understand and adapt to their culture and way of life while also serving as an inexhaustible fountain of knowledge about our own culture, which they are apparently free to tap into whenever they please.

I couldn't even begin to list the number of situations in which foreigners here are NOT expected to understand and adapt to Japanese culture. In fact, we are often given a free pass in situations where a Japanese most certainly would not be. This may be difficult and confusing at times but I don't see it as a double standard.

2 ( +4 / -1 )

Mike - you think too much dude...seriously...for 2 years you practice your Japanese with Yuko and then she sends you one English email and you think it will complicate your friendship so much?..So what if you sometimes speak / write to each other in English and other times in Japanese...seems fair to me..look at the other side of the coin - you are not willing to help a friend of 2 years with some potential question about English grammar she might or might not ask you in the future? Dude , you practiced your Japanese for free with her for 2 years...how about giving something back?...its not that hard really.. Btw....if Yuko thought like you, she would have every right to feel that you used her just for learning Japanese..if everyone thought like you there would probably not be any international friendships, relationships or marriages at all.

@Cleo, Jotter, Foxie - agree with your comments guys...

13 ( +14 / -1 )

I think Yuko was trying to show that she can write in English. If she wanted to use the guy,she could of done so from the get go.

I think the author threw away a 2 year friendship by jumping the gun and kinda being full of himself.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

sounds like a paranoid analysis of one single event in two years of events, unless you've omitted other important interactions? your interpretation is colored by your past history and culture. i would find this normal.

5 ( +6 / -0 )

cleoAug. 20, 2011 - 08:40AM JST

What do you think?

Storm in a chanwan.

Have you ever felt pressure from a Japanese friend to play teacher?

No. I speak Japanese with my friends, neighbours, acquaintances. Sometimes someone does have a question about English grammar or vocabulary that the have to deal with in their life or work. Why not help them out? Lots of people have helped me get this far in Japanese, why would I object to helping them with their English when they need it?

Have you ever had a falling out over a cultural double standards?

No. Not even sure what this means.

Let me know in the comments!

Poor Yuko, she makes the effort to put together a bit of English text thinking to surprise/impress her good friend Mike, and he slaps her down with his insistence on using Japanese. You deserved that 'wakatta', in spades. You go on about 'language etiquette', but it was very bad-mannnered of you to push her away like you did. Would it have 'complicated your friendship' that much to compliment her on her English, and then reply to the content of her message in Japanese? To dismiss what she was saying simply because of the medium she used to say it in was a slap in the face that she didn't deserve. Shame on you.

I'm so sorry Mike, but I have to agree with Cleo on this. I think Yuko made quite an effort to show you her ability in English and you just slapped her in the face, literally. I have taught Japanese to my Foreign friends countless times and I would never ever try to demean/degrade someone for using Japanese with me. In fact, when people talk back to me in Japanese, I feel such happiness and easiness. I feel like I can talk both my native language and English and we'll be alright. So please, don't push someone back just because that person spoke to you in English. Open your mind, but also open your heart. Have compassion and understanding and you'll see how much your life will change. これから良く頑張ってねっ!(^。^)v

6 ( +7 / -0 )

HumanTarget, there are always a few of those annoying people.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Was I a date...

From the article I couldn't understand why do you think you were dating. You describe her as a friend all the time. Did you have some special feelings towards the lady, did she have feelings too? Perhaps if she wasn't special, you wouldn't take her withdrawal so painfully to make you write this article and ask general questions about the quality of friendship in Japan and the Japanese idea of friendship. BTW, there was a column by Debito in Japan Times about the friendship where he asks similar stuff.Have you read it? What do you think of it? I'm not native speaker, and therefore I've never been asked to teach English, or being befriended because someone wants to practice their English with me.But I've witnessed cases where Japanese befriend/date foreigners for a purpose. Like there was this obasan, who helped Korean students and in exchange traveled around Korea on their expenses.When someone from another country asked her for help , she just said"I'm gonna help you when I decide to visit your country".

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I had a Japanese male friend who would always ask me at least one English question whenever we met. We always spoke in Japanese as I am pretty much a native speaker. It was a bit annoying but I defined or translated the occasional word for him just because he was my friend. We had a lot of fun drinking, snowboarding, etc, though. I don't feel he was "using" me, he just asked me because he knew I had the answers. In turn he corrected my Japanese or taught me some kotowaza (though I didn't ask him to). All in all I think it's a fair trade and it didn't really affect our friendship.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

I don't feel he was "using" me, he just asked me because he knew I had the answers.

great point BICULTURAL.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

i think you can pick a user quickly. And then the 'friendship' is over.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The way it comes across to me is that the writer is too proud of his Japanese ability. His Japanese friends broach the subject gently (I'd like to speak English sometime if it's okay with you) but the writer insists on speaking Japanese. Some foreigners seem to try too hard to show they 'fit in' with the Japanese just by speaking Japanese. Fitting in is a lot more subtle than just speaking the language.

Friendship is about give and take but the writer doesn't sound like he's willing to do much giving on this issue.

4 ( +5 / -0 )

mike oakland is tripping...just speak to her in English if she does so, and then when you talk to her, do it in Japanese. Simple as that.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@MikeOa - Mike, I just caught your post from earlier. With the best intentions, I've just gotta say you seem to have a lot of rules for your friendships.

Yuko and I had discussed language preferences in the past and we had verbally settled on Japanese as our mode of communication. I suppose that's why the situation felt like a betrayal.

it's almost as if you must verbally agree upon the "language of the day" and inevitably someone breaks the rule at some point.

Relax a bit.

4 ( +5 / -0 )

Think of this. At least she wrote it herself. I get guys writing me and using translate soft. That sucks. I have no clue about what they are trying to say.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

1 - I m sorry, but can we speak in Japanese together?

2 - Have you ever felt pressure from a Japanese friend to play teacher?

Why dont you speak in English??? If you are not ready to help her, how can you claim as friend.... In my view, friendship is all about sharing, caring and helping each other... I never felt any thing wrong in asking an assistance to improve a second language... May be you can speak Japanese fluently... how did you come to that level... You cannot learn a second language all by yourself... you need someone to practice it with...

As a foreigner and a beginner of Japanese, I will be happy to have a friend/penpal to improve my Japanese, I will be even more happy to help english in return...

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Let's not forget how pleasurable learning foreign languages can be for some people. It can influence their whole lives, influence where they go on vacations, what jobs they do, etc. Even subconsciously people can gravitate towards fluent speakers of their chosen language. Perhaps Yuko is one such person. Or maybe she wanted to deepen her relationship with you by learning more about your culture and language. Perhaps she had no confidence at listening to and speaking English, but could read and write it.

This touches on an interesting point of language equality. It's hard to achieve an acceptable balance between the two languages without one person feeling ripped off. I've often met people back in my country who could speak other languages, but I've never been interested in learning their languages so English was fine with me. However, if I was interested in their language and had studied it, it would be hard to refrain from tryout out a few expressions in the language. There's no way they could try to dissuade me from speaking their language with them without me feeling rejected. It would probably worsen our relationship.

Perhaps you both need to learn another language, so you'll both be foreign speakers and it'll be fair for each of you. That's one philosophy behind constructed languages such as Esperanto.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I forgot to add something. In the university where I studied, we were pretty big international community, and there were couples of different nationalities. I've noticed that the girls almost always tried to learn the guys' native language-Korean, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian...They tought that their interest in the culture and some language skills will actually make their boyfriend happy. Indeed, when I began dating my husband, he reacted very happily anytime I used words and phrases from his native language. If Yuko had some feelings towards Mike and wanted to make him happy by speaking his language, then his answer was rather rude and immature.He must blame all but himself. It's hard to understand us, women, isn't it?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Mike - It`s ok man. Friends come and go.

YOU CANT PLEASE EVERYBODY. ITS HARD TO PLEASE ANY WOMAN. No matter what country she`s from.

Just remember friends come and go. Sometimes they will ask for advice and simply hate you for it.

But it`s all part of life man.

You lost her, but you gained JT friends. Weeeeeeeeeeeee

Maybe she`ll text you back.

Time to clean up the BBQ. Peace dudes and ladies

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I agree with Cleo... your friend of two years surprises you with a bit of English and you essentially end your friendship because of it. Maybe she was proud of what she had learned and thought would impress you. I do not, in fact, know the reason, but neither do you since you didn't bother to ask.

Yes, I am bilingual (multi, in fact) and am completely comfortable switching between languages with those who are capable. Friends are friends.

If Yuko had come to your house with a home cooked-dish from your native area, would you have dumped her on the spot for having trespassed into your territory?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Just one more aspect, although it may not fit Mike's situation. Every language has it's own strength to communicate certain things or feelings, which you cannot easily or concisely express in other languages.Depending on circumstances, I often switch between languages. Language itself has no value, it's the content which we communicate. I find this even more important when writing short mails on the keitai.

Mike, you wrote you don't want to get used by others to learn English from you. But weren't you doing exactly that to your friend, using her to improve your Japanese?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As for me, I've been here for years, and as Steve helpfully pointed out, you do tend to run into some 'colourful' characters who take going native to the extreme limits...People who've apparently abandoned any sense of moderation or balance and use any encounter with fellow foreigners to show off what they know about tea ceremonies or yayoi clay pots. I've got a couple of Japanese mates who use English most of the time, and why not really...There's so few chances to use English here otherwise, and you get used to it. When it becomes an obstruction to a conversation, then you shouldn't feel bad about switching languages.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sometimes the message is the medium. I think Sasoriza is very warm in her thinking.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The medium is the message, rather.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You want to practice your Japanese on her but not let her at all practive her English, if that is even what she wanted to do?! You got some pretty selfish, narrow-minded thinking going on. I am quite dumfounded at the box you seem to put Japanese people in, expecting them to act a certain way, as if every person is the same. If you actually 'lived' in Japan instead if thinking so much, you would probably learn a lot more about Japanese society instead of some warped view you have. Try getting out of that tiny bubble of yours and live and experience Japan and learn something.

I have read some pretty low level drivel written by both Japanese and non-Japanese regarding Japan and thought I had seen it all....but I have been proven wrong. This takes the cake.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Mike, you can't demand to be spoken to in a specific language. You can only control what language you respond in. Poor Yuko.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Yuko was maybe trying to reach out to you and take a bit of risk by talking to you in English.

I like helping my Japanese friends learn English. One of the biggest frustrations in Japan is that young people study English for as much as 8 years on average, and never learned good conversational English.

I actually find that some of them like the fact that I speak multiple languages, and that there are so many fun ways to say something simple like "Thank you" or "beautiful".

To say that you can't teach English means that you are a bit selfish and lack confidence in yourself. When you have children, how will you expect them to speak with you if can't teach them their first words?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I like Foxie's and Patrick Smash's posts as usual. I have never, EVER had "sparks fly" when in the same room with a fellow expat and the conversation switched to Japanese. Humility is a virtue and you would have to be an ABSOLUTE TOOL to act like your second language skills represented some character attribute. Most expats are just trying to get by and will find friendship the same way they would in their homeland. Would you have treated Yuko this way were the roles reversed and you were in YOUR home country? There is NO contest here. There is NO competition among foreigners. We are all pioneers in a Globalizing culture and should treat each other as well as our hosts with respect.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Haha, so the drama! It's like watching a soap opera where every little thing, someone's whole world is on the balance!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

After reading all of the responses, including the author's, I can say that living in a foreign land can often bring us face to face with something within ourselves that we would rather overlook or deny. Demons perhaps.

The good thing is that there is always the possibility that the relationship can be repaired. None of us will never be perfect and so the skill of relationship-repairing should become a very high priority for adults, in my opinion. You probably need some practice in that area, and Yuko may be the perfect person at this point to help you along.

I think you know what to do, Mike. I will be pulling for you to do it in the way that it truly needs to be done. Good luck!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mike - pass on "gaijin-friendly" Yuko's email to me. I will clear the situation up for you.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Mike says he is not qualified to be an English teacher or help his friends with English. He also states though that he used to teach English as a job, for money. So, it is ok doing a job you cannot do properly for cash but not to help out friends for free?

13 ( +12 / -0 )

I believe 1.5litresofwine ( Aug 20 - 7:39pm ) has hit it on the head.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Common thing about Japanese guys I've dated: They want to improve their English! Sometimes, it occurs to me that they just chose me to date me to learn English. But does it really matter? Either way, I'm glad to be of help. :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You lost her, but you gained JT friends. Weeeeeeeeeeeee

lol Dunno that Mike gained many JT friends, but Yuko certainly did.

Maybe she`ll text you back.

Don't wait for her to text you back. If you value her friendship, go round to her place with a bunch of flowers, box of chocolates, whatever you know she will appreciate, wear a big hang-dog expression, apologise for being a jerk and ask her to give you another chance. She sounds like a nice lady.

If she doesn't want to give you that second chance, lick your wounds, learn your lesson and treat your next lady friend with a bit more ...respect? flexibility? courtesy? understanding? reciprocity?

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Writer states "I don’t understand Japanese people. Forgive the crude analogy, but studying the Japanese is like observing an exotic species in the wild. You can dedicate your whole life to understanding your subjects but eventually, inevitably, they will do something that surprises and confounds you."

"This revelation stems from an unfortunate falling out I had with a Japanese friend recently."

This sounds terrible - is the writer trying to claim that Japanese people are to be studied like pets? Also, a lot of generalizations going on and "This revelation stems from an unfortunate falling out I had with a Japanese friend..."

Great, an article based on a flimsy email....hmmm, rocket science!

Also, "inevitably, they will do something that surprises and confounds you." - Oh, well; racial thinking theories are alive and well - the writer now sounds like Ishihara during one of his racial outbursts....an entire race does this, an entire race thinks like this.............

Therefore, does the writer desire all Japanese people to say "yes sir, thank you" - tut, tut!

Terrible...............

But a pat on the head to the writer for speaking Japanese so well.....if only the entire population would praise you in order to calm you down from your mass generalizations.

I only wonder why it took Yuko so long to switch on to your own insecurity....................

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If she doesn't want to give you that second chance, lick your wounds, learn your lesson and treat your next lady friend with a bit more ...respect? flexibility? courtesy? understanding? reciprocity?

Common decency?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I just keep asking myself, "Why didn't he answer back in English, and at the bottom of the response, ask something along the lines of, "Why English all of a sudden? :-)" Throw in the smiley to make it clear that you're not put off, just surprised.

I've gone back and re-read a couple of times, and I'm still not coming up with anything that changes my mind. One message in English instead of Japanese is a "betrayal?" Either there's way more to this than Mike's letting on, or he really needs to lighten up.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Mike, I think you think too much.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This guy hasn't spent time in Japan. I had the same troubles until I met a guy that put me on to what Japan was really about, and that it's their way. It's not about spending hours typing up the same thing every foreigner that lives there thinks of on a daily basis, but about accepting it and moving on.

Don't hate the player, hate the game.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Nice one Burakumin '-)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

First of all, why are you setting rules on friendships? Language was designed as a way to communicate. Why can't you accept that and use it for its intended purpose? If shewants to communicate in English, then so be it. You understand what she's saying, and if she understands what you're saying, then great. You have achieved your goal of communicating with each other. I'm teaching English in Japan. I don't know Japanese, but I study everyday. If a friend says something to me in Japanese, I try to answer in Japanese, but my friends understand the limits of my Japanese, so many times I stumble over a few words and then add some English. They understand, and everyone is happy.

Friendships have limits, but shouldn't have rules. To apply rules like that is just offensive. If one of my bilingual friends got upset at me for trying to piece together a paragraph in Japanese, I probably wouldn't want to talk to them again either. That's not a crazy Japanese thing, it's a common courtesy thing. No, she wasn't using you, but I'm betting she thinks you were using her, and quite frankly, so do I.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It sounds to me like you are okay using her, but have a problem when -the shoe is on the other foot-. If you are so insecure maybe you should get a dog so you can always have your own way. "Yuko" sounds like a sweetheart to me and you will most likely regret your immaturity in the future.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Mike has written an honest article about his situation that so many of us can learn from.

He completely aced the first rule of writing: Get the reader's attention. (There was no way I was going to pass his article up.) But I think some folks are being much too hard on him. I don't believe that many of us in our 20's were always mature enough to handle our relationships wisely. I don't believe there isn't anyone who doesn't look back with regrets on some of the stuff we did or said -- or didn't do or say.

I spoke about this with my wife (of 30+ years) who happens to be Japanese. She was wondering if the reason that Yuko wrote in English is because the topic involved a get-together of friends, and -- according to my wife -- Yuko wanted to make absolutely certain about the details of time and place, thus preventing any possible misunderstanding. When talking about general topics like sports, politics, weather, etc., complete fluency in a second language isn't nearly as important as issue when precision is needed.

We both were interested in the following statement: "Put two foreigners claiming to be Japanese-fluent in a room together and sparks will fly." I suspect the sparks fly because each feels they are much better in Japanese than they actually are. Claiming to be fluent and actual fluency are two different things. We both believe that when you truly feel comfortable in the second language, there is no reason for "sparks to fly" with anyone else.

Anyway, I'm glad you shared the story with us, and will have an interesting update or two on anything that comes of it. It's just really unfortunate that Yuko's writing to you in English couldn't have been used as a way to better understand her motivations before reacting as if you suspected she was acting out of the basest ones.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Your Japanese friend sent you an email in English? Shocking. These pesky natives are getting above themselves! Dump her immediately! If you want a new friend I'm sure you'll find one, because you sound very sophisticated.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Mike for the love of god apologize to this woman.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Mr. Oakland,

There may have been many things left out of your article -- I can only go by what is there -- but it seems perhaps Yuko was trying to respond to you in a way to demonstrate a closer sense of friendship.

Since her reply was preceded by your suggestion of getting friends together for a more intimate/personal setting, she might have simply been trying to demonstrate in a non-overt way that she wanted to be closer friends too.

My experience with Japanese and non-Japanese friends is that getting into the "inner circle" of Japanese friendships is not trivial. If it's done with success at all, it's with very small steps over what many Western people might regard as a long period of time.

Without knowing any other details, it would seem to me that your response to her was rather harsh. Her brief response to yours could well have been a sign of embarrassment on her part, especially if you reacted in a way she did not expect (you stiff-armed her, in gridiron parleance). And from there, the misunderstanding can grow quickly.

Of course, I don't know the details of your situation and only offer an opinion based on my own assumptions.

But you did ask for that. (:

Whether it's Japanese or English language, culture, or indeed any other language or culture, the best advice is to be honest, kind, open-minded, and don't be a jerk. (:

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Mike when I am in Japan I tend to do a trade off, ie I will teach you English,whilst you correct my miserable efforts to speak Japanese, as for double standards, they are not unique to Japan.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I've always had a hard time reading Japanese people despite my 20 years of living and working with them. Back in college, when a girl said 'teach me English' it mostly meant take me, I'm yours.' Other times and spoken by an old dude or lady who wants to 'take you under their wing,' it could mean 'teach me English 'cause that's the only thing you're good at or the only thing you can do for me since you're a leach feeding on my country's resources.'

I've always found it hard to make Japanese friends because there is always an assumption, at least in the part of the Japanese that, something has to be exchanged for the relationship to work....

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

This is a tough topic. I think the writer handled his situation poorly and that has more to do with her leaving than anything else. But.....

I am a very social and outgoing person with a strong international circle of friends here and abroad. And yet after years in Japan I have few people who I feel are truly trusted friends.

About 80% of the women I have met here are looking for one of the following. 1. English teacher. 2. Token Gaijin guy to hang out with. 3. Gaijin boyfriend 4. Someone with a good job to marry.

I am not an English teacher, never have been and don't want to be. I am also not a brand bag to be shown in public as a trophy. So that clears up why I quickly escape from those seeking options 1 and 2.

Option 3 and 4 were maddening. Meet a nice girl and start dating only to realize that her interest in you has more to do with nationality than say, who you are. And on the polar opposite, when I mention where I work, I have had more instant potential marriage partners than one human should have to sort through in a lifetime.

So I do feel for the writer to some extent. It can be hard to find people who just have an interest in mutual friendship and companionship in Japan. There are too often role expectations that cast us in positions that are less than comfortable.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

However perhaps it would have been more prudent if you'd asked her "Why?".

Or you could tell her you'd be happy to correct her English if she would correct your Japanese, and defer any drama until you saw whether that arrangement worked.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Meet a nice girl and start dating only to realize that her interest in you has more to do with nationality than say, who you are.

tkoind2, you make really some great points. We'd all love for people to like us for "who we are" -- but do we even know what that is really? I think this is the dilemma that underlies the whole situation.

At the bottom line, I don't believe there is anyone here on JT who doesn't want a happy outcome to Mike's situation. In some ways, speaking for myself, Mike is playing out every blown relationship that I've had -- and I sense that I'm not alone in this. I trust that he has described his erstwhile friend well: thoughtful, great sense of humor, boundless wit (!!). How many people like this pass through our lives? (All too few -- too few to let walk away.)

And so "who we are" might be a hero, or a chump. It all depends on how we react to the situations that life throws at us. I don't blame Yuko for reacting to the person who was behaving like the "chump for a day." But the day is over, and tomorrow, the hero might arrive to save the situation. Who knows?...it could be the start of a beautiful friendship. .

1 ( +1 / -0 )

About 80% of the women I have met here are looking for one of the following. 1. English teacher. 2. Token Gaijin guy to hang out with. 3. Gaijin boyfriend 4. Someone with a good job to marry.

In case of number 2, you can make it a mutally beneficial arrangement. You get social validation from her. She gets her token gaijin. Parley the social validation into encounters with women you're more interested in. Basically you can turn women like this into unintentional wingwomen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mike, the bottomline is that you don't seem to want to share your knowledge. Imagine, you and me are becoming friends and I would say to you right at the beginning that I am very good at cooking but that you can never ask me for any recipe or advice. The same goes for my IT knowledge, my golf swings and my carpentry skills. If you want to learn these, just go and buy a book but don't ask me. That wouldn't make you feel good, would it? Human relationships are in my opinion about exchanging knowledge. Don't forget that if you teach someone something, that person will remember you for the rest of his life and pass on that knowledge to generations to come. So, please take a joy in sharing from now onwards, otherwise you will soon feel pretty lonely. You are still very young and you made a mistake here and that itself is good because you learned something.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

it could mean 'teach me English 'cause that's the only thing you're good at or the only thing you can do for me since you're a leach feeding on my country's resources.'

I've always found it hard to make Japanese friends

I'm not surprised, with the baggage you carry.

We'd all love for people to like us for "who we are" -- but do we even know what that is really?

There's a scene in 'Love Story' where Ryan O'Neill is worrying that Ali McGraw loves him because of his 'old money' background, and she points out matter-of-factly that that is part of who he is, and why shouldn't she love that bit of him as much as she loves every other bit (or words to that effect). Possibly for the majority of us here, being a native English speaker is part of who and what we are. Why should we expect our friends to ignore that part of us? I love Foxie's point about helping friends out with cooking, or golf, or IT, or carpentry. English ability is no different.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You lost her, but you gained JT friends. Weeeeeeeeeeeee lol Dunno that Mike gained many JT friends, but Yuko certainly did. Maybe she`ll text you back. Don't wait for her to text you back. If you value her friendship, go round to her place with a bunch of flowers, box of chocolates, whatever you know she will appreciate, wear a big hang-dog expression, apologise for being a jerk and ask her to give you another chance. She sounds like a nice lady. If she doesn't want to give you that second chance, lick your wounds, learn your lesson and treat your next lady friend with a bit more ...respect? flexibility? courtesy? understanding? reciprocity?

I DON`T UNDERSTAND THE BOX OF MATERIAL THINGS ETC. TO GET A FRIEND BACK WILL DO ANYTHING BUT MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE A SLAVE, IDIOT, and etc. Sometimes people get emotional, ( toooooooo emotional ) i.e. the paragraph above.

message to mike: What you should do is evaluate yourself, FORGET about this yuko and move on with your life. DONT` worry you will get more friends.

Just like I said yesterday, you will gain and lose friends.Obviously , you learned alot from this experience about friendship.

Sometimes, people tend to get selfish or it`s " my way " type of relationship. Whatever it was !!!!!

YOU SAW HER TRUE COLORS !!!! Maybe she`s to demanding or selfish.

Friendships come and go !!!!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

lol Now I understand why whiskeysour yelled, ITS HARD TO PLEASE ANY WOMAN. If he thinks a sincere apology backed up by a well-aimed peace offering makes him look like a slave and an idiot, he probably has difficulties in bucketloads when it comes to pleasing a woman.

Obviously , you learned alot from this experience about friendship.

Actually, it looks like he didn't learn anything, that's why he wrote this article. Hopefully some of the comments will have given him the opportunity to stand back and take stock, see where he went wrong.

Sometimes, people tend to get selfish or it`s " my way " type of relationship.

Exactly. Mike needs to learn not to be so selfish and to meet his friends halfway, instead of insisting on "his way" type of relationship. Yuko got a glimpse of his true colours.

I hope it's just a blip though and they get back together again, because she sounds nice and I don't think Mike is really a jerk except for his hangup about language.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Mike told Yuko when they talk, they talk only in Japanese. Why do you have to decide which language to talk? Obviously, you want to practice your Japanese with Yuko. In your words, "You are USING Yuko for your Japanese PRACTICE!" In my assumption, Yuko doesn't care which language to use. If you want to communicate in Japanese only, that's fine with her. You have been friends for two years. It seems like good two year friendship. But maybe it has become somewhat routine, a bit boring friendship. It happens to friendship/relationship. Yuko just wanted to surprise you by sending you English text, rather than everyday routine boring text. So she decided to write to you in English with little surprise. And you have made a huge deal out of it. I don't know what "wakatta" means in her. Maybe "wakatta. I'm not going to use English if you don't want me to. No problems" Or, "wakatta. You have been using me for your Japanese practice for 2 years" If you still want to use her for your Japanese practice, you should tell her so. Some Japanese do not mind at all. (don't expect friendship, though) If you like her and want to get her back, you should talk to Yuko in person. Remember: Mike, don't occupy the talk when you have relationship trouble. When guys try to fix relationship trouble, they just talk too much and try to solve everything. WRONG!!! A guy has to be a good listener, let the girl talk. Maybe Mike & Yuko are stepping up to the next level. Good luck(^.^)

3 ( +4 / -1 )

One thing to keep in mind is that no relationship exists in a bubble. Years ago I had a friend fluent in Japanese with a gorgeous girlfriend here in Japan. They had dated for 5 years and communicated solely in Japanese. Out of the blue she left the guy. Evidently, her friends all thought it was suspicious that her American boyfriend wouldn't teach her English/speak to her in English. Guess the pressure from her friends was too much and she walked away from a great relationship. My friend was stunned to say the least. What has truly happened between Mike and Yuko may be much more complicated than what we see here in the article, i.e. there may be others involved in this drama that we don't know about.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree that some Japanese can be annoying in their persistance to use you as English practice. For example, guys who hang around in the English corner of book shops. But throwing a fit because your friend writes you an email in English??? Some friend you are, Mike.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Rather surprised at the replies. I have one or two Japanese friends who have a decent English level so we flip back and forth with Japanese and English. If one of my other friends all of a sudden switched into English I wouldn't be happy about it - just like Mike. We live in Japan. The language used is Japanese unless you establish a friendship in another language. Why the need to change? If they've been using Japanese all this time without any language issues what is the reasoning? English practice comes to mind. Mike's not a teacher, not being paid to provide the service of one so shouldn't feel like he is being pressured to be one. I am more than happy to help my friends with their English if they ask but I am not keen only dealing with crappy English when my Japanese is much better than their English and we've always used Japanese - have had it happen a few times and have distanced myself only to watch the same people look for another foreigner to befriend.

I have met faaaar too many Japanese here who a) want a token gaijin, b) free English lessons c) for some reason think I have numerous foreign male friends I will introduce them to so they can marry and have half babies. It's not on and not okay.

As for the comments about using HER for Japanese practice, again, we live in Japan. The locals speaks Japanese, shouldn't we? I don't see it as practice at all. It is just daily life going on as usual.

No idea how many times Japanese people have assumed my husband's English must be amazing. We use Japanese at home. Why the assumption we would use English - more so when I speaking to these people in Japanese? Oh right, use foreigners have a hard a time with the language.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

I love Eurythmics ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Eurythmics said it best,

Everybody`s looking for something

Some of them want to use you

Some of them want to get used by you

Some of them want to abuse you

Some of them want to be abused

IN REALITY, SOME PEOPLE JUST CAN`T GET ALONG.

Mike is TROLLING I don`t know if this story is fiction / non fiction / REAL / UNREAL

She`s the queen of AIR. Blah blah blah air talk Who know`s ???

This is frivolous !!!!!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Queen of Air - Air talk from ms. ? because we dont know her real name. Shes selfish, mike is not the selfish person.

I can`t blame this on mike.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

tmarie; Mike clearly states in the article that he ahd been employed as an English teacher. I have an online friend from France and sometimes i email him in French even though he knows English well and my French is terrible. Big deal!!

After 2 years she sends an email in English, is that asking for language lessons? You benefit from living in Japan but only try and make an effort to learn about Japan for your own benefit, you don't want to give anything back, slefish.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

What should I be giving back?? Free English lessons?? That's stupid. How on earth is it selfish to want to use the everyday language of the country??

Regardless if he was an English teacher or not, he's not now. Would she email her Japanese friends in English? What his native language is, doesn't matter. If they met using Japanese and have had the relationship in Japanese there is no need for her to use English with him. Had they met using English I would say he's out of line.

Why on earth would you email your friend in French? What do you get out of it??

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

The author's point is that some Japanese see him not as a valued friend, but rather a free talking textbook whom they can use at their convenience. He picked just one experience to show a pattern he has observed in Japan, not a single misunderstanding.

Usually in life most of our real friends are people with whom we share things in common with (hobbies, humor, beliefs, experiences) and easily understand each other's thoughts and feelings. Language is a big part of this.

Japanese should understand that foreigner friends might not enjoy suffering through their English. That's why language lessons are so expensive...it's literally work. If they insist on using English they should find someone with the patience to slow the conversation down (like foreigners who can't speak Japanese).

The same goes for foreigners when dealing with Japanese who are fluent in English, but keep in mind that the author lives in Japan. It should never be considered unreasonable to use Japanese in Japan with Japanese people.

One question I have for the author is whether Yuko is also friendly toward foreigners who can't speak English (e.g. from China)?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If one of my other friends all of a sudden switched into English I wouldn't be happy about it

Why?

Why the need to change?

Why the need to stick to same ol' same ol'? What's wrong with a bit of variation?

Mike's not a teacher, not being paid to provide the service of one so shouldn't feel like he is being pressured to be one.

He doesn't mention Yuko pressuring him to teach her English at all. The email was apparently 'pretty well-worded'.

Why on earth would you email your friend in French? What do you get out of it??

Why not? It's his language. Show you appreciate that side of him, and get a bit of a kick out of writing in a forn language.

I just don't get all this hang-up over what language people use. If both sides understand what's being said, what does it matter? I speak Japanese with almost everyone I talk to on a daily basis, mainly because it's easier and most folk don't know enough English to put a sentence together. But one or two friends do have some English ability and it's no great earth-shaking event if now and then they send me an email in English - and when I write, I'm more likely to use English if only because it's quicker and easier if I'm in a hurry. One girl occasionally receives emails from other folk that she needs help understanding, or has stuff she needs to translate into or out of English, and I see no reason not to help her with that. At the same time I have a native-speaker friend who has been here as long as me and we'll quite likely to pepper our conversations in English with Japanese words, if only because it's easier than rooting around for vocabulary for stuff that is part of life here.

As for the people who are after free English lessons - they're easily weeded out at the start of a relationship; you're hardly likely to build up a viable 2-year friendship with someone you otherwise have nothing in common with, and then suddenly demand free English lessons.

I get the feeling people are being far too precious about both their ability to speak Japanese and their status as a native English speaker.

It's only words, after all.

5 ( +4 / -0 )

tmarie; I enjoy emailing in French sometimes and it helps improve my Febch to use or attempt to use at times. as my friend in French i doubt this causes him heartache and despair as it would someone like your good self or Mike. Does one always have to do someting to or for a friend just to gets omething out of it? There are no rules in my friendships except repsect and civility.

I live in Japan and there are not so many Japanese that want to be close friends with foreigners. When one of these Japanese is treated poorly and with a lack of respect it reflects badly on all of us.

AlexanderThe Grape; You are right to an extent that if he helped Yuko with English it would require work. Relationships require work and when it is for a friend we should do that gladly.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

rGeat, cleo. And thanks to JT, me who is not a native English speaker, can get free English lessons every day. Thank you so much everybody. So, will I not be allowed to post on here anymore because i am taking advantage of everybody? Isn't that just the same with Yuko's email?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

If both sides understand what's being said, what does it matter? I speak Japanese with almost everyone I talk to on a daily basis, mainly because it's easier and most folk don't know enough English to put a sentence together. But one or two friends do have some English ability and it's no great earth-shaking event if now and then they send me an email in English

And I mentioned I have no problem speaking English with friends who speak it well enough. But much like you, most people I know can't manage to put a proper sentence together and it wears on my nerves to meet people who insist on English when my Japanese is much better than their English. Why make it painful for both sides? Use the language that is easiest for everyone - which is usually Japanese. If my friends with horrific English started trying to use English I would not be happy about it. It takes time to understand what they are trying to say, the conversation drags and I feel like I am at work. Why do such a thing when speaking in Japanese solves this all.

If I meet someone in an English situation, I will use English with them. If I met them speaking Japanese, I will use Japanese. Accommodate the language that is easier for everyone. If people want to improve their English, great. They can improve it by using it with FOB who don't speak Japanese or go to a school. Win win for everyone.

So Steve it helps YOU improve your French. Ever think that he has to spend time trying to figure out what on earth you are trying to say? If anything you're the one being selfish. He gets nothing out of you using French at all - and if it is terrible like you suggested it was, it probably isn't perfect and requires effort on his part.

How on earth was this girl treated poorly?? Reflects bad on all of us? Not really. If anything this women just is another one of those 'I want a gaijin friend so I can learn English" that I avoid.

Foxie, all jokes aside, I suggest this site to my students because a) it's in English b) people's English in here varies... I have no problem reading marbled English on here at times because I don't know the people in real life and haven't had a speaking relationship with them that was established in Japanese.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

tmarie;So if it helps you... blah blah blah. I help him enough, you don't know my firiendships, butt out. When i write it is probably about 3 or 4 lines and i did learn for 10 years., yawn... What is wrong with you people. He sometimes replies in French, then again he is anice chap and we have both helped each other with lots of things over the years.

The women had been a friend for 2 years and sent an email in English, didn't demand anything, maybe even trying to impress him. She got slapped down and obviously was hurt by his being so selfish.

Tmarie;l i guess you are either a friend of Mike or so like him that the criticisms of him are personal.

Oh i see you are an English teacher, mmmm.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

tmarie, Mike doesn't say that Yuko's English was 'horrific'. He says it was 'serviceable'. He doesn't seem to have had any problem understanding it. If someone talks/writes to you in serviceable English, how is it 'painful'? They had been friends for 2 years before she committed the mortal sin of writing to him in English; how does that make her 'another one of those 'I want a gaijin friend so I can learn English" '?

Ever think that he has to spend time trying to figure out what on earth you are trying to say?

So steve's friend spends a bit of time humouring his anglais friend. is that such a terrible thing?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Butt out? YOU were the one who brought up your friend and writing in French!!

She got "slapped down"? No she didn't. She was asked to maintain the language that have been using for two years without and issue.

What does me being a teacher have to do with anything?

Cleo, serviceable but not perfect. They had a friendship for over two years in Japanese. Why all of sudden does this women want to start using English? Why should Mike have to humour it? Mike didn't drop her, he just asked her to maintain the communication language they have always used, What is the problem with that?

I like friends that I can relax with, hang out, have a good time... I don't want to have to try and decipher their language when we both have grasp on one language that has served us well.

Obviously different opinions on this but I prefer to have friends who don't use me for language practice.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

She got "slapped down"? No she didn't.

Yes, she did. Mike accused her of trying to complicate their relationship. Would it have been such an effort for him to say, 'Hey I didn't realise your English was that good!' and then answer the message in whatever language suited him?

She was asked to maintain the language that have been using for two years without and issue.

He basically told her that he wasn't interested in what she had to say if she didn't say it in Japanese; in other words, he wanted from her what he wasn't prepared to give her. He was basing their friendship on language.

Why all of sudden does this women want to start using English?

It's not like she suddenly threw down the gauntlet and said, 'right from now on we're going to converse in English, or else!' All she did was send him one email written in English. Who knows why she wrote it? Maybe she wanted to show off. Maybe she wanted a bit of praise from Mike. Maybe she just wanted to surprise him.

serviceable but not perfect

lol I dunno about you, but I don't consider my English 'perfect'! But I get by.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I run into this too. There's a woman in my office who can speak only the barest minimum of English but insists on constantly using it with me even though my Japanese is far better than her English and quite frankly it feels a little racist and insulting to me, like she thinks the heathen foreigner can't grasp Japanese well enough to get by without her help. What really baffles me is that even though she knows I understand everything uttered in the morning meeting (all in Japanese), she feels the need to translate her conversation about the weather she has with my coworker nearest my desk.

These are the types of people that I think we can be justified in becoming upset with. I had a person at work like this. Even though I'm holding a conversation perfectly fine in Japanese they sit there trying to translate into English. The type of person that has only passable English but thinks they are great because Japanese people will think anyone who can get past "I'm fine thank you, and you?" in English is fluent, when in reality my Japanese is far better than their English.

People like the author need to be really careful not to let the constant parade of "nihongo jouzudesune" get to their head. The never-ending pissing contest between foreigners about who has the best nihongo is tiring and pathetic. Think about how you feel when someone who has poor or simply passable English insists on speaking in English even though Japanese would be easier. Maybe Yuko can speak decent English and was just trying to show Mike that her English isn't so bad. I think people who don't really understand the culture are the ones who have trouble with this kind of thing. Like someone up their pointed out, Yuko is probably thinking maybe Mike would be happy to speak in English sometimes. People who don't have international experience revert to thinking "If I were abroad I'd be really happy if someone spoke to me in Japanese" so they think foreigners here would appreciate the same, when in actuality most of the foreigners in Japan are snobs.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

And considering that one guerilla email was enough to have Mike worrying if his Japanese was 'somehow not good enough', maybe his own language skills are serviceable but not perfect?

I consider my own Japanese a bit better than 'serviceable', but every now and then I come across an expression that I can't fathom, and if someone with a smattering of English wants to help me out, that's fine. We're none of us perfect.

I have to say though, I rarely come across the 'Please teach me English for free' kind of person. Most people I meet are visibly relieved when they realise they don't have to struggle with English to talk to me.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Mike, just chill and use any language.. dont overthink and trust your gut

As for being used so that they can learn English, I wonder that a lot myself too with a lot of my friendships with people, but if they speak a little bit of english, speak it back and then just speak Japanese again. If they stay, theyre the real deal, if they throw a fit because you are not speaking English then you know what it is.

This is not just unique to Japan, but people everywhere. I know a lot of Japanophiles in Australia who befriend a Japanese friend because they want to discuss anime etc.

Just chill and dont overthink it

0 ( +0 / -0 )

cleo, that is because you obviously can speak Japanese whilst most foreigners I met can't but think they can. Heck, even I can't understand them due to their heavy anglo accent eventhough their grammar is correct. I have been here for 20 years and I admit that I will probably never be able to say that I am 100% fluent. There is always some expression that I didn't know.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Cleo, you obviously read a lot more into his reply than I did because I certainly didn't read that a) Mike accused her of trying to complicate their relationship b) He basically told her that he wasn't interested in what she had to say if she didn't say it in Japanese c) he wanted from her what he wasn't prepared to give her d) he was basing their friendship on language.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Mike - It seems a shame to invest two years into a friendship and break up over something so trivial. My advice is unreservedly apologise. Tell her you are completely in the wrong and value her friendship. If she comes back treat her well and help her with English if that is what she wants.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's painful to read about this issue on and on and on. I totally agree that the writer is taking this issue far too seriously. It's obvious that he thinks only from his perspective - 'she uses me', 'isn't my Japanese good enough'...I bet Mike never imagined how Yuko felt after receiving his message - 'can we speak in Japanese?' - if I were her I'd feel totally used. As others said: you could've stayed cool and write a few sentences in English complimenting her on how much she has learned and move on with the rest of the message in Japanese. That would've been fair to both of you - accept it, you're not the center of the universe and your friends shouldn't feel like they should play only on your terms if they want to keep your friendship.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

a) Mike accused her of trying to complicate their relationship

Quote from Mike - I don't want to complicate our friendship. The only thing that changed that could possibly 'complicate the friendship' was her use of English.

b) He basically told her that he wasn't interested in what she had to say if she didn't say it in Japanese

I wasn't trying to make sense of the words.... I didn't want to speak English with her. It wasn't that her English wasn't good enough, or a pain to decipher; he wanted to speak Japanese. He didn't answer what she had to say about the get-together over the weekend; he was more concerned about pulling her up on her choice of language.

c) he wanted from her what he wasn't prepared to give her

I wonder just how these people think I would have ever come this far in their language if I never insisted on speaking it day to day. He wasn't prepared to let others including his good friend Yuko get in the occasional bit of English practice, because he wanted to practice his Japanese.

d) he was basing their friendship on language.

I felt that switching the language suddenly like that might change the whole dynamic of our relationship Says it all.

The more I read and reread this article, the less I understand. Mike has supposedly been in Japan 'for most of his 20s', yet some of the things he says sounds like someone who still has the dust of the Narita International Arrivals Wing on his feet.

Put two foreigners claiming to be Japanese-fluent in a room together and sparks will fly.

?? Totally no comprendo. Why would sparks fly? Maybe it's a young-males-in-their-20s thing. Not something I've ever experienced.

Whenever a Japanese person unexpectedly changes the language of the conversation from Japanese to English, I can't help but take it as a personal affront.

Someone is easily affronted. Either you made a mistake and they think they're helping you out, or maybe they have as much 'pride in their chosen second language' as you do.

my Japanese relations at times seem painfully oblivious to the hard work and money I've sunk into learning their language.

Of course they do. They've been speaking it from childhood, no problem. It's something that came naturally to them, why should they expect you to find it difficult? I think I'd be embarrassed if my in-laws kept telling me how great I was doing.

The Japanese we meet and interact with expect us to understand and adapt to their culture and way of life

Japanese people I meet for the first time generally don't expect me to understand anything - blonde, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, I'm the visual stereotype of the last person anyone would expect to speak Japanese. They're pleasantly surprised and visibly relieved when they realise they don't have to stumble through the long-forgotten junior high English hanging around like cobwebs in the recesses of their minds. And yes I realise that totally contradicts the 'learning a language is easy' concept held by one's Japanese relations. No one ever said a whole nation has to be consistent.

We are fiercely proud of the languages we can speak well, and are constantly, desperately striving to attain the status of "fluency".

Again, no. After years of living in Japan speaking Japanese is just a part of life, like not having to think consciously about taking your shoes off indoors or waiting for the taxi door to open or knowing which days to put the moenai gomi out.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Wow Cleo, haven't given it nearly the thought you have. I have only bothered to think about what his reply was, not what he wrote in the article when I addressed you last time. I do think you might be reading a bit too much into it - mind you, he wrote it, I am sure got paid for it and with all these replies and traffic, I am sure JT is rather happy about it. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with his reply nor his feelings towards it all. I manage to avoid people like this and I hope to continue to do so.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Did it ever cross your mind that that passage was just a phase and other things potentially lay after it? She made an effort to communicate, however much it annoyed you and you pushed her away. Why can you speak Japanese but she can't use English? It's true people want your help in English, the same way you mit want help in Japanese, or with computers from someone who knows more about them, yet in certain circles that disappears and you made a big (stereotyping) assumption that this is 'all she wanted'.

Probably, the relationship is irreparable, but still you owe her an apology, though to be fair, in my first years in Japan I did have many people who wanted me to be an English teacher rather than a friend, whether for them or their children. I think as you are here for longer, or look older, you are less likely to be viewed this way. The stereotype of the genki Eikaiwa teacher is a young one. Even so, stick with relationships and they can deepen to more than this.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I agree with Cleo, especially with us being put in a room speaking Japanese. I probably wouldn't understand hardly anything she said, Unless hse spoke slowly and concisely.

Went out tonight to a community gathering for the first time. I felt uncomfortable with this before which is due to my own self doubts. I made new friends who can speak English as badly as i speak Japanese , but guess what, we can be friends.

There were kids who were practising their English on me. Should i be like Mike and rejcet them? After all i am not a teacher? No, it is part of my fun living here and i made new friends and met local people including one man of 104 who was the best English speaker of them all.

if you want to be part of Japan, then give and take don't be a selfish pig and only take.Be nice, compromise and be humble. Mike does not show these attributs. If we show respect we get back, if we act superior and without respect we all get a bad name.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

While I disagree with author's generalized statement in the beginning, I can understand his frustrations in communicating with people in Japanese to some extent. In my lifetime experience, I sometimes encounter the moments I get confused when I talk to some of my friends in Japanese--which is my first language (!). To be honest, talking to people in Japanese is just like bringing me to a different planet. I lose track somewhere in the middle, and get baffled when people suddenly shift from one topic to another without any cue. What's more complicated is, as some westerners point out, Japanese people seem to focus more on smoothness/touch rather than content on conversations. This becomes more credible when you work with Japanese co-workers at traditional Japanese workplace. In my experience, I didn't get the heck of any idea what my former co-workers or peers were looking for in the first place.

I'm living in the US many years and I don't see any Japanese in my community, so I don't have to do a code switching. While I'm in Japan, I talk to people in English -- except for my parents and Japanese store clerks and staff at public office. I don't switch a language unless my partner asks me to do so. It's not because I use them for a mere practice of my English. (I'm far way better than that). That's just my personal choice.

Anyway..., my point is 1) you need to deal with the moment that makes you baffle in a situation like this; 2) there is nothing wrong in opening up your feelings honestly; and 3) Your reaction to author's behavior in the article is completely a different issue from what the author exactly encounters in his experiences.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Get other friends......

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Dude, lighten up! You're definitely over-thinking this situation. You and Yuko are bi-lingual, so just accommodate each other and speak/write in both languages. I hope I don't run into someone who has all this floating through their heads when I talk/write to them. Jees!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mike, go save your friendship and write a follow-up.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

zz.z... spare me the gaijin tribulation.. wahwahwahwahwah.... welcome to minority life.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

?? Totally no comprendo. Why would sparks fly? Maybe it's a young-males-in-their-20s thing. Not something I've ever experienced.

Yes, probably the 'how many kanji can you read' p*ssing contests guys sometimes get into, bless their hearts! I don't think it continues for too long. After a while speaking Japanese just becomes the norm. You don't think about it anymore.

I haven't met many people who want to be friends just to learn English, luckily. It must be a pain if it keeps happening. In this case, from what is written in the article, it seems that it was one spontaneous email, not a request for tutoring. It would not have taken her 2 years to broach the subject if that was her main goal in the friendship.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mike, go save your friendship and write a follow-up.

Use her for an article*, Mike!

*again
4 ( +4 / -0 )

Hey, you wanted to use her to practice Japanese. What's wrong with helping her out a little?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"most foreigners I met can't but think they can. Heck, even I can't understand them due to their heavy anglo accent "

Anglo accent ? That's surely the case of Cleo and Steve. Not the general case. 98% of foreigners in Japan are not "anglo" at all. So those you met caught that from the Japanese talking to them ? LOL

But that's true that I don't want to hear the crappy Eigo of a Yuko and be contaminated by it. My English is not good, but it could become worse.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

'We are fiercely proud of the languages we can speak well'? Um... no. If anything, gaining knowledge of or mastering something should make us more humble, and illuminate for us that there is so much out there to do and learn that we'll never possibly get on top of. I'm a male in my twenties and I'd walk away from any gaijin who wanted to compete in a 'how well can you speak Japanese' contest so your line about sparks flying doesn't ring true.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

author seems like a hypocrite. We only speak Japanese...why? his native language is English...my she got tired o f putting up with his crappy Japanese and wanted to show him how it feels. IF she was truly this writers friend he wouldnt have cared what langauge it was in.

only time it bothers me is if im in a bar and some japanese person comes up and is like i wanna learn english so lets talk english...my response sure 1 hour / 1 man...and that solves that, but friends...either or works for me.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Go with the flow Mike - your relationships will last longer. Send Yuko at text - in English - asking to meet up sometime and catch up on things. If she accepts, great. If not, learn to stop over analyzing things and get on with life. The stresses of living in a foreign country can cause anyone to question themselves; but in this case you should have just let your relationship evolve - go with the flow my friend.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You may need to lighted up a bit, Mike. Mix your languages when speaking with your international friends. Pride in your second language can easily slip into arrogance.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So after two years of friendship, going out, having fun, talking about tons of things together, Yuko says one thing in English and you tell her "I'm sorry but can we speak in Japanese?".

The title of this article goes both ways and she probably got it when she said "wakatta". Was she a date, a friend or a potential Japanese teacher?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Hi readers,

I'm a little late to the party, but I just wanted to drop in and say thanks again for the comments. I think it's great that the discussion has remained civilized and balanced.

After reading the comments, I want to point out two little things:

First, as many have surmised, the article does not cover all of the details of the situation. JT gives me a word limit, and no one is going to read an article that runs too long anyway. The main point was to use a personal anecdote to spark discussion, and it seems to have been a great success in that aspect!

Secondly, many have been pointing out that it's hypocritical that I'm using Yuko for language practice and suddenly get offended at her stab at English. I think that's a great point, and anyone who thinks that is 100% correct in doing so.

That said, I spent quite a bit of money and several years of my life studying Japanese intensively at a university here. In fact, I'm still paying off student loans and credit card debt I accumulated from several plane tickets . I am long-time friends with many of the Japanese students from my university and when we meet, I speak to them in whatever langauge they studied. I figure, the English majors that spent the time and money to study abroad like I did deserve it and their proficiency in the langauge makes it easy to switch back and forth.

What strikes me as unfair are the people that are expecting something for free. Sometimes this is the drunken salaryman trying to brush up on his "eikaiwa", sometimes it's the friend with no formal English education that just thinks English is "cool" and wants to hear and use it. What do you think? Is this a fair judgment?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

So, therefore, in your view, Japanese people are deserving of being blessed by your oh-so-generous act of kindness of switching back to English only if they've spent thousands and are paying off tuition bills like you are? Wow, you're a veritable Mother Teresa. We can't be having salarymen speaking to you in broken English now, can we? Perish the thought.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What strikes me as unfair are the people that are expecting something for free. Sometimes this is the drunken salaryman trying to brush up on his "eikaiwa", sometimes it's the friend with no formal English education that just thinks English is "cool" and wants to hear and use it.

Are you putting your friend Yuko in that category? Because word limit notwithstanding, nothing you've told us about her or your relationship suggests that she's expecting anything for free. I still think she was simply trying to impress or surprise you, and the breakdown of your relationship stems from your refusal/inability to put friendship before language. if she's your friend, what does it matter what language either of you uses? If your friendship was based solely on the use of Japanese, it wasn't much of a friendship. It may seem harsh, but if you based your friendship on getting free Japanese language practice from her - she's well rid of you.

The drunken salaryman you come across - are you sure he's always and inevitably trying to brush up on his eikaiwa? Couldn't be that in his tipsy befuddlement he reckons speaking to the foreign face in English is the friendly thing to do? If you've only just met him he has no idea of your level of Japanese capability, knows nothing of your tuition fees and years of dedicated study. You're unlikely to meet him again, so why not just humour him? If his English is so atrocious as to make communication impossible he will soon drift away to bother someone else; if not, wow, you had a conversation with a stranger in English. Is that so terrible?

Everyone in Japan does at least 6 years of English at school (longer now that they've introduced it in elementary school), so the 'friend with no formal English education' is rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth. Lots of people who think English is 'cool' don't, for any number of reasons, have the wherewithal to spend quite a bit of money and several years of their lives dedicating themselves to the study of English. Therefore you think these people have no right to try and use what little English they have picked up? Sorry Mike, but oginome is right, that's a very selfish attitude.

Granted, the person who approaches you and wants to be your friend just for the English is a bit of a bind. If you have nothing else in common, the 'friendship' will die a natural death. If someone you thought was a good friend turns out to have been using you just for the language practice, you'd probably want to drop them. Like Yuko dropped you.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I lived in Japan as a graphic designer but I was often asked questions from my coworkers on various words, meanings and idioms and just plain anything to do with English or America. You have to understand that Japan is a place where everyone is of use to the next person. It is truly a people place. Friendships, relationships, family and associates, bar friends, club friends or whatever all have a reason to be in contact with you. It is just the way things are in Japan. I didn't mind and still don't mind my family in Japan or my friends asking me questions about my language and culture because I truly am, as we all are the experts when it comes to talking about our own culture or country or whatever. Many people in Japan are curious as is anyone else in the world. But the curiosity is prevalent in Japan because over 98% of the people are Japanese. And besides you have an entire country you can speak Japanese in. You may be hanging out with a crowd that wants to learn English, are getting ready to go on a trip to an English speaking country, cramming for an English language exam or whatever. But not everyone in Japan wants to use English and that is by choice. You are being too hard on yourself. It's a lot easier on the soul if you just let whatever they are going to say or do happen and just remember that although people in Japan may look the same, there are over 125 million different personalities in Japan so no two people are the same. I read these articles on a daily basis and many people tend to think that all Japanese are the same or that they have no uniqueness about them but this is far from the truth. I have a lot of experience with the culture and language in Japan and I treat every person I meet in Japan like I would treat a person in my home country, just like a regular human being. You will get this way too when you've been around people in Japan more and get to know people from a wide range of personalities.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I understand what Mike is saying about having invested time, effort and money in learning Japanese, and wanting to communicate in Japanese to maintain and improve one's own language skills. Like most others, I've encountered the "teach me English for free" brigade, the "I want a pet gaijin" obasans, and the guys who lurk in the English-language books section of Kinokuniya, waiting to snare unsuspecting native English-speakers with questions about arcane points of grammar.

I never found it particularly hard to avoid more than a passing acquaintance with the ones who only saw me as a potential teacher, rather than as an actual friend (the difference usually emerges quite quickly). I spoke Japanese with the majority of my Japanese colleagues, but switched between English and Japanese quite happily with Japanese friends who were pretty fluent in English.

What bothers me about this article is that Mike and Yuko had been friends for two years before this. It seems rather strange that one would immediately suspect the motives of someone who had been a friend for that long. I'm with Cleo, Mike - arm yourself with flowers and chocolates, and go and apologise to Yuko for having overreacted. Most of us tend to be a bit precious when we're in our 20s, but it takes us until our 30s to realise it! I know that if I could have my time again, there are situations that I would handle with a little more grace, humility and good humour than I did the first time around....

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If I was asked to teach my native language, I would be willing to teach it as much as I can. However, I feel so would be because I'm rarely asked to do. As English becomes global language, I wonder if many native speakers would be asked to teach it more often and getting tired of doing so, especially in Japan, where only a few foreigners live.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The author is a total TOOL. He says he doesn't teach English...well not ANYMORE. But unfortunately for him, he still smells of "English teacher" and is doing whatever he can to convince himself that he is not "that" type of person, that he is someone special because he spent money to learn Japanese. He is trying to overcompensate by setting RULES in a relationship/friendship? just giving himself and others around him a complex.

Bottom line if you want to speak to someone as friends, it should never matter what language you use, just the actual communication and what is said - doesn't matter which language it is. I have met guys like this author, guys who take pride in all of their girl "friends" not being able to speak English, like they are KING PIMP because no one else can get the girls they get. Sorry dude, LOTS of foreign guys can pick up your girl in Japanese or English so it pointless to think that.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Dumbfounded by this one. Mike said "I wonder just how these people think I would have ever come this far in their language if I never insisted on speaking it day to day". Hmm, maybe that's exactly what the Japanese are thinking when they try to speak to you in English. Maybe they'd like the same chance? Remember how they (Japanese people in general) suffered when you first started to speak? Some call it "give and take", but this would seem to be a case of "Take, and take some more". I may be miserading, but it does seem awfully self centred. The flowers and chocolates sound good, as does a slice of humble pie.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I sense a double-standard on the author's part. He mentions he would never have gotten as good at speaking Japanese if he hadn't "insisted" on his friends having conversations in the language, yet when they want him to reciprocate, he becomes alarmed and balks. How funny is it that he complains about being a "token gaijin" and expected to do the "Eigo dance", when he expected - and in this case demanded - his friends to play the "token nipponjin" in his pursuit of Japanese fluency. Before he starts accusing his friends of using him, he needs to look in the mirror.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@MikeOa

Secondly, many have been pointing out that it's hypocritical that I'm using Yuko for language practice and suddenly get offended at her stab at English. I think that's a great point, and anyone who thinks that is 100% correct in doing so.

That said, I spent quite a bit of money and several years of my life studying Japanese intensively at a university here. In fact, I'm still paying off student loans and credit card debt I accumulated from several plane tickets .

Mike, you're talking about Yuko as if she was meant to bring a RETURN ON YOUR INVESTMENT. She was meant to be a FRIEND. I'm feeling even more sorry for Yuko now. She must have felt so let down by your attitude.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I wonder if Yuko has any idea how much discussion she has generated with her English email? And how she would feel about that??!

As someone rightly pointed out (Cleo, I think) we dont know why she wrote in English, but neither does Mike - he didnt bother to find out.

Mike - after 2 years this girl is hardly using you. If anything, it is the other way around. If she means anything to you, follow peoples advice and go fix this. If you cant, or she wont accept yor apologies, chalk it up, learn from it and move on. As some other people also rightly said, no-one exits their twenties without some pretty major relationship screw-ups and this could be one of yours. The trick is not repeating the same mistakes next time.

With time and experience here the genuine "users" become pretty easy to spot, and I honestly dont think that a 2 year friendship conducted in Japanese really constitutes someone with an ulterior motive all along, unless she is the most patient woman in the universe - in which case maybe you shoudl propose!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Have you bought the chocolates and flowers yet? :)

""What strikes me as unfair are the people that are expecting something for free." - Although I truly believe that you did study very hard to become proficient in Japanese, I would imagine (as is my case) that the true fluency evolved in exchanges on the street, with friends and trying to execute daily life in Japan. That wasn't charged for by the people you interacted with. I don't want to use the term 'payback' as it sounds so obligatory, but surely there is some desire to return the favour, no?

Would be sad to waste those 2 years - if you value that time and regret losing that friendship, I really do urge you to go and ask forgivness (in English!).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@cleo

What strikes me as unfair are the people that are expecting something for free. Sometimes this is the drunken salaryman trying to brush up on his "eikaiwa", sometimes it's the friend with no formal English education that just thinks English is "cool" and wants to hear and use it.

Are you putting your friend Yuko in that category? Because word limit notwithstanding, nothing you've told us about her or your relationship suggests that she's expecting anything for free. I still think she was simply trying to impress or surprise you, and the breakdown of your relationship stems from your refusal/inability to put friendship before language. if she's your friend, what does it matter what language either of you uses? If your friendship was based solely on the use of Japanese, it wasn't much of a friendship. It may seem harsh, but if you based your friendship on getting free Japanese language practice from her - she's well rid of you.

The drunken salaryman you come across - are you sure he's always and inevitably trying to brush up on his eikaiwa? Couldn't be that in his tipsy befuddlement he reckons speaking to the foreign face in English is the friendly thing to do? If you've only just met him he has no idea of your level of Japanese capability, knows nothing of your tuition fees and years of dedicated study. You're unlikely to meet him again, so why not just humour him? If his English is so atrocious as to make communication impossible he will soon drift away to bother someone else; if not, wow, you had a conversation with a stranger in English. Is that so terrible?

Everyone in Japan does at least 6 years of English at school (longer now that they've introduced it in elementary school), so the 'friend with no formal English education' is rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth. Lots of people who think English is 'cool' don't, for any number of reasons, have the wherewithal to spend quite a bit of money and several years of their lives dedicating themselves to the study of English. Therefore you think these people have no right to try and use what little English they have picked up? Sorry Mike, but oginome is right, that's a very selfish attitude.

Granted, the person who approaches you and wants to be your friend just for the English is a bit of a bind. If you have nothing else in common, the 'friendship' will die a natural death. If someone you thought was a good friend turns out to have been using you just for the language practice, you'd probably want to drop them. Like Yuko dropped you.

Excellent post, I think I don't have much to say since Cleo here basically summarized everything I had on my mind about this particular person, Mike. Nonetheless, It's a real waste to lose a potential good friend over some silly nonsense like "Language".

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I also just want to say to readers that, as a writer, especially a writer about contentious or personal topics, you are really kind of a guinea pig - you have to lay parts of your life bare in order to act as a medium for whatever issue/concept you are trying to push.

I used a singular, vague anecdote in this instance that seems to have rubbed a lot of readers the wrong way. I don't want people to be under the impression that this is how I feel about Japanese people ALL of the time, or that any issues I put forward necessarily represent my own strict beliefs. As I said before, my main goal for this blog is to incite discussion, and that will require me to act as Devil's Advocate from time to time.

I do think foreigners sometimes face a double standard in Japan when it comes to language and culture. Does that mean I think they ALWAYS face a double standard or that ALL Japanese think that way? Of course not.

Next week's topic is already in the "hopper" and I think it will be a much breezier topic than this one.

I did write Yuko back and apologize, by the way.

Thanks guys!

-Mike

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

So in that case Mike - as people here have been good enough to offer you their opinions, advice and sympathy for the most part, 137 times and counting, do you think you could also do people here the courtesy of letting us know what Yuko`s repsonse was to all this and are things on a better or at least more even keel now?

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you could also do people here the courtesy of letting us know what Yuko`s repsonse was to all this

I'd like to here Yuko's take on all this. Why did she write the email in English? How did she feel when Mike wrote back and said 'Japanese only please'? How did she feel about his subsequent apology? Will she be seeing him again?

JT, please let us hear from Yuko.

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Eh? Until reading this article i had never even thought about what language I sms/mail friends in... sometimes eng, sometimes japanese... what on earth is the big deal? And with bi-lingual friends often switch in and out of jap/eng.... I am a firm believer that you cannot express 100% percent of yourself in just one language, as their are nuances/words present in some that arent in others.... therefore if you can use more than one language to communicate with a particular friend, even better. OMG someone seriously needs to get over themselves.

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*there are. My spelling is getting attroshius ;)

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Never happened to me, but once. A co-worker refused to speak Japanese with me. His English was bad, but not to the point that I couldn't understand him. Whenever he spoke English, I kept replying with "huh ?, eh ?". At first he tried hard, but once in a meeting with other co-workers, I insistently replied with "hai ? mou ikkai sumimasen" got him embarrassed and never again he speak English to me. Win!!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

"I'd like to here Yuko's take on all this."

If Yuko's level in English is above the one of a slow of a 3 yr old, she can come here and tell us yourself. That's what I tell them : go to boards like Japan Today. It's free and full of people willing to practice with you.

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Remember people are just a stupid, selfish, or just confused here as they were in the country you left. If people end up giving you untenable ultimatums, and that's an issue... try to suss that out before you really invest in a friendship with someone. I know it's not easy, but it's your only recourse. Same as the country you came from, you don't to befriend people who use you for any reason. Japanese people should earn your friendship, just as friends 'back home' did. Long story short, you're better off without this friend, no matter how many friends she had, how cool she seemed or how hot she was. Keep your chin up! There are real people out there, foreign and Japanese =).

-4 ( +0 / -3 )

Erratum : tell us herself... or more exactly that was : Yuko (any Yuko in the country) tell us yourself.

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And she would be understandably would be annoyed that after 2 years you thought she wanted to "use" you for english..... who would be stupid enough to wait 2 years? Thats the amount of time she could have taken to become conversationally fluent!

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Hopefully the experience hasnt permanently tarred her perception of gaijins.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

What strikes me as unfair are the people that are expecting something for free. Sometimes this is the drunken salaryman trying to brush up on his "eikaiwa", sometimes it's the friend with no formal English education that just thinks English is "cool" and wants to hear and use it. What do you think? Is this a fair judgment?

No its not; what skin is it of your nose if you occasionally reply in english? not as if you are gonna run out of english or anything. Drunken salarymen can be annoying though, i wouldnt want to speak to them in any language, tend to try and ignore.

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Long story short, you're better off without this friend

Tommy, what are you talking about? It was Mike who stupidly and selfishly insisted on his language of choice, not the girl. If things really were as he describes them, she is better off without him.

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I agree with Cleo.

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"I get the feeling people are being far too precious about both their ability to speak Japanese and their status as a native English speaker.

It's only words, after all." ...thank you Cleo.

That makes more sense than all of this bickering. People need to get over themselves. If you like the people that try to speak English with you fine. If you don't have much in common with them...why are you even with them. Too many foreigners feel like a star because they can speak Japanese in japan. Many of my friends here can't...and they are enjoying their stay. everyone has a different level of what they want to get out of living here. For some it is party in Tokyo and have fun. Cool. For others it is being a part of the local community. Cool. Whatever..it ain't your life so why judge others. The general consensus is that this Mike dude took it a little to seriously and only Yuko knows the real deal. If you and a Japanese person have common interests like hobbies or you just wanna jump in the sack however you communicate should be based on understanding each other not pre-contracted "language" rules. I know people who refuse to study any language at all and have a fun life here. who am I to judge.

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I insistently replied with "hai ? mou ikkai sumimasen" got him embarrassed and never again he speak English to me. Win!!

Good heavens...

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I did write Yuko back and apologize, by the way. Thanks guys! -Mike

That's it??? I would like to know more in detail. You apologized. Why? What did you do wrong to apologize to her? Using her for your Japanese practice? Is it your sincere apology? I think a lot of readers here want to know why you apologized!!! I hope I'm wrong but maybe Mike is pissed that many people told him to apologize to her, and he just wants to end this discussion.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Why? What did you do wrong to apologize to her?

We all know what he did wrong! (Not sure that Mike does, yet...) I'm guessing Yuko was royally and rightly peeved and either ignored or rejected Mike's written apology with a 'Yeah, waddeva' - I know I would have.

I wonder... was the apology in Japanese, or English?

Shudda gone with the flowers, chockkies and abject expression right at the start, Mike.

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(Not sure that Mike does, yet...)

My point exactly!

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Maybe she could tell he was thinking "date, friend, or teacher?" and thought "DATE?? HELL NO" :)

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@cleo

We all know what he did wrong! (Not sure that Mike does, yet...) I'm guessing Yuko was royally and rightly peeved and either ignored or rejected Mike's written apology with a 'Yeah, waddeva' - I know I would have.

I wonder... was the apology in Japanese, or English?

Shudda gone with the flowers, chockkies and abject expression right at the start, Mike.

Exactly, my friend....though I'm not really sure Mike is aware of this or not. He's too in love with himself, you know...Fluent Japanese speaker and all....WOW<--- (sarcasm!)

Poor Yuko, she thought she could surprise him with the English she studied and practiced so hard and what she got was a cold hard slap on her face!!

The fact of the matter is, Language should never be a reason to either accept or reject another human being.

Although most posters have asked this person to go and apologize to her, I for a change, will ask the opposite.

So...Mike, stay away from her...you know you blew it the second you sent that reply to her email. Have some moral and dignity and leave her alone. You do NOT deserve her and she's more likely to be better off without YOU in her life. Leave the woman alone and don't bother her again. Be a man and walk away. period.

Cheers~

p.s.

Mike, Was my ENGLISH good enough for you to understand?? I would gladly respond to you in Japanese but since this is an English website, my post would probably be removed. ;)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Maybe she could tell he was thinking "date, friend, or teacher?" and thought "DATE?? HELL NO" :)

Hahahaha, PRICELESS!! (笑)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No matter how many times you guys post here, I don't think Mike is going to 'get it.' Like you've all said, he's far too in love with himself to see he did anything wrong.

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I know what you mean for sure, but if you think of how some people react to noticeable differences in other countries including the U.S., it might give you perspective and compassion for what might have been an innocent thing. People always say to folks with almond eyes "where are you from?" even after the conversation has been going a while in obviously native English.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

mike,

the next time you wanna have conversation with any japanese lady, please just do so her unless she start speaking in any third language- other than japanese or english. that would be fairer. friendship is not the same as business. its not quite proper to ask somebody to sign a friendship Memorandum of Understanding / Agreement restricting them to speak only in one language.
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Mr. Mike, I can understand word limits but you could have added one or two sentences that would have clarified many things.

Sentence #1. We had been friends for two years, but recently she was trying to communicate in English every chance she got. (or some other proof that she was free loading English lessons off of you)

Sentence #2. After inviting her to a get together with some other friends, her response was a refusal in the form of a massive block of English text. (or something to the effect of the replies content)

The subject of this article is not the hordes of drunken salarymen descending on you every time you go to a bar, but rather the premise was a long time friend sending you a text, in English, in response to a personal invitation.

I have been studying Japanese independently for two years, and while it's still horrible I understand quite a bit. I have made quite a few Japanese friends here in the states and am looking forward to my first trip to Japan later this year. That being said, I sometimes commit the mortal sin of sending texts and emails in Japanese to my Japanese friends who have excellent English skills. While I do get the benefit of practice, taking the time to write something meaningful in Japanese (while sometimes broken) demonstrates to my friends that they are worth my time. Mr. Mike, you invited a supposedly good friend to hang out with other friends, and instead of firing off a quick answer in Japanese (which after two years she knows you speak well) she took time to craft a response in English demonstrating her true feelings to a foreigner.

No matter what culture you come from there's a virtue known as graciousness, and instead of even considering the time and effort "Yuko" put in to her reply the essential response was, "I'll only talk to you in English." If "Yuko" was a good friend, she deserves more than a trite apology. She deserves a letter detailing your personal idiocy and regret for allowing a single text to ruin a two year friendship. When we hurt those closest to us, don't they deserve the time and effort it takes to mend those relationships?

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That was, "I'll only talk to you in Japanese." *

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This article paints a picture of all that is right and wrong with foreigners living in Japan. The dude was in a happy bliss to be able to speak and communicate in "her" language, yet for what ever godforsaken reason he just couldn't wrap his mind around allowing Yuko to communicate in "his".

A true friend is someone you can talk to in any language not just Japanese.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You had no consideration for her.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I read this once a few days ago, then read it again just now after seeing how many comments in had. My conclusion? There are some really weird gaijin in Japan. I can't understand at all why this Mike character was upset at all.

Maybe one of the problems with some foreigners in Japan is they come here just after college and don't really know much about life at all and have little experience even in their own countries. So they come to Japan thinking they are social scientists and come up with such bizarre interpretations of the things they see and experience.

Anyway, I am not great at Japanese, but, I'm at a level where I basically hardly ever speak English. But, if the guy on the train says "Excuse me" or "May I help you", I'm not offended -just think how polite Japanese are. And if one of my friends or workmates sent me an English email, i would be really impressed and be more than happy to communicate in English with them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

What's even sadder as I see it is that there are guys like this Mike here actually get married to some poor Japanese girl and end up having kids.

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Strangely enough, I've found that people who can get on with people in their own country can do the same in Japan, but conversely, I've met people who didn't feel they fitted in back home, came to Japan, but after a while start to dislike Japan and the people.

Probably like men who end up thinking all women are no good, and women who think all men are the same.

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Was I a date, a friend, or just a potential English teacher?

Whatever about you, it's pretty clear what she was to you - a Japanese teacher you didn't have to pay. By the way you treated her, she was certainly not a friend.

And then you compound things by writing an article on the situation, accusing her of 'betrayal', and talking of 'ugly double standards', when the only double standards have been displayed by you.

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I don’t understand Japanese people.

That much is abundantly clear.

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