Category Archives: Travel

What is Internationalization?

国際化とは?

私は、日本に約10年暮らしています。その間、福島県の旧田島町(現南会津町)で英語の教員として、会津若松市で市の国際交流協会のスタッフとして、そして、現在は、筑波大学大学院生を経て、茨城県つくば市の研究機関で翻訳者として、実に様々な体験をしてきました。数人の外国人が暮らす田島町から、約7000人もが暮らすつくば市まで、それぞれに異なった環境で過ごした経験から、日本が国際化するにあたって直面する課題について、より広い意味でとらえられるようになりました。

人は生活の中で常に「判断」をしています。物事を理解するためには、自分の経験や教育をもとに、好きかどうか、見たことがあるか、安全かどうかなど、いくつもの判断をしなければなりません。これは、人についても同じです。誰かに出会った瞬間、私たちは、いい人か、怠惰な人か、友達になれそうかなど、自分の価値観で分類しようとします。ですから、異なる文化が出会ったときに問題が生じるのは何も不思議なことではありません。ある文化の中で育てば、ある一連の経験をし、それをもとに判断するようになるのです。

英語には、「give someone the benefit of the doubt」という表現があります。直訳すると「疑わしきは罰せず」ですが、何らかの結論に飛びつく前に、その判断に疑いの余地を残してみようということです。状況や人について、間違った解釈をしていないだろうか、あるいは、別の解釈の道はないだろうか。もしそうであれば、自分の判断に疑いの余地を与え、自分が思うより、その人が良心的である、あるいは少なくとも自分が考えたものと違った意図を持っていたのだと仮定してみるのです。実はこのことは、相手が外国人の場合に限らず、日本人の場合にこそ、より効果的でもあります。他人が自分と同じように考え、行動するとは限らないということを常に念頭において、判断する必要があるのです。

真の国際化とは、日本の文化を外国人に紹介するだけではなく、自分自身について知り、人種、信条に関わらず、他人を思いやり、尊敬することから始まります。ですから、次に人と会うときには、単に自分の文化に基づく判断を下す前に、立ち止まり、見た目から受ける印象にとらわれず、より国際的な視点から判断してみてはいかがでしょうか。

上記文章のオリジナル原稿は、以下のウェブページで閲覧できます。

The Internationalization of Japan: Going Beyond Ikebana and Tea Ceremony
How To Succeed In Japan

The Internationalization of Japan: Going Beyond Ikebana and Tea Ceremony

Life is about making judgments. In order to fit things into our internal schema, and thus come to an understanding of the world around us, we have to make thousands of judgments based on our past experiences and education. We look at an object and immediately start to make judgments based on its appearance. (Do I like the object? Do I want it? Could I pick it up? Have I seen one like this before? Is it safe? Can I ignore it?) We encounter thousands of objects every day of our lives, and each of those objects is subject to judgment. This act of judgment is what gets us through our days. In a world containing billions of people and thousands of cultures, it is probably one of the immutable laws of human nature. “I am, therefore I judge.”

This is why it is not surprising that problems arise when cultures come into contact. Being raised in a certain cultural setting provides a set of experiences that can be used as a basis for judgment. A single object, seen from two different cultural perspectives, can receive entirely different, even opposing, judgments. And, to complicate things, a single individual can have entirely different feelings about the same object depending on its setting. Consider how you feel when you see a frog in a pond versus how you would feel if the same frog were served to you for dinner. The frog hasn’t changed, but the setting has, and that has an effect on your own judgment. Now consider how someone from a culture that worships frogs would feel in those two situations. (Okay, I don’t know any frog worshipping cultures, but you get the idea!) The situations haven’t changed, but because the cultural perspective has, judgments are also effected.

This is one of the fundamental issues at play in internationalization. The variables of cultural perspective and setting (amongst others) come into play when making judgments about the people we meet every day. When we meet a person, we immediately set to work trying to place them our mental categories (good person, lazy person, someone to avoid, possible mate, etc.). Thanks to the incredible powers of the human brain, we are able to make decisions like this in fractions of seconds.
If you only ever dealt with people from a similar background as your own, these decisions might not ever need to be questioned. However, in today’s society, with the information superhighway at our fingertips and international flights at prices accessible to a large portion of the population, the chances of you never coming into contact with an “outsider” are very slim indeed.

So what can a person do to overcome the natural urge to judge? First of all, we have to learn to separate our perceptions from our judgments. Perceptions reflect what we see and, in the ideal case, do not contain any emotional triggers. Judgments, as we have seen above, are tightly woven into our own cultural and educational backgrounds, and do generally come with an emotional response (I like this, I don’t like it, I’m scared of it, etc.). Considering the frog in the above example, we can try to separate our perception of the frog (green, making a sound, sitting on a lily pad in a pond) from our judgment of it (dirty, noisy, peaceful). If we apply the same mental exercise to our encounters with humans, we can see how we need to stop momentarily at the point of perception before we leap to a particular judgment. We need to consider the actions and appearances of other people carefully before we let our hyperspeedy brains lead us to false judgments.

Consider the following situation: a tired-looking woman in a grocery store with two young children who are making a fuss. We might quickly jump to the conclusion that she is an overworked mother with badly-behaved children. However, if we took a bit more time to look at the situation, trying to perceive what is going on rather than make judgments about it, we might come to realize that the woman is not necessarily the mother. She could be the children’s grandmother or babysitter, or she might not even have any connection to the children at all. She could just be a random person who happened to be standing near the children. Or she might be trying to console them because they can’t find their parents. The children are now getting more upset because they are being spoken to by a stranger and the woman is looking even more tired because she is just here to pick up her brother who manages the store so he can drive her to work, and now she is running late.

This may seem like a trivial example, because random people in grocery stores don’t have anything to do with our daily lives, but it illustrates the point I am trying to make rather well. We took one look at the woman and made a number of potentially inaccurate judgments about her (she’s married, she has kids, she can’t control her kids, she’s shopping, etc.), and went away satisfied that we understood the situation. We have her pegged as a certain kind of person and yet we never even spoke to her! We make these kinds of judgments all throughout our day without ever really “thinking” about them.

I don’t think it is possible to stop ourselves from making judgments, since as I said, we need to make judgments to help us understand the world around us, but it is possible to start recognizing when you are making judgments (according to your culturally-based interpretation of your perceptions) and try to think of other possible conclusions.

In English, we have an expression that is useful in this situation: “giving someone the benefit of the doubt”. First of all, before you jump to any conclusions, try to introduce some doubt into your mind. Is there any possibility that you are misinterpreting the situation or the person? Is there any way to re-interpret the situation? If so, give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that he or she likely has better (or at least different) intentions than you are assigning them.

Another way to train yourself not to judge so quickly is to try to catch yourself making assumptions. Assumptions are like mini-judgments that lead to bigger judgments. For example, it is easy to assume that everyone around you thinks the same way you do. In Japan, it is even easier to make that assumption, because at first glance, it may seem that everyone around you is Japanese. However, even if there are no “obvious” foreigners around you, there could be some non-Japanese Asians blending in to the scene. Or even some people who are 100% Japanese by blood, but who were born and raised in another country. And in any case, even if all of the people around you are in fact Japanese, they still don’t all think like you do. If you have ever traveled in Japan, or even watched a Japanese television show, you know that people from different parts of Japan have different traditions, different ways of thinking, and even different words for the same object. The assumption that you are surrounded by people who think and act like you do, even if they resemble you in appearance, is inherently faulty.

Internationalization is not just about introducing foreigners to tea ceremony and ikebana. It is about learning more about ourselves and learning to be more considerate and respectful of those around us – regardless of their race or creed. So, the next time you encounter someone (or happen to see a frog in a pond) remember to pause and reflect on your perceptions before jumping ahead to any culturally-based judgments. The frog may not notice that you have become a better person, but the people around you certainly will!

How To Succeed In Japan

Article written for the Ibaraki International Association

Over the ten years that I have been in Japan, I have lived in three very different places: Tajima-machi and Aizu Wakamatsu-shi in Fukushima Prefecture and Tsukuba-shi in Ibaraki. Tajima is a small, rural town with a population of about 14,000. (It is now part of Minamiaizu-machi, a merged town that has a combined population of 20,000.) Aizu Wakamatsu is a city of about 130,000 and it is famous for Tsurugajo, Byakkotai, and akabeko (red cows). And Tsukuba, the “science city” with a population nearing 200,000.

I have had very different experiences in each of these places. In Tajima, I taught English at a local junior high school and I was one of the only foreigners in the whole town. The difference between a “regular” event and an “international” event in Tajima was whether I was there or not! In Aizu Wakamatsu, I worked in an international association. The city had about 600 international residents at the time, so I was able to be a bit more anonymous in that city. In Tsukuba, it is bit easier for me to blend in with the 7000 foreign residents.

These three different experiences have given me a broader sense of the challenges of internationalization in Japan. In the past, I have been asked to write articles about how Japanese people should be “more like this” or “less like that” to make Japan more international or to make foreign people feel more welcome. However, after ten years of living here, I think it is time for me to write an article about what foreign residents of Japan should do to improve their chances of enjoying their time in Japan. (And since I don’t have a lot of space, I am going to keep my comments fairly brief.)

In my opinion, the difference between a foreign resident who loves living in Japan and one who doesn’t often boils down to two important points: how many same-age Japanese friends the person has, and how much of the Japanese language the person can speak or understand.

Why?

The more Japanese friends you have, the more you realize that Japanese people are not a single, homogeneous group of people with only one way of thinking. (And this is a common misperception among newcomers.) Japanese people are perhaps not as flagrantly self-expressive as the average North American, but that doesn’t mean that they are not individuals. When I hear about a foreign person having a hard time living in Japan, I often hear that person saying “they” and “them” to refer to the entire 130 million residents of this country as if they all conspired to make that person’s day go wrong. This kind of thinking is swiftly erased as soon as that person has made friends with “regular” Japanese people, especially if those people are from the same age group.

Furthermore, the more you understand of the Japanese language, the more likely you are to understand Japan. If you cannot speak Japanese, you cannot communicate with a majority of the people around you, and you cannot comprehend the details of the situations that happen around you. Your encounters are limited to those that involve Japanese people who are already “international” to a certain extent and your understanding of what is happening in your life is based on your ethnocentric (and often incorrect) perceptions. It is not an easy task for a foreign person to learn Japanese, but it is not easy for Japanese people to learn English either! I think that the amount of Japanese you learn is directly proportional to your enjoyment of the time you spend in Japan, so language learning should be made a priority for all foreign residents.

Many Japanese people work very hard to make foreign people comfortable in Japan. However, an equivalent effort has to come from the international residents. Foreign residents who feel frustrated with their experiences in Japan should try harder to learn Japanese and work harder to make friends with Japanese people, either in their workplace (although this can be somewhat difficult – I could fill a whole other article on that topic) or in their leisurely pursuits. And, since old habits die hard, I will finish with a wee bit of advice for the Japanese people who are reading this article: Please be friends with us (and I don’t mean “host”, I mean “friend”)!

A Canadian's View of Canada

This short essay was written after I returned from a research trip to Canada in 2004.


I could never understand why anyone would specialize in Canadian studies. Canada always seemed so boring to me. Everything is just so plain and simple there. Canadians think of themselves as being boring. We think that we have no accent and no particular culture. We think that British people have better accents than we do and Americans have worse. Ours is “basic”. I bet if you asked a Canadian to describe Canadian culture, you wouldn’t get a satisfying answer.
After living in Japan for almost a decade, however, I have come to see my own country more clearly. I have started to see Canada with foreign eyes. I notice things about my country that my fellow Canadians may take for granted.

Obviously, the Size

First of all, I noticed the size of the country. My trip included 5 stops (Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Victoria, Vancouver). One of my Japanese friends asked me whether I took a bus or a train to get to all those places. Naturally, I took airplanes. I would have spent the entire time on a bus or train if I had chosen to go that way. Trains are so convenient and efficient in Japan, but that kind of efficiency is just not possible in a country the size of Canada. I also noticed the fact that we have huge streets and huge areas of land that we do nothing with. And even the cities are not crowded. It is occasionally a bit squishy on the subway, but if you don’t travel on the trains, you might be surprised at how empty our cities are.

Libraries are More Modern, More Inviting, but the Librarians…

I noticed that libraries in Canada are bright, open, inviting – and busy. They are generally housed in splendid buildings and act as a focal point for the town’s scenery. They have modern collections and high-tech equipment. They often belong to regional or county systems, which allows them to spend more time on serving the patrons and less time on cataloging. (I did notice, however, that Canadian librarians can be a bit scowly.)

Your Mileage May Vary

When I first came to Japan, I was working in a junior high school in Tajima-machi, a small town in Fukushima prefecture. I attended the graduation ceremonies in April, and much to my surprise the ceremony at my school was taped for the NHK news that night. Or so I thought. Actually, the school that was on the news was somewhere in Kyushu (an island at the other end of Japan), but it looked so similar to what had happened in my school that day that I could have sworn it was my school. The gymnasium was the same, the layout of the chairs and dias were the same, and the red and white banner encircling the gym was the same.

In Canada, that would never happen. We seem to like re-inventing the wheel over and over again. Whereas you can trust things to be the same or similar in Japan, you can almost count on them to be different in Canada. For example, the political systems in each province are different. In Ontario, the provincial politicians are called “Members of Provincial Parliament” or MPPs. In Alberta, they are called “Members of Legislative Assembly” or MLAs. The Ministry of Culture looks after libraries in Ontario, but the Ministry of Community Development (known as just Community Development) looks after libraries in Alberta. Subsidization of libraries varies widely by province as does the success of advocacy efforts in each province (library advocacy was the topic of my master’s thesis, and the reason for this trip). Public transportation systems are even different. In Japan you can be fairly sure that all trains you ride will be on a destination-based fare. In Canada, some are based on distances, some on direction of travel, and others on the time of use.

West is Best?

There are a number of rivalries in Canada that are age-old and not likely to change. French vs. English, and therefore Ontario vs. Quebec, is an important one and the West vs. the rest of Canada is another. Things are very different in the east and the west. Standardized tests are common in the western provinces, and students generally graduate after grade 12. Ontario doesn’t have any standardized tests, and students until recently graduated after grade 13. This creates a rivalry in the education system. Furthermore, attitudes in the west can be somewhat rebellious. For example, Alberta libraries charge a fee for “membership” despite the fact that one of the basic tenets of librarianship (or so I thought) is that it be free for all. Alberta libraries vehemently defend their right to charge their patrons despite the opposition they face in the rest of the country. (One or two libraries have decided to drop the membership fee, but they are considered to be the black sheep of the Albertan library community.)

What Do You Think?

Canadian local government tries its best to be interactive. When the new Vancouver Public Library was being built, the city’s citizens were given the right to vote on the design. Every time a citizen checked books out of the library, her or she was given one vote. In this way, the public had input into the way their city would look.
When a new library was built in the Toronto Public Library system in 1995, the public was asked to contribute names. Around 170 names were received and the final decision was made by a citizen’s advisory committee.

Creative Solutions

Time spent sorting returned books is time not spent serving the public. Many libraries in Canada try to streamline the sorting system by getting the public to sort their own books. The Victoria Public Library has separate return boxes for books and audio/visual materials, while the Ottawa Public Library has three boxes: adult books, children’s books, and audio/visual.

“Fast reads” are books that are bestsellers, and often new. They are placed in a separate part of the library and are only lent for 7 days. In some libraries, patrons can buy extra days at $1 per day. These books have an incredibly fast turnaround so more patrons get a chance to read them.
Some public libraries in Canada have special collections. They have to make special rules for the patrons because despite the value and rarity of their collections, they have to make them open to the public – not just researchers.

My impression was that Canadians are not afraid to try new things. If they make a mistake or fail, they try something else. They don’t seem to be afraid of failure, but think of it more as a natural step in the process.

Casual vs Formal

Even very formal institutions are quite casual in Canada. I was given a great deal of freedom to collect data at the National Library and the Canadian Library Association. The rules are not very strict, or at least they can be re-interpreted as situations require.
Many libraries include cafes, often actually in the same area as the books. Libraries put up signs that say “don’t mess up the books” and that is it.

Who’s in Charge?

Libraries in both Canada and Japan receive most of their funding from the local government. However, the libraries in Canada have a much more distant relationship with the government. Libraries in Canada do not necessarily consider themselves to be a part of the local government, even though that is where most of their money comes from. Public libraries in Japan are often run by people who just happen to work for the local government (i.e. they don’t necessarily have the qualifications of a librarian).

Connections are the Key

When I tried to organize this trip it was difficult to make any definite plans because I didn’t know who would agree to meet me. At first it was a bit difficult to get people to commit to meeting with me. Then I met a woman at the OLA Superconference who changed all that. With her support, I was able to get meetings with some of the most powerful people in Canadian librarianship.

In Memory of…

Canadians are able to spend extra money on making beautiful buildings – probably because of private donations. The idea of donating money has not caught on in Japan – and that is probably one of the reasons that Japanese librarianship lags behind Canadian.

What I Can’t Figure Out…

Japan has WAY more money than Canada, but Canada’s libraries look better, have more professional staff, and may even be larger in size (per capita). Why is that?