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Old 05-23-2007, 10:24 AM   #1
Grant JB
Location: Nishi-Funabashi
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Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Hi all.
First post for me.

I'm a Brit living in Japan and I hardly speak any Japanese at all.
I'm keen to start Aikido as a beginner and join a dojo but I'm a little concerned that my total lack of Japanese will be a sign of disrespect somehow.
(I am learning Japanese but rather slowly)

Can you tell me what I should expect as far as needing to speak is concerned please? (Truth be told - it is probably good for me to be in a position where I can't speak (as far as personal development is concerned) because like many people, I'm prone to speak too much and don't want to be disrespectful. Being a stranger or foreigner also - makes me conscientious about fitting right in.

Thanks for any advice. Grant.
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Old 05-23-2007, 10:42 AM   #2
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

The Japanese are pretty tolerant of gaijin's. Learn the basic's of being polite and you'll be fine. You will probably never "fit in," so enjoy your gaijiness.
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Old 05-23-2007, 10:45 AM   #3
heathererandolph
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

The main roadblock may be techniques taught with no explanation in English. It might help you in the long run because you will have to learn to observe closely. You might want to find out if you can try a class at the dojo that interests you to find out if you like that particular dojo. There are other foreigners there so a dojo might even have some native English speakers. I'd say, go for it!
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Old 05-23-2007, 10:48 AM   #4
Dirk Hanss
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Hi Grant,
you will probably get better advice from our Tokyo residents in the forum.
Tokyo is probably a good city for you as many organizaitions have their honbu dojo in Tokyo, which are prepared to host foreign visitors and/or have international members.

One idea: look at the dojo-search section here on aikiweb and look for dojo in Tokyo. If they have an English web site, you might have good chances. If they just have an email address, you can ask by mail.

But whatever you do - work hard on your Japanese. In the beginning it might just be seen as showing good-will, but as soon as you can exchange simple sentences, about weather, general sports or even the last training, everything else will work much easier.

Have much fun

Dirk
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Old 05-23-2007, 10:51 AM   #5
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Quote:
Ricky Wood wrote: View Post
The Japanese are pretty tolerant of gaijin's. Learn the basic's of being polite and you'll be fine. You will probably never "fit in," so enjoy your gaijiness.
I disagree. Gaijin-ness is too fragile a concept to substitute for real language ability, especially if you intend to stay here for a long time.

So I would counsel you to learn as much Japanese as you can.

Of course, if you plan to stay here for a couple of years and then move on, well, in that case there is not much point in learning Japanese. In any case, in two years you will not get very far, especially with the written language.

Best wishes,

P A Goldsbury
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Hiroshima, Japan
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Old 05-23-2007, 11:14 AM   #6
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Thanks for the thoughtful and supportive replies folks.

gdandscompserv: Thanks - I have the basics of being polite down ok. (kind of a natural thing I guess, coupled with respect as a foreigner for the host nation and Japanese culture in general).

heathererandolph: Thanks - Go for it! really is the only way I believe with many things. Cheers for the support.

Dirk Hanss: Cheers. I'll check out the other parts of the forum and indeed keep a sharper eye out for info here in Japan from now on.

Peter Goldsbury: Thank You. I've been here a while and no this isn't a short term thing. Just been biding my time and things are starting to come together and feel right. I agree about learning the language. I'm hoping that all things come together equally. Soon a different apartment, Aikido, maybe some friends and hopefully therefore the lingo.
I'm actually 38 (even though I still appreciate the support) so I can see myself staying here for a fair few years if the dots keep joining themselves up in good time.

I did Aikido for about 6 weeks in the States about 5 years ago. (The school closed and I never followed it up and moved on). I remember feeling on a high back then and when kicking a football around in the playing fields - I'd be rolling around practicing Ukemi like a noob.

Looking forward to hopefully feeling a similar degree of inner peace again soonish.

All the Best everyone. Cheers.

Last edited by Grant JB : 05-23-2007 at 11:18 AM.
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Old 05-23-2007, 08:11 PM   #7
Carl Thompson
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Hello Grant

There are countless foreigners in Japan who speak no Japanese and in some cases, very little English, and yet they manage to do aikido with only a few minor problems. You've probably already encountered the overwhelming kindness of this country. There'll be no shortage of people to help you out. Around Tokyo, there should also be no shortage of English speaking locals as well as other foreigners who can speak some Japanese.

One thing I've found is that doing aikido will help your Japanese anyway and in turn your Japanese will help your aikido. You get more chances to talk to native speakers, you get immersed in the language and culture and you make friends with people who expose you to more Japanese in other situations. So rather than worrying about Japanese as a barrier, preventing you from learning aikido, I'd urge you to look at aikido in Japan as a way to improve your Japanese and aikido at the same time.

Kind regards

Carl (a fellow Brit)

PS: PM me if you want to go to the Hombu sometime -- I'll be down on business a couple of times in June.
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Old 05-23-2007, 10:54 PM   #8
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Thanks very much Carl.
It certainly feels like the timing is right in more ways than one.

Thanks mate.

(.. goes off to find out what Hombu means..)
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Old 05-24-2007, 01:44 AM   #9
batemanb
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Hi Grant,

Where abouts in Tokyo are you? When I lived there, the local government office (Nakano-ku) ran free Japanese classes for foreigners every week.

Can also suggest a couple of places to train if you're in the locale.

A difficult problem is easily solved by asking yourself the question, "Just how would the Lone Ranger handle this?"
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Old 05-24-2007, 06:50 AM   #10
Jory Boling
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Are you even in Tokyo? Or will you be? Funabashi is in Chiba, right?

You might get some good suggestions if we Japaners knew where you will be living.

And if you already told us, sorry for over looking the info!
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Old 05-24-2007, 07:43 AM   #11
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Hey Jory.

I'm in Nishi-Funabashi.

Just recently changed the profile. (I usually just write Tokyo for other more non-Japanese related forums to make things easier).
I am hoping to move maybe to the Ichikawa area - in the middle of most of my jobs.
Yeah Funabashi is in Chiba..

(I watched an Aikido documentary fairly recently which showed live-in Aikido students. I'd give up my lifestyle right now for that experience, although I believe they had to be pretty darn good to even have the opportunity.)

Anyway. Thanks for the heads up and the profile is updated.
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Old 05-24-2007, 08:12 AM   #12
matsusakasteve
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Good question! I'm ashamed to say that after 4 years in the Empire of Cute, my Japanese is low intermediate. I got lucky, my dojo has a few bilinguals. I can catch the general drift of sensei's explanations, but I still miss a few (key) points.
My advice is to focus on learning words for body parts and prepositions. If you can understand phrases like, "twist wrist" and "step behind", you'll probably do ok. The good part is that the responses expected of us are usually limited to "onegaishimasu","arigatoo gozaimasu" and "wakarimashita".
A non-English speaking sensei will probably appreciate your enthusiasm and dedication. That requires no verbal communication.
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Old 05-24-2007, 08:54 AM   #13
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Quote:
Bryan Bateman wrote: View Post
Hi Grant,

Where abouts in Tokyo are you? When I lived there, the local government office (Nakano-ku) ran free Japanese classes for foreigners every week.

Can also suggest a couple of places to train if you're in the locale.
Sorry Bryan. I missed your post. I'm currently in Nishi-funabashi but hope to move fairly soon. When I do move I intend to find a place that offers free instruction in Japanese. A few community centres around seem to. I've tried one before but quit. A good way of making friends too. (not the quitting part). Cheers.
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Old 05-24-2007, 09:00 AM   #14
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Quote:
Steven Charles wrote: View Post
Good question! I'm ashamed to say that after 4 years in the Empire of Cute, my Japanese is low intermediate. I got lucky, my dojo has a few bilinguals. I can catch the general drift of sensei's explanations, but I still miss a few (key) points.
My advice is to focus on learning words for body parts and prepositions. If you can understand phrases like, "twist wrist" and "step behind", you'll probably do ok. The good part is that the responses expected of us are usually limited to "onegaishimasu","arigatoo gozaimasu" and "wakarimashita".
A non-English speaking sensei will probably appreciate your enthusiasm and dedication. That requires no verbal communication.
Cheers Steven. As an Eikiawa teacher (I have a black belt in Eikaiwa ) I have selfishly started using Japanese as part of the lesson. To teach myself verbs I call out the verb in Japanese and the student has to repeat it in English (for different tenses etc.) An efficient way of learning and teaching at the same time. I'll take your advice and start doing lessons about body parts... could be fun..
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Old 05-24-2007, 09:17 AM   #15
oisin bourke
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

I'll second what everyone else has said with the added advice that it'll take you a couple of years to "settle in" to most dojos here anyway, regardless of your language ability.

I think the main thing is to find a
good dojo and show the sensei your sincerity by turning up regularly
and basically accepting what you are being shown.

Great importance is placed on the concept of the student being "sunao" in this culture. This term is usually translated as "docile" or "obedient" but in my experience, it's closer to simply doing what you are shown repeatedly. Those with no Japanese probably have an easier time of this than others! (at the beginning anyway).

But you really should make an effort to learn the language if you plan to be here a while. It's an amazing language, and if you start studying seriously, everything else in your life will become simple.

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Old 05-24-2007, 09:27 AM   #16
batemanb
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Quote:
Grant Barker wrote: View Post
Sorry Bryan. I missed your post. I'm currently in Nishi-funabashi but hope to move fairly soon. When I do move I intend to find a place that offers free instruction in Japanese. A few community centres around seem to. I've tried one before but quit. A good way of making friends too. (not the quitting part). Cheers.
There's a good dojo in Funabashi, or at least there used to be. I trained there a couple of times back in '96. Yamashita sensei, if I remember correctly, although my brain is dim. It was a 3 story budokan about 5 mins from the main JR eki. I could probably take you to it if I was there but I can't remember directions.

A difficult problem is easily solved by asking yourself the question, "Just how would the Lone Ranger handle this?"
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Old 05-24-2007, 10:32 AM   #17
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Thanks Oisin Bourke.
Good advice. Being unable to say too much is a good thing from my perspective. There are sayers and doers - and one of the whole reasons of wanting to get into Aikido at my age is that I want to be a doer in these later years and stop just saying stuff.(or at least just imagining it or thinking it) However, I do want to learn as much Japanese as possible. At the moment I live with Japanese who have spent half their lives in the US and they can't wait to go back. Even though the sign on my door says Japanese please - nobody cares and speaks English . Looking forward to moving out and jumping in a little more at the deeper end. Thanks.

Cheers Bryan. I might check it out - but only to look and get a feel. (Hardly seen anything martial arts at all around here) It's just a few minutes on the train as you know - quite convenient. I'm more interested in finding a very close place to my next apartment. Where that is going to be I'm not sure at the moment.

Anyway. I appreciate all the replies and supportive advice. Of course it's time to just do it and stop posting about it..

All the Best and respect.
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Old 05-24-2007, 09:20 PM   #18
matsusakasteve
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Quote:
Grant Barker wrote: View Post
Cheers Steven. As an Eikiawa teacher (I have a black belt in Eikaiwa ) I have selfishly started using Japanese as part of the lesson. To teach myself verbs I call out the verb in Japanese and the student has to repeat it in English (for different tenses etc.) An efficient way of learning and teaching at the same time. I'll take your advice and start doing lessons about body parts... could be fun..
I'm a nidan of Nova-do. I try to combine English and martial arts in the classroom. We tear the text in half with our bare hands, do mae-ukemi over the desks. The kids love it!
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Old 05-25-2007, 01:57 AM   #19
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Spoken like a true Master.

Last edited by Grant JB : 05-25-2007 at 02:02 AM.
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Old 05-26-2007, 06:26 AM   #20
sisley
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Personally, I think you do need at least an elementary ability in the language to benefit from practice. Of course, a lot depends upon the dojo you are practicing at, but in my limited experience here, I've yet to see a place where not knowing Japanese language would be a good thing.

Moreover, the few folks (British and German) whom I have helped out at our dojo found the language barrier to be rather great. Neither had a background in Aikido, and so they struggled with everything. The more Aikido you understand, I think, the easier it is to understand what sensei is telling you, even if you don't know what the words mean. This has been my experience at least.

The other thing to consider, though you're probably aware of this, is just how difficult it is for an outsider (a gaijin) to feel a part of a Japanese group. It took me a long time at my dojo to feel accepted--by my dojo-mates mostly, not by my teacher who welcomed me immediately. I think the more Japanese you know, the better your chances of fitting in.

Having said all that, however, I think the best thing is just to dive in. If one dojo doesn't work for you, move on. If an adequate Aikido dojo can't be found nearby, move on. Find something and give it a go. With effort and little by little--these, I think, are the keys to living and surviving in Japan.

Good luck!

Jim
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Old 05-26-2007, 11:09 AM   #21
Grant JB
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Cheers Jim. That makes sense.

I haven't asked this question but How much does a Gi cost. (outfit). Sorry if I spelt that wrong. And should we expect the dojo to have and sell them or do we usually get them from another store or supplier?

Thanks.
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Old 05-27-2007, 04:32 PM   #22
sisley
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Quote:
Grant Barker wrote: View Post
Cheers Jim. That makes sense.

I haven't asked this question but How much does a Gi cost. (outfit). Sorry if I spelt that wrong. And should we expect the dojo to have and sell them or do we usually get them from another store or supplier?

Thanks.
Do not expect your local dojo to sell dogi or other practice equipment, though I believe Tokyo Hombu does. Your sensei or a senior student in the class may have a connection and be able to get one for you at a slight discount, or they may know of a store nearby where you can get one.

I would expect to pay between 7,000 and 10,000 yen for a dogi here in Japan.

One convenient retailer is Tozando, a company down here in Kyoto. They sell all sorts of martial arts supplies and their website is in both Japanese and English, and you can order online. I was very pleased with my dogi from them, but a little less so with the hakama I ordered from them. http://www.tozandoshop.com/

Good luck!

Jim
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Old 05-27-2007, 07:12 PM   #23
oisin bourke
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Quote:
Jim Sisley wrote: View Post

The other thing to consider, though you're probably aware of this, is just how difficult it is for an outsider (a gaijin) to feel a part of a Japanese group. It took me a long time at my dojo to feel accepted--by my dojo-mates mostly, not by my teacher who welcomed me immediately. I think the more Japanese you know, the better your chances of fitting in.

Good luck!

Jim
My experience has been that I've been made feel as welcome and as "part of the group" as any Japanese beginner in the Dojo.
Most Japanese treat outsiders very well! Pretty much anyone joining a Dojo here is "soto" or "outside" for an inderterminate length of time until they be come "Uchi" or "inside". But isn't this true of Dojo everywhere? The Japanese are just more up front and formalised about it.

I think that the "outsiderness" many non Japanese feel in Dojos here is a two way street. Initially some Japanese may feel a little awkward dealing with a non Japanese speaking foreigner, but I think a lot of us (myself included) tend to be over sensitive to this, probably beacause we are in a completely different environment. (that and the small matter of the language...)

This is turning into a good list. Not too many Japan based people
regularly post for some reason.
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Old 05-27-2007, 08:09 PM   #24
Carl Thompson
 
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Hello again Grant

In your area, for gi/dougi/keikogi (you can use all of those terms), I've heard Iwata are pretty good

2-2-36 HYAKUNIN-CHO, SHINJUKU-KU TOKYO 169-0073

or you could go to the Hombu Dojo itself (Aikikai Aikido World Headquarters)

With the greatest respect to Osin, I'd just like to point out that sunao also means "honest" as in "sunao ni iu" (to speak honestly). I'd also like to present a different view on the acceptance of foreigners in dojos here and in Japanese society in general.

I have felt nothing but acceptance and tolerance here. I love being part of my community and doing aikido has opened many doors for me. I've never felt compelled to be docile and was accepted by both of my current dojos from the moment I arrived. Thanks to friendships made on the tatami, I feel like I have had the opportunity to experience Japan at a grassroots level, sometimes literally -- just yesterday, I was picking strawberries with a local agricultural group, had a picnic on the farm and played with the local kids. All thanks to chucking a strawberry farmer around.

I hope you have the same good fortune as me. One thing we all seem to be telling you is the same: Get out and enjoy some aikido.

Peace out

Carl



PS: You can do the live-in student thing up here in (relatively) nearby Ibaraki.
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Old 05-28-2007, 07:33 PM   #25
Brandon Carper
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Re: Do I need Japanese to practice in Japan?

Hi Grant,

Until about a year ago I was living in Minami-Gyotoku--a few stops down the Tozai line from you. Memories!

Anyway, for me, trying to learn aikido without understanding Japanese was very frustrating. I walked into the Aikikai Hombu Dojo with no previous experience besides a few aikido-related conversations with my co-worker, thinking that with determination alone I could blow a hole through (or turn tenkan around) the language barrier. It's all physical, I thought--I'll just watch and imitate. Nope. On a good day, I heard a half-dozen English words from the instructor, and got five minutes with a partner whose English and patience was good enough to help me learn the technique. On a normal day, I trained with partners who gave me bored looks and took falls to avoid having to explain anything to me. On a bad day, I got paired up with 250-pound Europeans who certainly did not travel halfway around the world to train with skinny, clueless me--these people, after some non-English growling, would helpfully reverse my non-existent techniques to demonstrate just how clueless I was.

So, after three months of training four days a week, I still had little understanding of the principles behind the techniques, which meant little idea of when I was doing something right or wrong, which meant little sense of progress. One day, the instructor came to me, corrected my stance, laughed, muttered, "Basic..." and walked away. I decided that it was ridiculous to wait three months for five seconds of instruction on how to stand (which I may or may not have understood), and I never went back.

Instead, I typed "aikido english tokyo" into Google and found the Yoshinkan Hombu Dojo (conveniently located on the end of the Tozai line.) They have an English class in the mornings, with patient, friendly instructors (who, fittingly, gave me plenty, plenty of instruction on how to stand.) I went there for the last six months I was in Japan, and almost always left the dojo in a good mood.

Now that I've spent almost a year practicing aikido in the States, with an instructor who explains the intricacies of techniques, I would never recommend starting aikido with a teacher who doesn't speak your language. Aikido's just too subtle. Even now, I'm not sure how much I would get out of going back to Aikikai Hombu besides practicing things I already know. I'm sure things might be better for you if you can find a smaller dojo (my Aikikai classes normally had twenty to thirty people), but I still feel that it would be more efficient for you to either learn Japanese first or find an English-speaking instructor.

In any case, good luck!
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