Geek Life

35 Before 35: Learn Enough Japanese to Get Around Tokyo & Get a Tattoo in Japan

Raimund von Stillfried-Rathenitz - A Tattooed Man

Normally, if I didn’t complete a challenge from my 35 Before 35 list I would just opt not to write about it. However, as two of my challenges hinged on being completed during my recent trip to Tokyo… and didn’t happen, I figured it was worth a little post on what went wrong.

Number One on my list, and probably the most troublesome challenge, was to Learn Enough Japanese to Get Around Tokyo. While I had taken weekend Japanese lessons for nearly 4 years as a teen, I retained very little of it and probably learned more “practical” Japanese watching Pinky Violence movies. My initial idea had been to try to take some evening classes, but uncertain income and then incredible work stress made it hard to commit to paid lessons and even harder to find time for self-directed learning.

We did have enough foresight to buy basic phrase book that we could study on the airplane, but it wasn’t close to enough to carry on a conversation with someone and often not even enough to get answers to basic questions. Rick was much more fearless is walking right up to someone and reading directly from the phrase book, while I usually just politely nodded while a shop clerk babbled at me until they stopped and raised an eyebrow, at which point I would mutter “wakarimasen” (“I don’t understand”) and scuttle away, mortified.

It was interesting when Rick and I would approach someone together, him reading from his phrase book and the person we were talking to would immediately turn to me, assuming I was just humouring my “gaijin” boyfriend. They often seemed to be waiting for me to gladly translate for them in perfect nihongo and usually looked disappointed (or even worse, disapproving) when I continued in English or muttered “gomenasai wakarimasen”(“sorry, I don’t understand”) sheepishly.

I would love to learn Japanese one day, but I don’t really have a head for languages and really only speak French as well as I do since my parents dumped me in French Immersion school before I’d even learned to read. Maybe I’ll figure it out before our next trip to Japan. Whenever that is.

As for Getting A Tattoo in Japan, I hadn’t actually done any research into it before we left for Tokyo and tattoo parlours don’t really litter the street in Japan the way they do in Montreal. They are largely underground affairs, from what I understand, and can be very expensive. Much more so than in North America. I also hadn’t really thought about what I would have liked to get as a tattoo, so it seemed like a little too much trouble for what would have amounted to a novelty tattoo.

That said, I will probably getting more tattoos in the next year. Just not in Japan.

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Kitsch Vixen
    November 5, 2013 at 1:47 am

    Tattoo shops are more prevalent near military bases in Japan, I’ve heard. We only have one that I know of here in Sasebo. One of my 24 before 25 is to get a tattoo and it will 99% be at the shop here, so you are welcome to live vicariously through me! 🙂

    • Reply
      Mariko
      November 5, 2013 at 9:26 am

      Oooh!Exciting. Do you know what you want to get?

      • Reply
        Kitsch Vixen
        November 5, 2013 at 11:02 am

        I either want to start my Sailor Moon half-sleeve or get a Maneki-Neko tattoo. Also, if I ever get around to my Rosetta Stone, we can practice Japanese together. 🙂

        • Reply
          Mariko
          November 6, 2013 at 10:20 am

          I vote for Maneki-Neko! Or, I might just steal that idea for myself. lol

          And yes, I would love to have peeps to practice Japanese with.

  • Reply
    Jane Yoo
    November 5, 2013 at 8:33 am

    i think learning another language is such a tricky thing. even picking up on a native language. i came to the us at a young age and forgot how to speak it. then came college and meeting international students and working in an environment where i had to speak korean. after years of being with korean speakers i got better but still at a critical moment when i needed to understand or say something words i wouldn’t know how to. i actually took japanese for 6 years and never got the hang of speaking on a whim or randomly. i love the language though. i think it’s one of the most beautiful languages. i love listening to it. 🙂

    • Reply
      Mariko
      November 5, 2013 at 9:28 am

      Structurally, Japanese seems like one of the easier languages to learn, but there’s so many levels of formality… I think that’s where most people get messed up. I would love to learn more Japanese, but I’m pretty sure I’m one of those people who needs to be immersed in a language (read: forced to use it) in order to pick it up.

  • Reply
    Fiona
    November 5, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I’m a shocker with language, I was there for a year and picked up very little (or was very lazy). I guess one of the nice things about Japan is that a lot of people want to practice there English, I think that’s how I was able to get away with being so lazy. I would like to learn though especially since Japanese seems a straight forward language (well compared with English anyway). If you’re still keen to learn, surround yourself with some Japanese peeps and do a language swap 🙂 Actually the most I learnt was from kindergarten kids, because they have simple vocab and are repetitive – if you don’t get something they just keep saying it over and over and pointing to it and don’t seem to tire of this 😛 Good for a dummy like me!

    • Reply
      Mariko
      November 6, 2013 at 10:19 am

      Kids are such amazing language sponges. One of our little cousins speaks 5 languages, 2 of them picked up at daycare! Although they usually mix them all together in a sentence, which is also very entertaining.

  • Reply
    Nerd Burger
    November 6, 2013 at 5:58 am

    I try to learn as much of the language as I can before I travel to place. I found people in Japan really appreciated it when you just made an effort and were polite. I can’t wait to see what you get tattooed.

    • Reply
      Mariko
      November 6, 2013 at 10:18 am

      In all honesty, I don’t think I did that bad, but I’d really gotten it into my head that I should be fluent by the time I got there. Also, being Japanese-ish there did seem to be an expectation that I should know a lot more than I did, which made me a little ashamed in the most Japanese of ways.

    Penny for your thoughts...