I’m now living in Japan for 4 months and am still speechless. Not because of its beauty or the sometimes strange things I see or experience. I’m speechless because I’m virtually illiterate here. I don’t speak the language, I don’t understand the language and I can’t read the language…

Normally, even without speaking a language, I don’t feel lost because I can still read it and often at least grasp what something is about. Here however, many things I would never have thought become a challenge. I already talked about working out household devices. Checking the mailbox is another challenge. Well not the checking itself obviously but looking through the things, deciding if something is relevant, finding out if something is expected from me etc. Recently for example, there was this sheet of paper in the mailbox.

At home, I would probably not even really look at it and put it directly in the recycling box. But still with “not really looking” at it, I would know what it was about. Here, I hesitated to just put it away. I scanned it with the Google translate app and that’s what I received as a result:

Notice of firefighting equipment inspection
Dear residents of Seiwa Building
Inspection company: Chiyoda Disaster Prevention G-Kuchida: TEL: 042-394-7846
This time, the firefighting equipment inspection will be carried out according to the following schedule:
Inspection date: March 11, 1945 (Thursday) 10: 00-
[Inspection equipment] Fire extinguisher, automatic fire alarm system, evacuation equipment, guide light connection water pipe
It is necessary for the inspector to enter the room for inspection on the day. I will. We kindly ask you to stay at home as much as possible. In addition, a bell ringing test will be conducted during inspection. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation. If you have any questions, please contact us using the contact information above. Thank you for your cooperation.

Not unimportant to know and that is why it’s now hanging on my fridge instead of sitting in the recycling box :-)

Another challenge is grocery shopping. I love discovering new foods and reading food labels. Well, I do discover many new foods. I just don’t know what they are…. As you know by now, i can’t read the labels and even if I scan the ingredient lists (which takes a lot of time) I often don’t know what the food consists of as I don’t know the ingredients… Sometimes I try to guess from the type or colour of the packaging what something could be. But that hasn’t always worked out well. And even unpacked foods such as fruits and vegetables are often a mystery to me. So many to me unknown varieties.

You can imagine, that I long to learn the language. Still at home in Switzerland, I started to study the two letter systems Hiragana and Katakana last year. I can’t read them fluently, but I can decipher them depending on the font type used. Kanjis on the other hand, I know only a few. The ones you always see, such as person, yen, entrance, exit or toilet flush :-)

Hiragana (to the left) and Katakana (to the right) chart.
First row reads like a, ka, sa, ta…..
(Source: Wikipedia)

But of course, I would also like to be able to talk. Unfortunately, many Japanese language classes are not running at the moment because of the Covid situation. In Taito, where I live, there are normally many free classes run by volunteer groups. At the Taito City Hall you can get a list of all classes and they even had an overview in the latest issue of the Taito City Life News.

One group I contacted by email but never got an answer. For another group I went directly to the location, but was informed that the class is suspended until the end of the state of emergency. Today I went to another location and inquired again. The lady there did not understand English, but she handed me another overview of all classes which had contact details. Now, finally, I managed to talk to someone and I can meet this person in about 2 weeks. Fingers crossed that this will be the start to become literate, at least a little bit.

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