I have been volunteering at a local library here in Tokyo, reading stories in English to young Japanese children. Recently, one of the staff who I work with said that she has become interested in learning English, and asked if I would teach her. I was very pleased, so I happily agreed!
We have decided to meet on Tuesday evenings, after we have both finished work. On our first meeting, we went to a nice Italian restaurant in Asagaya, Tokyo. Most of our conversation was in Japanese, but I was so surprised to see how quickly she learned. The main topic of our English study was…well, pasta. Shocking. XD
We each ordered a pasta and salad set, which came with a drink of our choice. I chose pesto spaghetti topped with parmigiano, and iced chocolate milk.
Since arriving in Japan, I have been truly impressed by Japanese people’s curiosity and eagerness to learn. It is on a level that I have not seen in the West. They never stop studying and asking questions. I even know people who started studying English in their late seventies! I feel like back home, once we reach a certain point in adulthood, many of us are content. We may continue to build on the skills and careers that we already have, but comparatively speaking, there are less who, even after retirement, pick up a new language or instrument, or dive into a new field of research. If we have the time and resources, many of us would rather just go on a cruise, play golf, or join a bridge group.
Japanese people are also so curious about new cultures and people. If they encounter someone from a foreign land, they actually come closer to you, instead of blocking you out. They ask questions and want to learn all about you and where you are from. When they see that a foreigner has a different way or doing something, or a different opinion about something, Japanese people don’t see it as wrong and try to correct you. Instead, they assess their own culture and consider whether this difference offers an opportunity for learning or improvement in themselves. They have traditionally been this way, and it has famously changed the shape of their entire history. Amazing people.