Guest Post: How to Live the Japanese Language While Learning It

For people who strive to learn a second language, it isn’t enough to simply be adept at speaking it. A lot of the time, the decision to learn something as complex as another language isn’t entirely academic in nature (though it may partly be the case). Fortunately this desire to immerse oneself into the culture of the foreign language they’re working hard to master goes hand in hand with the spoken language itself. Japan is the perfect example of a country whose language most people want to learn because they wish to feel closer to its impressive and often fascinating culture.

Of course, such an endeavor is certainly easier said than done. However, there’s a reason why traveling to Japan in order to live the language while learning it is so rewarding. Those looking for a bit of a crash course in everything Japan has to offer with a long-term goal of mastering the language will no doubt learn all its little intricacies all the faster, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging. Here are just a few tips to living the language while simultaneously learning it.

Go for Japanese cuisine (it’s how the country speaks to your stomach)

The first suggestion is also probably the most fun to do – learning to live the language by experiencing Japan’s rich tapestry of cuisine. After all, a very large part of a country’s history is directly tied to their diets. It might seem like a rather far-fetched idea, but you’ll soon understand things about the country you might never have thought possible when you’ve had your fill of their authentic recipes. While being in Japan to enjoy true authentic cuisine would be the most obvious course of action, this is something that can be enjoyed in all parts of the world because of how much other countries and cultures are fascinated by what Japan has to offer.

Try and picture yourself enjoying succulent yakitori from a stand in Japan, while speaking to one of the natives. You ask questions as you observe their body language, from the way they speak to the way the natives enjoy their own stick of yakitori. Even something as simple as enjoying street food in Japan can be an invaluable experience when it comes to not just learning the language, but living it as well.

Attend the multitude of Japanese festivals

Living the Japanese language means to live its culture, and there are few events that match the cultural significance of the Japanese festival. The amount of history they have on display – whether you are attending a festival in Fukuoka or perhaps in Kyoto, is always a sight to see. After all, where else would you be able to get yourself acquainted with all the sights and sounds Japan has to offer all in the span of a single incredible event? It can’t be understated how much you can learn by simply attending one of the country’s many festivals.

Even the natives of Japan understand just how important attending a festival can be. Normally you would see a divide between the younger and older generations of the Japanese people due to events that have shaped the country. However, no matter what the age group is, there are very few people who do not enjoy attending these festivals. This only means that not only do you get to taste and experience the culture of Japan all in one place, but you also get to communicate and interact with natives from all walks of life.

Break the ice by enjoying Japan’s hot springs

While it’s indeed important to have a serious passion when it comes to learning and living the Japanese life, it doesn’t have to be devoid of any rest and relaxation. As a matter of fact one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Japanese culture while being able to soak the stresses away would be by enjoying Japan’s world-famous hot springs, or onsen as they would call it. Located in Hokkaido, these natural hot springs are littered with natives and tourists alike, giving you a wide variety of people to interact and bounce ideas with while you take a rest. Why not? It’s a wonderful way to learn all about Japan, while still treating it like a carefree vacation.

Visit Japan’s historical castles and ancient temples

Japan is a country with a deep and vibrant history. One might think that researching the history of the Japanese people and learning the language are completely different – but they are different sides of the same coin. It only exists when both work in tandem; otherwise neither will survive because they helped shape each other through the decades and centuries. While it’s indeed possible to learn all about the history of the Japanese people through different websites and written works, actually stepping into an ancient temple or historical castle in Japan allows for a completely different perspective – you can even get the help of Japanese translation services if you have troubles during your study.

The castles in particular were a part of the intense and more violent periods of Japan’s history, and the ruins are something that can give you a peak at what Japan was like at that time. By learning all about its rich culture and speaking to the Japanese about how they might feel about their country’s history, you’ll get a great deal of insight – which is one of the most essential things in mastering the language.

There are many who will most likely tell you that learning a language is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. While they’re completely right, there’s no reason that it can’t be fun – and living the language while learning it is most certainly that. If you’re serious about diving into everything that makes this wonderful country great, don’t hesitate! Pack your bags and get ready for the learning experience of a lifetime that you will not regret at all.

Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online translation and over the phone interpreter provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications. By helping both corporations and the individual, Day Translations provides a necessary service at the same time as developing opportunities for greater sympathy and understanding worldwide.

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All photographs courtesy of Unsplash.

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In Defence of Cultural Appropriation

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post called Cultural Appropriation (Or Why that Bindi is Racist). Without rewriting the original article, allow me to briefly summarise my key points.

Cultural appropriation is defined as when “people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalised group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalised people.” I later stumbled upon a slightly more detailed definition that I think also fits the bill: “Cultural appropriation… is a form of oppression for members of an identifiably dominant social or ethnic group to make use of the history, personages and/or habits of another, for the purposes of literature, music, art, entertainment, fashion. In short, for culture.”

Since publishing my blog post, I have shared a number of thought-provoking conversations with friends that have challenged my perspective on the issue. Dissatisfied, I decided to update my opinion — a part two, if you will — and to argue against what I originally wrote.

To begin, I am going to explore the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. There is a tendency to conflate the two, a misunderstanding which is arguably as dangerous as cultural appropriation itself. Whilst cultural appropriation tends to concern the power dynamics between two unequal groups, cultural exchange refers more so to the sharing of practices between two different yet balanced groups. In many — I’d even go as far as to say most — cases, cultural exchange is criticised for being cultural appropriation. Whilst I myself am persuaded that cultural exchange is justified, cultural appropriation is still something of a delicate matter.

Should we amend cultural appropriation to cultural misappropriation? Maybe it is possible that this whole discourse hinges around semantic specificity. From henceforth, I shall use cultural appropriation as somewhat interchangeable with cultural exchange, and refer to the detrimental kind as cultural misappropriation.

One of the central arguments for cultural appropriation is that it offers an opportunity for people to be educated about the rich diversity of human culture. After all, isn’t a more connected and compassionate society an objective goal? The topic of cultural appropriation also opens the door to what it truly means to own something. In my previous article, I discussed how it’s dangerous because it is as though a dominant group has ‘stolen’ a practice that belongs to a marginalised group. But do practices really belong to someone? Cultural practices are meaningful because of the ideas attached to them — can someone really claim ownership over an idea?

“Cultures are not intrinsically valuable, nor should they be preserved by virtue of their uniqueness. Cultures emerge from different groups of people trying to best navigate the world.”

The author of the above quote also put into words my exact thoughts: “… cultural ‘pride’ is absurd… there’s nothing to be proud of. (Cultures) aren’t superior or inferior to any other. You have nothing to preserve.” This message ties into the flaws of group identity. If you consider major conflicts between different groups of people, you’ll observe that that main source of conflict is the (often symbolic) trespassing of identity politics. We cannot abolish this discord without challenging our relationship with cultural pride.

By maintaining the mentality that cultural appropriation is in and of itself a ‘bad thing’, we are only causing further destruction. Through reinforcing exclusivism, some would even go as far as to say that it is as racist as cultural appropriation itself claims to be. If we cannot explore other cultures through participation, how are we — as a collective civilisation — expected to evolve and develop?

Perhaps cultural appropriation is indeed a positive thing, and participation in diverse cultural practices ought to be encouraged throughout society. Perhaps it’s the most constructive path to a more global, shared culture. “It is not an evil but rather a public good when different cultures are assimilated into the mainstream”, writes J. Wilson.

I have expressed why I believe cultural exchange should be condoned, and (hopefully) no one needs reminding that this should always be done respectfully. We know that malicious intent – whether that be through racism or whatever have you – is never acceptable. We know that there’s nothing respectful about dressing up as a ‘slutty Indian’ for Halloween in a costume you bought from Walmart, and we know that there’s nothing respectful about mockery. The key therefore is to strike a balance whereby different cultures are accessible and celebrated whilst still bearing courtesy and consideration for their history.

To what end does maintaining divisions between people serve? Cultural misappropriation can be harmful and leave devastating effects on persecuted peoples by reducing them to an idea. But cultural appropriation might be the answer to societal segregation rooted in identity politics.

Photographs sourced from Unsplash.

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Cultural Appropriation (Or Why That Bindi is Racist)

As I have mentioned before in previous posts, I do not want my travel blog to simply be about Insta-worthy pictures and food porn. My goal from the very beginning was to use this blog as a resource and vehicle by which to educate myself and others on issues entrenched in the tourism industry (and society in general). The issues I have discussed in the past – see feminism and why tourism is political – are prime examples of how travel and politics are not mutually exclusive. This latest article is one I have been wanting to write since the inception of this blog.

Culture not costume. Artwork courtesy of the Odyssey Online.

If you’re a follower of pop culture – or you use the internet – the chances are that the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ would have emerged once or twice in the context of someone such as Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry.

In short, cultural appropriation can be defined as when “people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalised group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalised people”.

Cultural appropriation is largely misunderstood owing to a lack of critical discussion and the fact that you won’t actually find the term in a dictionary. (I also think it isn’t given the time of the day because lots of people deep down know they are guilty of it – and ignorance is bliss, amiright?).

Everyday Feminism summed it up quite nicely by saying that it is often taken to mean, “the policing of what white people can or can’t wear and enjoy”. Whilst there exists a rather objective definition (as written above), people can also take C.A. to extremes. Some people believe that everything is cultural appropriation, whilst some believe that nothing is at all. Whilst I certainly think that some critics of C.A. can get a bit carried away, I also believe that it is a complex idea that plays a different role in different scenarios. I believe that the issue becomes about learning and educating ourselves about it so that we can identify instances where it is not okay.

Model Gigi Hadid was criticised for wearing dreadlocks on the runway. Photograph courtesy of the Daily Beast.

Some Examples of Cultural Appropriation…

  • Bindis
  • Cornrows
  • Dreadlocks
  • Indian headdresses (I’m looking at you, Coachella)
  • Pretty much 99% of all cultural Halloween costumes
  • Basically Rachel Dolezal’s entire existence

Photograph courtesy of Marion Cameleon.

A common defence people employ when confronted about appropriating behaviours is that they’re simply celebrating another culture. After all, if they can’t participate in a tradition belonging to someone else, then how are we meant to share cultures? Isn’t that the very foundation of a more equal and humanitarian world? And then there are the people who get straight up offended.

The reality is that cultural appropriation plays a significant yet dismissed role in all of the inequalities people face today. To understand C.A. demands a comprehension of intersecting frameworks of oppression (shout out to intersectional feminism) and power dynamics. The key idea is that C.A. simply doesn’t go both ways; if it did, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But instead, the nature of a more privileged group of people borrowing cultural elements from a less privileged group is a one way street.

Amandla Sternberg delivers a crash course on cultural appropriation in ‘Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows’

This next part can sometimes be a little more complicated to get your head around. I know it was for me. Take the example of white girls braiding their hair into cornrows. That’s not inappropriate, you might respond. Black girls straighten their hair all the time! But what needs to be discussed here is that historical context is incredibly relevant. Consider the history of the United States; black people were discriminated against whilst white people reaped the rewards of a white supremacist society. As Everyday Feminism accounts, “when people of colour… conform to what the U.S. society considers ‘normal’, they’re often doing it for the sake of survival”.

“Assimilation doesn’t have the same impact as appropriation.”

Expressions of cultural appropriation. Photograph courtesy of Sikh Philosophy.

Cultural appropriation isn’t about memorising an infinite list of things that could offend people. There’s no value to that. Instead, it’s about “taking responsibility for your own actions that can cause other people harm“. I myself took responsibility after a phase where I insisted on wearing part of my hair braided into cornrows. At the time, I wasn’t aware that I was inadvertently participating in a culture that had historically – and even still today – been marginalised beneath mine (I’m talking about the participation part, not the historical part). But after taking a gender studies course at university and reading about these systems of social oppression, I realised that my behaviour had been less about how I looked and more so about taking what had never belonged to me in the first place.

The key message I’m trying to get across here, is that you don’t have to own something to appreciate it.

Even with well-meaning, good intentions, cultural appropriation is not something we should take lightly. We’re not just talking about fashion; we’re talking about the lived experiences of human beings. Identity is one of the most central facets of our lives, and for someone more privileged to take that away from us with little regard for who we are is plain discrimination.

“You only like me for my Sari.” Artwork courtesy of Zaiba Khan.

Traveling is a fantastic opportunity to expose yourself to the practices and traditions of different cultures whilst finding the fine balance between appreciating and appropriating. When you are engaging in ethnic activities or find yourself at the counter of a souvenir shop, ask yourself these three questions: does my privilege allow me to participate in this? Will buying this make anyone from this group feel uncomfortable? Am I committing harm to anyone by doing this?

I like to think that most of us are contributing towards a society where all people and cultures are valued and respected. We have made great progress in the last half century, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that we are still a long, long way away from achieving that ultimate goal. To punctuate with the words of the 35th president of the United States…

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

Artist Katy Perry is slammed for dressing up as a Geisha in a performance. Photography courtesy of Reaxxion.

If you’re interested in learning more about social issues, then I highly recommend you check out the primary resource for this blog post: Everyday Feminism. Everyday Feminism is an amazing tool for educating yourself on topics such as gender and racial equality, and presents information in an understandable and thought-provoking manner. Find them on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Bucket List: Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel (Or Why Tourism is Political)

This is the second edition in the Bucket List series, with the first showcasing the Balinese architecture of Villa Ariana Grande. However, what makes this post so special is that what I am about to discuss is worth more than a pretty Instagram picture.

It is only recently that I have begun to take an active interest in politics, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only is it crucial that someone has a reasonable understanding of the political and cultural dynamics when traveling to a different country (in the interests of safety, if nothing else), but following current events and the like provides that extra dimension of appreciation for the context in which one experiences a new place.

The centrepiece of this post is Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will know that Banksy is a controversial and political graffiti artist who created the likes of Girl with the Red Balloon and Pulp Fiction. It was only in March 2017 – one month ago at the time of writing – that he opened the hotel.

The Walled Off Hotel is quite literally a work of art. In fact, it’s more of a demonstration than anything. The Walled Off hotel – hence it’s name – is located in Bethlehem opposite the Separation Wall (a wall constructed by Israel to segregate the country from Palestinian territory) and is self-promoted as having “the worst view in the world”.

The Walled Off Hotel has the unique potential to send a political message through it’s geography. According to the Conversation, “… placing an operating hotel on a site where guests can feel the oppression of the wall and experience the surveillance of an Israeli watchtower works to embed visitors in the occupation.” Guests will be subjected to physical confinement, checkpoints and security checks in the hopes of inciting feelings of injustice for those suffering from conflict such as that between Israel and Palestine. Banksy invites guests to subjugate themselves to the tensions of occupation, and his intentions for his latest masterpiece to construct a marriage between tourism and politics are sure to hit the mark.

Banksy’s latest instalment has attracted substantial media attention. Al Jazeera reported that critics accused him of “… making a profit off Palestinian suffering, normalising the occupation (and) beautifying the wall”. However, others applaud Banksy on his critique of the way Western tourists divorce travel from a country’s civil affairs and oppression. As for your opinion…? Well, you’ll just have to decide that for yourself.

If you are thinking about booking a reservation, you may want to act fast; it is likely that the hotel will only be funded for the remaining of 2017. Learn everything you need to know here.

The ‘Deats

Name: The Walled Off Hotel

Creator: Banksy

Location: 182 Caritas Street, Bethlehem, Palestine

Website: www.banksy.co.uk

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8 Untranslatable Words To Bring You Joy

One of the highlights of traveling is exposure to different languages. As someone who is fascinated by communication and culture, I am drawn to countries where I can stand in the middle of the street and not understand a single word of the people bustling around me.

I can only speak English, which has catalysed a rather obsessive fixation with words from other languages that are untranslatable. To all the multilinguals out there — especially those that can understand languages that are not in Latin script — I tip my hat to you.

And so I present to you 8 stunning words from a variety of different languages that cannot translate to English. Enjoy!

Definitions courtesy of Buzzfeed and images courtesy of Unsplash.

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