I am currently volunteering in the Klexon English Language Conversation group. Through Klexon, I’ve been met so many new people. In fact last weekend,I went to Fushimi Inari and Lake Biwako with a woman named Kahori, who I met at a Klexon Party. Klexon Parties are held at the director of the program’s home every other weekend. The Klexon programs that operate in Shiga and in Kyoto come together for one night for a language exchange over dinner and drinks. That night, there were only a few foreigners, so foreigners were dispersed among separate tables. Kahori is actually quite a bit older than I am, however she is rather outgoing and (surprisingly) loud, so it was easy for me to become friends with her at the party. She invited me to go see Lake Biwako with her that next weekend.
Through meeting new people every week, I’ve noticed a lot of subtle cultural differences between America and Japan. For example, at the Klexon party, I made the mistake of pouring myself another drink. In Japan, it is customary for others to pour your drink for you. Since I was foreign, I was considered a “guest” of the country, which perhaps made it more imperative for Japanese people to pour my drink. Kahori explained to me that pouring a drink for yourself appears quite lonely, and the culture of pouring a drink for others is just another way for people to connect with one another.
Another difference I noticed was the gestures. Gestures in America can be are completely different from gestures in Japan. Most Americans when signaling someone to “come over here” will usually wave a person over with their palms facing upwards. When I was in Osaka with a friend from DESA (Doshisha Exchange Student Association), who offered to show me around Shinsaibashi, we were standing in front of a crepe store waiting for our crepe to be prepared. Unfortunately, I had been standing in the way of other people who also wanted crepes. He gestured for me to come closer, and away from the front of the store. However, he did so with palms facing down. In Japan, people signal “come here” with their palms facing downward. Also that the American gesture for “kind of” or “a little” is gestured with palms facing downward and rotating your wrist up and down. When I asked Kahori later on whether or not she’s seen or used the American gestures for “come here” and ” a little”, she answered that Japanese people might see the American “come here” as a signal for a dog, rather than a person. Also Japanese people will signify “a little” with their thumb and index finger pinching together, while the American version of the gesture be seen as a rejecting hand motion in Japan.
Through Klexon, I’ve been able to practice my Japanese, and at the same time learn more about Japanese culture through observing the people I meet every week.