What have I learned while practicing parkour with the Kansai team? Well there have been some observations that, although obvious to me know, were rather eye opening at the beginning. The first few practices that I attended were all in Osaka so the team members that were around were all originally from there, with an exception of a couple of the more experienced members but we’ll get to that later. I got along great with these members, even though I was a foreigner they welcomed me with open arms and were soon friends as if I were any other Japanese person. Fast forward a couple of weeks and we have our first practice in Kyoto (yes!). The change of place also came with a change of members. The Kyoto members made their appearance at this practice. Interesting thing was that it took me longer to become as close as I had gotten with the Osaka members with the Kyoto ones. It took a lot longer to feel part of the group, to be teased and not just be that foreigner that everybody was polite to because his “Japanese is so good!”. This proved to me that the myth that Osaka people are a lot friendlier than Kyoto people was actually true.
But although there might be varying degrees of friendliness, all Japanese people seem to have something in common, at least in terms of language, which is politeness levels. I had been told by professors that you needed to change the way you speak depending on who you’re talking to, but seeing it in real life is impressive. When teaching they would use ます and です, but the moment they were just talking to you all semblance of politeness would fade away and start calling you おまえ, i.e. go completely down in the politeness scale. As a learner of Japanese I know that this is what I should strive for, but this takes years of practice so even though I’m getting there and am getting used to changing back and forth it’s still one of the greater challenges of this language.
This can only be experienced and not learned. Rather than a classroom, to become proficient and a functional member of society you need to go outside get your hands dirty and fall down a couple of times, just like I have while doing parkour.