Do you need to speak Japanese?
A question that comes up all the time on Japanese blogs, forums, websites, podcasts, vlogs, (am I missing anything) is: “Do I need to speak Japanese to come to Japan?”
Let me calm all you youngsters down by assuring you that, NO, you don’t. Well, at least sort of no. Anyway, the answer is certainly not a firm yes.
“What do you mean?”
Simple, I mean that you do not need to speak Japanese to get here. You do not need it to stay here. You don’t even need it to die here… but, if you do not attempt to learn Japanese you run a very high risk, without even noticing it yourself, of becoming the dreaded Kudja Monster.
“Hey, I watch Youkai Watch, but that one never came up. What is a Kudja Monster?”
The Kudja Monster is the person who can’t last even a single day without turning to the closest Japanese speaker (Native or not, relation or not) and saying, “Kudja help me with this?”
“Kudja come to the post office with me? Or the bank? Or city hall???”
“Kudja take this phone call for me? Or talk to my landlord? Or the dude at Docomo?”
If you don’t realize it, please wake up and see that this is nail on a chalkboard level annoying.
Now, let’s clear the air. My Japanese is far from perfect, far from great even, but I have reached the level where I think I can say that I do speak Japanese.
“What level is that?”
Defining that is different for everyone, but for me, it is the level where I can go anywhere and do anything without fear that I won’t be able to communicate or accomplish the things I need to do.
“Why is that the correct level?”
It’s not. Maybe it’s an arbitrary level, but it’s the level I chose because it is the level where I do not need to regularly burden other people to accomplish basic necessary tasks. To me, that is the minimum level of fluency.
“But, if I can’t speak Japanese, am I automatically a Kudja monster?”
No, not necessarily. If you have a partner who accepts responsibility for you for whatever reason (you are the breadwinner, you did the same thing when you lived in another country, or they just love your monolingual ass that much) then you are avoiding being a burden to other random humans.
But also, remember, there are some exceptions to the rule.
First, baby Kudja monsters are so damned cute.
If you are fresh off the boat, ignorance is expected (It’s quite often preferred by many… and that’s not a good thing… maybe a future blog topic). Asking for help is completely within the realm of decency, and hopefully, your school/employer will have created a system to help you. If they don’t properly help you, that’s their fault, and that famous old Japanese kindness will be sure to get you through the tough first few months (years??) of living here. Enjoy that kindness, absorb it as best you can, and remember it later.
Also, as a rule (my rule anyhow) it is acceptable to put a minimum amount of burden on anyone who wants your money. If Docomo or the banks want your money they will decide how much English service to offer. City Halls often have an International Center affiliated with them. However, that International Center is usually at a separate location, and though they are likely happy to offer assistance, they usually won’t go with you and you’ll need to make that extra stop to be prepared and brave the final journey alone.
So, there are ways to get by and you can live your life without bothering strangers or friends. You can hide your monster. You should try and hide your monster.
Because, please remember: Nobody likes an old Kudja Monster!
There’s nothing cute about not being able to renew your own visa after you’ve lived here a decade. It’s not funny if you need someone to hold your hand when you go and buy your 5th phone since you moved here. And it’s certainly not adorable to miss opportunities to help others who have been here a far shorter time than yourself.
And it is certainly unacceptable to ask people to double check that you aren’t making mistakes on your internet banking!!!
Oh, wait, I did that recently. But, it was my wife, which I already said was an exception… but she did seem annoyed that I was asking again. Hmmm… am I an Old Kudja Beast??
Heck, maybe we all have some Kudja in us. Maybe it really isn’t specific to Japan. There are pains in the butt anywhere you go. It certainly isn’t just a question of black or white, good or bad. Maybe it simply can’t be helped.
No, that’s wrong, it absolutely can be helped.
So, I beg all my foreign readers in Japan, all us Kudja Monsters, Kudja Beasts, Kudja Cuties, and Kudja Ojisans; Control your beast! Don’t be a continuous burden to those around you. If you choose not to learn Japanese, you are choosing to limit the world you will experience, and no, I will not piggy-back you. You are welcome to join me on my journey, but I don’t have plans to go to the bank, or city hall, or Docomo, so you need to venture those places all alone.
It’s scary, but maybe it’s that fear that will push you to spend a few minutes before you set out to make a few notes in Japanese on the questions you think you’ll need to ask. Or learn the kanji for the online banking… which I’ll do… tomorrow, I promise… for sure this time.
Our Guest Writer:
Josh Yates is a translator, teacher, and blogger living in Yao City, Japan. Check out his Japanese literature blog: (Japan, Literature, and Culture)
You can also find him on Twitter sharing some cool things about Japanese literature: @fulltimerinjp