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"Wakarimashitaka?" Thirty Minutes with Ojii-San Itoigawa

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Ojii-San Itoigawa, Rural Niigata Prefecture Japan 1994 to today in Kuwait

By Kevin Stoda


"Have you understood?" means "Wakarimashitaka?" in the Japanese language.

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Similarly, "Hai, wakarimashita" in Japanese means "Yes, I have understood". One sociologist in the 1970s observed that communication should be defined as "the negotiation of meaning".

With such a definition, it might then be claimed that when two communicators can correctly ask "Do you understand?" and correctly and truthfully answer saying "I understand" or "I have understood" that successful negotiation of meaning between them has taken place.

This search for truthfully-negotiated meaning between peoples of all cultures is what drives many individuals to learn other languages, to travel, and meet people of other races in all corners of the globe. It is the lifelong search of the main protagonist and storyteller of this writing. It is this search for a common or communal exchange of "Wakarimashitaka?" and "Hai, wakarimashita" that drives the storyteller in how he or she responds to communication in different foreign languages.

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For this particular writing it is, however, also important to note that "internationalization" is a movement in Japan similar to the "multicultural movement" that had already enveloped the narrator's own country, America, a decade or two earlier. Internationalization in Japan focuses on making the land of Japan's people less parochial and more able to work, live, and converse more comfortably in the international community.

The modern internationalization movement in Japan had a historical precedent in late 19th Century Japan.

In the period after the Restoration of the Emperor, following a two decade long civil war, starting in the 1870s both the Japanese government and private individuals en masse were encouraged for the first time in over two centuries to go outside of their own country to learn languages and explore the globe. Their mission was to modernize Japan and to bring modern science, cultural information, as well as educational and technical training back to their country.

Within thirty years Japan had succeeded in its mission beyond the Western world's wildest dreams.

Japan's best and brightest citizens had gone out and done what no other non-European country had ever done before. They, the Japanese of that Era, had managed to learn about all the major scientific, industrial, and technological breakthroughs of the West that had occurred over the previous millennia. Furthermore, they learned and studied western literature, politics, and theater in many different foreign languages.

However, once all these major advances had been acquired (and were then subsequently later translated back into Japanese), the statesmen of Japan and the people of Japan either intentionally or by neglect stopped learning foreign languages for communicative purposes and simply began to use English, German, and other languages for reading and researching, i.e. much as medical students who need to learn Latin do.

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In other words, learning another language in Japan became simply a matter of rote-learning. Students were forced to cram for an exam but they were never asked to study the vocabulary again--nor were they regularly asked to communicate in that foreign tongue in order to engage in any controversial or thought provoking discussion or debate. The fact was that in Japanese schools for nearly the first 9 decades of the 20th Century, English and other foreign languages-if taught at all-- were generally taught in Japan as dead language or unspoken-tongue.

Before the storytelling begins it should also be noted that the narrator of most of the story goes by the name of 'Kansas', which means "people of the south wind" in one of the native American languages of the great plains.

The name suits the storyteller well as, like the Plains Indians of the old American West, he was blown and traveled to many new places to set up again-and-again a new livelihood. In his journeys, his ways of living and communicating during his life's journey, of course, also changed as did his own personal narration.

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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