Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Culture Shock: High Tech Doesn't Help When You are Illiterate

I landed in Osaka this weekend and so far it's been a lesson in humility.  Got off the airplane so jet-lagged I was ill and entered a world where I am both mute and illiterate.

Hello culture shock...

Well, not entirely mute since I possess some survival Japanese (good morning, please, thank you, excuse me).  However, even basic conversations are completely beyond me.  Nevertheless I was able to purchase curtains and lights for the apartment at a local department store over the weekend.  Not due to my efforts, mind you, but solely because the saleswoman at Tokyu Hands took the time and effort to help me find what I needed.  Tonight, the hunt is on for a coffee machine, place mats, and another light for the living room.  

 Illiteracy bothers me much more than my inability to communicate effectively. It is a humbling experience to not be able to read.  This one hits me right where my most flagrant character defect - intellectual pride - lives.

The inability to read is a real problem for daily living.  I need look no farther than my apartment to see how limiting illiteracy is.

The past couple of days I've been slowly learning how to use my appliances.  All the controls are in Japanese and so through trial and many errors, instruction DVDs (in Japanese) and the Internet (thank God for Youtube) I've figured out how to work most of them (more or less).  To give you an idea how daunting this is, here are a few examples:

Here is my washing machine - a Hitachi BeatWash Slim.  So far I have figured out basic wash and dry.  At some point after I finish pushing buttons, it talks to me.  I have no idea what it's saying but the voice is soothing :

Here is my stove/oven.  Day 1 I figured out how to use the stovetop.  It was only on Day 2 that I figured out (with some help) how to use the oven. Who knew that it was the button with the fish on it?

 And finally here are the controls for my bathtub.  Yes, mes amis, there is no basic faucet setup - everything, including the water level in the tub, is set via this control panel.  This one has me stymied.  I can get it to fill 1/4 of the tub but I can't figure out how to lower the temperature or how to get it to fill 1/2 the bath.  My workaround is to run it twice to get the desired water level and then wait a few minutes for the water to cool down enough so I don't scald myself when I get in the tub.

What is frustrating (and let's face it, really funny) about all this is that all the information to make all these applicances work as I wish is right there.  I just lack the code.

It will come.  Patience, humbly asking for help, being grateful for small victories (I washed and dried the sheets today!) and taking it one day (and one appliance) at a time should see me through this.

A suivre...


Jacques said...

This is so interesting and hard to believe. But the pictures show us the problems you are facing.

TeNgaere said...

I think I would be leaning heavily on my Android cell phone and its google translate AP when it comes to conversation. Maybe high tech can help. It does do an amazing job translating your spoken word to computer generated speech and tech.

Anonymous said...

Yes so interesting to see how inward orientated this dwindling civilization is. Hopefully in addition to your pics a western museum will have some samples of appliances when the last Japanese will have died of old 150-year old age in a few decades.

multiculturalmeanderings said...

Bon courage!

Leslie in Oregon said...

Are you completely moved to Osaka and living there now? How did you accomplish so much so fast? Best wishes with the language challenges (which I'm sure you will handle better than anyone else in your shoes), Leslie

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Jacques, This morning I figured out how to fill the bath! (Small steps :-)

@TeNgaere, Getting a cellphone today. We'll see what it can do for me.

@Anonymous, It's pretty hi-tech here. The parking for example. We drive our car on to a turnstile on the ground floor and push a button and it gets parked automaticallly (no humans involved) in the underground parking for you. It's pretty amazing.I've never seen anything like it.

@Andrew, Tough day today - jet lag came back with a vengeance...

@Leslie, Yep, we are in Osaka. This moprning I go to register with the local prefecture in the Chuo ward.

So far what is holding me together are AA meetings on line. :-) If anyone is interested I highly recommend XA speakers.
When I feel really low, I plug in and listen to a speaker or two. It really helps.

DL NELSON said...

In Syria I felt helpless not being able to read the signs because of the alphabet so I understand but there most people could communicate in French or English along with my polite Arabic. I did buy a washing machine in France and the directions were in many languages but not French, English or German. So I understand. I do find that pretending to be a light bulb when I didn't know the word and didn't have a dictionary in a French store funny in the retelling, less funny in the living. Hang in there. May you get all the light bulbs and ( ) you need.

Blaze said...

What an adventure with washing machines, bathtubs (Glad you managed to figure it outage!) and cars that park themselves.

There could be an excellent book from this!

Why do you have to register?

Pretending to be a lightbulb does not sound like much fun. If you speak the language and want to know something, being a lightbulb could be fabulous.

Oh wait. I do not want to give NSA or IRS any ideas. They come up with enough on their own.

Any problems with opening a bank account?

Shadow Raider said...

Wow, I didn't know Japan was really so high-tech. I thought that was only on TV.

It takes years to learn the characters (kanji), but just a few days to learn the two syllabic scripts (hiragana and katakana). Katakana is very useful in technology because it's used to write foreign words, usually from English. For example, I can read several words in katakana on your devices: button, start, sensor, lock, grill. Of course it doesn't explain too much, but it's something, and it can make you feel less illiterate. You can learn the scripts online in Omniglot or Wikipedia.

Julia Gandrud (aka JuliaLikesFrogs) said...

Furu means cold - fu looks like fat a penguin, in the phonetic/syllabic hiragana...

Good luck!

Inaka Nezumi said...

Hi Victoria,

Don't know if this helps, but the bottom row of buttons on your washer, from left to right, are:

Water Level
Take Hot Water (this probably takes in left over water from your bath tub)
Schedule (to run later)
Eco Water Sensor



Self-cleaning (of the washer itself)


Inaka Nezumi said...

Some more that you may have already figured out:

As you've probably noticed, the "oven" is really just a broiler -- most Japanese home don't have real ovens. The broiler is most commonly used in Japan to broil fish. Hence the fish icon.

The three buttons on the bottom are:

Left: Temperature setting for deep-fried stuff. Looks like there is a temperature sensor on the right-most stove-top ring, and you can set it to keep the temperature of an oil-filled pan there at 200, 180 or 160 degrees.

Middle: Boil water (keep the right-most ring temperature at 100 perhaps?)

Right: Cancel (turn off temperature feedback loop?)

On your bath controls, the number on the right is the water heater temperature (looks high! We'd usually have it set to around 45). The number on the left is the temperature that will be delivered to the bath, by mixing the hot water with cold.

The small button to the left below the temperatures is "Setting." You can probably change the temperature setting with the up/down arrows buttons after hitting this button.

The button to the right says "Priority." Don't know what that does.

Bottom buttons:

Left: "Announcement" This probably controls the automatic voice announcement ("Your bath is ready," "Now reheating water," etc.). Probably turns announcements on and off, and maybe toggles between different loudness settings -- useful if someone wants to take a late-night bath without waking up everyone else in the house with status announcements.

Middle: Re-heat. This will circulate water from the bath through the heater to re-heat the water.

Right: Automatic bath. This is the basic fill-the-bath command button.

Inaka Nezumi said...

Forgot to add, the "Re-heat" button on the bath control needs to be held down for 1 second to be activated.

Regarding the "Priority" button, it occurs to me it may be used to wrest control away from the other control panel in the kitchen. You may need to make sure that button is lit to be able to change the primary hot water temperature, for example. (Can't really venture more without the manual.)

Inaka Nezumi said...

One more: searching around, I don't find the exact controller, but the lower-left button on the bath seems to be an intercom "Call" button, so that the person in the bath can talk to someone in the kitchen.

(Some of these functions are non-obvious even if one can read the labels...)

Inaka Nezumi said...


"Yes so interesting to see how inward orientated this dwindling civilization is."

I don't see how this is evidence of inward orientation. I expect consumer appliances have German labels in Germany, English labels in the England, Russian labels in Russia, etc. If you're talking about how complicated and specialized the functions incorporated are, the Japanese consumer market is an extremely competitive one. Some of the features developed here, if they survive the heat of battle in the marketplace, eventually make it to other countries as well (internet browsing from one's phone, e.g.), if they are useful in context there. And features get adopted here from other markets as well, of course, again if useful in context. Just evolution and adaptation at work.

I'd also say that in general, Japan is a lot less inward looking than the US is.

Pat L said...

Bon courage. From what I have gathered of you, you should adapt very quickly. I certainly did not know that Japan was so high-tech.

Ellen said...

Okay, here's the retired technical writer in me speaking. Have you written down the instructions as you've been discovering how to work things? One, it might help you remember the next time you use the appliance; two, it might be useful for your husband in case you're not in; three, you could post the instructions for other hapless foreigners.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@DL Nelson, Today I figured out the characters for "white rice" on my rice cooker. And may I say that it made the best damn rice I have ever tasted.

@Blaze, You get the residency card at the airport when you enter Japan. Then, after you have a place to live, you must go and register at the local city office. Good question about the bank account. So far only my spouse's name is on the account and they did not want to add me. Why? According to our sources the man's name goes on the bank account and the wife keeps the passbook. Can anyone confirm that?

@Shadow Raider, Thanks for the tip. I'm slowly learning a kanji here and there...

@Julia, Merci!

@Nezumi-san, Thank you so much! Oh that helps enorm,ously. OK I will try to lower the bath temperature tomorrow and maybe the hot water too. Bless you!

@Paul, It is incredibly hi-tech. I went down to Bic Camera (an appliance store) this evening and could not believe all the products - useful stuff with an astoucing array of features. (Puts Darty to shame.) That is where I bought the rice cooker and it is just amazing. Made the best damn rice I've ever eaten. It has setting for different types of rice and stews. And it sings when the rice is done. :-) The parking though is the most amazing thing I've seen. It's so simple - just drive the car onto the turnstile, insert card, push a button and the car magically disappears. Process in reverse to get the car back. Magic.

@Ellen, That is a darn good idea. Once I get over the jet-lag fog, I will do.

Inaka Nezumi said...

@Victoria: Good luck with the bath controls! If it is still confounding, the manual may be downloadable if you can find the make and model number of the controller. Could try to help interpret it for you.

As for the bank account thing, joint accounts are not common here -- in fact, I'm not sure they're even allowed. Husband and wife will usually both have their own accounts; you should be able to open one of your own.

As far as the wife controlling the purse strings, that is the traditional model: husband brings home the paycheck, wife controls access to the money, giving husband small allowance each month. But that is by no means universal, and in any case does not preclude the wife having her own account. Most do, I think, even in the traditional mold, for "rainy day" savings (hesokuri).

allou said...

Good luck! Do you know this free link:
Here is an example:
I read.
watashi ha yomi masu
The easiest link to it is:
Happy learning!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Nezumi-san, Thank you ! I updated today's post with your answer. Frnakly with FATCA I'm not sure I want to try to open an account. :-) I talked to someone yesterday who confirmed that there are Japanese banks that are very reluctant to have US citizens as clients.

@allou, Great link. Thank you!