Todd Wolfson

Software Engineer

November 05, 2014

I am back from Japan. It was an amazing experience; I met a lot of interesting people, adapted to a new culture, and started learning another language. It is humbling to live in a country that speaks a different langauge.


First weeks

My first couple of weeks were rough. Once you leave the train stations, English becomes uncommon. When I was finding my house for the first time, I had trouble with the maps (some had no English, others shifted compass orientation). Once I found my neighborhood, I wasn't certain it was the right place (no English translation on the signs).

My cell phone wasn't compatible with the mobile bands in Japan and I wound up getting a new phone shipped from my parents. This limited how far I was willing to venture because getting lost can no longer be fixed by Google Maps.


Eventually, I adjusted, got my phone, and started learning up Japanese (日本ご). I had been studying hiragana and katakana for a month before leaving but my reading speed was very slow. It took about a month and a lot of drills to start reading the characters quickly.

Quick lesson: Japanese has 3 scripts: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Japanese has 50 sounds as part of the language (a, i, u, e, o, ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, sa, se, ...). Hiragana and katakana are direct representations of these sounds (i.e. a syllabary) (e.g. あ, い, う for a, i, u). Hiragana is used to represent native Japanese words and particles (e.g. りんご (ri-n-go) is apple, is "of"). Katakana is used to represent words taken from other languages (e.g. コーヒー (ko-o-hi-i, sounds like kooh-hee) is coffee, オレンジ (o-re-n-ji) is orange). Kanji are pictographs of words (e.g. (ひと, hi-to) is a person; a stick figure's legs).

If you are going to learn Japanese, I strongly encourage learning katakana first as it has the most mileage. Hiragana is not common but katakana and kanji are common. For example, alcohol menus are mostly katakana (e.g. ラムコーク (ra-mu-ko-o-ku, rahmoo koohku) is "rum [and] coke").


After a month, I had become semi-comfortable in Japan. After 2 months, I was used to daily life and interacting with a language I partially understood. I stayed in Tokyo (東京) for most of the 3 months but for 1 week I explored the rest of Japan (日本). If you are interested in all of the vivid details, I documented it in a Tumblr:

Reverse culture shock

When I came back to the States, there were a lot of things I had to adjust back to; head bowing not being widely recognized, remembering to tip, using acknowledgements other than はい (ha-i). I still slip up every now and then and use a snippet from Japanese culture.

Life path

The journey to Japan began because I wanted to reflect on my life path. Unfortunately, most of the time was spent doing tourism and learning Japanese. Only the last month stuck towards future reflection. During that time, I attempted to draw up some ideas for entrepreneurship but nothing stuck.

Future plans

I am still passionate about web development. It is a field that directly influences the evolution of humanity, which is something I want to donate my efforts towards. Additionally, I am exploring information security, which is a field that would widen and deepen my knowledge about technology as a whole.

I am currently in Los Angeles as a temporary city to explore while I find my next city/job. When the next steps of my life journey are secured, I will write up another life-related post.

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