Reasons why : Kyoto and learning foreign languages

This post will be dedicated to explaining the reasons why I chose Kyoto out of all other places and my views about learning the language of the country we intend to visit.

Kyoto – this is a place that I have visited twice before my solo travel. The first was in December 2016 during our annual family trip, and the second was in July 2018 when my parents and I visited my sister who was on exchange there. Yet, there was no hesitation whatsoever when I was deciding on a destination for my first solo trip. Kyoto was my one and only choice, somehow it just felt so right to begin my very first adventure alone there.

Kyoto is my favourite place out of the entire world (as I’ve probably mentioned like a thousand times already) but apart from my favouritism, objectively speaking, I think Japan in general is the best place for amateur soloists like me. And its because:

  1. The whole country is rather safe in general, with low crime rates. Unlike in Europe, you don’t have to constantly worry about pickpockets or being mugged. Though vigilance is still necessary of course; one can never be too careful.
  2. The people there are absolutely amazing and helpful and polite and wonderful in general. Manners is the signature of Japan, I feel. Everywhere you go, from the restaurants to tourist attractions, the service staff are very pleasant to interact with.
  3. They have an excellent public transport system which makes it very convenient and easy to travel from one place to another. Their punctuality appeals to me very much given that I’m a person who likes to be on time and is particular about getting to places on the dot.
  4. The environment in general supports solo travellers. For instance, there are dining places where one can go alone and eat alone without feeling like everyone is judging you. Their excellent convenience stores also mean that another option for meals would be to buy back to the hotel room and eat in peace away from other’s eyes if that’s what you prefer. Overall, some countries just have a more supporting environment for you to be alone, while for other countries it’s better to visit with family/friends. For instance, in countries like Italy, their eating culture is associated with family gatherings at a common table, and is seen as a bonding opportunity. In this case, going into a restaurant solo, it’s no surprise if people give you questioning looks. Not sure if I’m explaining this well, but hopefully you get the idea.
  5. (Kyoto specifically): this city is a blend of both modern and ancient, with magnificent temple structures adjacent to towering skyscrapers. Personally, this signifies the best of both worlds – you get to enjoy the buzz and thrill of city life, yet there are also places to retreat and get lost in nature, get lost in your thoughts, and just enjoy zen moments. Kyoto feels like it’s shrouded in magic, its wonders constantly tempting me to visit once more.

Now on to the second part – why I think it’s good for travellers to learn the language of the destination country. The most important reason would be that by doing so, it’s a form of respect to the locals there. After all, you are the foreigner, you are the visitor to their country. Why should they learn your language to accommodate your needs, when they are the majority? If anything, we as tourists and as the minorities intruding on their home space, should respect them by practicing (or at least attempting to) speak in their native language. Ultimately, travelling is not just about visiting attractions and taking pictures. It’s also about experiencing the different cultures, learning to be flexible and openly embracing the different ways of living/communicating. As tourists, we should be the ones learning from the country we are visiting, rather than forcing our own habits upon others and holding a rigid mindset.

Secondly, it’s also a bonus point for yourself. Learning something new is a form of self improvement too, is it not? Instead of letting all that vast amounts of empty brain space go to waste, why not dedicate a minuscule fraction to learning foreign words and phrases?

I suppose the greatest barrier to actually using a foreign language when overseas would be the fear of judgement by the locals. Fear that you’re not pronouncing things right, fear that your accent is off tangent, fear that you’re butchering the language… I’ve been there, done that. Honestly, everyone probably feels the same way but the only way to get over it is to just suck it up. If you’ve already spent the time and effort to learn their language, don’t let it go to waste. Just try your best to put whatever you’ve learnt to good use, and if all else still fails, turn to the final resort aka Google translate. And think about it: if the locals can try to communicate with you in your language despite being foreign to it, why can’t we as tourists reciprocate and do the same? As much as we (or at least I) appreciate someone trying to use the language I speak to communicate, I think the locals will also be heartened to see us speaking their language however horrible it may be.

Perhaps one of my future posts will be dedicated to tips for learning a foreign language fast, best suited for us busy people who don’t have copious amounts of free time to spare. And with that, I’ll end this post here 🙂

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