Law of Inverse Returns

The Law of
Inverse Returns

Scott Barlow
December 6, 1996

Shoji Azuma
Japan 355 - 1

The law of inverse returns states that the better the foreign learner\'s Japanese is, the worse the reaction of the Japanese native population will be to the learner\'s use of Japanese. In this paper, I argue that the better the learner\'s Japanese is, the better the treatment to the learner of Japanese from native Japanese. I will argue this point by making three statements and then provide opinions and reactions of others whom I have interviewed over the Internet.
The better the Japanese language that one has, the more the freedom he feels. I felt this feeling while I was in Japan and I could finally go to the bank and make a deposit or withdraw without fumbling and literally making up my own Japanese vocabulary. Until further Japanese study, did I find out that the word to "withdraw" money from the bank was the same as "taking something down," like from a shelf. These are the same words, but in Japanese it is the context that they are used is what is important. Not only does better Japanese save you the embarrassment of making a mistake, but having better in Japanese also helps natives feel less of a burden on them, than if you didn\'t speak good Japanese. In Japan as a missionary, I had the opportunity to visit a retirement home once a week. During our visit with the elderly, we also cleaned up. doing the normal housekeeping that was necessary for them to live in a cleaner, better environment. I am very glad that I had Japanese that I was able to understand the retirees, especially when the needed someone to talk to and when I was able to understand and help them clean where they asked me to. Through the understanding that I had then as a missionary in the Japanese language, I feel that the full-time workers there were less worried about us performing duties for them because we had better Japanese. This resulted in the better treatment I received as I was in Japan because of the position I was in able to serve.

The second argument I would like to make on a related topic of being less burdensome to the Japanese. Everyone doesn\'t like a lazy person, although a lot of people in America like being the lazy person. In Japan if you aren\'t busy doing something, it is like being counter-productive and demeaning the existence of society. The better the learner\'s Japanese is, the more likely he is to be literate and can perform the normal daily functions of getting around. When I mean getting around, I mean not only the activity of going to and from work by public transportation, but I also I mean getting around in society, helping to be an active contributor to others. A Japanese language literate person is more likely to be able to function in society providing for the benefit of the Japanese economy and income for his own household. I as a 20 year old missionary was never too good at reading and writing Japanese while I lived there, but as I have returned again after my experience there, I feel a better sociability and friendliness towards me because I can read and write Japanese at a decent level. I feel this way because I can read train and bus routes, I can tell what a store sells what by reading their sign outside, and I also can read people\'s name better when we exchange business cards or see their name tags. The ability to read and write Japanese characters has had a profound impact on my cultural awareness and growth towards the Japanese people. Although I know that I can never be Japanese, being thankful that I am, who I am, and that I grew up here and still live in America, the time will come that when I am able to read the books and the newspaper that Japanese people read, function at a job, somewhat like a native Japanese and hopefully be a productive tool for society in Japan and teach others my experience here in the United States.
Having a Japanese learner with