Money on the Bank

“Why are Japanese rivers so rich?… Because they have two banks.”
Some students I’m traveling with pondered recently about the fact that the Japanese speak very little English, and it’s quite true. But do they really need to? If a Japanese traveler was to travel through the United States and ask himself, “Why is it so many Americans don’t speak Japanese?” wouldn’t this sound presumptuous?
English has become the global language of business and often the default language of tourism, so it’s not so out of the ordinary for a US citizen to assume the world speaks his language. But coming to an understanding of the reasoning behind a country’s citizens learning a second language is important. When Europeans joke, “What do you call a person who speaks two languages?…French…What do you call a person who speaks one language?…American.” they are generalizing for the sake of generalizing without putting thought into why most Americans only speak one language.
The Japanese are rich, for the most part. Things here cost more than they do in New York City. Their economy is strong. Hondas rock, while Fords…well…suck. Japanese are movers and shakers. There’s very little need to learn English as a Japanese citizen. Americans have the same economic isolationism when it comes to language learning. We learn languages in high school and college only to dust them off to order a beer in Cancun. Mexicans learn English so they can feed their family.
This photograph was taken at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. For me the small pond sparkling with coins reflected the progress of these people and their connection to nature and something greater than themselves.

Posted August 18th, 2007 in Uncategorized.


  1. Annah:

    I imagine a glob of glitter glue under a microscope when I look at this picture. I love the colors. I am a sucker for color.

  2. Anonymous:

    They certainly seem to have a yen for fountains

  3. Lau:

    Not sure about the joke; we Europeans tend to think the French just speak French, proudly. Try to order in English at a restaurant in Paris with an older waitor!

    The funny thing I experienced while travelling in Eastern Europe last week: its German everywhere! Checking in at a Slovak-motel, order meals in rural eastern-hungary, fill in a form at a Polish campsite: I really needed my neighbours language.

    A little word about trade: part of the succes of my small country is attributed to our open internationally orientated society, which entails learning 3 foreign languages. One of them is English..Well, we do have quite a lot ‘abroad’. If only the founders of the US had voted differently; I could have written this text in my mother tongue: Dutch.

  4. Anonymous:

    Waar is het toilet, alstublieft? Dank u!

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