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Literacy lesson at a bank.

Written on: Friday September 14th, 2007

A journal entry from: Memories of Niihama

Date: Fri. Sept 14th 2007 *Mom`s Birthday*

Lesson of the Day: When the literate become the `il`.

Word of the Day: "gin-koo-koo-za" Bank Account

Schedule of the Day:

- Set up bank account, Cashed Traveller Cheques, Set up Direct Withdrawl for Cell Phone bill, Relaxed with Dark Angel fix, Organized Budget and JSL study schedule.

Journal Entry:

This morning started out with setting up a bank account. It wasn`t too hard of a process having been given a list of the needed paperwork and steps in advance. And while waiting for the bank book to be printed out I was also able to finally transfer the Traveller Cheques over to usable cash. Over all it was much easier then what it could have been. However, while sitting on the comfy cushions waiting my turn, I had a revelation. Technically at that moment I was illiterate. Yes, I could read the phrase book clutched in my hand but the signs, posters and general information throughout the entire building was beyond my grasp. To me they were only lines and scribbles. Prior to coming to Japan I had read an interesting peice on the illiteracy rates of Canadian immigrants. Immigrants have statistically higher education obtainment then native born Canadians and yet they also have higher English illiteracy rates. *Note that illiteracy doesn`t mean an inability to read.... only that the person is unable to read at the level which matches their age and makes their day to day experience easier.* Often when we think of illiteracy we picture a person of lower economic status who has completed limited education and who performs in a (as viewed by society) low status job. Not a university graduate who is a `teacher` and comes from an educated family. And yet, there I was faced with the same feeling of inadeqacy which millions around the world face on a daily bases. However, unlike those millions upon returning home I was able to feel more assured by picking up `Neuromancer` or Suzuki`s `Biography of a Tree` from my limited English literature library. Yes, there is English around Japan like the bag of chips sitting on top of the fridge. But at the end of the day those words that are recognizable on shelf stores failed to help me fill out the account application, find the foreign exchange teller or figure out if it would be safe to park my bike at the front door. And when ability to read is hindered then pictures, asking for verbal assistance (also limited though) and a game of charades becomes the only option. Back home I have seen on the busses of the ttc, in stores and heard through friends experiences......these other options are often met with disapproval from those listening in/involved. So far my experience here has been more then positive, despite it probably being frustrating for the other person. I have yet to meet someone who isn`t willing to offer assistrance without enthusiasm, even when it was my own ignorance that brought on the situation. Not to say that there isn`t some less then helpful people out there..... But, I wonder if the Japanese culture of community and their travelling experiences (both negative and positive) is what creates this sense of helping those who fail to have the tools to do the day to day tasks many take forgranted. Or is it that in a country with so many people and so little space you becomes overly conserned with how your actions impact those around you. Throw in a reference to a history of honour even when dealing with stranger and I think I see the makings of a 20 pages thesis. Joking! :) Never the less what ever the reasons, from the point of view of the outsider looking in,I am more then greatful that there seems to be many who will`help the crazy Canuk.`

So easily we take forganted our automatic ability to recognize basic words even those that are not impartive to our survival. Take advertisment for an example. When you can no longer read ads you begin to wish that you could.... if for nothing more then to pass time on the subway.

Well, that`s my two cents (or two yen) for today, just take a minute on your way to work or school to think about all the things you unknowingly read in your own house, neighborhood and stores. And just imagine that they all suddenly turned into lines and scribbles.