Today I visited Hida Folk Village (also called Hida n0 Sato), which is located a few kilometers away from Hida-Takayama train station. I set off on foot with a map, but of course, it wasn’t detailed enough. I had to stop at a gas station to clarify directions, and this was an adventure in itself.
When I arrived, there were two male employees and a male customer filling up his tank. (As a side note, the fuel pumps dangled from an overhead structure instead of coming up through the ground. I thought it was pretty cool because I’m used to a rectangular ground pump.) As always, my inquiry into whether anybody was an English-speaker received a negative response. They simply shook their heads and laughed, but then they pushed one guy in front. Presumably, he was the best equipped to traverse the language bridge.
In Japanese, I asked where Hida Folk Village was and the guy gave me directions in broken English. However, his English was definitely understandable, even though it was heavily accented and conveyed in a bit of a machine gun-fire rhythm.
This experience is like most of the ones I’ve had throughout the country. The Japanese seem well-versed in English (many of them take English classes during and after school or work hours) but are too afraid to speak it. It’s probably due to the fact that they concentrate on book work over conversation. This is probably the root of their lack of confidence.
To reconfirm where I needed to go, I reiterated the directions in Japanese, showing them that I’m giving the native language the best go possible and that they aren’t the only ones with bad grammar and pronunciation mistakes. We parted ways shortly afterwards and I managed to find Hida Folk Village without further issues.
After paying the admission fee, I entered the village and was absolutely dumbfounded. I had stepped back in time or on to a movie set. The village housed about 30 buildings, both historical and recreated masterpieces. Some of the homes were shipped in from other areas in Takayama to be featured at Hida Folk Village for their exceptional style and craftsmanship. Many structures had straw or thatched roofs; others were tall, A-frame buildings.
Most buildings were open for viewing with slippers lining the door for you to use. As I got deeper into the homes, I really felt like I was on the set of an old Japanese film. The shoji doors and dark wooden floors were thrilling to see in person. The open floor plan and high, beamed ceilings were quite remarkable. I was crazy to think that someone, families even, lived inside these room up to 500 years ago. It felt like I was part of a history that I couldn’t even begin to understand.
On my way back to town, I took a different road (why see the same things twice?) and got turned around. I stopped at a small grocery store and asked a woman for directions. Again, I got a “no” to the English question, but I managed to ask in Japanese and she directed me in Japanese.
This was such a relief to me as the main problem I have about speaking in Japanese is that I won’t understand the answer. The problem is not that I don’t want to try for fear of looking foolish or that I’m embarrassed about my pronunciation or grammar. For the most part, I can say what I need to say but I’m not confident that I’ll be able to follow their response.
It’s been years since I’ve actively practiced my Japanese and I’m having to rely on sentence structures and vocabulary long hidden away. I suppose this is a real testament to the quality of my past teachers, who drilled these things into our heads, that I’m able to recall them at all.