[From October Issue 2014]
Eleonora FLISI came to Japan from Italy a year ago. She’s been working for the past half a year as a PR representative for a company that manages Italian restaurants and a catering service. Seventy percent of their clientele are Japanese, so she mostly uses Japanese at work. On hearing her speak she sounds as fluent as a native Japanese person, but, she says, smiling awkwardly, “I’m not good at writing. Handwriting is particularly difficult.”
Eleonora started studying the Japanese language at university. An economics major at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, she chose Japanese for her primary foreign language as the university was well-known for its Chinese, Korean and Japanese programs. “I also studied Chinese, but I chose Japanese because its pronunciation is closer to Italian.”
During her studies, she twice made use of an exchange program to study abroad at Meiji University. She was surprised at the differences between colleges in Italy and Japan. “Colleges in Italy have neither sport events, nor school festivals. I didn’t have any seminar activities, either.” In those days, she lived in a dormitory and spoke Japanese with her non-Japanese roommate. Even now, she spends some of her days off with friends from those days.
“I wanted to live abroad while I was still young. I thought Tokyo was safe and easy to live in.” She came back to Japan upon graduating and started life in Tokyo. Even though she had learned enough Japanese in her mother country and had studied twice in Japan, she studied at the Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute for the first six months. “I hardly used any Japanese in my last year in college because I had been concentrating on my graduation thesis. I had forgotten my kanji.”
She says she finds grammar particularly difficult. When she doesn’t understand something, even after consulting a grammar book, she asks her Japanese friends. “It’s easier to understand because they teach me with example sentences that apply to particular situations.” She has a friend who’s knowledgeable about Italian matters. “She knows what Italians have difficulty understanding, so she fine-tunes her explanations for us.” Her Japanese has improved with help from such friends.
That said she’s worried she won’t improve her Japanese further. “Starting from zero you make speedy progress. This slows down, however, once you’ve reached a certain level. That’s the stage I’m at right now.” She says she hopes other people studying Japanese in a similar fashion won’t give up.
Eleonora is interested in food. She likes sashimi and ramen, and often makes yakisoba the way her friend taught her. She of course looks forward to eating delicious food when she travels around Japan. But she has another goal for these trips. “I want to discover differences between Tokyo and the rest of Japan,” she says. This is because she’s under the impression that people’s temperament differs between Tokyo and other regions.
“I’ve recently been to Osaka. I was taken aback when someone said to me, ‘Where are you from?’ Tokyoites seldom come up to talk to me. Osaka’s citizens are like talkative Italians.” She and her Italian friends compare the lively character of Osaka people to those from Naples and the cool atmosphere in Tokyo to Milan.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo