When Life Gives You Parkinson’s podcast: Navigating Japanese culture

In June, I will be travelling to Kyoto, Japan for the fifth World Parkinson Congress (WPC). WPC is a global Parkinson’s event that opens its doors to all members of the Parkinson’s community, from neurologists and researchers to those living with the disease. Since my diagnosis in August 2017, I’ve launched the podcast When Life Gives You Parkinson’s. As an extension of that podcast, I have teamed up with the World Parkinson Coalition to help preview WPC 2019. 

Travelling to a foreign country can be difficult and intimidating whether you have Parkinson’s disease or not. In this episode of When Life Gives You Parkinson’s, we concentrate on learning some basic Japanese vocabulary and understanding the cultural nuances and expectations of the country.

James Heron, executive director of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, helps us with proper pronunciation and explains the translation of more than a dozen useful Japanese words and phrases, from how to introduce yourself and what to say before a meal to how to ask where the washroom can be found.


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Heron also helps us better understand Japanese culture. Ambiguity, for instance, is a trait many foreigners encounter when interacting with Japanese people, he says.

“It can be difficult to sometimes draw out opinions or get a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” he said. This is driven by one of the most fundamental Japanese cultural concepts, called wa, which is the Japanese word for harmony.

“It’s very central to the Japanese psyche, as is the need to not put your opinions out there until group consensus has been reached,” Heron explained.

Additionally, in Japan, things don’t always need to be said to be understood. Heron uses the haiku poem to illustrate this idea.

“While it’s only 17 syllables, there can be cultural markers in those very, very short poems that can open up huge swaths of meaning to the Japanese,” he said.

He adds that it’s really important when communicating with Japanese people to be a little more patient than you might be in your everyday life in Canada and to avoid pushing for an opinion or answer.


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When it comes to eating, Heron offers a menu full of insights. For instance, never stick chopsticks upright in your rice because that is part of a funeral ritual. Also, if you can’t use chopsticks, you can ask for a spoon or fork. Heron also adds that in Japan, sushi is a food you can eat with your hands.

There are many other lessons tucked inside this episode, including what to know about the “Japanese smile,” what to expect when you enter a Japanese washroom, where you can go to get quick cash and what to know about slurping noodles.

Follow me, Larry Gifford:

Twitter: @ParkinsonsPod

Facebook: Facebook.com/ParkinsonsPod

Instagram: @parkinsonspod

For more information on the World Parkinson Congress, head to www.WPC2019.org.

Facebook: Facebook.com/WorldPDCongress/

Twitter: @WorldPDCongress

YouTube: WorldPDcongress

Instagram: @worldpdcongress

Thank you to:

James Heron, executive director of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

If you have a comment or question about the podcast, you can email us at parkinsonspod@curiouscast.ca.

When Life Gives You Parkinson’s was selected as one of Apple’s best podcasts of 2018

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