Saturday I got to spend a long leisurely dinner with a good friend, one of the few people who actually does me the kindness of correcting my Japanese (as I do for his English). It is great to switch back and forth between the two, occasionally detouring through random bits of Italian or Chinese. We both have an imperfect knowledge of the others' language, but the point is not about attaining perfection, but rather true communication.
I truly believe everyone should learn another language, and if possible live in a different country for a while. It doesn't have to be English, although it may be the most useful choice (whether this is positive or not is another discussion entirely). I have a huge amount of respect for the young women I met as a researcher, who went to Russia, Thailand or Vietnam to study the language and culture. I am grateful to be part of the process of bringing Japan to the world, thus also bringing a greater understanding of other countries and cultures back to Japan.
Whenever I hear someone here say 'my Italian friend', 'my German tutor' or 'my sempai, who is originally from Taiwan' it gives me hope, as even in Japan we slowly move away from that all-encompassing word 'gaikokujin'. I love it when I hear people speaking a language that is obviously not their native tongue, whatever it may be. A small voice inside of me goes 'yes!' and fist-pumps in glee, because it means they are open to learning something new and sharing their own knowledge with others.
If you think about it, isn't it amazing that a European person and an Asian person can sit in an Israeli restaurant in Tokyo, drinking French wine and discussing their shared experiences in the US? Not so many decades ago this would have seemed impossible, if not treasonous!