Learning a New Language

Many times at work, while I’m studying Japanese I’ve been asked “Hey, why are you studying such a difficult language, do you plan on moving to Japan?”. It’s a difficult question to answer, and no I do not plan on ever moving to Japan.

Learning Japanese is actually something I’ve wanted to do since I was 16. When I was growing up, I always found Asian languages fascinating…like I’m a archaeologist deciphering some sort of ancient hieroglyphics. Around the same time (around 1999-2000), JRPGs, J-Pop, Anime, and Manga was just starting to kick off in popularity. I learned the basics of the Kana (Hiragana and Katakana), and basic sentence structure in just a matter of a few weeks, surprising my teachers when they saw me writing in Kana during study-hours…but back then, online learning resources were scarce and I couldn’t find nor afford a college that would take my learning to a higher level. Eventually, my father insisted that learning a language for a country I may never visit is a waste of time…and that my Otaku fandom was really me following some sort mass-market consumerist culture fostered by big corporations, and that I should be pursing more noble goals in order to become a successful animator…the irony is that anime and manga is what got me into illustration and animation in the first place.

This is what Japanese mass-market consumerism looks like.
Then without warning during my last deployment, my ship announced that we would be pulling into Yokosuka, Japan. I was mixed about this. Should I go to Japan to drink sake/chuuhai, visit some nightclubs…and act like…well…everyone else? Or should I go to the heart of anime/manga, into Akihabara, and follow my artistic/compulsive/geeky twitch?
I chose the latter and don’t regret it one bit…but was disheartened that the language barrier. I would be greeted by shopkeepers with いらっしゃいます(irasshaimase), yet I had no idea how to talk back to them, I also used phrases and greetings in the wrong context out of nervousness, trying to recall phrases I used ten years back…stuff that was basic knowledge for anyone visiting the country.
It was embarrassing. Yet I was still drawn into it all…visiting the famous locales of various video games, anime, and manga that I used to read. Yet around the same time I found out Sega wasn’t going to be publishing the sequel to one of my most favorite games, 龍が如く5 (Yakuza 5)…and that’s when I decided to get back into learning the language.

SEGA: “You guys want to play ‘Japanese-Man-Game 5’? *Looks at North American sales numbers* How about a new Sonic game instead?”
Before we left Japan, I stocked up on some e-books and apps, and studied daily for 3+ hours a day. I learned a lot on how my brain worked during cram sessions, memory retention, and the do’s-and-don’ts of learning a new language (such as memorizing over 1000 Kanji meanings, but not being able to understand it in context through vocabulary). I anxiously awaited the return home…not only just to be back and see family again, but so I can order some textbooks and meet with people at local language groups. In other words, to continue on with what I put on pause for so many years.
It’s exhilarating learning a new language and it reminds me of learning Spanish and French for the first time. Whenever I feel demotivated (which is often), I take a few days off from learning, play a few import games, and get back into the groove again. I’m on Chapter 7 of my Genki textbook, which is roughly Japanese 102 college level learning, I spend about half an hour each day writing new flashcards and reviewing old flashcards, and I’m to the point where I can read almost at the same pace as I can speak it…as long as I already know the word…if I don’t it’s more along the lines of me sounding out words, much the same way a kindergartner would try to pronounce Howitzer Tank, except your trying to pronounce something that looks a little more like ÞæWI¥¶ZER ԡҭNK (with the Kanji/Kana blended words).

Write the Kanji for this! Don’t forget proper stroke order and to memorize the On-Yomi and Kun-Yomi meanings!
Also I have been taking weekly trips over to Chinatown in Seattle, where I familiarize myself with Asian foods and make a trip over to Kinokuniya Bookstore where they have figures, magazines, manga, and books in Japanese (plus textbooks/learning resources for the learner)…and occasionally I’ll meet a fellow learner.

Redneck Billy: “I can’t read ’em books ‘ere…it’s all in some sorta moon language!”

In many ways I feel grateful to be in a multicultural city. Where people of Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese descent all in one corner of the US. It gives me an opportunity to learn from people from other cultures, which in turn, I learn a lot more about myself.

So no, I am not learning a new language so I can move to Japan, to date hot Asian women, or to be some sort of “Super-Otaku”. I usually give the simple answer “It’s just a hobby”, because honestly it is simply a hobby…but it’s a hobby that gives me an opportunity to meet new people with similar ambitions, and maybe even read, write, talk to, and understand people native to the language..

“Why would I ever want to date an Asian women? They all look the same anyway!”
Who knows? A few years from now if I ever do go back to visit Japan, I should have a better knowledge and understanding of the language and culture. If I don’t go back, well at least I can say I had fun learning :).
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