Why I decided to learn Japanese

By | January 9, 2014

Recently, I was asked by a fellow blogger (see 1994sunshine’s blog here) why I decided to learn Japanese. I thought it would make an interesting post topic so I’ll give the story here.

Ever since I was young, I remember thinking that it would be really cool to speak in another language. I was brought up with only English and this idea of a second tongue really held a strong a attraction for me. Around my second or third year or high school, there was a few factors which came together nicely to really draw me to Japanese culture and make me want to learn the language.

One of these was my image of Japan: ninjas, samurais, castles. These things are really just a small (and biased) part of Japan’s long and deep culture, but that was what I saw through the filter of those things imported to America. Along with that was of course anime, especially “Akira” which was one of the first full-length Japanese anime films I saw. The detailed art style and cryptic, but intriguing storyline really blew my mind. Another one was the original “Ghost In The Shell” movie which also had fascinating “cyper-punk” stuff that still interests me to this day.

I also had a close friend in high school who was also very much into Japanese anime and culture. I think he was influenced by an exchange student from Japan who was in our class together, and her name was Haruka. He in turn influenced me, deepening my interest in all things Japanese.

So Japan and Japanese culture was really awesome to my teenage self back then, as it continues to be now. There was one additional factor that really got me into learning to read Japanese. I was a huge fan of Haruki Murakami, having read several of his novels, each which intrigued me in its own way. I’d like to write a post about him someday, but to put it briefly he was very different from many of the other writers of the time. I mused on how great it would be to read his novel’s in their native language, and the thought of reading them in Japanese before the English translation came out (sometimes years) just had me tickled pink. In fact, many years later I did just that, reading through the novel “海辺のカフカ” in Japanese before the English version was published, though with no small difficulty.

The funny thing is that, around the same time, I had taken several Spanish classes as part of a school requisite for the state of Florida. Though my grades in those classes weren’t bad, it never really developed into a passion. I think that’s partially because I didn’t have the best teachers, and also because in a way it was forced – there weren’t too many languages to choose from at that time.

In retrospect, I think that the “grass is greener…” effect was also in play. (By the way, this expression also exists in Japanese as ”隣りの芝生は青い”). The neighborhood where I was brought up had Italians, Cubans, and some other nationalities, but I had very little contact with Japanese people when I was young. I think this helped to build my “mysterious” image of their culture, since it was something I had little contact with. Historically, Japan had a foreign policy of isolation for several hundred years(known as 鎖国), and that may explain why there was less transparency into their culture from within America.

I think it’s so interesting to see how the confluence of several factors leads to live changing decisions in our lives.

I’m curious to hear everyone else’s story of why they started learning Japanese, or whatever other foreign language they are into. If you already have a post about it you can just cut and paste a link here in the comments.



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