My Japanese love affair

Tokyo Shibuya crossing

People often ask me why I study Japanese. I never know what to answer, but I don’t blame them for asking. After all, I’ve asked myself the same thing.

Even Japanese learning sites stress the importance of knowing “why” you learn Japanese, so that you can have a clear goal for your studies. It was a bit hard to admit to myself that I don’t have such a goal.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to be able to say:

“Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated by Japanese culture. It has always been my dream to one day live in Japan.”

This post by Danny Choo is about that – having a dream and fulfilling it. It’s a long and inspiring read – I’ve read it twice. But I’m not like that. All the “big reasons” I tried to find just sounded too thought out.

Instead, I’ve thought upon my Japanese studies and my interest for Japan in these ways:

1. Japanese as a love affair

When I first started to analyse my Japanese learning, I likened it to a love affair. There’s a famous saying that a man who can explain “why” he loves a woman doesn’t really love her. I felt the same way with Japanese. One day it just came out of nowhere, like a new lover. The first period was very intense, we “did it” all day long. Then came the first hard period during which we risked going separate ways. But somehow we managed to find each other again, and we’ve now been together for three years and counting. I even celebrate the date when we met (18th August 2010). Yes, I know I might come off as a weird figure.

And just like with love affairs, you can’t have two at a time. I know my poor German has suffered during the last three years, and that my Czech sometimes longs for me, but don’t worry, you will always be my friends and we’ll keep seeing each other. It’s just that Japanese is the only one I’m passionate with, get it? (When I think about it, Danny Choo doesn’t mention any reason either, it’s just pure love.)

2. Japanese as a hobby

A hobby is maybe the most accurate way to describe my studies. A computer nerd will take up new programming languages every now and then by buying a book and devoting himself to it for some time. Well, I’m a linguist. Languages are my hobby. So I also decided to take up a new one. Now learning a language happens to demand total devotion for some time – you can’t just half-learn it. Stop after half a year and you will forget everything. So it might look serious but it is in its heart a hobby – nothing more, nothing less.

People generally devote a lot of time to their hobbies – be it sailing, fishing, cooking, playing instruments, and so on – without being asked “why” they do it. And despite I devote as much time and energy to my biking – going on daily rides, taking part in races, etc – as to my studies, I’m never asked about “why” I bike. Maybe it’s because language learning comes off as very serious to most people that there’s supposed to exist some kind of master plan.

3. Japanese as a game

Recently I’ve started to think about my Japanese studies – and my Japan interest at large – as a game. Yes, I’m inspired by the general “gamification” of life that is so popular now. This way of thinking is made easier by the JLPT tests, which are divided in “levels” from N5 (easiest) to N1. But you can also make your own levels. I don’t do that in any concrete way, but I’m more or less consciously using this way of thinking. Now that I’m spending three months in Japan, I think I’m at some kind of final battle level, fighting many different monsters while having fun at the same time. Once I was asked about the way by a Japanese in the train. That was a fantastic landmark – I think I earned a “trophy” then. (There are other “trophies” as well, I don’t write about everything in this blog.) And all the experiences I’ve got from workplaces – I think those were “worlds” to conquer. Of course, unlike real games, this one never ends. But if I pretend it works like GT5 or why not Tokyo Jungle, I would estimate my “game progress” at 63 percent if not higher.

Who can explain their careers and hobbies anyway? Would you even believe someone who said:

“I always wanted to help people, so that’s why I decided (at age 18) to become a doctor.”

Or:

“Ever since I was a child I was plagued by the injustice in this world, so that’s why I became a lawyer.”

In reality, our life choices aren’t the results of logical calculations. They defy reason. Which is probably a good thing. Most people would blame many of their most important life “decisions” on coincidences. Their partner being the most obvious example. But it goes for their jobs and hobbies as well.

If there’s one life philosophy that I truly believe in, it’s the one by Woody Allen: Whatever works!

And who knows, maybe there is a master plan. We just don’t know about it.

God has a plan for you

On this subject, Rocketnews24 just (about five minutes ago) published a roundup of people’s reasons to live in Japan.

2 Responses to My Japanese love affair

  1. Erik November 19, 2013 at 02:23 #

    Nice read, Karl.

    There is a recording of Momus where he sings along with his father when he was a kid, the (children) song he sings was called I can see Japan.

    The love affaire section somehow reads as if your talking about lovers instead of languages 😉

    • Karl November 19, 2013 at 15:33 #

      Yeah, sometimes they come together, languages and lovers. Not in the case with Japanese though, unfortunately.

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