Moving to Tokyo and making choices about language study

“It’s odd, not everyone speaking English here.  It’s almost as if this weren’t America at all.”  — Me, joking very intentionally while thinking of The Onion news article, “Perky ‘Canada’ has its own government, laws”.

Joking aside, my work environment doesn’t force me to use Japanese, so I have the luxury of choice. I have nothing but deep respect for émigrés, ex-pats, refugees, and migrants who find themselves in a sink-or-swim language “school” of hard-knocks-life.

Back when I first started visiting Japan on business trips, my boss was Chinese by way of Australia and the United States and now living in Tokyo.  He had a theory about learning Chinese and Japanese written language.  He believed that, after a certain age, children lost the ability to learn the “pattern matching” that reading & understanding Japanese or Chinese requires.  After all, there are a bit over 2,000 different kanji characters that all Japanese high school students are required to master by graduation day. For example, “graduation day” could be written “卒業式の日” in Japanese kanji.

In hindsight, my choice of language study was mostly based on my desire to disprove Mike’s theory about learning Kanji.  Also, I wanted to be able to explore food & drink menus while dining out with Louise or by myself. On business trips, dining out with colleagues is great because they can do the work of understanding the menu and ordering food. If you live in Tokyo instead of an infrequent visitor, you aren’t dining out with colleagues every night.  They have families and hobbies, so go live your own damn life.

I was fortunate to learn about a peculiar author named James W. Heisig and his series of books, “Remembering the Kanji: A complete course on how not to forget the meaning and writing of Japanese characters“.  I’ve only really worked on book one, and I haven’t worked on it for my entire two years here (bad, bad Scott!), but this book has made living in Tokyo and touring Japan so much easier than I had imagined.  No, I can’t read everything, nowhere close.  (I would have to work much, much harder than I have to reach such a goal.) But even being able to read 400 or 500 kanji makes every day easier.

In fact, I sometimes forget that Louise doesn’t know what I know. Silly me!  Why doesn’t my spouse know everything I know?  It’s been 20 years, right?  Silly me.  I have been told that I am occasionally a frustrating person for assuming that everyone can read that sign over there.  Silly.

Meanwhile, Louise has been taking calligraphy lessons.  My attempts to write kanji are stuff of comedy legend.  Her work is now advanced enough that her teacher recommended making a scroll. It’s finished now, and it’s lovely!

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