I Think I’m Learning Japanese: Thoughts From Our Japan Trip

Hey everyone! Thomas here. Lee and I have been meaning to write more posts, but we had a big trip to Japan last month, and between planning for that, and recovery (we tend to take vacations where you need vacations from the vacation, hah!), we’ve been just chilling here.

For myself, I don’t have a huge post to make really, but I just wanted to share my experiences having learned a tiny bit of Japanese, then going to Japan, and what I plan to do with it! So here goes.

What my knowledge was, before the trip:

I “sort of” knew most hiragana, but I didn’t really know much katakana, and only the tiniest bit of Kanji. Super limited! I think I read one shinkansen (bullet train) sign once. Yay!

Speaking and comprehending:

Limited to what I would call “tourist Japanese.” Introducing myself and so forth. I did know how to say I liked something, so proved useful.

How this played out on the trip:

It was the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d think that my very limited Japanese would be of most help in short, common situations day-to-day, while our time spent with Lee’s Japanese friends in deeper, longer conversation would basically eliminate me from the conversational mix! In reality, the opposite was true. When we would walk around Tokyo, Niigata, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima (the cities we visited, all lovely!), you need to know how to say and understand something *immediately.* So I would clam up, and let Lee do the work here (who is far, far more advanced than I).

However, when we visited Lee’s friends, I could sit back and just listen, and I was able to pick out various things. At minimum, I could discern the general topics of conversations, which was nice (this, I think, was the result of studying enough of the language to at least have a since of its rhythm and flow; in other words, my ear was somewhat tuned to it). It also gave me the opportunity to speak the few sentences and thoughts that I could: basically, whenever the conversation moved to a place where I had a thought I could express, I said something (probably much to everyone’s amusement). Usually I was expressing things like “I like bean paste,” which is “watashi wa an suki desu.” Or, to write this properly: 私は好きです。

Mostly, though, I was really inspired. I just loved visiting Japan! I could feel my love of the country blossom in particular when we were in Osaka, which I have decided is my favorite Japanese city. Osaka is every bit the glowing, modern metropolis, but it has a slightly gritty, down to earth feeling, which I like! This is also reflected in the people, who have a reputation of being more gregarious and fun loving.

So because of this, I have decided on a mid-term goal: To study for and pass the JLPT N5, which is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. N5 is the easiest level, but it would not be a trivial accomplishment. It would represent a sort of “bare minimum” to get by as a non-native speaker of Japanese, which might sound easy, but we’re talking something like 800 words of vocabulary here (which sounds scary until you realize simple things like “1” (ichi) count in this).

The test is in December, but I still have a lot of work to do! I’ll keep everyone updated on my progress here.

-Thomas

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