Practicing Japanese through life and leisure


The private jet starts to pick up speed on the runway for takeoff.
Inside, a young man looks out the window, transfixed, as a young woman
runs alongside the plane, frantically calling out to him.
The jet suddenly aborts takeoff, he leaps out and runs toward her for
a passionate embrace while I…sit stunned with tears spilling down my
cheeks at this incredible scene between Domyoji and Makino in the
popular Japanese drama, “Hana Yori Dango” (“Boys Over Flowers”).
How times had changed since the days after I first arrived in Japan.
Back then, I remember staring incomprehensibly at the TV, unable to
decipher a single word other than a final “ne” when baseball
announcers spoke.
After getting over the embarrassing realization that, as a grown adult
male, I had just cried over some exceptionally dramatic fiction in a
teenage drama, I took solace in the fact that I was finally
comprehending Japanese, and having a great time doing so.
Everyone has their own reasons for learning Japanese, but I assure you
that mine went beyond watching teen dramas. Unlike many of my Western
friends and college classmates, who often cited interest in Japanese
pop culture as the impetus to study the language, my decision to learn
Japanese happened relatively later in life.
Simply put, I had visited Japan as a traveler, then decided to take on
the adventure of living here after graduating from university. My
first goal with Japanese was merely communication. Having been lucky
enough to live and work in a country so different from my native
United States of America, I wanted to talk to Japanese people, to
understand their perspectives and seek answers to the many questions
that formed in my mind the longer I lived here.
Being the kind of person that benefits from more structured studying,
coupled with the fact that as I was living far from language schools,
I opted to attend Japanese classes offered at a local community
center, while also studying regularly with a proper Japanese language
teacher. But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as the saying
goes, and with Japanese, I had the most enjoyment learning Japanese
through play.
“Hana Yori Dango” and many other movies and TV programs proved to be
some of the best ways to learn conversational Japanese. As an added
bonus, they helped me relate better to the Japanese teenagers I was
teaching. Communication? Check!
Karaoke also proved to be a tremendous boon, thanks to the furigana
readings above the kanji used in song lyrics. Singing along to
Japanese music, including the theme songs to the aforementioned TV
programs, took the chore out of remembering kanji.
Learning Japanese enabled me to move on from teaching English to
working in Japanese with Japanese colleagues, writing emails and
answering phone calls, and socializing at night.
Given the complex and challenging language that Japanese is, the
learning will likely never stop. Yet, I still marvel at having this
marvelous tool to communicate with any Japanese I meet and better
appreciate Japanese history and culture, including, sometimes, a
cheesy program or two.


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