Studying Japanese

After living in Japan for four years, marrying a Japanese woman and falling in love with super-violent samurai movies like “Lone Wolf and Cub” (check that out if you haven’t) the Japanese language has been an ongoing part of my life for a while. Japanese has the reputation of being a very difficult language to learn. That is mostly an opinion put about by Japanese people involved in the language textbook industry and by people who are frustrated by learning Japanese.

In my experience Japanese is actually a fairly easy language to get a hold on, at least initially. This is because many basic daily phrases and pretty ritualized when compared to their English-language counterparts. While there might be five or six way to greet someone in English (Hey, Hi, How’s it going?, What’s up?, What’s going on?) there’s really only one or two in Japanese. Where Japanese gets tricky is learning to read. There are three scripts that are used interchangeably in different situations. It is as confusing as it sounds.

The other part of Japanese that is awesome is the levels of formality. After studying Japanese for half a year in Japan my Japanese tutor finally felt I was ready to learn the casual verb forms that (in her words) “People actually use to talk to each other.” The next sound was the faint poof of my brain exploding.

But I persevered and eventually got pretty comfortable in Japanese. And then, a year or so after I moved back to the USA, my wife and I returned to Japan to attend her brother’s wedding. As part of the reception we had to act as MCs. The script included some verbs that I had never seen. When I asked my wife about them, she explained, “That’s the really polite form.” Poof.

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