It may be hard to believe if I told you that my love for Japan started from the day I was born. Obviously, I had no idea what Japan was at this point, the notion that I had a full understanding of countries and their governing boundaries from birth, would be ridiculous. However I was given a cuddly toy, which I loved more than anything. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it now, but I held onto this toy until the age of nine. It was only recently though that I discovered this toy’s origins, it is a “sekiguchi monchichi” toy from the 1970’s which was hugely popular in Japan.
Growing up, I moved around the country a lot, and didn’t have much time to make friends with other children my age. I spent a lot of time indoors, watching cartoons and playing computer games. One cartoon which I loved more than any was “Samurai Pizza Cats” which, again at a young age (around five years-old), I had no idea had Japanese origins. As I grew older, I discovered more and more TV shows and animations which were either influenced, or were made in Japan. These included shows such as “Super Human Samurai Syber Squad” and “Power Rangers” and the incredible anime “Akira“. These TV shows would shape my taste in movies, animation and computer games for the future to come.
“Samurai Pizza Cats”
“Super Human Samurai Syber Squad”
Back in 2007 a friend from university (Charlie) and myself visited Thailand on a whim. We’d been set an assignment title of “Travel” by our lecturer, so we went the whole nine yards (or the whole 5,280,000 yards to be exact) and flew to Bangkok. While there, we ventured deep into Thailand’s less populated areas and experienced how the “other side of the world” live. While on an excursion to the heart of one of these rain-forests, I met my first Japanese person! Her name was Sayako and she was from Tokyo. She taught me some of my first Japanese phrases and helped with my pronunciation. I didn’t want to feel like I was pestering her, so I didn’t bombard her with questions, even though they were numerous.
Sayako on an elephant ride.
Myself, on quite possibly the most unsafe bridge over the river Kwai.
The whole experience really changed my perception of other cultures, and took many of my assumptions and expectations to task. I encountered a lot of challenges during my stay: even the simple things such as asking for directions. However, overcoming these challenges only enhanced my experience further. Indeed, one of the wonderful things about being abroad is that even the most mundane of everyday tasks have an air of mystery about them.
I have always known Japanese culture was something I would love to experience. One of the only countries in the world which offers the height of modern technology yet at the same time, years of rich history, from tea ceremonies to the ancient Samurai. For the past few years I have looked into the various ways of experiencing all of this for myself. My original plan was to spend time with a host family in 2011, however the country was devastated by the tsunami and was in no state to be catering to tourists. I helped the only way I could, by donating money to the relief aid. However I would’ve happily jumped on the next flight over to donate my labour. I tried again in 2012 by applying to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program. In this program, the Japanese embassy selects roughly 300-400 people from the UK to fly to Japan and become an assistant language teacher. The application process was painstaking, including medical wellness forms, letters of reference from university lecturers, on top of the standard paper work required when requesting to live in a foreign country. Waiting to hear back from the application was nerve racking, but I was finally put out of my misery in February 2013 when they’d declined my application.
In the past year I have begun learning spoken Japanese on a casual basis and reading more into Japan’s rich history and culture. I have learnt a lot about the key moments in the country’s development, from when the feudal era ended, to the Meji period. Reading books such as “Culture Shock: Japan, by Rex Shelley” have helped me to understand where Japan’s famous work ethic may have originated from, and also helped to expand my knowledge of what to expect when I eventually visit.
I have always been interested in the Japanese language, not least since it appears in a lot of the media I enjoy: music, and movies especially. I have only learnt basic phrases so far, but I have a keen interest in learning much more. I have completed level one unit one of Japanese using Rosetta Stone, and plan on continuing my learning by using a lot of books and podcasts, which are all very helpful. However I can’t think of anything more beneficial for my linguistic and cultural development than living in the country whose language and culture I want to learn and experience. I am well aware that learning a language is about much more than memorising grammar and vocabulary; a language is a way of life, and by being there in Japan I can immerse myself fully.
So yeah, that’s what’s with me, and Japan…