Japanese progress, weekend of 1/27/12

I think every week I’ll post a screenshot of my Read The Kanji vocab/kanji reading progress, and also talk about where I am in my studies.

I’m very pleased with the progress I’ve made in really a month, more or less. Of course, I had already gone through all the words in 2009 (except for the handful of new ones they added when they updated the site to the new JLPT N5~N1 system), but I had to remember and re-learn most of them (which is why I wouldn’t consider the success rates completely accurate; it still has the failure rates from when I was first learning these words–and when the site’s algorithm was much less effective–factored in). Just today though I dropped the N3 deck from my rotation; only a few words were still red (weak) and I made sure to memorize them. Everything else was going to be a review of easy things and a waste of time, so it had to get dropped for now when time is of the essence. From now on it’s nonstop N2!

I also finished my two N3 textbooks today! I started them maybe 10 days ago so they went fast. They were Nihongo Sou-matome grammar and vocabulary. I received these from a friend so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I like this series a lot but it does have some downsides. It has English, Mandarin, and Korean translations of the new points/words each lesson introduces, so it’s not as intimidating as all-Japanese Kanzen Master, plus it divides everything up into bite-size lessons with cute pictures. I really like how all the similar vocab words are grouped together; someday I’d like to get the N2 vocab one from this series. Each book is set up as a six-week course but you can progress pretty quickly if you want. Pretty much everything was a review for me, but I did learn quite a few new things and I deepened my understanding of others. The grammar book also gave me the chance to practice the new JLPT questions with the bits of the sentence scrambled and you have to put them in correct order. I’m much better at that now. The problem I have with the series is it seems like they rushed it a little and it wasn’t fully proofread; some of the English is way off (cf. “A wired guy” when it should be “A weird guy” and other potentially disastrous-if-you-don’t-know-better typos) and I also caught a typo in Japanese too. The grammar points also don’t always have a clear translated explanation or even one in Japanese, which is especially necessary when the lesson lumps in very similar expressions and you need to know how to tell the difference. I could always more or less figure it out [whether from intuition or prior familiarity] but I know that could be a drawback for people approaching this book from below my level. It’s obvious that when compared to Kanzen Master, the production quality is nowhere near as good. But it is really approachable and that’s not to be underestimated. I decided to buy some N2-specific textbooks for this next phase of my study, and I went with Nihongo Sou-matome for the N2 reading comprehension textbook (I already have an inherited Kanzen Master 2級 reading textbook as well). Aside from that though, all my N2/2級 textbooks are Kanzen Master. I’m diving into those starting now!
(Regarding ordering this series: the images link to Amazon, but White Rabbit Press also seemed like a good place to get them. When I ordered three more textbooks recently though, I went with Kinokuniya, the NYC location, since I knew it would be fast coming from inside the US already. It was indeed lightning fast! White Rabbit was going to cost a tiny bit less but it was also going to take 2-3 weeks to ship, so my choice was easy.)

Sometimes when I think about how clueless I was when I took 2級, I want to shoot myself. I didn’t even know the Japanese names of each section of the test (語彙・文法・聴解・読解), I had never taken a practice test for ANY of the sections, I barely understoood ahead of time how the test was divided up and administered, I waited until the night before to BEGIN studying grammar, and I was woefully under-prepared for both the listening and the reading sections, which just steamrolled me. (I also failed to eat a good snack during the break so in the last section, reading–THE HARDEST ONE–I got light-headed from hunger and had a hard time focusing. In the end I ran out of time and wasn’t able to answer all the questions in that section). However, all that considered, it’s a miracle I still got at least a 50% when you needed 60% to pass. I did come really close even though I naively pretty much only studied vocab/kanji readings and didn’t have time for anything else. So that has to say something, right? (I’m a genius! Right? That’s it, right?). Imagine how I’ll do when I’m actually fully prepared!

The one thing the test doesn’t measure though is your ability to produce language freely; there’s no speaking or writing section. Of course, that makes it a little less difficult too–I believe that as a language learner, comprehending (reading, listening) is infinitely easier than producing (speaking, writing) language. Even though reading and listening are hard too! But the real challenge comes in trying to reproduce the correctly formed sentences you’ve learned, and trying to remember the right vocabulary words for the situation you want to express. That’s also where the native speakers are going to judge your overall language ability the most, even though I don’t think it’s a fair assessment, since usually you can read/understand better than you can write/speak! I know my French host sister (teenage, and thus impatient/unforgiving) decided I was an idiot because my pronunciation/accent and ability to express myself out loud were so bad, and then when we chatted on Facebook after I got home she was like, “Oh, so you can speak French. Huh.” But of course, as English native speakers, think back to how easy it is to get impatient with someone struggling to express themselves in English, someone with an accent and bad sentence construction. It’s really easy to think, “This person can’t speak English” when probably in reality, they can read and comprehend infinitely better. I hate to think of myself in a foreign language/culture as that person who others get impatient with because they aren’t fully fluent, who sounds like an idiot all the time, but that’s just part of language learning. You have to put aside pride and just keep pushing through, hoping practice leads to improvement even if you sound stupid for a while. At least in Japan, people are more patient with you than in, say… France. (Hmm, why do I prefer Japan/Japanese again…?)

I’ve found that in every language I’ve studied substantially, there’s one major thing that I get stuck on–for years. To this day I have trouble with that one thing, sometimes a handful of things. It’s like a hump you have to work super hard to get past, and if you don’t put in that work you’ll never master it. With Spanish it’s telling the difference between when to use ser and when to use estar; with French it’s many things but especially how to insert y and en into sentences, as well as ce and all its forms. These are things you think you should only have to learn once but when it comes time to write or speak, you keep messing them up. It’s enough to make you want to quit the language because it’s just too hard. But it also feels like this is the breaking point of learning a language, the point of no return: it will require a lot of effort from here on out to push through to the other side, but once you do, you’ll be much more advanced and closer to fluency. I feel like I’m at that point with all the languages I’ve studied the longest, and only with Japanese do I have the willpower to keep pushing and trying to make it through. I feel like the distance between mastering N3 and mastering N2 is that wall; once you’ve gotten there, you’ve made it, but until then, it’s an uphill battle. That’s where I am right now, and actually it’s where I have been for the past couple years. Only now am I really putting in the amount of effort that it’s going to take, though, so I’m the most confident I’ve ever been that I will do this.

In many ways Japanese is easier than romance languages: no genders to learn with each noun, no making the adjectives agree with those genders, no six conjugations to learn for each verb, and so on. But of course it has its own difficulties. Keeping my politeness level consistent is really still super tough for me, especially when I’m speaking and I get nervous. There’s also the fact that you have to learn a lot of different forms of the same verb: the polite and regular forms (and in some cases respectful and humble synonyms), as well as the transitive and intransitive forms. (And all the tenses too, but those aren’t so bad. They don’t have to agree with a certain perspective [“I” “we” etc]  so in that respect romance language verbs are harder.) The transitive stuff is also one of those things that I worry is still a little confusing for me; it’s easy to read, not so easy to remember how to produce correctly. “I do” and “It does [that]” require their own version of “to do,” for example. So every verb has a transitive and intransitive form to learn. (Words like “transitive” and “intransitive” used to make me zone out even in English grammar classes–even though I graduated an English major, I have no patience for nitty-gritty stuff like diagramming sentences and so on–so when they came up in Japanese too, I thought I might be in some major trouble here.) Once you learn enough common phrases and get a feel for how things are said, it gets a little easier, but I still get worried that I’m going to mess it up. I don’t think I actually have though.

Really my main difficulty, that I mess up often, is politeness level consistency. I always seem to switch throughout the story I’m writing or telling, without realizing it. It’s so frustrating! I have a lot of formal phrases that I fall back on to explain things about myself or answer questions (“Sou desu” and so on), but then I’ll start telling a story and slip out of my formal speech as I focus on simply expressing myself clearly. It’s so, so, so hard to be consistent. Of course you also have to judge the situation and decide on a politeness level at the start. What if you’re talking to someone you just met, but she’s younger than you? Polite or regular? Regular seems a little rude/forward for someone you just met, but polite seems over-the-top for someone your junior and also for someone around your age. To make things easier I will often try to go for a combination of regular forms with some “desu” thrown in, to make a sort of in-between politeness level. Using only regular forms still freaks me out and makes me worry I’m being rude, though! Of course as a foreigner you get a lot of leeway and Japanese people generally won’t take offense at a too-casual politeness level in your speech (most of the time; my horrible landlady from study abroad is a glaring exception) because they know you’re just clueless and not actually rude, but you still want to get things right.

It’s also hard to judge your politeness level when writing like blog entries, because you don’t know your audience. Should you make everything polite? Everything regular? Based on the lang-8 corrections I’ve seen, the Japanese people there seem to think we should be writing using all polite speech. (Is that because we’re foreigners learning the language or because they feel blog entries in general should be polite? But what about the Japanese blog entries I’ve read that are all regular/casual?). What if I know my audience, like if I’m writing on mixi, is all people my age who would think my using polite speech a little unnecessary and strange?

I think this is one of those things where you just have to study, study, and study native speech, and eventually you’ll pick it up yourself. It’s my belief that an immersive environment will eventually cure you of these mistakes if you pay enough attention… I hope!

San Diego Comic-Con 2011

I have crazy wanderlust right now. I want to go everywhere and travel everywhere. I am dying to explore but in order to save money I must stay right where I am. I am reminiscing hard about my time studying abroad, both in Tokyo and in Paris. I want to go back to Europe and visit as many countries there as I can (otherwise the cost of the plane ticket isn’t worth it!) even if that takes months. I want to go back to Japan so much. I want to go to New York, where I have never been (but have wanted to go since middle school), which seems strange considering I’ve lived in Paris and LA and have been to Tokyo, Edinburgh, Rome, Brussels, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Austin, DC, etc. (I love cities. Someday I want to live somewhere that is public transportation friendly where I won’t need a car.) Plus I’ve since discovered so many cool places to visit in the cities I’ve traveled to that I never got to, that I really want to go back and hit. (It always drives me crazy to find out about an amazing place I didn’t know about while I was there–like all the legit Japanese places in Paris, that I never ever knew where to find.) Can you believe I haven’t been out of the country since I got back from Paris in 2007? And before 2006 I hadn’t ever been out of it.

But since I can’t go anywhere for now, and I did put the word “travel” right in my blog description, I can at least talk about past vacations. The most recent one was last July, to San Diego for Comic-Con 2011 and to visit my friend Elen who lives in Oceanside now (I’ve known her since middle school). I haven’t really written very much about that trip yet anywhere, mostly because I have so many mixed feelings about it. I mean, I justified the trip and the expense by telling myself I was going to try and network to get more freelance work in the comics industry after TOKYOPOP shut down publishing in April 2011, ending my English adaptation writer gig. In the end, I tried my hardest to do that but no work has materialized at all since then, so I guess it was more or less a failure. And I don’t really like to think about that.

At the same time, I can’t regret it too much. There were some very fun times. I’m very glad I visited Elen, and it was wonderful to see some old TOKYOPOP coworkers again, most for the first time since 2007. As an intern I attended Comic-Cons 2006 and 2007. In exchange for working the booth, all of our expenses were paid: badge, lodging, even food. Even valet parking at the hotel! (Took advantage of that the second year.) Both times were absolutely fabulous and a dream come true in every way. Especially the second year. I had sooooo much fun hanging out with the TP editors at night, attending panels during the day (the first year meeting much of the Veronica Mars cast and getting them to sign my season 1 DVD!), it was just glorious. The second year some of the people from the Tokyo office came so it was nice to see them again. My sister also joined me the second year, though I still hate that she wasn’t able to get into the Heroes panel.

Comic-Con has changed a lot from 2007 to 2011. I used to come home with a bulging bag full of free swag. I’d walk around the exhibitors’ hall and just pick up random giveaway items from each booth, and I’d rack up a LOT of stuff. In the interim, with the economy, that practice has gotten curtailed a lot. There were hardly any swag giveaways at the booths. So strange. Of course, the things I hated hadn’t changed: being forced to purchase crappy, stale, tasteless, insanely overpriced food; the crush of crowds; the impossibility of getting into a super popular panel and how there still isn’t a venue large enough for those events…

It was also hard to attend for the first time without an exhibitors’ badge. I used to go as part of the industry. This time I went from the outside looking in, hoping to be considered part of the industry once again. (At the time I had quit my editor job in publishing so I was feeling insecure from that as well. I have it again now though–which I suppose is a story in and of itself.) But I should say that I did have a professionals’ badge, which I got for free, thanks to my TOKYOPOP freelance work. (The free badge was a pretty big deciding factor on whether I’d go. It was too good to pass up.) But it still sucked to feel like I wasn’t as part of things as I used to be.

I also tried to balance too many different things: hanging out with Elen and Katey, who were going for the first time, vs. attending industry panels and networking with peers. Before going, I had written down a list of the times and rooms of all the industry panels I wanted to attend: Dark Horse, Kodansha USA, Oni Press, Viz, Yen Press, Del Rey, as well as a j-manga panel, a manga translation panel, and a state of the industry panel. I attended, like… two of those (the last bit of the Kodansha panel, and the first half of the translation panel–wish I’d stayed longer but I thought I had to be somewhere earlier than I did), because most of those were on Friday, and I spent most of that day in Hall H with Elen and Katey watching big-name actors promote upcoming movies (including John Cusack [who was so lovely, amusing and charming], Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin) instead. I also missed several media panels I’d considered attending, like the one for The Big Bang Theory (I actually attempted to go, but saw that the line was ridiculous and gave up), the Castle one (but it was on Sunday and I had to get to the airport!), the Lost one (I really regret this because Damon and Carlton showed up by surprise!! Noooo I love them, but I had caught the Lost panels of 2006 & 2007 so it’s okay). But I did make it to a few not on my list, such as the Star Trek one with William Shatner! So cool! In any case, I really wish I’d been more aggressive about attending those industry panels.

Katey and I flew into San Diego (on separate flights) Wednesday morning and Elen picked us up from the airport; we had lunch in SD and then drove to Oceanside where she and her boyfriend live. Only a couple blocks away from their apartment was the hair salon Elen goes to, Lotus Den, and I’d been wanting a haircut badly (my hair had grown long, which had been my goal, but it was driving me crazy) so I went to go get a haircut there and it was soooo amazing. They’ve since moved to a bigger location, but even then it was so quaint and cute with the décor, and they offer you beer! And I got a great short haircut (the last one I’ve had, actually) that still looks good as it’s growing out to shoulder-length, and it only cost $40. Pretty amazing! I also got an eyebrow wax at a place down the street while I was out, then walked back to the apartment.

The next morning Katey and I, who were both on fitness kicks at the time and going to the gym a lot, went for a run on the beach (Elen’s apartment is only a couple blocks from the beach, so we could walk over). This was my first time doing that and it was faaaaantastic. I wish I could go regularly but I have no beach access… So first I went dressed in my usual workout outfit: top, capris, running shoes and socks, and tried to run on mostly dry sand. Then I discovered running on mostly wet sand in shoes was better, but it still got a lot of sand all over and sometimes inside my shoes. After Katey’s shoes got soaked by a wave, I decided to just take mine off (in solidarity?) and carry them because I love walking on the wet sand in bare feet. Then I realized–I could RUN on the wet sand in bare feet, easily! So the next time I went, which wasn’t until a few days later (I believe Sunday morning) and I was by myself, I wore flip-flops and hid them under the stairs that go to the beach and then walked/jogged/ran barefoot on wet sand. It was absolutely wonderful. Again dressed in workout clothes, I began to notice the girls around me in bikinis and realized–here, in California, is one place where it would feel completely natural to work out/run outside in a sports bra, midriff exposed, or I could just go all the way and run in a bikini. While normally I wouldn’t be onboard with that idea, somehow there it felt so appealing and I wished I had a chance to do that too. I’ll have to try it sometime. I love California. Also, may I say that while I can only sprint for short distances/periods of time, I love love love full-out running. I’m beginning to think I should have joined track in school, and now it’s too late. It is exhilarating and I adore running as fast as I possibly can (which is something I had recently discovered at that time after trying out incorporating the treadmill into my cardio at the gym).

Hanging out around Elen’s apartment was fun. She had just gotten a new kitten, so I realized this fact: kittens are assholes. One morning I was lying in bed, everyone else had gotten up, and the kitten came tearing across the bed and scratched my cheek. I let out a shocked yelp, and Elen and Katey just laughed. I had forgotten what it’s like to live with a kitten (I was too young to remember when our family cat was a kitten, and I adopted my cat at three years). Now I do. They are jerks. But they also have a wonderful border collie that I adore and a cute soft agreeable bunny, so the other two pets made up for the cat…

As for the con, Thursday was probably the best for me personally (and professionally?). Katey and I rode the Coaster down from Oceanside (this is how we got to the con each day. I think all three of us agreed that should we return, securing accommodations IN San Diego would be a great benefit to make it easier to enjoy the nightlife. Certainly this was true when I went as an intern and TOKYOPOP paid for rooms at the Marriott with everyone else in the industry!). Upon arriving at the con, we separated, I went to the Kodansha panel, found Hope (former TP editor), she led me to a couple other people I recognized (one was a graphic designer at TP but she works for Viz now–and in September Hope began as a Viz editor!). I said goodbye to them and went to take in the exhibitors’ hall. I found the Archaia booth and Tim and Paul (former TOKYOPOP editors–Paul now edits at Archaia and Tim does a lot of freelance work for them); Paul introduced me to his girlfriend Heather, an Archaia writer. Tim told me about an industry party that night at a restaurant in the Gaslamp, and I said I’d be there.

I had a good time at that party, met a lot of new people including an artist named Nichol, and then a group of us including Tim, Paul, Heather, Nichol, and a few other girls who were mostly Tim’s friends went to have dinner. At that point I had been thinking I’d take the Coaster back to Oceanside after dinner (Katey had already gone back by herself), but then I realized I had already missed the last train. Oops. Fortunately, Tim and Nichol’s room had a fourth spot open, so I was able to stay there that night (I paid them, of course). With that secured, we made our way back to the hotels around the convention center (doing a bit of meandering along the way–someone knew of some party at a bar that a friend was involved with, but when we got there it was already full to capacity) and eventually wound up at the Hilton bar.

That was where things got a little interesting and I had a celebrity sighting. (“Celebrity” as defined in Comic-Con terms, of course.) (I spent two summers living in LA, plus I’ve visited numerous times, and I had still never seen a single celebrity out in the wild. I remain extremely jealous of my mom and sister who saw Naveen Andrews [Sayid from Lost] at LAX. So even though it’s silly and makes me seem the opposite of sophisticated, yes, it was exciting to finally have something like that happen.) We were out on the patio that overlooks the pool, which was pretty crowded with mostly comics industry types, just chatting, when someone says, “Johnny Galecki is here.” I didn’t immediately recognize the name but I turned to look, and realized I did know who it was–Leonard from The Big Bang Theory! Nichol orchestrated a covert photo op with him in the background (smooth) and we spent a lot of the rest of the night commenting on his activity (he moved to the pool lounge below and got a little cozy with a male admirer, we thought).

Friday, like I said, I failed to attend the industry panels I should have and instead hung out in Hall H for much of the day with Elen and Katey. But I can’t regret it too much… I saw John Cusack and he was charming and a dreamboat. We did decide against staying for the Spider-Man panel with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, though, and that had been our main reason for spending hours in Hall H watching all the previous panels. (Too bad… I love Emma Stone.)

On Saturday I went around to some manga publisher booths, attempted to network. I found Alexis at the Viz booth and we chatted a little. That night there was a TOKYOPOP reunion at the Marriott poolside bar, and it was pretty fun, though I didn’t see anyone from editorial that I hadn’t already seen. I saw a lot of familiar faces from other departments as well. I also got the chance to congratulate Paul on his Eisner win! Very exciting. Things broke up a little early and I spent the next little bit watching movies with Elen and Katey before we headed to the Hyatt bar, where there was going to be a big meetup of industry people. (The Hyatt bar figures prominently in one of my most hilarious memories of Comic-Con 2006.) It took a long time for the people I knew to show up, though, though I did see and briefly chat with a couple people I remembered from the party Thursday night, and by the time Paul, Tim, Heather, Nichol, Hope, and so on rolled up, Elen’s boyfriend had arrived to take us back home.

Overall, I had a good time, and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with Comic-Con. In terms of networking, I did what I could; I did my best. At the very least, I got to see coworkers who were great mentors to me again, get caught up on their lives, and enjoy their successes. And I had fun spending Elen and Katey’s first Comic-Con with them and getting to know Elen’s new neighborhood where she lives now.

Actually, writing this post inspired me to reach back out to some contacts, and it might have gone well…? We’ll see!

Japanese shame

I wanted to expand a little on something I touched on in an earlier post… namely, just why it took me so long to recognize (really 認める) Japanese as the language I wanted to be fluent in, when I entered college supposedly as a French major. I think for a long time I was embarrassed about it because of the public perception of those who study and are interested in Japan/Japanese things. I thought if I showed everyone that I was studying French just as much, I wouldn’t seem as “weird.” A noble goal, but one that in the end added to the delays and cost me time I can’t get back.

When I meet Japanese people, sometimes I get asked the classic question, “What made you want to study Japanese?” (どうして日本語を勉強しますか? and similar variations). If you study Japanese, you’ve probably answered this question in conversation with someone or you’ve written a small essay on the topic. My reply often goes along the lines of “さあ… よくわかりませんが… [Hmm… I really don’t know…]” before I have to, usually, make up a real answer like “It sounded interesting?” Because the truth, the real reason, is: anime. And manga. But I don’t want to get labeled an otaku, because I’m really not–anymore–and I don’t want to scare off potential Japanese friends, so I never ever say that. (And despite what I’m about to say, I stand by that, because I can’t do anything about Japanese perceptions of otaku, especially Western otaku–which might cost me potential friendships–but I can at least try to  feel okay about other Westerners labeling me weird.) We’ve all seen the super anime/manga fans in your typical Japanese class, and they’re annoying as hell (fortunately, they usually quit after a few semesters, because–yeah–Japanese is hard). I didn’t want to get lumped in with them! I didn’t want to be perceived as a “weeaboo,” someone obsessed with Japan stuff to an unhealthy degree. Actual weeaboos make me feel Fremdschämen (embarrassment on the behalf of someone else’s behavior) intensely and I avoid them.

Being a weeaboo is actually a big fear for me, and it’s easy to get a little like that when you have any amount of enthusiasm for Japanese language/culture. (I do find that weeaboos generally are not as enamored by the language, since it’s difficult, whereas my primary love is for the language and culture comes second, so there’s at least that to comfort me. Plus, I’m quite aware of the negative parts of Japan, and a part of me was glad to go home after four months.) It’s why I sometimes won’t purposely speak Japanese to waitresses in Japanese restaurants, or the people at my local Japanese mini grocery mart, something that totally perplexes my boyfriend. I just don’t want them to think of me as annoying, over-eager. But part of that shame is similarly what kept me from acknowledging Japanese as the language I wanted to build my career on for so long. I was afraid of how other people, mostly people who don’t know much about Japan and just have a few stereotypes in mind, would view me as a result. I knew it would make me seem a little weirder than if I simply had a slight obsession with France, for example–after all, Americans love French stuff, but with Asia it’s like “Hmm, why? Why can’t you like something normal?” It’s sort of a problem–I wish I could just embrace it instead of feeling slightly embarrassed.

Interestingly, I learned my first Japanese word in second grade unwittingly. It was 班長, hanchou, or as it’s known in English, “honcho.” Of course, at the time I didn’t know it was a Japanese-origin word–I think I only found that out a few years ago, and it blew my mind. One of the popular girls in my class had invited me to spend the night at her house, and I went; while we were playing with dolls, she told me one was the “head honcho.” It was the first time I’d ever heard the word and I didn’t know what it meant.

It wasn’t until middle school that I actually started to want to learn Japanese, though. (Buckle in, this is gonna be a long story.) Towards the end of elementary school I’d become friends with a few people who introduced me to the world of Sanrio characters (already a Lisa Frank fan, I got sucked in by the cuteness aspect), and for a while that was the extent of my interest in Japanese things. In sixth grade I became friends with Aro, someone who already had several nerdy interests, and we bonded over a love of the Animorphs book series (I have always been a great reader–although I honestly can’t remember which came first, the friendship or my own interest in Animorphs). Over time we merged our friends into a larger group with Aro as the ringleader thanks to an uncanny charisma; whatever Aro got into, everyone else soon followed and liked it too. Thus around 1998, sixth/seventh grade, when reruns of dubbed Sailor Moon episodes began to be broadcast, Sailor Moon became Aro’s new obsession and the rest of us were persuaded to fall hard for it too. That was it, our group was identified with an anime/manga obsession from that point forward. (I’m still close friends with the vast majority of those people today. Anime bonds?!). Thanks to series like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and so on gaining visibility at that time, even a friend who didn’t go to my school started to share my anime/manga love (of course, I encouraged her). I even went with her to an anime store sometime in seventh grade shortly after the late 1998 release of volume 1 of Sailor Moon, where I purchased it–my very first graphic novel. Published by Mixx (later TOKYOPOP–where I worked! In Japan I ended up meeting the people who had worked on that volume. So strange to look back on!), it was one of the first translated manga to come out; of course they were all flipped at that time, something I didn’t know for a while. I also purchased and fell in love with another early Mixx-published title, Magic Knight Rayearth, which was my first foray into Clamp works (I’m still something of a Clamp fan today). Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Rayearth, Pokemon, and Ranma 1/2 were the series I was most into then–Ranma was really popular with the whole group for a while–and over the years my friends and I would trade copied VHS tapes and translated manga volumes until we’d all seen a wide breadth of series.

At the same time, Aro and I got involved with a site called Otaku World. (We embraced the word “otaku” at the time as newborn fans with no idea of how derogatory it is in Japanese.) It was there that we learned about kami-shibai, paper theatre plays, since the site had a program that allowed people to create their own stories told via the kami-shibai program. (I made a lot of online friends after joining a forum for kami-shibai program authors then, and still keep in touch with a few to this day–I even met a couple in 2007!). I remember debating with Aro about how to pronounce kami-shibai–“kah-me-shee-bay” vs. “kah-me-shee-buy” (I was the latter, and correct, though how I thought kami was pronounced was still off). I don’t know how I ended up correct there, as I only had a grasp of a handful of Japanese words; somehow I had an instinct. (I wasn’t always right, though: I had to learn that the Ranma 1/2 character Akane’s name was said “ah-kah-nay,” not “a-cane.”) But moments like those–learning Japanese words and how to pronounce them–made me hungry for more. I wanted to learn more. I even wrote out a list in one of my notebooks of the Japanese words I knew so far.

Throughout high school, my friends and I continued to get each other interested in series we had discovered, passing around tapes and manga, attending anime conventions and cosplaying, though by graduation our passion had cooled a bit. (For the record, today I occasionally watch anime and read manga, as I have a few series I remain a big fan of, but I hate going to anime conventions and I hate a lot of the fan culture. I try to be a “cool” anime/manga casual fan. Is that possible?!). I wanted to learn Japanese badly the whole time, but my school didn’t offer it so I settled in to wait until I could take it in college. I wanted to study it properly, formally, and I also didn’t know where to look for good self-study resources, so I didn’t try very hard to learn it on my own. I did however attempt to “translate” romaji song lyrics–a deeply misguided mistake! I also taught myself how to sing several Japanese songs. But I was deeply jealous of anyone learning Japanese who could read it–I viewed that as an insurmountable task.

When applying to college, I made sure to choose one that offered Japanese, even rejecting my acceptance into a semi-prestigious private college because it didn’t have Japanese (much to the bafflement of my mom, who didn’t see why that should be important in light of the name recognition!). Upon arriving at college and registering for my first semester of classes (old-school style–in person!), I had to wait in a long line of freshman as the upperclassmen registered before us and, subsequently, classes filled up. As each class became full and unavailable, someone would write its name on a board. When “Japanese 101” appeared, I began to slightly panic. If I couldn’t take Japanese 101 this semester, I’d have to wait until sophomore year. I tried to console myself by saying I could always begin German instead, but it wasn’t very helpful. Finally I entered the hall where the professors sat at tables to sign our slips and register us into their classes. After registering for my other classes, I decided to approach the Japanese professor and try my luck. At the time there was only one. I went up to him nervously and explained my situation–that I really wanted to get into Japanese 101 and was there any way I could anyway even though it was full? He grimaced–I was the third person he’d be letting in over the limit, to my surprise–but agreed. I was elated and relieved. In the end, several people dropped the class the first week–almost all weeaboos forced to recognize the difficulty of even beginning Japanese for the average person without foreign language aptitude, or regular people who had foolishly thought “Japanese sounds fun/interesting!” and quickly regretted it–bringing our class to an acceptable size, while I stuck with it to the end. Giving in to the impulse to try and fight for Japanese 101 remains one of the best decisions I made, but it still makes me a little nervous now thinking just how different things could have been if I hadn’t!

I look back on all this now–rejecting a college that didn’t offer Japanese, desperately wedging my way into Japanese 101–and almost can’t believe it happened that way. I have a bit of a haze around my memories of how I got started in Japanese, because I’ve spent so long downplaying it–“oh, I don’t really know why I took it, it just seemed interesting” and other excuses. To actually look at the facts is a little shocking to me now! It was a conscious decision, very much so, even though it doesn’t seem that way to me at all, it feels very much like I just fell into it quite accidentally. I’m not sure why that is.

As I’ve said before, I entered college as an English-French double major, and planned to study abroad in France my entire junior year. I also thought I’d spend my sophomore year living in the French wing of my campus language house. In the end though, I lived in the Japanese wing and spent half of junior year in Japan instead. Japanese began to dominate more and more. I graduated an English major, French and Japanese minor. I guess I held on to French so long to sort of legitimize my Japanese–“see, I’m not a weeaboo, I like other stuff too!” Of course, I genuinely liked/like French and France, but I just don’t have the same passion for it, the same drive to be fluent. It would be nice–but I’m more inclined to look at my shoddy accent that just embarrasses me, as well as the intolerant attitude of French people towards anyone who can’t speak fluently, and give up.

This was frustrating when I told my parents about my plans to try and undergo more formal Japanese study: they didn’t get why, Japanese/Japan is still a foreign inscrutable thing to them, lumped in with China and the rest of Asia in their minds. “Why not France?” my mom asked me, confused. Of course they’d prefer if I went back to France because then they’d have an excuse to return to Europe! (They have no interest in coming to Japan.) But maybe it’s all the time I spent trying to cover up my Japanese shame by playing up my interest in French stuff too that really confused them. (For what it’s worth, my French host family was baffled by my interest in Japanese as well.) And in hindsight, I wish I’d given that up earlier and just focused on Japanese alone as soon as it became clear that I preferred it to all other languages, which I could have done more easily if I hadn’t clung to French for so long as a cover. Having a Japanese major–even though at my school that would have just meant a lot of culture/literature classes in English and very long essays, as opposed to the more rigorous language study that I would have wanted–would be good right about now.

I don’t know… I just know that part of my journey, as I attempt to make a career out of Japanese, involves coming to terms with the idea that people may misinterpret me as a weeaboo when I tell them what I’m doing. I know I’m not–well, maybe a little, but not in the bad way–so that should be enough. Right? (Yes, I’m a very self-conscious person. But the whole point of this post is to say I’m going to try to care less!)

As for whether I’d be honest and tell my Japanese friends that I like anime/manga… which to me is a completely separate issue, tied to Japanese perceptions of otaku that I can’t do anything about… um, maybe later.


Let’s take a Japanese break and talk about healthy lifestyle stuff. First, the diet aspect (exercise in another post). This is something that’s been on my mind a lot, as I spent early last fall losing about 10-ish pounds, and I’ve successfully kept it off since. It may not sound like a whole lot, but when you’re on the shorter side, it shows. Continue reading

Japanese study resources

Or, a history of the textbooks/websites I’ve used and my thoughts on them. Yup, fascinating stuff! Well, at least I hope to be able to provide some good advice to other learners.

Horrible booksThe textbooks we used freshman and sophomore year of college were terrible. Absolutely terrible. Japanese: The Spoken Language and Japanese: The Written Language. I do not recommend them. My school has now switched to the Genki series, and admittedly I’m a little bitter that my first two years had to be spent with inferior textbooks, but oh well. They were bad for two reasons: one, they were geared at business people so there were a lot of terms that were not very useful to students, and two, the romanization system (日本式 nipponshiki or 訓令式 kunreishiki) was the worst. THE worst. I’m picky about romanization, and since I was already familiar with Japanese before starting it in college, I could recognize how bad this was. For example, I’d previously seen じゃ romanized as ja or jya (I preferred ja, and still do). What did this textbook have? Zya. Um… what?? There is no Z sound in the word! You read that and you have to know that it’s pronounced totally differently. This was okay for me with my prior familiarity, but not okay for the total beginners in my class. One would always, ALWAYS say “zya” with the Z sound, and my professor wouldn’t correct him! It sounded terrible! The books also romanized ち and つ as ti and tu (instead of chi and tsu), leading to more clueless mispronunciations. I cringed to see our Japanese TA’s name Chi_ become Ti_. I completely understand the logic behind this romanization system, and I know it’s the one preferred/taught to Japanese people, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I vastly prefer Hepburn. Japanese is already hard for most people–don’t make it harder by adding in all sorts of things you have to remember, that aren’t easily comprehensible.

Introduction to Intermediate Japanese: An Integrated CourseThen I studied abroad, and we used Nobuko Mizutani’s textbooks. My level used Introduction to Intermediate Japanese: An Integrated Course. These were good resources, but there was so much amusing Engrish and strange things even in Japanese in them that it was hard for us to take them seriously. I wish I’d kept it now, but I sold my copy after graduating college, probably because I remembered not liking it very much (even though it really was a useful resource that taught me many things).

Genki 2I came back to my college for an “advanced” Japanese class senior year, and we used Genki 2–which is supposed to be an elementary level textbook! That still shocks me at how behind the Japanese classes at my college were. I wish, wish, wish they’d been more rigorous, but even what we did was hard for some people to keep up with! In any case, the Genki series is quite possibly perfect in every way. I have no complaints. In one semester we did not get through the whole textbook, so recently I finished reading through it on my own. It’s a very, very good resource. I didn’t really learn anything new since it’s below my level, but it was a good review, and good reading practice with all the readings in the back, which I don’t remember ever getting to in class (though all of them were very easy for me).

Japanese The Manga WayThat advanced class also recommended that we purchase and consult for self-study Japanese The Manga Way. I also recently finished reading this one on my own–I didn’t read it very much at all that semester, since we weren’t using it in class and I didn’t have to. It was fairly interesting, moderately useful to me (nothing was really new, but it was nice to see examples and practice my reading a little), and an okay resource. Probably better for beginners though.

I have other textbooks generously given to me by a friend and former Japanese classmate, but haven’t fully delved into them yet–though I will starting very soon now that I’m done with Genki 2 and Japanese The Manga Way–so I can’t review them yet. They’re almost all JLPT-geared… I’m excited!

My number-one study resource now is my absolute favorite… Read The Kanji!!! Everyone who knows me knows I don’t shut up about this site and the things I learn there. I can’t recommend it enough, and they recently updated it so you learn so much faster and better, BUT there’s a catch. Anything other than N5/hiragana/katakana costs money. Like $5 a month. I signed up for it really early in its history (thanks to a killer recommendation from my sister while we were both studying for 2級), so I am a lifetime member and don’t have to pay (very very fortunately–I almost can’t believe how fortunately and I still get worried they’re going to suddenly start charging me–though whenever I do have money to spare I plan to donate to it), but I can assure you it is absolutely 100% worth it. All of the Japanese progress I’ve made since graduation, which is a significant amount, can be attributed to RTK. I use it daily and can spend hours there. My goal is to be on it as much as possible. Actually, my goal is to make it through my decks and learn all the words for good, reading and meaning. Right now I use the N3 and N2 decks simultaneously (I first went through all of 4級, 3級, and 2級 while studying for 2級 in 2009, but 2級 is so huge that I only went through it once and need a review, and N3 has a lot of the old 2級 in it), and it has improved my literacy considerably. It. Is. Wonderful.

I could list the Japanese dictionary websites and other resources I use for translating, but this is about studying, so I’ll dedicate another post to those later.

And then there’s just the natural practice I get in translating lyrics, writing messages to Japanese friends, occasionally chatting in person with Japanese community members, reading manga (and some novels/magazines), listening to j-music…

Well, off to study.

Jack of all trades, master of none

This is something that’s been on my mind a lot recently, as I come to think of everything in terms of “Japanese study is my top priority.” Go out? Nah, it costs money and I need the time to study. Watch a movie on my computer? Need the time to study. Think about brushing up my French? No, all my language study efforts/energy/time must go to Japanese!

I even withdrew my name from a local Japanese speech competition because it was going to take time away from… studying Japanese, and I was mistaken in thinking I could win a prize that would make it all worth it (it doesn’t go to my division).

Back to my point. As it stands I’ve studied a handful of languages, and reached advanced proficiency in a couple of those. When people find this out, it inevitably impresses them (and/or I get a request to “Say something in ___!” which I no longer oblige–I’m not a monkey doing tricks!). But to me, it’s not all that impressive because I’m not actually FLUENT in any of those languages. I’m very advanced but I’m not all the way there yet. I’m not good enough to get a job using them, so what’s the point of just knowing them? Sure it sounds good on paper, but it doesn’t translate (ha) to anything concrete and useful. “Jack of all trades, master of none”–I need to master at least one of them to make everything worth it. Thus, the intensive Japanese self-study.

This is something I’ve realized gradually over time. In the beginning, when I first noticed that foreign languages came easier to me than to other people and I decided to study as many of them as I could fit into my school schedules, all that mattered was adding more languages. I guess pride played into that; I enjoyed the attention I got from being distinctive. But more than that, I just wasn’t thinking enough about how I was going to parlay this knack for languages into a career. I was just single-mindedly pursuing what I loved with no thought of the future–you know, like every college student is told to do and what we’re all realizing was kind of a giant mistake.

If I’d thought more about the future then I would have realized fluency is king, and I needed to pick a language early and focus on it sharply. I have many regrets about college-era decisions, and not putting that sharp focus on Japanese sooner is definitely one of them.

Because here we are, almost four (!) years out of college, and while I’ve successfully kept up my Japanese and not lost any of my knowledge, and probably improved a fair amount (I’m definitely more literate now), I’m still not where I want to be after almost eight (eight!) years studying this language. I still have so much further to go. Another frustrating thing about learning Japanese is that there’s just so many layers to it–you master one part, or think you have, and there’s still so much left. If I hadn’t fallen so completely, irrevocably, foolishly in love with this language–for better or worse!–I would have given up a long time ago, as so many have before me.

As it stands… 頑張ります。


Welcome to my new home… if you’d like to learn more about me, you can go here.

About the title: “translatory motion” is a physics term that means motion in which all points of a moving body move uniformly in the same line or direction. This is how I’d like to view my path towards becoming a translator, and obviously I take a looser interpretation to the term “translatory” to suit my situation.

I do use pseudonyms here for myself and the people in my life that I’m close to, so if you know me, please don’t use real names. I have a lot of snoopy family members that I disagree with on several points (religion, politics, etc) and I’d like to not have to worry about being discovered by those I don’t want reading my thoughts! (It’s happened in the past that I’ve been sent emails pointing out swear word usage and so on–very annoying.)

Please enjoy! And since I’ll talk a lot about Japanese here, I’ll also say: どうぞよろしくお願いします。