A lot of my Japanese friends will most likely ask me the same set of questions whenever I communicate in Japanese to them. 「とんちゃんは日本語が上手ですね。なぜ日本語を勉強しますか。」(You’re Japanese is pretty good, Ton-Chan. Why do you study Japanese?)
Although I studied Japanese for 8 years, I can honestly say that I’m not even close to being able to speak at a native level, but I’m getting there. My purpose for learning Japanese is now vastly different compare to when I started back in high school. As I’m about to study in Japan for the next year, I think it’s about time to reflect on myself in regards to Japanese. NOTE: THIS IS PRETTY LONG!
How it all started?
I got my first exposure to the Japanese culture through a school excursion to the Japanese gardens back in 6th grade (小学六年生). It was a nice experience and my initial thoughts on Japan at the time was very positive. I viewed Japanese culture as gentle, beautiful and honest, which is one of the reasons I got intrigued into learning the language.
The traditional Japanese culture wasn’t the only thing that got me interested, it was also its modern culture, through mediums such as anime and manga that quickly becomes a phenomenon to this day. I watched Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon and Sailor Moon with my sister and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Anime such as Bleach and Naruto were quite popular back then, hence my initial reasons to study Japanese was to be able to watch them while not having subtitles. (Pretty sure this is what most people learning Japanese wants to do :P)
High School Days
So 5th February 2008 was the date I started learning Japanese. How I know, you may ask ? Well, I still have all my exercise books and handouts in my room. Now that’s dedication. But the most significant problem is that I didn’t use Japanese outside of the classroom. There was a time when Japanese students came over, but we didn’t have the opportunity to communicate with them, they only came to see…. While it was helpful to learn Japanese in high school, I lost some motivation to continue on studying simply because I lost purpose… But I ended up deciding to do two degrees (Business and International Studies) for university because I didn’t want to make the same mistake that my dad made.
My father did an internship in Shanghai for 6 months when I was in 4th grade. At the time, I was in Vietnam to see my relatives and when I saw my dad after he finished his internship, he regretted not being able to communicate with people in Shanghai. Though he knows a few words and expressions in Chinese, he can’t make a conversation in Chinese. So he said to me, “If you’re going to learn a new language, keep on studying. You’ll be able to connect with other people. That is what your name symbolises”.
University: 1st Year (2013)
I didn’t take any Japanese classes in my 1st year because I was doing all the core subjects for my Business degree. I did join the Japanese and Australian Student Society (JASS) during this time, though I was a very, VERY shy guy. I made the effort at the end of 2013 to attend the free language classes (Attended both Intermediate and Advanced level) and social events. Didn’t make a lot of Japanese friends at this time, though I still keep in contact with Satoko, my very first Japanese friend. I’ll probably see her one day in Japan, but for now it’s through Facebook and Skype.
University: 2nd Year (2014)
Started Japanese class in 2014, and holy moly I wasn’t prepared. Back in high school, classes were taught in English most of the time. In my Japanese classes in university, its taught in Japanese, including the explanations and definitions, unless English is necessary to explain complicated things. After a few weeks, I got used to it as it is a great practice for listening.
Because I was studying Japanese in class, it was nice taking extra classes through JASS to get some more practice, and I would say that it was worth it. I participated in the Advanced class and I would go to a cafe (usually Max Brenner) after the lessons finished to get to know the Japanese exchange students. I was usually called Tonkatsu at the time because that was how I would get the Japanese people to remember my name.
The highlight of my interaction with Japanese exchange students at this time was around mid November, when I got invited to go to Skyzone (basically an indoor trampoline park where you jump around) and Bondi Beach. It was a lot of fun as I haven’t gone to an outing with Japanese people. It also gave me some confidence to continue learning Japanese, which is what I definitely needed. People I keep in touch are Hiroki and Saya. Didn’t encounter a lot of Japanese people, but these are the 2 I was close with.
University: 3rd Year (2015)
Even though I got average marks in my subjects, this was the year where I had to become more open and sociable, and I guess it paid off. Saya was still around for the first half of 2015 and Risa came in to be the teacher for the JASS Advanced class in 1st semester. I love how we often go to a cafe called Brainwave (formerly known as Another Hideaway) and just chat for an extra hour or so. 1st semester was pretty good, but 2nd semester is where everything makes sense.
97210 Transcultural Communication in Japanese, the class where Japanese exchange students come in once a week to discuss contemporary issues with us learners. I didn’t expect them to be part of the classroom at first, but it provided some moral support, which was very helpful. JASS Advanced Class was taught by Masanori and Noa in the 2nd semester, and they were very open to invite us locals to their birthday party. This event allowed me to meet up with other Japanese students, particularly Tetsuya and Sakura. Them along with Masanori, are the three people who came from the University of Yamanashi, my host university for 2016. It was very nice to meet up with people who I’ll most likely see next year and hopefully they’ll show me what Japan has to offer.
Strangely enough, the Japanese students from this year doesn’t call me by Tonkatsu, but Ton-Chan. At first, I was a bit embarrassed when I’m called that, but now I’m embracing it and I’ll probably mention that when I introduce myself to Japanese people in the future. It has a nice ring to it, and it kinda fits my open but sometimes shy personality.
Highlight for this year is gotta be the road trip to Nelsons Bay and the Xmas party. I find myself socialising with Japanese people for the past two months and while it was strange at first, it’s good “practice” for me when I’m in Japan. There’s so many people to list but if I have to highlight someone, it’s gotta be Mizu. Every time we meet up, she’s so lively and brings a positive atmosphere to the conversation, which makes me smile. Also worth mentioning is Risa. I didn’t expect to be socialising with her throughout the year !!
Some subtle moments like helping out with Sakura’s report to Mizu’s farewell message to her exchange friends, it builds up my confidence even further. I can’t emphasise how impactful the second half of 2015 was to me and I’m forever grateful to the Japanese friends I’ve made. My purpose for learning a language is clear: To make meaningful connections with people and appreciate the different culture.
PHEW! That’s a long reflection of my experience with Japanese, but hopefully, you understand my views. For my Japanese friends, I hope you enjoy your exchange and we should definitely keep in touch online. I would never have been so much happier in learning and socialising in Japanese without the support you have given me! I really do love you guys!