It’s been 8 years.
8 years since I first started learning Japanese.
8 years that I’ve spent obsessing over a country I’ve never been to nor come within sight of.
…They say that when you learn a language, that language becomes a part of your identity. That to speak another language is to know another world, another perspective. That world inevitably becomes part of you. And so, after 8 years of studying Japanese, communicating with pen-pals and pouring over books, websites and pictures late into the evenings, the language – limited though my skill may be – has become very much a part of who I am. I love it, though I probably have enough reason to hate it too. There is a longing that grows and grows as the language grows part of you. A longing that only ever gets stronger the closer you get to its fulfilment, or more painful as you get further away. It is difficult to explain, but I think perhaps other language learners will be able to relate.
All this time I have never had the opportunity or resources to get off this cloudy little Island we call Great Britain, to travel 8/9 hours into the future to visit a place torn between the past and the future – Japan.
It’s easy to become disaffected with your home country. Though there are sure many things that I have great reason to be grateful, and things I would likely appreciate far more looking from the outside, it is difficult when you yourself are torn between places, yet must exist only in the one. It is as if you can only ever be half of yourself, and if you were to try to be the other part of yourself, there are really very few people to find who can understand, relate to and appreciate it. There are indeed many beautiful places in the United Kingdom. But that is only part of me, and even here my time and resources limit my experience. I’m simply a working class boy trying to get through life the same as everyone else…
But surely everyone desires something more: something deeper, more real, and more fulfilling. Surely most people have some wish to be of some significance; to rise up and attain something more, and achieve some greater potential which is no doubt inherently within us – potential which is anxious to be found and unlocked. Yet it seems that only relatively few are privileged and lucky enough to achieve their dreams, and seem sometimes to even claim and eat up the dreams of everyone else. Is it simply cruel fate that decides the fortunes of us mortals passing through the phase of life? Or can we really dictate our own futures by our work and decisions? Maybe either way it is only possible for an individual to get so far.
I think whatever our situation, we should fight. Fight to reach a little further. And not against each other but with each other. But it’s not just about achieving what you want, it’s about becoming something more.
Learning Japanese has definitely been a steep uphill struggle I only barely begun. With learning a language, when you feel you’ve just climbed a mountain, you realise you’ve only just got to the first tiny peak – you’re high enough to see a little further, but you’ve got a LONG way up yet to go. Nevertheless, the views are worth it.
Learning Japanese changed me. That probably sounds strange, but it did. From the time that I began aged 15, studying by myself over the internet – trying to get my head around how to simply say ‘konnichi wa’ – up until luckily getting to learn in school thanks to a kind headmaster and having my head blown by the Japanese teacher; and up until successfully completing GCSE and A Level Japanese (and up to now as I write this in the university library listening to Japanese music) the language has played an important part in my life. I feel I’ve come a long way from my 7 year old self that thought Egypt was just across the English Channel. It is a difficult thing to explain – I think even my wife thinks I’m mad – but it is very much part of who I am.
It was difficult when I was discouraged right from the start by even by family who thought I was mad and thought it wouldn’t last (sometimes you’ve just got to prove people wrong). It is difficult now, not being able to share my passion and enjoyment for the language with people like my wife. It is difficult holding back a part of myself. But it was a joy from the start discovering a new world. It was a joy to learn, and to discover a little more of myself. And it is a joy now to be able to write or speak to people not all too different to me, in a completely different part of the world in a completely different language and be able to understand and be understood!
Last year as I was sitting at a computer in University a few minutes before a lecture, I heard the girl next to me speaking in Japanese to someone over the phone. Before I went to lesson I spoke with her, and we ended up meeting and talking a few times. Now she is back in Japan and we can still communicate with each other. Japanese has opened up opportunities like that for me to create friendships, finding friends I would not otherwise be able to understand. Things like that make all the hard work and struggling through well worth it.
After learning Japanese for what I suppose is really a short time, I can still say that I feel as though another world has opened up to me. It’s been quite an effort along the way to go such a short distance. Even if many can’t always relate to me and if I’m to remain torn between two nations and minds, I would never take back the decision I made to apply myself to learning Japanese. Maybe it will always be one of those things that are both a gift and a curse. Maybe I’ll never get the opportunity to go to Japan and satisfy that strange longing, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give up. Language is what I love. It is part of who we are and something to value, respect, and have fun with!
It’s been 8 years since I started learning Japanese.
And those 8 years have made me who I am.