My brain on Japanese

Ok, here’s the thing. I’ve been learning Japanese for a few years, but I’m not a consistent learner so the outcome is not extraordinary. Coupled with the fact that I have never taken a formal class, I don’t even own a textbook (can you believe that?). Yes, I’m just lazy.

I do use online websites as learning tools, though. For example, I started this journey by signing up to the paid subscription of I found that it was very useful for beginners to learn the basics down pat and I finished the course within a year or so. Concurrently, I would watch a lot of Japanese TV, be it drama/movie or just plain ol’ TV programme. I also listen to podcasts in Japanese. Plainly speaking, I was just doing the whole immersion thing.

And my listening comprehension is pretty good.

But depending on your learning goals, learning a new language also requires you to be literate and being able to express yourself in that language.

On reading

There are a lot of methods to this. Hiragana and Katakana was not that hard, I picked it up quickly. Kanji on the other hand, is a different story. When I went to Japan, I couldn’t read a lot of things and it was frustrating. Currently, I’m using wanikani to learn and retain kanji.

On speaking

So I tried to make a few Japanese friends for this purpose. But the flip side to this is that unless you have a lot in common, it’s harder to maintain that friendship. That’s just my experience though. Almost a year ago, I found Masumi. And Masumi likes pretty much the same things I do, so I  should just practice with her, right? The thing is, Masumi’s English is better than my Japanese so it was easy for me to fall back to English.

I tried italki, a service that allows you to have language lessons online. I scheduled a lesson with a community tutor for some casual conversation practice. And I realised something…that my listening comprehension was not as good as I thought it was.

I think it was mainly due to the fact that when I’m having an actual conversation, I literally force myself to understand every single thing that my tutor is saying and at the same time, try to figure out a response to it. On the other hand, listening to podcasts or watching shows does not require me to understand everything and I don’t have to do any output.

I struggled a little bit but thank goodness the tutor understood what I was trying to say, and corrected my sentences when needed, which was something that Masumi wouldn’t do.

Language learning is a continuous process and while my progress is slow (because yes, laziness), as long as we keep at it, we’ll get better and better with time.

As the saying goes, 塵も積もれば、山となる: Even dust, when piled up will become a mountain.



Fallen Words

What an interesting experience! I went to see a rakugo in English by Diane Kichijitsu at the JCKL Charity Bazaar. I didn’t expect that I would enjoy it as much as I did. I mean, I can barely understand rakugo in Japanese unless I listen to it more than once and at times I need to look up the summary to see if I understood correctly. Besides that, comedy in one language may not translate very well in another language.

But firstly, maybe I need to briefly explain what rakugo is. Rakugo is a form of traditional Japanese storytelling done in a sitting position by a single storyteller. The stories are often comical in nature and can be very engaging because the performer acts out the scenes using dialogue and props. As Diane said, it’s all about imagination. I quite like how she started by explaining about the props that they use; the small cloth and the paper fan. For example, she would use the fan as chopsticks or a pair of scissors.

My first introduction to rakugo.

The first time I’ve ever considered listening to rakugo was when I saw Takarazuka’s Yarazu no Ame (Snow Troupe 2006). It was a compilation of different rakugo stories in one play. From there I started to look into rakugo more and more. When I listened to Tetekawa Shinosuke’s Shinigami, I was just glued onto my seat, it was so engaging. But even now, my Japanese isn’t so great to fully appreciate rakugo as a whole.

The Zoo and stuff

Diane did the “Doubutsuen” or simply translated as “Zoo” story. It’s one of those stories that can easily be understood by even non-Japanese. I think you can find various version of it in English on youtube. Here’s an example, by another rakugo performer.

At the end, she stood up and gave tips on just how to laugh, the laughter yoga, as she calls it, which I suppose must be done indoors unless you want people to look at you like you’ve lost your marbles.

All in all, I was glad that I decided to go out and come all the way to see it. I wish I had the opportunity to greet her after the show though. By the way, I always go to these kind of things alone so if anyone is interested, hit me up.

I kinda like musicals, I guess..?

As I typed on my laptop, getting work done in time for the long weekend, I told my supervisor that I’m going to watch a movie on my day-off.

“What are you watching? I don’t think there’s any movies worth watching at the moment,” she said.

I glanced at her, thinking if I should just say it. To her, movies that are worth watching are superhero movies. I finally said without looking at her, “I wanna see La La Land.”

“Oh La La Land. What’s it about?”

“It’s a musical, I guess.”

“I see…so you like musicals?”

I nodded. “Kinda, I guess.”

But in fact, I kinda do!

Well, if you don’t count High School Musical, I would say that it started circa 2011. At that time, I was a fan of AKB48 and I’m actually quite ashamed to say that out loud sometimes.

AKB48 is an all-female idol group from Japan that has a million members. I was really into it, the little fan wars were awesome when they had their annual elections. The year before that, they produced a musical called AKB Kagekidan Infinity which had quite a ridiculous plot line. Regardless of that, I was interested and watched it. All of it. All the main characters, even the male lead character was played by girls. Well, it got even more interesting because there were kissing scenes between the two lead character, both of which were girls. Yeah I know, I sound creepy.

After that, some fans started to make references to a real all-female theatrical group, called the Takarazuka Revue. To satisfy my curiosity, I looked them up and I saw that they were playing Romeo and Juliette. And it was probably the most attractive Romeo I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen many, but you know.

Eventually, I started to watch any videos that I could find online. “Phantom” was probably the first that I saw and loved. They caught my attention but I had other things to do then. Besides, my Japanese comprehension was really poor. It wasn’t until 2015, on a boring weekend, that I decided to give Romeo & Juliette a try. I was hooked, it was like watching magic happen. I don’t know what it was, maybe it’s the androgynous appeal, the sparkles, the weirdness, that pulled me in. All I know was that I couldn’t look away.

Slowly, I started to watch more shows, buying their expensive DVDs, and magazines. I bought programme books of shows I haven’t seen. I feel like Takarazuka is turning me into a more cultured person (I think). Their productions are sometimes adapted from books, movies, classics, foreign musicals and even opera. It’s opening up a whole new world for me. Because when I know that a certain show is adapted from such-and-such book, I would read that book just to get a better understanding of the whole thing.

I can’t say I’m fully embracing the fact that I’m a musical fan because I still haven’t seen a lot of other musicals which that is not Takarazuka. At times I feel like I like Takarazuka’s adaptations of books/classics or their original production more than their adaptations of Western musicals.

So yes, I’m looking forward to seeing more things. Musicals, that is.