I have been attending a business conference in Australia last week and got to meet many new people. What is interesting is that as soon as they learned that I live in Japan and that it has been almost three years, almost all asked one and the same question, a variation of “do you speak Japanese by now?”.
Having heard it for over ten times in a couple of days, I got a feeling that I have been in Japan for a long, perhaps even too long time already. Or that is how it sometimes feels when I get to a country where I can speak the language, can read and understand everything, watch TV, have a small talk here and there, disappear for a few hours in a bookshop somewhere around the corner, and so on.
But let’s go back to the language question. Why, after three years in the country, I do not speak Japanese (if we ignore those limited words and phrases that I managed to learn)? When I arrived, I was sure that I will learn at least some Japanese, I did take “weekly” lessons, but … ended up canceling them frequently due to too busy work schedule or travels, thinking that when this or that project will be over, or when this or that busy period will be over, I will be able to resume and make it regular. The thing is, that “less busy period” never came and I do not think it ever will.
Most of my foreign colleagues and friends (those who are still in Japan, who are not married to Japanese, and who were sent to Japan rather than relocated on their own because of deep attraction to everything Japanese) gave up lessons at some point. When you come to Japan on an assignment, usually that is for a role that involves a lot of work (and I mean A LOT, otherwise, they would not send you here in the first place). Think about it in terms of moving from a country where people work to live to a country where people live to work. I think that perfectly summarized the change you may expect.
Of course, individual cases and experiences may vary, but in my experience, eventually you have so little free time left that the last thing you want to use it for is to study the language. There are simply too many other things you would like to do in life (and outside of the office/classroom) and too little time as a starting point.
For those few free hours that I have left in Sydney before heading to the airport, I get on a historic tall ship that has sailed round the globe at least twice (!) for a harbor cruise. By the time the sails are on and engine off, life suddenly slows down for a while. We are moving slowly in silence, watch other ships and sailing boats to pass by and enjoy lunch in in the company of sea, sun and wind. Nowhere to hurry to, nothing you have to do at least for the next hour or so, just live in the moment and observe the scenes of the most beautiful harbor in the world.
When on the plane bound to Tokyo, with several magazines (If you are from Australia, think of Latte, Collective Hub, Breathe) and a bit of suntan (would you carry a sunscreen if you spend most of your time in the office anyway?), I come across an article about slow living.
For those who do now know, the concept of “slow living” initially was used to refer to sustainable, local and organic food, but currently is understood as an overall and more thoughtful approach to life, stepping off a super busy life on auto-pilot and getting back more quality moments into your daily agenda.
So yes, I do not speak Japanese and do not expect that to change in any significant way during the next year, and that is perfectly ok (and yes, I am staying in Japan for another year, it’s confirmed).
There are simply too many things that I want to see, do, and tell you about in the blog, and well, tips for learning Japanese is not one of them… Instead, I am contemplating whether I should climb Mount Fuji this summer or not.
To climb, or not to climb: that is the question.
Anyone interested to join? 😉