Your Brain is a Leaky Sponge


Once again, I managed to completely abandon this blog for a seemingly endless period of time. I have some time on my hands now so I thought I’d write a little bit for old time’s sake (and for the learning pleasure of anyone who cares about what I have to say).

I spent the last year or so living with my girlfriend and we speak Japanese at least half of the time. We watch Japanese TV exclusively (we don’t actually have cable; we just use the internet for Japanese variety shows and dramas). We only listen to Japanese music. We eat a ton of Japanese food. For all intents and purposes, we live a Japanese life (we even have those little Japanese slippers from Mujirushi at the door to our apartment).

I feel guilty saying this, but my Japanese study fell to the back burner during all this… OK fine, I just stopped doing it all together. Lack of motivation? Maybe. I lost steam after passing N2. I know I used to talk a lot about studying like a champion and never losing steam and that having motivation was half the battle and you know what…. I was right about all that. There is no great learning experience quite like being on both ends of your own lesson.

I gave myself permission to slack because I have Japanese flying at me from so many directions that I assumed the fluency would just naturally seep in without rigorous study. I was also right about that. Fluency DOES seep in. Literacy, on the other hand, leaks out.

My girlfriend considers me to be basically fluent in Japanese. But in the past year I lost something important: the ability to read a lot of the more complex kanji. When you don’t look at those kanji every day and feed them, bath them, and nurture them like cute fuzzy little gerbils, they will die…. And then you have to go back to the pet store for new gerbils, and those gerbils are just as expensive as the originals and they take just as much time and energy to raise.

So, in retrospect, I can speak Japanese really well now (if I can take a moment to be a little self-appreciative) and I no longer have to struggle or even concentrate to understand naturally spoken Japanese, but I can’t really read a novel any more. I can read manga (that’s basically just colloquial Japanese written in speech bubbles anyway) and I can read anything that might pop up at the bottom of the screen on a variety show. I know just the right Japanese to live and have fun in a world where reading at a high level is not necessary (don’t get too carried away by my self-depreciation here… it’s not like I CAN’T read…)

To sum it all up, fluency can come to you naturally and comfortably and it will hang around for a while as long as you stay immersed. Literacy on the other hand leaks out of your brain like soapy water out of a sponge that is sitting on the kitchen counter. You have to keep the sponge wet if you want to keep cleaning dishes with it.

Epilogue – I hope this post was as fun for you as some of my old ones. It’s been a while, so I’m rusty. Hopefully more to come!


2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

JLPT N2 RESULTS! (& a Speech Contest)

I have to apologize, I haven’t posted in a couple weeks, but I’ve been incredibly busy. I’m participating in a Japanese speech contest and I have to finish my essay by this week, so with school and tutoring, I’ve had hardly any time to myself. I’m still enjoying myself though, I love the feeling of hard work and sweat late at night.

I don’t have time right now, so I’m not going to go into too much detail about this speech contest, but there are some interesting things worth talking about when the time comes.

Here’s the real meat and potatoes of today’s quick post though:

I got my 2010 JLPT Results in the mail today! I passed! 5 hours a day of study, for 2 years, that’s 3650 hours, one failed exam, and a lot of tears and blood and salty sweat. Aching hands from too much kanji practice, dreams in japanese about reading and listening comprehension, and not to mention the stress and fear while you actually take the test itself… BUT I PASSED.

I have never felt so proud of myself for any single accomplishment in my entire life. Thanks to everyone who helped me succeed. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Now, on to harder material!


かりゆし58 & My Progress Update

My Okinawan friend recently introduced me to a really amazing Okinawan band called Kariyushi 58, and I’ve been listening to their music non-stop for close to a month now. I don’t always have something well thought out or profound to say about Japanese (to be perfectly honest, I’ve been distracted this week so I haven’t studied as much as I planned) so today I’m just going to post a few YouTube Videos of the songs I’ve been listening to, I hope you like them.

This last one is a live version, and I feel like it really gives you a good feel for their personality and spirit. These guys are really uplifting.



I finished the book “上級へのとびら” last week, and I moved on to the second book on my plan: “日本文化を読む”. So far, it’s pushing me harder than any text book I’ve used so far. The vocab is really intense, using mostly kanji I’ve never even seen before. I’m 2 chapters into the book and i’ve learned over 300 new words already! I just hope I can remember them all…










「パズルは普通に四角だから、北、南、東、西のことなどを集中しながら解決するんだけど、文はそんなに複雑じゃない。文はレシピのように、始めから終わりまで、予算された順番に沿って作る物だ。例えば、ラーメンを作ってるでしょう?ラーメンは、醤油を入れるけど、正しい時に入れなきゃならないでしょう?味噌汁を作った後とか、水を沸いた後とか、豚肉を焼く前とかね。文は同じだ。例えば『I like to eat ramen』という文が『I like to ramen eat』に変わると、意味は一気になくなるよね。だから、『Eat』の順番は『To』を入れる後、『ラーメン』の前だ。醤油と同じように。理由は分からないけど、お前も醤油の順番は化学的に分からないだろう?ただ、これは順番だと分かってるね」話を続いた。色々な話題を含めた。




Live Like Great Teacher Onizuka

I just finished watching the live action drama version of “GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka”, and I was so moved that I think I can actually say Onizuka changed my life. Like a lot of anime fans, I also really liked the “Great Teacher Onizuka” manga and animated series as well, but there was something about the live action version that touched me in a way that the anime couldn’t. I was on the brink of tears at the climax of almost every episode. I found myself thinking about Onizuka while I wasn’t watching the series, contemplating ways that I can improve myself in his light, or wondering what he would say about my problems and situations.

Who is Onizuka Eikichi?

Onizuka is a biker gang delinquent turned high school teacher. He graduated from a 3rd rate college, he’s not particularly smart or good at studying, but he loves kids and he wants to change the world. What more could you want in a teacher?

What makes Onizuka Eikichi so great?

For starters, how many characters exist in American literature (television, movies or print) who are as inspiring, caring, fun-loving and tough all at the same time as Onizuka? As a character alone, Onizuka is incredibly loveable. He plays video games, he ditches school for “open air lessons”, he shoots fireworks off the roof of the school and he beats the crap out of adults who disrespect his students. He has a condom with the message “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR FIRST TIME” written on the wrapper, and he’s saving it for his one and only love. He has real a real sense of morality. He’s a fighter when he needs to protect those who are weaker than him, he’s gentle when his people need him to comfort them, and he knows how to practice tough love when his people don’t know what’s best for themselves.

He cries too. Not when he’s sad or upset though, only when he’s happy or he’s going to miss someone who’s gone off chasing their dreams. A real Onizuka-Man doesn’t cry when he can’t get what he wants, he just fights harder until he does. He’ll cry when his student’s accomplish their dreams though, and he’ll cry when they express their studently love for him. And when he cries, he cries with the biggest smile on his face.

What does Onizuka do when someone challenges him? If the challenge is stupid he’ll take it seriously (who can stand still in front of an on-coming truck the longest perhaps?). But if the challenge is serious, he’ll take it like a joke.

“Onizuka-Sensei, if you don’t pass this test, you’ll be fired! What do you have to say about this?!”

“MY HORSE WON! THAT’S $100 IN MY POCKET! YES! I’m sorry, were you talking?”


“Onizuka-Sensei, if you can’t beat me at Street Fighter, I’ll never acknowledge you as my homeroom teacher!”

“Bring it on! I’m a 5th degree black belt!”

When one of his female students is about to be raped by a bunch of boys, Onizuka ruthlessly pummels them into the ground, and then searches for her lost necklace with her until morning despite a very important appointment first thing in the morning. When one of the boys in his class is being bullied, he hangs the bully over the roof of the school by her feet to teach her what fear feels like. When these kids are in tears and or bloody after his “extra-curricular lessons”, what does Onizuka do? He pats them on the head with a big smile and says “well, there you go, you won’t be doing that again will you?” and walks away.

Most important of all, though; is that Onizuka seriously believes in everyone. He knows that everyone around him has an inherent goodness, even if they’re behaving badly. It’s all temporary to him, he treats them like they’re really just good people who’ve lost their way a little bit and just need a good lesson to open their eyes. Onizuka looks at his students with tears in his eyes and a grin on his face and yells “You guys are all… GREAT!”

If he has a dream, he follows it relentlessly. If his students have dreams, he smacks them around (mentally or physically, whichever works better for the student in question) until they understand how to follow their dreams and DO IT. Life is about dreams to Onizuka. What’s the point of living if you can’t follow you dreams?

What’s Onizuka’s one and only motto in life:

“Whatever you do, be GREAT!”

Those are words we can all live by.

CONCLUSION: I know this drama is old school, but just watch it. It’s pretty much the most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I don’t care that Onizuka is fictional, he’s a life changer. I give this series 10/10.

Personality Split

One of my friends told me over the weekend that my personality changes when I speak English and when I speak Japanese. She had never heard me speak English before and she is bilingual, so she’s probably a very good judge of personality in speech styles. We were speaking Japanese most of the evening, and I was speaking my normal “silly Japanese”, which is when I purposely fake a Yankee accent or Osaka-Ben. She told me it sounded “funny” when I did that, but I chose not to take that to heart. I like the way I speak Japanese, it reflects just how I feel when I’m speaking it: silly happy.

When I spoke English however, she said that my personality seemed to completely change. She said I had a “sekinin-kan” or “a sense of responsibility”. Well, I always have a sense of responsibility, that’s just the kind of person I am. Is it possible that the way I speak Japanese, while serving the purpose raising the spirits of those around me and allowing me to have the most fun possible, might also make me look… irresponsible? Do I sound like a delinquent when I speak Japanese? Do I sound stupid? Do I care?

There’s a pretty obvious reason for this split. When you speak a foreign language naturally, you are forging a speech style. I am not a native Japanese speaker. Japanese isn’t my base language. My real self is still “in English”, and it probably always will be. So when I’m speaking English, that’s the real me. That’s the “my focus isn’t on language but content” me. When I’m speaking Japanese, I have to concentrate on my language, almost more so than on content. I have to actively pursue natural sounding Japanese. I choose my incorrect conjugations, contractions and slurs very carefully to sound like a real Japanese person. No one really speaks like the text books teach. The real stuff is learned on the street, but unless you grew up there that stuff won’t come naturally to you. You have to make it a part of your speech, and that takes concentration.

I actually sat down one day and thought “what is the best way for me to talk in Japanese to try to express my personality appropriately?” I consider myself to be a little bit wild, a little bit strong headed, and a little bit reckless. I do what I want, I follow my dreams, and I don’t take no for an answer. I don’t like to be controlled and I face challenge with a grin. What’s the best speech style for a person like that? Yankee-Talk, right?

Well, now I’m not so sure. Now that a real Japanese person has told me that my personality seems different in English, I’m realizing that from a pure language standpoint, maybe this speech-style doesn’t work for me. I don’t mess up English usually. I don’t say things like “ain’t” or “got nothin’”, and I don’t talk like a gangsta. Yet I don’t feel like the gentle calm soul that correct careful Japanese portrays.

A real “Badass” is tough on the inside, not just on the outside. A real badass wouldn’t be thinking about “how do I talk to sound badass”. He talks how he talks, and if anyone has a problem with it they can get lost. Well, I have to think about how to talk, so maybe I should just speak Japanese like I speak English: correctly and with a “sekinin-kan”.