The Hidden Magic of Singing in Your Car
In modern America, it would seem that there is one place where a person’s true nature comes out with un-compromised purity. In this place people shed their shells of embarrassment and discomfort and behave as the innermost core of their soul dictates, unaware of the reactions of other people and unashamed to behave like idiots. What is this magical place?
The driver’s seat of a car when no one is riding shotgun.
I am not exempt from this pattern. My car is packed to the brim with Japanese music. I have one American CD (The Killers “Hot Fuss”) and about 20 Japanese CD’s. When I’m driving alone to work in the morning, or home from work at night, I almost always listen to these Japanese CD’s, and at first it is just that: listening. But after a few minutes, a tune will come on that I love so much (let’s just say it’s SMAP: “Dear Woman”) that I start to mouth the words.
I turn up the volume. I almost can’t help but to blast my speakers.
Before long I’m screaming along with the lyrics, even if I don’t know what every word means, I’ve heard it so many times that it doesn’t matter anymore. I just know the song.
I’m sure I look like a maniac when people are stopped next to me at a red light, but I could care less. The window is closed and I’ll never see them again. So what’s to stop my glorious performance?
Then I move on to Yuzu “Sayonara Bus”, then Hilcrhyme “Daijoubu”, then Mongol 800 “Chiisana Koi no Uta”….
Can you imagine how good this is for my Japanese, and how good it could be for yours?
I listen to the same song over and over again, and if I realize there’s a word I don’t know somewhere in the lyrics, I look it up when I get home. A good website to help with that is 歌マップ, which is listed on my blogroll. You can search for music by artist, then by song, and you’ll find the lyrics to just about any Japanese song. After checking out the lyrics, I listen to the song again. Next time I drive some place, I can really let loose.
A lot of people are embarrassed to speak Japanese in front of real Japanese people because they are afraid their accents won’t be good enough. Well, there’s no fear when you’re driving alone in your car. No one is listening. No one is watching. You can stink to your heart’s content and no one will ever know. It’s unashamed, unrestrained practice. The more you sing, the more you can work to match your voice with those of the singers. Match their tone, match their pitch, match their rhythm. Essentially, mimic their flawlessly natural Japanese accents. And no one can make fun of you.
There’s another way to look at this whole thing. Is there really any fundamental difference between what I’m talking about here and the mundane listening practice your Japanese teacher makes you do in class?
To be perfectly honest, none of us really care about Alice and Tanaka-san, or how much they wish they could get out of the library and just go on a date already. But we do care about music that we like. Music stirs up emotion. It’s fun. It takes all the study out studying. I’ve met a lot of people over the years who learned Japanese as a second language, and those who listen to Japanese music regularly are among the most skilled.
So next time you get in a car when no one’s around, blast L’arc En Ciel or Yui and be a rock star. You may never get a record label, but you’ll be better at Japanese.