I started learning Japanese in my second year of university. My interest developed from a younger age, but I was never actually interested in Japan until 2003. Some early Japanese interests were:
- Japanese video games, e.g., Megaman, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Resident Evil, Parasite Eve, Silent Hill, Legend of the Dragoon, Tenchu, Onimusha, and Xenosaga
- I was chosen to represent and learn about Japan for several months in high school; It was a United Nations’ debate simulation for a world issues class
- I always had an interest in martial arts; I was a member of my university Karate Club for three years
It happened in my second year of university (2002). My international housemates (two Chinese, one Chinese-Canadian, one Syrian, and one Taiwanese) said something that changed me. One day, one of my Chinese housemates said, “Wow, you really like Japan.”
After this conversation, I started to learn about Japan. I started borrowing books about Japan from the university library. I enrolled into the only Japanese course my university offered: Japanese Religions. I bought an audiocourse from the bookstore. It was a textbook, several CDs, and a Japanese to English dictionary.
I took interest in Japan, but I wasn’t learning the language. The DIY Japanese package I bought was boring. I never used it. I occasionally looked up words in the dictionary, but I had no idea how to pronounce them.
At my karate club, I was occasionally partnered with another student my age. In addition to martial arts, we shared a common interest in video games. One day, when talking about feudal Japan from the cutscenes of Onimusha, he said, “If you’re interested in learning Japanese, I have a friend who volunteers as a Japanese teacher. She does it as a part of her university course. She’ll teach you for free!” I agreed.
I started meeting her in downtown Halifax’s Park Lane Mall food court. We did this a few times per month. She talked to me about Japan, showed me Japanese things, e.g., comic books and origami. She encouraged me to learn kana. I found the pronunciation easy. She was surprised I could mimic her pronunciation so well. I wasn’t learning how to speak though. I was more interested in learning about Japan than the language.
She returned to Japan but introduced me to her friend. Her friend worked in Halifax as Japanese kitchen staff at a few restaurants. This woman, like the other, was in her early thirties. I was a 19 year old boy with a skateboard and working at McDonald’s. She befriended me and taught me how to cook. She was motivated to learn English so I had something to offer her in exchange for the Japanese and cooking lessons. We met weekly.
Japanese at SMU
My university (DAL) didn’t offer Japanese but a nearby university (SMU) did. I did a lot of paperwork and had a meeting with the DAL Dean to have the SMU Japanese credits transferred back to DAL towards my degree. This was the first time I really went after something academic with passion. I wasn’t willing to take no for an answer. The Dean respected my argument and agreed to let the credits transfer. I successfully registered for a full year Introductory Japanese and Introduction to Japanese Culture (fall) and Contemporary Japan (winter) at SMU. I would be minoring in Japanese at SMU and majoring in Sociology at DAL.
I was excited for my first day of Japanese class. I was surprised to see the class was almost all Chinese. At the time, I wasn’t aware Chinese people had a major headstart in learning Japanese. A man dressed sharply in a tailored suit stood at the front. He was Russian. The class soon discovered his intolerance for slackers. When some realized it wasn’t going to be an anime watching class, many dropped out. Those who remained were serious about Japanese. He was always passionate about Japanese.
In first year Japanese, I learned how to read and write kana and about 100 kanji. I could do simple greetings and understand simple textbook sentences. I mastered our course’s Japanese for Busy People textbook, I couldn’t understand Japanese conversations in-person or in movies.
Download & Watch
In spring 2004, after the course finished, I started making progress. It seemed every Japanese person I met in Halifax introduced me to another two of their Japanese friends. I networked and made a lot of Japanese friends. In addition to studying on my own, I started watching a lot of Japanese TV shows and movies, e.g., Orange Days, GTO, The Ring and Juon. My Japanese friends were making the recommendations. I was listening to Japanese for at least an hour every day.
A Lady Friend
I met a woman. She was the first Japanese girl I got interested in. She was ten years older than me. We started dating in spring. She often spoke to me in Japanese and taught me a lot about about Japan. When my apartment’s lease terminated in early summer, I decided to move back to Campbellton, New Brunswick and spend time with my family until the next school term in fall. One month before the fall term began, my girlfriend asked me to move back to Halifax and stay with her. I agreed.
We lived together in a beautiful downtown Halifax waterfront apartment. She was subletting from a Japanese-Canadian occupational therapist at DAL. The OT, however, was rarely there. She was often away for research or visiting Japan. She had a great business of subletting her place to Japanese students and tourists.
That summer, I became the Canadian housemate to a handful of fresh off the boat Japanese people. They were usually in Canada for sightseeing. Few of them could maintain a conversation in English. The conversations were often translated by my girlfriend or the OT. It was great experience because I got to meet a lot of new people and was forced to converse in Japanese. I could take the role as an observer. I could watch Japanese people have conversations with each other in Japanese and occasionally participate myself.
It was almost September. The fun was about to end. My girlfriend had to move back to Japan, and I had to find a new sublet for the 2004–2005 school year.