Ah, 日本語, where do I begin? My journey into Spanish was so conventional (school classes to using it at work), but Japanese was much more of a weird maze of a journey spurred on by actual desire to learn.
I guess it technically started in middle school, when I got into anime. But, I was only watching things dubbed and didn’t really learn very many words. Then, in 2002, when I was in high school, I heard “Simple and Clean” on TV in a Kingdom Hearts commercial. I immediately found out who the singer was (宇多田ヒカル), and what else she released. From there, I entered the world of jpop, jrock, and dramas. I was hooked for my entire high school career and into college. I fell in love with Japanese music, language, culture, and people. I taught myself how to read ひらがな and カタカナ. I was able to teach myself a decent amount of vocabulary from song lyrics alone. (Some of the first words that I learned: 愛, 夢, 恋, 抱きする, 大好き…)
During my obsession with learning more and more about Japan, I met two Japanese girls online who became my penpals: Rie and Hiroko. In the summer of 2008, I was able to visit both of them AND attend a L’Arc~en~Ciel (my fave band) concert in 東京ドーム. It was an unforgettable experience! Rie lives in 岩手県 (Iwate) in a small city called 遠野市 (Tono.) I stayed in her house with her and her family. I got to experience the countryside of Japan. Everyone, even the townspeople, were so welcoming. I never wanted to leave. But, I did. I took the 新幹線 (bullet train) to 東京都 to meet Hiroko. I got to experience the other side of Japan – the hustle and bustle of places such as 新宿 and 原宿. Plus, I had floor seats at 東京ドーム where I could see L’Arc.
I still talk to Rie, and she is one of my closest friends. However, I don’t really listen to Japanese music much anymore. My faves aren’t releasing stuff right now, and I’m not a fan of most of the stuff out now. I’ll listen to my old classics when I study, or before a lesson to get me into that mode. So, that complete obsession/passion/thirst to learn is gone. I still find the language beautiful, and study with an online tutor.
I have gone through over 10 Japanese tutors in three years. Currently, I am studying with Takako on italki. We are reading 砂時計 by 芦原妃名子. The dialect is difficult for me, but I adore the story, so I’m struggling through.