Wandering Across the Rainbow Chopsticks #1: Introductions and Puns

We’re running a survey about what content we should start posting about on our website’s blog and one of the top results so far is for me, May, to start posting a diary of my progress learning Japanese. So I guess I’ll do that. The survey is still running and we will provide more content besides this diary of course, but I just thought I should start up the diary now since it’s popular and probably not a bad way to increase my Japanese proficiency.

I should warn you though; a writer I am not and a lot of what I write will be very much a train of thought, so, have fun I guess.

I was originally going to just call this “Learning Japanese Diary” because that’s exactly what it is, but that’s boring so I was caught with the problem of what to call the blog. I wanted a pun, because I like puns, so I had to go with my favourite pun at the moment which is the fact that chopsticks and bridge can both be read as ‘hashi’. The Rainbow Bridge is also the bridge that leads to Odaiba which is where the main characters in the first season of Digimon are from. So it works as I love puns and love Digimon. I mean, it was either that or “I Dedicate This To My Year 10 Japanese Teacher”.

I thought I’d start this diary by focusing a bit on my background learning Japanese.

I first started Japanese in Prep (first level of Primary School in Australia) as a LOTE subject in 1999.

Now, you must be thinking “Wow! You must be fluent! You first started 18 years ago!”. If you’re thinking that, sadly, you’re wrong. We watched a lot of Ghibli Films and were told basic greetings and colours in Prep and Year 1 and I then left the school half way through Year 1 and went to a school that taught French as LOTE. I can say what my name is in French but that’s it. I left that school half way through Year 5 and went to another school that taught Japanese. I spent the next year and a half learning Hiragana and that’s about it.

I then graduated that school and went to my highschool where Year 7 students could choose either German or Japanese once they started school. I chose Japanese and we were taught very, very basic stuff (introductions, hiragana and katakana). It was a good foundation at least. 

I went to Japan in Year 8 with my parents (2007) and barely spoke and Japanese. I didn’t try and, of course, I didn’t learn.

In Year 9 and 10, I chose to continue Japanese as learning a language after Year 7 and 8 at my High School was optional. We started Kanji, which I was bad at, and particles, which I was awful at.

In Year 9 we had a Japanese person teaching us Japanese and she was lovely and I felt I was learning a lot from her. Sadly, because she was so lovely and soft spoken, she was unable to control the naughty children in the class, so paying attention was often difficult. We had the choice to go to Japan for a month with other Year 9 and 10 students. We went to school at two different schools in Japan and also toured around a lot. We went with nice Japanese teacher, our PE teacher (who didn’t know any Japanese but her son wanted to go so she pulled some strings), and two Australian teachers who taught Japanese (one of which I will call Mr NotNice and I write about him later).

I barely tried to speak Japanese outside of self introductions and the students at the school were all effectively fluent in English so, of course, I didn’t pick up any Japanese as I didn’t try.

In Year 10, the nice Japanese teacher left and went back to Japan. The rumor was that it was because our class was so bad and the students at the school were so awful. I thought that sounded believable. As nice teacher left and there was only one other teacher than taught Year 10 Japanese, we had Mr NotNice who was an Australian bloke. And here’s where my learning Japanese adventure went pear shaped.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with an Australian man teaching Japanese, in Year 7 and 8 we had an Aussie bloke teach us and he was great. 

This man, however, was actually just an awful person. I won’t name he’s name because I’m not an idiot. He had a PhD in Geography and was adamant that everyone (students, teachers, parents, strangers, everyone who he ever interacted with) preface his last name with ‘Dr’ and never use his first name (not even other teachers had the privilege of calling him by his first name. They did of course, because they hated him). He also acted like his Japanese was incredible, but, as we knew from when we had gone to Japan the previous year, nobody could understand him when he spoke Japanese. The students were still naughty and I would try to silent them. I would get yelled at by Mr NotNice as they were allowed to be loud because ‘they were boys’. He was also the type of teacher who would yell at you for going on excursions with other classes as it would take you away from learning Japanese. I am a dick, so I would often say that he was ridiculous and was just being shirty that he wasn’t qualified to teach Year 11 and 12 Japanese. He didn’t like me much.

Then it came time for all the Year 10 students had to get subjects signed off in order to continue them as electives in VCE. I went to visit MrNotNice in the staffroom (I heard a rumor he demanded an office when he joined) and asked him to sign me off so I could study Japanese in Year 11 and 12. He laughed in my face, refused, and said that I ‘would never even be able to speak Japanese let alone be fluent’, so I called him by his first name and brought up the fact he was also not qualified for VCE Japanese and then walked away. He was speechless and I think I heard the teacher next to him choke on a biscuit.

Suffice to say, my Japanese studying paused there.

After that I had short bursts of wanting to learn Japanese but didn’t actually start learning until 2016 when I went to Japan for two weeks with my partner and his family.

This time I actually tried to speak Japanese and my partner’s family often had me and my limited Japanese to help them out. I actually learned a bit while I was there and even started using sentences with the subject and topic particles! I mainly used my Japanese in shopping situations (For example, I used “~ga arimasuka?” and “korewa nandesuka?” a lot).

When I came back I was motivated with learning the language and a year later I can confidently say that I’d be at N5 level if I were to take the JLPT. 

When people ask me how long I’ve been learning Japanese I just say ‘A year of serious studying’ because, honestly, I’m only trying now and I only had 100% understanding on Hiragana and Katakana before now.

My aim is to take the N3 test in December 2018. Or N4, at the very least.

Hopefully this diary will help my studies even more.

One day, when I get my N1 certificate, I think I shall photo copy my certificate and mail it to Mr NotNice with a letter attached written entirely in Japanese which he, unfortunately, not be able to read. 

Live with spite, kids.

What are your thoughts?