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Make Japanese the Center of Your Life: The Only Time You Have is the Time You Make

Remember before how I was all “I learned Japanese and held 3 jobs and was going full-time in college in a completely unrelated major”. Remember how I told you that?

Well, I’m sorry if I said it in a way to make you feel that you could you could learn Japanese “on the side” while going about business-as-usual. You can’t. It’s not like “I had XYZ going in my life, and Japanese on the side”. It’s more like “Japanese was my life, and but I also did the minimum necessary to handle XYZ”.

But it’s also not the case that I had infinite time and resources. I was taking university classes in an unrelated major. I did hold jobs. My budget was often lower than my IQ :). Which doesn’t say a lot, but there you go.

So, the point here is that despite whatever constraints there may be in your life, despite the fact that you may have a life and other commitments, you have to make Japanese the center of your life. This doesn’t mean that you don’t fulfill your other commitments (that is, if they absolutely must be fulfilled), but it does mean that everything else must subordinate to your study of Japanese. You don’t have time, you make it. Don’t wait until you “have” the time, because it’s not coming. The Time Fairy and her bucket of Magical Schedule-Opening Dust…it was all an elaborate conspiracy by your parents to placate you.

Now, even without the benefit of the Time Fairy, it isn’t as hard as it sounds. Just make a point to ask and answer questions like: “how can I make this bend to Japanese?”, “how can I do this in Japanese?”.

For example, one of my jobs involved sitting around and waiting for people to come and ask me questions (this was not an accident), so I put on my headphones, and listened to Japanese music while reading a Japanese book. Another job involved looking up programming documentation online, so I looked up the Japanese documents, and tried to make some code comments in Japanese, too. All these little things. Walking was another great time to learn.

My classes were about the only time I listened to non-Japanese dialogue for any extended period of time. And even then, I took my notes in Japanese (even if that just meant using kanji with Heisig meanings).

There’s a famous quote attributed Woody Allen, where he says something like 70% of winning is showing up. That’s true in learning Japanese, too. This isn’t the kind of showing up you to do a class, where you sit around bored into catatonia and listen to other students’ whining about how “kanji is hard”. No, the real way you “show up” to doing Japanese is by doing it all day; every day (all Japanese, all the time). Headphones on, book or computer in hand. Practicing, reading, writing, listening. Show up and you win. The more you show up, the faster you will win.

I would be lying if I told you I was perfect at applying these principles throughout my life. But I did apply them in learning Japanese. It’s with the confidence of that experience, that I’d like to share all this with you.

Look at your daily life. It has 24 hours, just like everyone else’s. There are bound to be times, places and activities you can Japanize. Find them ;).

  13 comments for “Make Japanese the Center of Your Life: The Only Time You Have is the Time You Make

  1. Accard
    November 27, 2008 at 23:46

    I am working hard to learn Japanese at the moment, but my effort is somewhat hampered by the fact that I am an exchange student in Fukuoka. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it is actually a problem: not only am I unable to immerse myself in Japanese all the time, because I have to attend various English-speaking festivities and whatnot, but I am also obliged to attend lessons of the worst variety no less than three times a week. All we do–me and the other exchange students, who sadly prefer to speak in English rather than try their hands at Japanese conversation–is sitting around and reading dull dialogues from textbooks, practicing kanji in illogical ways, and doing what you referred to as “filling in blanks.” Our teacher falls into the ‘condescending’ category that you mentioned, and answers virtually any criticism of the teaching methods with some bullcrap along the lines of “in Japan, you have to obey the teacher no matter what.” That same teacher also said that if you have fun when learning a language, you never learn it well. Some other Japanese person told me, with straight face, that Japanese is structurally so different from any other language on Earth that you can’t learn it the same way you learn English or Spanish or whatever. Being an amateur linguist who’s read grammars of languages from all over the world, I could immediately identify this as sheer idiocy.

    Another exchange student, who’s been here for nine months and has had lessons with the aforementioned teacher, speaks Japanese, but it is awful, and I don’t think he writes or reads very well.

    Furthermore, I have to attend a Japanese highschool. The lessons are mind-numbingly boring, and I think I could spend my hours listening to or watching more fun material, having recently discovered the blessings of anime and comedy gameshows. I don’t get much either way, but I prefer to watch, say, Neon Genesis Evangelion, than listening to half-assed English lessons. I waste around six hours every day, five days a week, in school, in other words, and the school rules would forbid me from listening to Japanese music on my iPod or reading manga or whatever during lesson time (I can honestly say that Japanese highschools are hell on Earth). Not to mention the fact that people here want to practice their English on me, rather than letting me practice my Japanese on them. I can’t blame them, though: I’m neither a good nor a very fast speaker of Nihongo even though I’ve been here for nearly three months, and I don’t understand too much of it either.

    So my question is: Does anyone have any idea how I should handle this situation? I am grateful for any help, though I reckon my question is not one that is readily answered. It’s not that I don’t think you can learn foreign languages–I was born to Swedish parents and have lived my entire life in Sweden, and yet I can write and speak English at near-fluency level, better than most of my countrymen–but that it simply feels, sometimes, as if the Japanese themselves are trying to slow down your progress.

    (I’m sorry for the verbosity, but that’s what I’m like. I enjoy being verbose and using words that’d make H. P. Lovecraft dive for the dictionary, and it is my great hope that I one day will be able to be verbose and baroque in Japanese as well.)

  2. Souza
    March 27, 2009 at 23:11

    hello kazumoto, i like very much your message behind the articles,
    I,m from Brazil and start to study japanese 4 years ago.
    I just start to speak japanese when I made japanese friends and meet than every day, thinking and speaking japanese every time.

    I already transforme my roon in to a “japanese traditional roon” with shoji, tatami and cool things like an samurai armour, kanjis and a lots of books. People usualy say that “you need to stop thinking about japan’, the japan you imagine dont exist’, japs sucks….. and a lots of bullsh**.
    I went to Japan 3 years ago and I like what I saw, and start to study more about the language and culture.
    The hardest thing I want to do is leave in this “leatle Japan” you sugested.
    I study graphic design at university, and my repertory have to so f***ing large.I have to know a lots of things about every thing, so if I dont, my network and my own work become hard to work out. Thats why I cant stop learn about another things…. and cant turn every thing in japanese.
    But I want to study in Japan and dont forgot about that litle japan.
    Im tired of non productive japanese classes

  3. マッカ
    July 17, 2009 at 23:15

    get the hell out of there!
    I know exactly what you mean. Japan can be the hardest place to learn Japanese. I did a month exchange to Japan and felt that there would be some magic force that would allow me to learn Kanji easier. It was 10 times as hard an ineffective as learning Kanji by myself, and eventually I found RTK anyway.
    I love Japan, but I absolutely love the freedom I have here at home, being able to bend my school schedule so that I have 5 free lessons a week, listen to my iPhone at recess and lunch (albeit discreetly), and read manga during class all the time (unfortunately my iPhone was confiscated once for doing Anki reps in class).
    My advice to you, if you want to become fluent at Japanese, get the hell out of Japan, or do your best to ignore your environment.
    You can’t read manga in class, read a novel! (put it inside a textbook)
    Listen to your iPod at recess and lunch discreetly!
    Force yourself to speak Japanese all the time. If someone speaks to you in English, reply in Japanese; that’s what I did when I exchanged to Japan, and while annoying my host brother, it helped me gain that bit of extra proficiency.

    The last bit of advice I have for you: buy as much manga, newspapers, novels/books and perhaps CDs as you can while you’re in Japan. They’ll be invaluable learning resources when you return home.

  4. Jojo
    May 18, 2010 at 14:49

    Man, I wish to learn Japanese, but I’m a full-time stay at home momma to my beautiful little 7-month old girl, and I’m taking college online. I wish I could use Japanese, but life just seems so hectic; I’m just not sure how I am going to do this, but I’ll be d—ed if I don’t try.

  5. Rook_in_flight
    October 3, 2010 at 11:42

    @Accard: You are only in school for 6 hours, what do you do with the rest of your day? You should be using that time to read books, listen to CDs, hell even walking around and reading/looking up the kanji on billboards and advertisements is good practice! And Japanese IS structurally different enough from Spanish or English that you DO have to tackle it from a different angle. Even if the Japanese people you know want to speak to you in English that is OK, just keep right on speaking to them in Japanese…if they understand your Japanese they will reply with the equivalent ENGLISH answers and thats OK too cause then you at least know they did in fact understand you…i have friends who do that all the time! I speak Japanese, they correct me if i make a mistake, they reply in English and i correct them if they make a mistake, its good for learning! Also JapanesePod101 is an AWESOME sight for learning Japanese but it costs, it works for me though so i would recommend checking it out.

    @Jojo: DO NOT let that stop you. I am a mother of a 6 year old girl and I managed to study online alot with the same website i mentioned above (Japanesepod 101) and ive even managed to teach her some Japanese as well. Plus i am a full time commuting college student with a job and have been able to maintain a high GPA. So dont put yourself down! Where there is a will there is a way, and there must be some will or you wouldnt be on this site at all!

  6. Merovingian
    February 22, 2011 at 10:19

    Yes, of course. Who has time? Who has time? But then if we never *take* time, how can we *have* time?

  7. Catherine
    December 26, 2011 at 15:01

    I’m so confused so….if you don’t how to read japanese, how can you immerse yourself in books or should you just memorize them first? Also, do you just repeat words and say them outloud to get them? I feel so slow..and lost..;w;

  8. ナツ
    June 10, 2012 at 01:52

    Man, this is inspirational… Still, I have a big problem with turning my life into Japanese because I don’t have the money… Is there a free way to do this? Or at least partially? I’m around my mid-teens with barely $20 to my name if that, and my mom has literally gotten to the point where she’s counting pennies in order to have enough money to get by until my sister’s next paycheck. (Luckily she just got a job, and so we should be alright soon enough, but that’s not the point…)
    It’s very hard to live off of the resources I have. I don’t even have Japanese music around me, because my earphones broke, and I’ve seen the same DVD’s enough that they bore me now. I can even quote one of them almost all the way through (even though that’s the 30min Okaasan to Issho episode I have.)
    I thought about putting sticky notes everywhere, labeling things in Japanese. I think I’ll do that, that might help… But the computer I’m on isn’t even mine, and I can’t be on it very often. I’m scared that what I can do isn’t enough, but I really want to know enough Japanese so that I can go to Japan for some of my senior year in High School…
    Really, are there any suggestions? Other than selling my art, I don’t have too many ways to make money, and the only “job” I had was one that I never was able to go to because it was just for a few weeks, and it ended before I was able to work on it.
    I need advice… My lack of Japanese is getting worrisome and a bit disturbing…

    • Metaldragon
      August 10, 2012 at 04:38

      Torrent RTK now and buy it when you can.
      sure its the wrong way round but the author gets his money in the end!

  9. Sasuke
    July 5, 2012 at 07:01

    I’m having a similar problem. I can’t at the moment get hold of RTK and my immersion isn’t all what it ought to be. I know I know no excues I’m just gonna have work around it until I can get the book. In the meantime what are some things I can do to increase my immersion as I get easily distracted with those blasted English songs.

  10. August 3, 2012 at 05:58

    This is good advice.  I’ve been having trouble reconciling my interest in Korean and Korean culture with my desire to get much stronger at Japanese (I’ve been told I am “rough around the edges” to put it nicely 😉 ).
    It occurred to me recently that since KPop is hugely popular in Japan, and since I enjoy it much, it’s pretty easy to enjoy KPop in Japanese and/or read about it in Japanese rather than English.  This helps because I tend to find other media sources in Japanese kind of boring sometimes.
    When I read about KPop in Japanese on Wikipedia, I tend to forget I am doing “study”, but I inevitably learn something in the process.  Likewise, many groups have Japanese versions of their songs, allowing me to enjoy while still picking up lyrics here and there.

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