As all of the symbols in Japanese start coalescing into individual meanings and pronunciations, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss. I mean, there are tons of websites out there breathlessly proclaiming how cool Japanese is, giving you tips on learning different phrases and words, grammar points, etc. There are other sites out there that are breathless commentaries on different aspects of Japanese culture, and all of them seem oriented towards people who think Japanese is the coolest thing ever, and I think partly because it’s so exotic and foreign.
But as I learn more about the Japanese, their culture, and their language, it loses that breathless quality, it loses its exoticism, it loses that “other” quality that makes it so appealing, and it just becomes another group of people that I’m learning to talk to on their own terms.
All those websites, all those YouTube videos, all of which sell how strange and wonderful and amazing Japanese is, and once you start learning it, it’s just a language, and it’s just people.
There is a lot of beauty in the Japanese culture, please don’t get me wrong, but there is much ugliness as well, too. There’s a reason that many countries in the far east have ongoing issues with Japan – they can and have been a very cruel and warlike people. And at the same time, they’ve come up with kawaii culture and some of the cutest and funniest and strangest things, and it’s a paradox.
But they’re people. Just like me. They are born, they die, they go to school, grow old, fall in love, fall out of love, eat, sleep, and are everything I am, and everything I am not. They are beautiful and ugly and sometimes at the same time, just like me.
And so I continue to learn, words of love, words of hate, words of action, words of inaction, words of caution, words of recklessness. Most of the words I have in my own language, and some I don’t, expressed with different syllables, different pronunciation, different symbols, different grammar, but at the end of the day, the same language – the language of living, the language of existing, the language of being human.
As I go to bed, one hundred and fifty million people on a small island nation half the size of Texas are going about their Sunday, living, working, playing, being happy, being sad… and tomorrow morning, as they go to sleep, three hundred million people in my country will be going about their Sunday living, working, playing, being happy, being sad… we’re all just people.
What’s the point of making them something they’re not?
It goes both ways, though. The Japanese seem to romanticize Texas in much the same way. Our land is one of wide open spaces, cowboy hats, cows, pickup trucks, etc. And there is some of that, yes. But we are just people too. Our language is the same language – one of existing, one of living, one of being human.
How do we just be human with each other? Can we? Is it even possible?
Maybe we start one person at a time.
I see you, Japanese people. I don’t mean I see you with my eyes. I mean I see you.
Do you see me? Do you see me?