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Japanese: a Failed Experiment (But Not Entirely)

Ever since I began this blog, there have been a few ongoing themes.  The one that really permeated the entire blog was the following question:  Why am I bothering?  Over the last few years, it’s perhaps the most important question, and the one I had the most difficulty answering.

I think I might have the answer.  And it ties together nearly all of the threads that have been weaving this blog from the very beginning.  So let me start.

The first thread was:  why I started to learn Japanese.  Something attracted me to it.  I think that’s the best way I could put it.  One reason was that I was attracted to something about idol culture and the mystery of Japanese youth culture.  Another was that I considered it a great puzzle that I thought I could sink my teeth into.  But at the end of the day, something strongly attracted me to Japan and its culture, and it took me a very long time to even come close to figuring out what.

Another thread was, that there was something about Japan that was attracting me on an emotional level, and it wasn’t just idol culture or Japanese youth culture.  There was a question about myself that I didn’t feel like I could answer through my culture, and something about Japan seemed to hint at an answer there.  As it turns out, I think I was misreading the whole thing, but we’ll get into that.

The third thread was that I didn’t really want to have anything to do with Japanese people.  I saw the language and culture as a challenge in itself, but I’m a misanthrope and generally am not a fan of people in general.  Toss another culture into the mix, and, well…

All of these threads together meant that Japanese was always going to, eventually, fail for me.  The question was only how far I’d get.  I think I found out.

The answer, I think, was to be found in the other projects I was doing.  I started with Texihabara, which I still think has the core of a decent project, but I wasn’t feeling it.  I don’t think I truly figured it out until I started the Lily project.  See, here’s the thing about Lily:  she emotionally hits the same buttons as Japanese culture for me, but from a very different direction.  She’s able to hit those buttons in my culture, and I no longer need to hold up Japan as a mirror to reflect things I have difficulty seeing.  And I’ve discovered that the reason I was learning Japanese was that it was a failed attempt to reclaim my own youth.  Japanese idol and youth culture (Morning Musume, AKB48, etc) was a way that I could explore something that I was missing in my own life – my youth.  With, I think, exactly one exception (or maybe two) I have never actually found Japanese idols attractive.  But they were a reflection of something missing that I was trying desperately to reclaim, and couldn’t think of any way to do so except through them.  Viscerally.

So I learned Japanese because I was finding something in their culture that I had missed out on in my own life, and had no way to experience, even vicariously, in my own culture.  It wasn’t about Japan.  It wasn’t about Japanese.  It was about being young.  It was about exploring the youth that I was cheated out of.

Starting the Lily project was a way for me to explore this without having to lay it on an external culture as a framework.  I have an alter ego, of sorts.  She is a sixteen year old girl who doesn’t have her memories.  She has a family who loves her, she studies Japanese, she has friends, she is a way to explore everything about youth that I was trying, and failing, to explore through studying Japanese.  She is her own person, in a real way, and I do not have an identity crisis in any sense (I am a middle aged man and that’s not changing in any way), but she kind of replaces for me what I was trying to fill with Japanese, and failing.

I don’t need Japanese any more.

So, Japanese was, in a very real way, a failed experiment.  Now that I understand the motivation, and have another way to explore the things that I need to, I no longer need it, and it doesn’t hold a tremendous about of interest anymore.

But, I said, “But Not Entirely”.

I’ve put too much time, effort, and money into Japanese to completely discard it, at this point.  I don’t have the same kind of emotional need for it that I used to, but I don’t think giving it up and forgetting about it is the greatest idea either.  I need to find another reason.  I haven’t yet, but it’s time to get back the sense of exploration that got subsumed by trying to fill the sense of cloying loss.

So I’m not quitting Japanese.  Not entirely.  But my motivations are different now, and I need to adapt.

I will follow up here once I’ve figured out how.

But for now – and only for now – Japanese is considered a failed experiment, and whatever the ultimate disposition of this blog, that will reflect that in some way.

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