Jessica: The Guinea Pig

Hey world. I’m Jessica Jackson—late twenties American expat blogger living the shit out of life in Tokyo. I’d like to take a minute to give you some background about me, my language experience, and why I think Betterish needs to exist.

First off, I’m part of that group that was exposed to the hype-filled beginnings of Japanese media expansion into American culture. I remember watching the awful, yet preciously nostalgic, dubbed version of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z. Before long, I spent my free time renting anime films and TV shows from the “special interest” section of my local video store, trying to dig deeper. That love fed into an insatiable need to understand Japan beyond the glimpses that anime and drama offered. Open-ended school projects inevitably swung toward Japan. Whether the wonders of sushi, the giant metropolis of Tokyo, or gothic Lolita fashion, I couldn’t get enough. Couple that with the wild west of downloading media, and I was ridiculously hooked. My only sweet sixteen demand was that it be at the local Teppanyaki/sushi restaurant.

To be honest, I was a bad fan. The love for the language was nonexistent. It only went so far as to how to understand what I was watching, eating, or reading. In uni, I began to see Japanese language as a leg up for potential study abroad opportunities. Getting some time in Japan while working toward completing my degree was the multitasking goal I’d been looking for. It was a goal that didn’t manifest because plans shifted in the way only falling in love makes happen.

I met my significant other. He was charming, funny, well-traveled, and the perfect balance of hardworking gent meeting snarky ego — key components of the person I wanted to spend my time with. Better yet, he embraced my interests beyond simple tolerance. He did this not as a foreigner fan but as a Japanese guy living in America. When he decided returning to Tokyo and home to his family was in the cards, and when we decided that meant I was also moving to Japan, my focus shifted from study abroad to living the beginning of the rest of my life in a foreign land.

Before moving to Tokyo, the idea of language mattered less to me than expression and understanding of others. I quickly learned in my sink or swim experience that language is exactly the easiest way you actually understand others and express yourself, and the need for learning Japanese from a sheer practical purpose began.

I now have enough barely functional Japanese to get my way around the city, but it isn’t going to help me communicate with my in-laws. It doesn’t help me in any substantial situation. It won’t help me navigate the trickier waters of life events big and small — like getting around parts of town that aren’t English friendly, paying the utility bill when T forgets, going to a nearby doctor when sick as opposed to traveling specifically to an English speaking one, or navigating the scary waters of motherhood.

Learning Japanese has never been more needed in my life, and if I can do it and write about it while I stumble through life, I am sure all of you (who are no doubt much more capable than I am) will be able to give it a better go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *