I had a promise I had to keep. I promised my parents I would take Japanese throughout college - I'm second generation Japanese, you see, and I knew the basics from visiting my grandparents in the summer. That's all I needed, I personally thought, but I kept enrolling in classes as I meandered through my college life.
I wasn't the best student in class. I might have occasionally been the worst. Still, I grew to respect how difficult it is to fully learn another language, even if I was Japanese. (My parents lived far away and I never spoke to them in Japanese anyhow).
Then I got the notion to be an actor. Because I was afraid of going to Los Angeles with all its competitiveness - I decided I'd go live in Tokyo for a bit to get some acting experience and become fluent in Japanese to be more marketable when I did show up in LA. The first part I did. The second ... I should have.
I showed up in Japan teaching English for Nova. If you really want to learn Japanese - this is not the route to take. Speaking in only English (and really. simple. basic English) all day does not help you learn kanji, or how to speak. Making friends with Japanese people who'd rather speak in Japanese (which is quite hard to find, sometimes), perhaps working in the teaching industry where knowledge of both English and Japanese is wanted, or working for a Japanese company might be the better thing.
Well - I quit. Soon, I found myself doing the usual small jobs here and there as basically an extra for cash - and I got myself into a couple plays. One of them, being in English and Japanese. Now - this actually helped. I studied and studied and studied, and at least for the play - managed to passably be able to speak Japanese fluently. This led to a lady giving me some narration work recording English lessons on CD for ECC Language Institute - I was working! Hooray!
During those months of basically constantly looking for work, I had a period of couch surfing around (thank you Miwa, for letting me stay at your awesome pad), working some 'interesting' jobs, and generally - getting a feel for this different culture I had visited for so long but never actually lived in. It was a great experience - but at the end of the year, I decided I needed to make the move to LA to try and get more into film and TV acting.
Now - I can't say I use Japanese as much - and it is a bummer how quickly you can forget kanji and pronunciation. Still, by LA standards, my Japanese is fluent. The city is not as bad as I thought either! A Japanese casting director, Yumi Takada, constantly calls me up and directs me to Japanese auditions. Most recently, I worked as a principal performer for a Suntory commercial starring Tommy Lee Jones. It should be airing in Japan during the summer of 2006.
Still, going in for Japanese theatrical auditions - I get the sides faxed or emailed - and it's a bunch of kanji. No rikai.com for faxes! And I sit - and translate. No rikai.com for faxes! I try and remember my year in Tokyo and how I spoke. Then I inch through traffic, get to the place, go in the room, meet all the Japanese casting people and director, and do what I've prepared. Usually they ask once I'm finished - 'What part of Japan did you say you were from?' But sometimes ... sometimes they smile and I've found work again.