I had the best of intentions to learn Japanese when I moved to Tokyo. And yet, more than halfway into my three years here, I’m still essentially mute in the language millions around me speak. I’m not proud that I can only sling a few phrases around, but I’m also not beating myself up over it either. I’ve had an incredibly rich experience living here without having a proper grasp on the language.
To be clear, I did initially try. I paid for a class, signed up for daily language emails and listened to basic Japanese YouTube. I sat at my kitchen table with blank hiragana and katakana worksheets and took a stab at writing the strokes. But I quickly became frustrated.
The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State ranks Japanese in its most difficult of five categories, requiring 2,200 hours of study. There are five languages in that category: Only Japanese gets an asterisk for being even more difficult than the others for native English speakers to learn.