When I came to Japan in 1991, I was extremely motivated to learn Japanese, which was a good thing since the idea that you can learn a language through osmosis just by living in the country is flat wrong. I took advantage of every opportunity to advance my studies, transcribing the lyrics to JPOP songs so I could sing them at karaoke to watching Japanese dramas, which helped me get lots of vocabulary input. When I encountered a Japanese person, I’d engage in a brief “language battle” with them to determine which of us had the higher language skills, and thus which language I’d speak with that person — and I hated to lose. Then one day I was in Tokyo, looking for a coin locker to put my bags in, and a middle-aged salaryman who was clearing his out said “Please use this one” to me in English. I thanked him in fluent Japanese, but after that I realized that I’d done him a real disservice. This man would probably have only a few chances to use his English each year, and yet I had stubbornly refused to oblige him. Since that day, I’ve resolved to speak English to Japanese people more, which usually causes their face to brighten just a little. Lately there’s a cute man who comes over to say hello when I’m working out at the gym, and instead of speaking Japanese with him, I’m happy to converse with him in English, which makes him very happy.
To erase the mental image of me at the gym, I present…Hinako-chan.