Komorebi: Sunlight Filtering Through Trees
By Shannon Johnson
Over the weekends and in the evening hours after a workday, how do you spend your rest time? Like many others, I enjoy watching television, reading books, and going on walks while listening to music or podcasts. Life is busy for me with work, keeping up with house chores, and family. However, I am a firm believer in taking time every day to recharge your batteries by doing something you enjoy. I happen to have a hobby that isn’t the first you might expect. For the past six years, during my free time, I have been studying the Japanese language. Yes – Japanese.
About six years ago, I found myself desiring mental stimulation. I wanted something different from the work I was doing each day. Also, one of my greatest fears in life is developing Alzheimer’s, as both of my grandmothers had it. As a result, strengthening my brain is a high priority for me. Learning a new language sounded fun. During my days at university, I met people from many countries. My best friends were from Russia and Taiwan. If you had asked me at that time which language I’d like to learn, I would have chosen Russian or Mandarin Chinese. However, about six years ago, I was watching a lot of Japanese programming, so I casually thought Japanese would be a good choice. The first step in my language journey was on November 14, 2016, when my husband gave me Rosetta Stone for my birthday.
Initially, it seemed impossible, but I was determined to conquer this in the same manner as I would at work – a system to understand and problems to solve. I started by learning hiragana and katakana, which are effectively the alphabet of the Japanese language. I did not even want to consider kanji. (However, learning kanji is inevitable.) Kanji are characters taken from Chinese, and there are about 2,000 that the Japanese government has deemed necessary and are taught in schools through 12th grade. Needless to say, my path to fluency is taking at least twice as long as I naively and prematurely estimated.
An amazing by-product of learning a language is getting to learn a culture different from your own. Language is truly a product of the need of a group of people to communicate. Especially in a more isolated country like an island nation, the culture and language develop uniquely. The way in which we view the world is shaped by our language because we develop words and ideas that are limited within the language we speak. Languages other than English have words that we cannot describe as precisely because of cultural interactions. For example, a well-known phrase in Japanese is yoroshiku onegaishimasu. However, as Japanese is a very contextual language, the phrase can mean various things such as, “I look forward to working with you,” “Please treat me well [during our relationship],” or “Nice to meet you.” The opposite is also true of English to Japanese. I struggled for a long time when starting a conversation in Japanese. In English, we often say something like, “Hey! How are you today?” or “Are you having a good day so far?” In Japanese, those conversation starters are not used. You can’t merely take what you want to say in English, run it through Google Translate, and expect a proper Japanese translation (which is quite frustrating when you are a new learner!). Japanese also has nouns and verbs to describe things that we English speakers cannot do so precisely. My favorite noun is komorebi, which means “sunlight filtering through trees.” Very zen, right?
This fascinating journey of learning both the Japanese language and culture has been quite fulfilling and enjoyable. It has even encouraged my family to visit Japan (twice!). It is a splendid country to visit, even if you are not able to speak any Japanese. The cities are very clean, public transportation is prompt and readily available, and they have the best convenience stores in the entire world. (I’m not kidding!) The customer service is excellent, and there are so many amazing sites to see and things to do. If you ever choose to visit Japan, I bet my bottom dollar that you won’t regret it.
While it will take me some time to get to the level of fluency I desire, this process of learning Japanese has opened my eyes to the world and possibilities that exist. Having a broader view of the world and the people in it can aid in problem solving and creating vision as you have a larger palate to select from. I plan to be a life-long learner of language. I have not yet decided on my next language, but Spanish and Russian are contenders.
On a Saturday morning, you can find me on the couch or at my kitchen island with a cup of coffee, but you will also see a laptop and some Japanese books scattered around as I settle in for a study session. It is my favorite way to start the weekend. What’s yours?