So anyway, we've had a request to tell the story of how we learned Japanese, and now seems like as good a time as any to fill that request. It started...wow, about twenty years ago. Wow. Let's not think about that too much.
It started a long time ago when a show you may have heard of called "Sailor Moon" made its way from Japan to the United States. Forgive me if you've heard this story before. We first heard about it when we saw a commercial for the dolls, and we thought it was such a stupid idea. I mean, what is up with that girl's hair? And shouldn't Sailor Mars be a guy, since the symbol for Mars is the symbol for male? And why is Mercury blue? That doesn't make any sense. Sailor Venus looked fine until she randomly switched colors (Athena seems to remember them switching from showing Sailor Venus to Sailor V, or vice versa, and anyway, the Sailor V costume with orange accents (as it appears in the anime) is a little ill-advised).
But, since we still frequented the Barbie section of Toys-R-Us (Athena collected Ariel dolls; she had more than twenty of them, then we gave them to good will when we moved), and that's where they put the Sailor Moon dolls. The faces weren't so great, but we're suckers for bright colors, and we found the costumes irresistible. So when we discovered the TV show, we made it a point to watch. The first episode that aired in our area was on very early on a Saturday morning, and it was the first episode of Sailor Moon R, and was called "Sailor Moon Returns." We were like, "What the heck? Returns? But I thought this was the first episode!" We had to find out what the deal was...or maybe we didn't. We didn't see it again until a few weeks later when a friend told us it was on weekday mornings. We came in sometime in the middle of the Neflite (is that how they spelled it back then?) arc. And we were hooked.
The show went on, they defeated Queen Beryl, then they skipped to the Nega-Moon arc, and Sailor Moon already had a new transformation, which drove us nuts. We were like, "We're clearly missing something!" Then they defeated Avery and Prisma...and they went back to the Alan and Ann arc. Then they finished the Alan and Ann arc and started back at the beginning! What madness is this!? What happened to Rubeus!? When will Darien and Serena get back together!? What's going on!?
We had to know more, and fortunately, we had a friend who was fairly well versed in the workings of the as-yet-mysterious internet. He discovered that the show came from Japan, and there were a bunch more episodes! He was even able to get VHS copies of some of them. We were also able to borrow some from the owner of a Japanese toy store near our mom's work. We were new to watching stuff in Japanese, but we liked most of the voices better, so that wasn't a problem. The real problem was that sometimes, these videos had no subtitles. Usually, in fact.
So of course the only logical solution was to learn Japanese. And that's how it all began. We got a grammar book from a long-gone bookstore called Waldenbooks, and we got a dictionary, and we got some Sailor Moon manga. (Even back then, it was pretty easy to find Japanese imports in southern California.) We learned basic grammar, we learned katakana and hiragana, and we practiced by reading Sailor Moon manga, with the book in one hand and the dictionary in the other. We also watched a lot of Sailor Moon musicals to help practice listening (although we weren't practicing on purpose--we just liked watching them).
We had a next door neighbor from Japan for a while. Mom set it up that we would visit her in an attempt to learn each other's languages. I don't think either party got a whole lot out of it, but it might have helped our pronunciation some, maybe. Then she moved back to Japan, but not before setting it up so we could learn Japanese from her friend who lived in the same building, who was excited to tell us that her husband was named Mamoru with the same kanji as Mamoru from Sailor Moon.
But what really helped was the anime fan penpal network. Back then, FB meant "friend book," and it referred to a little booklet that got sent all around the country, and people would put their address in it with some of their interests so that fellow anime fans could write to them and they could write back. Another friend of ours from high school got us involved in that, and through friend books, we met Michiru (pen name), who sent us copies of Fushigi Yuugi fansubs. It was awesome and awful at the same time, because we'd be so excited to get the next installment, but then we'd get impatient for the one after that. And it took forever to get after episode 39 (really bad stopping point). Every time we checked the mail and there was no package, we would be despondent for the rest of the day. It was bad. But eventually we got all of it, and we were happy.
Until it was over and we wanted more. That's when we found out about the novels. And as it just so happened, our local Kinokuniya carried the novels! Or one of them, anyway. It had the Chichiri novel. So we bought it! And, since the store takes special orders, we ordered more. But, despite all our practice and lessons and whatever (absolutely none of it formal), there was no way we could read novels. So we got a kanji guide, and we started on our first translation projects. To help with writing (and to really hammer it into our heads), we would copy out each sentence of the novel (it also helped so that we could write the furigana over each kanji, because we can't write in the books!) and then do our best to figure out a rough English equivalent. We translated approximately five novels between us, and we shudder to think what kind of translations they ended up as. We still have at least one of the notebooks. Maybe one day we'll pull them out and look at them.
But anyway, all of that laid the foundation for when we got to college and majored in Japanese. The end.
It all came full circle many years later, when we got our first job translating a video game, and there was a chocobo named Chichiri.
Today I'm thankful for trips down memory lane, getting to watch The Ultimate Enemy again (it's still so good!), Muddy Buddies, Chichiri the Chocobo, and Fushigi Yuugi novels.