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Living in Kyoto


By June 16, 20156 Comments

learning japanese

Do you speak Japanese? When inquiring minds learn I am spending a lot of time in Japan, I am invariably asked this question.

It’s a fair question, but one that constantly reminds me that the unfortunate answer is no, I do not speak Japanese!

Will I learn to speak Japanese? That’s a more complicated question.let's learn

At first, I thought I could get by if I only learned conversational Japanese, but friends living in Japan looked doubtful when they heard my plan. They gently suggested that I learn to read and write as well. Taking their advice, I bought books about learning to read and write hiragana, katakana or kanji.  I bought apps as well, this being the technological age.  With each new effort and purchase I realized just how far I had to go.  That’s when things started to go downhill.

j for dummiesEach new teaching venue stressed how simple the process of learning would be. I can easily imagine thousands of other gullible and overly optimistic foreigners doing the same.  BIG LESSON LEARNED: there are no shortcuts.

Becoming genuinely competent in the language requires a BIG commitment of time and energy.  I’m now back to wondering if I should limit myself to learning conversational Japanese as I originally planned twenty years ago.  I also know that wondering won’t get me very far. If I’m ever to make significant progress while I’m here in Kyoto, I’ll need to get a tutor for some intense one on one.

I have learned some basic critical phrases, mostly about how and when to be polite. I know when to say sumimasen (I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused you). You can’t go wrong saying sumimasen for most interpersonal interactions, be it requesting a menu, when climbing into a taxi, before buying something at a store, or requesting a glass of water, beer or sake at a restaurant, or just getting someone’s attention. sumimasen

Additionally I can wow you with yes/no, hot/cold, big/small/, this/that/, here/there, ok, where is the bathroom? pretty, cute, dog, cat, etc.; I essentially have the vocabulary of an 18 month old just learning how to talk, except the toddler wouldn’t care where the bathroom is.cute toddler

I’ve got to do better!!

Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.


  • enlight60 says:

    Dianne, I was relieved hearing about your Japanese language-learning bubble being burst. I don’t feel so bad about myself now (even though Japanese people still come up to me and start speaking to me in Japanese because of the way I look–tsk, tsk). We can have an 18-month old’s conversation together! Let’s play! 🙂

  • Judi Wallner says:

    While we were there I remember thinking that you were doing very well! Some days I think that I’m doing great with my french and other days my ears hear the words and my mind goes “huh?”. I guess the important thing is to just move one step forward in a fashion that feels good. As my english speaking friends here joke…”after all we’re not going to Harvard.”

  • Manel Ratnayaka says:

    Come on Dianne, get a tutor, learn the language! Don’t they advise that at our age. we need to learn new things? Face the challenge, my dear! You can do it! Love reading your entries!

  • Mora Chartrand says:

    I’ve so enjoyed your blog and your experiences in Kyoto. We have Kyoto friends in common and, in fact, met you and your husband a few months ago in Kyoto while you were with your architect at his wife’s studio. In the midst of trying to determine which site(s) and/or book(s) to turn to for learning Japanese, please consider It was created for self-paced learners. Years ago I studied at Soko Gakuen in San Francisco, but I’ve enjoyed TextFugu for refreshers and a light-hearted approach to learning. Wishing you much success with Japanese!

  • Eleanor Moriarty says:

    Love it. A new challenge.

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