Thursday, September 20, 2012

Learning Japanese: A Trainer's Journey

The following is an interview with Jason Simon, a player I met at Worlds 2012. He wanted to share his experience learning Japanese as a result of being a Pokemon fan, which eventually led him on a trip to Japan.

What area are you from? 
I am from Los Angeles, California, USA.

How did you get into Pokemon? 
I got into Pokémon around the time that Ruby and Sapphire were released in the United States. Pokémon Ruby Version was my first game for the Game Boy Advance.

What was it about Pokemon that got you interested in learning Japanese? 
Many aspects of the franchise inspired me to learn Japanese. At the forefront, however, would have to be the fact that the games are released there much sooner than they are released here. When I would visit a variety of news sites, I would see information on games that had just come out in Japan. Since I knew that I would not understand anything going on in the games, I decided that it would probably be best to learn Japanese so I could import the games. At the time, taking on a whole new language seemed like a better option than waiting for six months, so I went with learning the language.

How did you go about learning the language? 
First, I went to Costco and bought the Japanese version of the Rosetta Stone software to get myself into the mindset of the language. Realizing that relying on only Rosetta Stone was probably a bad idea (the program does not do a good job of teaching oral proficiency, something that is very important to me), I decided to take a few private lessons. A combination of taking private lessons, using Rosetta Stone, and immersing myself in the language by watching most of my news in Japanese helped me become fairly fluent in the language.

Did learning Japanese enhance your appreciation for Pokemon? If so, how? 
Learning Japanese greatly enhanced my appreciation for Pokemon. It also brought me closer to the franchise as a whole. After becoming proficient in Japanese, I began to import the new video games from Japan before they hit the shelves in America. Once I started importing, I began to pick up many of the Japanese Pokemon names, which, due to my knowledge of Japanese, made sense. Aside from the games, my knowledge of Japanese also made me more attentive to all of the merchandise that they release in Japan. Soon after I became proficient in Japanese, I began to investigate these products and contact Japanese-speaking wholesalers who sell these products to retailers overseas. Since I was able to communicate with them, I managed to set up accounts and began to purchase many Japanese Pokemon items. Today, I still deal with these Japanese-speaking wholesalers and sell Japanese Pokemon merchandise online. The online communities that I buy and sell on made me more aware of events such as Worlds. Worlds 2012 was my second year spectating at the event, and one of my favorite aspects of the event is speaking Japanese with all of the people who come over from Japan!

How did you end up going to Japan? What did you see that was Pokemon-related while you were there? 
My dad used to take many trips to Hong Kong, so he promised me that if I managed to fluently speak Japanese, he would take me to Japan on the way to his business trip in Hong Kong. I managed to meet his expectations, so he took me on the trip. In terms of Pokemon-related things in Japan, they are everywhere. In fact, the train I got on from the airport to the Tokyo railway station was decorated with decals promoting the Arceus movie (I went to Japan in summer 2009). Furthermore, I went to three Pokémon Centers while in Japan—Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka. Pretty much everywhere I went, there was something Pokémon-related.

What would you tell other people who might be interested in learning Japanese? 
If you want to take Japanese, be prepared for a big time commitment and a lot of work. For me to speak fluently (not perfectly, but fluently to the point where I could easily get around), it took around 3 years, from the moment I bought the Rosetta Stone disk to the instant I touched down at Narita International Airport. The language has many intricacies, which makes it easier than English at times, but most of the time much harder. I think that learning Japanese should be something that a hardcore Pokémon fan should consider; it truly opens up a whole new side to the fandom that you do not even know exists.

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