How the Japanese media shaped my childhood

Even though I am Thai, I was not raised with Thai cartoons.  Throughout my childhood, Japanese anime had been close to my heart. From Hello Kitty (according to my mother, I watched the same tapes over and over again to the point the video cassette broke), to Yu-Gi-Oh and classic Ghibli films, the world of Japanese anime was one of the seeds that planted my interest in Japanese culture.  Back then I knew so little about the Japanese language, but Japan was one of the first countries I knew of and dreamt of going to.

As I entered middle school, Thai television began showing classic TV shows such as TV champion and Ikinari! Ōgon Densetsu (いきなり!黄金伝説).  These classic television shows became a way for our families to spend time together on weekends at the dinner table.  These shows, although all dubbed in Thai, created an environment where we felt closer and intrigued to Japan than ever before.  However, it was only when I entered high school that I started to learn Japanese more intensively, and I used these media as one of the ways to become more familiar with the Japanese language.

Japanese classic comedy TV show, Ikinari Ogon Dengetsu (Image sourced from: https://www.tv-asahi.co.jp/densetsu/)

Studying Japanese in Middle and High School

I first studied Japanese intensively when I first entered middle school and continued to pursue it until high school. I chose to study Japanese for my IGCSEs and A levels. Throughout my IGCSEs, shifting from watching Thai-dubbed cartoons to Japanese audio with English subtitles has made my familiarity with the Japanese language to increase. Listening to Japanese phrases no longer sounds as foreign as it used to be as I began to understand the words much clearly.

I moved from cartoons to 2000 classics, and as a young teenager, stories about romance such as “Kimi ni Todoke” (From me to you) did not escape my sight. My attachment to this series has led me to follow it through all sorts of media. I watched the live action film that later came out in 2010 and even went to a Japanese comic books stores just to read the new untranslated releases because I was dying to find out what happened next to the story. Having known the story outline by watching the anime, it was not difficult for me to catch on what was going on.  This pattern of following the same story over different media repeated over many times for me in other films as well, such as Nana: the manga series and movie, or Slam Dunk.

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimi_ni_Todoke_(film)#/media/File:Kimi_ni_Todoke_movie_poster.jpg

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimi_ni_Todoke#/media/File:Kimi_ni_Todoke_vol_1.jpg

The requirements for A level examinations had shifted towards more on intensive reading and writing than listening. At this point, I began to expand beyond movies and films, but also short stories and books.  Japanese short stories such as those by Atugawa Ryonosuke was necessary for us to study for our exams.  At this point, it was very essential to know more kanji; hence I began shifting from watching movies with English subtitles to watching movies and anime with Japanese subtitles.  Although I was not explicitly learning Japanese as I watched these films, seeing the kanji on the screen had helped me improve my reading speed. This not only helped me expand my knowledge with kanjis but also helped me improved my pronunciation of Japanese words.  My development in the aspect of Japanese culture was further facilitated by my interest in Japanese literature, such as those by Haruki Murakami.  Reading the book, “Norwegian Woods” and then watching the movie adaptation provided two contrasting interpretations of the story.  Haruki Murakami was the starting point for me to explore other Japanese writers such as Banana Yoshimoto and Kobo Abe.

Image source: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Norwegian-Wood-Haruki-Murakami/dp/0099448823

Where I am now: Moving to Japan as an international student

Fast forward to now, I am currently studying in an English program at a Japanese university. The exposure I had with Japanese movies and anime had helped me in many conversations with my Japanese friends. However, with the changing era, it became rather difficult to fully grasp the connotations of some Japanese phrases, especially when it comes to the Japanese sense of humor.  My routine of turning on the television during mealtime remained the same as I continue to do so now even though I now live alone in the apartment.  Watching the Japanese shows now I can learn many Japanese slangs and become more familiar with the Japanese sense of humor.

Another shift that I experienced as I grew up with these media is the appreciation for Japanese movies as an art.  Not only does the Japanese entertainment industry grew drastically compared to the times of my childhood. Their ability to create very aesthetically pleasing visuals are very intriguing for me. Since then I began to understand more about the complexities of each movie and how the story is inherently tied to the Japanese way of thinking and culture.  This interest has helped me expand my ocean of Japanese film, anime, and literature, as I continue on my search for good stories in the present day.

My current favorites and Japanese learning tips

Here are some of my favorite Japanese movies of all time.  It is a short list, but it is a list of classics that will introduce you and may inspire you to investigate more in the world of Japanese arts.  They are not very difficult in terms of storyline and relies on visuals as a medium for storytelling.

Departures, Okuribito (2008):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-es3zhQXbLE

Little Summer: Summer & Autumn, Ritoru Foresuto Natsu Hen Aki Hen (2014)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWmSV7-eFM8

Kids on the Slope, Sakamichi no Apollon (2012)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk_8ZzdFL_s

Shoplifters, Manbiki Kazoku (2018)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9382rwoMiRc

To learn and master a language, it is not only important to understand the grammatical structures of a sentence or to know as many words as possible.  It is just as important to realize how it is being used in a day-to-day context.  Japanese media may not be the best way to learn the perfect grammars to master the JLPT tests, but it will help you to put yourself in an environment where Japanese is continuously heard, from an art and cultural perspective. Start small, from classic in English dubs to Japanese audios with English subtitles. Once you become more comfortable with it, try shifting to Japanese audio with Japanese subtitles and then to no subtitle at all.  There is no need to rush your Japanese skills to be perfect right away. It’s all right not entirely to understand everything all at once.  Language learning can be done outside of the classrooms and beyond textbooks.  Keep exploring and enjoy!