Studying Japanese because you Love Anime is a Great Reason
The most commonly asked question: why are you studying Japanese? The most common way of answering it: because I like anime. It has become predictable. So predictable that whenever you see the question asked to a foreigner on Japanese TV, the Japanese person asking the question gives the typical “of course” reaction.
Anime is one of the most widely spread forms of Japanese culture across the world. And that’s a good thing. It gives an easily accessible way for the world to experience Japanese entertainment. There are many other things Japan gives to the world in the form of science, medicine, technology, cuisine, etc., but you don’t usually study a foreign language for those specific reasons.
Anime is a gateway. Every person that studies originally with anime as their reason evolves to enjoying other parts of the culture. The anime answer is heard most often from beginner or intermediate learners.
Regardless of what the answer actually means, I think it’s too broad. It’s putting all the people that study Japanese and say anime into the same category. This mistakenly shows that they share similar beliefs, ideas, and motivation. Nothing could be further from the truth. People like anime for different reasons. If someone asked what you like to listen to, you wouldn’t just say “music.” You’d go into genres and sub-genres, then specific artists, and songs.
There is a parallel to Japanese people that love trains.
Did you know Japanese people like trains? Of course you did. Japan has the coolest trains in the world. So you would think there would be a “train fan” category.
Train fan? No no no. There are no train fans. There are categories of train fans.
For example, you are:
乗り鉄: Someone who loves riding trains
撮り鉄: Someone who loves taking pictures of trains
模型鉄: Someone who loves train models
音鉄: Someone who loves the sounds of trains
Think that’s all? There’s is also:
廃線鉄: Someone who loves visiting abandoned train tracks
歴史鉄: Someone who loves researching train history
描き鉄: Someone who loves drawing pictures of trains
降り鉄: Someone who loves getting off at various stations and walking around the train station area (*Note: this one is me)
Check out all 36 types here.
Just like passion for trains, there is variety around the anime reason for why people study. What they do with anime, how it influences them, how it influences their Japanese. This goes beyond genres like horror, romance, or sci-fi. There are anime cosplayers, anime collectors, anime figure collectors, anime voice actor lovers, anime story lovers, anime music lovers, etc.
There’s more to you just liking anime. So the next time you give your anime answer to a Japanese person, try expanding on that.
What’s your anime reason?
If one of your reasons for studying Japanese involves anime, what is your deeper anime reason?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Great topic Adam! Apologies for the length of what follows…
I think the problem with this kind of question is that there is no easy answer! Especially when your a beginner or intermediate and don’t have many options on how to construct your answer in the first place.
For me, there is no doubting anime has been the biggest part of my Japanese journey. But when I look back, it was actually origami, samurai and ninja that drew me in as a child. In high school I saw Akira at the cinema, and that positively blew my mind right out from the very first image. Until then I had no idea that a cartoon could be a stunning work of art. Then I got into the ranma 1/2 manga. But at this point I wasn’t compelled to learn the language.
I didn’t get to try sashimi until just before my 21st birthday! Yeah Japanese food wasn’t pervasive back then. However that was love at first bite, and instantly I had discovered my ultimate favorite cuisine. If I had to learn a language at this point it would have been Japansese, yet I still wasn’t compelled to learn it.
It was evangelion, as a young adult that made me appreciate how expressive the Japanese language can be. I finally knew I wanted to learn the languge, but I didn’t have enough motivation to pull it off.
It took another 15 years of exposure to Japanese culture make me understand that this was my mission. Anime is a huge part of that, but now I have Japanese friends, and Japanese holidays. I love onsen, and matsuri. I love exploring new towns and restaurants, and trying out my terrible Japanese on patient locals. I also love history, and exploring castles and museums.
You can’t boil that down, but to call out one thing, I would say that it is the expressiveness of the language itself, that keeps me motivated. That, and how unbelievably different it is to English. It requires a total mind reprogramming, and that is just an immense yet rewarding challenge.
Unfortunately I don’t know how to say any of that in Japanese, so I’m definitely looking forward to hearing other suggestions on how to answer this one!
Thanks for sharing your story Lee.
It’s hard to compact all of that into one simple answer! Especially when someone asks you that question. You’ll have to sit them down for a few minutes :P
I was asked this today in Japanese Society class. I couldn’t give a really good answer. I did start learning Japanese, at least this last time, largely due to anime.
The other reason was I thought wouldn’t it be cool to write some program that helps me learn Japanese through Augmented Reality and then I found Fluentu (not augmented reality, but still really fun if you are still in your J-E phase and still useful for finding material at your level once you enter J-J phase) and started the free trial and the thing is,
the way I see it,
if you stop studying a language, it atrophies
and the only way to prevent that from happening is to always study it (or rather include that language in your life as this site puts it),
so once I started the free trial I was all in because what is the point of starting to learn a language if you are going to let all that effort go to waste, even just the little effort put in over two weeks.
So, yeah, anime reminded me that I have an interest in learning languages, and because anime is in Japanese, and I think anime is super fun, I decided to start learning Japanese so that I could understand anime.
This is not easy to say in a few words, so, why did I start learning Japanese? Because I love anime and learning languages.
I think it’s fine to go beyond a few words. It’s a big why so it deserves a big answer.
Great post, Adam. I also find it relevant considering the fact that I want to get interested in anime again, despite not being a fan of the more recent stuff. Anime was a huge gateway to Japanese culture for me. As cliche as it sounds, I would be lying to myself if I denied that fact.
For me, part of the reason why I got into anime was because of the art-style and diversity in terms of storytelling. Having first watched Cardcaptor Sakura back in 2001, I was amazed at that series character designs and art style and character-driven story. Those aspect are what I tend to look for, mostly, in my anime. If a show has great character designs that can appeal to me, it’s more likely that I’ll watch it; even though that is not always the case. If a show has a character-driven storyline, then it’s more likely that I’ll watch it, regardless of genre. I just wish more modern anime would have more of that.
Over time, it started to become more than just simply watching and enjoying a series. Apart from being a sucker for character designs, it made me a huge fan of seiyuu (or voice actors/actresses.) Even though I don’t like most of the modern stuff that’s out right now, I still manage to like certain voice actresses. So, in that case, I am a character design lover and a voice actress lover.
I think a lot of people get stuck in the mindset that when they started watching anime was the “golden age” for them. New stuff just isn’t as good. But this is the same thing people say with music. It’s because you experience it when you are younger, and that makes everything seem more fresh and vivid to you.
For example, while I loved the anime of the late 90s (like GTO, Yu Yu Hakusho, Ruroni Kenshin, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, etc..) I’ve made sure I kept myself open to all the new and changing anime, and there is always a lot to enjoy.
With me, I got into anime in seventh grade, especially Inuyasha. I’ve always been a curious soul, so I knew I wanted to learn Japanese within months of reading my first manga. The manga that my junior high school library had were Fruits Basket, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note, and Inuyasha. As I didn’t spend much time on the internet back then, those were my four favorite series for all of seventh grade until I discovered mangareader.net. My English teacher had a thing were we recorded the page count of every book we read during the semester; 2500 pages was an A. I read 17,000 pages of normal books and 40,000 pages of manga during the first semester. I was completely hooked on anime and manga.
I got myself a (really, really old) teach yourself Japanese book and tried teaching myself hiragana before I moved onto eighth grade. I remember being really disappointed when we only spent a week on ancient Japan during social studies. Fun story: our textbook had a romanized version of one of Basho’s haiku, and I didn’t realize until recently that they had made a typo. Instead of ‘kawazu tobikomu’ for the middle line, it said ‘kawazu tobikumu’.
I met with a tutor three or four times at the end of eighth grade, and started taking my first Japanese class within a week of graduating junior high. I skipped going to a camp that I went to every year in order to take the Japanese class—best decision I could have made.
I guess my deeper anime reason isn’t really an anime reason at all. Anime was what launched me, and I still love anime and watch it regularly, but my underlying motivation in learning Japanese is just a love for learning. I love puzzles and problem solving, and that’s what Japanese felt like for my seventh grade self: a puzzle waiting to be solved.
That’s a cool little story. I assumed you get an A+++++ then?
And I can definitely relate on the puzzle solving aspect making Japanese feel so exciting.
Yep, it was definitely anime. But while it was anime that first got me learning Japanese, it was the rest of Japan that made me keep learning. As great as anime is, anime alone would not be enough to motivate me to learn the language. That’s why I often avoid bring up anime as a reason. Not because I’m ashamed of it or anything, but people tend to think that it’s got to be the only real reason that I’m studying. I guess it’s because they know about anime, and not all the other things that are great about Japan.
You know it’s funny. Just yesterday I was talking with some other students at my University about classes since registration is coming up. One of them was like, “I know! I’ll take Japanese so I can understand the animes!” Of course this is the spring semester, so there’s only JAPN 102. Reminds me of Adam, though I doubt he will actually take it.
I fully agree that this is the problem with the answer of Anime. It barely touches on why you are studying now, but because it was a trigger point, it seems like the natural choice. But because it was just a trigger it doens’t feel right even though you still like anime. And then the image of studying Japanese for anime becomes too broad is wrongly narrowed down to a specific type of person, and you end with not wanting to answer that.
Send your friend the article, and make him take 102!
The problem with this question is that it only asks you about the start of your Japanese journey. The question would better be broken into two parts:
1) Why did you start studying Japanese?
2) Why do you study Japanese?
The answer to these two questions could be the same but more often that not they are different because learning Japanese is not a single point but is instead a continuous line heading towards your future. As we develop, our interests develop, our Japanese develops.
My answer is always funny but I never tell it.
My interest in Japan started with anime, but my interest in Japanese language started with a friend who decided to start taking private lessons and I didn’t want her to “beat me” so I decided to join her in the lessons. Such a competitive little brat I was. But I’m glad I did it.
You and I seem to work on the same wavelength. I had so many reasons to learn Japanese but what kind of set me over the edge was when my roommate started learning it in her senior year of college. I think the fact that she was actually studying it convinced me that the language was actually something I could tackle. And now I’m way farther than she ever got… I really hope she gets back into it sometime!
Being competitive can make you do some great things for sure.
You make a great point how it is really two questions. Maybe it would be good to fit in both answers even if you are only asked the first.
And competitiveness in language learning usually works out well.
I totally agree with you- anime is a medium, not a genre. Personally, manga was one of my big initial reasons for studying, 90% because sports series. It was the inevitable reaction to my decision to stop reading manga illegally (for moral reasons). With all of my sports series and other favorites cut off from me (the only sport series I cared about legally translated was アイシールド２１ and スラムダンク), reading it raw was the only way to go.
Turned out that was an amazing decision… and now I have a ton of other reasons to study Japanese.
I really hate bringing up anime/manga in a conversation, mostly beacuse I’m afriad of the reaction I’ll get – especially at work. My director found out I was studying Japanese when he saw some kanji I had practiced lying on my desk (しまった！) and man that was an awkward conversation. He’s such a nice guy but I was so tight lipped about it…
With my friends though? Totally happy to talk about how anime/manga/etc are my inspirations, no shame.
It’s weird the way people react when they hear someone is learning Japanese. Other languages don’t get the same treatment.
I watch anime in the hope that in my next life I’ll be reborn Japanese, so I can do all the cool stuff Japanese children get to do. Mainly so I can meet Totoro and ride the neko basu.
In case that doesn’t eventuate:
I heard there is a long line to get onto the Neko bus, so good luck…
I like the sound of anime…
I just thought the language sounded really beautiful, and I got very into the music. Now I’m more into jrock and dramas.
I was basically just like – this language sounds nice, lets learn it! And then I opened up a whole new world.
That’s as good a reason as any!