Ask Sensei: Venti Skim Half-Caff Pumpkin Spice Latte With Extra Whip Edition

Cooler weather is coming to those of us in Texas, or as I like to call it, the Down Under of the US. A friend of mine, who hates hot weather, is always looking for the annual appearance of “pumpkin spice” products around this time. Since I enjoy hot weather but not pumpkin spice products (nor spending $7 on the titular beverage), it’s not a big deal to me either way. But as Saint Augustine put it, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

This time, with our blog’s focus on Ghibli movies, my boss esteemed colleague TWWK has ordered asked me to address this question: Studio Ghibli films evoke a sense of nostalgia for so many of us, both fans of anime and those that really don’t watch the medium. Do you have a similar fondness for Ghibli movies? Do you have a favorite? Have you visited the Ghibli Museum? I may take heat for this, and not just from my esteemed colleague, but my one-word answers are No, No, and Yes respectively. My somewhat longer answer is that I have seen several of the Ghibli movies, my first one having probably been Spirited Away, which definitely made an impression on me, but that’s about all I could say. I think the Ghibli movies are important, but I have no particular fondness for them. I did visit the Ghibli Museum on my first trip to Japan, with the group tour that I joined for the trip. The museum has some interesting architecture, and offers a good historical perspective on the Ghibli films. Also, while there, I did buy a tiny plushie of Jiji the cat, so I guess that’s something. Finally, because Sensei wants to make sure all his students are well-informed, ジブリ is the accepted katakana spelling of Ghibli, so in case you were wondering, the correct pronunciation is “Jibli.”

Kelsey Syers’s question reflects an interest apparently shared by many of Sensei’s readers: How is Japan’s current immigration system? Do you foresee any future changes? I can’t claim to be an expert, but beyond a reminder of the point I’ve previously made that Japan is a monoculture, and regardless of how long one lives in Japan, or for what reason, it is practically impossible to “become Japanese,” I would add only that Japan seems to prefer to invite people who are skilled and self-sufficient, and are willing to learn to live within the prevailing culture. That being said, whenever I’ve dealt with “Immigration” in Japan, it has been to receive only a three-month tourist visa; and even then, I’ve never stayed longer than about two weeks.

Kenneth See asks a thoughtful question, one which I’m probably not enough of a linguist to answer, but I will try: Sensei, which do you think is the better language to learn first: Chinese or Japanese? I want to learn both and am at the beginner stage for both right now. Which do you think I should devote time to the most? The answer that comes first to my mind is that it depends on where you want to spend more time, China (or Taiwan) or Japan. If living in Taiwan is in fact your goal, it would seem to me that Chinese should be your priority, but then again I have heard that not a few Taiwanese are at least conversational in Japanese as well. If you’re planning to spend significant time in Japan, I think it would be good to aim for at least JLPT N3 level proficiency, and ultimately N2 level. That being said, I often take a rather dim view of my progress in Japanese, as it seems to me that I have too many other interests to put in the necessary time and work for Japanese. I often think that I’d have found Chinese easier to learn, as although it has some sounds that are difficult for native English speakers, I’ve heard from multiple native Mandarin Chinese speakers that Chinese and English word order are surprisingly similar. But alas, it seems that Japanese is not a language one can learn with half-hearted commitment. To this day, even after at least a decade of on-again-off-again studying of Japanese, my German is far better. And that’s in spite of my last official training in German having been over 30 years ago. But then again, German is a far easier language for native English speakers than Japanese is.

One thing I know for sure is that learning a foreign language is one of the best things you can do for your brain. And one thing I’ve noticed is that people who gain proficiency in Japanese often go on to study Chinese, if for no other reason than the historical interest. But in the end, I’d say it depends on what you want to do with either language.

Perhaps this will be the year I finally attempt the JLPT N3 test. I’ve signed up for it at least 4-5 times before without showing up to take it. The worst that can happen is that I’ll fail, in which case I’ll at least know in which areas I need to focus on making progress. From what I can tell, N3 level proficiency should correspond to something like “minimally functional,” being able to understand conversations on ordinary topics, or to read a newspaper article and get the gist of it. My readers seem to think me an expert on the Japanese language at least to some degree, so I think I owe all of you at least that much.

You can ask sensei your own question by tweeting at him or using the hashtag #asksensei on Twitter. You can also email us your questions.

Featured illustration by popman3580 (reprinted w/permission).

One thought on “Ask Sensei: Venti Skim Half-Caff Pumpkin Spice Latte With Extra Whip Edition

  1. “Fall is full of pumpkin spice and everything nice!” – People who are obsessed with Fall

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