Learning Japanese Changed My Life

vanessa eating ice cream

Konnichiwa! I’m Vanessa.

Learning Japanese language & culture completely transformed my life.

I found ways of thinking, speaking and doing things which have filled my daily life with friendship, gratitude & connection every day since I started learning Japanese.

That was over 20 years ago and, well, I’m still loving the journey!

Join me?

よろしく おねがいします。

“If you ever have the chance to go to Japan – go!”

Said my father, oddly enthusiastic. I was a surly teenager, bemused to see my workaholic father so lit up by his recent business trip to Japan. His usual cynicism had dropped away.

He had cool souvenirs too – a summer yukata, weird ‘coffee’ gum, a carved Hokkaido bear. As my dad sunk back in to (what he always called) the ‘rat race’, those souvenirs always reminded me of that spark the trip had kindled in him.

I decided then that I wanted to go to Japan myself one day, to find out what was so special about it. After university, off I went on the JET Programme, not sure what to expect.

At my new apartment in rural Japan, I found watermelon ice lollies in the freezer, peach-scented shampoo in the shower, and a towelling summer blanket on the bed. I was incredibly touched by the thoughtfulness of my hosts.

I barely spoke a word of Japanese.

This was in the pre-smart phone era, and I spoke barely a word of Japanese. I didn’t even own a laptop. Absolutely immersed in Japanese language and culture, I soaked it up like a parched sponge.

You see, I was in search of that spark – that solution for my dad.

He had slipped into serious depression, and I wanted to offer advice that might just ‘fix’ him. I felt so powerless against his gloom, yet he was the reason I’d been inspired to travel to Japan.

During rushed international phone calls, I shared what I had learned about Japanese ways of acknowledgement, attention to detail, and the connection to others I felt in daily life.

But, although he was happy that I was happy, there was nothing I could say that could light him up again. It was then I realised that to benefit from a learning journey, you have to take it yourself.

I hadn’t found the solution for my dad – I’d found it for myself instead.

I thought my love-affair with Japan was over.

Craning my neck, I caught a last peek of my Japanese friends and colleagues, waving goodbye from the station platform. My eyes stung as the train pulled away. 3 years later, I was Narita bound. I thought my love-affair with Japan was over.

Back in the UK, I was madly keen to make sense of my Japan experience and keep a tight hold of it. I got the Rosetta Stone language study programme, kanji cards and a scary pile of Japanese textbooks.

I just couldn’t find the right Japanese language lessons in London, at the perfect level, at the ideal time & a convenient location.

Many group lessons were aimed at beginners, and others were all textbook based. Some focused exclusively on JLPT exam prep, or passing Japanese GCSEs or A levels. This wasn’t what I was looking for.

I worried about wasting time and money on group lessons that didn’t give me much chance to properly communicate with the only Japanese native speaker in the room – the teacher.

I felt lost. I wondered about just giving it up. After all, I still wasn’t anywhere near ‘fluent’ (even though my mum swears I am) and I didn’t even work for a Japanese company. What was the point?

But then I realised something deceptively simple:

Language is culture. Culture is language.

You can’t separate the two.

I was no longer grasping at some kind of special secret wisdom to save my father’s mental health. I didn’t need to lunge desperately towards fluency in the language.

What I needed to do now to improve my Japanese was: LIVE IT.

I loosened up! I focused on chatting with Japanese friends and colleagues. Reading books on Japan. Watching Japanese film. Listening to Japanese music. Cooking Japanese food. Going to Japan-related events.

I could capture the essence of my time in Japan by slowing down and looking at the small details that made up my life. I brought Japanese designed objects into my home – a rice cooker, beautiful bowls, futon beds. To use, and appreciate, every single day.

I learned what I valued most about the Japanese language & culture, and step-by-step, I set about consciously creating a Japan-inspired style of living, in London. I practise calligraphy, celebrate the seasons, and fold like Marie Kondo (sometimes!).

Learning Japanese is a Journey, not a Destination.

JapaneseLondon.com puts YOU at the firmly at the centre of your Japanese learning journey. Where are you heading? You need to enjoy the trip.

The words you learn should be linked to communicating vividly in the real world around you, and the grammar you learn helps you to express yourself, sharing who you are with others.

JapaneseLondon.com offers:

Japanese Tutors – So that you can start speaking right away, I connect learners to friendly, native-speaking Japanese tutors for 1-1 lessons (online and in-person). Lessons are available for adults and children, with our professional, experienced tutors.

Japanese London Conversation Club: Online – I run a (‘bloody brilliant‘) regular online Japanese & English conversation club, where you can improve your spoken Japanese by… actually speaking Japanese. Simple!

If you want to learn & live more Japanese, you’re in the right place!

Click the button below to book a free 10 minute consultation call with me.

Yes, I want to learn Japanese

I’m looking forward to hearing more about where you are on your Japanese learning journey!
よろしく おねがいします。
Vanessa Villalobos