A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, ” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

— from The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

The Clothes

My own language, well, Japanese language journey has gone through some challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. People who are much more optimistic than I am were chirping about how wonderful it is to have all this time to yourself, to create, to develop, to improve.

The counterpoint I have to that is what I found on Twitter (I didn’t get their ID, but I give them all the credit): You’re not working from home during a crisis, you’re at home during a crisis, trying to work.

So suffice it to say that I’ve been really just working and going to the grocery store once a week, and using UberEats and Skip The Dishes more than I really should. (Not that I begrudge restaurants making money, just that with my 20% tip, the delivery gets a bit expensive. I should get take out instead.)  But, this is a very unfulfilling life.

However, at the same time, I was going through a weight reduction program using Noom. Now, Noom is not your typical weight loss program. It puts eating behaviour into context of all the ways you as a human being respond to the world around you, and also teaches you that other things in your life are affected by the same things that make you eat too much. And the weight loss part of that has been a huge success for me so far.

The Moon

So then, the other parts of my life started clicking into place. And I started asking myself, “Why did I want to start learning Japanese in the first place?”

Clearly right now there’s no way I’m going to be able to travel there. Maybe if we’re all lucky, in two years I can do that. Was that my main reason for learning Japanese?

When I was in high school, I took a really interesting Asian history and culture class, and got really interested in Japan. Was that my main reason for learning Japanese?

I had a Japanese Canadian housemate for most of my time in undergrad university. Was that my main reason for learning Japanese?

I love theatre, and find Noh and Kabuki theatre fascinating. Was that my main reason for learning Japanese?

The Moon’s Reflection

I think at the end of the day, my main reason is to want to communicate with more people. The Internet makes that much easier, with sites like Italki, Reddit groups, HelloTalk, and Line (if you can find Japanese people to add to it).

My attempts at speaking and listening to the language have been half-hearted at best. Every time I try, I can’t understand what is being said, and just sit there silently with a dumb look on my face. The only consolation I have is that my language partners on the other side of the video call do the same thing sometimes.

But, my listening is getting a bit better. Next comes some way to reconcile the textbook Japanese I get from Genki with what teachers like Miku Sensei, Japanese Ammo Misa, and Maggie Sensei publish. And then there’s Dogen. He’s worth a whole blog post by himself.

At the end, I guess I want to hold out hope for a chance to go to Japan and see and do some of the things I’ve been wanting to do. But until then, I have to understand I have a full range of things I can do online to help me get there.


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