English-Only Salary Man

I was on a business call recently with some Japanese colleagues and a third-party in Japan. There was an interpreter on the line as well and was the intermediary between my colleagues and me and the third party. She was good. I didn’t know every word, didn’t catch everything she said, but I knew enough that I knew she was good. I couldn’t have done that job, but like most people who profess to be semi-bilingual, I can understand more Japanese than I can speak.

Which raises the question: what happened to my dream of going to Japan. Fifteen years ago on this day I had been in Japan for less than two weeks. I didn’t know a thing and was barely getting by with the language. But I had a desire to learn, to take in as much as I could, and when I left the country in 2000, I was confident I would return shortly.

Now, as we approach the end of 2013, I have yet to return to Japan. The large part of me that was so focused on the language, culture, people and all things Japanese is now a 12-hours-a-day, English-only-salary-man, similar to the Japanese men I would see returning home from the office in their wrinkled suits at 9:00 pm each night, only to return to do it the next day. Fortunately, I don’t work quite the same hours, but it sure does feels like it at times.

Japanese will forever remain a hobby for me, but it was clear as I was on the business call this week for work, that, while I could understand some of what was going on, the chance to head to Japan for work may forever be behind me.

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