[From February Issue 2012]



Japan can be intimidating for newcomers, but plenty of people who arrive with little or no language skill under their belt can still find success. “I came to Japan armed with a teeny, tiny amount of spoken Japanese,” says Daniel ROBSON of his arrival here in 2006.

That little Japanese was “mostly learned from Japanese punk and pop songs or from this awful home study CD that taught me how to speak perfect Japanese circa 1930. Whenever I spoke Japanese learned from that CD set, people laughed.”

Now, his work relies on interactions in Japanese. “I work as an editor at The Japan Times and a freelance writer for publications around the world. I also run a tour agency, ‘It Came From Japan,’ which takes Japanese bands to tour abroad, and I put on a monthly live show in Tokyo called ‘Bad Noise.’”

He explains, “As a freelance writer, I use Japanese to line up assignments, interview bands or videogame creators, and so on – I write about music, games, city guides and Japanese culture in general, so of course I need to understand what the hell is going on around me in order to write about it.” And moreover, “As for booking bands for live shows and organizing tours, I couldn’t do a good job at any of that without being able to contact bands, create promotional material, chat with customers and so on.”

So how did Robson do it? “I really wanted to become fluent, but as an overworked freelancer I never had much time to study.” At first, “I mostly learned by osmosis, drinking in the sort of bars where no one knew any English and I would be forced to speak Japanese.” It was slow going, “but I picked things up slowly but surely, and eventually got a teacher for one-on-one lessons, which I kept up for a year and a half.”

He also met his future Japanese wife, who spoke little English, the bonus was that it, “helped in terms of practice!” He recalls, “I guess the biggest challenges at first were things like phone calls to sort out a bill or some other problem, and of course kanji.” But persistence is key: “Bit by bit it all sticks.”

“It’s inevitable that one has to adjust to the customs and culture of another country.” Yet there are still situations when Robson says, “You want to smash your head repeatedly against a wall … Like when someone says ‘it’s difficult’ when what they really mean is ‘no.’ You have to learn to read those situations.”

And I still struggle with kanji, whether it’s penetrating a short email or enduring 50 hours of Final Fantasy XIII for a review.” But as he says, “There are other difficulties, sure, but no one ever got anywhere by focusing on the negatives!”

Being married to a Japanese, “We speak Japanese at home 99% of the time, and these days I even understand my in-laws slightly old-fashioned vocabulary.” Besides, he loves living here. As he says, “Tokyo is 300 times better than London in almost every way, and I love it here.” 

Bad Noise

Text: Gregory FLYNN

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