Writing in Japanese

September 1996 was when I first started learning Japanese. I took a night school course for beginners and then took the next course after. I did rather well, possibly doing better in Japanese than I had done in any class during most of my post-elementary schooling, and certainly better than I ever did in French. For three years I studied and tried to learn basic conversation. Then I came to Japan where I continued to study from time to time and practiced through conversation with store clerks and later with people I met while mountain climbing. Though I never stopped learning, I did eventually stop studying. After a couple of years virtually everything I learned was through listening and trying to read signs or advertisements, and also from what I saw and heard on TV. But regular, practical study was history for me.

Recently I have started trying to learn again. Since joining the All Japan Alpine Photography Association (全日本山岳写真協会) last year and the Society of Scientific Photography (日本自然科学写真協会) this year I have been trying to read the short pieces in the newsletters written by other members. Since I can never attend any of the meetings which are held in Tokyo on week nights, and since I don’t participate in any of the monthly contests, my membership is almost a waste of money. I only send in a photo for the annual exhibition, hardly worth the membership fees. But submitting prints for the monthly contests costs money, of which I have little to spare at present. So I have decided to write something to submit to the newsletters.

Many years back, before my wife and I were married, I tried to write in Japanese short memoirs from my experiences in Canada. I asked my her to check my writing. Though I had done my best she had a hard time editing my work. Often I tried to express myself in sentences that were beyond my grammatical ability, and the poor girl sat with a wrinkled brow, asking me to say what I had intended to write in English. Each story took a long time for her to check over and in the end I think we only ever finished three stories. Two more I wrote are still stuffed in a notebook and unfinished.

Now again I have attempted to write a number of pieces. Using vocabulary and grammar I picked up from attempting to read the newsletters, I tried to write more creatively. I don’t attempt to write in English first and then translate to Japanese. That would simply be too hard. Instead I try to write everything in Japanese and check the dictionary for words I don’t know but want to use. My first two targets are the newsletters for AJAP and SSP. For SSP I wrote a profile which my wife spent a good 30 minutes trying to turn into proper Japanese. I am complimented when she says that basically what I wrote is comprehensible and makes sense. But when I see my paper full of corrections in red I know I still have much to learn.

The profile was completed and sent and will appear in the April issue of the biannual colour mini-magazine. My next project, a piece about why I like Tsubakurodake, has been typed and is currently partly corrected. It’s hard for my wife to be my editor because when she’s home alone she is busy with the baby or trying to do her things when he’s asleep, and when I am there then she tries to get other things done while I entertain the kid or she looks after him while I cook or clean. I know when she has a break there’s a lot she wants to do, so I feel bad asking her to proof read my work. But on the other hand, this will lead to bigger things.

I have also written three short pieces to go with photo submissions to magazines, and if my submissions are accepted then it will mean income, and as I keep mentioning, right now our financial situation needs a boost. So far anything I have written for professional use has been short photo descriptions for Yamakei and Tabi Shashin. These have been quick for my wife to check. I also had a piece I wrote in English translated by a professional translator but that cost a fair bit of money and in the end, though my story proposal was accepted, the translation of what I wrote was not used.

I enjoy writing and sharing my ideas and experiences with others and when I write in English I have a certain amount of freedom to express myself in various ways, tapping as much knowledge of my language as possible. It’s like a painter having a good set of paints and brushes. In Japanese, however, I am a poor painter with few brushes and not many paints. My ability to paint my stories in Japanese results in fuzzy images and vague resemblances. I hope that by studying those newsletter stories and maybe some magazine articles I will eventually be able to write a complete article that won’t give my wife a hard time to check over.


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