Whenever I feel nostalgic, I watch Japanese dramas. I’ve never been to Japan, and I don’t even fully understand the language, but for some reason, watching those shows is comforting to me.
My grandma used to watch Japanese dramas nearly every day. Some of the shows were interesting, and others were boring. I used to sit down and watch the interesting ones with her.
I always had to give my full attention to the screen to read the English subtitles and understand what was happening. My grandma, on the other hand, would sometimes do other things like sewing or writing while watching the show. She understood basic Japanese, so it wasn’t as much of a brain activity for her as it was for me.
Japanese was actually her first language, but she was forced to learn English during World War II. I don’t think her understanding of the language ever surpassed an elementary level because of that situation. I suspect part of the reason she watched dramas was to make sure she didn’t lose what she already knew.
I used to ask my grandma to teach me Japanese, and she would teach me some common phrases. I got excited whenever I recognized a word or phrase that she taught me on one of the shows we watched together. That’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to becoming bilingual.
She also taught me how to write my names in katakana and kanji. Katakana is one of four Japanese writing systems, and it’s used to write foreign words. My English name is written in katakana. Kanji is another writing system that is adapted from Chinese characters, and that is the system I use to write my Japanese name.
I’ve been trying to learn more Japanese and retain what my grandma taught me, but that’s been more difficult to keep up since she passed away five years ago.
Rewatching the dramas I watched with her helps me to remember both the language and her memory. It’s more than just entertainment. In a way, it reconnects me with my culture and my roots.