“Tokyo can change people. When you first come here, you’re starry-eyed, full of hopes and dreams. Then one day, your career or business takes over your life. It’s all about the money now. Not saying it’s bad to make money. But wearing a suit every day is not how I imagined my Tokyo life would be when I decided to move to Japan. That’s not what I came here for. I’m from East Germany. I studied literature but taught English in Tokyo after graduating, like a lot of foreigners do. After that, I went into real estate. People there just think of pushing people, selling properties, and making a profit. I had a coworker, who came from rural Japan, and she originally came to Tokyo to be in the hospitality business. I saw her transform from a sweet country girl to a very business-minded power-hungry career woman dressed in a suit all the time. Japan, especially Tokyo, seems to either make you work hard or be an outcast. I think there has to be another alternative.
“Thankfully, I’ve got other friends. They’re into punk music, they have their own bands, and they dye their hair.
“They can’t work in the office as ‘normal’ people. But they’re very happy with what they’re doing, despite struggling with money. I consider them as my best friends in Japan. They don’t see me as just a foreigner like most ‘normal’ people do. Most Japanese see me as someone who can teach them English. They, instead, see me as someone interested in what they’re doing. They see what I have in common with them while regular people see what’s different about me. When I became friends with them, they were like, ‘We have the same taste in music. That’s cool. Why did you come to our concert and how did you know our music?’”
“Why do Japanese people struggle so much with English? I think they’re using the wrong system in school. They teach a language like we teach Latin or old Greek in Europe; they teach English as a dead language. It took me forever to see this. Of course in Germany, we have people who can’t speak English. But at least we understand and try our best to say something. On the contrary, I feel like they don’t even try here. Maybe it has something to do with their personality and the system. When you combine being shy and an incorrect way of learning, it simply doesn’t work.
“Right now I’m studying psycholinguistics. It’s about how people, especially children, learn words. We look at the brain and determine the age when a baby utters his or her first words. I study why kids usually make mistakes that they couldn’t have heard from an adult. For example, ‘I eated.’ No adult would ever say that in front of a child. But some kids do say that. Scientists are trying to find out why. Linguists have always thought that learning a language is just copy and paste: You hear something, you remember it, then you say it. That’s why some people say we have a special system in our brain, like an inborn grammar system. I’m trying to understand this. And the best place to do this is to live in a foreign country, teaching languages to children and adults, to see how they learn.”