Discouragement from Learning about Japan

There are lots of posts in the forum discussing how hard it is to build pace to learn consistently, or to fight discouragement midway through WaniKani.

I’m seven levels from 60, so that is not what I mean. My problem is not that learning is hard, but that learning about Japan makes it harder.

It’s only natural that as you progress in learning a language, more and more of your attention gravitate to the country and the culture themselves. Now I feel bombarded by pessimism.

At first, it might have been foreigners throwing self-deprecating jokes around, saying they learned the language of an “island nation”, implying that Japan is both too closed off and increasingly irrelevant.

Then I started bumping into Quora answers from people disillusioned after having lived in Japan for years.

Then, I began to realize how much in reading practice can be built around dark topics. There’s the bullying question, the low fertility and aging question, the environmental question, the question of economic malaise and tyrannical, inefficient management–all spelling disaster. Characters in graded readers will compare the US to Japan and find the latter lacking. The Japanese on Twitter or Instagram will go about how they dream of leaving Japan, of how they feel trapped.

I do understand the media focuses on bad news. However, learning Japanese I cannot disengage from current media, as I have elsewhere. That means I must tolerate an ongoing barrage of information implying that learning Japanese is hopeless, useless, it will only bring you pain, you’d better off visiting the country as a tourist for a short while, without knowing the language (which I have done), and so on.

I try and concentrate on the fact that I am not moved just by utilitarian reasons but out of love: I love learning the language, I love what it has done for my brain ever since I started. But I wonder how far just love can take you? Can it carve a time for Japan for years to come? Can it carry you through frustration indefinitely?

In short: how do you deal with it?


I’m learning Japanese because I enjoy it, so none of that matters to me. Just appreciating the journey is enough for me


Generally speaking, I try to separate out individual personalities and cultural issues from the things I enjoy. For example, I can enjoy a movie or TV show even if the creator is a complete a--hole. They are just separate things to me. Same thing goes for Japan and Japanese culture. The cultural issues are reasons one might have to not live or work in Japan, but why let it interfere with your enjoyment of the language? That’s how I see it anyway.


Same as the above, I like learning the language but have no intention of living or working in Japan. And can you name a country without a whole bunch of social problems?


There are certainly negative aspects of Japanese culture - but then there are negative aspects of all cultures. cough cough America cough cough

If you focus on the negative aspects of any country / culture, you would soon lose interest. I would suggest you focus on the reasons you love Japan, and the Japanese language, and keep them front and centre.


The west is not much better off, if one is only interested.


It sounds like you’re moving past infatuation into a deeper understanding.

I lived in Japan for a couple of years many years ago. It was extremely challenging, and after two years I was ready to come home to Canada; I more or less detached myself from my Japanese experience for a long time. Now, as I become more and more attached to and fascinated by the language, I find myself, not in love with Japan, but deeply interested in it. I’d like to understand it for what it really is, which includes a lot of things I don’t much care for as well as things I think are amazing. I don’t expect I’ll ever want to live there again, but I love the idea of going back for a few weeks at a time in order to learn more and more. I don’t want Japan to give me anything it doesn’t have; I just want to connect with it like I would a flawed friend or my flawed self.


The truth and full context of any place or state is always going to be complicated, with positives and negatives that are particularly difficult to understand looking in from afar not knowing the language. I can’t imagine there’s any place in the world where everybody living there would be able to identify zero societal problems.

For my money, I think being able to even just get a glimpse of the full complexity and history of a place is much, much more interesting and exciting and fulfilling than just treating a real place with real people in it as a disneyland facade where everything’s roses if you don’t scratch the surface. And being able to read native-language history books and news is a tremendous resource towards getting that understanding.

When I was a kid, I lived abroad, and my parents took me on vacation to many countries, but I never learned the local language, not even of the country where I spent most of my childhood, and never really absorbed anything other than a nostalgia for certain kinds of scenery and certain kinds of food. Looking back, I think it was a very hollow experience, that makes me feel like I both did and didn’t grow up in that foreign country at the same time - did in the sense that I was physically there, and didn’t in the sense that I never left my native touristy enclave and retain zero connections to the country today. And I can only regret that my kid self didn’t somehow know to make more of an effort.

In contrast - I have virtually no connection to or history with Japan (and no real plans to form one) other than from the language, the learning of which I found unexpectedly exciting from the moment I started. For the sake of the learning the language better, I’m always hungry for context both positive and negative, and so have learned quite a bit of things just out of pure curiosity. And I think in some odd way it helps make up for the regret at not learning about the place where I was, to learn as much as I can about a place I’m not.

Which I guess is just to say - you don’t have to love a country to love learning more about it and its language, and vice-versa.
Loving the learning without loving the place seems to me an interesting hobby, and at worst maybe a trip you should get around to maknig at some point.
Loving the place without the learning seems like a much graver missed opportunity to me.

So I suppose my advice for dealing with what you describe is to lean into it!
Get a fuller context by picking up native history books, dig deeper into whatever art and literature you like in Japanese, explore sources and groups you might click with you wouldn’t have found otherwise. For every bummer of a detail, chances are there’s another that’s beautiful or unexpected, or at least interesting to connect the dots around. The opportunity and ability to catch a glimpse of that complexity is something to be treasured, I think.


For me it’s just about loving without idolizing.
I’ve been in Japan several times, love the history, love the culture, the pop culture and the language, love some aspects of the country but I’m also very aware of it’s problems and downsides. Just like my own country.

And my SO is japanese.
I woudn’t mind living there but I’m not necessarily thrilled about it either.
Enjoy what’s enjoyable and ditch the rest or find loopholes that work for you.


As for me I don’t have anything in common with the so called western world and with its fake values. This is why I really enjoy japanese culture it does not include any preaching. Japanese people don’t want to force their values down my throat unlike a certain country.

The majority of people from the west are way to negative and hate everything they don’t like and want it destroyed. Maybe Japan should close its border to save poor foreigners by not letting them into the country.

I mean no country is perfect but I personally oppose the idea of telling people in other countries how they should live their life. It goes against my belief.

This is just my opinion.


Honestly I can’t see a future for my home country either. Sure some things suck about living in Japan but where isn’t that true?


Too much love will kill ya. I think it’s good to not look away from real issues, but also not let it swallow you whole.

The youtube channel let’s ask shogo is one I enjoy watching precisely because of that balance.


I’m basically just echoing the other posts at this point but…

No country is perfect and twitter/main stream news is quite bleak in the West and Japan.

There are so many different types of media that I suggest look for more positive media sources if it bothers you?
You can watch anything that interests you at all. There’s books, TV shows, podcasts, music, manga/anime, games and hobbyist magazines.

I find myself watching gardening and cooking shows in Japanese because I like that. There’s nothing negative about that kind of media.

If you want to hear some positive news I have lived in Japan for 2 years now and I’m more passionate about studying Japanese than ever. I think the people who go out of their way to complain about living here are unhappy and just want someone to listen. I have had some really shitty interactions and situations in Japan too but nothing worse than my own country. I complain sometimes too but if I hated it that much I’d do something else.

Basically, I don’t think it’s a Japan problem. Everywhere in the world there are unhappy people who push the blame on the country itself. Is it really the “countries” fault? Who knows. Everyone is unique and their experiences are unique. Japan maybe good for me but terrible for someone else.


I know how you feel. I’d go through many cycles of disillusionment after learning the latest piece of worrying information and recalibrate and requestion all my choices. But as @rodan pointed out there’s complexity to every place, and consequently any place is going to have problems. I think any set of cultural values is going to bring about its own unique set of issues, and Japan is no exception. Nowhere is perfect.

I found it helpful to contextualize and compare issues with how I know them where I’m from. Are those same issues handled well where you’re from? If they aren’t, how much discomfort does that bring you in your daily life? Are there important issues that are dealt with better in Japan than where you’re from? What is being done in Japan to improve this issue? For instance, Japanese work culture has been going through a lot of change recently, and the general perception from Japanese people I’ve talked to is that things have been slowly but steadily improving. “Things have been steadily improving” doesn’t make for the snappiest headlines though.

Also, when it comes to issues, there’s some comfort in seeing criticism of issues coming from people living in Japan in a place that can reach a Japanese audience (as opposed to an overseas audience) since that indicates an inward recognition of an issue that could lead to things getting better. Also, it leaves authors a little less room to embellish since the audience knows about the issue a lot of the time.


Sometimes I wonder if the feeling isn’t worse for Japan in particular, because Japan was very successful at exporting itself favorably to the rest of the world. Most people I’ve spoken to got interested in Japan or Japanese through manga or anime, which is a specific aspect of Japanese culture that ignores the darker side of the society. Hello kitty isn’t talking about discrimination or the hopelessness of feeling trapped in a society with rigid rules and high ostracization of “the other.” But of course, like all places, there are dark aspects of society, and those dark aspects are very different from the dark aspects of my own culture. So it’s sort of like a 1-2 punch: you learn about things you didn’t suspect from your first joyful introduction to the culture, and then the things you learn about have a very different flavor to the problems you know, based on your own societal issues.
So then how do you deal with it? I can’t say I know, exactly. I am currently living in Japan, and although I came here with a pretty strong understanding of Japan’s problems, it’s different seeing them in person. But, living here also allows me to see and interact with all the people around me, and the people around me are good and helpful and kind. And, it helps to pay attention to that. Find the people and the aspects of the culture that you like. Those places always exist, everywhere.


I’ve heard lots of negative things about Japan, too. But, watching TV Japan is showing me a lot of positive things as well. I love the trips around Japan shows, the programs about all the things people make by hand, etc. There’s good and bad everywhere.


Just saying that I am sorry that you have made such bad experience in the US and its people (which I assume you mean by “a certain country”). This has not been my experience at all.

1 Like

I understand your conflict because exactly this was one reason I haven’t done a lot of Japanese learning in the past years (and work and family). I have decided to start again, because I do like many aspects of the culture and the language and find it very fascinating. And, I need something to keep my brain working - and which is not work.


It sounds like you’re moving past the honeymoon stage. You begin to see little cracks on the surface of society and culture, and the longer you look, the deeper the cracks go, until you begin to worry about random sinkholes opening up and swallowing you.

Best I can say is that no society or group of people is perfect. There is no perfectly harmonious group of people. And yet it’s also not as bad as social and mainstream media doomsayers would have you believe. Japan is a country with a lot of beauty, history, and cultural issues. Just like every other country.

How do you escape negativity? By not caring about it, not going out of you way to consume it, and by not letting it be a portion of your day.

In life, we are all photographers, looking for the perfect shot. Are you a tabloid photographer looking for the perfect scandal photo to share with everyone for some juicy gossip? Are you a mainstream media photographer looking to capture human suffering made manifest to get people riled up? Are you a brochure pamphlet photographer looking to find the perfect happy, smiling faces and serene backgrounds to sell a trip to Nowhere, Ohio?

Bias is a phenomenon that affects what we are able to see. You’ll never notice a blue Toyota Corolla specifically until you buy one, and then it will seem like they’ve suddenly popped up everywhere. If you look for the negative, you will always be able to find it, but the same goes for looking for the good in every scene. Plus, the latter is a lot more stress-free and you’ll probably live longer looking for things to enjoy.

TL;DR: Just watch Friends dubbed in Japanese, and some vTubers, and you’ll forget about the inevitable social, moral and financial collapse of society. :slight_smile:


I think you gotta focus on what originally got you studying Japanese and what you love about Japan/japanese and cut out all the other crap. After I moved to Japan I got really cynical about the country when I was regularly browsing some Japan subreddits and youtube. As well as hanging out with some foreigners who really failed to integrate here. That stuff is toxic and, if you let it, will ruin your passion.