It Takes an Autodidact

Once upon a time, I decided to learn Japanese.  I had none of the usual practical reasons: no business interests that would take me to Japan nor even an academic project comparing Noh plays with Attic tragedy.  I knew next to nothing of Japan, though as a child, my imagination had been stirred by the Mikado, and later, when a college friend persuaded me to read the Tale of Genji, my mind was haunted by images of beautiful men and women spending languorous evenings composing allusive verses to the moon glinting through tree limbs mirrored in an azure pond.

I would never, however, have dreamed of learning Japanese, were it not for a friend and colleague at Miami University, who had studied in Japan.  Under his influence, I began poking around in the Japanese literary classics, and, when I stumbled upon an old introduction to Japanese, I began learning the characters and a few basic words.  Alas, it was not to be.  My friend went away for the summer; I returned to South Carolina not long after; and although, every few years, I read a bit of Japanese history or literature, my mental picture, which has fewer details than a college survey course would provide, remains a compound of the Mikado and The Seven Samurai.

Had I been passionately interested, rather than merely curious, I might have persisted, but, without a friend’s support and in the absence of a Japanese...

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