I’ve used Anki for more years than I can remember. It’s a great piece of software. You just stuff your soul into an envelope and mail it off to the Devil, and in about four to six weeks Japanese ability arrives in your mailbox. It’s convenient like that.
In case you’ve been studying Japanese under a rock, you should know that Anki is software that helps you remember stuff. It’s what they call a Spaced Repetition System. Kind of like electronic flash cards. Anyway, I used to know more about it, but I forgot. But where was I? Oh yeah, so when you have a Japanese phrase that you want to remember, you just type it into Anki, and the software kindly reminds you to review it at just the right time. Every day, you review your Anki flash cards and pretty soon, Presto, you’re a Japanese genius. Well, that’s the theory, at least.
Yesterday, I rode my bike home from an izakaya at midnight, in the pouring rain. And even though I’m holding an umbrella in one hand, every time I come to a stoplight I pull out my iPod. Because you know I’ve got this Anki app so I can use it anywhere, and I’m stressing because I’ve got to review about a hundred cards today but of course I didn’t because I was out drinking with the old men again.
Even after I get home, I’m still studying as I’m climbing the stairs up to my place. But once I get there the key won’t turn. So I’m outside my apartment hopping on one leg and dripping with rain and of course I’ve gotta pee super bad because I just drank about ten Japanese malt liquors, and I’m just going Damn, damn, damn, why won’t this door open!
This happens about once a month. It’s like the lock just decides to be broken. And after swearing and shaking the door and almost snapping my key off in the process, I realized I’m again trying to get into apartment 307, although I live in 407. Well, that explains that. I always wonder what the people in 307 are thinking, huddling in the middle of their dark apartment while some guy cursing like a Japanese sailor tries to break through their front door. I really got to apologize one of these days.
Anyway, I have a theory about why this happens. Of course, I could just explain it by saying that I’m a drunk, but that would involve taking personal responsibility for my actions, which I’ve found is never a good idea. So I’ve developed an elaborate alternative explanation.
I first realized that Japan was doing strange things to my brain when I went to buy shampoo. Like, you probably don’t think much about buying shampoo, and neither did I when I lived in the States. I just grabbed the first bottle of pearl-green Prell I could get my hands on and made for the door. No time for the cash register–I got places to go! But when I tried to do the same thing in Japan, it was like my own personal JLPT being held right in the middle of aisle 3. There’s like fifty different brands of shampoo, and they all look exactly the same. Who the hell needs fifty choices for washing their hair? How’s a guy supposed to choose one brand like it’s the best? Why do the Japanese hate Prell and refuse to carry it? So I’d pick up a bottle of Japanese mystery shampoo, turn it over, check out the label, and be like, Oh, right . . . it’s all in Japanese. That again. So it took me about 30 minutes to decipher half a dozen bottles and conclude that they all claim to make your hair clean and beautiful. Yeah, thanks for the heads-up. I finally picked one with a picture of all these flowers on it because it was half-off. I’m a sucker for a bargain.
But yo, that’s just shampoo. Everything’s like that. Every train, every menu, every terrifying notice in my mailbox–it all takes about ten times longer than you ever thought it would. Jeez, it’s exhausting. All that thinking. It sure makes a guy thirsty. And then there’s Anki.
Anki’s the helpful older brother you never had, always standing behind you, making sure you do your homework, holding a broomstick. Don’t study for a day, and whack! The number of flash cards doubles. Don’t study for a week and whack! You got to spend a full day reviewing cards. It’s possibly the best software written for prison inmates ever.
Now, Anki’s written by some dude named Damien Elmes. I’ve never met the guy, but I imagine he’s nice enough person, in the same way that Pandora was, like all happy and carrying around this crazy box and then uh-oh, dropped it. Whoops. He’s just like, la da dee, I’ll write some software that helps people remember things and they can carry it with them all the time, and review Japanese constantly, even when they’re in the bathtub and taking a whiz in the middle of the night and climbing the stairs to apartment 307. Surely that could never be a bad thing.
So yeah, I got a lot to think about. Today again, I’m walking through Japan, wondering why all those old guys at the bar were laughing at something I said, what this letter from my landlord means, and why my hair smells like a sakura tree just took a dump on it. And the whole time I’m staring at my iPod, mumbling some Anki sentence. Everywhere there’s Shinto shrines and beautiful girls and the sights and sounds of Japan, but I got no time for it. I gotta study Japanese. And talk to somebody? Are you kidding–not while I got fifty flash cards left to do. Anki: It’s my deal with the Devil. Remind me to buy those guys in 307 a fruit basket.