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On Being a Fool for English

Writer(s): 
Takahashi Yoshibumi

My present hiatus from the Academy has reintroduced me to the world of the shakaijin EFL learner. Compared to university students, they are older, have more life experience, and have a longer history of personal decision making. Consequently, each has their story, and “typicality” becomes a weak assumption at best. Therefore, what inspires them to study, and what defines “success?” Producer, scriptwriter, director, and chiropractor (plus, part-time elderly care worker) Takahashi Yoshibumi gives us this brief, personal history that shows that the way of the artist, especially through L2, is fraught with difficulties.

On Being a Fool for English

Takahashi Yoshibumi

I became a fool for English due to the American films I saw in my childhood and youth. Ultimately, this affection would lead me to make independent films, and into a deep study of the language. Initially, I was forced to dive into this alphabet culture when subtitling my work. Ultimately, in 1999, I decided to go to Amsterdam. Carrying two heavy cans of 16mm film, I went around looking for a buyer for my work so it could be shown at film festivals. I also wanted to visit the grave of the Dutch photographer, Ed van der Elsken, whose work and bohemian life I loved to death.
For the first six months, I stayed at a Christian youth hostel, paying my way as a cleaner. Every night, I joined in a group discussing the wisdom of the Bible. After that, a group of young—oh, so young—Greek, American, French, Aussie, Israeli, and Japanese friends and I found a flat and lived together for months. We somehow could argue all night, despite my pretty awkward English, about our poverty, finding decent food and city survival as well as other short quarrels. This provided many precious and sensational occasions for my back pages: “Youthful Idiot Works Toward Sentimental Dreams.”
This survival continued, and after one year I was still poor and without a buyer for my films. I realised I needed to know more about the business of making film deals, so I decided to go back to school. At the age of 31, I entered a small art school in Amsterdam, but after just three months had passed, the principal—not a very nice guy—suddenly announced I should go back to Japan. I still don’t know why he did so, but as my luck did not seem about to change anytime soon, I decided to take his advice.
What have these experiences taught me? Aside from English ability, something else is necessary to stay on this path. Maybe I should become Bob Dylan?

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