Actually I have no idea why I decided to go to Japan ;−p
I often try to justify it. Originally, around 1994, when I was working in San Fransisco, our *Chief Technologist*, Mark, spoke fluent Japanese. As such (and with alot of guts) he was able to get Sony Japan to send us a Playstation Development Kit even though we were a smaller publisher. So, that's when I decided that it was important. I tried taking a class back then but I was working tons of overtime so I gave it up after 3 lessons. (By tons I if I wasn't at work I was sleeping and that's it)
When I moved back to Orange County in 1995 (I think it was 1995) I meet some new friends, a Japanese and American couple. Maki was from Japan and Craig was from America. We started hanging out and they were going to go to Japan for a week for a wedding and to visit Maki's parents and they invited me. Craig and I ended up taking a community Japanese class to prepare a little. It was pretty lame though. I also bought some of the pimsuler tapes. I don't know if you've heard of Pimsuler but they are pretty good tapes. You can get a sample at Barnes and Noble.
Anyway, then in 1996 I think I started going to Orange Coast College Japanese classes with a couple of other friends. They quit after the first semester but I went for 3. I'd argue it's the wrong way to learn. All the instruction was in English and of course the students aren't nearly as serious as they should be. I didn't know that at the time though.
Well, after 2 semesters there, they were not going to offer a summer course for 3rd semester (not enough interest) so I started at Berlitz on Mark's recommendation (the same friend that talked to Sony in 94, he had learned at Berlitz). I had also gotten Japanese roommates at the time so I could practice and he said I should be studying while I had that opportunity. Of course we mostly spoke English. Berlitz helped in that it's one teacher one student but it's very expensive ($40 a hour, $80 in Japan). Anyway, that September I decided I was going to quit my company, it was not dong well, and it occured to me that as I was 33 and no girlfriend/family/etc I should go to Japan to really study since I could. I talked to Mark and he said he could help me get a job there. We flew to Japan and he got me a job a Sega.
The problem was that they worked 10am to 11:30 pm with a 1 hour 20 minute commute. In other words, too much to study AND, as I'm a programmer I can work alone so with my poor Japanese they would draw a picture of what they wanted and then I'd work alone for a few days making it. The extent of my talking opportunities was bascially we'd go to dinner every night from about 7pm to 8pm and I'd talk to them for maybe 5 minutes before they would give up trying. That's supposedly most people's experience with foreign languages unless you are a super outgoing person or with super outgoing people or maybe if you are one on one instead of 8 nationals and 1 foreigner so that you have to talk to each other.
So, as my Japanese didn't seem like it was getting any better and I was working too hard and not making any friends and also a really great opportunity came up back in L.A. I decided to come back. Of course about 3 weeks before I left I did make some friends and my language skills, for unknown reasons, got better so all of a sudden I didn't want to leave but I had already made all the plans so I came back to L.A.
I did the Japanese roommate thing again (note: both times I gave a free room in exchange for Japanese practice). This time we spoke nearly 100% Japanese and this is probably the single biggest thing that helped my language. Speaking Japanese everyday for a few hours with my roommates for about 6 months.
Last year I got sick of my boss (as had other people before me) and I ended up quitting in June. I goofed off for a couple of months but the 2 guys I hung out with got busy. One was practically engaged to one of my roommates, she had moved in with him a couple of months before. The other had to go to Hong Kong for 6 months to take care of his dad. So, I was without buddies. So, I decided kinda in an "I've got nothing better to do so why not" way to come back to Japan and study full time as I had gotten a big enough bonus that I could probably do it for a year or more with no job.
Unfortunately as I suck at making new friends it's not going so well. I've been here 5 months but I have far less chances to speak Japanese here in Japan than I did in America with 2 Japanese roommates. I'm still trying to figure out how to fix that. My original idea was to volunteer at a computer graphics school that I had some connections with and I'm doing that but it's not working out. I'm a TA and I get almost no chance to speak except to say "click here" and "hold this key while clicking there" in Japanese. I'm not there enough or at the right times to get to really make friends there.
I'm talking to Sega about working for them again just 3−4 days a week, 4 hours a day like 3pm to 7pm. Then I can talk to my old co−workers/friends and I can go to dinner with them around 7. They want to do it but I think they are leary of only 12−16 hours a week. Legally on a student visa I can't work more than 4 hours a day / 20 hours a week.
So, did I answer the question? I guess not, it's just some background. The answer is that I continue to study because I it bothers me more than I can stand when I don't understand Japanese. I've been studying for more than 4 years now. I should be fluent. The problem is switching schools and methods 3 times and having the first school suck has really screwed me up and made it take far longer than it should. The problem is that when you switch schools you start a new program that expects you to know different things. You don't want to start back a level 0 so you start say at level 3 but 30% of the stuff that was taught in the first 3 levels you don't know yet. For example OCC and Berlitz don't really teach Kanji at all. My current school you learn 500 kanji in the first 3 levels (9 months). I started at level 3 (of 8) so I'm missing knowledge of about 300 kanji. That's making it really tough.
It should take about 1 year to get to my current level and 2 years to get *fluent* as in able to watch TV, talk to anybody, even read a magazine, etc. If I had just come to Japan in the first place and studied full time I'd be fluent now. Everytime I can't understand something I want to study more. Of course the opposite is also true. As it's been 4 years, everytime I don't understand something I think I suck and that maybe I should give it up. I really don't have a stronger reason for studying. I don't want to work here. I may be able to use it to get funding for a company or to negotiate but..... I'm also worried about how I'll keep fluent. Unless I get a Japanese girlfriend, stay in Japan or get some kind of job that requires me to use Japanese I'll probably forget it all when I go back to the U.S.