Bootstrapping and Finding the Fun in Language Learning

For my language learners and linguistics friends…

Bootstrapping

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I study and learn language versus how it was and is taught. I’ve been looking at a ton of language study apps (for myself and also my wife), and a lot of them have some of the main keys — learning words through multiple vectors and from different direction, interval training, etc — but they all feel pretty terrible at introducing NEW things.

So as I’ve been thinking about how I study when I make flashcards versus how these apps EXPECT me to study, I’ve come down to what I’m calling “bootstrapping” (term stolen from programming probably). That is, when you have no basis for building understanding, how do you get from there to HAVING understanding and having a foundation for building on more knowledge. It’s this idea of bootstrapping that I think most neglected — at least in the discourse of Japanese pedagogy. (There, I’ve gotten the big academic words out of the way, so I can write like a normal person again.)

Please allow me to start with an example of the problem:

I am an intermediate-level Japanese reader, and possibly an advanced-level speaker. But I have holes in my knowledge. Sometimes large, gaping, embarrassing holes (like I only within the last month learned the verb “to guide” and it’s one they use all the time, and now suddenly I hear it EVERYWHERE). So I’ve been trying to fill those holes by starting at the JLPT N5 word list and studying up so I know that I know the whole thing. (N5 is the beginning Japanese proficiency level according to the nationally recognized JLPT system — Japanese Language Proficiency Test. You have to get at least a C on each level to be awarded that level. It goes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 in increasing proficiency. If you are an N1 speaker, you are probably better than most Japanese at speaking the language and could likely teach their kids how to speak it better.)

After completing out my N5 list one afternoon, I excitedly switched over to the N4 list, ready to finally feel like my knowledge of the language was moving forward. I switched to the new list in the app I was using (Sticky Study, one of the better flashcard study apps I’ve found) and started the process of learning some new words. Unlike in the previous list, N4 had a lot of words I just plain didn’t recognize, neither from kanji nor from pronunciation. And I very quickly became frustrated (I’ll get back to the frustration part). It would show me a handful of words, maybe 5 or 6, then it would review some words I had marked as already knowing, and then when it brought me back around to the new words from before, they looked exactly as foreign to me as they did when I first saw them. There were no lingering pronunciations or meanings trying to become attached to these new words. It became disheartening and I gave up for the day.

And this is a problem. When you are handed 5 new things that don’t have any attachment or reference points in your mind, there’s nothing for them to stick to — no memories or ideas for those new words to affix themselves to. I envision knowledge like a web or lattice system: the more similar things a new piece of information has to attach to, the more stable that information becomes. Also, the longer you spend reinforcing the connections, the longer it sticks together (and over time if you never come back, the connections will wither away. I guess they need time to set at each layer before you can apply the next coating or something. It’s not a perfect analogy.)

So these words, all I had was having seen them on the screen and read the meaning once. I had no memories of seeing the characters before, I had no feeling like I’d ever heard people SAYING the words before. There was essentially nothing to attach them to, and so no memory could be formed.

This is where I feel like we need to improve the bootstrapping of new words and grammar. “Bootstrapping” here (which, I mean, I could be wrong), I am using to mean the process of starting something up from nothing. No foundation, no similarities to other things. Functionally nothing. You give people a vocab list, and the words they are most likely to remember are the cognates first, followed by maybe either the really common words they hear all the time or the ones that they’ve come up with fun mnemonics for. But there always seem to be some set of words that people have a hard time with — words that sound nothing like their own language, or whose meanings are more subtly different and difficult to translate. (Japanese has a lot of both, btw.)

I feel like I have, on my own, been able to overcome this problem pretty regularly, but the technique I use doesn’t seem to be represented anywhere in the literature I’ve read (and certainly isn’t present in the tools I’ve tried).

Basically, I take two arbitrary items and compare them to each other. I build up the framework by hand. I look at one crazy character or word, acknowledge its meaning, pronunciation, etc; and then I look at a second one. I see how it looks different, sounds different, and how its meaning is different. Then, before I’ve had a chance to really forget the first one, I go back to it. First, second, first, second. I do that a few times, and then I add in a third. The third isn’t very difficult because I’ve already learned the first two, so at first it’s just “the new one”. And I go through those three for a while before adding a fourth, and then a fifth, and so on. Sometimes I’ll add more than one, but I never add a new word until I’ve got a pretty solid sense of the difference between the last new one and the other ones I’ve already studied. (Sometimes I call them targets, since “word” is maybe not always the best, er, word to use — maybe morpheme would be more accurate here? But “target” in that it’s the thing you’re aiming at to learn, yeah?)

And after you’ve done this for maybe 5 or 10 or 30 words, you start feeling less like you have nothing going for you and more like you have quite a lot going for you. I used this technique every other day in college to memorize (and let’s not kid ourselves, what I’m talking about here is memorization, not quite learning yet) sometimes as many as 60 new words or more to ace the morning’s vocab quiz.

My tactic was also assisted by a kind of defacto interval training. The better I knew the word, the further back I would put it in the list of vocab cards, so words I had trouble with would come back sooner, ones I already knew would recur less frequently.

The thing that I want to emphasize is that the bootstrapping process in learning new words — that route by which you take something completely alien and make it familiar by comparing it to something else completely alien — seem both vitally necessary and severely underrepresented in the work I’ve seen on language learning.

Finding the Fun

In my career as a game designer, there was a mantra that everyone has used: “Find the fun”. If a game mechanic isn’t fun, then you don’t have a good game. Period. End of line. The single most vitally important thing in making fun games is for the designers to “find the fun”. This is both harder and easier than it seems (depending on how you look at it), but for now, I’ll just leave it at this is the most fundamental job that a game designer has. Everything else is predicated upon knowing that fun exists, and where it is and understanding it.

I think that this should apply to how we live our lives, as well. From a personal and professional standpoint, whether dealing with hardships or learning something new.

Remember how I said I would get back to the frustration I felt? If something isn’t fun, we tend to stop doing it. Or we do it begrudgingly. I don’t want to hear any old-person jibber-jabber about “sometimes you have to do stuff that isn’t fun, it just needs to be done.” I think their definition of fun is either too narrow, or they’ve gone about doing things in a way that makes them more miserable. (Which is totally a thing that people do. Maybe another blog post sometime about that one.)

When I was studying and I came back around to the new words, not only could I not remember them, the only thing I DID remember was that there was a set of words, and visually, yeah, maybe this was one of them. I guess. It was frustrating, and also it wasn’t very fun. So sue me if I want to spend my life enjoying the things I do (wow, I must have some repressed something about that fun thing).

Basically, nobody needs to learn a language that isn’t their native language — and native languages are kind of acquired without having to try too hard. That is, little kids try REALLY hard, but they’re at a stage in their life where just learning and making connections at whatever pace works for them is not only fun, it’s also TOTALLY OKAY for them to be having fun. They haven’t had the sense of “it’s okay to have fun” beaten out of them yet, and so they slowly build up their working knowledge. But for the “grown-ups” of us out there, yeah, we probably don’t NEED to learn another language. You can see this all over the world by looking at immigrants and refugees who never learn the language very well for where they are now living: Spanish-speakers in the US, English speakers in Japan, German speakers in Brazil… You can get by with surprisingly little native language understanding.

So when we say we want to learn a language, we should acknowledge that what we’re setting out to do is, functionally, completely optional (even for schools that require it, you can still get a simple job if you fail out of school, it happens all the time). And if something is optional AND unenjoyable (or regularly frustrating), we’re almost certainly going to give up.

So could you go through the list of five new words over and over again and eventually pick them up? Yeah, probably. And you would almost certainly learn one of them first, know which one that was in order, be looking for it, and then learn the others in the context of knowing that one. But in the meantime, you’ll likely be frustrated and (like I did) put it down.

Another thing I learned as a game designer is that once someone puts something down, if there isn’t a strong draw to come back, they won’t. Once the game is off, it’s gone. Once you stop studying, you’re done. Unless the task was REALLY fun, or you want to learn the language SO MUCH that it overcomes how boring and tedious and frustrating the task it, you’ll give up. I can’t tell you how often I’ve given up and come back and given up again.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that language learning should always be fun — ALL learning should be fun — or else you’re going to give up and you may never come back.

Level Design

When designing content for a game — levels and puzzles and so forth — your main goal is to push the player without frustrating them. You take what they already know and you add some new thing to it to make it just a little bit trickier, or to make it just a little bit newer or different. In this way, you’re always showing them something new and challenging them just a little bit. There’s a sweet spot for video games between making players do the same thing over and over again, they get bored; and forcing them to grow in skill too quickly, and the game becomes hard and many players will give up. But if the game does it just right, then you can start from not knowing how to do anything at all in the game to now pulling off crazy skilled jumps and attacks that, if you’d been asked to do them from the start, would have frustrated you and you would have likely given up.

You can probably tell where I’m going with this one.

I think we should be applying the same tactics to language instruction that we do to level design. Introduce things slowly. Give them some time to play around with that things and become comfortable and good at it. Then, right when they’re starting to get a little bored, you give them something new.

This, in a simple way, is an advantage that I think the system I use on myself has — at least in the sphere of learning new vocabulary targets. You play around in the space that you know until you’re comfortable with how to recognize it against the backdrop of all the other things you already know about. Then you add something new, and play with that. Eventually, you don’t have to do a direct comparison against EVERY other thing because you’ve built up that framework of knowledge. Though sometimes you do get thrown for a loop by targets that are surprisingly similar, or whose meanings get crossed somehow.

(I had that exact problem with the characters for big sister, little sister, and little brother in Japanese — I could easily recognize that each of them was one of the words in that group, and when placed next to each other I could have likely told you which was which; but when seen individually, I was just awful at remembering quickly which one had what meaning.)

A topic for another time (since I’ve written over 2,000 words already and I’m not QUITE done yet) is how we should take what I’m saying here and then train against things that are cognitively similar for whatever reason, to learn to differentiate them from one another.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say in this section is that, when you introduce topics or new words slowly and give people time to play and understand it, they will feel like they’re GOOD at it all, and they will want to do more. Whereas if you just hand them a huge list and say “go”, they’d probably do it ineffectively and they’ll feel like they’re bad at it and give up and (possibly) think themselves lesser than people who just naturally figure out how to study better for themselves earlier.

Memorization vs. Learning

Lastly, I just want to touch briefly on “learning” versus “memorization”. Obviously, the goal is learning. Learning is what we do with our native languages. It’s that instinctual kind of knowledge where you have a non-verbal thought and the words and grammar just materialize and you say them. Memorizing is more like having a high-speed look-up table. Like a dictionary in your head. And when you have a thought, you have to formalize it into something you understand (words, meta-thoughts, something weird like that) and then “look up” or “figure out” what those things are in the target language.

Memorization can happen very quickly, but it also goes away very quickly. It’s part of why I still got a D in that class where I was rockstar-memorizing over 100 words each week and acing morning quizzes. I did the quizzes, but then by the time class was out, the words were gone. The step I lacked was coming back to what I’d studied later, after a break, and RE-memorizing the ones I’d lost. It’s the classic long-tailed second half of recurrence learning. It’s the part that everyone already has figured out in all of their flashcard apps.

The thing they’re missing is that “getting started” bit right at the beginning.

And that little part is why I’ve started working on a flashcard app of my own. Because I’m tired of having to deal with poor bootstrapping of new vocabulary. Because it’s not fun, and I think it wastes my time.

Bang, Nostalgia (Hello, 2015)

I’ve heard that smell is one of the most deeply remembered senses — more than vision, more than sound. Smell is something that you can get a whiff of something and it instantly takes you back to a familiarity you’d long-since forgotten. And oftentimes it isn’t even a smell you distinctly remember.

It’s been something like six and a half years (almost seven?) since I last set foot in Japan. The flight, disembarking, and navigating the airport were all almost disturbingly mundane feeling. I didn’t feel like I was halfway across the world. And when I stepped onto the subway train, I wasn’t hit with a sudden realization of distance, but rather of time. The car smelled a kind of damp, musty sweet that was remembered more in my body than in my mind. A wave of familiarity crept over me and took hold, nearly knocking me over for a moment.

I’m sure it was the smell of pollution and shampoo and cleaning agents.

It’s the smell of Tokyo.

And it smelled like a kind of home.

Continue reading

Sketchy Logic: Many Hands Mean Sports Are Evil

I just read the statement, “Many hands make light work,” and I feel like it was probably interpreted correctly in the past, and as a saying it still is. But when I read it, I thought, “Many hands make light work… each,” which to me implied that each extra hand increased the work load by a small amount (which is true, from a project management perspective). I suspect that the original phrase came from an older time when English was a bit more flexible in where you could put words versus what they meant/implied in those locations (what does “make” imply is an important distinction here), or possibly also from back when “work” literally meant “labor” (as in physical exertion) and so making something “light” was very literal in this case.

It is, of course, also true the intent of the phrase as “more hands make work lighter.” In fact, both interpretations of the phrase are true. It is another “known” axiom of project management that any given project has a theoretical optimum number of “hands,” and any hands beyond that optimum actually takes it back to creating MORE work (at worst) or just… idle hands (at best).

This phrase is used frequently in Mormon circles for topics like setting up for an activity (or, more importantly, cleaning up after one), moving someone in or out of a house, volunteer work at a park, etc… Typically, there is ample work for however-many people show up, but on occasion I have observed too many people showing up. In these cases, since there is rarely any overarching organization built up to ensure that no hands go idle (as there is so painfully often in the workplace), hands will tend to go idle after a while. This is when basketballs start bouncing in the gymnasium, or footballs start getting thrown around by these “idle hands.”

Finally, assuming truth in another phrase — “idle hands are the Devil’s plaything” — allows me to conclude quite tangentially that sports are evil activities; a point that I will defend right up until someone suggests that these idle hands may also engage in activities that I enjoy, at which time I suspect that I may just concede my hobbies are also evil. That way I get to still claim that sports are evil, and all it costs me is the comfort of claiming my own hobbies aren’t.

Wait, where was I going with this?

The Trainwreck Typo

Sometimes, when I write a long word, I’ll hit a typo early on (swap letters, usually) but my brain refuses to accept it and instead of stepping back to correct the unfinished word, my fingers seem to stumble around the keyboard for a second or two.

Fingers: “Wait, I’m lost.”

Brain: “No, it’s cool, we still got this.”

Fingers: “Okay, so there was a… ‘p’ in that word? And an ‘o’ we think…”

Me: “Wait, what the crap am I even typing?”

It’s like typing a train wreck in slow motion. Some part of me knows that nothing salvageable will come of this, but I can’t… stop… typing… letter…

As I Stand, Packing

Yes, packing.  It sucks.  It sucks muchly...  PS:  Love this photo.

Yes, packing. It sucks. It sucks muchly… PS: Love this photo.

I packed all my bags this evening.  This makes me sad.  Not because my bags are packed, leaving me nothing to worry about not getting done for the next day and a half, certainly, but because it means that I’m really basically finished here in Japan.

While packing I thought about a lot of things.  How I’m not the same person I once was.  How my sphere of friends has now expanded (ironically) to include most of the US, and almost none of Japan. ^_^  But the friends I made here have become like family to me.  I have my family, and I have friends back home who are like family, and now I have a third family that met up in Japan, and almost all of us are returning home to our respective states…  Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Wisconsin…  All over the map.

Also I will miss a lot of the simpler things – smaller proportions, some of the stupid things Japan does, trains, yen, having a reason to speak Japanese to people around me…  Don’t get me wrong, I miss my home in Colorado very much, and I love everyone there and miss them all dearly… but I love my home here, too, with my friends here.  So it is a bittersweet thought, packing.

Leaving home for Japan wasn’t bad at all, because I knew that I would be returning within a year’s time, and that all would be well.  But I don’t know when I can come back here to Japan.  I don’t know when I will be with ALL of my new friends again.  Sure, we’re going to conventions together, but perhaps not all of us to them.  Sure, we have Skype for chatting, but you can’t get the energy from being AROUND them and able to move amongst each other.

On the one hand I have changed a great deal.  On the other, I am still the same person that everyone knows and loves.  I confuse even myself with this.  It’s just… not fun.

Tomorrow we head out to Disney Sea, a neighboring theme park to Tokyo Disneyland, which we went to two weeks ago.  We’re going to have a blast, and then we’re doing a final all-night karaoke marathon that will kick major ass.  Then at around 5 in the morning we head home, get a few final precious hours of sleep, followed by hiking our baggage out to the airport and awaiting flights.  There’s no time left.  Anything else we wanted to do will not get done, and any savoring we wish we could have more of will have to be left unsatisfied.  The week before finals’ week time couldn’t move fast enough and we all wished we were home already.  Now that finals are over, time is moving entirely too quickly, and freaking us all out.  A funny thing, Time.  ^_^  Don’t even get me started on my plans for when I get back to America.

Here’s a preview:

  1. Wash clothes.
  2. Sit down.
  3. Cry.
  4. Wash clothes. (Yes, again!)
  5. Call friends from home.
  6. Eat food with friends, and try to feel happy.
  7. Sleep in the presence of central air-conditioning.

And then I take things as they come…  ^_^

Mortality Complex

Okay, so this one isn’t DIRECTLY related to Japan, per se; but it was INSPIRED by things that I’ve seen and experienced here thus far.  ^_^  Also back home, but it becomes more prominent here as you’ll see.

Okay, so this one isn’t DIRECTLY related to Japan, per se; but it was INSPIRED by things that I’ve seen and experienced here thus far. ^_^ Also back home, but it becomes more prominent here as you’ll see.

So, I’ve had this thing about me for a while now, my brothers and I have talked about it before, and I thought for a while that it was a kind of… universal human trait that we all shared.  And while I’m not sure how universal it may be anymore, I have come somewhat to understand to a greater extent what it is, if not why.

So here’s an example:  You’re driving down the road.  It’s pretty late at night, and there really aren’t any cars around.  In fact, you’re pretty sure that you’re alone as far as you can see.  You start looking around you and notice a gigantic lamp post, and you feel the force of the vehicle around you, and you start wondering, What if the two forces met up, what would happen?  Sure you know you would crash, and probably die… but I mean…  What would actually happen?  Then your mind starts playing through these strange scenarios of what you might do to cause this, and what you might imagine would happen were it to happen, until you eventually start double-checking yourself to make sure that you aren’t ACTUALLY turning the wheel to steer you into the light post.

This is what I call the “Mortality Complex,” where you somehow feel a drive to explore the fringes of living…  (Okay, this sounds really creepy, and entirely too serious for how I take it, myself.)  It’s not necessarily a strong urge, either.  In fact, in most cases, it’s the easiest thing in the world to just brush off and ignore! ^_^  So don’t worry about me!  *is looking at you, you know who you are*  So yeah.  This thing happens to people.

But what’s very interesting is how I can see things in Japan and, perhaps because their idea of “safe” is so different that it starts my mind wandering thinking about what “safe” actually means, I find myself more frequently thinking along these lines.  See, they have things like, lots of trains that you ride everywhere, and stories of people killing themselves by jumping in front of trains – these spark questions like, “If I were down there, could I actually survive being hit by a train?  How fast is fast enough to kill me?  Could I perhaps run across the tracks to the neighboring platform?  How close to me could a train be when I started running before I couldn’t make it anymore…?  I bet you could duck down in the area under the platform and be pretty safe from the train…” and the like.

Also, they have these… roof things.  You can just go out and, without much trouble at all, dangle your legs 9 stories above the ground.  The windows in the schools don’t have SCREENS, and they open a fair amount, such that anyone wanting to could potentially just open one up and jump!

My friends and I look at things like this and ask ourselves, “Are they ASKING people to kill themselves?!?”  Descending the stairs in a game store, they have relatively little blocking you from, say, jumping the 6 stories down unto an active construction side next door, for instance, and we just stopped for a moment and said, “Man…  They REALLY make it easy in this country…”  And we paused.  We were both just kind of feeling the tension of how easy it would be to jump.

Naturally, neither of us DID, I mean, that would be just… STUPID! ^_^  There’s just that… Mortality Complex that makes you think about it for just a little while before you decide to move on.

And I guess the sum of it is this:  Japan tries to get people to kill themselves.  Who knew? ^_^

Also, now that summer has finally started to hit (80-something temperatures in Fahrenheit), I bemoan even further the lack of double-paned glass in this confounded country!  Double-paned glass would allow me to run my air conditioner for a couple hours in the evening, turn it off, go to sleep, and not wake up 4 hours later feeling hot and sticky again! >.<  Why, Japan?  Why?!?  Don’t you know that it saves energy – just like you’re always going on about – and ALSO lets you stay more comfortable?  For less money, even!!  Come ON, Japan!  I love you, but you gotta start being SMART about these things…  V__V

Dating Difficulties

This is not a personal entry, I promise!  It’s totally about Japan!  ;P (Translation: We ask men to refrain from entering the hot tob. Please understand.)

This is not a personal entry, I promise! It’s totally about Japan! ;P (Translation: We ask men to refrain from entering the hot tob. Please understand.)

So, I’ve talked about this on my personal blog site a lot lately (lately being in the last few weeks), but I have recently gotten myself into a relationship here in Japan.  (Yes, it’s awesome, okay, fine, moving on to more pertinent things in this blog.  Thanks.  ^_^)  I want to talk just for a moment about why I am now completely amazed that anything ever gets done in Japan with regard to relationships and dating IN GENERAL, as I have now seen some rather unusual things from the inside (of having a relationship).

First off, how do people ever get to know each other well at all?  There is nowhere in this city (Tokyo) that you can go to be alone together with someone, even just to talk or whatever.  Unless the last train has already left (more on that later), there’s going to be SOMEBODY walking nearby to SOMEWHERE, no matter where you try to run.  Societally, I suppose, this could function a bit like having a 24/7 chaperone, but when you hear statistics about the average 12-14 year old having had a sexual experience, you start to wonder where they go to DO it?  This isn’t me being frustrated, since I’m not looking for that sort of thing as you might imagine, but purely from a standpoint where I would like our personal discussions to ACTUALLY be personal and not having dozens of people walking by all the time, it’s a bit strange to think that ANYONE could be at ALL sexually active before they can afford a large apartment on their own (meaning after university)…

…and suddenly, it makes sense why nobody ever gets married or dates seriously here until well into college life or even an established career.  That makes me kind of sad.

Second, what’s the deal with purikura?  It’s a contraction of the English words “print club,” into Japanese, and it talks about the crazy photo booths they have here.  The picture atop this post is from a sign that I saw when my girlfriend and I went to take pictures at a purikura place in an upper floor of an arcade (they call them game centers here, though).  If you can’t figure it out, men are not allowed to be on the purikura floor by themselves.  If a man is present, he must be accompanying a woman.  I will freely admit that I felt freaking WEIRD going into that floor, hand-in-hand with my new girlfriend, ready to affix our newfound attraction into the annals of history with crazy backgrounds, bright shiny stars, and crazy glittery things dotted throughout the photos.  Was I adventuring into a forbidden realm?  Was there some hidden secret that only girls and boys-with-girlfriends were allowed to know?  (Pro-tip:  there wasn’t.)  What happened if she wandered around the corner to look at another booth without me noticing and some girl came up and saw me just standing by myself?!?  Were ninjas (girl ninjas) going to appear from the ceiling tiles and slice me in half for being a perverted monster, when really I just hadn’t stayed close enough to my girlfriend to be kept safe from the purikura ninjas?  o.o  I feared for my life.

[ed. note: Males are totally, technically allowed. I just never saw any nearby where the purikura stuff.]

I feared for my life muchly.

Lastly, what the hell, Japan, is with your trains?  Last trains leaving at 12:15?  But if you want to make the transfer that takes you all the way to your home station you gotta leave by 11:45?  And this is even on the weekend!  So we’re both in home-stays, and that kind of makes it impossible to meet up and just watch TV or a movie or play games at one of our houses, which means we have to meet up somewhere (usually the station nearest the school) to talk, as young lovers often will, into the not-so-wee hours of the night.  That’s right.  No staying up forever talking because you gotta catch your last train!  No cuddling together because, let’s face it, sitting down is generally frowned upon by THE ENTIRETY OF THE JAPANESE POPULATION…

…I once saw a few benches somewhere… >.>  I think.  Truth be told, there are benches, but they’re usually in places like, right out front of a train station.  You want to sit down on a curb?  Prepare to be stared at, and that’s before they realize you’re a gaijin and holding hands (in public) with a girl. *big sigh*

Anyway.  So things are… interesting.  We’re managing to have a lot of fun despite Japan’s seeming paranoia about letting two people have any amount of quality time together.  Meh, perhaps it’s for the best.  It will teach us to treasure the time that we CAN be together, perhaps?  (Pro-tip: On weekdays, you can get a karaoke room, up to 3 hours, for less than $4 per person.  And you can… sing songs… in the karaoke room.)

Well, peace from this side of the pond.

[ed. note: Now that I’m much older and “wiser,” I would be very much interested in returning and trying to observe more of local custom surrounding couples. Now to figure out how to sustain myself if I went, and how to not look totally creepy following couples around Tokyo… A safari hat probably wouldn’t help in this regard…]