I never realized just to how much of a degree my Japanese language skills have fallen until this evening. I was doing my usual search of the best domestic Japanese restaurants based on the quality of their otoro (fatty tuna) nigiri; this took me to Koi Sushi Japanese Grill and Aki, the sushi chef from Tokyo, who three months ago was working at a Benihana in San Diego.
Aki-san and I went through the usual grievances of being away from Japan for so long:
- Lack of a decent hot springs' bath
- Not-so-fresh fish
- Few Japanese people
- No trains (at least not ones that work well, anyway)
But what surprised me most was how much I really had to question myself as to what I was saying in Japanese. The words no longer flowed instinctively as natural conversation or even a list of set phrases. Instead, my mind was going over each work one at a time, until it "verified" which ones to use. I was wrong half the time, and couldn't help it.
Nevertheless, the conversation was a breath of fresh air after having been away from Nippon from so long. We discussed life in the states vs. that of Japan, went over the various foods foreigners are not likely to ingest - natto, shirako, etc. - and even got as far as the practicality of long distance relationships; Aki-san's wife was still in Tokyo.
The only way for me to improve is to get back over there. Come January, maybe.