Kimi no na wa. Sounds like a spell! But it is not. It’s a Japanese anime which makes a much better impression in VR. This insider’s tip comes from no one else, but the founder of the VR Anime Society.
“Your Name is much more enjoyable in VR”, says Max, or rather, Doutatsu, a London-based Japanese learner.
Max says his story is pretty stereotypical; of someone who started learning Japanese because of passion for anime. But, is it really *so* common that a desire to watch series without subtitles leads to:
- writing articles on learning Japanese,
- a plan to relocate to Japan, and
- starting a VR Anime society?
We’d argue, this is rather unusual.
It’s always easy to find a clear path running our lives, when we look at them in retrospect. As if our story only had one way to progress. In reality, there are always multiple places where our lives could have taken a different turn.
“My fascination with Japan started already at the age of six. I started doing martial arts — first aikido then karate and jujitsu. This lead to discovering Japan and, as it often goes for young people, getting immersed in manga and anime.” When we spoke Max has already been learning Japanese for a long time — 4-5 years, he says.
“But, for most of this time I wasn’t really studying. I had bursts of motivation and learning activity.” A semester at university fuelled his passion, first trip to Japan reignited it, then he improved during a 2-month course in Tokyo. These periods of intense study were interspersed with times of idleness, when he’d forget what he learned.
After each of these bursts, Max could have easily gotten discouraged and stop. But, something has always pushed him to go back and start again.
He was searching…
Searching for a renewable energy source to fuel his motivation.
Progress Through Pain
“First time I went to Japan, it exceeded my expectations.” The initial plan was to have a two-week trip around the country, but after arriving in Tokyo, Max was mesmerised with the city. Having spent most of the two weeks in Tokyo and Kyoto, there was no question he had to come back.
Since then, he has travelled to many places in Japan, and has already visited most of, so called, “touristy places”. The latest trip was two years ago. Apart from travelling Tokyo’s and Kyoto’s famous places to see koyo, the bright red autumn leaves, he also planned to spend more time socialising. After about 4 years of studying Japanese he thought he’d be ready to develop more friendly connections. Alas!
“I needed up frustrated with my low conversational abilities. There was so much learning I’ve done, and yet my Japanese wasn’t enough for social interaction! Four years of learning and I still didn’t know all that much. I realised that at this rate my goal of moving to Japan would never come to pass.”
Ray Dalio’s book Principles summarises well what probably happened in Max’s head at this point.
👉 Pain + Reflection = Progress 👈
The combination of pain of the inability to interact, and the reflection about his future plans, lead to progress. To a firm decision.
“I committed to learning Japanese every day no matter what. One of the reasons I managed to stay consistent was setting a small daily goal. I avoided overwhelming myself and only gradually adding more things.
It’s just for the year and a half that I count my ‘proper studying time’, that is, when I was learning every day. That’s what’d call real consistency.”
Getting Conversation Ready
It was also during his last trip to Japan that Max came across HelloTalk, on YouTube. Later, a friend on Discord shared a story of vastly improving their English through the app. These two signals were enough for Max to download HelloTalk.
He knew what he needed is to practice with native speakers, what he learned in theory.
“I’m planning to relocate to Japan and I want to be ‘conversation ready’.”
This can be an elusive concept. But, Max has a working definition to fit his goals, and through practice he notices what to pay attention to in communication.
“It’s a combination of understanding the language, and the cultural nuances of an exchange. There is the stereotype about Japanese people being more reserved, and I notice sometimes it’s hard to keep the conversation continue.
Not everyone feels comfortable correcting me either, especially as incomes to the differences between the formal and informal language. But I want to be corrected, otherwise I’ll never know if I wasn’t rude! As I chat with people more I start to notice these nuances.”
In a language exchange on HelloTalk learning and teaching go both ways.
“It was because I struggled for conversations in Japanese that I tried HelloTalk. Now I use the app regularly, speak with different people and post Moments.”
We looked at his Moments, and it seems Max is a pretty good photographer too!
“HelloTalk improves my language just by making me try to talk. Textbooks are constrained in what they can offer, and on the app I can apply the language I learned. I know a lot of vocabulary, now I need to learn to utilise it.”
Fascination with Japan gained Max a reputation among his friends. A “Survival Japanese” guide written for a colleague was a beginning of more language-related blog posts which he occasionally shares on Medium.
Another project, the VR Anime Society, has been a much bigger endeavour. It actually made Max abandon his day job. Well, at least a week.
The Anime Viewing Society he found on a gamers’ messaging app, Discord, was active. But, Max felt it had a much bigger potential. Over time, his involvement with the community grew — he started organising more and more streaming sessions. But, even with over 200 active users on our Discord, he still felt like he was only scratching the surface.
That’s how his website was born. Two weeks of hard work to release the first basic version, then, after much more work, a functional website with event management functionalities. Through constant feedback from the community he could improve the product very quickly. Now the site has already had more than 3,000 visitors.
Max says the biggest lesson form this experience is “until you ship to real users, you are just indulging in a hobby.”
A teaser video of VR Anime Society events.
Perhaps, this is another occasion where true progress happens only through interacting with the real world. Max could be learning Japanese in isolation for another four years, but it was conversations on HelloTalk that made him bring his language skill to the next level.
And, just like learning Japanese, Max used to approach product building in short passionate bursts. He started and abandoned many, but rarely kept consistent enough to finish with a successful launch. What made a difference this time? Interaction with people in the real world.
Why is interaction so important in both language exchange and product development?
“It keeps you motivated, you get feedback and, most importantly, you provide value to people all around the world.”
One of Max’s aims related to the VR Anime Society is to help Japanese VR developers get exposure to the western audience. “It’d would also be great for my Japanese practice along the way!”
This is where all the threads come together. Anime, Japanese language, and product work. Oh, and Max still does martial arts too!
How about your name? This time we’re talking about his nickname, which Max uses across social media, HelloTalk included. “Doutatsu is a Japanese kanji meaning the way of the dragon. I looked it up out of curiosity, and it stuck. It’s probably a bit cheesy, but I like it.”
Follow Max on HelloTalk to chat to him about AR/VR, anime, and Japan.