In China, he sets the reset button for his life
Our guest today is Mori Masatsugu, an editor and translator from Japan, who has been living in Beijing for about 15 years.
Mori Masatsugu participates in a half marathon competition in Beijing on April 4, 2019. [File Photo provided for China Plus]
Mori was born in Tokyo and began to learn Chinese when he was 15.
"At the age of 15, as a junior high student, I started learning Chinese when my school offered second language classes. After I went to university, I continued learning Chinese. So I've been learning it for many years. I chose the language back then simply because China has the largest population—compared to English, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world. That was the most amazing part for me. And gradually, I fell in love with China."
"I got the first opportunity to learn Chinese from a native speaker when I became a sophomore student. The Chinese teacher really impressed me. She came from Harbin, a city in northeastern China. She speaks Chinese beautifully. Yes, that's a natural thing. But at the time, when I first heard a native speaker speaking Chinese, I just felt it was beautiful."
After graduating, Mori was enrolled by a chemical company that seldom did business with China, so he was disappointed to find he didn't have to use Chinese in his work. When he turned 35, Mori decided to move to China to find new job opportunities. He left his home country and also moved sectors – from the chemical industry to the field of Information Technology. It meant that everything was new.
"Information Technology was a new field for me. But, no matter what industry it was, if I could use my knowledge of Chinese, I wanted to take the job."
Mori was happy, because he finally got the chance to use the language that he'd been learning for decades; but when he got here, he was incredulous that he couldn't understand a word anyone was saying.
"It totally didn't work. When I arrived in Beijing, I had passed level two in the Chinese proficiency test. I was confident, but I was told they couldn't understand what I was talking about. Not only that, I couldn't to get their point, when native speakers spoke Chinese to me. I was upset and disheartened. So I decided to learn Chinese from scratch. That was in 2005. Since then, I have studied the language every day. "
Mori Masatsugu (L) poses for a photo with his friend after they finish a half marathon competition in Beijing on April 4, 2019. [File Photo provided for China Plus]
The fortunate thing is that Mori has made a lot of Chinese friends here. And these people have helped him enormously.
"During my early years in Japan, I had no contact with Chinese people apart from my Chinese teacher, no Chinese friends at all. Since I came to Beijing in 2005, I have been hanging out with Chinese people. Unlike my old days in Japan, now I have fewer Japanese friends. I love doing exercise and sports. When I was young, I played baseball, ran marathons, and rode bicycles. I kept doing exercise when I came to Beijing. It was doing those activities when I made friends here… When I first arrived in Beijing, I joined three long-distance running clubs; and I am still a member of the running fan club based in Longtan Lake Park… Beijing usually organizes several marathons a year. Basically, I participate in five or six competitions a year."
Mori shares a lot of photos via his WeChat account, which were mostly taken during marathon training and competitions. In these photos, you can clearly see that he loves the sport and enjoys spending time with his Chinese friends, who not only inspire him to run, they also help this Japanese guy practice his spoken Chinese.
"After the competition's finished, we would often go to a restaurant and have dinner with our friends. We've kept this tradition for years. It is a shame that since I got married I haven't really joined in these after-parties – my friends at the running club kept in touch, though. Sometimes we have dinner together and I'll drink a glass or two, or we chat while we're running – and my spoken Chinese has improved a lot by communicating like this with them."
After living and working in Beijing for about six years, Mori quit his job at the IT company and became a freelance translator and interpreter. Despite all the changes in his life, he has never stopped learning Chinese. It was his persistence that led him to meet his future wife.
Mori Masatsugu (L) poses for a selfie with his wife, a Beijing local, on March 7, 2019. [File Photo provided for China Plus]
"As for my wife and I, at the beginning we were a pair of language exchange partners. As a college student, her major was Japanese; while I'd been learning Chinese for years. Usually we would go to a restaurant and exchange language there for around two hours. I taught her Japanese, and she taught me Chinese. Two years later, she became my girlfriend."
Mori says he studies Chinese every day. He uses a Chinese saying "活到老，学到老" to explain this daily routine, meaning you should never stop learning as long as you live.
As well as learning Chinese, the other thing Mori loves to do is travel by train. He has experienced all kinds of transport in China, ranging from high-speed rail to slow, green trains. The speed of China's newest railway is about 300 kilometers per hour, while the slowest green-colored trains maybe run at just 30 km an hour.
"I love travelling by train. For me, the biggest attraction is not going sightseeing, but the train trip itself. For example, a typical trip from Beijing to Chengde, where the imperial summer resort was, will take four and half hours by an express train; but it will take about 12 hours if you choose a slow train. I took the slow one once. I just love it for its nostalgic flavor. There are no such trains in Japan; they have all been replaced by bullet trains. We have neither sleeping cars nor dining cars in my country. So I think it's a good option for train fans living in Japan to come to China and travel by train."
Mori fell in love with Chinese, and that brought him to Beijing, where he met his wife. Now the couple are waiting for their first child. Yes, this year marks a turning point in Mori's life: he will soon become a father. Life looks beautiful, but he still has some worries, for example, house prices in Beijing are so expensive.
"I did plan to buy a house in Beijing, but the prices are so high that I can't afford to. Now, I'm renting an apartment, it's also expensive and costs me about 5000 yuan a month. I hope the government can do more to control prices; otherwise people won't be able to afford to buy."
Mori would also like the restrictions on foreigners' residence permit to be relaxed. He says if the Chinese government could make residency easier for foreigners, more people-to-people exchanges would take place in the future.