The realization that I know very little about Japan and the Japanese language, despite being a native Japanese, came soon after my family and I returned to Japan following a year in the United States. I was five years old when we moved to California, and it was quite easy for the five-year old to get accustomed to the new environment, make friends, and, above all, acquire English to the level where I could speak fluently with my new friends. Sadly, however, I completely lost my English proficiency in just a few months after I left the States. What was even more frustrating for me is that I knew that I had been able to speak English and that I knew that I somehow lost this ability so quickly. At the same time, this experience made me realize a surprising fact about my Japanese ability. “I have never forgot Japanese, and probably never will. In fact, I never had to learn it.” But, what is it that I know in Japanese that I don’t in English? I found myself not being able to consciously describe my knowledge of Japanese.
Since this realization, I have been fascinated by looking at the Japanese language from an objective perspective. An encounter with the traditional Japanese grammar (Kokugogaku) and theoretical linguistics at University of Tokyo, and a subsequent PhD training in linguistics at MIT helped me further pursue this fascination in scientific ways. This resulted in a number of publications in Japanese syntax and semantics (e.g., on the structure and interpretation of alternative questions, the compositional semantics of benefactive constructions), as well as a study of the morpho-phonology of the Fukuoka dialect, my native dialect.