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Throughout extended periods of quarantine and social distancing, we’ve all wondered about whether or not an age of coronavirus is the right time to take up a new hobby, write a novel or finally master Japanese. Maybe it’s just better to 諦める (akirameru, give up) and dive into Netflix along with some occasional stress-baking.

Studying Japanese can feel like an immense task, well beyond the undertaking of a typical 趣味 (shumi, hobby) or 興味 (kyōmi, interest). Health.com says that healthy hobbies include パンを作る (pan o tsukuru, to bake/make bread), 日記を書く (nikki o kaku, to keep a journal/diary), 手編み (teami, knitting) and 写真撮影 (shashin satsuei, photography). Google search term trends reveal that people during the pandemic have been most likely テレビを見る (terebi o miru, to watch TV), 本を読む (hon o yomu, to read books) and 運動する (undō suru, to work out). But maybe you’re looking for something more to pass the long, lonely hours.

It gets down to the question of whether or not our free time at home should be productive. There’s no exact word in Japanese for productivity, but in a business context 生産性がいい (seisansei ga ii, to be productive) does the trick, and in a personal context, 成果を上げる (seika o ageru, to yield results). Unfortunately, 日本語の勉強が全く成果を上げていない (Nihongo no benkyō ga mattaku seika o agete-inai, my study of Japanese is completely unproductive).

効率 (Kōritsu, Efficiency) is another term often used in Japanese where “productivity” would be in English. So for me, 日本語の勉強の効率が全く上がらないから、気分転換に新しい趣味をし始めた (Nihongo no benkyō no kōritsu ga mattaku agaranai kara, kibun tenkan ni atarashii shumi o shihajimeta, because studying Japanese is so inefficient, I’ve started up a new hobby for a change). You can make compound verbs with 始める (hajimeru, to start) when you begin doing something new, or use the grammar structure ことにする (koto ni suru, to make a rule of doing something). For example, 最近ジョギングをし始めた (saikin jogingu o shihajimeta, I’ve started jogging lately), or 最近ジョギングをすることにしている (saikin jogingu o suru koto ni shite-iru, I’m making a habit of going jogging lately).

But when circumstances are out of your control — like in a pandemic — use ことになる (koto ni naru, to be decided): 最近家で仕事をすることになっているから、あまり外に出かけていない (Saikin ie de shigoto o suru koto ni natte-iru kara, amari soto ni dekakete inai, Because it’s been arranged for me to work from home lately, I haven’t been going out much.)

たまに努力の成果がでる (Tama ni doryoku no seika ga deru, Occasionally, effort does yield results). To express your new skills and abilities, use the potential form with ようになる (yō ni naru), like できるようになる (dekiru yō ni naru, to become able to). In my pathetic case, アニメのエピソードを15話連続で見られるようになった (anime no episōdo o jūgo-wa renzoku de mirareru yō ni natta, I’ve become able to watch 15 consecutive episodes of anime). Or slightly more impressive, 卵焼きを作れるようになった (tamagoyaki o tsukureru yō ni natta, I’ve become able to make tamagoyaki).

Other times, visions of productivity are but distant dreams. Beyond using the ~たい verb ending to express “I want to,” like また旅行したい (mata ryokō shitai, I want to travel again) or 毎朝5時半に起きられるようにしたい (maiasa go-ji han ni okirareru yō ni shitai, I want to make a habit of waking up every morning at 5:30), use the conditional form できればいいな (dekireba ii na, I wish/if only) for a more wistful construction: 超フワフワしているパンケーキを家で作れればいいな (Chō fuwa-fuwa shite-iru pankēki o ie de tsukurereba ii na, If only I could make super fluffy pancakes at home) for one, or 日本語の小説を読めるようになればいいな (Nihongo no shōsetsu o yomeru yō ni nareba ii na, I wish I could become able to read Japanese novels).

Well, there’s no time like the present to やってみる (yatte-miru, give it a shot). But nobody will blame you if a pandemic age means that テレビを見る以外何もできない (terebi o miru igai nani mo dekinai, unable to do anything besides watch TV). That’s how many of us feel.

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