How about a story? When I was born, I started out by learning English in the United States. Then it felt inexplicably as if I was being born all over again in my twenties, and granted a second childhood of sorts, when I found myself immersed in Japan’s language, food, culture, lifestyle, and local community for the better part of ten years. I wouldn’t call it wits as much as dumb luck that I had possessed the gumption and courage to accept the gracious offer for a place to stay and a job in Japan, with almost no knowledge of the country or its language.
It turned out to be the decision of a lifetime, and a life experience for which I’m truly grateful and deeply humbled. In rural Japan, I was practically reduced to a child again, ignorant of rules, taboos and customs, unable to understand or speak to people, and needing to grow up and figure out how to navigate through the channels of society and public life once again. Like a giddy toddler, I was discovering all the delectable dishes in my first year. It also took about a year of struggling and trying before I realized I was getting the hang of the language. By that point, I was coasting as much as I was pedaling through language acquisition, by the sheer grace of conversation and daily interactions.
I became a language instructor, an English teacher, and gained an early reputation as “that foreigner who rides his bicycle 20 kilometers to work and 20 kilometers back.” (Spoiler alert: I got a driver’s license eventually). I became a radio personality for a local radio station hosting two programs, a daily English lesson and a weekly music slot. I volunteered as an interpreter when institutions like the Rotary Club or Sister City associations came to town, and as an English tutor in many public schools. I participated in the local traditions, the festivals and the holidays. I traveled throughout the region, took in many sights and experiences, and captured many enduring memories. I feel that I did not take life in Japan for granted, and I got a lot of what it had to offer me, culturally, philosophically and spiritually.
What about another story? Upon my return to the United States an idea slowing began to emerge. It took a while to gain momentum, but a thought became an action, a page became a chapter, and then more words just kept pouring themselves into a manuscript. At first this was just going to be a nifty little book about language learning and tips for success. Then I decided to do a little research about cognition and bilingualism. This is the point where the book project cracked open, and a bouquet of new ideas blossomed in my mind’s eye.
I realized by looking at the research and reports that language acquisition and bilingualism were counted as activities meeting the criteria for brain fitness, and being conducive to development of cognitive reserve. The research went on and the list of brain fitness activities grew. It quickly grew long enough to break down into many individual topics, and share them all together in one place.
Whether it’s learning a second language, or rehearsing music, singing or dancing. Whether it’s hiking or yoga, or assembling jigsaw puzzles, or countless other ways, there’s no longer doubt about the benefits for the mind and body. The question is whether the brain is flexing its neuroplasticity and pumping up its cognitive reserve as much as it can and it should for optimum health. That mission essentially sums up the impetus and the inspiration for this site and its contents.