NihongoShark's Core Team
The courses, lessons, articles, and amazing community on NihongoShark exist thanks to the collaborations of many people. But our core content is produced by this couple of married couples you see below:
"CEO" sounds fancy. Niko is not. As head course content producer and lesson writer, Niko spends most of his time deep-diving into the nitty-gritty of the Japanese language alongside his fellow students.
A lifelong lover of words, Rei writes, checks, or proofreads pretty much every Japanese word and sentence used on this site. She also manages our ever-changing lineup of professional Japanese voice actors.
A former student of NihongoShark, the Japanese language sunk its claws into Caleb, and he never looked back. He is in charge of all web and app development.
If you see some amazing graphics or artwork on our site or Instagram page, chances are that Chie is responsible.
The Tale of NihongoShark
Far back in the early 1990's, a young boy named Niko found his place in the world, his life's calling, if you will. The idea struck his head like a fat droplet of rain. I know what I am meant to be, he thought. A ninja.
Reality was not kind to young Niko. Companies aren't hiring ninjas, he was told. And even if they were, you'd never be able to learn the language of ninjas, Japanese.
Disheartened, he put the thought out of his mind and went on with his unremarkable existence. He still enjoyed bits and pieces of Japanese culture — a video game here, an anime there. But he never even considered attempting to learn the language of this country that so inexplicably attracted him. He had been convinced, after all, that learning Japanese was beyond him. An impossible dream.
Fast-forward to his twenty-second trip around the sun. Niko had an open elective in his senior year of college, and he could fill it with any course he so chose. And there it was in the course catalog: Japanese 101. Yeah, why not? he reasoned. I'll just see what it's like for a semester.
Thus, the flood gates opened.
A hunger was born in him. He consumed book after book, course after course, retaining almost none of the information he encountered. It slid right off his Teflon-coated brain. This isn't working, he thought. If I'm going to learn Japanese, I have to go to Japan.
He bid farewell to his girlfriend of five years and set off for the Land of the Rising Sun, perhaps never to return again. Still a child in heart and brain, however, Niko left one crucial item out of his equation: Being alive costs money.
And so it was that six months later he dropped out of his Japanese language school and moved back home. Broke, living with his parents, and feeling he'd wasted two years of his life studying a language he'd never master, Niko gave up. He put the pillow over the face of his dream and held it until it lay still and silent.
For years, he wandered. And in his wandering, he found himself preparing for a few months of volunteering with disadvantaged youth in Peru. Accordingly, he took all that he'd learned in his years of studying Japanese — the trials and errors, tools good and bad — and he crafted for himself a Spanish-learning plan.
After a couple of months of voracious studying at home, and a few months living with an old woman in Cusco, he discovered that his Spanish was better than his Japanese had ever been.
The idea flashed before him, a fleeting thought. If this worked for Spanish, why shouldn't it work for Japanese? But he wasn't prepared to think about Japanese again, wasn't prepared to re-open that wound.
He continued to wander, to flutter from interest to interest, vacant and dull. And years later, there he was, still: broke, at his parents' home, having forgotten not only Japanese, but now most of his Spanish, too.
Fortunately, desperation can be a catalyst for action, and Niko dove into his studies again, this time determined to stick it out.
His many years of thinking about learning Japanese, though he didn't actually manage to do so, served him well. He started with kanji and, exploring the infinite labyrinth of his mind, learned the meaning of some 2,200 characters in only a few months. He funneled word after word into his digital flashcards, learning thousands, again in just a few months, just managing to pass the JLPT N2 along the way. He got a job teaching English in Japan and prepared for his big move.
Even then, though, he was plagued with doubt. He didn't quite believe that this progress would continue, didn't believe he'd ever see a show without subtitles, get lost in a Japanese novel without feeling mentally exhausted. And he struggled to save money for his trip, too. Every evening, before another shift at his dead-end restaurant job, with the rude, patronizing customers and his short-fused, often-screaming manager, he would sit in his car and write on a notepad:
You will move to Japan. You will make Japanese friends and speak Japanese and live in your own place. You will walk the neon-lit streets of Shibuya at night. You will explore shrines and temples and eat exotic foods. Before all of that, though, you will have a great night at work tonight.
And he pried himself out of his car and dragged his lead-weight legs into the restaurant, not yet knowing that every wish written on that notepad would come true. And more. He would find a career that fulfilled him. He would meet the love of his life at a Starbucks in East Shinjuku. He would feel like himself for the first time in his adult life.
He started sharing his study tactics online, on a site he built called NihongoShark. And later, when he had passed JLPT N1 and was working as a translator, he gained the confidence to finally start teaching the language itself, as well, a native writer and proofreader — his wife — at his side.
In time, readers of his site began to share their accomplishments with him, to help him tweak and hone his learning system. And so, the site outgrew him. A thing of power, it drew in other team members, more and more fellow students, their talents and dedication striking him with awe.
Today, he does what he can. He pours precious hours, days, and months into teaching this language that called out to him so long ago, when he was just a boy. And he revels in the opportunity to see something grow outside of him, a community of learners and team members with more passion and grit than his own, with more struggles than he has ever known. Not just a site, but a platform for like-minded learners who are ready to answer the call that they have ignored for too long: That they are meant to learn Japanese.
That is the story of how NihongoShark came to be.
Was that a bit melodramatic? Forgive me. I couldn't help it!
How can one be expected to write about oneself and not let their little Tolkien come out?
Anyway, if you read the whole thing, then I think we've both spent enough time not studying. Back to the books!