Kenjiro Murai: As is normal for Japanese, I started studying English from the first grade of my junior high school. I also had to take French at my school so I studied the alphabet in French at the same time. After that, I studied in Philadelphia, U.S.A. for a month and did a home stay when I was in first grade of my high school. We had to go either the US or France depending on your major. So, that was my first experience to speak in English in daily life. However, I couldn’t communicate so well.
ZERO: How was your home stay experience?
Kenjiro Murai: It was the first time to speak to foreigners and I realized that the English I had studied in junior high school didn’t work much. For example, I learned the phrase “How are you?” to greet someone, but in the states, people uses phrase like “What’s up” or “How’s it going?” instead.1 I was very surprised. When I said “How are you?” and “And you?”, people laughed at me and I was embarrassed. I wish that my school taught us some casual English conversation. Also, when I said “My name is Kenjiro”, people laughed at me too. I learned “I’m Kenjiro” was ok.
“I wish that my school taught us some casual English”
ZERO: How did you study English after graduating high school?
Kenjiro Murai: After graduating from high school, I went to Waseda University. I decided to learn English more and studied for TOEFL. My major was chemistry and a lot of the textbooks were written in English, and some foreign teachers gave classes too. So if I didn’t understand English, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I was very serious at that time (laugh) and my dream was to go to MIT after graduating university. I took TOEFL tests, went to an English conversation school and tried many things. Finally, I realized that there is a limit to my English if I stay in Japan, so I decided to go to London by myself to study English when I had a summer break in the second grade of university. I visited “Marquee,” a famous club, and had conversations with local people there. I could speak to them in English, but somehow my English didn’t improve as much as I thought it would. So I ended up buying a Motorhead leather jacket and came back to Japan. After that, I went to graduate school. Waseda University had many foreign exchange students so I had a chance to talk to them in English. However, they talked to me in Japanese. Their Japanese improved but my English didn’t make much progress. (laugh)
ZERO: When did you use English next?
Kenjiro Murai: The next time I could speak in English was when I was about 30 years old. I was playing in Sex Machineguns and the band’s engineer was from Nashville, U.S.A. So when I was with him, I always talked to him in English. We stayed for about 3 months in the US for a recording, so my ears got used to English and I felt that American’s speaking speed got slower. But on the other hand, my speaking skill didn’t progress at all. After returning to Japan, my listening skill got bad again.
ZERO: Do you have any interesting stories from your recording in Nashville?
Kenjiro Murai: It might be a small thing but all I can remember was that everyone was saying “Awesome!”2 This word never appeared in an English textbook in Japan. This word is very useful in many situations so I wish that my school taught me this word. In my band, not many members could speak English fluently so we wrote words like “again”, “once more”, “verse” or “play back” on a whiteboard in English and Japanese and pointed to them when recording.
“Everyone was saying Awesome!”
ZERO: What would you like to do with your English from now?
Kenjiro Murai: It’s been 20 years since I went to London when I was 21, but I’d like to study English again. Actually, my mother started to learn Chinese when she was 40 and now she’s fluent in Chinese. I’m just at her age now and I think there’s no age limit to start learning something. So I want to study English again with Ninezero.
Purchase Rockstar English Stage 1 to read an exclusive interview with Kenjiro Murai about what job he had before becoming a professional musician. You will also get a bonus FULL COLOR poster of Kenjiro Murai inside the book.
Kenjiro Murai was influenced by Steve Harris of Iron Maiden when he was in Jr. High School and started playing bass at that time. He joined Cari#Gari in 1996 and made his major debut in 2002. Then, he played with Sex Machineguns from 2004 until 2006. After that, he restarted his career again playing with Cari#Gari in 2009. They released their new album 12 (Columbia Japan) in March, 2015.
1. These expressions are taught in both Rockstar English Stage 1 and Stage 2.
2. This word is often used in the Rockstar English book series.