"Dekiru Kagiri"

Two weeks ago we were doing a roleplaying exercise in my Japanese class, practicing making complaints politely. Before we started, our teacher asked us to work in some of the grammar patterns we had learned that day. We must have looked apprehensive, because he smiled and added「できるかぎり」– “to the extent you are able”, or perhaps “as much as you can”.

This phrase stuck in my mind well beyond the end of class. Partly I think there’s something about the rhythm – “de-KI-ru KA-gi-ri”1 – but that wasn’t all of it. できる限り。できる限り…

Eventually I decided that for me it didn’t just apply to learning and practicing another language. We’re in a time when a lot of people are suddenly struggling, dealing with fears both more and less immediate concerning themselves, their friends, their families. It’s a time when people with little practice in being politically active and socially active suddenly find themselves wanting and needing to speak up—and finding that exhausting. And it’s also a time when people are stepping up in ways they might not have before.

It’s hard, and at the same time I feel guilty to even say it’s hard, because entire communities of people have been dealing with these issues for years, decades, generations. But this doesn’t change how we newcomers feel. For me, there’s a need to step up my game from the gradual increase I’ve had over the past few years. You decide what it means for you.

This is a time for each of us to step up and do what we can, dekiru kagiri. Even if it means going outside our comfort zone, but not to the point of burning out. Dekiru kagiri.

This is a time of dekiru kagiri, so that we can prevent it from being a time of shikata ga nai.


  1. Yes, Japanese has syllable-level accents, but it comes out as pitch rather than English-like stress. Most classes—including the one I’m currently taking—don’t bother to teach this, with the result that learners sound less fluent. Fortunately, I was able to find the “Online Japanese Accent Dictionary”, which has accent annotations for thousands of common words. ↩︎

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