Megadeth lead guitarist Marty Friedman explains how he taught himself Japanese

Yeah, yeah, we've all seen This is Spinal Tap; we've all laughed at its depiction of Japan as the last place where washed-up Western rockers can cash in. And it's funny, as they say, because it's true–or at least true in part.

Via Marty Friedman's website.

Via Marty Friedman's website.

Here to provide an impressive counterexample to the stereotypically cynical long-haired middle-aged thrasher who drops in now and then to use the country like an ATM, we have Marty Friedman, formerly the lead guitarist of Megadeth and now a bonafide Japanese celebrity leading a fuller-than-full life there.

Friedman sets himself apart from many a big-in-Japan rock star right away by actually having a command of the Japanese language. What's more, he attained fluency ("in my own way, it was fluent") before ever living in the country, teaching himself and working his way through correspondence courses even while on tour.

In the short interview at the top of this post, Friedman explains how he pulled off this unusual feat of linguistic mastery. He seized every chance to use however much Japanese language skills he had in the moment, and insisted on conducting interviews only in Japanese while touring in Japan.

"Just like music," he says, "when you start, you've got to jam with everybody, even if you don't like the situation. You've got to find those situations, and don't blow 'em off when they happen."

Friedman's language skills have landed him on Japanese television, and not just on music shows — he does cooking shows too. You can read more about his Japanese life and career in this recent Rolling Stone profile.

Above all, I take from his success the lesson that we should never feel embarrassed to speak foreign languages, no matter how low our proficiency. Then again, it's not like anyone with a tendency toward embarrassment gets into heavy metal in the first place.