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My understanding of A たとき B is that it is used when B happens after A; A るとき B is used when B happens before A. (Related question: What is the difference between ~たとき vs ~るとき)

However, my understanding fails me when I face たい sentences:

来月 日本へ (行く / 行った) 時、富士山を 見たいです。

My teacher explained that 行った needs to be used instead of 行く. Why this is the case? It seems to me that one would want to see Mt. Fuji before going to Japan. It would be weird to go to Japan first and suddenly want to go to Mt. Fuji...

  • With 行く it would carry a meaning of wanting to see Mt Fuji before even departing for Japan. The tense/aspect isn't associated with wanting but with whether the act of going has been completed or not. 日本へ行った時 gives the sense of "once I've gone to Japan". There is nothing in the sentence to explicitly imply that that's when your desire to Mt Fuji would occur. – A.Ellett Feb 3 '16 at 15:40
  • Hm... however, he's talking about going to Japan next month... if he's talking about Mt. Fuji now, wouldn't that mean he wants to see Mt. Fuji already? Thus, the desire to go to Mt Fuji would occur before even departing for Japan. – rhyaeris Feb 3 '16 at 15:47
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    What is desired is "to see Fuji when I'm in Japan". たい is being applied to the sentence 来月日本へ行った時富士山を見る -> "I will see Fuji-san when I'm in Japan." If you parse たい as applying only to 富士山を見る, then either way you get a bizarre concept of wanting something only conditioned on whether you've made it to Japan or not. – A.Ellett Feb 3 '16 at 16:04
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    @A.Ellett You should turn this into an answer. – Darius Jahandarie Feb 3 '16 at 21:41
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First of all the tense in Japanese is different from English, and the verbal auxiliary た represents past and completion.

As your teacher says, "来月、富士山に行った時、富士山を見たいです" is natural. I think this た doesn't mean "past" but "completion". This た can be used for a future thing. For example, 来週の金曜日に、仕事が終わったら、お酒を飲みましょう (Let's drink after work next Friday).

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