It’s nothing short of a miracle. I can speak Japanese.
At least broken Japanese, spewing out a lot of basic verbs and nouns to get the message across (mostly) or ask directions, put a friend in a cab to the Kansai Airport, direct a cab driver to my apartment or tell him when he’s at the wrong place, order food and count the number of people to be seated correctly! FUTARI! (2 people!)
I have always been good at languages, despite my Dutch father never teaching me Dutch. I took French for four years in school starting in the 7th grade. The only class I ever got an A+ in. I also took Spanish my senior year and got a minor in Spanish in college.
Japanese people respond to my Japanese language ability with jozu (good at). I have heard I don’t have a western accent but sound native Japanese. I certainly ganbatte, do my best! Because it’s so much fun!
Since starting lessons over a year ago and living here over a year and visiting for a total of two years, the mind-boggling reality is that I can communicate in Japanese! Steve and I love our lessons we take together for an hour and a half every Saturday morning.
I never thought I’d be able to learn, but after the initial overwhelm, stuff started to kick in. Sitting on the subway, picking out hiragana, and katakana you see all the time, started to make sense.
Or hearing words clear as a bell on the subway, words that used to be gibberish. Little by little, I have been learning, even though my brain can get exhausted at times because of the similar sounds in Japanese.
And for some reason I just can’t get the hang of numbers still, especially something as simple as the number 10!!!! Ju!
Or that the Japanese have a different word to count different things from people to machines to flat things to books and more! WHEW! But language acquisition is now snowballing and a big focus of mine now.
The funnest thing has been Kanji. I swore when I first moved here that I’d never be able to read Kanji at my age, but I have use the app Kanji Star and it’s fun to just pick out the symbols you stare at all the time either on the subway or in our apartment elevator, as nobody staff here speaks English and few residents do either.
We get notices in the mail all in Japanese even Google translate doesn’t do a good job with, so workers or mail people or others appear at the door and I have to communicate with them.
I’m able to write out things in email to communicate with my chiropractor and others using Romaji, the Latinized Japanese we’ve been studying that made it easier. That way I don’t have to go to Google translate all the time, which isn’t always accurate. You have to be very clear about what you are saying for it to translate correctly!
The fun thing too is that Kanji, the Chinese letters, are the same in Taiwan and China or downtown Orlando, Florida! We were just in Taipei so that was helpful! (blog post coming soon! I’m just slow!)
The confusing thing is that there is no orthography in Japanese, so even Japanese people have to read by inference! And each Kanji symbol has a pictorial meaning and a sound meaning! So even more confusing!
But just like some people like hitting golf balls, I enjoy learning Kanji! Plus my Shodo classes have been a lot of fun writing Kanji, as well as relaxing!
It’s fun to learn the origins of the words too. I went to the Kanji Museum in Kyoto, which is great interactive fun and ideal for kids. The original Kanji coming from a Chinese emperor observing bird footprints in the sand as well as using for divination on turtle shells. The Kanji for gold is kin
and it also means money.
shoku, shiki, means color or prettiness, and the symbol originates from a couple having sex! As in the Nihon-shoki, Japan’s second oldest book that chronicles its history, including its mythology which is based on a sexual act.
I learn in other ways too. NHK television is on as I write this, as I pick out words and listen to the cadence and syntax. I study every day vocabulary. I also took my I-phone into the Apple store at Shinsaibashi here in Osaka for repair and as I waited I listened to a class all about the I-Phone.
I also take yoga classes, using sanskrit as the lingua franca to understand the poses, but also learning more vocabulary, and teaching the teacher and students English at the same time! I’ve learned words like abdominal muscles – hukkim. Migi te – right hand. Hidari te – left hand. All in practice! You start to understand what they’re saying! SEGOI! Amazing!
A good friend of mine from Colorado was just here too visiting for three weeks. I was able to help her by asking questions and explaining things to shop keepers from Nara to Kyoto about ages of children and sizes for clothing of gifts she brought back.
Most Japanese people I come across do not speak English, or very little, something Japan is working on ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I’ve noted WAY more English signs at the subway and trains, (soooo confusing!) and English menus around than last year.
For a lot of times I speak to people in Japanese and they assume you’re really good and they talk back and I have no idea what they are saying. So I just say WAKARIMASEN!
I don’t understand! But more and more I just listen and I can fill in what they are saying by inference. Because thank goodness so many words are actually English and you can fill in a lot!
We bought a rice cooker last spring and the woman assumed we were local, so she was speaking Japanese to us and we heard the word, “warranty.” Wakarimasu! Understood! It has a warranty! Or yesterday a construction worker arrived at the door unexpectedly and I had no idea what he was saying. Just as I was about to reach for the google translate, I heard “heya” room in Japanese and “partition” he said in English. Got it! You want to cross through the room to finish the partition on the balcony you’ve been working on!? DAIJOBU! OK!
I’ve always loved language. Japanese is a lot of fun. Our lessons end soon with Berlitz, and unfortunately we got only a fraction of our 100 hours because my husband and I are considered semi-private and you can’t make up cancelled lessons for some sad reason, which were quite a few because I was traveling to the USA or we were sick, traveling or there were typhoons! MAJOR BUMMER!
But I hope to continue with more conversation and writing. I’m taking ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, from Japanese people and am learning the past tense. I used all Japanese to buy my Shinkansen tickets to Tokyo for my husband and I next week for my trip to the International Kamishibai Association of Japan for their annual seminar, and which I will be interviewed by NHK television. I attended last year and knew barely zero Japanese.
This year it will be different! So wonderful to know another language! How ripped off we were denied learning languages from an early age. How narrow minded to speak “English Only.” I don’t speak English only because I want to speak to the whole world!
I feel sorry for Americans screaming, “Speak English!” , such as a woman in Rifle, Colorado did and was shouted out of the store.
I realize these people are just afraid so I have compassion for them. Likely afraid of what people are saying about them in another language because they don’t understand!
May all people learn lots of foreign languages! It’s fun and peaceful! For language is culture. Language has opened up so much of Japan for me. It’s writing, poetry, (I got interested in translating some Basho because of a friend of mine) food, music, history!
TANOSHI DESU! It’s enjoyable!