I’m supposed to study Japanese right now. There are kanji characters I have to write to practice my handwriting, grammar patterns to digest, and particles to decipher. (Those goddamn particles.)
I’ve been doing this for a year. And it’s really fun.
Last December I went to Japan. Stayed four days and four nights. A child would have a better grasp of the language than I, but at the very least I could ask the following questions:
- Do you have any Steely Dan? (they had, and I bought two albums)
- Where is the church? (the policeman gave me a building as a landmark)
- Which way to the station? (I was trying to catch the last train, but got on the wrong line and had to run a longer distance to my actual station and got lost)
I knew that I couldn’t understand much Japanese, but being in the country hammered that fact to me. And it really encouraged me to keep on studying, to keep on learning. I would look up station names online, in the comfort of my hotel room. Iriya, where my hotel is a stone’s throw away, is written as 入谷. I kind of know the first character, and have seen the second used for places and stores, but the story behind the place name piqued my interest.
(wah told me that Iriya has a big red-light district, but that’s another story. No, I didn’t check that out.)
I also visited the office in Ootemachi. Now, I know the characters for the place: it’s 大手町, or “Big Hand Town”. I didn’t understand why, so I asked a Japanese colleague.
“We call the big companies 大手 (oote). The ‘big hands’, figuratively. And since they’re all clumped in this area, there you have it: 大手町.”
Then I got really curious and asked more questions. “Why is the ‘no’ in Marunouchi Line written as ノ, and not の? Is ノ also a kanji?”
“Hmm. That’s always katakana, but yeah, I wonder why…” She was just as baffled as I was. The actual Marunouchi district is written as 丸の内. What the hell? The conversation moved into less boring stuff like Devilman.
“When I was a kid, I used to watch Devilman, and I loved it! Recently it’s running again on TV, and it’s much more violent than I had remembered! I asked myself, ‘how could I have watched such a violent show as a girl?’ My eldest son, he’s kinda soft-hearted, so when he sees it he goes ‘Mommy, change the channel! I don’t wanna watch that!’ And my younger son is like, ‘more, more!’ Now I understand why my parents didn’t want me to watch Devilman back then.”
(That’s all in English, though. She’s pretty fluent.)
The nice thing with learning a language is that the more you learn, the more you realize that you understand so little, which makes you learn more. And so on. And I’m the type of person who can’t deal with not understanding things. I have to know. And since I’m exposed to Japanese all the time, why not take the time to learn it? Someday I’ll really be fluent, and understand half of the seiyuu nicknames out there. (Mingosu? what)
For now, I’ll be Naru from Barakamon, who misreads あけ口 on the milk carton as the katakana ‘ro’, and not ‘くち’. Mandom!