Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Domo Arigatoo, Ms. Sumomogi...

Konnichiwa! Jeshka des! Ogenki des ka? Genki desu.

I survived Survival Japanese. This was a 4-day course sponsored by the base that was an 1.5-hour class each day at lunchtime. It was absolutely free and so worth the time and money. It even came with a "textbook" and handy "cheat sheet" booklet to keep in my purse.

For those of you who are curious, in the paragraph at the top, I say "Hello! Jessica here! How are you? I am fine." And I can not only read and write it in "Romanji," but I can pronounce it properly, too.

A pixelated photo, but the only public one I could find of her.
The class is taught by the base's Cultural Adaptation Specialist Akie (ah-key-yay) Sumomogi, an upbeat Japanese national who has the daunting task of teaching Marines and their families about the Japanese culture. She hosts tours to points of interest around the Iwakuni area (one of which I will be going on on Friday - I'll post about it...), and teaches Survival Japanese and other cultural seminars. She has a great sense of humor and is eager to learn the intricacies of English. Her English is very good, but there are some things about the language even native speakers butcher, so the fact that she wants to improve her English is more than most adult Americans are willing to do. For example, there was a brief discussion about what a broom versus a bloom was. There is not really a difference in the "L" and "R" sound in the Japanese language, so that is where the confusion lies for native Japanese. It explains the whole "flied lice" phenomenon.

The Japanese essentially have three written languages: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. And many Americans have a tough time spelling with just 26 letters of one alphabet! Below are the different styles of symbols pilfered from this site with educational videos on how to write in Japanese.
Top to bottom: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji symbols.
The three different styles are all mixed up in Japanese sentences, so you really have to know all three. Hiragana is more of the everyday phonetic alphabet. Katakana is used to indicate words of foreign origin, as well as names of places in people in other countries. Kanji is used often for short commands (such as stop signs) and for places (such as the name for the city of Iwakuni on an street sign). To confuse this issue further, the Japanese also have Romanji, which is is the system of alphabetical spelling used to transliterate Japanese to an English alphabet. In order to be able to pronounce this properly, you have to know Japanese syllabary, so most of the first day was spent learning these. There were about a hundred 1, 2 or 3-letter long sounds, such as "u," pronounced "oo" like in food, and "hya," which sounds a bit like something you would yell at a horse to make it go. I thought it was going to be a waste of time, but it really wasn't. I had been pronouncing all sorts of things wrong. For example, the town about an hour away where the Japanese "Wal-mart" store, Mr. Max, is located, is called Yanai. Like any good American, I was pronouncing it "yuh-nigh." Wrong. It is actually "yaw-naw-ee." My bad.

There are a number of Japanese words that are based on English. Here are some examples, written in Romanji first, then the closest I can get to a proper pronunciation, and then English:

Hoteru - "ho-tey-roo".... hotel
Orenji jyusu - "o-rey-en-gee jee-you-soo" ... orange juice
Doa - "doe-ah" ... door
Makudonarudo - "ma-koo-doe-nah-roo-doe" ... McDonald's

We also learned numbers, which I had already had a leg up on, thanks to this quick YouTube video from the Japanese Society in New York. It is 6 minutes well spent. And speaking of numbers, don't ever give a Japanese person a gift that has 4 or 9 of something Four is associated with death and 9 is associated with suffering. So, go for one, two, three or five things...

In class, I was even able to make reference to my knowledge of limited Spanish. Akie explained that "kasa" in Japanese is pronounced the same as "casa" is in Spanish, but it means umbrella, not house. Thanks to that association, I will always remember what umbrella means in Japanese.

Most of the phrases were learned were greetings and phrases we would use in town shopping or eating out. I actually did use some of what I learned after the third day of class... in two phrases. I went to the craft store to get some batting and needed 50 cm of it (remember, everything is in metrics here - no yards, inches or miles). So, I was about to hand the sales woman a bolt of batting and say "go-jew" which is how you pronounce 50 in Japanese. One of the other ladies was creating a really cute cake, so I was able to exclaim, "Kawaii!" (kah-wah-eeee), which means "cute." She enjoyed the fact that I knew this phrase and thanked me for the compliment. I did have to be careful not to say "Kowai!" (ko-wah-ee), which means "scary." I will save that for Halloween.

I also learned some other useful phrases:

Ikura desu ka?   (ee-koo-rah des kah)   How much? (as in price)
Kore wa arimasu ka? (Ko-rey wah ah-ree-ma-soo kah) Do you have this? (Bring an empty bottle or a photo to the store when you use this phrase)
Biiru kudasai. (bee-roo koo-da-sigh) Beer, please. I did not get the word for "margarita", but the syllabary would work in Japanese and be pronounced almost the same, so hopefully I will be good to go.

And speaking of biiru, Akie was kind enough to share other bits of useful information with us. Bowing, which I had already learned, was covered. And how to identify alcoholic versus non-alcoholic beverages at the stores or vending machines. All of them have very colorful, fun labels. In class, we played a game: Which of these is juice or soda and which of these is alcohol:

You can see I have them labeled, already, but can you tell what the tell-tale symbol is? If you guessed the two kanji symbols in the circle on the lower right of the can, you are correct. That symbol means "sake," which is a general term for alcohol in Japanese. This was a very helpful exercise so that I don't intoxicate my children by accident. Or, I can get the right stuff to do it on purpose... whatever the situation calls for.

And last, but not least, here is how my first and last names are written in Hiragana:

Arigatoo gozaimasu! Matane! (Thank you! See you later!)

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