I’m a big fan of SMS and the internet. The ability to make connections, quickly find jōhō and verify old memories is invaluable to me. Thank you, world, for inventing such a great tool. I use it daily.
There’s a little resutoran near the Heian Shrine in Kyoto. Let’s call it S Restaurant. It’s an old style eatery that serves a setto breakfast and a wide variety of ippin ryōri during the day. You never know what you might find, be it a dish of Japanese poteto sarada, kitsune soba, hamburger with catsup spaghetti or ebi furai. It’s that type of restaurant that puts dishes out on a table or shelf and you can choose what you want on top of what you order. Nothing “extra” here. Plain old good food, but nothing gourmet, mind you.
S Restaurant does not have a website. It doesn’t have a facebook page or Instagram. It does have a denwa bango, but they don’t take reservations. It’s a neighborhood kind of place despite being near one of the top sightseeing spots.
You can’t pay with a credit card or your phone or any other way other than genkin. There’s no parking lot. Children are welcome, though. But it is what is known as a taishū shokudo. There used to be many of these in Kyoto, very similar to the cheap dives that catered to students—students who are now frequenting cafes and Starbucks.
So, how are you going to find S Restaurant? First off, you won’t find anything written in English about it (I checked). If you don’t speak or read Japanese and you walk by it, trust me, there’s no welcome sign for you. You have to do the work; learn the language.
Thanks to the internet, now anybody can become a Japan tsū. If you can’t read Japanese, presto… use Google translate and years of Japanese study become unnecessary. We live in the era of short cuts, instant gratification and instant expertise.
In 2016 I was astonished to see the multilingual signage in Kyoto. No more wondering about the history of a jinja or a street name’s pronunciation. Easy peasy. A wonderful boon to tourists. But for serious students of Japanese perhaps it might make them lazy since everything is done for them. I hope I’m wrong. Surely they are still huddled under their kotatsu memorizing kanji for hours upon hours. No?
So, I still think it is worth taking the time and making the effort to learn the language if you really want to know Japan. Or as they say, it’s not the destination, but the journey to get there. But hey, I’m just a grumpy old lady! Meanwhile, S Restaurant continues much the way it always has, hopefully never to be found in an article entitled “Top Ten Quaint Eateries of Kyoto.”
jōhō – 情報 information
resutoran – レストラン restaurant
setto – セット set, as in set menu
ippin ryōri - 一品料理 à la carte items
poteto sarada – ポテトサラダ potato salad (the Japanese version of the Western version of it)
kitsune soba – 狐そば a kind of soba dish with seasoned deep-fried tofu. One of the cheapest items on a menu.
ebi furai – エビフライ fried shrimp
denwa bango – 電話番号 telephone number. Literally telephone + number
genkin – 現金 cash
taishū shokudo - 大衆食堂 literally a “restaurant for the masses.” It describes the type of eatery that is simple, cheap, filling, unpretentious, and with no surprises. They seem to be few and far between these days.
tsū – 通 an expert or connoisseur. Often used as a suffix to indicate a subject one has expertise in.
jinja – 神社 Shinto shrine
kotatsu – 炬燵 a low table combined with a special futon that is used as a heating device
Not everything Japanese in nature happens in Japan. As it so happens, this happened to me in New York City.
I studied Okinawan karate for many years. I was a member of a group called the Cyberdojo in the early days of the internet when a listserv was the best way for a group of like-minded people to have a discussion. This gurūpu was made up of karateka from many different ryū and beliefs. Arguments would ensue regularly and those would often be the best discussions. Though I was a shoshinsha from their point of view I did have something of value. I spoke and read Japanese. And I soon became the go-to person for language issues. I regularly corrected as politely as I could.
There had been a jiken in my own dojo that had my children looking at me incredulously. Their well-meaning sensei regularly introduced Japanese words. Most of the time he got it right, but one day he said this to the children’s class.
“Everybody must have GERI!”
My son couldn’t believe his ears. I winced. He’d meant to talk about obligation which is giri. Unfortunately he’d mispronounced it and had just told the class that they all must have diarrhea. He expounded on this. Painful.
But back to New York City where I was sitting in the guest area of a famous dojo. I was speaking with the head instructor who was looking for a honyakusha for his book. I really didn’t want to do it. I’d just finished a translation and found it very tiring. But a mutual friend had introduced us and I was feeling the giri. He asked me to set a price and I set it high, hoping he’d refuse. He did not.
At a certain point in our conversation he turned to one of his students and said we should take a small kyūkei and have something to drink. And he asked me what I’d like.
I automatically gave the proper Japanese response since we’d been chatting in Japanese. I replied, “Nan demo ii desu.” This is always the right response. But he wasn’t satisfied. He asked again and I said that I’d have whatever everyone else was having. Again, this is a proper response.
But Kaichō himself was not responding as I would have expected. He asked me yet again. And there we were dancing around each other totally out of sync.
And suddenly, it hit me. Though we were speaking in Japanese we were in America. I was giving a proper Japanese response, but Kaichō was behaving as an American would and making sure I had exactly what I wanted. In other words he was behaving as if we were in America and I was American. Which we were and which I was. Oops. How embarrassing! It had taken me way too long to realize this and once I did, I replied that I’d like coffee with a bit of cream and no sugar. (I would have never said this in Japan and saying it to a Japanese man felt WEIRD.)
And Kaichō was much relieved when I answered this way. Butsukarimashita, ne!
gurūpu – グループ group (taken from English)
karateka – 空手家 a person who practices karate
ryū – 流 style. Used for different karate styles, ikebana styles, tea ceremony styles etc.
shoshinsha – 初心者 beginner. Literally first heart person
jiken – 事件 an incident
geri – 下痢 diarrhea
giri – 義理 obligation
honyakusha – 翻訳者 translator
kyūkei – 休憩 a break, a small rest
Nan demo ii desu - 何でもいいです “Anything is fine.” This is the politest response to someone offering you something to eat or drink. When you respond this way, you ensure that they are giving you something they actually have available and think is a good choice.
Kaichō – 会長 the head of an organization. Can also be used as a title much as we refer to a physician as Doctor.
Butsukarimashita, ne -ぶつかりましたね This is an oops expression. Butsukaru means to bump into or collide with someone or something. In this case, it is in the past tense and the “ne” after it softens it. I used it here to sum up my feelings having done this dance around what drink I should choose!
If you want to know the deep dark mysteries of Japanese bunka and all of the intrinsic intrigue of the Orient, just look to a piece of tōsuto.
No… I’m just joking. But I do have another toast story to tell.
When I worked as a honyakusha in Tokyo I had a myriad of small jobs to do, some more interesting than others and some more fukuzatsu than others. There were the instructions for building a bridge in Malaysia. That was a terribly mismatched ask. What do I know or understand about engineering? I had no business working on that translation. Then there was the hon I translated called Dead Speak of War which was a book of wartime photos of… you guessed it… dead bodies. I was to translate the captions. They were pretty simple captions like “Dead man under a tree” etc. But they said they weren’t going to give me the photos… just the text. This was a huge problem because the Japanese language has no plurals. I needed the shashin so I could know if it was one body or more. It may have been “Dead men under a tree” for all I knew. Atama ga itai!
In comparison, the job for Nikko Hotels seemed relatively kantan. I was to translate memos between the head office in Tokyo and the newly opened branch of Nikko Hotel in New York City that was owned by Japan Airlines. Memos… how hard could that be? And indeed it was one of my easier jobs until…. tōsuto.
A translator is supposed to be invisible. The translator’s job is to faithfully transmit the contents of a document just as it is. Now, a literary translator has some latitude. They can even use footnotes… judiciously of course. But a business translator has no business doing any interpreting of the content. The facts, ma’am just the facts. And this is how I got caught squirming in the Great Toast Debate.
It started with a complaint. Japanese kankōkyaku in New York City said that the toast at the hotel was burnt. Consistently, burnt. Headquarters sent a memo ordering the kitchen staff in New York to stop burning the toast. New York replied that the toast most certainly wasn’t burnt. But monku kept coming from the Japanese tourists. The toast was burnt on BOTH sides, they claimed. Headquarters sent yet another request to the kitchen staff. New York was annoyed. And, adamant that the toast was properly toasted. (And delicious.) They were not receiving a single complaint from any American patrons of the hotel. They rested their case.
Tokyo was not happy. They demanded to know exactly how the toast was being toasted and why they were toasting it so it was crisp on BOTH sides. New York was baffled. Because… because…. IT IS TOAST!
The thing is, I could have solved this in a second. The New York staff had no idea what Japanese expectations of toast were. And Tokyo had no idea what American expectations of toast were. (And there was no Google around back then.) But I was a young translator and did not think I had any options. I tentatively wrote a note of explanation and included it with one of my translations. There was no response.
So, I’m finding it amusing that Americans are now discovering Japanese “milk bread” and the joys of Japanese toast.
I will now spare you a Toast – Part 3 about how my American (a New Yorker) mother learned that she could order toast in Japan easily by putting an “o” at the end of the word—and then proceeded to put “o’s” at the end of every English word any time she felt a need to communicate while in Japan….
bunka – 文化 culture
tōsuto – トースト toast
honyakusha – 翻訳者 translator
fukuzatsu – 複雑 complicated, complex
hon – 本 book
shashin – 写真 photograph
Atama ga itai! – 頭が痛い Literally, “my head hurts.” Also used for “What a headache!”
Clearly, I wasn’t going to fit in. I looked around the room miserably. The two other students, David and Carl, were way ahead of me in Japanese. I didn’t belong in an advanced class, but the other class was filled with students starting their second year of Japanese. I was ahead of them, but behind the advanced students. I was beginning to regret the intensive summer I’d spent at the Middlebury Japanese Summer School. Not only had I not fit in there either, but I’d hated every minute of it. I’d been in a class with a group of people who’d all used the same textbook and knew what itanda ebi were.
In 1976 there were just two choices for college level Japanese kyōkasho. My college used the less popular Nakajima and Young series. The vast majority of colleges used Eleanor Jorden’s books. Though we might have learned most of the same grammar points, the two texts seemed to have used entirely different vocabularies. Only one other student had used Nakajima and Young. He was an older man from Switzerland. Japanese was his fifth language and he wasn’t having the same adjustment issues as I had. In other words, he was having no pain.
To make matters worse, we were only to speak Nihongo, even outside of the classroom. This was a Middlebury rule, but the other language students were required to have three years of the language under their belt to even apply for summer school. It made sense for them. For us, not so much. My roommate and I cheated like crazy to stay sane.
Our director that year was a hard-nosed Japanese academic and she was determined to run things the Japanese way. We would all need exercise and she declared that volleyball practice was mandatory. I don’t do sports. I skipped. And she put her foot down. I immediately jammed my yubi during the next practice. It swelled up and a faint purple line appeared. Naturally, I asked to go to the clinic and naturally she told me it was fine. The next day she succumbed to the obvious and indeed my finger was broken; no more volleyball for me.
There was just a week between the end of Japanese summer school and the Associated Kyoto Program that I’d be participating in. I knew I wouldn’t fit in because I was not a student at any of the elite schools that made up the consortium. However, one of my sensei had served as a director for the program two years previously and he, well, pulled some strings. On the flight to Kyoto, students from each college sat together. I sat alone.
Still, though, I hadn’t anticipated that there wouldn’t be any other student at all at my level. I thought I’d finally be in a class where I could dig in and learn. No more “thirty kanji a day” memorization like I’d struggled with during the summer. I’d study hard, but it would be at a more normal pace. Meanwhile, David and Carl were already deep in discussion with our Sasaki-sensei, who was practically drooling over their linguistic magnificence. I hardly got a second glance. The textbook was boring. Did I really need to know how to say “feudal system.” (Unfortunately I still remember this word. See below for proof.)
I wasn’t fitting in at my homestay either. The Inoue family was nice enough, but they had two small otoko no ko and had always preferred to have young men stay with them. They ended up with me because at the last minute I got nervous about getting motion sickness during a bus or train commute and asked to be near campus. They were just around the corner and being able to walk to school in just a few minutes was great. Oddly enough, I never got motion sickness on the buses or trains of Kyoto, but I loved the neighborhood. The little boys were like aliens to me as all I’d ever experienced were my three younger sisters.
I had gotten sick though, the moment I arrived in Japan. It could have been the heat and humidity, the totally strange food, or the long plane ride. Before I knew it, I hadn’t really eaten in over a week and I ended up in the hospital. Looking back, I know there’s a word for it. Natsubate is what I had.
After spending a day or two in air conditioning and a day or two under the care of my director’s wife—who was Japanese-American, but knew darn well that chicken noodle soup would cure me—I moved in with the Inoue family. My director’s wife had kindly hinted to them that I could do with some American food to start with.
That first dinner I was served two small hamburgers and a side helping of frozen peas and carrots. And given a pair of ohashi. I looked around the table to see how I was supposed to manage the vegetables. Luckily I was an old hand with chopsticks so that wasn’t the problem. But was I to eat one pea at a time with them? The answer to that was, no. And for the first, but definitely not the last time, I was introduced to Kewpie mayonnaise in its convenient tube. Apparently we squirted it onto the vegetables and mixed it up a bit. It was then possible to eat the vegetables more easily with chopsticks. Unfortunately, I hate mayonnaise. I somehow ate the vegetables. Maybe I was offered a small fork. I don’t remember. But what I do remember is that there was no way I could eat two hamburgers. So I ate one of them and apologized and said I simply couldn’t eat them both. Mrs. Inoue was unfazed.
“That’s fine. You can have it for breakfast tomorrow morning.”
I smiled. Nice joke, I thought.
The next morning I got a piece of toast for breakfast on my plate next to the hamburger. Which was stone cold. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Who eats cold hamburgers for asagohan? Friends later declared my homestay family as weird. But dinner leftovers often appeared at breakfast at any temperature. Eventually I even learned to eat curry for breakfast.
Mrs. Inoue was determined to have me eat a good breakfast. I’d come downstairs in the morning and cheerfully greet her saying, “No egg for me this morning, please” and go into the bathroom to wash my face. When I walked back into the kitchen she’d have a plate waiting for me. With a barely cooked fried egg on top of some even less cooked bacon. It was an impossible situation. It made me gag everyday. I got up earlier and earlier hoping to sneak out of the house without eating her breakfast. Yes. We were in a battle.
itanda ebi – 痛んだえび Apparently this was taught in the textbook written by Eleanor Jorden that was more popular than the one I used. Itamu is the verb for spoiled (when applied to food) and ebi means shrimp. Itamu is in the past tense here and modifies (OMG, I’m doing grammar!) ebi, so the sentence was about getting food poisoning from shrimp at a restaurant in Ginza. Seriously? Ginza? The most high-class restaurants are there. Why not Shinjuku with its wealth of cheap eateries? I consider this a Jorden fail.
kyōkasho – 教科書 textbook
Nihongo – 日本語 the Japanese language
yubi – 指 finger
sensei – 先生 teacher. It’s also used as a suffix after the family name for teachers, professors, doctors etc.
kanji – 漢字 Chinese characters. If you learn them, it will help you slightly in a Chinese restaurant, too
hōken seido – 封建制度 feudal system. Make sure you memorize this entirely useful phrase.
otoko no ko - 男の子 boy or boys
Natsubate – 夏バテ A special word used to describesuffering in the summer due to the oppressive heat. When you get natsubate you don’t feel like eating and you can quickly succumb to the heat. Natsu means summer and the bate comes from the verb bateru which means to be exhausted.
ohashi – お箸 chopsticks
asagohan – 朝ご飯 asa means morning and gohan is meal, so together it means breakfast.
In the 1970’s we were roughing it. Or, we were living the life. I suppose it depends on how you look at it. For me, I think the 1970’s in Japan were the golden era for foreigners. I say that despite having no AC, sometimes no flush toilet, and always no bathing facilities of my own. No phone either. But things were quieter and we had opportunities that no longer exist. Off the top of my head, these are the things that came most quickly to me when I thought back on those days.
ALT, JALT and other convenient opportunities to get set up in Japan teaching English
I think if you wanted to go to Japan and support yourself by teaching English, you either had to rely on kuchikomi or The Japan Times which had the most ads on Mondays. So you’d leave your cheap lodgings and ride your jitensha downtown (or take a bus) and go to one of the big hotels to find a copy of the Japan Times. Then you’d have to find a public phone to make calls on because nobody could afford their own phone back in those days. You’d call, a real person would answer, and you’d set up a mensetsu. You’d bring your resume (if you had one) to the interview and hope for the best.
The Japanese language proficiency tests
There were no national tests let alone different levels. If you were job hunting to teach English, nobody wanted you speaking Japanese anyways. And the only other job around for English-speaking foreigners would be for women, hostessing. So, there was no way for you to prove you spoke Nihongo fluently or semi-fluently. People would pretty much die of shock if you could carry on a conversation in Japanese. Oddly enough, or perhaps, predictably, my spoken Japanese elicited less shock than my blonde friends. Appearances played a big role on how you were viewed and my dark hair and eyes somehow made me “less” foreign.
When I first arrived in Japan there really were no laundromats. You needed to have your own washing machine or share one with a neighbor. They were simple (but wonderful) machines and hanging laundry out to dry was the norm. If you were starting from zero in Japan, you’d want to purchase: futon, a small table, small fridge, a gas range and a washing machine. When you rented a place, nothing was included and back then it was all tatami, i.e. life on the floor. People have dryers now. At least some of them do. Probably very convenient to have them during the winter and rainy season, but not a necessity. In fact, hanging laundry to dry inside during the winter helps increase moisture in the air and serves as a natural humidifier. A nice pharmacist gave me that little piece of advice after he’d seen me through several winter bouts of kikanshien.
One room mansions
First of all, a manshion is not a mansion. I once lived in a place called Prince Heights that was a sunless falling down hole of a place where I could hear every sound my neighbor made. A manshion is a modern style of housing and that’s all. And the one-room mansion is what an apartment would be like if it had to be on an airplane. Tiny and functional. Especially the bathroom. The closet is half the size of the old closets and it probably doesn’t have tatami. What it does have is its own bath–thus the demise of my beloved sentō. It’s economical and affords privacy but totally lacks in character—and isn’t that what you really came to Japan for?
Well, duh. No internet in the 1970s and 1980s. You had to discover things yourself, rely on monthly tourist magazines, and other foreigners who might have been there longer and know things. You had hand drawn maps and asked directions constantly. You walked into restaurants not having researched the menu online, but possibly aided by plastic models outside of them. I could go on. Maybe I will later on. Because crucially, there were definitely no bagels in Kyoto in the 1970s.
kuchikomi – 口コミ “word of mouth.” This is actually a really cool word and one I often use as an example of language oddities. Because it is a combination of Japanese and English. Kuchi means mouth in Japanese. But “komi” comes from the English word “communication.” So, kuchi gets written with kanji and komi in katakana as all borrowed words are. There aren’t a lot of commonly used phrases that act like this, so it always tickles my fancy.
jitensha – 自転車 bicycle
mensetsu - 面接 (job) interview
Nihongo – 日本語 Japanese language
tatami – 畳 bamboo mats that used to cover almost all floors in houses and apartments. Sadly, they are disappearing in new construction. There is nothing like the smell of fresh tatami.
kikanshien – 気管支炎 bronchitis. The curse of many foreigners who spend their first winter in Japan with inefficient heating.
manshion – マンシオン a type of apartment. Someone should investigate how the heck this made it into the Japanese language. Aspirational, perhaps? At any rate, trust me… it is definitely not what you first think!
sentō – 銭湯 public bath. I will probably talk a lot about it in this blog because it was my life for many many years.
I am from the generation who grew up with the mantra “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” (It was a little bit shocking when we all turned thirty and realized we could no longer trust ourselves! ) But I quickly learned that in Japan, oyako could be friends.
Take Rie, one of my students who was just a year younger than me. She spoke Eigo well and I’d inquire about her weekend. One day she told me she’d been to a hosuto kurabu. I was immediately intrigued. Japan was pretty well known for hostess clubs where women in beautiful or sexy gowns would coyly entertain otoko as they plied them with drinks. They weren’t prostitutes but they weren’t lily clean either in some cases. Hostess clubs could be very expensive. They were the domain of business men who tended to entertain clients there.
But what the heck was a host club? I’d never heard of them, and Rie was happy to fill me in. She said that these clubs were for women and had handsome young men who would dance with them and shower them with attention. Rie then casually dropped the bomb that she had gone to the hosutokurabu with her mother! Her mother!
Picture me really shocked at age 22. I went nowhere with my mother if I could help it and I couldn’t imagine hanging out with her outside the home and, well, a host club? I was startled by Rie’s casual comments and dug for more. Rie said she liked her mom and they hung out regularly, like friends. Unheard of; her mother was over thirty, after all.
After some time in Japan, I began to see the relationship between parent and young adult child was totally different. Japanese parents respected their young adult children and saw them as complete adults–adults who sometimes knew more than they did. To my own parents, I was a “kid” until the day they died. In fact, they always said that I’d always be their “child.”
Post-war Japan brought so many changes and at a high speed. One of the more difficult ones for older folks was the profusion of “katakana words” or English words for things. New things often had English names and the older generation couldn’t keep up. So it would be the younger generation that would help them with the bombardment of change and new words such as: shanpū, nekutai, makudonarudo, arerugī and hundreds more.
I’m close with my own daughter now like Rie was with her mother. It’s a different relationship from the one I had with my mother. I wonder if it is because of the technology boom that has made her sedai the ones with the—for example—phone knowledge. I do turn to my kids sometimes with questions about my overly-intelligent phone. To me, they are fully adults and have knowledge that I do not have.
So here I am comparing the relationship between generations citing post-war Japan and new-tech America. If this makes any sense at all. Dō omoimasuka?
oyako – 親子 parent and child. There is also a rice dish called oyako donburi, which is chicken and egg on rice. Get it?
Eigo – 英語 English language
hosuto kurabu – ホストクラブ host club
otoko – 男 man or men
katakana – カタカナ syllabic alphabet. Compare with hiragana. It is used primarily for borrowed words like the ones below.
shanpū – シャンプー shampoo
nekutai – ネクタイ necktie
makudonarudo – マクドナルド McDonalds (hamburger chain). It’s a mouthful in Japanese! Which is why it gets shortened simply to maku マク these days.
arerugī – アレルギー allergy. I bet it took you a minute to get that one!
sedai – 世代 generation. Used to specify a certain age range.
Dō omoimasuka - どう思いますか？ “What do you think?” A question hardly ever asked in Japan.
In the late 1970’s, as is true now, gaikokujin came to Kyoto with specific goals in mind. I met Robert, studying to be a Zen priest at Daitokuji. My friend Pat was destined to become a Japanese art history professor. Those studying Chado were many. Japanese gardens? Oh, yes. Cooking? I didn’t know anyone doing that, but I think they do now. Have I forgotten martial arts? There are always those, though purists in karate would go to Okinawa. Textiles? Absolutely, be it the wearing, designing, dying etc. of kimono, that was another approved route.
So, what was my bag? (Or my groove, maybe?) Well, I didn’t exactly have one. Since nariyuki had brought me to Nihongo and then Japan, the only thing I really wanted to do was learn the darned Japanese language. Actually, I was determined to learn to read it and that meant memorizing kanji and then making my way through different books with three dictionaries at my side. And a cup of tea, of course.
It meant starting my day at a kissaten with the ubiquitous morning set–and grabbing a shinbun from the rack near the door to try and read.
I quickly found a fun topic. Just kidding. It wasn’t fun, but my visa sponsor got me to help him with his work for the anti-nuclear power movement. So there I was reading newspaper articles in Japanese on genshiryokuhatsuden and being a covert part of the hangenpatsu movement. Later I would go on to translate a book calledGenpatsuGypsy. Though I’m not sure what happened to my translation (it is rumored that it circulated in Australia) I did get to meet the author and slightly astounded him with my list of shitsumon which showed him how closely I’d read his book. There I was, in my early twenties, translating a book on nuclear power. Not exactly why most foreigners go to Kyoto.
This necessitated me learning how to say maverick in Japanese. I think I’ll use the word kawarimono for that!
Later I’d try dabbling in a few of the more traditional arts, but mostly I just left it to fate to determine what to tackle next. No regrets!
gaikokujin – 外国人 foreigners. This is the polite form. In Japan, the shorter the phrase gets the ore casual or even rude it is. Because of that, it isn’t exactly polite when this gets shortened to gaijin. But it very often is shortened to the dismay of some.
Chado – 茶道 The Art of Tea, or the way of tea, or the study of the tea ceremony
kimono – 着物 It is not a bathrobe! It literally means thing that you wear, but refers to a proper Japanese kimono.
nariyuki – なりゆき fate. Literally how it unfolds is how I go… or something like that. A sense of destiny beyond one’s control.
Nihongo – 日本語 the Japanese language
kanji – 漢字 Chinese characters. If you learn them, it will help you slightly in a Chinese restaurant, too
kissaten – 喫茶店 coffee shop, but now refers to an old style coffee shop as opposed to a cafe. Us old folks like this style much better. Hipsters do not. Yet.
shinbun – 新聞 newspaper
genshiryokuhatsuden 原子力発電 – nuclear power. It’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Kind of fun to just casually reel off… 😉
hangenpatsu – 反原発 “against nuclear power.”
shitsumon – 質問 question
kawarimono – 変わり者 maverick, someone who is different
Of course you want your kids to be bilingual when you’re in a foreign country or married to a person from a foreign country. I was no exception. To give myself some credit, I never did think it would be kantan. And there were so many ways to “do” it.
Living in Rhode Island in 1988, soon after moving back to the US from Tokyo, I met an older Chinese woman. She had five kodomo and four of them were teens or in daigaku. Her youngest was three years old. She griped to me that she was actually paying college tuition to have her older ones learn the Chinese language. She was determined that the three year old learn Chūgokugo then and there. Outrageous to have to pay money to teach them a language they could have learned at home, she’d say. But apparently three is the age where they realize that the outside world is speaking something different from what is spoken at home. And that’s the first stumbling block for many.
The Monbushō supports Japanese citizens living outside of Japan by providing free kyōkasho and a correspondence course. I’m sure it is quite different now, but for my daughter it meant tape cassettes and workbooks. And when we lived in New Jersey, it meant going to hoshūkō. She liked it and we all liked getting lunch at a Japanese bakery afterwards.
Back in the early nineties the Japanese shōgakusei were passing around manga and learning American history through a multi-volume set of manga. The teachers at their American school would be impressed by their knowledge. They had no idea it all came from a manga.
The other day, my daughter told my bored grandson to go read his library books. He stated that he’d finished reading all of them. She scolded him for only taking out graphic fiction this time around. I had to laugh. What goes around comes around.
I said I had one word and only one word for her. Ribon! Or I could spell it as it is in English….
Ribbon comes out monthly and is over three inches thick. Buying it in America would cost me upwards of $10 (more like $20 now). And darned if she wouldn’t finish reading it in thirty minutes or less! It seemed like an incredible waste of money to me, but she insisted she had to have it each month and truthfully I was impressed that she could read it so quickly.
But it was those manga that kept her Japanese alive and made her avid to read more. And… as a librarian I thoroughly approve! Her reading level stayed on an elementary school level, but considering she had an American mama and was living in Japan, well, I will take it.
kantan – 簡単 easy, siimple
kodomo – 子供 child, children
daigaku – 大学 college, university
Chūgokugo – 中国語 the Chinese language
Monbushō – 文部省 The Japanese Ministry of Education
kyōkasho – 教科書 textbook(s)
hoshūkō – 補習校 Literally, supplementary school, but refers to the Saturday school held overseas in areas where a Japanese population necessitate it. They range from being small cultural schools catering to part Japanese children all the way to very serious endeavors meant to ensure that Japanese children living temporarily outside of Japan will not fall behind in their studies. Don’t even ask me about parent roles. They are expected and way beyond PTA’s of America.
shōgakusei 小学生 – elementary school students
manga 漫画 – graphic fiction or frankly, comic books
Yesterday I saw a kumo climbing the wall in my office. I do not like spiders. But I hesitated and could not kill it and let it go on its way. Why? Because it was 10 AM and seeing a kumo in the morning is good luck. And I can’t seem to let go of some of these adages that I learned in Japan. So, beware, spider, if I see you again in the evening!
When I gave birth to my daughter in Tokyo, I was in a byōshitsu with three other mothers. This turned out to be wonderful. Two of them had just given birth to their second babies so they were filled with useful tips and advice. We had a lot of time to chat because back then you stayed in the byōin for seven whole days.
The calmest mama of us all was a day ahead of the rest of us and she fretted out loud a little on exactly when she should check out of the byōin. It would be fortuitous to check out in the morning, because the morning was good luck for checking out of the hospital, she informed us. However, she was going home to her giri okāsan‘s home and if she checked out in the morning, her giri okāsan would feel obligated to prepare lunch for her and she didn’t want to trouble her. I’m pretty sure none of this is a itabasami that an American new mother would have!
Speaking of good things, the expression Zen wa isoge fascinates me because I think I understand it, but I’m not sure I really do. I guess it is a call to action and to not hesitate when one is taking worthy action? Or does it mean that if there is one donut left you’d better grab it quickly? Well, no. But it is an excellent adage to remember when you’re starting to hesitate to do something that you know will help others.
Now, where did that spider go, I wonder?
kumo – くも spider. It also means cloud, but you can tell from the context, i.e. in this case, would I really have a cloud climbing up my wall and want to kill it? I think not.
byōshitsu – 病室 hospital room. Byō is illness and shitsu is room, so….
byōin – 病院 hospital. Byō is illness and the in denotes an institution
zen wa isoge – 善は急げ “Do good things fast” or “Don’t hesitate to do good”
giri okāsan – 義理お母さん mother-in-law
itabasami – 板挟み a dilemma. Literally it means stuck between two boards
Thanks to the internet, I know what the weather in Kyoto is like today. I can also follow blogs, friends on Facebook, and websites in both English and Japanese to see photos of how nice and green it has become in Kyoto. And the weather has been jumping back and forth between natsu and haru in the last few weeks causing confusion to those who need to deal with it.
In America, we often think of Memorial Day as the beginning of natsu. There used to be rituals that matched the kisetsu. Not so much anymore. In Japan, I think it is still important. Things will come out of the closet. The senpūki, of course. Perhaps a katoributa if one is fond of the old ways. The zabuton may be switched out for one of rush. Even in the kitchen, there may be different plats and bowls used. Glass is nice in the summer. The illusion of coolness is just as important as real cooling which these days is provided by competent AC.
The fūrin will also come out of the closet. And one must be careful with pronunciation here. A fūrin is a wind chime, but furin is adultery. Oops.
And of course there is the gamut of summer food which merits its own post. We see some of it in Hawaii but here in New England I’m lucky if I see any of it at all. Yesterday, my grandchildren in California were eating green tea ice cream with mochi. The world is indeed getting smaller.
natsu – 夏 summer
haru – 春 spring
kisetsu – 季節 season
senpūki – 扇風機 electric fan. There are other words used for handheld fans depending on the type. I may get into that later.
katoributa – 蚊取り豚 a ceramic pig that holds mosquito coils