Making Progress

domokun
どーも くん!

Note: I am still learning and this post covers very basic stuff. If any of this is wrong, please let me know. I’d love to hear feedback.

It’s been about a week since I took it upon myself to start learning Japanese through the use of iPad apps and so far, it’s been interesting and even fun. As such, I thought I’d share a little about what I’ve learned as well as a few insights about the language which will show that isn’t as difficult as you might think. Well, for Hiragana at least.

But before I begin I need to say that it’s not only apps that have been helping. Over the last couple of years, I’ve subjected myself to a ton of things Japanese including listening to Jpop (music), watching Japanese TV shows including some anime and NHK World, and spending crazy money at a certain store. I believe that all of these things have most definitely given me the upper hand in understanding or at least raising my interest in the language. Now let’s begin.

First, Japanese is comprised of sounds or syllabaries, not actual letters. Of course there are vowels but all characters are a combination of a consonant and vowel sound except ん which is the N sound all on its own.

Second, much like Spanish totally unlike English, each vowel sound is pronounced the same no matter what.

  • A = ah
  • I = ee
  • U = ooh
  • E = eh (as in “met”)
  • O = oh

There is no deviation from this unless the O sound from any syllabary is followed by う which extends the O sound or in some cases gives it a U sound at the end. After all, that character is a U. Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, the vowels are in a different order than English.

Now let’s learn a Japanese word by using an example that most everybody knows, thanks to Styx.

どうもありがとう

First, we have ど which is “do” (pronounced “doe”). This is actually a diacritic (dakuten) of the と (“to” pronounced “toe”) sound. Those little lines are above the first one are what give it the softer D sound. There is also another dakuten – it’s a little circle instead of two lines – that turns the “ha” sound of は into the harder “pa” sound of ぱ. There are many more; that’s just one example.

After ど we have う which is the aforementioned U and extends the O sound.

Then there’s も which is the “mo” sound. Now we have “domo.”

あ is the vowel A (“ah”), and then we learn something else: the “ri” sound of り. In Japanese, the R does not sound like it does in English, which is why a native Japanese person would have difficulty learning to pronounce it because it’s not part of their vocabulary. It’s like when the chef on Kodos and Kang’s flying saucer told Homer, “To pronounce it correctly, I would have to pull out your tongue.” It’s native to one part of the universe but not another; what exists in English doesn’t in Hiragana.

Anyway, all R sounds are pronounced using a slight D sound instead, which means that the way we Americans say “karaoke” as “carry oaky” is completely wrong. Well, at least it would be in Japan where it’s pronounced “ka-da-o-kee.” Phonetically, the R sounds are pronounced:

  • ら = da
  • り = dee
  • る = doo
  • れ = deh
  • ろ = doe

Hmm. Kinda sounds familiar.

Okay, that’s that. Now there’s が which is “ka” but with the dakuten changes to “ga.” Then we wrap it up with と for “to” and the vowel U or う, which lengthens the “do” sound.

So put it all together and you have どうもありがとう or “domo arigato” or as the Styx sang to us, “thank you very much (Mr. Roboto).”

So it’s that simple, right? Ha! Not exactly. Hiragana – 46 characters total – is based on native Japanese and is only one part of the three writing systems. There’s also Katakana which has about the same number of characters as Hiragana and is derived from Kanji. And guess what? Kanji is the third part of the writing system so it’s not uncommon to see all of them used at the same time.

Did I mention that there are over 2,000 Kanji characters?

Then there’s the whole learning words and stuff plus grammar. I’m just learning syllabaries right now. And I forgot to mention combining sounds which is a whole different chart of characters which are pronounced differently when not combined with vowels:

ぎ (gi or “gee”) + あ (a or “ah”) =  ぎあ (gya)

Also, の is the “no” sound but also possessive as in ねこのて (nekonote). So ねこ (neko or “cat”) combined with の (“belonging to”) て (“hand”) means “the cat’s hand.” By the way, the て or “te” sound also means “hand” in some cases. In fact, as you saw here, a few Hiragana by themselves are entire words or numbers. A few examples are:

  • く (ku or “koo”) = number 9
  • め (me) = eye
  • ひ (hi or “he”) = day

Oh, and there are no spaces in Japanese, and sometimes the U sound in some syllabaries isn’t pronounced, as in なつかしい (natsukashi or “sweet memory”) because なつ (natsu) means “summer.” It is pronounced natskashi.

Easy, right?

But in the end, if you look at the charts long enough as I have been, the characters and their sounds begin to make sense. It’s just a matter of deciphering them. In fact the first word I conquered after familiarizing myself with most of Hiragana was “sushi.” Go ahead and look up the syllabaries on the chart and see if you can guess how to spell it.

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Did you get it?

  • す = su
  • し = shi

Therefore, すし is “sushi.”

Yeah. I know what I’ve gotten myself into but I’m having a lot of fun with it and really enjoying the challenge! The goal here is to someday know enough to get by so when I do eventually take a vacation in Japan (and by gum, I will), I’ll have a better idea of everything which will make the trip much more enjoyable as well as mingle with people a little better as well as understand the culture and customs.

Plus, it will look great on the resume under “Languages Spoken.”

In the meantime I need to find a new job. That trip isn’t cheap and there’s no way to afford it on my salary.

Baby steps, yo.

Dad and the Japanese Toilets

There is currently a work stoppage at the Port of Los Angeles, one of the busiest ports on the world. There is what seems like an endless line of cargo ships sitting out in the ocean with nothing to do since the union has some kind of bug up their butt about something.

But when don’t they, right?

Anyway, seeing this brought back a pleasant little memory of my dear old Dad. You see, he worked on that very port unloading ships similar to the ones that have dropped anchor due to the work stoppage. One day, I remember him taking my brother and I aboard one of the cargo ships docked on the port, a ship exporting goods from Japan.

I honestly don’t remember much of anything about that tour since I had to be no more than 5 years old. But there is one thing that sticks in my mind.

Thinking back, I can see Dad looking at us and smiling. He knew what he was up to. He led us down the hall and opened a door — to the restroom.

“Look at those! Look!” he said as he laughed.

I peeked in there and witnessed something that left me stupefied for years: the strangest toilets I had ever seen in my then-short time on this planet, a row of about 8 of them with no walls for privacy between them which made things even more awkward. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Now before you think “So what’s the big deal?” I’ll save you the trouble of doing an image search or consulting Wikipedia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the traditional Japanese toilet, as witnessed by me on board that cargo ship (courtesy this blog):

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And if you think they look strange, just imagine the contortionist flexibility one must possess in order to use them. (If you must know, look up “how to use a Japanese toilet” and be…stupefied like I was for years.)

Thankfully, I hear that the toilets are no longer the norm in Japan where most places have switched to a more modern, sit-down type that would be honored to accept your waste.

This is good because when I vacation in Japan one of these days (or in my case, some lifetime), I want this simple creature comfort from home.

And if I would happen to come across a traditional one, I’m pretty sure I’ll hear Dad laughing hysterically as I stare at it, debating whether to use it or not.

Why I Can Never Visit Japan – Or Why I Must

madayadeOn Saturday, Anthony had another golf event at a local golf course that we hadn’t been to. It was hosted by the SCGA, the organization that hosted the 100 Hole Marathon earlier in the year.

After the event (where he was complimented on his form/stroke by a PGA pro instructor), we decided to head over to our latest, greatest, most favorite grocery store: 99 Ranch Market, a place which specializes in Asian products. One would think that with the area it’s in and their specialty/niche items that the clientele would be mostly Asian. That’s far from the truth because I saw people of all ethnicities shopping and enjoying their experience. As I posted on Facebook, this is how the world should be: one people together for a common purpose. It was honestly quite beautiful.

CAM00959But before I witnessed this wonderful display, we happened upon another store on the way in and it was all over for me, at least. From a distance I really couldn’t tell what it was but when as we approached, it became more obvious.

The store was called Daiso Japan. They sell stuff from Japan. Most of it sells for $1.50 or sometimes less (and in some cases, more). I was immediately lost.

As my eyes glazed over their wares displayed in the window, I told Ann that we HAD to go in there. Right now. NOW, I tells you.

See, I have this strange affinity toward all things Japan, whether it’s J-Pop, their culture, or just cars. I wouldn’t consider it an unhealthy obsession as much as I would a curiosity; it’s simply a glimpse into a place I’ve never been would love to visit sometime.

But above all, I can’t get enough of Japanese craps, as in items one would find in a place like Daiso. And if I ever won the [insert jackpot game of your choice], I would go to a place like Daiso and buy one of everything whether I needed it or not. Then I would book the next flight to Japan and either go nuts buying more Japanese craps or end up not coming back and taking up residence in a capsule hotel where…I wouldn’t have room for all of my craps.

Okay, maybe it is a bit unhealthy. But hear me out before you judge. Take a look at some of the assorted craps I found in Daiso and why me going to Japan would be a dangerous, dangerous proposition.

First, upon entering the Daiso, I discovered that J-Pop was being piped into the place and could be heard all over the store. My shopping experience was already at a 5-star level. As I made my way through the store I started to notice why I love crazy Japanese craps.

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Here we have a pair of training chopsticks with some kind of animal face on the top. Hey, whatever gets a kid to learn how to use them is fine with me. But look at the packaging! Aside from “Training Chopsticks” there’s no other English on it and that’s what I find so intriguing. Sure, I would know what they were if not for the English but still, the packaging on all Japanese items is insanely pristine and damn near perfection.

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And what do we have here? Oh, nothing but some kitchen sponges SHAPED LIKE CAKE SLICES! Note the precautionary “Do not eat” on the bottom right of each sponge-cake.

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Enjoy the softness! Aside from the “WTF?” factor, here’s another reason I love Japanese products: Engrish, which is Japanese translated into English that produces humorous results. What you see above isn’t the best example of it but still, it’s pretty funny to read on the pack of…grape candy.

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Now this here is some great Engrish. Historically, kings have worn crowns and as such, were…well, kings. Maybe he was Super King.

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These happy little guys will make sure your mundane task of sweeping up that pile of spilled Yan Yans will be a joyous event!

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I almost slapped this on my face and started singing Music of the Night.

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The “frip-top” made me laugh so hard that I had to buy this. It is now my daily container for the snacks I take along with me to work.

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Aside from the chuckles I was getting, I did buy stuff that wasn’t amusing and too cool to not pass up. I ended up grabbing two of these really bitchin’ battery-powered, color-changing LED stars which we used as décor that night for the Supermoon viewing from our front yard. I love goofing around with artificial lighting and taking pictures with my phone. The results are always interesting.

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But I’ve saved the best for last. While walking down the aisle that had party goods, Ann pointed this out and almost fell on the ground laughing.

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This place has everything, even inflatable boobs that, according the package, are “Sopresa Bomba Sexy”! Well, maybe not on a guy with a necktie around his head or any guy in general but you get the idea. I think.

But sadly, as strange as this item was, it has NOTHING on the next one which is still leaving me, for the lack of a better term, curious.

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You know, there are some terms I never thought I’d search for in my life. But after seeing this item, I had to go to Google and search for “inflatable swan penis” to find out exactly how this thing worked and what it did because the instructions on the top of the box didn’t really help me.

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So after researching it, here’s what you do.

  1. Peel off the adhesive backing and stick the flaccid swan-penis to your crotch.
  2. Squeeze the swan’s neck-testicles which will activate the inflation mechanism.
  3. Stand back and watch the swan-penis become erect.
  4. Stand around like a perverted old man with a sheepish grin on your face.
  5. That’s pretty much it.

If you follow the instructions on the box cover, you can also opt for putting on a tutu and sticking the swan-penis to the outside. This would obviously be my choice. Go big or go home, yo.

(Note that the bewbs also inflate using the same kind of chemical reaction.)

Man, I don’t know what kind of partying they do over in Japan but I’d wager that they are pretty crazy, which kind of scares me and excites me at the same time.

In the end, here’s what we hauled home.

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Candies, bike reflectors I didn’t need, cookies…but nothing inflatable.

And this, my friends, is why I should never visit Japan. But do you know what the sad thing about all of this?

We’re going back on Friday for more.

My name is Dave, and I have a problem with Japanese craps.

And music. Now everybody do the Monkey Dance! Berryz Koubou, take it away!