「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


Learning Japanese

By Kip A. Cates


I began my study of Japanese at university in Canada. Little did I realize how many linguistic difficulties were waiting to ambush me!

The first challenge my classmates and I faced was how to memorize Japanese conversational expressions. They were all so long! For “Hi!” we had to learn “Konnichi wa.” “Thanks!” was “Arigato gozaimashita.” “Take care!” was “O ki o tsukete kudasai.” So many syllables!

To help us memorize these kinds of phrases, we created English sentences that sounded similar to the original Japanese. To remember the Japanese numbers 1, 2 (ichi, ni), we used the English phrase “itchy knee.” To memorize “Itadakimasu” (Let’s eat!), we used “Eat a duck and a mouse.” It sounded pretty close! To learn “Do itashimashite” (You’re welcome), we used “Don’t touch my moustache.” It was almost the same!

Speaking Japanese was hard. But writing was harder! We spent the first part of our Japanese course learning the hiragana alphabet. It took forever to memorize the lines and curves of each letter. When we’d finally mastered hiragana, our teacher said, “Well done! Now, here’s the next alphabet you have to learn ― katakana.” “Another alphabet?” we groaned. “Isn’t one enough?”

Two weeks later, we’d mastered katakana and were ready to relax. “Not yet!” said the teacher. “Now you have to learn kanji. It has 2,000 characters.” 2,000 characters! We couldn’t believe it. Was he trying to torture us?

After studying Japanese in Canada for a year, I was ready to fly to Kobe and try out my new language skills in Japan. I’d been a conscientious student and had worked hard to learn proper Japanese. We’d only been taught the polite “desu/masu” forms, but I was confident that I’d do OK.

As a newcomer to Kansai, I asked a lot of questions. For many questions, I kept getting the word shiran as an answer. “If people use shiran so often, it must be an important word,” I thought. However, when I looked for shiran in the dictionary, it wasn’t listed. Strange!

As a new English teacher in Kobe, I heard many rumors. When I checked to see if they were true, my Japanese students cried out “ciao, ciao.” “Why are they speaking Italian?” I asked myself. It was all very odd!

Finally, I managed to find a Japanese friend who solved these two mysteries for me. “The colloquial Japanese that people speak here is different from the textbook Japanese that you learned in Canada,” he explained. “Shiran is a contraction of shirimasen. It means ‘I don’t know.’ Ciao is a contraction of chigaimasu, which means ‘That’s wrong.’ ”

After a year in Kobe, I finally began to understand what people around me were saying. But I still felt strongly that people should only use words listed in the dictionary and should avoid using Italian when speaking Japanese!



The Japan Times ST: October 10, 2014

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版