Tag Archive | English

I Think I’m Learning Japanese

I barely know the difference between ki and sa. I know the hiragana for ki, but I can’t seem to recall the one without the extra line is sa.

The easy one for me to remember is no, because it looks like an ampersand.

I can sort of recall a and i, and shi.

Somehow, all of these characters make words with particular sounds.

If you don’t know Japanese, you can stare at a word such as いただきます and hear silence in your head. That’s my problem. Yet it’s amazing to think that I normally stare at lines and squiggles and form sounds in my mind. At some point in my early development, my parents took me aside and said, “okay, when you see this symbol, it makes this sound.” And if you think about it, that’s also what the Japanese parents have done. We are conditioned to accept that a few lines make certain sounds and words.

I’ve heard it said that Japanese is easier than English. There’s a lot of truth to that, because after you read this, you can say you read this, and if you picked up on the change to the past tense then you’re already aware that English letters can change their sounds depending on how they’re used. In Japanese, a will always be pronounced like in spa, i will always be pronounced like ski, and every other character will always be pronounced one way. So yes, that does make things easy.

However, instead of 26 letters that can be rearranged to form different sounds, there are 48 different characters in hiragana alone. Okay, that sounds like more work. And yet, if you were to write down all of the different letter arrangements for English, you would actually end up with more combinations, leading to different sounds as well. There’s all of these confusing rules about “i before e, except after c” which confuses anyone who’s weird and feisty.

But English is just English. There are just the 26 letters that can be formed and arranged and what not. Japanese consists of three writing sets which are hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are your phonetic characters, both sets are few in number but can show up everywhere. Katakana is usually used for foreign words, like if you look up Final Fantasy in Wikipedia, you’ll see the katakana that’s used to basically pronounce the words using Japanese syllables. Kanji is serious business. There’s over 6,000 characters, but if you know one character, you know a whole word. If you’re handwriting and you have too few or too many brushstrokes, your one word might become a completely different word. Sentences and phrases combine at least kanji and hiragana together, though katakana is still important.

Oh, and if you thought homophones were insane in English, just wait until you learn Japanese! In English, sure, you have their, there and they’re. Those words aren’t far from each other, because they’re taking their things and putting them there. Maybe as a native English speaker, that makes perfect sense to me and I can’t possibly confuse the three words. So far in learning Japanese, I’ve come across niji in a Mindsnacks lesson, and niji as a song title. One means rainbow, and the other means 2 o’clock. The only time you could have those in the same sentence is to say there was a rainbow at 2 o’clock.

It’s a quarter to 2 in the morning, and Niji just started playing in iTunes. Please buy Heart, it’s an excellent L’arc en Ciel album. Meanwhile, my computer is scaring me because it did that. I might need to make my computer less intelligent before it becomes sentient.

Anyway, I feel like no matter what I learn, no matter what seems to be committed to memory, I don’t actually feel like I’m learning anything.

I don’t know how to form sentences.

I barely know any phrases, except for one-word phrases like greetings and such.

I know a few words. I don’t know enough to know the entire context of a sentence without having to look up other words in a sentence. And oddly enough, the words I’m most familiar with are probably the words I’ve looked up on the side.

My goal is to learn Japanese. My plan is to take formal lessons. My dream plan is to do so in Japan, where I can practice what I learn because of immersion. But until then, I have phone apps, a Nintendo DS game, and my computer if I want to use Anki more often than not.

I’d like to walk into a beginner’s lesson, and before class begins I’d like to introduce myself to the teacher in Japanese and basically say I want to be challenged a bit. I should probably know my shit or hold my tongue, because being cocky might cause my grades to be based on higher level work instead of what the rest of the class is handing in.

However, if I don’t have that confidence, perhaps I could introduce myself to the teacher and say something like, “I’ve been trying to teach myself, but I’ve been having issues with remembering the difference between these characters. I’m sure we won’t be up to that point in the lesson, but I’d like to work on it so I don’t fall behind in class.”

If I can at least pass the N5, which is the lowest category for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, then I’ll be happy. I’ll certainly try for the other exams, N4 all the way to N1, but the N5 will be evidence to me that something is getting through.

So with that, join me as I try to hear random brushstrokes. Yeah, it feels like that.

No offense to native Japanese speakers, because you probably had the same reaction to reading English words when you first learned them, so I think we can agree upon something, that English is hard.


White Muslim Female From Japan

The last thing I want to do is discuss politics on this blog, but it’s bound to happen eventually. I’m not proud of my country right now, so I want to talk about it.

In the grand scheme of things, there is no way that I could have ever sided with Trump. If there’s one thing that makes America great, it’s that it’s a melting pot of different backgrounds, different cultures, different races. In what little time I’ve spent on this blog, I’ve discussed Japanese music, eaten food from other countries (some items still have to be written up), and I’ve done this all from outside of a city that’s not even a major US city. I’m almost in the middle of nowhere, and I can experience the world.

With Trump bowing out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the costs to ship things over here from Japan will certainly rise. I’ve already spent over $20 in shipping costs for a few used CDs for a single order, and with other retailers I’ve added things to my cart to exceed their threshold so I didn’t have to pay about $50 or so in shipping just for a few small items. But enough about me, let’s talk about Samsung phones and Sony electronics and all of these amazing things that are taken for granted. Video game prices will rise, television prices will rise, cell phone prices will rise, digital camera prices will rise, all to cover the costs of importing them into the United States.

Will this create more jobs in the States? It’s doubtful, I believe. Stores can jack up prices beyond what they need to cover the tariffs, or companies will increase prices more than they need to because they’ll say it’s to cover the tariffs. I highly doubt any of these companies will take the money and build a new factory in the States just to cut costs. If there’s one thing about Americans, it’s their obsession with things and going broke to acquire them. Companies don’t have to create jobs over here, they just need to make something awesome and sell it for a substantial markup, and we’ll buy it anyway.

The streets over here are no longer paved in gold. They’re paved in debt, and the blood, sweat and tears produced in an effort to not be in debt or to try and get out of it.

Anyone who came over here in hopes of making a better life, they would be better off going back where they came from. Now bear with me for a moment, because I know that some countries have it far worse right now, some countries have war and famine to deal with. Our great leader, before the motion was stayed, decided to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country. He didn’t ban them because they posed a threat to our country, he banned them because of being Muslim. That would be like banning Joel Osteen, a televised Christian minister (denomination doesn’t matter, but he’s not baptist), because of the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, that’s how much of a stretch it is to have a ban against Muslims because of ISIS and the Taliban. We are actually preventing people from finding sanctuary on our shores because we want to make the country “great” again, when we’re actually not making America great for anyone.

There’s talk of deporting people as well, people who are illegal immigrants, but also people who legally have visas to work here or they have their green card from marrying an American citizen. As a girl born of American parents, let me tell you how wrong that is.

Let’s start with Dad’s side of the family. For years growing up, I understood that my Dad’s family was Polish-American, that my Dad was second generation Polish-American. And then one day, I was talking with this guy who came from Poland. I was trying to find some common ground, and then he asked what my last name was, only to tell me it wasn’t Polish. Taken back, I called up my Dad and asked him what the deal was, knowing he had been poking around in the genealogy and ancestry of his family. As it turned out, my last name is actually Lithuanian. It seems my Dad’s ancestors left Lithuania for Poland, and then my grandpa was adamant in telling my Dad that he came from Poland. Since my Dad was born in America in 1947, and his dad insisted that he didn’t think about his possible Lithuanian heritage, it makes me wonder what his family might have been running from. And yes, my grandparents spoke fluent Polish, especially if they wanted to keep secrets from my Dad and his eight sisters.

My Mom’s side of the family is something else. I feel like I’m always around people who can say, “I’m half English, a quarter Irish, and a quarter German” or something similar. “I’m Italian on both sides,” or “I’m one-quarter French, three-quarters Swedish,” or something else like that. So I was figuring it out, saying, “I’m half Polish or Polish-American, and the other half…” when Mom cut me off and said, “you’re American.” Her maiden name is English, and she has mentioned that her father has a fraction of Native American ancestry in him but not enough to claim anything special from it. She has mentioned one distant relative who came over from Germany, and I remember the story because she says he tried asking for a cushion (to sit on), but his accent made it sound like he was asking for “a kissing.” I don’t think I have Italian or French on my Mom’s side, and I’m not sure if I have any Scandinavian heritage either.

I don’t know when my Mom’s family established themselves in my hometown, but I know my grandparents had stayed there for most of their lives at least and Mom never left the area. My Dad grew up in Massachusetts, joined the Air Force and traveled to Japan and Germany, and met my Mom in Syracuse before eventually settling in the area.

So despite being an American citizen by birth, it’s in my blood to travel and to find my place in this world. My heritage is that of people leaving their home countries to find a better life. It doesn’t surprise me, then, that I have a wanderlust and a yearning to leave my country, although current circumstances make me want to leave the country anyway.

The title of this post comes from a discussion I was having on Facebook, where a friend of mine said we might as well sign up for the Muslim registry when it comes around because we’ll be deported. So I asked something along the lines of being a white girl and registering as a Muslim from Japan, to which my friend said they probably wouldn’t think anything of it. For the ones in the back, let me break it down. I’m white as fallen snow. Christianity is the only religion I actually have any knowledge about. I’m not the least bit Asian. In fact, the Muslim population in Japan would consist of foreigners, not Japanese citizens, unless there’s a really tiny sliver in the great pie chart of Japan and its religious beliefs. If I got deported for calling myself a Muslim from Japan, it would be because they didn’t want to deal with my smart-ass antics anymore. Hopefully Japan would welcome me, otherwise I’d have to figure something out.

Yes, I’m that desperate to leave my country that I would claim I’m in a marginalized group in the hopes that I’m evicted. The greatest, most egotistical country in the world, and I want out. The pastures might not be greener, but they might be a shade of green that I find to be more favorable.

I don’t hate my country, though. I don’t like the current leadership. I don’t like the lack of compassion towards those who need it most. I don’t like the fingers being pointed away from the real issues because someone doesn’t want to sacrifice something that makes them feel safe even if it means they’ll gain some amount of safety overall. I don’t like corpses having more bodily autonomy than a living female. I don’t like the lack of intelligence, the fact that people don’t quest for knowledge and understanding but would rather look for statements to back up what they believe is true. There is so much I wish I could change, but I am one person with no influence.

But all the same, I realize we can’t all have the same thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and the like. We all came from different walks of life, and we’re all heading in different directions. That’s what makes America great. After 9/11, we unified as a country because we were all against the terrorists who would try to divide us. We have to unify once more and not be led astray by a leader who wants us to turn against our friends. We have to fight for our country, or we have to leave before darkness falls over us all.