Prelude

I have purchased the books required to attend the CC Japanese class, and have paid the tuition.  Looks like I’m doing this.

The book is “Yookoso 3”, which is horrendously expensive (I got it for about $99 and that’s half the price the bookstore was selling it at), the workbook which is also horrendously expensive (I got it for $80, which was a $40 discount from what the bookstore was selling it), and I didn’t opt for the CDs, as those resources are available online.  So, in total, I would have had to pay $400, and instead I paid $170.  Still a lot, but that’s doable.

I didn’t know it was going to be that expensive though.  I should have guessed.  It’s college, after all.

I leafed through the workbook and textbook, and my learned and considered decision is that I know about 70% of what I should know about halfway through the class, so maybe I can do this.

The question remains, though:  why do I want to?  And to be honest, I still don’t know.  The honest truth is that I’m a bit of a misanthrope on the best of days, so why would I be learning a language, the result of which I will know enough about the Japanese culture to know what I don’t like about it?  There are two sayings:  “familiarity breeds contempt” and “ignorance is bliss”, and both are the truest things ever.

But I’m doing it anyway.

Honestly, I will consider myself to be improving in Japanese when I can read enough of something or listen to enough of something to know that it’s boring.

This much I know – I find much of the Japanese culture that we Americans seem to like increasingly boring.  Perhaps it’s overexposure, perhaps I am having one of those moments where I have become familiar enough with it that it has lost its exoticism.  As unnerving as that is, and as adrift as it makes me feel, I feel that it’s a positive development, as there’s much more to the ancient and sometimes beautiful Japanese culture than a bunch of teenage girls flailing around and trying to find their notes.  I would branch out into other Asian cultures except Japanese is a friggin’ handful on its own, so one thing at a time, I suppose.

I just wish I knew what doors it could open, because right now it feels very much as if I’m voluntarily wasting my time.

Endings and Beginnings

I have mixed feelings about blogging, to be honest.  I’ve been doing it since before blogging was a thing – a while ago, I found a blog that I’d written nearly 20 years ago out of pure HTML – wordpress didn’t exist back then, and all I had available was a web server.  I’m glad that blog’s gone – but the point is I’ve been doing it a long time.

And I don’t feel like I’m very good at it.

Blogs have come and blogs have gone in my life, and each time, I’m never happy with the quality of writing, with the topics I come up with, and I feel as if any audience that I have is pissed off as often as they’re interested.  I’ve tried to keep this blog as high quality and on topic as possible, but I don’t really feel like I’ve succeeded.  And if you toss in the fact of my depressive personality and a rather aimless and scattershot learning technique, what you get is a blog that’s rather aimless in its topics and tries to be at the same time too many things and not enough.

I’m not quitting blogging here, but I’m seriously thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish.  Why do I blog in the first place?  And why do I blog about this topic in particular, when my interests are spread far wider?  Why not blog about sports cards?  Why not blog about theology?  Why not blog about piano, or classical music?  Why this, why now?  And am I blogging about J-Pop?  Japanese culture?  Japanese language?  All of the above?  Apparently, I have no idea.

So I’m not quitting this blog, but I’m going to reboot it.  I start a Japanese class at community college at the end of the month.  This marks a transition, a graduation, if you will, from a scattershot, exploration based approach to learning to an actual, methodical approach to learning.  It also marks a transition from me doing it because it interests me to me actually taking it seriously.  Who knows where it will take me now?  Or, conversely, who knows where it will not?

As I take the studies seriously, so will I take this blog. I will think carefully about what I want to accomplish, and that is where I will go.

The petals have fallen from the sakura trees, and where do we go from here?

Ikimasu.  Ganbarou.

Counters

Every language has an annoyance.

In English, it’s the definite vs. indefinite articles.  I have been told that this is almost impossible for a foreign person to get right, though I don’t see what’s so hard about it.  In Spanish, it’s the conjugations – I like to joke that there’s a special conjugation for something that happens on Tuesday under a full moon.  But I’m only partly joking.

There are two things in Japanese.  Wa vs. Ga, and counters.

The Japanese counter system is insane.  In case you didn’t know, there’s a counter for many different things, and it’s a suffix for the number words (ichi, ni…).  There’s ko (1個), which is the counter for objects.  There’s ban (番), which is the counter for order (first, second, third – this is where “ichiban” comes from).  There’s sai (歳), which is the counter for years (juu sai desu means ten years old).  There’s kai (回), which is the counter for “times” (watashi wa juu kai deshita means I did it ten times).  Each one has its own kanji, and you have to use the correct one.  There are over fifty of these.  One for books.  One for long, cylindrical objects.  Using the wrong one is a grammatical error, and in most cases, you can’t use a more generic one as a substitute if you don’t remember what the correct one is.

Not only that, but sometimes the actual words change based upon the counter.  One object is “ichi ko”, but one person is “hitori”.  Why?  Because they’re Japanese, that’s why!

It’s actually not insanely hard once you learn the different counters, honestly.  Compared to wa vs. ga it’s pretty straightforward if you put a little time into memorization.  But for me, it is, hands down, the most freaking annoying part of the Japanese language that I know.

Losing the Mystery

I have become very discouraged with Japanese lately.

It’s not because it’s hard, honestly.  It is hard, but it’s manageable.  There’s a lot to learn and a lot to memorize, but it’s not beyond my abilities.

It’s really not because it’s time consuming either.  It kind of is, but I can carve out the time.

I think it’s more because I don’t really see an end game to the whole thing.  I started learning it because it interested me, and it still kinda does, but it is starting to feel like I’m learning it in a vacuum.  I’m in that place where I know just enough to know that there are probably things I’m missing, and not enough to be able to hold conversations to learn those new things.

So I’m backing off a little.  I’m still doing the Jalup reviews, but I signed up for a community college class starting in late August, and I do plan on taking that.  I honestly don’t expect it to teach me much I don’t already know as far as hiragana, katakana, pronunciation, etc.  I think I probably already know the meanings (but probably not the pronunciations) of about half the kanji they’ll teach.  So I’ll be going in with a head start.

But the value is this:  it will give me people to actually speak with.  Maybe they won’t be at quite the same level I am.  Maybe a couple will even be more advanced.  But at least then I don’t have to be embarrassed to try.  I probably will be anyway, but I don’t have to.

When I start those classes, I will start a series here, blogging about it.  I don’t know much about them yet except the textbooks are expensive, they’re Fridays and Sundays at ACC, and the teacher’s name (which I won’t mention here, though you could find it on the syllabus if you really wanted).  It’s been 20 years since I’ve taken any kind of class.  I hope I don’t stuff this up.

Sunday Song #4: Sakura No Hanabiritachi (AKB48)

I haven’t written one of these for a while, and this one’s a little late.  I have some good excuses which you don’t care about, but if you knew them, you’d agree that they’re good, so we’ll just leave it at that.

This is an interesting song.  Its first few bars of introduction are really catchy and high energy – they actually remind me of an 80s or 90s song.  In fact, that’s how I found this song, because they kept playing that intro on AKBingo and I liked it enough that I wondered what song it belonged to.

This is a song about endings and beginnings.  As I have mentioned, the sakura (or cherry tree) seems to have a significance to Japanese culture, and at least in the way it’s usually used in J-Pop songs, as a marker of time.  For the sakura blossoms only for a few days a year, and then they all fall off, waiting for the next year to come around.

This is a sweet and sad song, about graduation from school and heading into adulthood.  That’s an experience that, for many reasons, I never really had, but it seems that in this song they are trying to capture the bittersweet feelings that must come with that kind of an event.  As the petals drop from the cherry tree, so does one stage of life end and another begin.

The petals of these tears go pitter-patter
On these cheeks they come out, flow, and fall
As we look up to the blue sky
And breathe in deeply
The petals of these tears go pitter-patter
Memories of that part make me happy
The stairs to adulthood before our eyes
Together we climb and wave our hands

This is something I’ve really grown to appreciate about J-Pop.  It can be very sweet and saccharine, it can be fun and mindless, it can be sweet and sad, it can even be tragic, but there is a depth and poetry that is very much missing from western pop, and has been for many, many years.  It’s like, they want to sell albums, but they are also proud of what they produce.

What would it look like if we could take A-Pop (what I call American pop) and infuse a Japanese sense into it?  The sense of beauty that the Japanese have cultivated over thousands of years, and even now, manifests in a bunch of young girls and women dancing around in frilly, colorful (and sometimes downright loud) costumes and singing about things they may or may not understand?

What would it look like, indeed.  I’d like to know.  It would be nice if there was actually some “A-Pop” that one didn’t have to feel embarrassed to do anything but make fun of.

Am I Otaku?

I’ll be honest. I dont identify as otaku and I dont want to be otaku.

But last night I sent a bunch of funny links to my friend from AKBingo, explained to him who Takahashi Minami and Shinoda Mariko are, and then gave him the backstory on how Shinoda-san became an idol. Then I was humming “Oogoe Diamond” and the intro to “Sakura no Hanabiritachi”, after I went through most of their discography to find out where that intro came from (it’s catchy).

Unfortunately I guess that makes me otaku.

Why does that upset me?

Because I consider otaku somewhat unbalanced, tbh. One commenter to this very site told me he’d punch someone out if they dissed his favorite AKB48 member. And that is disturbing. Sure they’re cute and funny, but they’re just entertainers and I’m entertained. Sure, if I were escorting an idol down the street and someone threatened her I’d open a can of whoopass, but that’s because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re idols.

I dont want to be associated with that. But I guess by talking about it, I am.

So what to do?

Wait Just a Kanji-Pickin’ Minute

I realized something today that has been kind of simmering in my consciousness lately, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

Many words in Japanese are actually compound words.  For example, 美味しい means “delicious”, but the words separately mean something like “beautiful taste”.  電車 means “train” (or that’s how it’s taught in Japanese Level Up), but the kanji separately mean “electric train”.  But 大丈夫 is not really a compound word, it means something entirely different than the three kanji separately would indicate.

So is it reasonable to teach “oishii” as “delicious”?  Is it reasonable to teach “densha” as “train”?  Or are we losing something in translation because we’re trying to force compound words with separate meanings into one English word, and losing something in context?

“Beautiful taste”, for example, is rather poetic, and is something I would expect from a society that has a very well refined and historic sense of beauty.  It says a lot about how they see food, and even so, the human experience.  But “delicious”, to us, just means something tastes good.  Or even very good.  There’s no poetry in it.  So it feels as if we’re forcing their poetry into our language, and losing a major sense of the Japanese culture while we’re at it.

This is becoming a major frustration in learning Japanese, and I’m starting to think that learning it by translating into English (even using words like “delicious” or “train” just doesn’t work.  I’m not advocating an approach like Rosetta Stone, don’t get me wrong, as their approach is frustrating and insufficient in its own way, but I am saying that I feel like I’m losing something from Japanese by trying to force kanji (and compound words) into an English mold.

Why do we have to learn it as “delicious”?  Why can’t we just use it as “beautiful taste”?  Does that somehow make Japanese easier for us to learn, while blunting the impact of the cultural difference?  Or are we trying to find areas of cultural similiarity to lessen the culture shock (such as “genki desu ka?”) and instead screwing the pooch in the process?  Or am I just overthinking it are these translations perfectly fair?

This would go the other way too, but I’m not sure quite as easily.  To a Japanese, they might have the concept of “delicious”, but the translation to English is one word.  Perhaps they are missing the nuance in our language, that we don’t have a sense of beauty in the sensual aspects of food that they do?  Or again, perhaps I’m overthinking that too.

I don’t know the answer.  This is an exploratory post  But the more I’m learning about Japanese, the more I see some very difficult cultural differences brewing just beneath the surface, and I feel as if those differences may be being deliberately glossed over in the name of learning quickly.  I’m not sure I like that, honestly.