Flash Point

I have always somewhat prided myself on thinking for myself and not going by what other people tell me I need to think or believe. Some events have happened in my country recently that I think I need to speak on. I also think it’s important to come at them from a different angle than most might. I don’t want to descend into the thick of things – it’s not going to help.

For those who might be reading this at some other point in time, a few days ago, the Capitol building of the United States was overrun by protesters, along with a smattering of provocateurs.

The first thing I want to say is: There are a few topics in which those who are not citizens of the US really have no business opining on. This is one of them. The odds are really high that there are undercurrents going on that you don’t understand. So if you are an outside observer, try to understand it if you want, try to read up and understand both why the protesters were so angry (and in my opinion, they have every right to be, though I will not condone the expression of that anger) and why people might think they shouldn’t be, but please refrain from offering an opinion. You don’t understand it and you’re not helping.

(While there are many aspects of Japanese culture I think are objectively terrible, I try not to involve myself with opinions on their legislative process. That’s kinda their business. So I try hard to practice what I preach.)

I say this because a certain British YouTuber almost made this mistake. After posting that he was going to post that video and giving a hint as to what his opinion was, his comment section lit up with invective. He made the right choice in deciding he wasn’t helping.

The second thing I want to say is: there is no deescalation happening, currently. There is no healing, there is no uniting. Those on the left are flexing their muscle to try to deplatform people who might express a dissenting opinion (the vast majority of folks on the right are not condoning violence, though a quite a few are), and those on the right aren’t interested in putting up with that kind of deplatforming anymore. So, for me, the proper solution is to disengage. I’m not really interested in involving myself with this this escalating battle of words, etc.

This is a troublesome time for my country. I really do not see how this can end in any good way. I live in Texas, so I don’t feel quite as exposed as I would in, say, California, or Washington, D.C., but I do feel like nothing good is going to happen. I don’t say this with a sense of happiness, but with a sense of resignation and foreboding. My anxiety is very bad at the moment, and I’m dreading the next couple of weeks, because neither side seems willing to back down.

I have come to the conclusion that Jesus was correct when he basically said the entire world was lost. It has never been clearer to me than it is now. People fighting each other for nothing, really, because the only reward you get from life is eventual death. People wanting the trappings of the Kingdom of God without the pesky God part of it, and the only way to make that happen is by force – and the minute you use force it stops being anything approaching the Kingdom of God. People who think power – political, military, etc., is worth having for its own sake, when all that leads to is suffering and misery. And even liberty is, in its own way, troublesome, because all that means is you get to screw your own life up rather than having someone screw it up for you.

If you mist stick your nose into the affairs of my country, pray for it. Because I don’t see any of this ending in any good way.

And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Writing Japanese names in English

So for those of you who don’t know, Japanese family names come first. In English, Takahashi Minami, for example, would be “Minami Takahashi”.

This, frankly, causes no end of confusion, because it’s really difficult to decide when to use the English word order. One could easily say “never”, but to be honest, that doesn’t sit well with me. Japanese and English are two different languages, and it’s by no means disrespectful to use English word order when writing something in English. It’s, in my opinion, not unlike translating from Japanese. Of course, Shinzo Abe (Abe Shinzo) may disagree with me, but oh well. Abe-san is the former prime minister of Japan, so I’m really not concerned about that opinion.

But on the other hand, for someone like me who consumes a lot of Japanese media, saying “Minami Takahashi” just feels wrong. Japanese people would call her “Takahashi Minami”, “Takahashi-san”, or “Takahashi”. You just kind of get used to hearing “Takahashi”, and the given name just isn’t anywhere near as important. So when someone writes “Minami”, “Minami Takahashi”, etc., it just feels wrong to me.

So generally, but not always, I will use the Japanese word order – unless I am writing to an English audience who knows someone as the english variant of their name.

You’ll note that in my previous post, I referred to Nakamoto Suzuka as “Suzuka Nakamoto” – but only in the title. Otherwise I used the Japanese word order, or left off the given name entirely and added the “san” honorific. It just feels right to me. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, so used to the Japanese word order that it feels wrong to do otherwise. I have to have a good reason to switch things around for English speakers, and searchability is a pretty good reason, I guess.

Here’s my ultimate point: As long as you are not writing to a Japanese audience, I think it’s okay to use the English word order. But it’s also okay to use the Japanese word order. And if you want to write the words in Japanese (高橋みなみ )always use the Japanese word order. After all, if you’re writing in Japanese, there is absoutely no excuse for switching things around.

It gets even more confusing when you are talking about Japanese people who are American citizens, like my sensei. My sensei has a Japanese first name, and an American last name, written in Katakana when using Japanese characters, and standard English when using romaji. That is particularly hard to figure out. Formally, I’ll use “lastname-san” or “sensei”, but informally, I don’t think I’ve ever really used either the first or last name, not for sensei, and not when referring to sensei to other people. It just doesn’t feel appropriate. It’s a shame because it’s quite a nice name. Shrug.

But that’s how I’m going to do it. Japanese word order unless I have a good reason otherwise.

I do not Love Suzuka Nakamoto

I am something of a fan of Babymetal I do enjoy their music, even though I’m not usually a fan of metal. I think I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go into further detail

One thing I have notice (and I may be doing a little bit of this myself, unwittingly; forgive me) is that Youtube reaction channels seem to take off whenever they do a Babymetal reaction. There is this horde of fans that follow people around and give channels probably one or two thousand subscribers almost literally overnight. They like to say they’re “not a cult”, say Nakamoto-san is their “queen”, etc. I get that a lot of it is tongue in cheek, but not all of it.

This is a symptom of an actual problem, in my opinion I’m just using Nakamoto-san as an example, as it extends to many different people, in Japan and beyond. It applies to idols of all sorts, pop stars of all sorts, etc.

People think they love people when they don’t.

I do respect Nakamoto-san. I really do. She is quite a talent, a force to be reckoned with, and Babymetal wouldn’t be the same without her. I respect her accomplishments, and hope she has a long and fruitful career.

But I don’t love her.

I don’t know her enough to love her.

See, I know pretty much nothing about her when she’s not prancing around a stage and belting out music. I know she is… a woman. I’m pretty sure of that fact. I know she’s gotten pretty good at speaking English – her accent in “Kingslayer” is surprisingly good. I know that… she is a singer for the Babymetal band. And that’s it. Maybe she is a nice person – in fact, probably she is a nice person.

But I don’t know that.

So while I respect her accomplishments, I don’t love her. Not at all. Just as I don’t love Takahashi Minami, Sashihara Rino, Takeuchi Miyu, Mizuno Yui, or any of a thousand other people whose accomplishments I greatly respect. You have to be more than a good singer to make me say I love someone. And so far, no idle, no pop star, no movie star, no celebrity at all, has earned that right.

I expect there will be a few people who won’t read past the title of this blog and will attack me. I’ll only say this and otherwise ignore them – they’re the problem.

Why I Deliberately Do Not Correct Typos (Most of the Time)

If you go back to my previous posts, you will find typos. Some of them are pretty prominent. I am aware of them, and I don’t correct them, unless they substantively change the meaning of a sentence.

See, I write this blog, usually, on a chromebook. Some of the keys are not very responsive (particularly the ‘l’, it seems) and sometimes I miss or add letters. I correct them when I spot them, but sometimes I don’t, and I click the little “publish” button with the odd mistake coming through. Though I have a kind of “dyslexia”, for want of a better word, which causes me to sometimes write the exact opposite of what I mean, most of the time these are just truly mistakes – the wrong word, missing letters, etc.

I leave them because I don’t want to have too polished of a product.

See, I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes. It’s a given. I’m going to make typos, I’m going to say things in not quite the right way, my posts are never going to be perfect. So I’ve learned to embrace the imperfections. Every typo I create is a fault in the crystal lattice of my blog – an imperfection that, in its own way, makes it even more unique and beautiful. If it’s a prominent typo, one might look at it and say “ha ha, look at this person who can’t spell!” when in actuality I can spell just fine, I’m probably well aware, and just left it. It’s a paradoxical truth that people tend to be more engaged with what one writes or says when they can find a flew in it.

So if you see a typo, odds are high but not 100% that I’m already aware of it, and odds are far higher that if I were aware of it, I wouldn’t bother correcting it. It’s a part of what I’m creating, and I want to let it be.

Or, am I just lazy?

You’ll never know.

Crucible

I don’t think I would be coming even close to lying if I said the past two weeks have been some of the most difficult of my life.

This year started out bad, and it seems like things just compounded on each other. First coronavirus, then the riots (and if you don’t like me calling them riots, zakennayo), then the election (which, in spite of common knowledge, is still not resolved, and again if you don’t like me saying that, zakennayo). Then comes a few personal things, one stacked on another, until I pretty much fell apart, and that all started to come to a head a couple of weeks ago. And the past couple of nights – if you haven’t noticed – have been particularly difficult. My last post was not born of intellect – it was born of experience.

But that which does not kill me, makes me stronger. I guess. So I’ve heard. And I ain’t dead yet.

In the process of all of this, I’ve discovered a few things about myself. I’ve discovered how much I am still trying to recover from a less than perfect childhood, and how that’s affecting me even now. I’ve discovered that there are some things that will just throw me for a loop and I’m not even sure why. I’ve discovered that all politicians, and most judges, are useless. But maybe the most valuable thing I discovered – or maybe, remembered – was that I wasn’t always this way.

The sadness of life is inescapable. From the moment you’re born, you die just a little each day, until finally death claims you fully. But it seems the happiest people are those who haven’t figured that out.

Like children.

I have never had a child, but there’s always a particular image in my head about if I were to have a little girl. I imagine her to be about five years old, sitting at a table. Maybe wearing a little dress, maybe some comfy pajamas. But she is sitting there, at the table, with a coloring book and some crayons, and she’s just coloring. And humming to herself. She’s not thinking about the ultimate heat death of the Universe. Not only is she not thinking about it, but she couldn’t understand it, and no adult in their right mind would tell her.

That’s innocence. That’s true innocence.

And then, she’ll go to school, and be taught through hundreds of little experience that life hurts. And how could I pick up the pieces after her? Because life does hurt. I guess I could hug her, and comfort her, and she would get past it, but every hurt would change her, just a little bit, until finally she’s a teenager and not even recognizable as the little girl sitting at the table, coloring, and humming to herself. You can’t give back innocence. Once taken, it is gone forever.

I used to love doing jigsaw puzzles, as a child. I would sit at the table until hours of the night a child really shouldn’t be staying up, and putting the puzzle together. That was my version of sitting at a table doing a coloring book.

I don’t do jigsaw puzzles anymore. I haven’t done jigsaw puzzles in a long time. I have no desire to do jigsaw puzzles. I have hundreds of more complicated puzzles to solve, like putting food on the table, trying to succeed at work, this, that, but nothing’s simple, and everything hurts.

I wish I’d never learned – I wish I’d never figured out – I wish I’d never understood – I wish I was never told – I wish I was never shown – that which takes away true innocence. But it’s part of growing up. Coming to terms with the fact that the happiness that one had as a child came from not knowing.

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1:18 – NIV

But can innocence be redeemed after all? Is there a way to gain back that which was lost? I hope so. I hope that it is true, that the last enemy which shall be destroyed, is death.

Sadness

When you’re gone, how can I even try to go on

SOS – ABBA

When I was young, my parents, myself, and my sibling were travelling to a city on the western side of Michigan. I remember driving down I-94, and they had the radio on. A jazz version of a song came on, with an interesting chord progression. I have always, always remembered that chord progression, even though I didn’t know the song.

Cut to years later, when some folks were having a pool party outside of the apartment I was living in in California, and a song came on with that exact chord progression. It was coupled with a song I did know, as my father worked for the company that made the “Super Trouper” spotlights, and when the release of the ABBA album came out, everyone got a copy of the record.

This was pretty much the only exposure to pop music I ever had as a child, and I found that I liked it.

So it turns out the song I’d heard was SOS, by Abba.

Abba was a very interesting band. They did not always write happy music. I guess in the middle of their heyday, they all divorced each other, and their songs from that era are just dripping with pain and loss. There’s “SOS”, a song about someone leaving. There’s “The Winner Takes It All”, which is probably one of the most tearjerking songs I’ve ever heard. It’s as if they take the pain of their divorces and put it right out there for everyone to see.

I don’t want to talk
If it makes you feel bad
And I understand
You’ve come to shake my hand
I don’t want to talk
If it makes you feel sad
Seeing me so tense
No self-confidence

The Winner Takes it All – ABBA

There’s so much sadness in this world. So much separation, so much loss. And it hurts. Because, deep inside, a part of us knows it shouldn’t be this way. The separation, the rift, the brokenness – it’s all broken.

There’s beauty too – of course there is. But the loss comes from the memory of beauty – from the destruction of that which was at one time beautiful. No one is hurt by a divorce from a marriage that meant nothing – the worst hurt comes from the broken promises, the severing of something that should never be severed. No one is hurt be the ending of a friendship that meant nothing in the first place. No one is hurt by something they are not, somehow, emotionally attached to being severed.

Knowing me, knowing you
There is nothing we can do
Knowing me, knowing you
We’ll just have to face it this time we’re through
Breaking up is never easy, I know
But I have to go
Knowing me, knowing you, it’s the best I can do

Knowing me, Knowing you – ABBA

Why is the world like this? Why is sadness so baked into the formula of this world, and even from a young age, we need to learn to deal with it and cope with it? I understand that’s the way it is, but why is this, in any way, acceptable? Why are we not raging? Why are we not angry? Why are we not, with every fiber of our being, fighting against the brokenness, the despair, the anger, the sadness?

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

We could fight. We can fight. We can say that when we make a promise, we keep it. We could say that things like marriage aren’t to be entered into selfishly. We could understand that our actions affect others. We could fight the sadness, we could fight the brokenness, we could fight the hurt, the pain, the sorrow, the tears. We can fight it every day, every minute, every second, in how we live our lives, in how we treat others.

But we can only fight so much, because in the end, no matter how we rage, the light dies.

There is a beauty in sadness, there is a beauty in tears. It’s an odd kind of beauty, as it is a sad beauty, but it is a beauty nonetheless. For the tears of separation always come from the beauty of joining – they are a marker of what once was and is no longer. But what once was has its own beauty. Tears are not a shame, tears are a joy, in a way. They are the release of pain, the shedding of hurt. The only shame is that most of us have to shed them alone.

I listened to an ABBA album once, driving through the southwest American desert to see an ex-girlfriend. I think I loved her in my own way, and our time together was, in its own way, special, if not very long. I can think about the loss and the separation, I can think about the pain of our eventual breaking up. But I can also think about the time we spent together, and… and it was in its own way, beautiful. You can’t have tears without beauty, without love, without something positive that is broken. I’ve moved on. That was years ago. But there are many more tears to be spilled, because there is much more beauty that is gone.

I long for the day that tears disappear. But tears will only disappear when pain disappears, and pain will only disappear when there is no longer separation, brokenness, anger, fear, or hatred. I lose hope that that day is ever coming. For even in the best efforts of those who hate pain and tears as much as I do, they invariably create their own, for such is the way of life.

Chibi Maruko-Chan Goes to a Tropical Island

Last night I watched an episode of Chibi Maruko-Chan (English dubbed, unforunately). In this episode, Maruko’s ojii-san wins a trip to a tropical island, but can’t go. Maruko, in her own initimitable way, manages to finagle her way into going. On the way, she has some really fun adventures and makes a new friend.

In this episode, she is a very brave little girl. She flies on an airplane by herself, she gets on a boat by herself, she even goes on a canoe trip to an island along with her new friend and a couple of older boys. Of course, she is part of a tour, so people are kind of looking out for her, but this is her adventure.

As I was watching the episode, I kept expecting something bad to happen. She was sat next to a gansgster-looking man who kept trolling her about how the airplane could crash, but he apologized and became, if not a friend, at least someone she kind of trusted. She was on the boat with her little purse next to the railing, and I kept expecting the purse to fall overboard. Every time she went on a new part of her adventure, I wondered what was going to go wrong. I imagined her losing her money, losing her passport, being stuck on the island with no way home, etc., etc. But none of that happened!

As she arrived back home, full of new memories of wonderful adventures and missing her new friend, I wondered what happened to me over the years? What happened to me, that even in a fun story about a little girl on an adventure, I kept wondering what bad thing was going to happen? Why did it never even occur to me that maybe… maybe everything would turn out okay? After the episode ended, I gurned off my phone and had a good, hard look at myself. What happened to me?

I know it’s a story. I know it’s a children’s story. I know, boy do I know, that things aren’t all sunshine and roses. But why aren’t they? Did you ever notice that whenever a child draws something, it’s usually anthropomorphized, and it has a smile? The bees have smiles, the birds have smiles, everything has a benevolent smile. Their world is beautiful. Full of bright colors, and fun, and adventure. And then the children grow up, and turn into… something else. Into me. Jaded, hurt, damaged, always wondering what’s going to go wrong next. And when something doesn’t go wrong, we are surprised, think “that’s good news”, and then wait for the next thing to go wrong. Because in our minds, something always goes wrong.

In the story, Maruko made a new friend. And when she left the island, she knew that she would never see her friend again. She missed her terribly. That is a lot for a nine year old to process, and I really like that the story dealt with it so honestly. But, even then, when she got home, she was happy to see her parents. Her friend wasn’t forgotten, but it didn’t consume her and it didn’t destroy her.

Jesus said, “Be as little children”. Is this, perhaps, what he meant? The way we were, once, before the world happened, and turned us into… adults?

Normalcy

In the cult I grew up in, throughout my childhood, there were some very strict expectations about how one was to behave. One was always to behave in an “upright” manner – to be honest, the ideas of tatemae and honne are not really all that foreign to me, as I lived that as a child. One was to be “in the world, but not of it”. Practically, this meant we had our own set of traditions. For example, we would celebrate a somewhat bastardized version of the Jewish Holy Days (though, in some ways, our celebrations were possibly more accurate than the actual modern Jewish celebrations).

But being in the world and not of it had consequences, and some pretty severe ones. While we did have our own set of traditions, we did not participate in the traditions of “the world”, which is what we called people who were not of our cult. There was no Halloween, no Christmas, no Easter, etc. In fact, our idea of “celebrating” Halloween was to turn off all the lights and hide in the bathroom so trick or treaters wouldn’t knock.

As a point of fact, we kind of viewed those of “the world” as beneath us. They were the lost ones, destined for the lake of fire unless they repented. Of course, repentance meant to join our cut, but that’s not the point. They were dead in our eyes, only meant to be our servants and people we interacted with when we needed something those in the church could not provide.

School was, thus, a lonely affair. I went, of course, as was mandated by law, and I learned voraciously. But when it came to interacting with the other children, well, it kinda didn’t happen. I was well liked by most of the teachers, because I was a “good boy” who never caused any trouble (in fact, I got away with some things I probably shouldn’t have!), but the students, for the most part, hated me.

Were they right to? No, of course not, but it was understandable. Children are very mean to that which they cannot relate to.

As a child. I did not have the tools to express how I felt about the situation, and for the most part I always put on a pretty happy face, but I didn’t like the situation at all. I learned to accept rejection, and I even learned to welcome it in a sense, but I never truly learned to like it.

In my pre-teens and very early teens, I was pulled out of school to be home-schooled. There were reasons for this. Some of them were okay reasons, but one of the reasons was because my parents feared that I was becoming too much “of the world”. Read: seeking a form of normalcy with the other students. So they ripped that out from under me. Along with some other family situations that were threatening to rip the fabric of reality out from under me, all hope for any kind of normalcy was lost. And I fell into a deep depression that, to be frank, I haven’t yet truly pulled out of.

I’m certainly not the only one with this kind of problem. Many different subcultures are based off of trying to find normalcy and acceptance with other people who have never found normalcy and acceptance. This, of course, leads to dysfunctional communities which promise acceptance but never deliver. I found myself bouncing around through a bunch of these communities, trying to find acceptance.

But it turns out the cult mentality does not just apply to religion.

Finally I gave up trying to find normalcy, and became something of a misanthrope. Deeply mistrustful of people, as in nearly all cases, the fact of rejection is not an “if”, but a “when”. I learned to embrace being a misfit, because it is easier and more fun to lob arrows from outside a community than inside one. I learned that becoming too invested in a community only ever leads to pain. I rather prefer to be the outsider, watching with as much disinterest as I can muster until I inevitably find the weak underbelly of that community, poke and prod at it, find it wanting, then leave. There’s always another community to poke and prod at.

I learn much about people, and frankly, little of it is positive. People are, often, terrible.

So let me be brutally honest: Japanese culture, and the rather annoying offshoots such as otaku and weeaboo culture, are an interesting thing to poke and prod at. I found the soft underbelly of otaku culture very quickly, and decided I really, really don’t like it. It’s dysfunctional, it’s obsessive, and it’s kind of annoying. And weeaboos are, somehow, even worse.

But Japanese culture is a little more iffy, if I’m to be frank. It’s admittedly very easy to find the soft underbelly of Japanese culture. I’m not sure if they’re aware of it or not, as they seem to have a huge cultural blind spot, but the deficiencies of that culture are all on display for the world to see. If I were to choose to poke and prod at it, I could find, and have found, some pretty horrible things.

But I keep going back to the fact that the soft underbelly goes both ways. They are also a particularly, and oddly, vulnerable and guileless culture, in some ways. They value and cherish innocence in a way that many other cultures don’t – and I mean real innocence, not the “hasn’t been porked” kind of western innocence. They don’t like to focus on the past, so much so that it’s actually more to their detriment. They seem to believe that being polite and nice is valuable in its own right, even if that means introducing a kind of darkness by denying their own individuality. You poke at their soft underbelly and you find – a soft underbelly.

Are they terribly xenophobic? Sometimes. Do they reject me by default simply because I’m gaikokujin? Almost certainly. Will I ever find community or normalcy in the arms of Japan? Never. But are there enough beautiful things to be found that I can give them a pass on some of their more awful tendencies?

I think so.

And that’s why I keep studying Japanese. Because otherwise, I have poked and prodded at their soft underbelly enough to have found their weaknesses and to find them wanting. If there weren’t something to still admire about their culture, I’d stop today. And, I guess, that’s something.

So I watched some Anime…

I have some extra time on my hands at the moment, so I decided that I was going to try some anime.

The first one I watched was “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid”. It was well animated. It was funny at times. And it was kind of dumb. I didn’t watch any further than the first episode (and not just because I couldn’t find an unsubbed and undubbed version).

The second one I watched was “Himouto! Umaru-chan”. It is about a perfect 15 year old girl who lives with her old brother, and when she gets behind closed doors, she turns into pretty much a spoiled brat. I couldn’t get through the first episode – what an annoying girl! Verdict: Funny at times, but dumb. I really didn’t see what the point was, honestly. On the bright side, I guess, it’s kind of wholesome in its way.

Then I found “Chibi Maruko-chan: The Boy from Italy”. I gotta say I really liked it. I was able to follow most of the plot from both context and understanding some of the language, which is a bonus! And it was a really sweet little story.

LIttle 3rd-grader Maruko ends up having to take in an exchange student from Italy, who is immediately attracted to Maruko, whose name sounds like that of Andrea’s dead grandfather, Marco. The movie follows the journey of all of the different exchange students as they explore Japan, but with a focus on Maruko and Andrea – who are trying to track down a restaurant Marco had ties to. Along the way they… I don’t know if you can say “fall in love” for children that young, but it’s definitely a kind of romance. It’s very sweet. And wholesome, too. There wasn’t an inkling of hentai in the whole thing, which was unfortunately a refreshing change. It really is a “slice of life” anime of a young girl, and nothing more.

It was in no way, shape, or form directed at otaku. And I loved that.

I think maybe my issue is – I don’t llike shounen. All the big, floppy breasts and action scenes and all that just don’t do it for me at all. But I liked that story. It was cute, and sweet, and I didn’t feel dirty or stupid after watching it. Maybe I need to find more anime like that.

Plus, sensei likes it too. That speaks volumes.

Tips and Tricks for Japanese Learners

Over the past ouple of years, I’ve learned a few things about Japanese that are not obvious to people just starting out in Japanese. Let me try to summarize them here. Maybe I’ve said some of these before, but I’ll just repeat here if so, I guess it bears repeating.

Okurigana

Okurigana are those hiragana characters on the end of Japanese words. Here’s the tip: An English speaker is going to be tempted to look at a kanji and think that it is a word. In many cases, it is not. It is a part of a word. The actual word is the kanji coupled with its okurigana.

For example, look at the kanji 見. It’s pronounced “mi”, and means “see”. But if you add okurigana to the end of the kanji, it can change both meaning and pronunciation. 見る (miru) means “see”. But 見える means “can see”, 見せる means “to show”, and 見つける means “to find” or “to discover”. This kanji has all of these meanings, but it’s the okurigana that distinguish one meaning from the the other. This is a difficult concept for learners to understand, as the question is often asked “how can one kanji have so many meanings and pronunciations?” The answer is that they are just building blocks for words, and almost never the words themselves. I say almost because some words do not have okurigana, like 桜 (sakura).

Jyukugo

Jyukugo are Japanese words that consist of two or more kanji stuck together. This is also hard to understand for Japanese learners, because when you combine two or more kanji, with some exceptions, they take an entirely different pronunciation – and the kanji together form a word that may have little if anything to do with its constituent kanji.

But here’s the simple rule: The kanji will almost always take an “on” reading (Chinese) in a jyukugu, and probably 95% of the time it’s the same “on” reading. So it’s kind of intimidating when you first start learning about this, but once you learn this trick, learning and reading jyukugo becomes much simpler. Learn the common “on” readings for the kanji, smush them together, and most of the time, you’ll be right.

Not always, of course, but it’s a really good start, and Japanese really is about learning the common rules and then when not to use them.

For example, you use the “kun” (Japanese) readings when one of the kanji is a body part. So 上手 (jyouzu) means “skilled”, even though one of the kanji means hand. But 右手 (migite) means right hand. Since “te” is the kun reading for hand, and you’re talking about a hand, the rules of jyukugo don’t really apply there. As I said, a few exceptions. But learn those and you’re golden.

Rendaku

This is something that, for some damn reason, beginners are never taught. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself. But, dear reader, let me explain what is maybe one of the most outwardly puzzling but eminently sensible things about the Japanese language.

You may notice that sometimes voiced consonants will change to unvoiced consonants (adding the two little dots, or tenten) when they are part of a jyukugo. 紙 (kami), or paper, becomes 手紙 (tegami), or postcard, when turned into a jyukugo Why is this, you might ask?

It’s simply, and solely, because the Japanese really don’t like to waste mouth energy.

No, seriously. That’s it. That’s the whole reason.

It’s harder to say “tekami” then “tegami”, so they turn it into “tegami” so it’s easier to say.

You’ll find this is actually the case for almost all cases when voiced consonants are turned into unvoiced consonants. For example, “n” is turned into “m” when put before certain syllables to make the words flow better. “ganbatte”, for example, is harder to say than “gambatte”, so “gambatte” it is.

This changing of voiced to unvoiced consonants is called rendaku.

There’s actually a whole “law” (Lyman’s Law), I believe, that says when and when not to use rendaku, but generally, when you have two kanji, and the second has a voiced syllable, you just change it to unvoiced (add a tenten) and all is well.

Japanese has a few rules like this that no one explains, and for the life of me I have no idea why. It just makes life easier to know, don’t you think?

Dialects

Japanese has a few dialects, and by a few, I mean a metric buttload. Most of them aren’t really important unless you’re planning on travelling all over Japan, but there are a few that are kind of useful to know. Kansai, for example, is one of them. It is well represented in media and comedy because, as a native Japanese I know puts it, “they’re proud of themselves and their dialect so they refuse to change”. Regardless of the reasons why, you’ll have to reckon with it at some point. It has a different pitch accent and syllable emphasis, so I’m told it sounds a bit more sing-song than Tokyo standard.

For the beginner learner, it’s probably best just to know that it exists, and the reason you can’t understand comedy you see on YouTube or whatever isn’t entirely your fault. But it’s still a really useful thing to look into if you have some spare time.

Otaku aren’t Normal Japanese

This is really an important thing to learn, and it’s taken me a while to figure this out. Many of the things you’re going to be exposed to in Japanese media are things otaku like. Some of it might be funny, cool, all that jazz, but at the end of the day, most Japanese people kind of look down on Otaku. They’ll say something like “Well, I guess if they’re happy…”, which for a Japanese person is something like “Holy SHIT are they weird!”

By the same token, anime is hit or miss when it comes to Japanese. Some of it is good colloquial Japanese, but a lot of it is stuff you really should never be using as an example, as it will teach you bad habits, or things that you really should only use under specific circumstances – but those are context specific and the anime will never tell you what those circumstances are. Don’t try to learn Japanese through media. It’s self-selected by otaku and weeaboos, and generally you’re not going to be served well by it.

If it’s all you got, though, I guess it’s better than nothing! Japanese are often just happy you’re trying, so they’ll forgive a lot from a learner.

Native Japanese don’t know everything!

My sensei is a native Japanese, has degrees in Japanese pedagogy, and has been teaching for many years. And I still teach sensei things sometimes. For example, sensei had no idea what a “small ke” meant, and when I looked it up and explained it, well, sensei learned something. Never be afraid to ask questions, and if a native Japanese speaker does not know, it does not at all mean the answer isn’t to be found, and sometimes easily! It just means the native speaker never bothered to find out.

And that’s fine, of course! I only recently learned what a gerund was, for example, and I’ve been speaking English for mumble mumble years!

Sometimes you’ll be told “I don’t know”. Look it up. You might be able to teach something yourself.

Have fun with it

I only recently learned about something called Japanglish. It contains phrases like:

  • yamete kudastop
  • arigathanks
  • don’t itashimention it
  • nani the fuck

Of course, this isn’t real Japanese. It is almost but not entirely unlike real Japanese. But for all of the ragging I do on otaku, etc., they do have one quality that should be emulated. They have fun with it. They’re not really as concerned with the rules as they are with how cool it is. And so you come up with a list of things like this that are nothing like Japanese except on the most basic level, and yet, people are having loads of fun with it. Respect the culture (which gaikokujin otaku generally don’t do), respect the people, give it your best go, but at the end of the day, remember that if you can’t have some fun with it there’s really no point. And let me be entirely frank – if a native Japanese doesn’t like that you’re not taking it seriously enough, they can just ざけんなよ. Being irreverent is not the same as being disrespectful.

What are some tips that you think people should know that would make their Japanese learning life easier?