So des ne! I see!

I have a few phrases that I have been living by the last two months in Japan. Surprisingly, none of them start with “I need” or “I want” and I certainly haven’t used the phrase “I’m hungry” either.  This can be attributed to the empathetic nature of the Japanese.  In Japan, as my gaijin understanding of it, one should never have to ask, because as a culture, the Japanese should have honed their empathy skills or their sensitivity to others, as to be able to predict what the other would want, need, or like.  So, here is an oral walk through my understanding of an entire day of Japanese phrases (most of which are spelled incorrectly, I assume, and close to none are phonetic… sorry!)
Konnichiwa Hello
Wakarimasen I don’t understand.
Sara desu I am Sarah
Hiroshiku onegaishimasu It is nice to meet you. Lit: Please be good to me.
Hajime mashite Nice to meet you.
Ohayo Gozaimas Good Morning!
Genki desu ka? How are you? Lit: Are you energetic?
Onegaishimasu Please
Kudasai Please
Shitsudeshitemasu I’m sorry to bother you.
Shitsudeshimashda I’m sorry to have bothered you.
Gomennassai I am sorry
Ganbatte! Do your best! Lit: Endure!
Saboten Cactus
Ju kai 10 times
Shako dansu Ballroom dance
Sasori Scorpion
Sabacu Desert
Ni ju ni des. I am 22.
Arizona shu ritzu digaku Arizona State University
America no Arizona karakimashita. I am from Arizona in the United States.
Nomihodai All you can drink.
Tabehodai All you can eat.
Oi shi so! This looks/smells delicious!
Oi shi! This is delicious!
Oi shi katta! It was delicious!
Onaka ipai! I am full.
Omoshidoi! How funny!
San en! Too bad!
Kyotskete! Be careful!
Kyotskemas! I will be careful!
Tanoshi!/Tanoshimi! This is fun!/ I had fun!
Oyasuminasai! Good night!
Domo arigato gozaimasu! Thank you very much!
Itadai ma I’m home!
This is not a complete list, but as you can see, I have not been in need or want since arriving in Japan.  I will not lie or exaggerate right now, I don’t even know how to express those crucial verbs in Japanese at the moment!  I find it funny that I can group those phrases into three situations: At school, outside of school, and meals.
At school I have to be very formal when speaking with the Principal (which doesn’t happen often) and the Vice Principals, my teachers, and in front of the students.  Everyone knew that I had no Japanese language training when I arrived, and they tested me just a little bit. Every once in a while, the students would try to speak to me in Japanese, and I would give them the tilted confused face.  This is when I depend on non-verbal communication. Otherwise, the first few weeks consisted of teachers feeding me lines to be appropriate in situations that were completely foreign to me.  I do not speak Japanese to my students, and sometimes I eat lunch with them to challenge their English skills.  They are really amazing and the collective knowledge between the students and their electronic translation dictionaries is what saves them.  I feel sorry for the sap that I corner one day for lunch.  Actually, I don’t really feel sorry for them, I feel sorry for me as it will be a very quiet lunch…
Even outside of school I see my students a lot, and I always speak English to them.  Nevertheless, I try my best to speak Japanese in Japan.  I feel it is a sign of my respect for the country and the culture that I’m invading to try to speak the native language (AHEM, Mexico!!) and I always have a Japanese-English dictionary with me, although that doesn’t make anything easier because I end up with crappy Japanese anyway.  My Japanese classes start in November, and I will be very happy to finally study the language formally. 
Much of my Japanese vocabulary revolves around food and drink, such as tabehodai and nomehodai, which is very popular in Japan at izakaya-style (large group) restaurants. Not only will I eat sashimi as a gaijin, I can name almost every kind of sashimi in Japanese, and I understand more and more of the ingredients for traditional Japanese cooking every time I go to the grocery store—which is almost every day. 
Kanji is an entirely different story.  As you noticed, I am still using roman letters to write words and phrases.  In Japanese there are two syllabaries (a set of consonant-vowel symbols ex: ma, mi, me, mu, mo) and thousands of characters called kanji with which the Japanese write. Hiragana and Katakana are the two syllabaries that are what most gaijin learn first.  Hiragana is the syllabary used to phonetically write words that are traditionally Japanese (I remember that by the sound “here” in HIRagana) and Katakana is the syllabary used to phonetically write gaijin or foreign words.  On any official document, my name is always stamped in Katakana like this “ サラ ” and these two syllables are “sa” and “ra.” Luckily my name translates well into Katakana, but other names, like Chris, become Japanized to Ku-ri-su or David becomes De-bu-to.  Omoshidoi, ne? Funny, huh?


One thought on “So des ne! I see!

  1. Sarah, I am enjoying your blog SO MUCH! I can’t believe you were teaching
    Thriller—-is that the most fitting tribute to M J!!!

    I am enjoying Japan vicariously through you—have the time of your life!

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