One question I’ve been asked by my ESL students in Japan is, just where is “standard” American English located geographically? Most countries define a given region as the “official” dialect of their language, which is then used in textbooks nationally. In China the standard language is the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, in Italy its based on the regions of Florence and Tuscany, and in Britain it emanates from the twin pillars of “Queen’s English” and the BBC. The “official” English used in the U.S. is a bit harder to pin down, and it’s sometimes referred to as Standard Midwestern, since it tends to flow from that part of the country. In 1868, Japan’s capital was officially moved from Kyoto to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo meaning “east capital,” in imitation of China’s cities of Beijing and Nanjing, the “north” and “south” capitals. This meant that the “standard” Japanese language changed from the colorful, intoned speech of the Kansai region to flatter, more robotic-sounding dialect of the Kanto Plain, something that Osaka hasn’t quite forgiven Tokyo for yet. Like the U.S. and Great Britain, Japan does not have an “official’ body to define its language is like the Acadmie franaise, and it’s generally up to the publishers of the Kojien, Japan’s answer to Oxford and Webster as the most prestigious dictionary, to bless new words by including them in its pages.
My son is back from New Zealand, and he had a great time there, doing homestay with a local family and getting to use his English a lot. New Zealand is a beautiful country, very similar to Japan if you take away 96% of the people, concrete and asphalt and add a lot of rolling hills and sheep, and the students loved it there. It’s funny how social barriers can be laid low through the power of shared popular culture. For example, the kids Kazuki was staying with were into Yu-Gi-Oh battle cards, and since he had remembered to bring his collection with him, everyone immediately became fast friends, doing battle and comparing the English and Japanese cards. The students at my son’s school generally learn North American English, and several of the kids in New Zealand commented on their “American” accents, something that no one from the U.S. would ever perceive. The kids at the school were interested to hear that Kazuki’s father had gotten to meet Temura Morrison, the Kiwi actor who played Jango Fett and all the Clone Troopers in Star Wars episodes 2 and 3, at the Star Wars Celebration IV convention this year, and had in fact sung the New Zealand National Anthem to him. Sometimes I think that I might not be the most representative American my son could have had for a father…
Although Japanese kitchens are well stocked with spoons, forks and knives, most meals in Japan are eaten with chopsticks. Children usually learn to use chopsticks around the age of 4, when they start attending preschool, and this is quite possibly the first of many adjustments to the larger Japanese group that children have in their school lives. Every foreigner living in Japan knows the embarrassment of being told by a Japanese person hashi ga jozu (“you use chopsticks very well”). While one popular response is to compliment the speaker on their use of a knife and fork, I’ve found you can have more fun telling them okagesama de (oh-KA-ge sah-mah deh). This is a complex phrase which literally means “Yes, thanks to you,” almost as if you had leaned how to use chopsticks from the person, even though you’ve never met them before. The phrase is a useful way of showing Japanese-style humility whenever someone compliments you on something, and since few would expect a gaijin to know it, it’s fun to see their surprised expressions when you whip this phrase out. (If you’re trying to learn to eat with chopsticks, we recommend the training chopsticks we have on the site.)
J-List is the best place to find Domo-kun related items, from plush toys to wacky T-shirts and warm hoodies to our great 2008 Domo-kun calendar that’s in stock right now. Today we’re happy to announce a line of cool Domo-kun hats, professionally embroidered with cool images of the official mascot of NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting channel. We’ve got not one, not two but three new Domo-kun hats, the “Domo face,” our popular “outlined Domo” design and a new one featuring Domo saluting you as he greets you. All hats are made of stone- washed cotton denim by American Apparel and are extremely well made, and are also fully size adjustable. Browse our new items now!