My wife has decided to volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school as an assistant in the English classes they have once a week. I knew it was a bad idea to have her help out, since English education here is not exactly the model of our tax dollars well spent, and I knew it would frustrate her. The lessons are taught by a Japanese teacher rather than a native English speaker, although there is a separate English lesson another day that has a native gaijin — maybe it’s to instill in the kids a sense that “English” and “English conversation” are separate and should never be confused. As with all English classes here, the lesson began with the ubiquitous “How are you? Fine, thanks, and you?” (My daughter likes to throw a wrench into the works there, saying, “Actually, I’ve got a headache, so I don’t feel fine at all” just to see the looks on the teacher’s face.) For the first half of the class, the students listened to an audio tape that taught English phonetics (“ba-NA-na, not BA-na-na“). Things went pretty smoothly until the teacher started having the students repeat “I can skating! I can skiing!” My wife desperately wanted to correct the teacher’s erroneous English, but could never do so in front of the students, and in the end, she wasn’t even able to bring the issue up with after the class was over. Incidentally, the funny English phrase among elementary school kids in Japan is to say “See you hage!”, substituting the word for “bald” (HAH-gay) for the English word “again,” resulting in “See you, bald person!” Now you can amaze your Japanese friends with this fun phrase.
We’ve got some breaking news for you today: Shinzo Abe has just announced that he’ll be stepping down as Japan’s 90th Prime Minister. The issues are many, but in the end his inability to bring about any of his major goals and his party’s poor showing at the recent elections caused him to throw in the towel. Japan’s youngest-ever Prime Minister and the first born after World War II, he got off to a good start, trying to bring the theme of a “Beautiful Country, Japan” to his administration. Bad luck set in quickly, though, with several scandals, including the problem of missing National Pension payments (which stemmed from the 1980s, so it’s not really his fault) and some impropriety with public funds on the part of his Minister of Agriculture that resulted in the man committing suicide. One of the biggest defeats was the fight with the opposition parties over the continuing participation of Japan’s support for the U.S. War on Terror, especially supplying oil to U.S. ships off Afghanistan. Mr. Abe’s timing is odd since he just gave a speech to the Diet two days ago in which he outlined many of his new ongoing policies, then he quits two days later. One interesting thing about Japanese politicians: they never really leave. Even after major scandals that cause Prime Ministers to step down, they often hold onto their Diet seats, sometimes for a decade or longer. So if you need Abe-san for any reason, he’ll probably still be around.
Every once in a while I like to revisit the rules of Japanese pronunciation, since I distinctly remember looking at at a book called Flying Origami as a child and wondering how the heck I was supposed to pronounce this incredibly alien word. First, understand that Japanese is a syllable-based language, meaning that sounds always come in consonant + vowel syllable pairs (e.g. ka, ki, ku, ke, or ko, never just a “k” sound by itself), or as a single vowel syllable. The exception is the letter “n,” the only consonant that can appear by itself, without which we wouldn’t have the word “ramen” (and that would be a travesty). Vowels are easy as pie in Japanese — there are only five, identical to the ones in Spanish. They are:
A – “ah” rhyming with “fall”
I – “ee” rhyming with “feel”
U – “oo” rhyming with “fool”
E – “eh” rhyming with “let”
O – “oh” rhyming with “go”
Some things to keep in mind. First of all, discard if you can the spelling rules of English, like double “o” being read like “soon” and the “silent e” on the ends of words. Every syllable is pronounced, so that beach volleyball idol Miwa Asao’s last name would be pronounced “ah-sah-oh.” Although America had a famous president named Honest Abe, the current Japanese Prime Minister (for a few more days anyway) is pronounced “AH-beh.” There is no short “a” sound (as in “cat”) in Japanese, so if you find yourself saying words like kanji (Chinese characters) or the final syllable of ichi man (the number 10,000) like the word “at” or “fan,” try to say “KAHN-ji” and “ee-chi MAHN” instead. If you’re interested in learning Japanese, I always recommend textbooks and study guides that force you to work in the “native” Japanese writing system, hiragana, as its much easier to pronounce well if you move away from Romanized Japanese. The Kanji Practice Flashcards from White Rabbit are an example of a really good system for learning, as they avoid writing any Japanese words in the Roman alphabet, forcing you to learn to read and pronounce correctly.
Announcing the return of Pocky to J-List! Every summer we’re forced to remove all chocolate items from the site, due to the heat and humidity of Japan in the warmer months. Now that it’s cooled off some, we’re happy to announce that Pocky is back! We’re posting delicious Marble Pocky, brand new for the season: see Green Tea and and Mild & Bitter on the site now. As always, you can buy shrinkwrapped boxes of 10 and get an extra discount.
2008 Calendar Season continues at J-List, as we add even more great anime, JPOP, Japanese bikini idol, and other large-format 2008 Japanese calendars posted for you to check out now. From pretty faces like Yuko Ogura or Maki or the cute girls of Morning Musume to the all-new Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex calendar by Shirow Masamune to great animation calendars like Gintama, Inuyasha and more, J-List has a great way to bring a little bit of Japan to your wall all year long. Calendars can be preordered now, and will start shipping in October. Check out our great lineup now!