Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nihongo o sukoshi hanashimasu!

(Translation: "I speak a little Japanese.")

For me and Nana both, one of our greatest regrets about the time we spent in Korea (besides eating moving squid tentacles) was learning almost none of the language. We learned how to read hangul, the Korean alphabet, which is so utterly brilliant a moderately intelligent sea cucumber could probably figure it out. We also learned a few key phrases, mostly concerned with food and the procurement thereof. But the grammar was challenging, and the pronunciation opaque. More importantly, we spent pretty much our entire day in English, and we were so exhausted by our work that evening classes seemed pretty much impossible.

So learning Japanese is one of our major goals during our time here in Japan. We still managed to put it off until last spring, but since then our progress has been unexpectedly swift. It helps that there's a very good Japanese language school, Genki JACS, only a few subway stops away, and it also helps that Japanese is a lot easier for English speakers to pronounce than Korean. Most importantly, though, Nana and I are in our fourth year teaching now, which means we're a lot more efficient with our work. We simply have had more time to spend on Japanese in a little over one year than we had to spend on Korean in two.

It's not surprising, then, that during a recent excursion to Kurume, I managed a Herculean feat of linguistics unmatched by anything I ever attempted, let alone achieved, during my time in Korea.

I figured out which bus to take.

The thing is, you can figure out most Japanese with nothing other than English. There's some good information online (though you have to hunt for it), the ticket machines work in English, the personnel on the main lines speak a tiny bit of English, and the signs all have enough little bits of English that you can get by.

But buses are another story. Japanese, as far as the eye can see.

So when we found ourselves puttering around Kurume, gorged on yakitori (grilled meat skewers), a fifteen-minute bus ride away a 62-meter-tall statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy with an animatronic Buddhist hell in her feet - you can bet your buttons there's a post coming on that one - and nothing to get us there and back but our meager Japanese.

But we did it! We asked which bus went to Narita-san temple, we figured out how much it was, we even wrote down the characters for the stop. Of course, that last part was probably unnecessary, as all we really had to do was get out by the 62-meter statue, but still . . . yay for us!

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