[The American Years]

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Greeting from Japan, where a loaf of bread consists of 6 or 8 slices with no heel on either end. The slices are big, about 6” by 6” by 1/2”thick. Great for French Toast or Texas toast, but strange for a sammich. No idea how the Japanese use them. Don’t think they go Texan or Frenchy with their toast, and don’t tend toward sammiches. I will investigate and give further updates as events warrant.
*****



This is the kids' Japanese teacher. Kind of a kid himself, but he's great.

*****


The Japanese are superior at math. You've heard it all you life. To which I say,"Whatever." Let's see them figure out how many 3/16 inch holes spaced at 2 5/8 inches can be fit in a 2x4 (which of course measures 1 5/8 x 3 3/8) that is 4 feet long. Which is to say that the metric system is nice. Once you get used to it, it's makes things much easier.

Even the Japanese money increases metrically. Coins are valued 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 yen. Bills are 1000, 5000 and 10,000. (The largest being valued at about $100). Similar to ours except no 25c equivalent and no $20bill equivalent. They introduced a 2000 yen bill a few years ago, equivalent to our $20, and it failed. It is no longer in production. No surprise there. It doesn't follow the pattern. An no quarter (25 yen) either. Straight from dime to 50cent piece. It's funny that two of the more prevalent denominations in the US don't have equivalents over here. (Obviously, I don't mean that it's laugh-out-loud funny.)


There is something a bit strange over here though. The number words don't follow the commas. (This might get boring. Reader's response: "GET boring? We blew right past boring last paragraph." But I figure that if you've made it this far, you have a high tolerance for boredom, so I trudge onward.) In English, our words follow the commas. 1,000:new word - Thousand. 1,000,000: New word - Million. etc. We don't say "Thousand Million", we say "Billion". So every 3 digits we get a new word, and we don't count any higher than up to hundreds of each larger unit. Hundred million, hundred billion, etc.


So simple I never even thought about it. But leave it to the Japanese to make it tough. They have a fourth word. They have a unique word for Ten Thousand. And then they count up to thousands of those and all the bigger units. So what is 10,000,000 or ten million to you and me, is actually 'Sen Ma', or a thousand tenthousands to them. And then they have a new word at the hundred million level, and every 4th place thereafter. And the kicker is that they don't move the commas. They still use them and still put them in every 3 places, you know, for clarity. Go figure.
Told you it was boring.

*****

Another weekend, another festival, this one with dancers and drummers sporting tassle hats!


******

1 comment:

Phil M. said...

Where's the Japanese proverb?!?!?

The counting system ALWAYS messed with me while I was there. While I was fluent in other parts of the Japanese spoken language, counting always made me go back to thinking about what I needed to say. I'd love to hear your thoughts on counters (the different tags at the end of numbers that tell the listener what is being counted). You'll find it a very cool subject (How do you call out blocks of tofu? The same way you do city blocks of course! i-cho, ni-cho, san cho!)

As for the money, there is an equivalent to the $20 bill. It's the 10,000 yen note. When converting from US$ to Yen you can't do it using exchange rates, you have to do it by comparing the ease of flow from your wallet. The 10,000 yen note flows like a $20 bill; the 100 Yen coin spends like a quarter; etc.