[The American Years]

Friday, September 15, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where you can’t register a car unless you have a signed document from your landlord or neighborhood governmental office assuring that you have a place to park it.

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More about language this time.

Joke told by one of our neighbor kids.

Kid: "Knock Knock"
Kathleen: "Who's there?"
Kid: "Holy Toh"
Kathleen: "Holy Toh-Who?"
Kid: (walks away laughing hysterically)
It's funny (kid-funny, anyway) that he made her say "Holy Tofu", and it's a play on the fact that the Japanese don't have a sylible for the Who, or Hu sound. They have Ha, He, Ho, and Hi, but no Hu. They have Fu instead. And it's the only F syllable they have. No fa, fe, fi, fo. No "Fee Fie Fo Fum". So what does the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk say in Japan? "Fu Fu Fu Fum?" And what does Horton hear? Why, Horton hears a Fu, I would guess.

I thought that my Japanese learning was coming along well. Then I learned that I was wrong.

Example No 1.
After the family got here I was supposed to register them as my dependents in the online benefits system at my workplace. Easy enough. So pick the kanji symbol that has woman on it, that one is probably wife, right? Then here's a menu that has numbers and the symbols for boy, then numbers and the symbols for girls. Easy enough. I select 7-boy and 5-girl figuring it's their ages, and I'm good to go. Click submit and I'm feeling good with my Japanese skill.
It was within 30 minutes of submitting that phone calls were made and concerned and helpful people were around my desk trying to sort out my mistakes. I apparently had set off some alarm bell in HQ that had to be fixed.

Well the 'woman' symbol I chose had another symbol next to it that I didn't recognize. I didn't think it mattered, but it turns out that I selected the Japanese symbol for "Common Law Wife". And the numbers next to the kids? Actually not their ages. Instead, it was the number of the child, like the whole "number one son" thing. So I had data in there was for my 7th son and 5th daughter.

So now it makes sense why alarm bells rang in HQ. I bet I was the first person to register for Japanese benefits for a common law wife and 12 kids. What did they expect? I did move here from Kentucky after all.


Example No.2
So it has happened, and much sooner than I had expected. My kids have corrected my Japanese. Combining business trips and this stay, I'm nearing a year in Japan, and over 10 years working closely with Japanese. My kids are here for not even a season and are correcting me already. And to beat the band it was Veronica. Zane is picking up the spoken Japanese very quickly, mostly from his tendency to make quick friends. Veronica is reading Japanese hiragana (the phonetic alphabet) like a pro. But it was Veronica who corrected my spoken Japanese. I won't go into the details of how it happened (as I want to maintain some stitch of pride), but I believe she was listening to my conversation with a shopkeeper, and she heard me use the word for mother when I meant father. After the conversation was over, she came to me and said, "No Daddy, the word was ...."

I replayed the conversation in my mind and darn it all if she wasn't completely correct.
I guess I knew it would happen. I have always maintained that the kids would be the most fluent when we left... but WE JUST GOT HERE! I'M SUPPOSED TO BE THE BEST SPEAKER!
Back to the books for me.
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Not so much new content here. Some retreads from the past months. Enjoy!
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Japanese Proverb:
Forgiving the unrepentant is like drawing pictures on water.
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theOC said...

On the contrary! This could be an inside joke, but I've heard the phrase "fo-fo-fo" used among the Japanese on our team to describe an overweight person. It's an onomatopoeia for the way such a person would laugh (imagine the mob boss character in an anime film).

Mrak Tohmas said...

Nakano-san was the cheif engineer on the project I did in Western Tokyo. He was forever asking me
"Foo will do this Mark-san?" He hated it when we'd say "we need to get such and such done" but didn't know yet who would do it. I still say "Foo will do" when working with my colleagues some 15 years later.

ET said...

Regarding fo-fo-fo. Of course, the Japanese are not prohibited from making the noise. They can say Katakana (foreign) words with the fo sound. They 'spell' it by writing FU with a small 'o' after it. It's like slang spelling which means 'FO'. But no Japanese word has that sound. (So my example of Horton and the Giant are bunk, I realize. Point taken.)