[The American Years]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Another Special New Year's Edition

Greetings from Japan, where bicycles are primarily used for (get this) transportation. Not recreation. So the majority of them don't look like bikes in the states. They do, however look a great deal like each other. How people find their bikes at the train station is a mystery to me.

Most bikes are shaped like what the American eye would consider a "girl's bike", with a low main crossbar. If you are using the bike for transportation, certainly you don't need the structural advantage of a horizontal main support. So skirt wearers and pants wearers all share the same bike shape.

This is at our local subway station.

There are tons of bikes that reside at the subway station. I guess because people don't have room to keep them at thome. Some bikes are designed to accomodate tight quarters: they fold in half for easier storage.

Many of these bikes come with built-in locks as well. Right behind the seat is a ring lock that grips around the spoke. I don't think it's to foil theves. It think it's more to make sure nobody takes the wrong bike by mistake, since they all basically look the same


A copyrighted feature of this blog: Japanese is Too Difficult to Learn, So Let's Not Even Try.
(JITDTLSLNET -- pronounced just like it's spelled.)

This time, counters. In any language, counting from one to ten is an obvious baby step. Japanese starts by having two common words for 4 and two common words for 7. But they're just getting started.

If you are not just going to say a number for the sake of a number, but if you are actually going to talk about a number of things, different words are used. And not just one set of words. They are different depending mostly on the shape what you are counting.

Round cylindrical things are hon (or bon, or pon). Flat things are mai. Machines and vehicles are dai. Three bottles of beer with three pizzas with served by three delivery vehicles (scooters in Japan's case) are sanbon, sanmai, sandai.

That's just 3 examples of counters. (How do the japanese count things that don't have shapes, like examples? Great question. Did I mention that Japanese is too difficult to learn?)

I was at a grocery meat counter and my friend wanted to get 15 chicken breasts for a party he was throwing.

He said "15 please" using the general number word, jugoh. The attendant had no idea what he wanted. He pointed to the chicken breasts again, saying jugoh again. Nothing. Thinking (correctly) that his pronunciation probably lacked correctness, he wrote the number down on a piece of paper and showed her, pointing to the chicken breasts again. And again the lady looked at us like we were speaking and writing in Klingon. I remembered the counter word for small things or pieces, which is 'ko'. I said "jugoh ko, please" and she got it right away.

"Ko" was the first counter I learned. Since I'm so big to them, I can call anything a small thing, right? Probably not.

How do you count a flounder fish? By using 'mai' for a flat thing or by using 'hiki' for animals?

My elementary Japanese book has an appendix for counters in the back of it. There are sixteen different counter words for different things in the book, and I know there must be tons more.

It also gets worse. There are tons of irregularities. Sure it's bon if there are 3 cylindrical things.

With 4 it becomes hon. With 6 it becomes pon. All the counters have such irregularities.

I swear, they made this language as difficult as possible just to keep the foreigners out.


New Year spectacular, part II.

Last time I said I wouldn't likely take a camera to the New Year festivities, or o-shohgatsu. But I did anyway. I didn't get much that was good, but I'll put it here anyway.

Dec 31 was Buddhist. I went to a nearby temple. This is where they do the ringing of the bells. The big bells that are rung by swinging a log at them. I heard they ring them 108 times, for the 108 sins, but judging from the line at this temple, there may have been some new sins invented so as to accomodate the bell ringers.

They also gather around an incense smokery hoping to get the good luck smoke on themselves. Then inside the temple there are special prayers and readings done by the priests. People crowd into the entry way of the temple and thow money on the floor of the alter area.

During non-new year crowds, there is a box with slats for people to put their money in. However, in this case there is too big of a crowd, so coins are being thrown over the heads to land on the floor inside the temple. (Sorry, no picture of that. I was too conspicuous already.)

Jan 1 was Shinto. I went the biggest and most impressive shrine in Nagoya, and didn't get close to it. The crowds were just too much. I was able to get close to the purifying water pond. It's where you are to wash your hands and your mouth, since those are the source of most sin, before approaching the shrine. Big crowds there.

I tried to get to the main part of the shrine but gave up. I did find a smaller shrine building which had white cloth draped around the inside to catch all the flung offeratory moneys. (Also had a security guard standing by.)

Though I don't understand either religion very well, both seem to have a great reverence for the New Year. Making money offerings in the hope of good luck, good fortune, and business success seeps important to both.

And they have no problem with money changers in the temple. With all the crowds coming through, there were fair-food stalls aplenty, ready to change your money into sweets, noodles, and of course, my beloved octopus balls.

This video has no pictures of our family, for once. I made these trips on my own. I'll more than make up for it in the future. (I also noticed I goofed and put the same - not very good - pitcure in twice... I may have even put some of the slides in the carousel backwards. Oh, I guess that doesn't happen with modern slideshows. )

An interesting note about Auld Lang Syne. I couldn't help but to put it as the background to this slideshow. It's probably not surprising that it's not a song associated with the New Year in Japan. But the song is everywhere here. Evertime something is going to close for the day, this is the song they play. Amusement parks, libraries, grocery stores. It's the 10 minutes till closing tune here.

No idea how or why the song came to be for that purpose, but it does get me into a lot of trouble. One minute I'm a mild mannered foreigner in the grocery store near closing time. Then the song comes on. Suddenly I start staggering around, drinking stale champagne out of other people glasses, looking for people to kiss. It's really embarrasing for the kids.

The reverse side also has a reverse side.
-Japanese proverb.


1 comment:

blogon said...

so, i'm guessing it would be a bad idea for you to walk around with noisemakers in your pockets lest closing time approach. gives a whole new tone to 'last call.'

i guess i'll stop worrying about my spanish for our summer vacation - at least i'll be able to count anything i choose. wow. so, how would you count flowers? shape? scent? color? foliage? ordering a dozen roses could be a reall pain in the ass.