If you haven't yet read this little gem of a book by David Sedaris, you really need to. Let's talk about Japanese Language 101. First a bit of background...I have spoken English for the past 40 years, if you don't count a the time spent in clases de Espanol in high school and college. I loved Spanish, found it quite manageable to conquer and will to this day break it out -usually after a glass or 5 of sangria or a margarita. In all our travels, it has not been too difficult for me to pick up key terminology and phrases as we navigated various cities, inclusive but not limited to France, Germany, Morocco, Italy. You get the idea. Thus, I wasn't too concerned with beginning my one on one, at home, intensive Japanese lessons...and that was a critical mistake.
I knew we might be off to a rocky start when on the first day, I answered the door in track pants and a fleece, with my hair scraped back and not a speck of makeup and my instructor was in a full length fur. Fighting back the urge to throw red paint all over her, while simultaneously locking the cat in the back bedroom, I ushered her into our kitchen where the breakfast dishes still remained. Declining my offer of anything to eat or drink, she proceeded to unpack multiple textbooks and study materials from her rolling suitcase along with her designer handkerchief - who uses these??? I started to get a bit nervous. Ichikawa-san, as she must be referred to as she is an elder and a teacher, is a lovely, gentle grandmotherly type who employs the "tsk, tsk" method of reprimanding along with the element of surprise - pop quiz, flashcards, tape recorder (so I can hear my own horrific pronounciation). Am not going to lie, she scares me. She scares me enough that I actually do the assigned homework which is perhaps her intention.
The written Japanese language is made up of three scripts: Chinese characters called kanji, and two syllabic scripts made up of modified Chinese characters, hiragana and katakana. I know you're thinking "so fun!", right? My current assignment consists of tracing vowels in the hiragana script over and over again on lined paper similar to the paper we learned to write cursive letters on in Mrs. Diskowski's 3rd grade class. True to form Ichikawa-san breaks out the red pen to correct my inaccurate placement of the dots and squiggles -tsk, tsking as she does so.
The speaking portion goes a bit better. We are currently concentrating on Greetings - introducing yourself and other people, everyday greetings that consist of commenting on the weather, thank you, you're welcome, I'm sorry, excuse me and good bye, see you again. Michele desu (silent "u") - I'm Michele. Hajimemashite - How do you do? Dozo yoroshiku - Nice to Meet you. No problems thus far... Ichikawa-san then breaks out popsicle sticks with the cut out faces of Richard Gere, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage (argh) pasted onto them. I spend the next 15 minutes (holding sticks) and introducing Meryl to Brad, Brad to Julia, Julia to Nicolas etc. and then introducing them all to my instructor. Without laughing I might add. I also manage to stifle the snicker when "excuse me" happens to sound alot like Shit sorry and I am made to repeat it approximately 10 times.
In all honesty, I'm taking this class to be able to navigate the city, conduct a transaction in a shop or restaurant and direct the cab driver to my home. I have no illusions that I will ever be considered "fluent" but I can always hope that maybe, just maybe Me Talk Pretty One Day.