Monthly Archives: June 2016

Japanese site review for free online novels: 「小説家になろう」

Being very much into books since I was young, especially fiction novels, one of my long-term goals in studying Japanese has been to read as many Japanese novels as possible, gradually increasing my speed and reading comprehension of Japanese works to that of English. Over many years, I’ve made much progress on this, to the point where I’m somewhat satisfied with my comprehension ability of various styles of works, assuming I have a dictionary at hand (physical or digital) to look up unfamiliar words I come across. However, I still have a long way to go in terms of speed, and I’d wager that I may never reach my reading speed in English, at least for certain types of content.

I’ve written previously on some ways people outside of Japan can get access to Japanese books, such as the Booklive.jp as well as some physical bookstores in the U.S.

In this post I’d like to introduce another site I have started frequenting, “小説家になろう” (shousetsuka ni narou), which literally means something like “Let’s become novelists!”.

The site is a general repository for budding Japanese authors to submit their works, and anyone can read them free of charge. There is a good variety of genres, including 純文学 (serious literary works), 歴史 (historical), 推理 (detective), ホラー (horror), アクション (action), 宇宙 (science fiction), エッセイ (essays), and of course the popular 異世界 which is works set in some other world, often with a connection to our own (and probably with a love story thrown in to make things interesting). Everything from short works with only a few pages to long, epic novels are available.

They have a simple, but effective system of rating works and providing comments and reviews, and you can view recent rankings of the top works across genres, and also over longer spans of time. Because anyone can submit a story, you can expect a wide range of quality, from struggling amateurs to semi-pro and beyond, and there is even a section on the site about authors who have gotten their works published, and links to buy them. But generally speaking, if you stick with stories high the rankings you’re likely to get some well-written material.

I think this site is a great resource for anyone learning Japanese who has gotten a few hundred Kanji under their belt, and a good grasp of grammar fundamentals. It’s free and easy to browse, so you can just read a few paragraphs of a bunch of works and see what matches your interest and linguistic ability. There are other features like bookmarks and a list of favorite users which make using the site easy.

I’ve been thinking that I may be able to use this site to find authors whose works I enjoy, and send then a message to request permission to translate one or more of their works to English. I’m still searching for candidate works, though, ideally something shorter in the literature of SF categories. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

“小説家になろう” already has nearly a million users (my user # is around 850,000) and I’m sure it will keep growing day by day. Hope to see you there! You can check out the site here.

The first work I read on their to completion was a short essay that was pretty creative, you can check it out here.

 

 

Japanese Writing Lab #5: Favorite movie

This is the 5th assignment of a program I am running to help myself and others improve Japanese writing skill. For details, see this post. Also see this post for a list of all assignments.

This time the topic will be “好きな映画” (suki na eiga). Write about your favorite movie, or just any movie you enjoyed. If you aren’t into movies much, feel free to use anything you’ve seen on TV (try to avoid using a novel or comic, as I may use those for future topics). Try to write a brief summary about it and what about the movie you enjoyed. Recommended length is a few sentences to a few paragraphs.

While doing this assignment myself I remembered how hard it can be to describe a movie plot in Japanese because many of these terms are things I don’t use or experience day-to-day. So part of this assignment (optional) will be to first find a webpage that describes your chosen move in Japanese. Read it through, looking up any words you don’t understand. Finally, try to use at least two or three of these words in your submission text.

If you are having any difficulty thinking of what or how to write it, feel free to check out my submission below for ideas. Remember this isn’t a contest, it’s more about each of us improving our respective writing abilities. If you don’t know much Kanji but still want to participate, it’s OK to use just Hiragana with some Katakana here and there if you know it. Beginners can even use Romaji, as long as you promise to learn Hiragana soon (:

Once you finish this writing assignment, please post it via one of the two following methods:

  1. For those who have a blog (WordPress or anywhere else is fine): post it on your blog, and post a comment on this article including a link to your post. I also suggest adding a link on your post back to this article, so people who find your post can follow it to read other people’s submissions.
  2. For those who don’t have a blog: simply post it as a comment to this article with the text you’ve written. [Note: creating a blog is pretty easy and free on many sites, so if you have a few minutes I’d just consider just trying to create a blog on somewhere like WordPress. Several people have already done this in order to participate in this program.]

Also, I will be tagging every one of these assignments with the tag “japanese_writing_lab“. I’d recommend you do the same for your entries, so others can easy read through all them.

I’ll be reading all the entries received and commenting, and other users are welcome to do the same.

My submission

僕は高校時代以来、「好きな映画は何ですか?」と聞かれたら大体「Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves」という映画だと答えることが多いです。

イギリスの伝説「ロビン・フッド」に基づいて作られ、1991年にリリースされた作品なので、けっこう前の映画です。ストーリーを大体知ってる人は多いかと思いますが、簡単に説明してみると、主人公のロビンが牢から出たら父が殺されてて、お城も燃やされ廃墟になってるのを知って、悪人の代官ジョージに復讐することを誓います。そして、街の人々を迫害するジョージから反乱軍と一緒に人をたくさん助けたり、税金をもらってる貴族からお金を奪い取って、貧乏人に分け与えます。幼なじみだった綺麗な貴族の女性に恋をして、最終的には悪人を倒して幼なじみと結婚するようなハッピーエンドです。

「正義の味方」というキャラクタは別に嫌いなわけじゃないんですけど、この映画のストーリーよりもやっぱりサウンドトラックがすごく印象的で、映画が出た当時はCDまで買って、しょっちゅう聞いていました。オーケストラの綺麗な弦楽器と迫力のある金属管楽器が、作曲家のマイケル・ケイメン氏によって上手く組み合わされた最高傑作です。20年間以上経った今でも、これが僕の最も好きなサントラです。オーケストラ好きな人 は是非一度聞いて欲しい作品です。

世間ではこの映画のストーリー、演技、演出などで不評な点は多かったみたいですが、僕はそれぞれのシーンにピッタリ合う音楽が一生忘れられません。

[Reference I used while I was writing thishttps://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ロビン・フッド_(1991年のアメリカ映画)]

 

The trouble with insufficient samples: The Japanese word 偉い (erai) and it proper usage

When learning words in a foreign language, the only way to get a full understanding is to gather data from as many sources as possible: dictionaries, media (fiction/nonfiction) and of course as many real-world situations as possible. I see this is as chiseling away the various subtleties of this word little by little until you have the whole picture, which can take a great amount of data. I like to use terminology borrowed from statistics call these “samples” of data.

I have a long history with the word “偉い” (erai). Some years ago, I had told someone a little older than me I was studying Japanese using various methods and she had described me as “偉い”, which I took to mean a complement. Then, years later, I had heard that word used to describe a small child who had done a good something with something, and eventually started using that word frequently with my son when he did a great job.

The other day I was talking with a Japanese guy who said he had started his own company, to which I responded “偉いですね”, making an attempt to compliment him. But he just made an awkward face said “偉いっていうのかな?” implying I might have said something that didn’t quite fit the situation. I eventually said ”憧れます” (akogaremasu) which was a better word for the situation.

After that, I did some research and learned this term is perfect for using with kids, but isn’t really appropriate for using against adults, unless the person speaking is clearly more experienced with respect to what is being discussed. This is because “erai” generally has the feel of looking down on someone (見下る). So unless I happened to be an experienced entrepreneur having started up a few of my own companies, it probably would be best for me avoid saying “erai” in the context of someone who opened their own business.

When I asked what would have been a better phrase to use in my situation, I was told simply “すごい” (sugoi)  (:

Going back to the first time I heard this word, I guess maybe that person had been looking down on me, or just using the expression carelessly. Or maybe it was appropriate since she was a Japanese person, clearly skilled in the area of Japanese. While I couldn’t have known the intention she used the word with, in the years following that I should have picked up on where the word was *not* used, which was in the context to compliment an adult, especially when you’ve just met them and are clearly less experienced than them in the area in question.

This is a good example where the dictionary doesn’t help understand the subtleties of words because it doesn’t say anything about the nuance I described above. It has lists the definitions “great” (“すぐれた”) and “admirable” (“賞賛すべき), along with some other things. By the way, another usage of this word is to mean “to a large extent” , for example in the phrase “偉い違い” which means “big difference”. One other usage of this word is “偉そう(に)” [erasou (ni)] which is used to refer to someone who is acting like they are all high and mighty.

 

References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/6934/meaning/m0u/偉い/

Report: Meetup at Kale for The Portland Japanese Language Exchange (ポートランド日本語交換会)

A few days ago I wrote about an upcoming meetup at the Kale (カレー) restaurant in Portland for the “Portland Japanese Language Exchange” group. It was 6pm-8pm today and I just got back, so I thought I would write a summary of how it was.

All in all, I had a really fun time, having conversations with at least 10-15 people out of approximately 30-35 that came. The organizer Dan had set up a system where we switched languages (English->Japanese or vice-versa) every 15 minutes, and every 30 minutes or so he would recommend we shift seats as well. At first I was a little hesitant about such a structured format for the meeting, though in retrospect I think it was good as it gave each of us enough time to speak with a good portion of the group, and also gave those wanting practice in either language enough time to brush up on their conversation skills.

There was good mix of both Japanese and Americans attending. Several of the Americans I spoke with had pretty good conversations skills, with one of the them studying 5 years and the other around 10. Some of the Japanese people I spoke to had only been here a handful of years of less, and others were here longer. Above all, it was a very friendly atmosphere, with everyone very kind and supportive when someone stumbled when speaking in their weaker language (including myself).

Having most of my Japanese conversation with the same people day-to-day, I was not that used to talking to strangers. This had impact on my Japanese both because of unfamiliar subjects, and also because of a bit of nervousness when speaking to someone for the first time. I made at least a few errors, some which were pretty embarrassingly basic, but that just goes to show I need more practice doing this kind of thing (:

The only minor disappointment was the restaurant, partially because I wasn’t in the mood for curry (though I generally like it) and there was’t that much on the menu. I assumed it was like a typical Izakaya, but besides Curry there was just a few small side dishes. Also, I think the alcohol available was pretty limited (I’m not a beer person), so I ended up neither drinking nor eating. The other reason for this was that, unlike a typical restaurant, you have you order at the front, so you loose precious conversation time walking up the front and staring at the menu. It sounds like they have been doing their event there for several months so I doubt they’ll change it, but if wouldn’t hurt to try another restaurant. Having said that, if you like Japanese-style curry I’m sure you’d enjoy their food (it looked delicious!).

I doubt I’ll have the free time to go back every week, but I would like to attend at least once in awhile. Conversations topics when you first meet someone are somewhat limited to things like “Why did you start studying Japanese?” or “How long have you been in the US?”, but as I interact with the same people again I think the dynamic would change a bit. Also, I’d imagine there will be some new people each time.

 

 

 

Japanese Vocabulary list: Trains (電車) and related terms

Who doesn’t love trains, especially children? Even if you don’t love them, living in Japan (or other big cities) pretty much forces them to use them, so this list of train-related words is sure to be of use.

  • 電車 (densha): train   [this word is written with the Kanji for “electricity” and “car”, and thus is generally used to refer to electronic trains]
  • 〜本 (~hon): counter for trains [一本、二本、三本, etc….] (ippon, nihon, sanbon, etc)
  • 列車 (ressha): train [more general meaning than 電車 and can extend to non-electronic trains, though arguably sounds more formal than 電車]
  • 乗る (noru): to ride  [use に particle after the train, if specified]
  • 降りる (oriru): to get off [typically use を, though から is also possible]
  • 乗り換える (norikaeru): to change trains
  • 乗り遅れる (noriokureru): to miss a train
  • 乗り過ごす (norisugosu): to miss a train
  • 鉄道 (tetsudou): railroad
  • 鉄道会社 (tetsudou gaisha): railroad company
  • 銀河鉄道の夜 (ginga testudo no yoru): Great famous novel by Kenji Miyazawa (“Night on the Galactic Railroad”)
  • 地下鉄 (chikatetsu): subway
  • 駅 (eki): train station
  • 駅員 (eki): station attendant
  • ターミナル駅 (taaminaru eki): terminal station  (where tracks end)
  • 改札口 (kaisatsuguchi): ticket gate
  • 切符 (kippu): ticket [sometimes written in Hiragana as きっぷ]
  • 乗車券 (joushaken): train ticket
  • 通る (tooru): to go through something [use を with what is being passed through. Ex: a person through a gate, a train through a tunnel]
  • 通過する (tsuuka suru): to pass through
  • 通過駅 (tsuukaeki): a station that is passed through without stopping at
  • 時間表 (jikanhyou): time table (can be for train times at the station or something else)
  • 掲示板 (keijiban): bulletin board (can refer to informational, digital boards in stations, but also can refer to internet forums)
  • 行き先 (ikisaki): destination (of a train, etc.)
  • 目的地 (mokutekichi): destination (literally “target location”)
  • 出発 (shuppatsu): depart [can be a noun as is, or as averb with する]
  • 出発進行 (shuppatsu shinkou): equivalent of “all aboard!” when a train is starting to move
  • 到着 (touchaku): arrive  [can be a noun as is, or as averb with する]
  • ホーム (hoomu): platform which you walk on before getting on or off a train
  • 汽車 (kisha): steam train
  • 機関車 (kikansha): engine / locomotive
  • 路面電車 (romen densha): streetcar [runs on a track]
  • シュッシュポッポ (shusshu poppo): one way to describe the sound of a steam train moving
  • ガタンゴトン (gatan goton): one way to describe a modern (electric) train moving
  • 車両 (sharyou): [train] car
  • 架線 (kasen): overhead electrical wire
  • 線路 (senro): train track
  • 踏切 (fumikiri): train crossing
  • 遅延 (chien): delay (like when a train is late)
  • 停車 (teisha): a (train) stop
  • 普通列車 (futsuu ressha): a normal train that stops at each station
  • 特急列車 (tokkyuu ressha): high speed train that skips stops to get somewhere faster
  • 夜行列車 (yakou ressha): night train
  • 女性専用車両 (josei sen’you sharyou): train car which only women can ride (can be just 女性専用車)
  • 運転席 (untenseki): place where the person driving the train sits
  • 運転士 (untenshi): person who drives the train
  • 休止 (kyuushi): halting/suspension of operation for something, for example running of a train
  • 電車オタク (densha otaku): “train nerd” or someone who is really crazy about collecting, playing with, and/or studying about trains
  • 新幹線 (shinkansan): bullet train, speed train
  • 連結 (renketsu): linking or coupling of trains
  • 脱線 (dassen): derailment [sometimes used for trains, but also used metaphorically to refer to a conversation, etc.]

 

 

Meetup this Saturday at Kale for The Portland Japanese Language Exchange (ポートランド日本語交換会)

When we lived in Florida, I had attended a Meetup for those studying Japanese. While it was fun, I wasn’t motivated enough to go back a second time. However, having recently moved to Meetup now I have the opportunity of attending Portland’s own version of that, which seems somewhat active with over 200 people registered.

Their next event is this Saturday at 6pm at Kalé restaurant in Portland, and there is already 8 people signed up to attend. “Kalé” is actually creative spelling for “カレー”, which I didn’t figure out until I visited their web page. I’m really excited to talk about Japan, Japanese study, and hopefully actually speak some Japanese at this event. It will also be interesting to see the different mix of people with various reasons for studying Japanese, as well as various skill levels. It looks like this group also includes Japanese people who want to improve their English ability, which will make things even more interesting!

I’d guess most of the people who read my blog are probably in some other part of the world, but if you happen to be in or near Portland consider joining us. If you plan to attend, make sure you join this group first and then indicate you are planning on going.

Japanese Writing Lab #4: Hobbies

This is the 4nd assignment of a program I am running to help myself and others improve Japanese writing skill. For details, see this post. Also see this post for a list of all assignments.

This time the topic will be “趣味”, which is “hobby” or “hobbies”. Feel free to write about a single hobby you enjoy, or more than one. If there aren’t any interesting hobbies you are doing lately, you can use one you’ve had in the in past, or something you want to do in the future. Recommended length is a few sentences to a few paragraphs.

If you are having any difficulty thinking of what or how to write it, feel free to check out my submission below for ideas. Remember this isn’t a contest, it’s more about each of us improving our respective writing abilities. If you don’t know much Kanji but still want to participate, it’s OK to use just Hiragana with some Katakana here and there if you know it. Beginners can even use Romaji, as long as you promise to learn Hiragana soon (:

Once you finish this writing assignment, please post it via one of the two following methods:

  1. For those who have a blog (WordPress or anywhere else is fine): post it on your blog, and post a comment on this article including a link to your post. I also suggest adding a link on your post back to this article, so people who find your post can follow it to read other people’s submissions.
  2. For those who don’t have a blog: simply post it as a comment to this article with the text you’ve written. [Note: creating a blog is pretty easy and free on many sites, so if you have a few minutes I’d just consider just trying to create a blog on somewhere like WordPress. Several people have already done this in order to participate in this program.]

Also, I will be tagging every one of these assignments with the tag “japanese_writing_lab“. I’d recommend you do the same for your entries, so others can easy read through all them.

I’ll be reading all the entries received and commenting, and other users are welcome to do the same.

My submission

僕は困るほど多趣味です。つまり、毎日どの趣味をすればいいか迷うほど多いんです。

4歳の息子がいますけど、何かをやる時はなるべく息子と一緒にやりたいです。それで最近、「レゴ」のブロックでしょっちゅう遊んでいます。

小さいころから僕はレゴが大好きで、その頃から買ってもらったたくさんの部品はまだ持っています。しかし、レゴ社は幸運にもすごく売れてて新しいセットをどんどん出してるので、たまには新セットも買って遊んだりしています。

セットには必ず説明書がついていて、最初はそこに書いてある組み立ての説明に従ってブロックをくっつけて完成させてみます。それはそれでいいんですけど、やっぱりレゴのメリットというか魅力というのは、完成したモデルをバラバラにして、自己流に新しくデザインを作っていろんな物語を演じることです。

こう言うのはちょっとマーケティング臭いかもしれませんが、レゴが「想像力を育む」玩具だと僕は信じています。研究の結果によると、こういう「ごっこ遊び」は育っていく上で成長するための肝心な要素らしいです。

ブロック自体の他にも、レゴの映画を観たりそのサントラを聞いたり、Youtubeで「ニンジャゴー」の動画もみちろん見てます。考えてみると、レゴがすさまじい勢いで我々の生活に浸透してきてるかもしれませんね。

 

 

 

Spoiling and being spoiled in Japanese: 甘やかす (amayakasu) and 甘える (amaeru)

甘やかす (amayakasu) and 甘える (amaeru) are two words I use somewhat frequently in daily life which are little tricky to express in English. As a hint to their meaning, it’s good to notice that both of these words contain the Kanji “甘” which is the same one as used in the word for “sweet” (甘い, “amai”).

Let’s begin with 甘える and look to the Japanese dictionary to get an accurate take on it’s meaning.  Here is one of the more common meanings it is used for, along with my rough translation.

  • かわいがってもらおうとして、まとわりついたり物をねだったりする。
  • To try to be treated with affection, doing things like clinging to someone or pleading them for things.

A common way this word is used is to refer to an action of a child to a parent, as in “子供が親に甘える”.

The English dictionary has the following meanings:

  • behave like a baby
  • behave like a spoiled child
  • demand attention

There is another meaning 甘える is used for in the same vein:

  • 相手の好意に遠慮なくよりかかる
  • To rely on someone’s good without reservation

The English dictionary expresses this as “好意を利用する”, which can be roughly translated as “to take advantage of (someone’s) good will”.

So if my son comes up to me and starts saying funny things, you could say:

  • 彼は甘えてるだけだ
  • He’s just trying to get your attention

Though in this English translation, like many of the others, I don’t think the entire meaning of ”甘える” is captured, which has a stronger connotation than just “get one’s attention”.

An expression that uses 甘える word is “お言葉に甘えて” (okotoba ni amaete) which means something like “I’ll take you up on your offer”, and can be used as a polite way to accept someone’s offer. Keep in mind literally the meaning is closer to “indulge” here.

Another related word is 甘えん坊 (amaenbou) which means “人に甘える子供”. This can be translated as “a spoiled child”, but I think that meaning is a little more harsh and negative than indicated by the Japanese.

The word 甘ったれる (amattareru) meanings the same thing as 甘える for both of the above cases.

Now onto 甘かやす (amayakasu) which can be seen as the other side of 甘える. Here is the definition in the Japanese dictionary (with my translation):

  • 子供などを厳しくしつけないで、わがままにさせておく
  • To not strictly discipline a child or other person, and let them do what they want.

In the English Dictionary we have “to indulge” or “to pamper”.

One difference between 甘える and 甘やかす is that 甘える expresses the “attempt” to have someone pamper them (and can fail), but 甘やかす is the actual act of the pampering.

When trying to say “You’re spoiled” at first you might think “甘やかしている” is used, or “甘えている”. However, the most natural expression actually uses the passive form of the former, “甘やかされている” (amayakasarete iru). That’s a little tricky to say, try to say it 10 times fast!

A final word I’ll introduce is “甘ったるい” which not only means “sweet” as in Candy, but also can be used to express someone who is trying hard to “甘える”, as in the “sugary voice” (甘える声) of a woman trying to get the attention of a man.

References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/1611/meaning/m0u/甘える/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/6156/meaning/m0u/甘える/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/1612/meaning/m0u/甘えん坊/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/1676/meaning/m0u/甘やかす/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/6469/meaning/m0u/甘やかす/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/1651/meaning/m0u/甘ったるい/

 

 

Japanese Novel Translation: 『そして、星の輝く夜がくる』(And thus, the starry night fell upon them) by 真山仁 (Mayama Jin) [First chapter]

Recently, I reviewed Jin Mayama’s book “そして、星の輝く夜がくる” which I thoroughly enjoyed and consider it one of the best Japanese novels I’ve read. As I’m always looking to improve my translation skills, especially for novels, I decided on translating just a few pages of it.

In short, the novel is about a teacher who volunteers to help teach an elementary school which has been heavily impacted by 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I feel it us something important about the Japanese spirit, and about the challenges of those who lived through a natural disaster and it’s aftermath.

This was an extremely challenging translation, not just because the original Japanese text was written at a pretty high level, but also because it contains many cultural references which need to be treated very carefully to maintain the proper nuance, while at the same time making the material accessible to readers who are less familiar with Japan’s culture. Even in the first few pages, there are important themes introduced which are integral to the book as a whole.

To be clear, this is a completely unofficial fan translation, in no way endorsed by the author Jin Mayama or publisher Kodansha. If you like this and know Japanese (or are studying it), please consider buying the novel somewhere like Amazon Japan or Book Live. Or buy it as a present for someone who speaks Japanese.

(Note: as I may come back and revise portions of this in the future, please do not excerpt any of the translated text on a blog or anywhere else. Linking to this post directly is fine, however.)

 


 

 “And thus, the starry night fell upon them”    By  Jin Mayama

Book 1: Unbearable Times

Chapter 1

 

“I’d like to welcome Mr. Teppei Onodera, who has come to assist us all the way from Kobe. He was involved in the Great Hanshin Earthquake sixteen years ago, and ever since has continually strived to help children in the face of difficulties brought about by the disaster. We are very grateful to have his positive attitude and energy helping out at our school.”

It was the first day of school after the long Golden Week holiday break, and Onodera was wondering what he got himself into as he listened to the principal address the students at the morning assembly. I’m not the great teacher he is making me out to be. After all, when things got really rough, it was my students who supported me, not the other way around.

The three Northeastern prefectures severely impacted by the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake had made a request for aid due to a lack of teachers, and in May of that year the City of Kobe’s board of education responded by dispatching a total of 34 teachers, including Onodera. Although all of them had volunteered for the transfer, each had a different reason for doing so. There were young, enthusiastic teachers who wanted simply to provide assistance to the children affected by this disaster, as well as good-hearted veterans hoping to repay the favor for the support they received during the aftermath of the Hanshin Earthquake. Of all of them, Onodera felt his motivation for volunteering was probably the least honorable: he was trying to escape from a superior at the workplace whom he got into trouble with.

Shortly after making an empty threat to the principal that he would resign if not allowed to transfer, he got a call about the same opportunity from the ex-principal of an elementary school he had worked at during the time of the 1995 Kobe disaster. This was one of the few people whom Onodera genuinely respected, so he went ahead and applied for the transfer with the ex-principal’s recommendation.

After 20 years as a teacher, he’d become worn out by the daily grind and fed up with complex relationships at work. Onodera knew it was a selfish desire, but now that he was in his 40s he needed a change of environment.

“Now let’s have a few words from Mr. Onodera.”

Taking the cue from the principal, Onodera mounted the platform in front of the morning assembly. As he looked out upon the crowd, the first thing that caught his attention was the large pile of rubble towering on the far side of the campus. In stark contrast to the fine weather, it stood as a sobering reminder that this was the site of a major disaster. The only thing that saved Onodera from being overwhelmed by this harsh reality was the earnest faces of the children watching him.

“Hello! Hello!”

He shouted out these first words loudly to help clear his mind, giving a thumbs up with his right hand. But there was no change to the students’ expressions, and an awkward tension fell over the crowd. Onodera continued on with his thick Kansai accent.

“Is anyone awake out there? When somebody greets you, you’re supposed to greet them back! Let’s try one more time…Hello!”

An unenthusiastic “Hello” came back from only about a fifth of the crowd. The others exchanged confused glances with their friends, unsure of how to respond.

“Hellooooo!”

Onodera yelled out once more, putting even more energy into his voice. As he repeated this a few more times, the crowd’s half-hearted replies gradually began to strengthen.

“OK, much better! Now that’s what I wanted to hear! I’m Teppei Onodera from Kobe, on a mission to bring some sunshine back in your lives. I’m really looking forward to spending the next year with everyone.”

He bowed deeply to end his short introduction, purposely bumping his head into the microphone. A few bursts of laughter rose from the crowd. Now this is how kids are supposed to act. Onodera hit the microphone once more on the way back up. The laughter in the audience further intensified with nearly every student responding favorably to his antics as the neatly-arranged rows of the morning assembly were thrown into chaos.

“Let me make one thing clear. While I am no comedian, I do come from the Kansai region, the birthplace of many popular stand-up comics. So if I say something funny it’s OK to laugh out loud.”

Just as Onodera finished his speech and began to descend from the platform the ground started to shake.

He screamed and crouched down, clinging tightly to the microphone stand. The tremors continued for the next 10 to 20 seconds. After some time had passed, Onodera opened his eyes and exchanged glances with the principal.

“Mr. Onodera, the earthquake is over now.”

When he finally stood up after the principal spoke, a few students were laughing. As Onodera scratched his head he realized something odd–most of the children hadn’t even made a single sound when the very earth beneath them was trembling.

 

The disaster had caused terrible damage to the schools. Many of the buildings hit by the tsunami were no longer usable. For the schools that were fortunate enough to suffer only minor damage, their gyms and classrooms were being used as shelters, resulting in preparations for the next school year getting postponed and the beginning of next term delayed as much as a month. Even once school had officially begun, it felt like a premature start in the midst of continued chaos, with a large number of children and teachers scattered far from their homes.

The Toma District 1 Elementary School where Onodera had been newly assigned was close to the scenic Matsubara coast, famous for its public beaches. The area around the school gate, downhill from the main grounds, had been completely washed away by the tsunami, although the school buildings themselves were spared from any significant damage. The urban area surrounding the school also suffered severe damage, with 31 children, 51 family members, and two teachers tragically lost.

Of the 518 children who were enrolled, nearly a third transferred to another school because of the disaster. Four teachers left due to family circumstances or other problems.

The government took measures to increase the teaching staff, not just to compensate for the vacant positions, but also to help treat the students’ psychological trauma and make up for the learning delays caused by the disaster. However, there was an overwhelming lack of teachers. As a result, only two teachers joined the District 1 Elementary School for the new school year, Onodera and a young woman.

On insistent request from the Principal, Onodera took charge of the second 6th grade class, where twenty-four students now awaited his arrival.

When Onodera entered the classroom one of the students called out “Stand!”, and the entire class rose from their desks. As he took his place behind the podium, they raised their voices in unison, “Good morning!”

“Hello!”

He waved with his right hand as he spoke, causing muted giggles to spread through the classroom. Just then, the room began to shake. Onodera ordered the class to hide under their desks, and while a few children did as they were told, the majority simply grinned as they watched him lose his cool.

“The next time one of those hits, you all better get down,” Onodera warned them once the tremors faded.

“But it was just short of a magnitude three. Nothing to worry about,” announced a small child sitting in the first row of seats. He was clearly unaffected by the earthquake.

“Are you supposed to be some kind of earthquake detector?”

“Mr. Onodera, Manda’s guesses are pretty accurate.”

“That doesn’t matter. If you feel a tremor, get under your desk. That’s an order.”

“Sir, you were in the Great Hanshin Earthquake, right?”

“So what?”

“So I thought that maybe you were pretty used to earthquakes and all…”

“No way would I ever get used to something like an earthquake. There is a reason certain things frighten us. Pretending nothing is wrong is the worst thing you can do. Never forget that. When you feel the shaking, get down.”

“You’re just a coward.”

“No, but I am scared of earthquakes. When I scream at you to get down, it’s because I don’t want any of you to get hurt.”

His heartfelt appeal to their safety fell upon deaf ears. It was as if they were making fun of the very idea of being afraid.

“Never underestimate the power of earthquakes. You should be thankful you’ve survived so far.”

Ever since that terrible day many years ago, Onodera had decided it was never a good thing to get accustomed to earthquakes just because the aftershock tremors had continued for a long time after.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s my number one rule: ‘Cowards win in the end’.”

He scribbled “Cowards win in the end!” on the freshly wiped blackboard.

“You’re handwriting stinks.”

The class burst out laughing at this remark from a boy in the last row.

“So what? More importantly, Goro Endo, are you afraid of earthquakes?”

The large eyes of Endo–if anyone was a prankster it was him–opened even wider.

“Hey teach, how do you know my name?”

“Let’s just say us teachers from Kobe know more than you can imagine. Now back to the question.”

“No, earthquakes don’t scare me. But… I really hate them.”

“Alright, let’s ask the others. Who’s afraid of earthquakes?”

About a third of the class raised their hands, all girls. Not even a single boy admitted to being afraid.

“Looks like this class is filled with a bunch of tough guys. Or maybe you’re all just trying to act tough. Yukio Ota, which are you?”

When singled out, the small boy jumped to his feet as if he’d just been shot at. Onodera’s decision to memorize the entire seating chart of his new class yesterday had paid off nicely.

“No sir, I am not trying to act tough. I’ve just gotten used to the tremors which come so often.”

“Never get used to earthquakes. No matter what happens, don’t forget that. OK?”

Onodera emphasized his point by tapping the characters on the blackboard several times.

“Alright, let’s try one more question. How many of you hate the phrase ‘Do your best”?

This time the vast majority of the class raised their hands.

“Naomi Matsui, why do you hate it?”

The tall, mature-looking Naomi grimaced before speaking.

“Because it’s super annoying.”

The other students laughed, but Onodera felt her answer shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“Why is it super annoying?

“Since we’re already trying our hardest, we just want to be left alone.”

A few students nodded in agreement.

“However,” began the honor-student opinion of class representative Satoshi Chiba, “I feel that we should be thankful that there are people from all over the world offering encouragement.”

“Good point. After all, some people say ‘love will save the world’. But I have something else to tell everyone.”

Onodera used chalk on the blackboard once more: “Don’t work too hard.”

“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Can a teacher really say that?”

The class began to buzz with excitement. Onodera paid no mind to the clamor in the classroom and began passing out blank sheets of writing paper.

“I’d like everyone to write an essay. The theme is introducing yourself. However, there’s one thing I would like you all to include in your essay.”

He paused until the papers had reached all the way to the students in the very back of the classroom.

“You have to write about something that makes you angry enough to want to scream, ’I can’t take this anymore!’”.

At Onodera’s remark, looks of confusion appeared on the students’ faces.

“Don’t hold back. You can write anything you like. Just make sure you write about something you can’t bear anymore.”

At the morning assembly Onodera had noticed the children were surprisingly well behaved. He couldn’t help feeling each of them was trying hard to endure something painful.  While he believed that each region had its own characteristic personality traits, there seemed to be more than these children that would be explained by that.

Onodera clapped his hands to signal the start of the assignment, and each student looked down at the blank sheet on their desk.

He paced slowly through the silent classroom to a window and gazed outside. PE classes were in session across half of the school, and tents containing emergency supplies and provisions covered the other half in a disorganized mess. Because the gymnasium was being used as a emergency shelter, the PE classes were held in large groups combining students from all grades. The students appeared somehow cramped in their unfamiliar surroundings. To make things even worse, there was that mountain of debris on the far side of the school fence. There lie the bank of the Toma river, where waste from the disaster was piled in a large heap. Dump trucks drove by, kicking up dust and dirt, and excavators moved busily around the trash collection area. A dust cloud formed each time one of their shovels scooped up debris. The school’s fence enclosed it on all sides, but the pile of debris had already well exceeded the fence’s height. At times, eddies of dust particles would fall from the fence and disperse into the school grounds.

One of the dust particle clouds looked as if it was raining down onto the children in the sports field.

I wonder if that dust will have any impact on the children’s health…

Why did they decide on putting a trash collection area right next to an elementary school anyway?

Didn’t the school principal and neighborhood object?

Within a city scarred as far as the eye can see, the elementary school was the only thing making a fierce attempt to return to everyday life. But the surrounding environment was hindering that effort.

There’s just something odd about this place. Maybe it’s everyone pushing themselves so hard. There’s no doubt that the people here–and the city itself–want to get things back to normal.

Onodera sighed deeply and looked back towards the children busying themselves with their assignment.

 

Japanese Writing Lab #3: How do you study Japanese?

This is the 3nd assignment for a program I have started in order to help myself and others improve their writing in Japanese. For details about the program, see this post. Also see this post for a list of all assignments.

For the first few topics I am keeping to things which are pretty easy to write about, so everyone can focus more on grammar than on what you are going to write. In keeping with that, this assignment’s topic is “日本語をどうやって勉強していますか?”, in other words “How do you study Japanese?”. Recommended length is the same as the first two assignments, from a few sentences of a few paragraphs.

If you are having any difficulty thinking of what or how to write it, feel free to check out my submission below for ideas. Remember this isn’t a contest, it’s more about each of us improving our respective writing abilities. If you don’t know very much Kanji but still want to participate, it’s OK to use just Hiragana with some Katakana here and there if you know it. Beginners can even use romaji, as long as you promise to learn Hiragana soon (:

Once you finish this writing assignment please post it via one of the two following methods:

  1. For those who have a blog (WordPress or anywhere else is fine): post it on your blog, and post a comment on this article including a link to your post. I also suggest adding a link on your post back to this article, so people who find your post can follow it to read other people’s submissions.
  2. For those who don’t have a blog: simply post it as a comment to this article with the text you’ve written. [Note: creating a blog is pretty easy and free on many sites, so if you have a few minutes I’d just consider just trying to create a blog on somewhere like WordPress. Several people have already done this in order to participate in this program.]

Starting with this post, I will be tagging every one of these assignments with the tag “japanese_writing_lab“. I’d recommend you do the same for your entries, so others can easy read through all them.

My submission

今回のテーマは「日本語をどうやって勉強していますか」なのでそれについて書いてみたいと思います。

僕の日本語学習方法はそれぞれの時期の、自分の日本語レベルによって大分変わってきました。最初の数年間は近所の本屋やアマゾンで日本語の教科書らしいものを何でも買って読んだりして、平仮名・カタカナ・漢字の書き方を覚えるためには単語カードを数千枚使って文字やその英訳を繰り返し書いたり、声を出して読んだりしました。

この間、引っ越しの準備をしていたらたまたまそのカードがいっぱい入った箱を見つけて「あ〜、文字の練習をこんなにしたんだ」って昔の自分に驚きました。しかし、日本語を勉強して数年たってからは「どうせ漢字の書き方を覚えても使いみちなんかないや」と漢字の練習をやめてしまいました。今はもう平仮名とカタカナだけをギリギリ紙に書けるくらいです。

前回の課題に書いたように、日本のアニメがすごく好きで、字幕無しでアニメが理解できるようになるのが日本語の勉強の目的の一つだったから、数年前まではアニメをしょっちゅう見てて日本語のセリフを一生懸命聞き取ろうとしていたんですが、日常会話に使えそうな言葉を身につけたいのならアニメより日本のドラマを観たほうがいいんじゃないかと気づいて、それからアニメをどんどん見なくなってドラマや実写の映画ばっかりを見るようになりました。

日本語の教科書や練習本を数冊読んで基礎的な文法が身についた時点では日本の小説をあえて読んでみました。確か、一番最初に読んだのが綿矢りさの「蹴りたい背中」と吉本ばななの「キッチン」でした。幸いにも両方とも割とシンプルな単語と文法で、随分前の事だからはっきり覚えてませんが、たぶん数週間ぐらいでなんとか読めたと思います。また数年間色々勉強した後、大ファンの村上春樹氏の「海辺のカフカ」にチャンジして、難しくてなかなか進まないところも多かったけど、頑張って辞書を引いたりしてそれもなんとか読破できました。そのころ、英訳版がまだ出なくて、英語圏の人より先に日本語で読めてとても嬉しかったです。

アニメ・ドラマ・小説以外にも、ネットでブログを読んだり、ペンパルとメールをしたりスカイプで日本人と喋ったり、ボイスブログ(今で言うポッドキャストの事)を聞いたり、新聞や漫画を読んだりなど、とにかく手に入る教材ならなんでも使って勉強しています。ただ、このブログのタイトルの通り、ほとんどが独学で、ちゃんとした授業は受けたことがありません。(厳密に言うとUniversity of Floridaの日本語の授業は二日間だけ聴講しましたが)

結婚をして子供も生まれて、最近は家族とほぼ日本語ばかりで話してて会話力が徐々についてきていますが、やっぱり慣れない話題や知らない相手だと言葉がなかなか出なくて話しづらいです。でもいくら難しくても、諦めて英語で話してしまうことは絶対にしない…とは言いたいところですが、実を言うとたまには英語を使います。普段の生活の中で日本語をあまり使えない人にとっては、日本語で話す機会を逃さないほうがいいと言えるでしょう。

日本語の文章もこれぐらい書けるようにはなりましたが、何を書いてもなんだか同じ単語や文法の繰り返しになる気がしますので、これからももっと頑張って文章力を向上させたいと思います。そのためにいっぱい文章を書くだけではなくて、文学とか堅苦しい日本語の小説というより一般の人が書いたブログや作文などを読むのも大事でしょう。

何だかんだ言っても、僕が作ってきた日本語学習方法は他の人にとって効果的かはわかりません。「十人十色」の諺のように、一人ひとりが自分に合った勉強法が見つかるといいですね。