The human mind is very good at recognizing patterns, which is why we can see floating rabbits when we look at clouds in the sky, or little bears and big dippers when we gaze up at the stars. Pattern recognition is quite important when learning a foreign language, of course, and one of the many skills your brain must acquire is the ability to make educated guesses about meaning that isn't clearly understood based on a few clues. Kind of like the time I was "randomly" picked to conduct a symphony playing Beethoven's 5th, but when I got up on stage, I didn't understand the questions the MC asked me, forcing me to make a guess about what she would likely have said and reply accordingly, all while being watched by a few hundred people. One thing I've noticed is that when the brain encounters new information, it tries to break it into familiar chunks like a computer might, but if the the information is totally alien, like an unfamiliar word or phrase of Japanese, the brain can have trouble even registering it, as if it'd heard static. Alternately, the brain may try to force unfamiliar words into similar-sounding holes, like the first time I heard the -san name suffix and was sure it means "song" because that's what my brain kept insisting. Today we're posting a rather cool sake bottle set that features the various ingredients of the traditional Japanese soup oden (oh-DEN), like tofu, boiled eggs and squid (aside: I actually married my wife partially because her mother's oden was so good). Because oden isn't very familiar to people outside Japan, however, the term might just conjure up images of the famous Norse god, despite there being no relation between the two whatsoever. Does your brain have trouble with new or unfamiliar concepts like this?
Friday, March 14, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Living in Japan has certainly made me a more considerate person, and I generally thinks of others before acting on my own personal whims. This wasn't necessarily the case when I first came to Japan, and it took me a while to pick up on the "group mentality" all around me. I remember in one of my first ESL classes, I noticed the clock in the room was wrong, so I stood on a chair to adjust it, which led to a gasp from my students. "That chair is everyone's chair! What about the next person who sits there?" one of them admonished. Japan really considers shoes to be filthy things, and because I'd stood on the chair without removing them, the faux pas I'd committed was significant. As a rule, Japanese walls are thinner, occasionally even being made out of paper in the case of tatami rooms with shoji doors (although these are not that common anymore); people here learn to make less noise, lest you cause inconvenience to other family members who might be sleeping. Another aspect of Japan's group culture is enryo, a word that means "to hesitate" or "to refrain from doing" and which is a major feature of polite Japanese relationships. While Americans might fight over the last slice of pizza, it's common for Japanese to stand there, offering the last piece to each other while its gets cold: "No, you take it. I'm full" "Oh, no, I couldn't eat another bite, you take it." The name for the last slice of pizza that no one wants to admit they really want to eat is "enryo pizza." Maybe that's the secret of how the Japanese stay so thin?
Monday, March 10, 2008
One of the first words a foreigner learns upon coming to Japan is daijobu (dai-JOH-boo), a very useful term which means "okay" "alright" or "no problem." It's quite a handy word since you can combine it with other words and people will understand what you mean, for example say wasabi daijobu will let the sushi chef know that it's okay to leave wasabi on your sushi, and daijobu? said as a question is very easy to say. The opposite of this word is dame (dah-MEH), meaning "no good" or "not okay." While it can be used in quite a few circumstances, dame can sound quite harsh, so a maybe consider softening it with chotto (CHO-toh, "a little") in front of it. Finally, a good work to know is kudasai (koo-dai-sai), an all purpose word that means "please [give this to me]" which has many uses from restaurants to office setitngs. Now you know some Japanese words!
In other news, there seems to be a U.S. band called Daijobu? Ah, the things Google tells us...
When you live in a country that's as different from the U.S. as Japan is, it's interesting to observe the many ways the "world view" of people here differs from what you're used to. There's that tendency for radio DJs to play a song and then proceed to talk over it, discussing what a good song it is or maybe reading the weather report. Or how Christmas carols are so fun to listen to, they'll be played well into February. Or the unwritten rule that Japanese never, ever touch anything under their car's hood, leaving everything up to the dealer. TV commercials are another area where you can see a lot of differences between the two countries. As a very general rule, commercials here are more about associating an image with a product rather than explaining the benefits customers receive when they purchase it. It'd be more common to see a man driving his Subaru Forrester through the mountains while an uplifting song plays than to hear a narrator telling you about new features in the latest Ford Fusion sedan. Since the Japanese market is so different from the West, it's rare to see companies using non-localized versions of their commercials here, instread creating new commercials for the local market. Some of the few companies that buck this trend are IBM, which has made dubbed versions of their "blue bar" commercials quite well known here, most of Apple's ads, since they're so simple, and AFLAC, since that darned duck is cute no matter where you come from.
Hm, trying to find an example of a Japanese-dubbed American commercial but that's not the kind of thing that makes it onto the web, I guess -- too vanilla. So here's a Japan-made AFLAC commercial from a few years back that made the career of Akiko Yada, a super cute video in which she sings "Think about it, money is very imporant..." with kids all around her.