The biggest problem we have found in our time here is the language – we are finding it the hardest place we have been from a linguistic perspective as a lot of Japanese people speak almost no English. This is “situation normal” for linguistically challenged Stephen but a new experience for Christine. She has learnt a few basic words, which have been very useful. At least if she knows the word and says it, the locals can understand, which is a vast improvement on China, where the different tones meant that, no matter how hard she tried, no-one seemed to understand a single word she said!!
However, the written word is a whole different ball game! There is a sort of alphabet used for Japanese words e.g. the vowels all have their own letter, as does N but, apart from that, a consonant is paired with a vowel. This means that ka, ke, ki, ko and ku are separate letters! The resulting alphabet has over 100 letters! Christine thinks she has now mastered most of them, but is still at the stage of recognising each one slowly, rather like a 5 year old spelling out ‘c-a-t’. As if that wasn’t enough there is a completely different alphabet, again with over 100 letters, for foreign derivation words such as “hotel” and “television”!! She is only just getting started with that.
You might think that was difficult enough, but no! Japanese also uses Chinese characters too! She can understand and remember quite a few from her years of studying Chinese, but not enough! However, even then, it is not straightforward. For example, she knows the 3 Chinese characters for “bicycle”, but the characters used in Japan are different. The same applies to “park”. Also, when Japanese words are written they can contain a mixture of ‘letters’ and Chinese characters! How unfair and confusing is that!
Very serious study of Japanese is necessary before our next visit!!
For now, as they say here,
さようなら, or sayonara!