Katakana is not English

Japan is my home, and its beautiful language, the Japanese language, brings back warm childhood memories as if its beautiful sounds could melt time at will; But as beautiful as melodious as it is, we somehow misunderstand katakana changing its meaning, and confusing katakana with English.

And it was during this last summer that my nemesis, katakana, and I engaged in frenzy battles.

At work, I entered the room full of expectant faces; they all looked at me with anxiety. I could sense their nervousness without “reading the air” (空気を読むkūki o yomu), I smiled at them trying to break the ice and I following my motto “when in Rome, do as Romans do” I decided to sacrifice precious lessons minutes of class to introduce myself, my likes and dislikes; telling my students about the random things I love doing.

“My name is Yoneko, I love sewing, and I love cooking,” I started.

Excuse me, Shiraishi-san, what does that word mean,? someone asked

“Which word,? I asked “Sewing?, perhaps?,” I tried replying

“No, the word you said before that,” he said

“Oh, you mean love,” I answered only to be welcome by ghostly silence.

I tried saying “love” again with more emphasis. But again their blank expressions told me I was getting nowhere. So I tried again this time but with the katakanize version of love = rabu (ラブ)Then I saw understanding blossoming in their eyes like sakura flowers in warm days.

I spent the summer traveling and lecturing in various places in the island, facing the same conundrum, as soon as I said the word love; using its English phonetics love「lʌv」I was received with clueless stares, but as soon as I used the katakanized version of love 「rabu」(ラブ in katakana) people understood what I was saying. In the summer of 2018, I traveled around the country lecturing 150 people from which 140 people didn’t understand the proper pronunciation of the world love favouring its katakanize version instead. 

This made me understand that we not only misuse katakata when it comes to borrowing words from other languages but what’s worst, we think our katakanize pronunciation of English words are actually English pronuntiation.

As I mentioned in one of my posts on consult-culture.com, misunderstanding katakana “as most Japanese speakers will keep using the katakana pronunciation when speaking English because, as aforementioned, Katana is the alphabet that helps us understand sounds we are not familiar with, we rely on it. Therefore, some people, as it is logical, trust that the sound katana is providing us, it is the sound in the original language, which is, unfortunately, not always true” Indeed, not always true, if we keep relying on katakana as if holding onto a crutch to avoid a false move, we would never actually reach port, furthermore, I would like to assure you that making mistakes are an important, if not vital, part of learning. Do not feel afraid to make mistakes, because those students who make mistakes are the bravest of all. 

But I do understand the apprehension to speak English and not to make mistakes, after all, the Japanese language has a very specific set of rules that must be followed in order to make the message clear to the listener, but remember those rules do not apply to English.

Moreover, the hesitation of Japanese people when learning a language can be traced to their cultural characteristics.

https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/

In the graph above we can see six cultures dimensions (hofstede-insights.com) in which the hesitation of making mistakes can be understood in the dimension of uncertainty avoidance according to Professor hofstedes means “The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity”. Thanks to Professor Hofstedes we can understand in depth the hesitation of Japanese people, when exposed to the unknown and new, and this also allows us to create teaching methods suitable for our students.

Bibliography

・Hofstede-insights 2019 

・James Stanlaw Hong Kong University Press 2004 

・Tina Wells “Easy katakana” Passport books 1989

 ・そのまま通じないカタカナ英語のミス James H.M Webb 1988 

・Yoneko Shiraishi “Misunderstanding katakana” @consult-culture 2017 

Fairies and my insomnia

Late at night, fairies visit me whispering stories and old tales. Some speak familiar languages, some talk in dialects I have never heard. Nonetheless, they all come to share their stories and their secrets. They fly around me, tickle me, pull my hair softly until I wake up and agree to play with them.

When my husband is awake, they hide and wait for him to fall asleep to come out of their hiding place. Once he is asleep, they pour magic dust on him, so he doesn’t wake up. And when they are sure, he won’t wake up some kiss him on the cheeks, and some lie on his chest looking at him with goggly eyes. They like to flirt those little ones. Those cheeky little fairies.

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But the fairy queen sets them straight “there is no time to play” she says “there is so much to do and so little time.” They take me out of my room. And I write, what they share with me.

While the world sleeps, the fairies tangle their stories around my fingers, whispering their stories in my ears, and laughing at my mistakes. I write until dawn when they must go back to spread morning dew, so nature wakes up. But I know they will come back. As they do every night.

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What matters

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that “what matters in life is not what happened to you but what we remember and how we remember it, in order to retell it.”

We all have happy memories that bring smiles to our faces, those memories like clear water that the sun kisses while saying goodbye in warm afternoons. But as life is a mix of emotions, our memories are inseparable from feelings, both joyful and painful.

I think that our lives are like collages, that blend happiness with hardships. A little bit of craziness, lust, curiosity, passion, a few grudges, some forgiveness and love. But not all collages are the same, and it’s their unique mixtures are what makes us, us.

I wouldn’t ever wish pain or hardship on anybody, even to people who don’t know nor like me, but if there’s something I’ve learnt, it is that even the most painful moments have a purpose. They make us appreciate the good times, help us improve as individuals, and, as much as we might hate to suffer, those memories and experiences can be put to good use. We can transform them into something good. Even if something devastating, a life changing event has happened to us, we can still have the power to turn things around.

We may feel those agonising memories as a burden, and that’s ok. But we can still turn them into something good. Sometimes, we can even feel those memories dragging us to the edge, but we can still turn that around. We can feel they hunt us, and yet we can still turn them around.

It’s not easy. It requires hard work. We have to try hard, sometimes even harder, but if we are willing to see at least a little bit of hope every morning, we will be able to get through the day. Was this what Gabriel García Márquez meant? That it doesn’t matter what happened to you but what you do with what happened what really matters?

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Japanese theater: Noh and Kyogen

The origins of Noh theater can be traced back to the 8th century,  when sangaku, a form of entertainment that included music and performances was brought from China.

But as everything that arrives in Japan “sangaku” would go under a transformation, becoming Noh, one of the most emblematic cultural expressions that would ever be born. Noh is intense. It penetrates the air with its flute, drums, and songs. It will transport you to a mythical Japan, where demons and men fight the eternal battle between good and evil. But above all,  Noh will bring back the spirits of forgotten ancestors that still hovering the island.

Noh is a gust of air that becomes a tornado. And that’s where Kyogen, its loyal companion comes in handy. Without the fresh air kyogen blows into the room, I couldn’t recover from all the emotions Noh brings to life. Kyogen is lighthearted, it presents human nature, as it is, a maze of countless contradictions, which put in scene are rather amusing to watch. And perhaps their contrast is a reflection of our complicated and unpredictable lives.

  • A little video from the Noh National theater garden.