April 8, 2008

The Mondays And So On

It was a dreary rainy Monday after a gorgeous weekend. Here is a picture of a massive puffy cloud that hung over Rokko Island before the rains came:

The wind and rain are laying waste to the delicate cherry blossoms, which are fluttering off the trees at a serious clip. But there are still some nice tree-lined areas, such as at Sakuranomiya in Osaka (which Mike passes on his morning commute everyday), that remain in bloom. We all felt like we need a weekend after our weekend, since it was so busy and certainly hadn't saved much time for sleep. Having company was wonderful, we all shed a few tears on Monday morning when Ilena's brother and Mike's dad left.

This week in April is the beginning of the school year for all of the Japanese students. All of the Japanese students, even from a very young age wear uniforms to school, so that there are no distinctions between class and wealth, we are told. The uniforms, especially for the high school kids, are positively Harry-Potteresque, including the blue blazers with school patches. The younger kids wear little berets or sailor caps. Check out this photo Mike snapped with his camera-phone of a proud father taking his young daughter to school:

Meanwhile, Mike's learning is advancing (albeit slowly!) on a couple of fronts. Mike is continuing to read and take notes on our "Japanese For Busy People" text book, which provides a nice base for the basics of Japanese. He is looking for more opportunity to practice speaking. But our ability to communicate in Japanese is definitely improving (This is a relative statement, of course. We are still very very limited!).

As for writing, we previously mentioned that we were studying Hiragana. Next up has been Katakana, so we can sound out words that are not of Japanese origin. It may surprise you to learn how widespread the use of Katakana is (e.g., Elevator, Cream Puff, Escalator, Blueberry, Strawberry, Roast, Toilet), so knowing it is handy. Actually, it may well be more handy than Hiragana, because once you sound something out in Hiragana, you have to know what that word means in Japanese. But in Katakana, once you sound it out, you've got it in phoneticized English. Sort of. (e.g., Elevator in Katakana is エレベーター, which = Eh-re-bee-taa.)

Starting with the uncoding of the characters that make up his name (Ma-ee-ke-ru Ka-su-da-n), Mike is slowly learning to read Katakana. It is very slow going and particularly confusing because the phonetic symbols (ka, sa, ta) are for the most part very different from the Hiragana symbols we've already learned. But it is fun when words begin to pop out of the previously meaningless symbols. Mike is also picking up some very limited Kanji, such as the names of cities, train stops, and some basic signage. Examples include Osaka (大阪), Kobe (神戸), Shin Osaka (新大阪), and Sumiyoshi (住吉), as well as Exit (出口) and Entrance (入り口).

While in Japan, we have been motivated to try to learn about the history and culture here. So, the books we are reading have not been limited to the previously blogged about "Dave Barry Does Japan." In fact, Ilena has been hitting the Canadian Academy library regularly for books on Mike's behalf. He has read a book of short stories by Murakami called The Elephant Vanishes. He has also read an interesting book called The Samurai's Garden, which is set in Japan pre-World War II, but with a Chinese protagonist. This book, with its backdrop of the Sino-Japanese military conflict of this era, picqued his interest in Japanese history, so next up were Beasley's The Modern History of Japan (good but a bit dense) and The Japanese Today: Change and Continuity (truly excellent). Both history books, which trace Japan's rapid evolution from a completely isolated feudal system to a modern industrial super-power are striking in how well they give insight into the culture of Japan today.

Anyway, enough about that. That's all for now!


jmgesq said...

I'm sure Jack has already told you, but if you haven't read it definitely get Shirley Hazzard's "The Great Fire"...that is the name right, Jack? You know how I butcher titles and names!

I'm afraid to ask but how would my name sound out phonetically in Japanese?

Mike said...

The selection at the CA Library is somewhat limited, but we will try to check it out!

I *think* that Joyce in Katakana would be yo-ee-se-ru, which would be ヨイセル. (But I am not sure!)

Mike said...

On second thought maybe it would be do-ee-su...Joyce is a tough one!

jmgesq said...

How true...how true ;-)