Sunday, May 30, 2004

"Shugaku Ryoko (School Excursion)" (I)

I'm back from our three-day school excursion, which was from last Wednesday. My colleagues and I were with our 320 students during all the scheduled trip. School excursions are called "Shugaku Ryoko," which originally means "Trip for learning." Most Japanese students experience these trips three times in their lives: one in the 6th grade, another in the 3rd grade of junior high, and the other in the 2nd grade of senior high. "Shugaku Ryoko" is the most important and memorable school event for most students.

As I said, 320 students follow the same schedule all the way. They all get on the same train, visit the same place, stay at the same hotel, and eat at the same place at the same time. Isn't it amazing? But it is very Japanese! How many teachers are with them? Just 14.

Students are excited from the beginning of the trip. They never be seated quietly in trains. We teachers are less irritated when we use a special train whose passengers are only us. But when we have to use a usual train with ordinary people on it, it is worse. We have to keep telling our students to behave theirselves all the time...

(This picture is intentionally blurred for the students' privacy. NOT that I am a poor photographer!)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

"Thank you" in Japanese

I checked how people came to my site. I don't know why, but I've found a lot of people visiting my blog by googling "Thank you in Japanese." Since I haven't had any post which refers to this, I will here give some explanation (for, otherwise, my blog would disappoint a lot of visitors!)

In textbooks, the Japanese word for "thank you" is explained as "Arigato." (its polite form being "Arigato gozaimasu.") Yes, we do use them. But I would say "domo" is the commonest expression for "thank you."

"Arigato" can be used only among friends. It will be rude if you say "Arigato" to a person older than you. "Arigato gozaimasu" is polite, but it may sound a little too polite. If you say "Arigato gozaimasu" each time, people may look on you as humbling yourself too much.

"Domo" is a convenient word. You can say it to whomever you want to thank. It is not too light or too heavy. When someone has done something for you, you can say "domo." For example, when someone picks up the handkerchief you have dropped, you can say "domo" to him or her.

The speed of saying it is important. The slower you say it, the more you can express your gratitude and politeness. When you want to say "Thanks." to your friends, you can say "domo" quickly. But a quick "domo" is not appropriate when you have, for instance, been helped a lot by others. In that case, you should say slowly, "" You should not forget to bow to the person you thank!

Another common expression is "Suimasen" or "Sumimasen." In textbooks, these are explained as expression for apology. Yes, it is true. But you should remember these words are often used for expressing your gratitude. If you are not confident about controling the speed of saying "domo," it will be safer to use "suimasen" instead, especially when you thank a person older than you.

(Because "Suimasen" is used for both apology and appreciation, Japanese learners of English are often confused. They sometimes say "I'm sorry" in English when you give a nice birthday present to them!)

Sunday, May 16, 2004

"Fresh Basil"

At a supermarket, a foreigner was shopping near me. He asked a clerk, "Sumimasen, 'fresh basil' arimasuka (Excuse me, but do you have fresh basil?)" His Japanese was really good, but the clerk did not understand him. "Nani(What)?" the clerk asked him back. He said the word more slowly this time, "Ba-sil." But he couldn't make himself understood. I decided to help him, and said to the clerk, "Ba-ji-ru." Now the clerk understood and took the man to the right place.

Why didn't the clerk understand him? Because he pronounced the word precisely as an English word. It sounded like 'ba-zl' and it is far from it is pronounced here in Japan. Of course 'basil' is an English word and we borrow the word for daily use, but when we get an English word, we always change its pronunciation into a Japanese way. So two-syllable 'basil' changes into three-syllable 'bajiru' with the change of the sounds 'z'and 'l' into 'j' and 'r'.

The shopper must have been really discouraged. 'Basil' IS an English word and his pronunciation of it was authentic, but still he needed an interpreter!

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Is Japan a Safe Country?

Japan is said to be a comparatively safe country to live in. These days, however, there have been more crimes than before. Some people say Japan is no longer safe. It is true that it is not what it used to be, say, when I was a child. But I had an experience which convinced me that Japan is still safe enough.

I lost my bag last month. In the bag were my wallet, driver's licence, cash cards, credit cards, insurance card and keys(for my car and house). I lost everything! After that, I practically had no way to identify myself. For example, when I called a bank to stop my cash card, they told me that I would have to bring something to identify me in order to make a new card. But how? I had lost my driver's licence and insurance card. Because we don't have an ID card, they are the only things for it. I was completely at a loss. The biggest problem was that I lost my insurance card. Because it had no photo on it, anyone could use it to call himself Matsumo if the person looks like a forty-something male. He could loan some money from a moneylender, and then I would have to pay back...

The bag was found last Thursday. It was found where I had lost it. The surprising thing was that nothing had been stolen from it! I got everything back, yes, everything! I don't know why it had not been discovered for two weeks, but anyway it WAS found as it was. Receiving the bag, I felt happiest about living in a comparatively safe country.

Monday, May 10, 2004

New Template

I've changed the design of my blog. I've also started a new commenting system(again!). Sorry for the frequent inconvenience and the deleted comments from some of you.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Golden Week

To most Japanese, the eleven days from April 29 through May 9 is the happiest period in the year. We call it "Golden Week," though it is longer than 7 days. Why is it golden? Because we can enjoy a sequence of holidays during it. April 29 is a national holiday(the former Emperor's Birthday). We had work on Friday, but May 1 and 2 are Saturday and Sunday. May 3 (Constitution Day), 4(People's Day - What's this? I'll explain later), and 5(Children's Day) are also national holidays. We are going to work on Thursday and Friday, and then Saturday and Sunday again. To sum up, there are eight holidays out of eleven. In other words, we have only to work three days out of eleven! Except for seasonal vacations, we don't feel bigger excitement than this.

I don't feel guilty when I take days off and get free from work. But most people do feel guilty about not working. In most cases, few people can say to their co-workers, "I'll take three days off from tomorrow. I'm going to the Disneyland with my family." Usually those who act like this will be considered to be selfish and not diligent. So the "Golden Week" is one of the few opportunities which allow us to say loudly "I will go to the Disneyland!"

A lot of families start to go out and travel all over Japan. Do they have a good time? I don't know. But one thing is very famous, no, infamous during the Golden Week. Traffic jam! Because so many people travel in cars, all the roads in Japan are terribly filled with them. Fathers, who are in most cases the drivers, will get exhausted from a long drive. They will become more fatigued workers when they go back to work next week.