Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wordplay

Your daily Japanese expression
Osaki ni shitsurei shimas
"Excuse me for leaving first" - commonly said in business if leaving before a co-worker or manager. As we eikaiwa workers don't like to work late hours to maintain the façade of overtime, you can expect to use this often.


I'm sitting, exhausted and beat down after a full day at the eikaiwa, going through a "mandatory" company outing: a co-worker's birthday. At least I can relax with some food, drink, and conversation after four straight classes. I accept a slice of pizza, then...

"Turner-sensei, would you like some cake?"

"Iie, kekko des."

(Uncontrollable giggling)

"Are you making a joke, Turner?"

"Kekko des" in Japanese means "no thank you", but it is pronounced like "cake-o". I have unwittingly become part of the Japanese humor ring. The language supports many deep proverbs and subtle meanings, but as of yet, I have found the most common humor in Japan includes plays on words; in all likelihood, this is one reason Japanese people have a difficult time understanding English jokes - without perfect understanding of the language, from pronunciation to definition, these elements are lost on them. Let me give you an example: some common Japanese anecdotes.

A farmer runs up to another farmer with a mouse inverted in the palm of his hand. "Look at the big mouse I just caught!" he said.
The other farmer says, "He's not so big; I can see his tail."
"No, no, okii da!", the first farmer replies.
"Chiisai da."
"Okii da!"
"Chiisai da!"
"Okii da!"
Finally, the mouse says, "Chuu, chuu!"
(Chuu in Japanese means middle-sized; but also, "chuu" is what Japanese mice say instead of "Squeak, squeak.")


Instead of saying "oyasumi nasai" (good night), say "oyasu miruku" (cheap milk).


Cited from David Ellis' Homepage


I have heard Japanese friends recite sophisticated and thought-provoking jokes before, but in general, I would say these types, wordplays, are much more common. Where they might receive a smile or small chuckle in America, in Japan they are found to be just as humorous as late night TV. This isn't even necessarily limited to humor, either; remember the reason that the number four is feared as a superstition.


I never realized it before, but since I've been in Hiroshima, I haven't had more than a few days with clear views of the mountains. Although Japan is quite possibly the most mountainous country in the world, the major cities are built on flat areas. With the haze that comes in all summer, you never feel like you're living in a topographical nightmare - all you see are the flat streets and a white mist covering the sky. This is a sharp contrast to Alaska, where I woke up each day to see blue sky, brown trees, green mountains piercing in every direction.

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