Learning Japanese: Part 1 of Many

I had a couple of language breakthroughs this week.  First of all, I’ve been learning, very slowly, one of the three Japanese character sets, Hiragana.  Hiragana has about 71 characters, and each character is a sound: し (shi), こ (ko), き (ki), etc.  Pretty much every word in Japanese can be constructed from these basic sounds.  Japanese has 110 sounds in total.  English has… 7890 sounds!  So native English speakers have it easy.  The second character set is Katakana.  It has the same number of characters as Hiragana with the same sounds, but they are written differently and are used exclusively for foreign originating words, such as the word computer, コンピュータ.  The third character set is Kanji, which are Chinese characters, where each character represents something, like 川 (river), or 学校, (school).  There are tens of thousands of those, so I’m putting off learning those for a while.   Anyway, the breakthroughs.

One night this week I went to a sushi place that has a little computer screen at each table to order from and a conveyor belt that brings your order to your table (it’s awesome).  The computer screen is entirely in Japanese.  You select the sushi you want and another screen pops up with two options, one with a green check and one without.  What does this mean??  By recognizing the Hiragana characters, I was able to read the word wasabi.  Green check with the word wasabi under it?  Wasabi please?  I think so!  I selected the green check and my sushi came with wasabi.  Craig 1, Japanese 10000000.  At least I’m on the board.  The second breakthrough came from my learning Japanese mp3s.  I’ve learned “Good Morning”, which I’ve been using for a while, and recently I learned “How are you?” (slowly, but surely).  This morning when I went to breakfast at the hotel, I said the usual “Good morning”, the server guy said “Good morning” back.  Then I followed up with, “How are you?”.  The server was shocked.  And then he smiled.  A tall foreigner with crazy hair, just asked him how he was.  He was literally speechless.  Then he mustered up, “I am good”, in English.  (I’d prefer it if he respond in Japanese, but baby steps, baby steps).  The funny thing is, I only said, “How are you?”, but he thought it was a cultural breakthrough.  I moved on and got my breakfast, read my English newspaper, and went about my day.  But it felt good to communicate, if just a little.

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