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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Watashi no Haha

Watashi no haha (私のはは) means: My mother.  In Japanese there are very many different ways to say mother, depending on who you are and what relationship you have with the woman who is someone's mother (possibly yours).

Here's all the possibilities:  

If you are talking to your mother,  or are talking about another person's mother it is Okaasan (the O is always honorific) おかあさん which also looks like this in Kanji: お母さん.

I love this kanji because the "kaa" kanji looks like a kite to me, and that is a wonderful image for a mother.

If you are talking about your mother to another person, you would call her はは (ha ha).  Instead of using an honorific, you want to talk about your own family member in a way that shows that you don't put them up above the person you are speaking to, so they are spoken of using the humblest of terms.

Some people, probably kids (kodomo)  also might call their haha  "mama" (ママ).  

I bring this up because on Monday the 26th,  it was the one year anniversary of watashi no haha no shi (my mother's death).   She lived a long and wonderful life, dying just shy of the age of 88.   

8 is a holy and lucky number in Japanese.  The shape of the kanji for 8 is like this:  八. Looking at this kanji from top to bottom, it shows that it gets wider and more abundant.  This is where the luck is - in the slow but continuous abundance.  I love how, at least traditionally, slow prosperity was honored over quick gains in Japan.  A lifetime of building ones abundance (not just financially, but spiritually as well, which is why 8 is  a holy number too), counted for a lot more than sudden wealth or power.  

Well, even if watashi no haha didn't live long enough to experience a double luck year, her life was pretty lucky anyway.  She traveled the world, including Germany and surrounding countries, Cuba and Africa, had three daughters (musume: むすめ - is the word for daughter.  As there are no plurals in Japanese, the word is the same for one or more daughters), had interesting jobs and was ever questing, both spiritually and intellectually.  

She never made it to Japan or any part of Asia, but if there had been an opportunity back in the day, I'm sure she would have loved to go.  

I learned that there is no "I miss you" in Japanese.  You can say I'm lonely or I want to see you.  Combining both I say to my mother:

Okaasan,

Anata ga inakute, samishii kimochi ni narimashita.
 (あなたがいなくて、寂しいきもちになりました.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jisei - Death Poems: In Honor of Troy Anthony Davis



Long ago, Samurai accepting their death were expected to write death poems moments before their end.  These death poems were called jisei, and the practice continued for many centuries.

Tonight the state of Georgia executed a man whom I believe to have been innocent, as do thousands and thousands of people around the world, including 7 of the 9 people who testified against him in his trial.  Those seven people recanted their testimony.  The warden of the Georgia State Death Row believed him to be innocent.  The former head of the FBI Warren Sessions and Georgia Congressman Bob Bar, a four term Republican who is a death penalty supporter also believed in his innocence.  All three petitioned for his stay of execution.  At 11:08 EST, Troy Davis was given his lethal injection.

In honor of Troy and for his family, I offer these Jisei:


Shinsui
died September 9, 1769, at 49:

During his last moment, Shisui's disciples requested that he write a death poem. He grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside, and died. The circle— indicating the void, the essence of everything, enlightenment— is one of the most important symbols of Zen Buddhism.



Minamoto Yorimasa
1104-1180 
  
Like a rotten log 
half buried in the ground - 
my life, which 
has not flowered, comes 
to this sad end. 
 

Ota Dokan
1432-1486 
  
Had I not known 
that I was dead 
already 
I would have mourned 
my loss of life. 
 

Ôuchi Yoshitaka
1507-1551 
  
Both the victor 
and the vanquished are 
but drops of dew, 
but bolts of lightning - 
thus should we view the world.
 
 


SHUHO
Died in 1767 
Cicada shell:  
little did I know
it was my life.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Putting it Out There!

Well, I just invited everyone I know to take a look here, and send this link to people they know who might be interested in Japan.  If you're reading this, I'm talking  to you!

My sensei, Toyoko-san says that I can only really learn Japanese if I "shower" myself with Japanese every day.  So whenever I'm in the car, I'm listening to Pimsleur Japanese disks (I'm on Volume 2).  I like Pimsleur very much just to hear the language and that "call and response" technique.  However, the funny thing about those CDs, is that every language I've used them for has had some form of odd conversation having to do with meeting someone else's wife and asking her out for a drink while her husband is on a business trip.  I'm not kidding, it's very funny.   O.K., it's a little veiled, but I can see someone using that lesson in exactly that way.   And the Spanish version spent at least 6 lessons making sure the listener knew how to order drinks, ask others to drink with them, find out how much drinks (wine and beer) cost.  After the 4th lesson of this it was enough already!

Japanese thru Pimsleur is definitely "business" related.  There is one lesson that is clearly a lesson in how to tell your colleague (kaisha no hito) that you have to go back to American but you wish you could stay here in Japan with him (or her).   The colleague wishes so too and offers the idea that he/she could maybe go back to America with you.  There is a sadness in the conversation, a longing that's not expressed.  I find it a little odd on a language tape for beginners!

Jaa Mata! (until next time)

Stray Dog

Since I am getting blog error codes on the set-up portion of my site, I will just give a brief hello here. My name is Julie and I am heading into my true mid life, I think. I began learning Japanese two years ago when my son began studying the language for his black belt test in Yoshukai Karate. We hired a tutor to help him (and my daughter was interested too) and the three of us spent a summer learning hiragana, katakana and a few basic phrases.

To be honest, this all came about at a time I was contemplating divorcing my husband, so maybe my falling head long into learning the language was as close to a "love affair" as I was going to get and a true escape.

Japanese wasn't ever a language I was interested in, and I had studied fairly seriously a number of other languages: German (6 years), Italian (1 year) Spanish (2 years) and American Sign language (2 years). I also did a stint in Swedish and French, but i think those were "boyfriend related" so didn't stick!

In fact, Japan was never a country that was on my list! I'm not sure why this is true. I loved travel and spent a lot of time in France, England, Italy, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark as a young student.

But something clicked with me while helping my son and once he learned what he needed to know for his written exam, I kept going, fell in love with Nihongo -- and 9 months later we were all in Japan together for spring vacation.

This sounds like a "birth" story, and maybe it was for me in a way. A re-birth story of sorts. Arriving in Japan was truly a dream ... I wanted to learn about and be a part of their culture in a way I had never experienced before with any other language or country. I also knew that taking on Japanese as I head towards 50 was maybe not going to be the easiest mid-life crises swerve in the road I could take (like maybe I should just dye my hair blonde and go lease a red convertable mustang instead until this all passes?) however, it feels less and less like a passionate affair and more and more like a real longterm commitment. I think I know the difference by now.

So this is the beginning of this blog. I hope you like it and will contribute your own thoughts and stories about how you got started learning Japanese and why. Any cultural, travel, or random thoughts on learning the language, or tidbits about the language itself will be fun for all to read, so please share!

(For instance this thought occurred to me at the beginning of my studies...in most of my work books and also my language instruction via tutor, one of the first verbs you learn is the verb "to die." "Shinu." And oddly enough, it takes many chapters, (disks, if you're learning on tape) or classes before the word for "why?" is taught (Doshite).

I find that interesting and my interpretation of that is embeded in the culture. The Samurai and Ninjitsu mentality is still very alive in Japan, which means that death is a constant subcontext to their culture (as opposed to America where eternal youth and long life seems to be ours). And in a society that prizes working together as a whole as opposed to individualism, the word "why?" does not come up often and is not encouraged. "Why" is clearly a very real step out of the collective circle of accepted authority or "in the box" thinking. It doesn't surprise me that you have to wait until your second year of study to even learn how to say the word!

I titled this post Stray Dog because I just spent the entire evening watching 'Stray Dog" - the Akira Kurosawa film starring my favorite, Toshiro Mifune-sama. What a wonder!

I hope you visit this site often! I would love to hear your thoughts, not just about what I am writing, but your own stories as well.

Kitsukete Kudasai! (Take care of yourself please!)

Jules