Here’s what my life is like in Japan.
The morning started with a Skype call with my niece. It’s 8:30am on Tuesday my time. 6:30 pm Monday hers. We practiced speaking in Japanese and then made plans for her upcoming trip to Japan. I don’t know which is cooler – that she wants to learn Japanese, or that she’s scratching an item off her bucket list before she finished high school.
Next I met my classmates for coffee and pastries at Starbucks. Not ashamed – it’s the best cappuccino I’ve found in Japan. Jack is from the UK but living with his girlfriend’s family 90 minutes away. Hannah is here for two weeks from Stuttgart, Germany. Get this: our class is in English. So Hannah has to use her second language (English) to learn her third language (Japanese). Mind blown.
I love ordering food in another language: “cappuccino o onegai shimas. Sorekara ricotta honey. Tennai de tabemas”. It’s for here.
We practiced numbers, directions, and telling time. Yeah, that’s where my Japanese is at. But it’s only been one day of class.
We had a couple of hours until class started. So we headed over to a manga store we’d heard about. Along the way I stopped several locals and asked them what time it was. In Japanese. (“nan ji ni des ka”) If I didn’t already know the time, I wouldn’t have understood a word they said. That’s OK – it’s how I learn. I try to make everyone’s day a little more surreal. Or maybe both of our days.
The manga store had transformers. Transformers! In mint condition. They also had an original 1955 manga book for 100,000 yen. That’s…oh look it up.
I asked a store clerk if he was a nerd (“okatsu”). He said yes. I said I was too. I asked another clerk if he liked godzilla. He took us to the godzilla aisle. Not really listening to me. So I asked again. He kind of shrugged.
After the store I insisted on eating something before class. My friends suggested rice-triangles from 7-11. Picture this. It’s sushi rice, in a triangle. There’s a little bit of meat filling inside. And there’s dried seaweed paper surrounding it. But not touching the rice, because plastic wrap. Two layers. And a three step process for tearing open the package. Kinda like opening your W-2s. Maybe the best thing I’ve ever eaten at a 7-11.
Down the street was 31. You may know it as Baskin & Robbins. Here’s it’s called 31. Hannah got popping shower flavor. It’s got pop rocks in it.
I held out for gelato. Tiramisu flavor. Don’t know if I should order in Japanese or Italian. How about both?
Class goes for 3 hours, plus breaks. Today we’re looking at picture and trying to remember verbs. Every verb in Japanese ends in “mas”. I’m pretty sure I could just walk around and say “mumble-rumble-gurgle-MAS” and they would think I was fluent. “We don’t understand a word he says – that’s how good his Japanese is.”
Present tense – ends in “mas”. But if you didn’t do it, you change the verb to “masen”. If it’s past, you change it to “mashta”. If it’s past and negative, you change it to “masen deshta”. I won’t even go into the “let’s go” version or the “would like to” versions. Still not as bad as Spanish/French/Italian/Portuguese/German…
We got lots of conversation practice, which made me happy. Naoko-san (our teacher) would talk with me while Hanna-san talked with Jack-san. Then we would rotate. Much better than the Italian class.
At the end of day two I realized how much I still have to memorize:
- Numbers beyond 10
- Time of day
- Nouns like television, newspaper, etc.
- And how to read it in Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.
But most of all, I need to memorize some sample conversations. Then I can stop people on the street to use as unwitting practice partners.