Monday, August 23, 2010

The Horrors of Counting in Japanese

As my dear readers may (or may not) know, I, Fat Geisha, have been taking lessons in Japanese, because I figured I could not really call myself "Fat Geisha" unless I can speak some Japanese. Of course, I have picked up some choice words from my excessive watching of Japanese dramas (many featuring Takuya) and Japan Hour, such as "Oiishi!" (delicious), "Itadakimasu" (Thank you for the meal) and of course famous Japanese words which have entered into our general lexicon like "Sayonara" (goodbye), "Arigato" (Thank you), "Sumimasen" (Excuse me), "Chotomate" (Please wait awhile), etc. But still, such limited vocabulary can only get me so far.

In view of my intention to visit Japan several more times during my lifetime, it would certainly be useful to read and speak some basic conversational Japanese (although we did not suffer unduly on our previous visits due to lack of knowledge. Gesturing like a mad person works too.). So with this in mind, I started my once-a-week lessons at Ikoma Language School about one and a half months ago.

Other than the fact that I am one of the oldest students in the class, and may be even older than the teacher herself (HORRIFYING thought), I have so far really enjoyed myself learning the Hiragana alphabets and new vocabulary. Imagine my delight when I recently learned the word for shopping which is "kaimono" (かいもの)!! The following week, my new vocabulary included "kaban" (かばん)- BAGS! And I got even more excited when our Sensei (teacher) taught us how to ask for prices in shops: "Ikura desu ka?" (いくらですか?) (How much does it cost?) The stars have aligned and I was all ready to fly to Japan immediately and start shopping armed with these 3 phrases.

Spoiling my party, Samurai T wisely pointed out "So what if you ask in Japanese but you do not understand their answers?" To clarify, I have already learnt my Japanese numbers up to MILLIONS, but putting them together is a veritable nightmare. One to ten is not an issue of course (ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku, nana, hachi, kyu, ju...) but the brain comes to a halt when we reach the 10,000 mark. In English, the "thousand" unit is used from 1,000 - 999,999, before "million" becomes the next unit. The Japanese, like the Chinese, has a new unit for 10,000 known as "man" (まん)and everything after that is counted in units of "man". For example, 100,000 = ju man (or 10 "man") and 1,000,000 = hyaku man (or 100 "man"). So something like 43,689 would translate into "yon man san zen ro-pyaku hachi ju kyu". Spoken very fast, or, at the speed of a local Japanese would likely send me into asylum.

"How to shop like that?" I moan, very distressed. Samurai T, the smart ass, replies, "Just whip out the calculator and start pressing, like everybody else."



Ying Ser said...

LOL, I have given back to my teacher most of the Japanese I have learnt but my vocabulary for shopping and eating has improved by leaps and bounds. One has got to eat when traveling in Japan and for shopping, must learn the colours or asking for different sizes. And of course, memorise all the hiragana pronounciation of food you want to eat lest the menu is written in kanji.

FatGeisha said...

I have only learnt 4 colours so far: red, blue, white and black. Nothing about units of measurement other than $$$. Need to learn how to say, "My Japanese is really bad", and "Where is the toilet?" among others.

Ying Ser said...

oterai wa doko desu ka? おてらいはどこ(どちら)ですか for the toilet question. Sumimasen, nihon go o totemo warui desu ga, eigo o deki(hanashimasu) masu ka? meaning, I'm sorry, because my japanese is very bad, can u speak english? If is it of any help.

Can I find out from you how many days did u spend in each city, osaka and kyoto? Am planning a trip there. : )

FatGeisha said...

Thanks Ying Ser - that would be useful. We actually spent 4 days in Kyoto and 3 days in Osaka, because there are actually a lot more things to see in Kyoto than Osaka. In fact in Osaka we only went to Osaka Castle and Umeda Sky Building (cos not interested in Universal Studios), and the third day we went to Nara and Kobe from Osaka. Kyoto has a lot more interesting sights expecially if you are going in autumn. If you need to know more let me know. :D