Non-Fiction

Thickly-Sliced Jason

Thickly-Sliced Jason provides accurate representation of the average kanji-learning experience

Many people assume that the Japanese language is very difficult to learn – on the one hand, it’s no more difficult than any other language I’ve tried so far, but on the other: the writing system. Holy fuck, the writing system.

Japanese grammar can be a bit confusing, having one or two elements that don’t happen in English. For example, the particles – little syllables that essentially mark the grammatical case of the word before. It’s not that they’re difficult to use, it’s just that there are so goddamn many to get the head around, and so many that are similar but different. Wa (は), for instance, marks the topic of the sentence, or the subject where there is a contrast to the previous subject, whilst ga (が) marks the subject otherwise.

Verbs, at least, are easy to wrap the head around in the first instance. They may inflect differently for affirmative and negative in a way that English speakers won’t be used to, but they don’t inflect differently based on person, so there’s one less thing to worry about. I/you/s/he/it/we/they eat(s), for instance, are all “tabemasu” (食べます), whilst I/you/s/he/it/we/they do(es) not eat are all “tabemasen” (食べません). There are, of course, other forms for other purposes, but they all follow a similar pattern to each other and, let’s not forget, Japanese only really has two irregular verbs. Admittedly, do and come are very frequently-used verbs, and go is irregular in one of its forms, but even then, the pattern is similar enough between the two main ones that this isn’t that big an issue, and the te-form of “iku” is the only irregularity there, so it doesn’t tend to cause too many problems.

Written Japanese, on the other hand, does indeed cause problems. Japanese uses 3 main writing systems in conjunction – hiragana, a series of forty six more flowing symbols used for writing native words; katakana, a more rigid-looking series of the same for writing words of foreign origin; and kanji, symbols of Chinese origin which have their own meanings attached. Of course, once you’ve committed the two sets of “kana” to memory, they’re fine – they always read the same way no matter where they appear (except when “ha” is “wa” and “he” is “e”, but those are specific particles only). Kanji, on the other hand, have different ways of being read depending on how they appear: 車, for instance, is “kuruma” when it appears alone, but in compound with another kanji, is pronounced “sha”. The meaning doesn’t change.

For anyone learning Japanese whose native language does not use kanji or any similar symbols, these are bound to be confusing. In late 2014, a Japanese speaking American stand-up comic under the stage name “Atsugiri Jason” (“Atsugiri” meaning “thickly-sliced” with the kanji Mr. Atsugiri uses) gave some examples which I personally enjoy citing in terms of this: 犬 meaning “dog”, despite the breeds popular in Japan not, in fact, being big (大); “four” (四) breaking the pattern set up by “one”, “two” and “three” (一, 二, 三); no sane person wanting to “touch” (触) an “insect” (虫) with “horns” (角); the fact that what “starts” (始) when a “woman” (女) gets on “stage” (台) is unclear from context; and that learning the obnoxiously high number of strokes required to write “depression” (憂鬱) will probably leave you with just that.

Kanji, when taken literally, can do wonders to proper nouns – whether that’s to be taken sarcastically or not depends on the noun in question. For instance, this year I have been living with a family in the city of ‘Treasure-Mound’ (宝塚; Takarazuka) in the ‘Army-Warehouse’ (兵庫; Hyougo) Prefecture, whilst attending university in the ‘East-Open ocean’ (東灘; Higashinada) ward of the neighbouring city of ‘God-Door’ (神戸; Koube). On top of this, I’ve made a great number of friends since I’ve been here, including the ‘New-Castle’ (新城; Shinjou) family, and my classmates ‘Rice field-Village’ (田村; Tamura) and ‘Walking’ (歩; Ayumi). The Japanese, of course, do not think much about the individual meanings of kanji in proper nouns.

Overall, I still don’t think Japanese is all that difficult to learn, but mastery, as with anything, requires a hell of a lot of dedication.

Beer

It’s even better to learn “my friend will pay”…

“Doss servesers, pour favour.”

“¿Qué?”

“I SAID, TWOOO, BEEEERS, PLEEASE!”

“ほら、馬鹿者、英語を話していませんよ”

“Oh, erm… ching, chang, chow?”

We’ve all seen at least SOME variant of this exchange.

There is a huge stereotype in foreign countries (believe me, I know from experience) that English speakers obnoxiously refuse to learn other languages, and this is a source of some derision, oddly enough. And a lot of the English speakers I know don’t do much to dispel the notion.

“Just tell me how to say ‘two beers, please,’” the chaplain of my college once said to me mid-discussion, “And that’s all I’ll need!”

Given all that’s being said about market globalisation, this isn’t a fantastic stance. In the grand scheme of things, English is fast becoming a minority language, versus languages such as Mandarin, and there’s only so far that a business can go if it stays monolingual, even if it is a “global” language.

Even outside of the business world and straying into tourism, you can’t go to a foreign-speaking country and then speak English. For one thing, it’s not all that sensitive to expect your hosts to just make everything easy for you, regardless of how much you paid to be there; and for another, English is a bloody difficult language to learn. Really look at the high-speed collision that is English grammar (it’s easier to count the regular verbs than the irregulars, versus the grand total of two irregular verbs in Japanese) and spelling (read versus read, anyone? At least Spanish is always pronounced as it’s spelt) and you really understand the old adage: “the more foreign languages you learn, the more fucked up you realise English is.”

My concluding note stands thus, dear reader: learn another language. It doesn’t matter if you have a linguistic aptitude or not, a little can make a lot of difference. My father, over the course of his first business venture to Sweden, had to rely heavily on the ability of his Swedish-speaking colleagues to speak English. He has since hired a Swedish tutor who has spent an hour of every Friday evening in our dining room and (in my opinion as a long-time language student) he is much better prepared for his next excursion. And so what if you go to Ital and have to give up and say “mi dispiace, non posso parlare italiano. Parli inglese?” At least you tried.
Oh, and “two beers, please”? Not really as useful as you’d think, Andrew.

So 2012 is coming to an end and let’s be honest, it’s been a pretty good year for movies; It’s been a pretty good year for books but it’s been a damn terrible year for video games. And so, because it’s going to be the easiest to cover, let’s take a look at my two favourite films of 2012:

MOVIES

James Bond: Episode Three – Revenge of the Quartermaster

1. Skyfall

I started the year with five films on my must-see list and it turns out that neither of my two favourites were on that list. While I really enjoyed the final instalment of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the rushed nature of the whole film let it down. Also, it had to live up to the promise of the previous, better film. Luckily, the previous movie in the James Bond prequel trilogy was terrible. Well let’s not beat around the bush – Quantum of Solace was more shit than a sewage filtration plant with diarrhea. But when you put it next to the phenomenal Skyfall, it becomes better by acquaintance. Skyfall blew me away with it’s intense action and colourful locations – it really was a triumphant return to the old Bond but with enough of the modern era influencing it to be fresh and revitalised.

“Oh geez Willis; I’m beginning to think we’re not in Kansas any more…”

2. Looper

Now Looper really came out of nowhere with a premise alone that made me want to watch it – take the years biggest up-and-coming star and have him playing the same role as the original movie badass. Throw in a bit of time travel and telekinesis and you’ve got me in the movie theatre. Add to that an engaging and seriously clever plot and you’ve got me raving about it on the internet for ages about how good it is. Admittedly the make-up used didn’t make JGL look all that much like a younger Bruce Willis, but it was close enough for me to not care about it all that much. Even if I had already seen the Hobbit, Looper would still deserve to be up here on this list because of how original and fun it was. And on that note, I should be seeing the Hobbit soon enough so stay tuned for that.

BOOKS

Now those hypno-glasses are only helping convince me to read the book again…

1. The Psychopath Test

Now this was a difficult decision to make because most of the books I read this year weren’t published this year. Still, The Psychopath Test was a genius read that had me laughing and learning from cover to cover. I think the main reason I read it was because I saw Jon Ronson do a talk about his new book coming out… wait, he released another book this year. Two books in one year? What do you mean The Psychopath Test was released LAST YEAR? Damn it! Okay… well in that case, I nominate the only book from this year that I actually did read:

 

 

Falco perfectly captured the spirit of the original book here.

2. The Family Corleone

I didn’t want to do this. Technically I haven’t finished reading the Family Corleone yet but I read and reviewed The Godfather so I guess that means it counts. At least this one actually is from 2012. And if we’re allowing the Family Corleone to sneak into the list by association to a book I did read this year, then I suppose that I can allow a book from 1993 to sneak onto the list because there was a TV adaptation released this year. So whatever; The Psychopath test can have it’s top-spot place given to Birdsong now. Because I bloody loved Birdsong. And this is my list – if you don’t like it piss off.

But tell your friends to check it out anyway…

GAMES

1. Max Payne 3

I still don’t know who the bloke with the bandana or the chick are…

As I said earlier, 2012 has been a rather bad year for gaming. There were only two games that came out this year that I had any sort of inkling to buy and play. One of them was this year’s release from Rockstar Games and the other was going to be Dishonoured. We’ll come back to that later… Anyway, the last couple of years have at least several good games that I’ve spent my time playing. 2010 had Fallout: New Vegas, Mafia 2 and (my now all-time favourite game) Red Dead Redemption. 2011 had Skyrim, L.A. Noire, Arkham City and mother fucking Minecraft. 2012 had Dishonoured, the last part of a series I didn’t like – Mass Effect 3, another bloody Call of Duty and The Walking Dead. So now, about Dishonoured being my second favourite game of the year…

 

The games perfectly kept the tone of the comics rather than taking the bad route that the TV series took…

2. The Walking Dead

I never played it. I played the Walking Dead though. And it is good. I say, is because I’ve only this morning finished episode two of five. I went into Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead expecting myself to hate it – it was one long string of cut-scenes and the TV series this year upset me somewhat. That is to say to strayed too far from the path that the comics was treading. Instead, Telltale chose to make a new story that stayed faithful to the original source material. The puzzles were clever, the combat was so-so but invigorating and the moral choices shook me to my very core. Honestly, I am really looking forward to continuing the story of Lee and Clementine in the episodes I have left.

So that was 2012.

Admittedly a lot of what I liked this year was not from this year. Film wise, I loved everything I saw. And I loved every book I read this year as well – despite none of them actually being from this year. Hopefully I can be more up-to-date next year but if I spend the year relaxing on a beach – perhaps in Australia – then I might have time to do just that. Happy New Year.

Films – Skyfall & Looper

Books – The Psychopath Test Birdsong & The Family Corleone

Games – Max Payne 3 & The Walking Dead