You've eaten at a few Japanese
restaurants, seen some anime, hosted an exchange student, and had a
Japanese girlfriend. And now, somewhere in the back of your tiny brain,
you think that Japanese would be a good language to learn. Hey, you
could translate video games! Or Manga! Or even Anime! Pick up Japanese
girls, impress your friends! Maybe you'll even go to Japan and become
an anime artist! Yeah! Sounds like a great idea!
So you head down to the library, pick up some books with
titles like "How To Teach Yourself Japanese In Just 5 Seconds A Day
While Driving Your Car To And From The Post Office" and "Japanese For
Complete And Total, Utter Fools Who Should Never Procreate". Hey, you
already know a few words from your manga collection/girlfriend/anime.
Excited and impressed with your new knowledge, you begin to think:
"Hey. Maybe, just maybe, I could do this for a living! Or even major in Japanese! Great Idea, Right?
I don't care how many anime tapes you've watched, how many Japanese girlfriends you've had, or books you've read, you don't know Japanese. Not only that, majoring in the godforsaken language is NOT
fun or even remotely sensible. Iraqi war prisoners are often forced to
major in Japanese. The term "Holocaust" comes from the Latin roots
"Holi" and "Causem", meaning "to major in Japanese". You get the idea.
And so, sick of seeing so many lambs run eagerly to the slaughter, I
have created This Guide to REAL TIPS for Studying Japanese. Or, as is
actually the case, NOT studying it.
This should be obvious.
Despite what many language books, friends, or online tutorials may have
told you, Japanese is NOT simple, easy, or even sensical (Japanese
vocabulary is determined by throwing tiny pieces of sushi at a dart
board with several random syllables attatched to it). The Japanese
spread these rumours to draw foolish Gaijin into their clutches.
Not only is it not simple, it's probably one of the hardest languages
you could ever want to learn. With THREE completely different written
languages (none of which make sense), a multitude of useless, confusing
politeness levels, and an absolutely insane grammatical structure,
Japanese has been crushing the souls of the pathetic Gaijin since it's
conception. Let's go over some of these elements mentioned above so you
can get a better idea of what I mean.
The Japanese Writing System
The Japanese writing system is broken down into three separate,
complete, and insane, parts: Hiragana ("those squiggly letters"),
Katakana ("those boxy letters") and Kanji ("roughly 4 million
embodiments of your worst nightmares").
Hiragana is used to spell out Japanese words using syllables. It
consist of many letters, all of which look completely different and
bear absolutely no resemblance to each other whatsoever. Hiragana were
developed by having a bunch of completely blind, deaf, and dumb Japanese
people scribble things on pieces of paper while having no idea why they
were doing so. The resulting designs were then called "hiragana". The
prince who invented these characters, Yorimushi ("stinking
monkey-bush-donkey"), was promptly bludgeoned to death. But don't worry,
because you'll hardly use hiragana in "real life".
Katakana are used only to spell out foreign words in a thick,
crippling Japanese accent, so that you'll have no idea what you're
saying even though it's in English. However, if you remember one simple
rule for katakana, you'll find reading Japanese much easier: whenever
something is written in katakana, it's an English word! (note: Katakana
is also used for non-English foreign words. And sound effects, and
Japanese words). Katakana all look exactly the same, and it's
impossible, even for Japanese people, to tell them apart. No need to
worry, because you'll hardly ever have to read katakana in "real life".
Kanji are letters that were stolen from China. Every time the Japanese
invaded China (which was very often) they'd just take a few more
letters, so now they have an estimated 400 gazillion of them. Kanji
each consist of several "strokes", which must be written in a specific
order, and convey a specific meaning, like "horse", or "girl". Not only
that, but Kanji can be combined to form new words. For example, if you
combine the Kanji for "small" and "woman", you get the word
"carburetor". Kanji also have different pronounciations depending on
where they are in the word, how old you are, and what day it is. When
European settlers first came upon Japan, the Japanese scholars
suggested that Europe adopt the Japanese written language as a
"universal" language understood by all parties. This was the cause of
World War 2 several years later. Don't worry, however, since you'll
never have to use kanji in "real life", since most Japanese gave up on
reading a long, long time ago, and now spend most of their time playing
Politness Levels have their root in an ancient Japanese tradition of
absolute obedience and conformity, a social caste system, and complete
respect for arbitrary hierarchical authority, which many American
companies believe will be very helpful when applied as managerial
techniques. They're right, of course, but no one is very happy about it.
Depending on who you are speaking to your politeness level will be very
different. Politeness depends on many things, such as age of the
speaker, age of the person being spoken
to, time of day, zodiac sign, blood type, sex, whether they are Grass
or Rock Pokemon type, color of pants, and so on. For an example of
Politeness Levels in action, see the example below.
Japanese Teacher: Good morning, Harry.
Harry: Good Morning.
Japanese Classmates: (gasps of horror and shock)
The bottom line is that Politeness Levels are completely beyond your
understanding, so don't even try. Just resign yourself to talking like
a little girl for the rest of your life and hope to God that no one
beats you up.
The Japanese have what could be called an "interesting" grammatical
structure, but could also be called "confusing", "random", "bogus" or
"evil". To truly understand this, let's examine the differences between
Japanese and English grammar.
Jane went to the school.
Same Sentence In Japanese:
School Jane To Went Monkey Apple Carburetor.
Japanese grammar is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind. What's
more, the Japanese also do not have any words for "me", "them", "him,
or "her" that anyone could use without being incredibly insulting (the
Japanese word for "you", for example, when written in kanji, translates
to"I hope a monkey scratches your face off"). Because of this, the
sentences "He just killed her!" and "I just killed her!" sound exactly
the same, meaning that most people in Japan have no idea what is going
on around them at any given moment. You are supposed to figure these
things out from the "context", which is a German word meaning "you're
When most Americans think of Japanese people, they think: polite,
respectful, accomodating. (They could also possibly think: Chinese).
However, it is important to learn where the truth ends and our Western
Of course, it would be irresponsible of me to make any sweeping
generalizations about such a large group of people, but ALL Japanese
people have three characteristics: they "speak" English, they dress
very nicely, and they're short.
The Japanese school system is controlled by Japan's central government
which, of course, is not biased in any way (recent Japanese history
textbook title: "White Demons Attempt To Take Away Our Holy
Motherland, But Great And Powerful Father-Emperor Deflects Them With
Winds From God: The Story Of WW2"). Because of this, all Japanese have
been taught the same English-language course, which consists of reading
The Canterbury Tales, watching several episodes of M*A*S*H and reading
the English dictionary from cover to cover. Armed with this extensive
language knowledge, the children of Japan emerge from school ready to
take part in international business and affairs, uttering such
remarkable and memorable sentences as "You have no chance to survive
make your time", and adding to their own products by inscribing English
slogans, such as "Just give this a Paul. It may be the Paul of your
life" on the side of a slot machine.
Secondly, all Japanese people dress extremely well. This fits
in with the larger Japanese attitude of neatness and order. Everything
has to be in its correct place with the Japanese, or a small section
in the right lobe of their brain begins to have seizures and they
exhibit erratic violent behavior until the messiness is eradicated. The
Japanese even FOLD THEIR DIRTY CLOTHES. Sloppiness is not tolerated in
Japanese society, and someone with a small wrinkle in their shirt,
which they thought they could hide by wearing a hooded sweatshirt over
it (possibly emblazoned with a catchy English phrase like "Spread
Beaver, Violence Jack-Off!"), will be promptly beaten to death with
tiny cellular phones.
Lastly, the Japanese are all short. Really, really
short. It's kind of funny. Not ones to leave being tall to the
Europeans or Africans, however, the Japanese have singlehandedly
brought shoes with incredibly gigantic soles into style, so that they
can finally appear to be of actual human height, when in reality their
height suggests that they may indeed be closer in relation to the race
of dwarves or hobbits.
Japanese culture is also very "interesting", by which we mean
"confusing" and in several cases "dangerous". Their culture is based on
the concept of "In Group/Out Group", in which all Japanese people are
one big "In" group, and YOU are the "Out" group. Besides this sense of
alienation, Japan also produces cartoons, and a wide variety of other
consumer products which are crammed into your face 24 hours a day,
seven days a week. The Japanese also like cock fighting monsters that
live in your pants, taking baths with the elderly, and killing
Japanese food is what some people would call "exotic", but what most
people call "disgusting", or perhaps, in some areas, "whack". Japanese
food evolved in ancient days, when the main staple of the diet was
rice. People got so sick and tired of eating rice, in fact, that they
ate just about anything else they could find, from seaweed to other
Japanese people. This has led to the creation of such wonderful foods
as "natto", which I believe is a kind of bean but tastes like battery
acid, and "Pocky", which is a stick with different frostings on it, the
flavors of which include Sawdust and Strawberry.
Despite this variety of foods, however, the Japanese have succeeded in
making every single thing they eat, from tea to plums, taste like
As if learning the language wasn't hard enough, Japanese classes in
America tend to attract the kind of student who makes you wish that a
large comet would strike the earth. There are a few basic types of
students that you'll always find yourself running into. These include
The Anime Freak, The Know It All, and the Deer Caught In Headlights.
The Anime Freak is probably the most common, and one of the most
annoying. You can usually spot a few warning signs to let you identify
them before it's too late: they wear the same exact Evangelion shirt
every day, they have more than one anime key chain on their person,
they wear glasses, they say phrases in Japanese that they obviously
don't understand (such as "Yes! I will never forgive you!"), they refer
to you as "-chan", make obscure Japanese culture references during
class, and usually fail class. You have to be extremely careful not to
let them smell pity or fear on you, because if they do they will
immediately latch onto you and suck up both your time and patience,
leaving only a lifeless husk.
Desperate for human companionship, they will invite you to club
meetings, anime showings, conventions, and all other sorts of various
things you don't care about.
The Know It All typically has a Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend, and
because of this "inside source" on Japanese culture, has suddenly
become an academic expert on all things Japanese, without ever having
read a single book on Japan in their entire lives. You can usually spot
Know It All's by keeping an eye out for these warning signs: a cocky
smile, answering more than their share of questions, getting most
questions wrong, questioning the teacher on various subjects and then
arguing about the answers (a typical exchange: Student: What does "ohayoo" mean?,Teacher: It means "good morning", Student:
That's not what my girlfriend said...), being wrong, talking alot about
Japanese food and being wrong, giving long, unnecessarily detailed
answers which are wrong, and failing class.
The Deer Caught In Headlights are those students who took Japanese
because either a.) they thought it sounded like fun, b.) they thought
it would be easy, or c.) they just need a couple more credits to
graduate. These students wear a mask of terror and panic from the
moment they walk into class till the moment they leave, because all
they can hear inside their heads is the high pitched scream their future
is making as it is flushed down the toilet. They are usually failing.
Although many of Japanese-language students are smart, funny, hard working people, none of them will be in your class.
If you can get past the difficulty,
society, and classmates, you will probably find Japanese to be a fun,
rewarding language to learn. We wouldn't know, however, since no one
has ever gotten that far. But hey, I'm sure you're different.
Author's Note:This whole essay, although sprinkled with truisms
here and there, is a joke and should be taken as one. I'm actually a
Japanese major myself, and even if I've given it a bit of a hard time,
I love the Japanese language, and I think everyone should give it a try.
You should just be ready for a whole lot of pain.
HAPPY LANGUAGE LEARNING!
- Dan Barrett