What an uneventful week. That is exactly what I needed. Everything was normal. Work was smooth. The hysteria from the reactors continued to subside. Things felt normal. Normal is good.
My workweek was par for the course. Taught classes and enjoyed it immensely.
My weekend had its ups and downs. I split with my girlfriend, Eiko. Our relationship had reached a plateau because of the language barrier. I tried to let the girl down easy, but it was still difficult. I endured the rest of the weekend with a heavy heart. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one.
Sunday night I met up with a fellow LNE alum, Mike Hennings. Somehow while on different life paths, he and I both happened to be living in Tokyo. We met up for dinner and a drink at an awesome pub that I recently found. It was a little odd to be sitting next to someone who grew up in the same small town I did. Odd, but totally cool.
On Monday I enjoyed my first “ohanami.” Ohanami translates as “cherry blossom viewing party.” Cherry blossoms, known in Japanese as sakura, are widely popular here. The trees are representative of the fragile beauty of Japan. Every year the trees bloom for three weeks in the spring. The Japanese make a big to-do about this. Viewing parties are planned and people frequent their local parks to take in the sights. It is quiet the experience.
No ohanami is complete without food and drinks. As such I met up with Emma and Moto at the grocery store. We filled our basket with all the necessities of a good picnic. Sushi, cheese and crackers, strawberries, chips and beer. Since there are no open container laws in Japan, it is acceptable, and perhaps required, to drink at the parks. We bagged our groceries and hopped a train out of town.
Our destination; Yoyogi park in central Tokyo. Yoyogi is one of the most famous parks in Tokyo, and for good reason. It’s huge, it’s pretty and centrally located. We wandered the paths until we found a nice sunny area near the large fountain. We laid down our blankets and cracked open our beers; “kanpai!” Before long we were joined by other teachers and we shared camp together. The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying conversation, playing frisbee & cards and cloud gazing.
I was often distracted and amused by the many different people in the park. There were many, many people present considering it was 2 in the afternoon on a Monday. Then again, I was reminded that we were in Tokyo. A young couple near us took engagement photos. Amateur photographers snapped shots of the budding trees. A young man played his trumpet. Children chased after each other. Soccer, baseball and even American football were being played. All about me people were slowing down their lives and enjoying what they had. It’s hard not to share that satisfaction with life.
My week ended just at it had started the week before. I climbed aboard a crowded rush-hour train for the commute home. The train sped down the track and I stared out the window. My time in Japan was moving at an equally rapid pace. I resolved to slow down my life and enjoy it like I had enjoyed the park. A voice came over the speakers in the train; next stop, home.
Of the many things I imagined I would miss from home, the alphabet was not among them. Yet I often find myself yearning for the letters I know so well. In my spare time I whimsically study the Japanese alphabets. Yes, the Japanese have more than one alphabet. As if learning new words and grammar structures was not enough, I have to learn new letters.
The Japanese language actively utilizes four alphabets. Classical Japanese is called hiragana. Like the Latin alphabet, it is a phonetic alphabet. The letters make sounds which in turn makes words, which in turn have ideas. The next alphabet is called katana, which is used for foreign words. The foreign words are pronounced with more natural Japanese sounds and are given phonetic letters. The third alphabet, and my favorite, is romaji. Romaji is the Roman alphabet you and I know and love.
The fourth, and most difficult alphabet, is Kanji. Kanji was long ago imported from China. Today it is commonly used by Japanese everywhere. Kanji is not based on phonics, rather it is a type of logogram. Logograms are characters that represent a word or a phrase, think pictographs. Already this concept is very foreign to most Westerners. This problem is made worse by the huge number of kanji. In Japan the government recognizes and limits acceptable kanji to 3,000. This is of the 100,000 in contemporary Chinese. So far I’ve learned enough kanji for the bathroom. That’s it.
Kanji has 3,000 characters. Hiragana has 48. Katakana has 48. Romanji has 26. So in order to read perfect Japanese I need to know 3,122. If I were somehow able to learn all of the characters I would face the next hurdle. That is, learning what all the Japanese words mean!
When learning and attempting to read European languages I have the benefit of being to sound words out. In Japan, I have no such luck. This is a tremendous hindrance in my attempt to assimilate into Japanese society. A hindrance, but not an impassable obstacle.
I’ll give it my best!