Thursday, 13 March 2008

PostHeaderIcon Sometimes rain - 時々雨

I mentioned in my previous entry that the weather has been getting better recently. Yesterday and the day before were really nice and made me want to skive off work and go for a nice walk in the sunshine. It was raining quite a bit today but it was still fairly pleasant as it reminded of the wet but slightly mild days we get back in Scotland. I’ve noticed that Noah and I have been discussing the weather and seasons quite a lot. I used to talk about the weather a bit back home as all British* people do apparently but it seems more noticeable here. One thing I love to hate about the Japanese** is their belief that Japan is the only country in the world to experience four seasons. I’ve explained to a few that quite a lot of countries do but they’re either shocked or just nod their head in politeness. In fairness, the seasons do seem to be a lot more distinct and in your face than in Scotland. Back home it is constantly mild and wet and the change in seasons is more of a gradual process. Here’s a perfect example of what it can be like in Japan:

Sitting outside the school with the 5th grade elementary teacher:

Me: Great weather, isn’t it?

Hamaji-sensei: Ah yes. It is getting warmer.

Me: When will it be spring? (Knowing the rather rigid structure of dates/seasons here)

Hamaji-sensei: Ah yes. Soon the winds will blow across the water from China. They will turn the sun a dusty yellow and spring will be here.

Me: I see. (Nodding in my own politeness to the ‘unique’ Japanese seasons)

Two days later the prophecy came true as I woke up to find the sky a dusty yellow. It has been noticeably warmer ever since. At the risk of sounding slightly pretentious… I have felt a bit more in touch with nature since I moved to Kochi. It’s pretty hard not to when you are squashed in between the rugged mountains and the Pacific. Today the mountains were covered in clouds with some small patches hugging the tree tops with a backdrop of blues and greys in the sky. On a sunny day the mountains are a mixture of various bright and dark greens. Every sunny day after work I cycle down to the sea wall and watch the sunset which is always amazing. If I’m driving along the coast and the waves look slightly choppy then I’ll pull over and watch them for 5 minutes. Noah told me he was talking to an old women in town a few weeks ago who talked about the natural environment of Kochi. She mentioned that the people here are friendly even though their dialect and personality may suggest otherwise. She explained that the harshness stems from the history of living here with the mountains and ocean surrounding you. It’s slightly far fetched but I can see where the idea comes from. This prefecture used to be used as a kind of prison because it was cut off and secluded from the rest of mainland Japan.

I’ve been using a new method to study kanji this week. It’s a rather strange system because I’m not actually learning the full meanings OR the Japanese for them. However, it’s all based on the concept that simply learning stroke orders is not the natural way to learn a language. Instead it introduces the basic kanji and a basic meaning that soon fit together with other basic ones… increasing in complexity. It then creates a story for each kanji to help you remember them and it actually works really well. Here is a basic example of a few:

This is one of the most well known/used/loved kanji. It is a pictograph of the sun. Kanji square of all round edges so that’s why it is that shape. It is also the kanji for day for obvious reasons.

This is the kanji for eye. Like the sun it is a pictograph of an eyeball and you can easily imagine it when you know the round frames have been removed.

If we add the two together then we get a new kanji. The basic meaning of this is risk. The story that goes along with this is fairly simple. The eyeball (below) is looking up at the sun (above) and as we all know… staring at the sun is a risk to your eyesight.

Not bad eh? It’s far from the most effective method but it’s fairly fun and it does actually work. For now I can glance at a random kanji and have a very vague idea what it might mean (they change depending on the context). Indeed, I was looking at the kanji on the office door today to see if I could see anything in them. I went back to my desk 2 minutes later and the next kanji was one of those on the door. It freaked me out slightly to be honest. The basic meaning associated with that one was ‘employee’:

The top square means mouth. The bottom one means shellfish. The shellfish is comprised of the kanji for eye plus two lines at the bottom. The two lines represent animal legs. So the shellfish is an eye with animal legs. An employee needs to work so that he can feed himself. Hence, the shellfish going into the mouth. Pretty cool huh? I’m going to stop pretending I know what I’m going on about before some proper Japanese speakers comment on my entry.

It is nice knowing that kanji can have some basic foundations like this and that at least a few are essentially pictographs. Excuse me whilst I go off on a tangent that is slightly related to the kanji. It’s no surprise that in a language like this the kanji for sun and moon are important and influential players. I’ve recently become fascinated by how much the pair must have influenced the history of mankind. Think of all the different civilisations spanning over thousands of years. Pretty much all of them have placed significant emphasis on the sun and moon. From worshipping them, the idea of the constant battle between the two… the ideas of ying and yang… good versus evil… you know what I mean. It’s exceptionally easy to see how this was the case as well as they gazed upon the day and night skies. I sound terribly woeful but I know what I mean. I now worship the sun and the moon. I remember when I was a young child interested in astronomy I used to imagine that an eclipse would be planet Earth’s number one tourist attraction. It’s true though! If there are hundreds of inhabited planets out there then there is a whole universe of aliens waiting to travel. How many other planets have a moon that aligns itself perfectly with the planet’s sun? I’ll be the best 29th century entrepreneur in the whole of the galaxy. I’ve even made a new kanji in my head for my company’s symbol.

Here's a picture I got from Noah. It's down at the lightohuse in Muroto in January. A lighthouse is certainly bright . Do you see it eh? The sun and moon together? Man, I'm awesome at kanji...

Enough of my pseudo Japanese studying for now.

So it was raining today. After having lunch at elementary I was walking about the school talking to the kids as it was too wet to go outside and play like we/they usually do. One of my favourite fourth graders saw me staring out the doorway at the rain and ran down the corridor to come and talk to me. She’s actually really bad at English but I don’t really care that much. Indeed, a few times in class I’ve noticed her get anxious and panic when it is her turn to do something. So one day I told her not to worry about it as English is meant to be fun and that I’m terrible at Japanese. She’s always trying to talk to me in English class when we have a group activity going on and the teacher is always trying to do me a favour by giving her into trouble for annoying me. Of course she never is and it’s pretty difficult to explain to the teacher it’s alright. Anyway I had a nice little conversation with her after the usual “Hello. How are you?” Also, this is about as good as my conversational Japanese gets.

As we both stared outside:

Me: Hmmm lots of rain.

Student: Uh-huh

Student: Do you like rain?

Me: (ponders) Sometimes

Me: Do you like rain?

Student: (ponders) Sometimes

Both: (more pondering)

Student: Bye bye!

Me: Bye


*It feels slightly uncomfortable referring to myself as British even though I’m not that much of a nationalist. However, it is undoubtedly a British stereotype.

**This may seem like a generalisation (and it is) but a lot of conversations I have start with “We Japanese…” and “In Japan…” so there you go.

Both of these issues will hopefully be addressed when I talk about identity… one day.


Mike said...

This is why I like your blog, you actually talk about some interesting stuff that isn't solely related to you.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.