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Kana Kinyobi: Hiragana う (“u”)

Hooray, it’s kinyobi (Friday)! That means it’s time to look at another kana from the Japanese alphabets. Today we’re looking at う (pronounced “u” as in “uber”).

little-hiragana-u

This one’s easy. There’s a “u” right there, just chillin’ on its side. Here, I’ll show you!

hiragana-u

Now you’ll know う whenever you see it. Awesome! Come back for next week’s Kana Kinyobi when we’ll take a look at the next hiragana: え (“e”).

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most offensive Japanese swear words 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five most offensive Japanese swear words. As an armchair linguist, I find swear words fascinating for two reasons: (1) they’re the first words in a foreign language that any student wants to learn, and (2) I can’t believe that so many languages have words that are “forbidden” or “unclean.” I mean, they’re just words!

As far as (1) goes, I think a big reason students clamor to learn swear words is for two reasons: one, it gives them some “bad” vocabulary words to use that other people won’t understand, and two, it gives the language a grittier, more authentic feel. Rather than learning how to say “I’d like three apples please,” you’re actually learning some “real” words that people use when you learn swears.

I remember in high school one Spanish teacher told her class that the best way to pick out a dictionary (before the days of internet dictionaries and smartphones) was to look up the worst swear words you could possibly think of. If it had them, great! If it didn’t, move on to another. I can’t vouch for how effective that method really is, but it did make shopping for new dictionaries a lot more fun.

So if you’re a swear-lover like I am, maybe you’ll enjoy the article. And if not, well, maybe you can learn to love them after seeing how silly it is that certain sounds in another language are considered “taboo.” Enjoy!

Read the article here.

Masterpiece Monday: Oh For “The Love of God”

As you do when you’re a struggling writer, every week I write and submit short stories by the barrel to any online magazine that doesn’t shut its virtual door in my face. And when you’re checking out the online magazines to see if they cater to your kind of genre (I like to dabble in the lesser-known genres of Horribly-Written and Needs-Improvement), you get to read a lot of stories – some of which are pretty good.

This week I’d like to share a short excerpt from a story I read while peeking around the magazine Nimrod International Journal for Prose and Poetry. The story is from the current (Summer/Spring 2016) volume, and the title is “The Love of God” by Laura Jok.

It’s about two teenage girls who go to a summer Catholic retreat, one less willingly than the other. The two girls are going off to college together as roommates when summer is over, and here’s the conversation they have after the narrator failed to wake up her friend when she overslept:

“You sleep like a dead person,” I told her in the afternoon. “She is risen!”
“Is this how it’s going to be in the fall? Are you going to let me sleep through my college exams and stuff?”
“Exams, yes. Stuff, no.”
“I mean it. Can I count on you to wake me in the future?”
“Sista, iamb yore roommate knot chore keeper.”

That last sentence put a huge smile on my face when I read it. It’s a rare feat to express sarcasm and mockery in writing without it coming off as awkward or forced, but Laura Jok pulls it off perfectly here. The intentionally misspellings – which conveniently double as “fancy-sounding” words – let you hear the narrator’s mocking, fake-polite tone in your head as clearly as if she were making fun of you to your face.

It would’ve been so much more boring if the author had simply gone instead with “Sister, I am your roommate not your keeper.” Sure it would get the point across, but there would be no spice or life to it, and it certainly wouldn’t help create a memorable scene. This is a great example of taking a generic interaction, and then cracking it open like an egg with added detail to reveal the colorful (and delicious!) insides.

Click here to read the rest of “The Love of God,” and here to see more of Nimrod magazine. We’ll be back to looking at Harry Potter next Monday with a section that’s so good, it tells you. See you then!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Kana Kinyobi: Hiragana い (“i”)

Hooray, it’s kinyobi (Friday)! That means it’s time to look at another kana from the Japanese alphabets. Today we’re looking at い (pronounced “i” as in “Nintendo Wii“).

little-hiragana-i

Just pretend there’s two little circles on top of the lines and you have what looks like the letter “i” twice.  That makes it twice as easy to remember, right?

Here’s my attempt to illustrate this idea below (P.S. I TRIED REALLY HARD):

hiragana-i

Are you an い master now? Awesome! Come back for next week’s Kana Kinyobi when we’ll take a look at the next hiragana: う (“u”).

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 crazy things about Japanese supermarkets 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote the top five crazy things about Japanese supermarkets. Having recently returned to living in Japan after being in the U.S. for several years, I was shocked by all the things I had forgotten about the Japanese way of food shopping.

Whenever we think about different cultures, we tend to focus on stereotypical differences: temples/shrines in Japan, kangaroos in Australia, wine and cheese with every meal in France. But when you actually go to the country itself, usually it’s the smaller things that really make it feel foreign.

Like grocery stores, for example.

I’m always glad when I can do an article that hones in on those smaller differences and brings them to light. There’s little chunks of juicy cultural tidbits hidden in those small differences, and exploring them is always a lot of fun.

I don’t want to spoil any of the items on the list here, so be sure to read the article if you want to see what’s different about buying food in Japan. Enjoy!

Read the article here.

Masterpiece Monday: Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express

Of all the things I miss about living in the U.S., it’s not having libraries around that hurts the most.

Don’t get me wrong – Japan has plenty of libraries, but their English book selection is pretty limited. It’s not like I blame them though; the foreign language sections in American libraries usually aren’t a huge priority either.

But I’ve got to work with what I have, and my local library has copies of all the Harry Potter books in English, so that’s what I’m currently reading. It’s been a lot of fun re-reading The Sorcerer’s Stone for the, uh, three-hundredth time.

Now I’m reading them through more of a writer’s lens, and each week I’d like to share some passages that I think were extremely well-written, so that  we can all try to get one step closer to god-tier J.K. Rowling. Here’s a single paragraph from when Harry passes through the barrier at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters:

Smoke from the engine drifted over the heads of the chattering crowd, while cats of every color wound here and there between their legs. Owls hooted to one another in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble and scraping of heavy trunks.

What I like about this short passage is that every word is chock full of meaning, helping to paint the scene of a idling train engine with just a hint of magic. Cats weaving through legs, owls hooting “in a disgruntled” way, and then the “scraping of heavy trunks” that is probably either great nostalgia or horrible PTSD for anyone who has traveled with lots of luggage before.

One thing that I struggle with is writing too generically. If I’d written the above scene, it probably would’ve just been Harry making his way through a crowd of people, and that’s it. I would’ve missed out on all the little details that help bring it to life.

When I do my writing today (and hopefully tomorrow too, and the day after – if I remember!) I’ll try to crack open my scenes a little bit more and let the juicy details spill out. How about you?

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Kana Kinyobi: Hiragana あ (“a”)

Hooray, it’s kinyobi (Friday)! That means it’s time to do something that alliterates with kinyobi and learn some Japanese kana!

Even though I’ve retired my Learn Japanese through Ridiculous Manga series on RocketNews24, I still had a lot of fun making the kana mnemonic pictures, and I’d like to keep posting them here until I’ve completed all of the hiragana and katakana.

Hiragana and katakana are the two Japanese alphabets (or “syllabaries” if you want to be technical, and we always want to be technical here). Once you’ve learned to read them you’ll find that you can read a surprising amount of things in Japanese.

So to start, let’s take a look at the first hiragana: あ (pronounced “a” as in “father”)

little-hiragana-a

This guy is easy to remember because there’s an actual “A” inside of it. It’s like those ancient Japanese scribes wanted to give us English speakers a break. Take a look at my horrible attempt to illustrate this idea below:

hiragana-a

Got it? Awesome! You’ve taken your first step to learning how to read Japanese. Come back for next week’s Kana Kinyobi when we’ll take a look at the next hiragana: い (“i”).

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 creepiest Japanese insects 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five creepiest Japanese insects. When I researched my article about the top five creepiest Japanese animals, I made the decision not to include bugs because I knew that they would dominate the list. I decided to do non-insect animals first, then only-insects later.

As expected, most of the comments on the article were “WHAT ABOUT COCKROACHES AND CENTIPEDES AND HORNETS?!”

Now, hopefully I can satiate those caps-lock voices with this article. It was really fun to research and write; I learned a ton about Japanese insects and insects in general. Of course, having recently moved back to Japan, writing it made me a little paranoid about checking my shoes and pillows and futon and toilet bowl and- well, if you watch the video about the huntsman spider, I think you’ll understand. Enjoy!

Read the article here.