This week’s Japanese lesson comes with a vocab lesson, a geographic lesson, and a lesson in how puns don’t translate into different languages without excessive explanation. For almost the entirety of my third week I was off doing a job in 笠間市、茨城県 – Kasama City in Ibaraki prefecture. Otherwise known as the 田舎 – inaka, or rural country side.
First, the Japanese lesson. I mentioned last post that ごちそうさまでした was a part of a pair of words. You say Gochisousamadeshita at the end of the meal. So what do you say at the beginning? いただきます. I-ta-da-ki-ma-su. This gets translated/localized into a variety of phrases, ranging from “Let’s eat” or “Thanks for the food” to “I humbly receive this meal.” Basically the point is, you say it before you eat, and then you eat hopefully delicious food. The pun comes in here. As a part of the Middlebury program, we took a trip to Kasama in Ibaraki prefecture. You see where this is going right? Itadakimasu, Ibarakimasu, get it?
For the program, we ended up about an hour and a half away from Tokyo by train, in a small town really only known for pottery. But what beautiful pottery it was.
It was our job to go around the town to a variety of really interesting places, and basically play tourist – but the catch was, we were not supposed to use any Japanese. Kasama wants to become more friendly for 外国人, or people who aren’t from Japan. While most of our suggestions basically boiled down to “Have more signs in English,” it was actually a interesting trip. Prior to this I had never really thought about what made a place accessible or not for people who don’t speak the main language. So it was kind of fun to walk around and think “If I knew no Japanese, what would I need to have a good experience here?” After we did that, we all came together as a group to combine our ideas and separate our suggestions into three main categories: Transportation, Gallery Road, and Language.
For transportation, the main suggestion was more English signs. For language, the suggestion was cultural training, because a lot of shopkeepers had the instinct to just say “No” when asked if they spoke English, which left a lot of us feeling uncomfortable because there was no follow-up for help. Then my groups suggestion was that, along with an English map, Gallery Road should try to emulate the Boston Freedom Trail and have a line of bricks or paint that connected the road together, along with signs every so often to let people know where they were. That took no time at all to explain in English, right? Well we had to do it in Japanese. In front of the Mayor. And the city council. And members of the Gallery road coalition. And answer questions.
Don’t get me wrong, I am utterly grateful for the experience. But it was really tiring to speak completely in Japanese for about four hours straight, on relatively complicated topics. That was my win for the month, let alone the day.
But it was all okay, because after all of that we got to see a Sake manufacturer that had been around since the Edo era, watch an Aikido demonstration, and then have amazingly tasty barbecue at the lodge we were staying at. It was a pretty nice reward for the hard work we did. I definitely recommend Kasama as a day trip from Tokyo if you have the time.
And, last but not least, I got to practice my new Japanese skills with some really cool people at a Soba shop before we left. I mentioned Udon before when I was talking about traditional Japanese noodles. Soba is another traditional noodle dish, that can also be served hot or cold. Soba noodles tend to be thinner, and are made of buckwheat. Prior to this Soba place I had never really liked Soba, but oh my goodness this was delicious. Maybe it was the company (a 74 year old former nun who had just finished driving around Hokkaido in her car without staying in a hotel, my freshman year roommate, and a woman whose daughter goes to college in Michigan), or maybe it was the fact that the noodles were freshly made in the back, but that soba was AMAZING.