In early December I took the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) for the first time. After moving to California and taking a few Japanese classes, I often thought about signing up for the test just to see how I would do. But somehow, I always talked myself out of it. I knew that I wasn’t very good at listening comprehension, and grammar was still very challenging for me, so didn’t think I could pass. After a few months of participating in our language exchange, though, I began to reconsider.
Sometimes I get a song stuck in my head for days. I listen to it over and over and can’t stop humming it throughout the day. Lately, I’ve been listening to the song “Yeah Right” by Toro y Moi, a recording artist who lives in Berkeley, California. He has released albums in several different musical styles, from electronica to indie rock. The name Toro y Moi is a blend of Spanish and French. Toro means ‘bull’ in Spanish and moi is French for ‘me’, so the name translates to “The Bull and I”.
On my first trip to Japan as a twenty year old, I was essentially illiterate. I knew hiragana, but my katakana was shaky and I was clueless when it came to kanji. Additionally, I only had about one semester’s worth of vocabulary under my belt so anything beyond introductions or basic requests was beyond my capability. It wasn’t much of a problem in Tokyo or Osaka because most of the signs were sprinkled with enough English to afford comprehension, but once I was in the countryside I became totally dependent on my travelling companions, who were native speakers.
Of course, back then if you wanted to look up a kanji, your only option was to reach for a dictionary. A friend gave me a copy of Kodansha’s Compact Kanji Guide once I got back from my trip to help me study. The book has a nice flow chart pasted on the inside of the front cover that explains how to use it, but looking up words was still a time consuming process.
The first time I had okonomiyaki was in a tiny restaurant on a cold January night in Osaka, Japan. I was 20 years old and about halfway through a trip that stretched from Tokyo to Fukuoka. I sat down in a cozy booth in front of what looked like a giant griddle. Fortunately, the people that I was travelling with knew what they were doing because the next several minutes were a blur of activity. Batter and vegetables were poured onto the hot griddle with a hiss, and quickly spread into the shape of a pancake. Halfway through, thin strips of pork were added and the okonomiyaki was flipped and left to cook until the pork was crispy. After one last turn a generous coating of okonomiyaki sauce was applied to one side along with mayonnaise, bonito flakes and aonori. It only took one bite to know that it was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. Continue reading
Japan and the U.S. are playing in the Women’s World Cup Finals today so I thought it would be a good time to write a short post about soccer. Interestingly, Canada, the U.S. and Japan are the only countries that primarily use the term soccer. In the rest of the world, people generally call it football.
Soccer was introduced to Japan in the 1870s by Sir Archibald Lucius Douglas, a Canadian member of the Royal Navy who served as a foreign advisor to Japan. While serving as an instructor for the Royal Japanese Navy, he taught the naval cadets the rules of the game. Until the end of World War II, the sport was known as 蹴球, which is written with the kanji for “kick” and “ball”. In post war Japan, people started using the American term サッカー.
So why do Americans use the word “soccer”? When the sport was introduced to North America in the , it’s official name was “Association Football”. This was shortened to “Assoccer”, and then shortened again to “soccer”, which is the name that stuck in North America. No matter what you call it, I hope you enjoy the match!