Monday, August 11, 2008

A Lesson in Japanese

When I was a kid, I had to endure going to Japanese School every Saturday. I don't know if they still have these language schools, but I have run into people who also had to go, before 2000.

There were different levels of teaching, the School I went to was more for baby-sitting than learning. A friend of mine went to a School that was much more strict and he learned a lot more Japanese than I did. Though I went all the way to "7th" grade, I don't think I had more knowledge than a 7 year old in Japan.

There are 3 types of writing in Japanese. Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

Hiragana is the Japanese alphabet. They are letters based on the vowels A, I, U, E, and O. All letters with the same vowels rhyme, and are pronounced the same each time it is used. Here is a link to the letters.

Katakana is the alphabet, but used for words that are not Japanese. For example, beer is not a Japanese word, and the Japanese did not give beer a Japanese name, so they kept the original name and use Katakana to spell and pronounce it. So beer written in Katakana is "Beeru." The only problem with this, is that the Japanese uses the letters literally, when sometimes it would work out better if it was done phonetically.

Beer uses the Japanese character "Be" then elongates it for the extra "e" and adds a replacement "ru" for "r." Which is pronounced "Bee-rue" All "R's" have that L/R pronunciation. Thus is done because with the exception of the letter "N," all Japanese letters end in a vowel. Therefore the use of "Ru" at the end of Beer. If they wrote it our phonetically, it could have been "Bee-ya" which is much closer to Beer than Beeru. Make sense? No? You should see how they "spell" McDonald's.

Kanji is the characters used for words, instead of writing it out in letters. You can do both, but it takes less space with Kanji. I can only describe it as Chinese writing. They are very similar and I would guess, based on the same things.

Now the biggest problem for everyone is how to pronounce these letters. The easiest way I can tell you is, is to pronounce it as you would a Spanish word. The vowels are all pronounced the same way.

A = ah
I = ee
U = oo
E = eh
O = oh

Now, this is just a simple way of explaining it, and don't even try to correct me or get more specific. Most people will have enough trouble using this guide.

So, why do I bring it up? The Olympics. When it was held in Nagoya, Japan, and broadcast by CBS, I could not watch it. Nagano, is pronounced, Nah-Gah-Noh. CBS pronounced it like a Surfer dude, "Nawg-Ah-Noe." The mis-pronunciation really bothered me. Why? Because prior to the start of that year's Olympics, CBS's National Sports Director was told that they were pronouncing it incorrectly. What was their answer? Not, "Our apologies, we will pronounce it correctly." It was, "Oh, that way is too boring." Then the National Sports Director pronounced it "Nah-Gah-Noh" in a robotic-like voice and said, "AMERICANS don't speak that way."

F' him. I actually e-mailed all TV Stations in Los Angeles, and advised them of the correct pronunciation. Only Hal Fishman of KTLA 5, made an On-air correction. It was rumored that Tricia Toyota, who worked for CBS at the time, was insulted because she was forced to pronounce it the "wrong" way.

So tell me, why does this happen? I once saw a correction of how Tienanmen Square in China was pronounced on TV. And you are looked down on and thought of as un-schooled if you pronounce French words like "hors d'oeuvres" incorrectly. Hell, I had to look it up to see how it was spelled! At least Karaoke is spelled the way you pronounce it, and you STILL get it wrong.

Why do you think this is? My opinion? Dis-respect. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor to start the United States' involvement in World War II. Japan was beaten, and the added hatred because of the attack meant they didn't deserve the respect of pronouncing it's words correctly.

I can't think of any other reason why Japanese words are butchered every day. Karaoke = Carry okie. Hiroshima = Heroh shim a. Sake = Sa-kie. Listen to news outlets. They are always trying their best to pronounce foreign names correctly. But not when it comes to Japanese words.


PuPCakes said...


jjomomma said...


Japan bombed Pearl Harbor? When did this happen?

I thought Americans hated Japan because of the quail egg shooter.

Fuck you and your ancestors for that nasty taste bud surprise.

Ninja said...

Good thing I can moderate comments..... WHA?!?!?

bitesandbolts said...

Yeah, that's pretty dumb that CBS refused to pronounce it the right way. While it's near impossible to learn every language's intricacies, this is one really good case where ignorance ain't gonna cut it.

Judy said...

picnic, rockclimbing, truck, and mineral water are not Japan origanted words, it makes me chuckle to hear them pronounced in Japanese

Truck (to-ra-ku) is also used in Taiwanese, when my sister-in-law asked and was told how to say truck, she accused my brother of teaching her bad English!

My first generation ex used to correct me and get irked when I said tempura wrong (tem-poor-rah). The server at Kokekokko also got irked and passionately corrected me when I asked for kosho (ko-show).

the thing is, I know how to pronounce it right but I butcher some words because my English accent gets in the way when I speak fast