The Kimochi Warui Diary
For dinner, we grabbed some pizza at an all you can eat and all you can drink buffet.
Unlimited beer to go with your unlimited pizza.
We claimed a seat in the corner and scattered, racing off to collect pizza slices and glasses of beer for our table.
While waiting for a new batch of pepperoni pizza to be released from the oven, I noticed that coffee was one of our drink options. In anticipation to our Roppongi visit, I knew I had to get some caffeine flowing through me.
“Can I get the coffee?” I asked.
The Japanese employee behind the counter looked confused. The request seemed simple enough… but then I remembered something my Japanese sensei had told me:
“In Japan, sweater is pronounced and spelled ‘seetaa.’ That is how Japanese hear it, so you can’t say ‘sweater’ and think they will understand! You will confuse them! Omoshiroi, ne?”
In a situation like this, I suppose it will be OK to use my Japanese without judgment:
“Koohii wo kudasai.”
Still, no response from the employee.
“Co-hee? Why do you say it like that?”
Suddenly, Noah was behind me asking that kind of question.
Then, he pointed at the coffee dispenser and told the employee, “He wants a coffee.”
The clerk nodded their head and immediately got the coffee.
Say it… Like ‘that?’
Was the way I said it really no good? Come to think of it, how many foreigners had come to this pizza place? They all would have been saying “coffee” the way they would in their normal language, just like Noah had right now.
Time and time again, the Japanese textbooks seemed to betray me.
I replayed the audio in my mind over and over of how I must have sounded asking for “koohii” with such elongated, drawn out vowels.
For every time I was trying to speak Japanese to someone, was I elongating the syllables unnaturally? Was I the one who was bad at rolling my r’s? Not gliding over vowels properly? Using the wrong intonations?
I read online once that no matter how bad you are at Japanese, a Japanese person will almost always tell you that your pronunciation is “very good.”
I loaded a few more pizzas onto my plate and went back to the table. There, I poured myself a beer. Beer and coffee, isn’t that a bad combo? Who cares.
“Hey, Kumiko,” I said. I pulled out my phone, opened my Japanese dictionary app, and showed her my list of “favorited” words. These were the various Japanese words I had encountered in online conversations and saved for future reference.
“Are these words correct?” I asked. “Would you use them in conversation?”
She took the phone and looked through my list. As she scrolled down, she’d either nod or turn her head.
“Some of them, like this one, are fine… But this one, and this one… And this one, too… No one uses them. I mean, they are correct, but no one uses them… It’s hard to explain.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. “Good to know, thanks.”
The problem was that those were all the words I had relied on most frequently. And, those having been the words that appeared at the top of the searches, I assumed were the most commonly used ones.
Was this entire dictionary outdated, or something?
Or, maybe, the flaw was in trying to translate sentences from an English-thinking perspective. I’d heard it said that simply thinking “in English” when trying to formulate Japanese sentences is already no good from the start.
“Never say anything in Japanese that you haven’t already heard a Japanese person say,” someone on the internet had said.
I’d thought that advice was too cynical when I first heard it, but now, it was starting to make sense.
Was there really any point to learning Japanese through books and classes?
Is hanging out with Japanese people and talking with them the only way to truly learn the language?
But how the hell is that even possible if just speaking Japanese makes everyone here think you’re some kind of obsessed freak?
The paradox was that even Noah, who had no appreciation or interest in learning the language, was going to learn it faster than me—just by virtue of him being here.
He’d only been here a year, putting no effort forth in learning, and even he could hear my phony sounding Japanese.
“Damn, you don’t have to guzzle that shit,” Jotaro said.
I looked down and saw that I had already downed most of my beer. I let it sit for a few minutes before finishing it and getting up for another.