はじめまして。フィレンツェ です。よろしくお願いします。 – Introduction.
ありがとう ございます。 – Thank you.
ごめんなさい – Sorry.
すみません、ほんや は どこですか? – Bookshop!
コーヒーをください。– Asking for all drinks and food you can think of.
その 本 をください。 – Asking for that book. I think.
すみません、病院 は どこですか? – Hospital, just in case.
。。。 が 食べたい です。– I'd like to eat -
じゃ、行きましょう。It just sounds awesome.
これはいくらですか？ – How much is that?
領事館 は どこ ですか – Where is the Consulate?
警察 – Police
わかりません。– I don't understand.
お勘定 お願いします。– Check, please.
Yeah... That's pretty much all I need. I would bring my books anyway and colorful pictures to point out. We lose all shame when we want people to understand us.
I have learned some sentence patterns (polite Japanese, mostly), quite helpful for a tourist. I repeat, a tourist. So I cannot even imagine what it would be like if I ever started studying the language seriously, like taking real classes and such. Something I will never do because then comes the sense of obligation. When I know that every Monday or Thursday at 4.00 p.m. I have to get out of my house and attend to class or whatever, to learn what I voluntarily decided to learn, I start seeing it as an obligation, a duty. And I lose encouragement. That stage of my life disappeared when school ended. I enjoy being a self-taught kind of person. I like the freedom that it entails. I like reading and learning things while sitting next to a window, with a big bowl of coffee (or a latte, perhaps some cookies or cake...) on the table by the couch, and my slippers ready to assist me when I have the need of revisiting the coffee maker. I dislike schedules and formalism; I enjoy reading at home. The simplicity of home. Of course, it is more difficult, with a major tendency to mistake because I do not have a teacher here (and I would not have one, either). However, I am always willing to take the risk.
So, I read this book, I wrote on three different notebooks—grammar, notes, culture and vocabulary, examples—, I sighed, I cursed, I forgot, I read again, I sighed some more. My brain was briefly replaced by a giant question mark and later came back; exhausted, with a feeble pulse. Oh, alive, nonetheless! Hiragana tends to do that. Counters tend to do that. I understand the need of three scripts (one that I did not even try to study yet), but why couldn't you just count with the same words, most of the objects of this planet? I mean, in Spanish, no matter the physiognomy, we say one elephant, two tickets, eleven balloons, fifty cats. But no, I got lost, drowned in a deep sea of suffixes. A hitotsu-futatsu-mittsu fan, all the way. Do not make me count fifteen little animals or vegetables because I will not survive. And yes, I know, Spanish is not a walk on feathers, either. All languages have endearing quirks. We have our “sheets” and “slices” but nothing too complicated. Unless you add a million verb forms (the unforgiving subjunctive), gender issues, articles, prepositions, pronunciation (the inexorable letter “R”), dialects, false cognates. Oh, nothing major...
There is some sunshine in this strange adventure. I got used to the sounds (such a delicate music can be found in some syllables), the word order—even though I still struggle with some particles because my memory is not that good. Adjectives are a bit tricky also and the complexity of the system of honorifics stole some tears from my eyes so I will just stay at the safe polite-language zone. But I love it. A tortuous passion. It is a dare. A lovely, melodious and captivating dare. A dare that always leave other people wondering why the hell I am doing this. There is no reasonable answer. Or maybe there is. I read some aspects of their fascinating culture, intriguing habits, rich history, numerous social conventions. All things absorbed my interest and led me to that distant language. Okay, maybe there is not a reasonable answer. A simple “why not?”. I am now starting reading about the Italian language (a homey feeling), but I see German quite appealing too. I feel too awkward speaking in French (when I say awkward I mean stupid) but Russian calls my name. So, why not?
Anyway, I spend many hours of the week reading and rereading, pronouncing words and practicing. It is almost therapeutic. Especially in those places where time feels like a turtle running a marathon while wearing a cast. For instance, at the bank. At any doctor's office. At any government office. All those places where you feel like time stands still, where you see people standing up because they have been called, they have been chosen and yet, you are there, longing for someone to call your name and end this tedious, frustrating, mind-numbing waiting. So, yes, reading helps me remaining a somewhat sane person during those motionless situations. And Japanese was and is a beautiful escape.
And this book gave me some tools to make that escape possible. No, it is not that easy. At least, not for a person whose first contact with the language was a rōmaji "Moonlight Densetsu" at age 11 and that was it.
I bet you didn't see that one coming... Oh, don't judge, I was a kid.
This book is a fine introduction to Japanese. It contains many sentence patterns, the usual verb forms that will allow you to sound human, a lot of vocabulary, notes about many aspects of their culture to help you understand more by giving a little context, activities so you will not immediately forget what you just learned, etc. Its structure is predictably convenient: the book is organized according to the complexity of the study material, one that covers many grounds. It is a clear path. The organization, I mean. As you read, the path will bifurcate until you feel like a weary Minotaur in the middle of a paper labyrinth. It is a constant challenge but Saint Google will be there to assist you. You will need other resources. Beware of rōmaji, a dangerous acquaintance. I cannot give it up.
So no, my friend. Do not be afraid. Grab your pencils and mugs, your notebooks and Kleenex, and dive into this sublime ocean of kana characters.