She was caught red-handed.

My Japanese friend, let’s call her Emi, has just given me an eyewitness account of cultural gold. Strike while the iron is hot. And who doesn’t like a bit of gossip when everyone is completely anonymous?

While riding home on the train, a man asked a woman, we assume coworkers who knew each other, “what will you do when you go home?” All parties are Japanese, speaking Japanese. “I will make dinner that I had started to prepare this morning” was her response. After saying goodbyes, she got off of the train at a stop. Emi happened to be leaving the same train at the same stop, and walked home in the same direction. The woman proceeded to buy a tonkatsu bento box for dinner.

Something like this but not plastic, and not in a bowl…

So, she lied. She was caught red-handed. But ‘nobody’ heard the sound of this tree falling in the forest.

Or, there is a chance that she was buying it for later, or for someone else, or for herself and was preparing dinner for someone else. But, I’ll say that there are good odds that she was lying – actions speak louder than words.

Apparently, the cultural context here is that Japanese men, generally, like women who can cook and do housework (and women know this). So she lied, saying that she was preparing dinner. Because she likes him. If she wasn’t romantically interested then we presume that she would tell the truth, that she was buying a boxed dinner.

Does he know? Would he care? What if they got together and then he eventually finds out that she doesn’t cook? Who cares?

How does this relate to us and our goals? Learn more Japanese so that I can hear and see these things going on all around me!

Writing this has sparked a distant memory from an anthropology course that I had taken in my first or second year of university. My professor had said that soap operas give the best insight into cultural boundaries. Characters test cultural norms and keep the audience gripped week after week.

To get more cultural insight we could watch Japanese soap operas. Considering that I speak Japanese at a 0 to 4-year-old level, this would be quite a feat. To check my Japanese progress, I occasionally enter local bookstores and randomly open baby and children’s books, and the most basic manga that I can find. Note that I enter the bookstore with the confidence of an adult opening children’s books, and expect to slay rows of books within a few hundred seconds. Pages, and volumes, flapping so fast in my hands that I create a breeze that surpasses the faintest air conditioning in the record heat of the sultry summer. And full comprehension to boot.

On opening the first book, cartoon drawings with a single sentence per page, I am hurled into reality. I am immediately stumped by animals and onomatopoeia. Of animalia, I know the words for dog, cat, fish, chicken, pork and beef. The book has a variety of zoo animal characters: giraffe, zebra, hippopotamus, etc. Maybe these are among a child’s first fiftieth to perhaps one-hundredth words that they learn. I can’t say when I will learn these in Japanese. Perhaps in my thousandth to fifteen-hundredth words.

I move on to the next book. I read: うんとこしょ!どっこいしょ! What’s that? Well, the book alone doesn’t do justice. Luckily, I had a human to complement the book. Below is a video reading of the very book, starting right at the sound of pulling something mentioned above.

For efficacy, I’ll go ahead and guess that there are thousands of onomatopoeia as a quick search turned up empty.

Next steps? Do I learn the words for zoo animals and the sounds that things make, or do I learn the words used to express myself?

My gut instinct is to continue with the latter and defer the former to osmosis.

This aligns with being able to understand soap operas, and everyday conversations on the train!

The Preparatory Course for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test: N5 Reading

(This book got me through the N5 test!)


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