Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Interesting Japan, vol. 1

Between lessons, there will often be fun extras, such as fun Japanese words or interesting facts about Japan...

Even simple concepts like "you" and "I" are complicated in Japanese. The basic word for "I" is watashi (also pronounced "watakushi"). Girls get a cute version of this word -- atashi -- and good boys are supposed to use boku to refer to themselves. Rough and tough boys, and men who want to project their manliness, will use the men's word ore (oh-rey) to refer to themselves. For "you," the formal word is anata, but kimi (a familiar word for use among friends) and another rough man's word, omae (oh-MAH-eh), are used depending on the situation. A person's choice of what words he uses for "I" and "you" reveals much about their personality and self-image. A cute little girl will use the term atashi or watashi and play with dolls; a girl who is a rebellious tomboy might use the boy's word boku; and young boys may act tough by using the word ore.

Onsen = Hot Springs. The Japanese love baths, and have a highly developed sense of what makes a good bath, and public baths in hot springs are popular. There are many kinds of hot springs, some in small establishments that have only one spring, and others in larger hotels which may have a dozen or more, including beautifully designed outdoor baths. Some hot springs are "fake," they use boilers to heat the water, but they're just as good, and convenient to go to. In Japanese hot springs and public baths, you bathe in large baths used by everyone, with just a small towel to cover yourself. Before you get into a bath, you wash yourself thoroughly, often by sitting on a little stool or bucket, and washing yourself with soap and water. Although Japan is famous for men and women bathing together in these baths, mixed baths are in reality almost impossible to find. For those of you who are embarrassed by the idea of bathing in front of strange women, keep in mind that this does not mean there will not be any women in the area, even if it is the men's bath. There may be cleaning women working around the baths. And also, for those of you who may be embarrased by the idea of public bathing, you may not have much choice. Small apartments in Japan sometimes do not even have bathing facilites, and you may be forced to use the nearest public baths.