Japanese Language

Almost a year since my last blog post. Very bad of me. The last one was a report that I’d finished Kiki’s Delivery Service Book 2. It’s taken me ten months to finish books 3 and 4, but I’ve now done so. I’m just over half-way through Book 5 (which I’m racing through, having read the first 150 pages of 280 in just over two weeks). I’ve also now seen the recent live action Kiki movie. This is definitely derived from the first book, rather than from the Ghibli animation. In some ways it sticks closer to the book. For instance Kiki cannot accept money in return for her magic services. It’s never quite explicit in the book, and the “economics” of this are somewhat glossed over in terms of how she manages daily existence if she can’t earn money (or possibly can’t even deal with money directly). There’s something of an implication of receiving services in “barter” for her own and she can certainly accept gifts in kind in exchange for her services. Although this bit is closer to the book, and some of the scenes/sequences in the movie are heavily inspired by chapters in the book, it’s still quite a departure from the book in many terms. In the book there’s a sequence with a girl asking her to deliver a black envelope to another girl, which it turns out is an old tale of witches cursing people. In the book this is dealt with on the small scale of the girls involved only, whereas in the movie it’s part of the plot whereby after this incident people start distrusting Kiki and even returning things she’s delivered to them, back to Kiki instead of back to the sender.

I watched the movie in Japanese (no choice – there doesn’t seem to be an English subtitle version available – but I wanted to do that anyway). Since I know the story pretty well and it’s a kids/teen movie, I was able to follow much of the dialogue well enough, but I certainly wasn’t understanding every sentence in detail. Harder than the book, of course, since spoken word is harder to follow because of speed and difficulty to re-tread (I was watching it with $DAUGHTER so could hardly stop every thirty seconds and re-play to get the dialogue, though I may do some of this later to try to improve my Japanese listening).

As I wrote last July, I started trying to Read Japanese (Teen) Literature. Well, I’m nowhere near as fast reading Japanese as the person I was sniffy about who took a month to read a Pratchett. However, eight months later and I finally reached page 259 of Majou no Takkyubin this evening. Book 2 is on order and should be delivered soon (for Y1 plusY250 P&P). Plus there’s a live-action movie due out soon. It’s almost impossible to find English-subtitled Japanese movies in Japan, of course, but as with the book I will try this out to see how well I can follow the movie. In particular I’ll be interested to see how much they follow the book, whether they draw anything from the Ghibli movie (that one was as close to the book as Howl’s Moving Castle was, by the way, i.e. it was clearly inspired by it but not in any way even an attempt to do any kind of semi-faithful translation to the screen) or whether they do their own thing with the concept.

It took me a long time, but I’m still pleased with being able to do this.

Many may know of Studio Ghibli’s movie “Kiki’s delivery service”. What many may not know is that this is based on a series of books by a Japanese author (although set in a fictional Eastern European country [one with a coastline]). The books are really sets of short stories rather than novels per se, or so $WIFE tells me. Having watched Kiki (in Japanese 魔女の宅急便 or Witch’s Home Delivery Service) too many times lately due to $DAUGHTER, and having had $WIFE explain that the author had finally finished the series of books of tales with a finale in which Kiki’s daughter (by Tombo) heads off for her “year away” at 13, I asked $WIFE to get the books for me. It seemed to me that I should be up to reading teen literature in Japanese. She picked up the first book earlier this week and I’ve now started reading it, which is quite hard going but so far just about feasible for me. I’m reminded of an experience in the mid-90s though. A friend of mine was a nurse in London at the time and I used to visit her whenever I was there. At first she was staying in the nurses’ accommodation – multiple occupancy apartments owned by the hospital, and quite nearby (in this case right next door). She had a roommate who was a fairly nice guy but not really the intellectual type. My friend is an SF reader, though not an active fan. She told me on one visit that her flatmate had borrowed one of the early Terry Pratchett Discworld books from her and finally returned it a month later saying he’d really enjoyed it. it wasn’t that he’d taken a month to get around to reading it. He’d taken a month to read it. Being both heavy readers my friend and I found this rather alien. We figured he must be having to read every word as an individual word and then figure out the meaning of each sentence before moving on to the next. I’m feeling a bit like this with starting to try to read Japanese for “pleasure”, though of course part of the purpose is to improve my Japanese, but I’m also reading it because I want to know the story. I think I may be already ahead of friend’s flatmate’s English reading ability, though.

Japanese has a lot of homophones. This is at least partly due to their importing of Chinese characters and their pronunciation. Japanese has a much more limited set of phonemes than Chinese and so symbols which have different sounds in Chinese get imported into the same sound in Japanese. These collisions or near collisions make Japanese a great language for puns, as are Chinese and English for both related and different reasons. My flashcard system Anki is set to give me 15 new cards a day from (currently) the JLPT 1 set of vocabulary, which some kind other user have entered (I alter them to my needs and preferences as they come up). Today, the word 幹部 pronounced “kanbu” meaning executive, senior manager or officer came up. I often double-check words for extra meanings (and particularly for use as adjectives – many Japanese nouns can be used as adjectives with the particle な or the adjectival phrase 的な added). The electronic dictionary I use does lookup by phonetic entry (using roman letters though it has a kana entry option as well, though most Japanese people seem to use the roman letters, too). The first entry for “kanbu” is not the word I was looking for, but the homophone 患部 meaning “diseased part”. Great fun for puns, methinks.

Apologies if the Japanese characters don’t get transferred to LJ properly.