Tuesday, January 22, 2008

He Who Laughs Last

You know, for the first decade or so of my relationship with Masa I have to fess up to, well, playing word jokes on him. I used to knowingly use English words that I knew were beyond his vocabulary. Mostly my jokes were little sarcastic or ironic commentaries on things that amused me no end and seemed harmless enough. If he had ever paused and said, "hey, does that mean ----?" I would have given him truthful answers.

Well, it looks like I have entered "pay back" territory and honestly, although I'm a little peeved I have to say I'm proud of him! He got me good.

The other day after dinner, Masa looked up from the dinner table and called across to me in the kitchen (which is about two feet away from our dinning room, which is to say, our dinner table, this being Japan and us living in an honest to God typical Japanese house) "Can you get me a toothpick?" Since I looked blankly back at him (being in a bad mood because I had just finished cooking dinner and was now preparing to clean up from dinner) he switched tactics and asked Reno instead. But when he asked her, he used Japanese, "Tsumayouji kashite kudasai."

My ears pricked right up. I even took off my i-pod ear phones. "TSUMA what?"

And this is where my guy shines. He did such a good job on me. He didn't smile, he didn't sneer, he just said, in a distracted tone, "yeah?" and then asked Reno again, "tsumayouji kashite kudasai!" a bit louder as she was simply staring blankly back at him (being a tween and entirely moody and uncooperative even over the simplest things, like getting someone a toothpick).

Now, I studied Japanese three years in college, went on a semester exchange to Japan in 1988 and lived and worked in Yokohama for two and a half years after graduation. In 2000 we moved to Osaka, Japan and we have been here in Japan ever since. My second daughter (Saki) was born here in Japan.

Am I fluent? Hardly. Apparently English language schools, or at least the one for which I taught in Yokohama, want their foreign teachers to speak only English so badly that they threaten to fire you if they find out that you are speaking any Japanese on their premises. The university I worked at in Osaka didn't threaten to fire me for speaking Japanese but since I was teaching English language immersion courses, well, I spoke very little Japanese. I want my daughters to grow up bilingual, so our home/family language is English.

I speak Japanese regularly to sales people. It consists of the following:
Kore wa ikura desu ka? (How much is this?)
Kore onegaishimasu. (This please.)
Arigatougozaimasu. (Thank you.)

Maybe a couple of other words. If I am feeling linguistically extravagant.

They don't do small talk here.

So my Japanese, while I have enrolled in the odd Kumon course here and there and have amassed an extensive library of Japanese language texts and currently study using my daughters DSLite with some excellent kanji software, has not really improved much. In fact, when I was an exchange student, I think my language skills were more advanced in Japanese than they are now. I've not only failed to learn more kanji, I've forgotten kanji that I used to know!

So, when Masa said "tsumayouji" I immediately thought of the two words I do know that sound like that. Tsuma which means "wife" and youji which means "task or thing to do." Now, thinking of "toothpick=wife task" I asked him hotly if indeed the kanji used for tsumayouji was the kanji for "wifely task".

He is so good.

He even acted like he was impressed with my language ability--that I could guess the kanji like that.

So all week long I have been fuming and seething about "stupid dumb worthless sexist language--grrrrrr----dumb Japanese!" However, this evening as I was sulking in the kitchen, I mean, cooking in the kitchen, it occurred to me, "no. . . . . he didn't. ? ? ? ? " So directly after doing the washing up I headed in to the tatami to the computer to look into the Japanese word for "toothpick".

It turns out that the kanji for "tsuma" in "tsumayouji" is the kanji for "claw, nail or talon" and the kanji for "you" is the kanji for "Willow". The remaining kanji, "ji" is for "bough, branch, twig or limb."

I can't wait to give my man a great big hug tonight when he gets home. I am so proud of him. And he kept it up for two days--even working in a lecture to the girls last night on how in the old days, women used to ceremoniously pick their husband's teeth for them as a sign of respect.

And here I was thinking that my man was a purely slap stick toilet humor guy! He got me with a word trick! Oh, will I never stop falling for this guy?


Lulu said...

Your Japanese sounds about the same level as mine....My Kanji sucks but I can order food, talk to Shumpei without a dictionary and get by in a shop.

One thing I say to Shumpei all the time is `That`s disgusting` or `You are disgusting` and I always just assumed he knew what it meant until the other day I said the same word talking about something else to a friend and I heard him ask her when I left the room what it meant because I used the word a lot and he didn`t know. So cute...I don`t know why he didn`t ask me (I thought he understood cos it is usually describing the yucky food he eats like nato!)

It is so nice to here you say that you still are falling for masa after this long!!! Cute story!

Christelle said...

I really enjoyed this post. (And what is it with Japanese men and slap stick toilet humour?) I'm glad to hear you're still falling for your hubby too :)

Sara said...

hahaha.. that is such a cute story! i love it! i always forget words like tsumayouji but now thanks to you i won't be forgetting it!

your family sounds so funny! im glad that you are still falling for masa and hope it never stops!

I usually understand pretty much everything Ryohei says until he starts using Niigata-ben and then I'm like whhaa?? He knows it too and will say something and be like "Diddya understand that?!" Little does he know that I'm slowly picking up on it.. and while I can't speak it, I'm starting to figure it out.. on of these days I'm gonna shock the hell out of him by translating his strange dialect into regular Japanese. Bwahahaha

ps glad to hear you are into the kanji ds games as well! im so bad ive even brough mine to work with me!

Tigermama said...

LOL! That is awesome! Your dh sounds like he is a lot of fun.

apricotsushi said...

Hi! I randomly stumbled across your blog via Google and I must say it was a very pleasant surprise. I've read a handful of your newer entries so far and have to say that this one was utterly charming.

I'm a Japanese/English major currently studying at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and will be going to Japan for a year this fall, so it's really interesting to hear about your experiences.

PyroTyger said...

Just stumbled across your blog while looking for the kanji for "claw", and got sucked into your story. That's very cute :-)

I've only been learning Japanese a little while, and it's so good to read the lingual experiences of other people without constant incoherent references to obscure manga! Thanks for the warm fuzzies...