Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cake and Cocoa

I could make the argument that I have been working on Sister Soul, even though the second draft has been sitting on my cluttered desk, untouched, for about three weeks. Since the book is based on two Japanese-American teenagers and has a lot to do with both Japanese and Japanese-American culture, part of my work has been to do more research.

Last Saturday, as part of this endeavor (and also because I greatly want to read the works of Yasunari Kawabata and Haruki Murakami in their original form), I started taking Japanese lessons. My crazy, intelligent, happy friend, Marytza, is joining me, which makes it that much more fun.

Japanese culture has always intrigued me, and I'm looking forward to better understanding it. Fortunately for me, our Little Tokyo district is about ten minutes away from home. For this first course, we are learning two of the three Japanese "alphabets," depending on what you consider an alphabet.

Both Hiragana and Katakana have 46 characters (although I'm not quite sure how they are counting this), and each character represents a syllable, such as "ka" or "su." As far as I understand it, both Hiragana and Katakana have the same 46 sounds, which makes them seem very redundant. But, Hiragana is used when writing words that originated from Japan while Katakana is used for words that come from other origins. Sushi = Hiragana. Teriyaki = Hiragana. Ice cream = Katakana.

This strikes me as an interesting way to preserve the history of a language and the culture of the country. It also strikes me as a bit snooty, but I'm going with it for now.

So far, we've learned "a" "i" "u" "o" "e" and "ka" "ki" "ku" "ko" and "ke"

The ability to write characters that always looked so beautiful to me is also a great benefit. And I'll finally be able to determine if the characters seem less beautiful when they actually mean something.

In Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai, the main character argues that books should be written in multiple languages the way music is played with multiple instruments. That has always struck me as interesting. Japanese has that built in, partly. Prose can be a mix of Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji, which is a lovely idea. And soon, maybe I'll be able to write a story mixing English, Thai, Spanish, French, and Japanese!

What's Peanut eating? Raccoons. Or at least he's barking at them a lot whenever they show up on our deck. 


  1. I think that is brilliant of you to be learning Japanese! It's quite the complex language, from what my brother has told me. I admire your language abilities!

    I hope you get back to Sister Soul soon.

    1. I'm very excited to be learning Japanese. My favorite part is being able to write the characters--or at least trying to write the characters. :)

  2. My dad had a coworker who was from Tsurajima and lived in Kentucky during the 1980s. I still correspond with him, and his notes always come on the most beautiful paper. A missionary I know who lived in Japan called it a nation of artists, and I can absolutely believe it. Such a lovely culture in so many ways.

    1. Hi Loren! Already I've been looking into making my own paper as a result of the writing I'm learning. Hopefully this isn't opening a big can of worms.