Some of you may not know this, but I studied Japanese during my last two years in college. I didn’t do particularly well, in fact I did terribly, but I refused to give up, re-enrolling doggedly every semester until I graduated. After four semesters of studying Japanese, I can tell when someone is speaking Japanese; that’s about the extent of my enduring understanding of the language. When I graduated, there was no suggestion from my Sensei that I continue any post-grad work in the field of Japanese Studies, or move abroad to continue learning the language. In fact, I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of ‘Schoemann-san, you’re graduating? Thank God.’ If nothing else, I suppose my persistence was commendable, although it might have been more like sad.
One of my favorite memories of the saga of Taking Japanese Even Though I was Horrible at It came after I completed the year-long introductory class. During the following registration period, in a moment of unusual cruelty, I told the Sensei that I thought I was ready to skip the Intermediate level class and move straight to Advanced Japanese. “I’m sure you can agree,” I said, “that I am far enough along after only a year of Japanese that I should be able to keep up with the Advanced class.” My Sensei was aghast. The look on his face was priceless. I can still his strangled response of “Schoemann-san, no!” It brings a smile to my face to this day.
My other favorite memory is of the time a friend of mine asked me to translate the title of a Japanese movie he had rented to watch for a film class. His copy didn’t have subtitles, and I boldly told him that, after three semesters of Japanese, I should be able to at least translate the title of a film for him. I stared at the cover.
“Well,” I said, “this is the character for…‘meat’, I think. And this one…means…vacation? I KNOW that this is the sign that means ‘of’—and this last character is the verb ‘listen’. So, your movie is called ‘Meat Vacation of Listening’. You’re welcome.”
A short google search later, and my friend found a translation of the title online. “You mean, ‘Temple of Flesh’?” he said.
“Yes. Of course that’s what I meant.”