Sunday, February 22, 2009

Adventures . . .

. . . with the Japanese language.

No, I don't speak Japanese, but 25 years in the martial arts and watching a LOT of Japanese movies gave me a few phrases that sometimes come in handy. I picked up most of it by watching Shogun about a dozen times.

A few years ago, I was meeting with three Japanese businessmen who were interested in qualifying their company as a supplier for the company I worked for. Anyone who has done business with the Japanese understands that it is impolite to proceed without some friendly chit-chat, reverent inspection of business cards, and general socializing.

We talked a little about families, a little about travel, a little about the city, then one of them noticed my Taekwondo 3rd-degree black belt certificate hanging behind my desk.

Him: I see you study martial arts. Do you hold a black belt?

Me: Yes, I am a Taekwondo sandan ( 3rd degree).

Him: Ah. In Japan, Karate is very difficult. Maybe there you would only be a shodan (1st degree.)

Me, rather pissed off, but very calm, and in (what I suspect was) rather firm, but imperfect Japanese: Nante itta-noyo? Nande sonna-koto iun-dayo?! Shodan? Iie! Watashiwa sandan desu. Wakarimasu ka? (Translation: What did you say? Why do you talk like that! First degree black belt? NO! I am a third degree black belt. Do you understand?)

Him: Dead silence.

His boss, Fixing him with a stare that would have drilled a hole in solid granite: Some Japanese words I did not understand.

Me: Now, how can I help you?

The only other time I had the right phrase was in a Japanese restaurant at a teppan yaki grill. One of the people at the table was wearing a hand guard from a samurai sword. He showed it to the Japanese chef, but the chef didn't know what it was.

Me: Kore wa nihonto tsuba desu. (This is a guard for a samurai sword).

Chef: Ah! Wakarimasu. Arigato Gozimasu. (Ah. I understand. Thanks.)

The downside was he now thought I spoke Japanese, and he asked me a few more questions - so I had to tell him: Watashi wa nihon-go ga hanase masen.

This seemed to confuse him, because I just told him in Japanese that I don't speak Japanese.