When foreigners move to Japan the first alphabets they learn is normally Katakana – the alphabet for foreign words. Each character is given a sound and this will never change. It is a “phonetic” language that means when you see these you know what to say. It’s not like English where the vowels can change in different words. For example:
Hold ‘o’ is pronounced as expected – as in “or”
Woman ‘o’ is pronounced ‘oo’
Women ‘o’ is pronounced ‘i’
London ‘o’ is pronounced ‘uh’
Katakana will always have the same sound which makes it easier to read words. Another difference between English and Katakana is that in Japanese words, only one consonant can end a word. That is the equivalent of ‘n’. All other words will end with what we call a vowel – a, i , e, o, u but will have another sound in front of it. You can see this is the chart. Look at the top line after the first symbol – ア you can see ‘ka’ ‘sa’ ‘ta’ etc.
So let’s look at some names. Last week I gave you the katakana names for the two main characters in The Game Master, Josh and Alex. See if you can find the right symbols to make their names in Katakana.
Josh: Well, we have Jo and sh. Because Katakana does not have a “jo” sound the ‘yo’ symbol is added after ‘jo’ to make it ‘jyo.’ The same thing happens with ‘sh’ by adding ‘yu’. See if you can find these symbols.
Alex: This is a little easier – but there is a small addition because in Japanese there is a short ‘e’ sound, when in a name it has to be slightly shorter so a small “tsu” (ッ) is placed in the middle to shorten the sound.
See if you can find them in the chart above. It can take a little time to get used to the Japanese symbols but most foreigners in Japan quickly learn how to read katakana. If you want to know how your name is written in Japanese, type your name in the comments box and I’ll convert it into katakana…
Mount Fuji is one of Hiro-san’s favourite places to visit. It is one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” because of its symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year. It is also an active volcano but last erupted in 1707–08. It is the most well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as visited by sightseers, climbers and, of course, the Japanese people.
Sometimes Mount Fuji is called “Fujisan.” This is not the same “san” as in Hiro-san. Using the word “san” after someone’s name means “Mr” or “Mrs” – a formal way of addressing each other in Japan. For Mount Fuji we should look at the Japanese characters – Kanji. It is written:
富士山 – the first two Kanji, 富士, means wealth and abundance with great status. 山 means mountain and can be pronounced “san” or “yama.”
富士山 is a volcano. The word for volcano has two Kanji – 火山. We already know the second Kanji means mountain. The first Kanji – 火 – means “fire.” So in other words it is a “fire mountain.”
Did you know that in Japanese there are three ways to write words? The first is Kanji which originally came from China. The second is Hiragana which is a phonetic alphabet for Japanese words. The third is Katakana which is a phonetic alphabet for foreign words.
So volcano – 火山 – can be written in hiragana as かざん. か = ka and ざん – zan. So the word for a volcano is “kazan.”
So what about Katakana? Well, let’s take the names of Hiro-san (ひろ) and his young friends Josh and Alex. In Japanese Josh would be written ジョシュ and Alex would be written アレックス.
Later I shall introduce you to other words in Japanese so that you can begin to learn some words!
Hiro’s day at the Tower of London
After the beautiful scenic countryside of Kent and Sussex, Hiro-san decided to look around London. He had always wanted to see the Beefeaters at the Tower of London. He wasn’t sure about all those guards so he hid himself on the top of the gates. “What if the Queen of England came along and told the guards to take me Traitor’s Gate?” he thought… “They’re holding some pointy looking spears! Surely I’ll be safe because I’m wearing my Union Jack suit!”
However, he spent the day walking around and enjoyed listening to the funny Beefeater guards who took the tourists around.
Another great day in London!
Hiro-san is a fan of Winnie the Pooh
Hiro-san continued his tour of England. From a young boy he was a fan of Winnie the Pooh so decided to take a trip down to Hartfield in the beautiful Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. As a child he read all the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne. When Winnie the Pooh came with his friends they would take a twig from the forest floor and drop them from one side of the bridge and then rush to the other side to see who’s twig would come out from beneath the bridge first. When Hiro-san tried to play he found a little duck collecting the twigs so it could make a next!
Hiro-san was happy though. It was spring and the ducks needed twigs to build a nest for their eggs to hatch.
Do you know the Japanese word for duck? It’s “ahiru” – アヒル.
It was Hiro-san’s first trip to England when he settled in the county town of Kent, Maidstone. He lived close to the North Downs and could easily walk through the wooded countryside that led up the chalky hills. It was a rare, sunny day and trekking up the hills made him sweat in the warming heat – so much so that he had to take his hat off and laid it on the grass.
“So!” he thought, “This is where Mrs Fryer’s class came for a camp! Wow! The rolling hills of the Kent countryside are beautiful! それは本当にきれいです。マタ来ます!!” (Hontoni kirei, mata kimass – It’s beautiful! I must come back!)
It was the day of the Rube Goldberg Challenge! Mrs Fryer appointed Tony to be the group leader with Alex, Josh and Micky the chief architects. It was hard work but the class worked together as a team – even Roger and Micky. Their machine nearly broke down but to loud cheers from all the school, they savoured the sight of the headmaster being caned! Mrs Fryer was so pleased with her class that she shed a tear!
Hiro-san is on his travels again! The castles in England are so different to those in Japan, but just like Japanese castles, Scotney has a moat also. It was spring, just a short while after Josh helped Roger, a school bully, and it was at this scene that they both sketched the old ruins. Hiro-san took a stroll around the ruins and really enjoyed his day!
“ああ、楽しかったです!” (ahh tanoshikata dess!)
“Ahhh! That was enjoyable!” he thought to himself as he strolled around.