Nihongo no Machigae - Japanese Mistakes-  

osm1_2win 52M
23 posts
8/4/2006 9:16 am

Last Read:
2/26/2012 10:41 pm

Nihongo no Machigae - Japanese Mistakes-

I make a lot of misteaks...

I mean...I make a LOT of mistakes, whenever I speak Japanese.

It happens all of the time.

I consider myself to be a pretty funny guy. But sometimes, I am a LOT funnier than I intend to be when speaking to Japanese people in their native tongue.

Allow me to explain.

Many, MANY Japanese words sound like OTHER Japanese words. If you are even one sound off, you could be saying something entirely different and not even know you made the error. I am not sure, but I think they do this on purpose just to throw the foreign visitor trying to speak Japanese off his or her game. Either that or they do it for laughs to confuse the children, which is roughly the same thing. Either way, the Japanese people spend a lot of time chuckling at someone else. That's why they are always smiling. They are laughing at our mistakes.

When I first came to Japan, I knew that it would be best to try some of the local cuisine. It is a well-known fact that the more food you eat in a country, the faster you can learn about that culture since you are absorbing it into your bloodstream. So I was ordering a lot of food. But the names were difficult to say correctly. I was always getting strange looks when I went into a grocery store and asked for fruits only to discover that I was asking if they had any children I could buy.

What I wanted to say:
"Kudamono ga doko desu ka?" - Where are the fruits?

What I said:
"Kodomo ga doko desu ka?" - Where are the children?

But it didn't stop there. More than once in restaurants, I found that I was ordering the wrong thing.

What I wanted to say:
"Yaki-niku ni shimasu." - I'll take the roast beef.

What I said:
"Yaki-neko ni shimasu." - I've decided on the roast cat.

One time while at an onsen enkai (a hot spring resort party), I was served up WAY too much "konyaku", a certain kind of vegetable that is very popular here. However, it was too much culture for even me to absorb in one sitting, so I tried to give it away to other people at the party. The problem was, they kept saying no. I was wondering why since I knew they liked the stuff. However, I later discovered what I was asking wasn't something they were willing to do, especially the ladies.

What I wanted to say:
"Konyaku ga hoshii desu ka?." - Do you want some 'konyaku'?

What I said:
"Konyoku ga hoshii desu ka?" - Do you want to have a bath with me?

In retrospect, some of the older ladies did give an approving nod but didn't take any of the vegetable.

As any country does, Japan has its share of sweets and snacks. One of these is something called "mochi", a marshmallow kind of treat made from pounded rice. It's actually quite good and I highly recommend it. However, sometimes, they like to put something in the middle of the mochi to spruce it up...usually anko which is kind of a paste made from beans. I loathe this stuff!

Having said this, one day, during lunch, one of the teachers prepared some mochi for everyone to eat. She asked me if I wanted any.

"Mochiron," I replied enthusiastically, which means, "Of course."

She was a bit taken aback by my enthusiasm since it is assumed that foreigners don't really have a taste for Japanese snacks like mochi.

What she said:
"Mochi ga suki desu ka?" - Do you like mochi?

What I wanted to say:
"Sou desu ne! Mochi ga suki desu ga anko mochi kirai n desu." - You bet! I like mochi but I don't like mochi made with bean paste (anko).

What I said:
"Sou desu ne! Mochi ga suki desu ga unko mochi kirai n desu." - Yes! I like mochi but I don't like mochi made with human or animal excrement (unko).

She looked at me and once again, I was met with an approving nod since...well...this is true for everyone.

My language problems didn't stop with just food either. It quickly spread like a disease to my listening skills. Unfortunately, this got me into a LOT of trouble, like the time I was introduced to a young woman for the first time.

What was said :
"Kochira wa Mako-san." - I would like you to meet Ms. Mako.

What I said:
"Hajimemashite Manko-san." - Pleased to meet you Ms. 'Lower Part of the Female Anatomy'.

That one little addition of an 'n' in the wrong place changed the ENTIRE course of our relationship from then on. I think she still hates me.

Which reminds me of the time I met a friend of mine at a train station.

What was asked me:
"Nan jikan matta?" - How long did you wait?

What I said:
"Boku wa ichi chikan matta." - I waited like a pervert.

Speaking of body-parts, I have visited the "hae ishya" (fly doctor) when I should have gone to the "ha ishya" (tooth doctor, or dentist). And I know of one friend of mine who called his apartment manager to complain about the mold in his closet (oshirei) only to discover that he had accidentally complained about the mold on his rear-end (oshiri).

Along these same lines, I have more than once been directed to the toilet (toire) when I wanted to go to the local temple (otera).

Being a teacher means that the classroom is a great place for mistakes and young Japanese students live for such moments. Apparently, the younger generation has latched onto certain "Americanisms", words that SOUND like English but often have slightly skewed meanings. As an example, I recall the first time I was speaking to a classroom of students in an attempt to help them learn English. I was explaining the names of clothes that people wear. When I got to my pants, there was resounding laughter!

What's wrong with my pants, I thought? Is my zipper open?

Turns out that 'pants' in Japanese means 'underwear'. So I was instructing them all to look at my underwear which is not a very teacherly thing to do.

Often, I would tell my students what I did for the weekend or they would ask me what I had done. I obliged them once with this story...

What I wanted to say:
"Dansu o shi ni ikimashita." - I went dancing.

What I said:
"Tansu ni ikimashita." - I went to the closet.

I have no doubt they thought that whatever I wanted to do was OK by them. I was a foreigner after all. My students were polite enough to wait until AFTER they left my sight to laugh at me.

Many students are not always so polite as one other teacher from America learned. She was teaching them the words for the face.

"This is my eye...eye," and pointed to her eye.

"This is my ear...ear." Again she pointed to her ear and then moved on. "And this is my nose...nose." And finally, "Here is my chin...chin."

The students all let out with a gasp and then laughter! Chin-chin in Japanese is slang for...the lower part of the MALE anatomy.

The Japanese students failed to explain this to her and for the rest of the day, they kept asking her where her chin-chin was. Unknowingly, she obliged them with an answer and kept pointing to the spot just below her that I think about kind of funny and I might have done the same thing had I been in their shoos...

Phillip has been a teacher for over 10 years and is currently living in Sendai, Japan where it rains every day. He teaches English at the his own school now but usually has lots of free time to study Japanese and learn why everyone giggles when he talks.

hinoeuma 51F

8/5/2006 3:57 am

Thanks for the very amusing read!

All of us foreigners living here have stories such as these to tell. I once me a woman whose name was Tamake, but as I had only been in Japan for a month or so and still had such problems with the names, pronounced her name as Tama namake which means 'ball licker' Thankfully she never heard me, but my co-worker nearly fell off his chair, choking on the lovely dinner she had cooked for us.

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