Monday, January 13, 2014

Is the Japanese language the Devil's Tongue?

"The popular Weekly Times magazine clearly stated that the Japanese language is the devil's tongue in its special Japanese language edition. Yes, many people may agree because the Japanese language embraces lots of irregular and contradictory rules which are often difficult to comprehend. It seems extremely difficult to master Japanese for people whose mother tongue is different.

Japanese is a compilation of native Japanese, Chinese characters and words of foreign origins. Native Japanese consists of 'Hiragana' and 'Katakana' writing, making it further complicated. Speaking of Chinese characters, there are two ways of pronunciation, one is 'on-Yomi', the other 'kun-Yomi' and very often, there are special 'Yomi' as exceptions to the rules.

On top of all that, the delicate relationship between the persons communicating is reflected in the use of their language, the so-called honorific, humble, and polite words. They are the hardest barriers to break through.

And you might conquer those barriers by being in an environment where you constantly hear Japanese being spoken - listening to the radio, TV, and movies. Your confidence may easily be shattered by encountering local dialects and/or newly imported 'Gairaigo', words of foreign origin. Devil's tongue therefore is not such an exaggeration as Times magazine designates in their article.

Despite my criticism of the Japanese language, I'm the one who had been hooked and captured by the devil's tongue as an eternal student of the Japanese language. Needless to say, language is a tool for communication. Although it is difficult to compare it with other languages, Japanese has a wider and deeper threaded structure and has a lot of atmosphere, which I like most. You may call it gracefulness. It goes deeper into the heart and appeals to emotion, rather than logic and the intellect.

You know how babies learn languages. They unconsciously learn language by listening to their parents and conversations around them. They start talking by repeating sounds. We learn a foreign language in school just the opposite way. We start by reading and writing the new language as we learn grammar. Hearing and speaking are not emphasized as much as it should.

Hence, many people can read foreign languages but cannot speak the language. Our clubs' priority, however, is listening and speaking, so I believe we can create many masters of the Japanese language.

Regarding our fellow Taichung Central Toastmasters, particularly the young and earnest ones, let us pledge our all-out efforts today to listen like innocent infants and speak anything that comes to mind spontaneously like splashing water from a spring, sharing together our joy and pride."

I quoted this awesome and fabulous speech bf Dennis Chen, in full, as above from the Taichung Central Archive "10th Anniversary Keynote Speech." He delivered it in Japanese (Note 1- see original Japanese text) and I just translated it into English for my blog readers who cannot read Japanese. I have never seen such clear and concise introduction of the Japanese language. I saw Dennis's obituary on Facebook hidden among the many 2014 New Years greetings, the most unexpected communication. I'm glad I noticed it. He wrote to me six months ago saying "no more letters please." I was wondering how he was battling his cancer. He sent me a CD a few years ago in which he recorded his own singing of "Like a River Flow," a song popularized by singer Misora Hibari. “Oh, nice, he likes to sing" was my honest reaction without knowing singing was his way of therapy, a desperate escape from the pain of his illness.

I first met Dennis in the late 1990s. It was when I visited Fengyuan Toastmasters, an English language club, with which I was corresponding often and exchanged club newsletters with. The club venue, a Kennex Hotel basement, was full and thriving. Someone must have called Dennis and he came in just about when the meeting was adjourning. Then he took me to Taichung to meet another English club and introduced me to David Wang, who later became Taiwan's District Governor.

I read that Dennis's first encounter with Toastmasters was when he was relocated by his bank managing business from a Fengyuan branch to a southern Taichung branch. One day, at a newly relocated branch, a Canadian professor from the nearby National Chung Hsing University visited to open an account and Dennis was in charge of the customer because he had to address him in English. This Canadian, together with his university faculty members tried to set up a Toastmaster club and Dennis was invited. He was hesitant at first, in fear of the slow progress of study as people get older. But Alice Young, Dennis's wife, recommended that he pursue it and he got on board.

The rest is history as written by Robert Lee, the editor of the Rostrum, the Fengyuan Club Newsletter dated Feb 2000:

"Success doesn't come overnight, especially when we try to start everything from scratch…. However, our Club Founder, Dennis Chen made it happen. Our Godfather, Dennis was a man with a vision. He believed that Fengyuan was a special and unique place where he could uncover many outstanding potential Toastmasters without any problem… Believe it or not, he was also a member of Taichung, Wheelers, Beast and Fengyuan at that time."

Dennis was listed among the Hall of Fame - 1999 ROC Japanese Toastmasters’ Tall Tale Contest Champion.

We Japanese Toastmasters have lost our best friend from Taiwan and the best Japanese speaker there.

Note 1:
Dennis Chen and his wife Alice Young joined the International Toastmaster on April 4th 1984. Since then Dennis established seven clubs, including clubs for four different languages. Dennis really set a good example for every Toastmaster member. Dennis used to say "Old soldiers never die."

Note 2:


世界で一番有名なアメリカの週刊誌タイムに掲載された日本語特集の記事に、 日本語は「悪魔の言葉だ」と、はっきりと書かれていました。確かに、日本語には、不規則で理解しにくく、ルールが矛盾しているのでは、と思われる部分が沢山有ります。日本語が母国語でない人々がそれをマスターするのは、極めて難しい事の様に思えます。



言葉を学習する一番よい方法は、赤ちゃんが言葉を覚える遣り方だと思います。 赤ちゃんは無意識に父母や大人たちの話を聞いて、時間が経つにつれて片言で話 をし始めます。しかし、私たち外国人が学校や塾で外国語を学習する時は、順序が違います。




Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Anjiro, Japanese Guide for Xavier

Happy New Year everybody!

Miracles abound in history. Some people call them destinies. It was in 1547 that St. Francisco Xavier (1506-1552), known as the Apostle of the East, met a Japanese named Anjiro in Melaka, Malaysia, introduced by Portuguese Captain Jorge Alvarez. The name Anjiro comes from the English Angel, and no personal records were found except that he was born in Satsuma, now Kagoshima in Kyushu. It was said that Anjiro was a fugitive seeking a shelter overseas after committing a felony. On board the Portuguese vessel, the above Captain Alvarez took his crew member Anjiro, perhaps as a Samurai who was willing to atone for his crime, and suggested he better embrace Christianity. Anjiro, following the captain's advice, became a Christian, studied both in Melaka and Goa, and when he met the captain years later, his Portuguese was fairly brushed up, and he was almost ready to serve as an interpreter for Xavier.

Upon departing from Lisbon, Xavier had relished a noble dream and hope as a young missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. After the long tiresome voyage over the treacherous ocean, stopping a year in Mozambique in Africa, 3 years in Goa in India, and two years living in Melaka, while traveling to Timor a few times, he thought he did his best despite language barriers. He converted many people, but progress was slow with lesser success than he had anticipated. He wasn't fully satisfied. When he encountered Anjiro, he was struck with joy and so reported "God has put it into my heart" to King John "to go to the islands of Japan to spread our holy faith."

Melaka Viceroy Pedro de Silva, the 5th son of Vasco de Gama, pledged financial help for the voyage and propagation, prepared gifts, such as a music playing clock, organ, matchlock, crystal glass, satin damask, bottles of wine, books, etc. On April 15, 1549, Xavier set sail on board the Chinese junk accompanied by Father Cosme Torres, John Fernandez and Anjiro, arriving at Kagoshima on August 25. Kagoshima was Anjiro's native city, and he quickly obtained from Lord Shimazu permission for Xavier to preach. While Anjiro translated and circulated the Creed, and some simple prayers, Xavier set himself to learn the Japanese language.

As soon as he could use it fluently, he began to preach. But, not long afterwards, the Lord grew angry with the Portuguese merchants because they had abandoned his port of Kagoshima to carry on their trading at Hirado, a better port a little to the north of Nagasaki. He withdrew the permission he had given and threatened to punish any Japanese who became a Christian. The few converts remained faithful and declared they were ready to suffer punishment or death rather than deny Christ. After a year at Kagoshima, Xavier decided to push on to Hirado, carrying on his back all the articles necessary for the celebration of Mass. At Hirado the missionaries baptized more converts in twenty days than they had done at Kagoshima in a whole year. Leaving these converts with Father Torres in charge, Xavier and his party set out over land for Kyoto, the imperial capital. They went by the beautiful inland sea to the port of Yamaguchi, and Xavier preached there, in public and through Anjiro, before the local prince.

After a month's stay at Yamaguchi, Xavier resumed his journey with his companions. It was nearing the end of the year, and they suffered from inclement weather and bad roads. They reached Kyoto in February and here Xavier found that the city was in a state of civil disorder and utter chaos, and the emperor was in retreat. So after a fortnight's stay, he returned to Yamaguchi. He received an official invitation from the Bungo Lord Sorin Otomo, a breakthrough. He was successful to have one of the powerful Daimyos christened and under his auspices, his friends and relatives who followed suit. However, these favorable turn of events did not hinder his personal ultimate goal to travel to China to preach the Gospel. In 1552, Xavier left Japan without knowing he was doomed to die on the way.

Portuguese missionaries, such as Luis Frois, Francisco Cabrel, Alessandro Valignano, Gasper Vilela followed Xavier, to harvest seeds sowed by Xavier, but all the Jesuit's efforts came to naught when in 1587 deportation orders by Taiko Hideyoshi took effect, and in 1612 Christianity was banned by the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Were Xavier, Anjiro and all the other Jesuits forgotten? No, not at all! We see statues of St. Xavier in Kagoshima, Hirado, Nagasaki, and Oita in Kyushu. Yamaguchi, Xavier's favorite city, built not only the Xavier Memorial Church (see photo) but concluded sister-city relations with Navarre (now in Spain) where Xavier was born. Anjiro is remembered both in Kagoshima and Melaka. Without him, Xavier's visit to Japan never would have happened. We certainly recognize their footprints in the Portuguese words adopted into Japanese, such as, alcool, carta, caramela, castella, pao, padre, sabao, tempero and many more. They were the first Caucasians to land in Japan (given nicknames were "Southern Barbarians") that surprised and implanted deep impressions on the Japanese and opened their eyes to the outer world. The National Treasure, Kano School artwork on the folding screen at the Kobe Museum illustrates scenes from their mission.

Records of Anjiro became blurred along with his Christened name Paulo de Santa Fe once Xavier left Japan. He might have taken all the blame that his translations caused problems, e.g. Dainichi for Christ, Mary for Kannon, etc. versus Buddhism. Rumors said he traveled again overseas.

The above article first appeared in the magazine CABARAN (Challenge) of the Chi Wen Secondary School, Bahau, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.