Speaking Japanese, I’m Really Speaking Japanese? I Really Think So.

I was grabbing a soda at the local Circle K for the two hour drive out to Kansai Airport for our flight to Tokyo.  Further to my texts and discussions with my brother and mom about “Gahn Bar Ay!” I thought about my less than rudimentary Japanese language skills.  But I think I’m getting the hang of it.

I think it was in the year 2000 that I first came to Japan. My brother, an East Asian Studies scholar, was wearing multiple hats that trip as a family member, translator, and tour guide. One of my fondest memories was discussing with him over dinner the kanji characters we’d encountered and how baffled I was by it all. That said, I told him at least I could identify the post offices as their kanji looked like three ninjas. Anytime we’d pass one I’d read the sign like a four-year-old and announce, “Ninja-ninja-ninja! That means Post Office!”

I told Mom this story on the flight over from the US and mentioned I really wanted to snap a photo outside a three ninja post office to send to Steve; I wasn’t sure he’d even remember this silly little moment on our trip as it meant a lot to me but probably just felt like one more example of his country bumpkin brother gawking at the city lights. So imagine my surprise and disappointment as mom and I strolled the streets of Kyoto and came across a post office only to discover a) there’s a lot more than three kanji characters on the sign and b) maybe only one of those characters appears ninja-ish to me and definitely not three in a row.

It seems unlikely they changed the kanji so I wonder what I saw or why I remember so clearly the ninja-ninja-ninja story.

My Japanese language skills now are therefore less than a toddler, less than even a twenty month old newborn just learning to form words.

But I take some solace in that I cracked the kanji code for these signs just outside my hotel. Much like the non-Dick-San bike pictographs, the drawings helped in the first sign… and my ill-advised rubric of viewing kanji as hieroglyphics to puzzle out meaning informs the second.

Clearly the drawings translate this Japanese text into “Loading Zone. Five minute maximum.”

As to this one:

The kanji looks to me like a person waving under a bus stop sign so I want to say this translates into “Waiting/Loading Zone.” It’s right above the aforementioned five minute sign so I feel like I’m in the ballpark.

I’ll need to bug Steve to get confirmation. Even with augmented reality, I don’t know if there’s a smartphone app that allows one to take a photo of a sign and have the cloud servers translate it into another language. I should a) Google that and b) if it doesn’t exist I should patent that ASAP!


A Last Minute Update – I googled “Post Ofive in Japanese” and cane across this image for the Japan Post Network — it looks like three ninjas to me!