So last night I had my first Japanese class. I have wanted to take Japanese for a while - I almost did in my first year of undergrad but took German instead - and finally enrolled in a beginners course at Algonquin College. Of course, all the way down on the bus, I had the aforementioned Styx song stuck in my head.
My Japanese teacher is soooo hyper. She's maybe in her mid-30s, from Kyoto originally (sigh) and just way more hyper than anyone should probably be. However, it was great. She drilled us and drilled us first on phonetic Japanese and then with simple phrases. I am already starting to dread the moment when she will spin around in my direction and fire off an entirely-too-rapid "Gambatte kudasai" or "Anata wa gakusei desu" in my direction, at which point I start scrambling through the handouts she has given us and my scrawled notes on them in order to find the appropriate response ("Hai, gambarimasu" or "Iie, watashi wa gakusei dewa arimasen" respectively).*
General introductions and counting to ten (ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku, hachi, nana, qyū, jū). We learned a bit of Japanese culture. For instance, there are four types of bowing, depending on how formal an occasion. Men keep their hands at their sides when bowing, but women should have theirs clasped in front of them. In the last half-hour, we watched some videoclips from Japan: a commercial for some creamy refreshing drink with Brad Pitt ("Dare desu ka?" / "Brad Pitt desu"); a clip from a wedding with a 10-metre tall cake; a shogun talking to his court (meant to demonstrate the word "Sā" which means "I don't know" - a good thing to know! - and always done with a tilt of the head); the Empress getting her hair done (2 hours) and getting dressed in her wedding kimono (over 20 minutes to put it on); and a bunch of sumo wrestlers eating al fresco in Vancouver ("Kanpai!" or "Cheers!").
Anyhow, it was fun and oh so different from any class I have taken in years. It's been almost two years since I was last a student (I love going to class! how can I get back???), and learning a language is way different than databases or administrative law. Challenging, and fun.
* For the linguistically-challenged in the group, this would be "Please do your best" - "Yes, I'll do my best" and "Are you a student?" - "No, I am not a student." Also note that where a word ends in a "u", at least so far, the "u" is not pronounced, and there is no "r" sound in Japanese (hence Japan's reputation as the land of "flied lice"), so all "r"s are actually pronounced as a cross between "l" and "d" (or for the Westerners among us, who have trouble doing the proper sound, an "l" sound is fine).