I decided to join Japanese Tamago because I was interested in Japan’s culture and I wanted to learn Japanese. I was also greatly encouraged to learn more about Japan because of the growing popularity of anime and ramen. I’ve continued with the program because I have learned a lot from the program, both the Japanese language and culture.
One thing that I learned from Japanese Tamago were the origins of Japanese chopsticks and their similarities and differences with Korea’s and China’s chopsticks. Chopsticks originated from the Shang Dynasty and both Korea and Japan adopted the chopsticks from China. There are some similarities between the three chopsticks, but China, Korea, and Japan have different customs that associate with their chopsticks.
As you can see, Chinese chopsticks are the longest out of the three, while Japan’s chopsticks are the shortest. Chinese chopsticks are usually made out of bamboo, plastic, or ivory and they are about 10 inches long. They have blunt ends and they are a rectangle shape. Chinese chopsticks are long because they could be used as cooking utensils and also for shared dishes. Korean chopsticks are usually made with metal and they are a rectangular shape. They could also be decorated at the ends. Japanese chopsticks are shorter and rounder than Korean and Chinese chopsticks. They also have a pointier end because it makes it easier to eat fish.
I encourage you to research the different customs and history for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean chopsticks. It is really interesting and engaging and I enjoyed learning about it.
Temples are considered to be places of worship for those who practice Japanese Buddhism. Because of this, almost every Japanese municipality has at least one temple. While you can find them many places, cities like Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura are the most popular places to go to temples. Popular temples include Osorezan, Kiyomizudera, the Todaiji Temple and Kinkakuji.
I chose this topic because we were learning about temples and a bit about temple etiquette in Japanese Tamago class. I think it’s important to adjust to your environment when you’re somewhere unfamiliar. That’s why I’ve taken a big interest in the culture in Japan because showing proper manners in a place you’re unfamiliar with is a great way to show your thoughtfulness. So I am here to share some of the things I learned about visiting a temple.
The structures you can usually find at a temple include:
-The main hall in which the sacred objects of worship are displayed
-The lecture hall where meetings and conferences take place
-The pagoda which stores the remains of the Buddha
-The gates mark the entrance to the temple
-On New Year’s Eve there is a bell that is rung 108 times for the Buddhist concept of worldly desires
-And a cemetery containing people’s ancestors
Because this is such a place of worship, there is proper etiquette when visiting a Japanese temple or shrine. I wanted to share some examples with you in the case that you decide to visit one of these beautiful places of worship.
To start off, there is no dress code when visiting one of these areas. However, it should go without saying that dressing modestly or appropriately is respectful. In temples they contain offering boxes in front of sacred objects of worship. You can show respect by throwing a coin into the offering box and then following it with a short prayer. In some temples you will find an incense burner for visitors. If you’d like you can purchase a bundle of incense and light it, waving it around with your hand and putting it in the incense burner. In temple buildings, it’s very possible you’ll be required to take off your shoes so make sure you’re wearing a pair of socks along with that and leave your shoes at the entrance. Make sure to take hats off as well. You may take photos on the temple grounds, but it’s often prohibited to take pictures inside the buildings. Overall, you should take into account that this is a peaceful and sacred place for many people so be respectful in the level of your voice and what you do with your body so as to not disturb others. As long as you’re showcasing proper manners and temple etiquette, enjoy your visit to these beautiful temples!
When I first joined Japanese Tamago, it was strictly for the language; after studying on my own, I wanted to start learning Japanese in a classroom setting. However, I’ve learned that the program is much more than just a language class, and I keep coming back just as much for the lessons on Japanese places, culture, and history as I do to further my study of the language. One thing that I was not expecting when I joined the class but really appreciate is the program’s involvement in current events, such as the recent anti-Asian hate crimes.
In Japanese Tamago, we have been discussing the recent rise in hate crimes against Asians and Pacific Islanders due to the pandemic’s origins in China, and possible courses of action we could take as a class to stand in support of these groups. Because there are not many youth organizations, either independent or within the public school system, that are actively connected to Asia, we feel that it is important that we make the voices of people like us heard. Especially because we are studying Japanese culture, I feel that we have a responsibility to stand up for the people we are learning about. It is a way to further inform ourselves and others of what Asians are going through, engage with the community around us at a time when many of us are isolated, and make our voices heard in a way that will create change.
Recently during Tamago class, we focused on Okinawa for the cultural aspect of the lesson. This meant we did a Rajio-Taiso exercise that was filmed in Okinawa, learned about Okinawan food, and also learned about the US military bases on the island. There is a long history of American military interaction with Okinawa, starting off in World War II with the battle of Okinawa resulting in many casualties, a lot of whom were civilians. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, the US occupied Japan up to 1952 and this meant Okinawa was in the control of the US. During the US occupation, military bases were constructed and used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The southern islands began to be returned to Japan in 1953 and all Ryukyu Islands were returned in 1971. After this, many military bases remained on Okinawa, playing roles in the War in Afghanistan, and Iraq War. Nowadays, there’s still a whopping 18% of Okinawa’s landmass that’s being used for the 32 American military bases on the island. And while Okinawa only constitutes 0.6% of Japan’s total landmass, 70% of all US military bases in Japan are on Okinawa.
The continued American military presence on Okinawa brings quite a bit of controversy among locals and authorities. This stems from the incidents that have happened at the main base in Okinawa, Kadena Air Base, and just the general intrusion. For example, there have been incidents of sexual violence committed by US servicemen. And there have been accidents involving civilians, like in 1959 when a fighter jet crashed into a local elementary school killing 17 people and injuring 210. Other accidents include a nuclear rocket being fired into a local harbor, nerve agents being leaked, and a lost hydrogen bomb in the nearby seas. Then in 2013, an accidental firing of the sprinkler systems spewed tens of thousands of chemical contaminants into the water system. This chemical, PFAS, has contaminated the drinking water of 450,000 people! Quite obviously, a military base comes with lots of risks for the residents.
One major controversy going on now is around the plans for the relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Base. Since the 1960s the US has had plans to relocate Futenma to the area of Henoko. The US military is now starting construction despite the opposition from locals where 72% of residents voted to reject the relocation. The reason there is so much opposition is that bases around Okinawa cause lots of trouble for the residents as evidenced above. In the case of Futenma, construction would require the destruction of coral reefs, which are prized in Okinawan culture. And the roars of Ospreys and other military aircraft have been connected to hearing loss among some of the elders. Protests and sit-ins are carried out to delay the construction of Futenma and yet the Japanese government continues to side with the US military, leaving protesters feeling unheard, adding to the frustration.
This is not to say that the majority of Okinawan residents want the US completely ejected. The opinions of residents are far more complex with surveys (Source) finding that half of the residents couldn’t decide whether US military presence was a good or bad thing. The majority of people think the US-Japan security treaty is a good thing with benefits for the island such as the tourism that comes with the bases and the strategic balance in Asia that the bases might bring. But the root of the problem is that there are too many bases in too small an area. Personally, I agree, and based on what I’ve read, it seems that the bases are a huge intrusion on residents. It feels like an extension of American imperialism, where the bases aren’t actual territories, but they allow the US to have so much influence around the world. The residents often have to pay the price for this through the horrible incidents that have happened. Then when people protest, they are not heard by the governments and by the wider world. If you’d like to read more about the US military bases in Okinawa, some articles are listed below, along with sources.
When I first started learning Japanese, I was very excited to hear the similarities when listening to spoken Japanese to how my dad talks on the phone to his family. Because of him, I’ve learned some Kiswahili, possibly with Meru influence, because his family is Meru. When taking heard Japanese onto writing in the Roman alphabet, spelling was quite easy because Bantu languages and Japanese can be very phonetically similar. Even with sounds that are less common in Japanese, like the “L” sound, similarities are still there in my mother’s heritage of Chilenge and Zambia’s Chichewa.
Pronunciation and Spelling
Immediately the similarities between the two can be seen in people’s names, how the names are spelled and how they’re pronounced. For example, my last name, Kaberia, the way my name is said is based off Meru language rules, that are very close to Kiswahili language rules, because my Dad is Kenyan. A lot of English speakers tend to struggle with saying it right, usually on the letter “e.” In English the letter “e” is mostly silent or pronounced as /ee/ like “each.” Also the letter “a” isn’t read by many as “ah,” but rather “uh” in American-English. So, a lot of people end up saying “Ka(bee)riuh” instead of “Kah-beh-ri-ah” how it’s supposed to be pronounced. In Swahili, the majority of the time vowels are consistent, A=ah E=eh I=ee O=oh U=oo(uu), rather than having many different pronunciations. With Japanese katakana the consistency is there and the pronunciations are similar, ア=ah エ=eh イ=ee オ=oh ウ=oo(uu), which also remains the same when you add a consonant before them.
Now with my mother’s last name, she has stories of people saying they thought she was Japanese based off her name. Her name is Zambian(Chilenge), Lusaka, which does follow the Chichewa/Nyanja rules for vowel pronunciation, that are the exact same as the ones for Swahili and Japanese katakana. When I learned to write my name in katakana it was very simple because the spelling and pronunciation of my last names lined up with the katakana.
Reduplication refers to words formed through repetition of sounds or entire words. Examples in English include okey-dokey, flim-flam, and pitter-patter. In Japanese the word “tsugi/つぎ” means next, and “tsugi-tsugi/つぎつぎ” means in succession. The word is repeated to mean an extension of that original word in this case. This can be compared to two different examples in Chichewa and Swahili. “Piga” meaning to strike, becomes “Pigapiga” to strike repeatedly in Swahili. In Chichewa “tambalalá” means to stretch one’s legs, “tambalalá- tambalalá” means to stretch one’s legs repeatedly.
Both Japanese and many Bantu languages share phonetic and grammatical similarities. The languages may not be directly related but they do share these similarities.