It's not a Japanese film though. I watched Hot Fuzz (or to give its Japanese title ホット・ファズ -俺たちスーパーポリスメン! "Hot Fuzz: We Are The Super-Policemen!")
Watching dubbed British comedies might not be the "purest" way to practise Japanese. But if you enjoy it, it's definitely worth doing. Dubbed films are easy to watch, too, assuming you've seen the film before and know the plot already.
Anyway, there's a little scene in the Hotto Fazzu dub that's a nice example of Japanese plurals in action, so I thought I'd share it with you.
Angel and Danny are in the corner shop, and the shopkeeper asks them:
殺人犯たち捕まらないの？ satsujinhan tachi tsukamaranai no?
"No luck catching them killers then?"
"Killers" is translated as 殺人犯たち satsujinhan-tachi.
You take the word 殺人犯 satsujinhan (murderer) and add the suffix たち tachi - which makes it plural.
See? Japanese does have plurals! ...when it needs them.
Danny doesn't notice the shopkeeper's slip-up (she knows more than she's letting on), and replies:
人しかいないんだけど。 hitori shika inai n da kedo.
"It's just the one killer actually."
PC Angel, of course, mulls over the shopkeeper's words, and realises their significance: there's more than one killer on the loose.
It's the turning point of the movie, and it rests on a plural. Yay!
You can use たち like this when you need to indicate plurality:
私たち watashi-tachi we, us (plural) あなたたち anata-tachi you (plural) ジョンたち jon-tachi John and his mates
It's not common, but it does exist. Keep an eye out for it! You never know, you might just solve a murder case.
But it was inconvenient not being able to write native Japanese words down, and so people began to use kanji to represent the phonetic sounds of Japanese words, not only the meaning. This is called manyougana and is the oldest native Japanese writing system.
For example, in manyougana the word asa (morning) was written 安佐 (that's a kanji for the a sound - 安 - and another for the sa sound - 佐). In modern Japanese we'd use 朝, the kanji that means "morning" for asa.
Problem was, manyougana used multiple kanji for each phonetic sound - over 900 characters for the 90 phonetic sounds in Japanese - so it was inefficient and time-consuming.
Gradually, people began to simplify kanji characters into simpler characters - that's where hiragana and katakana came from.
Katakana means "broken kana" or "fragmented characters". It was developed by monks in the 9th century who were annotating Chinese texts so that Japanese people could read them. So katakana was really an early form of shorthand.
Each katakana character comes from part of a kanji: for example, the top half of 呂 became katakana ロ (ro), the left side of 加 became katakana カ (ka).
Women in Japan, on the other hand, wrote in cursive script, which was gradually simplified into hiragana. That's why hiragana looks all loopy and squiggly. Like katakana, hiragana characters don't have meaning - they just indicate sound.
↓ How kanji (top) evolved into manyougana (middle in red), and then hiragana (bottom).
Because it was simpler than kanji, hiragana was accessible for women who didn't have the same education level as men. The 11th-century classic The Tale of Genji was written almost entirely in hiragana, because it was written by a female author for a female audience.
What would 12th-century people in Japan think of my students, 800 years later, learning hiragana as they take their first steps into the Japanese language?
Did you know that Japan has its own numbering system for the years? As well as the Gregorian calendar (the same calendar used in the west, the one that says it's 2019 now), Japan uses another system which names years after the reign of the emperor.
(The western calendar is commonly used too - and the two systems can be used interchangeably.)
Many people believe you need to live abroad to get speaking practice in a foreign language, but this isn’t true.
Similarly, people often assume that if you in Japan, like I did, you’ll pick up the language easily. But that’s not necessarily true either.
If you speak English, it’s possible - indeed easy - to live in another country for years and not become fluent in the language.
I didn't make any year-long New Years’ Resolutions this year. Instead, I decided to set myself some monthly language-related challenges. I’ll decide them as the year goes on, and I’ll probably do one every other month.
In January, I decided to speak Japanese every day for a month.
I’m not a particularly loud person, but some parts of my Japanese classes are quite loud. We sing and dance, talk and play games. We’ve even been asked to keep the noise down before by a group in the next room who were having a meeting (sorry about that!)
But in summer 2018, I ran a very quiet course. Students worked alone, in a comfortable silence.
And I was the teacher, but I mostly sat reading a hand-stapled book, looking up only to check that students were happily entertaining themselves.
This was Tadoku - a reading class with a difference.
Near Kumadani-ji, temple number 8, we had stopped in front of some glorious cherry blossom, and I got chatting to two older gentlemen who were walking the trail. One told me he had never spoken to a gaijin-san, foreigner, before.
(The cynic in me wonders if that’s really true, or if by “foreigner” he meant “white person”…)
We took some pictures in front of the cherry blossom, and walked up the hill together.
Further up the road, a lady came out of her house and gave us some hard-boiled sweets ...