Simanaitis Says

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JAPANESE CONVERSATION STARTERS—AND TERMINATORS

I’VE FORGOTTEN WHERE I acquired my Traveler’s Phrase Book & Dictionary; its price notation suggests it was here in the U.S. Nevertheless, it was published in Japan by Nanun-Do, 1976, and intended for Japanese readers.

The book’s first 211 pages are devoted to 44 categories, ranging from Greetings, Introduction, and Parting to Letter Writing, Telegram, and Toast. The Japanese is aligned on the left, with the corresponding English on the right.

Next comes a 159-page English/Japanese dictionary, arranged alphabetically in English. Last, there’s a 126-page Japanese/English dictionary, arranged by radicals (as discussed here at SimanaitisSays).

Here are tidbits gleaned particularly from the book’s first portion, assembled as conversation starters and occasionally as terminators.

Greetings. “How are you?” “Fine, thank you. And you?” “I’m not well.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” 

Well, yes. We’ve all been set up that way, one time or another. 

“What have you been up to since last we met?” “Nothing much.” “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” “Miserable weather, isn’t it?” 

You know the type.

Introduction. Matters are rather warmer here. “Can I offer you a cigarette (a cigar, a drink, some fruit)?” “If you come our way, please drop in at any time.” “I hope we’ll become good friends.” 

Particularly if that guy ever changes that attitude of his.

Parting. “I think I must be going now.” “I have to be on my way.” “I’d better be getting along now.”

Brief, to the point. And understandable.

Weather. Useful vocabulary includes “drought,” “foggy,” “gale,” “hail,” “lightning,” “rainy,” “smog,” and “sultry.” I believe I know the guy who chose these. 

Complements. “You are a very good cook.” “You look cute in your new dress.” “You’re very skillful in ….” 

Pause here to imagine various skills.

Everyday Phrases. “I beg your pardon.” This one, actually underlined in red in the original Japanese owner’s hand. Evidently he has met the guy we’ve been encountering. 

“Good gracious!” “Good Heavens!” 

Emergencies. We might have expected this: “Help!” “Call the Police!” “I’ve been robbed!” “Stop that man!” “He went that way!” “That man is following me everywhere.” 

Or is it the other way about?

Restaurant. Matters really deteriorate at meal time: “Why is our order so late?” “The spoon is dirty. Change it, please.” “This dish is not clean.” “Bring me a sharper knife, please.”

I find this last request particularly frightening. 

Toast. “Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in drinking to the health of Mr. Johnson.” 

We finally learn that guy’s name. Is he retiring? Did he jump. Or was he pushed? 

And, evidently in different company entirely, “Gentlemen, let us rise and drink to beauties.”

Letter Writing. Along with useful business correspondence, there’s also a Love Letter: “Dear Susie, I have been astonished that men could die martyrs of religion. I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion….. love is my religion….. I could die for you. You have ravished me away by a power I cannot resist….. Yours for ever. Taro Ono.”

Talk about “sultry.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

2 comments on “JAPANESE CONVERSATION STARTERS—AND TERMINATORS

  1. Jack Albrecht
    May 4, 2021

    I have numerous old language books between English and German, and my wife (the polyglot) has a whole bunch more. Soon to be obsolete between fast and small tech (processors and memory, respectively) and AI.

    Handheld instant translators are already on the market. How well they really work I don’t know, but it will only be a few years before these books will only be needed for people who travel extended periods with no access to recharge.

    That is sad, to my mind. A translator widget will never have the tactile feel, smell, or time-capsule ambiance of an old dog-eared book with hand-written notes in the margins.

    • simanaitissays
      May 4, 2021

      How true, Jack,
      Along similar lines, vintage cars and vintage books exist. But who enjoys fooling with vintage computers?
      I’ve been tempted to unearth my Wife Dottie’s ancient Olivetti “laptop” (not called that back then). It was a Tandy equivalent, and quite the thing in its day. But, note: I am only tempted…. I have yet to follow through.

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