My Japanese was not “limited” when I first went to Japan. My Japanese, much like the Higgs boson until 2012, was merely theorized. It was vaguely familiar in a shouty sort of way and was likely elementary to everyday life but I didn’t understand a damn thing about it. Very like the Higgs boson, my Japanese was monumental, pivotal and fundamental to only a small group of people….namely me and the people with whom I interacted on a daily basis. But once I discovered it….well. Higgs boson-levels of excitement
There I was in Japan, not speaking any Japanese, not understanding any Japanese and writing letters to friends at home. So I needed stamps. Easy peasy, I could zoom over to the convenience store and be back in time to watch a Japanese drama and make up dialogue based purely on dramatic hand gestures and the how many times tea was poured in a meaningful way. I looked up the word “stamp” and “letter” and “send” and set off. What I did NOT do was look up “listen” and “ask” and “come”....which I quickly learned all sound like “stamp” but don’t mean “stamp,” not in any way. Not even a little.
I never did see that drama. I have no idea if the rebel hairdresser-veterinarian fulfilled his dream of walking along a riverbank in leather pants with a team of corgis and an office lady/pottery smasher who wanted to be a hula dancer. I was in that convenience store for an hour. I tried to understand Japanese and failed to understand most of it. I tried to speak Japanese and ended up speaking something almost exactly nothing like it. So, I wrote it down here for your entertainment.
(You have to understand that to me, this is what the clerk sounded like. I imagine that this is what I sounded like to the clerk, with my 4 words of Japanese. I have no idea what I actually sounded like to the clerk because I couldn’t ask. Because I didn’t speak Japanese. Keep up. Honestly.)
Clerk: GURGGELDY BLAH!
Me: (smiles) Hi. 4 Listen? Please.
Clerk: (nods) Blargymas.
Me: Listen? 4. 4 Listen. Listeeeeen. Ummmm.. Listen!
Clerk: (tilts head) Shoklemeenshawa? Blicka blag boo.
Me: Come? Come. Please. Listen Come. Cooooome.
Clerk: (looks around)
Me: (waves hands around) Please? Square. AskComeListen. Please. So…? Yes.
Clerk: Shikapoopoo? Kyakakodobleepbloopbap bap.
Me: (doesn’t know why the clerk is turning into a robot. This is a bit much, even for Japan)
Me: (draws a square in the air) Letter! America. Letter America listenask! Please?
Clerk: Ah! Stamp? Stamp! Letter to America...Stamp?
Me: Yes? Yes. Yes yes. Ask. Listen. Stamp. Please.
Clerk: (holds up some stamps) Gokikama bookie bookie sanma?
Me: (holds out money). Ok. Yes. Please.
Clerk: (takes money. Wraps stamps in paper. Wraps the paper in a small bag. Tapes it shut. Wraps them in another bag. Tapes that shut.)
Me: (smokes a cigarette)
Clerk: (Ties a string around the bag. Lights a candle and and seals the bag with sealing wax.
Me: (drinks a coffee)
Clerk: Ok! Blickybooboo raikomacha coo coo!
Me: Ok. Thank you Thank you Thank you.
Clerk: No problem. The mailbox is on the corner. Have a great day, bye bye!