You Say Romanji

You Say RomanjiOne of us has been worried about romanji (also spelled romaji) this week. To misparaphrase The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, romanji is similar to, but not quite like, English. If romanji were submitted to a duck test, it would look like a duck and walk like a duck…but not talk like a duck.

At the risk of oversimplfying the matter, romanji is the Western characterization of kanji and kana symbols. If you can read a little romanji, you can, for example, order a chicken sandwich in a restaurant (provided, of course, that the menu has romanji characters; if not, plastic food will be your best friend forever).

The problem the Western speaker faces is that you know full well how “chicken sandwich” should be pronounced, but the person on the other side of the counter at your local Tokyo Kentucky Fried Chicken doesn’t hear the words the way you do. You still need to apply the correct pronunciation to the Japanese character set. It’s not complex, until you’re jet-lagged and cranky and just wanting to order a cup of coffee.

Simple communications are made complex by pronunciation errors. We have decided that it is best to stop worrying and learn to love the correct pronunciation. Once you know the correct sounds to apply, then you can translate those sounds into more familiar words. It will soon become easy.

Love, Japanese Style

Love Japanese StyleThough Valentine’s Day is not a national holiday in Japan, the tradition of celebrating with chocolates has grown. Only in Japan, it’s the men who get the chocolates. Seems fair to us, especially since just one month later, “White Day” — a manufactured holiday — was established to allow men to assuage their guilt by giving gifts to women.

Of course there’s a twist:

. . .men who were lucky enough to receive gifts of chocolate have the chance to return the favor by giving the women who gave them gifts of chocolate a more expensive box of chocolate or sweets (for some reason or other, these return gifts seem to be priced slightly higher than those the women purchase).

Not surprisingly, chocolate-giving for Valentine’s Day has taken on a uniquely Japanese approach, leading to the holiday accounting for more than half the annual chocolate sales in the country. Instead of paper Valentine’s, women give boxes of chocolate to bosses, co-workers, (male) friends, male family members, and sweethearts.

With so much chocolate trading hands, it’s worthwhile to note that the gifts come in two levels. Honmei-choco is expensive and reserved for special men. On the other end of the spectrum. . .

Chocolate given to men whom women don’t feel special love are called “giri (obligation)-choco (chocolate).” Chocolate given to co-workers and bosses are usually considered as giri-choco. Many men feel embarrassed if they don’t receive any chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Women usually make sure to give giri-choco to men around them so that they don’t feel left out. The average price range for giri-choco is from 100 yen to 300 yen each.