Important Things You Didn’t Learn in Second Grade
But the Japanese, I discovered, are extremely forgiving of people who put their beloved language through a chain saw. I never spoke to the emperor, but nobody else seemed to take the slightest offense at my using across-the-board plain formal Japanese.
Writing was something else again. I haven’t been illiterate since I was about six. I must have been a good deal more patient back then, because not being able to read at age 35 was one of the more frustrating experiences of my life. Sure, I studied kanji characters, but there are so many of them that students usually can’t completely decipher a newspaper until they graduate from high school. Most of the time the individual characters get tacked together in lyrically poetic and graceful ways to make new words that have nothing to do with the original pictographs. Am I making no sense? That’s how I felt for an entire year. Most Japanese stores are discreetly advertised, so I spent hours standing in front of curtained-off facades, trying to figure out if I was about to walk into a restaurant or a bordello. Ever wondered how to look up a word in a language that has no alphabet?
But that’s all from a traveler’s point of view. Business, is another matter, because if you want to work in Japan, you have to know how to write. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. The right way involves massive quantities of paperwork, letters of introduction, hand-written resumes, applications, follow-up questionnaires, and the like. All written in picture-perfect Japanese. And unfortunately, hiring a professional translator in Japan (at about $100 per page) was completely out of my price range...