MAGGIE’S MEOW: The Japanese Language



I believe the Japanese language is one of the most difficult yet most beautiful of all the languages in the world. It is a language that is syllabic, precise and yet complicated in many ways. I don’t profess to be an expert in the Japanese language but what I know, I know.

Japanese was my first language. I always spoke in Japanese to Papa and Mama and we maintained a GOOD relationship through the many conversations we had.

Although I have the ability to carry on a conversation in moderate Japanese, I regret that I can only read and write at the second-grade level. Fortunately, this grade level has some of the BASIC kanji characters. I wish I could read the Japanese section of The Rafu and other material written in Japanese. However, I am able to read the letters written in Japanese from a former Japanese class teacher and a former co-employee who are aware of my reading level.

If I recognize two or three of the kanji characters in the title of a paragraph in the newspaper and/or book, I know what the article is about.

The following three “categories” illustrate my comments in the first paragraph of this article and are used merely to illustrate my point:


In Japanese, one knows the person is the oldest son by saying only one word (chou-nan 長男) or if she is the oldest daughter by saying only one word (chou-jo 長女).

When a couple have a grandchild and refers to the grandchild as uchi-mago (内孫), it relates to their son’s child because a son is a son, to put it bluntly. On the other hand, when a couple refers to the grandchild as soto-mago (外孫), one knows it is their daughter’s child since the daughter “leaves” the family so she becomes an “outsider.”

If one’s sister is older and is married, the brother-in-law is known as giri-no-ani (義理の兄). Ani is older brother. If one’s sister is younger and is married, the brother-in-law becomes giri-no-otouto (義理の弟). Otouto is younger brother. These two examples eliminates a few words as in English one says, “This is my brother-in-law who is married to my older sister” or “This is my brother-in-law who is married to my younger sister.”


In English, it makes no difference what one wears, such as a dress, shoes, hat, glasses — the same verb, “wear,” is used. However, in Japanese, the verb changes depending on what you wear. (The article of clothing is followed by the Japanese verb in the examples below.)

Dress: ki-ru (着る)

Shoes/socks: ha-ku (履く)

Hat: ka-bu-ru (冠る)

Eyeglasses: ka-ke-ru (掛ける)


In English, the word “cold” applies to the weather, winter, water, one’s heart, food, etc. However in Japanese, the word for “cold” changes as noted below:

Weather (winter): sa-mu-i (寒い)

Water: hi-ya-i (冷い) and/or tsu-me-ta-i (冷たい)

One’s heart: Kanojo no kokoro wa tsumetai (彼女の心は冷たい) (She has a cold heart)

Food that has become cold can be described as sa-me-ta (冷めた).


1. During the 1950s when living in San Francisco, I volunteered my Saturdays for several months at the Children’s Hospital. There was a lady from Japan whose son was in a somewhat critical condition.

A pediatrician came to me while I was reading a story to one of the children and asked me, “Do you speak Japanese?” I replied in the affirmative. He then said, “Thank God. Could you please tell this mother to go to her hotel and get a few hours’ rest and came back later in the afternoon? She has been by his bedside since Monday. She is worn out and needs to get some rest. Tell her not to worry since her son will be well taken care of.”

I informed the mother what the pediatrician said and she thanked me and reluctantly left.

2. In the mid-1980s, I taught an English class twice a week to Korean “students” who were 55 and older. Because of a political issue in Japan, they were compelled to speak, read and write Japanese. If the “students” began to frown or had a quizzical look when I began teaching a lesson, I would speak in Japanese. It was amazing how quickly they would smile and nod their heads. I did not do this too often, however, because after all, it was supposed to be an “English” class.

3. In 1999 when I was interviewed for the typing position for The Rafu Shimpo at the age of 75, one of the main reasons I was selected was because I spoke Japanese.

4. I honestly believe living in California and being able to speak Japanese and Spanish is a GREAT advantage because of the huge population of these two ethnic groups.

Go-ki-gen-you (ごきげんよう).

Amen and sayonara.

Maggie Ishino is a Rafu typist and can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

Amen and Sayonara



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