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Saturday, Dec. 1, 2001


Uses for the Japanese Proficiency Test

Tomorrow, foreigners from all over the world, from China to Mars, will be sitting for the Japanese Proficiency Test.

I emphasize the word "sitting." Some will be actively marking answers to their tests, while others, mostly those from Mars, will be sitting staring at the "kanji" characters as they swirl into different patterns, mainly plaid and herringbone. These students may find themselves in a trance as previously familiar characters suddenly sprout extra strokes or a tiny glob that allows the kanji to take on an entirely new meaning, such as the difference between water and ice. If you are one of the ones from Mars, it is only then that you'll realize you should have boned up on your globs.

The Japanese Proficiency Test has four levels, the lowest level being Level 4 and the highest Level 1. Let's take a look at what these levels mean.

After completing level 4, you will be able to: use chopsticks, say, "Atsui desu ne" ("It's hot, isn't it?") "Samui desu ne" ("It's cold, isn't it?") and "Kawaii!" ("Cute!") in a high-pitched girl's voice. You can go to McDonald's and order by pointing to the pictures on the menu. You can recognize the ads on free tissue packets for telephone sex.

Upon successful completion of Level 3, you will be able to: order a "mizu-wari" (whiskey and water) by yourself, sing bad karaoke, and correctly mispronounce English loanwords such as "tero" (terrorism), "guddo" (good) and "O.K." with a glottal stop. You'll be able to convince Japanese people you understand Japanese even when you don't. You'll be able to read the details of those ads for telephone sex.

Passing Level 2 enables you to: understand local dialects, drunk salaryman and elderly people with no teeth. You'll be able to read the "furigana" on karaoke screens and sing Japanese songs by yourself. You can understand annoying recorded voices such as the cell phone lady who says, "The person you are trying to reach is either unreachable or is in a place where they can't be reached." Or announcements on trains, such as "The next stop is Honmachi. If you are going to Honmachi, get off here" and, "Please refrain from smoking in the nonsmoking car." You'll be able buzz down the shopping street on your bicycle while simultaneously reading the sign in kanji that says, "No riding bicycles in the shopping street." Japanese dogs will obey your commands.

You can read what you are not allowed to do -- "No parking" -- and what you're allowed to do: "Let's make a friendly community! Always smile and say hello to your neighbors." You can read the neighborhood newsletter that reminds you to put reflectors on your bicycle wheels, be careful of old people crossing the road and to always wear a reflector vest when walking at night. If stopped and questioned by the police about something, you'll be able to, in very polite Japanese, claim you don't understand Japanese. You'll be able to blush because you understand the signs men are holding in Kabuki-cho that detail the sexual services available. You're beginning to be able to distinguish from the ads which telephone sex club is probably best.

If you pass level 1, you'll be able to: understand TV news, drunk salarymen who have passed out, and bad kung fu movies with Japanese subtitles. You can get into a Japanese university, which allows you to then spend four years working a part-time job while attending classes only half the time. You'll be able to sing karaoke pretty well and even do duets. You can decipher the globs in kanji and read the manuals to all your appliances. You'll be able to explain the customs of Mars to large groups of people. And finally, you'll be able to make that phone call for telephone sex.

Contact Amy Chavez by e-mail at amychavez@excite.com. To subscribe to "Japan Lite" for free, go to www.amychavez.com .

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