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Saturday, Nov. 30, 2002

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Japanese made funny by 'gaijin' gaffes


Some people collect rocks. Others stamps. Still others beer cans.

My own collection, however, is a bit more sophisticated.

You see, I collect bloopers -- more specifically, language bloopers.

Not those of flick chicks flubbing their lines, nor those of the print media gumming up spellings. Nor even those of Japanese English learners bungling their "L's" and "R's" to announce they study at "clam school" and so on.

Nope. My collection is much more personal. For I package together the boo-boos we foreigners make in Japanese.

As such, I am intimately involved. I am both collector and collectee, observer and observed, cameraman and model, hunter and not-so-elusive quarry.

And I am also published. Let me shamelessly say my collection -- "Japanese Made Funny" -- is now available at bookstores everywhere. If I were you, I would go buy a few dozen copies today.

Inside you will find such memorable "gaijin" gaffes as:

The girl in the countryside who entered an outdoor "onsen" only to find a fat cow in the water with her. This, understandably, vexed her to no end.

So she shooed it out and then clubbed it to death with a wooden stool.

Or so she explained to a Japanese friend, not knowing she had goofed the key word.

For rather than "ushi," or "cow," she had meant to say "mushi," or "bug."

"Wow," her friend thought. "This is one tough woman."

Then there is the story of the girl who could not get her closet door to close. With guests due any minute, she phoned her landlord to see if he might run upstairs and help her wiggle the darned thing shut.

Except she mistook the word for closet, "oshi-ire," with the word "oshiri."

That's right. She told her landlord she couldn't get her butt closed. And that she needed his help because she didn't want her guests to peek inside.

Women aren't the only ones who trip badly in Japanese. Take the case of the man who showed up at his boss's house one night with some papers to be signed.

He rang the bell and momentarily the door was opened by a petite young girl in a T-shirt, his boss's teenage daughter.

The man eyed her up and down and then asked, "Sumimasen. O-chichi wa?"

He assumed he was using the polite form for "father" and that his question was thus, "Excuse me. Where is your honorable dad?"

But "ochichi" means something very different. And what the trim-figured girl heard was: "Excuse me. Where are your breasts?"

Next we have the tale of a good friend who drove off in search of a well-known temple.

When he got lost, he asked a woman along the road if she could teach him the way.

When the woman replied that she had no idea, my friend shot back that she must know because the temple was very famous and quite popular with tourists.

Yet the woman stuck to her words and insisted there was no such place nearby. However, she did have a "regular" temple at her house at which my friend was very welcome.

He sped away, thinking the women to be somewhat odd. Only later did he realize that instead of the word for temple, "otera," he had mistakenly said "otearai."

Which means toilet.

Another friend, on a holiday at the seashore, shouted frantically to prevent a group of school girls from entering the waves.

"Don't go in, girls! The water's full of jellyfish!"

Only he mixed the words "kurage" and "karaage." Which resulted in the girls hearing:

"Don't go in, girls! The water's full of fried chicken!"

The same good-hearted friend also tried to protect a pair of female hikers in the mountains.

"Don't go down that path, girls! I saw a huge snake there." He stretched his arms wide. "It was this long! Maybe longer!"

Except in place of "hebi," or "snake," he instead used "ebi" . . . or "shrimp."

The girls avoided the path. They also avoided my friend.

Of course, more than a few of the bloopers in "Japanese Made Funny" are pearls from my very own lips.

Of these, the one that is usually told first in our family folklore is the day that my wife coughed up a small amount of blood -- "chi" in Japanese.

I immediately phoned a doctor and explained what happened.

The doctor kept calm, but my wife and children did not. They began to hoot like loons.

For I had told the doctor my wife had vomited "hi" . . . or "fire."

Whichever, my wife survived. And so did my pride -- barely.

Family bloopers, shopping bloopers, business bloopers, dating bloopers, church bloopers and more -- whatever your poison, "Japanese Made Funny" packs about 150 more such word bobbles into 200 pages.

Yet there is also room left for comic illustrations by artist Andy Boerger. If the bloop itself doesn't tickle you, Andy's art will.

Published by The East, "Japanese Made Funny" is also a "tai yaku bon," meaning it has a Japanese translation facing each page.

So after you laugh in English, you can laugh again in Japanese. But for only one price! What a deal!

As cheap as a business lunch, "Japanese Made Funny" should be at any store that carries English books. If not, contact the publisher at east@japan.email.ne.jp. Or me at ">marriedtojapan@yahoo.com.

And while you're at it, send along your bloopers.

For a collector's work is never done.



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