Due to a series of miscommunications and missed opportunities, I found myself at the beginning of a three day weekend in Japan with less than 8000 yen in my wallet -- and this only because I raided my stash of old japanese bills I'd been saving to someday frame. This calls to mind a roughly four month span I experienced as a grad student in London, when the value of the dollar suddenly plummeted, causing my actual expenses to increase by half quite literally overnight. The only difference is that in London, most museums are free, and I could walk to many of them. That is not the case with most attractions in Japan. (And also, in London I knew Mom and Dad would bail me out if I asked them to -- when I found myself in the 'fell-off-the-truck' discount grocers debating whether or not I could afford to spend 34 pence on butter, I realized it was time to do just that.)
So, my grand plans to travel back to my japanese hometown ($60 for the return trip bus ticket), or to stay over the weekend at a japanese countryside inn (prices starting at $100 a night), or even just to go hiking in Kyoto (a less than $20 train trip, but if anything were to happen there's no way I could get back by taxi for under $60) having been thwarted, I set about trying to entertain myself at home. Sara is at a conference in Okinawa this week, Heather's on homeleave, and everyone else has a family and doesn't want to play. So it really was just me, for three days straight. Lucky for me that I'm such wonderful company.
In the end, this turned out to be somewhat of a blessing. I went running for the first time in forever (my adductor muscles where NOT happy about this, shaking their little fists at me in indignant rage). I made brown rice with the giant ricecooker I had bought on a whim at CostCo (a Tiger brand 10 cup monstrosity, the Cadillac of ricecookers -- by eating directly from the cooker, I find I can affect a whole new level of militant singlehood). I ate through part of my stash of ready-made curry (running revealed that this has given my sweat a distinctive - yet not unpleasant - south asian vibe). I went walking along the river in my town and fed the koi and pigeons stale bread I'd been saving for that purpose (clearly I'm not the only one ignoring the signs that say not to do this, because the pigeons had no compunction about perching on my arms and shoulders in varying degrees of dramatic incline to eat the bread out of my hands). I hung out at night in the coffee shop near my house (a $4 cup of coffee being the one thing I could afford), and read both Japanese (a translation of Sherlock Holmes stories) and English (David Foster Wallace essays). Lacking a TV, I used my computer to watch a Japanese language sub of Casablanca on DVD ("We'll always have Paris." = 君と過ごしたパリの思い出がある。). All very pleasant, parenthetically rich activities. Though I think the most satisfying thing I did all weekend was study Korean.
Now why, you might ask, would I be doing something so irrational as begin study of a third language when I am sucking so badly at the language of the country I'm actually living in? Well, frankly, I feel restless and discouraged with my Japanese; I need a smaller scale project to take on where I can see immediate gains. Thus, in anticipation of many more days trapped at home once the Dante-esque hell of japanese winter begins, I bought a korean language text book and signed up for the FS online Korean course. The grammar is supposed to be similar to Japanese, so my hope is that one will reinforce the other. (I can always hope, right?)
At any rate, my first revelation concerning Korean came when I learned the word for 'hat': 모자. Having learned this from a book, I can really only guess at the correct pronounciation, but it's something like 'maw-ja'. At any rate, what was so exciting about this is that I realized the korean sound 'ja' (자) must be equivalent to the japanese sound 'shi' (し), since the japanese word for 'hat' is 帽子 'boshi'*. The kanji character 子 that sounds like 'shi' in the japanese word for 'hat', and presumably 'ja' in the korean word, means 'child'. In Japanese, it can also be pronouced 'ko' (こ), and is a very common ending for japanese female names (Keiko and Mariko and Junko and the like). And so (stay with me here) this must be why so many of the korean female names I see at the window end in 'ja': it's the korean version of Keiko and Mariko and Junko! QED.
Being able to follow this deductive chain from beginning to end marked a high point in this weekend's accomplishments, right up there with finally filing the stack of paper that's been on my floor for over a month, and sewing the fly button back on my black work pants. I haven't been able to feel in any way accomplished in language study in an awfully long time. So thanks, Korea! If I have anything to say about it, Tokushima will someday be definitively yours.
The fact that I can't as yet form the sentence 'This is a hat' in Korean is completely inconsequential...
* The languages of the two countries share a common Chinese root; using that as an axiom, I felt this was a pretty safe assumption.