Today I followed my friend to the place where she goes for Japanese class. It's called Kumon and is basically a tutoring center for school kids. I was nervous for a couple of hours leading up to it. Yeah, you read that right, I'm pathetic. What could be lower-pressure than your FIRST language lesson? You can't be expected to know anything! I told myself this and managed to at least transfer my fears onto my ensemble for the day. I was wearing long sleeves, so I had to wear shorts because of the temperature (knee-length shorts), so I worried about shorts perhaps not being appropriate. Then I worried about my sandals not being acceptable--wait, the Japanese probably invented the flip-flop, and we live on a vacation island. Then I worried about my tattoo--some water parks and hot springs in Japan don't allow exposed tattoos of any kind, so I didn't know how far that tattoo taboo reached--but if I'd looked down at my foot I would have realized that my sandal mostly covered it anyway. And as usual, I worried about my skin--I've been having such a zitty week that I've considered going native and wearing a flu mask to hide my face. I also worried about Eva being able to take up to an hour of sitting there and being relatively quiet. But at least for that I was armed with Mum-mums and a new yellow ball.
So we went into Kumon and sat on small round stools at 4-stool-long narrow tables that probably fit most Japanese adults, but of course did not fit us. The sensei, Yukiko, is a nice middle-aged lady who smells like teacher and speaks a little English, otherwise known as infinity more than I speak of Japanese. She tossed a couple of Japanese words at me here and there during the hour, and when she got blank looks even when what she was saying apparently translated to "OK?", she patiently switched to all English. I learned in Italy that if you pretend to understand in situations where you really do need to understand, it only leads to trouble.
The work consists of following along in your textbook with a recording for pronunciation, writing practice, and then the teacher checking your pronunciation/reading--and, I guess, your written work, but today I was tracing so she didn't have to check. Tracing! It was a fun throwback to 1st grade. You start out learning hiragana, the easiest of the three Japanese syllabaries. Today I worked on three symbols: shi, ku, and tsu. The book has clever little illustrations to help you remember the shape of the character--the shi looks like a fishhook, the ku like the beak of a kookaburra (an Australian bird, and star of one of my favorite childhood songs! I am shamed forever if I forget that one), and the tsu like a tsunami.
Sure, I took a little Greek in 8th grade (mostly self-guided--you can guess how far Little Miss Motivation got), but even that is related to the Roman alphabet. I've now studied some Spanish, Latin, German, and Italian (and managed to retain little to nothing). That makes 3 romance languages and 2 Germanic, including English. I feel like I've been playing in the baby pool my whole life and now I'm going off the high dive. I'm hoping that my fear of Japanese will work like my fear of German oral exams did and motivate me to study like crazy.