“A is for apple.” Every Japanese person learns this when they learn the E nglish alphabet. But couldn’t it be, just for once, “A is for antelope?” Or how about “A is for anarchy,” “adult” or “aspirin?” Wouldn’t that be more helpful? We could also use our own alphabet to teach Japanese culture and language to foreigners. Something like, The ABCs of Living in Japan:
A is for Amaterasu, the sun goddess and Japan’s best-known deity. A is also for amanogawa (the Milky Way), Aomori Prefecture and All Nippon Airways.
B is for Buddhism, bo-san (Buddhist priest) and bon dancing — now take a bow. B is also for batsu (literally “X”), the Japanese gesture of crossing your arms in front of you — an alarming way — to indicate something “can’t be done.”
C is for cheezu! (Cheese!) said when taking a photo. And C is for concriito, a virile form of concrete that grows everywhere in Japan.
D is for dame (no way!), daijobu (OK) and Disney.
E is for Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh?! — an expression of disbelief, such as at the eki (train station), when you realize you’ve gotten on the wrong train.
F is for futon, fufu (married couple), and furin (to cheat on your spouse).
G is for gaijin (foreigner), and proud of it! G is also for the gakusei (students) you may teach at the gakko (school). And when your students do well, be sure to say “Goo!” (Good!)
H is for hai! (Yes!), the answer to all questions in Japanese, whether you understand them or not.
I is for itadakimasu! said out of respect before eating a meal. Iiiiidesu ne? (Isn’t that nice?)
J is for “Japan as No. 1,” the country your family thought you went to.
K is for kawaii (cute!), kewpie dolls, konbini (convenience store) and Kitty-chan . . . the real Japan you’ve come to.
L is for lice (foreign rice) as distinguished from kome, Japanese rice, the staple food in Japan.
M is for the mama-san who serves you miso soup in the minshuku. “Mooooiii desu” (Enough already!) M is for maru, appended to all boat names.
N is for natsukashii, something you fondly remember from long ago. N is for natto (fermented beans). No, not natto!
O is for ohayo! (Good morning!), onsen (hot springs) and “Oh no, I’m still wearing the toilet slippers!”
P is for pachinko chocolate and Pocky, those cylindrical frosted snacks. P is for “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.”
Q is for Q&A, especially the questions that may never be answered about Japan.
R is for Rosu (Los Angeles), Roson (Lawson’s), Rasu Begas (Las Vegas), and “I rabu you.” (I love you.)
S is for shochu (Japanese distilled spirits), sake and the Gods who beckon you to toast them at 7 a.m. Shinto ceremonies. So desu yo! (It’s true!)
T is for taihen (difficult) and tatemae (a form of flattery) that the token gaijin may at times endure. T is for “taoru,” (towel), especially those you receive from local businesses with advertising on them. And T is also for takoyaki (octopus balls). Tee-hee.
U is for U-tan (U-turn — people moving back to their hometowns), something you may do yourself some day. But don’t be like Urashimataro, who returned home only to find himself hundreds of years old.
V is for the bwee-sign, that gesture given when Japanese pose for photos. You may have thought the V was for victory, but it is really the visual sign for peace.
W is for wan-chan (dogs) who get carried around in their owners’ bicycle baskets. Wan-wan! (Arf-arf!). W is also for wairo, the wonderful world of bribery.
X is for Tokyo’s X-rated Kabukicho, XX-rated movies, and XXX-rated cabaret clubs.
Y is for yokozuna (the highest rank in sumo), Yoko Ono and making lots of yen!
Z is for zen, which not surprisingly, rhymes with yen.