Monday, October 02, 2006

Standing on their Heads

The editors of the Sankei Shimbun, seeing their beloved champions wounded and bleeding from the sarcastic darts of the Mainichi Shimbun, sing a new, stirring patriotic ode to the "beautiful Japanese" as it is not being taught to elementary school children.

Today's lament: how the limitation on the number of kanji is anti-democratic.

小学生の英語 国語こそ知的活動の基礎





Before attempting a direct translation, let's have a go at the low hanging fruit.

Call me snide and immature, but if you are going to publish a lament decrying the hopelessness of introducing children to the complexities of certain abstract concepts because the children are not familiar with the kanji of the technical terms then YOU HAD BETTER NOT USE FURIGANA TO SHOW THE PRONUNCIATION OF NOT ONE BUT TWO TECHNICAL TERMS USED IN THAT SAME SENTENCE.

OK, breathe, breathe...maybe irony is a cultural affect. On to the next thought.

Let us see if the statement holds any water (i.e., let us see if we can spot the politics, shall we?)

English for Elementary Students: Our National Language is the Basis of Intellectual Activity


Language is not just a tool for communication. It is the acquisition of knowledge, the way of thinking about things, a means without which a certain ethnic group cannot formulate the framework of its ethos. This has become a good chance for us to once more to try to think deeply on this matter.

Under the banner of popularizing and democratizing knowledge and information, education policy in the postwar era has been engaged in singleminded vulgarization. The limitations on the number of kanji embodies this for only 1006 kanji are taught in the first 6 years of elementary school.

It is unlikely that texts of sentences using mixtures of kanji and kana can foster reading abilities. The words of abstract thinking are almost all in the kanji lexicon (LEH-ku-sih-KON). If the restrictions on the number of kanji one can use become a limitation, then the ability to think with precision is not likely to develop. One will not appreciate beautiful poetic language or stories. The fostering of hearty enrapture (en-RAHP-chur) will not take place.

Oh, Amaterasu...where to begin...

[I know that last sentence is weak. I am open to suggestions about other ways to translate 豊かな情緒を涵養(かんよう)することもままならない]

Amaterasu, yes!

About this minzoku (ethnic group) ethos business...which minzoku are you referring to here? All of them, or one in particular--an early 20th centurey construct that sort of excludes zainichi chosenjin, Ainu and Okinawans? Or are we elevating Osaka-ben to a cultural determinant--along with pairing off to tell jokes and an inexplicable longing to leap into fetid rivers? Oh, I know the editors could have been using minzoku to mean just "a people"--but come on, this is the Sankei Shimbun here.

And then there is that funny little problem with know what I mean. It is like kan (pause) ji --the "writing" of the "Han" people.

Funny thing is, of course, Japanese are not Han. Not even close.

So kanji--the writing of the Han--really is not Japanese. It is sort of a "borrowed ethos" with a lot of ugly compromises.

Hysterically, of course, kana--the bad guys in the Sankei's version of events--ARE Japanese--they were created by Japanese--in order make comprehensible...the...abstract meanings contained in the imported Chinese...kanji.

And what's more a lot of what is considered "beautiful Japanese"---like the poems in the Kokinshū or the Genji monogatari--they are all in nothing but kana.

Ergo: learning English in elementary school is...oh forget it.

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