A wide variety of fluff and mutterings from the brain of a polymath.
Just in case this question interests you, feel no need to reply if not:I'm going to Japan for the first time in December, and am spending three weeks there. The first week will be staying with my friend in Tokyo, but what should I do with the other two weeks?I like soaking up local culture, sitting in cafes & people watching, I'm an amateur painter so anything with fun colours etc. or good views, I like history and art and food. I've bought a JR pass so can travel pretty freely.I know you're into Japan, so any thoughts? (I can't speak Japanese beyond martial arts jargon, but am cramming the basics at the moment.)
Believe it or not, I've never been overseas. This didn't stop my classmate from asking me how long I'd lived in Germany about two weeks into my german class, mind you. But everything I have to report about Japan is secondhand, so keep that in mind while you plot your trip.If you like people-watching, Moggie used to hang out in a place called Yoyogi Park. It's the sort of place where people gather to see and be seen, mainly to show each other their mastery of street fashion. Lots of photographers hang out there as well; you might be asked for a picture yourself if you look interesting. Mog is hilariously blonde and blue-eyed, and she was asked at least once if she was Swedish.If you're into electronics, Akihabara, sometimes shortened to Akiba, is the place to shop. There are big shiny department stores carrying the latest commercial goods, and a lot of smaller, vaguely disreputable looking storefronts in weird corners where you can buy pirated games from China and get your consoles region-chipped. Shop clerks will expect you to speak no Japanese, and will just turn the register display around to show you the number of weird foreign munnies you need to give them. If you are, or look like, a girl-person, and want anything in a color that is not pink, I suggest telling them it's for your boyfriend/brother. There is a colossal amount of sort of benign sexism in Japan, and it'll hit you in weird, weird places.If you're fond of furry objects, there are these places called "cat cafes" which are kind of like hostess clubs, only for people who miss their pets. Instead of buying drinks to get a pretty girl to pretend you're cool, you buy treats to get cats to pretend humans are worth hanging around with. Moggie found one called "Nekobukuro" (猫袋 「ねこぶくろ」, or "Bag O' Cats") while she was there. The traditional generic cat names in Japan are Tama ("Egg") and Maru ("Round"), so you can guess what shape Japanese cats are usually in.If you're into history, you should probably try to see Kyoto. Kyoto (京都, "Capital City") was the capital of the country before in-fighting happened and it transferred to Tokyo (東京, "East Capital"). Kyoto is famous for having so much history in it that you can trip over it by accident looking for the bus stop, and for a dish called okonomiyaki (お好み焼き). Okonomiyaki is a sort of a giant crepe/pancake thing filled with... well, it varies, but in Kyoto it's likely to have some sort of seafood in it, be topped with okonomiyaki sauce (sort of a thick sweet savory sauce, not unlike the plum sauce you get with mushu dishes at Chinese restaurants in the US), and involve a mysterious substance which turns out to be the Japanese idea of mayonnaise. Kyoto is located in the Kansai region, which has its own distinctive dialect. Do not expect to understand a single blessed thing anyone says to you there. When dubbing anime into English, it's usually localized as either a Texas or Brooklyn accent, which gives you some idea as to its impenetrability.
If you have the time and resources, you might also enjoy visiting Okinawa, or one of the other Ryuukyuu Islands. The Ryuukyuus are regarded by the mainlanders (i.e., residents of Honshuu) a bit like Ireland is by Western Europe. While it's definitely part of the overall modern culture of Japan, there is a lot of mysticism in its history that carries through to the present day. It's one of those places where everything is totally normal at first, but if you live there long enough the locals will start letting you know which one of the neighbors still does fortune telling in her spare time. There's an indigenous language -- a few of them, actually, at least one per island -- which is considered part of the Japonic language family, but which is in fact mutually unintelligible with the stuff spoken on the mainland. If you decide to see any traditional theater, like kabuki, noh, or bunraku, look up the show you're going to see first. A lot of them are impossible to follow properly even if you speak Japanese; the stories are so old, and sometimes based on myths and folktales, that the scripts just don't bother to explain a bunch of stuff, on the theory that you already get the reference. Many of them have already been staged so many times that the audience doesn't bother paying attention except at the particularly awesome moments.Cheap entertainment can be had by doing things like walking into a convenience store and boggling at the sheer number of Kit-Kat varieties they have on sale. "Kit-Kats" rendered unto Japanese phonemics comes out as キットカツ ("kitto katsu"), which happens to be a homophone for a phrase that means "certain to win/succeed!" (Collisions like this happen a lot, because of how the language is structured. The Japanese are crazy-mad punsters.) Consequently, Kit-Kats are a popular good luck/do your best! gift for people like students about to take their exams. They come in the most unbelievably bizarre flavors, almost all of which are really good. It's a running gag in my life that people who find an especially weird kind in one of the Asian supermarkets to turn around and hand me the bag, so I can tell them what the hell kind of candy they are, and why they are colored purple.
Thanks very much! Let me know if you want feedback after the trip.I don't exactly do your thing with languages, but I have my own version with written words (I am another of the grown up gifted kids), and my brain is currently chewing away on katakana.I already know some Chinese kanji (mostly useful menu items, e.g. egg, pork, noodles, soy sauce etc.) - how badly is this going to trip me up in Japan, or does it work okay?
With the food items? You'll be fine. The main problem with interchangeability between hanzi and kanji is that the Simplified Chinese and Japanese character sets were derived separately post-WWII. There are some (spotty, unreliable) patterns in the way things got simplified, but because the rules for stroke order are different in Japan and China, the simplified forms generally don't look the same. For basic nouns like food, if you recognize it, it probably means the same thing. The hiragana and katakana syllabaries were actually derived from Chinese characters originally, albeit from different characters and for different reasons. Hiragana was simplified from the cursive forms of man'yogana, Chinese characters that were used strictly for their syllabic pronunciations to write Japanese words, and were used to spell things phonetically in the vernacular. The famous serialized novel Genji Monogatari was written entirely in hiragana. Katakana were derived separately as a sort of shorthand, used by Buddhist monks for annotating texts. Rather than being the cursive forms of man'yogana, they were formed by just taking simple chunks of the original hanzi. They're used in modern Japanese much as italics are used in English texts: For foreign words, onomatopoeia, and occasionally for shouting or emphasis. The rules for converting foreign words into katakana strings are not always intuitive for English speakers, but if you see enough you'll get the hang of it. The best way to decipher stuff is really just to read it aloud until it makes some kind of sense. It takes some doing sometimes, as Moggie discovered whilst trying to read the ingredients list on the back of her cold medication.(Ooh, yes. Warning: The Japanese are not big on the idea of taking medication just to alleviate symptoms. IIRC, Tylenol involves getting a prescription. If you have allergies, bring your own Benadryl. They won't care, mainly because they don't have any idea what it is, as we discovered when we tried to find out if it would be legal to mail Moggie some. Real Sudafed [pseudoephedrine] is a no-go, but you should be fine with personal-use amounts of Claritin/Zyrtec, Robitussin, or other common OTC medications.Do NOT take random cold medications people there might hand you. Once Moggie deciphered the box text on hers, she discovered that their idea of decongestant is belladonna. Yikes.)All of the station names on your JR trips will be in kanji, but they'll also be in big English letters on the signs. The spellings may be slightly wonky with respect to whatever romanization system your katakana lessons are using, but they'll be recognizable. Don't expect any English to be great, but single words and place names usually make sense.