Thursday, November 20, 2003

Because of various changes in my schedule this week, I was at the elementary schools four times in one week. One of the elementary schools is busy practicing a play, which will be performed in English, Japanese, and "Ajimu-Ben".
"Ben" means local dialect. In America we don't really have it. We have broad regional dialects to a certain degree (Southern Accent, West coast Accent), but nothing like in Japan.
A good comparison is England. I've never been to England, but my British friends tell me they can place someone pretty accurately by their accent. In fact, they say if you are good at it, you can place someone within a block or two of their house. (That sounds a little hard to swallow to me too. I suspect there may be some exaggeration going on here, but that's what they told me).
The reason of course is that England has much longer history, and is historically a less mobile society than America, so strong regional dialects were able to develop in each town, and in some cases, in each neighborhood. Japan is the same, only more so.
For instance, my little town of Ajimu, with 8,000 people, has it's own dialect. I have a friend from Usa (only one town over) who works in the Ajimu winery, and has trouble understanding the old people in Ajimu because of the local dialect. (Only one town over!)
Anyway, the Elementary school play is being conducted in standard Japanese, Ajimu-Ben, and English. I help out with the English. The "Ajimu-Ben" part is mostly as a joke, and then the standard Japanese is also added.
The vice-principle (kyoto sensei in Japanese) has been helping me learn Ajimu-Ben. Mostly for humor value, because it is very limited in it's practical uses, but I can get a laugh out of the office every time I manage to say something in the local dialect.
At the board of Education, the woman seated across from me often makes fun of my bad Japanese, so the Kyoto Sensei of the elementary school taught me how to say, "You're acting like a cow," in Ajimu-Ben, so I could have something to throw back at her.
The other staff at the elementary school thought this was funny, but were also a little worried. One of them said, "You better be careful Kyoto. They are going to be able to guess who taught him that." (The Kyoto has a bit of a reputation I think.) The Kyoto Sensei was undisturbed, and taught me how to say, "oh just shut up!" in Ajimu-Ben. Again, the rest of the staff thought this was funny, but were cautious. "Kyoto, pretty soon you won't be able to go into the Board of Education," someone else cautioned.
Indeed, as predicted, when I went back to the board of Education and tried out my new "Ajimu-Ben", the first thing they said was, "The Kyoto sensei at Sada Elementary taught you that, didn't he?" I thought for a moment, and then ratted him out. (Which brings me to a point of advice some of you have learned already. Never trust me with any sensitive information.)
Although I suspect that secretly the Kyoto Sensei was all too happy to take credit for teaching me. He has that kind of personality.

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