My Japanese is moving slowly but steadily forward. I am trying to speak a bit more and keep learning Kanji – it is indeed true, after a while, not all of them look the same anymore.

What keeps tripping me up are the Katakana though. There are no rules as to how to turn a foreign word into Katakana, and unless a word is very common, I guess different people will come up with a different katakanisation of a word, especially when it comes to names. Some words are written according to how they are pronounced, others are written according to how they a written originally, and others still are changed completely. My favourite example of the latter is the French word for cream puff “choux á la creme” which ends up as ” シュークリーム – shoo kureemu” in Japanese… To be fair, writing French with Katakana is all but impossible…

It does not help in the least that Japanese love to abbreviate words, to shorten long Kanji compounds and often, to simply make up new words this way. This is relatively easy when the word can be written with Kanji, for example Kyoto University is written “京都大学 – Kyoto Daigaku” and the abbreviation takes the first and third Kanji to create “Kyodai”. Foreign loanwords on the other hand are a completely different animal… The German word “Arbeit” is directly turned into Katakana “アルバイト”, its meaning changes from “work” to “part time job”, but the Japanese, not content leaving it there, often shorten it further to “バイト – baito”. Similarly shortened are “パソコン – pasocon” for personal computer, “コンビニ – konbini” for convenience store, or “ノンアル – nonaru” for non-alcoholic.

So far, the most interesting combination of Kanji, Katakana, and an undecipherable abbreviation I found on a box of tissues, where the Kanji means nose:

“鼻セレブ – nose serubu”

Nose – self? Nose – sarp? Nose…?? After a long – very long indeed – trial period I finally caved in, admitted defeat and asked for help. It turned out that the Katakana stand for the abbreviation of an English word, and mean celeb(rity), and “Nose – celeb” is an advertisement for especially soft tissues… Well, at least I know now why learning Japanese goes ever so slowly…