The night was an interesting one to be in a sports bar, since, along with the important rugby game, Judo finals were on in Athens. Judo being one of Japan’s stronger discipline in the olympics, one half of the place was packed with Japanese fans (many of them still wearing yukatas and jimbeis from their evening watching fireworks) cheering for the Japanese competitors, while the other half was occupied by mostly-gaijin rugby fans rooting for the All Blacks (the place was definitely big enough to fit everybody happily).
Since both girls’ Tani Ryoko and guys’ Nomura Tadahiro brought this year’s first crop of gold medals to Japan, the mood was definitely upbeat. And while I usually loathe most sports on TV, Judo can be really entertaining to watch: especially if you compare a mere 5 minutes of intense fighting and people flying all over the place to, say, three full hours of painfully boring commercial-laden graceless ball-pushing by slices of 10 seconds.
Watching Judo here made me realize something really interesting that had completely slipped my mind up to that point: when I first arrived to Japan, I actually spoke much more Japanese than I thought.
My level of Japanese back then was a resounding zero. nada. nil. If you were to exclude the three weeks of rushed crash course readings and the few notions Yutaka had been kind enough to try and impart on me, I had absolutely no knowledge of Japanese whatsoever until I set a foot in Narita for the first time in my life in October 2002. At least that’s what I thought. But yesterday, I realized that, without knowing it, or more exactly, without remembering it, I had known a whole bunch of Japanese ever since childhood.
See, as a kid, I could not be bothered much with sports… particularly the kind that required you to build some form of “team spirit” and where smashing your opponent’s head in the concrete was not considered the principal objective… if said sport involved the use of a ball, then I downright hated it. Don’t ask me why, I just couldn’t stand soccer, basketball, handball, to say nothing of hell-spawn cricket.
My parents, instead of spotting an obvious display of what would later bloom into my current fully asocial psychotic personality, decided I just needed to have some kind of regular physical activity that didn’t involve being nice to my fellow schoolmates and gave me to choose between judo or ballet dancing…
Well, we all know how parents are: just pick one thing and they’ll give you the other. bastards.
Another consequence of this practice is that, unbeknownst to me, I built what I now realize was a fairly consequent Japanese vocabulary. And the weirdest part is that I still remembered all these words (some of them are actually very common in everyday Japanese) but never made the connection when I had to learn them again here… it all dawned on me yesterday.
In Judo, the referee starts every fight by saying hajime, ends with sore made or puts the fight on hold by matte. A skillful move gets awarded a waza ari, two waza-ari becomes a victory (ippon) through an awase-waza (although I do remember hearing a simple waza to waza ari: ippon too). All these words are quite common in everyday Japanese, but there are also the more technical terms such as the ones used for throws: harai–goshi, uchi–mata or the ever dreaded tomoe-nage (the one that usually ends up with somebody flying teeth first into the ground).
I would never have thought I actually knew more Japanese words than sushi, samurai bukkake and banzai before coming here…