I received a present yesterday evening.
We met my former Japanese teacher and her family for dinner, in what has become an annual tradition, at the Turkish/Mediterranean restaurant アルピーノ Alpino. It was an evening of delicious food and convivial company, as well as an unbeatable Japanese learning experience to be surrounded by Japanese conversation, including the excited chatter of a 7-year-old girl who sat beside me and chatted away to me all evening.
The present came neatly wrapped in a yellow bag from Osaka souvenir shop ichibirian, the bag decorated with typical images of Osaka and some phrases in Osaka dialect. Opening it up, I found what I thought was a book, with the title “Osaka PhD”.
But instead of opening like a book, the middle slid out to reveal two sets of playing cards; one with text and the other with colourful images of fun facts about various Osaka neighbourhoods.
The “front cover” (or maybe back cover, from a European point of view) says 大阪わいわいカルタ oosaka waiwai karuta—Osaka clamorous cards, and then in smaller writing underneath, “Did you know? Didn’t you know? This and that about Osaka”. The whole cover is brightly decorated with typical Osaka images such as Osaka Castle, Tsutenkaku tower, bunraku theatre, fugu, and a bowl of ramen.
Each card pair is associated with one hiragana symbol. For example, the text card for や (ya) has the following “interesting fact”:
八尾市はな 歯ブラシ生産 日本一
yao-shi wa na, haburashi seisan nihon ichi
Yao city is number one in Japan for toothbrush production.
The corresponding image card shows a woman holding a toothbrush atop a smiling Mount Fuji, symbolising the number one status.
The text on the cards uses little furigana symbols alongside the kanji for the benefit of children (and me!) for whom the task of learning to read Japanese is still a work in progress.
I was really struck by the ease and fluency with which musume-san read the text on the cards. I expected a child of that age to be painstakingly sounding out the words, but she just read them off at full speed (much more quickly than I could). I wondered if she was just familiar with the text of the cards from playing with them at home, so I tested her by showing her some sentences on my phone that she had never seen before. She showed equal facility reading the following random sentence:
doraibaa de neji wo mawashita ga, nakanaka umaku mawattekurenai.
I turned the screw with the screwdriver, but it just didn’t want to turn.
I guess she is some kind of a prodigy; I assume most Japanese 7-year-olds don’t read at that level. I asked her mother about it and she just replied that “she loves reading”.
Anyway, it was a lovely evening and we all left feeling feeling happy and saying また来年 mata rainen—see you again next year!