February 14, 2008

Mono da

A Brief History of the tradition of the Japanese Genkan.
By Makurasuki Sensei,
Brett McCluskey

During my first stay in Japan, I used to get embarrassed because my American friend’s feet would give off the most putrid of odors, and for long distances too. The smell of his feet could cut through a stable full of horses and cattle chewing their cud. It was hard not to gag on occasion. I mean his feet stunk. I can’t really tell you if the odor emanated from his feet, or his socks, because, well it didn’t matter; they both stunk. I would be embarrassed for him and me, because I thought that I could control the way things smelled on other people or something, but alas I couldn’t.
Can you imagine eating at the dinner table or trying to have candid conversation with some new friends you just met only to find out the friend you had brought didn’t have control on his feet hygiene and the odor most unbearable. How atrocious! How outrageous! I thought to myself, be-gone you foul beast at once! Come back when you can be more civilized, or at least when your feet aren't noticeable to the olfactory senses at the distance of 6 feet.
Let’s imagine we are in Japan at a small gathering of some friends. Because it can get pretty chilly in the winter, are all gathered around a nice, warm, and fluffy kotatsu ((quilted) electric blanket \ table), to play the card game buta no shippo (Pig’s tail) Oh no! Not that smells again. Like incense rising up from the depths of odor hell, your friend subjugates everyone to that wretched, didn’t mean to know you, go home! Take a bath! Wash your feet! That wretched friendly scent of your friend’s sweaty polyester, fibrous odor drip that is by now smelling all too familiar.
In America, we wouldn’t have this problem because Americans go everywhere in their shoes, and it doesn’t matter, because you never have to take them off. You can keep your shoes on all day in America. Not in Japan. Before you step foot inside a Japanese dwelling you must take off your shoes. I am full blooded American and can remember as a kid going to sleep in my shoes a couple of times. They wouldn’t have had that in Japan. Also I remember accidentally stepping on some doggy doo and accidentally walking all over my mom’s carpets and then jumping on my bed. Well that sort of thing wouldn’t happen in Japan. Shoes are great, but in Japan, shoes can become cumbersome due to the limitations on living spaces, but more importantly the act of taking off one’s shoes before entering a home or dwelling is a tradition. A good custom as you shall see.
Like other countries of the East, the Japanese take off their shoes before entering houses, dwellings, apartments, condo’s, etc. When I first got to Japan it was awkward at first to take off my shoes, because I had shoes with laces and it was mendoukusai (tedious) when I left to tie my shoes up again after just un-tying them when I arrived. I followed the custom at first only because every one else was doing it. Yes! This was one of those times that if the whole Japanese country were going to jump off the cliff I was going to jump too. *When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do!* There were places I thought were abnormal for taking off my shoes like kindergartens, eating establishments, bowling alleys, karaoke rooms, lots of weird places you wouldn’t even think of taking your shoes off at in America, even the bathroom at bars and weirder places yet.
I had one friend who was so particular about this custom, he would insist on me taking off my shoes before getting into his car. I was obliged to follow the tradition. *When in Rome Do as the Romans Do!* This friend was a little more gung-ho than your average Akira, but it shows you just how far this tradition extends itself into everyday life. He was a little overly devout or passionate about keeping his car clean but at the same time did it for other beneficial, even religious type reasons which we will explore in the coming paragraphs.
Why do the Japanese take off their shoes before entering a home or other things including cars? Why is it considered rude to stand on a chair, or a table or a sofa or seat etc. with your shoes on? In this lense I am going to share my experiences with the custom of taking off your shoes before entering a house and the traditions of the genkan (place where you place your shoes before stepping into a house.) And we will talk a little bit about the way the genkan has been extended in use in modern Japanese society. We are going to try to answer the reasons behind this strange custom and why this genkan thing exists. Also after relaying as much as I can about this custom, we will continue our JPPGG© or Japanese plug and play ghetto grammar sessions so that you will add one more grammar principle to your growing list of Japanese language weapons.
I’m not prejudice nor am I generalizing that all Americans have stinky feet, but, I know that even my feet have a tendency to get stinky when I sweat, run or wear keep my shoes on for too long to wear my shoes everywhere and anywhere in any situation at all times, even to bed, even jumping on the bed, even standing on chairs, cars, wherever on whatever, it didn’t matter. I, being an American having no background in Japanese customs and not having any tradition similar to taking my shoes off before entering the house, I felt quite comfortable doing as I always had done. It wasn’t until I saw the expression of horror, surprise and shear shock of my Japanese friend that I ever began to take seriously the Japanese tradition of taking off my shoes before entering places. I saw on a man’s face as I simply stood upon a chair to change a light bulb, mind you, I had my shoes on, but he gasped in horror and made me instantly get down from the chair. What on Earth could I have possibly done to make him gasp in horror? All I did was stand on a chair and was attempting to change a light bulb. I thought so what gives
So the tradition of taking off shoes before entering a dwelling has many roots in Buddhism.

This is JPPGG© bunpo principle #87.
Japanese Plug and Play Ghetto Grammar Japanese Language Learning
By Makurasuki Sensei, Brett McCluskey
Towards better Japanese Mastery.

To say in Japanese that you used to ~ verb, (at fairly regular intervals and at some point in the past) use the following construction:

I. (I/You/He/She/They/We/It) used to ~ verb.

I. yoku verb(base TA) mono desu.

The following examples will help you grasp today’s JPPGG construction. After you get a feel for how this grammar is made, just keep plugging new verbs into the verb area in Base TA and then continue playing by making your own unique and interesting sentences. And don’t forget to practice saying all your newly created sentences out-loud. Drilling and killing, or plugging and playing words into the constructions in this way is bound to improve your Japanese conversation skills quickly. You’ll be adding yet another grammar principle to your Japanese language arsenal, for your benefit and use at any time you see fit. Keep plugging and playing until your friends tell you they can’t stand how much you practice your Japanese or until they say stop. But even if you start bugging people because you practice too much just keep telling yourself that the practice that I am doing will surely cause me to improve. Just keep practicing the grammar constructions and saying to yourself new sentences of your own creation until your friends or you go to sleep, whichever comes first. You want to get better at Japanese, don’t you? Well don’t bicker…do quicker! Here are some nice examples with an occasional ghetto phrase sprinkled in here or there to spice up the flavorful fun, so that you can have a good time studying Japanese.

1. When I was younger, I used to ride my bike to school.

Watakushi ga motto wakai koro, jitensha de yoku gakko ni itta mono desu.
{As for I, in the more young time, by bike often school went thing is.}1

2. He used to cheat, but the teacher busted him, and now he is a good boy.

Kare wa mae yoku kanningu shita mono desu keredomo sensei ni barete shimatte ima orikosan desu.

3. I used to play there a lot.

Watakushi wa soko de yoku asonda mono da.

G.A.B. or the Ghetto After Blast – One point advice
The Japanese verb nareru means, “To get used to” which is similar to the used to that you have been getting used to in this bunpo. Nareru is a really cool word, and you will hear it a lot in Japanese conversation.

Ex.1 He is used to that job.
Kare wa sono shigoto ni narete imasu.

As Always, Do your Best! Ganbatte Ne!
Makurasuki Sensei.