Initially, we were surrounded by signs filled with characters as unrecognizable as hieroglyphics. Most the signs were beautiful but meaningless to our untrained eyes. In the US we took reading for granted and here we think about it all the time. What we can read, can’t read and can’t wait to read.
We just learned our first of the three Japanese alphabets. Katakana is the alphabet used for foreign words or to emphasize Japanese words. We were advised to learn katakana first because as soon as we could read it we could understand it. Learning katakana transferred to the immediate relief of being able to better navigate the city.
Thanks to our katakana knowledge, we now know what drinks are served at our favorite cafe, most of the ingredients in our packaged food and about half the buttons on our washing machine. When we first learned the alphabet we went around town like giddy schoolkids wandering from one building to the next trying to beat each other in solving the katakana riddle. We almost can’t help reading now. I keep having flashbacks of being five years old riding in the back seat of my parent’s car and sounding out street signs. Flash forward 22 years and who knew I’d be learning to read again.
Here’s the katakana chart:
Words we read daily:
|Katakana Romaji English|
|ステーキ su-te-ki steak|
|ケーキ ke-ki cake|
|エレベーター e-re-be-ta elevator|
センター se-n-ta center
* The left column shows the katakana as we see it around town, the center column is the romaji, the roman letters for each katakana character, and the right column is the actual English word the katakana is representing.
As you can see there’s a bit of an art in determining what word you’re actually reading. We sound out each katakana character individually and then string them together to determine the word. It’s like a giant game of Mad Gab (the card game where you sound out phrases phonetically and end up reading them in funny accents and trying to determine what you’re actually saying). Luckily, I love Mad Gab. If you haven’t played it you’ve got to give it a try.
Can you guess what this says?
Use the katakana chart above to help you figure out what the signs in these photos say:
Here’s the Answer Key
1. Bi-ru: Beer
2. E-ri-n Bo-ga: Erin Bogar
3. Ku-ra-su: Class
1. Su-mo-ku-ta-ki: smoked turkey
2. Chi-ka-ma-chi ra-u-n-ji: Chikamachi Lounge A-to gi-ya-ra-ri: Auto gallery
3. Ko-i-n ro-ka: coin locker
4. Gi-fu-to ka-do: gift card
5. U-ni-ma-ru gi-fu-to ka-do: Unimall gift card
Ending Phrase: Bi-se-to Ja-pa-n: Visit Japan