Shelly Deathlock cares too much about Japanese wrestling and, as Captain of the S.S. Strong Style, she’s here to welcome you on board and fill you in on what’s going on in the world of puro. Today, she’s introducing you to the Japanese language, which she is not good at at all, but that makes her the perfect person to explain some things to you, since she has no discernible trappings of ego.
こんにちは！Guess what? You don’t need anything except eyes and a brain to enjoy professional wrestling from Japan. And the brain helps but it isn’t even absolutely mandatory. Storylines aren’t really complicated and, since it’s wrestling, most of the storytelling happens in the ring in a language we all understand.
Nevertheless, maybe you want to learn some things about Japanese anyway to help you get around. I can help a little, since I’ve started learning with the aim of reading Shinsuke Nakamura’s autobiography. Optimistically, I expect to be able to do that in about ten years, which is coincidentally when I’ll have my midlife crisis and move to Japan to live in an arcade for the rest of my life. My 40’s are gonna be sweet, you guys.
Anyway, it won’t take you ten years to learn some basic things. Maybe a couple weeks. Let’s go!
What are all these characters and oh my god, why?
Yes it is crazy. Here are the answers to these questions:
Katakana is a simplified character set. It’s the sharp pointy one that’s really cool looking. Like プロレス and ワカリマスカ?! It’s used for loanwords from other languages, the names of businesses, and sometimes ring names. Kazuchika Okada’s ring name, オカダ・カズチカ is in katakana. The name of the company that owns New Japan Pro Wrestling, Bushiroad, is in katakana: ブシロード. Shinsuke Nakamura’s nickname, King of Strong Style, is actually in English, so it’s either written in English or in this katakana phrase instead of translating the words to Japanese: キング・オブ・ストロングスタイル.
Hiragana are the swoopy more round characters, like in こんにちは and other words you see often. It’s used for grammatical concepts, too, and whenever a Japanese word doesn’t have a kanji (or the kanji isn’t clear enough in the context), or to clarify pronunciations of kanji in instructional books. It’s also used for some ring name clarification — Minoru Suzuki’s name is 鈴木実, but the kanji for his given name (実) can be pronounced many ways, so he uses hiragana: 鈴木みのる where みのる is clearly “mi no ru” so everyone knows how to say it. It’s also hella pretty. みのる. ♡(●´□`)♡♡
Both hiragana and katakana are distinct symbols that refer to the spoken sounds that make up the language. Japanese doesn’t have an alphabet exactly — the written language is made up of these syllabaries. All the sounds that exist in Japanese have both a hiragana symbol and a katakana symbol to represent them. So Japanese vowels aren’t A E I O and U like English vowels, they’re (okay, roughly) あ (ah) い (ee) う (oo) え (ehh) お (oh) in hiragana and ア (ah) イ (ee) ウ (oo) エ (ehh) オ (oh) in katakana. There are about 46 symbols in each set.
Japanese sounds (called “mora” and you can read about the differences between “mora” and “syllables” in linguistics literature if you’re totally fascinated!) number in the few. If the writing system can represent the sounds of the language with about 46 characters, that’s about how many sounds are used in totality, give or take some modern or archaic things that get added or taken away. You can imagine that it would be super complicated to represent all the words and concepts in Japanese just using hiragana. So many things sound the same! How will you know without context? Well, apparently when speaking that’s pretty easy, but you can read faster than people talk, so you need much more accessible context in a writing system. In English, we just stick any letters we want together, basically, and come to a shared understanding over time. In Japanese: enter kanji.
Kanji are the more complicated symbols you see in people’s names, in names of places, in names for things, days of the week, colors… They’re very confusing because they were borrowed from Chinese in the first place, and then re-borrowed some more, and a lot of them have multiple meanings and pronunciations for the same character, and there are thousands of characters. You don’t really have to worry about all that unless you want to actually study Japanese — I’ll let you know some useful kanji you might want to memorize for wrestling purposes!
Romaji is what it’s called when you type Japanese words in Roman script, like puroresu, konnichiwa, arigatou, Shinsuke Nakamura, etc. It’s pretty interesting to read about, and the translation from kana script –> roman script can be really helpful when you’re starting out.
How am I supposed to learn any of this!?
Good news! Just memorize all the katakana and hiragana and their sounds. It’s fun and then you know a new thing. A really easy way to do this is with Memrize. It’s totally free and not even annoying. I really love it. The “learn basic Japanese” pack will help you memorize both sets of kana and then even some helpful phrases if you want to keep going so you can learn how to say “it’s cold” and “that’s cheap” and “this is ridiculous.”
Next time in part 2, look forward to how you can apply your new Japanese knowledge to wrestling: an explanation of important wrestling words and kanji, wrestler catchphrases, and speaking mannerisms. Got questions about the language or something you heard in on a wrestling show? Get in touch on twitter @indiandeathlock or if you need more space, on http://ask.fm/indiandeathlock!※
※ Any unsavory anonymous questions will be reposted anonymously to various male friends of mine.