Monday, June 30, 2014

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What is "You are here" on a Japanese map? Genzaichi

The short answer is Genzaichi (現在地). This is the way Japanese maps say ‘You are here’. It is closer in meaning to ‘current location’, or can be translated literally as ‘the ground on which you are presently standing’. 

The long answer is a very funny but frustrating conversation I had with my Japanese sensei.

At the start of 2014 I spent three months living in and around Ikebukuro, Tokyo. I studied three nights a week at the Ikebukuro Japanese Language School, and I cannot recommend this place highly enough. It was one to one tuition at a very good price and I really liked the older Japanese gentleman who ran it – Takahashi-sensei.

One of the best things about the individual classes were that Takahashi-sensei allowed me to start almost every lesson with "Shitsumon ga arimasu" (I have a question), or quite often "Takusan shitsumon ga arimusu" (I have lots of questions). Yet patiently and politely Takahashi-sensei answered all of my questions about things I had heard, behaviour that had baffled me, about how to order ramen like a pro, or my most common ones, explaining signs that I couldn’t read and/or understand.

One evening I decided to ask Takahashi-sensei about three kanji I had seen on Japanese maps. They obviously meant “You are here” in English, but I wanted to know how to say it in Japanese. Mainly because 'you are here’ (Anata wa koko ni imasu) is very different from your present location on a map (Genzaichi).

What follows is the conversation we had (in Japanese), but please note that what I thought I was saying in Japanese may not necessarily (and in fact almost certainly is not) what I was actually saying in Japanese.

Me: Sensei, I have a question.
Sensei: Yes.
Me: Sensei, how do say "You are here" in Japanese"?
Sensei: You are here.
Me: No, on a map, how do you say “You are here”.
(At which point Sensei got out a Tokyo map and pointed at Ikebukuro)
Sensei: You are here, Ikebukuro.
Me: No no, not you are here in Ikebukuro.
Sensei: Yes yes, you are here in Ikebukuro.
Me: No no, this map doesn't have a "You are here" on it.
Sensei: Yes yes, here, You are here, Ikebukuro (again pointing at Ikebukuro).
Me: No no, when you are standing lost and look at a map, how do you say "you are here"?
Sensei: Well, where are you?
Me: Well anywhere. How do you say you are here?
(Sensei then looked at me as if I had just blown my nose in public or walked into his house with shoes on)
Sensei: Well, I don’t understand, where you are?
Me: When I am at the train station, and I look at a map, how do I say "you are here"
Sensei: Which train station are you at?
Me: Any train station.
Sensei: Well you say “You are at the train station”.
Me: But how do I say you are here on a big map?
(at which point Sensei got out a world map and pointed at Japan)
Sensei: Japan, you are here.
(At this point I thought about giving up, but instead, I got out my pen and paper and mustering all of my artistic ability drew the best little stick man looking at a map I could)
Me: How does the map say "You are here"
(Sensei looked at me as if I had just mishandled his business card)
Sensei: I don’t understand. Say again one more time
Me: The three kanji on the map, you are here.
(I then drew an arrow and three random kanji to represent the three kanji of the word Genzaichi that I couldn’t recognise)
Sensei: I don’t know these kanji. They have no meaning.
(Sensei was now looking at me as if I was wearing toilet slippers in the classroom and had just blown my nose on his business card)
Me: No, not these three Kanji.
Sensei: Which three kanji?
Me: Do you know three kanji on a map that mean "You are here"
(His face lit up as if I had just mastered the art of Japanese bowing)
Sensei: Ahhh, Genzaichi, you are here. I understand. Genzaichi, Genzachi. I understand.
Me: Yes, yes.
(He then wrote the three Kanji, the last of which I definitely recognised)
Sensei: Genzaichi, Genzaichi.
Me: Yes, yes. Thank you so much.
(with delight still on his face as if I had karate kid style caught a fly with a pair of chopsticks)
Sensei: Genzaichi, Genzaichi (followed by) somethingsaidinJapanese veryfastwhichIdidntunderstand (which I have interpreted to be Why didn't you just say "how do say ‘You are here’ in Japanese" you silly nincompoop)
Me: Thank you so much.
(At this point, if hugging was an acceptable Japanese custom, I would have given him one which would have made a large Hokkaido bear proud. Instead I did my best attempt at a sitting down bow, and like a bobble head figurine I nodded my head back and forth for the next 20 seconds or so)
Sensei: That's ok.
Me: For your great and wonderful assistance on this matter of determining how to say "You are here" on a map, I humbly thank you for your hard work and persistence and efforts to further my study of the honourable Japanese language.
Sensei: It was nothing. Don't mention it. Let’s start the class and get back to studying the difference between wa and ga.

Have you ever had an experience like this? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


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