June 4, 2009

i-ro-ha #3 "ha!"


This letter is normally pronounced "ha" but when it is used as a "topic marker particle" it is pronounced "wa".


words that start with “ha” ():


ha = a leaf (also happa is leaf), leaves

ha= a tooth, teeth

(this is a restaurant in Kobe)

hahaha = the sound of laughter ;-)

hai = yes

haru = spring

haha = the sound of laughter? 

Well, actually “haha” means “mother”…


For me, the words “laughter” and “mother”, are kind of the same thing.


My father passed away when I was a toddler.  So my mother brought me up on her own….in a country that was not her homeland.  She spoke English like her life depended on it, and well, I suppose it did. 


Despite the grief she held inside her after my father passed away, she is the person who taught me to laugh.  There wasn’t a week that I didn’t get scolded but there wasn’t a day that we didn’t laugh out loud.  (All my personal “Joy Luck Club-ish” memories can go into another post…)

More words that start with “ha” are:


hashi = chopsticks

hashi = bridge

hashi =edge


If we didn’t use Kanji, it could be hard to figure out what the above sentence means.

But with Kanji....

Pretty chopsticks.

A pretty bridge.

A pretty edge.
I know this picture does not make a whole lot of sense, but that is the point...after all you COULD be talking about the edge of your seat!

There are many other words like "hashi" that seem to be the same but are very different.
They will continue to pop up in upcoming editions of the "i-ro-ha" series.

(hasami = scicors)

Since I received a wonderful question from a fabulous bloggy friend about how Japanese is is an example of a short paragraph.  This first one is written in only the Hiragana characters (I keep calling them letters).  
(Hiragana are the letters that I am featuring on this "i-ro-ha" series.)


Yikes!  Of course it is still readable but VERY confusing...

Since Japanese is written stuck together (except for the occasional commas and periods), the above paragraph is hard to read because there is no break.  So, let's change some of these words into Kanji characters and Katakana letters, which will help divide the words.
(Katakana letters are used for words that are of foreign origin or for onomatopoeia. )

Now we know that this means: My name is Tulsa.  I am introducing Japan on my blog.
Today, I am introducing words that start with "ha".  If you have any questions about Japan, please leave a comment.

(Sorry the blue didn't turn out so well in the above paragraph...but "Tulsa" is a foreign name, so it is in katakana and "comment" is also a foreign word used in Japanese now, so also gets written in katakana.)
Pictures of "hashi-oki".
Hashi-oki are chopstick rests.  Most people have them but not everybody uses them everyday.
Always use when you are having guests at the table!  The one that has chopsticks resting on it has a hidden compartment in it for a toothpick!  I bought this in Hokaido a few years ago.

And of course when I found elephant ones, how cold I resist!?

Now, it is time for me to rest....


Chiara.u said...

OMG... it's so fascinating... but so difficult!!! I should have a number of questions... but at first I should read better to understand... learning japan in english... gosh!!! :)

I_am_Tulsa said...

Chiara.u, I haven't chosen the best way to introduce the language, so it is very difficult to understand! Don't worry about the details...I think learning new words is the most important first step.

Learning a foreign language in a foreign language would be too hard for me! LOL

Man of Roma said...

Interesting post, and moving. Your mother must have been a strong woman.
Oh I gave up since long as for the idea of learning Chinese, too old for such difficult languages, but the Japanese culture is starting to fascinate me. I've been a lurker of your blog for a while. Delwyn advised me to visit you.

All the best
From South West

Polly said...

This is really complicated, I've realised that not having any background in Japanese I would find it impossible to learn this way, I already forgot how to write the previous two characters... ouch!

Do you always use the mixture of all three alphabets in Japanese? Is it the only way to differenciate between the words? Is there a pattern to that? And one last question: when do you use kanji as opposed to hiragana?

Thanks for another brilliant post!

willow said...

I would love to hear some of your Joy-Luck- Clubish memories!

Butternut Squash said...

Incredible calligraphy, really.

The Ha that I like best is the absent minded 'ha' when you hear two Japanese people talking and you hear... ha, ha, so, so, so, so, so.

That just cracks me up. It sounds like a slow laugh.

I_am_Tulsa said...

Man of Roma, I am honored...I had no idea I had a lurker! If you have any questions please feel free to ask, I will try to answer as best I can.
I did hear from Delwyn that someone was looking for books on Japanese religion. If that is you , please let me know a bit more about what you are searching for! And thank you for de-lurking!

Polly, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to learn this way!
1. Yes, we always use all three characters.

2. In writing, it is the only way to differentiate, although you can sometimes tell from the content of the sentence whether you are talking about (for example) chopsticks or bridges.

3.There is no pattern. Not all words have kanji characters.

4. You use the kanji when you learn how to write it. Little children first start off with very few kanji. However, too much kanji in a sentence can also be confusing at times, so it is a fine balance....

I know it is hard to understand but don't try to get everything all at once. One letter at a time is the best. One word at a time.

Thank you so much for the questions!

I_am_Tulsa said...

Willow, I will try to put some of those memories into words soon! Thank you!

Butternut Squash,
I know exactly what you mean! Haaaa haaaa haaaa ehhh ehhh soooo sooo sooo!
Thank you again for your kind words!

Delwyn said...

Hi Tulsa,

I love these posts, not that I will remember much but it is fun...I practice and practice my Japanese pronunciation of a few simple words but as soon as I go to say them they slip into an English intonation and I lose the right syllable emphasis...

I was saddened to hear that your Dad passed away so young and you and your mum were left alone, your mother coping with a foreign country....

Are you glad that you returned to Japan? I know you said that at the time you resented the removal from US culture.

Happy Days

I_am_Tulsa said...

Oh Delwyn, intonation is hard even for Japanese people! The "younger generation" has their own "dialect", I guess you could call it slang and that includes a unique intonation as well! Weird huh?!

Yes, my dad's early death really hit the family hard, as you can expect...My mother had the choice to pick up and leave at that time but since I was only 2 years old she decided that I should have the one thing my dad left American "identity".

She knew early on that she would be able to go back to Japan any time (and we obviously eventually did) but it would be hard for her to go back to the US. She was looking ahead and figured that I should have my American family and education in my early years.
We did visit Japan on two occasions before we eventual moved here.

I resented our move to Japan because I was a teenager and their were so many things I wanted to do when I got in high school etc...

However, I now realize that if we hadn't left the US when we did, I would never have been able to learn the Japanese language as well as I have. Although I must admit that the cultural differences were much larger than we anticipated...I felt ready for the loony bin after a few years but somehow got through it!

I have tried many times to write about these experiences but it has been hard to verbalize. Everything has been a jumble of colors. smells, gut feelings and nuances that are still hard for me to explain in any language. This blog and all the questions have been helping me tremendously...

Thank you!

Man of Roma said...

Your story is very interesting. You both have been courageous. I can only vaguely imagine the effort of adaptation to such a differrent culture. So I imagine you are still there now. In which city do you live in?

I_am_Tulsa said...

Man of Roma, yes, I am still in Japan. I currently live on the outskirts of Osaka in Hyogo Prefecture. Thank you for reading my post!

B said...

I love, love this post. The bit about the Japanese language is really interesting, and I'm seriously considering learning it. And your family story... I'm so glad that blogging is helping you to put all this into words.

I_am_Tulsa said...

B, thank you! I am looking forward to seeing how you "wreck" your journal! Have fun!

Chiara.u said...

Hi Tulsa! Thank you for sharing your story... blogging can really help if you find the right people... as I do! I'm so happy to meet all of you every day... it's so encouraging!!
Sometimes it's difficult to put deep emotions in words... you do it so well!!!
See you soon :)

jan in nagasaki said...

hello. I saw you over at Silver Minnow and came over to say HEllo.... HELLO!!!!

this all looks very interesting and beautiful pictures!! Nice to meet you.

I_am_Tulsa said...

Thank you Jan! Nice to meet you too!

Chiara.u, thank you for your kind words! I'm very happy to have met so many inspirational people too!

Destination Infinity said...

I am very much ignorant of the language. I always thought Chinese had more boxes in their script, and the Japanese characters are more graceful - That's how I differentiate between the two. I love to learn languages, and hope to catch some Japanese - Do continue this informal way of teachig with examples etc. We would also like to know more about Japanese people, places, culture, philosophy etc. Do represent that also. Is there a single source on the internet where I can find such things about Japan in English?

Destination Infinity

I_am_Tulsa said...

Destination Infinity,

Thank you for stopping by! I will try to include as many genres as possible in my upcoming "i-ro-ha" posts.

I haven't seen any good sites about Japan that cover everything you have mentioned in a single sweep... there are a few that seem to be pretty popular like these:

this first one I can't vouch for since I personally don't read it but at first glance it looks like they cover a wide variety of society and cultural topics:

and this second one is actually the online site for a free magazine in the area that I live in (which I think has some pretty nice articles)
you can read some of their stuff here:

As for a magazine that you can get overseas is
It is an excellent read (although a bit too "dreamy" sometimes)!

I would like to touch base on all the topics you have mentioned, along with politics, literature and art....

...this will take time though, so if there is anything in particular that you would like to know of feel free to ask and I will try to "compose" a blog post.

It is very hard to put each topic in to a nutshell, so I'll try to dissect things as best I can!

all the best,

Destination Infinity said...

Thank you so much for the reply and recommendations. I will look at those sites. There is nothing in particular I wanted, just wanted to know more about people and culture in Japan. Do posts about that too, when time permits. Thanks,

Destination Infinity

Cyndy said...

Greetings, Tulsa!

So, if I read this correctly, leaves are the teeth of trees? Ha!

Lovely posts, so much to learn! I'm ready!

P.S. Thank you for coming my way. Though you are on an island, you counted for all of Asia on my map. Big stuff!!

I_am_Tulsa said...

Cyndy! So nice to see you here!

Leaves are the teeth of trees = ha wa ha no ha!


Wow! I am glad and honored that I got to "represent" Asia for you! ;-)