Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Junkudo craziness

So I'm taking a Japanese class for the foreign staff at RIKEN CDB. The textbook is called Minna no Nihongo, and it's actually all in Japanese; you have to buy a separate English translation to go with it. I guess the idea is to force you to get over your fear of reading a full page of Japanese text.

Before the class started (this was during our second week or so here), I went out to get the textbook. This involved wandering around Sannomiya until I got tired of looking on my own and eventually asked someone on the street where I could find a big bookstore. She said a bunch of stuff that, as far as I could tell, contained the word "left." Correctly interpreting my blank stare, she used hand gestures and a few words of English to make it clear that I needed to walk down the street, turn left, and the store would be on my left.

Thus was I introduced to Junkudo, probably the biggest bookstore in Kobe. If I could read in Japanese, I'd probably find it even more impressive. I think it's 5 stories (or maybe 6); all the English language books were, as far as I could tell, on the 4th floor. I got my textbooks and went home, thinking the adventure was over.

The next day, Naoko Yamaguchi, CDB international affairs coordinator and patron saint of highly educated illiterates, gave me a big manila envelope that contained, among other things, a spare copy of Minna no Nihongo that she had sitting around. So I had one copy too many of this book, which is worth 2,625 yen.

Begin Junkudo round 2. A couple of days later, I found myself in Junkudo again, hoping to return the book for cash. Through hand motions and limited English (his) and Japanese (mine), the clerk made it clear to me that I couldn't return the book for cash; I had to find another book to exchange it for. It was late and I was in too much of a hurry to shop, so I decided to wait.

Yesterday was Junkudo round 3. I went in with a plan. I was going to get myself a pocket-sized English-Japanese dictionary, exchange it for my extra textbook, and be on my way. 10 minutes tops. I quickly found a small dictionary costing 1,800 yen. That meant that, with sales tax, the value of my new book was 735 yen less than my old one -- about $9.16. More money than I'd usually like to just lose, but better than the whole 2,625 yen. The clerk (who spoke, as far as I could tell, no English at all) had to make a phone call to make sure this was OK, then started explaining something very important to me, pointing to the price tags of both books and even pulling out a calculator to bring up that magic number of 735 yen. I just kept telling her it was OK, I understood that I was losing money on this deal. Eventually I realized that she wasn't taking no for an answer -- I wasn't going to leave that store without 2,625 yen worth of book. It's hard to find a book for 735 yen, especially when you're stuck in the English section. Eventually I grabbed the smallest paperback in the translated Japanese literature -- a short story called "The Hell Screen" by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Exactly 735 yen. She seemed relieved that I'd correctly figured out what she wanted me to do.

I'd already read it.

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