Sunday, September 03, 2006

Yoko Tagami

Following the recommendation of the Let's Learn Korean blog, I've started Yoko Tagami's Bride Yoko's Korean Life (새댁 요코짱의 한국살이). Yoko Tagami's a Japanese woman who married a Korean man she met in China, and then spent a couple of years living in Korea. She's apparently moderately well-known as a cartoonist, and the general format of her book is her cartoon portrayal of a situation on the left-hand page, and a few written paragraphs on the right.

I agree that the Korean is not that difficult (far easier than the Level 5 Korean readers Yonsei University puts out). All of the Japanese from the cartoons is preserved intact, with Korean translations on the sides. Now that I've started studying hanja, I'm finding that I can understand bits of the written Japanese, though I still have no idea how to pronounce it. "Japan" (日本) and "Japanese language" (日本語) are written identically in hanja-Korean and Japanese, while the word for Korea (韓國) is only subtly different (Japanese people write 國 slightly differently but it retains its general shape).

Here's a cartoon early in the book:

(Japanese woman gets into a cab)
Woman: (in broken Korean) Take me to Gangnam, please.
Driver: (stern look) Miss - you're not Korean. Are you Japanese?
(Woman looks isolated and frightened, and thinks, 'Yes, I'm Japanese... Textbook controversy... Dokdo...')
Woman: Yes...
Driver: (expression brightening) So what brings you to Korea? How about Korean men? The World Cup...
(Woman thinks, Ah, he just LOOKS scary...)

Another one:

(Yoko is reading a book)
"This book says that Japanese people cannot speak plainly, but Koreans speak very frankly."
Yoko: Ah, really...
(Yoko and a Korean friend are walking down the street)
Friend: Am I gaining weight?
Yoko: Uh...
Friend: Tell me the truth.
(Yoko thinks, "Until now I would have always said, 'No not at all'... but plainly, frankly...)
Yoko: Yes, a little.
(Friend starts crying.)
Friend: REALLY?
(Yoko thinks, "I'm still a long way from understanding foreign culture.")

That said, I have a question about how we in the west treat Japanese names. We always flip Japanese names around so the personal name is first, family name last: Yoko (personal) Tagami(family). Junichiro (personal) Koizumi (family). Even though Japanese names put the personal name last, family name first.

But we maintain the original name order for Chinese and Koreans. Nobody ever talks about Zedong Mao or Jintao Hu. You never hear anything about Jong-il Kim or Moo-hyun Roh. How did it get started?

Maybe we can find the reason through a guy who attended my university a hundred years ago, and is about the sole well-known Korean known in the West with his family name last: Syngman Rhee. His name is also Romanized a bit oddly by Korean standards (if he were living today we'd probably call him Rhee Seung-man) and I always figured it's because he became famous in the West before Korean Romanization got standardized. Maybe Japanese proper names are flipped around because it's a habit Westerners got into a hundred and fifty years ago that never got changed. But Westerners didn't begin to pay much attention to individual Chinese and Koreans until a bit later, and they got into the habit of leaving the order of their names alone.

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