The above, which reads ‘watashi,’ means simply “I.” It took my colleague and I two weeks to appreciate this, and we have far from mastered its use. This, of course, is only “I” as expressed in Hiragana, one of Japan’s three written alphabets (the other two being Katakana and Kanji). But that is just the beginning. ‘Watashi’ is only one (gender neutral) way of referring to oneself. ‘Watakushi’ is a more formal (even arrogant) variation; ‘boku’ is a polite masculine form, ‘ore’ an aggressive masculine form (for tough guys). But it doesn’t stop there; atashi, uchi, kochira, ware, wagahai, oira, shessha, atai, yo, and warawa are all distinct ways of expressing “I” in Japanese, each with their own connotations and proper context.
As you can imagine, all of these possibilities leave my colleague and I asking: “Who am I?” Or, to relate it to our work at the UCWBL, who am I as a tutor, in the context of a multilingual partnership? (more…)