Next up is yu, pronounced not too differently to the English word ‘you’. We write it in hiragana as ゆ and katakana as ユ. For our katakana words today there is a sort of ‘r’ theme, as unconnected as that seems.
Yuutaan (ユーターン) comes from the English word ‘U-turn’ and generally has the same meaning; although, additionally it can refer to returning. For example: to return to work in ones hometown after having moved to the big city for a career; or, the rush of people returning from the O-Bon travel season.
Yuumoa (ユーモア) comes from the English word ‘humor’. Generally, I would say the meaning is the same, but one thing you learn quickly in another culture, is that humor is not the same. I love to make people laugh, and sometimes I think I’m good at it but, particularly in Japan, I find myself in situations where people are just staring at me wondering what I meant.
So, why the ‘r’ theme? Notice that the approximation of the ‘r’ sounds in these words includes no ‘r’ sound. Many of the ‘r’ related sounds in English prove difficult for Japanese speakers. The final ‘r’ in humor is not altogether horrid. When Japanese people approximate words like ‘more’, the final sound reminds me of many British friends and gives me little trouble to understand. The vowel and ‘r’ in turn is another story altogether. Because this sound uses muscles in the throat, it is completely foreign to Japanese speakers; however, it is probably the most common sound in English particularly because we add it to the end of verbs to make them nouns (e.g., refrigerator, rice cooker, murderer). I love teaching primary classes to make this sound. They start out sounded like they are reversing their lunch, but very quickly adjust because they aren’t carrying decades of bad learning around.
Yuusuzumi (ゆうすずみ・夕涼み) is a word that is used in the summer, particularly in the heat of summer. It refers to the practice of cooling oneself in the evening, since there is no escape from the sweltering August heat during the day. Most kindergardens will have some kind of yuusuzumi festival for the families and neighbors. Everyone will wear yukata or jinbee – lightweight summer clothing – and eat cool foods, play games, and watch fireworks. Not the most fitting word for January, but it should help me appreciate the cold now.
Yuuhan (ゆうはん・夕飯), yuumeshi (ゆうめし・夕飯), and yuushoku (ゆうしょく・夕食) all mean dinner and are fairly commonly used. This was one of my surprises when I first arrived because every textbook I had read, said: bangohan (ばんごはん・晩御飯) meant dinner.
Next week, the second out-of-use sound ye.