Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Hiro Nakamura and the Japanese language

I know so little Japanese that I can construct only one proper sentence by myself (as, unfortunately, none of the aikido technique names make a full sentence): Watashi wa Hangari-jin desu (I'm Hungarian). However, this (lack of) knowledge doesn't stop me from trying to repeat words and sentences heard in Japanese. I can even think about the language and grammar when a suitably simple sentence comes up in a film.

The example that made me wonder is from the TV series Heroes. I heard the following expression in two episodes (and I watched both twice), so it was enough to remember two consecutive words: "Sayonara desu". In case you are a Heroes fan: Hiro said it both times. First, to the Japanese princess Yaeko, then to his father Kaito Nakamura (Nakamura Kaito according to the Japanese order but in the series they use Kaito Nakamura when talking in English). I had heard sayonara before, that's basic enough. It means good bye (and you two will never see each other again) and it is in many movies, even in non-Japanese movies not translated. But it was never accompanied by desu in those movies and so I didn't have a clue what additional meaning these four letters carried.

I asked a friend who's been to Japan and speaks Japanese reasonably well (she says :)). She'd never heard sayonara desu and she risked that it wasn't even proper Japanese. But it was said by Hiro who is obviously Japanese if you look at him and hear him talk! So this friend sent an email to a friend of hers who's Japanese and can surely resolve the issue.

Before the answer email arrived and was forwarded to me I had a look at IMDB and found that Hiro, Masi Oka, has actually been living in the US since the age of 6 and the Japanese language is only listed as 'speaks fluent Japanese'. But his mother is Japanese, Heroes is an expensive series so they should take care of the language and the guy has an IQ of 180 so I guessed he would know the language properly.

The tension had been growing and growing... :)

Finally, my friend received the official answer from Japan:

You made me laugh! [...] I heard many times on TV as well.
[...] "Sayonara Desu" does not exist for proper Japanese. I think someone wanted to say "Sayonara" as polite, and then added "desu" after that. It has no any special meaning.
Now as the issue is resolved I can live my life with one less mistery :). I'm just wondering why I can't find anything about this expression online but I might let others worry about it.

1 comment:

Horlix said...

Aha.. heard and thought about this first time watching the show and just remembered it watching it again.
Had thought perhaps sayonora was a word with meaning beyond the accepted, and that desu played on that somehow.

Thanks for resolving this, beyond my skill.