After a long day at work I was looking forward to a nice drink in peace. I opened the door and heard Fred's voice booming. All hope for a nice quiet drink was gone. Fred had apparently heard yet another incorrect reference to Japanese people writing Chinese characters and he was going off like the 4th of July, expressing his annoyance at people who were unaware of how different the characters were.
"When I write English," he asked, "What alphabet do I use?"
Somebody foolishly tried to answer, not understanding that all Fred's questions were rhetorical unless Fred wanted information about a train schedule or what time some place opened. Ignoring the poor fool who tried to answer, Fred continue, "I use the modern English alphabet. It may be a Latin-based alphabet, but it certainly is not what the Romans used. You can call it the Roman alphabet or the Latin alphabet or whatever you like, but it has changed."
I was not sure exactly where Fred was going with this, but I thought I knew where he was going. "The Japanese characters are the same. Although the characters, named after the Han dynasty, were once Chinese, they are not any more. In the years since Japanese writing embraced characters and added two Japanese syllaburies, times have changed. The Japanese government instituted character reform after World War II. And let's not forget China. Chinese writing has certainly not stood still in the hundreds of years since Japan first started to borrow Chinese characters. This is Japanese writing now and they are Japanese characters. They may have originated in China and they may have been Chinese in the past, but they are not any more. They are Japanese characters!"
Fred tended to repeat himself when he got worked up. I wonder if it was time to ask Fred if he had any problems with the word Chinese. After Fred slammed his glass down on the bar, I knew he had finished. So, I asked him if he had any problems with the word Chinese. He responded immediately with a loud "No!" He then continued, "Chinese is a perfectly good word, but it does not apply to things Japanese. Take a look at ramen. The Japanese call ramen Chinese noodles. They definitely were Chinese characters once, but they are very Japanese now. I don't know why Japanese love to preface things with Chinese when they are no longer Chinese. It just doesn't make sense."
And as usual, Fred was right. What once were Chinese characters are now Japanese characters.
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