Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Herbert Rosendorfer's German for Gastarbeiter

Professor Yamasuke Hirotawa, a bachelor of about fifty, had been lecturing on German Literature at the University of Kobe for some ten years when he received an invitation to spend two semesters as visiting professor at a German university. At that time Professor Hirotawa had published a number of articles on baroque poetry, a two-volume analysis of Schiller's Wallenstein and – this in German – a study of changes in the use of the dative from Luther to Hofmannsthal, as well as translating the works of Kleist and Immermann into Japanese, but he had never actually been to Germany.

His experiences in Germany – his linguistic experiences – were a revelation, a revolution, nothing less than a revaluation of all his ideas. Professor Hirotawa was forced to recognise that his view of the German language was old-fashioned, out-of-date or, to put it bluntly, wrong. As a man, said Professor Hirotawa after his return to Japan, who had devoted decades of diligent study to the German language, he had felt in Germany like a peasant in a Shinto shrine (completely bewildered, that is). The German the Germans spoke was nothing like the German he had been taught. His teachers at the Goethe Institute must have been frauds, he was even considering informing the German Embassy, where they obviously had no idea of what those so-called teachers put on under the guise of language classes. The Germans, he explained, spoke a completely different language, a concise, pithy language, stripped of nearly all conjugation and declension endings, a language consisting almost entirely of nouns, with a hoard of vivid expressions readily understandable to all and sundry. In addition, the Germans also used their hands and feet to express themselves, often both at the same time.

On his very first journey by tram Professor Hirotawa made an interesting linguistic observation. He asked to conductor to tell him when it was time to get off. When they reached the stop in question, the conductor did not say, “Here is the stop you were asking for, sir. It is time to alight.” Instead he said, in a loud voice, “Hey you! Out, out. Chop-chop!”