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<< Could there be a separate word, before or after
 the noun, that designates case?  >>

A hundred people answered by now so why not me.
Answer is: What do you mean by "separate?" Is it a question of script or of
syntax? Is _'s_ in "John's house" "separate?"
Anyway, when linguists talk of Japanese they call the tags "ni", "de", "wo",
"ga" and the like "clitics". When they talk of English they call "of", "to",
"by", "at" and the like "prepositions." So the Japanese "no mae ni" is made
of one noun and two clitics while its English twin "in front of" is made of
one noun and two prepositions. Go figure...