Sunday, November 29, 2009

Just another random question 11/29/09: いうて

Edit 11/30/09: According to Bryce in the comments, it's actually ゆって.
Edit: 12/01/09: Asked one of the English teachers I work with today and she said that ゆう is Kansai-ben for 言う。

言う (iu; to say) is a word that you learn fairly early on in Japanese studies. Being an ~う verb, the ~て form (used for commands and a slew of other grammatical constructions) is, of course, 言って. However I've noticed that sometimes Japanese people will say いうて instead. I'm wondering if this is just a spoken variation or some special rule I haven't encountered in my studies.

Anyone know anything about this one?

Just another picture of the day 11/29/09

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Just another random thought 11/26/09: Buy American!

There comes a time in (almost) every young man or woman's life when he sets out on his own and assumes responsibility for himself: bills, food, housing - all of that good stuff. It was an interesting experience to jump to this stage of life and simultaneously into a foreign country. Although to be fair, I have had help with things like my apartment lease.

One characteristic of growing up and becoming responsible is learning how to manage your money. You start to notice things you never really gave much thought to in the past, like how much different brands of milk cost and which pack has more cherry tomatoes in it. As such, I've tended to inadvertently buy a lot of American produce. Often imported American (or Australian) meat is cheaper than domestic Japanese stock. The same is true of some fruits and vegetables. Today I bought a head of American broccoli for 68 yen. The Japanese ones were almost 100 yen more! Fine by me - I like buying stuff from home. Suckers...!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Japanese Men: Fueling societal problems...?

Edit: 草食系 is herbivore; 菜食系 is vegetarian.

...or a result of them, and a component of a vicious cycle? A recent NPR article, via Japan Probe:

"The sensitive New Age man has finally arrived in the land of the salaryman. But there is a catch — a particularly important one in Japan, where the declining birthrate has caused alarm: The new Japanese man doesn't appear to be interested in women or sex."

An interesting topic, to be sure. Is the (菜食系) 草食系(sōshokukei; herbivore) male the future of Japan, or a stumbling block to its future?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Let's enjoy Japanese: It's not THAT difficult

If you've ever spent some time in Japan and picked up a chopstick or uttered a word of Japanese in the presence of a native, you've probably heard all about how skilled you are at either. For this entry I'm going to skip the debate over whether or not this is rude or condescending. Another one you'll hear, if you're studying Japanese is "日本語は難しいね" (Japanese is difficult, aye?). Some foreigners take offense at this, interpreting the comment to mean that our puny, foreign brains just can't grasp the language. I must admit that at times I've gotten annoyed when this little gem has been directed at me, but more often I just shrug and nod and mutter something about foreign languages being tough, but communication being important.

Well, thanks to a new grammar pattern I recently learned, I can now tell these folk that Japanese isn't that difficult. Here it is:


See how it works? If not, let's try another example:

A: このテレビゲームは高いね。
B: いや、高くはない。

A: This video game is expensive, huh?
B: Nah, it's not that expensive.

So here's the deal: for ~い adjectives, you take the adverb form (change い to く) and tack on はない (and of course the は is pronounced "wa").

For ~な adjectives, you take the root and add ではない. So for example, 好き (すき; to like) becomes 好きではない. As in:
A: 来週のライブに行く?
B: 行かないよ。そのバンドが好きではない。

A: Are you going to next week's concert?
B: No. I don't like that band that much.

As far as speaking, I believe with ~い adjectives, emphasis is placed on the は, and with ~な adjectives it is placed on で.

So I hope you enjoyed this lesson. But I don't hope that much.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Japanese Halls

This commercial, featured recently at Japan Probe, is a great example of typical Japanese advertising. Amusing and "wtf" inducing.

J-Word Play #3

After that last humdinger I know you must be aching for another one. Settle down, my babies - here you are:


(What animal is always complaining?)


牛 (うし; cow)
In English, cows say "Moo." In Japanese, cows say "も(Mo)," which is also the sound a person makes when he is complaining, like a groan.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Bow

It seems that the last few days this picture has been plastered all over the internet. While I'm reluctant to delve into the murky political waters here at JADJ, I've been reading a lot of unfair comments from both sides of the "debate" and would just like to briefly weigh in.

AFP/ File

First off, as this Japan Times piece points out, this is not the first time that a US president has been blasted for a controversial greeting. G. W. Bush, Clinton, and Nixon all had their moments (as has Obama before this). I think there are people on both sides of the aisle who are ignoring that fact. When Bush held hands with Prince Abdullah, there was nothing wrong with it - it was just, you know, cultural sensitivity. Or conversely, when Clinton almost bowed to the emperor of Japan, it was a near calamity, but when Obama does a near-90°er, it's just deference and good manners - a new, humble, America. There's plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

I can understand both sides. On one hand, this isn't really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, even if it was a mistake. So Obama gets points for his "humility and deference" with some, and in a 3-7 years we'll have a different president who can adopt an entirely new style of dealing with foreign leaders if he likes. On the other hand, it's true that American principles have always spurned the idea of the superiority of nobility (except in the cases of celebrities and political dynasties, it seems). Obama's bow was rather low and clumsy, and appeared to be the bow of one to his superior. I mean, that's the Japanese way - you bow low to your betters. Obama could use some better protocol advisors, but if he stuck with the same winners after giving Gordon Brown some DVDs in return for a pen carved from the timbers of an old ship that used to fight slavers, then I doubt he's going to fire them after this faux paux.

So in my opinion, it was a sloppy move. But the bottom line is that everyone makes mistakes, and this is going to have very little impact on anything. Now that I've offended people on all sides, let's move on.

Friday, November 13, 2009

School culture festivals

Edit: 11/18/09

A couple weeks ago, one of the high schools I teach at held its annual 文化祭 (bunkasai; culture festival). This event is something I never experienced in high school in America; to my knowledge, our high schools don't have anything quite like it. Students prepare for these festivals weeks in advance. Each homeroom class prepares something, be it an exhibit, a game, or a food stand of some kind. On the day of the event, the school is open to the public, so friends and family and alums (OB and OG, they call them here) come visit and partake in the festivities. Most of the students get really excited and are, of course, glad to have a couple days off from classes (usually takes at least a day beforehand to start setting stuff up). Here are some pictures:

The opening ceremony included local Hyogo celebrity, Habatan.

One homeroom made a cap art exhibit. I believe it's supposed to be Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, but I think they got his jersey number wrong.
Edit: As Shadow pointed out in the comments, it appears to be Mariners' player Suzuki Ichiro.

Here are some other things the students made.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let's enjoy Japanese: Using Japanese "appropriately"

Edit: 11/18/09

A pretty good word to be able to at least recognize over the course of your Japanese journey is the word 適当 (tekitou), sometimes appearing in it's adverb form, 適当に.

It has two distinct meanings. First off, it often means "appropriate," "suitable," or "proper."
Example: この仕事はあなたには適当じゃないよ。(This job isn't suitable for you)

A while ago I went to a little hole-in-the-wall yakitori restaurant with my friend Joe. We sat down and ordered a beer, and the old man behind the counter said something like

"適当にしましょうか?" (Roughly Sounds like "Shall we do it properly?")

I thought believe he was referring to the fact that his restaurant or that kind of place has a little set course kind of thing, although we didn't see it on the menu. Either that or he was offering to just let us buy whatever he felt like making. Sometimes the problem in these cases is that you really have no idea what "properly" or "appropriately" means. We shrugged and acquiesced, and the guy served us up some (very nearly) raw egg in what appeared to be some sort of soy sauce / vinegar mix. After that came some yakitori, which was a lot better than the egg. Be careful of the 適当 + typical Japanese vagueness combo.

The second meaning, which I haven't had a lot of experience with, is a more recent evolution of the word, if I understand correctly. This usage can be understood as "half-hearted," "random," or almost "sloppy."
Example: 彼は昨日の宿題を忘れてしまったから、適当にして出したばかりです。(Since he forgot yesterday's homework, he just sloppily half-assed it and handed it in)

適当(に) makes an excellent addition to anyone's Japanese word hoard. Let's enjoy!

Edit: Daniel at How to Japonese has some useful insights to add. The world of blogging is truly a boon to our Japanese studies!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Looking to the future

Man, things like this are what really make me take notice of our current rate of technological progression. Apparently the days are approaching when we can simply read from the air what those crazy foreigners are saying. I'm a little skeptical, granted the current inaccuracy of online translators, that something groundbreaking will be released within the next few years, but I'm sure this isn't too far away. And then...universal translators?

Full article here;

"Japan's high tech firm, NEC has introduced a new gadget, shaped like a pair of glasses, which is aimed at helping people sharpen their linguistic skills and break communication barriers by offering instant real-time language translation. Wearers of the device will be able to communicate with people of several different languages.[...]"

Just another picture of the day 11/10/09

(Not color swapped)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Japan's Population Problem

I may have mentioned in the past that Japan is facing a impending economic collapse in the next 50 years or so if it doesn't get its act together. This is due to its measly birth rate and aging population. In 50 years or so, there will be too few workers to support the amount of Japanese retirees. Government officials and think tanks have been tossing around policy ideas for years, and have implemented programs encouraging foreign workers to (temporarily) come to Japan. These programs have been criticized, however, for providing little support for these foreign workers and for eventually trying to turn them out of the country.

Really Japan has two options if it wants to survive as a nation and remain a world power. The Japanese people can either have more babies, or the government can ease regulations on immigration. Neither seems to be happening. I understand Japan's desire to retain its cultural identity, which is deeply tied to its homogeneity. But is it better to die out than dilute the purity of Japanese culture?

Debito Arudou, author of and periodic contributor to The Japan Times, recently penned an article to weigh in on the topic. A solution to Japan's problems does not seem within reach at the moment.

Check out the article full here.

[...]One panel was particularly odd. Panelists concluded, of course, that Japan must do something to stop this demographic juggernaut. A deputy director general at Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research even extrapolated that Japanese would be extinct by the year 3000! Yet the prospect of Japan's decimation was no match for the fear of the foreign element.

During the Q-and-A, I asked: "Sir, only briefly in your presentation do you mention letting foreigners into Japan as a possible solution. However, you depict the process not as 'immigration' (imin), but as the 'active use of the foreign working labor population' (gaikokujin rodoryoku jinko no katsuyo). Why this rhetoric?"

The speaker hedged a bit, suddenly asserting that Japan is now a crowded island society. To paraphrase, "Immigration is not an option for our country. Inflows must be strictly controlled for fear of overpopulation."

Afterward, one on one, I reconfirmed his intellectual disconnect. He further cited "a lack of national consensus" on the issue. When I asked if this was not a vicious circle (i.e. avoiding public discussion of the issue means no possible consensus), he gave a noncommittal answer. When I asked if "immigration" had become more of a political term than a scientific one, he begged off replying further.[...]

J-Word Play #2

This one is simple and easy to remember.


(What fruit does dad dislike?)


パパイヤ (papaya)

パパ = Papa
いや = dislike; an expression of dislike or unwillingness

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let's enjoy Japanese: The grass

In addition to puns and riddles, I find Japanese 諺‘(ことわざ;kotowaza; proverbs or sayings) to be interesting. It's quite fascinating to note that some of the sayings we have in English can be found, at times almost word for word, in Japanese. Of course this could be due to cultural diffusion; it can be difficult to pick apart Japanese culture and identify what is truly Japanese in origin.

Anyway, here's one example:


Translation: "The neighboring grass is green."

Interestingly, "青い" normally means "blue" in Japanese, but is sometimes used to mean green, as well. Traffic lights, for example, are "青い" in Japanese.

Regardless of the color of the grass, this proverb is like our "The grass is always greener on the other side."

The other part of Japan

During my stints here I've always lived in urban or suburban settings. Over the course of my travels, though, I have spent some time in the country, where the rice patties are bountiful and the air is...well, nicer than in the city. We call this mystical land "inaka" (田舎; rural countryside).

Here are a few pictures from a recent visit to a friend of mine who lives in a town near Nishi-waki (西脇).