Saturday, January 30, 2010

Just another picture of the day 1/31/10

Golden yenners

Japanese yen come in both coins (玉, tama) and bills (札, satsu). The coin variety includes 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500-yen pieces. In America, coins of a higher denomination than 25 cents have never really caught on. We've had 50 cent and $1 coins introduced, but no one really seems to use them. I think that's a shame.

In Canada, Loonies and Toonies (one and two Canadian dollar coins, respectively) are widely used. In Europe, there are one and two-euro coins, as well. Britain has the 1-pound coin, and of course Japan has the 100 and 500-yen coins. What is it about Americans that we can't succumb to the allure of the high-denomination coin? I mean, holding a fistful of 500-yen pieces is like grasping a small hoard of pirate gold. Who doesn't love pirate gold?

Coins are easier to handle than bills (although I suppose their cumulative weight is the flip side of that) and they are also cheaper for the government (and therefore us) to make. Coins wear out much more slowly than bills, and thus have to be replaced and recirculated much less often. It also makes Coinstar much more exciting - in America I could usually expect one or two hundred bucks from a couple big jars of coins. A couple weeks ago I deposited a jar of yen and got the equivalent of about $350 for it! But despite these benefits, America lags behind in the coinage arena.

One of my favorite aspects of the high-value coins are how easy they are to spend or not spend. I'm sure I'm not the first to blog about this, but I am a subscriber to the practice of saving 500-yenners. About half a year ago, as close as can remember, I began dropping all my 500-yen coins into a little box. Over the months, I've conditioned myself never to spend them. It's gotten to the point where I inwardly wince when I see other people drop a 500-yen piece. And it's been paying off. To date, I've saved just under 70,000 yen - that's around $700.

I do find myself wrestling with the question of what to do with the money when I do decide to cash it in, though. Do I invest it? Spend it on a vacation? Get myself some fancy gadgets? Only time will tell...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Let's enjoy Japanese: Never, sometimes, or usually

Fairly early on in one's 日本語教育 (Nihongo Kyouiku, study of the Japanese language), one learns how to transform mundane statements like 寿司を食べます (Sushi o tabemasu, "I eat sushi") into slightly more detailed constructions like よく寿司を食べます (Yoku sushi o tabemasu, "I often eat sushi").

In my experience, there are six basic frequency words that are usually learned at this point:

ぜんぜん(全然) - zenzen, never (寿司を全然食べません - I never eat sushi.)
あまり - amari, not very often (寿司をあまり食べません - I rarely eat sushi.)
ときどき (時々)- tokidoki, sometimes (ときどき寿司を食べます - Sometimes I eat sushi.)
よく - yoku, often (よく寿司を食べます - I often eat sushi.)
たいてい - taitei, usually (たいてい寿司を食べます - I usually eat sushi.)
いつも - itsumo, always (いつも寿司を食べます - I always eat sushi.)

These cover a good amount of ground. There are, of course, other frequency words out there to be seized for your Word Hoard. Personally, one of the next ones to be thrown into my rotation of normal usage was 普通 (futsuu). ふつう, or sometimes ふつうは or ふつうに, depending on the usage, is a way of saying "usually" or "normally."

For example: 私は普通に車で仕事に行きます。 (わたしはふつうにくるまでしごとにいきます)
"I usually go to work by car."

You also may also recognize 普通 from the train station, as it's used to indicate a regular or local train.

Another way to say "normally" or "usually" that seems to be used more regularly than 普通 is 普段 (ふだん, fudan). ふだん is one that I just recently became aware of and have since recognized in a number of places (funny how that works). I believe it is used much the same as 普通.

Example: 昨夜、私は普段より飲めませんでした。 (さくや、わたしはふだんよりのめませんでした)
"Last night I wasn't able to drink as much as I normally do."

Lastly, let's have a look at a couple of words using the kanji 「常」. I don't have extensive experience with it, but I do know that it is used fairly frequently. If I read more, which I plan to do, I'm sure I'd be a lot more familiar with it. First, we have 常に (つねに), which means "always" or "constantly."

I'll use an example right from Denshi Jisho: 火は常に危険だ。(ひはつねにきけんだ)
"Fire is always dangerous."

Last, we have 日常 (にちじょう), which means "ordinary" or "everyday." You may recognize this from 日常漢字 (にちじょうかんじ) - everyday kanji. There are a number of useful compounds you can make from にちじょう, like 日常生活 (にちじょうせいかつ, daily life) or 日常会話 (にちじょうかいわ, ordinary/daily conversation).

I'm sure there are a number of fine vocabulary words relating to time and frequency that I've left out, but we'll just have to talk about them some other time. Or, uh, maybe 決して(けっして, never). We'll see which comes first.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Katamari Commercial

Ever play the game Katamari Damacy? I never had any interest until a few years ago when a friend of mine gave me the first one as a gift. Ever since then I've been a fan. Quirky gameplay, catchy music, and a very unique personality. Anyway, here's a Japanese commercial for my favorite random-clutter-ball-making game.

I heart food

Just picked up this delicious-looking specimen at the store. A day old + foreign origin = big discount.

For those of you not impressed by slabs of animal flesh, here's a large lump of juicy plant matter that I intend on eating this week. Feast your eyes upon the almighty Starburst Pomelo - a pomelo-ruby grapefruit hybrid.

Picked up two of these badboys at Costco the other day and I look forward to gorging.

This thing is as big as my freakin' head.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Don't you wanna?" Japan style

I don't watch much TV these days as most of the programming is pretty lacking. But as we all know, among all the crap Japanese commercials there are some gems. Here's a series of Fanta commercials that stand out. In particular I like the shogun and the gangster. Insolence!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let's enjoy Japanese: That's a first

Another interesting thing about Japanese is that often you can take a kanji (or word) and just smoosh it together with a number of other kanji/words to form all kinds of cool compounds. One prefix that you'll see used quite a bit is 初(in this case はつ、 hatsu). 初 means "first" or "new" and is used to indicate something to which either of these adjectives applies. Here are a few examples:

初 + 雪 (ゆき, snow) = 初雪 (はつゆき, hatsuyuki), "first snow"

Last week there was a slight dusting outside, which I guess was a big deal since it doesn't snow too often around here. I overheard some excited teachers in the staff room exclaiming "あっ、初雪です!" - "Oh, first snow (of the winter/year)!"

初 + 詣 (もうで, pilgrimage) = 初詣 (はつもうで, hatsumoude), "first shrine/temple visit of the year"

The first pilgrimage of the New Year usually occurs on New Year's Day or in the week or so following. It's my understanding that while Japanese used to visit shrines, these days temples are visited as well.

初 + 恋 (こい, love or passion) = 初恋 (はつこい, はつこい), "first love"

Interestingly, this one seems to hold a slight but important difference of meaning in Japanese. It might be better to translate it as "first crush." I wasn't aware of this until last night, actually, when I was out with an American friend and some Japanese. Someone asked my friend and I about our 初恋, and we both answered that ours were in college. One of the girls remarked something like "ちょっと遅いじゃない?" - "Isn't that a little late?" After a short, confused discussion we realized that we were working with two different definitions of "first love."

There are a number of these "hatsu" compounds out there. Keep your ears open and perhaps you'll be able to exclaim "初耳ですね!" (Hastumimi desune) - "This is the first time I've heard it!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

J-Word Play #6 (Answer)

Kudos to Simon for getting the answer to this one.

The riddle was:



いるか (dolphin)

This one doesn't translate so nicely into English, but it roughly asks: "What animal do we not know if it exists or not?"

The answer comes from the fact that the verb いる (iru) can mean "to exist" (for living things) and か (ka) is question-marking particle. So いるか can mean "Does it exist?" but is also the word for "dolphin" in Japanese.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Just another picture of the day 1/13/10

Yup, that's a Whopper Jr. set for ¥450 that includes a Highball. Have it your way, indeed. Now if only there were some BKs outside of Tokyo...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Let's enjoy Japanese: Taking a stab at it

Last year someone was stabbed outside a convenience store across the street from one of the schools where I work. I believe the victim was a woman, and the attacker immediately ran away. As you can imagine, there was quite a stir. Classes weren't in session, but the school was locked down and teachers went off around the school on patrol. For the next few hours police helicopters were flying around the neighborhood looking for the guy. Word is he was caught.

Anyway, I always find it quite fascinating that some languages have words for ideas that others don't. In this case, we have a word that I learned from a friend of mine - 通り魔.

通り魔 (とおりま) means a random attacker, or someone who stabs people on the street randomly. While Japan is one of the safest places in the world to live, this goes to show you that it does have crime - the Japanese have their own word for this kind of criminal.

The construction of this word is also quite interesting. Let's have a look:

The first part, 通り, means street. Appropriate enough. The second part, 魔, means demon or devil. You may recognize it from 悪魔 (あくま; akuma, the devil). So the word literally means street devil. I love how kanji can simultaneously be kind of poetic and yet so simple and utilitarian.

While the application of this word is kind of limited, I thought it might be a cool one for you to know. And besides, every once in a while one of these attacks will be on the news (I believe there was one in Akihabara a couple years ago), and now you'll know the Japanese for it.

Just another picture of the day 1/11/10

And thanks sign.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Looky what I found

(Image from

When I was in Tokyo last week for New Year's, I had the opportunity to watch a little TV - something I know I should do more of in Japan but find quite difficult. Well, the TV in the hotel had good reception and a nice LCD, so it was a bit easier.

Anyway, two consecutive mornings (I think they must have been running a marathon) I came across this cartoon that really piqued my interest. I did a little research upon my return, and apparently it's called 獣の奏者エリン (Kemono no Souja Erin). And it appears that it's available to watch on Crunchyroll, which I admit I've never used before, but probably will to watch this.

I caught the series in what seemed to be the early middle, so I'll refrain from talking about specifics in case anyone decides it looks interesting and wants to check it out. But I will say this: it was very charming and although it looks like a little-girl anime, it was quite enjoyable for me, a 20-something year old dude. The art style was perhaps what struck me the most. Although it's a relatively recent anime, the animation reminded me a lot of old cartoons from my childhood, some of which were originally from Japan, such as Nickelodeon's Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics.

The main story is about this green-haired, green-eyed girl named Erin who seems to have an affinity for and curiosity about nature and animals. The setting looks to be a typical fantasy-esque world filled with kingdoms, peasants, and the like. I did see a little bit of swordplay and some fantastical creatures, but I don't know if there's any magic in the series. If so it doesn't seem to be a heavy element.

I'm looking forward to checking out some more episodes, but with a slight tinge of disappointment; when I watched the show at the hotel, it was good Japanese practice. I didn't understand 100% of what they were saying, but that caused me to pay closer attention, and I had to work sometimes to figure out what they meant. It's my understanding that Crunchyroll has English subs, so that element will be lost for me. Oh well - maybe I'll hold off and go get a Tsutaya (Japanese Blockbuster equivalent) membership and see if they have it there.

Anyway, this was a good find for me. I really should be consuming more of my media in Japanese, but it can be a challenge to find books/games/comics/shows that both match my level of Japanese and interest me. Out of curiosity, has anyone else seen this show or read the manga it's based on?

Update: Looks like the English subs won't be a problem, since the videos don't seem to play in Japan.

J-Word Play #6

This one is an original, although I'd be willing to wager there are similar ones floating around out there. I'll probably wait about a week before I post the solution and plug anyone who answers correctly. Here we go:



Just another picture of the day 1/5/10