Saturday, December 24, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

J-Word Play #22 (Answer)

Our last riddle was kind of a toughie. A few guesses, but no correct answers!


To those who submitted answers, thanks for trying and don't be discouraged!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Year's Cards: All About Nengajo

Every year around Christmas time in the US, the season's greetings cards make their rounds. Many families, individuals, or even businesses send out Christmas or holiday cards to friends, family, clients, etc. They can be nice, but I've never really been big on them. Though it's much the same thing, I was more into the Japanese version of this custom while I was living over there. Every year, people in Japan send out 年賀状, New Year's greeting cards.

My first year working in Japan, I decided that to improve my Japanese and blend in better (both at work and into the culture), I would send out cards to some of my coworkers. It was kind of hard work, but worth it I think. Got a lot of practice writing kanji, anyway!

One thing I really like about 年賀状 is their variety. I'm not really a big collector, but I enjoyed receiving and keeping all the different cards every year. The general theme of each year's cards depends upon the  animal of that year, derived from the Chinese zodiac (十二支). The years I was in Japan were those of the cow, tiger, and rabbit, so most of the cards I've collected show those animals. Some cards are custom-made and sport family pictures, much like a lot of Christmas cards in the U.S. 

In my experience, many foreigners in Japan don't bother with them and aren't really expected to. So if you do send some out, you may surprise your friends and coworkers. Doing so is a good way to get some back, too. Generally people start sending them a week or two before New Year's (the post office will hold them and wait until New Year's to deliver them), and then during the first week or two of the new year they will often send cards to people from whom they received but didn't originally send one. They often write "年賀状ありがとうございました!" (Thanks for the card) on the front as an acknowledgement.

If you're interested in trying to send some yourself or you've received a card and want to know the deal, here's an explanation for you.

The boxes at the top of the blank side are for the recipient's postal code and the space below that is for their name and address. The person should be addressed as 様 (さま). For example 田中様, 安田様, John Smith様, etc. さま is an honorific, much like さん, but is used to indicate even more respect and formality. Whether you write vertically or horizontally is a stylistic choice.

At the bottom, generally you write your name and address, though some people leave it blank or just write their name.

The  *'s at the bottom represent two numbers that can be found on every New Year's card. Every year the post office holds a lottery. There are big prizes like computers, vacations, and TV's, and smaller ones like free stamps. The larger prizes generally don't have many winners, but the cheaper ones do. The winning numbers (or digits) can be checked online or at your local post office after New Year's. Generally the number on the right is the one you need to look at, but apparently some prizes are restricted by the letter of the digits on the left (A, B, or C). I have won a few stamps in the past, but never bothered to claim them.

Here's an example of a filled-out card:

On the front of the card you don't need to write anything, but you can scribble some personalized message, write some English just for the novelty of it, or use a set phrase (決まり文句).

For New Year's, you'll generally see/hear:


Both basically mean "Happy New Year!"

Anyway, the New Year's cards are one thing I kind of miss about living in Japan. If you're over there but haven't bothered with them, it's your call...but I recommend giving it a shot.

Update (12/19/11): One thing several people have pointed out in the comments that's worth mentioning is that writing something by hand on the card is considered the "right" way to make up a 年賀状 for someone. I guess having everything printed on doesn't show the right level of effort.

Jen of Perogies and Gyoza dropped a link for a New Year's card commercial featured right now on the JP Post website. I had never seen any of these before, but apparently there are a number of these commercials from years past. Here's a previous one (maybe from 2008, which I think was the year of the rat):

Sunday, December 11, 2011

J-Word Play #22

I think this one is kind of cute.


If you think you know the answer, shoot me an email at: blueshoe [at]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rord of the Lings?

One thing that used to alternatingly amuse and annoy me was the way some of my students (and even teachers) would mis-translate one of my favorite book and movie series, The Lord of the Rings. As we all know, "l" and "r" can be problematic for Japanese, and the katakana form of this particular title don't really help matters. As a result, sometimes people would tell me that they liked "The Road of the Ring."

Now that I think about it, that title isn't too ridiculous given the story. The main characters do indeed travel a long road...of the ring.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Shiina Ringo's Radiohead Cover

Paul has posted about Shiina Ringo before.

@goodandbadjapan posted a link to a cool Shiina Ringo cover of Radiohead's Creep. I love Radiohead and I love Shiina Ringo so this was right up my alley. The cover isn't the best but it's pretty cool nonetheless.

Let's watch, won't we?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Japanese English

I don't know how often this occurs between other languages, but there can be a bit of confusion and a certain degree of frustration when communicating between (with?) Japanese and English. This particular occurrence is due to the existence of "Japanese English." I'm not the first one to blog about it (Orchid just put up a post about it and Daniel has written about examples of this in the past), but I've had my own frustrations and experiences with it, both as a student of Japanese and a teacher of English.

As you may know, the Japanese language contains a veritable hoard of loan words, many of which are borrowed from English. For us native Englisher speakers and for those Japanese studying our language, this is a mixed blessing.This is because a lot of these loan words have undergone some kind of metamorphosis and either their meaning or form has changed slightly (though sometimes this is also due to a discrepancy in the English language itself between countries).

For example: パンツ (pantsu) and "pants." Pants meaning "pants" would be nice, but...

When we Americans hear pants, we think of something like this:

However, Japanese people, when they hear パンツ, tend to think of something like this (yeah, sorry, that is a weird picture of underwear):

On more than one occasion I've lazily used パンツ in conversation with my girlfriend when I wanted to say "pants." I think she knows what I mean by now, but it's a bad habit I've gotten into. The Japanese word for pants (or slacks) is actually ズボン, which comes from French. I always get it mixed up with soft-shelled turtle...(すっぽん).

Ok, maybe not the best example since "pants" means something different depending on whether you use American or British English, I guess.

"Juice" is better example. In English, juice typically means a drink that comes from fruits and/or vegetables. The Japanese ジュース (jusu), however, means something closer to "soft drink," which includes soda or sports drinks.

I also mentioned that some loan words change their form. The best example I can think of is the word "challenge." In English, you can overcome a challenge, or you can challenge someone to a duel, or challenge yourself to do something, etc.

In Japanese, though, we have チャレンジする, which actually means "try." As a result, you have people (including Japanese English teachers) challenging things. Sometimes when I would ask my students a question, my Japanese partner would try to encourage them by telling them (in English) to challenge my question. While this makes total sense in Japanese (質問をチャレンジしてね - "Try to answer the question"), in English it either sounds like the student should be challenging me, or else it just doesn't make sense.

There are also a lot of Japanese phrases that are cobbled together from English words and don't really make any sense to us native speakers. A few examples are:

マイペース ("my pace"), which means at one's own pace or doing things at one's own time or schedule.

エコ ("eco"), which means (and is an abbreviation of) "ecological." Lately in English we say "green."

キャバ ("Cyaba"), which is kind of a shortened form of "cabaret" and means just that.

エヌジー ("NG"), used mainly in texting and on the internet, from the English "No good" and meaning the same. A native English speaker could probably figure this out by context, but it's not natural usage as far as  I'm aware.

リフォーム ("reform"), usually meaning "renovation."

This "Japanese English" is the downside to having a language that borrows many words from English. Love it or hate it, though, it is what it is.

As a Japanese learning English or an English speaker learning Japanese, has this pattern made learning difficult or frustrating for you? Or has it helped you in some way? I'm curious to know!