Thursday, June 28, 2012

Let's Enjoy Japanese: Fail

Watching Game Center CX, it's not uncommon to hear Arino laugh in frustration and moan 「もううう」or exclaim「やられた!」. Another one, similar to 「やられた」in some ways, is 「まいった(な)!」.

参った (まいった) means something like "I lose" or "I've been beaten." If you're thinking in terms of current slang, it might be close to how the young folks these days use "fail." Interestingly, 「参る」 is also 謙譲語 (humble form, usually used along with keigo) for "to go" or "to come," but it also can be used to mean " to be overwhelmed," "to be defeated," etc.

I think I've also heard this one used in my Japanese lesson DS game, where the girl will say 「まいったなぁ」sometimes if you get an answer wrong. I'd be willing to bet that it's used fairly often in anime, as well. Below are some more examples of natural usage:

First off, here we have a blog entry posted by someone whose computer appears to have crapped out on him. He tried restarting it several times, but to no avail. If the system restore doesn't work, he is completely out of luck. Fail.

Next up, a commercial for Boss coffee that couldn't be embedded here, so all I have for you is this lousy link. Basically you have a salaryman who looks to be low on sleep (and the lyrics of the song in the background indicate so), but that won't discourage him from getting to work like he does everyday. Hey, when life is a fail, at least there is Boss coffee.

Last, here's one more video for you. Some guy opens up his bento to find that his egg...well, just play it and see. Not a big deal, but still an egg fail of sorts.

Anyone else have any good examples of 参った?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Volunteering in Japan, Children's Home

Ashley has a piece today in the Japan Times about volunteering at orphanages in Japan. If you think you may be interested in a such a thing, I recommend you pursue it.

My last year in Japan, I volunteered for several months at an orphanage called Children's Home. After reading an article about Smile Kids Japan, I felt inspired to see if I could set something up in my area, so I sent out some messages and was contacted by a Japanese woman on the Hyogo JET Program mailing list who worked with the BOE and said she would be interested in helping me set things up if I needed any assistance. I was grateful for the offer and took her up on it. She helped me make contact with the administrators of a local orphanage that I had found in my research, and she and I went to go meet the director in charge of volunteers. He was a friendly guy, though a little nervous because they hadn't had any foreign volunteers before. Despite his nervousness, he thought our visits could be good because we would be interesting and different to the kids, and also perhaps spark their interest in studying English. He gave us some literature and explained their rules and policies and about insurance, etc.

First I should mention that as Ashley points out in her article, the term "orphanage" in Japan doesn't usually mean a place for children with no parents these days. More often it's somewhere for children with volatile family situations, such as unfit parents. There can be children of all ages up to 18; once they hit adulthood, they can't legally be supported by the orphanage anymore. It's also not uncommon for children to be in and out of these facilities as they leave or rejoin their families. Generally these places aren't looking for kids in their care to be adopted.

After gathering together a core group of about 5 or 6 volunteers (other JET members), we worked out that I would try to schedule visits on weekends about twice a month, and the others would join me when they were available. After the first few times, our Japanese helper passed the baton to me and I began communicating with the volunteer director via email to schedule our visits. We would usually visit after lunch for 2 or 3 hours.  Most of the time we'd just hang out with the littler kids (probably about middle school age), since they took the most interest in us. There was a dirt yard with a kind of jungle gym and some swings, and we would usually place games like soccer or tag (they also loved piggyback rides - おんぶ in Japanese). If the weather was bad or it was too hot, we would go to the kids' rooms (they shared where they slept and there were generally about 8-10 kids per room, with desks and bunk beds and usually a TV) and they would show us their toys. The little boys would often make me and Joe play wrestling games with them and we would let them beat us up a bit.

Sometimes our visits would overlap with a group of senior citizens who would visit twice a month to play Igo with the children. They also wound up teaching us how to play.

I think it was probably good practice for being a parent...I would always leave exhausted. In retrospect, I'm very glad I got involved with the community in this way, but I wish I had searched for something like that sooner (there was apparently a group in Kobe also volunteering at a different orphanage, but I didn't become aware of it until I investigated setting something up in my area). I also wish I had visited more often, but you know how life is...we all have our own things going on, and sometimes it's all too easy to be selfish and do our own things.

Also reinforced for me how resilient kids are. I know those children have tough lives and I'm sure they have an inner turmoil and suffering that we didn't see. But it felt good to see them having fun when we visited, and for the most part they seemed like happy and positive children. The worst part was when we would leave and they would beg us to stay longer, or ask us when we would visit again.

If you are considering volunteering at a place like that, just be sure you can make the commitment. Because once you start going, the kids will come to look forward to your visits and they will be disappointed if you don't come back. I don't blame anyone, but some of the volunteers I recruited were busy and had a lot of obligations, and when some of them would miss a few weeks, the children would ask about them and why they weren't coming, and it was sad to see.

I'm not an expert on the subject, but if you have any questions about finding or setting up a group in your area, feel free to email me or leave a comment and I'll do my best to get you some information.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Japan, land of Miis

Shortly before my most recent trip to Japan, I decided to spring for a 3DS, as the DS I had was the old original model, and I hadn't actually bought it (rather, I inherited it), and well, a list of other rationalizations for spending $200 despite still not owning any actual 3DS games.

For me, one of the best features is what most serious gamers would probably label a peripheral and not invest much time or interest in. You see, similar to the Wii feature of the same name, you can create a Mii avatar for yourself. Instead of populating your plaza with Miis of your own creation modeled after friends and family (or perhaps Saddam Hussein), you only make one. Customize it up, choose a greeting and some favorites, and you're good to go. Then, to fill up your plaza, you walk around and collect Miis from other people. Or you would, anyway, if anyone in the U.S. just casually carried around their 3DS.

My motley band of Miis.
When I was in Japan, I was all over that! You see, Japan is so big on the wifi gaming a 'la Monster Hunter, Pokemon, etc, that people (not just kids!) actually carry their portable gaming devices around. In my travels on the train, in the mall, and to cities, I was racking those bad boys up. Then I came back home and haven't gotten a single Mii since. Sad face. Didn't even get any at the American airports I transferred at on my way home. Get some damn DS', Americans!

Aside from just collecting them, you can gain puzzle pieces from each new Mii (yeah, like jigsaw puzzle pieces; it's about as exciting as it sounds) and also use them as adventurers in a dungeon-crawl mini game in which your Mii is captured and must be rescued by whoever you can recruit. Each Mii you get (or mercenary you hire) can only be for one turn against your enemies, so you go through them pretty quickly as you progress through the dungeon from battle to battle.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the whole thing is that there is a little green LED on the corner of the 3DS that as far as I can tell is used only exclusively to indicate Mii collection. When you see it lit up, you know you've been in the vicinity of a 3DS owner and swapped with them. So simple, yet it really does set off that dopamine. You Pokemon freaks out there know what I'm talking about.

The density of the population really aids this aspect of Japan's gaming culture, and it's something I miss.

Monday, June 25, 2012

4 words about "understanding"

Japanese, like English, has a number of words to convey "understanding." By this I'm not just talking about saying 「うん」(yeah) in reply to someone. I've found that there are a number of these words that can be difficult to use correctly and naturally without a certain amount of study, practice, and exposure. The upside is that you don't really need to know how to properly use all of these words to communicate effectively in Japanese. Making the attempt, however, will let you add a little more flavor to your speaking abilities...

Thinking about understanding.

1. 知る (しる) - this is a pretty basic vocabulary word that is usually learned relatively early. It means "to know," but knowing what tense to use when employing this one can be a little tricky at first. Most often when we want to use this in the positive to say that we know something, we use the progressive form - 知ってる.

A: 急いで!映画は10時からだよ。
B: うん、知ってるよ。

A: Hurry up! The movie starts at 10.
B: Yeah, I know that.

When expressing an idea in the negative, however, we switch to future/present (not progressive) - 知らない
(It seems that 知ってない is grammatically correct, but it is much more rarely used).

A: 何やってんの、あのばかやろう?!
B: 知らないな。

A: What the hell is that idiot doing?!
B: No clue.

Also worth noting, a form of 知る is also used in the words for "acquaintance" and "get to know."

知り合い - acquaintance 
知り合う - get to know (discover) someone; 

How do you know her?

2. 分かる (わかる)- this is also a pretty basic word that will get a lot of use in daily life. It means "to understand," though it is also used to say that you know or don't know something. The natural use of it is something I am still trying to work out in some situations, but the good news is that its basic usage is usually fairly straightforward. Although sometimes used in its normal, dictionary form, I find that in the positive it is used pretty frequently in the past tense. I suppose this is because often when you know or understand something, it is because your mind has already done the processing of said knowledge. When? Just now.

A: 悪いけど、調査は明日まで送ってくれ?
B: はい、分かりました。

A: Sorry for the trouble, but could you send me that report by tomorrow?
B: Ok, I understand.

In a recently meeting, I heard my boss use the present tense. He and a colleague were discussing some issue (legislation-related, perhaps?) and he said:

Yeah, I understand that but...

So I'm not exactly sure in which cases the present tense would be more correct or natural, but in my experience it's pretty common to hear people using the past tense when referring to something they know or understand.

I have also seen/heard use of the progressive tense: 分かってる. If anyone has any insights into any differences between these three forms, please feel free to leave a comment.

As for the negative, I have found that tenses are generally used as you would expect:

わからない(or わかってない) - "I don't know" or "I don't understand"
わからなかった - "I didn't know" or "I didn't understand"

Another usage, that took me a while to figure out, is the employment of  わかった to indicate that you've figured out something. In English we have separate words for this idea, but in Japanese, わかる can also indicate the process of coming to understand something.

(From ACL)
I easily figured out which car is his.

3. 理解する (りかいする) - this is one that I have seen fairly often and heard used on occasion, but I am not sure I understand the full nuance of it or how to identify the "correct" situations in which to use it. Checking a J-dictionary may give some insight. My gut feeling is that 理解する is most often used in more academic or technical situations, or those involving emotions. I think it is maybe similar to "comprehend" in English.

Because he's such a compassionate person, he always understands the feelings of those around him.

4. 了解する(りょうかい) - I believe this one has some similarities to 理解する, but it is also often used as an acknowledgement akin to "Roger that!" or "Gotcha!" I remember that when I hung out with Dylan, he would often use 「了解!」as a response. With this one, you can use it with or without the actual 「する」, though if you're aiming to be polite you should use 「ます」form. As far as I'm aware, you can use present or past tense to mean the same thing (similar to わかる, perhaps).

A: 金曜日に出発しましょう。
B: 了解しました。

A: Let's leave on Friday.
B: Aye-aye.

Nailing down how to properly and naturally use Japanese words and phrases (and grammar, and all that jazz) can be a challenge, and certainly takes time. But I find the discovery and pursuit of understanding to be quite interesting (I daresay fun, at times). I'm going to keep working at it, and meanwhile if you have any thoughts or insights or questions about any of the above, please share in the comments.

Edit: As Joe points out in the comments, 存知(ぞんじ) is another good one that you may come across. It can be used as a ~る verb (存じる), and it is often used in keigo (ご存知ですか? - Do you understand/know?).

Update: LiY adds another good one in the comments:

 "Just to add another word into the mix: 承知(しょうち;know, be aware). 
This was popularized in the recent TV drama 家政婦ミタ in which the main character, ミタ, a house maid, would respond to all requests made to her with 「承知しました」. This is used in much the same way as 「わかりました」but I'm guessing it's more polite, or more appropriate for their relationship (maid & clients)."

Sunday, June 24, 2012



偶然的に、最近この曲を見つけて気に入れて(下のビデオはカバーなんやけど)、「But you didn't have to cut me off」と題詞の「Now you're just somebody that I used to know」と聞いたら、悲しくてそうになって欲しくないって感じ。現実的に、いつか「知ってた人」になるかわからないけど、今のところそんな・・・考えたくない。

Back to English for my next entry! Actually, I have some language stuff I want to write about...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Phoenix Wright and Blu-Ray

Via Joystiq, it appears the new Phoenix Wright film is to be released to Blu-Ray in Japan this August. I didn't even know a Phoenix Wright movie was ever in the works, and honestly I'm not planning to see it (have trouble imagining that it would be any good), but the article contained a random factoid that was of interest to me (and should be to Japanese scholars or speakers living in the U.S.). This may not be news to many of you, but:

"The US and Japan use the same Blu-Ray region, so you can import that version and watch it."

I wasn't aware of that, but as Blu-Ray discs become more and more the standard (and hopefully cheaper), this could be a boon to those of us who have been largely locked out of watching Japanese DVDs because of region locking (though there are ways around that).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

J-Word Play #26 (Answer)

Last week's riddle was:


Kudos this time to Cocomino, Rene, and Vitor. I'm thinking maybe I should start a scoreboard for these...
All three of you guys mentioned how easy this one was. For those of you who didn't get the answer, here's why:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Little touches of Japan

I plan on writing a more detailed post about where I am and what I'm doing right now, but have that on hold until next month as sort of a one year from JET reflection. Channeling Orchid, however, just wanted to make a short post about something I didn't realize I missed until recently.

Some folks from Japan visited my office for a meeting, and they brought some omiyage with them. In Japan, airports and train stations and tourist spots usually carry a variety of foods and treats that are "unique" to a respective area. I say "unique" because they are often the same crackers, cookies, dumplings, etc, just with a particular ingredient or flavor that is a specialty of that region. It's a pretty ubiquitous practice when returning from a trip to bring some of these back for friends, family, and coworkers as souvenirs.

Anyway, as a I said, our visitors left behind some omiyage. A nice little reminder of Japan.

These little birds had some kind of filling inside, but honestly not sure what it was. Slightly sweet and bean-pastey, but yellow.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Let's Enjoy Japanese: What's in a name?

There's a post over at Tofugu today about country names in Japanese. This got me thinking about when I used to play a certain "game" for DS that's basically a Japanese dictionary with some quizzes and such built in. Some of the quizzes ask you to write the kanji linked to certain countries (e.g. 日 is often used for Japan). I remember being struck by this; at the time I didn't realize that many countries have alternate names in Japanese. As I encountered them, they seemed to me like little secret pearls of knowledge that would elevate me from novice to...I don't know, a master of Japanese national nomenclature?

As it turns out, I don't think these alternate names are encountered all that much, but they can certainly help depending on what you're reading. I've come across some of these in newspapers and online publications.

By this point you may be wondering what I'm talking about exactly. Well, as you probably know, the Chinese language uses kanji exclusively. And some of the Chinese names for countries were carried over into Japanese. Over time, however, these Chinese names have come to often be abbreviated in Japanese; reduced to one or two characters to indicate a particular nation or culture. Here's a partial list (link from Tofugu).

As Hashi notes in his piece at Tofugu, these days country names are most often written in katakana. However, there are cases where the kanji are used, especially in 熟語 (じゅくご, kanji compounds).

For those who understand are confident enough in their Japanese, there is a pretty comprehensive list on Wikipedia. But a few are (these are the abbreviated names, not the long Chinese ones):

The United States - 国 (べいこく) - literally "rice country."

France - 国 (ふっこく; though my Japanese input won't even recognize that to convert to kanji) - literally Buddhist or "saint-like" country.

Italy - - (い) - although I suspect this must have some other meaning, according to my searches, this kanji is used pretty exclusively to mean "Italty"

Germany - 国 (どくこく) - according to Wikipedia, 独 was converted from 徳 in Chinese. Literally Germany was/is called "virtuous country."

The Netherlands - (らん) - "orchid."

Although it seems to often take some research to find out what the original intentions behind some of these names were (if it is even known), it's pretty cool to see how some of these countries are named. "Virtuous country" and "rice country" for example. Of course in many cases these are just cut down versions and abbreviations of longer names, so perhaps they are just nonsense at this point...

I think if you notice these, they will often be in compounds. One that is used quite often in newspapers is 日米関係 (にちべいかんけい), which means "Japan-America relations."

For those of you familiar with these, any favorites or others you'd like to share?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Harvest Moon and Project Happiness

I've been a big fan of the Harvest Moon series (牧場物語 in Japanese) since before it came to the States. I remember reading a preview in Nintendo Power magazine as a kid and being really psyched. I don't know why the idea of a "farming" video game appealed so strongly to me, but I couldn't wait for it to be released. Anxious and impatient, I got my mom to drive me to the game store probably a half dozen times around its release date, disappointed to discover each time that it hadn't yet arrived at the store. Finally, one day, it was there. And it didn't disappoint.

There's something about Harvest Moon that always really got me. Part of it was probably the quirky farming and livestock systems, as I have always been a fan of games involving money management, but I think a larger piece was the "life simulation" aspect. Making friends with the villagers, exploring the countryside, building and upgrading your farm, and (ideally) getting married and having kids. It was very different from all the other games out there when it came out.

As the series went on and gained popularity, it kind of lost me little by little. I mean, I played Harvest Moon 64 and one of the games for PlayStation and enjoyed them. But the games just seemed to me to be getting more and more stale. The characters were changed from time to time (though some games in the series recycled them), the layout of the town was changed, and new crops and such were added...but it was the same old thing and didn't really feel "magic" anymore. A big part of that is probably just me; I tend to have high expectations.

Then several years ago, we got a spin-off called Harvest Moon: Rune Factory. Honestly, the idea of it really did more for me than actually playing the game. It was essentially Harvest Moon meets and something like Zelda. Farming, town interaction, and adventuring. Livestock were replaced with tamable monsters, and a weapon/armor crafting system was added.

The first couple games in the series, for the DS, I bought and played in Japanese. That might be one reason was my progress was so slow and I never beat either of them. Still, the second seemed a lot better than the first. When the third installment came out, I decided to get it in English so I could fully enjoy it. It wasn't without its flaws, but it upheld my earlier impression that this series was improving with each sequel. Although the farming/selling system seemed to be watered down (although there are a lot more things you can sell, as you progress money gets easier and easier to earn and has less uses), the developers seem to be focusing more and more on the characters and story. Unfortunately neither are very deep, being a somewhat cutesy series in general, but I was glad to see the games take this direction.

Annnyway, a little ways back, Wada Yasuhiro, the creator of the original Harvest Moon series, let leak that he was working on a new project. Something unrelated to Harvest Moon, but perhaps similarly quirky and off the beaten path. As Joystiq reports, he and Natsume revealed this game recently at E3.

Dubbed "Project Happiness", it seems to be a game about taking on the role of a shop keeper. This one seems to be pretty character-oriented, with something like 100 different characters that you can meet and interact with. Although my hopes are not high (especially given the graphics), I hope he decides to give them more depth than the characters from the Harvest Moon games. Still, it looks like it could be a fun and interesting game. I'll probably wind up buying it, as I am a sucker for these weird, off-beat titles...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

J-Word Play #26

I like this one:


As always, if you think you know the answer, send it in to blueshoe[at]

Monday, June 11, 2012





Friday, June 8, 2012

Two Japans

An interesting article in the Washington Post today:

TOKYO — In Japan’s businesses and bureaucracies, in home offices and hulking companies, the fax machine is thriving.

Yes, the clunky device has fallen out of favor in so much of the world, a refuge for dust bunnies and stray cover sheets. But it is humming here.

Japanese still fax party invitations, bank documents and shopping orders. Business people call the fax a required communication tool, used for vital messages, often in place of e-mail. In the early hours of last year’s nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, operators informed the government of an emergency seawater injection by dialing up Tokyo and sending a fax.

Japan’s continued fax devotion may be an endearing quirk, what with the country’s reputation as a high-tech playland, all bright lights and flawless trains and chirping micro-devices. But it may also represent a deeper sign of the nation’s inability to change and to accommodate global standards, even as it cedes economic ground to Asian rivals such as China and South Korea.

“It goes back to the famous theory that there are two Japans,” said Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based consultant for Japanese Web, mobile and social gaming companies. “One is very efficient and highly productive. The other is where things are very slow and there’s barely any innovation. Information technology is in that second basket.”

Check out the rest of the article here.

It's interesting - I think most people who have lived in Japan or spent a lot of time there would probably agree that it's a country of dichotomies, especially when it comes to technology. On one hand, Japan is renowned for its gadgets and devices, and Japanese companies are among the leaders of the automotive and video gaming industries. Virtually everyone in Japan has a cellphone. Yet at the same time, there are places without running hot water. Desktop computers and laptops are not ubiquitous as they are in the U.S. Despite sporting some of the world's most advanced toilets, many lavatories are equipped with simple holes in the ground.

I can't personally speak to the degree that people in Japan use fax machines; either because no one in the teachers' rooms at my schools used them or because I simply wasn't paying attention. But I will say that such a trend doesn't surprise me.

Though I'm no activist, I do think it is important for us to take care of our environment. After seeing the energy situation in Japan following last year's disaster and coming back home, I think that we waste a lot of electricity in the U.S. But there are things every country could be doing better. Reducing its reliance on paper would certainly make Japan a "greener" place. As would cutting back on the stupid disposable chopsticks found in nearly every restaurant in the country...

6/15/2012 Update: An interesting (indirect) counterpoint? Maybe there is something to fax, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Status, dreams, and a bit of Japanese

I've received some kind comments and emails from readers and fellow bloggers, as well as friends (in some cases those categories overlap) and wanted to just say thanks. I'm still having some trouble dealing with my split-up with Yoshie, but the support helps. There are up days and down days, and I think about what might have been had I made different decisions, but I have to think things worked out for the best. It can be pretty painful to suddenly lose the ability to talk to someone you love, even when it's self-imposed. Just have to move on and do your best...

Been having some strange dreams the past two or three weeks. Last night I dreamed that I met up with my first girlfriend, Ai. In the dream we were meeting over dinner. Not exactly sure why; to catch up, I guess? She was married, and I wasn't bothered by that. She was asking me what I had been doing with my life, and in the dream she sounded a little critical, though she wasn't ever like that in real life. She seemed to be implying that I hadn't really accomplished much since we had last met, and I was trying to defend myself. My mind fighting itself there, I suppose. Anyway, I woke up and wondered about how she is doing. Wherever she is, hope she is healthy and happy. And I hope the same for Yoshie. As sad as it is, I hope I can get over Yoshie a lot quicker than I got over Ai.

Part of the key is probably getting involved and keeping busy. I'm making an effort to participate more with the JET DC alumni group and the Japan America Society of Washington DC. It can be hard to stay connected to Japan when you no longer have someone close to you who really connects you to the culture, but those organizations are a good start.

Anyway, more upbeat (or neutral, anyway) posts coming soon. And if you have any thoughts on the sidebar below, let me know! Think they may be nice little additions to posts that may otherwise be a little lacking in Japanese-y substance.

Japanese Sidebar: Dreams
I remember that one mistake I made some time ago when talking in Japanese about dreams was saying 「夢あった」, because in English we say "I had a dream." In Japanese, however, we literally say "I saw a dream." This works for both dreams while asleep and dreams in the sense of goals or ideals. So in Japanese you would say 「夢見た」. Some of my students likewise used to make the mistake of saying "I see a dream" when trying to express this in English.