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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


いち じつ せん しゅう
ichi jitsu sen shuu

Today on the Biennial Yo-ji, we've got some more 4kyuu kanji for you; read it as as it lays: one day thousand autumns.

I remember when I was working at 春、the sushi bar in New York, when I first realized how sometimes, a non-native speaker can speak more profoundly than a native speaker. As a native English speaker, I'm so good at the short-cuts, the easiest, basic, most efficient ways to say things, that I don't concern myself with my diction much. A poet and a language learner have that in common, I guess. They HAVE to agonize over word choice.

I was talking to Jorge, one of the busboys, and we were bitching about the time. And I said, "Man, this sucks. This day is DRAGGGGGGGGING."
And he said, "Yes, ... the time... it becomes eternal."
And Machida-san, the chef said "一日千秋。”*

Definition: 一日が千年にも長く感じられ気持ちどおしいこと。
1. The time becomes eternal
2. A seemingly endless stretch of time (implies impatience)

And today's real life example sentence comes once again from the Nirav himself, indisputable proof that sometimes non-native speakers can be more poetic than natives, especially considering the fact that the Japanese girl he said it to DID NOT KNOW WHAT IT MEANT!

When you're not here, my heart collapses under the pressure of the bullshit that it pumps instead of blood.**

The video is of October, a Japanese U2 tribute band covering Unchained Melody. I dedicate it to you Nirav, and any other hopeless romantics out there (until I can figure out how to make the video start at the point I want it to, which according to google, I SHOULD be able to do, just save yourself the time and skip ahead to 5:25).

*This part of the conversation invented for purposes of segue.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


ごん ご どう だん
gon go dou dan

Today on "The Occasional Yo-ji" we have a failure of language. Literally. The kanji could be translated as "the failure of the methods of language."

Definition: とんでもないこと、言うにたえないこと。
(Rikai-chan gives)
1. Preposterous
2. Inexcusable
3. Offensive to a point that defies encapsulation in words

I learned this one and had the opportunity to use it almost immediately. I was told that this is what you say to someone who does something really bad, when they violate one of the するわけにはいかない rules. When they do something that's forbidden based on societal rules... something that a person KNOWS that they shouldn't do, and yet they do it anyway. When I learned the するわけには行かない construction, Nirav's example was: クラスの前に先生の間違えを正すわけには行かない。 You don't correct the teacher's mistakes in front of the class. That may be true, especially here, but it's not quite so severe a situation that you'd say 言語道断. The lucky opportunity I stumbled across was this one: クラスの前に先生の顔を殴るわけには行かない。 You don't punch your teacher in the face in front of the class. THAT'S 言語道断 right there.

It was in the middle of kyuushoku with an elementary school student, and man, I could've understood it or forgiven it, if it had been during like, rough-housing time (2:30-3:15). But he was eating, I was eating... across the room. He got up, walked over to where I was sitting, looked at me, and then punched me, close-fisted square in the face.

In his defense, he is a first-grader.
In my defense, I've seen my co-workers at middle-school get punched in the face too many times to let that kind of behavior go un-yelled at.

You! Your wife is at the hospital, birthing a baby. You're getting wasted with your idiot gaijin friends! That's inexcusable!
(Another real life example)

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Today I'm running pretty close to 自暴自棄, as are some of you apparently (don't give up on ALL people, Clay! Natalie Portman is a person, after all), so first, apologies for missing yesterday. I taught six lessons at Elementary school and then fell asleep until this morning. Second, today I'm short-shafting you, and just giving you Tuesday's answer.

I'm pretty sure "short-shafting" is a mixed metaphor that I just made up... combining "short-shrift" and "shaft" as in "to give someone the shaft." But if "shafting" is bad, shouldn't "short-shafting" be not so bad? I guess my philosophy is that if you're going to do anything, you should do it all the way. If you're going to give or receive the shaft, it might as well be the whole thing. So, sorry for not giving you a thorough enough shafting...

The actual usage of 海千山千 is negative. A person who has a multitude of different kinds of experience (both good experiences and Dark Side experiences) has the potential, at any time, to be two distinct people. And when dealing with a person like that, you have to be careful, because you never know which dragon you're talking to at any given moment.

There's something about him that I just don't trust, so please, be careful.

A father's advice to a dating daughter, perhaps?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


うみ せん やま せん
umi sen yama sen

Another group of kanji that are oh-so-easy to read and yet, with today's post, I'm issuing you a challenge. The kanji are just "ocean" and "mountain" broken up by a couple of "thousands," but what does it mean?

I'll give you the strict definition in both Japanese and English, and then (without consulting web resources or Nirav) tell me what you think is the intended application of this 四字熟語。

Definition: 千年海に住んでいて、千年山に住んでいた蛇が竜二人になります。
A snake that lives in the ocean for a thousand years and in the mountains for a thousand years becomes two dragons.

Hint: It has nothing to do with rollercoasters.

Monday, November 12, 2007


ぜん だい み もん
zen dai mi mon

Sticking with the generational theme of last Friday's post, today's 四字熟語 starts with "前代" meaning "the previous generation," and ends with "未聞" meaning "not yet heard." My favorite part about this one was that when I saw it for the first time, I recognized all of the individual kanji and was able to surmise the definition on my own!

Definition: 今までに、一度も聞いたことがないこと。
1. Completely unprecedented
2. Record-breaking
3. Worse than any of its predecessors

Definition #3 makes an important distinction about this phrase. Like Friday's 時代錯誤, today's post is traditionally only used in one direction、according to my expert. A quick Googling will yield examples that seem to disprove her (「前代未聞の超リアルおっぱい」certainly doesn't seem like a bad thing to me...) but most of the other examples, largely from the sports world, are in reference to things like scandals, or foul play, or fixed games. Check out this link to an article with the headline 前代未聞 about the woman who disrupted a match at the Sumo Hall in Tokyo when she attempted to climb into the ring, where women are not supposed to set foot.

例文:日本には、学生の恋人がいる教師が少ないけどいる。前代未聞でわない。しかし、ニッキ ニュウ ジャブが名古屋でやった道化は前代未聞の不祥事だよ!
In Japan, it's not common for a teacher to have a sexual relationship with a student, but it happens. It's not unprecedented. However, the crazy shit that Nicky New Job did in Nagoya... there is nothing on historical record to rival a scandal like that.

Friday, November 9, 2007


じ だい さく ご
ji dai saku go

The first two kanji together are a very common marker for periods of time, used like we would use the word "era" (the 明治時代 or the 江戸時代) and the second pair means "a mistake."

Definition: 時代の傾向に遅れ合わないこと。
1: An anachronism
2: Something outdated
3. Extremely old-fashioned

Today's 四時 does not translate DIRECTLY as an anachronism, because it only applies to something from the past that doesn't have a place in the present. An American man who expects to receive a dowry is both an anachronism and 時代錯誤。A caveman who has a digital watch is anachronistic, but could not be described with 時代錯誤。Also, the advice I've received is that it's best used to describe something intangible, like a way of thinking (考え方) or someone's taste or style (センス).

And then, an extremely old shrine or temple that stands in the center of an urban area would never be called  時代錯誤. Just because it was built long ago doesn't mean that it's necessarily outdated, especially not when it still has cultural relevancy.

People say it's an outdated way of thinking, but women should really stay at home and not work, ain't that right, sweetie?

(special thanks to Nirav for the example sentence edit and for being its inspiration.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007


じゅん ぷう まん ぱん
jun puu man pan

Osu! I apologize for taking two days off! I have tons of excuses, I swear.

Today's Yojijukugo is brought to you by the kanji for "order" (as in 順番), "wind," "satisfactory" (as in 満足), and "sail."

Definition: 追い風を帆いっぱいに受けて舟が気持ちよく進む意から物事が順調に行われること。
1. Smooth sailing.
2. Everything's going my way.
3. Everything's coming up roses.
4. To have the wind at your back, and therefore, feel like you can take care of everything that needs to be taken care of.

It's not the exact opposite of Monday's post, but it's close enough, I think. And, I think that 順風満帆 is also a good metaphor for the feeling you get when you've got not only the metaphorical support of the wind, but the vocal support of a good 応援団 (Oendan) behind you.

Oen means to root for or to cheer for, and Oen-ing is a big deal in Japan. University and professional sports teams have Oendans, students have Oen competitions at schools during their sports festivals, and most importantly, there is an Oen video game, which features a troupe of all-male, fiercely bad-ass looking cheerleaders who travel around Japan and root for people to succeed in every day situations, like cooking an awesome bowl of ramen, passing high school entrance exams, or rescuing their daughters from giant blue demon mice. Some friends and I donned the Oendan mantle, and cheered the Saga Daigaku Ame (rican) Fu (tball) team to a division championship victory two weeks ago(28-3, wasn't it?), and on Saturday, we'll head back to chant our hearts out as they try to win their way into the highest division in Japanese collegiate football! The picture is us posing with the other team's Oendan. You can see why they lost: they don't even have headbands.

Why do we call Brett "Captain Headwind," you ask? Because dude has NEVER ONCE had the wind at his back.

Monday, November 5, 2007


じ ぼう じ き
ji bou ji ki

Today I am rushed and late, because, as I'm sure someone will desperately try to point out in an example sentence, my girlfriend is in town! So to make it extra challenging, I'm giving you "oneself," "violence," "oneself," and "abandonment."

Definition: 自分で自分を粗末に扱い捨て鉢になること。
1. Complete and utter desperation
2. Self-defeat
3. Giving up on everything

This would've been a good one to know a few weeks ago when my やる気 would just not でない, but I learned it last week, in conjunction with its opposite, which I'll give you tomorrow. The woman who taught it to me says that it's more than just your garden variety depression though, and that it's usually caused by some immense failure. It's the feeling of giving up on yourself after you've failed miserably at everything you've tried, and so maybe it's warranted?

I've given up on life, so I'm off to drown my sorrows in alcohol!

Friday, November 2, 2007


いっ とう りょう だん
i ttou ryou dan

Super early post, cause I'll have NO time today during or after work!

Today’s definition is odd if you look at the kanji independently: one, sword, both, and failure. But 一刀 can be read as “one blow of the sword” and 両断 is a bisection.

Definition: 一太刀で物をまっ二つに切るように、きっぱり物事の処置をつけること。
1. To cut cleanly in half with a single stroke of the sword.
2. To act decisively and powerfully
3. To cut the Gordian knot
4. To divide things into categories of black and white for the purposes of making a decision

I actually learned this one in its literal sense during a post-Obon barbecue last August. I was invited to play suika-wari with a group of Japanese men, which is exactly like bashing a pinata, except that instead of using a pinata, you use a watermelon, and instead of hanging it in a tree, you put it on the floor, and instead of it being filled with candy, it’s just a watermelon. Anyway, when it was my turn to swing blindly at it with a broom stick, I got all dramatic and brought my “sword” straight down, quite coincidentally, into the exact center of the watermelon. When I took off my blindfold, it had been halved as cleanly as one can possibly halve a watermelon with a broomstick, and both sides of it were still standing upright.

But it’s also used (outside of melon-thwacking and manga) for making sweeping decisions and slice-y actions. I’d be tempted to say that you could use it as “to cut through the red tape,” but I don’t think that happens here…

The picture is 言葉遊び (a play on words). It’s a literal sword-blow and a call to action to stop the rampant use of steroids in the world of competitive kendo.

I was worried about a lot of things, but in the end I stopped stressing out and decided once and for all to move to Japan.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


あん しん りつ めい
an shin ritsu mei

安心 are for me, two of the most recognizable kanji in the Japanese language due to their frequent, frequent use in Japanese advertising. They combine a concept of ease with the kanji for heart, mind, or spirit to make peace of mind. 立 is the kanji for stand, but is used in compounds like independence (自立)or national (国立). Combine that with 命 (which can mean life, command, spirit, or decree) and you get peace of mind once again.

Definition: いろいろ悩まないこと。


1. An unwavering sense of calm and security... due to faith
2. Keeping a level head at all times
3. Spiritual peace and enlightenment

I have some qualms about today's selection though. The first is that the textbook definition I typed above says nothing about religion or faith. It translates strictly as "Not worrying about everything." I suppose the religious meaning is buried somewhere in the cultural connotation of the kanji themselves.
Second, looking at the translations with a western mind, I think of faith as a belief in a God, Jesus, or Flying Spaghetti Monster who promises that everything will be alright in the end. I don't think this is the kind of spirituality that the Japanese might have in mind when they use it, or that the Chinese might have had in mind when they coined it. I think this might have more to do with the idea of spiritual and ascetic practice, with a zen-like calm and sense of acceptance of/oneness with the universe as it is.

Today's picture... I could justify it by saying it does in picture form, what today's 四字熟語 does to my mind: it gets my own ethnocentric notions of religion (represented , of course, by the Flying Spaghetti Monster) all tangled up with something very culturally Japanese, the former almost polluting or perverting the latter, if you will.

The truth is I found the picture online and was like "That's hilarious."

例文: この絵を見て、気分が悪くならないですか?安心立命ができるジャン!
Can you look at this picture without getting upset? Your emotional self control is awe-inspiring!