Now Featuring 1級 Grammar, Everyday Japanese That You Won't Find in the Book, and Language and Cultural Trivia!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


にっしん げっぽ
nisshin geppo

I've been dealing with the frustrations of trying to figure out WHY certain things don't sound correct in Japanese, or when to use a certain construction over another that means the exact same thing with a slightly different nuance (as is evidenced by the 2kyuu grammar sections below), and recently the inquiries I've made of Japanese people have revealed that many of them don't really know the answers. Just like I can't precisely explain why I use "which" instead of "that" sometimes, they use their language without thinking about why they do it. And a lot of the grammar and constructions I'm learning for 2kyuu are old enough to be rendered unimportant in terms of modern, daily-use speech patterns. Aggravating as all of this can be, it does yield some interesting conversations, and the first opportunity for me to use the above Yo-ji.

The Kanji are familiar ones, right? Day, Move Forward, Month, Walk? The first time I heard it, I managed to leave with the impression that it meant "Step by step," which could not be farther from the truth.

1: Progress by leaps and bounds
2: Rapid advances.
3. (description of) A world in which something changes, something is different every day, in a forward moving way.

Languages are living things. When I learned Japanese, it was absolutely forbidden to use "zenzen" in conjunction with a word like "daijoubu." But nowadays, everybody says it! I guess that's the alleged progress of this language that we call "Nihongo."

The video above is an appropriate one: 35 years of Shinjuku!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

Do you know what part of the body your 親知らず(おやしらず 「oyashirazu」) are?

The word literally translates as "Without your parents knowing," so my first thought would be the naughty bits, I guess, but they are ACTUALLY your wisdom teeth. The reason they are called such is apparently because long, long ago, when the term was coined, odds were good that by the time your wisdom teeth grew in, your parents were DEAD.

Friday, February 15, 2008

2級 Grammar 16-20

This is the last of the grammar that I've already learned. After today, it'll come slower, and it'll be newer to me, so it'll probably make less sense.

16) かけだ ・ かけの ・ けける

Used to talk about something that has been begun, but not yet completed. A 食べかけの bento is one that someone has started to eat, but not yet finished.

Ex: 明日の予定は忘れかけていた。

17) がたい
hard to...
difficult to...
cannot be...

This is attached most often in the following ways: 理解しがたい、想像しがたい、信じがたい、表しがたい、耐えがたい、許しがたい、得がたい, so you can see that it's used mostly for abstract concepts and not like, "Man, tying my shoe is really difficult when I have gloves on." It's more like, "It's really difficult for me to understand why you've been trying to tie your shoes with gloves on for the last ten minutes."

Ex: あの二人はいつも喧嘩しているから、なんでつきあっているか理解しがたい。

18) がちだ ・ がちの
is always...
is often...
tends to...

Make a note about my translation as "is always..." I don't mean it in the literal sense, but rather in the hyperbolic, "That dude is ALWAYS getting sick," sense because... that's what がちだ means. Again, as is so often the case with Japanese constructions or Yo-ji-juku-go, even, it's mainly intended for negative usage.

Ex: 日本に始めて来て、日本語で喋ろうとしたけど、間違えがちだった。

19) かと思うと ・ かと思ったら ・ と思うと ・ と思ったら
before you know it...
at almost exactly the same time...
あっという間に。。。(although, I'm getting some flack from Yuri over this definition. She says they're like the same meaning, but you wouldn't replace one with another. Except that when we looked at the examples in my book, she agrees that all of the と思ったらs could be restated using あっという間に. I'm still posting it 'cause it helps me understand the construction conceptually... but be warned: Japanese girlfriends may balk.)

This one is used when saying "As soon as A happens, along comes B," and it expresses the speaker's surprise over the fact that B comes. It's most often appropriate when A and B are opposites.
It had just started raining when the clouds went away and the sun came out, とか。。。

Ex: 彼女が僕に怒ったかと思うと、すぐ許してくれた。

QUESTION FOR THE NIRAV: Why and how do you know when to use か at the beginning?

20) か~かないかのうちに
as soon as...
right after...

This one is also defined as "at almost exactly the same time" but it doesn't express any subjective suprise. It's just objective order. As soon as the light turned green, I hit the gas.

Ex: 私は、早起きがすごい苦手です。毎朝、アラームがなっても、ずっとずっと、ふとんの中にいます。お兄さんは逆です。目が覚めるか覚めないかのうちに立ち上がります。

2級 Grammar 11-15

11) ~うではないか ・ ~ようではないかい
why don't we?
shall we?

This one is EASY! It's exactly the same as しませんか? or しましょうか? except that it's super formal, pretty old, and more likely to be seen in official writing than anywhere else! Woot

Ex: 皆で、昭和時代の年長者の方のように書いてみようではないか?

12)得る(Read うる) ・ 得る (Read える)
there is a possibility of (verb)

I used the word "ありえない" for a long, long time thinking that it was simply a synonym for the word "信じられない" (I can't believe that-cum-UNBELIEVABLE). It wasn't until I saw this grammar point that I realized that it's actually a CONSTRUCTION of the verb ある, to be, to exist. ありえる would mean that there is a possibility for something to exist. The negative then means, "There's no way that such a thing can be." That great realization being achieved, this is still the hardest construction for me to use so far.

Apparently, in the positive form, you use it by dropping the -masu from your verb, and adding either the -eru or the -uru. It doesn't matter which. In the negative form, however, you can ONLY use -eru, which becomes -enai.

This construction is added to such verbs as: ある、起こる、考える、信じる、and なる。

Ex: 奴らのことが大きらいだ!彼らと仲良くなりえないよ!

13) おかげで ・ おかげだ
thanks to...
because of...

Another 3kyuu repeater. Examples are pretty clear.

Ex 1: 日本語が上手になったことは、彼女のおかげです。
Ex 2: 薬のおかげで、風邪が早く治った。

14) おそれがある ・ おそれもある
to be in danger of....
there is a reason to worry about...

Used when there is a possibily of something bad happening, or to express a fear. It's used attached to the dictionary form of a verb, or used in a noun + の+おそれ pattern.

Ex: アメリカとイランの関係が悪いので、戦争になるおそれがあります。

15) かぎり ・ かぎりは ・ ないかぎり ・ かぎりでは
As long as...
During the time that...

This one is actually kind of nice to know and use. It has some of the same definitions as うちに,
but the distinction here is that both of the actions and conditions described are continuous. For example, take "熱いうちに、食べよう。" The food continues to be hot, but the eating is not a continuous action. It happens in one limited period of time, and hopefully it stops. Otherwise, tabehodais would be disastrous. This one is used for things like, "As long as you live under this roof, you'll follow my rules!" Got it?

Ex: 彼と結婚しているかぎりは、寝ると彼のいびきを聞く。

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jokes that Japanese People Might Not Get

反面教師 is a cool phrase I learned during a discussion about lax discipline and Japanese parenting. The first kanji comes from hantai (opposite), the second kanji means "surface," and the last two designate those in the teaching profession.
It's read はんめんきょうし(hanmenkyoushi) and it means "someone who sets a bad example."

Now, I don't know the exact figures, but if you're a westerner in Japan, odds have got to be above 50% that you're here doing some kind of English teaching (actually, I'd love to get the statistics on that, now that I think of it). And if you're anything like me, you get the occasional question about where you're from and what you do.

I usually just say, "教師” and that suffices, but occasionally, I encounter a rarity: a Japanese person who doesn't just make random assumptions about all gaijin, and they'll ask further: "What kind of teacher are you?"

I used to try and think of the most random or unlikely thing possible. Saying "Kokugo" in my broken Japanese sometimes worked, but there was always the chance they would assume I meant MY home country's language, or that I was just stupid. "Dog grooming" was difficult to translate (犬のパームをかけ方?) and they were too liable to accept and believe I was a ビリーズ instructor without qualms. So learning this yo-ji was a fortuitous solution.

Try it out next time someone you don't know asks you what kind of teacher you are, and see what reactions you get. Mine so far have run the gamut from amused, to confused, to frightened.

And send me anecdotes about plays-on-words, or jokes that you've attempted to make in Japanese, and the results. I want to make this section a regular thing.

2級 Grammar 6-10

6) うえに
on top of that

Used to add together things of similarly charged natures, either positive or negative. I won the lottery and I realized I can fly! My mother passed away, and I got stuck in the raptor cage again.

Ex: 去年、初めて自分の子供が出来たうえに、叔父さんにもなりました。

7) 上で・上の

and then, accordingly

Used in situations where a first action/condition results in/provides a base or justification for a subsequent action/condition. Hard, right? It's like: This is a very serious conversation about abstinence education の上で, you shouldn't laugh out loud. Or: I confirmed that it was, in fact, 100% Colombian Pure 上で、I authorized the buy.

Ex: 時間とお金がいっぱい掛かるので、よく考えた上で、決めてください。

8) 上は
(My book defines this as "以上は" which you may recognize as grammar point 3)
and then, what will possibly happen;
and then, what should happen;
and then, what I would like to happen

After a condition or action, used to express the speaker's strong feelings about what comes next, whether it be a judgment, a hope, or a guess. When you adopt a child 上は、you're supposed to feed it EVERY day.

Ex: 家を掃除する上は、中途半端じゃなくて、すべてきれいにするべきです。

Yosh! This one we learned for 3kyuu. Freebie.
during the interval

While one condition continues to be the case, something else gets done. You'll hear the following example A LOT if you dine with Japanese people.

Ex: 熱いうちに、食べようよ!
My favorite thing to say when people accuse me of traveling too much: 日本にいるうちに。。。

10) うちに(2)・ないうちに
(Same as above with a negative form introduced)
Before one condition begins, something else gets done.

Ex: くらげが来ないうちに、ビーチに行こう!


みっ か ぼう ず
mikka bouzu
It's been a long, long, long time, since I've posted anything on the so-called "Daily" Yo-ji, so I'm back with something appropriate.

三日 is three days, and 坊主 are kanji that indicate both the haircut sported by Buddhist monks, and the monks themselves. The phrase originated as a way to describe those who joined the priesthood and then dropped out quickly, their close-cropped hair remaining as the last vestige of their short-lived commitment. Now it's generally applied to anyone who starts something quickly and then gives up on it.

The picture is from a 2006 zazen sesshin in Oita Ken. It was actually five days long, and didn't require any haircuts, but though the picture shows six disciples, there were originally eight. Definitely a few 三日坊主 people in the group.


1. Quitter
2. Give-upsky?

I intended to diet, but OF COURSE, today I'm eating a bunch of junk food. I can't stick to anything.

I really can't. Sorry.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

2級 Grammar Level UP!

I'm trying to manage twenty grammar points a week, and I'll be making my own example sentences with the new grammar, even though, from what I understand, NO ONE uses these forms in everyday speech. Also, they have super specific situational uses, so... I might be making mistakes.

These are the first five grammar points from last week:

1) あげく

after a long period of something difficult or involved -, result.

This construction is mostly used when the result is a negative one, and also often used with 散々(sanzan), which means "repeatedly," "severely," or "badly." Think, "I was beaten + 散々。

Ex: 2級を合格したくて、いっぱい勉強したあげく、失敗してしまった。

2) あまり

because of the extreme degree of (noun);
because of (verb)ing too much

It's used to express emotion, feeling, or psychological motivations, and often spoken as "あんまり".

Ex. 1: 働くあまり、倒れた。
Ex. 2: 幸せのあまり、彼しいと結婚したくなってきた。

3.) 以上(は)

above and beyond a decided thing, something else the speaker wants to do or to happen

The part that precedes 以上 is a fact. It has been decided. The part that comes after 以上 expresses something about the speaker's determination, hope, or judgement.

Ex: 北海道に行く以上、初めてスノーボードしたいです。


and yet;
on the other hand.

It's used for situations where you're describing two opposing aspects of the same thing, and if the number of times I've misused it is any indication, it should only be used in the most literal senses. It can't be like, "On one hand, I want to go to Thailand, but on the other hand, I need to save my money." It can't even be like, "On one hand, she's really cute, but on the other hand, she tells STUPID stories." It has to be OPPOSITE aspects.

Ex: 日本語の先生は大変厳しい一方で、よくわたしの世話もする親切な一面もあります。

5) 一方だ
to be (verbing) more and more, indicating a gradual change in situation

This is used with verbs of change like なる、減る、増える、上がる、下がる、etc.
Used for when something is growing, decreasing, increasing, becoming...

Ex. 1:日本の出生率は減る一方だ
Ex. 2: ハビタトの用事がいっぱいあるから、今から忙しくなる一方だ