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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


kiyou binbou

This is one of the first Yo-ji-juku-go I ever learned, due to the fact that the individual 二字 compounds that it's made of are words that I heard a lot. 貧乏 (binbou) means 'poor; impoverished' and was mentioned again and again in conjunction with the bullying epidemic that was a huge conversational hub when I first got to Japan. Being called 貧乏 by your peers was one of the methods of psychological terrorism that was thought to have elevated the teen suicide rate.

器用(kiyou) is something that a lot of people called me in the early months. It can mean 'skillful' but is better thought of as 'deft' because it's almost always used to say "You're good with your hands."

Flashback conversation, late 2006:

Brett: What does 'kiyou' mean?
Me: It means like, 'skilled fingers.'
Brett: Oh. Do you know that because of your card tricks?
Me: Uh. Yeeeeeeah, that's why.
Brett: I [expletive] hate you so much.

All joking aside though, I used to show off some of my playing card flair and magic tricks at work enkais, and yes Brett, that is how I learned the word.

So when I heard the two together, "Poor person with good hands," I was like, "What's that?"

1. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Please note that the definition stresses more of a disadvantage (the being poor aspect, I suppose) in being this kind of person. While we think of "Jack of all trades," as a positive thing, the addition of "master of none," implies an absence of progress, and suggests that maybe this kind of person often finds him or herself mastered by another (used/employed by others, as one would a tool.)

It's been handy for me to know this one, as my last post will attest. I have a ton of interests and hobbies that I have devoted a moderate amount of time to, including my card-sharpery. When I first came to Japan, people asked me things like "Do you play pool," "Do you surf," "Do you play badminton," or "Do you rock climb?" And I said "Yes," because that's the truth. That answer got me in trouble though, because if someone asks you "Do you surf?" it's not because they think surfing is cool, surf sometimes on weekends, and think it would be fun to go together one day. If someone asks you if YOU surf, be careful, because odds are good that SURFING is that person's LIFE.

That's a big difference between Japanese and American cultures for me, and also the source of a bonus word today: 極める (kiwameru).  極める means "to master" something, to take something as far as you can possibly take it.* Many times, it's the way that Japanese people approach their hobbies. Whereas in America, it's not un-common for somebody to be an "outdoors person," or a "water sports person," or a "things requiring the use of a racquet person," in Japan, I think it's more common for someone to choose one very specific avenue of interest and pursue that avenue to perfection.

So when I found myself in situations where I was being ruthlessly schooled in 9-ball, and my new Japanese friend was saying "Oh, I thought you said you played pool," 器用貧乏 was a good one to know.

My older brother is working at an automotive factory this year. Last year he was doing furniture delivery. But he usually gets canned before he can move up in the place. He can do pretty much anything, but he's always just been kind of a disposable grunt.

*極める is also a good word to know, because it's one of those words that Japanese people don't expect you to know unless you're really good at Japanese, so it scores you えらい points.


Claytonian said...

o.o def a man's back there.


You are not an otaku. You have less than ten figurines. You don't have a back up camera--if you suddenly ran into a model, what would you do? It's risky! And you went and got married. Well, you may have hobbies, but you don't surpass being a dabbler, and you will never be anything more. You don't get what it means to be a nerd.

AzzidisRidden said...

I think this situation is a little too limited to have "器用貧乏" be applicable. Remember it has the same kind of connotation as "Jack of all trades," so you'd want to use it about someone who was involved in a wide range of fields.

In this case, a good word might be 素人(shirouto): While Japanese uses loan words like ディレッタント and アマチュア, 素人 works as dabbler, novice, naive, inexpert, or layman...


Claytonian said...

I was imagining a young otaku showing of his room of treasures (games, posters, models, manga, videos etc) and trophies to an old, embittered otaku.

AzzidisRidden said...

He's still just an otaku though. If he had games, videos, figures, manga, a snowboard, a rugby jersey, a fishing pole, a guitar, a tuba, a cello, a set of professional cutlery, an origami collection, a bonsai tree, and a do-it-yourself birdhouse feeder kit... then maybe he could be called a Jack-of-all trades.

Claytonian said...

Jack of all things otakuish? Well, anyways, I think I am the first person you've bothered to correct, which I actually appreciate quite a bit.

Claytonian said...

Well, to further my studies, I took it to Lang-8. They schooled me pretty good. Today's example is me. I am the 器用貧乏. I can't master Japanese.