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

Friday, May 30, 2008


aien kien

There are some people in life that kind of catch you by surprise; you meet them under some kind of outlandish circumstances, the sort of situation that you look back on and think “WTF?” but you end up being closer than you would have ever expected. Or, sometimes you might expect to get along really well with someone, but somehow it just doesn’t work out. These little tricks of fate can be referred to as 合縁奇縁. I think that you’ll most commonly see this one used to describe romantic relationships (most example sentences have it used in a speech at a wedding anniversary), but it can apply to any sort of human relations.


1) A trick of fate
2) A seemingly chance encounter that brought two people together
3) Everything happens for a reason (everything in the context of relationships)
4) As if it were meant to happen


We were from different places, meeting in a place as unlikely as Saga, but, as if it were meant to be, we got close enough to teach each other our various secret Way of the Fighting Fish techniques.

Happy Birthday Brett (Defendership), and thanks for the WFF pointers.

PS: yes, you’re getting a real present, too.

Posted by: Nirav, with slight cleaning by Azzidisridden

Thursday, May 29, 2008

2級 Grammar 36-40

From the depths of Japanese history, comes GIANT ENEMY CRAB!
...as well as a few grammar points to help you in dealing with said crab.

36) ~くらい, ~ぐらい, ~くらいだ, ~ぐらいだ.
about ~,
something is so *blank*, that it's approximately ~.

The usage here is cake: Just add it to the dictionary form of either verbs or adjectives, and you're in business. The key thing to remember is that it's used for assessing the level of something that has already been measured, so a "何々くらい" sentence will be meaningless without context.

Writing down the English definition to this one is kind of ridiculous to do without examples, but it's just a slight adaptation of the "くらい" we all know and love. It's used to help demonstrate the level of something. One way it differs from "みたい" or other phrases, though, is that it's meant to give practical clarification. ie leave your metaphors and hyperbole at the door.

Ex. その強大な敵蟹はでかくて、体育館に入らないくらいだ!

37) ~げ
looks ~
seems ~
appears ~

This one is almost just like ~そう, with the important distinction that it's only applicable for emotions or mental states. It's also useful in that it's more grammatically functional. To suit up an adjective for -げ, remove the "い" and add the "げ". then you can finish it off with a "です", make it an adverb with a "に + verb", or pair it with a "な + noun".

Ex. そのカニやろうが血も凍るほど恐ろしく叫んでも、そいつの目はなんとなく淋しげだ...

38) ~こそ

The easiest way to think of this one is like italics. You use it in place of は or も when you REALLY want to emphasize what you're talking about.

Ex. ソビエトロシアでは、カニこそがお前を食べる!

39) ~ことか
Isn't it ~!
What a ~!
How ~!

This is another way of adding emphasis to something, and is unique in that it is particularly structured to go along with phrases starting with "何~", "なんと", "どんなに" and the like.

Ex. そのかにを倒したら、どんなにすばらしくてうまい御馳走になることか。。。

40) ~ことから
Due to fact that ~,
Because ~,

This is a replacement of the "ので" form with a few nuances. Whereas "ので" could make loose cause-and-effect ties, "ことから" is more of a matter of fact. This is the way things are, or the reason they should be this way. Remember that if you want to end the causative sentence in a noun or な-type adjective, you have to put a だった between it and the ことから.

Ex. 昔の日本人は巨大なカニに困らされていたことから、カニを大きくならないうちに食べてしまう習慣が生まれた。

Note: Thanks to Nirav for some clarifications and sexing up some of the example sentences. 君はプライメリ!

表現 Break: 寝耳に水

ne mimi ni mizu

Like water in your sleeping ear? That's one theory (according to this website), but the more likely explanation is that the 耳 in this case is used in the same sense as 耳にする: to hear.

1. Like a bolt out of the blue.
2. Like a flash-flood

As the site explains (see reference above), if you imagine the water to be a flooding river, you get the image of suddenly being able to hear (or being awakened) by the sound of rushing water coming your way. This, more than the idea of having water poured into your ear, captures the sense of fearful shock that this expression is used to convey.

When I found out that my husband lost all of our savings at pachinko, it was like being caught unawares in the raging waters of a flash-flood.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


くうぜん ぜつご
kuuzen zetsugo

Do you guys remember 前代未聞? It means completely unprecedented, an event or occurrence that takes things to a new level... although with 前代未聞, it's usually a new level of SUCK. I seem to remember that despite the note that it carried a negative connotation, I got an example sentence about Barack Obama becoming president, although I didn't get the sense that the author was particularly against the idea. Today's yo-ji could be described as the positive version of 前代未聞, but be careful, it also carries it's own special connotation.

Translation (today Rikai Chan does it best):
1. So marvelous (or horrible) that it may be the first of it's kind, and probably the last

'Horrible' is parenthetical here. The usages of this yo-ji are mostly positive, though it does suggest a one time event. If you were to describe an Obama presidency with 空前絶後, you'd be implying that you didn't expect a repeat.

例文: マッハGoGoGoの実写版は空前絶後の映画です。CGIは本当にカッコいいけど、きちんと話の内容がなくて、残念です。
The live action Speed Racer is a movie like no-other. The effects are really cool. It's just a shame there's no substance to it.

Not that the original anime could be accused of having substance either...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

犬猿の仲: Part Two (There are 3 Kinds of People, and They All Have Cuckoos)

For anyone who's learning a foreign language, and who's doing so by immersion, you know that the route to learning is by no means a straight-forward one. You learn by meandering down long, weird side roads, and what you started looking for is not necessarily what you get. With that in mind, please forgive me a lengthy post. I hope that, like me, you find it full of interesting information, must-know phrases, and, as always, impress-your-friends-and-family trivia.

So, remember when we looked at the phrase 犬猿の仲?At the time, I couldn't find any explanations that rang true enough to satisfy me (nor have I yet; this post will not provide that satisfaction). Why are dogs and monkeys so hostile towards each other? Despite having already posted it up on the site, I kept bringing it up to Japanese people: kokugo-senseis, eikawa-students, taxi drivers, anyone who might know something. And one guy (a taxi driver) told me that he heard that the phrase originated from the rivalry between two important figures in Japanese history: Akechi Mitsuhide and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. According to the taxi driver, Akechi's nickname was 犬 and Hideyoshi's was サル; according to others, 犬猿の仲 predates these two in history, and they were nicknamed BECAUSE of the phrase.

Akechi Mitsuhide is famous for being 三日天下: the three day king. While this qualifies as a yo-ji-juku-go, it's not really used except to refer to him. He was a general under Oda Nobunaga, but because of various political intrigues that involved the murder of Mitsuhide's mother, Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga, forcing him to commit seppuku at Honno-ji in 1582.

Oda Nobunaga had been a very famous daimyo, leading campaign after campaign until he had conquered and unified over one third of Japan. He inspired fierce loyalty in many of his followers, namely the aforementioned Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu (yes, THE Tokugawa), who raced to avenge Nobunaga's death. Toyotomi was the one to defeat Akechi at the Battle of Yamazaki. Akechi had retained military power for only three days.

Toyotomi went on to unify the rest of Japan, but upon his death the nation split into warring factions once more.

Japan only finally unified after Tokugawa Ieyasu won the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, was declared shogun by Emperor Go-Yozei in 1603, and established the Tokugawa shogunate, which essentially ruled Japan for 250 years.

If you're reading this blog, it's safe to assume that you have some interest in things Japanese, and therefore probably knew most of that, or at least have heard the names. What was new to me was the fact that Japanese people have a system of classifying personalities based on these figures. I was told that this is the kind of thing that Japanese learners "really should know."

According to the system, everyone is one of 3 types of people: Oda type, Toyotomi type, or Tokugawa type. You can tell which one you are by how you would relate to birds, specifically, the cuckoo, or ホトトギス.

Oda Type: 鳴くぬなら、殺してしまう.
If the cuckoo doesn't sing, let's kill it.

Toyotomi Type: 鳴くぬなら、鳴かせてみよう。
If the cuckoo doesn't sing, let's MAKE it sing.

Tokugawa Type: 鳴くぬなら、鳴くまで待とう。
If the cuckoo doesn't sing, let's wait until it does.

So the Oda type is brash and aggressive, and acts hastily. It's important to note that the Toyotomi type is not seen as forceful or demanding, but rather as someone who takes on challenges, a problem solver. And the Tokugawa type is patient. Which one are you? If you've made it all the way through this post, you just might be the Tokugawa type...

Post script: 鳴くなら、is the way the phrase is said. It's means the same as 鳴かないなら, it's just an archaic form. Don't use it to grammar anything else. Yes, I just used 'grammar' as a verb.


じゅうにん といろ
jyuu nin to iro

I can't believe I haven't posted this yet! It's one of my all time favorite Yo-ji because it's so easy to understand, and even easier to use in everyday conversation. This is way overdue!



1. Different strokes for different folks.
2. To each their own.
3. Everybody's different.

This makes a great reply whenever you come up against a stereotype, because no one can deny the simple truth of it AND they'll be blown away by the fact that you said it.

Today's example sentences come from an exchange I've had more than once, almost verbatim.

例文: Aさん: コーヒー飲みますか?
Bさん: あの、コーヒーはちょっと。。。
Thanks, no.
Aさん: アラ!だって、アメリカ人でしょう?
What? But... but you're American?
Bさん: まあ、アメリカでも十人十色ですね。
Well, even in America, everybody has different tastes.
Aさん: わー!すごい!
Holy shit!

Monday, May 26, 2008


そうし そうあい
soushi souai

It's Spring Time in Japan, the time of year when a young man's fancy turns to love, and when those of you are living in Japan, might be getting invited to tons of weddings. If so, prepare yourself to hear this yo-ji-juku-go.

1. The pinnacle of love
2. Deep mutual love
3. Frenzied, passionate love
4. True love

Today's example sentence is a wedding party toast. I'm gonna try to remember this one, in case anybody asks me to talk at my friend Nacho's wedding, though odds are pretty low it would be appropriate for me to say it. That honor would typically go to the 晩酌人、and where we would say 'toast,' the Japanese would call it the 晩酌人挨拶.

例文: 相思相愛のもとに結ばれ、いま幸せの絶頂におりますご両名ではございますが…
Joined by the bonds of a true and immutable love, may the both of you remain, as you are now, at the pinnacle of happiness.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

And we're back...

Thanks to Nirav for posting while we were away! We're back from India, settled back into life and work, and starting Monday, we'll do our best to post as often as we can. Lately we've been getting more feedback and comments, and it seems like there's a more productive exchange, so please, if you've never commented before, feel free to start.

See you on Monday!

Thursday, May 1, 2008


uyo kyokusetsu

Today's yo-ji doesn't really come from anything in particular. Rather, I just wanted to find a way to tie it into the video I'm going to post a little further down.

Uyo kyokusetsu is a combination of two words - the first means "meadering," and the second means "turning." It describes arriving at a point or a destination (or a conclusion) in a round-about manner. Therefore I translate it as:

1) taking the "scenic route" (figuratively)
2) having twists and turns
3) taking "your own path" on the way to a conclusion
4) the vicissitudes in life (on the way to a conclusion)

I also want to note that this is different from the yo-ji that Brett translated as "the vicissitudes." How so? This is somewhat more neutral - its more horizontal than vertical. I think of it this way - 紆余曲折 means having twists and turns, while 七転八起 means more having ups and downs.

On to the example sentence.

I had a lot of twists and turns searching for the "meaning of life," but now that this song has touched my life, I feel like I've gotten it for the first time.