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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

Picked some of these up from my friends over at Lang-8, which I highly recommend for your Japanese writing practice (thanks for introducing me to it, Clay).

I was writing about movies and was at a loss for the right word to describe Paul Newman's character in Cool Hand Luke, and in trying to find it, I came up with all sorts of words that are close... so today, we've got all kinds of good vocab for describing people who don't fit in.
  • 人外 (にんがい; ningai): outcast, usually because of being a law-breaker*

  • のけ者 (のけもの; nokemono):odd man out; pariah

  • よそ者 (よそもの; yosomono): outsider, because of being from somewhere foreign; newcomer

  • 食み出し者 (はみだしもの; hamidashimono): someone who sticks out; misfit
There are two more related terms that I want to include, that for me, elevate this post from "Themed Vocab" to "Trivia."

ippiki ookami

I think this constitutes a 三字熟語, and was suggested by someone who was correcting my Lang-8 journal. It translates perfectly into English as "lone wolf." And just as in English, an internet search reveals three pretty distinct categories of usage:

1. Used to describe the behavioral patterns of actual wolves.
2. Used to describe fictional characters, particularly in movies, television, video games, or manga (一匹狼 comes up in relation to the movies Cool Hand Luke, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spy Game, Bullitt, Shoot 'Em Up, and Hitman, just to name a few).
3. Used by people on blogs or SNSs to describe themselves (hmmmm...)

The other one I want to include is something that I came across forever ago through random Kanji-jisho browsing and it might be one way that you end up an 一匹狼.


This term means "village ostracism," and it's fascinating when you read about the way it was applied in Japan during the Edo period, often associated with society under Tokugawa**. By popular interpretation, the Kanji it's spelled with ("village, eight, parts") refer to the idea that an ostracized family (entire families suffered for the failure of one person to abide by community rules or regulations) were denied eight of the ten privileges associated with village life, these being: coming-of-age ceremonies, weddings, memorial services, as well as assistance with births, sickness, floods, travel, building and repairs. They were still granted assistance when it came to fire and funerals, but they were not allowed to take part in any community meetings or celebrations, and other villagers were forbidden to greet them.

The kind of offenses that people could commit that might bring about such treatment varied, but sometimes they were kicked out of the village before their offensive nature could draw the attention of officials, which might mean trouble for the whole town. To prevent this, the people were cast out (these kinds of outcasts were called 非人(ひにん)***), and they were sometimes forced to live in special villages for such outcasts called 部落; buraku.

Incidences of 村八分 still occurred occasionally; there were scattered reports up until 1952, but one of the more interesting pieces of information I came across was an incident of 村八分 that happened in Niigata in 2004! Apparently, in the town of Sekigawa, some of the community leaders were upset with a local household whose members hadn't done enough to help out with the preparations and clean up for a local fishing contest, and so he incited 11 other townspeople to help ostracize this family. What did they do? They discontinued garbage collection and prohibited the family from picking local edible wild plants. The family sued, and ended up winning a decision of 2,200,000 yen for their trouble!

  • 一匹狼 is surprisingly NOT used in the original Japanese title of the manga series "Lone Wolf and Cub"

  • 村八 is a common name for bars, pubs, and izakayas in Japan. There's a chain of izakayas that uses that name in Kyuushuu.

  • If you want to grammar it, 村八分 takes 「にする」 or 「に遭う」 after it.

  • You can read all about 村八分 in English or in Japanese.

  • Don't ever call yourself a "lone wolf" in ANY language. It's not cool.

* Be careful using this word. The same Kanji can be read じんがい, which means "inhuman treatment." Don't mix them up!
** Tokugawa is referenced to indicated time period and not association with Tokugawa rule. 村八分 was a local practice, undertaken by influential community members who didn't necessarily wield any official government or military power.
***Thanks to Lane for correcting my kanji in the comments below.


Lane said...

"outcasts were called 貧員"
The kanji is actually 非人(ひにん)hi'nin, meaning non-human, non-person. It's a really strong word, in my opinion.
Very interesting posts, will keep reading!

Emi said...

Hello. This is my first comment here.
Your post reminds me of my youth. When I was 10 or 11 years old, we studied Japanese history and learned 「村八分」or 「非人」in class. Kids sometimes become cruel without knowing what they are doing. That was in jest. After class, my friends and I started to call each other saying "YOU are 非人!" It goes without saying my teacher was upset and scolded us.
As you mentioned in this article, we shouldn't use this word. 「非」means "not" and 「人」of course means "human." This word originated from our nasty history...

David said...

Did the native speakers at lang 8 really say よそ者 was pronounced "よそしゃ"? I always thought it was よそもの.

AzzidisRidden said...

Thanks for all the first time comments and especially for the corrections.

I couldn't find the right kanji for hinin, and David, you're right about よそもの. I messed that up because both よそもの and よそしゃ convert into the right kanji. Will correct the post now to reflect your input.

I'm really pleased that we're finally getting good feedback on the comments. I can't imagine how many grammar, useage, and spelling issues went unchecked early on, so thanks again!

PS: Hi, Emi. Thanks for coming!

Anonymous said...

i assure you if you say にんがい in speech, every japanese(even university professors) says what?
in writing, we understand it in kanji but i don't remember seeing it in reading after meiji era. and i didn't know it's used for a person.

Claytonian said...

heard a new one just now:
追放処分= exile/disposal. Used when a couple kids got kicked out of the village for bringing trouble about. Don't think it's a yo-ji though...

AzzidisRidden said...

There are actually two kinds of yojijukugo... naturally occurring non-idiomatic ones like the one you posted here or like 水中戦争, and then idiomatic yojijukugo, which this site focuses on. Good to know the distinction though.

idiomatic/non-idiomatic yoji