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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Review: 日本語能力試験 実力アップ Series

People ask from time to time where we get the numbered grammar points from our Tuesday 2級 Grammar sections, so I thought I'd take up some trivia space today and recommend my favorite books.

The 日本語の力試験 実力アップ (JLPT Efficiency UP!) Series is what got me through 3級 with absolutely no problems whatsover, so I figured I'd go for it again this time around. I like it because they're written almost entirely in Japanese, so you have no recourse, no shortcuts...

It's sad, I guess, but growing up in the American school system I learned that the best way to pass tests is not to study the material, but to study the tests themselves. You'd think that knowing Japanese would be enough, but I believe it's actually better to know HOW and what the test is going to ask you. Do a couple of practice tests, and you pick up on patterns; you know what tricks to expect. These books are great for that.

For 3級 there was a book of grammar with practice questions to check your comprehension, and a list of the required kanji in the back. Add to that a book of two mock examinations, and you're all set. The gap between 3級 and 2級 however, is VAST, as you can see by the fact that the same series prints 4 separate books to prepare for 2級: Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Kanji/Vocab.

The Grammar book lists 191 grammar points, each with easy to understand explanations and example sentences, interspersed with practice questions.

The Listening book has drills to help you hear the difference in pronunciations (some that are extremely helpful, like the difference between 8日 (ようか) and 4日 (よっか) and some that are kind of unnecessary, like when じゃない means "isn't it?" and when じゃない means "it isn't." But the main focus of the book is tons and tons of practice for the two types of listening questions on the actual test: those with pictures and those without. It provides lots of helpful hints about things to listen for. On the 3級 test, for example, students listened to a man ordering his coffee and was then asked to describe how he liked it. He ordered by saying 「砂糖をいれずに」 even though 「~ずに」 is a 2級 grammar point. The practice book prepares you for these kind of things.

The Kanji book is my favorite so far. It starts by teaching you kanji that share radicals like (注、柱、駐、主、and, 住) and once you're done with seventy some pages of those, it moves on to kanji that share readings, like (表す、現す、and 著す). I'm about half-way done with this book, practicing by writing them out on flash cards and and then practicing in the same kanji notebooks my elementary school kids use. The better I get at production, the better I get at recognition, which I practice by reading the example sentences provided in the book.

I haven't yet started the Reading book; I'm waiting to finish the Kanji and Grammar, but it seems to be largely the same idea as the Listening. Drill after drill mixed up with tips on what to expect.

And when you're all done with that, there's the same set of practice tests that came with 3級.

If you're planning on taking any of the JLPT tests, you've got about four full months left now. How are you studying?

表現 Break: 船頭多くして船山に上る

せんどう おおく して ふね やま に のぼる
sendou ooku shite fune yama ni noboru

This one is fun to discuss with Japanese people because even though our metaphors are wildly different, we have the same expression in English.

Literal - Too many boatmen will bring a boat up a mountain.
1. Too many cooks in the kitchen will spoil the soup.

Starting a business with all of your friends sounds like a fun idea, but when you think about it realistically, doing it on your own is more comfortable. Having too many cooks in the kitchen cause problems, after all.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


きしょく まんめん
kishoku manmen

One of the steps of my yoji research, as everybody should be painfully aware by now, is doing the google image search. It's interesting to see what trends or patterns these searches reveal. Some yoji are strongly associated with certain sports for example (like 百発百中 and kyudo, or darts), but no matter the yoji, you're pretty much always guaranteed to get pictures that represent the two most prevalent kinds of sites on the internet: pornography and people who blog about their pets.

Sometimes you kind can of tell what you're gonna get in a search, and sometimes you can't. Today, for example, I was surprised to see tons and tons and tons of pictures about... fishing.

1. All Smiles.

I guess somewhere along the line this became the go-to-phrase for describing someone who's happy with their catch?

I associate it more with 破顔一笑. See what you can come up with for your own uses.

Ever since he asked his girl to marry him and she said "Yes," he's been nothing but smiles. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

"She was looking back to see if I was looking back to see if she was looking back at me," is one of those cheesy things that my dad says from time to time... though I can't really remember why, or in what circumstances.

Today we're gonna talk about looking back:


見返る by itself, means to look back, and it can be used to mean looking back at one's life, or to look behind yourself. A 見返り美人 is not, as you might expect, a woman so beautiful that she's worth a second look. It's even better. It's a beautiful woman who's looking back at you.

  • The painting above (on the left) is an extremely famous Japanese work of art (considered an epitome of early ukiyo-e, by Hishikawa Moronobu); Something about the concept of the 見返り美人 seems to capture a very Japanese sense of beauty. It's coy, it's demure, and it's fleeting...
  • 美人 is not necessarily gendered; it's cool to use this for a hot guy looking back at you as well.
  • For some reason, lots and lots and lots of Japanese bloggers use this to tag pictures of their pets. Gotta love the blog-o-sphere.

2級 Grammar 76-80

Juggling my upcoming move with studying for 2kyuu (kanji is destroying me), and plans to meet up and say so long to all the people I've met along the way, plus the fact that Brett is in AMERICA equals less than awesome posts, but for those of you out there who are still following along, it's better to do a little bit of 中途半端 studying every day than stop studying completely until you have the time to do it right. So I'm gonna keep going with the grammar and get as much absorbed (吸収, 2級 kanji) as I possibly can. Thanks for sticking with me.

76) ~てならない
~ cant help but

Used to refer to emotions or feelings or effects that originate naturally and automatically as a reaction to something. It's a strong expression, emphasizing the idea that these feelings can't be repressed or held back. Can be attached to the て form of verbs or い-type adjectives. な-type adjectives take 「でならない」. When it's used with verbs, they'll probably be one of the following verbs:
  • 思われる (to be thought)
  • 思い出される (to be remembered)
  • 悔やまれる (to be regretted)
  • 感じられる (to be felt)
You'll notice that all of these verbs are in their passive forms, which ties in with the idea that てならない occurs naturally, on it's own. You don't make an active effort to remember something, it just can't be helped.

Ex 1. この音楽聞くたびに戦争を連想されてしまうので、辛いことを思い出されてならない。
Ex 2. 試験は明日だが、ぜんぜん勉強していないので、不安でならない。

77) ~ということだ (1)

This is used exactly the same way as そうだ, to indicate that the information in your sentence comes from something that you heard or read, from some source other than yourself. Basic stuffs.

Ex. 「日本は元々安全な国だったけど、現在は危険な状態になっています。」とよく言われていますが、実は日本の犯罪率は減っているということだ。

78) ~ということだ (2)
~ is understood
~ is apparent
~ is evident

This is easiest for me to remember in the following pattern: A ということは、Bということだ。Taking A as the proof, we can infer B. My book's examples are pretty simple to understand:
  • こんなにたくさん星が出ているということは、明日は天気がいいということだ。
  • あんなに大きい家を買ったということは、彼は大金持ちだということだね。
Ex. 彼女が最近のデートを全部キャンセルしたということは、もう付き合いたくないということだろう。

79) ~というと ・ といえば ・ といったら
~ if one were to mention...

A special construction used to indicate what comes to mind in terms of something else. You can use it to say anything from "If one were to mention kanji, people think "HARRRRRD!" to "If one were to mention famous crazy people named Tom, Tom Cruise comes to mind."

Ex. アメリカ料理といえば、ハンバーガやステーキなどが代表的だ。

80) ~といったら
~ speaking of

This really can just be used in place of は when you want to stress something really big or すごい in either a good or bad way. Kind of like a "How about that.... It was amazing/terrible!"

Ex. この痛みといったら言葉にできないほどだ。

Monday, July 28, 2008


ひゃっぱつ ひゃくちゅう
hyappatsu hyakuchuu

I mentioned this before, but I'm kind of a 器用貧乏: I have a lot of hobbies and a lot of interests, and a good portion of them are things that I think would impress people in bars. Maybe I watched the wrong kinds of movies as a kid, but I always thought it would be awesome to be a card shark, a pool shark, a legendary drinker, and a motorcycle riding cowboy who knew how to make a quarter land dead center in your shot of tequila every time... or to make it vanish into thin air.

So I practice these kinds of silly things. I have decks upon decks of playing cards, my own set of poker chips, a pool cue, a picture of the motorcycle I sold before coming to Japan, and of course, because no bar-sports-master is complete with out them, my own set of darts.

But, just as I mentioned in the 器用貧乏 post, there's nothing more humbling for a dabbler like me than to bump into someone who's actually good. Which brings me to today's yoji, and Japanese darts culture.

The kanji mean, one hundred shots, one hundred centers. Think "Bullseye," and you've got it.

1: Nothing but bullseyes.
2: Absolute success.
3: 100% accuracy

While the definition notes that it can be used as a metaphor to mean that everything is going perfectly according to plan, it is often used literally in reference to kyudo or darts. And there is a pretty active darts culture in Japan.

With darts bars scattered throughout any major city, a league and tournaments, it was only a matter of time before I told the wrong person that I played... and got soundly humiliated. This guy, Masahiro, was one of the people who picked me up on my last hitchhiking adventure, and when we stopped off at a bar to play a few games, I think he went easy on me at first. By the second game, it was 百発百中 for him, and it was all over for me.

But don't let the presence of sharks out there in the waters deter you from swimming. Japanese darts bars can be a lot of fun, especially the ones that feature the electronic boards. I highly recommend the unorthodox set of games, like the manhunt one: at each turn, the dart board will tell which targets will count as taking a shot at your opponent (hit a double twenty and you throw a grenade; hit a fourteen and you reload your gun, etc.). They're a lot of fun.

I can't call it an absolute success yet, but so far things have gone just as I expected. Let's hope it continues to be smooth sailing from here on out.

* Question for you: I've heard that the するといい pattern implies doubt on the part of the speaker. Like, できるといいな, means "It would be nice if I could do it, but..." What do you think?

Friday, July 25, 2008

白川夜船 / 白河夜船

shirakawa yofune

While Jeff draws a lot of his yojis from conversation and snatches the rest from the ether (a trick I keep meaning to have him teach me), up until now I've just had to string together random kanji and hope they were a yoji. In fact half of my posts so far haven't even made sense to Japanese people until I popularized them on my hit late-night TV show, "Japanese: You're Doing it Wrong!" This just goes to show that even if you can do a ton of other stuff right (like figure skate, or wear pink gloves), it's all for naught if there's something amiss about that bandana...

Anyway, this yoji is special in that I discovered it while reading Slam Dunk, a manga that a few Japanese acquiantances at an enkai told me is a MUST READ. I've never been a huge fan of basketball and thought it would therefore be a bit boring - and thus perhaps induce today's yoji - but instead have found it both educational and wildly entertaining. This phrase could really be applied to either the protagonist or his rival/teammate, though for different reasons. And while the origin might have something to do with taking a night boat down the ol` white river, the actual meaning deviates substantially from the literal.


1. Sound/fast/dead asleep
2. In a know-it-all manner

If you're just given the barebones definition on this one, it's a little disappointing. After the all, the answer seems to have NOTHING to do with the kanji... until you're treated to this explanatory story.


My take on the story: a man takes a trip to the capital to go sight-seeing, and on returning can't stop telling stories about it. Somebody asks him how Shirakawa (the name of a place) was, and the man - mistaking the name for that of a river since it ends with "kawa" - says "oh - well I crossed that river by boat at night, so I didn't really get to see it..."

Like all jokes, it's a lot better when it doesn't require an explanation. The localized (to America) version might read something like "So, you went to New York City last week! How was the big apple?" "oh - unfortunately it wasn't on display, but they had a lot of other big fruits there..."

I think I might be going for a record for most posts with the "bad jokes" tag. ANYWAY, the "dead asleep" usage comes from the idea that you were so soundly asleep your entire trip, you don't know anything that happened around you, and thus thought that perhaps shirakawa was a river, not a place. Usage on this one is pretty simple. If you missed something due to being dead asleep, just roll out with 白河夜船で、~。 Adding "です" and most other simple constructions will work out just fine. And though I can't be sure, it seems the know-it-all definition works primarily on those who don't actually know it all, so use with care.

When I was a kid, my parents always made me go to church. That place was so boring that I fell into a deep sleep all the time. I was really able to kill time that way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Japanese Cultural Trivia:


You get a bonus third post today and a bit of Japanese Cultural trivia that includes some history, some culinary customs, some vocabulary, and some awesome.

Monday, as you know, was 海の日(umi no hi), but did you know that today is 土用の丑の日 (doyou no ushi no hi)?

I bet that you did not.

In it's most common usage, and according to Rikai-chan, 土用 means "midsummer" or "the dog days of summer," but actually, EVERY season has it's 土用。As this site explains, each season has an official starting day (you can find it on most calendars) and the 土用 period comprises the 18 days before the official start of the next season. For example, the first day of Autumn usually falls on or near August 8th, and the 18 days before that (where we are now) is considered 夏の土用.

(Traditionally, 夏の土用 is the most important of all the 土用s because it's an extremely busy time for agriculture, which is why most people only use it to refer to the summer.)

Now, 丑の日 or the day of the ox, is borrowed from Chinese astrology, and before I spend nine hours on the internet trying to find out what makes 丑の日 different from the other 11 kinds of days, I'm just going to acknowledge the fact that it's not THAT important to this post. The point is that since the Chinese astrological cycle of days repeats every 12 days, and there are 18 days in 土用, you're guaranteed at least one 土用の丑の日.

土用の丑の日 traditionally represents the hottest, most humid, nastiest summer day (not in terms of actual temperature records or humidity indexes, but just... in general) and it's a day when you might be particularly susceptible to today's bonus word:


夏バテ is a term that might also be misleading, depending on your dictionary. I've seen it listed as "adaptation to the summer heat," which sounds to me like getting used to/dealing with it. In actual usage, 夏バテ is closer to "heat stroke." It's a term for exhaustion, fatigue, general malaise and physical misery that you suffer during the nearly unbearable summer months.

But don't worry. There is a trick to beating 夏バテ that every person living in Japan should know, and I'm going to reveal it to. You might even have noticed it yourself at restaurants, or supermarkets, or in advertisements for either of the above. Today, all across Japan, Japanese people will be consuming massive quantities of うなぎ、fresh-water eel.

If you've ever tried unagi, basted in a mildly sweet barbecue sauce (think 繊細) served over steamed rice (even better when the rice and eel are steamed together) with sliced tamago yaki and crisp toasted nori, maybe with some daikon sukemono on the side, good lord... if you've had that, you should know that you don't NEED a reason to eat うなぎ.

But as for it's value as a weapon against the dreaded 夏バテ, consult the nutritional advice of... this lady:


Chock-full of vitamin-A, plus proper quantities of protein, lipids, vitamins B, D, E, calcium, and iron, うなぎ is just the ticket for a highly nourishing meal.
But for those of you who, like me, aren't satisfied with surface explanations of why things are the way they are, it gets even better. Nutritious and delicious though it may be, how did the entire country of Japan start a tradition of eating eel on 土用の丑の日?

Back in the Edo Period, there was a renaissance man by the name of 平賀源内 (Hiraga Gennai). He studied it all, and did it all. He was a painter, a physician, a scientist, an avid follower of Western studies, an inventor (his エレキテル;electrostatic generator has earned him immortality in Japanese anime, often as an eccentric or even MAD scientist), and an author, writing novels, satire, and articles about nature or science. He was considered an expert on all matter of subjects, and rendered his intellectual services to those who needed them.

So when the Edo Period うなぎ vendors had a problem, they knew exactly who to turn to. How to ensure strong うなぎ sales in summer? Hiraga Gennai had the answer. Create an advertising campaign ensuring the masses that eating eel was a great way to beat the heat. True story. The 土用の丑の日 tradition started because うなぎ vendors and restaurants once asked Hiraga Gennai to help them recover from a sales slump.

It's possible then, that Hiraga Gennai was the first person to become a celebrity endorser in Japanese history, and at the very least he must rank as the most successful. The entire country still buys into the advertising, and Gennai is responsible for billions and billions of yen in うなぎ sales, hundreds of years after his death.

(If that's not enough to make you question his moral integrity, here's a slight footnote: He was also passionate about performing experiments on ore. So much so that his anger at being unable to open new mines and procure more samples drove him into a fit that led to the death of one of his students. He died in a Japanese prison.)

So... enjoy your bonus post, eat some eel today (I will), and stay out of the heat!

Hope everybody's having a great summer!

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

I wanted to add this one as an addendum to Brett's 八方美人 post, and re-emphasize his suggestion that you be careful when you use 八方美人. It's really, really difficult to use it in a positive sense. Unless you're absolutely sure there's no room for negative interpretation, don't expect it to be taken well. In most cases, it's more likely to be associated with today's trivia. Check it out:

goma suri

This is something that most of you might be familiar with if you've ever eaten a meal at Hamakatsu, or any similar katsu restaurant. In these restaurants, you get to prepare your own katsu sauce, which involves the literal translation of today's trivia: grinding sesame seeds.

However, the phrase as it's used more commonly refers to baseless flattery or sycophantic behavior. I asked around a LOT to try and find out what I could about the origins of this expression, why grinding sesame seeds is equated to flattery, and there are a few theories.

One derives from a hand gesture attributed to merchants and shopkeepers, especially when they deal with high status customers. I've heard that TV dramas or period movies often feature self-deprecating shopkeepers who suck up to the visiting officials or samurai on horseback, running alongside, offering wares, food, or something to drink, all while rubbing their hands together in a gesture that resembles the grinding of sesame seeds.

The other explanation I've found is that when sesame seeds are ground, they often splinter into tiny pieces and fly off in all directions, which is to say, eight directions, which is to say like a 八方美人.

If you can find any other possible explanations, let me know, because I always like my answers to be a little more concrete.

In any case, you can use this one ALL THE TIME, especially as a joking way to respond to a compliment. You can say: 「胡麻すり上手ですね。」 with a laugh, or you can simply give them a knowing look and emulate the grinding gesture. Cup one hand as though it were a mortar, and then pretend you're holding a pestle in your other hand, moving it in a circular motion.

Try it in conversation and let me know how it works out.

表現 Break: 売る言葉に買う言葉

うる ことぼ に かう ことば
uru kotoba ni kau kotoba

The great thing about being a foreigner living in Japan is that every interaction is an opportunity to learn something new, even when you're having an argument. Argument is a relative term of course; in America an argument with my ex-girlfriend meant raised voices, and maybe a slammed door or two, followed by extend periods of passive-aggressive behavior. In Japan, I've learned to think of arguments as long, low-key, strained conversations followed by extended periods of passive-aggressive behavior. Who's to say which country does it right?

This expression, which I learned after a long, LONG conversation with my landlord about what to do about all of the furniture that someone has to clear out of my house (he wants me to pay to have it removed and disposed of; I think I shouldn't be responsible for anything that was already there when I moved in), and I'm glad I learned it in that context, because otherwise, I never would've been able to extrapolate the meaning.

I mean, think about it: 売る言葉に買う言葉 (also sometimes expressed as 売言葉に買言葉). What does it mean? "Selling words to buying words."

In the context of a conversation, if one person is talking sales and the other is talking purchases, it sounds to me like you've got a transaction on your hands. Everybody's happy, right?

Not so.

1. Trading barbs.
2. A bitter back and forth
3. A heated exchange of well-chosen words

Think of the argument as a matter of trade, with both participants engaging in a fair exchange. If one person makes a snide comment, the other person comes back with something equally snide, equally appropriate, and the argument escalates. This would be a good phrase to use when describing a marital squabble or a quarrel between two people who are very well known to each other. The way that 売る言葉 are perfectly tailored to respond to 買う言葉, fits in perfectly with the idea of two people who know exactly how to push each other's buttons.

Online definitions say that an 売り言葉に買い言葉 situation is often described as 喧嘩のタネ: the seeds of a quarrel or a fight.

Seems like there was a heated exchange of words that escalated into a brawl.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


しんせい ばんじ
shinsei banji

And, after a few days off, we're back with another one of those yojis that will make you question the validity of the site...

This is a yoji that defeats not only Rikai-chan, but it defeats the Japanese keyboard language pack, the Yojijukugo-databank, my yojijukugo dictionary, and all of my books. And yet, at a table full of Japanese co-workers, when someone listed it as their favorite, everybody recognized it and acknowledged it. It is a good one.

1. Success or failure is determined by your own belief in your abilities.
2. If you believe you'll be successful, you will. If you doubt yourself, you will fail.
3. Believe in yourself and the magic will happen.

There's another Japanese saying that fits up with this one pretty nicely: 信ずる者は救われる; Those who believe will be rescued. Whenever I've heard this one used, it hasn't been in the sense of "If you sit around and wait faithfully, someone will come along and save you," but rather, things will work out in the end for people who believe that they will.

People are always saying "Those who believe, succeed; Those who doubt, fail," but I'm a manic depressive schizophrenic. What should I do?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2級 Grammar 71-75

My heartfelt apologies for the lack of posts this morning and Monday. What with it being 海の日 on Monday, and with Nirav being back in town for a little while, we had a long weekend that necessitated lots of hanging around on the beach and drinking. So now that I'm hung-over, burned bright red, and refreshed, I'm ready for another barrage of grammar points. Let's see what we got!

71) ~つつ(2) ・ ~つつも
~ even though (verb)ing
~ even while (verb)ing

Check the notes on grammar point 70, and the link that Clay left in the comments there to make sure that you have the full idea of the uses of つつ. It always expresses a state of continuous action, but in this case, it translates as ~ているのに. It's most commonly used in the following two forms: 「と思いつつ」 and 「知りつつ」; 「even though I was thinking」 and 「even while knowing」.

Ex. 月曜日の「四字」がまだ書いてないことを知りつつも、日曜日の夜は暴飲してしまい。

72) ~っぽい
~ kind of
~ a little bit
~ ish

This is another one that I guarantee that you've heard a million times, and if you haven't, listen harder. ~っぽい is used when you want to say that something has just a touch of a certain tendency, or "feels/seems a little like." The simplest way to explain it is with examples: a person who still acts a bit childish at times is 子供っぽい. Or if my girlfriend asked me which of two brown bags was cuter, and they both looked the same to me, she might have to explain that one was 赤っぽい, and one was 黄色っぽい, or that one was more 大人っぽい, or just that I was アッス・ホールっぽい, although that last one isn't really considered proper Japanese.

Ex. あの子はちょっとハーフっぽいじゃない?親はどこの人だろうか?

73) ~て以来
~ ever since then

Sounds just like it is. Just attach it to the て form of verbs, and you're good to go. My book gives this example: 「彼女を知って以来、僕の人生はばら色だ; Ever since I met my girlfriend, my life has been rosy.」

Ex. 日本に始めてきて以来、和食に夢中だ。

74) ~てからでないと ・ てからでなければ
~ first... must be done
~ must be done... before

This is a nice shortcut for saying A must be done before B, and it's used especially in situations where if A doesn't happen, B is difficult or impossible.


75) ~てしょうがない ・ てたまらない
~ to such an extent that it can't be helped

Sorry for the awkward translation, but this might be a good time for those of you who don't already know the phrase しょうがない (or sometimes, 仕方がない) to familiarize yourself with it. It
means, "There's no way" and it's used to mean "There's nothing to be done," about tough situations. You might say it about having to work late, or not liking your sister's boyfriend, or something along those lines.

In this grammar point, however you attach it emotions, desires, or feelings that are so strong that they can't be denied. お腹が空いてたまらない or お腹が空いてしょうがない both mean that you're so hungry that it can't be stopped; there's nothing to be done but eat, presumably.

Ex. 彼女とデートすると、楽しくてたまらない。

Friday, July 18, 2008


ooban burumai

I love learning a phrase in conversation, then looking it up later and finding out that it's actually a 四字熟語. I picked up 反面教師 and 中途半端 this way, and now I've got one more to add to my list!

Today's yoji is one that, if you're like me (in the financial sense) you'd rather hear and recognize than use yourself.
1. Treating many people to a lavish feast
2. Being an extremely generous host (giving presents, wining and dining, etc)
3. The spoils of unlimited generosity
4. "It's on me!"

I'm anticipating arguments from some of you about whether or not this classifies as a yoji, because it can also be written 「大盤振る舞い」 which clearly has six characters and not all of them are kanji. But I did my research on this one, hard.

The yoji has it's origins in the Heian Period, when it was used for ceremonies of the Imperial Court, and it was originally written 「椀飯振舞」. As you can see from the kanji, it meant the behavior and conduct associated with serving food. But, in the minds of the regular citizens of Japan, the behavior and conduct associated with serving food for the Imperial Court was something far removed and grandiose. It meant luxury and elegance and enjoying the trappings of wealth, so they started to use it to refer to their bigger meals (New Year's feasts, and the like), anything that they felt was lavish enough to be worthy of the title. And the common people, as common people will, got the words all mixed up and confused, and ended up with some 当て字, giving us the two common usages today: 大盤振舞 and 大盤振る舞い, both read and pronounced exactly the same way (as introduced above).

A Google search for either term will yield max results, so I'm confident in classifying this as a yoji.

To describe someone who is being the generous host, you can attach する, and to describe being on the other end, される will work. You can also say 「大盤振舞の」 and follow it up with pretty much anything you want. 料理、キャンペーン、etc. It's used a lot in advertising to make the offers or the products sound more luxurious.

So what does all of that have to do with a giant red fish, you ask?

Glad you asked! That giant red fish is the 鯛ヤマ, one of fourteen ヤマ, or floats, used in my all time FAVORITE 祭り in Japan, Karatsu Kunchi ( 唐津くんち). The floats, the oldest of which are more than 200 years, are awesome to behold as troops of men (or males, I should say, because little boys help carry the rope as well) haul them through town. But the best part of Karatsu Kunchi is, you guessed it, the 大盤振舞. Homeowners and store owners all over Karatsu open their doors to family and friends, and ANYBODY else who happens to come along. You can drift from place to place getting free drinks, free food, and meeting all kinds of crazy drunk people.

For those of you who are in Japan, or coming to Japan at some point, you've gotta hit Karatsu in early November. I've been to countless festivals in Japan, and this is by far, the most fun.

例文: 唐津くんちという祭りは週末にあり、大盤振舞をしてくれます。九州の佐賀県の唐津に行けば、ぜひ、遊びに来てください。でも、間違えないでください。ご馳走を食べさせてもらうためには、招待を待ってはいけません。積極的に店か家を訪ねてごらん!ぜったい楽しむことが出来ます。
Karatsu Kunchi is an entire weekend of limitless, lavish feasting. If you're ever in Karatsu, found in Saga-Ken on the island of Kyushu, please come check it out. But don't be mistaken. You can be wined and dined, but you can't sit around waiting for an invitation. Be pro-active about entering homes and shops. You'll definitely have a good time!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day: 酒

Or, the post that only Nirav could bring you.

As many of you may already be aware, I'm visiting Japan at the moment. One of my favorite things about Japan, and probably what I was looking forward to the most before coming, is the alcohol. At first glance, especially to American sensibilities, that seems like an odd, if not downright alcoholic, thing to say. It's true that, when I'm in Japan, I have a tendency to possibly, sometimes, depending on how you look at it have an eency-weency bit too much to drink. However, when I say that alcohol is one of my favorite things about Japan, I don't necessarily mean the availability of it, the amount of it, or even the types of it available (don't get me wrong, though - I highly appreciate all of those things, too). What I mean is that I enjoy the way that alcohol is entwined with the culture here, how drinking and all of the other social customs play off of each other in some way or another. As one might expect, alcohol is also highly linked to Japanese language, so today's trivia is a list of お酒 related terms and phrases that I enjoy. Of course, there are far too many of them for this to be an exhaustive list, so I'll have to continue it some other time.

さけ に のまれる
sake ni nomareru
This neat turn of phrase literally means "to be drunk by your sake," or, in other words, to have far too much to drink and end up doing something stupid or meeting some otherwise unpleasant fate. It is often used by itself, but is also present in the commonly voiced admonition:

さけ を のんでも のまれるな
sake wo nondemo nomareruna
When you get drunk, make sure the sake doesn't drink you!

さけは ひゃくやく の ちょう
sake ha hyakuyaku no chou
is the best medicine. (It sure makes me feel better!)

さけ は ひゃくがい の ちょう
Sake ha hyakugai no chou
Sake is the worst of all poisons.

Most commonly, you only see the "sake" part of this one written in kanji. It literally means "the alcohol of throwing oneself away," and might be put into English as "drowning one's sorrows."

-(or wine-) tasting or pairing
Often times, restaurants will have someone who is a 利き酒師 (ききざけし kikizakeshi), or essentially a sommelier specifically for sake.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


はっぽう びじん
happou bijin

This one starts off seemingly obvious, with a reading that even those with a basic kanji level can ascertain. Eight directions, beautiful woman (or person). A quick side-note here to go along with my train of thought, how is that 四面 and 八方 can have the same meaning? Is there actually a tangible difference between things coming at you from eight sides instead of four? And four sides I can get - front, back, left and right, or even cardinal directions. But eight? Are they now filling the gaps of the secondary directions? Why not taking it another step and have it be the 16 directions? For those big into translation, I'd say "from all angles" would be a better interpretation. But I digress...(I think I just wanted to say that - thanks for indulging me, however involuntarily.)

1. Someone who is beautiful from all angles.
2. To never say anything bad of other people, or someone who acts that way.
3. A sycophant

So unfortunately this does not mean that you have 8 beautiful women coming at you from different angles (thought Jeff "乱...何とか" Bailey will cover that in another post). Instead we have a barrage of meanings that slide the scale from compliment to insult, making this a tricky yoji to employ in everyday language. Jeff noted that he used it to describe somebody who was everybody's friend, but the person with whom he was talking said they would never want to be called a 八方美人. This is further complicated by the fact that the 四字熟語データバンク makes a special note indicating that the phrase is often used in a negative sense, but not always.

So here's a general guideline - if you are talking about a woman and use this phrase, it will most likely be interpreted in the good context, especially if used in a conversation involving appearance. If, however, you are talking about a guy, or about a woman's kindness, be wary - what was intended as a compliment can seem like an underhanded jab at their character. You might be able to preface its use with 本物の, but even that might come across as "He's a REAL brown-noser". Don't be afraid to clarify your meaning, as that will only go to show that, hey, you do actually know what you're talking about.

Today's example sentence is probably applicable to a lot of foreigners after they first come to Japan (especially those wearing the "looking for a Japanese girlfriend" t-shirt), and today's challenge will be for you to somehow translate the joke into English. Good luck!

例文: A-san: 「僕初めて日本に来た時、八方美人ばっかり会ったよ。」
B-san: 「え?どーゆーことですか?おべっか使い人かきれいな女か、どちだった?」
A-san: 「どちも!」

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Book Review: 水木しげるの妖怪事典

As promised yesterday, I'm back with more info about the cool new book I got!

I know I've mentioned it before, but I study in waves. When I'm in the mood to study, I burn through Kanji like nobody's business. When I'm not in the mood to study though, I pretty much just lay on my tatami for a month and a half... like nobody's business.

So one of the biggest challenges for me is finding things to help me study that don't feel like studying.

From what I understand, the reading portions of the 2kyuu JLPT can get pretty brutal, so I've gotten in the habit of picking up books in Japanese that look like the kind of stuff I'd be interested in anyway. I know a lot of people who use manga to practice like this. I recommend doing that too, although I personally find myself more likely to skip words I don't know if I can tell what's going on because of the pictures.

This book, though, is perfect for me. Only one picture per page with a nice block of accompanying text explanation, it catalogs the demons and ghosts of Japan without coming off too encyclopedia-esque. The writer, Mizuki Shigeru, is known for being the creator of the popular manga and anime ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 (GeGeGe no Kitarou), but is also considered THE leading expert/master of the 妖怪 (youkai: spirits, ghosts, etc) world. Try buying a book about 妖怪 that's NOT written by him. Seriously, try it. Cause I did. It was hard.

Well-researched and incredibly detailed (down to the 川獺's likely responses to a variety of questions), the book is even more valuable for its application as a study tool. Instead of taking the form of a usual encyclopedia, with formulaic entries that would yield the same pattern of words and phrases ad infinitum, Mizuki writes most of the pages I've gotten to so far in a kind of autobiographical style, relating his earliest encounters with the stories of these creatures, how and where he came across them, and how and where he believed he was likely to actually encounter them. While I expected a kind of specialized encyclopedic jargon that would be good practice for reading... other encyclopedias, I got a book that creates a short, but interesting, narrative for each creature profile with broader vocabulary that I can actually use and apply.

I'll note some of the examples of sections that you can find in his book below:

  • 猫の神通力:The magical powers of cats! Hear about how all kinds of nekos, believed to possess abilities and knowledge beyond humans, have used their powers in days past: causing a small-town shrine to hover above the ground to bring back it's parishioners and save it from bankruptcy. (起死回生?)

  • かに坊主:The Buddhist monk crab: A traveling monk stays the night in the abandoned Crab Temple of Yamanashi-ken. He's bothered by a strange figure in a monk's visage during the night, but finding nothing suspicious about this, he tells the figure to leave him alone and resumes his sleep. In the morning, when he learns of the mysterious disappearance of the temple's former inhabitants all in one night, he suggests draining the pond behind the temple building. When they do so, they discover not only the skeletons of the missing monks, but a gigantic evil looking crab!
In addition to these anecdotes, there's tons about mermaids, giants, oni, mysterious apparitions, and more detail on the varieties and habits of かっぱ than you EVER thought possible.

This book is one in a series, so if you're interested in 妖怪 of China, or 妖怪 of the world, Mizuki's got your back.

Further recommendations for those of you who like 妖怪 too:

2級 Grammar 66-70

So, it looks like The Daily Yoji might have to take another hiatus of sorts in the near future. While Brett will still be at the keyboard, I'm getting ready to go back to America for about three months, and since I'm doing that, I'm planning on taking one last big trip to close out my first two years in Japan. I'll be hitchhiking from Saga to Tokyo and stopping along the way to visit some of the places that I haven't yet had the chance to check out. I hope to still be able to make some kind of Daily Yoji Travelogue posts while I'm on the road, but... oh hey, lemme just tell you about it in 2級 grammar forms!

66) ~ついでに
~ while doing

Yes, there are many, many, many ways of saying "while doing" in Japanese. There are two in this post. Make sure you understand the nuances of each one. ~つでに's nuance is "While you're at it." You use it to say, things like "I wanted to go to 7-11 to pick up some beer, so I figured, while I was at it, I'd pay for my plane ticket = 7-11でビールを買いに行ったついでに、便の切符も買いました。" The part that takes ついでに is your main action, and the part that follows is just... what you did, while you were at it.

For those of you who aren't in Japan, this sentence might require the knowledge that you can pay for pretty much ANTYHING at 7-11, including plane tickets.

Ex. 最後の日本の旅行のついでに、車に乗せてもらっている間にその人の好きな四字熟語をたずねようと思っています。

67) ~っけ
~(what) was it?

Odds are good that you've heard and used this one a number of times. I know I have, but I never expected to see it in a grammar book. It's purely a convention of speech, and I figured it was something similar to "ain't" in English. But while the book acknowledges that it is only for spoken use, it still wants us studying it. Stick this on the end of anything you're asking to reflect your own uncertainty, or use it as a conversation filler when you're trying to remember something. The most common usage you'll hear is just this: 「何だっけ?」

Ex. ぜんぜん習っていない四字熟語を言われたら、ただ意味を忘れている振りをします。「あ、そうですか。それはいい言葉ですようね。でも、どういう意味だったっけ?」

68) ~っこない
~ no way that
~ no chance of

Pretty straight forward, but usually reserved for big things like "hitting the lottery" or "winning the nobel prize. Can be 丁寧ed up by conjugating the ない to ありません.

I'm gonna TRY to use it like THIS:

Ex. どこに泊まるかぜんぜん決めていないので、毎日「日刊四字」にポストを載せることができっこないです。

69) ~つつある
~to be in the process of (do)ing

This is another 改まった表現, used in more formal or ceremonial speech. With that being said, pretend that I usually talk to you guys very formally in my example sentences.

Ex. 以前、富士山に登りたかったが、何回も「汚くて、行く価値がない」と言われたことで行くことをあきらめました。しかしながら、現在、富士山再生キャンペーンが行われ、きれいになりつつあるので、また行きたくなりました。

70) ~つつ(1)
~ while doing

As mentioned above, here's another way to say "while doing," this one is used just like ながら, but ながら is more friendly and informal, more common in everyday speech. つつ would be better in writing or when presenting to a group of people or giving a speech (I remember using it in my Habitat Fundraising speech at the cooking class we did.)

Ex. そして、四字熟語を集めつつ、日本の名所を見物します。

Monday, July 14, 2008


じんめん じゅうしん
jinmen juushin

Let's pose a picture challenge for those of you reading at home. Before you scroll down to read the definition below, take a good long look at today's kanji: 人面獣心. Now try to guess which one of these pictures best suits today's yoji:

Your options are Beast, from the TV series Beauty and the Beast, Adolf Hitler, and the best non-erotic centaur I could find on Google images. I'm sure it's someone's avatar or something.

If you picked Adolf Hitler, you are correct! While Beast is a man with an animal exterior, and the centaur is a hodge-podge of animal, man, and otaku fantasy, Adolf Hitler is the best accompaniment for these kanji: the surface is that of a human being, but the heart is that of a beast.

1. A beast in human form
2. One who is mercilessly cruel
3. Inhumanly evil.

This is used to describe people who are capable of inhuman acts, so as you can imagine, it gets applied to shocking crimes that make headline news, and to the particularly nasty despots and dictators of history. If you'd like to see a particularly interesting mixture of results and Japanese perspectives, try doing a google search for 人面獣心 and 南京事件 (The Rape of Nanking).

I do have to admit though, that I got excited about this yoji because of the idea of it in its literal form. As I'm a bit prone to geeking out over magic and myth and demons and such myself, I like the idea of a beast that takes human form, like a werewolf but backwards. A wereman, I guess. But one animal that I would never immediately associate with 人面獣心 is the otter.

*Random Trivia Warning*

In Ishikawa-ken however, there are old, old stories about the 川獺 (かわうそ;kawauso: otter), who was often blamed when local fishermen had a bad run. It was thought though, that in order to get the fish and to perpetrate other shenanigans on the townsfolk as well, the otter would take on the guise of a small child or an old man, donning clothes and speaking in a human-like voice. It never managed to speak any intelligible Japanese words, but it got close, responding to questions of 「誰だ」 with 「オラヤ」 which might mean something in otter speak...

Forgive the digression, but I got this cool new book about Japanese ghosts and stuff. Will post more on it later in the week.

Check the sentence below for yoji usage!

That old man who killed those 8 little kids seemed like an inhuman criminal at first, but in the end, it turned out that those 8 "kids" were just otters, trying to steal the fish!

Friday, July 11, 2008


とし くほう
toshi kuhou

Okay, today's yoji is a special-bonus-hyper-super yoji. Why? Well, it's ridiculously rare. The yoji databank we link to has no mention of it, and rikaichan breaks down and starts crying if you hover your cursor over it. As such, finding information was especially difficult, but it became more worth it the more I knew.

For some background on how I even found out about this yoji, I was digging around online with a few different searches hoping to get some wartime expressions that found their way into every day language. This is common with yojis since a many of them come from China's Warring States Period, which is long and well-documented. Unsurprisingly, I found a few expressions we've already covered here, but took pause when I found this one. Rabbit die dog boil? The more strange the literal translation, the better the actual meaning. So without further ado...

1. Outliving one's usefulness.
2. Only using something or someone as long as they are useful.

The examples nestled in the definition are both excellent. The first is the idea of going on a hunting trip and, what do you know, you kill all the rabbits in the area. So now what are you going to do with those hunting dogs? Easy - boil `em and eat `em! The second example is not much better, and cites examples of wartime vets getting killed in times of peace after they are no longer needed. Good times!

The source on this one is an old book called "韓非子" that records a bunch of ideology from the Warring States period. I wish I could have found more information on how it was used, but most Japanese sources I found stopped at that book title. The really interesting thing is how often searching for this yielded Korean websites, which I cannot yet pin on racism or it being an expression with some Korean roots (which I initially thought when seeing the book's title). For the past few days my Korean friend has mysteriously gone MIA, which is inconvenient, as he has not yet outlived his usefulness...but maybe he knows what will happen after I grill him about this yoji...

First thing tomorrow, I'm going to quiz my fellow workers on this yoji. You all do the same, so we can see if this only exists in rare texts or you can get away with saying it without looking like you're just making stuff up.

Bonus edit: My friend popped up online first thing in the morning, and we had a nice little yoji-related chat. It turns out that A. he knew the yoji I was talking about, and B. Koreans study 四字熟語 and other Chinese in junior high and high school the same way English speakers might study Latin. That revelation aside, even though he did know it, he admitted soon after that it's rare even in Korea, and all the teachers I'd asked today had never seen this yoji. So, a word of warning - if you do use this yoji, be prepared to explain the origin, and then to explain why you are SO AWESOME.

(hint - it's the DY)

In the world of horse racing, an injury is as good as death. Having outlived their usefulness, they die for their troubles.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

It's time to start packing up and getting read to move out of my house, so today's trivia is a 四字熟語 that is only ever used in one, very specific situation.

てんち むよう
tenchi muyou

I struggled to find out exactly why this means what it does for DAYS before just giving up and accepting it, something I often have to do with Japanese things that I don't understand.

The kanji translate loosely as "the futility of all things in heaven and earth" and here's what it means:


*This also happens to be the name for an anime that uses the odd meaning as a play on words. The main character's name is Tenchi, so it can be read as "No need for Tenchi."

表現 Break: 鼻の下が伸びている(伸ばしている)

はな の した が のびている (のばしている)
hana no shita ga nobiteiru (nobashiteiru)

To ease your transition into non-flower expressions, let's go with one that uses the other はな: nose.

Some might argue that this expression could have been saved for the eventual unveiling of the project Brett and I are always talking about, 「The Daily Yoji: After Dark」, which would be just like this site, except... not safe for work. But since it's pretty tame (when compared to some of the expressions, vocabulary, and ... onomatopoeia that we'd post on a NSFW site) and I've had three chances to use it since I learned it last week, I figured maybe we could throw it out there and test the waters a little bit. :)

That bit under your nose is getting longer.

「伸ばす」and 「伸びる」 can be used interchangeably here.

This is a hard one to define and translate for two reasons.
1: It's such a common place phrase in Japanese that looking it up, even in conjunction with 由来 or 意味 yields so many search results that digging through them to find useful ones is ridiculous.
2. We don't have a roughly equivalent expression in English.

This is said to somebody or about somebody who is leering, or engaging in lecherous fantasizing. If you come across something that's エッチ, and your reaction could be construed as interest, that bit under your nose is getting longer. If you're having a conversation about sex and you get... distracted, that bit under your nose gets longer.

I suppose that in the case of staring, something like "Pick your jaw up off the floor," or "Your eyes are about to come out of your head," would be appropriate. And then, 「鼻の下が伸びている」 might be a Japanese woman's version of "Hey! My eyes are up here." But most of the incidences of use that I've come across in my long, below-the-nose growing career are jocular. If it's being said, it's probably being said in good humor. 「鼻の下が長いお爺さん」 sounds much more friendly and familiar than 「変態じじ」 for sure.

This one is probably also familiar to fans of manga and anime, because there's a visual convention for it as well. In drawings, artists will usually do two things to characters who are having すけべな thoughts: They will elongate the portion of the upper lip, just below the nose, and they will give the character a sudden nose bleed. Yes, sexual thoughts cause nose bleeds.

And I've never seen this one in comics but I found it out the hard way by spending almost a year explaining to people that my hair grows really fast. Fast growing hair is another sure sign of a horndog.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


らっか ろうぜき
rakka rouzeki

Are you tired of flowers yet? I hope not, cause we've got one final day of flower-related Japanese here on the Yoji. Stick with me though, cause today's definitions and usages are good ones, and not as... well, not as flowery as you might think.

You'll notice that the first two kanji in today's yoji are 落花, which means falling petals, but also means PEANUT when attached to ー生, as we mentioned in yesterday's flower trivia. If we think of this 生 in the same sense as 生まれる, what makes a peanut a "falling petal birth?" Well, apparently, the way peanuts grow is that when peaflowers get pollinated, that peanut flower's fruit turns into a nut which forces its way underground. The flowers fall, and from where they lay, new peanut flowers grow up out of the nut... unless they get harvested and eaten by Chinese people, who coined the term 落花生, albeit with a completely different pronunciation. To update yesterday's info slightly, it should be known that in Japan peanuts still in the shell are called 落花生、while peanuts that have been shucked are called ピーナツ。

Peanut explanation taken care of, let's get back to the yoji, whose second two kanji mean "wolf carpet."

Wait... what?

1. Chaos
2. Running amok
3. Complete and utter disorder
4. Committing wanton acts of violence, especially against women.

This yoji has some fun nuances. First let's look into the whole 狼藉 thing. While this kanji compound can be used to indicate violence, outrage, riot, or confusion, it does still directly translate as "wolf carpet." Why is this?

The origin, according to the databank, is in the idea of a wolf going to bed. The ground, grass, or flowers that a wolf sleeps on might have been pristine the night before, but when he leaves the next day, it will be disturbed looking, and can you blame it? It spent the night under a wolf.

Add to this visual the idea of scattered, fallen petals, which often connote disarray in Japanese metaphor. If the wolf sleeps on these as well, then things just get crazy.

And then this yoji can also be interpreted/applied in the same direction as Monday's in the sense that, yes, women are flowers. So if the next Akihabara stabbist happens to target only women, get your ears ready: the newsmedia will go nuts with over-application of 落花狼藉.

Here's a link to a news story about an incident that involved a Japanese wolf sleeping on a bunch of women.

No, not really.

And last, because not even I want to do another day of flowers (why couldn't we have done a wolf week?), I'm giving you this Japanese proverb that uses today's 落花.

rakka eda ni kaerazu, hakyou futatabi terasazu.

The fallen flower will not return to the branch, the broken mirror will not shine again.

Even with the institution of women only cars, the molestation problem still hasn't been stopped. The criminals who are running amok are just so difficult to identify and apprehend.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

Today's trivia post is a virtual 百花繚乱!
Check out the variety of applications for flowers in Japanese expressions:

かべ の はな
kabe no hana

(used just like we do in English)






A celebrated flower;
a beautiful woman.


The first flower of the season;
a girl's first period.



A pinwheel.


A cut flower in bloom;
a glorious death.


Fruitless flower;
something that is flashy with no content.


なみ の はな
nami no hana

The crest of a wave.




(see yesterday's post)

いわぬ が はな
iwanu ga hana

Not speaking is a flower;
Silence is golden.


  • 雪 (ゆき;yuki) is more commonly used for snow; 天花 is more poetic.
  • ピーナツ (Pi-natsu) is more commonly used for peanut. 落花生 is taken from the Chinese, where, apparently, the peanuts came from.
  • Much love to Defendership for the photo shopping of those last two pictures.