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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

When I was a kid, I used to drink a lot of ginger ale. Before I ever knew what 'ginger' or 'ale' was, I started drinking it and "ginger ale" existed in my mind as a single unit of meaning: it was a fizzy drink, it was the color of Coke mixed with water, and it was the only thing besides tomato juice at my grandmother's house.

It wasn't until I was 19 years old, and eating sushi in America for the umpteenth time when I had the revelation that the very same ginger I was using to cleanse my palette between pieces of raw fish, was possibly related to "ginger ale," and when it hit me I was like, "Whoa." And then I moved on quickly.

What I'm trying to say is that learning Japanese is EXACTLY like that. Well, maybe not exactly. But... pretty much. For example, when I first got to Japan. I knew the words 「楽しい」 and 「おいしい」 as descriptive adjectives, and when I first heard someone say 「楽しんで」, I thought, "Hey, that's neat."

For about three weeks, Japanese people who came to my house to eat let me continue to say 「おいしんで」 before someone finally explained to me that 「楽しんで」 only works because there's a 「楽しむ」 verb.

Point is, when you learn a language through immersion, first you hear something, then you take it in, and only later, if you're lucky, do you start to figure out how the language works.

So today's post is something that was a bit of an embarrassing revelation for me, mostly because it reflects on how much I didn't know.

One of the first words that I learned in the Japanese language class I shared with the other Yo-ji guys, Nirav and Brett, was 臭い (くさい: kusai), because our teacher, Ogawa-sensei, used to call Brett a 臭いヤンキー all the time. When somebody in the class translated it (she didn't speak any English), it came out as "stinky." And we thought that was hilarious, Brett actually being such a foul-smelling punk-ass. The more subtle connotations of "shady" and "suspicious" didn't come across at the time. He just smelled bad.

Later, I learned the word メンドクサイ (mendokusai) as a completely separate entity, without the advantage of knowing the words 面倒 (めんどう; mendou) or 面倒 (めんどい; mendoi). The second means "troublesome" or "bothersome," and the first means "difficulty" or "trouble," but it can also mean "attention" or "care," as in 「子供の面倒: caring for children.」 So even though I knew from the beginning that メンドクサイ meant "pain in the ass," it wasn't until much later that I realized the connection. メンドクサイ is used to refer to something that requires so much care and attention that it reeks.

At least that's how I think of it. Some websites will define 臭い as functioning like ~らしい, but when I realized how many of the words made with 臭い lend themselves to a "stinks" interpretation, I was sold on it.

Warning: Just like メンドクサイ, all of these words are subject to the rules of Japanese profanity. In other words, the tone and force with which you say them can turn them into something very offensive.


reeks of lies.

Not only can this be used literally, to call b.s. on someone, but it's also used for things that have a generally phony air. Japanese people might say it about every overseas sushi restaurant run by non-Japanese. Or they might say it about some of the tacky, tourist-trappy re-creations of overseas destinations right here in Japan, like fake Venice or fake Easter Island.


stinks of inexperience; tastes too strongly of raw herbs; grassy-smelling; smells like blue?

No, it doesn't actually have anything to do with this awesome cheese, but I've heard it said of bad green curry, and of things too heavy on cilantro; I've even heard it explained as "緑の味がするっという意味." Coming from a culture that doesn't consider colors to smell or taste of anything, that didn't help much, but it's not that much of a stretch to see where this comes from. When you take into account the fact that green and blue are often interchangeable in Japanese, you can also understand how inexperience and general newbism might be labeled "blue" as well.


fishy; raw; smelling of fish or blood; undercooked.

Pretty straight forward, but even cooked food can be 生臭い。In America, we often say that you can tell when fish is no good when it tastes or smells like fish. In Japan, with its preference for 繊細な flavors, when meat still tastes too much like blood or meat, it's 生臭い。That's why many Japanese people do things like wash chicken before they cook it or soak raw pork in sake, to remove residual odors.


smells like dudes.

I was told that this could be used to describe things like locker rooms, sausage parties, or the sports club shed, or a bachelor pad. But when I asked what you would describe with 女臭い, I was told "Nothing. Women don't smell." I wasn't about to argue with this kind of statement, but even if I was inclined to try to find support for a contradictary position, researching post for The Daily has taught me better than to try looking up "smells like women" on the dirty, filthy, 男臭い internet. (koff koff)



あほ you might recognize if you're an anime or manga fan. Someone else might want to confirm this for me, but I think it's a convention that when someone does something stupid or embarrassing in one of these mediums, nearby crows start cawing 「アホアホ.」 Other than sounding vaguely like a bird noise, あほ means "fool," "idiot," or "jackass." あほくさい is simply "ridiculous."


stinks like foreigners.

For those foreigners who take 外人 to be an unforgivable xenophobic slur, this one's gonna hurt even more. But this is interesting: despite confirming with 3 or 4 immediately available native speakers that this is something that gets said, a Google search for 外人くさい gives very few direct results. Some of the results that it does yield though range from offensive, to rational (the first response, here), to HILARIOUS (You've GOT to check out otesu kakemasuさん's comment on this page)!

If you know any other good くさい expressions, tack 'em on the comments! よろしく。

Monday, December 29, 2008


はいばん ろうぜき
haiban rouzeki

New Year's Eve and お正月 are just days away, so I wanted to equip you with a yo-ji that you might have the opportunity to use soon! Before we get into why and how you can use it, let's check out the kanji.

You'll come across 杯 most commonly as the counter for cupfuls. 「生1杯」 is one way that you can order yourself a beverage. When it stands alone, however, 杯 is read/pronounced さかずき(sakazuki) and means "sake cup."

盤 are trays or bowls, which you might recognize from 大盤振舞, and gets included in all kinds of kanji compounds, including those for "pelvis," "cave-in," and anything having to do with disc-shaped things, like records. You can check out those compounds here.

狼藉 we already know from 落花狼藉, which is what I love about studying kanji and yo-ji, the more you learn, the easier learning gets. But for the sake of letting this post stand alone, 狼藉 is "violence; chaos; disorder."

So the "chaotic disorder of plates and sake cups?" See where this is going?

1. The aftermath of a (drinking) party.
2. A mess that evidences the cause of the mess.
3. Lying scattered about as after being violently disturbed.

In Japan, the whole holiday season coincides with 忘年会 season. A 忘年会(ぼうねんかい; bounenkai) is an end of the year party, usually celebrated within work circles, or other non-family circles. People who meet for volleyball practice, or 英会話 once a week have 忘年会s, but I have yet to come across a family 忘年会 where the extended relatives and hangers-on are brought in, and I'm a pretty accomplished hanger-on. Please, tell me about your 忘年会 experiences in the comments, so we can compare notes.

The point though, is that if you're looking to brandish your yo-ji skills in front of the people you work with, this would be perfect to work into a conversation at the end of a 忘年会 or any 飲み会 for that matter.

The other opportunity in which I've been able to use it is also a seasonally relevant one: discussing the differences between Japanese and American New Year's celebrations.

In Japan, the New Year is greeted in a jovial, not quite sober but not quite raucous way that starts at 12:00am on January first. Temples all over Japan do what's called 除夜の鐘」 (じょやのかね; joya no kane), and they ring the temple bell 108 times. In many places, visitors to the temples can take part, ringing the bell to sound the New Year.

The following day might include a trip to a shrine, but it's largely dedicated to laying around in front of the TV, eating special New Year's cuisine (お節料理) and drinking special New Year's sake (おとそ) which is like Goldschlaeger sake.

When somebody asks me about American customs for New Year's, I generally say, "Well, it's all about New Year's Eve, and not really about family. People throw huge drinking parties with their friends, watch the ball drop, hope for a New Year's kiss, and get really drunk."

If you get asked about New Year's day, try any sentence that you can think of with 杯盤狼藉. It's probably true.

Due to heavy drinking the night before, Americans spend New Year's Day asleep in houses cluttered with the remnants of New Year's Eve festivities. They're not so much hung-over as they are WRECKED!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Japanese That Ain't in The Textbook

Don't get all excited, we're still not going "Nightly Yoji" on you just yet.

I just wanted to write an entry of words and phrases that aren't really special in any kanji-centric sort of way; they're just things that I never came across in any formal study, but have proved very useful to know for my daily life in Japan.

To quote one Nirav Mehta, "These are the kinds of things that you need to make your 言い回し more 日本人っぽい."

And keep in mind, just because I never saw them in a textbook, doesn't mean they're not in anyone's textbook. I'd prefer not to get comments saying "That's on pg 46 in this book. You suck."

But then, I'd also actually prefer to GET comments.

So we'll throw up three for today, and first of all is: first of all.



at first; for now; we'll begin with

「とりあえず、生」 is quite possibly the most useful phrase I had never heard until I actually got to Japan. Just like 極める、it's one of those words that, Japanese people are surprised to hear a foreigner use and they consider to be "high level." This isn't because it's a hard word or anything, this is because, for the most part, it's a word with a very specific context. It's used most often when ordering food or drinks in a restaurant. The reason I don't really think that it's all that "high level" is because the context in which you are most likely to hear it, is a context to which you are probably exposed to regularly. The 生 in 「とりあえず、生」 comes from 生ビール, which is draft beer. 「とりあえず、生」 is "We'll start with beer."

While in Japan, "We'll start with beer," carries implications that later you'll be switching to the heavy stuff, you should still feel free to use it for any kind of order. It lets your server know that what you're ordering now is only the beginning, and you'll want to order more later. Using this word will save you from having to explain that you want to hang on to the menu, if it's that kind of place. And, while 「以上です」 means, "That will be all," and you use it when you're done ordering, you can combine the two to make 「とりあえず以上です」 to mean: "That's it for now."

Don't treat とりあえず as though it's interchangeable with まず though, because the nuances are a little different. I'd love to get a native speaker to confirm this for me, but here's how I perceive the difference. ○ means good usage while × means poor usage.

× とりあえず、仕事を探します。できてから、借りるアパートを探し始める。

○ Aさん:アパートが見つかったの?
○ Bさん:ま、とりあえず、仕事を探しています。

Does that make sense? If Emi or Blue would like to help clarify the differences between とりあえず and まず it would be greatly appreciated.

「なになに」 より は まし だ
naninani yori wa mashi da
It's better than [something]
This is one that you can probably already say very easily in a different way. 「XはYよりいいです。」 So why bother with まし? Easy. Because people say it, a lot.

My DS Dictionary lists the following examples:

I would die before I would give in.

It's better than nothing.

I first came across まし in my Japanese language copy of "The Spiderwick Chronicles:"
Sleeping alone would (probably) have been better.
(ましなくらいだ means the same as ましだ, but it's more of a young person's phraseology. Younger people attach くらいだ to the end of adjectives, and it takes some of the strength away from the statement, making it a bit more vague.)

The first time I ever tried to use it, I was with a friend from Tokyo who was complaining about how cold it was in Saga. I got to answer 「だが、東京よりましだろう?」


ii kagen ni shiro
That's enough!
加減 alone, as Nirav enlightened me earlier today, is a great word to know but that you probably won't come across in your basic text books. 加減 means, basically, the correct amount, so (again thanks to Nirav), you can say things like 力の入れ加減 (the right amount of strength to apply), or 焼き加減 (the right amount of cooked!).

いい加減にしろ (using the imperative form of する at the end there), translates as "Make that the correct amount," or in other words, "Stop there." But you can conjugate it through politeness and formality levels so that you could say 「いい加減にしましょうか」, meaning "Why don't we stop right there..." or as written above, 「いい加減にしろ!」 meaning, "FUCKING QUIT IT!"

And that seems like a good note to end this post on. More 教科書に乗っていない日本語 some other time!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

Hi everybody! It's Jeff, and it's been well over a month since the last time I made an appearance on The Daily Yo-ji, so, yeah... sorry?

I came back to Japan on December 1st, and spent 6 days on a strict regimen of Japanese study and yakitori consumption, and on December 7th, I sat the ******* in Fukuoka, which I have vowed not to talk about at all until I get the results in February.

Since then, I've been picking up some money doing Eikaiwas, I got a translating gig that hasn't actually sent me any work yet, and starting in January, I'll be stocking shelves for *******, which I vowed not to post on the internet, because I don't want to get kicked out of the country. At least not before March, when I've got a good shot of getting a legitimate, visa-fied teaching job again.

All of that, however, is NO excuse for not posting on the Yo-ji, because I've definitely had plenty of time. So today's language trivia are directly related to my recent failure to contribute.

うわ の そら
uwa no sora


boutto suru

Both of these words can be defined as "spaced out," but as I've found, the first of the pair, 上の空 has more of a connotation of "inattentiveness." Rikai-chan will add "absent-mindedness," but I think that American English speakers think of that word as synonymous with "forgetful." Here it should be taken quite literally. Your mind is absent.

It's when everyone is talking about something, or there's something pressing that demands your attention, and suddenly the conversation gets directed your way, or the time comes to act, and you realize that you haven't been mentally present for the last five minutes. Or if you zone out during practice, and suddenly there's a football in your face-mask.

When using it in a sentence to explain why you dropped the ball, you might be inclined to try to add に and use it as a location, because it can be thought of as "the upper part of the sky," I'm not sure this is correct. Native speakers simply say 「上の空でした,」 which might stress more of the concept of blankness, or emptiness that 空 connotes.

The second piece of language trivia is, I think, one of those fun phrases, unique to Japanese like じっと見る or はっきり言う, where ぼうっと matters more for the sound of the word than for any unit of meaning it might contain. ぼうっとする is to just completely space out, and it's what I've been doing more often than I should. If somebody asks me what I did today, I (wouldn't but) could answer honestly, 「ぼうっとした。」

Other than ways to pass time, or states of existence, both of these are also passable ways to excuse yourself if you ever pull one of those non-native speaker stunts where you tune out when the conversation's not directed at you, and then suddenly someone brings you back in. Saying 「聞いていませんでした、」 SoftBank お兄さん style is a little abrupt, so saying 「すみません、上の空でした,」 would probably flash your Japanese skills and divert everyone's attention from your rudeness. 「すみません、ぼうっとしていた、」 means the same thing, but doesn't sound as nice.

As far as other usages go, if you wanted to say something sweet to a boyfriend or girlfriend, you could try saying something like this: 「仕事中だったのに」 or 「パーティで、皆と盛り上がるはずだったのに、上の空であなたの事を想い出した。」 "Even though I was at work," or "Even though I was surrounded by everyone (else) having a good time, I was miles away, lost in memories of you."
Choose your target wisely though. The line is remarkably similar to one of the lyrics of a popular Japanese song from the movie"Swallowtail Butterfly" by pop star Chara.

It's a great song, but I was amused to see that her pronunciation of 事 is off enough that an internet search for the lyrics reveals a number of people who have, jokingly or otherwise, posted 「あなたの肩を想い出した。」

Friday, December 5, 2008


すいぜん さんじゃく
suizen sanjyaku

The Daily Yoji is serious business. Or rather, Yoji jukugos themselves are pretty serious business. They can be profound, apt, or just plain cool, but not many earn the title "funny" before we get our editorial mitts all over them. My goal this time was to try and find one that evoked some humor outside of our example sentences, and I hopefully have it here. Even better - it becomes educational by the end.

As per the recent stylings of my rapping cohort, Nirav, the Mehtahuman Indian whose bowels operate like a furnace that can only be stoked by foods rating 2,000,000 Scovilles or higher, I'm gonna break this badboy down.

垂 can be found in 垂れる (たれる), ie to drip, hang, sag, trail, etc. It honestly (and sadly) took me some digging to find that word, so remember it, because I know I will.

涎 is where things get fun. I had to look this one up, too, and found よだれ - drool. The two together give you すいぜん, or "watering at the mouth," used in the same way it's found in English.

三 is 3, of course, and 尺 is our educational bit. But we'll tackle that after the:


1. Drooling over something.
2. A pressing desire.

The part that makes this phrase a bit funnier is the 三尺. A long time ago, Nirav touched on the fact that Japan has a non-metric system of measurement it... er, appropriated from China. Though it's not nearly as prevalent as America's "let's all just make up units of measurement and see how it works out" system, it exists in tiny little aspects of Japanese life. 四字熟語 are one such area, where the post linked at the beginning of this paragraph and Jeff's 悪事千里 both contain 里. I remember Nirav explaining the り reading of 里 to me a long, long time ago, when I only read it as さと, ie village. One could say I've come 千里 since then.

Anyway, aside from old-school idioms, you'll also catch the 尺貫法 (しゃっかんほう) in farming, carpentry, and real estate. The former two employ the system for tools and land, while the latter is one of the most common ways people express "square-feet" of a home - 坪, or つぼ, which is about the area of two standard tatami mats. Figuring out how big your house is becomes a piece of cake if it's covered with tatami.

Anyway, touching back on the yoji, the full literal translation comes out to "three feet of drool". Don't say I never gave you anything.

Tagging off to Nirav for the...

Example Sentence:
I don't know if he was after the models or the games, but either way, Brett was drooling all over the Tokyo Game Show.

PS. I actually had this all up and ready to go on Wednesday night...when I did a last Google of the phrase and scrolled down to find almost exclusively Chinese sites. Whoops. But there ARE over a thousand hits for Japanese websites, albeit mostly explanatory ones. So count this as a rare one.

Monday, December 1, 2008


hyakusetsu futou

Since the last yoji was slightly more "warm and fuzzy" than usual, today's is going to be slightly more defiant, and, okay, cool.

Seeing as how most of the phrases and words which actually describe my character are not quite good things to be, I think I'm going to start doing things that I aspire to instead, in the hopes that the tone of the Daily Yoji will become just a little more positive.

I know that I am in the middle of studying for exams, and that many of you (including my fellow yoji-writers) are studying for exams of your own, whether the 日本語能力試験 or whatever other tests you may be facing (TOEFL, TOEIC, whatever the English exam du jour is these days). I know from experience that exam studying is never easy, and that it's a path full of setbacks and disappointments, but the hope is that this yoji will inspire you to overcome those problems and not get discouraged by them.


Going through all of the kanji in the last example, I think, proved to be useful not only in explaining the meaning, but in giving me ideas for future posts (which, as you may be able to tell, should become more numerous as the urge to procrastinate increases), so I am going to go through all the characters again. The first character is 百, which I'm sure you all will recognize as the number 100. Along with its (larger) counterparts 千 and 万, it is also used to signify any large, indeterminate amount.

折 is another good kanji to know, in part because it has a number of, at times, disparate meanings. The meaning you are most likely to run into during the course of daily life is, of course, to turn (as in 右折 and 左折, right and left turns, respectively). Another important meaning is to fold or break (as in 折り紙 or 骨折). This character becomes really interesting when you use it metaphorically to describe the flow of events in life. Recall my earlier post of 紆余曲折. In that example, I described it as "horizontal," meaning that it was not necessarily a good or a bad thing, but just a new direction that presented itself. Sometimes 折 has this neutral meaning. Sometimes, it can have a good meaning, in that the new direction presents a new opportunity as well. (Look up 折柄.) At times, it can also have a negative meaning, and that is the one present here. Rather than being a turn on the path of life, I think of this as more of a setback in (or a break from) your plans. You see this in words such as 挫折, 屈折, and their brethren.

Relative to the other characters in this phrase, 不 is uncomplicated. Think of it as a negative modifier - "not." Finally, we have 撓. This character is not part of the 常用漢字 (the 1945 characters designated by the Japanese government as the ones necessary for literacy - and, not coincidentally, all of the characters you are responsible for 日本語能力試験1級). This is the first phrase that I ever learned that contained it, although since learning it I have seen it in a few other contexts. It seems to have the meaning of "droop down," as in a tree branch heavy with snow. So imagine a tree branch, warped and bent in a hundred places, yet still not breaking, and you will have the essence of this phrase.

1. Indefatigability
2. Perseverance
3. Unbreakable spirit

Example Sentence:
I'm always impressed with Mario's unbreakable spirit. Not everyone can keep chasing the princess after going to the wrong castle all those times.

Ok, I know I promised a more uplifting yoji this time, but I couldn't resist the urge to nerd out. I promise, the next one will really be more positive!