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

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Internets are Gone!

Hey guys,

Just a quick post in response to Sash the Red's comment on Brett's Nanpa part 2. The reason postings have been sparse lately is largely due to the fact that I FINALLY moved out of Brett's apartment and into a new one. When you move in Japan, it takes anywhere between two and four weeks to get your internet up and running again, so until today, I haven't been able to even read the Daily Yoji, let alone update it. But I have some free time next week so I can (like today) steal Brett's internets and bring you a couple of good posts that I've been saving. And my own internet will be officially up and running on February 5th, so we should be back to business with our usual semi-regularity.

In the interim, does anyone have any requests? Would you like more 諺, more 教科書に載っていない日本語? More Language Trivia? More cultural trivia? More pictures of Nirav? It's always good to get your comments, even better to get your corrections, and we would love some suggestions as well.

(Keep in mind that our content rich 四字熟語 posts, despite being fun to research, can be time-consuming and pretty taxing to write, so at our best we'll probably only hit three a week.)



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Japanese Trivia of the day - ナンパ Part 2 of 2

And now the second chapter of our ナンパ series!

If you haven't yet, make sure you catch up on Part 1. It's not essential, but how can you have your pudding if you don't eat your meat?

As promised, let's cover some ナンパ仕方(nanpa shikata), ie "Methods of Flirting" that you might find on the ol` 日本列島.

くどき もんく
kudoki monku

This phrase was first explained to me as "pick-up line," but I've since developed some problems with that translation. 口説き is a noun form of 口説く, which means to seduce or persuade. 文句 simply means a phrase. For example, 決まり文句 (きまり もんく) is another excellent expression to know. It means a set phrase, ie the whole "はじめまして、こちらブレットです。よろしくお願いします" and all that good stuff. It also can mean platitudes, cliches, etc, but that's an explanation for another post. 口説き文句, then, is an expression or phrase used to seduce. While on the surface this matches up pretty well with "pick-up line," there are some fundamentals of each phrase that don't match up.

I didn't gather what said differences were until I gave an assignment to my 英会話 students. I had just learned the expression and was really eager to find a few Japanese examples, seeing as there is no shortage of cheesy/bad American pick-up lines. Alas, my students came up dry, even though I thought two women in their 20s and 30s would be able to recall at least a single 口説き文句 between them. I made it their homework assignment to ask everybody they could think of for a good example of a Japanese pick-up line, and I even gave them a few classic bad American samples for guidance. ("Did it hurt?" "Did what hurt?" "When you fell from heaven") A week rolls by, and here is the one expression they came back with:


I initially thought this was the scariest - and thus funniest - thing you could possibly say to somebody to pick them up at a bar. A lot of American pick-up lines will get a girl's eyes rolling, but few have the police-summoning abilities of this gem.

Sadly, my amusement was short-lived when they explained this is the kind of thing you say to somebody before you intend to marry. It makes a LOT more sense in a context where "till death do us part" is also one of the vows. I'm not sure if the fault lied in the original meaning of the phrase 口説き文句 or in my ability to describe American pick-up lines, but my quest continues.

Jeff reminded me of another one that goes something like "お日明けのコーヒーを飲もう!" or "Let's drink some coffee together at dawn," thus implying sexy times will occur through the evening. However, Google is thwarting my attempts at confirmation... anybody care to verify this one/offer one of their own? There are no words in English or Japanese to describe my disappointment at having no really solid examples of Japanese pick-up lines, and only you can save me.


Although flirting can be a very nuanced process in the States, a lot of the members of the "soft faction" are shockingly forward in Japan. I don't profess to be an expert in either culture and so maybe the distinction is not as pronounced as I imagine it to be. But I would imagine that there is a general American idea of going to a bar to pick up women. There are a few other places, of course - clubs, weddings... funerals?

The big difference with Japanese "nanpa" is that it doesn't really need a venue. It certainly can benefit from one, but it is not uncommon to hear of "street nanpa." Even an idle search on Google for 「ストリートナンパ」 snags an easy 146,000 hits, proving the art form is hardly antiquated. The following is a quick (though on the extreme side) of how things may go down. To lower the sleaze factor and up the funnies, we found a clip where the ナンパターゲット is some random unsuspecting Japanese dude.

Besides simple street stalkings, the other weird place one might observe ナンパ is in front of convenience stores. This anomaly is just as strange as it sounds. We first and most frequently encountered コンビニナンパ when returning home from a long night at the bars. Since the drinking and driving laws are so tight in Japan (thought mostly because we don't really have cars), we always end up walking or riding bikes home. This more often than not results in an obligatory stop at either the 7-11, the Daily Yamazaki (in the days of yore), or both, since Nirav was often compelled to buy milk and cough drops at the last second before we got home. We never knew what happened to either purchase.

Anyway, we soon realized that a lot of the people parked outside of convenience stores would simply hang around, either waiting in their cars or - weather permitting - ヤンキ-crouching out front. Some had come a pretty good distance just to laze around a convenience store, so we investigated, and bam: コンビニナンパ entered our vocabulary. The meaning: trolling around convenience stores looking for women to flirt with. And yes, you guessed it - there's no objective of one day telling your kids you met mommy at the 7-11, though you might have a more interesting story to tell your friends the next day.

This post, like the last one, is beginning to explode out of control, so I'm going to use a shortcut and throw a few links at you for further reading.

These two were some of my main sources for the previous ナンパ post, and they contain a few other bits of information as well.

Number two here is the reason this post was late and nearly made me rethink the two part structure of these posts. It's a guide written by the self-described "nanpazista," some guy (or several guys?) who has devoted a ridiculous amount of his time to both nanpa and teaching the art of nanpa. First warning: It's all in Japanese. Second warning: It OOZES sleaze. Here are some examples of topics: getting a girlfriend by Christmas by taking advantage of holiday spirit, ways to string a girl over to a love hotel, and how to effectively nanpa a girl who already has a boyfriend. Good times! Also, look out for the section on コンビニナンパ, where there are actually diagrams of how to approach girls. Strategic!

If you have any further notes or questions about nanpa, hit us up in the comments. If there is enough interest, we might see the nanpa section live on, if only in the form of translations from the Nanpazista's crazy website!

Friday, January 16, 2009


ちょうとつ もうしん
chototsu moushin

We're a good two years late with today's yo-ji, as it would be most appropriate had we published it during the year of the boar. But since we're not going to wait another ten years for it to cycle back around (Hell, Nirav might not even LIVE another ten years), looks like boar's on the menu today!

猪(いのしし; inoshishi) is the kanji for 'wild boar,' which can still be seen in mountainous parts of Japan. On the Okayama leg of my hitch-hiking trip, I was in a car that almost ran one over, and my driver was actually disappointed that we hadn't. Why? Because inoshishi meat is delicious.

突 is most commonly found in the verb 突く, meaning to 'pierce' or to 'prick,' as in 「針を突く」; it has a general connotation of 'stabbiness,' but here it might be better read as "thrust."

猛 gets attached to just about anything to make it 'fierce,' 'violent,' 'wild,' or 'intense.'

And 進, you'll recognize from 進む, to move forward. It means 'progress,' which you may recall from 日進月歩.

1. Pig-headedly powering forward.
2. Foolhardiness; recklessness
3. Diving in headlong without considering the consequences.

As you may have noticed, this yo-ji makes an excellent companion to yesterday's 表現 Break: 生兵法は大怪我のもと. While 生兵法は大怪我のもと describes the results, 猪突猛進 applies to the person who acts on nothing but 生兵法 and ends up with the 大怪我.

Beyond characterizing people who happen to be 猪同士, like yours truly, this phrase is useful in lots of ways. It can be broken down into it's component parts, for example. 猪突: all the recklessness with none of the progress, or 猛進: a mad dash without necessarily connoting high levels of risk (think "a mad dash to the finish line).

And it doesn't always have to be a bad quality. Just as in English, people who are stubborn sometimes get praised for their stubbornness. Someone who sets their mind on achieving a goal and get it done no matter what it takes, that could fall into the realm of 猪突猛進. After all, charging forward without heeding the consequences can have positive results, right?

And when advising someone not to worry so much and just go for it, to just dive in and see how it goes, you could use the same phrase, as the 四字熟語 データバンク does in their example sentence, which we will borrow:

What if you stopped worrying about failure and just went for it? You might be surprised by how well it works out.

Final note: for some reason, this example sentence really, really makes me want to link 疑心暗鬼, so here it is. Maybe you could tell someone was 疑心暗鬼になっている to 失敗を恐れず猪突猛進してみて?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

表現Break: 生兵法は大怪我のもと

なまびょうほう は おおけが の もと
namabyouhou wa ookega no moto

I've recently been finding myself afflicted by a form of "Nihongo Senior-Moments," wherein I forget ridiculously easy Japanese that I know that I've known for a long time, yet somehow just can't get out when needed (apparently this is one of the little-known side effects of leaving Japan and going to law school). This is not one of those times, at least I don't think; somehow, as much as it completely blows my mind, I don't think I ever saw/learned this phrase until very recently, when I was watching a DVD of 8時だヨ!全員集合!, a well known comedy show from the 70's and 80's. Though I couldn't find the actual clip that contained this phrase on youtube, I did manage to find another, equally funny clip, which you should watch before TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting... Station?) decides to exercise its copyright and have it removed.

So, what does this have to do with 生兵法は大怪我のもと? Does this post continue my long-standing tradition of only posting about things that could be used to describe my own (mis-)adventures? Is there going to be more blatant usage of google images to provide illustrative pictures? All in good time, children. All in good time. Good time being now.

Let's take a look at the kanji that make up this phrase. The first one should be familiar to most of you by now, especially those of you who, like me, enjoy beer (FACT: this was the first kanji I learned EVARRRR). If you ever want to make a Chinese-language speaker's head spin, tell them how many readings this character has in Japanese. My dictionary gives about 20, plus another 10 or so if you include the 名乗り readings, or how you might read this character in someone's name. The reading that we are interested in here is "nama," which means "raw" or "green." (It also has other meanings, but those are more fit for the ever-upcoming Nightly Yoji.) Draft beer, incidentally, is referred to as "raw" beer in Japan, and it was on a bottle of Asahi Super Dry in a sushi restaurant many years ago that I was introduced to this reading and meaning, just a few short weeks after I first started learning Japanese. This auspicious beginning means that in my mind this character has only good connotations; unfortunately, here, it has rather negative ones; its meaning is closer to "raw," as in "inexperienced" or "unpolished" - someone who gets too big for their britches.

Wrong in so many wonderful ways...

兵法 is a two-character compound which stands for exactly what it sounds like. 兵 (perhaps better known as hei) means "soldier," and 法 means "law," giving us "strategy," or, according to the interwebs, "The Art of War." Modify this with the aforementioned 生, and you get a half-baked idea of how to wage war, or by extension of how to do anything, really. And when you try to put this idea into action, you get an 大怪我, which is literally a "large wound." Finally, もと seems to be written in kana for the most part, though it also comes up as 基 sometimes as well. Regardless, here it means "the source." Now that we know what all the parts mean, we can get ourselves around to a

1) A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
2) People who don't know what you're doing, check yo'selves before you wreck yo'selves.

To myself, to all you other Japanese-language learners, and indeed to all language learners regardless of target language, I think that this is capital advice. I can't tell you how many times I have thought to myself "But I used 100000% correct Japanese! How come they gave me the pickled fish-balls instead of the ice cream?" (Note: This is in no way meant to diminish the deliciousness of fish-balls [srsly]. But when a man wants his ice cream, dagnabbit, he wants his ice cream.) Though there are certainly examples of the "selective hearing" phenomenon out there, there are quite a few of us making ridiculous mistakes that we just aren't recognizing as such. Here's an example from my own experience:
If I had just scored 2 points higher on last week's test, I could have passed!
Wow, you were really close!
It's so detailed~!

Alas, I had mistaken くわしい for くやしい, and had myself an embarrassing 日本語-fail. I'm not saying don't try to use new words in conversation, or even that you should be scared to have a few fails here and there. Just, you know, proofread (and have someone else proofread for you) before you publish a translation or get a tattoo.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jokes That Japanese People Might Not Get:

With all of the effort you put into reading and trying to use our 四字熟語, imaginary readership, you might find yourself tempted to try and make jokes using them, or out of them. My advice is this: Don't.

Now that I'm back in Japan but not yet regularly employed, one of the things that I've been doing to make ends meet is working at a local bakery. I've actually been able to use a number of yo-jis in the course of conversation there:

: (re: learning Japanese so I can shove it in Brett's face)
孤軍奮闘: (re: the boss's joke that I would have to come in to work tomorrow, even though the rest of the company has a day off)
画竜点睛: (re: the chocolate cream breads that someone (me) tried to put out for display before the chocolate cream was in them)

But today, when we were making these cow face cream pastries (モウモウクリーム), and I noticed that the chocolate ear spot had fallen off of one, the head bakery dude (パン長?) said 「いいよ。色々な牛がいるから、」and I replied 「そうですね。十牛十色,」 I may have taken things too far.


If you want to joke with your 四字熟語, there are a couple of things you want to make sure of first.

One is that the target of the joke knows you well enough to figure out that you are in fact, making a joke, and not just retarded. I've mentioned before the frustration of the non-native speaker in Japan. If you say something that doesn't match up to their imagined responses, Japanese people around you are more likely to assume that you made a mistake than to try to figure out if what you said has another meaning.

The second thing is that your yoji-juku-joke is an established one. Your best bet is to go with one of the common jokes that we've mentioned before in the comments, but would be good to include in a real post.

There's 焼肉定食, infamous for being the answer most Japanese students provide when given the following problem: Complete this 四字熟語:_肉_食.

And then there's 鹿素麺, which is a mangling of 四面楚歌.

Do you know of any other humor-fied yoji out there?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

表現 Break: 取らぬ狸の皮算用

Do you guys know the Tanuki?

The Tanuki, or Racoon Dog as he gets called in English, is a mischievous prankster animal, who shows up all the time in Japanese folklore and mythology. He can range from mildly annoying sake thief, to romancer of farmer's daughters, to a ravenous bean eater who murders an elderly woman, makes soup out of her, and feeds said soup to her husband as is the case in this CHILDREN'S STORY (Wait until you see what the rabbit does to get revenge)!

He's also famous for having the power to change his appearance, and for having testicles large enough to play the drums on. Or use as a futon.

Today's 諺 is largely tanuki based, but I got too excited when I first heard it, expecting that there would be a bizarre fairy-tale or legend to go along with it. While it does reference skin removal, it doesn't go into the entertaining detail that かちかちやま does. This saying is much more straightforward.

とらぬ たぬき の かわざんよう
toranu tanuki no kawazanyou

1. Don't count your tanuki-skins before you've skinned them.
2. Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

The reason that this saying uses tanukis specifically is because of their rascally wiles and their magical abilities to escape or to talk their way out of trouble before trappers can get their skins off. There are some web definitions that define the saying as covering all range of preparations: estimating hide yield, making profit estimates, borrowing/buying based on those profits, etc, before one even catches the tanuki in question. But the idea is basically the same at heart.

Interesting notes about this saying:
  • Like so many others, it preserves the archaic ~ぬ (= ~ない) form of conjugation.
  • It is often used in shortened form; Just saying 「皮算用」 suffices, which explains why kanji characters that literally mean "skin computation" get Rikai-channed as "an overoptimistic calculation; unreliable account."
  • There are some cool equivalent expressions, like 「先ずウサギを捕まえる: First, CATCH the rabbit」 and 「穴の狢を値段する: Pricing the badger when it's still in the hole.」
You're planning out your course registration, even though you don't even know your entrance exam results? Didn't anyone ever tell you not to count your chickens before they hatch?

Monday, January 12, 2009


きど あいらく
kido airaku

Today's yo-ji is a great one for kanji learners, because the kanji it uses cover a broad range of commonly used words. So we can get through to the yo-ji quickly, I'll refrain from writing out the readings and definitions of the words below. Rikai-chan provides the answers faster than I can, anyhow.

喜: 喜び、喜ぶ、 喜悦、 喜劇
怒: 怒る、 怒られる、 怒り、 怒らす、 怒気、 怒鳴る、 怒髪天
哀: 哀しむ*、 哀れむ、 哀れ、 哀情(not to be confused with 愛情)
楽: 楽しむ、 楽しい、 楽、 気楽、 楽ちん、 音楽、

*This is an outdated way of writing 悲しむ ( or 悲しい and other related words). Just included these readings for the sake of the yo-ji definition.

1. The full range of human emotion
2. Joy, rage, pathos, humor

Using 喜怒哀楽 is pretty easy. You can use it as a noun, with the addition of any particle you want, but the fortunate positioning of 楽 at the end makes it easy for people to use it commonly as an adjective by tacking on ~な.

In terms of applications, you're free to use it anyway you think you can make it work, but I've found two regularly occurring instances that I can share with you:

1. 喜怒哀楽 (な or の) + (time, like 「日々、」 「瞬間、」 or 「毎日」:
This usage speaks to the human condition, the emotional ups and downs of daily life.

If you've ever heard a school related speech in Japan, you know how much emphasis gets placed on the the idea that there will be/have been "tears and laughs, and hard times, and challenges, and happy memories, and fun, and upsetting moments, etc, etc." Japanese students are inundated with the idea that the entire spectrum of feeling is a valuable part of life.

Though this particular phrasing gets used by a lot of people in writing or blogging, you can also use it when you've recently had a particularly turbulent ride on the rollercoaster of life. Have you, say, won the lottery, been dumped, finally finished that novel you were working on, and found out that your favorite steampunk necklace was radioactive in the last week? それは喜怒哀楽な一週間です。

2. 喜怒哀楽が激しすぎる
It can be used to talk about people who are over-emotional.

The construction above is only one way to do this, and I THINK (native speaker check, maybe?) that you could probably accomplish the same feat by reffering to a person as a 喜怒哀楽な人, or by merely saying 「あの人はちょっと。。。喜怒哀楽が。。。」 Gotta love the contextuality of Japanese. It's the other person's responsibility to understand what you're trying to say, even if you don't express it completely. Or at all.

例文: ぼくの彼女は喜怒哀楽が激しいので、かなり気遣いますよ。怒られたかと思うと、ラブラブに戻ります。逆もあります。
My girlfriend's emotions change so fast that it's pretty trying. One second she's mad at me, the next it's back to lovey-dovey. It happens the other way around too...

Friday, January 9, 2009


More Japanese That Ain't in The Textbook

Welcome back for another installment of words and phrases "to help make your 言い回し more 日本人ぽい." Like last time, I'm sure that there are some textbooks, somewhere, that contain these phrases but by and large, you're more likely to happen across them in conversation than to get them fed to you in an academic setting. Here you go:



... as ever; as always; the same

I first heard 相変わらず back in the day when I used to listen to Japanese pod 101 (pronounced イチ-マル-イチ), because the host used to use it in his 挨拶. Back then, basic lessons were available for free on I-tunes, and it looks like they still might be, albeit with some sort of registration. I recommend making use of the free materials. I don't necessarily endorse paying them anything, but then I mostly just used them for easy listening practice when I was still acclimating to Japan.

You'll hear it most commonly, just as I first did: 「相変わらず、元気です。」 "I'm doing well, as always."

Don't let this deter you from using it in any number of ways. Try it with 忙しい、頑張っている、美味しい、大変 (I got to use this last one a lot when comisserating about my old work situation), anything really. You can even attach it to people, or objects to make phrases like "You know him, same old Dad." or "Same old car."

め に あう

me ni au

to go through; to suffer; to experience something (unpleasant)

Courtesy of the Nirav, this one takes an adjective in the front (ひどい、痛い, 臭い, etc) to communicate the idea of having been through an ordeal.

When an American tries to get a Japanese driver's license, it's supposed to be a pretty brutal process.

In those days, we were going through some dangerous times.

I had SUCH a humiliating experience.

ねん の ため

nen no tame

For the sake of confirmation; just to confirm

This is simple, useful, and gets tossed out in professional situations quite a bit, so I'm embarassed that it's taken me so long to follow up on Tae Kim's (of Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Grammar fame) suggestion to post it and other phrases like it, on The Yo-ji.

I tend to use the word 確認 (かくにん; kakunin) more than I use 念のため, but it's extremely handy to have this in your repertoire so you can recognize it when it gets used at you.

Also, make a note that the 念 kanji here is the same as in 記念 and 記念日, as in memorial or anniversary (day), and don't make the common mistake of assuming that 年 should go there.


あっと いう ま に
atto iu ma ni

in the blink of an eye; before you can say 'ah;'
(lit. in the time it takes to say "ah")
though it takes some people longer than others...

This is one that we've made use of at least once on The Yo-ji in the past, but we've never formally introduced it. Here are some examples of natural usage:

That movie's 3 hours long, but it's so interesting that it felt like it was over in no time!

The New Year is upon us so quickly!

Extra Bonus: Japanese that IS in the textbook!


okage-sama de

おかげで」 is one of the earliest 2級 Grammar points, and we glossed over it without breaking stride, because we had also studied it for 3級. It means "Thanks to," and it's really simple. On top of that, almost every introductory Japanese textbook I've ever seen, includes 「お蔭様で」 as the formal way to reply to the question 「お元気ですか。」 The reason it merits mention here is because that it's one of those phrases that native Japanese speakers consider to be "very high level." They consider it so because it's a very polite thing to say, and because younger generations of Japanese people have fallen out of the habit of saying it. So despite the fact that it's one of the most basic 決まり文句 taught in Japanese classes abroad, it will earn you major 偉いpoints and reflect well on your abilities.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

表現 Break: 灯台下暗し

Before I start today's post, I just wanted to say that yes, the title of these sections should really be "諺 Break." 諺(ことわざ:kotowaza), meaning proverb, is really the most apt description of everything we've ever posted under this headings with the notable exception of 怪我の功名. 表現 as it works in Japanese, is probably better used to describe things like 「あっと言う間に」 or 「顔が真っ白」, but I'm going to stick with the headings as is because, well, I'm stubborn, as far as I'm concerned proverbs are kinds of expressions, and because maybe one day we'll explain what those sample 表現 mean.

That out of the way, today's 諺 is a great way to talk about people like me, who get caught up in details like slight errors in the heading of the blog, and let it distract them from the bigger picture:


とうだいもと くらし
toudaimoto kurashi

灯台 is a lighthouse, and with the addition of 下、it becomes "the foot of the lighthouse." The literal translation of this expression then, is "the darkness at the foot of the lighthouse."

Originally, I was told that this proverb expresses that the light is always darkest at the foot of a lighthouse, which my native English brain immediately linked with "the light is always darkest before the dawn."

Of course, this doesn't make much sense, because if you're a person at the foot of a lighthouse, it matters neither that it's dark nor that the light from said lighthouse shines above you. You probably don't need that light. And if you're a ship at the foot of a lighthouse, well, you (and the lighthouse) are pretty much screwed.

So before we get too far down the wrong path, think about what it would mean if you were staring at the ground in the dark, failing to look up and see the light for a better idea of the gist of 灯台下暗し。

1. Can't see the forest for the trees.
2. Can't comprehend something that's right in front of you.
3. It actually becomes more difficult to understand something, the closer you get to it.

Rikai-chan provides translation number 1, above, and though I am indebted to Rikai-chan for it's awesomeness, I think I'm going to have to take issue with this interpretation. For me, saying that someone "can't see the forest for the trees," means that someone is so caught up in details that they miss the big picture. It carries a portion of blame with it. After all, it's not the forest's fault that someone surrounded by trees fails to recognize a forest. 灯台下暗し is not so much about admonishing someone for their failures, it's more about the intrinsic nature of relationships, closeness, and lighthouses.

It's almost koan-like in its paradoxical assertion. The closer you get to something, the more obscure it gets.

You can use 灯台下暗し in a variety of ways, and you can even try linking it to other concepts, like 上の空, which I first heard it in connection with. I was told that a person caught up in the middle of an important event, but is 上の空で構わないこと
に浸ってぼうっとしている, might also be described with 灯台下暗し。

Here are some examples:

My relationship with my aunt is somehow more distant, for being so close.

It's not a "forest for the trees" situation, but they're so used to being too close to each other that they don't recognize it's love.

Before, I had a clear vision of the kind of business I wanted to run. Ever since I opened my shop, though, it's like I can't get a grip on anything. I'm being beaten down by the day to day chores, and can't make any progress at all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Japanese Trivia of the day - ナンパ Part 1 of 2

Although we've mentioned it a few times on other posts, Japanese ナンパ has thus far only been loosely explained as "flirting". It turns out that - surprise, surprise - there is some history to the word. Today we're going to shed some light on the origins of Japanese flirting.

The first thing you ought to wonder about ナンパ is where the word comes from. After all, カタカナ is usually reserved for foreign words, so one's first impression might be that Japanese people didn't really have a solid concept of flirting until Westerners went and mucked the whole thing up (kind of like プライバシー. Hilarious!). The truth is way more complicated, but just as interesting.

The kanji for ナンパ is 軟派, which breaks down to "soft faction/school," which seems to make no sense at first glance. That is until you pair it up with its opposite, 硬派, or "こうは (kouha)", ie "hard faction/school." These words hail from the Showa Period (1926 - 89) and originally had meanings with scopes beyond flirtation.

First, a quick definition from a Japanese dictionary:
1. 意見の柔軟な派。
2. 色情の世界を題材にした文芸。
3. 社会面・文芸面を担当する記者。
4. 異性を相手とする。

Followed by the translation:
Nanpa (flirting):
1. A school of thought that supports flexible opinions.
2. Literature concerning the world of sex/romance.
3. A reporter who works on a local news page or a news/magazine section dealing with definition two.
4. Buddying up with the opposite sex.

The key point to take away from these definitions is that they all carry/ied the connotation of weakness. Somebody who would constantly change their opinions would be considered weak-willed, works of art dealing with eroticism and romance are a frivolity, reporting on the happenings of your neighborhood is no reporting at all, and dudes hanging around with a bunch of chicks should get some tampons for their birthday. Oh what, you gonna cry again? Why don't you talk about your feelings more, wah wah wah, maybe that'll help.
So was nanpa a way of saying something was "sissy?" Looks that way. Which is why it should come as no surprise that 硬派 (kouha) encompassed all the opposite ends of the spectrum: your opinions are rigidly set, you concern yourself with economic, scientific, and political affairs, and love nothing more than to crack open a brew with the guys and watch a football game. Or sumo match.

The modern usage of the word can be described as one's method of getting the ladies. A "soft faction" practitioner, ie ナンパ, would woo his lady friend with words. "Oh, you like The Notebook, too?! Why don't we go up to my room and talk about it!" A "hard faction" (こうは) practitioner, on the other hand, had no need for fancy words, and would rather lure a girl with his manly trappings. Think Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.

So there you have it! The next part of this bit of trivia (likely slated for next week) will delve into a few 日本ナンパ仕方, and how they stack up against American equivalents. AWAY!

PS. To our female readers: Pardon the apparent sexism of this post. It's just that these two terms, like some others we've covered, are inherently... gender-divisive. I'd like to think that the Yoji alienates people equally, regardless of gender, race or creed!

Monday, January 5, 2009


かっけい ぎゅうとう
kakkei gyuutou

This is not the first yo-ji that I've come across that befuddles my Japanese Kanji conversion software, but it is the first I've found that has interchangeable halves. Google tells me that this one is acceptable as either, 割鶏牛刀 or 牛刀割鶏.

Let's check the kanji to find out why:

割 is all about divisions. Read either 「かつ」 (meaning to divide, halve, cut, or any other form of dividing something, ranging from the mild "dilute," to the violent "Smash!") or 「わり」 (meaning the ratio, the proportion, or again "diluted with," for talking about drinks, as in CaptainのCola割り.

鶏 is (にわ)とり and is as straightforward as they come: chicken, of the domestic variety.

牛 is coincidental, I swear. Even though this is the year of the ox, I wasn't trying to foist any cow themed learnings on you. Besides, when it comes to the year, this kanji gets used: 丑. You might remember it from a lengthy post about why Japan is crazy for unagi on 土用の丑の日.

And last but not least, 刀, which most of you will recognize as "katana," and has popped up with a とう pronunciation at least once before on the Daily Yo-ji, in its very early days: 一刀両断 from all the way back in November of 2007.

Anyhow, I have an English equivalent expression for this rolling around in my head somewhere, but I can't seem to grasp it. のどがかゆい!

So I like to think of it as the inverse of that metaphor about "bringing a knife to a gun fight." 割鶏牛刀 is more like "bringing THIS GUN to a knife fight."

Literal: Using a meat ax to carve a chicken.
1. Going to unnecessary and showy lengths to accomplish something simple.
2. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The thing that you want to keep in mind, if you ever have the chance to USE this expression, is that you probably shouldn't. Well, at least not in Yo-ji form. See, the problem is that the phrase 割鶏 (かっけい) is something you will NEVER come across in spoken Japanese. It's rare enough in written Japanese. So any usage of 割鶏牛刀 that I can find solves this problem by employing one of the much more common words that you can make with 割、namely 割く (さく;saku).

Like this: 「鶏を割くに牛刀,」 which means that in today's post, you've effectively learned one yo-ji and one non-yo-ji ことわざ. You're welcome!

例文 (loosely based on true events) :
Brett: coughs.
Fumiko: あなた、そこで横になって、少々お待ちしてね。
Lie down over there and wait, okay?
Brett: 何を?
For what?
Fumiko: 今先、救急車を呼んだから、着く前に死なないようにガマンしてください!
I just called for an ambulance, so PLEASE try not to die before they get here!
Uh... What?
Fumiko: もう、近づかないでお願い!インフルエンザは映すものだわ!
STOP! Don't come any closer! Influenza is contagious!
Brett: おらー!インフルエンザに罹っとらんさ!救急車をカンセルしろお前!
What? I DON'T have the flu! Call off the ambulance!
Fumiko: あなた入院したほうがいいよ!
Babe, you should go to the hospital!
Brett: 咳のため、入院?鶏を割くに牛刀を用いんだぜ!
The hospital? For a cough? That's like amputating for a splinter!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


きんがしんねん, kinga shinnen, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Seeing as how I am the Daily Yo-Ji's one and only "Toshi Otoko" for 2009 (and, before any of you say it, no, I am not 36 or 48. Or 60, dammit!), I hereby take it upon myself to write the 1st Yo-ji of the new year.

As 2008 draws to a close (when this goes up, I, on the East Coast of the US will still be in last year, although those of you in Japan will already be in the future), I think I speak for my compatriots here at the Daily Yoji in expressing my deepest gratitude to you, the reader, for helping us get through the year. In our first full year, we saw a number of changes (hopefully for the better!) including the addition of Brett and myself to the "writing" staff, and the addition of the 2-kyuu grammar and Japanese Language Trivia features. (I know that I, personally, am looking forward to seeing Jeff and Brett continue with the 1-kyu grammar...)

I also want to let you all know that I have firmly resolved (kind of) that, in the new year, I will write oodles more entries for the Daily Yo-ji, hopefully with a more legitimate motif than "things that could possibly be said about Nirav" or "things that Nirav wishes people would say about him." With luck, 2009 will see us solidify our title of foremost Yo-ji Jukugo Site in English (not actually a title we got from anyone, but one that I'm going to go ahead and award to us, anyway).

Which brings us to today's (quite relevant, I might add) yo-ji, 謹賀新年.

The most common place that you will see this yo-ji is on what are known as 年賀状 (ねんがじょう - see the example at left), which translates roughly into "New Year's Greetings Cards." In Japan, Nengajo is serious business, and, as I understand it, all families send out their own to just about everyone they know, but especially those close to them and those with which they had some kind of contact in the previous year (I got ones from co-workers, people whose organizations I had visited, friends, and even the shop where I had bought my motorcycle). I remember visiting my former host-parents in Kyoto for New Year's in 2007, and Nengajo were arriving by the hundreds in the last days of the year, with even a few stragglers after the year had officially begun. They are very proper people, so they might be the exception in terms of number, but most households both send and receive a number of cards every year. Some people buy pre-printed ones, but many people make their own (any stationary store in Japan will have a little "Nengajo Corner" full of stamps, blank sheets, and everything you need to make your own original cards). Japanese people often compare the Anglo-American custom (which, I assume despite having no knowledge, also applies in other Anglophone countries) of sending Christmas cards, and the comparison is valid to a point, although 1) I don't know of many people who make their own cards and 2) Nengajo are sent regardless of religion (although my decidedly non-Christian family sends Christmas cards of one sort or another every year...).

The first kanji of this phrase is 謹. This character can also be read つつしむ, which means roughly "to control oneself" or "abstain." For our purposes, it will be most useful to get out of this a sense of restraint borne of humility - because it is in the phrase mostly to show one's deference to the reader/listener, and make it humble language. 賀 is an interesting character that means "greetings" or "blessings," or even something like "good luck." Brett, Jeff, and I all know it from the place name 佐賀、which is where we all met (although in that case it is most likely just an 当て字, and the meaning itself isn't really relevant beyond its auspiciousness). Put 謹 and 賀 together, and you get "My humble wishes..." This thought is conveniently finished as "...for the new year!" by 新年. 新 is rather easily "new," and 年 is quite obviously "year," and there you have it, a greeting for the new year.




1) Happy New Year!
2) Best wishes for the new year!

Example Sentence(This is going to be a cop out)
On New Year's Day, the mailbox was overflowing with cards wishing "Happy New Year!"



Happy 2009 from The Daily Yo-ji crew in Saga and from Nirav (who, despite his designs on Tokyo,
is all Saga, in his heart). We really appreciate our subscribers and our commenters, and we'll do our best to keep sharing our Japanese learning experiences with you!


-Brett, Nirav, Jeff