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Friday, February 13, 2009


Even More Japanese That Ain't in The Book

~Feelings, nothing more than feelings~ Part 1 of X

Yet another installment of words and phrases "to help make your 言い回し more 日本人ぽい."
Today, we're going to look at some of the nuances in useage of a whole lot of words used to talk about conditions, mood, feeling, or atmosphere. This is a rich topic, so it will probably turn into more of a series of posts. There is an entire post to be written about each and every one of these words, but hopefully you'll be able to glean enough information here to give yourselves a solid foundation to start doing some learning by experiencing Japanese language firsthand. (Thanks to Jeff for getting this list started!) Today we are going to focus on the essential building block of feelings/emotions, also known as:


essence, nature, energy

気 is probably one of the most important words and concepts that you will come across while studying Japanese. It has all kinds of definitions, but in general there seem to be about 5 will help you understand most phrases that you might come across:
1) The basic energy that runs through the universe (kind of like The Force)
2) Life-energy
3) The mind and/or heart, and their various states
4) The atmosphere or essence of a specific place or scene
5) The essence of a given thing; the aspect of a given thing that makes it what it is
If you've ever watched Kung-fu movies, I believe that this is what is commonly referred to as "chi" in the Chinese terminology (though since I'm not a Chinese-speaker, you will have to take that with a grain of salt... or wikipedia). That being said, let's look at some 慣用表現 (かんようひょうげん), or idiomatic expressions, that make use of this character, if only to gain some kind of familiarity with it.

ki wo tsukeru

to be careful; to pay attention

I'm sure that all of you have already heard of/make use of this phrase fairly often. It was certainly the first context in which I learned the word 気, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was true for most Japanese-learners. It is fairly simple; one "attaches" their mind to a specific thing. This is usually used as an admonition to have your mind on whatever you are doing at the time. Notice that a similar construction is used in the intransitive:

気が付く or 気づく
きがつく or きづく
ki ga tsuku OR kidzuku
(pronounced kizuku)

to realize; to notice

This is another simple one. It is when your mind or heart attaches to something - that is, realizes it, when something that had escaped your notice before suddenly becomes clear to you. Note that 気づける, which one might try to say as a contraction of 気をづける, actually becomes the potential form of this verb.

ki ni naru

to worry about, to wonder about, to be on one's mind

This is another good one, which perhaps some of you don't know. Most people first learn this as meaning "something is worrying me." For example:
I'm worried about DY's lack of updates recently. I wonder if they're ok?
How sweet of you all to worry about us! There are other uses, too. For example, you might use it to talk about something (someone?) you want to know more about, either in a good way or a bad way. Something might be, for example, 気になるNirav情報満載! That would mean its full of the Nirav-info that you've all been wondering about! And what a wonderful thing that would be.

気を遣う OR 気遣い (note the kanji usage! 使う is wrong!)
きをつかう OR きづかい
ki wo tsukau OR kidzukai

to consider someone, to worry about someone

Japanese-learners are often faced with the fact that Japanese society tends to be very concerned with appropriate levels of politeness and decorum. Part of this is 気遣い. Put roughly, it means to consider someone's wants or needs, often without being asked. For example, putting out some tea and/sweets when someone comes to visit might be an example of 気遣い. Slowing down or going easy on an amateur is another example. People sometimes use this sarcastically, but that is a topic for another day.

ki ga kiku

considerate, sharp (as in smart)

People whose 気遣い is on target will often be told that their 気が利く. 利く here means to function or be useful. In other words, if you are a good host, you will know in advance what your guests will need. You can also use it to describe someone who is mentally sharp.

ki ga au

to get along well

When your 気 and someone else's 気 match up, that means your specific essences match up, and you get along well. When they don't match up, trouble ensues!

ki ni kuwanai

ki ni sawaru

to get on one's nerves, to not be able to stand

I put these together because they have essentially the same meaning, although as I understand it 気に障る is more serious. You might notice that 障る is read the same way as 触る. There is a whole post in this, but for now, imagine the feeling of someone 触る-ing your eyeball. That's how I think of the meaning of 障る. And that is the feeling I get when I meet someone who really gets on my nerves. Stop touching my eyeballs!

ki ga sumu

to be satisfied, to get something out of one's system

Notice the 済む here (also notice that it is NOT 住む). This character means "to end" or "to be over with." (For example, paying off a loan is called 返済; something that is already spoken for is 約束済み; etc, etc). It can also mean "to subside" or "to clear." Here, your 気 is full of desire to do something - be it cry, scream, play a prank, whatever. Once you've gotten on with it, you can say that your 気が済んだ and you are done with it. Often times you will be asked それで気が済んだのか? (Is it out of your system now?)

ki ga chiru

to lose one's concentration

You know when you're trying to study, but there are gunshots outside? Or when you are trying to put together a blog post, but someone keeps g-chatting you? That's the kind of thing that really makes your 気 散る. Think of 散る as things falling haphazardly (perhaps your belongings all over your apartment, or the leaves off of a tree). When this happens to your 気, you lose your ability to focus.

Focus, people, we're almost done.

ki wo hikareru

to be distracted

This is slightly different from the above, in that it is more like your mind wanders. Rather than have an external shock (like someone yelling at you), you might be writing your blog post and get distracted by the TV, or by the book on your desk, or by the food in your refrigerator, or by....

Ok, anyway, now that you've got a basic (though by no means exhaustive) idea of what 気 is, next time we go through some of the more complicated 熟語 that contain it, and related words that it would be a good idea to distinguish/differentiate. Until then!

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