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

Monday, March 30, 2009


きき いっぱつ
kiki ippatsu

Though I can't keep up the 1-a-day schedule we normally have when three people are posting, I do think that I'd like to take advantage of the fact that I have total control over TDY for the next few days to do a few more simple yoji's that are in fairly common use and would be good for you to know. Do remember, though, that I'm really just doing these as they come to mind and not really in any particular order, so you shouldn't consider any one necessarily more important that the other.

Let's start off with the characters themselves:
危 is one you may know, meaning dangerous (あぶない is the most common reading, though there is also my personal favorite, あやうい). 機, which you might remember from 機会, or the ever-forthcoming 機嫌, is a little harder to translate, but you might think of it as a chance or a situation. A dangerous situation, therefore, is a 危機, or a crisis. In fact, you can link this word to the last yoji to form 絶体絶命の危機! 一髪 combines 一, which is "one," and 髪, which you might recognize from 髪の毛, or hair (from the top of your head). "One hair" here is used to emphasize the tightness of the situation - the width of a single hair. Which brings us to our:


1. Between a rock and a hard place
2. A critical, delicate situation
3. Close call

It's five minutes to deadline! If TDY isn't updated, it's finished! I, the great Nirav, shall save it in its moment of peril!

All joking aside, the Bruce Lee film known alternatively as "Fists of Fury" and "The Big Boss" in the US was titled in Japan as, ドラゴン、危機一髪! Quite possibly my favorite yo-ji in a movie title EVAR!

Friday, March 27, 2009


zettai zetsumei

Yes, I know, today is Friday, and I promised a KN^4 post, but 1) those take a long time and 2) since I am facing something of a 絶体絶命 situation myself right now (ok, that's a little bit of an exaggeration), you'll have to do with another topical yoji. As an added bonus to make up for the lack of KN^4, this is actually a useful yoji that will likely make your 言い回し more 日本人ぽい, instead of the normal ones that really only serve to make it 語学オタクっぽい.

This yoji derives much of its meaning from the individual characters, so, as always, that is a good place to start.

絶, which appears twice, means to end, to suppress, or to be cut off. 体 is body; 命 is one's life. Note about 命: Japanese has a number of characters/words that can be translated into English as "life." Though this is a Japanese Language Trivia Post/KN^4 post of its own, just be aware here that "life" what we might think of as the quality of being alive, as opposed to the quality of being dead. Hence, you get such phrases as 命ある限り "as long as I am alive," etc., etc. Note also that although 絶体絶命's first two characters are pronounced as 絶対, they are NOT the same. Hence, 絶対絶命 is wrong. Some cursory research has revealed that 絶体 and 絶命 were also the names of "evil stars" in a specific kind of Chinese astrology (九星占い, for those of you interested in firing up those google skills).

So you can think of 絶体絶命 as a situation that is so difficult to deal with that both your 体 and your 命 end up 絶-ing. Which brings us to our:


1) to have one's back to the wall
2) to be between a rock and a hard place
3) to be in serious trouble

Example Sentence:
Tomorrow is the deadline for my paper, and then the day after tomorrow I have an important interview, and on top of all that today my teacher asked me to help with his research until late tonight. I've really got my back to the wall over here!

[None of the above is true, so don't worry about me!]

Now this is a movie that exemplifies 絶体絶命.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Vacation, Again.

Hey guys, sorry bout the lack of post today. Brett's out of town showing his folks around Japan, and I've started my new job training (plus I'm still doing my other jobs) so time is a little short right now. Give us a week or two to get settled and we'll be back on track.


Monday, March 23, 2009


ごくらく じょうど
gokuraku joudo

What with KN^4 posts and 1級 Grammar, we've been giving you an awful lot of useful Japanese lately, and I imagine that all of you wish we'd get back to our old, extremely impractical ways.

So in that spirit, if you find a way to use today's 四字 in a casual conversation, you have my undying respect.

1. Paradise, specifically the pure land inhabited by Amitabha, also known as Sukhavati.

According to the Mayahana school, Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, was once a bodhisattva called Dharmakara, with aspirations for creating a new Buddha realm out of his Buddha merit. He's credited with 48-vows which defined the realm, and laid out conditions for getting into said realm.

Though that might sound intense, Amitabha's school of thought (known as Pure Land Buddhism) was actually a reaction to what he felt was the difficulty of attaining Nirvana through the traditional methods of meditation... so instead, all you had to do to get into the Pure Land was to call Amitabha's name, like ten times or so during your life (18th vow) or to summon Amitabha and his disciples to your death bed.

This meant that ANYONE, including impoverished, or prostitutes, or any social outcast who had previously been denied the chance to receive spiritual services could appeal to Amitabha and have a chance of entering paradise. It began in India, traveled through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and then ran the circuit from China, to Vietnam, to Korea, to medieval Japan, where it became extremely popular for the reasons mentioned above.

(Of course, the 48 vows also stipulate that devotion to Amitabha is the ONLY way into the paradise, which DT Suzuki might say was the EXACT kind of deification that the Buddha warned about when he said "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.")

In any case, it's known as 浄土教 in Japanese, and I feel fairly confident in saying that the only time you'll ever be able to use it is when you're talking about this school of Buddhism.

The aristocrats and nobles of Heian Era Japan believed that after death, praying to Amitabha would allow them to be reborn unto Sukhavati.

I spent a long time looking over the site where I found this last picture, and am 98% sure that there's nothing dirty going on here...

Friday, March 20, 2009


KN^4: More phrases to make your 言い回し more 日本人ぽい.

~Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings~ Pt. 3 of X

Someone wrote a book about me...

After a week off, I'm back with more wonderful words to help describe feelings, or, as we'll see today, status or conditions. We have gotten slightly off of the original topic, but today's words are, in my opinion, among not only the most difficult but also the most useful and important constructions in the Japanese language. Using them correctly will greatly increase the 日本人ぽさ of your 言い回し. (Actually, I just realized that 言い回し ought to get an explanatory post of its own...) Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to do a proper write-up on 機嫌, 様子, or さま yet, so they will have to wait until part 4. Without further ado, I give you:

As I mentioned earlier, Jeff mentioned this word in the very first KN^4 post. It's one of those words that you don't really notice until you've learned it, at which point you start seeing it EVERYWHERE. It's got a few meanings, but is easy enough to understand.

Let's take a quick look at the characters. 加 means to add; 減 means to subtract or lessen. In the end, it's all about balancing these two ideas.

The first (and actually least used) meaning comes into play when you meet a friend or acquaintance who you know has been sick, and you'd like to ask how they are feeling.
A: How are you feeling/doing?
B: It was rough, but thankfully I'm all better now.

Because this word implies that the person being spoken to is sick (and therefore is deserving of 気づかい), you have to be somewhat careful when you use it. I think that sometimes people confuse it with the similarly pronounced "ご機嫌いかが?" which is often used simply as "how are you?" without any implications. This is a big mistake. Making this mistake can cause a serious bout of 迷惑 for the listener, especially if they are worried that they are making you 気を遣う. Now you know the difference, and knowing is half the battle.

How else can you use it? Essentially, it means the level of something. Consider, for example, 進み加減, which means how far something has progressed. (In this way, it resembles 具合 pretty closely.) More often, it means the proper level of something necessary to accomplish a particular goal. In addition to 加減 by itself, you can hybridize with nouns, adjectives, or verbs. Nouns require no connector (such as の or な), adjectives are turned into nouns with ーさ, and verbs are conjugated to their ます stems. Here are some examples:
the proper strength of the flame
the proper amount of cooking-through
the properly level of strength/power to put into something
correct level of sweetness

There are a few specific 加減 words that have interesting/unique meanings, as well. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it will be useful.

saji kagen
prescription, measurement, consideration, reaction
This phrase originally referred to the measuring of medicine with a spoon (さじ). Depending on the doctor's skill with the dispensing 匙, the medicine could be effective, ineffective, or even end up poisoning or killing the patient. 匙加減, therefore, has come to mean the way that one deals with problems or other unexpected happenings, where skill and delicacy are required, or even just to a certain situation in general.
I think everything went well because he dealt with everything skillfully.

going easy, holding back
This is pretty straightforward.

Kobayashi! I'm not going to go easy on you just 'cause you're a human!

the temperature of bathwater
If you've ever lived in Japan, you know the importance of a good bath.
This bath is just right!

damesa kagen
This is used for pretty egregious examples of incompetence. Can also be used humbly when talking about your own failures. (Humility is an important part of making your 言い回し more 日本人ぽい, so expect a KN^4 on that later.)
Looking at the bursting of the financial bubble, I really got a sense of the uselessness of the people involved in the industry. (NB This does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Daily Yoji or any of its writers. Just sayin'.)

checking spice/seasoning levels of food, taste-checking
Another straightforward one. Pretty much synonymous with 味見 (あじみ, ajimi).
Checking the flavor diligently, I fine-tuned it.

a difficult/delicate thing or process requiring close attention to detail lest it go off to one extreme or another
It was a really delicate process, and I ended up spending a lot of effort on it.

ii kagen
enough, already ("enough already," even)
Saved the most commonly heard one for last. Jeff already explained what it means in いい加減にしろ (see the KN^4 linked above), so I won't go over that again. You should know, however, that it has wider usage, too. More than just being fed up with someone and telling them to cut whatever they are doing out, it can also be used to describe a situation where something is ripe for happening, or even overdue.
I figured, I'm an adult, it's well past time for me to leave my parents' house.
I want her to realize already that no one but herself is the causing this problem.

いい加減 can also, however, mean something like careless, useless, half-baked, or lazy.
Being careless with machinery is dangerous!
I've never seen such a useless person until now! (In this sense, it's kind of like 役立たず.)
Are you sure it's ok for you to say such careless/half-baked things?


See you next time on KN^4!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

1級 Grammar 26-30


We're doing our best to prepare for, and hopefully, to help you prepare for the 日本語能力試験1級, but please remember: 1級, by its very nature, consists of grammar that is difficult, highly nuanced, and most of the time, rarely used in regular conversations. That's why it's important that you use our posts as references, to be compared with other study sources, and even more important that you
CHECK THE COMMENTS after each post. We're lucky to receive corrections and clarifications from native speakers and other foreigners more knowledgeable than we, and they don't always make it back into the body of the post. Thanks, and 頑張って!

1級 Grammar 26-30

Why I am still doing grammar is a mystery after the colorful confessions Jeff made last week. I suppose it's only fair, though, after I pretty much threatened his life. But, at long as we're airing Jeff's indiscretions at my apartment, I can fatten up the list a little...

26. ~たところで
Even ~ is of no use

When you want to express the hopelessness or futility of a situation, this one might come in handy. Just take care that you keep that "で" on the end, since ところ is one of those words that lends itself to a thousand definitions.

Ex. ジェフの非人道的犯罪のリストは永遠までも続けられる。百年で百人が書いたところで、全部を記録できない。だからこの記事で、非ブレット的犯罪をばれます。

27. ~だに
even ~

Every bit as tricky as the old grammar point I've linked above. Especially common are cases where だに is followed by a verb in negative form (changing the definition to "NOT even") or an adjective with a negative connotation. Where did all the happy grammar go?

Cases of "考えるだに", "想像するだに", and others where the mere thought of something is enough to get a response are also abundant.

Ex. ジェフは僕のアパートにいりびたっていた間、僕の高い物をすべてヤフーオークションで売った。その商売で得たお金で石弓を買って、毒矢を僕に討った。思い返すだに涙が止らない。

28. ~たりとも
(Not) even a single ~

I know "single" is not actually included in the definition above, but ALL the examples listed in our book are used with some unit measured with "1". "一円たりとも", "一瞬たりとも", "1分たりとも", etc. The explanation says cases like this are most frequent, and since a lot of the people (like us) probably don't have a perfect grasp on when to use it, employing one of something before "たりとも" is your safest bet.

Ex. 僕はアパートから出かけても、安心できなかった。なぜならば、ジェフは駅やインターネットや職場ででも僕について恐ろしいうわさをばらまいたからだ。この佐賀市に僕の顔を見ても逃げ出さずにいられる人は一人たりともいません。

29. ~たる
For those that are ~,

Another expression that doesn't translate well into English, especially given how it usually a applies to a specific set of usages. First off, the phrase that comes before "たる" should be an occupation, organization, or group of some high renown. You wouldn't use it for criminals or your average joe. What you WOULD use it for is police officers, CEOs, or pro athletes. Then the book suggests that 者 is the most common word to come after たる, making the whole phrase something like "Those who would deign call themselves police officers," "警察官たる者." I would've made the translation above more directly related to this if not for the fact that book only says these are the 多い cases, or common ones. As with grammar point 28, I suggest sticking pretty strictly to these guidelines if you want to be understood. Also: it's used mostly in writing.

Remember all that?

Ex. 人間たる者、慈悲を一片すくなくともできるでしょう?と言えばジェフという奴はいったい何のものだ?!

30. ~つ~つ
To ~ and ~
both ~ and ~

Okay - yes, that definition sucks. But a ridiculous number of possibilites can fit into this grammar point. When you actually utilize it, you fill the "~" spaces with either opposite words ("coming and going", "sitting and standing") or a word and its passive tense, like "punch and be punched", or "teach and be taught". To make it work, take the ~ます stems of two words and plant some "つ"s on the end. Oila! Easier than it sounds!

Though also...harder. In trying to make my example sentence, I googled tons of possibilities that I thought would work out, and none of them showed up. Use with caution!!

Ex. ジェフはパン屋さんで働いているから、僕は少し安心できると思った。でもジェフという名の悪魔がパン屋さんでクリームパイを作り、僕のところに来て、そのパイで顔をなぐったんだ!ずっとそのままで彼は行きつ戻りつ、俺を苦痛します。

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


muri yari

Well, you guys seem to have figured out that the way to keep us posting regularly is by telling us how awesome we are in the comments section... and by visiting regularly. Our site traffic has tripled over the last few months, we've found links to ourselves on websites we use and enjoy, and you've given us great motivation to keep on with our JLPT studies.

And since people have mentioned in the past that some Yo-ji is better than no Yo-ji, today I'm tossing up this ateji one for everyone to check out and enjoy.

I haven't had a whole lot of time lately because I'm working two jobs, and trying to organize a bunch of side projects as well (a flamenco night, a photo contest, and a kid's cooking class) so today I thought I could try to find a 四字熟語 that means "burning the candle at both ends." You know, going overboard and working as hard as you possibly can until you exhaust yourself. Unfortunately it seems that in Japanese, you just call that "being Japanese."

So in lieu of that, we have 無理矢理, which, as I mentioned is actually not a real 四字熟語. It's the ateji for the much more common 無理やり.

1. Forcibly.
2. To do the unreasonable.
3. Against one's will.

Used most often to refer to "forcing oneself." "無理やりせんでいい" or the less casual "無理やりしないで下さい" get used to let people off the hook when it comes to things like finishing food or drinks, translating roughly as "You don't have to do the impossible..."

無理やり食べる gets used a lot, but be careful, it doesn't just mean "eating too much," it includes the idea of eating something, or an amount, that you don't want to, 7even style.

It can also be used to talk about overwork, canceling personal plans to do someone else a favor, things like that.

As an added bonus, here's a few idiomatic uses of 無理やり:

無理やり押し込む:To force into, or to wedge into. This is what you would do to a square peg that you had to get into a round hole.

きついT-シャツを無理やり着る:Squeeze yourself into a tiny-t-shirt. You could probably use this with pants too...

ズボンを無理やり脱がせる:To depants someone! (Or to pants someone, which means the same thing, right?)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

表現 Break: 井戸端会議

I've gotten in the bad habit of including things in posts that I want to write full posts on, at a later time. I mentioned today's expression in the body of one of last week's yo-jis, but I wanted to give it it's own space as well. Promise this'll be the last time.

いど ばた かいぎ
ido bata kaigi

1. Gossip.
2. Idle chatter.
3. Water-cooler gossip.

While the Japanese definition above specifies that 井戸端会議 is used in reference to housewives, I left that out of the translations because you could probably use it about gossipy men as well, or for any conversations that could be considered nothing but "rumor factories." Speaking of which, the word 噂 (うわさ; uwasa), also from the Japanese definition, is a great word word to know and use.

"Water-cooler gossip", or even "water-cooler conversation" is my modern interpretation of something that literally means "the meeting at the side of the well," and I'm not sure how well it holds up as a translation, because my American idea of water-cooler chat is more about last night's TV shows than 噂、let alone 人の悪口. Also, I don't know if American office conventions are the same as Japanese ones. In my school office we had a tea room, with a hot water dispenser instead of a water cooler. Hot tea all summer long. And hanging around in the tea room wasn't really encouraged.

"Well-side meetings", on the other hand, seems to come originate from a history of communities that had common kitchens, or at the least, communal water sources, where the women-folk had a chance to gather and talk women-talk.

I'll take this opportunity to remind you of an old 四字熟語 post, because when they say 悪事千里, one of the ways that bad news travels is by way of 井戸端会議.

Also, I enjoy checking out sites that feature cool or interesting bento lunches, and I found this picture of an 井戸端会議 bento! If you're into this kind of stuff, here are two of the sites that I like:


Monday, March 16, 2009


せいてん はくじつ
seiten hakujitsu

To put kind of a cap on the theme that Brett and I accidentally developed last week, comes a yo-ji that's been languishing on our unpublished draft roster for about half a year. 純情可憐 and 清廉潔白 both deal with people of unassailable character. 青天白日 might be what happens when someone who's character is unassailable gets assailed anyway.

All the kanji in here are about the weather, but don't expect it to be used literally all the time. The feeling and the sense of a bright blue sky and broad daylight are used to express something else.

1. Being transparent, beyond even the slightest doubt or suspiscion.
2. Having doubts, or false charges against you cleared away.
3. Being acquitted of all charges.
4. Being secure in the knowledge that your own actions were just; feeling no guilt.

The Yo-ji Databank falls kind of short on this one, providing a cop out 用例: 私はいつも晴天白日だ, but I can see why they went with that. Internet searches reveal tons of results for 青天白日 but most of them are stand alone cases.

It also gets used literally to describe the flag of the Chinese Nationalist Party. This is what a 青天白日旗 looks like.

If we had been formally grouping these 四字s thematically, 正々堂々 would have made a good addition to this run.

Having been cleared of all charges AFTER his prison sentence had been concluded, he has decided to sue the judicial authorities.

Friday, March 13, 2009


KN^4: Japanese that Ain't in the Textbook

Another weekly installment of words and phrases that we wish we had known when we got here, all to help you make your 言い回し more 日本人ぽい。

Today's post is all about messing with people, in one way or another.

Seduction; Temptation; Sensual seduction
I think that the English translation isn't quite accurate in terms of the nuance of "seduction," because of it's strong sexual connotation. While 誘惑 is a word that you can apply sexually or within the boundaries of ナンパ territory, I've heard it get bantered around light-heartedly quite a bit. Persuading someone to do something by the use of temptation can be covered by 誘惑, even something as innocent as tempting someone to eat a piece of cake.

The usage is like this: 誰々に 誘惑 +する or をかける to mean "to seduce someone," or rather "to try to seduce someone."

If you're on the opposite end, you can say 「誘惑しないで!」 unless you're receptive, in which case you've 誘惑に負けた (been seduced).

annoyance; disturbance; disruption; nuisance
Also used with をかける or する、this one gets used a lot in public announcements. Cell phones at the movies or on the train = 人の迷惑になる. If you ever get into a situation at a restaurant, or your apartment, or anywhere where the people around you are doing something that is disturbing you, you can use 迷惑. When ever I need to shush my rowdy drunken friends (NIRAV) I say "ちょっと迷惑をかけないように。。。” Yeah, that's right: when Nirav's drunk, he refuses to respond to anything but Japanese. That in itself is a pretty big 迷惑.


to lie; to deceive; to charm; to be evasive
Check out those AWESOME 当て字! This is one of those situations where kanji with meanings AND readings that fit the concept of 誤魔化す were specifically chosen as the 当て字、and I think it's really cool, although 95% of the time, you'll see ごまかす in hiragana.

It's another word that gets tossed around in a friendly way (I get accused of it a lot), but it can be as negative as it sounds. Here are some contextual examples.

A politican who's good at 美辞麗句を並ぶこと might be ごまかしている.
Someone who's telling white lies ("I ate before I got here") to avoid saying or revealing something unpleasant ("I hate your cooking.") might be ごまかしている.
Yuri says はぐらかしたりすること is an example of ごまかす.
Many English-to-Japanese dictionaries will list ごまかす as one of the definitions for "manipulate."


trick; cheat; deceive

Last on the list for today, 騙す will come up more often in the passive form: 騙される. Again, I don't like the translations so much... along with 誘惑、it's one of those words that I just find easier to think about in Japanese, without trying to English it. I guess I'd describe 騙される as "having one put over on you." It works for being the victim of a prank, a hoax, a scam, or a lie that you bought into... When Brett and I were in India, 毎日、騙された。Like the cab drivers who would drive us to places that were not where we wanted to go, insist that there was little difference, and then ask for money.

Have you had any opportunities to use or hear 「騙された」 in your Japanese experience?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

1級 Grammar: 21-25


We're doing our best to prepare for, and hopefully, to help you prepare for the 日本語能力試験1級, but please remember: 1級, by its very nature, consists of grammar that is difficult, highly nuanced, and most of the time, rarely used in regular conversations. That's why it's important that you use our posts as references, to be compared with other study sources, and even more important that you
CHECK THE COMMENTS after each post. We're lucky to receive corrections and clarifications from native speakers and other foreigners more knowledgeable than we, and they don't always make it back into the body of the post. Thanks, and 頑張って!

1級 Grammar 21-25

My turn on the grammar bus again. This week, I'm feeling pretty good. My work life is coming together nicely, I have enough money to buy food, I'm back on a good Japanese study schedule, and most importantly, my new place is finally all furnished and habitable. Which means that I don't have to live in Brett's apartment anymore. Which means that now would be a good time for some conscience cleaning:

Confessions of a Freeloader!

21. ~ずにはすまない
~definitely must do
~definitely have to do

This is to be used in situations where there's room for internal debate, but in the end there's only one right thing to do. Or as the book explains, 「~しないですめばいいけれどダメだ。やはり、しなければならない」という意味。

Use it like you would with any ~ずに construction, by attaching it to the stem of a verb in ~ない form, with the exception of 「する」which becomes 「せずに」.

Ex. ブレットのアパートに泊まっていた間に、起こった事件が多すぎたので、ブレットに自白せずにはすみませんよ。

~ as soon as
~right after

If you're anything like me, you're getting sick of grammar points that mean "as soon as" or "right after." There's tons of them, and it's hard to keep the nuances straight. Nonetheless, I'll attempt to explain this one.

It's used for things that happen at almost the same time, but the first part of the sentence MUST occur just before the second part. Also, the two parts should be opposite concepts, like "clean up" and "get messy," or "hear something new" and "forget it." You couldn't use it for "leave the house," and "started raining" for example.

And last, you use it for things that are habitual, not one time occurrences.

Use it with the dictionary form of verbs.

Ex. 例えば、ブレットがビールを買ったそばからそれを私が飲んでしまうことです。飲んだ後、彼に怒られないように、寝ている彼の布団の中に空き缶を放り込みました。次の日、彼が起きると、「お前がまた夜中に起きて暴飲して、酔っ払った」と私が嘘をつきました。

23. ~すら ・ ですら
~ (not) even

Links to ~さえ will help explain this one. It means "even" or "not even" as in "Even children can understand," or "Without even water to drink," or "Not even weeds grow here." The difference between さえ and すら, is that すら is an even more formal word, used mostly in writing.

Attach it to nouns.

Ex. そしてブレットがアメリカに帰っていた2週間の間、郵便物を集めることを彼に頼まれました。しかし、手紙などが多くて、毎日集めるのが面倒くさかったので、彼のポストに、「ひらがなすら読めない外国の方がこちらに住んでいますので、郵便物を停止してください」と書きました。

24. ~ただ~のみ
~ only

「ただ~のみ」 is a formal expression or one for written use that emphasizes the sole nature of something. Use it like a very strong version of 「だけ」 or 「しかない。」

Ex. そして、彼がまだ居なかったクリスマスの頃に不在通知が届きました。「アメリカからの荷物10個を数回も配達しに参りましたが、お客様がいらっしゃらなかったので、現在、北郵便局にてお預かりしています。お渡し方法はただ取りに来て頂くのみとなっております。どうぞよろしくお願いします。」僕はその通知を彼に伝えることを忘れました。

25. ~ただ~のみならず
~ not only

Again, like many of these points, 「ただ~のみならず」 is a stronger form of more basic grammar, intended for use in writing, which make my example sentences all that much more difficult.

Ex. ある日、彼の大家さんより、メッセージも届きました。

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


せいれん けっぱく
seiren keppaku

It's that time of year again - graduation! Whereas the school year finishes around May or June in America for most schools, Japan's school system marks March as the big month. Point in case, my third year junior high school kids will say farewell to our school this Friday(gasp!). My elementary schools are wrapping up next week, but since I'm only asked to come for normal classes (of which they have none due to graduation prep-work) I'm finishing up with them this week. It's always an awkward time because I never know if or when I'll see them again. Which schools I go to and when is up to my employer, so it's impossible for me to wholly disabuse the other teachers of the idea that I'll be gone come April when I honestly don't know if they'll see me again.

The bottom line: most of my elementary kids have been told I'm going back to America next month, even though my job (let alone my residency) ends in August. This will be the third time that they go out of their way to make heartfelt going-away presents, wish me luck back in America, tell me how sad they are that I'll be gone, and then wonder what the hell is going on when I drop in a month later. Always a good time, especially if I throw a blanket over my head and haunt them as the ghost of 英語 past!

The presents are nice, of course, and made doubly so by virtue of the 四字熟語 I found amidst the farewell cards. Yes, dear readers - it is the very yoji you see before you today!

1. Incorruptible
2. Pure-hearted
3. A straightshooter (since Rikai-chan's definition is kind of klunky)

In a theme that I've accidentally continued since Monday (will the trend go on until Friday?! Stay tuned to find out!), here is another word that can be applied to someone who would not knowingly do any wrong. There are a few huge differences, however. First off, 純情可憐 seems to be exclusively reserved for young women. Or, as I'll slur at them after a few rounds at the bar,
"sweet young thangs". 清廉潔白 enjoys a much wider versatility, and does not discriminate based on age or gender. Who is the pure one NOW, four-character idiomatic expressions?!

Behind this is the idea that 清廉潔白な人々 are aware of greed and corruption, and likely have been directly tempted by it - but pointedly refuse such shady dealings again and again. 純情可憐な女性, however, are compassionate and pure...but perhaps only to a point, since the expression seems to have a cut-off at a certain age.

In honor of this yoji, a treat: the most 清廉潔白な人 I know.

President Obama is a pretty good guy. But I don't know if it's possible for him to become like the legendary "never tells a lie" Washington.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

表現 Break: その場限り...

We've talked about 九州男児 on this site a few times before, but just to refresh your memory, men from the island of 九州 have a well-deserved reputation in Japan for being the epitome of masculinity in good and bad ways. The only concrete details I was ever able to glean about what makes a 九州男児 were these: They are very strong-willed and they make their women walk three steps behind them. Brett elaborated on them some in 亭主関白, but for an outsider, the definition remained elusive. It makes a great conversation topic, though, and just knowing about the existence of 九州男児 is enough to raise a few eyebrows.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I found a book on the topic in my local Kinokuniya! 九州男児の解説書:Manual of Kyusyu Man.

Now I can explain all sorts of aspects of the 九州男児 personality, like: they're quick to say whatever comes into their mind. They have a habit of referring to even people who they've just met as 「アンタ」 which, like 「お前」, is familiar at best, and insulting at worst; this gets them into trouble when they're outside of 九州. There's all sorts of good stuff, even things that apply to me and Brett, since we've had the benefit of being acclimated to Japan in Kyuushuu. 「とんこつ」以外はラーメンと思っていない; If it ain't Tonkotsu*, it ain't ramen.

For the purpose of today's 表現 post, we're going to focus on one that gives us an idiomatic use for an old grammatical friend: 限り.

その ば かぎり
sono ba kagiri

You should understand that a Kyushuu man's friendship, while generous, can be fleeting.

That's an 意訳 that's informed by reading the rest of the section, but the idea of その場限り is clear: confined to a certain place, time, or situation.

Nagasaki, with it's rich history as Japan's 玄関口 and Fukuoka's busy Hakata, brought a lot of different kinds of people into Kyushuu. The folks there were exposed to a lot of commercial traffic, which meant a lot of fleeting relationships. It's not at all uncommon for people to meet, 意気投合して, have a great time, and have that be the end of it. その場限りの友情.

You can use this expression for pretty much anything that is contained or limited in a similar way. Check some examples below.

その場限りつもりだったけど:I didn't intend for it to keep going, but...

その場限りの嘘をつく:Lying, but only in those circumstances.

その場限りの付き合い、その場限りの関係、その場限りの愛情, all kinds of great usages.

See when and how you can use it. And hey, even if you're not in Japan or in Kyushuu, keep the 九州男児 in mind, in case you ever meet anyone from here. I promise you, the conversation will be well worth it.

* とんこつラーメン (tonkotsu ramen), originally from Hakata, I think, is made with a milky pork-bone broth that smells god awful and tastes like heaven. As the book explains, it's not that people from Kyushuu don't like soy-sauce based or other ramen broths, it's just that we don't consider them to be ramen. If you say ramen, we think tonkotsu.

Monday, March 9, 2009


じゅんじょう かれん
jyunjyou karen

NSFWという略語は「NOT SAFE FOR WORK」という意味で、人前で(得に同僚や子供)クリックしない方がいいリンクのことです。

It's rare that we get the chance to post a yoji that doesn't lend itself to pictures of scantily clad women in one way or another, but today is one of those days. These kanji don't allow it.

純 is one that I first learned in 純粋 (じゅんすい;jyunsui), meaning "pure." It has connotations of "unadulterated" but working in the school system I've heard it used to refer to the innoncence of youth. When it's used in the first compound of today's yo-ji, 純情, it becomes "purity of heart," or "naivete."

可 gets used in all kinds of compounds but think of it here like you would think of it in 可愛い. 可愛い has always perplexed me because of it's incredible descriptive range, which Google Image search will help me demonstrate: Can you think of another word that you could use to describe both THIS , THIS ,and THIS[NSFW]?

And if that's not enough, I've never been sure about the connection between 可愛い and 可愛そう. For me "cute" and "pitiful" are two very different things (BIG MISTAKE in this bit. Check the comments to see us getting owned by reader Pazu) , but in Japanese they seem conceptually linked somehow. Even the second part of today's yo-ji, 可憐, can be defined as either "sweet" or "poor," as in "poor baby."

Luckily 純情可憐 doesn't have the same ambiguity. As the definition will tell you, it's actually got a pretty narrow window of applicability.

1. Beautiful and pure.
2. Sweet.

I like this one because I've had trouble figuring out how to describe a girl in Japanese who, in English, I would refer to as "sweet." Using 八方美人 is risky for reasons we've already discussed, and in a small town where you stand out, it's hard enough to say something nice about a woman without setting off an 井戸端会議 about your romantic intentions.

The one time I tried to explain the ways in which English speakers apply their version of "甘い" to people the conversation became confusing quickly: I didn't know that 甘い could be used to mean generous or indulgent at the time. To compare, think of how quickly 和英 or 英和 conversations can get sketchy when a Japanese person wants to talk about a 優しい女, but doesn't know whether or not to translate 優しい as "kind" or "easy."

純情可憐 resolves these problems for me. It encapsulates what I think of as the epitome of "sweet," and its chastity cuts out any potential for inappropriate interpretation. It is mainly used to refer to women who are below the "Christmas Cake" cut-off, so I might still have trouble applying it to older women, but it's still a lucky find.

It reminds me of 箱入り娘, for obvious reasons.

The up-and-coming actress gave a magnificent performance in her latest television drama role, playing a sweet, innocent young girl.

Friday, March 6, 2009


そっせん すいはん
sossen suihan
Yet another yo-ji that highly appeals to the part of me that wishes I was まじめ, or even えらい.

率先 means taking the initiative: 人の先に立つこと. 先 is usually among the first kanji that most people learn, so I'll leave that alone and just say that 率 is a very, very useful kanji to know, because you can attach it to almost anything to make "the ______ rate:" like 出産率, 死亡率, 失業率 or 換算率. It gets used a lot in relation to percentages (出席率), proportion (倍率), and it's even one of the cornerstones of the word for probability: 確率. Plus, tiny bit of trivia, it's in the Japanese name for pi: 円周率.

垂範 means setting an example, and I'm not sure exactly why. If anyone knows how the first kanji comes into play, please comment away!

Back to 率先垂範.

1. To lead by example.

Personally, I like to think of this one in conjunction with 不言実行, and in opposition to 反面教師.

Very, very common yo-ji for use in business situations.

日本のリーダーは“世界標準”あらず、 率先垂範から指導育成への転換が不可欠。
Japan's Business Leaders Don't Meet the Global Standard: A Change from the "Good Example" Model of Employee Training to Guided Development will be Indispensable. (trans. Nirav)


More Japanese That Ain't in the Textbook

~Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings~ Part 2 of X

I know its been a few weeks (ok, a month?) since the first part of this series, but I'm a busy man, and there is all KINDS of 日本語 that's not in your 教科書 that needs to be addressed. If you've forgotten in the intervening period, this is a continuation of my last Kyoukasho Ni Notte Nai Nihongo (KN^4) post, which you might want to take a glance at as a refresher.

Today we are going to look at some 熟語 that make use of the 気 character and their relationship to other words of similar meaning. Many of them do overlap in certain ways, but I hope you'll come away from this with at least a rudimentary idea of the different nuances they all carry.


If you are anything like me, this is the first word that you learned that meant "feelings." It is both useful and common, but its meaning and usage can be kind of nebulous. The best way to think of it is your feelings as a response to some kind of external stimulus. You might get into a hot onsen and think 「気持ち(が)いい!」, or you watch someone getting facial plastic surgery and think 「気持ち(が)悪い!」 (modern slang: きもい). Check out this neko being caressed and really enjoying it:

気持ち doesn't necessarily have to be a physical reaction; it can be just a general emotion, too. Watching TV or movies, you might hear lines like 「私の気持ちはどうなの?」 ("What about my feelings?") or things like that. I know that I, personally, would one day like to be able to say, 「もてるってやっぱ気持ちいいな!」 ("It feels great being popular with the girls!"). Dare to dream, me, dare to dream.


It can be really confusing trying to differentiate 気分 from 気持ち, but I think that one way of thinking about it is that it's more about internal stimuli than external. For example, let's say that you are feeling nauseous, you would probably say 気分が悪い rather than 気持ち悪い. That's because, though your nausea might have been caused by something you ate, it is now really an internal thing (literally!). Used on its own like this, 気分が悪い is generally a health-ish kind of thing. (This is another post, but I think that Japanese has an unbelievable amount of words and phrases that describe how one's digestive tract, from the stomach all the way down to the colon, feels.) Not saying that you can't say 気持ちが悪い for your health ever, but 気分が悪い, I think, works better. (For more info, check out the comments to this post.)

気分がいい, I think, isn't quite limited to health. It's used for anything that makes you feel good in a general sense, as opposed to what I see as a more pinpointed response to external stimuli represented by 気持ちがいい. Think about it this way: you might find that sitting outside in the sunshine in specific to be 気持ちいい, but when the weather in general is pleasant, your entire 気分 becomes いい. Or maybe you just won the Superbowl - that would probably make your 気分 pretty いい as well.

JB always makes me feel pretty good.

The internal/external distinction becomes a little harder to maintain when you think of other uses for 気分, but I think that the general/specific one holds up fairly well. In English, we use phrases like "king for a day." You aren't actually the king, but you do something (like go to an expensive hotel or restaurant and get waited on hand and foot) that makes you sort of feel like a king. This kind of feeling is summed up in Japanese as 王様気分. You might also see お姫様気分, or really anything you could ever fantasize about being. You could get dressed up like a geisha and be 舞妓さん気分, or you could get a chance to throw a pitch at a professional baseball stadium and be プロ野球選手気分. In all of these cases, you get treated in a certain way that simulates something else, and for a while, in your little fantasy world, your 気分 changes from that of an everyday person to a rockstar, or queen, or whatever it is you want to be. It's your own internal change that makes it relevant.

(often pronounced

This isn't really a hard word to understand, but it is kind of fun, and certainly in common usage, so you should all try to remember it if you don't know it already. This is used to describe the atmosphere, aura, ambiance, or general air of a person, a store, a restaurant, or whatever else you like. Here are a few example sentences to help you get a feel for it:
You've got the same air about you as your father.
I LOVE the atmosphere in yaki-tori places like this.

A long haired version of myself visiting one of my favorite yakitori places


This is a rather complicated word, one with a number of different meanings. I'll try to hit as many of them as I can. In general, it means condition, shape, or convenience. This brings us to the most relevant usage, one's specific (often physical) state. You might get asked, 「具合どう?」, or "how are you doing/feeling?" Or if you aren't feeling well, you could say 具合が悪い, and it could mean a number of things - you might have a stomach ache, or a headache, or you might just be feeling unwell in general.

What's wrong? You don't look so good.
Yeah, I'm not really feeling well...

That's not the only usage, though. It can be used to describe the convenience, or inconvenience, of a specific situation as well. Especially when it comes to talking about convenience, in addition to 具合 being いい, you will often see it described as うまい. (That's another word that needs its own post...)

He came over at kind of an inconvenient time for me.
Luckily, apparently we're going to have clear skies tomorrow.

It can also be used to describe how well (or not) something is working:
My computer is messed up.

It might also be used to describe the ease or convenience (or lack thereof) of a using a specific tool, piece of equipment, or what have you.
Is your new electronic dictionary easy to use?

Another usage of this word is somewhat similar to that of 加減, which Jeff touched on in an earlier (actually the very first EVARR) 教科書に載っていない日本語 post. When used in this way, it means something like "level" or "amount."
What's a good level of done-ness for steak?
It [let's say some kind of food] came out just right!
I can't believe you made it this far in 2 days. That's amazing progress!

That does it for today's post. There are many, many more words like this that I think you should know, but this post is already long enough, so they'll have to wait for next time. Specifically, I'm thinking of doing a more in-depth examination of 加減, and having a look at 調子, 機嫌, 都合, and 様子. If there are any more that you really want explained soon, feel free to speak up in the comments! Same for if you want any clarification, or if you want to add to or correct anything I've put up. Definitely also let me know if you are finding any of this at all useful. On the other hand, if you've had enough of the ~Feelings~ series, well, poo on you (but seriously, let me know about that, too).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

1級 Grammar 16 - 20


We're doing our best to prepare for, and hopefully, to help you prepare for the 日本語能力試験1級, but please remember: 1級, by its very nature, consists of grammar that is difficult, highly nuanced, and most of the time, rarely used in regular conversations. That's why it's important that you use our posts as references, to be compared with other study sources, and even more important that you CHECK THE COMMENTS after each post. We're lucky to receive corrections and clarifications from native speakers and other foreigners more knowledgeable than we, and they don't always make it back into the body of the post. Thanks, and 頑張って!

1級 Grammar 16-20

Another week, another set of grammar points - these ones focusing around some changes I'm going to implement to the Yoji as soon as I've ousted Jeff in a duel. PREPARE YOURSELF(Jeff and readers!)!

16. ~こととて
Because of ~,
Owing to ~,

This phrase is particularly prevalent with a followup that has the "押し訳ない" vibe to it, ie "I'm really sorry about this, but..." or "I hope it's not too much of an inconvenience, but...". To further shock you all, I will reveal that it is mostly used in formal conversations or in writing. Surprise!

Ex. 不景気のこととて、ザ・デーリー・四字の会員料金を5倍増加いたします。誠に申し訳ございませんが、皆さんのご努力をお願いします!

17. ~ことなしに
Without ~

This one actually breaks down exactly how it looks - plug in the dictionary form of a verb behind it and you're in business! Try and save it for your written Japanese, though, or risk sounding a little pompous.

Ex. 精力を使うことなしにジェフを倒すと16番の利益をゆっくりと楽しむ。

18. ~しまつだ
It's come to the point where ~

This one is actually kind of fun - you list some kind of cause and effect and throw this on the end to emphasize how desperate a situation has become. 「最近、食料品を買ってないので、お腹がすいたらご飯に塩食をかけて食べるしまつだ。」 Good times. Make sure you use it when you're talking about the result of something else!

Ex. この俺様とジェフめが切磋琢磨で日本語を美味く話せるようになって、狭い佐賀が足らなくて一人だけ住めるしまつだ。ジェフ!かかってこい!

19. ~ずくめ
Nothing but ~
A ton of ~

I know all of you wanted another way to say ばかり, so here you go! Put this after a noun, especially an adjective paired with こと, and you're in the money.

Ex. 俺がザ・デーリー王様になると、ヤンキー語とナンパに関する記事ずくめのブログになるんだよ。楽しめ!

20. ~ずにはわかない
Have no choice but to ~
絶対に ~ する

In a rare twist, this grammar point appears to lend itself mostly to spoken situations. Employ it when you want super-extra emphasis.

Ex. でもやっぱり、ジェフをぶっ殺しても、二ラブがまだ残っている。彼は北斗神券を極めた天才だ。ただ、そいつも決闘ずにはわかない。二ラブ!がってんしょうちのすけ!ああああたたたたたたたたたたたたた!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


しょうし せんばん
shoushi senban

As promised, today's yoji came up yesterday during my research of 「ちゃんちゃらおかしい.」

1. Exceedingly absurd.
2. Nothing could be more ridiculous.

Important to note the inclusion of 吹き出す, which in this instance means "to burst into laughter," which takes the connotation away from the realm of あほ臭い, and into the realm of knee-slapping funny.

I like to think of this one in relation to 破顔一笑, in that they both talk about uncontrollable displays of amusement or pleasure.

Some of the ideas that foreigners have about Japan can be laughable. In those case, the "Japan Culture Lab" series of videos can be a real help.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

Did you know how funny Japanese tea was? Neither did I, until someone called me お茶目. Never content to let a potentially interesting origin story go unexplored, I did some internet research and discovered that "tea" is hilarious!

First, you should know that by itself, can be defined as "mockery," and you should know that in all likelihood, it's 当て字。Many of the kanji in the words we're about to look at are listed as 当て字 on various internet sources.



playfulness; mischievousness

The 茶 here means おどける.







ちゃちゃ を いれる
chacha wo ireru

to tease; make fun of


the name for funny, farcical, humorous scenes in old Kabuki or bunraku dramas; archaic, but important for us because, according to some theories, it spawned ちゃら.



nonsense; bullshit; random speech.

I don't know if ちゃら is ever used by itself, but it lends its meaning to all of the following compounds.


speaking senseless lies.

「ほら」 is a common attention getting utterance, that I always thought just meant "Look!" Along the same attention-related lines though, there's 法螺: which means boasting or bragging, which is where ちゃらほら pulls in the meaning of 嘘. Or it could just be, 「ほら!You're lying!」 But ちゃらほら is thought to be the precursor of the next word, ちゃらんぽらん。


off-hand, off-the-cuff, devil-may-care speech

There's an お笑いコンビ that goes by the name ザ・ちゃらんぽらん. You can see some of their stuff on YouTube, but they don't seem particularly funny to me.


irresponsible talk.

This gets used with an honorific, as either 「おちゃらける」 or 「おちゃらけ.」



Again, use with the honorific 「お.」


Extremely hard to define, but it covers ideas of "messing around," "showing off," "lavishing someone with flattery," "the appearance of cheap flashy clothing," and "flippant behavior." I find all of these kinds of 擬音 words hard to use (I've had some DISASTERS, putting ぎりぎり into practice), but if you want to use it, it goes along with する。


Probably the most commonly used of these phrases, judging by the number of internet posts devoted to it, 「ちゃんちゃら」 goes with 「おかしい」 like 'q' goes with 'u.' There are two definitions of something that's ちゃんちゃらおかしい:

1. So ridiculously funny that you can't help but to burst out laughing. Here's the Japanese definition , in case my translation is bad: 身のほど知らずで、噴き出したくなるほどおかしい.まったく滑稽だ.
2. A boast that is so brazenly untrue that it's strange/ridiculous: 身のほども知らない大言壮語を吐いておかしい.

You guys got a bonus 四字熟語 in that last definition there, and I found another one in my researches today that I'll post for you tomorrow. See you then.

Here are some of the links I used to write this post:

Monday, March 2, 2009


shousuu seiei

Today's yo-ji is a useful one for anyone considering going into any kind of business endeavor in Japan, as it represents, I think, one important concept in organization and philosophy. I was reminded of it last week by Jeff's 知る人ぞ知る post, although the meaning is somewhat removed from that specific phrase. (For another business philosophy phrase, see 鶏口牛後)

During college, I interned in the New York office of a Japanese newspaper, and one of the first things I noticed was that our office was significantly smaller than those of any of our peer publications. As an unpaid intern, I wasn't ever really expected to work all that hard, but it was pretty clear that the paid staff, especially the bureau chief, was working pretty hard almost non-stop. I remember talking to my boss about this at lunch one day, and he told me that the company's philosophy was to have 少数精鋭 rather than a large number of worker drones.

I'm sure our US readers all recognize this...

I don't think it'll be too useful to go over every kanji in this phrase, but I do think that the last two are worthy of our time here. First, we have 精. Rikai-chan will tell you essentially what it means. It's good to know for words like 精力 or 精気, or any of the hundreds of other words that contain it. (Yes, we'll skip that one. Maybe we'll put it up on the Nightly Yoji one day.) 鋭, meaning sharp, is another good one to know, because, as in English, it carries both the physically sharp (like a knife) and mentally sharp (like... me) meanings. Which brings us to our:

1. The few, the proud, the mighty
2. The select few

We believe in maintaining a small, select group. So, even though we have less people than our competitors, we're confident that we are second-to-none in terms of ability.

Good luck, and godspeed.