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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

Hey guys. I'm a little too drunk and naked for a full yo-ji post today, but I appreciate what Brett's trying to do in terms of resuscitating the cite, so... I guess I can manage something.

What? You're not happy about my intoxication? Or my nudity? WHAT? WHY? 裸になって何が悪い?

That's right, I'm talking about 草薙剛's infamous bout of public drunkenness a few weeks ago. Or like a month ago. Man, it has been a while since we posted. Anyway, one of the things that was most amusing to me about the whole SMAP star fiasco was the level of media attention it garnered, despite being ten times tamer than your average company 飲み会. If I had 20¥ for every time some Japanese person I knew got naked and rowdy while drunk, I'd have like 60¥.

But at least the media was willing to acknowledge the fact that the only reason it was a big deal was because 草薙 was famous. And that's how I learned today's bit of trivia, which is as simple as it is amusing:


Famous tax; (or more poetically) the price of fame.

If a salaryman had been stumbling around naked in the middle of the night, hollering for "Shingo," the police would've let him sleep it off, and sent him home. That would've been it. But the scandal, the loss of endorsements, the media frenzy that befell poor Kusanagi-san... hey, that's 有名税.

Also, as far as my answers to some of questions that have been posted in the comments:

Yes we know Lang-8 and love it. We've used it as a sounding board for some of our example sentences, mentioned it once or twice in posts, and we even have a Daily Yo-ji group on Lang-8 that's inching ever closer to 200 members strong!

I do want to take 1級 but I've set my sights on Summer 2010 for a few reasons. One is the same as Brett's: I'm extremely busy. But also, we just took 2級 last December, and even though we passed, it wasn't by much. Given the fact that there's a pretty big comprehension/kanji leap between 1 and 2, and the fact that the pass/fail percentage rises from 60 to 70%, I think I need a full year of study to be prepped. And since I haven't really STARTED studying... Summer 2009.

And thanks for the encouragement. We haven't given up our Japanese studies, or our interest in yo-jis. You can count on increased posting during down-times... like summer vacation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

1級 Grammar 31-35

And lo, from a sea of darkness and nonpostings, he did bring unto them five grammar points most noble.

I know grammar is not the most exciting thing, but as jljzen88 (name drop!) mentioned recently, the test is only a month and change away. July 5th, to be exact. Even if we were to pump out grammar posts at a rate of 10/week, it wouldn't be enough to cover everything in the book. Complicating this is the fact that nobody here on the Yoji is taking 1kyuu this summer, so the "well we're gonna have to do it anyway" factor is nonexistent. We do appreciate the fact, however, that some of you are taking the test, and would benefit from a little extra study wherever you can get it. And do that end, we will endeavor as best we can to keep up with grammar until at least the day of the test.

Good luck, and godspeed!

31) ~っぱなし (っ放し)
just left ~ing.

Finally, another grammar point that is actually intended for conversational use! When something is just left passively in a certain condition, っぱなし is your man. Employ it with the ~ます form minus ます, and, mister, you have yourself a sentence.

Ex. 昨日の夜、僕は窓を開けっぱなしにしておいた。冬だったらそれしてもべつにいいけど、最近蚊がどんどん増えている。もう何匹もアパートに入ってしまった。。。

32) ~であれ ・ ~であれ~であれ
Even if ~
Whether ~ or not,

Aaannnddd we're already back to grammar that is better left on the page. At the very least, anybody who is endeavoring to pass 1kyuu will have no problem understanding this one. Although it's simple enough to use once, if you want to construct a "whether or not" sentence, make sure to insert "の" before each use of であれ, and you'll be sailing.

Ex. 豚インフルエンザのせいで日本が超恐慌している。旅行するのであれ、しないのであれ、そのウイルスが日本に来るから、そこまで激しく反発するの点は何だろう?

33) ~てからというもの
Ever since ~, x has persisted/happened

When something has occurred that is a long-lasting (though not necessarily permanent)

Ex. ジェフは常勤として働き始めてからというもの、デーリー四字をほとんど書かなくなった。俺も。。。

34) ~でなくてなんだろう
If that/this isn't ~, then what else could it be?

I've never used this one, but I have ALWAYS wanted to since learning it. It has a wonderfully simple construction with a fun, emphatic meaning... that is unfortunately hindered by the fact it most commonly appears in writing. Curses!

Ex. 昨日の記事はこのブログの一ヶ月ぶりぐらいだった。それは「四字熟語干ばつ」でなくてなんだろう。

35) ~ではあるまいし
Since it's no longer the case that ~, ...
~ no longer being true, ....
~ では ないのだから

As formal as most of its 1級 brethren, here is another to the long list of phrases slipping "あるまい" in there. I don't think we have managed to use these phrases in many sentences outside of examples, so those savvy on a bit of studying would be wise to just through "あるまい" into the search bar and go nuts.

Ex. ペンギンではあるまいし、問題を暴力で解けない。悔しいな~

Monday, May 25, 2009

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day

As things are warming up, we can begin to think about doing summery things. Visit the ocean, have barbecues... or, best of all, beat the heat with some うなぎ! Those of you who have been to a fancy eel restaurant may have already encountered the subject of today's post, but - as ever - the Yoji is here to provide you with all the "what"s and "why"s behind it. Without further ado...


This phrase, unlike a lot of what we post here, lends itself especially well to people in earlier stages of Japanese study. First, alternative (more standard) readings of the kanji and definitions.

- まつ - Pine tree. This kanji sneaks into a few Japanese names.
- たけ - Bamboo. This one will probably slip into the first 100 or so kanji you'll learn.
- うめ - Plum. Be careful, though - not the sweet plum Western readers identify with, but a much smaller, sour fruit sometimes called a Japanese Apricot abroad.

Remember all that? Good. Now pretend you walk into an うなぎ restaurant, ready to swallow about 10 eels, and this menu greets you:
Oh man - pine tree in my うなぎ?! Does it get any better than this?! (Also, remember this menu as "Exhibit A" for later in the post.)

Sure, throwing a bunch of random plants into your うなぎ might seem like a great idea - but it turns out most stores have yet to capitalize on this superb idea. Instead, they are just using an old ranking system that happens to make use of these plants: 松竹梅.

The phrase, like so many, originated in China, and bears with it the association to "歳寒三友", which in Japanese translates to "absolutely nothing at all." If you go through the trouble of breaking down the meaning of the individual characters, it scans as "The three friends of winter" When you think of the three plants, the reason behind this makes perfect sense: Pine and bamboo are both green year round, even through the frigid winter months. Plum trees might go bare, sure, but they begin to blossom in late January/early February, earning them a spot with the two "evergreens" as plants that keep on kicking regardless of season.

About 700-some years ago in China, the three plants were also imbued with individual meanings. The pine, being huge, long-lived, and particularly resilient, came to symbolize endurance and longevity, sometimes being compared to a wise old man. The bamboo, being hollow and flexible, is largely related to open-mindedness and strength. The plum tree, being fragrant and striking when all else is desolate, represents inner beauty and purity. The three linked together are an auspicious symbol, displayed in both art and gardening in hopes of encouraging all of these attributes.

That is a heck of a lot of information to still have no idea why there is a small forest growing out of your eel. While I'm having trouble finding out the exact time, shop owners of yore requisitioned the phrase to spice up their menus. Say you go to a restaurant, and see "normal, high quality, highest quality" marking the three different cuts of steak you can get. Sure, the highest quality looks great, but that's gonna hurt your wallet. On the other hand, you're going to feel like a sap eating "normal" steak when the fancy stuff is there right beside it. What better way to add to the mystique and elegance of your restaurant by instead instituting a ranking system that forgoes traditional nomenclature in favor of... well... fancy names?


Okay, so there is actual history here that makes the use of special titles a bit more prestigious than the stunts pulled by some Seattle-based coffee shop. And what's the problem if it's fairly simple to understand since, generally, it goes in order from highest ranked to lowest ranked as it's written: pine, bamboo, plum. 松竹梅. Done!

...except we're not. It turns out different stores have different interpretations of how to use this ranking system, meaning that you cannot always depend on 松 being the best bang for your buck. I refer you back to Exhibit A (aren't you glad you were paying attention?). The prices here ascend exactly as you'd expect: 梅 is cheapest at 1700 yen, 竹 takes the middle ground at 2700 yen, and 松 shames them both with 3200 yen. Now, gaze (or squint at) Exhibit B, and know despair:

The order has been magically reversed, with 松 clawing at the bottom and 梅 lording at the top. So why the discrepancy? It's hard to say. Many Japanese people assume that whenever 松 is cheaper, as is the case in Exhibit B, that just means you get a lot less, but it's higher quality. Unfortunately, this theory doesn't seem to hold a lot of water. I haven't been to hundreds of unagi restaurants, but I've found the most consistent dividing factor is quantity of food, and nothing more. It may have been true a long time ago - or to a few select restaurants - that the difference in quality remain was the key factor in the system, but the addition of 重 on Exhibit A, a kanji that is often encountered in 重い - heavy - seems to signify that mass is all that will change when you switch plants.

How do you stay savvy when there is no universal system for ranking portions? The restaurants may have dropped the ball, but you're the one who has to pick it up. While you can generally assume that whichever is higher priced will be a lot more of the same quality eel, just ask your server. You will not be the first or last to do so.

Wikipedia has a formidable list of songs and other areas of pop culture in which the phrase appears. Although it's not listed here, this ranking can be applied to almost any situation in which there are three menus of ascending quality. As a final note of scientific interest, these three are apparently representative of each of their plant types, though that's more of a coincidental footnote than the origin story.

This site answered a lot of my questions, as did this one, although both are limited in scope.

Also...大変お待たせしました! Sorry to make you all wait so long. We started drinking this, and just couldn't stop.