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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

1級 Grammar: 11-15


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 11-15:

Rerunning points 11-15, revised explanations and examples, hopefully less half-assed and more accurate than before.

11. ~が早いか
~ no sooner... than
~ as soon as

There are two things that seem to separate 「が早いか」 from similar 2級 points 「かと思うと」 and 「~か~ないかのうちに」. First, all of the book's examples for 「が早いか」 describe things that occur in an objectively short time span:

"As soon as she heard the news, she turned pale."
"As soon as the bell rang, the kids cleared their desks and left."
"As soon as my son had stuck his head in the door and said 「ただ今」, he dropped his backpack and ran off to play."

You can literally imagine all of these things happening in a matter of a few seconds, while the old examples for 「かと思うと」include "Christmas has just ended and it's already New Years." Or "As soon as I finish this job, the boss will give me another one." for 「~か~ないかのうちに.」 I get the sense that the old grammar points lend themselves better to subjective ideas of how fast time has passed. 「が早いか」 seems designed for things that can be objectively established as happening almost at once.

Second, according to the book sentences that include 「が早いか」 end, most often, with verbs in the past tense. The others are not so restricted.

You use it by adding it onto the dictionary form of a verb.

Ex. 散歩に行こうと決めるが早いか、雨が降ってきた。

12. ~からある
~ as many as
~ more than

「か らある」 gets defined as 「もある」, to be used especially in cases when you want to emphasize how large the number is, relatively of course. It seems straightforward enough.


13. ~きらいがある
~ to have a tendency to

I don't know whether or not it's related, but the fact that 「きらい」 is a part of this grammar point makes it easier to remember that it's only used to express a negative judgement about that tendency. Also, it's not used to talk about things like "a tendency to get sick," or a "tendency to miss work" (use ~がちだ for those), but for talking about the essential nature of a person.

Often used in the same sentence as phrases like 「ともとすると」 and 「とかく。」 Use it with the dictionary form of a verb, of following a noun + の.

Ex. インターネットで、簡単に仲間と連絡のやり取りはできるし、色んな情報をすぐ調べることもできるので、本当に便利なものだと思います。しかし僕みたいな若者は、ともするとインターネットに頼りすぎるきらいがあるでしょう。

14. ~極まる ・ ~極まりない
~ exceedingly
We've talked about 極める in our other posts. It means "to take something to the extreme," and can be used to talk about "mastering," or "perfecting" something. In this case, it only gets used negatively, and only shows up in writing, according to the book. It expresses a very STRONG judgement.

極まりない is like a stronger version of 「嫌だ,」 or 「不愉快だ.」 It expresses the same idea.

The format for it is : (な形容詞 ・ 名詞1)+極まる+名詞2

or:  (な形容詞 ・ 名詞1)+極まる ・ 極まりない (and you can end the clause here, or add another めいし).

This ones a bit hard, so here are some book examples.
I tried to read that book, but the story was so extremely cliche that I was disappointed.
Crossing the tracks while the train is approaching is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.

And mine:


15. ~ごとき ・ ~ごとく
~ like
~ as

This is another one that is only used in writing, and is a very formal way of saying things. Besides that, it doesn't seem very difficult.

名詞 (with or withoutの)+ ごとき + 名詞


名詞 + ごとく +(形容詞・動詞)

Ex. 皆様のごとき日本人が私たちの変な日本語をいつも丁寧に訂正して下さることに感謝しています。

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Japan: The Strange Country

This is an awesome video that a student named Kenichi made as his final thesis project. Not only is it great on a graphic design level, but the content is pretty interesting. Check it out. English version available on Vimeo if you want it.

Japan - The Strange Country (Japanese ver.) from Kenichi on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


san kan shi on

Pretty much everything about winter weather pisses me off, but nothing gets under my skin quite so much as the big Spring Tease we're suffering through in Japan this year.

It was a brutally cold winter and the first time in 4 years I've seen snow stick in Saga. And it didn't just stick, we had 13cms. And after that it started getting warm, I stopped wearing gloves and long underwear (お爺ちゃんパンツ, as my girlfriend calls them), then BAM! Snow again!

Then it jumped up into the 20s last week, but today and yesterday, I was back to using the はる ほっかいろ that keep me alive during the worst parts of winter.

Talking about this weather with my co-workers, I found out that not only is this weather an annually expected phenomenon, BUT there's a 四字熟語 for it.

Specific to the transition between winter and spring, cold weather that gets warm for a few days, then cold again.
Literally: 3 days of cold, 4 days of hot.

What's more, generally the cold days during a 三寒四温 period are characterized by clear sunny weather, and the warm days are gray and wet. Absolutely true of this week!

For your practical purposes, you can stop reading here. If you're a "knowing stuff" dork like me, please read on.

The original expression comes from China of course, by way of Korea, because the phenomenon is much more common there. This is due to what's called the "Siberian High," a collection of cold dry air. It goes through cycles of growing weak and strong, which are thought to cause the vascillation between warm and cold as winter ends and spring begins. However, Japan feels the effects of not only the Siberian High, but also the Pacific High, equally dry, but subtropical, so not cold.

Because Japan deals with the two, 三寒四温 is not as regularly occurring as it is in China or Korea. It's more of a "Will it happen this year or not?" kind of thing.

Also of note, in recent years the phrase has started to be used to talk about the beginning of spring when the air pressure alternates between high and low, and warm weather starts. While you can't call this incorrect, it's not the original meaning.

As far as examples of use go, this one is pretty much a stand alone thing. Like if someone said "It's so cold today, but it was warm yesterday," I'd be all like "三寒四温。" The End.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Japanese Cultural Trivia of the Day:

So yesterday was Hina Matsuri in Japan.

Hina Matsuri, is referred to as both "Doll Festival" or "Girl's Day" in English, and no, not because of any sexist business about girls liking dolls. The festival is held to pray/hope for the healthy and happy upbringing of female children, and the dolls represent the Japanese Imperial Court, in traditional Heian dress.

The dolls are believed to be able to contain bad spirits, which leads us to today's bit of trivia.

Today many younger Japanese families don't keep up with this practice. About half of the female students in my classes report that their households don't set up the dolls. A handful find the dolls themselves creepy and weird.

But the families who do still have a set of dolls that they display, usually keep one set year round, putting them out for the festival, and taking them down soon after.

The original tradition, still practiced widely, is called "hina-nagashi," in which straw dolls were placed on a boat and set afloat on a river, carrying the bad spirits away with them. In modern cases where putting a bunch of straw and wood in a publicly or commercially used river is not a good idea, some shrines send the dolls out to sea, collect them, bring them back in, and burn them.

I suspect that the families who re-use the often expensive dolls instead of burning them or sending them away, hope that a year in the closet between use will give them time to digest the "troubles" that they are supposed to absorb. But the knowledge that you're NOT supposed to keep them around may live on in a popular superstition. It's one that I just learned about this year, and it inspired the entire post: If you don't put away your Hina Dolls in a timely manner, you won't be able to marry off your daughters!

The origins of this superstition seem pretty old, but from what I've found online, it seems like they have their roots in two places. The first is just what I said above. Moving your troubles into the dolls doesn't help you any if you keep them around after. The second is more interesting for fans of words.

It's kind of a play on the multiple meanings of the word 片付く(かたづく; katazuku), which can made into the transitive verb 片付ける、meaning "to clean up," or "put in order" which is what you have to do to the dolls. But it can also mean "to be married off," which is what you can do with your daughters, if you clean up the dolls on time!