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Showing posts with label Childrens games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Childrens games. Show all posts

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Japanese Cultural Trivia of the Day:

These are words that I considered tossing into a 教科書に載っていない post, but then I figured it be more fun to do them like this.


うら
ura



おもて
omote


裏, not to be confused with the homonymous 浦 from 津々浦々, has tons of meanings, but the common thread that they share: you can't see the 裏 from the front.

表, which you can find in 表面, 表現, and 代表, has an equal abundance of interpretation and represents the opposite of 裏. It's the visible surface.

You might remember both of these from 表裏一体.

They work really well for talking about buildings and locations (駐車場は裏にあります) and I hear them a lot at work, where 表 is the part of the bakery that the customers frequent, and 裏 is where the baking gets done (「表の掃除終わりましたか。」とか「裏から鉄板持ってきて。」).

But where you can hear it and use it most often is in today's cultural trivia:

裏か表!

裏か (うらか;uraka) as it gets abbreviated in speech, is a system of dividing people into two groups. I want to call it a kid's game, but then... it's not a game, though it often precedes games, and much like じゃん拳 (じゃんけん;janken), everyone in Japan does it, regardless of their age.

Whenever you have a situation where you need two groups, or two teams, you can find people doing 裏か表, which works like this: 裏, as it's meaning implies, refers to 手の平, the part of your hand that can't be seen from the front, so... your palm. 表 in this case is 手の甲, the back of your hand. Everyone stands in a circle, puts a hand in, and then everyone (or at least SOMEONE) in the group chants 「裏か表!」 while shaking/flipping their hand back and forth between the two states of hand-existence.

On the final chanted syllable, everyone picks a side and thrusts their hand out, showing either 裏 or 表. If the numbers of people who chose each are approximately even, then 裏s form one group, 表s form the other. And if the numbers are way off, the process is repeated. Just like じゃんけん has あいこでしょう, when you have to do it again, there's a different chant. What that chant is, however, is subject for disagreement. The kids that I learned it from always said 「手、手、のって!」 Yuri says simply 「っせ!」 There are even little kid versions that get longer and ridiculous, 「裏かオモ、てんぷら、ハンバーガー。。。」 and on into あほ臭い territory. Have people in other parts of Japan heard other versions?

裏 and 表 can also be linked to ideas of 本音 and 建前, as well as martial arts, but those are subjects for other posts.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

竹馬の友
Chikuba no tomo 
is a phrase I learned a long time ago while randomly browsing through a kanji dictionary (way back when I was still working on kanji like 竹 (chiku, take). Browsing through kanji dictionaries, incidentally, is a GREAT way to learn phrases that nobody says any more.

A 竹馬の友 is a childhood friend. I've had mild success with saying things like 竹馬の家, but more for being amusing, than for being correct in my usage.

I only recently learned the origin of the phrase, however, in a conversation with one of the women who runs the vegetable stand in my neighborhood. See, for along time, I had mistakenly imagined the ば in ちくば、as this kanji: 場 which led me to believe that the 竹場 was a place of bamboo, which I imagined to be a tiny village, reminiscent of everyone's childhood home. Yay, ethnic stereotypes!

The real version, 竹馬, actually means bamboo horsey, and can be alternately read as たけうま, which is a game that Japanese children used to play a lot, and still play sometimes, probably as part of an organized, "Don't Forget Your Culture Day" at school. It consists of making tall stilts out of bamboo and running around on them. They might have たけうま races now, or some kind of competition, but for little kids, I'm sure the thrill of being taller and on stilts was enough for them to just frolic for hours. So, a friend with whom you engaged in bamboo horsey, and therefore, obviously a childhood friend, is your 竹馬の友。