Now Featuring 1級 Grammar, Everyday Japanese That You Won't Find in the Book, and Language and Cultural Trivia!
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts

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.

Monday, February 23, 2009


にちじょう さはん
nichijyou sahan

Give us this day our daily bread, but if you can't do that, at least give us our Daily Yo-ji.

Today's 四字熟語 contains the Japanese equivalent of the idea of "daily bread," although... free of the religious connotations. 茶飯 (also read ちゃめし: lit. tea rice) is rice, prepared with tea and other seasonings. Brett's a big fan of お茶漬け, which is kind of the same thing, at least to my 外人 sensibilities. What makes it the equivalent of 'daily bread,' is in its simplicity.

Just as bread is perceived to be the 代表 of western cuisine, rice and tea are two of the pillars of the Japanese diet. No point in getting into the パン食、米食 debate. No matter how much you might chafe at the idea of "bread" as summing up your country's cuisine, it won't change the fact that Japanese people see it that way. Nor will it change the fact that Japanese people DON'T chafe at the idea of being gastronomically identified with rice. That's the way things are.

On a less debatable point, the addition of "日常' also helps draw the "daily bread" analogy nicely.
You can use 日常 to talk about anything that is routine, ordinary, regular, everyday to the point of being 当たり前.

Of course, the same thing could be said of the entire phrase as well.

1. An everyday occurrence.
2. Something perfectly ordinary and expected.

Try using this with である。

In Japan it's considered bad form to talk on your cell phone on the train, but using it for mail, the internet, or for games is about as common as rice.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day

If you're preparing to go to Japan, the internet will provide you with an endless checklist of things you should or should not do to make yourself less of a foreign barbarian. While a lot of it is encapsulated in phrases accompanying this or that action, half or more is registered through gestures that would be seen as harmless in some other cultures. There are a few notions that rank as chief among these faux pas: standing your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, treading over tatami mats in shoes - muddy or otherwise - or chomping on some food while walking around, to name a few.

Beyond the big ones, though, the personal awareness one must exert to adhere to the minutia of manners is intense. Zen Buddhism intense. I used to think I had a fairly good grasp on dinner table etiquette when my girlfriend's mother suddenly pointed out to me that I was doing EVERYTHING wrong. There was, apparently, an order in which I was supposed to pick up my respective bowls. Nested within this order was a new way for me to pick up my chopsticks that involved first lifting a bowl with my left hand, then my chopsticks - from above, and at the exact center - with my right, tucking them between the pinkie and ring finger of my left hand, gliding my fingers about a quarter of the way down the newly suspended chopsticks before shifting my hand below them so as to not break contact while also refraining from touching the tips, and finally adjusting the chopsticks to a usable position (ie the proper position, which is a whole different lesson) with just one hand. If it sounds complicated (and vaguely run-on sentencey), that's because it is. I still practice it from time to time when the mood strikes me, but as a ravenous eater I can ill abide cultural nuances asserting themselves between the food and my mouth. And that's where today's trivia comes in.

えんりょ の かたまり

enryo no katamari

I can guarantee that anybody who has been in Japan for any more than a week or two will have experienced this phrase, even if they did not know the meaning or even detect anything unusual about it. Breaking down the words is not only helpful, but fun for two reasons.

First, 遠慮 is a great word. Why? It summarizes the traditional Japanese psyche: reserved. While this word is not nearly so definitive today as it might have been hundreds of years ago, it will still serve as an excellent label for the diffidence you will puzzle over from students, coworkers, etc. It will also give you the stock phrase "遠慮しないで", or "don't hold back," "don't be shy," as well as the not so stock phrase "今度は遠慮します," which can help you politely decline something you don't want to do. Use them wisely, padawans.

Next - and also, high-geek warning - 塊 is the first word in the title of the bizarre but ridiculously amusing game "Katamari Damacy," or 塊魂. This, sadly, has almost nothing in common with today's trivia save the kanji 塊, which means lump, chunk, clump, bit, etc. For this phrase, though, I'm going to flex my editorial muscle and add in "morsel" as a potential translation.

Put it together - the morsel of reservation, ie the last bit of food on a communal plate that nobody is willing to be responsible for taking. The idea is that everyone is being gracious by saving the final piece for everybody else. Rather than make a big deal about who is going to enjoy the last, tiny, delicious bit of food you've been snacking on, nobody takes it, and the problem is solved. But - much like no-walking-and-eating, always using bathroom slippers, and not referring to your students as the Japanese equivalent of "that little bastard" during class - this is another convention I break unrepentantly.

On a final note, our long-time readers might remember we covered a similar phrase that would've been enriched by this bit of trivia: いいとこ取り. If you use these two phrases together in a single sentence, there is a very high chance you will actually KILL the person you are speaking to with impressiveness. Consider yourself warned.

A little sampling of my usual dinner chatting:

Brett "The Eating Machine" Staebell has dibs on this last piece! Anybody who thinks they can stop me: BRING IT!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

暴飲暴食 ・ 鯨飲馬食

ぼういんぼうしょく ・ げいいんばしょく
bouinboushoku ・ geiinbashoku

It's been a long time since I did a yoji and though I actually have a few stored away for the future (Read: Friday, if things go swimmingly), I was at school and didn't have by little stash at my fingertips. So I do what any good yoji-editor does and started groping blindly for a topic by hassling Tina, our resident CIR, ie the person who gets the same salary for doing nothing. She popped out a few that the Yoji has, to my joy, already covered...but also the second of the little gems above. The first one I knew from a long time ago, a yoji that would go on to inspire our third or fourth Ichiban Group t-shirts. Needless to say, these yoji have a special place in my heart, and are even better since they contribute the trend of looking for idioms that apply to the editors.

1. Drink like a whale, eat like a horse.


1. Excessive eating and drinking
2. Debauching
Make sure to click on the picture for the full-sized version: those shirts are important to the theme of this post.

This is a particularly good post with both Jeff's birthday and Nirav's one year "I'm leaving Japan" anniversary coming up. As with all the great things, Jeff and Nirav's influence on my life here is only understood in their absence. I remember 暴飲暴食ing and rampant hijinks. 応援団, beech parties, a Japanese superbowl as well as a Fourth of July, and a trip to the Asahi beer factory that was meant to be the first stop of the entire Japanese brewery circuit. What happened that made us rethink the other breweries? 鯨飲馬食.

Ex.  このごろ僕は何事もほどほどに生活してる。でもそれよりもニラブとジェフと一緒に暴飲暴食すること良かったものだ。早く日本に戻ってお前ら!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

As much as I like to talk about food, eating, and eating Japanese food, it's a miracle of laziness that I haven't posted this one yet. Especially since this ranks right up there with chopsticks skillz as necessary knowledge for HOW to eat in Japan.

sankaku tabe

Triangle eating is not about McDonald's 三角パイ, nor is it about a food pyramid-style nutritional scheme. 三角食べ is all about the order in which you eat your food.

As the pictures show (and the text attests), the correct way to eat a meal is to start with your rice and work your way around bite by bite. One bite of rice, one sip of soup, one bite of your おかずor 飯. A lot of you may know this already, or have heard about this, but it would be a mistake to write it off. It's a big, big part of Japanese culture.

How big, you ask? Well, since the 1970s, Japanese schools have incorporated it into school lunches, like a part of the curriculum. And although expert testimony (W. M. Edgar, D. M. O'Mullane (9 1990). Saliva and oral health. British Dental Journal) from around the world supports the idea that interspersing sips of soup is good for keeping your mouth well salivated and therefore helping the digestion process.

But the reason for eating like this is not a nutritional one. It's part of the Japanese reverence for food that is one of the main reasons I love Japan. "和食をおいしく味わうため," according to wikipedia. Gotta love the classic wikipedia objectivity, especially in lines like this as well: 日本以外ではこのような概念はない。

If you want to try it out for yourself, remember, start with your rice, and try to size your bites so that you finish each portion of your meal at the same time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Japanese Cultural Trivia:


You get a bonus third post today and a bit of Japanese Cultural trivia that includes some history, some culinary customs, some vocabulary, and some awesome.

Monday, as you know, was 海の日(umi no hi), but did you know that today is 土用の丑の日 (doyou no ushi no hi)?

I bet that you did not.

In it's most common usage, and according to Rikai-chan, 土用 means "midsummer" or "the dog days of summer," but actually, EVERY season has it's 土用。As this site explains, each season has an official starting day (you can find it on most calendars) and the 土用 period comprises the 18 days before the official start of the next season. For example, the first day of Autumn usually falls on or near August 8th, and the 18 days before that (where we are now) is considered 夏の土用.

(Traditionally, 夏の土用 is the most important of all the 土用s because it's an extremely busy time for agriculture, which is why most people only use it to refer to the summer.)

Now, 丑の日 or the day of the ox, is borrowed from Chinese astrology, and before I spend nine hours on the internet trying to find out what makes 丑の日 different from the other 11 kinds of days, I'm just going to acknowledge the fact that it's not THAT important to this post. The point is that since the Chinese astrological cycle of days repeats every 12 days, and there are 18 days in 土用, you're guaranteed at least one 土用の丑の日.

土用の丑の日 traditionally represents the hottest, most humid, nastiest summer day (not in terms of actual temperature records or humidity indexes, but just... in general) and it's a day when you might be particularly susceptible to today's bonus word:


夏バテ is a term that might also be misleading, depending on your dictionary. I've seen it listed as "adaptation to the summer heat," which sounds to me like getting used to/dealing with it. In actual usage, 夏バテ is closer to "heat stroke." It's a term for exhaustion, fatigue, general malaise and physical misery that you suffer during the nearly unbearable summer months.

But don't worry. There is a trick to beating 夏バテ that every person living in Japan should know, and I'm going to reveal it to. You might even have noticed it yourself at restaurants, or supermarkets, or in advertisements for either of the above. Today, all across Japan, Japanese people will be consuming massive quantities of うなぎ、fresh-water eel.

If you've ever tried unagi, basted in a mildly sweet barbecue sauce (think 繊細) served over steamed rice (even better when the rice and eel are steamed together) with sliced tamago yaki and crisp toasted nori, maybe with some daikon sukemono on the side, good lord... if you've had that, you should know that you don't NEED a reason to eat うなぎ.

But as for it's value as a weapon against the dreaded 夏バテ, consult the nutritional advice of... this lady:


Chock-full of vitamin-A, plus proper quantities of protein, lipids, vitamins B, D, E, calcium, and iron, うなぎ is just the ticket for a highly nourishing meal.
But for those of you who, like me, aren't satisfied with surface explanations of why things are the way they are, it gets even better. Nutritious and delicious though it may be, how did the entire country of Japan start a tradition of eating eel on 土用の丑の日?

Back in the Edo Period, there was a renaissance man by the name of 平賀源内 (Hiraga Gennai). He studied it all, and did it all. He was a painter, a physician, a scientist, an avid follower of Western studies, an inventor (his エレキテル;electrostatic generator has earned him immortality in Japanese anime, often as an eccentric or even MAD scientist), and an author, writing novels, satire, and articles about nature or science. He was considered an expert on all matter of subjects, and rendered his intellectual services to those who needed them.

So when the Edo Period うなぎ vendors had a problem, they knew exactly who to turn to. How to ensure strong うなぎ sales in summer? Hiraga Gennai had the answer. Create an advertising campaign ensuring the masses that eating eel was a great way to beat the heat. True story. The 土用の丑の日 tradition started because うなぎ vendors and restaurants once asked Hiraga Gennai to help them recover from a sales slump.

It's possible then, that Hiraga Gennai was the first person to become a celebrity endorser in Japanese history, and at the very least he must rank as the most successful. The entire country still buys into the advertising, and Gennai is responsible for billions and billions of yen in うなぎ sales, hundreds of years after his death.

(If that's not enough to make you question his moral integrity, here's a slight footnote: He was also passionate about performing experiments on ore. So much so that his anger at being unable to open new mines and procure more samples drove him into a fit that led to the death of one of his students. He died in a Japanese prison.)

So... enjoy your bonus post, eat some eel today (I will), and stay out of the heat!

Hope everybody's having a great summer!

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

I wanted to add this one as an addendum to Brett's 八方美人 post, and re-emphasize his suggestion that you be careful when you use 八方美人. It's really, really difficult to use it in a positive sense. Unless you're absolutely sure there's no room for negative interpretation, don't expect it to be taken well. In most cases, it's more likely to be associated with today's trivia. Check it out:

goma suri

This is something that most of you might be familiar with if you've ever eaten a meal at Hamakatsu, or any similar katsu restaurant. In these restaurants, you get to prepare your own katsu sauce, which involves the literal translation of today's trivia: grinding sesame seeds.

However, the phrase as it's used more commonly refers to baseless flattery or sycophantic behavior. I asked around a LOT to try and find out what I could about the origins of this expression, why grinding sesame seeds is equated to flattery, and there are a few theories.

One derives from a hand gesture attributed to merchants and shopkeepers, especially when they deal with high status customers. I've heard that TV dramas or period movies often feature self-deprecating shopkeepers who suck up to the visiting officials or samurai on horseback, running alongside, offering wares, food, or something to drink, all while rubbing their hands together in a gesture that resembles the grinding of sesame seeds.

The other explanation I've found is that when sesame seeds are ground, they often splinter into tiny pieces and fly off in all directions, which is to say, eight directions, which is to say like a 八方美人.

If you can find any other possible explanations, let me know, because I always like my answers to be a little more concrete.

In any case, you can use this one ALL THE TIME, especially as a joking way to respond to a compliment. You can say: 「胡麻すり上手ですね。」 with a laugh, or you can simply give them a knowing look and emulate the grinding gesture. Cup one hand as though it were a mortar, and then pretend you're holding a pestle in your other hand, moving it in a circular motion.

Try it in conversation and let me know how it works out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

As a male who likes to cook, I tend to arouse a lot of curiosity in Japan. I get a lot of questions about what kinds of things I cook, how often I cook, what's my favorite thing to cook, etc. Two questions that used to catch me off guard in this situation were the following:

1) 大好物はなんですか?
daikoubutsu wa nan desu ka?
What's your favorite dish (to eat)?
This one was weird to hear for me because the word 大好物 doesn't SOUND like it has anything to do with food. It always reminded me of 植物 or 動物, so I found myself imagining a giant plant animal beast when I should've been answering with お好み焼き or something like that.

2) 得意な料理はなんですか?
Tokuina ryouri wa nan desu ka?
What food (kind of food) are you good at cooking?

This one gave me pause, not because of the meaning, but because I never knew how to treat the useage of 料理. Was I supposed to name a specific dish, or just say "Mexican," "Italian" or something like that? I've had someone tell me that their 得意な料理 was ナス料理: stuff with eggplant in it.

Recently, I came across some GREAT language trivia that helps solve the problem presented by question number 2, and will help you impress people with more than just your cooking skills, especially if you know the origins of this trivia as well. The kanji for today's trivia have two readings, and both are used, so pay special notice to this:

じゅうはちばん ・ おはこ
juuhachiban ・ ohako

Where your 得意な料理 might be the KIND of food you're good at cooking, a person's 十八番 is their specialty dish.

I had dinner at a friend's house the other night, and one of the party members had recently returned from a homestay in New Zealand. She prepared New Zealand style roast chicken, and when everyone oohed and aahed over how delicious it was, she said: 私の十八番になったみたい。

This kicked off a lot of discussion around the table of what everyone's 十八番 was. Someone joked that their 十八番 was 卵焼き which I've heard a lot of other people joke about (seems like it's the Japanese version of "I can cook toast"). I was able to catch the meaning pretty quickly, but I was pretty confused.

What the hell did the number 18 have to do with cooking food?

So there are a few schools of thought on this or 説, meaning theories, which you can read about here on Japanese wikipedia, but we'll stick with the main one, because a: it's the most widely held and b: the buddhist explanation is wicked complicated.

The predominant theory is that this expression comes from kabuki theater, way back in the day (early 1800s) when kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro VII selected the 18 kabuki plays that he believed to be the best representations of the aragoto style of kabuki. The kabuki plays that are still performed today are taken from these 18. It took me a while to figure out why, of the 18, the 18th was considered the best. But then I realized that the phrase doesn't have to translate as "the eighteenth." It might just be "the eighteen." So when you say your 十八番、 you're not neccesarily identifying the 18th in a series, you're just referencing the idea of the best selection.

The fact that these same kanji have also been given the 当て字 reading/pronunciation of 「おはこ」 (honorable box) is attributed to the actual boxes that the props and settings for these 18 kabuki plays were stored in. This explanation looks suspect, however, when you consider the fact that there are records of this reading being used that predate the selection of the 18 kabuki plays.

Since my last super historical post ended up pretty dense and obscure, I'll let those of you who want to read more about this follow the wiki link above.

Other than that, you should also know that both readings of 十八番 can be applied to your best Karaoke song, as well as your specialty food.

Also interesting is this note I found, also on wikipedia: "the number [18], along with other eight-related numbers such as 80 and 88, is symbolic of the general concept of "a great many."

Hmm. So what are your 十八番s?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

表現 Break: 怪我の功名

けが の こうみょう
kega no komyou

The great achievements of an injury... Sounds kind of sadistic doesn't it? Maybe it's some kind of martial-arts related phrase about the efficiency of the hammerfist technique when applied to the Triple Warmer-23? Maybe not.

Rikai-chan will get you closer, by telling you that 怪我の功名 means a "lucky hit," but this doesn't capture the nuance of the phrase. 一刀両断-ing a watermelon with a broom stick while blindfolded is a "lucky hit (or at least, it appeared to be). It's not 怪我の功名.

1. A fortunate mistake
2. A happy accident
3. Fortune disguised as misfortune

To qualify as a lucky hit of the 怪我の功名 variety, you have to start with something that seems to be bad, a mistake, a screw-up, or a calamity of some kind.

One of my books, 小学四字熟語・ことわざ has this great picture of a baseball player who has accidentally knocked a man unconscious with an out-of-the-park smash... but the black mask that the injured party wears, the sack of loot he carries, and the elated police officer standing over him reveal that this unlikely head trauma was actually a civil service!

A lot of the usage on the internet is related to cooking. "I mistook oyster sauce for ソース, but it came out DELICIOUS," etc.

Can you think of any examples of things that would count as 怪我の功名? I'll start us off with some historical examples of fuck-ups with fantastic consquences.*

Crap! I dropped all these chocolate chips in the cookie batter. Now, it's just RUINED!

... もしかして、お前がそんなに不器用でいるのは、ベーキングをする
... Maybe you wouldn't be so clumsy if you didn't always wear those stupid gloves when you baked...

This white wine has all kinds of bubbles in it! You've really messed it up this time!

And on top of that, it seems to be on fire...

And I'll make the last example, today's

Scooby and those dudes manage to mess up in a way that somehow catches the criminal, EVERY TIME! If you're not a little kid, it's pretty fricking boring...

...though I might still watch it if it looked like this.

*Historical examples do not accurately reflect history.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Japanese Language Trivia of the Day:

Your tongue is an idiot!

I was reminded of this by lisze's comment on 大同小異, where the all too common practice of treating Coke and Pepsi like equals came up. I've never posted it before because I assumed most people have heard this already, but then, I remembered something else: people pick up vocab that is specific to who they are as individuals. You learn words that apply to you, and therefore, the words that I hear all the time (怠け者、食いしん坊、弱虫 etc*) might not necessarily be familiar to everyone else.

した は バカ に なっている。
shita wa baka ni natteiru.

The literal translation is at the top of the post: Your tongue is (becoming) an idiot, and while it makes me think of people whose tastebuds are poor in general, it actually is applied to people who enjoy/aren't adversely affected by SPICY FOOD. I love spicy food, so I've heard it a lot, although I suspect that the average non-Japanese person might also hear it frequently; Japanese cuisine tends to be pretty tame in the spicy department, with the notable exceptions of yuzukoshou, wasabi, and MAYBE that karashi that they use to top buta kakuni, but I think they get that from China. Am I missing anything?

It's also important for me to remember that the Japanese concept of 'spicy' works a little bit differently than my own. When I think of the word 辛い, and the idea of spicy, I think of heat, the kind of spicy you get from chili or horseradish, etc. Japanese people tend to apply 辛い to anything that is heavily seasoned or particularly strong in flavor. While you can specify that something is 塩辛い (salty) or にんにく辛い (garlicky), it's also acceptable to just call those things spicy. The same goes for things that are COATED in basil. So somebody who excessively seasons their food could also be described as idiot-tongued.

Keep this one ready for your next Korean food outing or your next round of Tako-yaki Wasabi Russian Roulette, and yes, you can use it to describe yourself.

  • You can use either word for tongue with this expression: した or ベロ.
  • One of the reasons that your tongue is described as an idiot for enjoying heavily spiced food is because of the importance of the word 繊細 (せんさい; sensai) to Japanese cuisine. 繊細 is delicacy or subtlety in flavor, and it's the essence of what makes traditional Japanese food Japanese.
  • Japanese words for the strength of tastes, from strong to weak: 濃い(koi; strong) ; 繊細(sensai; subtle and therefore awesome); 薄い (usui; weak)
  • If you happen to be in Saga-ken, 濃い is dialecticalized as コユイ.