Thursday, May 2, 2019

Reiwa , 令和, a new era

Reiwa , 令和, is the name of the era just begun as Emperor Akihito abdicated to his son, Naruhito on May 1, 2019. It has stirred some controversy, as the first kanji, , can be translated as command. This has caused some concern as to the intended connotation and possible implications of this choice made by the government. 

As written in this Reuters article, the character is “often used to mean 'command' or 'order,' imparting an authoritarian nuance that offends some.”

My kanji app did define it as orders.

Those voicing concern over the implied meaning of 令和note the hawkishness of the current administration, as well as the family ties of some government officials (including Prime Minister Abe) to Japan's military past, especially World War II and events leading up to it. Critics voice the worry that Japan could become aggressive. In my view, a newer development is been President Trump's unpredictable statements and behavior, since it has been America's role to protect Japan during its pacifist days, as established by the Constitution of 1947. Although he and PM Abe seem to have a cordial relationship, the U.S. President has expressed the notion that Japan may have to defend itself, as can be seen bout 0:42 into this video, just before the choir rendition of the Stones' “You Can't Always Get What You Want.”
I'd prefer not to embed the video, but the link is:

Anyway, the only point I mean to make is that if a pacifist nation's protective ally makes its military defense sound uncertain, it's natural for the pacifist nation to want to build its own defense. Having said that, I hope that Japan remains pacifist. But I guess we'll see...

So PM Abe and his administration has been sensitive to concerns about the nuance of Reiwa , 令和, which is nice, and I'm glad of it. They've defined it as “beautiful harmony.” This article from the Japan Times explains it more extensively. Abe offers the more complex definition, that of a “culture born and nurtured as people’s hearts are beautifully drawn together.” I'm not sure how you get all that from 令和, but I guess that's his interpretation.

On the news

And little did I know, despite living in Tokyo, there were massive celebrations. I was at home watching Game of Thrones

Some videos about the background of 令和:

This lady talks a bit about the Reuters article at the link at the top of this post.

Finally, how to write the kanji:


Happy Reiwa!  May it be a peaceful and prosperous time 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

TKG, 卵かけご飯 (たまごかけごはん)

卵(tamago) = egg
ご飯 (gohan) = rice
Kake (かけ, full form かける) means you're putting or pouring egg onto rice, preferably hot steaming rice. Most people here would add shoyu to the raw egg. Almost all of my Japanese friends seem to trust and eat without fear raw eggs produced and sold in Japan.  When traveling abroad, most of them would be more cautious, which I think speaks to the level of trust that many, perhaps most, Japanese people have in Japanese products.  I'm letting myself generalize here, with no judgment intended...  

Below are a few old school TKG examples:


There's now a TKG machine.  I don't know when it came out, but these videos appeared last year.  The machine separates the yolk (黄身, kimi) from the egg white (白身, shiromi). The first one shows three different dishes: a simple TKG, one with natto (fermented soybeans) and shirasu (whitebait fish), and one using instant ramen instead of rice.  All include negi (green onions).


And this caught my attention because I believe they're speaking Chinese, and yet TKG is part of their vocabulary.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

jukensei (受験生) and rōnin (浪人)


A jukensei (受験生) is a student preparing for a school's entrance exams.  Most typically, this means someone in his/her final year of high school.  (Junior high school students studying to enter high school are also jukensei.)  Although many students begin studying in earnest at the start of senior year (or even earlier), probably most of my own students focus on their 受験生 lives from after summer break.  These studies are in addition to their already existing daily school demands, which can be considerable.

While some students will have the chance to take entrance exams at the end of the calendar year, most will participate in January and February admissions.

The 受験生 life seems hard.  However, many seem to find time to enjoy a bit of each day during this period, to which their Instagram stories would attest.  Small, ordinary pleasures often take greater meaning in times of adversity and fatigue.

When I was in junior high school, in Hawai'i, I used to hear stories about (some) Japanese students committing suicide when they failed to get into the universities of their choice.  As a child growing up in the islands, what I knew about Japan was often unnoticed and unconscious, many Japanese things not even thought of as Japanese, in our local culture.  I guess my favorite example is something my auntie said when she visited me in Tokyo; she asked my friend, "Do you think we can find omiyage in Japan?", not recognizing that omiyage is a Japanese word.  A lot of our words are like that--they come from faraway lands and blend seamlessly with the English that was imported and naturalized and which has evolved in the islands for more than two centuries.  (For humorous examples, see the book Pidgin to the Max.)

Hearing about Japan's young suicides happened at the start of my adolescence.  It may have been my introduction to a grownup version of pressure for success, and to an unadulterated consequence of failure.  It colored my perception of modern Japanese culture and many of my peers of the time would make a similar claim.  We imagined across an ocean a society in the midst of great success--this was during the Bubble Economy--that  bestowed an intense burden on its people.  It was a simplistic interpretation based on a few articles in the newspaper, but perhaps not necessarily entirely wrong.

I can't speak to that time in Japan's recent history; I arrived a few years after the Bubble had burst.  Sometimes I hear stories from colleagues who grew up during the era.  My students certainly know about it from their parents and teachers but, thankfully, much seems to have changed.  My third-year students (called seniors back home) are stressed, and most of them go through to four or more months of hellish existence, room and time in their lives for little more than studying a curriculum designed to pass university entrance exams. 

A high school student who has failed to enter his/her intended college may have, depending on familial, financial, and other circumstances, the option of becoming a rōnin (浪人).  As books and movies and comics have taught us, the original meaning of rōnin is masterless samurai.  (See Frank Miller's Rōnin for his groundbreaking example of Dystopian ficiton.)  The definition used in my students' lives is a graduate from high school who spends the following year in preparation for a second crack at entrance exams.  These rōnin may study independently at home or, if the family can afford it, at a cram school most probably specializing in entrance exams. 

I'm not clear on how many chances a rōnin has--this may depend on the rōnin and his/her family--but having at least a second one takes off some of the pressure.  This month brings the end to an arduous journey for many a teenager in Japan.  Some will continue into March.

Below is a sample from the Frank Miller series mentioned above.  I think lot of his writing is great...I would add that this particular story probably shouldn't be interpreted as a literal account of Japanese culture, but rather as science fiction and fantasy influenced by Miller's interest in Japanese culture.  (He spent some time in Japan.)  Someone was nice enough to make a video of the first issue.

And here, someone posted a short documentary about the 47 Rōnin legend:

And someone else posted about the historical site:

Finally, I did a search on "rōnin (浪人) jukensei (受験生)" and this video came up on top:
rōnin (浪人) jukensei (受験生)

Friday, October 6, 2017

ユルい, yurui = loose (and other meanings)

One of the best things about teaching in schools as a part-timer is having long vacations.  I spent a month and a day this summer back home in Hawai'i.  Being back home always reprograms my mind, my body--a sort of resetting, I guess you could say.  The beach, the air and sun, the time to eat with friends and family, the chance to go to the cinema any time I want...There are a number of things that factor in.  Most of all, the chance to get all the rest and sleep that I want.  A few days into my vacation, I looked at the mirror and thought, My God, the bags under my eyes have disappeared.  Thank you!

After the month of summer break, I'm fine with coming back to Japan, and I'm fine with going back to work, since I quite like my schools.  But the stamina isn't there, at first.  I get exhausted after teaching one or two classes.  

Thankfully, my team-teachers (i.e. Japanese teachers who conduct the class with me) also lose stamina over the vacation, so neither of us feels a burning desire to hit the ground running.  This year, my first class back was Expressions, our name for  our translation/grammar course.   It requires little preparation, relying mostly on our diligence and attention to the moment, as we examine students' writings, making corrections of clear errors, offering alternative expressions that may help their sentences flow, and trying to derive from specific examples what general rules of grammar and syntax should be broken down for analysis within that class period.  I don't know if this sounds exactly fun, but it can be if teachers and students interact well.  

The first day back to school, my team-teacher for this E class, in a moment of thinking aloud, breathed a sigh of relief halfway into it, "Ah, this is a good class to get back into it  ユルい、ね."  When I looked it up in Google Translator, loose was the singular result.  The TT said that it is the literal meaning, but in this situation it translated better to "laid back," or a way to ease into something.

For this video, the usage of ユルい might be something like light or easy (exercises), something a light workout.

I like this one,ユルいバトル (yurui battle).  I would describe it as playful fighting, but I suppose that isn't much of a direct translation.  But anyway... 


I'm still trying to figure out why this is a yurui bangumi...

Finally, if you search ユルいラップ, the results will bring you some slow and, yes, loose rap and hip hop.  I guess the word chill applies.  This one is a sizeable mix.

It seems to me that all the meanings have in common a relaxing lack of intensity, so maybe I'd go with that as a definition.

Monday, October 10, 2016

引きこもり (hikikomori)

Someone taught me this word about ten years ago.  She was a charming young woman about to graduate from a music college--she was funny, and fun.  After we'd known each other for a few weeks, though, she explained to me over dinner that she had this other side, this hikikomori side to her, which made her want to sleep all day and surf the internet from the evening to early morning, and repeat the pattern the next day, never having to leave the house.  She was living with her parents. 

Hiku means to withdraw, and komoru ( 籠る、こもる) means to seclude oneself.  She wanted to know how to say hikikomori in English.  The words that immediately came to mind were recluse/reclusive and hermit.  When I asked a colleague at school what he thought, he said that yamagomori would be a better literal translation for the kind of hermit that we might see in, for instance, How the Grinch Stole ChristmasYama (山) is the word for mountain, after all.  I suppose in English that we could equally say that J.D. Salinger was well-known for being a recluse, and metaphorically we might also say that he was a bit of a hermit during his final decades.  But apparently in Japanese hikikomori would be the more conventional word for people who choose to hole themselves up at home.

So I just came across this CNN article about the 541,000 people in the country who are deemed by the Japanese cabinet to be hikikomori.  They came up with a clear and articulate definition, i.e. "those who haven't left their homes or interacted with others for at least six months."

You can read it at:
I like the two videos.  It's been a while since I got excited about a CNN video, to tell the truth.  

The other video (below), artfully made, is also embedded within the CNN article:

*correction--In the initial post, I wrote that komori is the word for cloud.  I apologize for this mistake.  Kumori (曇り) is the word for cloud.  Sorry, everyone!

And this is Dr. Seuss's infamous hermit--

Saturday, August 27, 2016

ゆめかわいい (yume kawaii)

At one of my schools, students go all out on Sports Day.  It isn't so much that we're a particularly athletic school; it has more to do with the Endan, a trilogy of musical dance interpretations.  Usually much costume design and hair coloring is involved.  The three teams--Red, White, and Blue--dress and color accordingly.

So this happened back in May.  (My apologies as always for slacking on blogging.)  In one of my classes, a couple of girls in the back row were emanating a silvery glow from their white locks.  "Kawaii deshou?" asked someone sitting next to the silvery white-haired duo.  "Yume kawaii!"  I was saying "Wh-What--?" and she went on to explain the meaning of ゆめかわいい.  ゆめ is dream, and かわいい is of course cute/pretty, so ゆめかわいい is a dreamlike cuteness/prettiness, i.e. dreamy.  "She is like unicorn," finished the explanation.

Some nights later I was drinking with some Japanese colleagues and I told them the story.  One of them begged to differ with our students' interpretation of ゆめかわいい.  He learned the term some years back in his classical Japanese studies.  Long ago, he said, ゆめかわいい simply meant "very cute/pretty."  It was written in hiragana, so there was no kanji to denote the term's meaning.  But, according to my friend and colleague, ゆめ meant very (back in the day) and かわいい had the same meaning as it does now.  So ゆめかわいい was back then today's ちょうかわいい or めちゃかわいい.

On searching for examples of the term, I must say there were a lot of videos of makeup tips.  This is an example of how to make oneself up to be ゆめかわいい. 

Photos that turned up seemed to include white, pink, light blue, and other compatible colors.
 Image result for ゆめかわいい (yume kawaii) Image result for ゆめかわいい (yume kawaii)

Searching "yume kawaii fashion" and "yume kawaii box" turns up images congruent to the above.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around the yume kawaii box.  In my imagination, people who are really into are having it shipped to their homes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

YDK (Yareba Dekiru Ko, やればできる子)

I teach two eikaiwa classes, to our high school's 1st-years (in the states, we'd call them 10th graders).  During the third term, we focus on debating skills.

Before starting on debate, though, I always ask if anyone has something else they want to talk about, discuss, disclose...just anything they have going on in their lives that they'd like to be able to express in English.  One of my classes, a group of eight, always has something.  They like to have conversations about everyday things.  From one perspective, there's something ideal about this because it implies that they carry in them a self-motivation of some kind; it also lets them establishes a context through which they might readily remember what they learn.  In general, I feel that people retain information most easily when their interests are ignited, or engaged, so for them to bring their own topics of conversation is a good thing.

The downside is that these conversations take time, so we fell behind schedule in our debate practice.  My Japanese team-teacher and I were getting a little worried that we'd run out of time, maybe fall short of having an actual full debate before the end of term, and we expressed this to the class.  Our apprehensions were causeless.  The students threw themselves for one 45-minute period into a fully formatted and timed debate as my team-teacher sighed with relief.

As class ended, teachers complimented students, confessing our initial level of concern.  The students were not offended in the least, but rather nodded in assent.  They perhaps had their own doubts about how it would go.  But, one young lady said, "やっぱりYDK."  She probably anticipated my perplexity, and correctly so; she immediately followed by explaining her acronym, "やればできる子."  やれば means "if you do," and できる, of course, means "able to" or "can."  子 is short for 子供, or child.  So literally translated, I guess YDK would be something like "a child who, if s/he does something, can do it."  A less literal translation might be "someone who can do something if s/he tries."  Or "a child who, if  s/he tries, can succeed."  I sense that the hypothetical aspect to this phrase is an important connotation because it implies that intrinsic to the definition is an uncertainty, before trying/doing something, as to whether the person can do actually it.  And then by taking the leap the YDK dispels all doubts.  Although I didn't ask, I'd bet that this is a term coined by the youth of Japan.

However, since it's been used in commercials, television viewers around the nation, and because it has a dance named after it, I'm sure the general population knows or will soon come to know this acronym.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

11 Beautiful Japanese Words That Don't Exist In English

The article below was originally published at:

All props to author Mare Sugio!!

Once, when I asked my friend from a small tribe in Burma how they would say “breakfast” there, she told me that they didn’t have a word for it because they only ate twice a day--lunch and dinner. I happen to have a lot of friends who speak English as their second language and that made me realize that a language has a lot to do with its culture’s uniqueness. Because of that there are some untranslatable words.
In Japanese culture, people have a lot of appreciation towards nature and it is very important to be polite towards others. That politeness and the nature appreciation reflected on to its language and created some beautiful words that are not translatable to English.

いただきます Itadakimasu

"Itadakimasu" means “I will have this.” It is used before eating any food to express appreciation and respect for life, nature, the person who prepared the food, the person who served the food, and everything else that is related to eating.

おつかれさま Otsukaresama

"Otsukaresama" means “you’re tired.” It is used to let someone know that you recognize his/her hard work and that you are thankful for it.

木漏れ日 Komorebi

"Komorebi" refers to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.

木枯らし Kogarashi

"Kogarashi" is the cold wind that lets us know of the arrival of winter.

物の哀れ Mononoaware

"Monoaware" is "the pathos of things." It is the awareness of the impermanence of all things and the gentle sadness and wistfulness at their passing.

森林浴 Shinrinyoku

“Shinrinyoku” ("forest bathing") is to go deep into the woods where everything is silent and peaceful for a relaxation.

幽玄 Yuugen

"Yuugen" is an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses that are too mysterious and deep for words.

しょうがない Shoganai

The literal meaning of "Shoganai" is “it cannot be helped.” However, it is not discouraging or despairing. It means to accept that something was out of your control. It encourages people to realize that it wasn’t their fault and to move on with no regret.

金継ぎ/金繕い kintsuki/kintsukuroi

"Kintsukuroi" is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver joining the pieces and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.
わびさび Wabi-sabi

"Wabi-sabi" refers to a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and peacefully accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay.

擬音語 All the onomatopoeia

English has onomatopoeia, but Japanese has far more. For example, we have “om-nom-nom” for eating and they have “paku-paku” for eating normally, “baku-baku” for eating wildly, “gatsu-gatsu” for eating fast, “mogu-mogu” for chewing a lot, etc. Doesn’t it make your head spin? The onomatopoeia for that kind of dizziness is “kurukuru” by the way. The image above is showing some of those onomatopoeia. As you can see, Japanese onomatopoeia is usually a repetitive sound. Although it might be a very difficult concept to understand, it adds a melody and an emotional meaning to a word. Japanese sounds poetic because of the onomatopoeia.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Jigyaku-teki (自虐的, じぎゃくてき)

Jigyaku-teki (自虐的, じぎゃくてき)is the word for self-deprecating, an essential part of Japanese culture.  As the friend who taught this to me texted, "Japanese people really like to be Jigyakuteki."

I You Tubed 自虐的 and looked through a couple dozen videos, but none of them conveyed (to me) the meaning of this term.  The video that made me most uncomfortable was (according to the description) someone trying to "fix" his belly button using a belt and key holder.  I don't mean anything judgmental, but I don't know what that's about...I don't really want to put the visual on this blog, but if anyone wants to see it (and can understand it), the url is

Anyway, may 2016 bring us all some great and blessed things!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

はやべん (hayaben)

When my students eat lunch early, e.g. between classes in the morning, they call it はやべん.  The はや is short for 早い (はやい, hayai), which means early.  The べん is short for 弁当 (べんとう, bentou), the word for lunchbox.

The Rap

The Game

Saturday, November 7, 2015

不可知論者 (ふかちろんしゃ, fukachironsha)

不可知論者 (ふかちろんしゃ)means agnostic.  A friend of mine, a philosophy major, taught me this word recently during a conversation about religion in Japan.  It's probably common knowledge that Shintoism and Buddhism are the most practiced religions in the country, a large percentage of the population categorizing themselves as having no religion.  

One source,, cites several surveys.

This topic came up sometimes when I used to teach adults at an eikaiwa.  Quite a number of my students felt that the scarcity of strong commitment within the population to organized religion played a role in the low crime rate and generally safe conditions in Japan...I don't think they were knocking religion; they were trying to say that few people get violent over God/gods over here.

My friend and I were discussing whether the non-affiliated category indicated more of an atheist or agnostic mindset...She also said that a lot of people might not be familiar with the term 不可知論者, as it may be somewhat of a technical term.

Reiwa , 令和, a new era

Reiwa , 令和 , is the name of the era just begun as Emperor Akihito abdicated to his son, Naruhito on May 1, 2019. It has stirred some cont...