Wednesday, December 20, 2006

chou ちょう

means very, really, so. . .Its usage seems to most closely resemble many English speakers' usage of the word so, as in ちょうかわいい!(So cute!), ちょうかっこいい(So cool--), ちょうおいしい、これ!(This tastes so good!). In other words, it's an effective way to emphasize a point.

I've met a few people here who have said that the younger generation overuses the word ちょう. The criticism is that relying on the word too much has led to the neglecting other equally effective words (i.e. synonyms and longer, descriptive phrases), inadvertantly decreasing the vocabulary pool of these our times. I don't know whether or not this generalization is accurate, but I do agree that
ちょう is more commonly used by younger people than their parents and grandparents.

shukan-teki 主観的

subjective, as in the opposite of objective

Sunday, December 17, 2006

kyakkan-teki 客観的

means “objective,” as in “objective point-of-view.” An adjective, not a noun. (The noun form of the word “objective” would be mokuteki、目的.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

teme てめ

One of the Japanese pronouns for “you.” Generally, it’s best not to say this word to people; if you say it to someone who doesn’t know you’re joking, be ready to duck or block a punch. But you can probably find appropriate times to use this word. The other night, in a bar called HUB, I was with my friend Duncan. When Duncan has a lot to drink, he tends to get affectionate. He sometimes likes to grab people and kiss the tops of their heads—he’s a tall fellow. So he did it to me not once, but twice, at which point I cried out, “Teme, yamero!” The people around us understood.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

mamachari (ママチャリ)

I guess back home we’d call it “a girl’s bike.”

When I first moved to Japan, I lived in Minami Gyoutoku, a town in Chiba about 15 minutes from Tokyo by subway. Well, Tokyo has a lot of bicycles, but nothing quite like its neighboring prefectures—Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa, where bicycle parking regulations aren’t quite as strict as in the metropolis. The first thing I saw after coming out of Minami Gyoutoku Station was a bicycle garden—rows and rows and rows of bikes.

I looked around and noticed that most of the men were riding what the majority of Americans would consider to be a “girl’s bike.” Maybe you know what I mean—the top tube of the frame (i.e. the part of the frame that would give a guy a tremendous groin injury if he crashed into something and was carried forward by inertia) is generally lower on a girl’s bike, a bar that dips downward. Whereas “guy bikes” tend to have top tubes built as a straight bar, hence the danger to our groins.

So yeah, as I looked around, I noticed that most men were riding these girl bikes. “Well,” I said to myself, “it is a different culture. I guess it isn’t considered a girl’s bike—How cool!” What Americans consider to be a girl’s bike is nothing of the sort in Japan. It is all relative, after all. I did notice other gender-distinctive features, namely color; I saw no men riding pink bicycles. Mainly blue and silver, perhaps black. I guessed that color was mainly how people here distinguished between boys’ and girls’ bicycles.

A few days later, I found myself in a store called D-Mart, purchasing a blue bicycle for 8000 yen. The top tube swooped downward curvaceously. Sure, back in the U.S. it’d be considered somewhat girlie, but here I was in another culture that readily accepted this bike as masculine by virtue of its color. Again, so cool!

About a year later, I was riding my blue bike to meet some friends for lunch. One of them referred to my bicycle as a “mamachari.”

“What’s that?” I was starting to feel confused, even dizzy.

“A mamachari is a bicycle that you’d expect a woman in her 30s or 40s to be using.” What? How could this be? I’d been riding a woman’s bike for a year, all the while feeling as cool as Easy Rider! Apparently, a girl’s bike is a girl’s bike in both Japan and the U.S. People just don’t care as much about gender stereotypes, is my interpretation of the matter. I still have my mamachari. We’ve been through so much together over the years. We made the journey from Chiba to Tokyo, back to Chiba, and then back to Tokyo. My mamachari has the strength of ten men.

P.S. Here are some pictures of mamachari in Tokyo. None of these are mine, which is a manly blue.

Friday, December 8, 2006

The First Word, "Sugee" (スゲー)

It was hard deciding on the first word. Should it be a word of enormous significance, a word of transcedence, a word deep in meaning? I decided on a word that I hear everywhere, every day. For this blog, whatever words I post will be words that I hear and probably use in Japan.

sugee スゲー
A version of the word “sugoi” (すごい). I learned this word from a foreigner, a westerner, and he described it as the way men are supposed to say “sugoi.” Well, he was sort of right, but he generalized his explanation a little bit.

For one thing, women sometimes use this word. I was at a Velvet Revolver concert earlier this year, and a couple of young ladies (probably high school students) next to me, as they looked upon Scott Weiland with lust and idolatry, said to each other, “Yabai! Sugee kako ii.” So I do hear women say this word, usually younger women.

The other thing to keep in mind is that there are people who consider this to be a rude word. From what I can tell, it’s generally used by the younger generation, more often by males than females, and is by no means universally accepted by young people. But it is quite common. Spend some time in a high school or a McDonald’s in Japan and you’ll probably hear this word.

It seems that just about any adjective that ends with –oi or –ai can be morphed in a similar way. Other examples include:

umai -----> umee

omoshiroi -----> omoshiree

shitsukoi -----> shitsukee

日本語 Today!

Welcome to my Japanese vocabulary blog. I've been living and working in Tokyo for the past 11-plus years, and one of the things that keeps me going is learning the language, or at least feeling like I'm learning it. . .I've never attended a Japanese language school over here (although I did take night classes for 7 months at a community college in Hawai'i), so I rely on other resources--television, manga, the occasional movie, izakaya conversation, announcements over loudspeakers, graffiti, and of course everyday contact with the people around me.

Before you read on, I should tell you that my Japanese isn't very good. If you live in Japan and use the language in your day-to-day life, this blog will probably not help you much. I make frequent grammatical and conjugational errors. I hardly read kanji. And I sometimes get into trouble for using certain words in the wrong situations. This is all by way of saying that my lessons in the Japanese language are sometimes hard and unpleasant, sometimes pretty funny, and always feel real. I hope to share them with you. . .
It Lives, this Language! It is Alive. . .

P.S. If you’re just starting to study the language, you can find resources for hiragana and katakana at these sites:

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