Saturday, December 21, 2013

浮かれる (うかれる)

浮かれる, ukareru    

According to my dictionary, it means "to be very happy, to be in high spirits, in top form. . .to be delighted, be tickled pink, to make merry. . ." This term came up the other day, when one of my friends and co-workers saw that I was wearing my "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" necktie, and she noted that I was in the Christmas spirit.  The connotation, she noted, was that being caught up in anticipation of something allows one to leave behind the drudgeries of reality.      

Saturday, December 14, 2013

やりそう (yarisou)

やる (yaru) means do, same as する。
そう (sou), in this situation, means something akin to "seems like".

So やりそう means "It seems like you'd do that,"  or "It seems like something you'd do.

To illustrate, there was a class in which one of my students said this, and it made me laugh uncontrollably.

We were discussing an article about child discipline.  I asked everyone how they felt about corporal punishment.  After some small group talking time, we went around the room for people's views.  One member of the class said, "I think it is okay, if it is on a soft part of the body."  I think we all understood what she meant: spanking a child's bottom was okay, but hitting him/her, bruising, etc. was not.  Striking bone onto bone was not okay.  (I would like to mention that this student is a very nice person, having known her for two years, and I would bet all the money I have in this world that she wouldn't abuse a child.)

But, just as a joke, I asked her, "So this is okay?"  and I mimed someone hitting another person in the stomach.

The student immediately shook her head no.  Her friend, sitting next to her, shouted out, "Yarisou!", meaning that she thought the student would do something like that.  Punch her kid in the gut.  Of course, the friend was kidding, and we all shared a nice laugh.

Friday, December 6, 2013

音姫 (オトヒメ, the Sound Princess)

Have you ever felt embarrassed by the natural gaseous and liquid sounds we all make while doing Number 2?  For anyone who has, the public restroom in Japan is the place to be.

Witness the Otohime:

The first time I saw one was in 2001 or 2002, at an Italian restaurant in Ochanomizu.  Back then you had to press a button to make it work.  Its function is to make a bit of noise so that others in the restroom can't hear yours.

Apparently, In the past, people who wanted to cover up their bathroom sounds used to flush and flush as they went.   This would obviously result in a tremendous waste of water.  Enter the otohime (音, or oto, means sound and 姫, hime, is princess, e.g. Mononoke-Hime, the Miyazaki Hayao movie), literally, "sound princess"  (or Princess Sound?), which has been said to save 20 liters per use.  One of my students taught me this term.  I asked why they thought the device included princess in its name, and they said probably to lend it some cuteness.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

紅葉 (こうよう、kouyou)

There's a single word in Japanese that describes the changing color of the leaves during autumn, 紅葉(kouyou).

Having grown up in Hawai'i, the fall leaves are kind of exciting for me.  I seem to remember seeing some Peanuts comic strips in which Charlie Brown and company would jump into piles of fallen leaves.  I yearned for the seasons sometimes, as a kid.  I like that there's a single word for it in Japanese.

These pictures are of Ikebukuro, from a little neighborhood park in the midst of what is mostly a concrete metropolis.  These little parks can really stand out--

Friday, November 29, 2013

詰めが甘い (つめがあまい、tsume ga amai )

I've been teaching a TOEFL course for the last few months, and a friend of mine also teaches it in the room next to me.  We had our final class this week.  My friend forgot his textbook that day and was scurrying to the office to see if they had a spare copy.

He got the copy and we were about to go up to the classroom.  One of the ladies who works at the school (also a friend) was lingering in front of the office, and my friend explained to her that it was the last class and he forgot his textbook.  She laughed, "Tsume ga amai, ne!"  He and I looked at each other because we didn't know what that meant, but he somehow sensed something about it.  He said to her, "Kibishii!" which, in most dictionaries, translates as "strict," but these days we would probably say  "You're harsh," or something like that.  Our female friend / co-worker laughed.

We went up to class, and I entered my room just as one of our school's Japanese teachers was leaving.  I asked her what tsume ga amai meanst and her explanation was, "Tsume ga amakatta kara, sono ato shippai suru."  I understood the second half but not the first.  She was saying "Because you tsume ga amakatta, you'll fail."  So it set in that tsume ga amai is not a good thing, but I still didn't quite know what it meant.

Later on, our female friend / co-worker said that she looked it up in the dictionary, and tsume ga amai means "to slack off tpward the end."  I was thinking, "Oh, maybe kind of like fizzle out."  Basically, you didn't finish strong.  She continued to explain that it's kind of like someone who's playing chess, and he has the chance to checkmate, but he spaces out and doesn't do it, makes the wrong move, and so he loses the game.  

I had to laugh at that one.  The more people explained tsume ga amai, the more it felt like she was calling my friend a loser.  I Googled it and found another translation that sounded pretty good:  "You didn't follow through to the end."

I thought this was a nice visual example.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I learned something new about いただきます and ごちそうさま

I imagine that most people who are at all interested in Japan and Japanese culture somewhere along the line learn about the customs of saying “Itadakimasu ( いただきま )” before eating andGochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした)” after meals.  I believe I first learned these expressions from Episode 2 of Neon Genesis Evangelion; when Shinji moves in with Misato and they have dinner to celebrate, Misato cries out いただきます!before swilling her beloved beer.  The translation provided in the English subtitles was “Let’s eat!”

For a while, I didn’t give it much more thought than that.  Then during my second year here, I started teaching a very bright young engineer whose English skills were far surpassed by her knowledge of a wide range of topics.  She asked me how to say いただきます!in English, and I told her that my first Japanese textbook translated it literally as “I am about to receive.”  She thought about it and said that this seemed an incomplete interpretation because いただきます is keigo, or honorific language, the kind that a person would use toward someone of higher status than the speaker him/herself.  So, my student suggested, “I am about to receive with respect” would be a better translation.

I gave it no further thought for years, until this week, I learned something new about いただきます and ごちそうさま.  One of my high school students, the granddaughter of a Buddhist priest, explained to me that while both phrases are ways of giving thanks, いただきます expresses appreciation to the creatures that died for you to eat and ごちそうさま expresses gratitude to the people who made this meal possible, not just those immediately responsible for paying the bills and preparing the food, but also the farmers, hunters, butchers, and everybody in between. 

Not everybody in the class knew this, but most did.  It seems to be something that has to be taught, to be learned.  It took me a long time to come upon.
I wonder if the subject ever came up in my Japanese class (I took Japanese 101 and 102 before coming here). . .Maybe I was distracted for the moment and missed it. 

One of the most often asked questions for me is how to translate these two expressions, or what the English equivalents would be.  A lot of people ask if “Let’s eat!” is the custom back home; I don’t know where they pick that up. . .Maybe that’s how most translators for English subtitles interpret it.  I explain that I don’t think “Let’s eat!” properly conveys the gratitude intended in the Japanese phrases; if anything, saying grace would be the closest equivalent that I could think of.  ( Some years ago, one of my students disagreed with me on the function of saying grace, arguing that Western people tend to thank God for things while the Japanese thank people.  I didn’t completely disagree with him but  added that who is being thanked and appreciated in a prayer of grace depends on the person saying and thinking it; but I saw his point. )

Anyway, it was a nice thing for me to learn this week. . .I'm trying to make more time to write down all the things that students teach me.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Omotenashi (おもてなし)

This word has been trending in Japan since the 2020 Olympics were announced.
I’m told the word basically means hospitality.  A couple of videos below, one of a popular news announcer/newscaster, Christel Takigawa.  She rolled out the message in French (her father being French, her mother Japanese).  The second video is a good English explanation of the word.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


A followup to the last entry ("おめ"), ハピバー is another abbreviated version of Happy Birthday. . .Also taught to me by a Facebook friend.


I just saw this on Facebook.  It's one of my friend's birthday, and one of her other Facebook friends posted 「おめ!」 which is short for おめでとうございます!, or Congratulations.  The way our younger generation here can cut syllables, and still be comprehensible. . .I'm starting to feel like there's a bit of genius in it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I'm told that じゃん is part of the Kanto way of speaking, generally used at the end of sentences to emphasize what's been said.  The most common usage I heard is in the phrase 「いい、じゃん!」, which I believe means "It's fine," "It's all good!" or something of that nature.

Three videos on YouTube:

やる, やるな, and やるなぁ~

Of course, やる is the same as する, which means to do.
やるな means "don't do that," as placing a な after a verb in its plain form is a strong way to tell someone not to do whatever action the verb denotes.

やるなぁ~ means something along the lines of "good job," "well done," etc.
I just learned the third of these, sort of by accident.  I was watching a TV show called Hammer Session, and I heard one of the characters say it but didn't quite understand it.  The subtitles translated it as "Aren't you good?"  I couldn't understand why やる was used in that situation.  Something like 「やった!」 (I did it!) I could see, but やる?

Two days later, I was at my desk in the teachers' room at school, and I overheard one of my Japanese colleagues say 「やるなぁ~」.  My head perked up.  I asked her what exactly she meant just now, and she explained the differences between the three usages of this word.  I went back to the video that night to listen to it again.  It turns out I misheard the actress.  She doesn't say  「やるなぁ~」; she says 「やるじゃん!」。
I think it means the same thing, though.

There's no embedding code on the video, but if you want to see it the url is:
 As the link tells you, it's Episode 4, part 3, of Hammer Session.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

skin oh so soft and silky smooth, skin to die for

Sube sube (スベスベ) hada (肌) is soft, smooth, silky skin.

sube sube (スベスベ) = soft and silky smooth
hada (肌) = skin

Of course, sube sube can be used to denote other nouns, not just skin.  I associate it with skin because when I first heard the word, somebody used it while describing skin.

Following are three videos.

The first shows women giving their skin the treatment they deem necessary for akachan hada (赤ちゃん肌, which you can see whenever the babies appear in the video).  Akachan (赤ちゃん), or baby, is used in much the way that English speakers might use the phrase "smooth as a baby's bottom."  (See definition on Cambridge dictionary site.)

The second video is of a young woman who topically uses yogurt to achieve sube sube-ness.

 And finally the Photoshop solution

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

うま味 (umami)

Umami is the Japanese term (and loan word) for what is considered here to be one of five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter).  Some of its translations are:  a "pleasant savory taste," "rounded, rich and savory.," and a "moreish savoury taste."'s contribution, "a strong meaty taste imparted by glutamate and certain other amino acids: often considered to be one of the basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty," is the longest definition that I've come across.

A couple of videos on this topic:


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Congestion or a Runny Nose

Recently got over a cold.  I had to get some congestion medicine and found that these words were useful. 

congestion / stuffy nose = 鼻づまり (hanazumari) 
sniffles / runny nose =  鼻水 (hanamizu)

Monday, September 30, 2013


A compounding of きもい and かわいい, this is quite a concept, I think.  Yes, there are things in this world that are a little gross-looking (きもい) and at the same time cute (かわいい).  I can't think of a single English word that encompasses this.

I first learned this word when I introduced the Grinch to one of my classes.

Below, a visual example someone else's conception of きもかわいい.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


ほっておいて = "Leave me alone" or "Get away from me," etc.
Can be quite a useful expression, I think.

This video, aptly named, demonstrates the sentiment through body language.

And it's also the name of a song, which I've just heard for the first time.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

con man, swindler

sagishi, 詐欺師 = con man (or woman, although I don't think I've ever heard anyone say "con woman" in English)

My dictionary comes up with "swindler," a word I haven't heard in a while.  The last time I can remember was in elementary school when I read The Great Brain series, in which author/narrator John D. Fitzgerald depicts life during the late 1800s as spent with the genius who was his brother, and who also used his brains to swindle folks.  It sounds like the word was used often during that era.  

I came across さぎし in a tv show called Hammer Session, which is based on the manga about a Robin Hood-type con man who poses as a high school teacher and eventually changes the lives of the people he meets.  He calls himself a さぎし。

There was no code for embedding the video, so far as I could tell.  The url is

He says it at about 3:45 into the segment.  There are English subtitles.

If you want to see the first episode, here are the links:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

 I think it looks pretty interesting.  Sometimes kind of ださい in some places, but good-hearted and entertaining, from what I've seen.  I haven't seen all of it yet, though.

Couldn't find much of it on You Tube.  This one is soundless; because of the copyright laws, the audio track was disabled, but it'll give you a visual taste:

Saturday, August 31, 2013


鳥肌 (とりはだ) = chicken skin, goosebumps

I like this one because it's easy to remember, since it works out as nearly a direct translation.  (鳥 means bird, really, but is often used to mean chicken, as in yakitori (焼き鳥).

There's a series entitled Torihada; I've never seen it.

There's also a comedian who goes by the name Torihada Minoru.  Form what I understand, he's set himself up as an extreme right-wing, imperialistic, militaristic character as a way to parody such real-life characters.   Below is a clip, as well as his website url.  I'm not trying to promote him; I actually don't watch Japanese comedians.  But I like the concept of his act, from what I hear of it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I first heard the term おもろ, I think, in 2009 or 2010.  My students explained it to mean 面白い人(おもしろいひと), an interesting person.  I don't think it's listed in most dictionaries, but it Googles and You Tubes very well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


The Kansai version of ちょう (chou = very, or very very).  Casual, exclamatory, used often in everyday conversation (in my Tokyo surroundings, more commonly spoken among younger people than older ones).  Example:  めちゃうまいじゃん! 

めちゃ is an example of Kansai-ben, or Kansai dialect.  In large part due to the mainstream success of comedians from the Kansai region (esp. from Osaka), Kansai-ben has become quite popular throughout Japan (I've heard).  It's not everybody's cup of tea, though.  Some of my elderly students in Tokyo really aren't into it.  (But I don't mean to generalize about the views of senior citizens there; neither do I mean to generalize about people who don't like Kansai-ben.)

Below is a map of Kansai, which is characterized in Wikipedia as being located in the "southern-central region of Japan's main island Honshū."  Most of the people I know in Japan seem to speak of Kansai as being the West part of Japan and Kantō (the region that encompasses Tokyo) as the East, but after looking at this map, I can't help noticing that neither is far west or far east.  Both regions have historically housed Japan's capital cities, and this might have something to do with people seeing them as being "the West" and "the East" of the nation; I'm only speculating, though.  I'll try asking some people when I go back after summer vacation.


I didn't know until just now that the terms Kansai and Kinki, two geographical designations, are used interchangeably in modern contexts.  (Kinki is simply an area's name and has nothing to do with the English word kinky.  It took me some time to find this out.  A music duo called Kinki Kids was popular when I arrived to the country, and I misconceived the meaning of their name for slightly over a year.)

 Anyway,  めちゃwas the first bit of Kansai-ben that I learned.  I like it and feel that it's a fun word to say.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

followup: variations on マッチョ 

The first time I ever heard the Japanese usage of macho was from a friend, Yocchi--a nice guy from Hokkaido.  He was very much into boxing and K-1, and weightlifting.  He had a great self-deprecating way about him, and whenever his girlfriend complimented his level of fitness, he would shake his head and say, "No, no!  My target is soft macho!"

At first, I really didn't know what to make of that statement.  I gave some thought as to how I might go about deciphering it.  I gave pause not just to the term "soft macho," which I was hearing for the first time, and which immediately made me think of "soft tacos"; it was also Yocchi's use of the word target.  After running several possible interpretations through my head, I asked him, "What---What is, soft macho?"

     "ソフトマッチョ?" said he.
     "I never thought of macho as being soft."
     "It is like Brad Pitt."

Apparently, at least in Yocchi's eyes, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, probably guys like Matt Damon, Will Smith, or any number of Hollywood actors who work out and have established a certain physique, but are still kind of everyday dudes, are      ソフトマッチョ.  Guys like the Rock or Vin Diesel are outright macho (which means "big and muscular,"in Japanese-English), and there's no qualifying this trait, in their cases.  But B.Pitt, T.Cruise, etc. are less macho, and therefore soft macho.  That this category of macho was Yocchi's target simply meant that he aspired to be or to look like that.  (His girlfriend would have said he was already there, but Yocchi is, as I said, self-deprecating--and humble.)

 Not long after that conversation, I learned another category of macho:  

ガリガリ (gari gari) means skinny--one dictionary defined it as "skin and bones."  As with soft and machogari and macho (in the realm of Japanese-English) seem to be somewhat contradictory, but at the same time make perfect sense to me, as soft and gari are being used to mitigate the macho-ness.  So ガリマッチョ would just be a skinny/slim person with some muscle definition.

Shortly after learning ガリマッチョ, I was told by some students that the better term is 細マッチョ(ホソマッチョ, hosomacho).  Hosoi is another way to say thin.  They didn't explain why it was better; maybe it's just their preference of words.

Google or YouTube any of these macho expressions, and an abundance of visual explanations should turn up.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Although it is an English word, it has a significantly different meaning in Japan.  In Japanese(-English), it conveys a physical trait, that of being muscular.  If you go to, copy/paste マッチョ and do a search, and when the results come up, click on 画像 (at the top, third from the left), you'll be taken to Google's Images on the Japanese interpretation of "macho," and the emphasis on physicality should be clear.

This difference in definition comes up often in my classes.  Students will invariably use macho to denote the fitness, size, and definition of a man's/boy's muscles.  I then tell them that macho, in America and (presumably in other English-speaking countries, although I need to do some checking on this), refers more to a mindset, a way of thinking.  To clarify, I try to use examples, e.g. a guy hits his shin on something and is in immense pain but says, "I'm fine, I'm fine," and will certainly not consent to shed tears in front of other.   Or he might not want to wear pink, because it's a "girl's color."  Or he might refuse to use an umbrella when it's raining.  The umbrella one usually hits it home, and they nod in understanding.

These days, I'm not often surprised by things that people say or do in Japan, maybe because I've been living there for some years and have felt fairly acclimated, but I was genuinely stunned by something that one of my students said last month.  She was talking about Justin Bieber and said that, recently, he's become macho.  I was like, "What?  Justin. . .Bieber?"  Whether in English or in Japanese-English, I'd never expected to see that day. . .

Well, what better way to finish this entry than with one of the classics:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


ぷたろ = a deadbeat; a loafer; a sponger

I'm trying to suss out possible differences in connotation; it's hard for me to imagine that the original meaning of the word would have been anything but a putdown.  It was a slang term when I arrived to Japan, over a decade ago, and it seems still to be in common usage.  But now I often hear it used with a bit of affection, of endearment, perhaps not unlike our English term "slacker."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

 more on ice and こおり

Other uses of こおり: 

角氷 (かくごおり) is apparently the way to say ice cube in a countable form.  My understanding is that asking for こおり is like asking "Could I have some ice?" instead of the grammatically correct but perhaps less natural-sounding "Could I have a dozen or so ice cubes?"

Ice pick is アイスピック.

Ice tongs is 氷挟み ( こおりばさみ) or アイストング.

かき氷(かきごおり)is the word for shaved ice (in Hawai'i, "shave ice") or snow cone.

In summertime, you'll see this sign at many a festival and in parks on sunny days.  I find it a comforting sight.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


This is one of the katakana words that can lead to a bit of confusion.  アイス (ice) is an often-used abbreviation for アイスクリーム (ice cream).  To ask for ice cubes, the word is こおり(koori).

Once, I was looking for a bag of ice for a party.  People directed me to a vending machine in the basement of the building.  I thought, "How interesting, they have a vending machine for ice cubes!  Like a hotel."  I went to the basement and found, of course, a vending machine selling ice cream.  The 7-11 across the street had ice cubes, thankfully.

Friday, August 9, 2013

survival japanese (eating out)

My apologies for once again having gone AWOL.  When work is in full force, I seem unable to stem the tide of tasks coming my way, and blog-writing (and other kinds of writing) is one of the first things I tend to sacrifice.  There must be a way for me not to do that, but I haven't found it yet.

ANYway, getting back to it. . .
I was at a kaiten sushi (actually, the correct term is kaiten-zushi) place not long ago, sitting next to a couple of young Americans.  Seemed like nice fellows, clearly on their first trip to Tokyo.  From the sound of it, they were staying at a capsule hotel in Shibuya, lovin every minute of it.

As they finished eating, they wondered aloud what to do about the check, and where to put their empty little sushi plates.  They thought that they were supposed to take the plates to the register, to be counted by the waitress/cashier, for the calculation of their bill.  I said "Oh no, just leave them on the counter and the waitress will come and total everything."  I think the guys were a bit surprised to hear me speak English; since I'm Asian (-American), they might not have presumed that I was an English speaker.   (Lots of the Westerner travelers that I meet in Japan probably suppose that I'm Japanese until I speak.)  They recomposed themselves in an instant and thanked me, and I began to summon the waitress, when it occurred to me that they might like to ask for the check themselves.

     "To ask for the check, you can say 'Okaikei kudasai.'"
     They repeated  "Okaikei kudasai."

I wanted to say and write down for them that kaikei is check, or bill, and okaikei is a polite way to say it, because it didn't seem like they knew it and it did seem like a useful bit of information, but our waitress was upon us in a second.  "Okaikei?" she asked.  "Betsu betsuIssho?"

     I asked the guys, "Do you want to pay together, or do you want separate checks?"
     "Say 'issho.'"
     "Issho," one of the guys said to the waitress.  (Betsu betsu, of course, would have meant going dutch, paying only for what you ordered individually, etc.)

And she counted their plates, rang it up on the register, and the guys were on their way.  It's nice to see people visiting Tokyo for the first time.

I should also mention that oaiso is another word for check; I read in a textbook that it's mainly an alternative to be used at sushi establishments (but not at other kinds of restaurants or eateries).

Below is someone's video (from YouTube) of kaiten-zushi, which is often described as sushi on a conveyor belt.  One of the places I often frequent has "Sushi Merry-Go-Round" posted outside, so I guess that would be another way of putting it.

Friday, July 12, 2013


ザギンでシースーベータ (za gin de shi su be ta) =  銀座ですしたべた (Ginza de sushi wo tabeta)

I hope I got the かな  /  カナ right.  I just learned this phrase recently but haven't had a chance to check on the writing.  As you can see, ザギン is a switching of the order of syllables in Ginza; the same is done with sushi (シースー), although I'm not sure why the hyphens are in there, but I was told that there should be hyphens to express an elongating of those syllables.  I'll check on it and if there are corrections to make on this post, I'll be sure to make them.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

ださい!(ダサい, dasai)

「ださい」 means cheesy, corny, tacky, etc.  I think it's a great word to know.

You might find it worthwhile to google it and see what comes up in the image results.  On my side, a picture of the album cover for the Prince album Lovesexy (on which he's quite naked) was the third result, and Jean-Claude Van Damme biting a snake was not far behind.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

頭にきた!(going crazy)

頭にきた!(あたまにきた!) Atama ni kita! = "I /He /She is angry, upset, mad!  has lost it!" 

Of course, who the angered person should be apparent through the context of the situation; as you probably know, personal pronouns are very often dropped in Japanese.

I like this phrase mainly because when I learned it, I imagined Homer Simpson holding his head, an angry "Doh!" coming out of him.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Smoking or Non-Smoking

When you go to a restaurant, most times you'll be asked if you want the Smoking or No Smoking section.  The Smoking section is kitsuen no seki (or simply kitsuen, for smoking).  The No Smoking / Non-Smoking section is kinnen no seki (or simply kinnen, for non-smoking).  Dochira demo yoi or dochira demo ii means either is fine.

Below is a typical example of a waiting list that you'd sign in on if the restaurant is crowded; the relevant kanji is circled in red.

Monday, June 17, 2013

cat's tongue

My apologies for not having kept up with the stated goal of posting one-a-day on average.  June is a busy month for a lot of teachers in Japan, mainly because there are no national holidays and, in my case, schools generally don't have a lot of testing periods in June.  (This means that teachers and ALTs have to teach every weekday and, if necessary, prep these classes.)  でももしわけございませんでした。。。

As for today's word, it came about tonight as we were finishing dinner and settling down to a bit of hot tea.  One of our party sipped it and immediately pulled the cup away from her mouth.  It turns out that she can't stand to drink hot liquids; she's too sensitive to the heat.  She asked, "How do I say [sic] in English?"  In Japanese, the term is nekoshita (ねこした), which translates literally to "cat's tongue." 

We had to disappoint her, as we couldn't think of a single English term that would convey this human condition; we could only express it with a full sentence.  If anyone has any suggestions, please let us know. . .

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

さすが (sasuga) as opposed to やっぱり (yappari)

I was just using 「さすが」 in an email and realized how often I hear this word used.  Usually when I hear it, it seems like the meaning is somewhere in the vicinity of "Ah, just as I'd expect from you."  I checked around a bit, with people I know and on the internet, and it seems generally to be a complimentary term.

A great question came up on a few websites.  What's the difference between さすが and やっぱり?
When I first learned 「やっぱり」, I understood it to mean "after all"--e.g. I'm afraid I can't come, after all.  I have to work.  

This website's explanation of  さすが suggests that it's a complimentary term that emphasizes the uniqueness of a person or situation, i.e. "Only you could have done that."

And this website offers a scenario in which さすが might used in a negative sense.

You'll have to scroll down a bit to the English explanation, which comes after the French one.
The comment also mentions the casual version of   やっぱり, which is やっぱ.  I hear that a lot.

Monday, June 10, 2013

こわい vs かわいい

 Today one of the other teachers at my school, who just arrived to Japan a short time ago, had trouble with the こわい vs かわいい issue.

Sorry if you already know this--

Found a video about it--

Sunday, June 9, 2013

区役所 ( くやくしょ, kuyakusho )is your city hall in Tokyo

This is one of those practical but less than sexy words:  区役所 (city hall).  The ku part I guess indicates that you're in one of Tokyo's 23 wards. These pictures are of Toshima-ku's city hall.  If you look at the second picture, of the city hall sign, the first two kanj are Toshima, the last three kuyakusho.  City hall is where you get/renew your ID card, where you can register for health insurance, and where you can get information on a host of other things, e.g. where to go for community center Japanese classes (they might not actually have the information on hand but can tell you where to go/call), or where to find pretty much anything in your ward.  Tokyo city halls should have English speakers available to help you at least some days out of the week.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

chubby chaser

Ah man, been slacking off this week.  June is a grizzly month for a lot of people I know, mainly because there aren't any national holidays.  I'll try to catch up.

This is a followup to the ぽっちゃり (pocchari) post--
chubby chaser is でぶせん (debusen) in Japanese. 

I googled it out of curiosity and the first result was

but I'm kind of scared to enter the site, because of the images on its homepage.
All I can say is that there sure are a lot of でぶせん websites out there!  おもしろい!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

ぽっちゃり (pocchari)

One constant over the years that I've spent in Japan is the liberal use of the word "fat."  It seems like everyone knows this word, even people who claim not to speak English.

When it comes up in class, I try to offer some alternatives, citing that "fat" can be hurtful.  The other options I suggest are usually heavyset (which arguably isn't a direct alternative to fat, as heavyset could refer to a person's build, as opposed to his/her amount of body fat. . .But anyway, I still put it out there, feeling that it's close enough in meaning and different enough to be a euphemism), portly, and chubby

As I explain that "chubby," I recall to my students my college friend Janice, who preferred chubby guys and who looked forward to having chubby babies because they were so cute.  Once I tell them about Janice and her fetish, invariably at least a couple of students in the class will realize that "Aa, chubby is pocchari in Japanese."

If you're curious, please Google ぽっちゃり.  The results in the Images section should give an idea--

Saturday, June 1, 2013

爆笑 (ばくしょう)

爆笑 (ばくしょう), bakushō,  is a burst of laughter.
爆笑 する means to burst out in laughter, laugh out loud, lol.

Bakushō Mondai (爆笑問題) is a Japanese comedy duo.

Friday, May 31, 2013

love injection

A really drunk guy taught me this as we downed shots at a bar in Shinjuku.  I didn't know him, was meeting him for the first time, but once he heard me speaking English to some of my friends, he got in on the conversation.  I'm not sure what prompted him to teach me this little nugget, but here it is:

ラブ注入 rabu chuunyuu
 He said that it translates as "love injection."

Below is a video of a show on TV,They use ラブ注入 as a spark for a bit of comedy.  It looks like it's a couple of years old.  Those AKB girls looks so young.  This kind of "variety show" isn't exactly my cup of tea, but they're wildly popular in Japan. . .I don't think they seriously hurt anybody.

PS  When I first heard of this "love injection,"  I recalled this scene from The Breakfast Club, in which the character Bender uses the phrase "hot beef injection."  It's a bit crude, but I have to admit it made me laugh out loud.  I loved that movie.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

you reap what you sow

自業自得 (Jigou Jitoku)
This was the first Japanese proverb that I learned.  "You reap what you sow"; in more casual terms, "That's what you get. . ."  Also, "just desserts."  The basic sentiment: we get what we deserve, what we ourselves have earned.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

  living creatures (生き物)

living thing = 生き物 (いきもの)
One of my favorite Japanese words.

There's a band called Ikimono-gakari (いきものがかり)
They're quite popular with my high school and college students.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013


I'm not quite sure why, but I love this word.  Wakiga is like B.O., as in body odor. . .The online dictionary
also defines it as "abnormal underarm odor." 

 Please be careful not to confuse this with wakige, the word for underarm/armpit hair.

Just  out of curiosity, I YouTubed wakiga and a whole lotta videos came up.  Seems like they were all about surgical procedures to reduce B.O.  I couldn't bring myself to put them on this blog.  If you want to see them, though, maybe hiragana or katakan would bring the best results.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


愛 Ai

This song brings back memories.  Not long before I moved from Hawai'i to Japan, I saw a TV show called "Ai wo Kudasai," which translates literally to "Love, Please" or "Give Me Love."  It was a good story, I thought.  The main character (played by Kanno Miho) is an orphan who suffered terrible abuse in her childhood.  She sings the song "Zoo," whose climax is the line"Ai wo Kudasai." It might sound a little corny as I've explained it, but if you watch the series and listen to the song in context, I think you'll like it.

Here are a couple of videos:

There's a nice harmonica solo in the middle. And this is the song by the band that originally put it together.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

doyagao (どや顔)

I just learned this one at the end of last year.  Doyagao is, according to my high school students, a proud or even narcissistic facial expression.  (Kao, of course, means "face.")  After looking it up online I found out that the word came onto the scene in 2011--my bad for not having learned it back then.  But the fact that my students told me about it half a year ago suggests that, while being a slang word, it isn't yet obsolete.

Came across this great explanation of the word on YouTube:

Monday, May 20, 2013

geki ni (げきに)

The friend who taught me this phrase said it meant "Sugee niteiru ( すげぇーにている )."  I supposed some English equivalents would be "(someone's) double," "lookalike," doppleganger.

He taught it to me a few years ago, maybe four or five.  At the time, it seemed like a newer word; I guessed that it might have been a slang term created and used by younger people, as a lot of my older students and acquaintances had never heard it and didn't understand me when I tried to use it.  It didn't seem to offend anyone, as slang sometimes does. . .In fact, it brought some to laughter.  I never knew why.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

似る / 似ている ( にる / にている )

To say that A and B are niteiru (似ている, or にている) is to say that A and B are similar, that they look like each other or resemble each other.  I've only ever heard people here use the present progressive form, e.g. ゆにといきものがかりの吉岡 聖恵 はにている (Yuni looks like Kiyoe Yoshioka of Ikimono Gakari). 

*Ikimono Gakari is a Jpop /rock band, 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

for here or to go

Two of the most helpful phrases I learned my first month in Japan were koko de and omochi kaeri.  I needed to know them for fast food places and cafes.  In Japan, just as they do at McDonalds and Starbucks all around the world, cashiers start to close the transaction by asking if you'll be dining in or taking out.  

The cashier will most likely use keigo, the super-polite language that "inferiors" are expected to use toward their superiors, in the world of business and commerce.  In keigo, are you eating here usually translates as "Kochira de meshiagari desu ka?"  (kochira = here, meshiagaru = eat / drink) or "Tennai de meshiagari desu ka?" ( tennai = 店内 being "inside our shop")

Ai-chan, the assistant manager of my school when I first moved here, told me to say "Koko de" (lit. "here") for dining in and "Omochi kaeri' (lit. carry home) for takeout.  I used it and it worked.  That weekend I told my friend Ben about it and he used it a few days later.  For both of us it was one of the most exciting linguistic experiences we' had up to that point.  Actually saying something and seeing the dawn of comprehension in another's eyes.

I guess it'd be nice and polite to put in a "kudasai "at the end of the sentence.

More recently, I've been seeing "takeout" as a katakana phrase.


"takeout menu" in katakana

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


A lot of my students say "OHA" when they arrive at school.

OHA = Ohayou gozaimasu (おはようございます)

Monday, May 13, 2013

One moment, please

Chotto matte kudasai (ちょっと待って下さい /  ちょっとまってください)is the most common term for "just a minute please."  It's also the name of a traditional Japanese children's song.

The keigo version is sho sho omachi kudasai (少々お待ち下さい、しょしょおまちください).

 Below is a link to a website that has on it a bunch of versions of the children's song.
(I love the name of the site, "songlust."  I can't imagining coming up with a word like that myself, but I think it's awesome.)

And, of course, there are tons of versions on YouTube.  I like this 'ukulele version, some nice playing:

 and here's a version by a an "idol girl group" called Smileage.  Not really my kind of music, but again, what a great word to create; and this is seriously a part of modern Japanese culture.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Woman's intuition = 女の直感

As in other cultures across the globe, women in Japan are perceived by many to have capable intuitive powers.  

woman's / women's intuition = onna no chokkan  (女の直感 、おんなのちょっかん)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

体育祭 (たいいくさい)

For a lot of schools in Japan, this is the season of the taiikusai, or Sports Day, or Sports festival.
It's much like a Field Day back home; a day of games, relays, of being outdoors.  Taiiku (体育) is the word for physical education or physical training.

My school also features an Endan performance, in which students tell a story through dance.  The Endan is a pretty fair-sized production for us, but my Japanese colleagues have told me most schools don't make such a big deal out of it.  It seems that in Japan as perhaps in any place, schools have their own cultures, so how much emphasis is placed on arts, academics, and physicality depends on the institution and its people.

Anyway, here are some pictures from yesterday's 体育祭.  This is all the Endan.

Friday, May 10, 2013

neba neba (ねばねば / ネバネバ)

Just a follow-up to the natto entry a few days ago.  Natto is one of the neba neba foods in Japanese cuisine.  I have friends here who specifically seek out neba neba-ness.  I myself like it too.
I know  a few people who believe that neba neba food is generally healthy.  I can't think of any counterexamples to that, but I don't know if there's any scientific study to affirm it.

A lot of my students who look up ねばねば in their dictionaries come up with sticky, and it is that--but not like a piece of hard candy (say, a Jolly Rancher) that just flew out of your mouth while you were talking.  ねばねば is like gooey sticky, strings of thick fluid that follow the mouthful of food that you bring to your mouth with a fork or pair of chopsticks.  Okra would be a prime example.  In Japan, popular examples are yamaimo / tororo. . .

There's a great entry on neba neba foods on this blog:

It has great pictures.

As with many other Japanese onomatopoetic expressions, neba neba is a word repeated and can be used as a suru verb (i.e. neba neba suru). . .

Monday, May 6, 2013

soba (そば)

Soba, or buckwheat noodles, is one of my favorite Japanese dishes.  It's very much due to the excellent sauce, but also to the texture of the noodles, which is pretty much like whole wheat spaghetti.  Soba can vary quite a bit in terms of price and quality.  The most inexpensive soba goes for a little over 200 yen; other places might charge in the neighborhood of 1000 yen.  The more expensive places are probably charging for atmosphere and for the fact that the noodles are fresh and handmade every day.  The cheaper places are fast-food versions where people pop in and out and don't linger much.  Ten or so years ago, I only ever saw salarymen in the cheaper soba shops, but now I see all kinds of people, men and women from whatever generations.

Years ago, I read in a travel guide that soba was for the poorer mountain people who couldn't grow or afford rice.  White rice was considered a luxury.

Below is sansai soba (sansai means "mountain vegetables"). You can buy it in pre-sealed packs at the supermarket.

Friday, May 3, 2013

納豆 (なっとう )


One of Japan's many soy products to be experienced, nattō is fermented soybeans.  I think there's much to be said about it.  It generally isn't restaurant food.  It's quite economical, about a hundred yen for a three-pack (sometimes four).  It's gooey.  It's unpleasant to wash dishes that are coated in nattō remnants--at least for me it is.  It's an excellent source of lean protein.  It feels gross to some people to have nattō's texture in their mouth.  Above all, above all else, first and foremost and most predominantly, at least in terms of first impressions, is its horrid and wretched smell.  Well, maybe I'm exaggerating about the smell.  

Actually, I like nattō.  I eat it.  I don't like the smell, but I enjoy its taste and don't really mind its texture (in my mouth, at least.  Getting it on my hands is something else).  But the part about not wanting to wash nattō-coated dishes will probably not change in this lifetime.  The first time I ate it was in curry, which was quite a mistake.  The second time was simply over hot rice, which was quite good.  It's called nattō gohan.  You put yellow mustard on it and pour the sauce on.  Much less commonly, the yellow mustard can be replaced with wasabi, Japan's horseradish. (I've only seen this once, in a supermarket.)  A lot of people will mix a raw egg with the nattō.  (I find that just about all of my friends who grew up in Japan have an unshakable trust in the eggs produced here and will eat them raw anytime, any place, without fear of salmonella.)  You can also put on top of it okra, shirasu (tiny, tiny fish), or strips of nori (dry roasted seaweed).  You can eat it as sushi (the nori maki, or makizushi version); 7-11 usually sells it.  I know some who eat it on toast, and one of my students eats it plain and cold, just out of the fridge.

The Wikipedia article on nattō goes on to detail some of its health benefits, as promoted by the industry and other proponents of nattō.  It contains a compound known as pyrazine, which is supposed to deter blood clots.  It’s said to be rich in Vitamin K and calcium, both helpful in maintaining bone strength and preventing osteoperosis.  I like that the article states that nattō "may be an acquired taste."  In fact, I do know a fair number of Westerners (and foreigners from the East, as well) who eat it willingly.  My friends who can't stand it watch me consume with disbelief.  One of them, one of my best friends here, always felt that Japanese people who like nattō do so with a measure of pride, as they expect most foreigners to find it unendurable.  I remember this one time he had a little taste.  As he slowly chewed, savored, contemplated, he said, "No.  No.  Usually, even if I don't like a food, I can kind of imagine what someone else would like about it.  But no, not with this."  It was a wall that he would not be climbing, though he wished otherwise.  "I want to like it.  I wish I liked it.  I just. . .can't!"  As I tried to assure him that things would be okay, that it was no big deal, he eyed me with caution.  He said that he suspected I carried a bit of pride myself in being a foreigner able to eat fermented beans.   So far as I can tell, to the extent that I am aware of myself, I don't.  In the company of foreigners, I actually feel a tad embarrassed to be eating these stinky beans, but—oh well!  I gotta think it’s okay to like healthy, inexpensive, bad-smelling food.  

Some pictures of an eatery that serves nattō, and the dish called nattō gohan:

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