Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Yet another example of word/phrase shortening, きもい is the abbreviated version of 気持ちわるい.  Definition:  gross, disgusting, creepy, makes me sick, ewww. . .

Although a good deal of my older and/or more socially conservative students and acquaintances would never use this word, viewing it as somewhat improper, I hear it spoken repeatedly by the teens and twenty-somethings of my world.  There's even an abbreviation of this abbreviation:  きもー!

 I should add that even with younger people, it can be a sensitive word.  A few years ago, I had a friend who was teaching a speech/presentations class.  One of his students had a habit of choosing one member (at random, so far as I know) of her audience and staring at that person during the entire speech.  It started to freak people out.  So the teacher tried to explain this with "It's kind of kimochi warui--"  As soon as those words came out of his mouth, the student hit the ceiling.  She complained to her parents and, since it was a private school where her family had some influence, it was a rough situation for the teacher.  He didn't mean anything offensive, but offense was taken.  I guess it isn't much different from English.  I can tell a friend that s/he makes me sick or creeps me out, but I'd be careful using the word around people I don't know very well. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

スタバ (Sutaba)

スタバ  is short for Starbucks.  The full word in katakana is スターバックス, but colloquially people usually leave out the -クス.

As in むずい, one might see a penchant forth shortening of words, but whereas むずい is a contraction of a Japanese word, スタバ is an easy-to-say version of an imported word, as is マック (Makku,), the Kanto region's abbreviation for McDonald's (I'm sorry, I can't recall the Kansai word for McDonald's, but I remember that it is different.)

Well, in the end, it sounds reasonable to suppose that abbreviations are all there because they're easier to say.  I have wondered how Kentucky Fried Chicken became ケンタッキー(Kentakki-); is it really easier than saying KFC?  Maybe for speakers of Japanese. . .

I came across someone's blog entry about his experience at a Starbucks in Ginza.  Having had some similar experiences, I understand what he's saying, but other Starbucks (and cafés in general) can be quite different.  Much has been written to help foreigners to the country in developing a set of expectations, the better to navigate the culture, but I've found more variety and diversity here than I've read.

Anyway, the blog entry is here:
The writer, a man named Ken Seeroi, has some things to say. . .I haven't read much of it, but I'll have to go back and check it out again.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

むずい (muzui)

Some of the students in my high school taught me this one.  It was in the middle of a composition class, and we were practicing the future perfect tense.  This led to the question (naturally, I think) as to why one would use the future perfect instead of the future tense.  As my team-teacher and I determinedly attempted to demonstrate through example situations the usefulness of being able to conjugate verbs in such a way, someone in the front row said to the girl next to her, "むずくない?(Muzuku nai?)"  I repeated the phrase to myself, as I often do when my students say things that I don't understand but want to remember for my own development with the language.  The girls laughed in good humor and went on to explain, "むずかしくない?(Muzukashiku nai?)"  i.e. "Geez, that's hard!" or literally, "Isn't it difficult?"

As one of the characteristics of modern Japanese is a shortening of terms through the discarding of certain syllables, so muzukashii has become, for many native speakers of this language, muzui.  When I narrated the incident to one of my older students (a nice lady who just turned 80), she deemed this to be "young people's Japanese."  ("I don't understand!" she exasperated, shaking her head.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

天使 (tenshi)

tenshi = angel.

The first kanji character, 天 (ten), is quite useful. It appears in the word for heaven (天国, tengoku)
and in 天ぷら (tempura, the deep-fried Japanese dish).

Below, a blast from the past:
"Angel" by Aerosmith

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

おたく/オタク (otaku)

At first, I thought that "otaku" was the direct equivalent to the English terms nerd and geek. But I've since heard it used in other contexts. For example, I was team-teaching a conversation class in a high school, and the textbook unit was about music. It offered several photographs and challenged students to find the appropriate genres to match the pictures. Among the genres were: pop, rock, rap, country/western, and classical. As we went through the genres, I tried to think of a few examples from past and present for each genre. When it came to rap, I mentioned some of the old school Def Jam artists (Public Enemy, the Beasties, LL Cool J) in addition to some of the newer faces. My team-teacher, by way of teasing me, whispered "Otaku!" to the class. She meant that I was into the genre more than the average, or perhaps normal, person would be into it. (I am not a hardcore rap fan, but I like a lot of the old school and some of the new.) According to Wikipedia, otaku is "a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly (but not limited to) anime and manga." The article goes on to explain the word's origin as "derived from a Japanese term for another person's house or family (お宅, otaku). . .often used metaphorically, as an honorific second-person pronoun. In this usage, its literal translation is "you". For example, in the anime Macross, first aired in 1982, Lynn Minmay uses the term this way." For people of my generation, this might seem like news; in America, Macross was the first of three generations in the cartoon called Robotech (which was adapted from three different anime series). This is from Macross, the Japanese movie: I thought about putting some pictures or video of "otaku" dudes, but I'd rather not contribute to stereotypes. Not that people who strongly resemble such stereotypes don't exist; I see them pretty frequently. (The legendary Akihabara, with its many maid cafes, is supposed to be the mecca of otaku culture.) I'm sure Google and YouTube have millions--millions!--of links for you to check out, if you're interested.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

切ない (せつない) setsunai

I just saw The Descendants (the George Clooney movie), and I found it heartbreaking.  Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great movie. . .The story seems universal to me, and not particularly about life in Hawai'i.  (By the way, in case I haven't mentioned it, I'm from Hawai'i., born and raised.)  It could have taken place anywhere, although the whole issue about the Hawaiian land trust might have to manifest itself in some other way.

Anyway, when something is heartbreaking, tear-inducing, painful. . .If you just say "せつない!", Japanese speakers will understand.

PS  You could also say "Setsunee!"

PPS  A trailer for The Descendants

Monday, April 22, 2013

にゃにゃ (nya nya)

The cat counterpart to ワン ワン.  Like ワン ワン, it can refer to the animal or the sound (meow, meow).

According to the friend who taught me this one, using it as a verb (にゃにゃする, nya nya suru) also means to make love.

On the "Know Your Meme" website you can read about the   dance, which is described as "a dance characterized by bending one’s upper body in side-to-side swing motions."

See page at:

They also post a video of it:

And I was most impressed that the Urban Dictionary site gave seven defintions of the word    .
Among them are "a suffix added to the end of sentences uttered by a cat/human-cat in Japanese culture," e.g. "I'm a cat-nya!" and "a word they use in Tokyo Mew Mew. You can use it when your happy or sad. If you get excited you could say it. Some people say it instead of hello. Others use it a question.. ."

See Urban Dictionary page:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

ワンワン (another word for DOG)

An alternative to inu (犬 ), one can use ワンワン (wan wan) to refer to our canine friends. 
As was explained to me, a typical usage of this word would look something like this:  a parent is out walking with his/her young child.  A dog appears on the sidewalk across the street.  Parent then says to the child, "ほら!ワンワン来たよ!"  (Translated literally, this would mean "Look!  A dog came!"  A more natural translation would simply be "Look!  A dog!")

ワンワン also denotes the sound of a bark.  Its English equivalents:  bow wow, woof woof, arf arf, etc.  This was probably the first example of Japanese onomatopoeia that I learned.  I've heard that the Japanese language makes more use of onomatopoeia than does English, although I haven't seen any hard evidence or research.  Intuitively, though, I believe it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

久しぶり。。。It's been a while

久しぶり (Hisashiburi!) is one of the more frequently used words in Japan, I think--mainly because people often do go a long time without seeing each other, and when they finally do get together it can be a nice thing.   And so the most often used word upon meeting after a long time is hisashiburi.  One could also say shibarakuburi, which (according to one of my textbooks) is more formal.  To be very formal, you could say "Shibarakuburi de gozaimasu."

 ______-buri is a useful and practical thing to commit to memory.  "Sannenburi desu" means it's been 3 years since you did something (as sannen means 3 years).  Gonnenburi would mean it's been 5 years, etc.  "Nannenburi deshou ka?" would mean something like "How long's it been?" or "How many years has it been since--?". . .something along those lines.

Well it's been like six years since I posted a blog entry on this site. Geez man, I can't believe it's been so long.  I got sidetracked and kind of forgot about it.  The name of the blog is Japanese Word of the Day, and I'll honestly do my best to post an entry for each day, although I may not be able to do it every day (Work, you know!); but I will try to make sure it averages out .

Ganbatte, everybody who's out there studying!

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