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.

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