Thursday, January 23, 2014

よこばら (yokobara, 横腹)

よこばら (yokobara, 横腹)is the Japanese word for love handlesYoko (横) means side or width, and bara comes from hara (腹), the word for stomach.  So よこばら is like the sides of your stomach, or more accurately, the sides of your waist or core.

The word came up last week.  Back from winter vacation, at school we talked about the holidays, which quickly led to talking about what we did on Dec 31 and Jan 1--happens pretty much every year.  New Year traditions in Japan, the symbolic meanings of eating soba, osechi, and hatsumode.  Most years, someone in class will ask about Western traditions for celebrating the New Year.  I say drinkin' for some people, on New Year's Eve.  The countdown of course, which isn't exclusively in Western culture any more, if it ever was.  For millions of Americans the bowl games.  And, in Hawai'i, we set off firecrackers and fireworks to celebrate, more so on Dec 31 than July 4.  Twenty years ago New Year's Eve in Honolulu looked as smoky as a war zone in a war movie.  But that tradition is dying out as new and stricter laws curb the activities. 

And then we come to New Year resolutions.  Students get it immediately; my first example is the Smoker who lights up during the minutes prior to the Countdown and sucks it in before quitting. We go through a few more examples, then try setting resolutions ourselves.  Although this resolutions discussion can get repetitive for some teachers (I think especially for teachers in eikaiwa schools, but in high school and college English classes perhaps less so.  At least, for me.  Probably because when I was teaching in eikaiwa schools, I'd do it with all my classes, but in high school and college it only fits in with a few.  Also, it seems to be new to most high school and college students, young and newer to this world as they are).

(In teaching NY resolutions, one kind of extension that can make it more challenging and concrete is S.M.A.R.T., or something along those lines.  An example:)

Anyway, in one of my classes, we were doing resolutions.  This class has only one male student, almost a dozen females.  When we go around the room to share our goals, he says, "I want to rid of my yokobara."  Every girl laughs, affectionately.  "How do you say yokobara in English?" he asks me.  This is a teenager, not a middle-aged man, so it doesn't immediately hit me that he's self-conscious about his weight or amount of body fat.  Once he gestures to his love handles, though, I understand.  I try to assure him that No, man, you don't have to worry about that.  He sticks to his guns with his goal, so what can I say?  It's his resolution.  I said that I thought overall cardio activity and keeping track of saturated fat intake might help; and for strengthening and toning I like the Plank.

My goodness, there are a lot of You Tube videos about getting rid of よこばら.  Here are a few different exercises:


I think they all look pretty good, but I just do the Plank.

Monday, January 13, 2014

チャレンジする and チャレンジャー

The way that "challenge" is used in Japanese seems to have its roots in English, but in application can be a bit different. 

チャレンジする (charenji suru), which is generally a transitive verb in English (e.g. "I challenge you to a contest"), is often used as an intransitive verb in Japanese.  This can lead to problems in direct translations, since in English it would be awkward to say, "I'll challenge!"  A better translation, one closer to its intended meaning, would be to say, "I'll try something new" or "I'll do something I've never done before."

From this comes the word チャレンジャー, which describes a person who is willing to try new things.  The first time I came across this word was seven or eight years ago.  I saw a product in a hundred-yen store that, according the picture on the packaging, seemed to be a kitchen deodorizer.  It looked like I was supposed to put it in my drain, but I wasn't sure.  I asked someone at work what  I should do with it, and she explained its function to me.  That night, she emailed me to say that she was perplexed at why I didn't know what to do with this thing that I myself had bought.  "You bought it, didn't you?  Why didn't you know what it was?"  I replied that, from the picture on the packaging, I had an inclination that it was for my kitchen, but I wasn't quite sure what it was but wanted to try it.  She wrote back, "I understand.  You are チャレンジャー!"

I think that it's generally seen as a good thing to be a チャレンジャー.

Apparently it's the name of a video game, too. Interesting how people post themselves playing video games. You Tube has just about everything! The other day I met a guy who learned how to solve the Rubik's Cube on You Tube.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


「明けましておめでとうございます! 今年もよろしくお願いします。」
  あけましておめでとうございます           ことしもよろしくおねがいします
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!  Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.

These are of course the traditional phrases for the New Year in Japan, to be said after the clock has struck twelve.  Although we're sort of past the New Year grace period -- I'm told that the first few days of the year is the time for such well-wishing -- people still use it when they have their first January encounters with friends and family.  ( I think February would be a bit late in the year.)  I'll go back to work tomorrow, and I expect that I'll be exchanging these phrases with a number of people, both students and colleagues.

Akeome (あけおめ ) is the shortened form for 「明けましておめでとうございますand
Kotoyoro ( ことよろ ) stands for 今年もよろしくお願いします。」

People taught me the shortened versions during my first New Year holiday in Japan, back in 2002.  At the time, I think these were considered new expressions, even "trendy," as my younger students told me.  My older students had no idea what they meant; when I explained what had been explained to me, I had the tacit impression that they didn't approve of this new language.

The next New Year, when I tried using あけおめ and ことよろ, my younger students were like, "Don't say that any more, it's old.  We don't say that any more.But then the next year it came back, and folks all around me were saying it.  Over the years these abbreviations seem to have become part of the lexicon and I hear them everywhere.

Below are a couple of enthusiastic youths calling in the New Year:

And this is another example of how it sounds.  You can hear あけおめ at 0:13 into it.

In this video, the ladies are a little more formal.  About 0:16 into it comes "あけおめです" and "あけおめでございます," which I thought was kind of cute, mixing this abbreviation with keigo.

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