Monday, October 10, 2016

引きこもり (hikikomori)

Someone taught me this word about ten years ago.  She was a charming young woman about to graduate from a music college--she was funny, and fun.  After we'd known each other for a few weeks, though, she explained to me over dinner that she had this other side, this hikikomori side to her, which made her want to sleep all day and surf the internet from the evening to early morning, and repeat the pattern the next day, never having to leave the house.  She was living with her parents. 

Hiku means to withdraw, and komoru ( 籠る、こもる) means to seclude oneself.  She wanted to know how to say hikikomori in English.  The words that immediately came to mind were recluse/reclusive and hermit.  When I asked a colleague at school what he thought, he said that yamagomori would be a better literal translation for the kind of hermit that we might see in, for instance, How the Grinch Stole ChristmasYama (山) is the word for mountain, after all.  I suppose in English that we could equally say that J.D. Salinger was well-known for being a recluse, and metaphorically we might also say that he was a bit of a hermit during his final decades.  But apparently in Japanese hikikomori would be the more conventional word for people who choose to hole themselves up at home.

So I just came across this CNN article about the 541,000 people in the country who are deemed by the Japanese cabinet to be hikikomori.  They came up with a clear and articulate definition, i.e. "those who haven't left their homes or interacted with others for at least six months."

You can read it at:
I like the two videos.  It's been a while since I got excited about a CNN video, to tell the truth.  

The other video (below), artfully made, is also embedded within the CNN article:

*correction--In the initial post, I wrote that komori is the word for cloud.  I apologize for this mistake.  Kumori (曇り) is the word for cloud.  Sorry, everyone!

And this is Dr. Seuss's infamous hermit--

Saturday, August 27, 2016

ゆめかわいい (yume kawaii)

At one of my schools, students go all out on Sports Day.  It isn't so much that we're a particularly athletic school; it has more to do with the Endan, a trilogy of musical dance interpretations.  Usually much costume design and hair coloring is involved.  The three teams--Red, White, and Blue--dress and color accordingly.

So this happened back in May.  (My apologies as always for slacking on blogging.)  In one of my classes, a couple of girls in the back row were emanating a silvery glow from their white locks.  "Kawaii deshou?" asked someone sitting next to the silvery white-haired duo.  "Yume kawaii!"  I was saying "Wh-What--?" and she went on to explain the meaning of ゆめかわいい.  ゆめ is dream, and かわいい is of course cute/pretty, so ゆめかわいい is a dreamlike cuteness/prettiness, i.e. dreamy.  "She is like unicorn," finished the explanation.

Some nights later I was drinking with some Japanese colleagues and I told them the story.  One of them begged to differ with our students' interpretation of ゆめかわいい.  He learned the term some years back in his classical Japanese studies.  Long ago, he said, ゆめかわいい simply meant "very cute/pretty."  It was written in hiragana, so there was no kanji to denote the term's meaning.  But, according to my friend and colleague, ゆめ meant very (back in the day) and かわいい had the same meaning as it does now.  So ゆめかわいい was back then today's ちょうかわいい or めちゃかわいい.

On searching for examples of the term, I must say there were a lot of videos of makeup tips.  This is an example of how to make oneself up to be ゆめかわいい. 

Photos that turned up seemed to include white, pink, light blue, and other compatible colors.
 Image result for ゆめかわいい (yume kawaii) Image result for ゆめかわいい (yume kawaii)

Searching "yume kawaii fashion" and "yume kawaii box" turns up images congruent to the above.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around the yume kawaii box.  In my imagination, people who are really into are having it shipped to their homes.

Friday, March 11, 2016

YDK (Yareba Dekiru Ko, やればできる子)

I teach two eikaiwa classes, to our high school's 1st-years (in the states, we'd call them 10th graders).  During the third term, we focus on debating skills.

Before starting on debate, though, I always ask if anyone has something else they want to talk about, discuss, disclose...just anything they have going on in their lives that they'd like to be able to express in English.  One of my classes, a group of eight, always has something.  They like to have conversations about everyday things.  From one perspective, there's something ideal about this because it implies that they carry in them a self-motivation of some kind; it also lets them establishes a context through which they might readily remember what they learn.  In general, I feel that people retain information most easily when their interests are ignited, or engaged, so for them to bring their own topics of conversation is a good thing.

The downside is that these conversations take time, so we fell behind schedule in our debate practice.  My Japanese team-teacher and I were getting a little worried that we'd run out of time, maybe fall short of having an actual full debate before the end of term, and we expressed this to the class.  Our apprehensions were causeless.  The students threw themselves for one 45-minute period into a fully formatted and timed debate as my team-teacher sighed with relief.

As class ended, teachers complimented students, confessing our initial level of concern.  The students were not offended in the least, but rather nodded in assent.  They perhaps had their own doubts about how it would go.  But, one young lady said, "やっぱりYDK."  She probably anticipated my perplexity, and correctly so; she immediately followed by explaining her acronym, "やればできる子."  やれば means "if you do," and できる, of course, means "able to" or "can."  子 is short for 子供, or child.  So literally translated, I guess YDK would be something like "a child who, if s/he does something, can do it."  A less literal translation might be "someone who can do something if s/he tries."  Or "a child who, if  s/he tries, can succeed."  I sense that the hypothetical aspect to this phrase is an important connotation because it implies that intrinsic to the definition is an uncertainty, before trying/doing something, as to whether the person can do actually it.  And then by taking the leap the YDK dispels all doubts.  Although I didn't ask, I'd bet that this is a term coined by the youth of Japan.

However, since it's been used in commercials, television viewers around the nation, and because it has a dance named after it, I'm sure the general population knows or will soon come to know this acronym.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

11 Beautiful Japanese Words That Don't Exist In English

The article below was originally published at:

All props to author Mare Sugio!!

Once, when I asked my friend from a small tribe in Burma how they would say “breakfast” there, she told me that they didn’t have a word for it because they only ate twice a day--lunch and dinner. I happen to have a lot of friends who speak English as their second language and that made me realize that a language has a lot to do with its culture’s uniqueness. Because of that there are some untranslatable words.
In Japanese culture, people have a lot of appreciation towards nature and it is very important to be polite towards others. That politeness and the nature appreciation reflected on to its language and created some beautiful words that are not translatable to English.

いただきます Itadakimasu

"Itadakimasu" means “I will have this.” It is used before eating any food to express appreciation and respect for life, nature, the person who prepared the food, the person who served the food, and everything else that is related to eating.

おつかれさま Otsukaresama

"Otsukaresama" means “you’re tired.” It is used to let someone know that you recognize his/her hard work and that you are thankful for it.

木漏れ日 Komorebi

"Komorebi" refers to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees.

木枯らし Kogarashi

"Kogarashi" is the cold wind that lets us know of the arrival of winter.

物の哀れ Mononoaware

"Monoaware" is "the pathos of things." It is the awareness of the impermanence of all things and the gentle sadness and wistfulness at their passing.

森林浴 Shinrinyoku

“Shinrinyoku” ("forest bathing") is to go deep into the woods where everything is silent and peaceful for a relaxation.

幽玄 Yuugen

"Yuugen" is an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses that are too mysterious and deep for words.

しょうがない Shoganai

The literal meaning of "Shoganai" is “it cannot be helped.” However, it is not discouraging or despairing. It means to accept that something was out of your control. It encourages people to realize that it wasn’t their fault and to move on with no regret.

金継ぎ/金繕い kintsuki/kintsukuroi

"Kintsukuroi" is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver joining the pieces and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.
わびさび Wabi-sabi

"Wabi-sabi" refers to a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and peacefully accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay.

擬音語 All the onomatopoeia

English has onomatopoeia, but Japanese has far more. For example, we have “om-nom-nom” for eating and they have “paku-paku” for eating normally, “baku-baku” for eating wildly, “gatsu-gatsu” for eating fast, “mogu-mogu” for chewing a lot, etc. Doesn’t it make your head spin? The onomatopoeia for that kind of dizziness is “kurukuru” by the way. The image above is showing some of those onomatopoeia. As you can see, Japanese onomatopoeia is usually a repetitive sound. Although it might be a very difficult concept to understand, it adds a melody and an emotional meaning to a word. Japanese sounds poetic because of the onomatopoeia.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Jigyaku-teki (自虐的, じぎゃくてき)

Jigyaku-teki (自虐的, じぎゃくてき)is the word for self-deprecating, an essential part of Japanese culture.  As the friend who taught this to me texted, "Japanese people really like to be Jigyakuteki."

I You Tubed 自虐的 and looked through a couple dozen videos, but none of them conveyed (to me) the meaning of this term.  The video that made me most uncomfortable was (according to the description) someone trying to "fix" his belly button using a belt and key holder.  I don't mean anything judgmental, but I don't know what that's about...I don't really want to put the visual on this blog, but if anyone wants to see it (and can understand it), the url is

Anyway, may 2016 bring us all some great and blessed things!

Reiwa , 令和, a new era

Reiwa , 令和 , is the name of the era just begun as Emperor Akihito abdicated to his son, Naruhito on May 1, 2019. It has stirred some cont...