Cool Kanji – 罰

I have an article about ガキの使いやあらへんで’s annual 罰ゲーム and 世界のナベアツ over at Neojaponisme for their 2008 in review series. Other than Murakami and beer, Japanese comedy is probably one of the few other topics I’m relatively qualified to talk about.

Downtown is a manzai group that I’ve known from the very first time I came to Japan. It’s hard to watch any Japanese TV at all and not realize who they are. Hitoshi Matsumoto is the boke, and Masatoshi Hamada is the tsukkomi. Matsumoto occasionally goes by Hitoshi, but generally they are both referred to by surname or their nicknames: Ma-chan and Hama-chan. They’ve been on television since 1989, and since 1990 they’ve been playing different 対決 (たいけつ), which  decides who will participate in a 罰 (ばつ)ゲーム.

罰 means punishment and is often used in the compound 罰金 (ばっきん, fine/penalty fee).  A 罰ゲーム is any “game” where someone has to go through an embarrassing or painful task as punishment for losing the 対決. For the first decade or so, it was always Matsumoto versus Hamada, and the 罰ゲーム was an embarrassing appearance on television or being forced to go skydiving or ride a rollercoaster:


Matsumoto had a long losing streak, so when he finally won a 対決, he sent Hamada to France to fill up a bottle of Evian water from the original source. He later sent Hamada all the way to New York City to retrieve a mechanical pencil.

For a long time the games had a real gonzo feel, but in recent years, their 絶対に笑っては行けない (ぜったいにわらってはいけない, “You absolutely must not laugh”) version has gotten so popular, that the production level has skyrocketed. They began playing this version annually in 2003, and since 2006 it’s been broadcast in ゴールデンタイム, the Japanese version of primetime, on New Year’s Eve.

These shows all include ココリコ, another manzai group made up of Shōzō Endō and Naoki Tanaka, and fifth man Hōsei Yamazaki. (I always felt bad for Yamazaki since he doesn’t have a partner, but then I realized he gets to play the ultimate role – the boke to the group as a whole: two manzai groups!) These three have been included from as far back as 1999 when they played the surreal 24時間鬼ごっこ.

The shows all follow a fairly set pattern. 3-5 of the Gaki no tsukai members are led on to a themed set by Hiroshi Fujiwara (a producer at Yoshimoto and Matsumoto’s 担当). There they encounter a huge number of up and coming (read: soon defunct) comedians, recurring characters, and members of the production staff, all of whom are trying to make them laugh, which gets them punished. The punishment began as blowdarts in the ass, then moved to an S&M whipping, but for the last four years it has just been a caning.

I was fortunate enough to catch the 2006 show by chance, last year’s on purpose, and past shows through the miracle of the Internets. Here are five of my favorite clips.

The first is the 対決 from the 2003 onsen game . Focus on what Hamada says; he has one of the most recognizable voices and laughs on Japanese TV, and I’m certain that’s part of the reason he’s so successful. “というわけで、松本チーム、罰ゲーーーム!”:

This clip shows how high the production level was last year. It also shows how ridiculous the shows have become. One interesting side note is that more of the guys laughed at the comedian who stutters his line than at the actual 勇気の実:

One of my favorite clips from the police show in 2006, the first one that I saw. ゆうたろう, I believe, is a (now-defunct?) comedian who imitates the late Yūjirō Ishihara, Japanese Elvis-type rock star and actor in police dramas (also brother to Tokyo governor Shintarō Ishihara):

This clip is from the 鬼ごっこ show and it has one of the greatest 罰 buildups ever. Matsumoto sent out oni dressed up in black to chase the rest of the guys around and deliver blows from ひしゃく (those water things at the entrance to shrines), はりせん (accordion-style fan things) and other random things. Then he sent out thai kick guys and head butt guys. After a few hours, he sent out the 紙芝居 (かみしばい) man. Make sure you watch all the way until the end:

And my favorite clip is the simple Shōhei clip, partially because it was the first 罰ゲーム I saw, but it’s also just really funny. I used this at elementary school with any kids named Yōhei or Kōhei, and it never failed to get a laugh:

My only complaint about the show is that every year without fail there is a scene where they laugh at foreigners, often of darker complexion, basically for being foreigners – looking different and speaking Japanese in a funny accent. This year they are airing another 罰ゲーム on New Year’s Eve. It’s six hours long and starts at 6:30pm. Madness. 

Happy Holidays

Well, only one more day of work left, but How to Japanese is going on break already. I’ve got one more big post before New Year’s Eve, but otherwise I’ll be working on some other projects and meaty posts for 2009.

Wanted to link to these photos yesterday – great old pictures of Japanese Christmas consumerism back in the day provided by Patrick Macias.

来年もよろしくお願いします。I’ll be back and hopefully writing more language stuff in the original spirit of this blog.

Cool Kanji – 苺

Merry Christmas! No, not Eve. Christmas. In Japan, things go down on the 24th, and often people have no idea that the 25th is actually Christmas Day. The festivities here are more like Valentine’s Day in the US with lights and illuminations and whatnot.

Two years ago I spent Christmas Eve walking around in Fukuoka, a surprisingly hip urban center given its distance from Tokyo, watching couples shop, pick up KFC (another Christmas tradition – if you don’t have a reservation already, no chicken for you), and then get a cake before heading home. It was sweet: there was a lot more handholding than usual.

The cakes come in two varieties – chocolate or strawberry. I’m not sure if that’s the reason or not, but I’ve run into the strawberry kanji a couple times recently. It’s cool – the radical for grass on top with mother underneath.

Ha. I just looked it up in Kōjien to see if it mentions anything about the origin of the kanji (wrong dictionary, eh?) and found this: 温室栽培では年末出荷が主. End of story – in Japan, strawberries = Christmas.

Old Edo Great Beer Pub Crawl

A little good cheer through beer here at the end of the year – a pub crawl from Shinbashi to Tokyo. Hopefully places you all are already well familiar with.

How to Japanese – Old Edo Great Beer Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

As you can see from the map, it’s a short, straightforward walk from Shinbashi through Ginza North to Tokyo Station:

After a couple beers you might be tempted to go off and do some sightseeing, but that will only get you lost – stay on target.

1. 新橋 DRY-DOCK 〒105-0004東京都港区新橋3-25-10

First stop is under the tracks at Shinbashi. No, not yakitori as you might expect, but Dry-Dock, a cozy little bar with a nautical theme. First floor is standing only. There are a few tables on the second floor (really nice decor), but I believe they require a reservation and a table charge. They have a bunch of regular taps which usually have three Sumidagawa beers, Super Dry, Chimay, a kriek, as well as a rotating guest keg that is always something interesting – currently Old Rasputin, but in the past it has been Green Flash IPA, Hunter’s Point Porter, Old No. 38 Stout, and a variety of others. They also have tasty eats, the baskets of kara-age (with fries underneath) being the best value.

Exit on the Ginza side of the Karasumori Exit and head to the right. Cross the first road that goes under the tracks, and Dry-Dock is just around the bend on the right. Maybe a little hard to find the first time.

Dry-Dock definitely has the best blog of any bar I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to keep track of their events and kegs. I’ve even made an appearance! (Here and here.) Worth checking several times a week.

2. Houblon 〒105-0061東京都中央区銀座3-2-11

A quick walk through the Ginza brings you to Houblon, home to an enormous selection of Belgian beers. Upon seating, they’ll hand you an encyclopedia-sized menu listing the six beers on tap and hundred or so bottles they offer. They claim to have some super-rare beers (like the lower alcohol  Trappist beers that I’ve read are only available at the abbeys) but are generally sold out, and some of their bottles are prohibitively expensive, but the taps and most of the normal sized bottles are reasonable. I can’t speak for the food, but it always has a lot of people, so it’s probably not crap (ha, now that’s what I call a sound recommendation). The best part of all is that on weekends it opens at noon – it might be the only place serving quality beer between 12pm and 5pm.

3. World Beer Pub & Foods Bulldog 〒104-0061 東京都中央区銀座西3-1 銀座インズ1 2F

Bulldog is just a couple blocks from Houblon in the INZ building under the highway, a short jaunt from Yurakuchō Station. I was very impressed with their selection of import beers. I’ve only been once, but when I went they had a couple of Stone and Speakeasy beers on tap and even more in bottles. They have a large food menu and plenty of tables in addition to the bar and the counter along the windows that look out at the willow trees on the street – a very pleasant place to drink away several hours.

4. TOWERS Standing Beer Bar 〒140-0028 東京都央区銀八重洲2-8-10

Possibly the smallest bar that serves great beer, Towers fits approximately six normal-sized individuals or four normal-sized individuals and one sumo-sized individual; I imagine it spills out onto the sidewalk during events. From Bulldog, it’s just a little further towards Tokyo Station. It’s probably easier to get to from Bulldog than Tokyo Station, to be honest, but if you’re coming from the station, you need the Yaesu South Exit. Awesome atmosphere:  no sign, free snacks (although I was not bold enough to have any), 4-6 quality beers on tap (including a hand pump), and the satisfaction that you are cool enough to know of a bar like this.

Speaking of events, Towers is having a Christmas event today and tomorrow. I’ll be the drunk guy with a Santa hat. See you there.

5. Beer Pub Bacchus 〒103-0025東京都中央区八重洲1-7-7

North from Towers, just a block from the North Exit of Tokyo Station, is Bacchus, a basement bar with great atmosphere and a nice group of regular customers. They have regular rotating kegs in addition to Yona Yona brews – both the pale ale and Tokyo Black are mainstays on the hand pump. Also, a limited selection of quality bottled beers. Decent pub eats, too – I can personally recommend the sausage plate and cheese plate, which are both great to snack on. As far as I can tell, Bacchus is the closest bar to Tokyo Station with quality beer, making it a great place for a pre-departure drink.

Once you’re finished with the crawl, there are multiple karaoke venues to choose from, all within a block from Bacchus. After five beers that are most likely 5-6% alcohol or higher, you’ll be in excellent condition to wail your favorite songs – just make sure you get to the karaoke room before you start singing.

号外 – 冬至


Happy 冬至 (とうじ) – the shortest day/longest night of the year. The weather is so nice today that it doesn’t really feel like the arrival of winter, as the characters seem to suggest. As you can see above, I’ve partaken of the ritual gourd and beans, which is supposed to give you the nutrients to make it through the night (and whole next year) without any illness, and later this evening I’ll be soaking in ゆづ湯, also supposed to ward off colds.

Massive 変換 Update

Thanks to Matt‘s link earlier this week, several new people found How to Japanese, including Akaki who knows a thing or two about 変換! He provided a bunch in the comments. I’ll repost them here.

Also 郵便(ゆうびん)=〠 (look at the guy!)
あっぷる=(in kotoeri)
平方センチメートル=㎠ (note how the exponent is actually part of that single character)
etc. units.

“Oh and あっぷるぱい=π :)”

I love the fact that all the units can be compressed into a single character-space – clearly useful. I wonder about the era names, though – you’re only saving one space! Cool to see that Apple got into the action by creating a kotoeri-only 変換.

My previous posts about 変換 are here, here and here. ♨ is still my favorite.

Underrated Phrase – お願いします

Students of Japanese whine about keigo more than any other part of the language. I wonder if they realize that they use it on a daily basis. お願いします is another one of those ultimate “get used to it” phrases, and it is keigo of the humble variety.

The pattern is pretty easy to remember: お + verb stem + します. The only other thing to remember is that you ONLY USE IT FOR VERBS WHERE YOU YOURSELF ARE THE SUBJECT. A few examples: お返しします (I humbly return something to someone), お断りします (I humbly refuse), お持ちします (I humbly carry something), お借りします (I humbly borrow something).

While お願いします is a form of keigo, it has other more important uses than purely just as a humble request. It is, as we say in English about “please,” the “magic word.” It’s almost more important than please in English – it’s please and thank you all wrapped into one.

This is purely theoretical, but I’m willing to bet that people in the States would be more offended by people not saying “thank you” than by people not saying “please.” I’m equally willing to bet that people in Japan are more offended by a lack of お願いします rather than a lack of ありがとう.

願う (ねがう) means to hope or request. I’m confident that it should always be used following a request to someone equal or above you, and it’s worth tacking on to all requests so you don’t end up looking like an asshole. Like a please or a thank you, it softens whatever request you made and shows that you you truly appreciate the effort that they, in this case, will go through. You can add a よろしく on to the front to reemphasize the request (by drawing it out through additional syllables, which always means “more polite” in Japanese). In the case of people on an equal level you can opt for  よろしく on it’s own; I have a feeling that the Japanese teacher of English I worked with used this with his students as a sort of joke when he handed them assignments. (よろしくね *cruel laughter*)

In conclusion, よろしくお願いします is often grossly misunderstood by beginner/intermediate students, including myself long ago; while it is part of the self-introduction routine here, it’s more important when asking someone to do something for you. Once you understand its role there, you are more likely to understand what it means during a self-introduction.

“No Boku” Wrap-up

The “No Boku” Challenge ended, as it began, with a fizzle. I ended up saying “家のルームメート” last Friday at lunch 53 or so hours after it started. I’m not quite sure if that counts or not since I didn’t exactly use 家 itself as a subject. Still, the point was made: personal pronouns are highly unnecessary in Japanese. Now I just need to find a Japanese person to do the opposite challenge – begin every sentence they say with “I” for 53 hours.

Underrated Japan Vol. 1 – Shinagawa Station Morning Rush

Any yahoo with $20 can pick up one of the commercial travel guides and head off to a foreign country to see the main sights. The first time I came to Japan, I refused to be one of those yahoos and paid the price; I had no idea where the hell anything was, nor did I know where to go, what to see, or what I was looking at whenever I finally did get somewhere. I gained an appreciation for the guides, and even went on to play a minor role in the creation of a shitty, short-lived edition by a somewhat famous company.

While guides are useful for those with limited amounts of time, they are often ineffective at  anything other than shuffling you through a set of main attractions, often giving people the impression they were expecting from a trip abroad. And that’s fine, I guess, but for those who really want to see something more vital, there are few who offer other perspectives.

So much about Japan is highly underrated, especially abroad, so in order to help introduce some of these underrated aspects (which might be more accurately termed “Shit I love about Japan”), I’m starting a video series. I’ll put them up at uneven intervals, so I hope you don’t get your expectations up. I have several ideas running through my mind, so hopefully this won’t die out quickly.

Shinagawa is a great station. Lots of interesting restaurants, supermarkets, a great cinema. Highly underrated itself in the big picture. The morning rush is just insane. There is a period from 7:30am until 10am or so where the walkway out of the Kōnan Exit is just a solid, unending mass of people. I discovered it when I went to meet my dad who was staying at a hotel there. I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t be able to find him. Fortunately I found him and we were able to sit at Dean and Deluca just watching the crowd in amazement. I would definitely put it high on my “must see” list for all tourists.

Here’s what it feels like: (Warning: It’s a little slow for the first half, but give it a chance – I’m trying to set the scene for anyone who hasn’t been to Shinagawa Station before.)

How to Japanese: Underrated Japan Vol. 1 – Shinagawa Morning Rush from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.