I’m heading home to New Orleans for the first time in two years on Wednesday, so How to Japonese will be on hold until after Golden Week. I’m hoping to make at least one video while home, so check back at some point to see what’s new. Enjoy the 連休! How many days do you have off this year?

Game Lingo – 〜することができる


Every game translation results in the translation of a game manual. Video game companies will sometimes farm out manuals to a second translation company, which makes sense. The game itself is complete, and the manual isn’t all that important relatively speaking, so you can have a smaller, cheaper company do the translation using the in-game text as reference.

Not that the translation is easy. There is more terminology (button names, controller names, error messages) that needs to be in line with company protocol, and you’re put in the position of having to explain a game (the whole point of a manual) often without having played or even seen it.

Because explanation is the central goal of a manual, some of them are basically a list of what you can and can’t do within the game. One phrase that you see in nearly every manual is 〜することができる. This is the simplest form of the potential tense. The normal potential tense (食べる→食べられる, 飲む→飲める) would be perfectly acceptable here, but these manuals need to be simple so that kids can read them easily. The normal potential tense can be confusing due to the fact that it overlaps with passive for some verbs, and this pattern also works easily with compound verbs (確認, 使用, 保存).

Combine this with the Japanese language’s high tolerance for repetition and redundancy, and an inexperienced translator can end up with something like this:

You can check your items with the A Button.
You can attack enemies with the B Button.
You can move the character with the +Control Pad.
You can pause the game with the START Button.

Yikes. I mean, those are perfectly acceptable translations of these kind of phrases (which all look something like, Aボタンでアイテムを確認することができる), but when you take a step back, look at the sentences together, and think about how they will be presented on the page, it’s immediately clear that “You can X” is a very poor translation. The best way to deal with these sentences is to cut off 〜することができる all together. “You can check your items with the A Button” becomes “Check your items with the A Button.” Simple, clean, and easy to understand.

This rule shouldn’t be applied blindly. The main point here is that while it’s important to keep the Japanese in mind, it’s more important to keep the final English product in mind. This isn’t literary translation – no one is going to be comparing the English with the original, unless you make a giant, embarrassing mistake.

Just more proof that your English composition can be more important than Japanese comprehension.


Sometimes there’s a man – I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? – but sometimes there’s a man. And I’m talking about the Master here – sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there – and that’s the Master at Jintei in Koriyama:

仁亭 from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I debated whether or not to make a video of Jintei for a while. It’s a small yakikatsu restaurant, and I wouldn’t wish even one unpleasant customer on the Master (not that I could cause him to get any more attention than he already has). I finally decided to make the video for a couple reasons. First, in twenty years I’ll want to look back at this video and just go, Damn, we ate some tasty katsu at that place. And second, the Master is well-equipped to deal with the attention of any unruly customers, whether they be Japanese or foreigner. Regular customers are well aware that the restaurant’s queue runs on the honor system. There are benches, groups of chairs, and many people even wait in their cars if the weather is uncomfortably hot or cold. Noobz will peek in the door or even ask the Master what the deal is – wtf is everyone doing just chilling outside? – but he always just replies that he takes customers in the order they arrived. There’s no need to form an actual line, the Master knows.

(This last time I went, a Japanese couple pulled up in a big van and parked blocking several cars in the lot. The guy was clearly starving – he had his wife jump out and figure out what the deal was. There were several groups of people waiting, but after looking inside, this lady camped out right next to the door, probably thinking she’d be the next one in. Her beau finally got out and went in himself, probably convinced that the other half dozen of us were just sitting outside in the nice weather. The Master came out of the restaurant, the first time I’ve ever seen him do that, and personally assured that the next people in line got in ahead of them.)

I kept the video text-free because anything I could write would only detract from the katsu, so I’ll try to keep this post short, too. Just take this one piece of advice – unless you live within walking distance of this place, the only two items on the menu you should even consider ordering are the “Jintei Special Pork” or the “Jintei Special Chicken.” (The actual Japanese names for these are 仁亭凡焼きかつ and 仁亭チキン焼きかつ, and they are on the far right of the menu, which is printed on a fan.) These are the yakikatsu, either chicken or pork, which are stuffed with cheese, a slice of ham, and leaf of basil. They inspired my love of the katsu.

(Oh, and one more thing – the correct salad dressing ratio is two scoops of the creamy dressing for every one of the dark one with peanuts.)


How to Bank Mad Cash in Japan

My freshman year of college, four guys on the floor above me saved their spare change the entire year and ended up with $400. They spent it all on booze for a final party, and because we were freshman and not yet legal, they sent the booze home along different routes; prudent since one of them ran into the Freshman Dean and had his portion confiscated.

Saving loose change might be a nice way to save up a little extra cash in the US, but in Japan, it can be a way to raise some serious fundage:

How to Bank Mad Cash in Japan from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I was pretty surprised by the relative value of change across the world. US change is practically worthless compared to Japanese coins. It’s 10 times less valuable! In Japan, that $400 my friends saved would have been closer to $4000!

Studies have shown that consumers are less likely to spend bills of larger denomination, and I think this is probably true of the coins in Japan – personally, I feel like I’m more likely to use 100 yen coins than 500 yen coins given a choice.

Because coins in Japan are so valuable (could you ever pay for your phone bill in quarters?), I think this brings about another corollary – people probably undervalue change compared to bills. For any given purchase, I believe people would be more willing to make the purchase with coins and less willing to make the purchase with bills.

A quick example. You’re waiting for a train and see a vending machine. Hmm, maybe I’ll get a water, you think. You fumble around in your pockets and produce 80 yen, not enough for a drink. Now you have to make the decision to break a bill. The above study shows that you’re increasingly less likely to break that bill as the denomination increases. If you’d had the coinage for it, you aren’t forced to make these psychological decisions, and it’s easier just to spend the cash. For whatever reason coins just feel less valuable.

But this comes back to bite you in Japan. We’re more willing to use these coins without realizing that they’re actually worth quite a bit of money, especially that big, beautiful 500 yen coin that’s worth $5.

Here’s some quick math. Say you save around 4-5 coins a day. That’s somewhere around 400 yen/day x 100 days = 40,000 yen = roughly $400. Double that and you can put aside $800 in just over half a year.

Let’s take this even further. Say you put away one 500-yen coin every day. That’s 500 yen/day x 300 days = 150,000 yen or $1500 in less than a full year! They actually make special piggy banks for this exact purpose – parents can teach their kids how to save money and make it fun.

For this project I went on a really strict change diet. I tried to use as little change as possible, going out of my way to use bills and emptying my pockets whenever I got home. The results are clear. From August of last year to April of this year, I saved around 120,000 yen in 500 and 100 yen coins alone. I still haven’t banked the smaller change, but I think it will add another 10-20,000 yen.

For your own change diet, you can vary how strict you are with yourself to achieve the results you want. Manage your bank account as you normally would, and make decisions based on that. Forget about the change for now and just bag it up. It’s easy enough to switch back to bills – my bank lets me deposit it straight into my account. It only took me about 15 minutes at lunch, but my backpack was ridiculously heavy on the morning commute.

号外 – How to NBA Playoffs

Don’t forget that the NBA playoffs start tomorrow morning (1:30AM Japan time)! The NBA International League Pass packages are priced like so:


I’ll be waking up to partake in the games all night/morning long. I don’t have much hope for my Spurs, but it’s hard not to love the first round of the NBA playoffs where there are 4 games on everyday.

等号 Madness

A set of equalities for keyboard 変換 fun:

イコール   =  =

等号          =  =

不等号         =      ≠

And surprisingly:

イコール      =      ≠

And also:

イコール      =     ≒

I was really excited to finally figure out how to 変換 to ≠ because it doesn’t have a key on the keyboard, and I often want to use it. It took a little putzing around on the Wikipedia page for 等号 (とうごう), which initially told me that ≠ = 等号否定. That wouldn’t 変換 for me, so I cut off the first part and slapped that drummer with a pie that smells – 不. I have no idea why I chose that over 無 or 非; it just felt right. Attach either of those two, and the resulting word will not 変換, by the way.

※Later discovered that on Windows, = on its own can 変換 into both ≠ and ≒. And, shit, NONE of the above 変換 other than “イコール = =” work on Kotoeri (Apple Japanese input). So, on Kotoeri:

ノットイコール    =      ≠

There’s a big list of names here.

How to Export a Blogsome Blog to WordPress (With Crazy Characters)

Since there’s so little information on the internet about exporting Blogsome blogs to WordPress, I thought I’d write up a quick guide based on my experience. (Regular readers, feel free to hit the eject button here.) This guide is specifically for people who are working with Japanese (or other funky languages). It might be useful for people who are trying to move their blogs but are having trouble getting their characters to look right. When I first imported my SQL, all the Japanese text had been replaced with question marks. Yikes. The problem it seems was that while the input on Blogsome (and WordPress) is UTF8, the databases themselves are automatically set to Latin1 for some reason. (In my case, Swedish Latin1, I might add!) Mixing these character sets will garble all your kanjis. Here’s how you move your blog and fix garbled chars: Continue reading


Welcome to How to Japonese! Last week I was racked by the sudden fear of a(n unlikely) Blogsome crash, which would leave me with nothing but Word backups of my data, so I went out and got hosting and a domain. Unfortunately the standard spelling of “How to Japanese” is already registered by someone selling a somewhat fishy-looking “CD-ROM”. [Christ, when was the last time you said “CD-ROM” out loud? The person running that site is clearly way old! I especially love the “Tanoshin de kudasai” on this page. ] The only thing I could think up on short notice was to substitute one vowel. Meh. At least the current spelling emphasizes the “po” aspects of the site – I’m not making any cash off this. At least not yet.

Aside from basic layout changes, most everything about the site should be the same. The one thing I’ve added is a twitter badge in the sidebar (under Insta-Hows) for the new How to Japonese twitter account (which is @howtojapanese, with an ‘a’…made it before buying the domain). I plan to post random language info as well as up-to-the-pint information about my drinking plans so that anyone can come and drink along.


Game Lingo – 倒す

During the early-90s Nintendo of America was infamous for adjusting games to fit their strict content guidelines. They changed graphics, dialogue, anything that didn’t fit within their standards.  Thanks to younger American video game developers, raw language and content in games isn’t much of a problem anymore; companies can basically get away with whatever they want as long as they’re willing to suffer the rating. The change shows – Nintendo recently published the first Grand Theft Auto on a Nintendo platform.

Still, Japanese developers have probably been careful with their language choices, which means so should you. 倒す (たおす) frequently appears in games designed for younger children, and it’s a code word for “kill.” The verb literally means “knock down,” but it is most often translated as “defeat.” If you’re translating 龍が如く, of course you should probably be using “kill,” but otherwise (Yugioh, Dragonball, Pokemon, Mario etc.) it should be avoided at all costs, or at least commented on when delivering the translation. “Defeat” is a nice middle ground, and can even be used for 殺す sometimes.