College Japanese Notes – 2001/06/29 Degree Adverbials

Here’s a little lesson from the notes I took during my first year of Japanese class. I took these notes on June 29, 2001, which must’ve been a Friday – my fifth day of Japanese and I’d already learned me hiraganas!

These are all adverbials that you can pair with verbs to express the degree to which you do that verb.

全部(ぜんぶ)食べた                                             [Subject] ate all [of object]
ほとんど食べた                                                          [Subject] ate most [of object]
よく食べた                                                                   [Subject] ate quite a bit [of object]
まあまあ食べた                                                          [Subject] ate a good bit [of object]

あまり食べなかった・よく食べなかった           [Subject] didn’t eat much [of object]
ほとんど食べなかった                                             [Subject] hardly ate [object]
全然(ぜんぜん)食べなかった                            [Subject] didn’t eat any [of object]

Discomfort, the Diminishing Returns of Language Study, and Linguistic Tolerance

I have an article on the Japan Times Bilingual Page today. This time there isn’t much of a language lesson. It’s more of a motivational story-type article, which means you should feel free to disregard it completely. The story I tell in the article is true, and you can see the results of it – I made a video of the pub crawl, and Brian has photos on his site.

I went out with the girls a couple times after that and didn’t experience the same level of linguistic discomfort, so I’m not exactly sure why I had so much trouble that time in Shibuya. The one thing it reminds me of is having good days and bad days in language class. When I was in college, some days everything would go as planned and other days I’d be unable to say anything at all or totally forget we had a kanji quiz. The only thing that matters now is that I powered through it and got to a very comfortable level of fluency. I still have good days and bad days, but I try to soldier through everything the best I can. It’s important to push yourself whenever you start to feel the limits of your abilities, whether it’s reading or speaking or writing. Building linguistic tolerance is a very real thing.

Don’t get discouraged when you start to encounter the diminishing returns of language study. Do whatever it takes to power through. Once you’re on the other side, you’ll probably find out that it was worth it.

Power Up Your そう – さようでございます

I haven’t done a pyramid style list for a Japanese word in a while (not since “Power Up Your ちょっと” to be specific), so I thought that I’d do one for the word そう. I’m referring to the そう used to confirm a question from someone else.

A quick example for those unfamiliar with the term:


And now the pyramid:

そうよ。 *for women and womanly types only
そうでござる。 *for people acting in 時代劇 only

The real point of this post is to introduce that last phrase – さようでございます. In very polite situations, そう turns into the slightly longer and more polite さよう. You can follow it with です for a standard keigo phrase.

さようでございます is up for debate on Goo in this post. The spirited first responder claims that it may be grammatically correct, but that he/she did not use it in interactions with customers because そう is so much clearer and less formal. He/she notes that keigo was initially used to distinguish between different class levels, and that overly polite keigo could be viewed as condescending or even insulting.

The second commenter comes to the same conclusion as the others and says that 1) grammatically it’s not a problem, 2) さようです is keigo enough on its own, and 3) just like many bits of language, it comes down to personal preference.

One interesting distinction made by commenter four via a link is that さようでございます is natural when used as emphatic agreement with someone, but very unnatural when used as an 相づち as そうですね so often is. The same link claims that さようでございます has come into more frequent usage because it makes old people feel special, and given the increasing increase in old people, this phrase only becomes more useful.

The first time I remember hearing it was over the phone when I was booking JAL tickets. The phone lady was so nice and patient with me and answered all my worrisome little questions with cheerful versions of さようでございます. At first I wasn’t sure what they were saying, but then it set off bells in some deep memory from a Japanese class and I vaguely remembered learning it.

That said, because of its high level of inherent hoity-toity-ness, さようでございます can also be used in an ironic way in much the same way that 遠慮します can. Steve Martin knew how to take advantage of this kind of humor, and in Japan, the manzai group Hibiki has made a career out of どうもすいませんでした (the line comes at 3:07). In all honesty, and I believe my teacher mentioned this, it’s a phrase that you should recognize but never feel obligated to use. A bit of keigo here and there is fine, but don’t be a keigo otaku.

“The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Lastly

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October tomorrow!, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Boku has made his decision to leave the Town. He chooses to stay true to his dark dream, his dark mind – his shadow – rather than stay in the Town with kimi. This is the opposite of the result of Hard-boiled Wonderland, where he stays because he cannot “forsake the people and places and things I have created” (399). This shows the crucial difference between the Town in the two texts – in Hard-boiled Wonderland, the Town is clearly part of boku, but in “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall,” I think it’s actually kimi: Boku is unwilling to lose himself in another person, even if it means a blissful and sincere connection with another.

So he jumps.

And on the other side, here is what he has to say:


Words die.

Every second words are dying. Words die in alleyways, in attics, in the wilderness, and in waiting rooms at stations with the collar on their coat still turned up.

What can I communicate to you? Everything disappears like hitting a light switch. Click – OFF. That’s the end.

I’ve buried too many things already.

I’ve buried sheep, cows, refrigerators, supermarkets, and words.

I don’t want to bury anything else.

But nonetheless, I must continue to speak. That’s the rule.


Long ago I chose the Town surrounded by the Wall, and in the end I abandoned it. I still don’t know whether or not it was the right thing to do.

I survive, and now I’m writing this. The stink of death still surrounds me. I sleep with dark dreams, and I wake with dark thoughts. The path I walk is dark, and it gets darker with each step I take.

Everything is being lost. It will continue to be lost. The songs that moved me long ago are gone, and the scenery that gently held me is gone, too. The silent darkness also blots out a huge number of endearing words.

But I have not a single regret.

I think of the Town surrounded by the Wall as I watch my shadow stretched out on the wall of my room (now with nothing to say) in the long, dark night. I think of the tall Wall, of you under the faint light bulbs in the Library, of the beasts and the sound of their hooves echoing on the streets, of the willows swaying in the wind, and of the chill winter wind that blows through the factory street empty of all people.

There’s nothing more I have to lose. That’s my only salvation. Like the wind I felt when I was sixteen, everything passes through my body. I did lose the Town, but my thoughts remain in the Town somewhere even now.

Forever…, you said. Forever. I won’t forget you, just as you won’t forget me. Thoughts of the riverside in summer, and thoughts of the bridge in winter when the wind blows.



On a cloudy autumn evening, I suddenly hear the echo of the horn. The sound must make it to my ears through a gap somewhere in that uncertain Wall. Riding on the cold wind that blows down from the Northern Ridge.

This concludes Murakami Month 2010. Watch the Nobel Prize announcement tomorrow, and look for more translation next year.

“The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Saying Goodbye

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2, 3.

The illusion has ended, and boku and kimi are back in the archives of the Library. They walk outside, and he tells her what his decision is.

How much time has passed? When the last bit of light has disappeared and the original darkness returns to the archives, we leave without a word, turn off the Library’s lights, pass through the long hallway, and go outside.

It’s night and the wind has stopped; a strangely clear and quiet starry sky expands above our heads. Silently we walk the road along the river and as always stop at the middle of the Old Bridge to watch the river.

“When I met you… When I met your shadow, I was sixteen years old,” I say facing the dark surface of the water. “That year was a really mysterious year. I felt like everything just kept on leaving me behind. It was like everything just passed right through me… The first time I met you was at some party. Somebody’s birthday party maybe, something like that. I only spoke a couple words with you, but when I did, I felt like the world suddenly opened up right in front of my eyes.”

You take a few steps away from me and stare at the surface of the water just like me.

“And for months after that, I was thinking only about you. Every day was really tough…for those months until I built up enough courage to call you on the phone. Sometimes I felt like I could get anything I wanted, and other times I felt like I couldn’t get anywhere even with all the time in the world. Sometimes I had an incredible desire to sleep with you, and other times I was satisfied just watching you from afar… And as those months passed, in my mind you became a symbol of living. Or maybe of living on. I was living within that dream. I breathed, ate, and slept that dream. Do you understand those feelings?”

You nod slightly.

“Of course, these are just words to everyone. Maybe they don’t mean anything at all. But it’s just, I really wanted you to understand. Dreams, no matter what kind they are, are all dark in the end. If you say that it’s a dark mind, it’s a dark mind. Just mud that I made up in my head and sprinkled with gold dust. That kind of dream won’t take anyone anywhere. Just like the water that flows down into the pool, they just wander forever in dark subterranean channels with no destination.”

I cut off my words and look at the side of your face. You don’t move at all and keep your eyes fixed on the surface of the water. Only the murmur of the water hitting the rock of the sandbank surrounds us.

“I’ve lived with these thoughts for far too long. I also feel like they’ve only brought me suffering. But the thing is, I’ve gotten too old to get rid of these thoughts. Even if the long hallway I’m walking down has no exit, I think my real self can only be there. I couldn’t live with myself if I abandon my dark dream there, no matter how dark the dream is. I wouldn’t be the real me anymore if I cut myself off from it.

“As long as I’m with you like this in the Town, there’s nothing more I could want. This is the first time I’ve ever felt like this. I’m not anxious or depressed whatsoever. It would probably be like this forever. But even now, time continues to pass outside of the Town. Both the beasts and the shadows die. That won’t leave my mind like a stubborn stain on a shirt.”

Most of the water spills from my palms. Yet I mustn’t stop sharing.

“I’m going to leave the Town with my shadow. It’s going to be incredibly painful to leave you. I wanted to live with you in the Town forever.”

“Was the sixteen year old me that amazing?” you ask me, lifting your head.

“Absolutely. Like a dream.”

Then I hold you. I feel streams of hot tears on your cheeks.

“I’ll remember you forever,” you say. “Forever. That’s the only thing I can do for you.”

“Goodbye,” I say.



I stare at the dark surface of the water even after she disappears off into the darkness at the end of the Old Bridge. And when a new sun sneaks a white color into the eastern sky, I return to the residences on the hill and slip into my empty bed.

Toward the end there are references to the very beginning of the story where boku talked about how words die. They spill through his hands as he attempts to hold them. The Town seems to represent a sort of ideal connection with a person. While it enables a satisfying relationship with kimi, it also threatens boku’s individuality. As he starts to describe his feelings, the narrative boku starts to show through, and we get hints of some other reality with birthday parties and phone calls. Boku has realized that he must go back to this reality, where kimi no longer exists, perhaps because she is dead. I’ve translated boku and his shadow’s escape from the Town here, and next week will be the postscript to the story.