Cool 擬態語 – べたべた

I work at a university writing center helping students (mostly first years) with their essays, and back in February a Japanese couple came on a grant to study writing centers in the U.S. Apparently they run the writing center for exchange students studying Japanese at a university in Shizuoka. The writing center is young, so they were looking for ways to improve their tutoring approaches. (They have some of the same problems – the same kids come in, they make the same mistakes – but I feel like Japanese composition is in a very different place, so I don’t think all of our suggestions made sense to them. Anyone have any thoughts?)

I reported for work earlier than normal so I could interpret if need be, but she was actually quite proficient in English. She also seemed to be ハーフ, but I never asked, so I’m not certain. They brought their kids with them (all four of them, two of them toddlers and one an infant), and the husband took them off for a walk in the morning, but they came back for lunch. My boss had the tutors who were free sit in her office and answer the couple’s questions while we snacked on pasta and king cake, the seasonal New Orleans cake that is served from Twelfth Night to Mardi Gras Day.

King cake is short, ring-shaped cinnamon cake that is covered with sticky icing and sugar. The kids ate some, too, and when one of the toddlers finished, she started smacking her fingers together and saying べたべた. I laughed; the kid was so damn cute, and even though I hadn’t heard the word for a while, I knew exactly what she was saying – the King Cake was sticky.

That’s all I’ve got today. I’ve been meaning to write up this story because I don’t think I’ll ever forget べたべた again. Blue Shoe’s post about じょりじょり reminded me that I’d been meaning to write about べたべた. He wrote that じょりじょり is the sound of “a scratchy surface.” The word was vaguely familiar, and I had to really work my memory banks to figure out where I’d heard it. I realized that I was shaving my head when I studied abroad in Tokyo. Once, shortly after I shaved my head, I went to teach an English class, and my students were all like ああ、ダニエル、じょりじょり!

I wanted to know where it came from, so I plugged it into Yahoo Dictionary, which gives this definition:


So Blue Shoe is close – it’s actually the sound of shaving (or perhaps cutting) hair or facial hair. Kind of like “buzz” in English. My students were saying “Daniel, you buzzed your head!” じょりじょり, most excellent.

(The Yahoo example sentence uses a cool word I was unfamiliar with: 襟足 (えりあし), the nape of the neck.)

Katrina and the Quake

A month after I arrived in Japan on the JET Program, Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown New Orleans. I had been placed in Nishiaizu, Fukushima Prefecture, a small town of 8000 people nestled in the mountains on the northwestern edge of the prefecture. My supervisor told me it would probably be okay to go back to the U.S. and help out if I needed to, but what could I do? A good portion of the city was under water, and my family had already evacuated to Memphis. I stayed and watched from afar.

At night I drank beer, watched CNN, and wrote angry Livejournal posts wondering why the O’Brien family of journalists had exchanges like these on international television:

Soledad: Clearly something is burning off in the distance.
Miles: It’s still burning. Clearly no sign of it being put out.


And now, nearly six years later, I find myself in the same position. I moved back to New Orleans last summer, so I’ve been forced to watch news from abroad and trace the paths of friends in Japan from Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds. Apparently, the journalists from outside are bad and the government response is slow, just like in New Orleans.

However, I’m confident that Japan will recover because I’ve realized that Japan is, secretly, just like New Orleans. They both pride themselves on the strangeness of their culture, they both eat really weird things, and they both love to drink beer outdoors. More importantly, they are both geographically exceptional; New Orleans was founded on the soft alluvial deposits of the Mississippi River Delta and Japan on the intersection of tectonic plates. If New Orleans can recover (and it has), then surely Japan can. Chin up, Japan.

The other reassuring part about being in New Orleans is that I’m in more of a position to help. Japan has a special place in its heart for New Orleans, as evidenced by the $44 million in aid it provided after Katrina. I don’t think New Orleans will approach that amount, but we can certainly try.

A consortium of Japan groups here in town has banded together to create the NOLA Japan Quake Fund. We raised over $8000 during our first day online, and that was without the assistance of any events. There will be a number of events all over town, so please follow @NOLA4Japan to keep up with the latest information. I’ll probably be broadcasting the information on my own feed as well.

Based on the response we’ve already had, we’re hoping to raise a good chunk of change – something approaching $100,000 if not more. This isn’t an impossibility. We already have many different groups who want to contribute to the fund. I’m involved with two in particular: Saturday, April 2 will be “Drink For Japan” at Avenue Pub, and on Sunday, April 10, Rock n Bowl will be hosting a celebration of prominent local bands that feature Japanese musicians – it’s going to be an all-start lineup, so be on the lookout for more information.

Please spread this info as widely as possible, especially if you are in the New Orleans area.

College Japanese Notes – 2001/06/29 Frequency Adverbials

Another lesson from my class notes. Don’t confuse degree adverbials with frequency adverbials:

Clearly I was still getting the hang of the kana.

よく行きます                                                         [Subject] often goes
あまり行きません                                                [Subject] doesn’t go much
ほとんど行きません                                            [Subject] hardly goes
全然(ぜんぜん)行きません。                         [Subject] doesn’t ever go / never goes

Two that aren’t listed here and that both express inrequent visits are たまに and めったに:

たまに行きます                                                    [Subject] goes on occasion/every now and then
めったに行きません                                           [Subject] rarely ever goes