Just a quick post for fun. I had surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn labrum in my hip. It was my first major operation since I had a hernia repair when I was four.

I was curious about how to say “labrum” in Japanese, and it turns out the word is 股関節唇 (kokansetsu-shin). (Note: This blog post strikes me as a glimpse into the rich, multilingual inner lives of Japanese doctors.) I remember learning 股関節 (hip joint) in my yoga class in Tokyo, but I’d been using 軟骨 (nankotsu) instead of 唇 (shin) to explain it to Japanese speakers.

This reminds me of a good study strategy: Prepping vocab that you know you’ll likely have to talk about. I am mostly good at this but occasionally lousy. When I was a CIR on the JET Program, I had to interpret for some Lithuanian artists in my town, and I neglected to look up the word for statue and sculpture (彫刻), which was a big mistake. I did not look like a very good interpreter at their welcome party, which was disrupted by a massive Aizu snowfall. Good times.

I’m certain I’ll have to explain my surgery in further detail to coworkers and friends, and now I’m armed with the vocabulary to do so.

Bonus Link: I wish I knew more about medicine to understand this article, which seems to suggest that Japanese have more labral tears in normal shaped hips. (Some labral tears are due to congenital formations that impinge on the cartilage.) Maybe because of all the 正座 and squatting?

So far my recovery is going smoothly.

Oysters and Chopsticks Etiquette

Hello! I’m just back from visiting Mexico for the first time. I haven’t used my Spanish for 15 years, so I was pleasantly surprised with how much I was able to understand. Need to work on the speaking part. I was throwing out tons of けどs and ああ、そうs in my effort to make conversation.

While I was away, I had another Bilingual article in The Japan Times. I took a look at a 1965 エチケット事典 (Etiquette Encyclopedia): “A Japanese guide to dealing with gentleman callers and unruly dogs.”

It’s a pretty amazing text, and I look forward to reading through it more thoroughly. I wanted to share a couple of fun sections here. Under food, the author provides a list of 食べにくい一品料理 (tabenikui ippin ryōri, Difficult-to-eat items), one of which is 生かき (namakaki, raw oysters). Here are the instructions for eating them:


They are always accompanied with lemon. You squeeze this on top, but when you squeeze the lemon, it is always polite to cover it with your left hand so the juice doesn’t spray the surroundings. After adding the lemon juice, hold the shell of the oyster with your left hand, scoop out the oyster with an oyster fork, and eat it in one bite.

A couple of cool linguistic things to note here:

The first is the way エチケット gets used here to end the second sentence. Very interesting. A more literal translation would be “it is etiquette to cover it with your left hand.” I guess there’s a way to get closer to the Japanese than my translation. Something like “etiquette calls for…” or maybe “the etiquette is…”

Second, 貝の殻 is pretty interesting in that both characters can mean shell. 貝 seems to be referring to the meat of the oyster in this case, and it can mean shellfish more broadly whereas 殻 only refers to the shell or other kinds of outer coverings.

And if the oyster instructions didn’t convince you that this book is precise and prescriptive, check out some of the guides to 箸を上手に使うマナー (hashi o jōzu ni tsukau manā, Manners for using chopsticks well). In addition to the typical instructions, they provide this photograph for the section 器を持ったまま取る時 (ki o motta mama toru toki, taking them while holding a dish):


And the instructions:


Hold the dish with your left hand and take the chopsticks from above with your right. Slip the chopsticks between your ring finger or pinky and hold the dish with your right hand. Conversely, if you’re picking up a teacup or bowl while holding chopsticks, hold the chopsticks between your right palm and ring finger or pinky with the tips facing out and take the teacup or bowl with your thumb, index finger, and middle finger.

Am I the only person who didn’t already know of this technique? The second half of the instructions seem to make more sense to me than the first, which seem a little…precious? Or maybe I’m mistranslating based solely on the image from the text. I’d be curious to hear from readers on this one.

And don’t forget the cool finger vocab listed in the paragraph above!

This is a great text. I might have to buy a more modern version just to see the kind of things that are listed. And I can see myself coming back to this old one for future blog posts.



Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Chapter 31 “Fares, Police, Detergent” has many of Birnbaum’s (or his editor’s) usual cuts:

– Section- and chapter-ends are often pared down to end on a better line of dialogue, a more dramatic action, or a more wry tone.

– Parts that could be considered excess or unnecessary are cut back.

– Sexy and questionable bits are cut.

This chapter has a huge amount of this final cut, which we have seen a couple times previously.

In this chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink make their way back into the city through the subway, have a snack at a grocery store sandwich stand, and then clean up at his apartment. The sexy parts start when they are waiting for their food and they share an abandoned newspaper. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:

The girl claimed the back pages. Some seedy article which addressed the question “Is Swallowing Semen Good for the Complexion?”

“Do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl wanted to know. (323)

The original Japanese version goes on at greater length. My translation follows:



The girl said she wanted to read the back pages, so I took them out and handed them to her. She seemed to want to read an article titled “Does swallowing semen make your skin more beautiful?” Beneath it was an article titled “I was trapped in a cage and forced to have sex.” I had trouble imagining how exactly you would go about having sex with a woman in a cage. There must be some sort of clever way to go about it. But it would require a good bit of effort. Nothing I could ever manage.

“Hey, do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl asked.

This cut seems understandable. Murakami is going for a joke, and I don’t think it’s all that successful. I guess it’s a little funny in a kind of Seinfeld-esque way? But the text isn’t diminished by its absence.

The subsequent sexy cut feels designed to make Watashi seem like less of a perv. After they make it to his apartment, Watashi draws a bath. Here is Birnbaum’s version:

I suggested that the chubby girl bathe first. While she was in the tub, I changed into some salvaged clothes and plopped down on what had been my bed.” (325)

Short and simple. There is a huge cut within this. The Japanese and my translation:






彼女が風呂に入っているあいだに私はシャツと濡れたズボンを脱いで残っていた服に着替え、ベッドに寝転んでこれから何をしようかと考えた。 (473-473)

As the tub filled, I told the girl to take the first bath. She put a bookmark in the pages of the book, got off the bed, and fluidly took off her clothes in the kitchen. The way she removed them was so natural that I remained there sitting on the bed, idly watching her nude figure. Her body had a strange build that seemed part child, part adult. There was a large amount of soft-looking white flesh stuck to her, as though someone had taken a normal person’s body and plastered it uniformly with some kind of jelly. It was all so incredibly balanced that unless you were paying close attention you would almost forget the fact that she was fat. The areas around her arms, thighs, and belly were also wonderfully full and taut like a whale. Her breasts were moderate bulges, not all that large compared with the rest of her body, and the flesh on her butt stuck out sharply.

“My body isn’t bad, right?” she said in my direction from the kitchen.

“Not bad,” I responded.

“It took a lot of work to put on this much flesh, you know,” she said. “I had to eat a ton of all sorts of food. Cake and fatty foods, all sorts.”

I nodded silently.

While she was in the bath, I took off the wet shirt and pants I was wearing, changed into my remaining clothes, lay down in the bed, and thought about what to do next.

It’s a little weird that Watashi is staring at this seventeen-year-old girl and enjoying it. But I guess it’s a little prudish to cut it. The girl does have a very erotic feel, even in translation, so it doesn’t lose too much, other than a small amount of direct explicitness. I wonder if editors demanded that it be cut or Birnbaum himself made the suggestion.

The final sexy cut, however, is the most extreme. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:

I popped open my eyes and rubbed my face between my hands. It was like rubbing someone else’s face. The spot on my neck where the leech had attached itself still stung.

“When are you going back for your grandfather?” I asked. (328)

You’d never notice anything without looking at the original. Here’s the Japanese and my version:






























「君はいつおじいさんのところに戻るんだ?」と私は訊ねてみた。 (479-481)

I opened my eyes and rubbed my face with both hands. Because I’d shaved for the first time in so long, the skin on my face was dry and stiff like a drumhead. It felt like I was rubbing someone else’s face entirely. The areas where the leeches had gotten me still hurt. It seemed like those two leeches had taken a good bit of blood out of me.

“Hey,” the girl said and put the book by her side. “So, you really don’t want me to swallow your semen?”

“Not at the moment,” I said.

“You don’t feel like it?”


“And you don’t want to sleep with me either?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Is it because I’m fat?”

“Not at all,” I said. “Your body is really nice.”

“Then why won’t you sleep with me?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know why, but I do feel like I shouldn’t sleep with you right now.”

“Is it for some moral reason? Does it go against your lifestyle ethics?”

“Lifestyle ethics,” I repeated. The words had a strange ring to them. I stared up at the ceiling and thought about them for a moment. “No, that’s not it,” I said. “It’s something else entirely. Instinct or intuition, something like that. Or maybe it has something to do with my memories receding. I can’t explain it well. I actually really want to sleep with you right now. But that something is preventing me. It’s telling me now’s not the time for that.”

She put her elbows on a pillow and stared at me.

“Are you lying to me?”

“I wouldn’t lie about this kind of thing.”

“That’s what you really think?”

“That’s what I feel.”

“Can you prove it?”

“Prove it?” I repeated, a little taken aback.

“Something that can convince me that you want to sleep with me.”

“I have a hard on,” I said.

“Show me,” she said.

I hesitated for a moment but in the end decided to drop my pants and show her. I was too tired to argue any further, and I didn’t have much much time left in this world; I didn’t think me showing a seventeen-year-old girl my healthy, erect penis would become some massive social issue.

“Hmm,” she said as she looked at my engorged penis. “Can I touch it?”

“Nope,” I said. “But this proves it, right?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s fine.”

I lifted my pants and stored my penis inside them. The sound of a large moving truck passing by slowly rumbled up from the window.

“When will you go back to your grandfather?” I asked.

Hey now! What a scene to cut. Nothing changes drastically without this scene, of course, but it does give the girl a good bit of sexual agency that isn’t present in the translation. And it’s funny! The dialogue is a great back and forth, very strong. Also, it’s just a massive piece of text to remove, but as we’ve seen, this is how Murakami was translated at first.

This was a very exciting cut to find. We see deeper into Murakami’s sense of humor, how these two characters feel about each other, and how Murakami constructs sexuality in his books. It also shows something about the translation/editorial process back in the early 90s. Compared to some of his more recent works, this would probably be considered very tame. But it was cut for one reason or another, whether taste or style.

I don’t think we have many chapters left with the Girl in Pink. Watashi ends by taking her wet clothes to the laundromat to dry them. I don’t remember exactly what happens when he returns, but I’ll be curious to see if and how their sexual denouement is handled.

How to say “plumber butt” in Japanese, and other random Sunday thoughts


The other day I suddenly remembered the phrase 半ケツ.

I’m not sure what prompted it. I mean, I have as many random sexual thoughts as your average red-blooded American male, but this was not sexual in nature…at least not completely. My boss at the translation company used the phrase often when we had morning meetings. We didn’t have enough chairs, so he would nod at a couple of the ladies that worked in the office and say something like 半ケツで座って. Then they’d share one of the chairs and, literally, “half ass” it.

I’m not sure why I was thinking about the company or about the seats, but I guess it could have had something to do with the visceral nature of the asses. Who knows. Initially I was going to have this post be something about the viral nature of language, about how memory is kind of magical, which is also reflected in the way that kanji shift from blocks made of bits and pieces to larger blurs that carve out space in your mind over the course of your studies, but it turns out 半ケツ is a pretty interesting phrase.

First, ケツ has two options for kanji: 穴 and 尻. You can read more on this Yahoo Chiebukuro post, but this does make for the possibility that ケツの穴 could be written as 穴の穴, which is pretty cool.

Second, 半ケツ also happens to mean “plumber butt” in Japanese. Read more on this blog post. Google Images confirms that this is indeed the case: follow this link at your own discretion (NSFW).

So I guess the real moral of this post is…you just never know.

号外 – The Latest on Farting

Interesting discussion about farts happening on my Google Buzz import of this post. When I wrote my rules for kanji compounds, I knew that the VERB + DIRECT OBJECT was in the Chinese order, but I didn’t know much more than that. Roy from Mutantfrog pointed out that some Japanese words are in this order but were actually created by Japanese people – sort of like 和製英語 for Chinese. The actual term for this is 和製漢語.

Chen then pointed out that 放屁 is actually Chinese in origin:

Very interesting. I have heard of 和製漢語 before but never ever thought so many modern Chinese words actually came from Japan. From the Chinese article linked in that wikipeida page: Yan Fu, the most famous Chinese scholar and translator in 1800s, lost his battle to Japanese translators when trying to translate modern western science and social words to Chinese. According to the author, “Yan Fu understood Chinese too well and was pursuing perfect combination of sound, rhythm, meaning and elegance. Yan’s translation used quaintly old-fashioned Chinese which was very hard for regular people. He himself even said he only considered highly educated people as his readers. While Japanese scholars/translators did not pay too much attention on those constraints but rather focused on ease of understanding, their translation were simple and straightforward. With competitor like this, it’s no wonder that Yan’s translation was abandoned”.

The word 放屁 (Fang Pi) appeared in several Chinese books/articles long before Qing Dynasty, when the “counter-import” of Chinese from Japan mostly occurred, not that I’m proud of but I think it has to be a Chinese word originated in China. It also has the meaning of “talking nonsense”, like BS in English.

And Isaac also added an important comment regarding usage:

Oh no, you gotta watch out when using this word, cos you don’t want to get it confused with the “other” ほうひ(包皮)- foreskin

放屁 is a word that is fun to recognize and understand, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say you should never try using it yourself. There are much more natural ways to pass gas.

You can find me on Buzz here. My Buzz feed incorporates this page as well as my Twitter feed.


When you speak Japanese, what are your hands doing? In the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that when foreigners speak Japanese, many of them seem to have a wicked case of what I’ve termed “charades hands.” We all wave our hands like Stan the used boat salesman from Monkey Island:

I’m tempted to say that ESL folks aren’t plagued by “Stan hands.” For whatever reason, Japanese just draws it out of us. There’s so much more I’m trying to express! Can’t you understand what my hands are trying to say! I’ll freely admit that my hands are as guilty as everyone else’s, but I’ve been trying to be better about it recently.

Do whatever it takes to keep them under control. Put them in your pockets. Sit on them. Hold something really heavy. I have a feeling that maintaining control of your hands will force you to make your word choices more accurate and your grammar more precise.

I think mastery of the passive tense probably cuts down on “charades hands” by about 50%, so go ahead and start there.

Grossest Idiom Ever?

Last week at work I came across possibly the grossest idiom in existence – 爪(つめ)の垢(あか)を煎(せん)じて飲む. The first thing I did was turn to my trusty 慣用句 (かんようく) online dictionary. The interface could be better; the search engine is pretty good, but if that doesn’t find it, you have to narrow down the idiom by the first two kana via the menu on the left. Some of the idioms have their own pages, others are just given on a long page with other definitions. The best part is that the whole thing is in Japanese, which forces you to study and get a feel for how it works in Japanese, rather than learning a straight up translation.

This one has its own page, and the definition is: 優れた人の爪の垢を貰って薬として飲むという意味で、その人に肖(あやか)ろうとすること。

So, yes, you boil an awesome person’s fingernail crud and drink it as medicine so that you can be cool like them. Something like that. I had to look up 肖(あやか)ろう, and I think it means something like “be lucky.” Still getting used to the usage here, but I’m thinking it’s something like “I wanna be like Mike.” It can be put into basically any tense by changing 飲む – some of the frequently used tenses are 飲みたい, 飲ませる. The difference between these two is pretty drastic. With 飲みたい, the speaker thinks the person is so great, great enough that they’d drink their fingernail crud. With 飲ませる, someone is clearly lacking something that crud from fingernails of superlative person X could hopefully fix, and the person doing the causing thinks they should drink up. Gross.

Here’s a blog entry with actual usage. Always good practice to learn stuff.

It would be fun to write a fake article about the “recent boom” of Japanese “fingernail crud cafes.”


My introductory Japanese classes are so far in the past now that all my memories feel like a blur. I do have a vague feeling that for whatever reason they never taught us the body parts in a single lesson. Maybe I was expecting something along the lines of my high school Spanish class where we had to label a poster or at least fill in the blanks around a mannequin on handouts and tests. We probably got bits and pieces here and there – お腹がすいている, 喉が渇いている, etc. – but never a full lesson with all the parts…I think.

So maybe that’s why I thought that 背中 (せなか) meant back for so long. I mean, I guess it does, but if you’re talking back pain, that’s 腰 (こし). 背中 feels more like that area around your shoulder bones, almost. The two basically mean upper back and lower back, but if you’re talking in general, 腰 might be the word you’re looking for.

If you’ve been sleeping on a too-thin futon for too long, the phrase you’re looking for is – 腰が痛い.

(Past body part entries: read about boobs here and here – both bring in fans from various search engines – and fingers here.)


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 unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement.


Murakami (Do I even need to tell you which one?) lived in Europe for three years between 1986 and 1989. In addition to novels and short stories, he also wrote a lengthy set of travel writings called Tōi taiko (遠い太鼓, A Distant Drum).

During his travels he spent some time on a small Greek island, and the tourists there often sunbathed nude. Apparently only the local Greek men (he calls them "Zorba Greeks") went to the trouble of checking out the boobs. This resulted in a three-page discussion of nude sunbathing and the following moment of complete linguistic genius:


(I was going to write the page number at the end of that line, but when I realized it was page 69, I thought I’d better explain what I was doing.)

The Japanese is so economical that translating it won’t be as great, but here it goes:

If it’s a person’s prerogative to reveal her boobs, then it’s also a person’s prerogative to look at revealed boobs

That kind of expresses what’s going on with the verb. 出す literally means “take out,” but I translated it as “reveal” in order to maintain the verb tenses and still have the sentence sound okay, although, now that I think about it, “taken-out boobs” is a pretty funny phrase.

The major difference between the English and the Japanese is that no people are explicitly involved in the Japanese sentence; all of the subjects are implied, and he uses the loaded word 勝手 (かって). "Prerogative" feels a little complicated, but I guess it does the job. 勝手 is often used as an adverb (勝手に〜) to mean "do ~ however I want" or "do ~ even though I’m thinking only of myself and not the Japanese collective spirit." One word that pops up in the dictionary is "arbitrary." So does "one’s own way" and "selfishness."

So yes, long story short, if you reveal your boobs, do not be surprised when people look at them.