Final Form

Greetings from August 2020, dear readers. We’re still operating mostly indoors, although we have a bike now and the weather in Chicago has been good, which means that the city is out and about (for better or worse) and there are patios with draft beer and fine food. Winter is within sight, so we’re trying to enjoy the warmth we have left.

But virtual events are still a thing. We’re digital. The memes are flowing, including this gem, which I snipped from Twitter on May 11 (two days before Elon Musk tweeted it):

I know next to nothing about Dragonball, so I got curious about what the original Japanese might be. After some searching, it turns out that the English is completely original to memedom and does not appear in the anime or manga…in that form.

Japanese websites have attributed the line, which popped up in memes in 2012, to the Japanese その変身をあと2回もオレは残している (Sono henshin o ato nikai mo ore wa nokoshite iru, With that transformation, I have two more remaining), which comes from Frieza in this panel:

I can’t seem to track down which manga issue this comes from, but a fan in this forum has posted quotes from episodes that seem to suggest it was translated pretty straightforward in the anime as “And I still have two more transformations remaining!”

To be honest, “This isn’t even my final form” is a pretty good rendering of the Japanese! It feels appropriately dramatic. Maybe something like “There’s more where that came from!” or “You haven’t seen anything yet!” would work as well.

Although, in complete context, “And I still have two more transformations remaining! Do you even understand what that means?” feels spot on.

The forum quotes also suggest that whoever made the meme was basically paraphrasing the actual translation rather than creating something entirely new.

But whoever created that initial meme did tap into something. It’s funny how pieces of language can go viral. It feels so natural, like there’s a momentum waiting to happen that needs only the softest push to set it in motion.

Love

I was in the Japan Times last week with a confession of my love for Higashimura Akiko: “Look for love to overcome Japanese-language study difficulties.”

My obsession with her podcast 身も蓋もナイト has grown to dangerous levels, limited only by the limitations on the back log of episodes – for whatever reason Higashimura Productions caps the number of past episodes displayed on apps to 10. You can find past episodes on YouTube and their website.

I was a little sad that the staff at the JT decided to cut one word that I tried to introduce – スタッフ笑い (staffu warai, staff laugh track). I wondered whether there was a Japanese word for this, and I found this write-up over at the Wikpedia page for 録音笑い (rokuon warai, laugh track):

珍奇なところでは、平成初期のコント番組に盛んに使われた「スタッフ笑い」と呼ばれる音声がある。これは比較的少人数の男性の笑いを、こもり気味の音響で録音するもので、撮影スタジオで演じられるコントに対して、現場の製作スタッフが失笑しているように見せるものである。バラエティ番組では現在でも無観客のシーンでスタッフ笑いが多用されている。

You see it a lot on Japanese variety shows, my favorite of which was 99’s Mecha-ike. Sometimes you even saw Yabe providing some of this laughter (and excellent hype man clapping) on screen in addition to the staff off screen.

Once I decided to write on this topic I started hoarding episodes because I wanted to be able to transcribe any interesting phrases. I then went on to binge a bunch over a weekend and type up far more than I was actually able to use (1,700 words, to be exact…and the JT columns are supposed to be 800 lol). This was good language practice, though, I think.

Here are some of the favorite things I noticed:

Episode 78

Daniel McCalla (of H2J Podcast infame) was featured in one of the opening sessions! Apparently I’m not the only person he’s recommended Akiko-sensei’s podcast to—the staff translated a conversation on Twitter where he recommends the pod. Hear her read out Daniel’s tweets and give him a super sweet shout out! This is classic Akiko-sensei and

Episode 114

ラスイチ (rasuichi, last one) – This is a fun phrase I’d never heard before! It came in the segment 俺が言わねば (ore ga iwaneba, “I’ve gotta say this”), which is hilarious. The comedian Ninoniino-san gets angry in place of Japanese listeners, whom he jokes are too passive to get angry and blow off the steam they need to. This phrase comes up when listener Yoppei-san says it’s frustrating when people in the office won’t eat the last snack item left out.

Episode 117

This is definitely worth a listen – very funny to hear Akiko and team go through the potential nicknames for listeners. They end up settling on オス蓋 and メス蓋.

Episode 119

Once I finished my binge, I noticed that there hadn’t been any new episodes in December and none in January. I was able to figure out via Twitter that they were taking a short hiatus, and episodes started up again in late January. This first episode of the year had an interesting call from a woman whose boyfriend is an aspiring writer. She asked him what they should do for New Year’s Eve, and he said he wanted to spend it alone writing. Akiko’s advice was right on and enlightening: 遊んで吸収できる人しか面白い小説書けないですよ (Asonde kyūshū dekiru hito shika omoshiroi shōsetu kakenai desu yo, Only people who can have fun and absorb things will be able to write interesting fiction).

It’s an interesting take, and important for those of us prone to stay indoors writing to remember to get out a bit and interact with the world every now and then.

4koma Coma

Happy New Year! I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at 四コマ漫画 aka 四コマ aka 4koma: “Yonkoma manga: Lives told, lessons learned in four frames.”

I wrote this article before reading Nippon.com’s look at the nominees for the word of 2017. It made me wonder whether the strips I wrote about were a result of うつヌケ うつトンネルを抜けた人たち (Utsu-nuke: Utsu tonneru o nuketa hito-tachi, Utsu-nuke: The people who made it through the tunnel).

But I realized that Utsu-nuke may be a culmination of sorts. Ryu Tamako’s blog began in 2015 with a look at OCD and seems to have been relatively successful. I’m sure there have also been other examples of mainstream pop culture (dramas? novels?) that have helped make the topic of mental health more accessible over the last 10-15 years.

The pixiv strips I looked at are more recent, so maybe they benefited from the Utsu-nuke phenomenon as well as technological advancements (new social media, easily/affordably accessible digital art supplies). At any rate, I think they’re both great, and I think they both capture the artists remarkably well.

I dug around pixiv for a little lagniappe for the blog and I ended up finding this awesome 4koma: 5分でわかる「羊をめぐる冒険」. It’s basically a manga Cliff Notes version of A Wild Sheep Chase, not your prototypical 4koma structure. I can’t tell if it’s finished…seems like there’s more of the story to tell. I really like the art. It’s very clean but not overly simplified. I’ll have to check back in.

The artist also has a more typical 4koma series titled めがね夫婦日乗 (Megane fūfu nichijō, Daily life of the glasses couple…although I’m not sure I understand the nichijō pun). One funny example is this gem which required me to listen to the 1972 song 北風小僧の寒太郎 (Kita-kaze kozō no Kantarō, Kantarō, The North Wind Kid…as translated here) to understand. If you don’t get the joke, I’ll explain it below*.

Judging from the Wikipedia, the song was NHK’s attempt to make 子供向け演歌 (kodomo-muke enka, enka for kids). Pretty interesting. It comes right as the word enka was starting to coalesce into its own style.

Searching for this song also reminded me of the banana song that used to play over the speakers in my grocery store in Tokyo. I don’t really have an excuse to share it (and I think a stand-alone post would be kind of silly…although maybe silly is what I’m aiming for with this), so here it is. It’s an earworm. 甘熟王!

*In the song, background singers repeat Kantarō but the second verse has やってきた in place of Kantarō, and the husband messes this up and goes with Kantarō again, ruining the wife’s perfect rendition and resulting in his subsequent orz. This is only made funnier by the fact that he says he messed it up on purpose. Ha.

Cool Tongue Twister – 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた

bozu

I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Repetition and role-play are crucial for speaking success in Japanese.”

I was stunned to see that no one had previously written about 早口言葉 (はやくちことば, tongue twisters)…as long as the search engine on the JT can be trusted.

They seem silly at first, but they’re actually really good speaking practice. So is just randomly repeating Japanese phrases while you’re at home alone. Gotta keep those muscles trained, and it’s fine to sound like a clown when no one’s around.

I wasn’t able to include one of my favorite tongue twisters: 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた (Bōzu ga byōbu ni jōzu ni bōzu no e o kaita, A monk draws a picture of a monk on a folding screen well).

And of course there’s an excellent Yahoo Chiebukuro post where someone asks for the correct phrasing: Is the monk drawing a picture of a monk or ジョーズ (Jaws) or B’s (a band I think?). Someone mentions that only a monk would have existed pre-war. Another guy mentions that it could be regional and that near Universal Studios Japan (Osaka) they used Jaws…which sounds about right. Osaka is known for its sense of humor, but it could also very easily be just an elementary school thing. Those kids love jokes like that.

At any rate, an image search for a 上手坊主 led me to this amazing blog post that takes this absurd phrase to its logical conclusion: 坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に坊主の絵を描いた.

I’ve taken the liberty of borrowing the image from the post (the blog appears to be deceased and originally intended to help old people retain their memory and eyesight?) and reproducing it above, but it’s an interesting read. Go check it out.

TJ(Too Japanese);DR: because of the way Japanese modifiers work, the language itself is easier to read silently rather than out loud. Modifiers (修飾) get stacked up upon a subject, and if you’re reading out loud you must sail only forward through unknown seas, while you may look back and forth if you’re reading silently and you are not slave to the unceasing plodding of your vision? Seems legit?

Y’all have any favorite 早口言葉?

Rite? Amirite?

You’ll have to forgive me – this semester has been insane. Japanese is still happening, almost on an everyday basis, but often it’s in my dreams. I have been reading Dance Dance Dance in Japanese with the hopes of translating some of the abridged sections this upcoming September. But other than that, I’ve been teaching, reading, and writing English. Here’s a quick lame post so that I don’t skip February.

I wrote about でしょう a couple years ago and wasn’t able to give a really good example of the tone that I was trying to express. Well, I was watching my Twitter feed not too long ago and caught this interaction between New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi and Jean Snow of Neojaponisme:

Tabuchi’s でしょう I think accurately captures what I was trying to communicate – it’s almost along the lines of the tone of the English amirite? or rite?

To further impress this upon you, I have recorded my own versions of the various でしょう tones. Here is How to Japanese Podcast Ep 2, which is so short that it doesn’t even deserve a time index. Hope this is helpful.

Cool Kanji – 堅

堅い (かたい) is a word I had a basic feel for long before I knew the actual English equivalent. I took an intensive summer class after my first year in university, and I have memories of the sensei using it all the time and me not exactly understanding what it meant when they used it to describe different words and phrases. I probably looked it up once and then just let it sink in. Unfortunately I can’t think up any specific examples of what was and wasn’t 堅い. It might have just been keigo variants.

Needless to say, having an understanding of 堅い is immensely important in Japan. The rigidity of your speech, your body language, your overall interactions with other people – these are all very important in Japan. Arguably more important than elsewhere. This isn’t to say that you should tense up like a plank when you talk with your 社長 (all 社長 should be lovingly referred to, behind their backs, as “the Shach” – let’s make it happen, y’all!). The most respected ability in Japan is being comfortable with your situation and knowing when and when not to dial up the intensity/formality/rigidity/堅さ.

Because this is such an important idea, it can be abused for humorous reasons, as I’ve mentioned a number of different times – most recently in my article in the Japan Times today about universal humor. Check it out!

Cool Adjective – 悔しい

Well, all good things must come to an end. This post ends my 6+ week vacation from the site, and on Saturday the Seattle Seahawks ended the Saints’ hopes of repeating their championship last year. Our defense gave up 41 points – the most we gave up all season – and our offense was only able to score 36. If you had told anyone that the Saints would score 36 points, I’m almost certain they would have predicted a win. Alas, our defense was subpar all season, and no one was able to recognize this – almost every analyst picked the Saints, including the Wall Street Journal’s sports columnist, who remarked that the Seahawks had “no business in the playoffs.”

I only needed one word to describe the post-game feeling in Japanese:

悔しい

In English it would take a lot more to describe my feelings. I was totally broken, exasperated, depressed. It sucked. (The only upside is that, as a New Orleans Saints fan, I have years and years of practice losing, so I probably managed to go through the stages of grief more quickly than fans of other franchises. Bring on the 2011-2012 season!)

悔しい (くやしい) often gets defined as “vexing,” “regrettable,” or “mortifying,” but in practice it should never be translated this way. The most famous usage of the word comes from the comedian Ayumu Katoh of the group Zabunguru, who says the word and then makes a face that only he can make (if the YouTube link is broken, a Google Images search for 悔しい should suffice). The face completely expresses the feeling of 悔しい. I always think of it as an emphatic “This sucks!” or “It sucks!” depending on the context.

This is a good lesson to remember for other Japanese adjectives – うまい, おいしい, 痛い (いたい), 辛い (つらい) – whatever the adjective may be, you should never think of it as a one-to-one relationship with an English adjective. An emphatic うまい is more appropriately translated to “Damn, that’s good!” than “Tasty!” 痛い, of course, can be “Ouch” or “That hurts” – NEVER translate 痛い on its own as “painful.”

辛い is often close to 悔しい but involves more physical pain from the endurance of an uncomfortable situation (this is easy to remember: the same character for つらい gets used in 辛抱 [しんぼう], which is one way to say patience/endurance in Japanese). Something 悔しい just fucking sucks. Imitating Katoh’s phrasing is a good way to earn some laughs if you end up in a shitty position. Hell, might as well have a laugh.

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:

A:もう3杯飲んじゃったの?
B:そう。

And now the pyramid:

そう。
そうよ。 *for women and womanly types only
そうだ。
そうです。
そうでござる。 *for people acting in 時代劇 only
さようです。
さようでございます。

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.

Project Manager Lingo – 納品 & How to Engrish

When I joined my company in 2008, I started work on a Thursday. I figured that would give me a nice two day period to get used to things before I had to tackle a full week. After very little in terms of orientation or introduction, they had me busy with an intense check of some business reports for a steel company. On Friday at the end of the day, one of the three other project managers said, “Oh yeah, Daniel. You need to fill out your shoehole.”

Shoehole? I thought. OK, sure. What’s a shoehole? “Here I’ll forward you mine.” Oh, it’s a weekly report or something. Cool. I managed to use my coworker’s template to fill out the work I’d done and then send it to the right people.

For the next few weeks, I updated my “shoehole” file diligently, still kind of wondering what the hell “shoehole” meant. I thought maybe it was some kind of compartment where employees used to deposit written reports in the 19th century, a term lovingly carried up to the present day, that I had been unaware of for 27 years.

At some point I finally realized what “shoehole” actually meant – 週報 (しゅうほう), weekly report. I place some of the blame for this on my own idiocy and the other guy’s pronunciation, but a lot of it is due to the office attitude, which was (and still is) one of doing for others rather than helping others learn how to do a better job. I’d been saying “shoehole” to everyone for a few weeks…and not a single correction? Maybe expecting an explanation of 週報 is a little much, but 90% of what I’ve learned on the job has been trial and error. The other 10% has been from questions I asked others. No one, not even other project managers, has gone out of their way to make anything easier, and I’d even say that the way information is kept from employees makes things more difficult and provides no incentive to be creative or efficient.

So in response to the apparent interest in project management and freelance translation last week, I’ve decided to start introducing some project management vocabulary, hopefully to arm you all with information I wish people had taught me. These will be useful to translators as well, especially if you are trying to communicate with a Japanese project manager or client.

The first word is the most important – 納品 (のうひん). This is a complex way to say “deliver.”

翻訳をクライアントに納品しましたので、やっと帰れます!
I delivered the translation to the client, so I can finally go home!

今日納品が三つあって忙しい。
I’m busy today – I’ve got three deliveries to make.

Pretty simple once you get it down. The compound is in the pattern VERB + DIRECT OBJECT (品を納める) and combines the character for product (品, しな) with the multifaceted 納, which can mean send, pay, store, and settle, amongst others. It might help if you think of it as “take care of.” That covers a wide range of actions. As you can see from the above examples, it can be used as a noun or a verb.

(NOTE THAT IT DOES NOT MEAN DELIVERY OF TASTY THINGS LIKE PIZZA. That would be 配達.)

A similar and also very useful word is 納税 (のうぜい) which means, using my little hint, “take care of taxes” – pay taxes.

Today is also the debut of my new Japanese site – How to Engrish. Essentially it’s the exact opposite of this site. My goal is to practice writing Japanese and hopefully to make English easier for Japanese people to learn.

I’ve got the Japanese-English language pair covered. Now just to employ an army of linguists to cover every other possible combination. There’s no reason why learning a language should be so difficult – millions of people speak them without any difficulty whatsoever, and a little insight provided by a teacher in the student’s native language can have a great effect. Language study is not a competition, and we should all make an effort to be more understanding with learners: any language mistake diminishes me, because I am involved in language. (It’s still OK to laugh at mistakes though.)

I’ll be going through some major changes in the next few months, so I’ll only post once a week at How to Engrish, and I plan to cut my posts here at How to Japonese down to two a week for now (starting next week) and possibly one a week with the occasional 号外 post. 2010 is certainly turning into an exciting, aggressive year: keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle and secure all children and personal belongings.

That’s What All the Ladies Say

My understanding of だろう and でしょう are tenuous at best. I remember being puzzled by these when I took my first Japanese class – an intensive summer class, which I would not recommend (slow down, everyone, you’re moving too fast).

Two encounters have shaped my understanding of these phrases. Today, encounter one.

I was up in Fukushima, I think during my first year as a JET, watching TV. There was a small variety show where a host was interviewing different celebrities who came out one by one. After the host asked a few questions about the kind of work they did, the audience had to guess the celebrity’s annual income. One of the people on the show was パックン – Patrick Harlan, a Harvard grad who parlayed English teaching into Japanese study into fame as a manzai comedian. I don’t remember exactly what the host said to Pakkun, but he responded with a highly suggestive でしょう, which got a lot of laughs. I immediately noted the tone of his phrasing and added it to my mental catalog of funny phrases to use.

It felt like he was confirming something, just as you would with ですね, but this something was overly obvious and a little silly. A phrase you could substitute it with is the equally laugh-inducing よく言われます – literally, and extremely awkwardly, “That is often said about me.” I guess the English equivalent would be, “That’s what they all say.”

The tone on でしょう here is important – it’s slightly inquisitive with the hint of a smile. Amirite? でしょう?