boy ≠ ボーイ

booi

Apologies for the lack of posts. They should hopefully resume at a more regular pace shortly now that I’ve 1) finished my graduate studies, 2) found a job (one that will keep me in contact with the Japanese language!), 3) moved to the city where I do that job, and 4) almost moved into an apartment in that city. Until Wednesday, I am living with my brother who, conveniently, also lives in that city.

[I’m not really trying to keep secrets. I moved to Chicago, the Windy City, which feels more poetic in Japanese: 風の街 (The City of Wind).]

I’m still working my way through Tazaki Tsukuru, and as I was reading today, I noticed an awesome 外来語 inequality. (MILD SPOILER ALERT: The example details one minor plot point from the new Murakami book.) Tazaki Tsukuru has arrived in Finland to track down a high school friend, and when he gets to his hotel, this happens:

ハンサムな金髪のボーイに案内され、クラシックなエレベーターに揺れられて、四階にある部屋に入った。

As you can see from the katakana, there are a number of foreign words, but “handsome,” “classic,” and “elevator” all match up pretty smoothly with their English equivalents. ボーイ on the other hand, varies a little more. This translation, for example, is a little off:

A handsome, blonde boy guided him into a shaky, caged elevator and up to his room on the fourth floor.

This makes much more sense, no?

A handsome, blonde bellboy guided him into a shaky, caged elevator and up to his room on the fourth floor.

Forget the fact that I’ve smoothed out the listed clauses and the fact that Tsukuru is the subject of every verb in the Japanese, and focus on how much more natural “bellboy” is in that sentence.

This word doesn’t really pass the Google Images test (at least not for ボーイ), but if you add ホテル, it becomes clear that ボーイ = bellboy in many if not most cases, in practical usage.

I love the long vowel here, although I admit that it’s mostly because it makes me think of Flava Flav: YEAHHHHHHH BOYYYYYYYYYYY!

Cool Word – まったり

I’ve got an article on the Japan Times Bilingual page today about the Japanese translation of Facebook. I highly recommend switching your language over to Japanese to improve your recognition of the various loanwords and compounds that get used on the site. And definitely make sure to go in and add your 姓 and 名 into the settings so that your Japanese friends and coworkers can track you down.

Ideally, though, you have loads of Japanese friends who are also using Facebook – this is by far the best use of the site. These Japanese friends should be updating their statuses and commenting on things at a regular pace. I have a few who do so, but even with the small number, I’ve learned a couple of awesome words. Notably, まったり. The best part about Facebook is that you are learning in context: words get defined by pictures and comments.

For example, a friend posted this picture:

With the following comment: 今日は天気悪いから好きなカフェでまったり。

I could immediately approximate the meaning of まったり – what else are you going to do on a rainy day at a cafe with nothing but a cup of coffee? – but a week or so later, another friend posted this status update:

家でまったりテレビ鑑賞。BS-TBSが誇る最強の低予算コンテンツ「吉田類の酒場放浪記」。
想像以上のヒットぶりに乗じて…

The status went on, but you get the idea from the first sentence where まったり is used to modify the verb 鑑賞 (かんしょう, view) – it means to chill the fuck out. You can either just chill the fuck out at a café because the weather is bad or you can chill the fuck out and watch TV. In the first case, the する after まったり is dropped, and in the second case it’s used as an adverb to modify 鑑賞.

The third syntax you can use is まったりした to modify a noun such as まったりした人, which reminds me of one of my favorite phrases from Cowboy Bebop: のんきなやつだな – that’s one chilled out bastard.

(And on a Facebook sidenote, I hope that the translation of “Like” to いいね! effectively communicates to beginning students of the language that いい doesn’t simply mean good and that 好き doesn’t really mean “like.”)

Getting used to お陰様

One of the best parts about my return to New Orleans is that I have not been sick as much as I was in Japan. My first winter in Fukushima I caught pneumonia. The second year I had the flu or something similar. The third year my nose completely closed up and I went on nasal steroids (which became an annual thing). I loved the healthcare system in Japan – the doctors were friendly and everything was really affordable – but it’s better not to get sick. I say this on a day in early January in New Orleans where it was overcast and rainy but still in the upper 70s: I had the air conditioner on. Two days ago I went for a jog along my normal jogging route in a sleeveless T. Life is good. I occasionally get a bit sickish, but my body has had fewer catastrophic failures than it did in Japan.

Part of this could be that I’m exercising more. My normal jogging route takes me along the Mississippi River, but back in November I was blocked by the train and ran back to Magazine Street rather than along “the Fly” (the park area in a batture along the river). This resulted in one of those 何かの縁 moments that life surprises you with every now and then. My Japanese conversation partner happened to be walking in the park with her mother and newborn son. I hadn’t seen her for about a month since she gave birth.

She said, おお、偶然だね。何している?ジョギング? I replied, お久しぶりです。はい、ジョギング。おめでとうございます。 無事に生まれた? (Or something like that. I was a little winded and surprised, so I’m sure my Japanese was crap.) Then she said one of the best get-used to it phrases in Japanese: お陰様で無事に生まれた。

I’m not sure if that’s the exact verb/verb form she used, but I want to focus on the お陰様で (おかげさまで). This is a great phrase. Forget about what it means. Let’s focus on some context.

My first encounter with this phrase was on the very first day of the second semester of my third year – so the first day of class after the New Year holiday. The teacher said, お元気ですか? We began to reply 元気です and the teacher tilted her head to the side like we were making a mistake. No one could figure out what the mistake was was until she fed us the answer – お陰様で元気です。 I remember being baffled. I had no idea what it meant. I wish I could go back and shake myself and say, “It doesn’t matter what it means! It’s just what they say! Just say it! Say it all the time!”

Now the question becomes when do they say it. These two examples have at least one thing in common: a certain length of time has passed since the speakers last met. It had been a few weeks since I’d seen my teacher and about a month since I’d seen my friend. Things happened since the speakers met.

Now is there any similarity between these things? And here is where I give some background context: I’d given my friend a baby gift before she gave birth. And then she gave birth. So yes, some things happened. In the case of my teacher, not much happened. We had a week of vacation between exams and the start of the new semester. I’m going to say no, the things that happened are not similar. This is good. This shows us two different uses of the phrase.

In my teacher’s case, the お陰様で is used almost exclusively as a set 挨拶 (あいさつ). Get used to it, use お陰様で元気です all the time, especially after using しばらく or 久しぶり.

In my friend’s case, it’s used as a way to express thanks. Not that the baby blanket I gave her helped her give birth at all (at least I hope not…the hospital should have enough blankets), but I’d done something nice, and then she’d gone and done something successfully. お陰様で is a useful way to report an accomplishment and indirectly express thanks for the accomplishment. It’s also a very polite phrase. Simply say お陰様で and add whatever you accomplished. You passed a test? お陰様で合格 (ごうかく)しました! You were accepted into the JET Program or some other job? お陰様で就職(しゅうしょく)しました! Your friend fed you ramen when you were wasted and you didn’t get a hangover? お陰様で二日酔い(ふつかよい)になりませんでした! This phrase has all sorts of great usages.

There are places on teh Internetz where you can read about the origin of the phrase, but it’s advisable to just get used to it. Or Google it and then get used to it.

Mind Yer Imperatives

Well, I’ve emerged from the Pain Cave just in time to turn 30 and to finally get around to transferring my new domain name howtojapanese.com to Namecheap and setting it redirect to howtojaponese.com. I do hereby return this blog to its original name, How to Japanese! (And the crowd goes wild.)

A couple of weeks ago was Japan Fest over at the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park. Last year I wrote about the Yakumo Nihon Teien (named for the original Japanophile, Lafcadio Hearn) over at Untapped Cities.

This time, I geared up 祭り-style with my happi to fold some cranes and dress some folks in yukata. Devoted readers might recognize this clothing from the local autumn festival in Nishiaizu.

My participation in the Nishiaizu festival involved helping carry the mikoshi, eating lots of food, and drinking lots of beer. It was a fun time. I was also required to embarrass myself at least once a year by performing the 景気. The mikoshi made the rounds of different neighborhoods, stopping frequently at houses to receive donations and to もむ (lift up and down). Occasionally we parked in front of a house for snacks and a rest. And when we began again, we had to 付ける the 景気 – literally, “apply the good energy.” If you checked out the definition on kotobank, you could say “apply the 元気.”

This meant someone stood up on the mikoshi, shouted 景気を付けて! (which sounded something like けいーきをーつけて: the い and the を were drawn out) and did a little dance while holding a fan. The rhythm was kind of similar to a slow version of a 三本締め party close. Here is what a certain foreigner looked like (his face has been covered to protect the rhythmically challenged):

(Notice the courtesy laughs and the pity smiles.)

The first time I did it, I had no idea what it meant and just followed the instructions of my adopted 祭り family, but I asked in later years and came to have an understanding of what it meant: the person is helping to provide a sense of good spirit for the people who provided snacks. As always, translating this phrase will make you feel like an idiot or a Neo-Confucianist philosopher, so just concentrate on understanding it in Japanese.

I noticed that other people who did the 景気, notably guys, always said 付けろ rather than 付けて. Whenever it was my turn, though, there was a brief debate amongst the townsfolk about whether I should use 付けて or 付けろ, and the former always won. The latter was considered a “bad word” – a curse word, basically.

Until that point, I don’t think I’d ever had a real conception of what the imperatives felt like for Japanese. I used てください and て pretty consistently, and I knew that the ろs and れs were stronger, but I didn’t know exactly how strong. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle, as it were.

Check out this video on YouTube to see some もむ action and read the caption to check out how 景気を付ける gets used.

Passive HUH?

When I wrote my last post, I never imagined that I would have an opportunity to use やられた so soon. Well, here it goes: 英語の文法用語にやられた!

As I’m sure many of you have noticed, someone rightfully called me out for mistakenly saying “passive tense” instead of “passive voice” in my Japan Times article “Stop worrying and embrace the passive tense.” (Judging from my bit.ly stats, more of you followed the link to the letter to the editor than the actual article!)

In my defense, I do use “passive voice” at times in the article, so I knew there was some sort of difference between voice and tense, but the letter to the editor certaintly cleared it up. I guess before I thought that “tense” meant “verb conjugation,” which the Japanese passive is, but apparently this is not what tense is.

The main point of my article is not diminished by this (minor?) semantics issue: the Japanese passive is awesome, and you best get used to it, son. The sooner you can take off the floaties (it’s been years since I’ve used the floaties metaphor, apparently) and swim in the deep end without any subjects or objects, the sooner you will be doing real, live Japonese.

So please do continue to call me out for my inadequacies…especially if they are English inadequacies. That I can handle. I only take offense when my Japanese is corrected. NOT!

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.

Cool Compound – 復習

This one is pretty easy to break down. 復 means “multiple” and can be seen in such useful compounds as 複数 (ふくすう, “multiple numbers” → plural) and 複雑 (ふくざつ, “multiple miscellaneous” → difficult, complicated).

習 you should recognize from your basic set of verbs – 習う (ならう, to learn).

Put them together and you get 復習 (ふくしゅう) which means “to learn multiple times” or “to learn again” – to review.

Yes, it’s that time of year again – finals time. I’ve got several meaty projects I have to finish up before the second week in December, so How to Japonese will be taking a little break. I finish my last presentation on December 9, and I’m flying out to Japan for two weeks on December 10. Regular posting will resume at some point over the holidays, most likely at some point during my visit to Japan.

Until then, go ahead and “review” some of the old material from the site. I recommend:

– the three original posts.
– my definition of かわいそう
– proof that laughter is the best study partner
– my guide to kanji compounds
– any of the posts about “airbag expressions”

See y’all again in December!

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.

Cool Word – キャッシュオン

I have an article online today over at CNNGo Tokyo. I give a brief introduction to 和製英語 (わせいえいご) and list a few of my favorites. One of these is キャッシュオン, which is a shortened form of キャッシュオンデリバリー. I learned the phrase at Dry Dock, but Ushitora also has キャッシュオン events. I love the way the word sounds, and it’s a lot of fun to overpronounce it. Although, whenever I say it now, I say it with a Cajun accent, a la Cajun Man.

While I’m here, I should go ahead and do a mini-rinkage post.

Big (only) in Japan? Oshibori

I’ve had a bit of reverse culture shock since I’ve been home. The most notable shock has been shoes in the house. Hate it. After that, I guess it’s a toss up between cash-less shopping, the frigid temperatures people in New Orleans keep their ACs set at, and eating food with hands. For the first few weeks I felt a weird sensation of never having enough money on me. In Japan, not having enough cash can have serious consequences – like having to walk home a really long ways or go hungry/thirsty for longer than is pleasant. I’ve gotten over it thanks to my debit card, which can be used just about everywhere in the U.S. I’ve also realized why people bring sweaters to the library – the library is super cold! Come on, people, 68F is not a normal inside temperature. The other weird sensation I have is that my hands are constantly dirty. Part of this is due to the lack of chopsticks, part of this is do to the prevalence of hand feedin’, and part of it is due to the lack of oshibori. I seriously miss oshibori.