Fun Times

The last two weeks have been…interesting. I had been following the coronavirus developments in China through work and then in Japan through work, friends, and acquaintances. But it did seem like it might be contained to Asia for a minute.

It’s such a blur now—everything: the day job which has been busy and challenging and fulfilling, the writing I’ve been doing for the Japan Times, the hustle to stock up my apartment, trying to exercise and sleep and relax—that I can’t even remember when I started to sense the “cone of uncertainty,” as we say in New Orleans.

The cone is the graphic that meteorologists deploy when hurricanes start to approach the Gulf coast. They use a number of different storm models to create a wide path where the hurricane is likely to hit. Once that cone starts to point at New Orleans, you either get out or you prepare to hunker down and shelter in place.

My mom is a legendary evacuator, and my dad is a legendary hunker-downer/waiter-outer. So I am kind of wired for prep. Once I felt the cone, from news reports, from articles, I made a plan.

I think I’m in a good place. I can work from home for as long as I need to, and I don’t really need to leave my apartment if I don’t want to. (Obviously that much care is probably not required – I’m in a Chicago neighborhood, so the density is probably enough to take walks and get some air on the lake or in parks nearby, maybe even do some shopping if necessary.)

This is my monthly update to plug my Japan Times work, so it feels bizarre to me to line these two headlines up next to each other:

’Emergency’ Japanese can help build fluency
Your Japanese vocabulary can expand as the new coronavirus spreads

I didn’t mean “emergency” in that sense of the word. But that would make a good article, too. One that I’m not sure I feel comfortable writing without doing some research — I haven’t been in a Japanese clinic for a while.

The emergency article is a strategy that I thought up to develop more familiarity with complex phrases. I specifically wanted to prepare for a May conference that now may not end up happening. Or at the very least, I may not end up attending. The strategy itself feels sound, although the results will vary based on the repetitions you do with your document. (I just did a lap through right now after feeling bad for neglecting it over the past couple weeks.)

The coronavirus article came together quickly with some research, and I was a little surprised by what I found. The emphasis on 肺炎 (haien, pneumonia) is interesting and notable in Japanese. In English it’s just this vague virus, and lots of association with the flu, which feels like fever, chills, and a kind of generic run-down illness. Pneumonia, on the other hand, is much more specific, especially to someone like me who has had it before.

I got bacterial pneumonia during my first year on the JET Program. I remember it pretty vividly. It hit late on a Friday night, which was about the worst time for it to hit, especially since the following Tuesday was a holiday. I had a couple beers, watched “The Godfather” on NHK, and went to bed. I woke up drenched in sweat and feverish. I spent the weekend going in and out of fever as I went through my ibuprofen and tried to negotiate some sort of balance of warmth in my apartment using the kerosene heater. I drove into Aizu-Wakamatsu and had McDonalds, did some shopping in the city, and called in sick on Monday.

By Tuesday I still hadn’t slept off whatever it was I had, and I was alternating between burning up and terrible chills, so I got in touch with my supervisor to ask about how to go to the town clinic. The doctor there was a young guy with a full beard, and he was only able to diagnose the pneumonia with an x-ray. It was a mild enough case that he had trouble detecting it with a stethoscope.

This is all to say that pneumonia is terrible, and I can’t even imagine what an acute case would feel like. Stay indoors. Isolate yourself. Work from home. If you start to feel like your workplace is putting you in a dangerous position, make an executive decision and stand up for yourself. Sometimes all you have to do is ask—it doesn’t have to be confrontational or personal. You can be calm and professional and assertive at the same time.

Ugh. Fun times!

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On a separate note, I have two pieces in the new print edition of Neojaponisme.

The first is an excerpt from the massive look at the Top 50 Enka songs I did back in 2017. (19 of the 50 videos are still up on YouTube, which is a higher percentage than I expected! You can find the others [hopefully] with the PERMASEARCH links I cleverly left. Thank you, past Daniel!) I highly recommend listening through these songs. You’ll learn a TON of useful Japanese and perhaps even find a few tunes that you can use to impress the locals.

They also asked me to translate a conversation between Jacques Derrida and Japanese scholars Karatani Kōjin and Asada Akira about deconstruction. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure I understand what the English means, but I am confident that David and Matt helped me smooth over the language so that it is a decent representation of the Japanese.

I’m still digging through this volume, but Ian’s design is incredible, I’m hungry for the 洋食 (yōshoku, Japanese take on Western food) described within, and I can’t wait to check out Matt’s translations, including one from Tanizaki. Highly recommend picking up a copy.

How to Incomplete Sentences in Japanese

I’m in the Japan Times this week with an article about incomplete sentences in Japanese: “To be a more complete Japanese speaker, leave your sentences incomplete.”

There are so many good examples, and I think I managed to include almost all of them in the piece (and even one they didn’t in 一体!). I found a great article in the chapter “Incomplete Utterance Ending in Japanese” from Developing Interactional Competence in a Japanese Study Abroad Context by Naoko Taguchi. It’s definitely worth a read. The chapter is easily summarized: “The pervasiveness of ellipsis and incomplete endings is a characteristic of Japanese communication” (25).

This is where I got the statistics toward the end of my article: Japanese leave their sentences incomplete 25-50% of the time! This is true even with formal situations, which were left incomplete 30-45% of the time.

One interesting point that I wasn’t able to touch upon in the article is that incomplete sentences also serve to “avoid an explicit marking of the polite or plain speech style” (26). So basically incomplete sentences can act as a hedge when you’re not sure how to address someone.

Another interesting point is that incomplete sentences “characterize the co-construction of an event.” Basically they encourage “collaborative turn completion,” which might explain why I felt like I was being interrupted by my coworker in this post. In actuality, she was just doing Japanese.

And finally, one statistic that I didn’t include in the article: L2 Japanese speakers only used incomplete sentences 4% of the time in one study or 12% of the time in another. This seems to suggest that you can make yourself sound much more native by using incomplete sentences strategically.

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!