Cool Kanji – 末

Hooray for the weekend! This semester I don’t have any class or work on Friday, so I automatically get 三連休, and this particular weekend expands to 四 thanks to Labor Day. (HOLY SHIT IT’S GOOD TO BE A STUDENT!)

The Japanese for weekend is 週末 (しゅうまつ). The kanji 末 is a handy one to recognize. It often gets used as a suffix to mean the end of something. For example, 年末, 期末, 月末, and 世紀末 among others. Once you recognize it, you’ll be able to parse it as a suffix in unknown vocab much more easily.

(Note: Never confuse 期末 [きまつ, end of school term] with 末期 [まつご, end of life, terminal]. Damn you, Japonese and your flipable compounds.)

It also gets pronounced すえ and used in the construction “X〜た末、Y.” It still means an “end” of sorts in this case, just an end of the verb that comes before it, implying the English tone of “after much ~ing, Y occurred/I managed to Y/I did Y.”


いろいろ考えた末、日本で留学することにした。 After thinking about it quite a bit/After much consideration, I decided to study abroad in Japan.

長い間がんばった末、やっと翻訳の仕事を見つけた。 After a lot of hard work, I finally found a translation job. (Weird translation – ignore it, remember the Japonese, please.)

College Japanese Notes – 2001/06/25

Since I’ve been home, I’ve spent a significant amount of time going through all my worldly possessions and – sometimes at the insistence of my mother, sometimes at my own insistence – throwing out what I don’t need or want anymore. I weeded out all the unnecessary books. Most of the stuffed animals can go. All my toy figures can go. I’ll try to sell some of the comic books. One thing I will keep is my college notes. Not all of them, but the ones that matter, and my Japanese notes definitely fall into that category.

I hadn’t studied Japanese before college, so I can pinpoint the day I began to study the language – June 25, 2001. For some reason I chose to study Italian my freshman year. Halfway through the first year, I knew that I’d made a mistake and that I really wanted to be studying Japanese. Initially I looked for study abroad programs, even going as far as asking my Italian professor to write me a letter of recommendation (!). In the end I signed up for the intensive summer course, because it was the only way I could get credit for the work.

I had class from 9AM to 1PM five days a week. Additionally, we were supposed to do six hours of study and preparation outside of class each day – 10 hours a day! I remember calculating the workload at some point, and each day amounted to a week of study during the normal school year: it was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it, and it enabled me to catch up with my classmates.

It’s been 超懐かしい to look through my old notes. The image above is the first page of my first legal pad. As you can tell, nothing got by me:

I also found the very first hiragana I ever wrote:

And my very first kanji:

I’ll be digging through my notes over the next few months to see if I can glean any nuggets of wisdom that I’ve forgotten over the past nine years.

Cool Compound – 未明

Still trying to get my feet under me back home. I’m not jetlagged anymore, but I’m still in the process of getting organized, so just a small cool compound this week.

This post, “Reading Strategies – Skimming and Kanji Compounds,” on how to break down different kanji compounds is probably one of the most important that I’ve written. Study Japanese long enough and eventually you make it to the point where kanji compounds don’t even look like two characters – they parse like a single word when you read them. But inevitably you’ll come across ones that you can’t remember or don’t recognize. In those cases knowing how the characters work together is invaluable.

One of the prefixes which I did not include in the prefix/suffix category is 未. It implies incompletion. You see compounds like 未払い (みばらい, unpaid), 未婚 (みこん, unmarried), etc. While reading 1Q84 I came across this compound 未明 (みめい), which I hadn’t seen before but figured out from context and the characters. 明 means dawn or to dawn, and when prefixed with 未  it takes on pre-dawn or early dawn connotations – I guess when it’s light out but the sun has not risen yet. Pretty cool. This Google Images image best expresses the idea.

Keep Your Eyes Open – 納品 Redux

I was out in Futako Tamagawa walking around with my parents this past week, and I noticed this as we walked up to the entrance of the Garden Island annex of Takashimaya:

Yup, those are trucks parked in a special spot for 納品車 – vehicles making deliveries. Closer inspection reveals…

…that the regular parking lot is just over to the right.

This sign was interesting to me because it was the first time I’ve seen 納品 used for actual, physical deliveries. I’d used it often in the office, as I wrote when I introduced the compound, but it was always in regards to nebulous, digital deliveries. Very cool to see it out in the real world.

Cool Compound – 相乗

Japanese companies love the concept of 相乗 (そうじょう) – different groups working together to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Toy divisions within a company making figurines of characters from the video games produced by a different division of the same company. Characters from one title making cameo appearances in another title. Collectible trading cards that appear in video games and anime television series.

This, my friends, is synergy, and basically it’s a way to draw consumers into loops of consumption that boost the company’s bottom line. In Japanese, synergy is 相乗 (そうじょう). I don’t have a feel for how often U.S. businesses use “synergy” in their consumer propaganda (advertising), but it is used quite frequently here. I first encountered 相乗 after I started working at my former company when I was checking the translation of some sort of annual report – year-end figures down, yada yada, still we have our best-selling series that always sell reliably, yada yada, if only we can get some synergy going, yada yada, repackage old content for a new platform or give it a couple new bells and whistles, ta da!

“Synergy” in English feels a little catch-phrasey to me, but I think 相乗 in translation should be kept simple; just find a way to translate it as “synergy” no matter how the Japanese is used and keep the English from sounding too weird. Never use weird forms like “synergistic” or “synergism.” This is probably one of those words you’ll only ever have to recognize: don’t plan on using 相乗 anytime soon.

While corporate synergy is nothing more than a catch phrase strategy to suck cash from bozos like us, Internet synergy is what makes the world go round. If you think about it, the Internet is nothing more that an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. There are big flashy patches of content out there, and things like Twitter, Facebook, and blogrolls are the little springs that whirl and tumble about helping make connections. Sometimes the links just sputter out like a decent one-liner tweet, but other times connections produce nice collaborations. It’s the Internet, stupid. And synergy is the way you play the game.

In addition to Collabo-Ramen, I’ve got a couple other mini-synergies in the works. The latest is Kotaku – they just syndicated my post on project management. Others coming soon.

Project Manager Lingo – 納期

The second most important project manager word is 納期 (のうき). This shares the first character with 納品, but is in the order ADJECTIVE + NOUN, I think. I believe that you could draw out the compound to something like 納める期 or 納める期間, in which case the verb acts as an adjective. So literally “delivery period.”

The phrase I hear most often is 納期教えてください!

In my office, there are Japanese coordinators that receive translation requests directly from the client and then prepare estimates for the projects. In order to complete the estimate, they have to provide a 納期.

That’s where I come in. I take a look at the volume of the project and give the Japanese coordinator the 納期 – the number of business days it will take to complete a project. This includes the time it will take the translator to translate the material and the time it will take me to check and revise the translated text. I use the numbers discussed previously to come up with an estimated number of business days. The beautiful thing about 営業日 (えいぎょうび) is that they don’t include the weekend. Holy is the project that spans the weekend, for it giveth the translator extra days to work and therefore extra days to revise the document which in turn ensureth a more accurate and pleasant-reading translation.

When I get asked, 納期は? I usually answer with something like, 4、5営業日 depending on the volume. The client will take a look at the estimate the Japanese coordinator submits and then give the official go if everything is in order, at which point we determine the specific delivery date based on the 納期 we provided.

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.

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.”

I delivered the translation to the client, so I can finally go home!

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.


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.