Green Goddess For Cheap (Update)

Anyone who’s looking for a good dictionary should check out Amazon Japan. There are super cheap copies of old editions of Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, aka the Green Goddess. It’s famous for loads of usage examples. The old edition is also good for beginners since entries are listed in alphabetical order. It’s a steal at 786 yen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t provide this link (via Wikipedia) to Tom Gally’s writings. He worked on the fifth edition of the dictionary. You can read specifically about the dictionary here, here, here and here.

How to Map

I love, love, love it when people complain about living in Japan. Often it’s a symptom of homesickness or culture shock and they’re just lashing out at anything to compensate. Sometimes they’re just cynical.

There are no trash cans. Wah. Trains stop running so early. Wah wah. There are no hand towels in the bathrooms. Wah wah wah, motherfuckers.

One of my all-time favorite complaints is the fact that Japan doesn’t have street names. People who voice this particular complaint are in such a state of blissful ignorance that they are unlikely ever to get used to it. I once met a German guy who was complaining about how hard it is to find things in Japan because of the lack of street names and numbers. I asked him for his address and showed him where he lived in less than 30 seconds. I was equipped to do this because I was carrying my trusty map:


The 2009 version just got released, so I upgraded from the version I bought three years ago. There are a number of different pocket-sized maps, but Mapple’s is the most popular. It has tons of useful information in the front.

Last trains:

Detailed subway transfer information (which car to stand in for the easiest transfer):


But the most useful part of all is its main function – maps. To find a place, all you need is the 区 (Ward, although recently I’ve seen “City” used frequently), the neighborhood name, and then the address number. The number is a three-digit number in the format 1-2-3, where 1 is the neighborhood number, 2 is the block number, and 3 is the building number. As an example, let’s find the Sword Museum. Its address is 渋谷区代々木4-25-10.

Generally you can look for the ward first on the map. Shibuya is pretty easy, but Yoyogi, the neighborhood name, is actually a bit far from Shibuya Station, so it’s easiest to track down Yoyogi Station’s page from the map in the front, which tells us Yoyogi Station is on pg 88:

Here’s pg 88 around Yoyogi Station:

Clearly not on this page, so lets check one page south:

There’s 代々木4. Now you track down the light blue 25 closest to it, and that will be right about where it is. On the map it’s marked with 刀剣博物館.

Rather than doing everything street by street, Japan takes a grid approach, which is actually a lot more manageable when you think about it. Get used to it. Once you do, you should be able to find anything. Mapple – don’t leave your tiny ass apartment without it.

Oh, and you can forget visiting the Sword Museum – it’s crap. Small display and zero English.

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.”

Cool Compound – ニコイチ


Randomly hopping around on Wikipedia yesterday I came across an amazing phrase – ニコイチ. I had a great time reading the entry and figuring out what it means. I don’t want to ruin the experience for you, so I won’t say what it means here. Go ahead and give it a read. It’s a good read for intermediate students…hopefully not too, too advanced.

Four Random Wikipedia Articles

As previously mentioned, Wikipedia is a great place to check translations and Japanese usage. It’s also a fantastic source of study material. The Japanese page has over 500,000 entries, and as in the English version these are articles that have been written and edited by real people. (Unlike all the other written material in Japan which is made by robots.)

To prove these points, I’ll take a quick look at four random entries and show exactly how useful they can be. The only rule I’ll have is that I’ll skip any wacky mathematic formulas or nonsense like that.

First thing to note is that “Random Entry” in Japanese is おまかせ表示. That’s a nice localization; randomness is a somewhat difficult concept to convey in Japanese.

Article 1 – 福島町 (曖昧さ回避)

Ha, that’s a strange turn of fate. I spent three years living in Fukushima Prefecture, and the first article that pops up is the disambiguation page for Fukushima Town. While this isn’t an article, it’s still pretty useful. We get to see how Japanese deals with “disambiguation page”: 曖昧 (あいまい) with a さ to make it a noun and then 回避 (かいひ), which is a way to say avoid. This page shows how Wikipedia can be useful for tracking down the pronunciation of difficult place and people names.

Article 2 – 山形県護国神社

This appears to be a shrine in Yamagata Prefecture, and judging from the name of the shrine and content of the article, it’s clear that the shrine plays some sort of role with national protection or the enshrinement of national heroes/war dead. (Note that I’m using only the Japanese here. The other rule is that I can jump to other Japanese articles to figure things out. Just no English.) You get some good vocab here. 明治維新 (めいじいしん) and 第二次世界大戦 (だいにじせかいたいせん), or the Meiji Restoration and World War II.

The one word I wish had a link is 祀る. That is the verb the shrine is doing to the 英霊 of 殉国者. 英霊 is literally “hero ghost,” I think, and judging from the Wikipedia page for 英霊, it seems to be connected to the respect for war dead/Yasukuni debate. (This paragraph may seem like a bunch of stumbling, but that’s how you learn to read when you’re a kid. There’s definitely something to be gained from reading without bothering with pronunciation and meaning. You need a basic foundation, of course, but as some point you have to take off your floaties and swim in the deep end.)

Article 3 – 随何

Now here’s some crazy Japanese. 随何 is a Chinese politician, diplomat, and, I believe, a Confucian scholar.  (I knew I should have excluded ancient Chinese politicians along with mathematic formulas.) I know he lived from the Qin to the early-Han periods, but most of it is nonsense to me, to be honest. You never know when you’ll find a small gems, though. For example: 儒者の冠を取り上げ、その中に放尿をしたという。Ha, sounds like an angry dude.

Article 4 – ウタツグミ

An animal – another turn of fate, since I previously noted that Wikipedia was useful for tracking down the translation of クモザル. Looks like some kind of small sparrow, some variation on the ツグミ famous for its voice, so it gets an ウタ in front. Not that difficult an article to read. Gotta love the efficiency of phrases like this: 雌雄同色である. And easy enough to get the English translation (“Song Thrush”) if you needed it.

I hope that gives you an idea of what Wikipedia can do, even randomly. Feel free to try the challenge yourself. Loads of good material.


お疲れ to all the JLPTers yesterday! Just remember that the ultimate goal is to be happy with your level and get used to the Japanese, not just to pass the test. Make sure you’re reading what you want to read and watching what you want to watch.

Just a small link today. Free online Japanese lessons here. (via No-Sword) Good for anyone out in the inaka or abroad. Sign up quick because they start soon.

号外 – Oops!

    I’ve got another Murakami-related piece online over at Néojaponisme. Just a funny little extract from a Murakami conference. Dimitry Kovalenin clearly hasn’t been to a zoo for a while. Although, in all fairness, spider monkeys don’t live in Russia – too cold, no onsen.
    It is unclear when Kovalenin did his translation of the story, but nowadays there are several things he could have done in terms of fundamental groundwork for the translation, none of which would have taken much time.

Google Images

    A search for くもざる (kumozaru in hiragana) turns up a variety of strange images, including the cover of the collection and a few monkey pictures, but Google also suggests that you might be looking for クモザル (“もしかして:クモザル”). Search for the katakana version and you’ll find nothing but real monkeys.
    Google Images is quick and easy way to research what a word means and implies to people. And it’s good for more than just people, places and animals; a search for 派手, a word that can sometimes be difficult to translate in natural-sounding English, is revealing. An image search will never tell you what a word means, but it can provide you with some usage clues.


    Wikipedia entries are all cross-linked with their foreign counterparts. A list of languages for a given entry is provided in the left sidebar. This makes it an excellent tool for translation research
    Of course, this doesn’t always work. A Wikipedia search for くもざる currently brings up only three results – the Asahiyama Zoo, Murakami Haruki, and Anzai Mizumaru. Even クモザル is a little confusing; it is included within the Japanese entry for Atelidae, “one of the four families of New World monkeys.” But if you browse through that section, クモザル亜科 is listed as one of the species, and there are half a dozen examples of spider monkeys.


    Professor Numano was quick on the draw with his Kōjien citation, so I’m guessing he looked it up in an electronic dictionary. Go ahead, get yours out now. I already checked mine, and it’s nearly identical to the definition that he gave in Japanese. (オマキザル科の哺乳類。数類があり、中米から南米北部の森林に生息。) SPACEALC, a useful online dictionary that often generates a horde of contextual examples, also gives spider monkey as the definition.

    Wikipedia does not list Yoru no kumozaru as having been published in Russian, so perhaps Kovalenin translated it especially for the symposium and dodged a bullet by discovering his mistake quickly. As they say in Japan, even monkeys fall from trees. The translator’s burden is a heavy one – very little of the credit for success and all of the blame for failure. Modern resources and looking up every damn word you are unsure about can help ensure that you don’t win the Miss Translation pageant.

Cool Resource – 英辞郎

I’m sure many if not most of you are familiar with SpaceALC, a great online dictionary. But did you know that it’s just an online version of the popular 英辞郎 (えいじろう) software? Eijirō is less of a dictionary and more of a database of different contextual examples. This can be both good and bad. No, it’s not going to provide you with a list of meanings, but example sentences can be even more valuable than a definition, especially if you are trying to write in Japanese. Plus it covers a broad range of material, much of which (slang, for example) isn’t covered in dictionaries.

The fourth edition of Eijirō was released in September of this year, and as far as I know it is the first version to support Mac OS.

It’s only 2500 yen, and you should be able to find it at a bookstore or a computer store.

After a quick installation, it loads up in a tiny little screen.



The color scheme and layout will be familiar if you’ve used the online version.

This is a great piece of software, and I highly recommend picking it up. It’s faster than the online version, of course, and you can access it offline. It also boasts 1,660,000 entries, which I believe is more than the online version.

Eels, Monkeys, and Doves

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October tomorrow!, when the Nobel Prizes are is announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2, 3, 4. This is, of course, the final entry in this series. Hope you enjoyed it.

夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, Night of the Spider Monkey) is a collection of 36 超短編小説 – “super short stories.” Each story is only 2-3 pages each, so it’s a great collection when you are first starting to read Japanese prose and are unable to focus for a long time.

Murakami wrote the stories in two sets as a series of advertisements, the first for a line of clothing from 1985 to 1987 and the second for a fountain pen company from 1993 to 1995. Not that they have anything to do with those things, as Murakami himself readily admits in the afterword. One of his friends just asked him to write short pieces, literally on whatever he wanted to write about, and the stories were set next to the ads in several Japanese magazines. Yoru no kumozaru is a collection of all those stories. I’ve translated one story from each set.

The first story is titled “Eel.” It comes from the early set and features May Kasahara at least five years before she would appear as the infamous biker-blindfolder from The Wind-up Bird Chronicle:


    May Kasahara called my house at three thirty in the morning, and naturally I was fast asleep. I was nestled in the thick, warm, velvety mud of sleep with some eel and a pair of long rubber boots, and although it was only temporary, I was devouring a somewhat effective fruit of happiness. And that’s when the phone rang.
    Ring, ring.
    First the fruit disappeared. Then the eel and the rubber boots. Finally the mud disappeared, leaving only me. Only me – thirty-seven years old, a drunk, and nobody likes me. Who has the right to steal eel and rubber boots from me?
    Ring, ring.
    “Hello?” said May Kasahara. “Hello?”
    “Yes, hello,” I answered.
    “Um, it’s me, May Kasahara. Sorry it’s late, but the ants are out again. They’re making a nest by the column in the kitchen. I chased the bastards out of the bath, but tonight they’ve moved their nest over here. The whole thing! They even brought all their tiny little white babies. I can’t stand it! So bring that spray over again. I’m sorry it’s so late, but I absolutely hate ants. Hey, you understand?”
    I shook my head violently in the darkness. Who the hell is May Kasahara? Who the fuck is this May Kasahara to come and steal eel out of my head?
    So I put that question to her.
    “Oops, I’m sorry. Looks like I made a mistake,” said May Kasahara sincerely. “The ants have me all confused. You see, the ants are moving their nest together. Sorry.”
    May Kasahara hung up the phone first, and I set the receiver down. Somewhere in the world, ants were moving their nest, and May Kasahara was looking for someone’s help.
    I sighed and pulled my futon covers over my head. I closed my eyes and looked for signs of those friendly eel in the mud of sleep again.

Murakami has often mentioned that he starts writing with one word or image in mind, using that as a generative source and following the path of whatever springs into his head from that point. The stories in 夜のくもざる illustrate this technique better than anything else he’s ever written.

The most awkward sentence there is “I was devouring a somewhat effective fruit of happiness.” In Japanese it is: それなりに有効な幸せの果物を貪って(むさぼって)いたのである。Clearly this is kind of an idiom, but you have to keep it somewhat literal because the fruit disappears shortly after. Murakami also uses the kanji for ant – 蟻. Strange considering it’s often written in katakana.

The next story comes from the later set. It is, as far as I know, the only story that Murakami has ever written in 関西弁, the Kansai-accent prevalent in Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. Murakami grew up speaking it but stopped using it when he moved to Tokyo. There are a million different ways to translate this story, as it could really be translated into any vernacular of any language. I went with the one I’m most familiar with, one that I would call “American preppy thug”:


A monkey, yo. You know, a monkey. And I’m not fuckin around here, there was a real live monkey up in a tree, yo. Surprised the hell out of me, too! Whoa, what the hell, a monkey, I was thinkin, and there it was. Dude’s a monkey, ya know. So then, I just watch the fucker for a while. Thinkin, holy shit, a monkey! So then the dude falls. Straight out of the tree. The fucker slips and falls straaaight out of the tree. And I was starin at it thinkin yo what the hell, what the hell. No lie, bro, a real live monkey fell out of a real live tree. Just straight down, and bam. And don’t they say that shit all the time? Even monkeys fall out of trees. Ya know? Just like the old saying. Couldn’t fuckin believe it. Those old dudes were smart motherfuckers. They said some wise shit. Even monkeys fall out of trees. You don’t come up with shit like that every day. What I’m tryin to say is that a monkey actually fell out of a tree, dude. That shit actually happens. Can’t just laugh at those old sayings. Old motherfuckers were wise, yo. Dudes knew shit, yo. So I was thinking. So that saying, “Even monkeys fall from trees,” ya know…so say a real live monkey falls out of a tree, and he falls out and bam, you couldn’t walk up to the fucker and say, “Yo, dude, you gotta watch out, there’s this old saying ‘Even monkeys fall from trees.’” Yeah, old sayings are supposed to be warnings, yo. But a real live monkey that fell out of a tree, think you could actually go up and say that to him? That’d be some cold shit to say to a monkey. Think you could do it? Know I couldn’t. But that reminded me that old sayings are some wise shit for real. Cuz monkeys do fall from trees, ya know. That’s some smart shit. Surprised the hell out of me. Yo, you ever seen a dove get shot by a bean shooter? I have, for reals. A while back I was watching this dove. I’m not fuckin around, yo. For reals. Wise shit, yo. Surprised the hell out of me. So it gets hit by the bean. And then…

The first ことわざ here translates into English pretty easily, but the second doesn’t. In Japanese it is 鳩(はと)が豆鉄砲(まめでっぽう)を食らったよう. Apparently it refers to the look of surprise on a dove’s face when it gets hit by a bean from a bean-shooter. That I learned from this 慣用句辞典, a most excellent resource. Highly recommended.

I also highly recommend 夜のくもざる. It’s a nice, light collection. All of the stories are strange and funny. I believe the hardback edition is out of print, but you can still find the paperback version new.

Here is one of Mizumaru Anzai’s monkey drawings from the collection:


Cool Resource – Well Said

The Japan Times has a bilingual page every Tuesday. (I think it’s Wednesday if you live in Tohoku or somewhere equally distant from the urban hubs.)

It’s a collection of language learning resources – cartoon idioms (which I wish they would provide the kanji for), a couple articles in both Japanese and English, and “Well Said,” a fantastic little column that helps build speaking skills.

They focus on one small pattern and provide several example dialogues. The running theme is “sounding natural in Japanese” – the hardest thing to do. Definitely worth checking out. Plus, you get the Tuesday crossword puzzle, which is just about the hardest puzzle I can ever complete.