Yahoo Chiebukuro Deep Cuts – わいせつ


This post is belated, but I was in the Japan Times last week with an article about the kind of language used to translate Trump into Japanese: “Japanese translators forced to grab the Trump bull by the horns.”

I feel like this piece could have been stronger if I had been paying closer attention the whole way through, but unfortunately I hadn’t. I spend most of my time at work reading about politics and didn’t have the energy to do more in Japanese when I got home. So I was forced to upload as many Japanese sources as I could in a single weekend after I pitched the column to my editor.

Fortunately I’d had the insight to listen to that first NHK Radio podcast which, combined with the email, from my host mom gave me the introduction I needed to carry me through an article that makes sense, hopefully. Got some good comments, which is always nice!

A couple notes:

1. わいせつ (waisetsu, obscene/obscenity) is an interesting word that was combined not only with 発言 (hatsugen, remark) as mentioned in my article, but also 行為 (kōi, act), as Toranpu went on to be accused by several women. A quick search on Twitter for トランプ and わいせつ gives you a pretty interesting play-by-play of how it all went down. (On a side note, I really wish Twitter searches had Google-like controls, such as specifying date ranges.) Here are a few interesting tweets I came across:トランプ%E3%80%80わいせつ&src=typd

Looking at the translation of “pussy”:

Random Twitter punditry:

An alternative for ロッカールームトーク:

How one website translated “totally made up nonsense”:

Japanese are amused by strange English:

2. わいせつ is also notable for being used exclusively in hiragana. This seems related to the definition of the jōyō kanji, which is connected to Japanese legal language. There’s a closer look at the kanji themselves at this link.

I knew there would be a Yahoo Chiebukuro entry related to this word, but I had no idea that it would be as epic as this page.

The questioner asks how to write ワイセツ in kanji and what it means. The best (and only) answer does provide the requested information (猥褻, vulgar/obscene), but then goes on to be kind of a dick and ask why the person couldn’t find the information on their own: これは、携帯で変換したらでてきませんか? (Couldn’t you convert [these kana] with your cell phone?) And then…これも、ググれば、辞典で出てきませんか? (If you had googled this, wouldn’t it come up in a dictionary?)

(Deep aside: Note the most excellent ググれば [If you googled] above!)

The answerer goes on to give a lengthy supplement about what exactly consists of a わいせつ act and what the punishments are under the law.

But the crowning jewel of this crazy post is the questioner’s follow up:


Translation: “My reply is late. I’m sorry. I’d gotten wrapped up in the categories for figurines. Thank you.”

Translation implication: This guy was trying to categorize his anime figures, wanted to know how to write “obscene” in kanji so he could properly categorize his dirty figures, gave up when he realized it was a difficult task, and opted to crowdsource on Yahoo?

The world may never know.

Cool Word – 刀狩


It may be cliche to say it, but there’s nothing quite like your first trip to Japan. For me, it was not only exciting to visit somewhere so new and different, it was also liberating to be in a place with an almost total absence of fear of violence, notably of gun violence.

I grew up in New Orleans and was fortunate to never experience any violence directly, thanks in large part to extremely vigilant parents (whom I probably faulted at the time for being what is now termed “helicopter parents”). But I won’t ever forget when my mom was held up at gun point just as we were moving into a new house. I was a little too young to understand exactly how frightening it must have been for her. She broke down in tears and neither my dad nor my grandmother could do much to comfort her. As the years went by and I grew up through middle school and high school, I gradually took on the fear myself.

So it felt amazing to be free of it, wandering Okayama City in the summer of 2002. My last night in the city we drank at a bar, walked across the city, swam in the castle moat, and then stumbled back.

I wish I could share this feeling with everyone in the United States and then ask them how they felt about gun control laws. I’m sure not everyone would be convinced, but some would see how things could be different, and how appealing that could be.

I’m writing this during the Senate gun control filibuster because for the first time in a long time (perhaps ever), I feel like I have to do something, even if it’s just post on this blog about a cool Japanese phrase – 刀狩 (かたながり).

刀狩 translates easily as “sword hunt.” There were a number of sword hunts (good read in Japanese too) in Japanese history, the most famous of which was Hideyoshi’s in 1588. Obviously, they were initially used as a mechanism for those in power to secure that power and prevent the potential for uprisings, which is why gun rights advocates occasionally use it as an example of why the 2nd Amendment is an important check against tyranny, but I don’t think the sword hunts can be simplified for either side of the gun debate. However, I do think it did set a precedent for getting rid of weapons, which must have made it easy to enact strong gun laws once Japan modernized.

Australia’s equivalent “gun hunt” after the Port Arthur massacre has had success, even without a sword hunt precedent, showing that things can change. We just need to break the mythical, fictional barrier of “freedom” that’s been set up here and somehow entrenched in the past few decades.

So, please, if you’re American and you’ve ever enjoyed your time in Japan, please take a moment to write your elected representatives on all levels (federal, state, city), and tell them that you support the Senate filibuster and that you’d like to see them make as strong a stand.

We don’t need to outlaw guns, but we could do much better than where we are now.

How to say “plumber butt” in Japanese, and other random Sunday thoughts


The other day I suddenly remembered the phrase 半ケツ.

I’m not sure what prompted it. I mean, I have as many random sexual thoughts as your average red-blooded American male, but this was not sexual in nature…at least not completely. My boss at the translation company used the phrase often when we had morning meetings. We didn’t have enough chairs, so he would nod at a couple of the ladies that worked in the office and say something like 半ケツで座って. Then they’d share one of the chairs and, literally, “half ass” it.

I’m not sure why I was thinking about the company or about the seats, but I guess it could have had something to do with the visceral nature of the asses. Who knows. Initially I was going to have this post be something about the viral nature of language, about how memory is kind of magical, which is also reflected in the way that kanji shift from blocks made of bits and pieces to larger blurs that carve out space in your mind over the course of your studies, but it turns out 半ケツ is a pretty interesting phrase.

First, ケツ has two options for kanji: 穴 and 尻. You can read more on this Yahoo Chiebukuro post, but this does make for the possibility that ケツの穴 could be written as 穴の穴, which is pretty cool.

Second, 半ケツ also happens to mean “plumber butt” in Japanese. Read more on this blog post. Google Images confirms that this is indeed the case: follow this link at your own discretion (NSFW).

So I guess the real moral of this post is…you just never know.


I shared my most recent Japan Times article on the Facebook group Translators (Japanese<->English) because someone had mentioned the Green Goddess a month or so ago, and strangely enough Jim Breen himself responded! I’m fairly chuffed about this comment:


So now when you look up 面白い there’s a third listing that includes the definition “pleasant; enjoyable; agreeable; fun.” I can’t seem to find an archived version, so I’m not sure exactly how much it’s changed. Can’t seem to find a way to link a specific definition either, so here’s the JDIC top page.

So, yeah, that was cool.

Green Goddess


I’m in The Japan Times today with an article about the wonderful Green Goddess dictionary: “When translation gets tough, bow to the ‘Green Goddess’

If you have the cash, I think it would probably be best to buy a digital version or the 2003 5th Edition, but if you’re a poboy like I was back in 2005 when I picked up my copy, then the 1974 4th Edition is available used on Amazon Japan for extremely reasonable prices.

When I wrote the article, the GG was going for 243 yen plus shipping. As I write this post, there are copies available for 1 yen (with 257 yen for shipping). At that price, it’s worth picking up one just to be a completionist. (Sadly the cheapest one that will ship to the U.S. is quite pricey at over 9,000 yen, so don’t ask me how to get it abroad. Shipping is generally very fast in Japan, so perhaps you could have it shipped to a hotel the next time you visit Japan.)

I mention a couple of times the GG helped me out with a recent translation contest in the article, but just for fun I’ll pick an appropriate entry and compare it with the WWWJDIC and Eijirō offerings.

After a couple of missed starts, I found an entry that I think shows the strengths of the GG: 情け.


It starts by listing the meanings of the word and provides Japanese definitions of those meanings to reinforce the different possibilities.

It then goes on to list common usages divided up by grammatical usage. It feels very organized (obvs.) compared to the Eijirō version. And the definition is so sparse.

Yes, it’s hefty, but it’s very helpful. Highly recommended.

Cool Greeting – おす


I’m in The Japan Times this week: “Jiko-PR gives job seekers a rare chance to brag in Japanese.”

Ostensibly I introduce some 自己PR verbiage, but I really just wanted a chance to talk about エール, which is one of my favorite Japanese words because it feels kind of funny/awkward as a Japanese version of “yell.” (Although not so strange when you think of it as “ale.”)

(This would also make an excellent entry into my series of inequalities: エール ≠ yell, not really.)

Apparently the Japanese native checker at the JT wasn’t sure about my description of the エール, which is a pep rally-type cheer for a team/individual, and after sleuthing on YouTube a bit, I’m starting to realize that エール are different everywhere. I also realized I left out an important element of the cheer at the school where I worked.

The word I left out is おす. Kotobank has a great definition:


When I was at the propeller company (search: propeller), I remember all of the factory guys saying おす/おっす in the morning (when I 出会ったd them on the 道, clearly) and me having no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t have the confidence to imitate them, so I just went with the standard おはようございます and vaguely thought that maybe おはようございます = おはようございます? Which was exactly right, if this dictionary is to be trusted:


It probably would have been fine to use おす with the factory guys, but not with my coworkers in the design section, who didn’t have to sweat nearly as much as those guys.

The おす in the エール also acted as a greeting of sorts. The エール went like this:

1. おす! (Deliverer bows to receiver.)
2. これから_____(team name, individual surnameの/のために)エールを送る!
3. フレー(right arm extended diagonally into air)! (Audience claps three times.) フレー (left arm extended diagonally into air)! (Audience claps three times.)
4. __ __ __ / __ __ __ __ (three- or four-syllable identifier: school name, individual surname/given name, team name; arms bent from elbow in multiple directions along with syllable)!
5. (Deliverer lowers arms to middle of body and then raises them slowly as audience yells, rising in volume, kind of generally in anticipation of the core part of エール)!
6. ウィンウィン__ __ __ / __ __ __ __! (repeated three times by all)
7. (Primal scream with lunge and arm extended forward)!
8. おす! (Deliverer bows to receiver.)

The おす was bread for the エール sandwich, as it were.

So I’m curious about what kind of エール you have witnessed. What were the procedures? When were they used?

In addition to pep rallies, エール were given for departing teachers in the privacy of a 送別会. Generally a fellow teacher in same subject/department was called upon to deliver the cheer. It was a lot of fun to participate by chanting ウィンウィン along with the deliverer, and I secretly always wanted to have the chance to try one but was also relieved I never had to.

Alas, such is the life of an extroverted introvert. Japan’s codified rituals, including エール, can make this easier for some of us, I believe, because they provide more clearly coded social actions.

I Heard That – 別件


The new guy at work is a loud talker, and he often powwows with the guy in the office next to mine, which has been a huge boon for my I Heard That strategy. It’s difficult to tell exactly what they’re talking about, but I do get the drift of some conversations, and it’s impossible not to take in (at least subconsciously) the rhythm of the language.

I caught a great piece of language the other day. The two of them had been talking about something and then the loud talker said 全然別件なんですが to change the subject.

This is a great little phrase, one that I would categorize as a type of Airbag Phrase. The original Airbag Phrases help cushion requests, but on their most basic level they act as preparatory transitions that help the listener understand what is going to happen next in the conversation. I always feel like a Jedi when I use them: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

別件 (べっけん) is a nice compound that follows the Na-nominal + Noun pattern: 別 a separate 件 topic.

Readers should recognize 全然 (ぜんぜん) as an adverb that usually precedes negative adjectives and verbs and implies “not ____ at all” or “completely not ____”: 全然おもしろくない (not interesting at all), 全然おいしくない (not delicious at all), etc.

In casual situations, 全然 gets attached to positive adjectives and verbs to express a good totality: 全然大丈夫 (totally okay), 全然平気 (completely fine), etc. When I was studying abroad, one of my Japanese friends told me that she knew my Japanese was getting good because I used 全然 in this context. It sounds very natural but is relatively casual, so I’d recommend not using it with superiors. Loud talker happens to be the superior to the guy in the office next to mine, so it works out okay, but I doubt that he would use it with his own boss.

In this case 全然 gets attached to 別件 to imply how drastically different the next conversation topic is. I think this is an especially useful phrase for Japanese as a Second Language students; phrases like this will make your speaking seem more natural and less like surrealist poetry, jumping willy nilly from one topic to the next.

Pre-JET Japanese Triage

I gave a short crash course on Japanese for departing JETs at the Consulate-General of Japan at Chicago yesterday, and I thought I would post the handout I gave everyone and add a few links and explanations. The goal of the presentation was to prepare the JETs for schools and classrooms, give them some ideas about how to make requests and say no (two notoriously difficult and delicate things), and to put them in the right mindset to study Japanese.

Pre-JET Japanese Triage Notes.docx

(I can’t get the embedder to work, so here’s a link to the file for now.)

A couple of notes:

I was asked after the presentation whether お+stem+になります is still viable keigo. It absolutely is. The only reason I didn’t include it in the presentation was to simplify things. I think one of the reason keigo seems so difficult at first is because noobs (including myself, long ago) sometimes have difficulty remembering whether to use お+stem+します or お+stem+になります at the moment when you are finally asked to use your keigo. Knowing that passive is an alternative is an easy way to not mess it up. But obviously お+stem+になります is also handy and should eventually be incorporated into your repertoire.

I also shared a few thoughts on teaching at elementary school, so I wanted to be sure to include the link to my videos over at danierusensei on YouTube. 33 different videos for activities you can use in the classroom. Hopefully this allows you to go into the elementary school classroom more prepared than I was.

Cool Word – 場合


I’m on the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “In Japanese, mastery of the space-time continuum is just a few words away.”

The intro is inspired by my first ever trip to Japan—an internship with a propeller company. I was taken along on a visit to Misawa Homes, one of the big prefab housing companies in Japan. (Of course the propeller company did business with a modular homes company.) I also got to see model homes in a yet-to-be-populated subdivision. It’s impressive stuff.

The article is a bit heavy on the timing words, so I feel like I gave 場合 short shrift. It is the ultimate hypothetical word, one that can sit in for conditional verbs ending with たら or ば and one that doesn’t require you to perform any mental gymnastics with the verbs. Not that it’s all that difficult to construct the たら or ば forms, but 場合 only really needs the past or present tense.

The easiest way to think of it in English is “In the case of X,” where 場合 means “case.” This also works with constructions (suggested by this site) such as 外国人の場合. (The only proper response to which is “break glass,” I assume?)

I feel like I’ve tweeted out this Chiebukuro link before, but the pronunciation of 場合 is one of those few Japanese words that can vary a little. My first sensei pronounced it ばわい, which always stuck with me. I’ll use it every now and then.

Video Game Lingo – 始末

Fucking Ultros. I just got beat down in the opera house, and I’ve realized I probably either need to A) head back to Narshe and pick up another party member, B) hope that I can still add Shadow, or C) grind until I level enough to take the bastard down.

Which is basically to say that I haven’t made much progress in FFVI. I also haven’t found a seat on my commutes all that often. The El is unforgiving, especially between Sheridan and Fullerton, and I need at least one hand free when standing.

But I did come across this:


It pays to have a large vocabulary of words that mean “kill” or “destroy” when making video games, and 始末 is, effectively, one of those. In this case, the compound has the more general meaning “manage” or “deal with” (with an implied finality, thus death).

It’s also a cool kanji in its own right, combining two opposite characters for “beginning” (始) and “end” (末).

It has other meanings as well and confuses some with 仕末. This is a nice little blog post that concisely summarizes some of the frequently encountered forms:


Fortunately for our heroes, Kefka isn’t that adept at dealing with them.