Power Up Your いい

Another short Wednesday post due to job interviews.

Mastering Japanese can sometimes be as simple as mastering the ladder of politeness – remembering which phrases are used for those high on the ladder and which are used for those lower on the ladder.

いい, as I mentioned last Friday, is often used to either ask permission or refuse something. It’s common courtesy to ask someone, 「いいですか。」 before you sit down next to them. (Notice how I didn’t use a question mark in that sentence. This is something else you should just get used to – you don’t need question marks all the time in Japanese.)

You can power up your いい by turning it into よろしい. This is a polite way to say いい. You can also power up your ですか by turning it into でしょうか. So here’s a little ladder for you.

いい?/いいの? (My spider sense tells me that this last one is all about the intonation and that will be easier to be understood as a question if you add the の.)

That’s in order of most polite to most casual. Notice that, as usual, the more syllables a phrase has, the more polite it is.

Cool Kanji – 鯨

Thar she blows!
There are so many kanji for fish. So many that they sell mugs that have all of them printed on the side with the readings in hiragana – a cheat sheet / novelty item.
Cheat mug
For the most part, they’re written in katakana, but you will find them written in kanji every now and then. My JTE, who has moved on to a different school this year, always used this kanji when he taught the passive voice – “This kanji is called ____ in Japanese.” He wrote a bunch of difficult kanji on the board, which I guess was fun for the kids to try and guess. He mostly used different characters for fish.
I always thought this was the coolest of the ones he wrote on the board. Fish on the left, capital on the right, which gives us whale – the biggest of all things that swim in the water and appear not to be mammals.

Friday Puzzle – Make Me

For this week’s puzzle I want to mix things up a little. I’ll provide you with certain conditions, and you provide me with Japanese that satisfies the conditions. I’ll select the winner randomly from any entry that satisfies all the conditions.

Please give me a Japanese sentence where the verb する could be translated into English as “make” ("making," "made" etc). The one other condition is that food must not be involved. So please send me two sentences – a Japanese sentence using する and the English translation where する is accurately translated as “make.”

The prize if you win? One can of 100% barley malt beer – e.g. Ebisu, Suntory Malts, Asahi Premium.

Please do not post your answer in the comments. Send it to me via email or facebook. My email address is るぱんさんせい (romanized) at-mark gmail dot com.

Friday Puzzle – Bugs are Fantastic Answer

I give out stickers to kids at elementary school. We play karuta nearly every week, and when the kids have taken five cards, I allow them to choose one sticker from a stash that I accumulate whenever I go to Tokyo or happen to see cool stickers.

When I was in Australia, we passed a dollar store, so I stocked up on cool Aussie stickers. I got a bunch of flags and antipodean animals. They also had a big sheet filled with bugs, one with ladybugs and another with beetles.

Some of the boys liked these stickers, but I still haven’t given them all away. A month or so ago, a girl was trying to choose her sticker and I said, “How about a bug, mam?” 「虫はいかがでしょうか。」, purposely speaking a little over-politely to be funny. She replied in kind speaking slowly, “No bugs, thank you.” 「虫は、いいです。」

No one likes bugs. Except, of course, these crazy kids in Japan, but they’re mostly the elementary school kids…and the few junior high kids who still like them…and become adults who really like them.

So, no, bugs are not nice, good or cool. I’d rather have very little to do with them, thank you very much.

This use of いいですis the often overlooked refusal of something. Think about this conversation for a second:

A: Would you like anything else to eat?
B: No, thank you.

In English, we incorporate “thank you” into our refusals. I can’t tell you how many times my “No, thank you”s have been misconstrued as “Thank you? Well, here ya go!” (Perhaps because I mumble?) In Japanese, similarly, they incorporate a “good” word into a phrase of refusal – いい.

To make it clearer, you can attach a もう to the front of your いいです, implying that “(whatever you) already (have is) okay.” Okay might be the closest translation. So here are your phrases:


The second being a more polite version of the first. I think けっこう might be slightly easier to understand coming from a non-native speaker who, like myself, is probably messing up the intonation of the phrase.

Here’s a conversation I had on Wednesday for further reinforcement:

Konbini lady: 袋はいりますか。
Me: けっこうです。
K: いいですか。

You copy? In English it looks something like this:

K: Do you need a bag?
M: No, thank you.
K: You’re okay (without a bag)?

The lady wasn’t asking me if I was good or if I thought bags were nice or something, she was asking me if I was okay without a bag. An easy way to differentiate this usage of いいです from others is that this one will hardly ever, perhaps never, have anything in front of it. The other usage you will see constructed like this: 〜がいいです, with が directly expressing the subject of いい.

Robin wins again this week, with his answer, “somebody offered to put bugs in the girl’s lunch (you wouldn’t do that would you daniel?) and she was politely refusing them.”

Going Up to the Miyako

I’m in Tokyo now, so just a quick post. I’ve always thought that 上京(じょうきょう) is one of the coolest two character compounds. Can you figure out what it means? I’ll give you a few blank lines to figure it out.





Get it yet?





Still no luck?




Okay, it means “go to Tokyo” or “go to Kyoto.” Literally it means “go up to the capital (implied: from our measly little backwater swamp town).” Back in the day said capital was Kyoto. Now it’s Tokyo, so if you use it now, it means go to Tokyo. Ta da.

(Funny that you 上がる to the Kanto Plain.)