Friday Puzzle – You Little Pun(k) Answer

Yes, it’s a pun. 用がない or 用なし (ようなし) and 洋梨 (ようなし) or pear. And puns are funny.

Before kids enter the staff room, they have to stand at the door and say, 「X年生のYです。Z先生に用があってきました。」(Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me. Correct me if I’m wrong.) In English, "I’m Y from the X Grade. I need to see Z-sensei."

I’ve translated it as "need to see Z-sensei," but it’s actually the word 用 (よう), which means reason – so it’s almost like "I have a certain need/reason to see Z-sensei." It’s also used in the very similar 用事 but not in 予定. Watch your long vowels.

(In the original puzzle I translated it as "and I’m here to see Z-sensei," which I think is even more natural in the English.)

Aleisha and Robin both provided correct answers, and the winner by coin flip is Aleisha.


The Goal

My town was originally five separate villages. They joined together a long time ago and started sharing resources. Still, there are five different elementary schools, and up until six years ago there were three, maybe four, different junior high schools. Once the shiny new junior high school opened, the old junior high school buildings shut down and started to rot. One of them is an old wooden building, probably a prototypical Japanese junior high – a long, two-story building that faces south, with stairwells at either end and hallways running the length of the building.

To prevent such a resource from going to waste, the town found a non-profit organization that helps them organize an artist residence program. Every year or so, two artists come to live in the building. They are paid only a nominal fee to cover food expenses and a small amount of art supplies, but the town covers the cost of all utilities other than the phone bill. For the first few years the artists were all from Lithuania.

The second set of artists arrived early in my first year in the town, and I accompanied town representatives to Tokyo to “translate” and help them out a little. I say “translate” because the artists could barely speak English and had zero Japanese ability. Their year and three months in the town was a shinkansen wreck in slow motion, but it did enable me to meet the most impressive foreign Japanese speaker I’ve ever met.

On the day I met the artists in Tokyo, we went to the Lithuanian embassy to have a short meeting with the ambassador. In addition to the Town Hall worker in charge of the program, the assistant mayor of my town came. They sat down across from the ambassador and listened to him speak on end about exchange between Japan and Lithuania. He switched back and forth between Japanese and Lithuanian, moving his glance between the artists and the people from the town, and I sat there spellbound at his Japanese ability.

Here’s the thing – his pronunciation was awful. The accent was so strong it could have been a totally different language. His command of grammar and his active vocabulary, however, was incredible, and judging by the reaction on the face of the assistant mayor, everything he said made perfect sense. He didn’t slip once during the whole meeting.

I often think back to that meeting when I think about studying Japanese and when I think about teaching English. Sure, the harder you work at something, the more it will improve, but we are only human. We are limited by our innate skills. Unfortunately, pronunciation is one of those. Some people have 66-inch vertical jumps, others have 20-20 vision, and others can differentiate Ls and Rs and repeat them back perfectly. That’s from the Japanese side of things, of course. The fact is, no matter how long or hard you practice a language, your pronunciation will only ever improve to a certain degree. You will always have an accent unless you grew up in the country – think back to your home country and about the wide variety of accents that immigrants have. Your vocabulary and grammar usage, I feel, can top out at a much higher level. The key thing to remember is that there is NOTHING WRONG with this. It’s completely natural and doesn’t affect your ability to say what you want to say.

Which is why I urge you – grow out of that phase where you try and talk like a Japanese gangster/Kansai fool/kogyaru/regional dialect oyaji as quickly as possible! Yes, you should work on your pronunciation, but correct usage will take you much further, and, no, you don’t sound cool! Try and find your own voice in the language rather than adopting someone else’s, and focus on your ability to communicate information more efficiently.


As an apology for not posting on Friday (and to ensure that the Chronotrigger post truly was 号外), I’ll give you a double dose today starting with a smorgasboard (read: extremely bloggy) entry.

– I was down in Tokyo this weekend, carting down another load of crap from Fukushima. The preferred method of transportation between Tokyo and Aizu is, of course, the Sakura Bus. They started off as a small private company running buses between Naka-dori (中通) cities and Tokyo, but expanded to Aizu. Three years ago they had a one bus a day from Wakamatsu to Tokyo and one return. The bus left Wakamatsu at 7am and arrived at Tokyo station between 11 and 11:30, generally on the early side. Now they run at least three buses every day, and more on the weekends/Fridays. Last night I rode the newly introduced bus with three-seat rows. Very comfortable.

– I now have a TV-capable cell phone. I switched from docomo to au. When you join a new plan, you can get a slightly older model phone for 1 yen. Still, it’s a lot newer than my three year old phone, and the pricing plans are just about the same. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t switch to a new phone every two years, unless you were extremely satisfied with your phone. Additionally, au is giving 10,000 yen cash back gifts to all people who have an existing number switched to an au plan. I think this campaign lasts until the end of the summer.

– The place I’m living is about a 20-minute walk from Ooi Station (damn inability to find long vowel marking!) – 大井駅. I walked over there yesterday afternoon and was browsing Ito Yokado. I got to the top floor and was surprised to find a Café du Monde! The single most famous café in New Orleans, now accessible by foot! Apparently it’s been there over ten years. I knew there was one in Kyoto Station, but the lady said they also have one in Ikebukuro as well as a few other Kanto locations. Highly recommended.

– My new roommates are hilarious. I have four Japanese roommates and a Korean roommate. The Korean was studying Japanese when I got back from Ito Yokado, and one of my Japanese roommates asked what he was studying. He started talking about what patterns he was studying, including the pattern 「〜というと、」Another Japanese chimed in, 「夏というと、ビアガーデン」He then added, “We should make a pact. Whenever the temperature goes over 30 degrees, let’s go to a beer garden.” “Huuuuh,” said a third Japanese roommate, “It gets pretty hot all the time.” “Yeah,” the guy said, “It’d be like, aww, it’s over 30 again. I guess it’s beer garden time.”

– I’d like to direct your attention to the links on the right for a moment. If you’re not already reading Japan Navigator, you really should start. Ad Blankestijn, man of incredibly cool Scandinavian (? or Dutch?) name, has been blogging prolific about Japan, and, judging from the lack of comments (just like yours truly), it appears he needs either more readers or a more vocal readership. I will endeavor to comment on his interesting entries. Recent good reads include a review of Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea, a very nice entry about cup sake, and a look at Japanese ghosts and why the Japanese tell ghost stories during the summer. (Strangely enough, the Eiji Wentz movie-version of Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro was on TV Saturday night.)

 – One of my new favorite spaces in Tokyo is just inside the Underground Central Exit of Tokyo, which is apparently called Tokyo Station City GranSta. I’m not sure exactly when it was finished, but it’s filled with gourmet bento stores, extremely high quality delis (Dean and Deluca, Burdigala Express, Bagel and Bagel), a nice liquor store, and a nice cupcake store (Fairycake Fair). If you’re looking for a lunch to eat on the train to the airport or on a shinkansen or bus ride and have cash to burn (it’s pricey), definitely check this area out. It’s in the basement under Yaesu Central Exit.    

– Speaking of booze, the best place to access quality booze close to Tokyo Station is in the basement of Daimaru. It’s just on the north side of Yaesu Central Exit. Ride the escalator down and you’ll find a remarkable variety of local Japanese beers including Yona Yona, Karuizawa, Oedo, what must be the full line of Hitachino Nest, and a host of imports. Drink, drink, and be merry, I say!

Cool Compound – 青春


This compound literally means “blue/green spring," close enough to its actually meaning – “youth.” It’s used all over the place, notably in 青春18切符 – the Youth 18 Ticket, a special Japanese train ticket that gives you five days of unlimited rides on local trains. While the title of the ticket includes both “youth” and “18,” anyone can use the ticket. It’s only available during school holidays – summer (July 20 to September 10), winter (December 10 – January 20), and spring (March 1 – April 10) vacations.

The five days can be used non-consecutively, but you have to ride local trains – i.e. trains that don’t require a 特急券 (とっきゅうけん, express fee), so some 快速 are included. The best part of the ticket is that it costs a mere 11,000 yen, or just over 2000 yen per day! To be used effectively, though, it does require that you ride for hours on end, but, hey, get some beers and a bento and enjoy the ride.

Some of the special trains that are somewhat-limited-express are the overnight trains. I’ve only ever taken the Moonlight Kyushu that runs between Hakata and Shin-Osaka, but there are several others. The Moonlight Nagara has a stop that departs after midnight, which means you only need to use one of your five days (if you are on the train when it crosses over midnight, you’ll have to stamp twice…unless you’re lucky – video requires facebook membership).

Summer vacation doesn’t start for a while, but it’s critical that you reserve your spot on these overnight trains a month in advance (the reservation only costs an extra 500 yen…make sure to tell them you’re using the Youth 18 Ticket). They sell seats on these trains starting a month before departure, and they are extremely popular (especially the dates around the start and end of the New Years’ holidays); people line up to buy tickets at 5am on the day one month before they leave.

For more information, please consult the following sites:

Keep Your Eyes Open

I was at elementary school on Monday. There’s one sixth grade student who doesn’t go to class. He sits in the office making papercraft all day. They’ve actually given him his own desk. I take over the desk on Mondays. This past Monday this is what it looked like:


One of the teacher’s has put out a lot of stuff for him. In the middle, next to the pens and slightly behind the laptop, you can see times tables sitting there in the hopes that he will absorb them. I looked closer at the chart next to the Pooh mug:


It’s a science chart. It may or may not be helping him, but it sure helped me. I knew 根(ね) and 葉(は), but hadn’t learned, or maybe couldn’t remember, 茎(くき). It just goes to show what you can learn from keeping your eyes open.