Cool Particle – で – Conjunction

Clearly Treyvaud’s で from the previous post (about で as implier of causality) wasn’t pure causality. The girl was just taking a break from her story, so the invisible それ in front of the で refers to the entirety of the story so far. Not a specific cause and effect relationship per se.

A large part of で’s role comes as a conjunction, a transition between two thoughts. To a certain extent, で is always conjunctive – it connects two different phrases or ideas within a phrase by describing why something was done – and only the level of causality changes.

The clear English equivalent is “so.” It’s surprising how similar these are. Not only do they both act as conjunctions, but the level of causality they both imply also varies. So, to a certain extent, Treyvaud’s で is asking, “So now that you’ve laid out all this juicy conspiracy goodness, WTF mate? What happens next? What does what you’ve just explained lead to?” But in reality, it’s just a word that enables a smooth transition to the next thought.

You see this used a lot in spoken Japanese. If someone is telling a really long, winding story that, rather than resolving itself, continues to take turn after turn, that person and the listener could have the following conversation:

Teller: でー
Listener: で?
T: でー
L: で?(笑)
T: で、

Which you could translate into English as:

Teller: So–
Listener: So?
T: So–
L: So where the hell is this going?! Heh.
T: I’m about to fuggin tell you if you’d let me finish.

Maybe that’s taking it a bit far, but you get the point. You can imply all that good stuff by interrupting with a single particle, a smile, and a good laugh.

The other conjunctive role of で is when you use it to stack up clauses, mostly when speaking. For example,

会社が新橋で、アパートが国分寺で、通勤がちょっとつらい。My company’s in Shimbashi, and my apartment is in Kokubunji, so my commute is a little unpleasant.

To me, the “so” feels like it implies slightly more causality than the で after 国分寺. I believe in cases like the above, で is the gerund form of です, so you can continue almost without end as you can with verbs sometimes:

6時に起きて、シャワー浴びて、朝食食べて、家出て、電車乗って... I woke up at six, took a shower, ate breakfast, left my place, got on the train…

Keep your ears open for this で (and verbs in gerund form playing the same role) and I promise you’ll start to hear it more often. And the more you recognize it and what it is doing, the easier it will be to use it yourself. Now go forth and conjunct!

Cool Particle – で – Causality

My brothers came for a visit over the holidays, and we had a small 手巻き寿司 party in their honor. One of my roommates brought his genki new girlfriend, and she brought her own even genkier girlfriend who is extremely interested in conspiracy theories. I don’t know how the subject came up, but it turns out that Treyvaud, also in attendance, is a descendant of a freemason. When she learned this, genki girlfriend’s genkier girlfriend got really excited and proceeded to explain an elaborate conspiracy theory only to be distracted midway through by a particularly tasty-looking slice of maguro.

When she finished eating, Treyvaud prompted her to continue her story with a simple, little で? It was awesome – so simple but perfect for the situation and extremely effective. She then said, “で…” and then continued her story.

This is a great example of the two different roles of で – conjunction and implier of causality.

Today let’s look at how it implies causality. The most common examples are ので and それで。 They have essentially the same role, but ので works between two clauses in a single sentence whereas それで begins a new sentence. Observe:

I drank lots of beer, so I became tired.

In more natural English: I got tired because I drank a lot of beer. (It’s tempting to maintain Japanese sentence order when you first start translating, and I’ve produced some embarrassing examples myself, but I think it’s fine to flip stuff around BECAUSE ENGLISH IS A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE.)

A couple of usage notes:

– You may be familiar with から in a similar role. (ビールをいっぱい飲んだから、眠くなった。) They are very similar. The main difference, according to my Japanese teacher in college, is that ので is more polite than から and should be preferred when talking to people more えらい than your measly self.

– After verbs, all you need is ので, but after nouns you should use なので. For example: 月曜日なので、仕事に行かなくてはならない。 I’s Monday, so I gotta work.

– In spoken Japanese, ので often gets slurred to んで. Example: 明日するんで、心配するな。I got that shit covered tomorrow, yo, so just chill.

And the それで variety:

If you don’t use them, compensatory vacation days expire after three months. So I’m thinking of taking a half day off next Wednesday and going to see a movie.

In both cases, the で acts as a police officer blowing his whistle and pointing an accusatory arm to the left. This! This is why that stuff to the right is happening!

Let us speak of で’s conjunctive abilities next time.

On Translation and Me

I often get questions from aspiring translators about what kind of job I have and how to break into the translation industry, so I thought I’d write a FAQ-style post answering these questions once and for all. If there is anything else you are curious about, feel free to leave a question in the comments.

Q: What exactly do you do?
A: I am a project manager at a translation company in Tokyo.

Q: What is a project manager?
A: A project manager coordinates freelance translators to complete large translation projects. When we receive a translation job from a client, I work with the Japanese coordinators in my office to set up a delivery date. Then I contact freelancers and send them the material for translation if they are available. When they complete the translation, I do a close comparison of the source text and the target text and make corrections and revisions as necessary. I leave comments in Japanese for the client company if I have any questions. The Japanese coordinators then check my comments, take a final look at the file, and submit it to the client company.

You can read more about project management at the blog Essential Project Management.

Q: Wait, aren’t you a video game translator or something? You mention video games a lot.
A: Kind of…but not really. First of all, if I’m anything, it’s a video game project manager (see above). Several of our clients are video game companies, but they send us a wide variety of material, only some of which is actual video games. I check financial documents, proposals, business correspondence, video game dialogue, video game instruction manuals, iPhone apps, and more. We have clients outside of the game industry as well.

Q: So you don’t actually do any translation yourself?
A: For the most part, no. If a project is small enough or on a rush schedule, we sometimes do the translation in-house, but there is always another English native who checks the finished product before delivery.

Q: How much material do you handle every day?
A: Ideally I check 5000 Japanese characters a day (roughly 2500 English words), but this fluctuates and often we handle significantly more than 5000 characters. When I was working on a major project last summer, I was checking up to and over 10,000 characters a day (with the assistance of several hours of overtime).

Q: How much material do your translators translate every day?
A: This really depends on the material, type of file formatting, and the individual translator, but it ranges anywhere from 2500 to 5000 Japanese characters. 3500 to 4000 is probably the average amount.

Q: How did you get the job?
A: I responded to an ad in the Japan Times. I was very lucky.

Q: What do you think was the most important preparation for your job?
A: Reading. If you want any kind of job in translation, whether it’s a project manager position or a freelance translator job, you need to have the endurance to read large quantities of Japanese text and also the experience to understand most of the material without using a dictionary.

The best way to develop these abilities is to read for long periods of time. Read newspapers, novels, magazines, manga, blogs, websites – any material that keeps you interested. Practice reading for an hour, two hours, half a day, a whole day. Look up new words and write them in a notebook. I still do this.

Q: Wait, you don’t use a dictionary?
A: No, I use a dictionary when I need to, but I don’t have time to look up every word. Or even every other word.

Q: Did you really practice reading all day long?
A: Hell yeah. During the summer of 2004, I went to the library every day and read Kafka on the Shore in Japanese. I read from about nine in the morning to four or five in the afternoon with a one hour break for lunch. It took me about a month to finish the first half of the novel, but it was great practice. Too bad the book wasn’t better.

I’ve also been known to read for entire weekends.

Q: Is there anything you wish you would’ve done to prepare for your job?
A: I wish I would have played more video games in Japanese. One of my coworkers is Japanese-Canadian. He grew up in Canada, and besides speaking Japanese with his parents, a good portion of his exposure to Japanese was in the form of video games. He is a walking dictionary of video game terms. He hasn’t played every game ever made, but he is very familiar with the language used in video games and what that language means. Playing English video games will help you develop a familiarity with terminology and style (and the content of the titles themselves), but playing Japanese video games will actually teach you the language.

Q: How do I get a job as a project manager?
A: I have no idea. Look around for companies on the Internet and send off resumes and cover letters. Join the Google Group for Japanese translation – sometimes jobs get posted there. Those are my best suggestions.

Q: How do I get a job as a freelance translator?
A: Another question I can’t really answer. I can tell you how my company hires freelancers. We always accept resumes, and generally we send prospective translators a translation trial. If the trial is good enough, we add them to our list of translators, but you have to be particularly good to break into our group of regulars.

So I guess the answer is send out resumes and emails to as many translation companies as possible. Get in touch with the project managers who work at the companies. Get registered on their list. Stay in touch with them but don’t be annoying, and don’t ever come across as entitled, no matter how good of a translator you are.

Q: What else should good freelancers do?
A: Respond to emails promptly, especially if project managers are inquiring about availability. They will love you. Check in with project managers on Friday afternoons – clients often send us projects on Friday and we have to scramble to find translators before we take off for the weekend. If I was freelancing in the U.S., I might even make an effort to wake up early on Friday morning and check my mail.

Q: Wait a second. Freelancers work on the weekend?
A: Hell yeah. Project managers count on freelancers to speed up projects by working over the weekend. These days don’t get included in the number of business days we have to finish projects, so it gives us more time or lets us offer a faster delivery date to clients.

Also, one freelancer I met said that when you freelance, you pretty much take any work you can get. You’re on your own clock, and any time you aren’t translating, you’re missing an opportunity to make money. The lack of a guaranteed monthly wage must be a strong motivator.

Q: What do you think the most important part of the translation process is?
A: Revision. Understanding the Japanese is really only a third of the work. Maybe even less than that. The other part of the process is expressing the Japanese in natural English. No matter how good your Japanese is, unless you can write a decent English sentence and have a good range of expression, you won’t find any work as a translator.

I emphasize revision because it gives you the opportunity to look at the English text independently of the Japanese. When you’re reading your translation, you should be asking yourself – Does this make any sense? Could anything be clearer? Could anything be more natural? Are there any sentences that are passive that could be active? What impression will people have when they read this?

Q: Tell us a story about a good translator.
A: One of the best translators I work with loves playing games and translating them. He’s played just about every game out there, and if he hasn’t played it, he’s willing to do the research to figure it out. He even does fansubs of games on his own time.

Last summer I was coordinating a major video game. The client sent us the main script, which was enormous. I think it was over 100,000 characters. Because they wanted a quicker delivery, we split the script between two translators. We had one translate the dialogue and another translate the ト書き (とがき), which is basically the “stage direction” for the dialogue. I sent this guy the ト書き. He was so into the game and the series, though, that he went through the dialogue and pulled all the references from the scripts of previous games without me asking for anything. I then forwarded on the notes to the dialogue translator. It saved me and the other translator a lot of time and ensured that the game would be accurate. Lots of respect for this translator.

Q: Tell us a story about a bad translator.
A: We got a small job for a video game proposal at some point last spring. It was only 3000 or 4000 characters, which is a nice volume to send new recruits. I sent it to a guy who had recently passed our trial. When he sent it back to me, there were still Japanese commas and parentheses in the Powerpoint file (全角 text that he hadn’t taken the time to delete completely, the lazy bastard) and he clearly hadn’t taken the time to revise or even think about his translations, so I had to rewrite the whole thing. (On a side note, there were some places where he clearly hadn’t understood the Japanese. If you ever can’t understand the Japanese, leave a note for the project manager. We can fix it, but it helps us if you mark the places where you were unsure. Even our top translators do this – it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Leaving a possible alternative translation in the comments is also helpful, but you shouldn’t be doing it too often.) I barely finished in time. The good news is that the proposal got picked up and we had the opportunity to translate the actual game itself. No one in my office has sent this translator another project.

The moral of these two stories is this: take advantage of any opportunity you are given. If a company gives you a chance to do some actual work, knock it out of the park. Show them that you’ve done the research and really ironed out your English. And don’t be afraid to step away from the Japanese when you’re translating for video games – they call it “localization” instead of “translation” for a reason.

Don’t forget that I do not recommend games translation. Go learn how to translate patents or economics stuff. It’s much easier and will make you a lot more money.

How to File U.S. Taxes From Japan

When I came to Japan after graduating, I was excited to be an adult. (Forget the fact that the JET program holds your hand all the way over to Japan.) I had my own apartment. I was getting paid a decent wage. I was a car owner. I was making omelettes for dinner every night. But with adulthood come great burdens. One of these, which I was somewhat excited to take on, is filing taxes.

Fortunately, the process is relatively simple for foreigners living abroad, and I found Shana West’s great website which explains everything. That page is here. It is extremely detailed and helpful, so I recommend using it, but I’ve summarized the process below and added a couple of details.


In Japan, your final paycheck of the year will include your 源泉徴収票 (げんせんちょうしゅうひょう). This is proof of how much you earned and were taxed that year – the Japanese equivalent of a W-2. It’s a small piece of paper and easy to lose track of, so keep an eye out for it. If you do lose it, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get another copy printed at your local town/ward/city office. (On a side note, that word is so much fun to say. 源泉徴収票, heh.)

2. File Form 4868 by April 15.

In order to meet the requirements for exemption from U.S. taxes, you need to have lived in Japan for 330 days. JETs generally arrive at the end of July/beginning of August. Foreigners abroad automatically have a two month extension, but that isn’t always enough for first year expats. Filing Form 4868 gives you until October 15. So submit this form, and then just wait.

3. Turn your 源泉徴収票 into an English W-2.

Because the 源泉徴収票 is in Japanese, you need to translate it for the IRS. I always copy it and then mark up the copy exactly as Shana says. At the top I write “FOREIGN INCOME STATEMENT.” I point out the Japanese calendar year “HEISEI 21 (JAPANESE CALENDAR YEAR) = 2009.” I show them my name in Japanese (although this year and last my name has been printed in English). And then I show them the amount paid: “AMOUNT PAID = X YEN x 1USD/93.68YEN = $Y.” I don’t notate the after taxes income, although it couldn’t hurt to point out that and then the amount you were taxed. That would kind of say “Shove it, you IRS tax monkeys. I’ve been paying my dues.”

At the bottom of the page I write (straight from Shana’s page): “Note: I used the 2009 average yen/USD exchange rate as reported by the Federal Reserve to calculate my income. That rate was 93.68 yen = $1.”

The Federal Reserve releases its annual exchange rates on January 1 every year. You can find them on their website.

4. Fill out Form 2555EZ and 1040 and send them along with your “translated” 源泉徴収票 to the IRS by October 15.

Form 2555EZ

This is the foreign income exemption form. The easiest residency test to pass is the “physical presence test.” Write the day you arrived in Japan and then a year from that date. From your second year onward these dates will always be 1/1 and 12/31. On the second page, note all the days that you were back in the U.S. (Remember, this is just the time back in the U.S., not the time you spent outside of Japan, so you don’t have to include that trip to Thailand – you JETs are all so predictable.)

Form 1040

This is the most annoying form. It’s only tricky if you have any earned income from the U.S. Follow Shana’s advice and fill out the form as you normally would, but include your Japanese income. This becomes significantly more simple your second year onward (at least it did for me) because you should have no earned income from the U.S.

I’m still not sure I’m filling it out properly. The one thing I do know is that I make significantly less than the $91,400 that you are allowed to claim as an exemption. My strategy is to just write “0” for any category I’m unsure of and then my Japanese income in parentheses for the “Other income” line.

And you’re done! Send that shit in and crack the beers!

A couple of notes:

– I didn’t fill out Form 8802 that Shana lists on her site. I was a CIR and was technically not able to get exemption from the Japanese taxes. Or so I thought. It was my understanding that the taxes would be deducted from my check and then given back to me in the form of a slightly higher salary. Wrong. I think I could’ve filed these forms if I tried. Oh well. Definitely get on that if you’re a JET.

– Some of my friends haven’t filed for several years and are worried that this will affect them somehow. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Yes, you’re supposed to be filing them, but it’s not like you’re making a huge amount of money and embezzling it. And you actually are paying taxes. That said, if you are going to be moving home anytime soon (especially if you’re going for school), I’d try to at least get at least the most recent year filed. The good news is that you can ignore Step 2 if you’ve been here for over a year.

No excuses this year! You’ve got two sets of detailed instructions – the ones here and then Shana’s site – to help you through the process. がんばれ!


File this one under “I should’ve known better.” Sapporo’s 新発売 collaboration with famous Hokkaido chocolatier ROYCE’. (I’ve always wondered if that is pronounced “ROYCE Prime.”) It’s far too sweet and not very roasty or bitter at all, probably because of all the sugar they added to cover the bitterness of the cocoa nibs listed in the ingredients. I prefer Kirin’s Beer Chocolat which didn’t use any actual chocolate.

As you can tell from the title of this post, I have a small point to add about the Japanese てくる form, which I addressed here and hereTreyvaud sent me a link to a paper titled “Acquisition of the Japanese Errand Construction in Japanese as a Foreign Language.” I dig the “base construction” theory of てくる on page 14 (all our base are belong to us, as it were), but the real point of the article is to examine why “the use of kuru ‘come’ in the [Japanese errand] construction especially seems to puzzle many of the students.”

One of the most interesting parts of the article to me was learning that there are times when it is ungrammatical not to use てくる or ていく. (In other words, the -masu form is at times incorrect.) Treyvaud explains:

The graph on page 29 really interested me, because it seems to show that even beginners can recognize a correct sentence — they’re just more likely not to realize that the incorrect ones are incorrect (because of English leaking in, L1 transfer). I guess since most courses aren’t going to teach you a list of incorrect forms, the only way to overcome this is endless practice until you have a big bag of Japanese-specific knowledge to compare new sentences to (so that unusual forms are suspicious because you know that similar sentences would usually be said differently), rather than relying on “can I understand it?” or “would it make sense in English?” as your standard as beginners more or less have to.

Conversely, in my own high school English classes, I remember spending a significant amount of time on incorrect grammar patterns. Run-on sentences, comma splices, split infinitives. (Although, I guess this is because native students can already “do” English and just need to be shown what not to do.) The author doesn’t seem to offer any suggestions to improve the status quo, but I wonder if highlighting incorrect usage wouldn’t help non-native students.

And finally, the sad truth: “only five percent of L2 learners can reach a native speaker’s level.” Sigh.

Cool Compound – 気分転換

Another quick vacation-related word before more serious content begins.

気分転換 is a great Japanese phrase that has a lot of possible English translations. Break it down and you get change (転換, てんかん) in mood/humor/spirits (気分, きぶん), which is essentially what it means – when you’re in a rut or bored, you do something to pep yourself up. More natural translations include “change of pace,” “diversion,” and “distraction.”

An easy way to use this word is 気分転換として〜する – “Do something for/as a change of pace.” For example, 気分転換として、まだ降りていない山手線の駅で降りて、ちょっと散歩してきた。

This is another word where Google Images is useful. It reveals a number of possible 気分転換 activities – travel, going out to look at flowers, getting your nails done, buying a different style of dress from what you normally wear, or just checking out some pornography!

Cool Kanji – 通路

When I checked in at Narita on my way to New York, I realized that I’d been assigned a middle seat. Great. I guess that’s what you get when you book a ticket yourself rather than through a travel agent, I thought. I pressed the button to try and change it, but all the seats were full. Twenty minutes before my flight, I decided to try and ask one of the ladies at the gate – 空いている通路席(つうろせき)はありませんか。Are there any aisle seats available? Miraculously one was free. She tore up my old boarding pass and handed me a new one. Don’t ask me how it happened, I’m just glad I had the leg space and easy access to the bathroom. Maybe she was so surprised someone wasn’t asking for an upgrade to business class that she was happy to oblige me.

If you’re looking for a window seat, the word you want is 窓席(まどせき). I’m not sure why you would request a middle seat, but I believe the word is 中央席(ちゅうおうせき).

Cool Onomatopoeia – どえ〜

My flight home to Tokyo yesterday was cancelled because the shitters on the plane were broken. Two of ’em. They had to fix at least one of them for us to go (pun intended), and apparently it couldn’t be done. I let my roommates know I’d be getting home a day late, and one of them responded with:


Love the onomatopoeia at the beginning. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard どえ〜 used, but it seems to me something like an even more exasperated version of the typical sound of surprise – げ.

Now I’m off to try and score a meal voucher or some other kind of restitution. This cancellation shit was exciting at first, but now it just sucks.

Happy New Beer!

Er, I mean year. 2010 is almost a week old now, but How to Japonese will be taking another week of vacation before resuming new posts. I’m heading back to the U.S. tomorrow for a quick trip. Rest assured that there is awesome content on the way. (I just need a chance to finish editing/writing it.)

For now, enjoy this picture of one of a few dozen pints of Schlenkerla Helles poured in Japan:

Jha in Kanda opened a keg of the beer on the 4th and 5th. Schlenkerla is legendary for it’s smokey rauchbier, generally a dark beer. They brew the Helles in the same kettles, but without the smoked malt, so it only has a trace of the flavor. (I’ve had the bottle version too and swear it tastes smokier.) It’s still crisp and infinitely drinkable – one of the beers perfected by hundreds of years of German beer brilliance. I was fortunate to catch a pint today after work. If you hurry you might still be able to get one. They still have the Urbock on tap at Jha and Coopers (it’s sister bar) in Shimbashi, with far more reserves than the Helles. It packs a punch far mightier than its 6.5% abv might suggest. You have been warned.