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).

Game Lingo – 構える


Second game lingo for this week.

構える (かまえる) appears frequently in action games in the pattern <武器>を構える. The basic meaning is “ready a weapon,” but it’s important to check the context because it can sometimes take on a meaning similar to 狙う – “aim a weapon.” In either case it is the action that must be taken before firing.

It also gets used in these cool compound verbs:
待ち構える (まちかまえる) – wait ready for, lie in wait for, be on the watch for
身構える (みがまえる) – be on guard, stand ready, square off

Game Lingo – 同梱


Two quick pieces of game lingo this week.

The first is 同梱 (どうこん). 同 is easy – it means “the same.” 梱 was unfamiliar to me, but apparently means “pack,” “tie,” and possible “package.” Combine them and you have “packaged the same” or “packaged together,” which is the adverb + verb kanji category. (Or possibly the adjective + noun category? “same package”?)

同梱 refers to things that come “bundled” or “included” with something else. In the case of games, it’s often used on the sides of packaging to list something like a controller or a manual that gets included with the game. It’s more or less the opposite of 別売り (べつうり), which is another adverb + verb combination and means “sold separately.”

Cool Compound – 適当に


Blue Shoe over at Just Another Day in Japan has a nice little post about his experience with the word 適当に. It’s cool to read as he gets closer and closer to the meaning and then nails the definition almost without realizing it. It’s not his fault, though, since this word gets defined obscurely in just about every dictionary ever created.

He gives the standard dictionary definition of “appropriately” or “properly” when a yakitori chef says, 適当にしましょうか. At first Blue Shoe thinks it might refer to a set meal, but there is none on the menu. His second guess is right on the money:

Either that or he was offering to just let us buy whatever he felt like making. Sometimes the problem in these cases is that you really have no idea what “properly” or “appropriately” means.

There it is in bold – the chef was exercising his subjective choice when performing the action of choosing and cooking delicious chicken bits. Less eloquently, 適当に means “do something however the fuck you/I want to.” It’s not exactly that rough in every case – especially this one which is probably closer to “So should I just rustle up some stuff for y’all to grub on?” – but it’s definitely that arbitrary. A good comparison might be an お任せ course at a sushi place, although if お任せ is A level, then 適当に is like B- level.

One of the best examples is when someone delegates work but can’t be bothered to specify how that work should be done. They usually tell the person to 適当にやって or 適当にしてもいい. Something along those lines. Plug in my profane example and you get the extreme end of the spectrum (imagine an angry boss yelling this): “Do it however the fuck you want!” The other end of the spectrum is “Do it however you see fit” or “However you see suitable.” This is where the “appropriate” and “proper” come in to play.

In a Japanese dictionary, the first listing is “Done well so that the action meets certain conditions, goals or requirements. Something that fulfills something. Something appropriate. Something with those characteristics.” Because the decision-making is subjective, however, the word can also take on negative meanings if the doer happens to choose standards that are inappropriately low.

No matter how you look at it, it’s tough to gather the meaning from the words “appropriate” and “properly” alone. I definitely remember wrestling with the meaning of 適当に. This one takes some getting used to.

Cool Kanji – 肉


肉 (にく) – the character for meat. It always reminds me of a ribcage or a little rack of lamb or something. Maybe a bizarro chicken tulip.

The concept of meat in Japan is slightly different from that in the U.S. Here, to the great collective unhappiness of all vegetarian expats, it refers to mammal meat – beef and pork, mostly – and not the flesh of living things in general (at least when talking about food). So, saying you don’t eat meat (肉は、食べません) won’t always earn you a meal that meets (har har) your dietary restrictions, especially if you take into account broths and pastes and flakes (many of which are fish-based).

(On a side note, I once knew a “vegetarian” who ate ramen and just gave away the チャーシュー on top – what a joke! Ramen broth is, more or less, pig rendered into a delicious liquid form.)

When I was a CIR on JET, I was forced to explain strict vegetarianism to Japanese people for expats on a number of occasions. (Including one Lithuanian artist who wouldn’t eat mushrooms for some reason. His English was really bad, but from what I could gather, spores are little people.) I found the best way to explain it is to say that you don’t eat 動物 (どうぶつ, doubutsu) – animals in general. But even that was not general enough sometimes, so I would always bastardize the pronunciation to 動き物 (うごきもの, ugokimono) – things that move – and then add the sentence, 動くのなら、食べません. If it moves on its own (and not in search of photons to photosynthesize), they don’t eat it. This always gets the point across and makes people laugh as an added bonus.

Cool Kanji – 独


Gerund series briefly interrupted to deliver this breaking news: today is the last Friday in October, and therefore you have two days left to get your Oktoberfest on. Recommended locations: Baden Baden, Zum BIERHOF (where they do the “Prost” song/dance every 30 minutes or so, kind of like an Epcot exhibit in the middle of Shinjuku), and Frigo.

In honor of the end of October, the cool kanji today is 独. It means “alone” or “single” and also Germany because it’s used in the ateji for Germany (独逸). Newspapers and news programs use it often to refer to the Deutschland, especially when it makes abbreviation easy – e.g. 日独関係 (Japanese-German relations).

Every country has kanji (here is an awesome list), but not all of them get used. The third column in the chart on Wikipedia has the abbreviated version (略称), and it looks to me like those are the ones you see most frequently. Knowing these will be useful when you make that appearance on a Japanese quiz show as the token foreigner someday.

I think Russia (露) and France (仏) ended up with the coolest kanji. The Soviet Union (蘇) had a cool one, too. Another link if you’d like more detailed explanation of each kanji in English.

Game Lingo – 選択


The counterpart to 決定 is 選択 (せんたく); this is what you are locking in when you 決定. 選択 appears non-stop in manuals and games and is basically a way of saying 選ぶ (えらぶ) with a compound noun. “Choose” and “select” are both options, but I think I prefer the latter, possibly because it’s more flexible: it works as a plain verb (“Select an item.”) as well as “noun” (“Mode Select screen”). “Choice” and “selection” can be used when it is a real noun.

Game Lingo – 決定


決定 (けってい) is generally a selectable icon on the screen or the action of one of the buttons on a video game controller. You use it to lock in settings or confirm selections, so it can be translated as “confirm” or “enter” depending on context. This is definitely a word that I’ve seen far more often since starting this job. I’m sure it gets used out in the real world (probably more along the lines of “come to a decision”), but I don’t think I ever had the opportunity to use it personally.