Listening Practice and Review of “Of Love and Law” at Wrightwood 659

Just a quick post this month. I’m in the Japan Times with a piece inspired by a conversation I had with a colleague during a business trip in June: “Get in tune with the sound of Japanese vocabulary.”

I found some interesting links on sound symbolism in Japan. Most of the research seems to involve onomatopoeia and how sound is representative of the meaning. That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I was writing the piece, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

And as a random aside—although I guess it counts as listening practice—I went to the first Cinema Saturdays program at Wrightwood 659 yesterday where they showed the Japanese documentary 愛と法 (Of Love and Law).

Wrightwood 659 is a gallery in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood designed by Tadao Ando. The gallery is in an old brick building right next to the Eychaner house. I believe the Eychaner house was the first residence Ando designed in the United States, and Fred Eychaner founded Wrightwood 659.

The building was gutted, and they let Ando work his magic inside.

It’s been open since fall of 2018, and they’ve had a few nice exhibits so far, including an Ai Weiwei exhibit (before they actually opened as Wrightwood?) and one with a look at Ando and Corbusier’s buildings. Tickets are $20, but they release a lot of free tickets if you follow their email list. Definitely worth a visit, even if only to sit in the beautiful lobby space for a few minutes.

The Cinema Saturdays program was organized with Frameline San Francisco LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, the largest and longest running LGBTQ+ film festival in the world.

愛と法 (Of Love and Law) is a great documentary about the Nanmori Law Office run by Masafumi Yoshida and Kazuyuki Minami, a gay couple.

I really liked the way they rendered 愛 and 法 on the title screen, which is recreated on the website for the movie:

You have the literal “eye” within the “ai” of love, and the drop of water for the さんずい in law, which reflects the many tears in the film.

The movie itself was kind of incredible. The law firm has been involved in a number of headline cases including the teacher in Osaka who would not stand during the national anthem and Rokudenashiko and her artwork, so the film is able to intersperse their personal struggles from the mundane (the regular bickering of a married couple) to the more profound (debating with attendees at one of their workshops over whether gay people can ever be “family” in Japan) with the legal struggles of others seeking the freedom of expression in Japan. The overall impression leaves the viewer with a sense that the persecuted have a suffocating existence in Japan, but that there is hope and that hope needs to be defended.

Definitely worth seeking out! And Wrightwood 659 is worth a visit. Check the website for more information about the other Cinema Saturdays showings over the next three weeks.

Cool Onomatopoeia – うだうだ


I don’t really believe in microaggressions when it comes to Japan. I mean, I get it, there are definitely subconscious assumptions being made about foreigners, but I don’t think they are necessarily demeaning. Often annoying, but not always demeaning. (Conscious assumptions, however, do exist, and they are often demeaning.)

The one I’m thinking of at the moment I’m not even sure qualifies as a microaggression: having someone complete a sentence for you before you can finish it.

I was in Japan for the first time in four years over New Years, and I had the distinct displeasure of exercising rusty language skills. The first night there I was telling my former roommates that I’d lost a lot of vocabulary and had a hard time unearthing it in the middle of conversation. A few moments later we were talking about the U.S. presidential election, and I broke out 世論調査 (よろんちょうさ, public opinion poll); they all started laughing at the かたいness of the word and said I was doing fine.

I never found myself in that much trouble, nothing I couldn’t explain my way to understanding/a word, but I did find myself at a loss once I returned home and was speaking Japanese with coworkers.

I caught a cold at the end of my trip (one that seems to have relapsed) and was jetlagged upon my return. After work I was on the elevator with a woman who speaks quickly and often intermixes English and Japanese in conversation. She asked if I was still sick.

I explained that I was and that it was worse because I was also trying to get over jetlag. I said something like. 時差ぼけまだ大変で、今朝5時半起きてずっとベッドの中で

This is when she cut in and said うだうだしてたの? Which, I guessed, was exactly what I was trying to say. I just didn’t know the word in this case, so even if I had gone spelunking for it in my memory, I wouldn’t have found it.

A quick look at Japanese dictionaries (the 和英 aren’t so satisfying for this word), suggest that うだうだ has two meanings: 1) doing/saying meaninglessly stuff interminably, 2) spending time restlessly.

Being interrupted can do one of several things. It can limit the amount of unprompted/unassisted speaking practice (bad), it can dismiss whatever it is you are trying to say (neutral, depending on what it is you’re saying—who knows, maybe you’re a dumbass), or it can correct and assist in cases when you actually need the help (good). It’s up to your conversation partner to judge whether it’s appropriate to butt in, and it’s up to you to judge whether your conversation partner has been a jerk. Nothing is given.

Also, take a look at these animals performing うだうだ.


I found them from a Google Images search, and you can see more/purchase them at this site apparently.

Cool 擬態語 – べたべた

I work at a university writing center helping students (mostly first years) with their essays, and back in February a Japanese couple came on a grant to study writing centers in the U.S. Apparently they run the writing center for exchange students studying Japanese at a university in Shizuoka. The writing center is young, so they were looking for ways to improve their tutoring approaches. (They have some of the same problems – the same kids come in, they make the same mistakes – but I feel like Japanese composition is in a very different place, so I don’t think all of our suggestions made sense to them. Anyone have any thoughts?)

I reported for work earlier than normal so I could interpret if need be, but she was actually quite proficient in English. She also seemed to be ハーフ, but I never asked, so I’m not certain. They brought their kids with them (all four of them, two of them toddlers and one an infant), and the husband took them off for a walk in the morning, but they came back for lunch. My boss had the tutors who were free sit in her office and answer the couple’s questions while we snacked on pasta and king cake, the seasonal New Orleans cake that is served from Twelfth Night to Mardi Gras Day.

King cake is short, ring-shaped cinnamon cake that is covered with sticky icing and sugar. The kids ate some, too, and when one of the toddlers finished, she started smacking her fingers together and saying べたべた. I laughed; the kid was so damn cute, and even though I hadn’t heard the word for a while, I knew exactly what she was saying – the King Cake was sticky.

That’s all I’ve got today. I’ve been meaning to write up this story because I don’t think I’ll ever forget べたべた again. Blue Shoe’s post about じょりじょり reminded me that I’d been meaning to write about べたべた. He wrote that じょりじょり is the sound of “a scratchy surface.” The word was vaguely familiar, and I had to really work my memory banks to figure out where I’d heard it. I realized that I was shaving my head when I studied abroad in Tokyo. Once, shortly after I shaved my head, I went to teach an English class, and my students were all like ああ、ダニエル、じょりじょり!

I wanted to know where it came from, so I plugged it into Yahoo Dictionary, which gives this definition:


So Blue Shoe is close – it’s actually the sound of shaving (or perhaps cutting) hair or facial hair. Kind of like “buzz” in English. My students were saying “Daniel, you buzzed your head!” じょりじょり, most excellent.

(The Yahoo example sentence uses a cool word I was unfamiliar with: 襟足 (えりあし), the nape of the neck.)

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.

Ode to っ


Tokyo Damage Report has a nice post taking a look at the 小さいつ and all its different roles. Very interesting stuff. He breaks it down into four categories. I’ll switch them up a bit:

3. Contractions. Put two kanji together, and often the sound between the characters gets contracted. Uninteresting, as he notes.

4. Emphasis. Now we start to get interesting. People add an extra syllable into words like とても and よほど to emphasize them. In English we tend to draw out vowels for emphasis, but in Japanese they hover on that moment riiiiiight at the beginning of the consonant and then hit that fucker with a wicked staccato. This theory works in the next two sets.

1. Onomatopoeia/り. I’m not sure that these words sound exactly like their actions (Is it possible to “sound” like “looking very similar,” which is what そっくり means? Although, maybe it is possible. Maybe the Japanese are just hyper-aware of the sounds of different actions. I guess they do have way more noises than English. Hmm…), but they are at least more aurally interesting than your average word. They also extend on the emphasis theory. The number of superlatives in the group is impressive. One I picked up from a friend is ごっつい, which I think means “huge.” I wonder if there are any XっXり words that haven’t been taken by meanings yet. Get ’em quick before some domain-name squatter can.

2. と. I believe all of the words in this category are adverbs, whereas the words in the り category can actually be verbs themselves. I guess that proves と is a nearly universal marker of adverb-ness? Again these are used to modify verbs and make them even more extreme.

I think the best way to get used to these is to not study them on their own; they almost always work with other verbs, and you should pick one or two for each pattern. Generally they only work with a very limited range of verbs anyway. さっぱり, for example, is used almost exclusively with 忘れる or 分からない, implying a complete blankness of mind.

The other trick is to figure out which ones work on their own (ばっちりです! そっくりです!) and which ones work with する (すっきりした! ).

Great stuff. My personal favorites are ばっちり (with uncomfortably dorky thumbs up), そっくり (I am ルパン) and こっそり (eating onigiri on the train).

Cool Onomatopoeia – じめじめ


Well, you can mark it. Rainy season has just begun in Nishiaizu. It started raining yesterday at around 7 or 8 at night. Up until early last week, it was still a little chilly at night, and the air was crisp, but on Friday it finally got humid – it felt like someone put a lid over this whole area.

One of my favorite parts about being a JET is listening to the Japanese teachers talk to the students in Japanese. I’ve picked up a lot of useful phrases over the last few years. I used 「反応なし」 quite a bit my first year and finally understood how to create simple imperative sentences like 「声を出すんだ」 my second year.

On Friday I heard the teacher use the phrase じめじめ after I said it was really humid during the introductions. Pretty easy to understand from the context. I went to double check it in alc before writing this post, but nothing came up, so I googled it.

じめじめ is an example of Japanese onomatopoeia/mimetic words. Often two syllables are repeated. Knowing a decent number of these will really expand your vocabulary. The meaning for each different is often very specific, which also makes them very efficient.

Usage varies, but there are several distinct patterns:

– X(と)したY  じめじめした梅雨
– Xです       じめじめです
– XとZ      にっこりと笑う
– Xする                  ぶらぶらする

I found this example of the じめじめ usage, and this excellent grammatical explanation of onomatopoeia – in Japanese 擬音語(ぎおんご) and 擬態語(ぎたいご).