Friday Puzzle – This Picture is an Image, Clearly

One of the central themes of this blog is that Japanese expression cannot be directly translated into English, and therefore rather than frustrating ourselves over constantly trying to translate, it’s more important to be able to “get used to” the circumstances for Japanese phrases.

This is one of my favorite Japanese phrases that illustrates the importance of “getting used to it”: 「この写真は、イメージです。」

The direct translation will give you something similar to the title of this post, but that is nowhere close to the actual meaning. To figure it out, let’s look at where the phrase is used.

Have you seen this before?:



Take a step back and it looks like this:

Mmm...more food

Yep, it’s one of those hot foods vending machines from an expressway rest stop. The text is warning us – the onigiri birthed from the bowels of this machine will be nowhere near as tasty as they appear in this picture. (On another note, that shit is casual.)

So rather than translate this, what would you write on a vending machine like this in an English-speaking country? I’ll give a beer to the phrase I deem best. Depending on the responses, I may also give a beer for the funniest offering, so feel free to try your hand at both.

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 – Somebody Farted Answer

This puzzle is from three weeks ago. Sorry for the delay. The gesture is dismissive, and there are a few possible one-word answers that could go along with it. Here are a few I thought of:

違う(ちがう)- with this word you are actively correcting what another person said. What they said is wrong, and you are swatting it out of the air.

大丈夫 (だいじょうぶ)- this one is used to dismiss something unnecessary. It may or may not be wrong, but either way you are “alright” without it.

いい – this word means “good,” of course, but I’ve written previously about its other meanings. Like 大丈夫, this dismisses something unnecessary.

In all the cases, the speaker would draw out the syllables for as long as he waves his hand. I wanted to make a video to show how this works but have had very little free time, so for now I’ll attempt to represent the intonation like so:

chigau → chiGAuuuu

daijoubu → DAIIIIjoubuu

ii → iiiiiiiiiiii

違う is most often used with the first facial expression – you’re angry that they are misunderstanding you. 大丈夫 and いい can probably be used with either, mostly the second, which was my attempt to represent surprise.

Only a few responses for this puzzle, but only Thomas kept his answers to single word responses. He offered 臭い, which I’ll accept, and だめ, which I think is strong but could also work. So, Thomas earns his second beer.


I generally use the title of the puzzle as, to borrow a term from Click and Clack, obfuscation. The puzzle has nothing to do with farting. If you’d like to resubmit, please do.

The puzzle is here

Friday Puzzle – Somebody Farted

Today’s puzzle is the very first video puzzle. It features my ugly mug – you have been warned. Good luck:

(P.S. The quality is pretty bad, but if you go to the actual youtube site, you can opt to watch it in high quality, which looks much better.)

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 – It’s Bridge, I Promise Answer

Junior year of college the chemistry of my Japanese class was a little poor. Maybe we were all too quiet or not confident with the language at that point, but eventually the professor started marking a participation grade each day. That definitely helped force us to talk. Looking back, I’m really glad she did that. She not only forced us to talk, she made us converse with each other, adding the appropriate 相づち (gestures, noises), which are actually quite important in Japanese. えっと, あのう, そうですね and あそうですか are all vital and will prevent a decent amount of discomfort on the part of your Japanese conversation partners. Part of learning any foreign language is learning these finer details. The hmming, ahhing, ohhing, mooing, and whawazzating.

Today I’ll be talking about the last of these today, which in Japanese is っけ.

It’s a conversational 文末 (sentence ending) expression that turns whatever comes before it into a self-addressed, monologue-y question. It’s beautifully efficient.

When I first learned it, I remember thinking that it was only ever used with the informal copula – だ and だった. But I catch myself using it with the formal copula (です, でした), and just recently heard a teacher use it with a regular old verb when he misplaced his chopsticks – 箸、どこに置いたっけ.

He had removed the saran wrap from his delivery katsudon, gotten up to fill up a mug of instant miso soup with hot water, and returned to his seat only to realize that he had misplaced his chopsticks. “Now where did I put those chopsticks…” he said to himself.

So, I guess you can attach っけ on to anything, really, but you most often hear it after the copula. 何だったっけ and 何だっけ are favorite phrases of Japanese students who can’t remember the answer to something (“Ah crap…what was it again?”).

In English, you could almost just translate it as “again”:

What was his/her name again?

When did the Taisho Era start again?

By far, the most frequently used expressions are 何だっけ and 何だったっけ.

The speaker has some vague idea about what he is asking, but can’t recall it at the moment. That’s what っけ expresses.

The winner this week is Aleisha with her answer: "where did I put those chopsticks that I set down."

I had only one other answer. It was from Thomas, who said: “okay, so, clearly this statement was made by a burgeoning civil engineer, mumbled to herself at her desk.”

But he didn’t leave it at that, he wrote a 450-word short story. Here’s a piece:

it was late at night, nearly 1:30am, and all of naomi’s classmates had gone home. two lights clipped to the corners of her workbench provided the only illumination, two bright spots of white shining on the drafting paper spread out before her. the light was oblique enough that the weight of the paper was apparent– the thick grain showing shadowy textures beneath the brightly colored legos she had scattered about.

While it addresses the wrong はし, the っけ usage is appropriate ("okay," she said, focusing on the legos, her determination piqued once more. "bridge, where did i put you?"), and I believe it calls for an effort beer.


Friday Puzzle – It’s Bridge, I Promise

Here is the phrase for this week’s puzzle:


Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

– explain the meaning of this phrase
– attempt to guess the context in which it was said

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.

One note: I realized I’ve been giving away beer at a phenomenal rate while exhausting all my cool little phrases, so the puzzle will now be every other week. You have two weeks to investigate this week’s phrase. 

Friday Puzzle – Chinese Sign Answer

I saw this sign twice in China. It reads: 向前一小歩 文明一大歩.

Literally, “direction forward one small step, civilization one big step.” Neil Armstrong was a big hint that you could put this into something like, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 文明 means civilization, so you could plug that or something like “society” in for mankind.

The location was the best part of the sign. It was above the urinals in a men’s room, making that one small but literal step forward. Here’s a picture of the whole sign:

I think the translation provided on the sign is great. It avoids putzing around in the lingo and manages to be quick and crisp like the original.

Four people got the translation for this correct. Three got the location right but claimed to have seen it or heard of it before, so I drew randomly from all four. The winner this week is Bilbo…on the Fukushima JETs Forum. Congrats, Billy.

What Time-Space Moment Did You Occupy?

This is a short follow-up to last week’s puzzle answer. I explained that 〜ところです is used to describe what you are about to do, currently doing, or just did.

〜ところ is also a very useful way to begin telling a story to someone, except that when you tell someone a story it’s all in past tense, so instead of です, use でした.

So now we have:

食べるところでした。        I was just about to eat.
食べているところでした。    I was eating.
食べたところでした。        I had just finished eating.

Now, try and figure out this super-short story of mine:


I bet you can figure out the meaning on your own. As I was writing I realized that ところ is often followed by the particle で. So a more natural way to say the above is:


I’m not 100% sure, but I think that usage of で is very similar to usage in this sentence:


At that specific ところ was when/where the ichinensei crept up and poked you in the butt.

I vaguely remember that you can also use the particles へ and に with ところ, but I can’t remember any specific usages. Just keep that in mind.

Friday Puzzle – Chinese Sign

Sorry for the Chinese diversion this week. I meant to have all this done and out of the way with by the time I returned, but the internets did not agree. The puzzle this week also comes from China. I saw a cool sign while I was there and I took a picture of it:


The puzzle this week is to provide me with two things: 1) a guess as to where the sign was located and 2) a translation that approximates the meaning. Bonus points for anyone who can incorporate communist fervor into their translation. Super bonus points for anyone who can combine that fervor with the legendary poetics of Neil Armstrong.

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.