Cool Compound – 悠々自適

Hard to believe that 2020 is finally coming to an end…or is it?

I’ve had a couple of tweets do pretty well the past week, and I’m going to attribute most of the success to sheer luck. I happened to be transcribing a 悩み (nayami, problem/distress/sorrow) from Higashimura Akiko’s podcast (same episode I mentioned in the newsletter this month, just an earlier call) the other day and came across the great compound 悠々自適 (yūyūjiteki), which felt incredibly appropriate to share:

This is definitely my personal goal for 2022, although I do feel like it’s a luxury to be able to completely tune out the outside world. Once I get through the program I’m in, I’m planning to make phone calls for the governor’s races in Georgia and Florida, and I hope you contribute time or money as well.

As for Japanese language study, I do think it’s incredibly helpful to transcribe native Japanese audio from time to time. I find myself doing this for my writing every now and then, usually from NHK or Higashimura-sensei’s podcast, which provides good balance between 報道 (hōdō, broadcast) language and more natural language. It’s obviously helpful to listen to these without transcribing to practice your listening skills at a native pace, but transcription forces you to get in there and confirm particles and verb forms in a way that enables you to then implement the patterns more accurately. It’s not fun work, but if you can set a schedule to do this once a month or so, I promise that you’ll find yourself improving.

I hope that you all find the time to take a breath at the end of the year. I was really looking forward to spending the New Year’s holiday in Japan. There’s really nothing like relaxing in Japan during that period. I will admit that I’ve enjoyed the 80F/24C days in New Orleans I’ve had the past 10 days, and I’m also looking forward to returning to my monastic existence in Chicago. I’m probably putting together a virtual hang for New Year’s Eve, so if you’re a friend of the blog, reach out and I’ll share the link. Otherwise, 良いお年を!

Japanese Stonks

I’m in The Japan Times with a look at the language of investing: “Put your yen to work with the language of investing.”

Initially I was hoping to find out the Japanese equivalent of “stonks,” but it became clear that while there has been a boom in retail investors, not all of them are tuned in to the GameStop madness. Bloomberg has one report in Japanese (a really good read!) which says lack of English skills limited Japanese participation in the mania, but they just put out a new one in English about a bar for stock pickers that suggests maybe there has been some effect from GME.

They point out Satoshi Uehara, and I found another Twitter account X1_droid who is also investing in popular U.S. stocks. I found the term ジャンピングキャッチ (“jumping catch”) initially from their account. I also found an account/bot that translates Elon Musk tweets, and there seems to be a contingency of Japanese followers shadowing some of his moves. However, as the Musk-followers might suggest, these are all fanatics, not the Japanese public more broadly.

In terms of explaining what’s going on, there’s a blogger over at Note who’s been providing some solid Japanese language explanation of “stonks” and GameStop. There may be some other useful posts if there are any slang terms you’ve been trying to communicate to Japanese friends and family.

Cool Word – 仕事納め

I’m back in Chicago after the holidays, the temps have dropped again, and there’s a dusting of snow on the ground, but I’m on the inside looking out, sipping on a hot mug of honey ginger lemon, so no complaints.

I’m done with work for the year!

A Japanese friend’s Facebook post reminded me of the excellent Japanese word 仕事納め (shigoto-osame)—finishing up work for the year. It makes sense that Japan — where New Year’s is absolutely the dominant national holiday — has a word that means wrapping up for the year.

Nothing too crazy going on here – just 仕事 (work) plus a nominalized form of the verb 納める (to complete).

納める is one of those verbs that can have a ton of different meaning depending on context. In fact, the Japanese dictionary provides nine independent usages. Dictionary posts like this are complicated but really helpful if you’re trying to get a true sense of meaning. The dictionary post for 仕事納め is much simpler and good reading practice for beginners.

Update: Check out the 仕事納め hashtag on Instagram for a nice contextual definition of the word and a cool glimpse of how Japan is wrapping up the year.

Cool Word – オブラート

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at a couple of websites that I’ve noticed popping up whenever I search for a polite way to phrase something: “When stumped in Japanese, go where the stumped Japanese go.”

The websites are Mayonez and Tap-biz. Mayonez seems like a more fleshed-out, coherent project, but they’re clearly very similar. I wondered how they were funded, but further investigation has shown that the articles are really just cover for the job hunting websites that likely fund the whole shebang.

Still, the articles are pretty interesting, and I think they offer pretty effective language tips.

In the course of reading through the Mayonez article about 希望しない alternatives, I saw the phrase オブラート包んでお断りすることがマナーです (Oburaato tsutsunde okotowari suru koto ga manaa desu, Saying no in a roundabout way).

オブラート (oburaato, oblaat) is a very interesting word I hadn’t heard before. Oblaat are those thin, transparent layers of rice starch that are used to wrap things like dagashi.

So the phrase オブラートに包む, then, means to kind of mediate a phrase in a way that makes it more palatable/handleable. Pretty cool.

And of course there’s a ridiculous Yahoo Chiebukuro site involving オブラート: “「死ね」 をオブラートに包んでください(“Shineo oburaato ni tsutsunde kudasai, Say “Go kill yourself” in a polite way). Some pretty funny answers.

And on a side note, next month is the four year anniversary (FORTY EIGHT consecutive months!) of the Japanese Reading Group that I’ve been running through the JET Alumni Association Chicago Chapter. We’ve been meeting on Google Hangouts for the past year or so, and it would be great if you’d join us! Check out the event details here.

Yahoo Chiebukuro Deep Cuts – わいせつ


This post is belated, but I was in the Japan Times last week with an article about the kind of language used to translate Trump into Japanese: “Japanese translators forced to grab the Trump bull by the horns.”

I feel like this piece could have been stronger if I had been paying closer attention the whole way through, but unfortunately I hadn’t. I spend most of my time at work reading about politics and didn’t have the energy to do more in Japanese when I got home. So I was forced to upload as many Japanese sources as I could in a single weekend after I pitched the column to my editor.

Fortunately I’d had the insight to listen to that first NHK Radio podcast which, combined with the email, from my host mom gave me the introduction I needed to carry me through an article that makes sense, hopefully. Got some good comments, which is always nice!

A couple notes:

1. わいせつ (waisetsu, obscene/obscenity) is an interesting word that was combined not only with 発言 (hatsugen, remark) as mentioned in my article, but also 行為 (kōi, act), as Toranpu went on to be accused by several women. A quick search on Twitter for トランプ and わいせつ gives you a pretty interesting play-by-play of how it all went down. (On a side note, I really wish Twitter searches had Google-like controls, such as specifying date ranges.) Here are a few interesting tweets I came across:トランプ%E3%80%80わいせつ&src=typd

Looking at the translation of “pussy”:

Random Twitter punditry:

An alternative for ロッカールームトーク:

How one website translated “totally made up nonsense”:

Japanese are amused by strange English:

2. わいせつ is also notable for being used exclusively in hiragana. This seems related to the definition of the jōyō kanji, which is connected to Japanese legal language. There’s a closer look at the kanji themselves at this link.

I knew there would be a Yahoo Chiebukuro entry related to this word, but I had no idea that it would be as epic as this page.

The questioner asks how to write ワイセツ in kanji and what it means. The best (and only) answer does provide the requested information (猥褻, vulgar/obscene), but then goes on to be kind of a dick and ask why the person couldn’t find the information on their own: これは、携帯で変換したらでてきませんか? (Couldn’t you convert [these kana] with your cell phone?) And then…これも、ググれば、辞典で出てきませんか? (If you had googled this, wouldn’t it come up in a dictionary?)

(Deep aside: Note the most excellent ググれば [If you googled] above!)

The answerer goes on to give a lengthy supplement about what exactly consists of a わいせつ act and what the punishments are under the law.

But the crowning jewel of this crazy post is the questioner’s follow up:


Translation: “My reply is late. I’m sorry. I’d gotten wrapped up in the categories for figurines. Thank you.”

Translation implication: This guy was trying to categorize his anime figures, wanted to know how to write “obscene” in kanji so he could properly categorize his dirty figures, gave up when he realized it was a difficult task, and opted to crowdsource on Yahoo?

The world may never know.

Cool Word – 刀狩


It may be cliche to say it, but there’s nothing quite like your first trip to Japan. For me, it was not only exciting to visit somewhere so new and different, it was also liberating to be in a place with an almost total absence of fear of violence, notably of gun violence.

I grew up in New Orleans and was fortunate to never experience any violence directly, thanks in large part to extremely vigilant parents (whom I probably faulted at the time for being what is now termed “helicopter parents”). But I won’t ever forget when my mom was held up at gun point just as we were moving into a new house. I was a little too young to understand exactly how frightening it must have been for her. She broke down in tears and neither my dad nor my grandmother could do much to comfort her. As the years went by and I grew up through middle school and high school, I gradually took on the fear myself.

So it felt amazing to be free of it, wandering Okayama City in the summer of 2002. My last night in the city we drank at a bar, walked across the city, swam in the castle moat, and then stumbled back.

I wish I could share this feeling with everyone in the United States and then ask them how they felt about gun control laws. I’m sure not everyone would be convinced, but some would see how things could be different, and how appealing that could be.

I’m writing this during the Senate gun control filibuster because for the first time in a long time (perhaps ever), I feel like I have to do something, even if it’s just post on this blog about a cool Japanese phrase – 刀狩 (かたながり).

刀狩 translates easily as “sword hunt.” There were a number of sword hunts (good read in Japanese too) in Japanese history, the most famous of which was Hideyoshi’s in 1588. Obviously, they were initially used as a mechanism for those in power to secure that power and prevent the potential for uprisings, which is why gun rights advocates occasionally use it as an example of why the 2nd Amendment is an important check against tyranny, but I don’t think the sword hunts can be simplified for either side of the gun debate. However, I do think it did set a precedent for getting rid of weapons, which must have made it easy to enact strong gun laws once Japan modernized.

Australia’s equivalent “gun hunt” after the Port Arthur massacre has had success, even without a sword hunt precedent, showing that things can change. We just need to break the mythical, fictional barrier of “freedom” that’s been set up here and somehow entrenched in the past few decades.

So, please, if you’re American and you’ve ever enjoyed your time in Japan, please take a moment to write your elected representatives on all levels (federal, state, city), and tell them that you support the Senate filibuster and that you’d like to see them make as strong a stand.

We don’t need to outlaw guns, but we could do much better than where we are now.

How to say “plumber butt” in Japanese, and other random Sunday thoughts


The other day I suddenly remembered the phrase 半ケツ.

I’m not sure what prompted it. I mean, I have as many random sexual thoughts as your average red-blooded American male, but this was not sexual in nature…at least not completely. My boss at the translation company used the phrase often when we had morning meetings. We didn’t have enough chairs, so he would nod at a couple of the ladies that worked in the office and say something like 半ケツで座って. Then they’d share one of the chairs and, literally, “half ass” it.

I’m not sure why I was thinking about the company or about the seats, but I guess it could have had something to do with the visceral nature of the asses. Who knows. Initially I was going to have this post be something about the viral nature of language, about how memory is kind of magical, which is also reflected in the way that kanji shift from blocks made of bits and pieces to larger blurs that carve out space in your mind over the course of your studies, but it turns out 半ケツ is a pretty interesting phrase.

First, ケツ has two options for kanji: 穴 and 尻. You can read more on this Yahoo Chiebukuro post, but this does make for the possibility that ケツの穴 could be written as 穴の穴, which is pretty cool.

Second, 半ケツ also happens to mean “plumber butt” in Japanese. Read more on this blog post. Google Images confirms that this is indeed the case: follow this link at your own discretion (NSFW).

So I guess the real moral of this post is…you just never know.


I shared my most recent Japan Times article on the Facebook group Translators (Japanese<->English) because someone had mentioned the Green Goddess a month or so ago, and strangely enough Jim Breen himself responded! I’m fairly chuffed about this comment:


So now when you look up 面白い there’s a third listing that includes the definition “pleasant; enjoyable; agreeable; fun.” I can’t seem to find an archived version, so I’m not sure exactly how much it’s changed. Can’t seem to find a way to link a specific definition either, so here’s the JDIC top page.

So, yeah, that was cool.

Green Goddess


I’m in The Japan Times today with an article about the wonderful Green Goddess dictionary: “When translation gets tough, bow to the ‘Green Goddess’

If you have the cash, I think it would probably be best to buy a digital version or the 2003 5th Edition, but if you’re a poboy like I was back in 2005 when I picked up my copy, then the 1974 4th Edition is available used on Amazon Japan for extremely reasonable prices.

When I wrote the article, the GG was going for 243 yen plus shipping. As I write this post, there are copies available for 1 yen (with 257 yen for shipping). At that price, it’s worth picking up one just to be a completionist. (Sadly the cheapest one that will ship to the U.S. is quite pricey at over 9,000 yen, so don’t ask me how to get it abroad. Shipping is generally very fast in Japan, so perhaps you could have it shipped to a hotel the next time you visit Japan.)

I mention a couple of times the GG helped me out with a recent translation contest in the article, but just for fun I’ll pick an appropriate entry and compare it with the WWWJDIC and Eijirō offerings.

After a couple of missed starts, I found an entry that I think shows the strengths of the GG: 情け.


It starts by listing the meanings of the word and provides Japanese definitions of those meanings to reinforce the different possibilities.

It then goes on to list common usages divided up by grammatical usage. It feels very organized (obvs.) compared to the Eijirō version. And the definition is so sparse.

Yes, it’s hefty, but it’s very helpful. Highly recommended.

Cool Greeting – おす


I’m in The Japan Times this week: “Jiko-PR gives job seekers a rare chance to brag in Japanese.”

Ostensibly I introduce some 自己PR verbiage, but I really just wanted a chance to talk about エール, which is one of my favorite Japanese words because it feels kind of funny/awkward as a Japanese version of “yell.” (Although not so strange when you think of it as “ale.”)

(This would also make an excellent entry into my series of inequalities: エール ≠ yell, not really.)

Apparently the Japanese native checker at the JT wasn’t sure about my description of the エール, which is a pep rally-type cheer for a team/individual, and after sleuthing on YouTube a bit, I’m starting to realize that エール are different everywhere. I also realized I left out an important element of the cheer at the school where I worked.

The word I left out is おす. Kotobank has a great definition:


When I was at the propeller company (search: propeller), I remember all of the factory guys saying おす/おっす in the morning (when I 出会ったd them on the 道, clearly) and me having no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t have the confidence to imitate them, so I just went with the standard おはようございます and vaguely thought that maybe おはようございます = おはようございます? Which was exactly right, if this dictionary is to be trusted:


It probably would have been fine to use おす with the factory guys, but not with my coworkers in the design section, who didn’t have to sweat nearly as much as those guys.

The おす in the エール also acted as a greeting of sorts. The エール went like this:

1. おす! (Deliverer bows to receiver.)
2. これから_____(team name, individual surnameの/のために)エールを送る!
3. フレー(right arm extended diagonally into air)! (Audience claps three times.) フレー (left arm extended diagonally into air)! (Audience claps three times.)
4. __ __ __ / __ __ __ __ (three- or four-syllable identifier: school name, individual surname/given name, team name; arms bent from elbow in multiple directions along with syllable)!
5. (Deliverer lowers arms to middle of body and then raises them slowly as audience yells, rising in volume, kind of generally in anticipation of the core part of エール)!
6. ウィンウィン__ __ __ / __ __ __ __! (repeated three times by all)
7. (Primal scream with lunge and arm extended forward)!
8. おす! (Deliverer bows to receiver.)

The おす was bread for the エール sandwich, as it were.

So I’m curious about what kind of エール you have witnessed. What were the procedures? When were they used?

In addition to pep rallies, エール were given for departing teachers in the privacy of a 送別会. Generally a fellow teacher in same subject/department was called upon to deliver the cheer. It was a lot of fun to participate by chanting ウィンウィン along with the deliverer, and I secretly always wanted to have the chance to try one but was also relieved I never had to.

Alas, such is the life of an extroverted introvert. Japan’s codified rituals, including エール, can make this easier for some of us, I believe, because they provide more clearly coded social actions.