white ≠ ワイト

My first winter vacation living in Fukushima, I spent a week in Tokyo staying with my friend Thomas. He had come to Tokyo with his girlfriend shortly after graduating, and not long before I visited they split up, forcing him to move out into a guest house in Kanda. He was incredibly generous with his space (of which he had very little), and I spent the week shopping, drinking, and dancing.

When we were out one night, I helped a guy order a White Russian. When I walked up to the bar, I was standing behind the guy, and I noticed that he was having trouble communicating with the Japanese bartender. He kept on repeating “White Russian” over and over in a vaguely Japanese accent – ワイトロシアン, ワイトロシアン, ワイトロシアン.

Having been in his position before, I knew exactly what he was doing wrong. I leaned over, offered to help, and had the bartender reaching for the Stoli and Kahlua with a single extra syllable – ホ. The guy clearly expected the Japanese pronunciation of “white” to be ワイト, when it is actually ホワイト.

There are a couple Yahoo Chiebukuro pages that try to answer the question, but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer other than ホワイト more accurately captures the pronunciation, which suggests that it may be an English pronunciation error on my part – maybe I’m not pronouncing “white” snootily enough? What’s certain is that the ホ-spelling is so natural and widespread – used in everything from white collar and white chocolate to Pokemon White – that the locals don’t think twice about it. Which means you shouldn’t either. Get used to it and you’ll save yourself time next time you’re at the bar.

Sandra Japandra‘s recent encounter with vermouth and its unexpected (from an English point of view) pronunciation ベルモット reminded me of this ホワイト incident. These are two good examples of another way that foreign loan words can be tricky: even when the Japanese word does equate to the object in the foreign language and not some other thing entirely, the pronunciation is not always exactly the same as in the English (unless it is…in which case I’m just a linguistically evolved youth and have shed this silly ホ in English). You can try to use the trick that some of my middle school Spanish classmates used when they “need-o to use-o el bano” and Japanify all the words you don’t know, but this is not recommended. Pay attention to yer katakanas and read all those syllables.

サークル ≠ circle (Join my 会話サークル!)

Well, I’ve been on Google+ now for a week or so, and it’s pretty cool. You can find me here, and my Public posts will probably be along the same lines as my Twitter feed.

I still haven’t made any major adjustments to my Circles just yet, but I’m about to start sorting them into Input and Output Circles, interest group Circles, ridiculous GIF poster Circles, et ceteraz.

I imagine that in the near future there will be public Circles or at least publicly visible Circles, so I’d like to create some useful ones for students of Japanese that I plan to open up publicly when/if that feature becomes available. One of the biggest problems for me back in New Orleans is that there are only just over 100 Japanese folks in the whole state of Louisiana, and only one of these 100 is willing to speak with me on a regular basis: I need Japanese speaking partners. The Google+ “Hangout” feature is a perfect way for groups to get together and practice speaking Japanese.

I plan on having three Circles at first – 日本語サークル初級, 日本語サークル中級, and 日本語サークル上級. I’m thinking this all up on the spot, so I’m not sure exactly how it will work, but the basic idea is to get a group of folks together who are at a similar ability level to speak Japanese. For the beginners, I’ll try and give explanations and keep things simple. Intermediate folks I think should focus on speaking more accurately and increasing the sentence patterns they can use actively. And the advanced folks can chat about whatever they want.

Maybe I’ll have set times during the week to host hangouts. Maybe I’ll just do it randomly (more likely). Who knows. So let me know if you want in to one of these speaking Circles, and if so, which Circle you would like to be placed in. You can either DM me on Twitter, email me, or leave a comment on my Google+ feed and I’ll sort you out. Ideally you’ll be able to add yourself to these Circles in the future.

I don’t plan on spamming any of these circles with anything except the actual Hangouts themselves, so you can join with the assurance that I won’t be overfilling your G+ streams.

And a wee Japanese lesson for you today as well. Did you notice the pun above? In Japanese サークル is based on the English word “circle,” but サークル ≠ circle. The Google images evidence is overwhelming: サークル, circle. サークル in fact means “club.” Schools, particularly universities, use the term to refer to student-run interest groups. When I studied abroad, I helped teach an 英会話サークル. Basically, I’ve made サークル Circles.

So, once again, mind yer inequalities.

Cool Word – キャッシュオン

I have an article online today over at CNNGo Tokyo. I give a brief introduction to 和製英語 (わせいえいご) and list a few of my favorites. One of these is キャッシュオン, which is a shortened form of キャッシュオンデリバリー. I learned the phrase at Dry Dock, but Ushitora also has キャッシュオン events. I love the way the word sounds, and it’s a lot of fun to overpronounce it. Although, whenever I say it now, I say it with a Cajun accent, a la Cajun Man.

While I’m here, I should go ahead and do a mini-rinkage post.

Big (only) in Japan? Oshibori

I’ve had a bit of reverse culture shock since I’ve been home. The most notable shock has been shoes in the house. Hate it. After that, I guess it’s a toss up between cash-less shopping, the frigid temperatures people in New Orleans keep their ACs set at, and eating food with hands. For the first few weeks I felt a weird sensation of never having enough money on me. In Japan, not having enough cash can have serious consequences – like having to walk home a really long ways or go hungry/thirsty for longer than is pleasant. I’ve gotten over it thanks to my debit card, which can be used just about everywhere in the U.S. I’ve also realized why people bring sweaters to the library – the library is super cold! Come on, people, 68F is not a normal inside temperature. The other weird sensation I have is that my hands are constantly dirty. Part of this is due to the lack of chopsticks, part of this is do to the prevalence of hand feedin’, and part of it is due to the lack of oshibori. I seriously miss oshibori.

号外 – The Latest on Farting

Interesting discussion about farts happening on my Google Buzz import of this post. When I wrote my rules for kanji compounds, I knew that the VERB + DIRECT OBJECT was in the Chinese order, but I didn’t know much more than that. Roy from Mutantfrog pointed out that some Japanese words are in this order but were actually created by Japanese people – sort of like 和製英語 for Chinese. The actual term for this is 和製漢語.

Chen then pointed out that 放屁 is actually Chinese in origin:

Very interesting. I have heard of 和製漢語 before but never ever thought so many modern Chinese words actually came from Japan. From the Chinese article linked in that wikipeida page: Yan Fu, the most famous Chinese scholar and translator in 1800s, lost his battle to Japanese translators when trying to translate modern western science and social words to Chinese. According to the author, “Yan Fu understood Chinese too well and was pursuing perfect combination of sound, rhythm, meaning and elegance. Yan’s translation used quaintly old-fashioned Chinese which was very hard for regular people. He himself even said he only considered highly educated people as his readers. While Japanese scholars/translators did not pay too much attention on those constraints but rather focused on ease of understanding, their translation were simple and straightforward. With competitor like this, it’s no wonder that Yan’s translation was abandoned”.

The word 放屁 (Fang Pi) appeared in several Chinese books/articles long before Qing Dynasty, when the “counter-import” of Chinese from Japan mostly occurred, not that I’m proud of but I think it has to be a Chinese word originated in China. It also has the meaning of “talking nonsense”, like BS in English.

And Isaac also added an important comment regarding usage:

Oh no, you gotta watch out when using this word, cos you don’t want to get it confused with the “other” ほうひ(包皮)- foreskin

放屁 is a word that is fun to recognize and understand, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say you should never try using it yourself. There are much more natural ways to pass gas.

You can find me on Buzz here. My Buzz feed incorporates this page as well as my Twitter feed.

Monday Puzzle – Can you handle it? – Answer

There are two bathrooms in my apartment – one off the main living room, and the other connected to the sink area in front of the shower. My roommates hardly ever use it, so it always sits in the back of our apartment unloved (except by my hairy ass). There is a funny little sign right above the handle:



So the correct answer was in the bathroom. Several people came up with the right location for the sign, but the winner this week is Akaki. He was the only one who came up with the correct derivation of the phrase – I misread a て as the question mark and the Japanese period as the question mark’s little dot. Nice work! I owe you a beer, Akaki!

Monday Puzzle – Can you handle it?

Due to popular demand, the puzzle lives again! This time on Mondays. We’ll see how long I can keep this up.

I’m currently sharing an apartment with 5-6 other people (things are in…flux). We live in a 5DK apartment above a chicken butcher, so they affectionately call the apartment 鳥ハウス. It’s a short walk from a station that is only two stops from where I work. Living with young Japanese people has been the highlight of my move to Tokyo, and I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve a place this great. (I found the room on roomshare.jp, which I highly recommend to anyone looking for a place to live.)

Shortly after I moved in, I discovered the following sign somewhere in the apartment:


When I first saw it I was extremely confused. I knew what it meant because of the placement of the sign, but what was up with that question mark? After looking at it for a while, I had that なるほど moment and finally realized what it meant.

The puzzle this week is to tell me 1) where in the apartment I found it and 2) what was actually written.

The prize if you win? One can of 100% barley malt beer – e.g. Ebisu, Suntory Malts, Asahi Premium. (New rule: you must physically track me down and demand your beer to redeem it.)

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.

Cool Language Thing – 並び


Here’s a cool language thing I learned on TV and have heard used at work. I was watching Mecha-ike at some point and Okamura was joking about how much he wanted to be paid to do a certain job. (It may have been when he was doing the wedding MC “offer” [Sadly all the YouTube video links on that page are dead, but there is still explanation of different Mecha-ike skits, including “offers”].) He said he wanted to be paid 2並び (にならび). Fortunately for me there are tons of subtitles on Japanese TV and they displayed “¥22,222,” so I instantly knew that 2並び literally means “2 lined up.” Not lined up forever but in the basic Japanese counting unit – the ten thousand.

This works for any number: 11,111 (1並び), 22,222, 33,333 (3並び), 44,444 (4並び), 55,555 (5並び), etc all the way up to 9. Apparently we use it at work as a guarantee for narrators. Should we book a narrator for a job and then have the client cancel last minute, the narrator would still get their guarantee, which would be some number in this X並び format. Most excellent stuff.

I think the way Okamura used it is typical of the pattern – it’s a semi-arbitrary large amount of money but not always in the realm of impossibility.

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 Compound – 回文


The omiyage industry in Japan is ridiculous. Millions of cookies and cakes are created every year so people in Japan can feel less guilty about taking time off. Check out this list of 銘菓 (めいか) – “famous confections” – on Wikipedia. In what is basically a desperate cash grab, these companies will do almost anything to stand out. One of my personal favorite omiyage has a unique name – ごまたまご:


As the name suggests, it’s an egg with sesame-flavored filling:



It’s pretty tasty, but more notable for the name which also happens to be a palindrome, a 回文 (かいぶん) in Japanese.

Other Japanese palindromes? トマト. まさこさま. And 世の中ね、顔か、お金か、なのよ.

バイク ≠ bike

バイク    =  bike1

bike        = bike2

This one confuses a lot of people, and it frustrates the hell out of me when translators are unable to take a step back and realize that the villain/whoever is not pulling up on his/her ママチャリ and giving the bell a ring. It’s tempting to translate バイク the way it sounds, but it is not in fact bike or bicycle – it’s motorcycle. A quick Google Images search confirms that there are no hits for anything even slightly resembling a 自転車 in the top hits. Remember, when in doubt, plugging a term into Google Images is a useful way to see what is associated with the term.