In the newsletter this month, I took a look at 非外来語のカタカナ表記 (non-gairaigo katakana notation), which is a complicated way of saying “katakana used to write words that are normally written in kanji or hiragana.” I found a very interesting paper on the phenomenon that’s worth a read if you’re interested.
The main idea is that the visual aspect of katakana can be used to provide extra-linguistic nuance to a sentence. I looked specifically at スミマセン, which is usually written as すみません.
This reminded me that there’s an even more casual alternative: ずびばぜん (zubibazen). This is the way that すみません would be pronounced if you were sobbing profusely. Searching on Twitter is one of the best ways to find examples.
Like this mother who is apologizing for breaking a promise to not drink until after her son’s sports festival at school.
I spoke about this and more on the podcast this month. Give it a listen!
I remember vividly learning how to use んだ in Japanese. My third year teacher did a section on storytelling/explaining, and she had us tell different stories over and over again using んだ as a sort of emphasis/explanation when we were setting up some of the details of the story.
This んだ is actually のだ and it has its own dictionary definition. I wrote about it in the newsletter this month and discussed it on the podcast. I found some examples from Murakami (more of which I’ll be looking at during Murakami Fest next month).
These aren’t the best examples. I need to track down some examples from more argumentative/formal writing where the のだ really helps clearly present a conclusion based on a set of reasoning, but I think these examples will help get you into using this pattern both in written and spoken Japanese.
If you’re not already using んだ in your spoken Japanese, I think it’s one of the easier ways to sound natural, but knowing exactly when to deploy it and what exactly does can be very subtle at times. Let me know if this helps!
Last minute notice, but I’ll be participating in an event for SWET (Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators) this Saturday Japan time (Friday evening U.S. time). Really excited to talk about this topic, given that starting this website basically changed my life and set me on the path that guided me to my current career. Without it, I’m not sure what I would’ve ended up doing. It’s difficult to believe that I’ve been posting here for 15 years as of this month/next month. Here’s to 15 more.
Check out the link to the event here to register.
As the world slowly, incessantly falls apart, I’ve been trying to expand my writing opportunities and started a monthly How to Japanese newsletter. I won’t be posting it here each month, but I did want to give it a plug in the main feed in case anyone is interested in subscribing. It will generally include a short piece about Japan/Japanese and something about beer/brewing followed by links/plugs.
I started in September with a look at an inspirational phrase from Higashimura Akiko’s manga alongside an ode to the local homebrew shop. October will have a more actionable piece of language for your business needs and a specific yeast recommendation.
Hope you subscribe and share!
Quick update for June aimed at any travelers headed to Japan this summer!
The best place to pick up post cards in Japan is at the Post Office, and one of the best post offices is the Tokyo Central Post Office, just opposite the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station. You can walk around and do your shopping at the Maruzen nearby along with all the great Tokyo station shopping, and then you can pick up post cards, have a coffee while you write them, and drop them in the mail.
They have the very cool postcard set featuring famous sights in a kind of simplified cartoon style. For a while they offered only the old school Japanese postbox, but now it’s expanded to include sights across the country. Stop in the local post offices while traveling to see what’s on offer.
And they have a variety of nicely designed postcards celebrating the history of the Japanese Post Office with really nicely styled post cards.
There are also great souvenirs to bring home as you can see above. Bags, magnets, and other goods. I came home with two magnets.
And don’t forget to ask for nice stamps. There’s almost always something cool, even if it means your stamps exceed the actual cost of postage. They had a Mario set that I regret not asking for, although I did get to use 風神 and 雷神 stamps, which was cool.
I was in the Japan Times this week with a tutorial on how to teach yourself Japanese that you’ve never learned before (a task that perhaps sounds easy until you think about it for a second…): “OK Google, auto-fill the gaps in my Japanese.”
I changed jobs recently, and I’ve been using more Japanese in my day-to-day thanks to this (somewhat ironically, given the last place where I worked…I’ll leave you to Google this).
I’ve been writing a lot of emails, and I’m often forced to fend for myself as the only Japanese speaker in the office. I’ve gotten fairly adept at using Google to piece together different fragments into what are (hopefully) near-native sentences.
One example that I didn’t have space for in the article was the excellent kanji compound 出欠 (shukketsu, presence or absence), which is a compound made up of opposite words.
I located this compound by searching for 参加するかどうか (sanka suru ka dō ka, be able to attend or not) plus 敬語 (keigo, polite speech). I was eventually able to track down a useful sentence with this phrase after some Google sleuthing and then isolating the phrase “出欠のご返事を” (shukketsu no gohenji o, a reply with your RSVP).
That led me to this sentence, which I used in an email: 出欠のご返事をいただけると幸いです (Shukketsu no gohenji o itadakeru to saiwai desu, We would appreciate it if you could reply with your attendance).
Pretty useful technique. This is the website I found, by the way. It has some excellent examples that are very useful in business emails.
I noticed on Twitter that Tomo brought up some other interesting Google autofill examples, including a way to explore Japanese curiosities about foreigners. The thread is worth checking out.
ご無沙汰しています！ I was in the Japan Times last week and this week looking at correspondence, letters and emails respectively:
“‘Tis the season for ‘tegami’ — and for facing your Japanese letter-writing fears”
“To email in Japanese, take a layer cake of etiquette and stuff it with meaning.”
There is so much more I have to say about both of these topics that I couldn’t squeeze into the articles and unfortunately I don’t have time to write at greater length at the moment, but I do want to point out (sadly) how useful ご無沙汰 (gobusata) is as a potential correspondent.
I’ve known how to use this phrase for a while but was not familiar with the origin, so I looked for Yahoo Chiebukuro (of course), and it has a straightforward post that seems to make sense with some of the Japanese dictionaries that I’ve checked against – 沙汰 became news, notification, report, and 無 reflected a lack of such reportage, thus, “I apologize for not being in touch.” This post has a useful explanation of the difference with 久しぶり and also introduces the cool word 音沙汰 (otosata) as well as a few set ways to use ご無沙汰.
I hate to post and run, but I’ll have to get into further details in the future.
取り急ぎ (Another phrase I wanted to introduce!)