Thursday, December 9, 2010


waifu, wife.

This year again, two Japanese scientist received the Nobel Prize. TV news reports them from various angles. The family life naturally became a popular topic, and interestingly enough, both of them refer to their wives as ワイフ in Japanese. Particularly because the way of their speaking are extremely gentle and polite, their manners made this choice of word stands out.

When I started to learn Japanese, I was told by my teacher that the correct way to refer to one's wife was 家内(かない). Later, I realized that some one tend to use 妻(つま) in order to avoid the traditional color from such a word. A few years ago, I was surprised to hear my colleague with a high education referred his wife in 奥さん. Now, there is a new variation jointed to this list.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


nau, "now".

Each year on this day, Dec. 1st, the announcement of "new words of the year" becomes a major news from Japan, a wonderful way to reflect the changing of the language in this rapid moving time, and to see in how little we know of the current trends in Japan. This year, among the Top Ten, more than half of them never became my knowledge, and なう。 stands out. The official site states that this became popular due to the use of Twitter, and the reason that people like it seems to be that it is written in hiragana, not in katakana as for normal foreign words.

In the Japanese class, I still have to explain to students the difference between ね, よ, な. Then, here is なう, in a total different context. To my mind, the charming point for the use of なう is because that it is placed at the end of a sentence. It is such "not" Japanese, and in a certain degree, it destroying the order of the language.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010


menzu, "men's".

Clearly this is not the only word to indicate "male's", or things those are belong to males. Comparing with many other similar words, such as "男の", "男性の", this term presents a sort of high sense of popularity. Examples of compound words include "メンズファッション (fashion)", "メンズスタイル (style)", "メンズブランド (brand)", "メンズバッグ (bag)", etc.. A visitor to Japan may often be attracted by such a sign at an elegant department store.

Even though, when I found out a word associated with "What's Today" (Sept. 14th), I am still surprised. "メンズバレンタインデー". This one never join in my vocabulary list by now.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010



A radio program which I am listening to it every day now launchs a short announcement and repeats it all the time. "rettsu-pouto" is the highlight, but I had a trouble to understand it. I can see that it is a pure word-play, and the creator has little interest to spread out this one as a new expression. Still, I want to know what does it mean. After quite a few days, now I suddenly saw the answer -- it aims "repouto (report)", thus this word should be translated as "Let's (carry out our) report". I hope that I had a right answer here.

Japanese pronounciation confuses the sounds "R" and "L". Here we have a rather unique example to show this fact in an extream situation.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010


jisui, "self-cooking".

Living in Japan alone, one would often be asked whether or not do "自炊", to cook for yourself. Needless to say the opposite word to this is外食, no matter it is at a formal restaurant, or at a school cafeteria.

100602However, I found a totally different way to use 自炊, and it ha s nothing to do with cooking at all. It related to a way to deal with books --- buy a book for yourself, cut it into separated pages, use a special document scanner to scan it into a digital file, then keep it in your computer and read it on your monitor. There is even a manual to explain all the details and tell you what is good and what is bad for this series of actions.

Japanese wikipedia states clearly that this is a "slang". As to me, I do not see any connection between the word and the action. It is rather a random choice of a word, or a sort of code.


Sunday, May 30, 2010


kinshi-suru, "to prohibit".

This is a very common concept, and in a social life one has be face many and various prohibitions. Today I saw a sign on a toilet door to remind customers not bring a merchandise into there. However, the expression comes with this one was rather extraordinary. In stead of using "する", this sign says "禁止させていただいております". I started to think how shall I explain this one to my young students, and in fact, whether or not it is possible.

I guess one may want to argue that this is a Japanese honorific expression. However, does a customer indeed received a respect through this expression?


ippon-jime, "to clap hands once to close (an event)".

After a cheerful party with a large number of local students, the organizer asked every one to stand in a circle and to do "一本締め". It is a new experience to many of those Japanese learners. A few asked me in a true interest, some worried whether or not it is a sort of ritual, and a few have already opened their electronic dictionaries. Certainly they found out the answer very soon.

On the way back to my accommodation, I saw another group of students to practice this one outdoor. It is a scene of student life in a spring night. However I was rather surprised to be ware that many dictionaries do not have an entry for this word.


kariremasu, "(one) can borrow".
On Thursday, I had a chance to visit an elementary school and was treated by Grade 6 students very warmly. At the school lunch, I was able to ask a few questions to a group of 6 students. Before that, I saw a sign with "かりれます" on a door of a reading room. According to the current language rule, this is a colloquial expression and the proper writing form should be "かりられます". I then asked the students if they were aware that language rule. To my surprise, not only they did not agree with me, most of them replied to me with a great confidence: "かりられます" is not the expression for that, but it is an honorific expression(!).

I am not sure if this only dues to the fact that a child in early 10th does not know all the language rules, or it is another sign that Japanese honorific expression becomes to play less importance in the real life.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


debyu-, "a debut".

I learned this word back to the time while I was a graduate student, when I was going to publish my first journal article. It was not only a new word to me, much more, it was a new concept which I never had before.

Although this word has the same meaning to its use in English, however a few combination further generated are rather very much Japanese. Examples include 公園デビュー, a new mother with her baby joins her neighbors in a park, 高校デビュー, a youth changes his/her personal character after enter into a high school. I have to say that I know these words only by knowledge but have little real experience.

Monday, May 24, 2010


shin-gao, "a new face".

Many students told me that one fascinating thing about an intensive study abroad experience is to meet many new faces day after a day. It certainly due to the hospitality of the host organizer and kind young local students. There, this word came to my mind. 新顔 means "a new face". However it just can not be used in a situation described above. An underline understanding with this word is to refer a new one who is expected to grow into a regular member, but not some one who is new and may well disappear easily. Further more, this word is often used in a metaphorical manner, such as to refer a new type of product.

Thus the opposite word here is not "old-face", rather it is 常連 (jou-ren) which means a regular member.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


ruupii, "loopy".

Needless to say, in English this is an unrefined expression. In fact I rarely had a chance to hear any one used this word in the real life. However, this now may newly join into Japanese. At this moment, it has a very limited usage, that is to criticize the Prime Minister. It first appeared on an American news column, and somehow it matches the frustration that many people feel about this political leader, and two days ago, a member of the Diet even shouted it while the Prime Minister was making a speech in the Diet.

New katakana words are created all the time. Here, we are observing one unique moment.

Friday, May 21, 2010


manga, "a harrow".

100520I had a chance to visit a local museum related to traditional folk houses. Among various displays, I found this word on a information sign. I was quite sure that this has very little to do with a cartoon which heavely atrracts young Japanese learners, but I did not know what does it mean. With a help by the guide, I was able to locate the real item, as on the right picture. Back to home, with a further search, now I know that it is acctually the word 馬鍬 ("horse-harrow"), which is originally read as まぐわ.

In this case, writing in kanji may be a much better help. Although writing in katakana emphasize the way of pronunciation, it obvious lacks for carrying out essential information.



100519I knew this word before. With two characters  of "raise" and "life", this word means "to take good care of oneself" or "to improve one's health", such as to have a proper living style or to avoid drinking alcohol. However, I was surprised by two signs while walking around. One was to keep people off from a grass by saying the grass is under 養生, and the other was stood beside an elevator. Although it is possible to imagine the meaning for the former, but I see very little meaning about the latter. Apparently it is a standard use, indicates that some temparary protections were provided to an elevator, such as during a heavy use for a moving.

I believe that this interesting extension to this word reflects people's appreciation to the environment and to their tools.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


kouteieki, "aphtae epizooticae".

This term now is on newspapers and TV new all the time, with a great shock and frighten. The main arae that is attacked by this disaster is in the southern part of Japan, and by now some over 100 thousand cows have been killed in order to prevent further infection.

This horrable animal illness does have a obvious sign in their mouths and hooves. However, this name in Japanese rather misleading for people who do not have enough knowledge. One tends to feel that something wrong related to a mouth or hooves have a minor damage. Maybe for a case like this, a katakana word could acctually work better to convey a message of the seriouness of this situation?

Monday, May 17, 2010



010518Accompanying with students, I took a trip to a hot spring ammusement park. It gave me a few very relaxed moment. Watching beatiful steam raising from the pool, this term natually came to my mouth. However, when I told it to my students, I realized that "steam" was my only choice in English. 湯気 is steam, but there are also other wrods in Japanese mean "steam", including スチーム and 水蒸気. Thus I experienced a moment of frustration for not being able to find a better word to describe the scenery in front o f me.

I understand that this certainly does not become an evidance to argue that Japanese has richer vocabulary, although I can imagine that many may want to jump into that conclusion without a second thought.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


kanban, "(street) sign".

As a learning assignment, I requested students to write their weekly report and post it to the Internet. With a fresh eye to look into Japan, young students indeed have found many interesting facts about the language and the culture unique in today's Japan. This week, I am especially amazed by one post in the Blog dealing with "Engrish". Please take a look. My observation was, rather than English translation, there is much more to say on the Japanese sentences. In fact, to my mind it has come to a stage that I can not tell wether or not it is only a translation of English in the first place. They all do not "sound" like Japanese. Certainly people may argue that it is the "impact" that a public sign was aiming for.

Many regret about rapid language changes. Compare many other expressions or behevious, I do not see this kind of attempt may represent a future of Japanese.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


manifuesuto, "a manifesto".

I read a rather interesting news today: to prepare for the coming national election in the summer, a new party is considering not using the word マニフェスト to promote their political issues, but instead, to use the word アジェンダ (agenda) ! The reason for this decision is rather unexpected. Accordingly, this party feels that the current ruling party, DPJ, has generated a negative feelings surround this term, in a sense that issues in a manifesto would never be carried out in real. Thus the new party wants to avoid this word.

I still recall the time that マニフェスト suddenly became popular and I was such confused by it. Now it is a word that every one knows about it, and it seems that politicians are ready to abandon it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


kamadoka, a name for a chain store of Japanese bar.

100512I have to confess that I had a trouble to read this store signboard on treet. I was able to tell the first three kana, mainly b ased on the knowledge of the word かまど which means a traditional cooking stove, natually means a kitchen here, but I was not sure if the last character was "ya" or "ka". In this case, both may mean "a house", but the former is Japanese oriented word and the latter is Chinese oriented. Thus "kamado" matchs "ya" much better. Only by watching closely I was able to find out that there are roman letters come with this store name, and the correctly reading was not "ya".

As a store name, one has all the reasons to make up a word, as long as it is catching. The fact that it does not follow a common language rule may indeed well support that gole.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


tei-pi-o-, "time, place and occasion".

During a conversation with her Japanese friend, a student was told and patiently explained this word, TPO. However she was still not able to understand the point, and seeked for a further explanation from me. Unfortunately I am totally out of clue, never heard this word before. Again I checked online dictionaries and confirmed with other young Japanese students. Surely there is a such word and it is reasonabaly widely used in certain circumstance. Obviously this is another "KY word", and in fact I even wrote about this language phenomenon in a very general sense somewhereelse.

I can imagine that the Japanese student must have tried hard to find out a new word to show visitors from Canada. However it seems to me that this is rather too special to present core features of Japanese.


Monday, May 10, 2010


dameja-, "it is bad."

Visiting Japan as a guest, one will find out many words are new, fresh, often being amazed by the sense of creation. ダメジャー is one of them. This is a title for a unique section on a Sunday's TV program. It deals with Japanese baseball players' activities in MLB. In Japanese, MLB is メジャー, and by adding ダ in front, now it is dame-ja, "(it) is bad". A wonderful word-play with a good humor.

However, on-line dictionaries tell us that this is actually one of a few usages in this word. Others includs ways of use to refer horse-racing and online games. I am wonderig who first invented this word.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


barabara, "fall in pieces".

In the first night with my students in Tokyo, some 12 of us went to a local restaurant where young students are major customers. Students were trying their limited language skills, and were excited for being treated politely such as かしこまりました. On the other hand, while expected to be divided into different tables, I was interested to know what word that the polite clerk would choose to express it, and was rather surprised to find out that ばらばらwas the one. I guess that this must be a situation that an employee manual failed to cover.

Eventually the clerk moved two couples to different tables and had our large group settled down in the same place. Her real treatment was far more polite than her word of choice to my mind.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


happou, "eight-directions".

This is a continuation to the previous topic. To discrib the Prime Minister's Okinawa visit, a popular news colum applied this word. It argues, the Prime Minister has been trying to be 八方美人, "being everybody's friend", but it only ended up with 八方ふさがり, "being hemmed on all sides", and may even be 八方やぶり, "being vulnerable to every kind of sttacks". It was obviously an incisive comment.

In the Chinese as well as the Japanese tradition, "eight directions" has little to do with the modern concept of 3D or 4D. Rather, it literally means dirctions of N-E-S-W and NW-SW-SE-NE.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010


negau, "desire", "entreat".

The Prime Minister of Japan today visited Okinawa to pursue a rather difficult political decision. TV news programs followed all his activities and reported his sincere speeches. It seems that the Prime Minister has prepared not only his message, but even his expressions before hand. He used the same word repeatly to different groups of people. The word was 願う, and it was used in ways such as 願いたい, 願わざるをえない, 願えないか, etc.. It was indeed in a rich variation, provided with an astonishment.

This word is a formal term. Here to apply general rules to a polit expression already made it unfamiliar, and further more it was spoken by the Prime Minister. I have to say that the gap between the picture and the voice was rather big.

Monday, May 3, 2010


dorinku, "drink".

In the cl ass today, I had time to watch some short pieces of TV news with studnets. At a moment,, while talking about selected advertisements for targeted people, it was described that to show ドリンク to tired business persons. This confused many of the young learners -- don't we all need drinks, and how a bussines man reserved a special seat there? The answer is simple. In a real life in Japan, this word is 100503not used to refer to normal drinks such as watter or coffee, but rather those of special types, especially those we normally called "power drinks" in this part of the world.

A short katakana word may be easy to remember and casual to use. However, one has to pay attention if such a word may have a quite different way of usage.

Friday, April 30, 2010


necchurippu, "enthusiasm-tulip".

100430This is a name for a TV program character. The program is still very new, thus this character is far from well known. As a such, this word never existed by now, and it is an artificial product. Here, the way of the creation is rather interesting. The keyword for the program is 熱中 (ねっちゅう), enthusiasm. Then, a popular flower related to this sound is チューリップ, tulip. Here these two words jointed together in a way that the second half of the first word became the first half of the second word. Smart.

For an audience, the above structure may not be clear at the first moment, but there is little doubt that most Japanese speakers understand it easily. The longer of the moment for one to get the answer, the stronger impact that he/she may receive.


Thursday, April 29, 2010


furi- pe-pa-, "free paper".

100429In today's classroom, a group of students presented their preliminary research on Japanese marking, and in a show-and-tell style, they brought in a number of items that they collected from Japan, including free newspaper and magazines. These are under the category of free publications, or フリーペーパー, a "fake" English term invented in Japan.

One character of today's katakana words in Japanese is to indicate a new concept, and present a tone which is foreien. However in this case, unexpectedly it is in fact a good challege for a English speaker to understand it and it may take a moment to figure out what does it exactly means.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


issei me-ru, "together-mail".

This word appeard on a title from today's newspaper. It never came to my knowledge before, however it is easy to understand: an e-mail being sent to multi receivers at the same time. It took me some time to find out its English equivalence, with a help, I came to the word "mass email". On the other hand, it is obvious that the newpaper artical writer does not believe that this word may be fully understood by all readers, thus in the article, this was carefully expressed in a longer statement, "一斉にメールを...".

We need new words to describe new phenomena. Keep that in mind, it is not hard to find many interesting examples, and this word is one of them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


koikatsu, "love-activity".

100427These days, 婚活(こんかつ) has become a popular word, reffering various arrangements and activities for finding one's partner to marry with. Because of that, 恋活 has been created as a further extension. Here, instead of finding one to build a family, this term indicates activities to find her boyfriend or his girlfriend. It can be considered as an earlier stage for a marriage, and the people involved here are natuarlly much younger and innocent.

However, while making a boyfriend /girlfriend has become a designed task, somehow is has run away from the original and fundamental meaning of 恋. Even more, one may want to argue that love and arranged activities are two different type of things, there is little sense to mix these two together.


Monday, April 26, 2010


100426 sumoggu, "smog".

This word appeared on today's NHK news. It was not used alone, but came with a unique combination, 光化学(こうかがく)スモッグ. It is a very new word to me, and dictionaries tell me that this a translation to the term "photochemical smog", a type of pollution reported from some 60 years ago, and now became to occur in Japan. Obviously it is a new environmental challenge to people today, and it may have to involve a great effort for international cooperation to overcome it in the future.

Come to the language, this is certainly a easy term to people who understand English. It is such a short word, and the pronunciations both are very similar. However, we certainly can not expect that all Japanese natives have such knowledge. As for the concept of smog, we have wonderful expressions in Japanese, including 霧(きり) or 煙霧(えんむ). What is the point to introduce a new term here to confuse us?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


yasu-kawa, "cheap-cute". It is a short expression of 安くて、可愛い.

This word appeared on 日本産経新聞 (Oct 10, 2009). It is reported that this is a new trend for the youth, as under the current global economic difficulties, they no longer seek for spending a great amount of money for clothes. As an example, there is a color photo of a young boy waering a pair of boots which costs him some $1500, and all the rest clothes are all in the rang of $10 or $20. Accordingly this is a typical case of 一点豪華, or "one item only luxurious".

I have to say that it is beyond my knowledge. To my understanding, personal characters such as cuteness or kindness and a price tag for clothing belong to totally different categories. It never came cross my mind to apply money to meagure personality. After all, it is hard to imagine an "expensive cuteness" in the first place.