Monthly Archives: February 2014

What if your blog could get 20x more viewers for a day? [Aside]

Regardless of  your motivations behind blogging – communicate with friends, self-expression, business/moneymaking, I’d wager that there are very few people who wouldn’t enjoy a boost in viewers. More people checking out your blog translates to more potential likes, comments, and followers.

I’ve been running this blog only a few months, and have gotten great feedback in terms of followers and comments, at least when comparing to my previous WordPress blog attempt.  But this newfound popularity got the better of me, and I wanted more – so I decided recently to advertise my blog on a few websites.

My strategy was pretty simple – I searched for “self taught Japanese” on Google, and advertised my site on any forums I found in the top 50 hits or so. I wasn’t expecting too much, but my daily hits were so low (10-15 average per day) so I thought I didn’t have much to loose.

Within a few hours of doing my advertising I checked my statistics, and suddenly I had 50 views. A look at the referrers showed me much of the traffic was coming from one of the boards I advertised too, though there was a few hits from other ones as well.

Things started getting out of control fast and that 50 views doubled, then doubled again. I got a WordPress notification that my per-hour stats were going crazy, which was fun since I didn’t even know that existed.

By the time the day had ended, I had over 400 views, with over 250 of those unique sources. Overall the traffic was easily 20x over what I usually get.

During this whole time I was ecstatic, checking the stats every few minutes to see how high it would go. In a strange way it reminds me of gambling as I think back on it now.

But as I expected this trend couldn’t continue forever. The next day I got ~300 views, then ~100, and gradually less after that. Once the smoke cleared, I stopped and thought about what I really got out of this whole thing.

I had gotten a few new followers (not more than 5) and two or three comments from new people, and maybe one or more likes than I normally got on an average day. But that was it. No calls from the president saying I was invited to the white house to talk about my blog which was sweeping the US with it’s popularity, and really no major impact on my life.

One of the lessons here is that oftentimes we wish for something without really thinking about the next steps. Dreaming “If I could only have….” is great, until we actually get it and realize our satisfaction lasts only days, or hours. So we think of a loftier goal, hoping that this time we’ll get true satisfaction and be able to “really achieve” something. If I had my blog set up in a fashion so I could make money, maybe I’d have gotten a few extra dollars out of this experience, if that.

As I think about this again, I realize that the most rewarding thing was that this site was ‘up voted’ by at least 15-20 people on one of the web sites I advertised to, which is where much of the traffic came from. Though my site has since been cycled away and replaced by other more recent posts, I’d appreciative that that many people liked my site enough to vote for it. Also my views per visitor of 1.74 means that on average most people looked at least another page besides the topmost one, so the content was interesting enough to keep them focused for at least a few seconds.

As a final note, up until now I have tried to keep this blog very focused to the topic of Japanese study and related items. However this topic was important enough that I had to break my rule. To keep things clear, I’ve added a new category “Aside” as well as added that to the title so people who want to focus only on Japanese study stuff can do so. I’ll probably have a few more aside-type posts in the near future, though I hope to keep most of my posts on-topic.

What to say in Japanese when you don’t know what to say

Studying a foreign language, there are many times when you get stuck and just don’t know what to say. Sure, you can just mutter a “ちょっと待って” (wait) and clam up for a few seconds to think, but that would set you apart from what a native would do in similar circumstances.

It’s best to give some verbal indication you are thinking, and then if still don’t know what to say at least say *something*, even it’s not the exact phrase you were searching for.

First let’s go over a few words that are used when you are thinking, and roughly correspond to the English words “um…”, “er…”, and “well….”.

  • あの。。。
  • その。。。
  • えっと。。。
  • ん〜〜  (said with mouth closed, sounds like a english “hmmm”)
  • え〜  (more polite)

Next I’ll go over a few phrases that are used when saying “what should I say…” to yourself.

  • なんて言うのかな。。。
  • なんて言ったらいいのかな。。。
  • なんて言えばいいのかな。。。

I think it’s safe to employ any of these even when talking in polite Japanese (敬語), but if you want to be extra careful you can use this:

  • なんて言うんですかね。。。

If you want to inject a short version of one of these into a sentence which you don’t plan on pausing as long, you can use the following expressions:

  • なんて言うか
  • なんつーか  (colloquial slang)

You can use the first expression above to mean “rather”, or when you change your mind about something mid sentence.

  • 日本語は難しいって言うか、とても複雑な言語です。
  • Japanese is a difficult, or should I say very complex language.

The expression “そうだね” or “そうですね” can be used as a conversation filler while you are thinking.

  • ヨーロッパのどこに行きたいんですか?
  • Where do you want to go in Europe?
  • そうですね。。。やっぱりイタリア!
  • Let’s see….. Italy!

A common occurrence in speaking a foreign language is when you hear a new word for the first time, and are clueless about what it means. In cases like this you can use the following phrases: (I’ll give the polite versions)

  • 「タンパク質」って何ですか?
  •  What is “protein”?
  • 「タンパク質」ってどう言う意味ですか?
  • What does “protein” mean?
  • 「タンパク質」って英語でなんて言うんですか?
  •  How do you say “protein” in English?   (of course, you should only use this if the person you are speaking too has a good grasp of English)

If you feel that you can’t express something well but want to try anyway, you can communicate this as follows:

  • うまく言えないんですけど。。。
  • I’m not how to say it properly but….

You can add “日本語で” to the beginning of this expression to emphasize you can’t say it properly “in Japanese”.

Or if you aren’t too sure of something you can say:

  • よく分からないんですけど。。。
  • I’m not sure but…

Here are two expressions that are quite extreme, but you can still use them for dramatic effect once in a while.

  • 言葉にできません。
  • I can’t put it into words.
  • 言葉で言い表せません。
  • I can’t express it in words.

Finally, here is an expression that you can use when the words you are searching for just won’t come to mind.

  • うまく言葉が出てきません
  • The words won’t come to me. (lit. “The words won’t come out well”).

Don’t be fooled by translations

In one of my other blog posts, I mentioned how watching subtitles when studying a foreign language is a bad idea because your brain stops paying attention to the details of the language and takes the easy route to comprehension. There’s actually another major reason to avoid subtitles which I’ve decided to devote this post to.

Lets start out looking at translations in general from the perspective of the translator. What is their primary goal?

Well, it’s to assure the viewer (or reader) has an enjoyable experience, and can follow the important parts of the story in an easy-to-understand fashion. It’s important to understand that converting things line-by-line to perfect translations which capture every nuance from the originl source language is not one of their primary objectives.

This means that translators will often gloss over certain things, emphasize others, change things to make certain elements easier to understand, or even omit things completely if there are major cultural differences they don’t want to introduce into the story. In Japanese, a literal or direct translation is called a 直訳 (chokuyaku) and a overall/conceptual translation is called a 意訳 (iyaku), and its the latter you need to be careful about.

Depending on the medium involved, there are other restrictions which come into play, making it more likely you’ll get an “iyaku” or at least something far from a literal translation. For example, when translating dialog lines that are used for audio dubbing, there is an effort to match the timing and length of each of the words said. This is to avoid something reminiscent of an old Chinese martial arts movie translation, the type people make fun of where the mouth and the words don’t match at all. This can be slightly relaxed for animated features, since the mouth movement is more course, as compared to live action films.

With subtitles, a similar factor comes into play since you don’t want to have a long sentence when the character said only a single short utterance. Sounds and translated words have to be matched as close as possible, though there is significantly more freedom compared to dubbing.

In the manga/comic translation world, you again have a similar restriction because the translated words must fit nicely into the relevant speech bubble(s). If there is a small bubble that doesn’t directly translate to a short word, you still have to put something there.

My main inspiration for this post was watching the 2011 Ghibli animated film “From Up On Poppy Hill” (コクリコ坂から). The English subtitles were some of the most non-literal I’ve seen, with some lines completely different than what was actually being said. At one point I thought that the translator didn’t know what he/she was doing, but then after watching for awhile I realized it was done the mouth synchronization and to aid comprehension. (The movie itself was also pretty boring, and I consider it one of the worst Ghibli films, so I would avoid it unless you are determined to watch every Ghibli film).

If you goal is to enjoy the movie, feel free to turn the subtitles on. Odds are you’ll have a smooth and enjoyable ride. But if you have any interest in the source language and are trying to pick out vocabulary words and phrases, I highly recommended against using subtitles. If you must use them, I’ve found that the bigger films with “professional” translators are more likely to do a conceptual translation, whereas the fan-subbers (fans who write subtitles for work they as passionate about, usually for free) typically do a more literal translation.

References

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1798188/

20 Century Boys: An amazing Japanese comic series

When reading fiction in Japanese, I usually stick to novels over manga (comic books) for several reasons. One is that manga is typically very expensive, with a single episode typically costing 10 dollars or more. Depending on the difficulty level, I can read through one of those in a few hours to a few days. A novel, on the other hand, packs several hundred pages into the same price range, and can last me for weeks if not months.

Another reason is that I’m very picky about comic book art. Even though I generally find Japanese comic art more appealing that American/British, I still get bored quickly from manga which has generic character designs and simplistic backgrounds with little detail. A final reason is that many of the Japanese comic books have stories targeting a younger audience, and just can’t keep my interest for long.

Having said all that, there is one series I have managed to read to the end which I highly recommend for anyone interested in Japanese comics – whether they want to enjoy it in English or Japanese.  It’s called “20th Century Boys” (20世紀少年 in Japanese) and is written by Naoki Urasawa (浦沢直樹).

The basic elements of the story, on their own, are not that unique: a group of close friends, an enemy out to take over the world, a cult, and (of course) a giant robot or two. But one thing that makes this series unique and interesting is many references to classic rock (including the title which comes from T.Rex’s song of the same name), and some classic manga and anime. I’d go further to say the element of ‘nostalgia’ is one of the best central themes this work, which ironically keeps it very fresh and entertaining.

This sense of nostalgia is infused into the story via a series of plot threads, in the past, present, and the future. The story starts out as a basic whodunnit mystery but becomes more complex as we see scenes from the characters’ childhoods, including their hopes and dreams about the future, and some important things that relate back to the main story. Besides seeing Japan from a few decades ago, we also get to learn in depth about each character and how they each interrelate to one another. I feel that many Japanese works of fiction have an over-reliance on flashbacks, but this is one exception where I feel it is a critical element that really makes the story shine.

As things progress, mysteries unfold and then deepen again through a long chain of interrelated events. As one puzzle is solved, another one, even bigger in scale, fills its place. The pacing and timing is really superb, so that when you finish one book you’re itching to read the next. This is one reason I was able to finish this series – It was well worth every penny that I shelled out on it.

In terms of the art style, though the character designs themselves aren’t particularly unique, the backgrounds (especially at chapter transitions) can get very detailed to the point where I would sit for moments and stare at some of them, admiring their beauty. There are very few manga, or any comic books for that matter, that have this level of detail. If you know of any, please let me know.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but I’ll just say this is an epic masterpiece that really has so much going for it: great pacing, characters with depth, action, drama, suspense, nostalgia, and – last but not least – good ol’ rock and roll. For any fan of Japanese manga, this is a must-read.

There was even a trilogy of movies made of 20th Century Boys which did a great job of capturing the story (though without adding much), and took advantage of a great cast. Of course, I never advocate seeing the movie first if you plan on ever reading the original work.

This series originally ran in Japan from 1999-2006 in “Big Comic Spirits”, a weekly seinen magazine targeting older males 20-25, but wasn’t released in English until 2009-2012.  If there is anyone reading this that happened to have read it already, I’d be curious to hear your feelings on it.

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_Century_Boys

いい (ii): A very ‘good’ Japanese word

The Japanese word いい (also 良い or よい), roughly translated as “good,” has a variety of uses making it a “good” word indeed. It can be used to mean something that is morally “good,” of good quality, or sufficient in some way. In this post I’ll go through a bunch of ways to use this word and some related topics.

Let’s start with a simple usage:

  • この映画、いいね。
  • This movie is good.

Here it simply means the movie is “good”, in the sense that it is enjoyable, thought-provoking, emotional, etc.

There are some expressions where a noun is used with “~がいい” and have a set meaning. For example:

  • 僕の弟は頭がいいよ
  • My brother is really smart.    (lit. “My brother has a good head”)

Another expression is 顔立ちがいい which means someone is good looking (literally, “has good facial features”).

“~したほうがいい” is a very useful expression that means it is “Better to do ~” and is used when strongly suggesting something.

  • 日本語を毎日勉強したほうがいいと思う
  • I think it’s best to study Japanese every day.

“~するといい” is a similar expression that is a little weaker than “~したほうがいい,” and is used like this:

  • 映画館に少し早めに行くといいかもしれないね。
  • It might be better to go to the movie theater a little early.

いい can also be used with words that describe ability, to mean someone is “good” (skillful) at them. Take for example 記憶力, which means “memory” (as an ability).

  • 記憶力がよくないとお医者さんになれないよ
  • If you don’t have a good memory, you can’t become a doctor.

The opposite of いい in this case is よくない or わるい (bad).

  • 年をとると記憶力が悪くなるよね。
  • As you get older, your memory gets worse.

いい can also be used in the form “~して(も)いい(ですか)?”to ask permission for something, as in “is it OK to do~?”.

  • 先生、僕もう帰っていいですか?
  • Teacher, is it OK for me to go home now?

Note that this has a different connotation than “帰れる?” (or “帰ることができる?”) which means “Is it possible to go home?”. “していい?” doesn’t have anything to do with possibility, but rather permission or moral correctness of something.

The opposite here, in the sense of something morally right or wrong, would be いけない. You can use this word in the ”〜してはいけない” for to show something is wrong or not allowed.

  • 日本の本屋では、立ち読みしてはいけないです。
  • In Japanese bookstores, standing and reading books is not permitted.

(A more succinct way to say this is “立ち読み禁止”, and you may see this on signs posted around bookstores in Japan)

You can replace いけない with だめ or ならない without a significant change in meaning.

Another common usage is using いい to mean “no thanks”, as when turning down something offered.

  • Waiter: 他に何かお飲みになりますか?
  • Waiter: Would you like something else to drink?   (polite language)
  • Customer: いいえ、僕はいいです。
  • No thanks, I’m OK.

This can be abbreviated as just “いいです”, and can be a little confusing because it seems to contrast with the typical meaning of “good” as discussed above. But if you think of the English expression “I’m good” which is also used when refusing something, it’s easy to remember. By the way, when saying this phrase, you can put out your hand, palm outward, and wave it slightly back and forth.

Other ways to turn down something offered would be ”結構です” or “いらない”, the latter being less polite and more casual.

If, on the other hand, you wanted to have a drink (say, a beer), you could say ”ビールお願いします” .

One thing you should be careful of is that there are cases when English “good” doesn’t always translate well to いい. One of those is when “good” is used to mean “tasty” when talking about food. In cases like these, you can say おいしい or うまい (the formal being more polite) instead.

  • このバナナ、おいしいね!
  • This banana is good!

The past tense of いい is よかった. While this literally means “was good”, it is used as a set expression to refer to being glad that something happened.

  • Person A: 友達の赤ちゃんが無事に生まれたみたいだよ
  • Person A: It seems like my friend’s baby was born without any problems.
  • Person B: よかった!
  • Person B: That’s great!

A final expression is ”いいから”, which is used when you want someone to forget about something else and listen to what you are saying. It’s literal meaning is “because (it’s) good”.

  • Person A: 今から海に行かない?
  • Person A: Do you want to go to the beach now?
  • Person B: いや、今はちょっと忙しいからやめとく。。。
  • Person B: No thanks, I’m busy now so I’ll pass…
  • Person A: いいからいこうよ!
  • Person A: C’mon, let’s go already!

Some hints about Japanese pronunciation

Normally I try to stay away from writing about pronunciation too much on a text blog – after all using words you can only say so much about how things sound. Some things are best learned in person, or at least with an audio blog or podcast (which I may try to do someday).

But I was recently inspired by 1994sunshine’s blog post about Japanese pronunciation, so I thought I would write a post with some hints on the same.

The gist of 1994sunshine’s post is that Japanese pronunciation isn’t as simple as just sounding out the sound from each hiragana letter in order to make words. There is some changes in how things are said depending on the word. The example cited in that post, which is a good simple one, is the word “すき” which sounds closer to English ‘ski’. I wanted to add a few thoughts to this discussion, specifically about Japanese pronunciation in general, and also about a few other sounds that get transformed like the す sound in this example.

In Japanese, things are typically pronounced very evenly with a regular tempo that is a good bit faster than that of English sounds, on average. One way you can see that is by looking at many loan words which get extended with a “-” to make them sound closer to their English counter parts. Take for example, “database”, which turns into データベース, or “safe” which can be written as セーフ. Sometimes there is also a pause inserted (via a small つ) as in the case of “happy” (ハッピー). Translating these words straight to katakana without adding a pause or lengthening would make them just too quick to sound like the original English.

As for the regular tempo, remember that Japanese doesn’t have a stress accent like English, where there is emphasis on one syllable (like “re-MEM-ber”). Rather the pitch changes throughout the word and sentence, sometimes suddenly and sometimes more gradually. See my post here for a more detailed explanation. Of course certain syllables can be accented for emotion at the speaker’s desire, but that is different from the accepted way of pronouncing each word.

The lack of stress accent is good to keep in mind, since beginners to Japanese may at first try to accent certain syllables, which leads to unnatural-sounding words. Instead, try to say everything in a metronomic, even fashion, and keep things light.

Now that you understand the general feeling of how Japanese is pronounced, it may make a little more sense to you why words like “すき” end up sounding like “s-ki”. Sure, you could pronounce the “す” fully, but omitting it allows a more even, metered pronunciation of the word. Keep in mind that saying “suki” isn’t technically wrong, and in rare cases I have heard natives say it that way (usually women), but the average person is going to say things the most efficient and smooth way possible. Also when saying letters on their own, like when saying the hiragana alphabet, you always sound things out completely, so す always sounds like “su”.

Now let’s see a few other examples where sounds get transformed when in the context of a word, and said at a normal speed in conversation.

  • In 期間 (きかん、time period), the ‘i’ sound fades away into a breathy wind.
  • In 試食 (ししょく, food tasting), the ‘i’ sound in the first ‘shi’ is very de-emphasized.
  • In 人(ひと、person), the ‘i’ sound in ‘hi’ is said very lightly or not at all, and sometimes this word ends up sounding like “sh-to”.
  • In 飯(めし、food), the “i” sound i “shi” often gets omitted, resulting in “me-sh”.
  • In 宿題 (しゅくだい、homework), the “u” sound in “shu” often gets omitted, leaving “sh-kudai”.
  • In 大学 (だいがく, college), the “u” sound in “ku” sometimes gets omitted, as “daigak”.

I think you’re starting to see a pattern emerge. Many times sounds in the  ‘i’ row (き/し/ち/。。。) or ‘u’  row (く/す/つ/。。。), when followed by another sound (except for pure vowels like あ/い/う/え/お), end up loosing part or all the ‘u’ or ‘i’ sound. This can also happen when it is at the end of the word (like with めし or だいがく).

I’m not going to go so far as to call this a hard-and-fast rule, since it depends on the word, but once you understand these general patterns you’ll find it easier to pick up pronunciations of words, and have a better chance of guessing the right way of saying things the first time, even if you’ve never heard a word spoken before.

Another pattern that is good to discuss here is when a word’s pronunciation is simplified by getting rid of a syllable and replacing it with a small つ。For example,

  • 洗濯機 (washing machine): せん + たく + き => せんたっき
  • 国家 (country, state): こく+か => こっか
  • 血管 (blood vessel): けつ+かん => けっか

This fits right in with the Japanese way of optimizing things to make them easier, and faster to pronounce.

でしょう / だろう (deshou/darou) in Japanese

でしょう is one word I remember reading about in a Japanese textbook and not quite grasping it’s meaning immediately. だろう is it’s less-polite counterpart but to simplify things I’ll be focusing on でしょう for most of this article.

I’ll try to explain their usage and nuances in as simple a way as possible, without resorting to any other websites or books for my explanation. I’ll just rely on my experience actually using and hearing these words, as I typically do when writing blog posts about Japanese.

でしょう, in a nutshell, represents a possibility felt by the speaker or someone else. Depending on the tone of voice used and context, it can be a mild hunch, a simple “maybe”, or a strong feeling about something. As usual, descriptions like this only go so far, so let’s get to some example sentences.

First, I’ll talk about when でしょう is used with a neutral intonation, meaning that the end of the word is flat and without much emotion. Like take this line which could come from a weather report.

  • 明日は晴れでしょう。
  • Tomorrow will probably be sunny.

You might be curious about what sort of probability this represents. Is it 5o/50? Or more like 75/25? It’s hard to say that for all cases, you just have to go by context. But I would say generally でしょう represents something that is over 50% likely, as perceived by the speaker.

If you want to connect this type of sentence to another thought, you can use けど.

  • グーグルはすごくいい会社でしょうけど、完璧ではありません。
  • Google is probably a great company, but it is not perfect.

If you want to express you feel strongly about a supposition, you can raise the intonation at the end of でしょう, as if you were asking a question aggressively. The end of the word can get cut off so it sounds closer to でしょ.

  • このケーキは美味しいでしょう?
  • This cake is tasty, right?  (with a feeling of “I told you so!”)

The sentence here has the connotation that the speaker told the listener that this cake was tasty previously, and now the listener is actually trying it out. In a sense you could say the speaker is bragging about the cake, as if he/she made it him/herself.

Because of this strong connotation, you should be careful to not overuse this word and sound like you are over-pushy. One expression I substitute when I want to sound less aggressive is (~ですよね?).

On the other hand, I have also heard “でしょう?” used when someone is enumerating a list of things, and doesn’t necessary have an attachment to the items. Imagine someone asked which animals are commonly at a zoo:

  • えっと〜像さんでしょう?そして、キリンでしょう?
  • Let’s see… Elephant, right? And then giraffe, right?

Combining でしょう with the question particle か (discussed here) gives the opposite impression, that you are doubting something. The intonation is also different and closer to the neutral “~でしょう。”.

  • テレビは勉強になるんだって?それは本当にそうでしょうか?
  • You say that television is educational? Is that really true?

Another useful combination with a particle is でしょう + ね. Here it gives the impression that the speaker is sort of thinking out loud, or agreeing to something without necessarily having a strong feeling about it. Oftentimes I think of this in terms of the english expression “I bet”.

  • ハワイに旅行したい人はたくさんいるんでしょうね。
  • I bet there are many people who want to travel to Hawaii.

だろう technically means the same thing as でしょう, but it has a much stronger nuance and I’ve heard it most often used by men. In order to avoid rubbing someone the wrong way I usually use でしょう, even when I am speaking in non-polite Japanese. For example:

  • 僕は一日仕事しててすっごく疲れてる。君もそうでしょう?
  • I’ve worked all day and am super tired. You are too, right?

One expression which younger people tend to use that has a similar feeling is “じゃん”, which is a shortening of “じゃない”。

  • どうしてプレーステーション4買わないの?
  • Why don’t you buy a playstation 4?
  • だって、高いじゃん!
  • Because they’re expensive!

“Self Taught Japanese” email address for questions

I’ve decided to create an email account for anyone who would like to contact me personally. Blogging is great but there are times you want to send a message to someone directly, and privately, without having to comment on one of their blog posts, and WordPress doesn’t support this.

I’m open to questions on any aspect of Japanese, Japan, or any other topic you feel like asking about.

If you ask a question whose answer may help others, I may use it as inspiration for a blog post, but I’ll keep your name anonymous if you like.

The email address is:

selftaughtjapanese@gmmail.com

Because of concern about spam, I’ve misspelled ‘gmmail’ above. Please replace that with ‘gmail’ when sending to this address.

Restaurant Review: ‘Osho’ at San Francisco International Airport

Normally one doesn’t expect too much in the way of quality food in Airport restaurants, but I found one that was surprisingly good on a recent business trip.

It’s called ‘Osho’, and is located in the San Francisco Airport. The name comes from ‘王将’ which is the name of the ‘King’ piece in Japanese chess (将棋).

I circled around the airport food courts, looking for my best shot at tasty cuisine. There was one asian restaurant that had off-color photographs displaying the different dishes, but Osho had plastic models of the different platters inside a glass case. Although some of the items looked a little strange (not exactly appealing), this sort of display was nearly identical to what I’d seen in Japan, so I decided to try a ‘Katsudon bowl’.

“Katsudon” is written in Japanese as  “カツ丼” and is a relatively simple dish with breaded pork strips served over white rice, topped with egg, and nori (strips of dried seaweed). Onions are also mixed in, and overall there is a mild soy sauce flavor that permeates throughout.(Here ‘どん’ is an abbreviation for どんぶり(also written as 丼), which means a bowl of rice.)

The Katsudon bowl at Osho was excellent with a large portion, fresh ingredients, and authentic flavor. It reminded me of the same dish which I had eaten from an authentic Japanese restaurant. And for all of this, the dish was only around $9.50, an amazing deal overall. It was a perfect way to end my business trip and kept me full for many hours.

Since this restaurant is located inside an airport, it probably isn’t worth driving all the way there and parking just to eat there, though you could since it is outside the security gates. But if you happen to be in the airport I highly recommend checking it out. I can’t speak much of the other dishes, but you can’t go wrong with the Katsudon bowl (unless you are vegetarian).

I did some searching to see if this restaurant was a chain, and found a few other similarly named restaurants, but they seemed unrelated. There is also a Indian mystic by the same name, also unrelated. I did find a restaurant chain in Japan called “餃子の王将” (“King of Gyouza”) which might be related, or at least the inspiration for the airport restaurant.

References

The restaurant itself: https://plus.google.com/116418671890621443761/about?gl=us&hl=en

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katsudon

A different restaurant in Japan: http://www.ohsho.co.jp

[Image credit: Image taken from a website selling Shougi chess pieces: http://shogi.wdy.jp/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=6_7)

The Japanese question particle, か (ka)

Many of the Japanese particles are not easily understood by foreigners studying the language, but fortunately there are a few that are quite simple to grasp and use. か、sometimes called the question particle, is one of these (along with も).

As you might expect, this particle is sometimes used when asking a question. It is placed at the end of a sentence, somewhat like a question mark.

  • お酒は好きですか?
  • Do you like sake?

However, you have to be careful because this usage is mainly used when speaking in polite Japanese (desu/masu form). A beginner might try to create a question in a similar way using the following sentence

  • ビールは好きか?
  • You like beer?

While the meaning would still be understandable, using the か particle in this fashion carries with a different nuance. It has a bit of a harsh connotation and sounds like you are an older man, a feeling which could be called おっさんくさい. Depending on who you are and who are are speaking to, this might be appropriate, but odds are it will convey an undesired undertone. When using non-polite Japanese, you would usually just omit the question particle in cases like this (ビールは好き?). However, there are some expressions like そうか which are natural to say and don’t carry the same connotation (or at least not as strongly).

Another very common usage of this particle is an extension of the above meaning. It can be used for embedding a question inside a sentence. One great thing about Japanese is that when embedding a question, you don’t have to mix the order of the words around. Generally, you can just insert the question as-is without changing the word order. For example,

  • 今日、何をしたい?
  • What would you like to do today?
  • 今日何をしたいか分からない.
  • I don’t know what I would like to do today.

か can also be used to describe selecting between two alternatives, like the word ‘or’ in English.

  • チョコレートかアイスか、どっちにする?
  • Which will you have, chocolate or ice cream?

Sometimes the second か (after アイス in this example) can be omitted.

A very useful expression is かどうか, which can be used to discuss doing something or its opposite.

  • 日本がフロリダほど寒いかどうか分からない。
  • I don’t know if Japan is as cold as Florida (or not).

Occasionally you will see the literal opposite used instead, as in 寒いか寒くないか, but it’s relatively rare.

A final common use is by combining the question particle with な, which is used when wondering something to yourself or expressing ‘maybe’. This is often used with the の particle in the combination のかな, as shown here:

  • 今日、雨がふるのかな。。。
  • I wonder if it will rain today…

When you want to express wondering about something you will do, you can use the しよう form (“let’s”) but without the の。

  • 今日どこに行こうかな…
  • Where shall I go today…

When expressing a similar sentiment with polite Japanese, the particle combination かね is used more frequently.

  • その映画は面白いと聞きましたけど、実際どうですかね。
  • I heard that movie is interesting, but I wonder if thats really true. (literally: “… but I wonder actually how it is.”)

Image credit: The featured image of a question mark was downloaded from openclipart.org