Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Japanese 〜ている form used to express a state

The progressive tense, which involves a 〜て form of a verb plus いる (ex: 食べている) is very convenient for English-speakers learning Japanese since it has similarities to the “-ing” form (ex: “I am eating”). This usage means something is actively ongoing.

This is all well and good, but the fact is that there is a side of 〜ている which is quite different from English usage, which is that this form can be used to express a certain state or condition. Let’s look at a sentence which can be interpreted in this way.

  • 彼は打ち合わせに来ています。

Your first instinct might be to try and translate this as “He is coming to the meeting”, but depending on the context a more proper translation would be:

  • He is at the meeting.

The reason is that ~ている can be used here to indicate he is in the state of ‘being at the meeting’. Another way to look at it is when you have multiple verbs in a sentence, with one more verb in the 〜て tense, there can be a implied sense of ‘and’. Take this example:

  • お店に行っておにぎりを買った。
  • I went to the store and bought an onigiri (japanese rice ball).

If we look at our first sentence in the same light we can see that “he came to the meeting, and is here”, which amounts to the same meaning. He is not on the way, but rather has already arrived and is still present.

Alternatively, you can use the negative progressive form (~ていない) to indicate someone or something is not in a certain state.

  • 彼は打ち合わせに来ていません。
  • He is not yet arrived at the meeting.

If you wanted to express unambiguously that he wasn’t planning on coming, you could say something like “彼は打ち合わせに来ないそうです”. (“Apparently he is not coming to the meeting”)

As another example, if you watch enough Japanese crime dramas you’ve probably heard the following line:

  • 僕はやってません。

Since the guy who is saying this phrase is inside the police questioning room, he surely doesn’t mean  “I am not committing a crime now” (literally “I am not doing it now”). Instead he means:

  • I didn’t do it. (= “I didn’t commit the crime”)

You can look at this as expressing his lack of being in the state of committing a crime.

Another example of 〜ている being used to express state is the phrase “濡れている” (nurete iru) which describes the state of being “wet”, rather than any active “-ing” type action.

There is an interesting story I’ve heard which involves taking advantage of the ambiguity of the  ~ている that I’d like to end with.

In Japan if you go see a fortune teller and ask about a person (say Bill), you might be told the following phrase.

  • ビルさんは。。。。死んでいません。

You might hear this and jump in surprise, because the fortune teller just told you a fact about Bill that he or she couldn’t have known. Whether Bill is dead or alive, the fortune teller managed to guess right. How could that be?

The trick here is that 死んでいません can mean either “not dead” (=”alive”) or “dead and no longer here”, depending on whether you interpreted ~ている as an ongoing “-ing” action, or as a state.

Pretty neat, huh?

(Note: there are some similarities to the 〜てある form which I covered here)

 

Dreaming in Japanese

Often when learning a foreign language, one has to not only learn verbs and nouns, but also natural combinations of the two which make expressions.

For example, let’s take the following English sentence.

  • Yesterday I had a good dream.

If we were to translate this word-by-word to Japanese (shifting around words for correct word ordering), we would get the following sentence.

  • 僕は昨日、いい夢があった。

(夢 (yume) = dream)

While this sentence is for the most part grammatically correct, it has a completely different meaning than you might expect. In Japanese, the word “dream” is not only used for those mysterious visions we have while asleep, it is also used to mean “hope” or “aspiration”, just like in English.  Martin Luther King’s famous words “I have a dream”, which would be translated into Japanese as the following.

  • 僕には夢がある。 (“I have a dream”)

Now back to our original sentence, “Yesterday I had a good dream”, which is clearly referring to the sleep-type of dream as opposed to the hope-type. To express this properly in Japanese, we need to learn the expression “夢を見る”. This literally means “See a dream”, but in this expression refers to a dream experienced during sleep.

Can you guess how to properly translate our original sentence? Here’s the answer.

  • (僕は)昨日、いい夢を見た。

I’ve put the “僕は” in parenthesis since it’s implied by the sentence and hence is not necessary.

In order to talk about dreams in Japanese with others, there are few other expressions that are good to know.

Here is one such phrase with two Japanese equivalents.

  • What dream did you have (last night)?
  • 何の夢を見た?
  • どんな夢を見た?

I’ve left out “昨夜” or “昨日の夜” (last night) since if you ask someone this question in the morning right after waking up, this is implied.

It’s also good to know how to answer this question in case you’re asked it. Generally in Japanese when you want to modify a noun using a clause, you simply put the clause (including the verb) right before the noun. This is how you describe what dream you saw.

  • 日本語がぺらぺらになった夢を見た。
  • I had a dream where I became fluent in Japanese.

Grammatically, the entire part in bold above acts somewhat like an adjective that modifies the 夢 noun, and in my head I think of this phrase as if being contained in parenthesis.

To finish off this post I’d like to talk about dreams coming true in Japanese. This is accomplished by the verbs かなう(叶う) or かなえる(叶える). The former is intransitive, meaning you would use it after the dream plus “が” to indicate the dream just ‘came true’, and the latter is transitive, so you would use ”を” instead to indicate someone ‘made’ the dream come true. Here are a set of example sentences using these words.

  • 夢が叶うといいね。
  • I hope your dream(s) come true.
  • 夢を叶えてあげる!
  • I’ll make your dream(s) come true!

 

The real story on three Japanese conditionals (すると、したら、すれば) [suru to, shitara, sureba]

I think it’s fair to say that all modern languages (which the exception of those constructed by academics) grow and evolve in response to the times and the culture of the countries speaking those languages. This means that there aren’t many hard and fast rules that work 100% of the time. It’s almost as if exception itself is the only rule.

One of my favorite examples of this in English are the particles “the” and “a”. If you were asked to explain their meaning to someone, you might start with “Well, ‘the’ is used for specific things, and ‘a’ for non-specific things…”, and while there is some truth to that, the real story is much more complex, riddled with exceptions. (This page has the basics, but there are some cases not listed there).

So the job for those trying to boil down the grammar of a language to a simple set of rules is quite difficult, whether you are writing a textbook, teaching a class, or writing a language learning blog. What typically happens is that the easily explainable, most useful bits of grammar are taught first, in a simplified form without mentioning every possible detail. This is as it should be, since otherwise beginners will get frustrated with the complex set of rules and exceptions they have to memorize from day one.

However, the more you learn a language, the more you start getting the basics and desire more of the nitty gritty – knowledge that only fluent speakers know. It’s natural to try and learn these tricker areas of a foreign language through daily exposure. After all, if you hear something enough times it will eventually stick, and when you speak hopefully you’ll use the same structures and usages that you heard.

But personally, being so grammar-based I tend to want to see it all written out, with the long list of rules and exceptions. Only then can I begin to feel more comfortable about my knowledge of a language’s grammar.

Sorry about the long introduction but we’ve finally come to the main attraction for this article – conditionals in Japanese. Here I am using the word conditional in a very loose sense to refer to these three grammatical forms: したら、すると and すれば. Depending on the context these can be also called suppositional.  I gave the する conjugations for each of these three for simplicity (instead of saying “たら と ば” as some study materials), but make sure you understand I am referring to all verbs in a generic sense, not just する。

I’m not going to discuss the verb conjugation rules for these three forms, and will assume you have at least a basic familiarity with them. You’re likely to hear about this trio in Japanese textbooks or websites, but I have never found a source in English which goes into great detail about the difference between the three, so I felt there was a need for this article.

The simplest way to explain what is common between these three structures is that they all can be used to express the concept of “if” or “when”. Let’s look at some example sentences.

  • いっぱい食べると、元気になるよ
  • いっぱい食べたら、元気になるよ。
  • いっぱい食べれば、元気になるよ。
  • If you eat a lot, you’ll feel better.

For this example, I feel that all three sentences are quite natural and have nearly the same meaning.

Now we get to the sticky part. Even though these three forms can be used in the same way, they also have little quirks of their own. For example, there are some cases where using one of the forms is natural, but using another one is awkward or just plain wrong.

First, it’s good to know that したら is the most flexible form and works for almost all usages (except for #2 and #6 below). If you aren’t sure which of the three to use, it’s probably safest to try this.

Before I go over each specific usage, I’d like to discuss the major conceptual differences between すると、したら、and すれば. Knowing these will help you understand the reasoning behind each specific usage.

 

すると

This form is typically used to describe concrete facts or to talk about things which occur out of necessity (cause/effect relationship). It is also used for customary or habitual actions. The most common usage of this is discussed below in Usage 6.

The fact that there is a implication of certainty or objectivity when すると is why it is not used for things like commands, permission, or desire-related statements, as discussed in Usage 5 below.

したら

したら is commonly used for statements that have an emphasis on individuality (something subjective, i.e. related to a person) or a coincidental event. This reflects on Usage 5 below.

While it can be used for inferences (“I think if X happens, then Y will occur”), in conversation すれば is used more frequently for these.

すれば

The most important thing to know about すれば is that it is generally used to represent imagined situations which have not yet occurred. This is covered by both Usages 1 and 4 below.

 

Now I’ll go over each usage and discuss which forms are appropriate for that usage.

Usage 1: Basic if/when conditional, where the verb on the right side is in the basic non-past form (i.e. する).

All three forms (したら、すると、すれば)can be used for this. The first set of sentences above (about eating) fall into this category.

Usage 2: Simple connections, when the first part of the sentence is only introducing the latter part

In this case there is no sense of time order between the two parts of the sentence.

  • 先生によると、今日の授業は休み。
  • 先生によったら、今日の授業は休み。 (WRONG)
  • 先生によれば、今日の授業は休み。
  • According to the teacher, today’s class is cancelled.

Here the すると and すれば forms are natural, but したら (よったら) is unnatural. This usage is called 単純接続 in Japanese (“simple connection”).

I feel this use is pretty rare, and off hand I can’t think of any other examples, but I’ve included it for completeness.

Usage 3: The verb of the right side is in the past tense and actually happened.

  • 泳ぐと疲れた。 (WRONG)
  • 泳いだら疲れた。
  • 泳げば疲れた。(WRONG)
  • When I swam I got tired.

Here only the したら (泳いだら) form is natural since the verb 疲れた is in the past tense and actually occurred.

Usage 4:  The verb on the right side is in past tense but didn’t happen.

An example of this usage is when you are complaining to or admonishing someone. The verb on the right side could have happened, but didn’t because some condition wasn’t fulfilled.

  • 一緒に行ってくれるとよかったのに。(WRONG)
  • 一緒に行ってくれたらよかったのに。
  • 一緒に行ってくれればよかったのに。
  • You should have gone together with me. (It would have been good if you went together with me)

Here we can see the  すると (くれると) form is inappropriate. To me the final sentence here (くれれば) sounds the most natural and is what I would use in conversation, though using くれたら is also correct.

Usage 5: Sentence that express a command, desire, or permission.

  • 着くと連絡してください。(WRONG)
  • 着いたら連絡してください。
  • 着けば連絡してください。 (WRONG)
  • When you arrive please contact me.

Here only したら(着いたら) is valid since this is a command and hence has a subjective element . Sentences that end in 〜なさい、〜ください, 〜していい, 〜したい, ~つもり would fall into this category. Sentences like “そうすればいいじゃないか” where someone is trying to convince someone of something would also only work with the すれば form.

Usage 6: Describing an inevitable result of a predictable event, including acts of nature.

  • 春になると、花が咲く。
  • 春になったら、花が咲く。(WRONG)
  • 春になれば、花が咲く。(WRONG)
  • When spring comes, the flowers bloom.

Here only the すると (なると) form is seen as natural.

This usage is the most confusing because it’s hard to distinguish from the Usage 1 above, where any of the three forms can be safely used. If you search for the above sentences on Google (make sure you use double quotes), you’ll find a few hits even for the “wrong” ones, so it seems that even Japanese people may mistake this form on occasion.

The form is said to be used often for “natural occurrences” (自然現象), such as the example sentence I used above which sounds like it came from a poem. I have a children’s book on tomato growing and the すると form is used several times in it.

My general feeling is the すると form is the least used of these three, especially in everyday conversation. When used in books sometimes I feel it has a dramatic tone, as in the phrase “すると。。。”  (And then….)

Notes

1) I heavily used the first four references below (all in Japanese). If you want to get even more details, feel free to check them out.

2) The first link below is especially interesting as it shows a Japanese person trying to analyze several sources of information on this topic. At some points he actually criticizes the relevant Goo Dictionary database entry, and comes to the conclusion that there are certain exceptions he hasn’t been able to fully understand.

3) The word なら can be used after noun or a verb and can be used to mean “if” as well. However I’ve omitted it in this discussion in order to try and keep this difficult topic as simple as possible.

References

http://1311racco.blog75.fc2.com/blog-entry-1624.html

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/thsrs/17223/m0u/たら/

http://www014.upp.so-net.ne.jp/nbunka/991ga.htm

http://ctlpub.scu.edu.tw/booking/tutors/blog/69/200905131910080.pdf

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/540/01/

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

Personal thoughts on loanword frequency in Japanese

As a follow up to my previous article as to why Japanese has so many loanwords (where I quoted a Japanese person’s opinion on this topic) I’d like to present my own thoughts here.

First of all, there is the question of whether Japanese really has that many loanwords. While it is clear there is an increasing amount of loanwords in Japanese (one of the answers from this post refers to a ~25% increase in the ratio of loan words in Japanese between 1956 and 1994), I am not that convinced that this is necessarily any more than other languages.

For example, take English, which has a history of bringing words from many world languages. In fact, this website cites English loanwords which came from over 140 different languages. My feeling is that most words in English (except the ones that have been introduced in modern times, such as “selfie”) have probably come from some other language in some form or another.

Japanese is unique in that loanwords are written in a completely different alphabet (katakana), and that makes them more visible than other languages. Except for rare cases where a word is written in italics, most of the time in English it isn’t clear when a word is a loanword or not.

Thinking back about when I used to study Spanish, I remember there were many words in Spanish that sounded very similar to English (and most of them were likely in Spanish first). The Spanish words which appeared to have no connection to English surely felt ‘foreign’, but classic Japanese words written in Kanji (ex: 図書館) feel even more foreign because they are a different script.

But having said all that, let’s for a moment assume that the frequency of loan words in Japanese is higher than average. Why might that be?

First, is the point made by Oshiete Goo user ‘phj’ which I translated in my last post, which is that Japanese and the Japanese language itself readily accept new ideas and ideologies, and actively work to import new words so these things can be efficiently studied. I completely agree with this and think it is a major factor.

Also, I think it’s interesting that for quite some time Japan’s policy of isolation (鎖国) kept external influence from entering their country to a certain extent. This ended some time around the 17th century, though clearly there was some interaction with other countries before that point. In any case, when Japan’s gates were finally opened to the world, you could say that they had a lot of things to catch up on. After all, many other countries at that point (for example in Europe) were communicating and exchanging ideas for quite some time.

After World War 2 ended in 1945, the US government had a large degree of influence on Japan, which included revising their constitution as well as economic assistance. Whether a direct objective of the occupation of Japan or not, I believe that loanwords from English increased even more after this time. Doing a bit of searching, I found this paper which indicates there was a major jump in loanwords right after WWII  (see the graph on page 7).

A final point is the influence if advertising and mass media in general, something that was brought to my attention after reading this post. Loanwords give both content creators and those in advertising new ways of being “unique”, “different”, or “cool”. As a result many magazine titles and names of popular TV shows use loanwords directly, for example the show “アンビリバボー”, which comes from English “unbelievable”. The fact that the use of loanwords (some for the first time) can help make content seem “interesting” plus the extremely efficient country-wide distribution of radio, TV, other media means that it’s only natural for the number of loanwords to increase at such a rapid rate. However, since many people utilizing these words may not be very familiar with the originating language, there is a higher chance of twisting the original term’s meaning – though this is a natural consequence of loanword formation regardless of the languages involved.

To be honest, when I first started learning Japanese I was frustrated by the (seemingly) large number of loanwords deriving from English. I would think to myself “Give me a break, why don’t they just use their own words?” But the more I become familiar with Japanese, the more I learn to appreciate the value of loanwords, both in terms of how it benefits the Japanese people, as well as how it increases linguistic expressiveness.

To truly master Japanese, one must be intimately familiar both with more classical terms as well as a large set of loanwords, which are constantly increasing. Quite a task indeed!

 

References

http://selftaughtjapanese.com/2015/02/06/why-does-japanese-have-so-many-loan-words-外来語-gairaigo/

https://oshiete.goo.ne.jp/qa/8909665.html

http://www.krysstal.com/borrow.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_of_Japan#After_World_War_II

http://www.ninjal.ac.jp/archives/event_past/forum/31/haihu_31.pdf

http://www.sipeb.aoyama.ac.jp/~mt-home/alumni/ando/whydenizen.html

http://www.fujitv.co.jp/unb/index.html

Why does Japanese have so many loan words? (外来語, “gairaigo”)

Anyone who has studied Japanese knows that the language contains loanwords called 外来語 (“gairaigo”), which words ‘borrowed’ from another language and imported into Japanese. As part of this transition, the works take on a new spelling and pronunciation, which can be a shortened version or one containing syllables from multiple words. The meaning itself can change, sometimes dramatically.

To give a simple example, “サーバ” (saaba), derived from english “server”, is used to mean a computer-related server. However, I’ve never seen it used to refer to the “server” in a restaurant.

In this post, rather than focus on these words themselves (you can see this page for many more examples), I’d like to focus on the fact there are very many of them in modern Japanese, and they are increasing at great speed. These days it is not uncommon to come across two, three, or move gairaigo used in a single sentence.

This is something that has caught my interest for quite some time, especially because a large percentage of the words are from my native English. I had a few theories about why, so I decided to post a question on Oshiete Goo in Japanese and see what sort of response I would get.

I received only two answers, but both were quite thought provoking. I’ve decided to the entire second response (first listed on the page) in English here, written by someone with the username “phj”. I’m not sure of his/her background, but it’s written quite eloquently. Besides being a good opportunity to practice my translation skills, I hope this gives many of my readers an opportunity to see what a Japanese person feels about gairaigo and their relation to Japan and Japanese culture. There are many different perspectives on this topic, and I don’t expect phi’s comments to be authoritative, but they are informative nonetheless.

For the translation, I’ll quote the original Japanese and translate line-by-line, for those interested in comparing.

 

そもそも日本語は「常にリフレッシュされる外来語を取り入れるのに便利なようにした」言語であると言っても過言ではありません。

I feel that it’s no exaggeration to say that Japanese has always been a language which has actively tried to facilitate the process of importing words from other languages which are constantly evolving.

助詞を利用した文法構成のゆるさ、カタカナ・ひらがなの書き分けによる外来語の峻別、漢字の読みの多様性、などで、漢字を受容したときから大和言葉と統合できるように言葉を進化させてきたのが、日本語であるといえます。

It can be said that since the introduction of Kanji from Chinese, Japanese has evolved itself in many ways in order to integrate foreign words into traditional Japanese: the flexibility of a grammar utilizing particles, diversity in Kanji readings, and a strict distinction of loanwords via hiragana and katakana alphabets.

しかし、それだけでは外来語が増えるわけではありません。外来語がなぜ増えるか。それは日本人が「新しい知識・概念・思想」として外国のものを自分に常に取り入れているからです。

But that alone isn’t sufficient to create new loanwords. What is the other reason? It’s the Japanese people’s commitment to importing things from other countries: new concepts, ideas, and knowledge.

日本人は「思想は外国からやってくる」ものだとおもっており、儒教思想・仏教思想・西洋思想、アメリカ思想などを効率よく学ぶために、外来語を常にとりいれているのです。

They believe that “new ideas come from outside Japan”, and consciously import terms from other languages in order to efficiently learn things like Confucianism, Buddhism, and Western (especially American) ideologies.

たとえば「サスティナビリティ」という言葉が最近流行っています。日本語にすると「持続可能性」となります。

For example, the loanword word “sustainability” has become popular recently. This word corresponds to the Japanese phrase ”持続可能性”.

これは地球温暖化の問題の本質が「人類の生活がこのままどこまで持続可能か?」というところから、引用されるようになった言葉であり、日本でサスティナビリティといえば、原則的「温暖化に関する持続可能性」に特化されています。

This term became quoted in the context of the problem of global warming, in the vein of “How long can humanity sustain our current lifestyles?”, and so it has taken on the nuance of meaning “sustainability related to global warming” rather than sustainability in a general sense.

このような表現を常に外国語から借りてきて、その時代に合うように利用するのが日本語だといえます。

By frequently borrowing expressions like this from other languages, Japanese is able to stay modern and keep up with the times.

日本人は「思想」がだいすきです。しかもその思想持ってきて切れるのは外国だと思っています。今は欧米の思想が一番有利だからみんな西洋風の言葉を利用して、カタカナでその思想らしきものも利用しようとするのです。

I feel that the Japanese people love ideas, and foreign countries bring new ideas to them. At present, the most advantageous ideas are those from the West, so we all try and use Western words and express Western-type ideas by using katakana.

 

Translation notes:

1) I’ve made an attempt to make a natural-sounding translation, while keeping mostly to the literal meaning of the original text.

2) Besides the explicit example of ‘sustainability’, the only usages of loanwords in phi’s post are for アメリカ (America) and リフレッシュ (refresh), the latter used as a verb in the first sentence to describe how foreign languages are constantly changing.

3) The second to last sentence has the phrase “持ってきて切れる” which is very likely a typo with the intention of “持ってきてくれる”, and I have assumed this in making the translation.

 

References

https://oshiete.goo.ne.jp/qa/8909665.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gairaigo_and_wasei-eigo_terms

 

Japanese Band highlight: “gesu no kiwami otome” (ゲスの極み乙女)

Though I am a big advocate of learning a foreign language using all possible resources, music is one part of Japanese culture I haven’t emphasized as much as manga, novels, or TV dramas. Although I’ve enjoyed songs from various Japanese genres, and there are few artists I’ve been into (Quruli, Utada Hikaru, Yui, etc.), recently I really haven’t listened to much Japanese music in my daily life. But when a coworker mentioned about the Japanese band “gesu no kiwami tome” ( ゲスの極み乙女), I couldn’t help but watch a few of their videos on Youtube. I ended up really enjoying many of their songs and quickly went through the whole set.

I’ve seen the band’s name translated as “Girl at the height of rudeness”, and though that is a good literal translation I feel something like “Super bitchy girl” (Or even “Super bitch”) would be much catchier while keeping mostly within the literal meaning.

The band, made up of two girls and two guys, calls their sound “hip hip progressive rock” (ヒップホッププログレ) , though I don’t feel that this moniker really captures their diversity well. If you take a listen through some of their songs, you’ll find a wide range between hard rock with screaming guitars and vocals and catchy, rhythmic lighter rock pop songs. There is also some techno-like elements and funky irregular rhythms.

Instrumentally, you’ll find the usual suspects of guitar, drums, bass, and piano/keyboards, but the performers’ technical level is a bit above what I normally expect for popular bands. Their keyboard player is especially skilled, with their song “Killer Ball” featuring her playing a great rendition of a classical Chopin piano piece. I’m not sure how common this level of music diversity is in Japanese rock, but it reminds me of Quluri which may be why I became a fan so quickly.

I haven’t listened to their lyrics in detail too much yet (I tend to focus on the music at first), but from what I’ve heard they are very  down-to-earth, almost conversational with a rap-like delivery in some places. There are some of the typical topics like love and relationships, along with some societal critique on things like violence.

Attempts to categorize and describe this band aside, it’s clear they are a unique, creative upcoming band who are worth taking a listen to. I suggest starting with one of their latest singles, “Laska” (ラスカ) or “Give me a bizarre kiss” (”猟奇的なキスを私にして”).

References

http://gesuotome.com

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ゲスの極み乙女%E3%80%82

http://muevo.blog.jp/archives/16198353.html

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

http://selftaughtjapanese.com/2014/01/18/quruli(くるり-japanese-dynamic-band/comment-page-1/

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwml2QHRrX5IyV5zczbGNf_2hCe-GZtnd

 

Japanese useful word: 大変 (taihen)

The Japanese word “大変” (taihen), made out of the characters for “large” and “change”, and is typically used for two related meanings which I will go over in this post, along with example sentences.

The first is to express something is extreme, and can roughly match with english “very” or “terribly”. When using it as an adverb you don’t need any connecting words (as in the first example sentence below), but when using it as an adjective to modify a noun, you use な like a typical na-adjective.

  • 大変失礼しました。
  • I’m terribly sorry.
  • 大変なスピードで会社がつぶれています。
  • Companies are going out of business at a very rapid pace.

It’s important to note that this word used for this meaning is somewhat formal and you wouldn’t likely hear a high school student say “課題は大変難しい” saying in casual conversation, even though it would be grammatically correct.

In this usage there is often a negative meaning implied, which is why I think “terribly” is a close match. Both words have the connotation of something bad or unpleasant, though can be used in a positive sense as well (“I’m terribly happy today!”, though this sounds like British English to me).

The second way is to express a serious, grave, tough, or just generally bad situation.

  • 大変だ!車がなくなった!
  • Oh no! My car is gone!
  • 今日中に終わらせないと大変なことになる。
  • If I don’t finish by today I’m going to be in trouble.
  • 子育てって大変だよね。
  • Bringing up a child is sure tough.
  • 今日、朝からばたばたしてて大変だったよ。
  • Today was a rough day, I was running around like crazy since morning.

This usage is a bit less formal and I’ve heard it used much in daily life.

References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/je2/45370/m0u/大変/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/jn2/134412/m0u/大変/

Japanese book review: 99 Tears (99のなみだ)

We received “99 Tears” as a gift and since it was a relatively thin paperback book I decided to try it out.

It’s a set of 12 short stories, each written by a different Japanese author.  The settings and characters are all different, but they all share an emphasis on interpersonal relations, especially those with family. Generally they start with a depressing setting, and by the end there is some deep, touching revelation which I guess is supposed to make you cry.

Though I have gotten emotional over a book before (including Japanese works), most of the stories in this compendium really didn’t touch me that way. I think this was not only because of the contrived, cheesy plot points (ex: the main character is expecting to be proposed to by her boyfriend, when in fact she discovers he just decided to marry another woman), but also because the stories are too short, without enough time to really get to know the characters.

To be honest, I’m not really a short-story person, generally favoring long, epic, novels which go on and on, although I have started learning to appreciate shorter works gradually over the last few years. Because of my slow reading speed in Japanese I also tend to avoid extremely long novels.

My favorite of the bunch was “The recipe of happiness” (幸せなレシピ), which involves an older woman picking up an injured thug and offering him a chance to start life over if he agrees to work in her restaurant for 5 years. In exchange, she will hide him from the gang that he’s become involved with and teach him how to become an expert cook. I enjoyed not only the premise, but also a great creative twist and satisfying ending. I could see this being made into a movie and have even considered trying to translate part of it to English as an exercise.

In one of the other works, a family takes a trip to the Japanese island of Enoshima (江ノ島) which I had not been familiar with before. Though the story was a bit drab, I gained interest in that island and hope to visit the natural caves as well as the “Bronze Torii” (青銅の鳥居) there someday.

Linguistically, the Japanese matched my ability well, and if you have studied for a few years with a good grasp of grammar and most Joyo Kanji under your belt you could probably get through it. The amount of furigana (“kanji pronunciation hints”) was quite low, however, so it’s not the most fun read if you are weak in Kanji.

Though the part of me that enjoys fiction (I’m a big sci-fi fan) was turned off by the real world settings and situations, I think the interactions of family members is a valuable source of expressions for Japanese learners. Also the down-to-earth elements makes it much easier to understand the flow of each story.

Overall, not a great set of stories (unless you are a big fan of soap-opera drama), but was still a fun read and good learning experience. I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick it up, but if you can get it on discount or used it might be worth your while.

References

http://www.amazon.co.jp/99のなみだ・春-リンダパブリッシャーズの本-リンダパブリッシャーズ編集部/dp/4803006334/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422884546&sr=8-1&keywords=99+涙

http://www.go-enoshima.com/seidou_torii.html

South Florida Ramen Restaurant – GoBistro

It’s no exaggeration to say I’m a huge fan of Japanese Ramen soup, so much that I’ve been considering writing an entire post on it. But this time I’ve decided to write a review of a ramen shop I went to recently in Hollywood, Florida, that was quite delicious.

The store is called ‘GoBistro’, and to be honest I can’t stand this name. Not only does it not sound Japanese in the slightest bit, but I don’t understand what sort of feeling it is supposed to invoke, other than ‘bistro’ meaning ‘a small restaurant’. But when a Japanese friend recommend this place to us, we couldn’t help but try it out.

The atmosphere of the place is true to it’s name – it’s quite small and strongly reminds me of similar places I’ve dined in New York on occasion. They did an excellent job with the interior design, with a mix of pictures than invoke Japan and modern, stylish elements. Take a look at their website which has a pretty good representative picture.

But I’m getting a bit off topic – regardless of how oshare (=stylish) the place is, the quality of the food and the price are much more important. Though they have a pretty large sushi menu, we focused on two different types of Ramen, shouyu (soy sauce) and tonkotsu (pork bone), and also got a small order of negimaki (broiled strips of beef marinated in teriyaki sauce, rolled with scallions).

The negimaki was quite good, with just the amount of sweetness and saltiness, but I only had a small bite since I was saving my appetite for the ramen.

The shouyu ramen, which I ordered for myself, turned out to be quite excellent, with thick, flavorful broth and fresh noodles. The toppings included traditional nori seaweed, half of a boiled egg, and menma (fermented bamboo shoots which are very chewy). Above all, the chashuu (barbecued pork) was to die for – with just the amount of fat that melts in your mouth. One minor complaint is that even though tasted good, there was way too much broth in the bowl (nearly overflowing), and not quite enough noodles for a noodle lover like me. But at only $11 this ramen was completely worth it. I’ve tried several places in Florida for ramen and this was the best tasting, hands down, though to be fair it can’t complete with Ippudo in NY. The shouyu ramen wasn’t bad, though the broth tasted a little funny, or shall I say different, to me.

The restaurant is located on a lively strip in Hollywood, across from twin Karate and Aikido dojos, the latter looking particularly beautiful with a ring of “zen garden”-style rocks around the central tatami mats. If lived closer to Hollywood I’d consider trying out this dojo someday.

All things considered – this place is a must-visit for any lover or Japanese ramen!

References

http://eatgobistro.com

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