Monthly Archives: June 2015

Japanese phrase 〜として (~toshite) [including としても and としては]

In this post I’d like to go over the meaning and uses of the Japanese phrase “として”. Although it mean seem like this is the combination of the particles ”と” and “して”, the meaning of “として” isn’t the same as simply combining the meaning of these two. So I suggest you think of this a complete separate word. (In same cases this is true to a certain extent, like the combination of ”に” and ”も”).

“として” is used to represent someone’s qualifications, position, or a certain state. This may sound a little confusing, but fortunately most of the time you can just think of it as English “as” since the meaning is pretty close.

  • 僕は経験者として言ってるんだ。
  • I’m saying this as someone with experience.
  • 彼はあんなことをして人間として失格だ。
  • (I feel) He is a failure as a human being for doing that type of thing.
  • 技術作品として美しいと思う。
  • I think it’s beautiful as a work of art.
  • プロとして働くのが夢なんだ。
  • My dream is to work as a professional.

Since “として” modifies a verb it can be considered an adverb in this usage.

A phrase made with a noun plus として can be used to describe another noun using の。

  • としての人生を考えた.
  • I thought about my life as a man.

As with many other particles (such as に), the particle は (pronounced “wa”) can be added after it to indicate a certain condition applies for this case, but not for something else.

  • 彼女は友達としてはいいけど。。。
  • She is good as a friend but…. (the implication is she is not good as something else, possibly as a lover)
  • アイディアとしてはいいんだけど、実用できない気がする。
  • It’s good as an idea, but I feel it cannot be put into real practice.

The particle も can also be put at the end of として to mean “also as”:

  • SF映画としても面白い。
  • It is also interesting as a SF (science fiction) movie.

This pattern can be used more than once just like the も can be (in the form 〜も〜も):

  • 女性としても人間としても尊敬できます。
  • I can respect her both as a women and as a human.

There are some cases where you may see として, but rather than the above usage it is instead a “te” form of the pattern “(volitional form) + とする”, which means “to try to do something”.

  • 泥棒は走ろうとして転んだ。
  • The robber tried to run and slipped.

There is another completely different use of として, which is when it is used to mean “… assuming”. This is similar to the expression “〜とすると”, and can be recognized because the word before として is usually a verb in the dictionary form (i.e. っする), whereas in the “as” usage discussed about the word is always a noun.

  • 買い物に行くとして、何時に帰ってくるの?
  • Assuming you are going out shopping, what time will you come back?

References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/thsrs/17152/m0u/として/

Blogging nearly two years on WordPress: Thoughts and Conclusions

In around two months it will be my two year anniversary of joining WordPress, and I’ve maintained five different blogs with various posting frequencies. I feel that after this time, part of me finally understands what WordPress is really about, and what it isn’t about. So I’d like to take a break from the usual Japanese stuff to talk about blogging.

Regardless of the fact I’ve written a post about overusing metrics, being a logical/numerical-type person I can’t help but track my blogs’ daily views and other related statistics. After all, one of my long-term goals of writing any blog on WordPress is to have a large readership, and these metrics are the window into how far things are progressing.

Types of readers

After a lot of thought, I now feel there are not two, but three main categories that any blogs readership can be divided into, and understanding the dynamics of each is important.

1) Non-Wordpress Readers

These are people who read your blog without having a WordPress account, or do have an account but aren’t motivated enough to log in. The main source for them is coming in from random web searches (due to matched keywords), or from places where you have advertised your site (forums, etc.).

These are the most common (I get roughly 100-150 unique visitors on an average day), but also the least personal since they can’t like or comment.

The longer posts you write, and the more frequent they are, the more chances you have of people finding your site through some keyword(s) hitting on a search somewhere. So this number should go up regardless of the quality of content on your site.

2) WordPress followers

These are people who have elected to follow your blog, and so when they go to their Reader they’ll see any new articles you post. I have roughly 360 followers, which translates to roughly 1.5 followers per post over the one and half years I’ve ran this blog. This seems to be fairly consistent over time for this blog.

The number of followers a blog gets seems to partially correlate with the content, plus the total number of posts. (I did some analysis on this in a post last year.)

Originally I thought followers were the ultimate in blog metrics, the cherry on the ice cream of blogging, but I’ve finally realized they aren’t actually that important. One reason I say this is because I’ve noticed my average number of daily likes and comments only has gone up a small amount, even though my followers has risen at a much quicker pace. I interpret this to mean that people may be actually interested in my blog, but they don’t actively read blogs in the reader that often, or when they do they don’t happen to come across my posts (posting every day or several times a day should improve this).

I also feel there is a subset of any blog’s followers who have simply become followers as to attract interest to their own site. I think this is a valid marketing tactic, but at the same time it’s something I try to avoid doing personally. Often it’s pretty easy to find these people out, especially if when I go to their blog it’s about “multi-level marketing” or some other business scheme. If a follower’s blog is something with at least a vague connection to this blog’s topics (Japanese, Japan, anime, etc.), then I know fairly reliably that they are a real follower.

3) Active followers

These are the people that are not just your followers, but like and/or comment often enough that you remember their names.

It’s this group that is the real pot of gold at the end of the blogging rainbow, especially if they chime in with “I love your blog” or happen to re-blog one of more of your posts on their site. I’ve only had a few of these, but I’d like to thank them very much! (you know who you are (: )

It’s a small world

I think my feelings about the system that is WordPress can be pretty cleanly summarized by the above phrase. To start off, the average followers I’ve seen for blogs, even that have gone on for several years with good quality content, is pretty low. A few hundred is feasible, and in rare cases a few thousand. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog with 10k (maybe once or twice) and definitely not 100k. If you look at the top blogs, for example on “Freshly Pressed”, you can probably find some of this scale, but the point is that 95% (or more) of blogs only have a relatively small readership.

Another reason is the surprisingly low number of posts when searching by a specific tag. For example, in the last 24 hours the number of posts tagged with “Japanese” is roughly 50, excluding a few posts from one blog that posts like crazy. If you think about the number of people studying Japanese, and the number of people who use WordPress, this is very perplexing. In this case, it may be that “blogs” are not the main place people go to study a language, but prefer more structured sites.

Take another one, “Game Development”, which had around 12 in the last 24 hours. Again, this number is mind-bogglingly low, given how popular game development is nowadays. Some of this could be attributed by the fact of people not tagging their posts properly, but this doesn’t completely explain it. More likely, just like with Japanese learners, people don’t typically say “I want to learn about game development, so I’ll start searching WordPress blogs!”.

A final reason is how hard it is to effectively market a blog like this. I’ve tried posting to various sites, and in one or two rare cases I might have gotten 100-200 hits from a certain site, but for the rest I get just a gradual trickle. On any given day, 5 hits from any one site is pretty rare. For example, yesterday I had only 2 hits from a specific referrer (disqus.com), and over 50% (around 120) of my hits were from random web searches. Unfortunately, since Google has tightened the amount of information they let through there is usually no data on what keywords were used in the search.

To be fair, marketing this blog was not my main effort, I advertised on about 15-20 sites total, but still the combined effect of these is surprisingly small.

A community

So if WordPress is not the place to easily get thousands of followers, what is it? It’s a warm, thriving community, great for learning and exchanging thoughts with a small group of people. To make a metaphor – it’s a village, not a metropolis. If you nurture the relationships in this tight-knit community, they can be very rewarding, satisfying, even educational.

So when I see someone randomly posting spam or some other generic comment just to advertise their site, I chuckle to myself now since I know WordPress isn’t designed for that. Whatever you are selling, you may get a few hundred, or even a few thousand people from WordPress to buy your product, but that isn’t enough to support any business. It’s takes world-class content, (possibly) some good marketing, and a lot of luck to get to the point where the number of followers is not a linear relationship to the number of your posts, and is instead some exponential rate so you are getting new readers at double what you got the day, week, or month before. I strongly feel that you only way you can achieve this kind of growth is for many of your readers to like you site so much they advertise for you.

Some part of me feels that if I want to take my blogging to the next level, I should find a different site that is somehow a larger community, and allows much more customization in terms of the post content. I’m not sure how that would pan out, but for now I think I’ll still continue like this for at least a little longer.

Blogging Addiction

As a final note, I want to acknowledge the addictive side of blogging. Whether is skimming the latest posts in my reader to see what is going on, or trying to write more articles to get more readers and comments, WordPress has many forms of positive feedback that make it hard to get away. While I don’t feel that reading random blogs is the best way to learn about certain topics (compared to reading books and blogs by experts), I am maintaining my writing ability, and maybe even learning to write a bit better than before.

It is said that keeping a blog is cathartic, and though I don’t have any major trauma or depression issues I think the act of putting words to (digital) paper helps keep my thinking working, and helps keep me sane. Of course, talking to real people has the same effect, if not more. Despite all the talk that blogging is degrading more “natural” forms of human interaction, it is still a form of social behavior.

If you got to the end of this lengthy post and enjoyed it, please consider reblogging it. Thanks!

A few more interesting Japanese expressions about food

Since my last article on Japanese expressions about food got a few likes, I thought I would write a follow-up one with a few more expressions.

腹持ち (haramochi)

This expression is used to refer to how well something keeps in the stomach (i.e. how long it takes to digest), and is usually used in the form ~がいい (“filling”) or ~が悪い (“not filling”). “hara” here means stomach and “mochi” comes from the verb “持つ” (motsu) which means “to hold”.

  • パスタは腹持ちがいいね。
  • Pasta is sure filling.

ぺこぺこ (pekopeko)

This expression means being very hungry. “pekopeko” can also refer to the sound of something becoming dented or hollow, which is probably where the food-related meaning came from.

隠し味 (kakushi aji)

This term, which literally means “hidden flavor”, refers to the act of adding a small amount of some ingredient other than the major, known ones, in order to help bring out the flavor of one of the main ingredients or add a certain accent. Common things used for “kakushi aji” are small amounts of sake, sugar, or salt.

毒味 (dokumi)

This word, made up of the characters for “poison” and “taste”, can be used to mean the practice of tasting food to make sure it has no poison. I believe this was a term used historically for making sure food was safe before giving it to an emperor or other high-ranking official.

It has also evolved to a more general meaning and can be used to mean simply to taste the flavor of something to see if the seasoning is proper or not.

お腹が鳴る (onaka ga naru)

“onaka” means stomach and the verb “naru” means to make a sound, which can be a cry, ring, or other type of noise. (It’s interesting the Kanji for this verb <鳴> is composed for the character for mouth <口> plus the one for bird <鳥>).

This expression means one’s stomach is growling due to hunger.

賞味期限 (shoumi kigen)

This means the expiration date on food or drink, and you can say 〜が切れた to mean “has expired”.

The word “kigen” means “time limit”, and can be used by itself.

“消費期限” and “使用期限” are similar words that means the date by which something should be consumed, or used (respectively).

“kigen” used to mean “mood” is written with different characters: “機嫌”.

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To end with, I wanted to mention that the Japanese actually have “trainer” chopsticks which are made for kids who are just learning to use them. There are different types, but one of the kind we use at home for our son has both sticks attached together, with a rubber stopper between them to make the pitching action softer. You might be able to find one at a nearby asian grocery store, or somewhere like Daiso, which is something like a Japanese dollar store.

 

A few interesting Japanese expressions about food

It’s pretty well known that the Japanese are very particular about food, which reflects on everything from cleanliness in restaurants, the difficult training required to become a chef in a restaurant, and of course the taste itself of the food. After all, the fifth basic taste, umami or savory, was discovered partially with the help of a Japanese company.

I feel that much of this stems from the Japanese tradition of respecting food, and can be seen reflected in some expressions like “いただきます” or “ごちそうさまでした”. I think there is some influence from Shintoist beliefs here, but I’m not sure to what extent. It’s also interesting to note there are many words in Japanese that mean “to eat”, with various levels of politeness (食う、食べる、いただく、召し上がる, etc.)

To be honest, my knowledge of Japanese cuisine is quite limited and it’s something I hope to brush up on next time I visit. But I do have some knowledge about expressions in the language that are related to food, or eating. Here are a few that I’ve used or heard used in daily life:

口直し (kuchinaoshi):

This is used to refer to when you just tasted something not so great and you need to (in a sense) heal your taste buds with something tasty. It literally means “mouth fix”.

別腹 (betsubara):

Literally meaning “different stomach”, this refers to the concept of being able to eat something sweet, even though your stomach is (seemingly) totally full to non-sweet foods.

舌が肥える (shita ga koeru):

This refers to someone who has eaten many types of food and developed a discerning palate. Basically, someone who can tell the difference between good quality and bad quality food more than the average person. “shita” means tongue, and “koeru” has several meanings, including “to become fat” and “to become discerning”.

小腹がすく (kobara ga suku):

小腹 literally means “little stomach” and this expression is similar to “お腹がすく” (to become hungry), except that it refers to only a little bit of hunger. At home, if I am only a little hungry and want a snack I might say “小腹がすいた”.

食わず嫌い(kuwazu girai): 

This expression literally means “dislike without eating”, and refers to claiming to dislike a food even though you have never tried it before. The verb 食う (kuu) is a more rough, crude form of “to eat”.

食いしん坊 (kuishinbo or kuishinbou):

This refers to a person who loves to eat like crazy.

口に合う (kuchi ni au):

This expression refers to whether some food met the consumer’s tastes, in other words whether it tasted good or not. Literally this means “fit the mouth” and you’ll probably hear it more often in it’s polite form (ex: お口に合いませんでしたか?)

空腹・満腹 (kuufuku / manpuku)

These words mean “empty stomach” and “full stomach”, and the Kanji used match directly with their meanings.

Japanese anime movie review: Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ)

In the last few years, the frequency that I see movies has dropped considerably, so in order for me to rematch a movie it has to be pretty darn good.

Mamoru Hosada’s “Summer Wars”, released in 2009, is one such film which I immensely enjoyed the second time around. I had alluded to this movie in a previous post, but here I’ll give it a more proper review (avoiding spoilers as much as possible).

Kenji is a boy in high school who is invited by his friend Natsuki to a family’s house in the country for her Grandmother’s 90th birthday. Shortly after arriving, he is introduced by Netsuke as her fiancé, which is a major shock to him, especially considering they are not even dating. Around the same time, strange events start happening in OZ, which is a virtual world something like the Internet, except much more visual. Things quickly develop from there, and the movie manages to keep a fast pace, filled with action and twists until the very end.

The movie is great not only because of the extremely well-designed story, where all the elements fit together, but because of the visuals which are done beautifully, especially the virtual world which is done using CG models drawn with a colorful anime-style palette. The music didn’t really catch my attention much, though there were a few moments where it stood out to good effect.

Summer Wars, like many of the Ghibli movies, is also written such that it an can be understood, and appreciated by a wide audience, including those new to Japanese animation and die-hard anime fans. I think part of the reason is the movie’s universal themes: family and technology, with a little baseball and hanafuda (Japanese card game) thrown in. These are all integrated very artfully into the film, and the way the virtual world of OZ is illustrated is also very creative and fun to watch.

Linguistically, the movie contains much Japanese close to something you would hear in real life (much more realistic than many anime series), along with a mix of technology-related terms that are great if you are into that kind of thing.

Probably because of the movie’s slick visuals and well-constructed story, it didn’t feel aged at all, even though it’s over five years old.

After my second watching, I now consider this movie a classic anime film, and hope to see yet it again someday. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. You should be able to pick up the Blu-Ray on amazon for under $20.

References

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/サマーウォーズ

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

All about Japanese 後 (“ato, “go”, “kou”): “after”

This time I’m going to talk about the Japanese word 後 (“あと”), as well as compounds which contain 後, where it can be pronounced “あと”, “ご”, or “こう”.

I’ll start off with a useful phrase – “後で”. This matches pretty closely to English’s “later” and refers to the future in a vague sense.

  • 後でブログを読んでね。
  • Check out my blog later.

Another one is “後にして”, which literally means “make it later”. Honestly I haven’t heard this in real use too much, but I remember seeing a drama where a teenage boy told his younger friend he was busy with something by using this phrase. It had a 偉そう (high and mighty) feel to it. Here’s a similar example conversation:

  • P1: ね、掃除を手伝ってくれる?
  • P1: Hey, would you mind helping me out with cleaning?
  • P2: 今忙しいんだ。後にして。
  • P2: I’m busy. Not now.

後 also can be used to mean the remaining amount of something, similar to ”残り” (nokori)

  • 後10分だよ!
  • Only 10 minutes left!
  • 後は?
  • What else?

In a related sense, it can be used to mean “also”, like when giving a list of items.

  • フルーツはバナナとリンゴが好き。後は。。。いちごも好き。
  •  As for fruits, I like bananas and apples. Also… strawberries too.

“ato” can also be used in a spacial sense to mean “after”, for example in the following sentence.

  • 犬は彼の後について行った。
  • The dog followed after him.

If we place it after a verb in the past tense, it refers to after that action happened.

  • 映画が終わった後、帰った。
  • I went home after the movie ended.

Similarly, we can use it as a suffix that goes after another word to mean “after that time”. Here it is pronounced “go”.

  • 帰宅後 (kitakugo) – after coming home
  • 購入後 (kounyuugo) – after purchase
  • 部活後 (bukatsugo) – after a club activity

In the same way, we can add it after a word expressing a period of time to mean after that time has passed.

  • 一時間後 – one hour later, in an hour
  • 1分後 – one minute later, in a minute

There are a great many compounds containing 後. Here are just a few.

  • 後片付け (atokataduke) – cleanup after something
  • 後書き (atogaki) – afterwords (like at the end of a book)
  • 後頭部 (koutoubu) – back of head
  • 後遺症 (kouishou) – aftereffect (of a disease)
  • 食後 (shokugo) – after a meal

Advanced Note:

In the above example sentence (“映画が終わった後、帰った”), I could of added the particle に after 後, forming 後に, and there wouldn’t be any change in meaning. Adding で here sounds a little strange, but it is difficult to explain why.

Here is a webpage in Japanese which attempts to explain the difference between に and で in this context, but it’s pretty hard to follow:

http://www.alc.co.jp/jpn/article/faq/03/148.html

I think to be safe, you can just use 後 when it is used before the verb (ex: “後で食べる) and に when it is after a verb (食べた後に). Make sure the verb is past tense, since”食べる後” is incorrect.

Going cuckoo with Japanese “ku ku”

When you switch to another language and culture, there are many different things you have to get used to: pronunciation, written script, and customs, among others. But math is one thing that you normally would expect things to be mostly the same, since after all numbers are generally universal, including notation for equations and such.

In Japanese, things like standard numerical notation (i.e. 123) do carry over, although on some documents you can see numbers written with just kanji.

One thing that is a bit peculiar, at least to me, is the “kuku” tables (written in Japanese as 九九, since “ku” is one way to say the number nine). These tables are used for memorization of addition, multiplication, division, and subtraction, but when “九九” is said it usually refers to the single digit multiplication (“掛け算” kakezan) one, which goes up to 9 x 9.

Of course, 2 x 2 = 4 in Japanese, just like it is in English, but the trick with these charts is that there is a special way to pronounce them, which is supposedly to make the flow better (this is called “語呂良く” pronounced “goro yoku”) and facilitate memorization. Lets look at the first few entries of the multiplication 九九 to see what this means:

  • 1 x 1 = 1    →  いん いち が いち
  • 1 x 2 = 2    →  いん に  が に
  • 1 x 3 = 3    →  いん さん が さん

This seems pretty straightforward, except “いん” which is not the normal way to pronounce “1”. However, as you go on there are much more irregularities. For example, here we see the が is omitted:

  • 2 x 5  = 10  → に ご じゅう

Any another one, where 3 is pronounced as さぶ instead of さん。

  • 3 x 6 = 18  → さぶ ろく じゅうはち

Yet another irregular pronunciation here, this time for “8”. Also 40 is said as しじゅう instead of よんじゅう.

  • 5 x 8 = 40  → ご  しじゅう

You can see the entire chart here.

From what I’ve heard, this method of memorization is used in schools, such as elementary school.

Fortunately, this is something that has little practical use, especially for those who already know our basic math tables. But it is an interesting piece of culture which surprised me when I first learned of it.

Last time I checked the statistics, children in Japan where pretty good in math, at least compared to America which had pretty mediocre scores. I can’t say for certain, but it’s interesting to wonder if these types of learning tricks are somehow related.

References

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/九九

http://print-kids.net/print/poster/kakezan-kuku-hyou/kakezan-kuku-hyou1.pdf