Monthly Archives: July 2015

Expressing state in Japanese with “ni aru” and “ni natte iru”

In Japanese, the expressions “にある” (ni aru) and “になっている” (ni natte iru) are used to express the state of something.

“にある” is often used with words like 状態 (joutai, “state”), 状況 (joukyou, “state”) or 傾向 (keikou, “trend). Take this example sentence:

  • 体は睡眠状態にある
  • The body is in a state of sleep.

Here you can think of this sentence as meaning the body is existing in the “睡眠” (suimin, “sleep”) state.

  • 価格は上昇傾向にあります
  • The price is on a rising trend.

“になってる” is used in a similar way to express a state or condition of something. While it can literally be translated to “is becoming ~”, the “〜ている” form is also used to show an ongoing state, similar to English “it is freezing”.

  • アップデートは管理者によって無効になっています
  • Updates have been disabled by the admin.
  • この工場は生産停止になっている
  • This factory has halted production.

You can also use the past tense of these forms to show something was previously in a state, as in “にあった” or “になっていた”. Make sure you don’t confuse “になっていた with “になった”, the latter which refers to a transition rather than a state.

As you can probably tell from the tone of these sentences, these patterns have a certain formal ring to them and are most often seen in places like formal documents, news, or in a work environment. There is no need to force yourself to use them in conversational speech, but make sure you understand what they entail if you happen to come across them.

You can see two of my past posts below which talk about related expressions for describing state.

Related posts

http://selftaughtjapanese.com/2014/03/12/〜て-ある-tearu-saying-something-exists-in-a-certain-state/

http://selftaughtjapanese.com/2015/02/12/the-japanese-〜ている-form-used-to-express-a-state/

“Fushigi”, a decidedly mysterious Japanese word

The word “fushigi” in Japanese, written in Kanji as 不思議, has several related meanings including “strange”, “miraculous”, and “odd”. It can be used as both a noun or a na-adjective. I always like to look at words’ definitions in Japanese to try and get closer to the root meaning. Here is the word’s first definition in Dictionary Goo, with my rough translation:

どうしてなのか、普通では考えも想像もできないこと。説明のつかないこと。また、そのさま。「―な出来事」「成功も―でない」

“Something which has a reason that cannot be imagined or conceived of under normal circumstances. Something which cannot be explained. Alternatively, such a state.「A mysterious event」「Success is not surprising」”

Fushigi can also be translated as “wonder”, and the “seven wonders of the world” is said in Japanese with the phrase “世界の七不思議” (sekai no nanafushigi). Note that this isn’t the normal way of counting 7 which would be more like 七つ (nanatsu).

In some cases you might see the な omitted when used as an adjective, like in the title of the 1990s Manga “fushigi yuugi” (ふしぎ遊戯). The word 遊戯 here means some type of “game” or “play” (not a broadway “play”, but in a general sense) and is actually the same word from the Anime series and card game “Yu-Gi-Oh!”, which is written 遊戯王 (The last character means ‘king’).

摩訶不思議 (maka fushigi) is a related word that has a stronger meaning, along the lines of “a profound mystery” (非常に不思議)

不思議 can also be used as an adverb by adding a に, and is often used in the phrase ”不思議に思う”。

  • 不思議に思ったことがひとつあるよ。
  • There is something I thought was strange. “literally: There is something I thought strangely about”

You can also use the pattern “te form of a verb + も + 不思議じゃない” to mean something is probable to happen.

  • 彼が優勝しても不思議じゃない。
  • I’d not be surprised if he won (the contest).

The words 謎 (nazo) and 神秘的 (shinpiteki) are rough synonyms of 不思議。 謎 is a noun and has a nuance of “a puzzle”, and 神秘的 is a na-adjective whose meaning is closer to “mystical”.

Book Review: “Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan”

A few weeks ago I entered in a contest on Haiku Girl’s blog and was lucky enough to win “Japan Journeys: Famous Woodblock Prints of Cultural Sights in Japan”, by Andreas Marks (published by Tuttle Publishing who coordinated with Haiku Girl to run this contest). This book contains around 200 Japanese woodblocks of famous scenic areas in Japan, made by artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige, Katsushika Hokusai, and (one of my favorites) Kawase Hasui.

Although I appreciate many forms of art, I generally find that I can’t really get absorbed into most paintings I come across, and find photographs easier to understand and enjoy. But there is something special about these prints that really touches be – both the unique art styles and places they depict. I remember once I had checked out a massive book from the library about Hasui’s work, but Andreas Marks’s book is conveniently sized (more long than tall) and has a more diverse set of artists and places which allow me to parayomi (browse) through it anytime and find some beautiful artwork.

Some of the works showcased in this book somehow remind me of modern anime artstyles, especially their coloring, and it’s clear that the better anime artists have been influenced by Hiroshige and other greats. If you’ve ever appreciated hand-drawn anime background for it’s own sake, I encourage you to pick up this book. You may find your appreciation for classic Japanese art is more than you expected.

Having only received this book a few days ago, I haven’t read through much of the explanatory text accompanying the images yet, but looking forward to learn a little more about Japan’s history as I go through this book little by little.

Searching out opportunities to think in a foreign language

Sometime ago I wrote a post on thinking in a foreign language, which to me is one of the milestones of true fluency. Near the end of that article I briefly mentioned how I sometimes “pre-cache” Japanese phrases in my head before speaking, though I downplayed it at the time, and felt it was more of a crutch.

Recently I was on a business trip where I was away from my family, and when certain events occurred during the day I started imagining how I would describe these things to my wife later that night, either in email or phone. This was more than just topics, but rather the exact phrasing and words that I would use to communicate those things.

Though it was challenging and I wasn’t able to prepare everything in advance, I feel now that this is a valuable technique for getting yourself to think in a foreign language, as it is one of the rare times where you can practice recalling vocabulary and grammar rules without actually speaking to someone.

Another way I’ve fit more Japanese practice into my life is by describing things in Japanese to my son, who we are raising bilingually. Though he may not always understand or respond, it is great for his language development, and at the same time I am getting more practice speaking in Japanese. Without a native speaker around there is always the risk I would say something incorrect, but kids are smart enough to learn patterns they hear frequently, and I can always try and steer away from certain phrases which I am very uncertain about.

One of the more difficult techniques is just speaking to yourself outlaid in a foreign language. Besides the fact someone might think you are a little crazy, it’s hard to keep motivated and stay on track when you are alone.

Many of these things are hard to do for beginner students, but regardless of your ability I recommend you think about ways to integrate the  foreign language you are studying as much as possible into your daily life.

Japanese site review: Naver Matome (まとめ)

In the age of the internet, studying any major world language should be much easier than it was several decades ago, when technology wasn’t nearly as advanced. We now have access to hundreds of free dictionaries online, sites how to learn our language of choice, and of course web sites written by natives for natives.

This latter category can be tempting, after all all you need to do is just search for something you have in interest in on Google by using a simple phrase in your language of choice, for example ゲーム (computer game) in Japanese.

Doing this is a fun exercise that I recommend to anyone studying a foreign language, but the learning curve can be pretty difficult for content made for a native audience, with domain-specific vocabulary and slang expressions. Even if you can force yourself to look up a bunch of words, often times the process can be tedious and you tire quickly.

The other day I discovered a great site made for Japanese natives, that happens to be very convenient for language learners of Japanese. It’s called “Naver まとめ”, where “まとめ” (matome)comes from the verb “matomeru” which means to collect or organize. That is exactly what this site does, like many similar news portals it collects information and provides it based on category.

The reason I feel this site is so great for those learning Japanese is because it presents all the information in very bite-size pieces, making it easy to spent just a few minutes skimming it, as opposed to 30 minutes or more to plough a long a difficult article. Each idea is condensed down into a single sentence, shown in quotes, followed by a reference in a smaller text. If you click on the reference text you’ll be sent to the place that idea came form. There is also photographs placed every few quotes to make skimming and understanding even easier.

This is an example of a recent article I read on Matome. I’ll show the title text plus a quote, along with my translation (will go for a mostly non-lteral one here) , to give an idea of how the articles are structured.

Title: ゲーム代理プレーで金を稼ぐ中国の若者 

[Chinese youths who earn money by playing games for others]

Subtitle: ゲームをプレーするだけで、生活する若者が中国で増えている。

[Young people who make a living just by playing games are increasing in China]

1st Quote: 中国では最近ゲームの代理プレイで稼ぐ若者が増えている

[In China, the number of young people earning via proxy gaming has recently increased]

1st Quote reference: (出典)ネトゲ代理プレイで稼ぐ中国の若者達が話題だから時給とか現実性を考えて見た

[Chinese youths earning money through playing online games for others has become a popular topic lately, so I decided to think about the feasibility of such an endeavor and how much they can earn]

Just from this brief excerpt, you can see how short the idea summaries are, and how the same thing is said several times with different phrasing. If you are clueless about what one of the quotes means, you can try jumping to the reference directly without googling anything, though odds are that will take a bigger time investment to sift through.

I highly recommend Naver Matome for anyone with intermedia grammar knowledge and a few hundred Kanji in their lexicon. Even if you don’t have those, you’ll probably get more satisfaction from looking up each word since the phrases can be ingested a little at a time.

References

http://matome.naver.jp

http://matome.naver.jp/odai/2143623848069498801

LUSH FUN: multipurpose soap bar that donates to Fukushima

Although it has been over 4 years since the Fukushima Diaster in Japan, from what I have heard there are still many thousands of people who have not been able to return to their original houses, or are otherwise struggling because of the aftereffects of this terrible tragedy. Within the first few months after this event, there were many companies offering to donate time and money to help restore Fukushima and the surrounding areas, however some of these programs have not continued to the present day, where support is needed as much as ever.

I happened to stumble across a Lush cosmetics store in a mall in Florida when I saw the phrase “洗隊レンジャー” on a product they sell, and reading the product’s detailed text I discovered that 2.5% of sales of this product are donated to helping children of Fukushima have safe places to play. While I can appreciate spending money into things critical for daily life such as food, water, and shelter, I think projects like this are very important to help improve the overall health of Fukushima’s families, and hence the future of that area.

The product is called “FUN” and is a multi-purpose, moldable soap that comes in several bright colors. The phrase “洗隊レンジャー” is pronounced “sentai ranger”, and the “sentai” part is a pun on the word 戦隊 which has the same pronunciation, except the character for war/fighting (戦)has been replaced with the one for washing (洗). I think the “ranger” here is a reference to something like the well known “Power Rangers”, which would mean it is something who fights for a good cause. Great pun, though I think it is probably not understood by the majority of Americans.

I haven’t actually used the product yet so cannot comment on it from that perspective, but I think it’s a great way to help Fukushima’s long recovery get just a little faster. Of course if you are not into the soap, I am sure there are many ways you can donate funds directly for even greater effect.

In case you’ve never been to Lush Cosmetics, it’s a pretty cool store. They basically take something as simple as soap and make it interesting, engaging the senses in a way that many other products don’t. If you step inside one of their stores and look around, you’ll very likely see something and mutter “Is that SOAP?”. On their website there is a store locator, where I discovered they have over 10 stores in Florida, and over 30 in California.

References

https://www.lush.ca/Fun/fun,en_CA,sc.html