Monthly Archives: September 2015

Japanese weather forecasts – a surprisingly useful study tool (with weather vocabulary list)

Let’s face it – weather is one of the most boring, hackneyed conversation topics in existence. But when looked at the point of view of foreign language study, weather forecasts become a surprisingly useful resource.

To start with, forecasts on professional radio stations (check NHK news podcast out as an example) will have announcers that enunciate cleanly and clearly, and hearing the pitch accent of each syllable is especially easy in this type of broadcast. When compared to other areas like economics or government, there is a relatively limited vocabulary. For these reasons, weather forecasts are a good stepping stone to more advanced Japanese listening. Place names will be a challenge at first, but apart from living in Japan, news is one of the best ways to experience a wide variety of place and region names. If you have the extra time to pause while listening, you can look up various geographical areas on a map in front of you. Or, if just listening is too difficult you can try a weather report on TV, or check out an online weather forecast site such as Yahoo weather.

But apart from a convenient listening exercise, will daily doses of weather information really help your Japanese in other areas?

I’d answer that with a big yes, one reason being that words you pick up can be applied to other fields, like the term 見込み (hope/outlook) which you also hear in economics news on occasion. The grammar used in weather forecasts is also, on average, a little more straightforward than business-related broadcasts, so you can practice comprehension of various grammar patterns, which will in turn help your own speech and writing.

Climate is an important part of any country’s culture, so learning about Japan’s weather is an important activity in itself. It may even help you plan a vacation to Japan, since you’ll have a better idea of what types of weather to expect. If you are considering living in Japan someday, knowledge of common weather patterns is even more important.

If you think about why the weather is one of the most universal conversation topics, it’s because it impacts nearly everyone’s day-to-day life, whether they want it to or not. Because of this, it’s a good way to start a conversation with a stranger. For example, when I was traveling in Japan this August during a near record-breaking heat wave, I said to a taxi driver “すごく暑いですね。いつもこんなに暑いんですか?” (It’s really hot. Is it always this hot?). Not exactly the most intellectual conversation, but a good way to get some basic conversation practice.

Here’s a few words to get your weather lexicon jump started.

  • 雨(ame): rain
  • 大雨 (ooame): heavy rain
  • 曇り(kumori): cloudy
  • 土砂災害(dosha saigai): landslide disaster, when the land becomes unstable due to excessive rain
  • 猛暑(mousho): extreme heat   (猛暑日 – a day of extreme heat)
  • 暑さ (atsusa): heat
  • 浸水 (shinsui): flooding
  • 反乱(hanran): flooding or overflowing (often used in the expression “川の反乱” to express overflowing of a river)
  • 台風(taifuu): typhoon/hurricane
  • 熱帯低気圧 (nettai teikiatsu): tropical depression (minor storm)
  • 風 (kaze): wind   (don’t confuse with 風邪 which means being sick with a cold)
  • 瞬間風速(shunkan fuusoku):  instantaneous wind speed
  • 落雷 (rakurai): lightning
  • 雷(kaminari): thunder or lightning
  • にかけて  (ni kakete): up to or through a certain time period    (ex: 朝にかけて, “through morning”)
  • 雨量(uryou): amount of rainfall
  • しけ (shike): stormy weather at sea  (おおしけ  for extreme stormy weather)
  • 上陸 (jouriku): come onto land  (like a storm coming onto land from the sea)
  • 〜号  (~gou): counter for storms (ex: 11号, means the 11th storm)
  • 暴風(boufuu): windstorm, violent winds
  • ミリ(miri): milliliters (used to measure rain amount)
  • メートル (meetoru): meters [distance] or meters per second [speed]
  • 避難(hinan): refuge, shelter
  • 天気(tenki): weather
  • 気候  (kikou): climate
  • 竜巻(tatsumaki): tornado
  • ~でしょう (~deshou): indicates that something is predicted or likely to happen. Intonation is falling which distinguishes it from someone trying to say “~ see?” which has a rising intonation.
  • 転倒(tentou): stumbled/slipped (i.e. during bad weather)
  • 気温(kion): air temperature
  • 最大 (saidai): maximum  (最大気温: maximum temperature)
  • 空気圧 (kuukiatsu): air pressure
  • 晴れ(hare): sunny weather
  • 快晴(kaisei): clear and sunny weather
  • 局地的 (kyokuchiteki): local  (ex: rain localized to a certain area)
  • 気象庁 (kishouchou): meteorological agency
  • 気象予報 (kishou yohou): weather forcast
  • 予想 (yosou): expectation, forecast
  • 見込み (mikomi): hope, expectation  (not necessarily positive)
  • 高波 (takanami): high waves  (like when a storm comes)
  • 津波 (tsunami): tsunami, tidal wave   (大津波 for a big one)
  • 不安定 (fuantei): unstable
  • 雪 (yuki): snow
  • 警戒 (keikai): caution, precaution  (i.e. against a storm coming)
  • 接近 (sekkin): approach (like a storm approaching a city)
  • 猛烈 (mouretsu): extreme (like extreme rain)

Image taken from: http://d.hatena.ne.jp/akaibara/20110821

 

 

Book review: “Japanese Respect Language” by P.G. O’Neill

I picked P.G.Oneill’s “Japanese Respect Language” because I hadn’t seen too many Japanese textbooks focused exclusively on respectful language, which is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of Japanese to master. At the time when I decided to get it I remember thinking the term “respect language” had an unfamiliar ring to it, having usually heard things like “respectful language” or “honorific speech” when referring to Japanese keigo.

After going through this book I had very mixed emotions about it, as it possesses several strengths as well as weaknesses.

The best thing about this book, by far, is that the professor really knows his subject matter well. Mr. O’Neill was professor of Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London, and obtained his Ph.D. with a thesis on traditional Japanese drama. The central theme of this blog is that anyone can become quite good at Japanese without having a professionally-directed study program, but at the same time I acknowledge the merits of formal studies at a university or college.

This book, a little under 200 pages, is pretty dense with detailed coverage of polite nouns, honorific verbs, deprecatory verbs, respectful imperative forms, and respectful adjectives. Besides the basic forms (things like お+base+になる), it gets into exceptions, and exceptions of exceptions. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a very thorough treatment of this important part of Japanese.

Besides tables of nouns, verbs, and a wealth of example sentences, there are also good descriptions of the basics of respectful language. I’ve learned my fundamentals of respectful Japanese in an older edition of Youkoso, but this book goes into greater more detail in several areas. Particularly, I found the part in Chapter 5 about how certain expressions imply different levels of respect for the second person (the person who is being talked to) versus the third person to be very educational.

Finally, there are short practice quizzes throughout the chapters with answers listed, as well as practice texts for reading practice and and practice exam in the appendix.

However, in spite of all these great things, I had some pretty big problems with the book. Though you may consider it a minor point, I was consistently annoyed by the use of both kana (Japanese characters, ex: ) and romaji (romanization of Japanese words, ex: boku) in nearly all examples. I can hold my own when it comes to reading Japanese, but since English is my native language it’s hard to prevent my eyes from darting first to English characters, especially when they are bolded.

From the perspective of wanting to cater to a wide audience, I understand the decision to use both character sets. However, in the “Who Should Use This Book” section in the very beginning it expressly states that the target audience is students with 250-300 hours of Japanese. I’d be very surprised if such students could not read at least Hiragana, so Kanji with furigana readings seems to be best choice for such an audience. To add to my annoyance, the order of kana, romaji, and English translations is different throughout the book. Sometimes it’s kana first, sometimes romaji, and sometimes English. The aforementioned review exam is, for some reason, in only romaji. What gives?

There are also times in the book where I feel the author has gone overboard with certain techniques he uses to get his points across. For example, there are a series of diagrams in the beginning of the book which are supposed to convey what types of respectful language to use in certain situations. They start out simple, but he keeps adding more notation to make it hard to follow: single lines, dotted lines, double lines, triple lines, circled numbers, circled dark numbers, circled line numbers. The funny thing is I feel that these ideas are not that complicated, and almost would be easier to understand without the extra overhead of the diagrams, or toning them down to only a few with simplified notation.

The way the text is formatted also seems awkward, almost amateurish. For example in pages 27-36 there is a quite long discussion without any breaks, and the way there are spaces before and after example sentences feels unnatural, although I would not go so far as to say unreadable. I think the bolded romaji littering each page (sometimes to the right of the kana and sometimes below) also contributes to a general feeling of being disorganized. The fact there was no sub-heading after quizzes caught me off guard, causing me to doubt whether I skipped a page, and listing the answers to the quizzes right after was another no-no for me, since I tend to cheat if the answers are right in front of me.

The editor of this book seem like he or she did a reasonable job in terms of content correctness, though I did find one error in the Japanese on page 72 (浴衣ををお召しになりますか). I’m not sure if it is a typo or not, but I didn’t quite understand the example about drinking poison on page 89 – the verb seems to be negative instead of positive. Keep in mind there were some sections I skimmed through, and I didn’t do all the exercises, so there may be other mistakes.

The problems with the formatting made more sense to me when I looked up the first publishing date of this book, 1966 (the author was born in 1924!). Although there was an updated edition in 2008, I’d guess they didn’t change much – the formatting still seems like something from 50 years ago. I think this also explains the term “respect language” which isn’t in much use any more.

Which brings us to the biggest problem with this book – I think it’s well acknowledged that the usage of honoriffic language has changed much over the last few decades. For example, I have heard that the latest generation doesn’t understand keigo as well as the previous ones, preferring to use more neutral forms. Dr. O’Neill does his best to describe the many levels and variants of polite language, and points out which expressions are less common in modern use. But since his text was written nearly 60 years ago – I’m making the assumption there wasn’t any major rewrites by him since then – the forms that were less popular then are even less used today.

For example the form (でおありになります)”de o-ari ni narimasu” (pg. 125) which seemed so overly formal it almost made me laugh. I did a quick google search to confirm my instincts that this was nearly shigo (dead language). Another form I had not seen much before is 高くございます (pg. 142), which is pronounced “takou gozaimasu”. The imperative expression “でいらっしゃい” (deirasshai) is another that I feel is rarely used in real life.

Although I cannot claim to be an expert in Japanese respectful language (I consider it to be one of my weaker areas), I think it’s notable that some of these expressions I have not come across in all of my studies. Fortunately these are only a small fraction of the books contents, and in all fairness I would say 60-80% of the keigo discussed is good to be familiar with.

Ultimately, learning to understand the various levels of respectful Japanese is required to attain fluency. But I would argue that actually using all of them in your own speech and writing is not necessary, at least based on my experience. This is discussed briefly in the Introduction (page 11) and I agree with the author. I think you can probably get by with basic -desu/-masu forms and avoiding certain inappropriate or rude words. However, if you end up landing a job where you have to interact with some high-ranking person, it might be very valuable to have the higher forms mastered.

The most important thing is that you can understand the basic meanings of words from all politeness levels, for example “de gozaimasu” means pretty much the same thing as “desu”. If you can identify that a certain form is a bit less polite or more polite, then that will help you understand the relationships of the speakers involved, and make you more keen on picking up things like sarcasm when a above-normal politeness level is used for effect.

If one really desires to master all forms of Japanese keigo in both writing and speech, no set of books (regardless of how modern they are) will be sufficient to achieve this goal. You’ll have to live in Japan, or at least spend months, if not years, in an environment where you are hearing and reading this type of language on a daily basis.

Despite the drawbacks of this text, I still would recommend it for those wanting to deepen their knowledge of keigo. Having said that, I think this book could really benefit from a heavy editing and revamp, in terms of both cutting mostly dead forms as well as better formatting, visuals, and simpler explanations in some places.

I’m not sure if I agree with requiring 250-300 hours of study experience, but at minimum I think a strong grasp of Japanese grammar is needed to fully understand the points discussed in this book.

You can pick up Japanese Respect Language, published by Tuttle Publishing, at Barnes & Noble here or on Amazon here.

Migrating to a self-hosted WordPress blog and hidden drawbacks

In the last week I’ve went through the process of migrating this blog from a standard WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted WordPress.org blog. I’ve been running this blog for several years and have written a couple hundred articles, so I thought it was time to take it to the next level.

A self-hosted blog has many advantages, including the freedom to use any WordPress plugin or theme (and there are many). Essentially, you can change your blog’s design in any way you can think of. An added bonus is more advanced statistics with no information hidden from you. WordPress.com-hosted blogs have many limitations, including the inability to run arbitrary HTML code. This means you cannot add custom functionality such as Google AdSense.

Some of the commonly mentioned disadvantages of a self-hosted blog are having to potentially spend more money on hosting fees, plus the extra time and knowledge required for maintenance, updates, and backups. I was able to avoid the first of these by sharing hosting space with another website of mine, which I run through InMotion Hosting. There are a huge number of providers and I cannot claim InMotion is the best, though they do provide good features for a reasonable price, and above all excellent customer service.

Despite the fact that I have a background which includes skills to create and configure websites, I was not looking forward to effort of migrating my site. Fortunately for WordPress, being the most widely used blogging software on the planet, this process has been partially automated and there are several tools that save you from having to do any tedious tasks.

There are many sites online that detail the migration process online, but fundamentally the major steps include exporting your blog data (all your articles, comments, etc.) to a file, importing that to your new blog, transferring your WordPress.com followers, and a few other items. A convenient free plugin called Jetpack helps make the follower transfer process pretty painless, and does this by linking your self-hosted site to WordPress.com. It has other nice features like similar statistics to WordPress.com.

If you are keeping the same domain name, like I did, then you will have to tell WordPress.com to point to your provider’s DNS servers for your domain.

I ran into a few hiccups during this migration, like an error message I was getting when I tried to link Jetpack to WordPress.com. The problem was because I hadn’t switched over my DNS yet so their authentication mechanism was getting confused. I purposefully was trying to do the DNS switchover last so I could validate everything first, but I was told by the Jetpack customer support that I had to make my site live before I could use Jetpack to transfer my followers. Once I did, things went smoothly and I got all of them transferred in a few minutes.

Besides the follower migration, I was able to test my self-hosted blog fully before the DNS switchover by changing my local machine’s hosts file. The process may be different depending on your provider and OS of your local machine, but here is some information that may help you figure this out.

The main reason I decided to write up this post is there are a few hidden disadvantages of making the migration to self-hosted which I wanted to tell others about. These were not mentioned in any of the articles I read so I had to discover them myself.

The biggest of these is the fact that your blog will no longer be listed on the WordPress.com reader for keyword tags. I am not sure  how many people use this feature, but I have done keyword searches to discover many other blogs and have a hunch that many of my followers find me via this same route. This was a major disappointment to me, though I’ll acknowledge that in the long term  well-written content is more important than keywords. After tall, the number of people finding blogs via WordPress.com keywords is a small fraction of those finding them on major search sites like Google.

Another annoyance, though minor, is that statistics counters get reset during the migration. Even though I used Jetpack to link up my migrated blog with WordPress.com, the statistics shown on that site have been completely set to zero. Fortunately the statistics look like they are roughly the same, which isn’t the case with other statistics plugins that show several times the hits when compared to pre-migration. I think this is because those don’t remove bots from the counts.

Even worse, I am not able to get correct statistics on my WordPress iOS app, it shows extremely small numbers. I bet some playing around with the app, or reinstalling, might fix this however.

One final thing to be careful of is that adding new plugins and tweaking the settings of your blog can get addicting. With even more power in a self-hosted blog, this can consume hours of your time which would otherwise be spent producing actual content.

In any case, I’ve decided to stay with self-hosted for the time being. For those making the leap, I recommend keeping your old blog on WordPress.com, since the DNS redirection means you don’t have to delete or disable it. If self-hosted becomes to much of a burden, I can always switch back by using the same export/import process followed by resetting the WordPress DNS names for my domain to their defaults.

 

 

Japanese Novel Review: ”オレたちバブル入行組” (Oretachi baburu nyuukougumi) [Hanzawa Naoki Series]

In the continuing quest to improve my Japanese reading skills and experience various facets of Japanese culture, I’ve been reading different types of books over the last few years. The genres range from children’s picture books to classics like Ningen Shikkaku.

My latest challenge was the book “オレたちバブル入行組” (Oretachi baburu nyuukougumi) by Jun Ikeido (池井戸潤), which began serialization in a literary magazine in 2003, and was published as a paperback in 2007. The popular 2013 TV drama “Hanzawa Naoki” (半沢直樹) was based on this novel plus another book in the same series. I really enjoyed the drama so I decided to purchase the novel, hoping to learn more about the story as well as some new Japanese words. (If you liked the drama, consider watching “空飛ぶタイヤ” (Sora tobu taiya) which is by the same author and quite good).

This book’s plot revolves around Naoki Hanzawa, a young man who has entered the banking business. He achieves a position in a department where due diligence is done in order to make proper financing decisions, namely whether a large sum of money is loaned out to a certain company or not. For one of these companies he is forced to make a quick decision on a loan approval. Without giving away any major spoilers I’ll just say that as a result the bank, and everyone involved, is put into a bad situation.

In the deeply bureaucratic environment of the major bank he works for, management points their fingers at Naoki and blames him for the cascade of events that occur, forcing him to go to extremes to defend his position and avoid demotion or worse. The story proceeds from there with a series of investigations and twists that kept me interested, although I had a good idea what was going to happen from seeing the TV drama first. As I discovered in the book’s afterward, the author Jun Ikeido was actually a banker himself, and the political infighting in the cutthroat world of a major bank seems pretty realistically depicted. The book takes on themes such as the changing roles of banks within society over the last two decades, and whether such a dog-eat-dog work environment can really make bank employees happy.

The book’s title comes from the words “オレたち” – masculine first person plural (‘we’) , “バブル” – referring to a period of good economic conditions in Japan from the 1980s to early 1990s, and ”入行組” – a compound that means a group of people who have joined a bank. I don’t believe there is an English translation of the book, but if I were to make a quick attempt at the title I’d say “We, the bubble-era banker recruits”.

In terms of language, my expectations for advanced Japanese were right on the mark. Eespecially in the first third of the book I went through at a terribly slow pace, constantly referring to a dictionary. There are some banking industry-related words, but the book seems to be written for an average adult who doesn’t necessarily know about the internals of banks, and there are several sections that explain difficult terms. Having said that, you’ll need good background knowledge of common words in areas like finance, economics, and business, or else you’ll have to learn these terms as you go.

I was hoping to broaden my lexicon of work-environment Japanese and I got a good dose of that from this novel. There was also a bunch of words or expressions I had never read anywhere else (like やおら) which didn’t feel like very modern Japanese, possibly result of the author’s age.

Partway through the book changed from more of an explanatory style to one dominated by dialog, which helped me pick up speed. At some points I did a rough calculation of my rate of progression and got around 10-15 pages an hour. This is much slower than my average native language (English) reading speed, but I’ve read Japanese books that slowed me to a fraction of this.

You may interested to know that several of the main characters speak Osaka dialect, which can be difficult to learn from a dictionary. So if you decide to read this novel, you might want to study up on some of the common differences compared to Tokyo dialect Japanese. Even if you are totally new to it, if you grasp of grammar is strong you can probably pick up what they are saying, especially because many of the changes are at the end of sentences. Two examples are the words ”~まっせ” and “~でっせ”, which I mean something like “~ますよ” and ~”ですよ”.

All things being said, I wouldn’t attempt this book until you have at least several years of Japanese study with very strong Kanji skills (the book is light on Furigana hints for Kanji readings), and ideally a few other adult novels under your belt. If you do think you can tackle it and enjoy stories about political intrigue and trying to make sure justice is served, I highly recommend this novel.

I purchased mine in Kinokuniya store in San Francisco, but you can find it online on some places such as Amazon.

Note: If anyone is interested in seeing a brief excerpt along with an English translation let me know and I can write up another post on that.

 

Product Review: Casio Ex-Word XD-6500 Japanese/English Digital Dictionary

In the age of the internet and mobile devices, when there is a need to look up the meaning of a word in a foreign language the average person is likely to use a cell phone, tablet, or desktop computer. For Japanese language specifically, the free mobile dictionary apps I have tried are pretty mediocre, so for my daily studies I usually just use http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/. A site like this provides a wealth of information for linguistic knowledge seekers, free of charge, and functionality-wise there is very little lacking. For words that are not present, doing a quick Google search usually resolves the problem in seconds.

For those who still prefer the feel of paper and physical books, you always have the option of getting a dictionary. But in order to have any level of comprehensiveness you’ll need quite a bit of weight and size.

There’s one more option you may not be familiar with: a portable digital dictionary which is designed to go between your native language and a foreign language of choice, in my case English <=> Japanese.

I purchased the Casio Ex-Word XD-6500 at Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara on a recent trip to Japan for around 20,000 Yen, roughly $170 with current exchange rates. In fact I have been using an earlier model from the same company for some time now, at least eight years, with many of the same features except for the convenient touch screen which wasn’t on the older model. With all my array of gadgets, this is one of the only products I’ve bought a new model of even though the old one hadn’t broken. The other is our Roomba robot vacuum cleaner.

The Ex-Word has all the basic features you would expect, like the ability to see Japanese words’ definitions in English and vice-versa, plus Japanese definitions of Japanese words (often challenging to understand but good practice).

There are a few reasons I prefer using my Ex-Word over using a laptop or mobile device when doing quick word lookups when reading a Japanese novel. Foremost, it allows me to just focus on what I am doing with no distractions about getting lost researching random things on the net, or checking my email. Another is that typing on the larger keyboard is much easier than typing on on my smartphone, and my laptop is too heavy to lug around just to look up words. For the models I’ve used there is a slightly annoying responsiveness to the keyboard whereby if I type too fast it will loose characters, but you can get used to that.

The battery life is also great and can last several months (or longer) on a single pair of AAs. This, plus the relatively small weight (around a pound) make this a great traveling companion on long flights. When you are not using it, both the screen and keyboard are protected by a pretty sturdy cover which is built into the device.

I could go on about the various reference sources contained within it (including dictionaries and encyclopedias), but this isn’t a great selling point compared to the nearly infinite knowledge on the internet. Actually, if you account for the fact that all of these can be accessed without internet it’s a pretty nice bonus. For example, one thousand items of classic Japanese literature are all included, which are a good way to deeper your knowledge of Japanese language and culture.

One of the nice things about this product (which is hard to get your hands on even if you have an internet connection) is the ability to pronounce Japanese words using a speaker or headphones, plus a visual display of the one or more pitch accent patterns. I haven’t been able to find anything free like this on the internet, though Dictionary Goo used to show similar accent marks until they removed them sometime back. For those trying to get their speech as close to natural Japanese as possible, this is an important tool which I use myself. I am not sure if it possible to read back arbitrary sentences, but there is a guidebook of travel phrases which includes recordings of the Japanese ones.

Not surprisingly, since these devices are made by a Japanese company there are other features which are biased towards Japanese people learning English, like video tutorials which are built into some of the more expensive models.

Nowadays there are many methods to look up unfamiliar Kanji including radical lookup and some apps which even claim to do recognition using the camera (I haven’t tried these and doubt they are very accurate). One nice feature of many of these digital dictionaries is you can write Kanji with your finger (or am included stylus) and have it recognized to determine it’s meaning and reading(s). Ironically, this is one of the few times I actually need to write Kanji so I am glad I learned some of the basic stroke orders. The dark side of this is that if you don’t write the character like a Japanese person would then it may have a hard time comprehending what you are trying to write, which can result to throwing up your hands in frustration.

One other annoying thing about this dictionary is I haven’t figured out how to look up a word using two Kanji contained in other words I know. For example if I know the characters for  雷 (kaminari, lightning) and 雨 (ame, rain), and I want to lookup the pronunciation for 雷雨 (which happens to be raiu), using a computer I use cut and paste to figure this out. There is a feature which allows jumping from a Kanji within a word to a specific page on just that character and sometimes this helps.

I am not sure if it is easy to find this exact model (XD-6500) online for import from Japan, but you can information about it on this Japanese retail site (Kakaku.com). Here is a similar model on Yodobashi Camera’s site. You can find a higher level model, XD-B9800, on Amazon here, though it’s much pricier at around $270.

If you ever go to Yodobashi Camera in Japan definitely check out the electronic dictionary section, it’s pretty massive with over 40 models, over half of those from Casio alone. Based on what the store clerk told me, many of them have a similar feature set, with some extra features added here and there.

If you read a lot of physical media (paper novels, newspapers, and magazines) and find yourself needing to frequently look up words, then I would highly recommend one of these digital dictionaries.

Travels in Japan 2015: Overview [series of articles]

My family and I had a great time on our 15-day vacation to Japan this August, and I really enjoyed writing so many posts about it.

Although it’s possible to get a page linking to a bunch of blog posts using keywords (like this), for ease of use I think an old-fashioned table of contents is still the most natural form for this.

  1.  It’s been a while
  2. Transportation
  3. Nikkou and Marukyuu
  4. Edo Wonderland and Toushouhuu shrine in Nikkou
  5. Game centers
  6. Integration of the roman alphabet and English into everyday Japanese life
  7. The paradise of electronic products that is Yodobashi Camera
  8. Massage parlors
  9. Taking your Japanese skills to the next level in Japan
  10. Soma horse festival and dressing up like a Samurai
  11. Make it as you like it with Japanese Okonomiyaki
  12. Cleanliness in Japan
  13. Narita View hotel with hot spring baths
  14. Mr. Numao, an amazing Taxi driver
  15. Video: The gentle charm of Japan’s rolling countryside
  16. Picture Album: The beauty of Japan

Thanks to everyone who read and liked these articles.

If you have any questions about any of the places on the trip feel free to ask via comments on this post or on the individual articles.

The mysterious “といって聞かない” (to itte kikanai) and it’s explanation

Studying a foreign language never gets old because you always have new things to learn. In Japanese, once you put in the time and effort to learn the grammar and a good chunk of the Kanji characters, you’ll get to a point where you can start reading native-level Japanese little by little. But there will always be new words and new characters to pick up.

Early on, the grammar differences make each sentence a mini puzzle, but even after several years of study you may come across sentences that are simple with no new words, yet even after searching through a dictionary you just don’t get it. In cases like this you can just skip over the text, or decide to go the final step and ask a Japanese person.

Recently I was reading a popular novel and came across one of these cryptic phrases. The context is that the mother is talking to the father about their daughter wanting to visit the father.

「もうどうしても、娘が行きたいといって聞かないのよ」

(mou doushite mo, musume ga ikitai to itte kikanai no yo)

Regardless of your level, you can look up most of these words and figure out their meanings. However the part “いって聞かない” is what caught me off guard. To start with, each of the verbs there can have multiple meanings:

  • いって => said (言う) or went (行って)   [it’s pretty clear it’s the former]
  • 聞かない => will not ask or will not listen

Actually, the multiple meanings isn’t that bad – the problem was that even thinking of all possibilities I still couldn’t get the pieces to fit together in my head.

I asked my wife, and her explanation made things very clear. The phrase “といって聞かない” can be more easily understood by writing it in the following way:

  • と言って、人になんて言われても聞かない。

This would be translated in English as

  • …says X, and doesn’t listen no matter what she/he is told.

In this case this means that the daughter is persistently wanting to go see her Dad and won’t take no for an answer. Here is a full translation of the original quote:

  • Our daughter is saying she wants to go no matter what, and won’t listen to anyone who tells her otherwise.

In retrospect, this sentence wasn’t really that complicated, but it’s natural for these sort of challenges to crop up in the study of a foreign language.

I think one reason I got stuck on this is that I was somehow thinking the mother was doing the asking (or the listening), but since the mother’s name isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is the default to assume the previous subject (the daughter, from “娘が”) is the one doing the action. The words “どうしても” (no matter what) and ”のよ” (combination of particles which give a feminine, assertive feel) also are hints to figure out the meaning.

Travels in Japan 2015 [Part 16: The Beauty of Japan (picture gallery) ]

On our recent trip to Japan we took over 2000 pictures, the majority on a brand new Olympus TG-4 Tough we purchased just for this occasion.

I’ve went through them and selected my top 40 favorites.

Travels in Japan 2015: [Part 15: The gentle charm of Japan’s rolling countryside (video)]

Watching Japan’s countryside rush by outside the window of a fast-moving train always mesmerizes me. There is a natural, peaceful beauty to the expansive fields of green, interspersed with homes bearing bright-colored roofs in shades of orange and blue. The land is fairly flat, so in some places you can see far into the distance, as things gradually take on a dull blue hue.

I’ve edited together a few video clips that we took from the train in the countryside of Tochigi (栃木) Japan, one of which was recorded near the Yasuzuka train station (安塚駅). This doesn’t quite capture the scenery as well as I would have liked, but I hope it gives you a taste of what these picturesque lands have to offer.

For those of you who have seen Japanese anime or films which showcase areas like this, seeing the real thing is somehow like being inside a fantasy world. To me, all of Japan is like that more or less.

Travels in Japan 2015: [Part 14: Mr. Numao, an amazing taxi driver]

One thing I feel makes Japanese culture unique is their service mindset (called サービス精神), which manifests as attention to detail, thoroughness, and politeness with dealing with customers. I touched on this topic in several other articles of this series, for example the ANA Stewardesses. When responding to a customer, you can see their respect reflected in both their tone and the words they choose. (In fact, various levels of societal politeness is one of the defining characteristics of the Japanese language) If you know a little Japanese and want to see this for yourself, simply ask something to an employee of a store and see how they respond.

Having said this, I’ve seen significant variation in this service mentality, with some of my interactions extremely pleasant and others (rarely) frustrating or borderline rude. One notable case of the former was Numao san, an amazing taxi driver who went above and beyond the call of duty to give the best service to me and my family.

We first met this gentleman when hailing a taxi from our Hotel in Nikkou. Our destination was Toushouguu (東照宮)Shrine, but we were concerned that we wouldn’t make it in time because it was already around 3:45pm and we heard it closed early. We mentioned this to Numao san who immediately radioed into to a coworker to verify the hours and that we would have enough time. He told us that they closed at 5pm and we should arrive there by around 4pm, with just enough time to climb to the tower and back.

We we arrived at the shrine, he parked the Taxi car in the dropoff/pickup area near it’s entrance, and walked us up to the gate. We told him we wanted to get a taxi back to our hotel around 5pm, but weren’t carrying a phone so couldn’t call anyone, and public phones are pretty rare in Japan. He said that he would wait for us at the entrance around that time, having a need to take care of an brief errand (get gasoline) in the meantime. We thanked him and began the mini adventure that is Toushouguu.

We had made it to the top of the shrine by around 4:30pm and things were going great until a heavy downpour started suddenly. We managed to get a few levels down and huddled in one of the buildings to take sanctuary from the rain. We were hoping the rain would let up, but after a few minutes it’s intensity didn’t change much, so we decided to make a run for the exit down a few more flights of stairs. This was no easy task however, since we had our 3-year old with us and no umbrellas to stay dry. To make matters worse, other visitors frequently stopped to take pictures an blocked our path.

After briskly walking a few meters suddenly I saw a man approach us and hand a pair of umbrellas. It was Numao san, who had come in search of us. Later he told us had special permission to get inside without paying the entrance fee because of his job.

He helped us into the cab, after which we mentioned that there were two other shrines nearby we hoped to visit someday, but would have to settle for another time since it was almost 5pm. He nodded, agreeing that they were going to close very soon, but in another feat of kindness offered to drive us to them so we could see them briefly from the outside, since they happened to be only minutes from where we were. At each shrine, he let us get out to catch a glimpse (the rain had slowed down by that point) and even took family pictures of us.

One were done visiting the other two Shrines, we thanked him again, to which he responded that the mileage and time for this little adventure was off the clock. He drove us back to our hotel, having some friendly conversation on the way back, including a warm complement of my Japanese ability. He remarked that the area of Nikkou we were in had several establishments closing in the recent past (including a hotel), and that there was only a single grocery store nearby, without any larger shopping centers, including bookstores.

When we parted at the hotel’s parking lot, we wished him well. Unfortunately, tipping is not common practice in Japan but we would have liked to give him a large tip for his trouble. We were lucky enough to bump into him the next day, and used his services again to get to Edo Wonderland.

If you ever bump into Numao san, please tell him thanks again from us, a family of three from America. He was by far the nicest taxi driver we’d ever met.