Monthly Archives: May 2016

Useful Japanese expression: shikata nai (仕方ない) and a bunch of variants

The phrase “仕方ない” (shikata nai) is one that I learned very early in my Japanese studies and I’ve found it to be fairly commonly used, as well as pretty straightforward to understand.

The word 仕方 (shikata) means “way to do something” or “method”. For example, since お礼 means “thanks”, then お礼の仕方 means “the way to thank” or “the way to give thanks”. The ~方 (~kata) part is also used as a suffix to verbs in the pre-masu form to mean “the way of ~”. For example “食べ方” (tabekata)  is “the way of eating” or “how to eat”, and 泳ぎ方 (oyogikata) is “how to swim”.

So, 仕方ない literally means “there is no way to do something”, and is often translated as “it can’t be helped”. Neither of these is a good natural translation (who actually says “it can’t be helped” anyway?) , but they get the point across.

Another way to explain it is that something is unpreventable. So you could say “仕方ないな” after you dropped your ice cream on the ground, since after all there is no way to go back in time and prevent dropping your tasty desert. Depending on the situation I might translate this line as “oh well”.

This phrase can also be used after a verb in the “te” form to show that “something can’t be helped” (another way to say this is the word 無駄 “muda”).

  • どうせ彼が電話に出ないから電話しても仕方ない
  • He isn’t going to answer the phone anyway, so there is no use to calling him.

Here is another example.

  • ゲームをやりたくて仕方ない
  • I really want to play a/the game no matter what.

My English translation is somewhat non-literal here, but the idea is that the speaker wants to play a game, and there is nothing that can be done about that urge.

Another interesting use of 仕方ない is when it is used to modify a noun:

  • 彼は仕方ないやつだよ
  • That guy is hopeless.

Here, the feeling of “nothing can be done” (about ‘that guy’) is retained, though the word “hopeless” is a better, albeit overused, way to express this concept in english.

There are actually a few expressions or variations of this one which basically mean the same thing (excepting a few subtle nuances differences):

  • しょうがない  [shou ga nai]
  • しょうもない [shou mo nai]
  • どうしようもない [dou shiyou mo nai]
  • 仕様がない [shiyou ga nai]
  • しゃあない [shaa nai] <= I’ve only heard this spoken, never seen it written
  • 致し方ない [itashikata nai] <= politer version, not used that commonly

Interesting in buying a bunch of Keigo Higashino(東野 圭吾)novels?

While trying to organize things around the house lately, I found a bunch of novels from the famous author Keigo Higashino, known for his “Galileo” series of novels which was made into a movie, as well as many others (like 白夜行)

I have around 49 novels from this great author which I’m looking to sell in bulk, as doing so one-by-one would just take too much time, including all the shipping and such. You can see two photographs below which contain all the books I’m trying to sell as a unit. Nearly all of them are in very good condition.

I’d like to sell these for $250, which is about $5 a book–quite a deal since some of these can typically go for as much as double that in Japan, plus buying them anywhere in America would incur a pretty big shipping charge. I will be paying the shipping charge in this case, though I’d like to only sell to people in the US since I don’t know how much shipping would be outside the US. (If you really want these and you are out of the US, let me know and I still may consider selling them).

The Japanese in these is generally somewhat advanced, so I’d say you need to have studied Japanese for a few years and especially have a good grasp of Kanji in order to enjoy them. But for semi-fluent to fluent speakers, they should all provide an enjoyable experience.

Be aware they are Bunko books, so the font is a bit smaller than what you would see in a larger paperback.

Anyone interested please leave me a comment, or even better, email me at selftaughtjapanese (at) gmail.com.

I may eventually try to sell these on EBay if I can’t get any traction here, but I wanted to give my readers first dibs (:

Also, if you only want to buy a subset of these books, let me know and I may consider it, but the price per book will be higher.

 

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Short essay: Thoughts on learning to speak and write in a foreign language… naturally

When learning a foreign language, I think we all tend to go through stages. First, we may have a mild (or major) interest in the culture of a foreign country, and begin to pick up a few words here or there in that country’s native language. In the case of Japanese, it might be a few phrases from subtitled Anime where it’s easy to pick words that frequently appear. I still vividly remember learning one of my first Japanese expressions from a good friend in high school: “Hajimemashite, douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu“.

The next stage involves more formal learning by taking one or more classes or devoting some of your spare time to properly learn the basics of the language, especially grammar, pronunciation, and alphabet(s). For many people, memorizing isn’t that challenging (given the time and effort), but the tricky part here is to start learning the ins and outs of that language’s grammar, including certain tendencies that are different from one’s native language, like how in Japanese subjects are often omitted.

After a few years of extensive study, most people can probably manage to figure out the meaning of text in that language, assuming they have access to a dictionary. Learning to understand spoken language can be much tricker due to differences individual speech (in Japanese there are significant differences across genders and ages) and also due to regional accents/dialects. But, even for listening, I think practice really does make perfect, at least in the sense that you “understand enough” to either enjoy the content in that language, or learn something from it. For reading and listening, which I’ll call passive tasks, there is typically so much context to go by that you can just guess things as you go–essentially every sentence becomes a mini puzzle. If you are living your day-to-day life in that language, any misunderstandings you have about the meaning of a certain expression will probably get ironed out by time, as you undertake a gradual process of trial and error.

Now we come to the real challenge: the active tasks of writing and speaking in a foreign language. It depends on the person, but for me I feel speaking is generally the harder of these two. One reason is that you typically have to respond in real time, and the other is the need to be concerned about pronunciation, not only of individual words but also of phrases, since in Japanese the intonation of words can influence words later in the sentence. You also have to worry about things like aizuchi (words used to show you are listening, like “sou desu ka“) and words that show you are thinking (like “etto…” which is a little similar to the English “umm…”). You also have to inflect your speech to express your emotions. Finally, you need a conversation partner in order to make any progress. This condition alone means that self-taught students who don’t live in a country which speaks that language will have a very hard time of getting to an advanced level in their speech.

There are some advantages to learning to speak as compared to learning to write. For example, when speaking there is a quick feedback cycle between expressing something and getting a response. Although it’s usually pretty hard to find someone to correct your mistakes during a conversation (except maybe a private tutor who is paid for that), there is often an opportunity to reuse an expression you just heard, which allows you to cement it in your memory for more easy recall later.

Learning to write, on the other hand, lacks many of the difficult aspects of learning to speak, like pronunciation and a need to respond in real time. For those doing self-study, especially those living outside of Japan, it should be easier to pick up writing (and by writing, I am mostly referring to inputting with a keyboard, though writing by hand is also included) because there is nearly an infinite set of resources available in the form of websites and in many books which can be pretty easily acquired from online retailers. One can also write all day long, in the form of a blog or essay, without needing anyone available at that moment (unlike speaking which usually requires a partner). So, in a certain sense, you can study writing as much as your free time allows.

However, herein lies one of the challenges of learning to write natively. Just as with speech, it is pretty difficult to find someone to correct your mistakes on somewhere like a daily blog. The problem comes when you know just enough grammar and vocabulary to be dangerous, meaning that you can just start writing nearly anything that comes to mind, using only a dictionary and knowledge of grammar rules. However, if you are not careful you might end with extremely unnatural prose that sounds like something that came out of a computer translator. Ok, maybe not that horrific, but you get the point.

Getting to the final stage, where you can write like a native, such that none of your language has the scent of your native language, is quite a challenge, and I feel many people are never able to achieve this goal. I myself still have a long way to come, though I tell myself this is because I have placed an emphasis on passive Japanese (i.e. reading and listening) over active for many of my years of study.

Completely natural writing (as well as speech) requires not just learning a complete set of grammar rules to build sentences with, but also a large set of exceptions, without necessarily any logic behind them. To put it another way–how often have you read the text written by a non-native speaker of your native tongue and said to yourself “this just doesn’t feel right”. It isn’t technically grammatically incorrect, and there is no official rule that has been broken. Some of this can be explained by the linguistic phenomenon called “collocation” which describes how certain groups of words are used more commonly together than others.

To help get your writing to sound more natural, I suggest you try and create a tight feedback loop which mimics a conversation. This means that you should favor writing emails (either to a friend or coworker) over writing a blog. When writing emails, try to force yourself to reuse words and expressions used by the person you are communicating with (hopefully a native speaker). Also, if you say something unnatural it’s more likely to be pointed out as opposed to a blog where mistakes can sit for years on a webpage without anyone pointing them out. Text chat provides an even shorter feedback loop (nearly immediate), though you should keep in mind the expressions you learn from chatting with someone may not be applicable to an email or other more formal type of writing (think of the abbreviation “l8r” used in English chat, which would be strange to use in a business email).

If you really want to keep a blog in a foreign language, I recommend reading other blogs written by native speakers immediately before and after you make a post, and be sure to do a thorough proofread of your text before posting it, looking for unnatural or incorrect parts. When I have written a blog in the past in Japanese, I frequently googled combinations of words to verify if they were common before using them. This helped me write much more natural sentences, but it had the disadvantage of being quite tedious and taking out some of the fun out of blog writing.

Another option when you are reading is to take notes whenever you come across an expression that seems useful, and force yourself to use it in the next day or so in your own writing. This can be an effective way of increasing your vocabulary, though it takes a good amount of persistence and willpower to not get lazy and quit after a few days.  If you have the time you can write a few example sentences on the spot, though that can interrupt your reading practice.

One other way to help raise your writing and speech to native level is to find one or more role models–native speakers who you can respect and pick up phrases from. I think to a certain extent this automatically happens when speaking, especially when we make friends and talk to them on a frequent basis, but for writing I feel it requires a bit more conscious effort to find and leverage such linguistic role models.

Once in a while, ask a native speaker to give you detailed criticism of your writing so you can have a sanity check to see how close to native level you are. Doing this for everything you write would be way too tedious (for both you and the other person), though there are some tools out there like Lang 8 which can help make this process more efficient (disclaimer: I have not actually used this site but think it is worth experimenting with). Writing in a foreign language for weeks, months, or longer, without having someone double check your work carries the risk of developing certain bad habits that will be hard to break later.

Another thing I am considering getting into is writing fiction short stories in Japanese. I feel this is one of the hardest domains because much of the internet doesn’t contain full texts of proper ‘literature’, so the technique of google for natural sentences isn’t nearly as useful. Also, it is harder to find someone to correct your language since you’ll need a person that is pretty well-read. Finally, the lexicon of words used in literature is much higher than in normal everyday conversation, emails, or chat. The best thing you can do is just read as much as you can in that language, ideally from published authors, and try to remember as much as you can as you read.

At the end of the day, learning to write and speak naturally in a foreign language is essentially about learning to imitate others in an efficient way, and match up thoughts and feelings with the appropriate words. I feel the number one enemy is not the large number of words nor the foreign concepts you need to master, but complacency. The danger is when we realize we’ve reached the level where native speakers actually understand what we are saying (or at least seem to), and we slack off, telling ourselves that we’ve made it. Learning to speak and write such that we can communicate basic ideas is very different from doing so with native-like expressions, and making sure we are aware of the massive gulf between these two things is one of the steps to true fluency.

This reminds me of a book I once read about Zen meditation many years ago, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”. The central theme of this book was that there is something special about people when they start to learn something new: they look at everything with an unbiased, fresh mind, devoid of expectations and thoughts of “I should be pretty good at this since I have this much experience”. Though the book was focused on meditation, I think applying the concept of Beginners Mind to our language studies may have a surprisingly large impact, especially for those that have been studying a few years or longer.

Japanese to English translation: “Candy Candy Final Story” – Chapter 1, Part 1

I had previously written a review of the Japanese novel  “Candy Candy Final Story” (キャンディ・キャンディ Final Story) written by Nagita Keiko, and later posted a translation I did of the prologue. Generally, when I do translations of small fragments of novels, I don’t intend to follow up with translations of any future chapters.

However, in this case I received such great feedback that I decided to translate a bit more of the story. It’s just a few more pages, but I hope it satisfies the fans, at least for a short time. As before, I am not sure if I will continue translating any more of this work, but if I receive a lot of good feedback as before, there is a chance I will translate some more.

Even though I enjoyed this novel (both reading and translating portions of it), I am not that familiar with the Candy Candy fan community. So if you would like to advertise the existence of this translation feel free to post a link to this article on any related message board. However, I request that you please do not post any of the translated text, as I may change it any time.

Also, as always I would like to state that this work is owned by the author and/or publisher, and I am only doing an unofficial fan translation. If you are interested in this, please consider buying the original work, or some of the other works from the author and/or publisher. You can see links to some of those here in my original review.

Update: You can see Chapter 1, Part 2 translated here.

Candy Candy Final Story (first book): Chapter 1, Part 1   (by Nagita Keiko)

– Unofficial translation –

 

“Annie! Annie… Where are you?”

Candy felt as if her lungs were being squeezed tightly as she ran down Pony’s hill, nearly bumping into Ms. Reine in front of a pile of firewood at it’s bottom.

“Oh, it’s you Candy. What happened to Annie?”

“I can’t find her anywhere… not even on Pony’s hill.”

“What shall we do? It’s almost time for her to leave… Where on God’s earth did that girl go?”

With an expression of utter bewilderment, Miss Reine looked around the vicinity.

“Ma’am, don’t worry! I’ll definitely find her! Have you ever known someone to outwit me in hide and seek?” said Candy energetically, as if to cheer up Ms. Reine, and then took off running again.

They hadn’t checked the chicken coop yet.

If they didn’t find her soon, the Brighton couple might think that Annie had changed her mind. It would so terrible if they decided not to adopt Annie and went home without her.

(Your wish have finally come true, Annie… You’re going to get a wonderful mother and father….)

About an hour earlier, when the Brighton couple came to adopt Annie, she looked so happy wearing the dress they had bought her, colored light blue like the morning sky. Who would guess that when the time came to go home with them, she would suddenly disappear…

(Annie, did you decide you don’t want to be adopted anymore?)

As Candy headed to the chicken coop, she felt a new hope stirring within herself.

Being separated from Annie–for Candy, that would be as painful as half of her body being torn off.

From as long as she could remember until now, at age 6, Candy and Annie were always together. Annie, liable to cry at the smallest thing, was always trailing close behind Candy.

(If they aren’t able to find Annie, then she can’t be adopted by the Brighton family, and she will be able to stay with me forever…)

Candy quickly pushed away these thoughts that came into her mind.

(No! No! Candy, the reason Annie is hiding is just because she is being her usual cowardly self. Of all people, you are one who should understand best how much Annie has longed for a real mother and father of her own!)

“Yes, I know that!”

Candy gave an exaggerated nod to the group of chickens who had gathered around her, clucking as their heads shaked furiously, and left the coop.

There was no sign of Annie in neither the chicken coop nor the old shed.

Where could she have gone? The only other place I can think of is the forest. But would scaredy-cat Annie really go into the forest all by herself?

(But she might be in the forest after all… I’ll search there next.)

Candy took off running towards the dense forest which expanded behind Pony’s Home.

Weaving her way through the trees in the dim forest, she ran as fast as she could, cutting through patches of sunlight which had managed to make it through the leaves above.

If I don’t find Annie soon…

“Annie! Can you hear me? Annie!”

A group of birds were frightened by Candy’s strained voice and took flight to escape, the sound of their wings making a great clamour.

A dead branch snapped below Candy’s feet as she sped through the forest.

At that moment, she stopped abruptly. Candy had caught sight of something light blue flashing from within the shadow of a grove of trees up ahead.

Candy took a deep breath and ran towards the mossy grove.

It was Annie.

She was crouched down, sobbing at the base of a large tree, illuminated by beams of sunlight filtering down on her from above.

“Annie… I found you!”

When Candy took another deep breath and called out cheerfully to her friend, Annie raised her face, eyes glistening with tears.

“Candy…”

“I was so worried about you! Oh Annie, what has gotten into you!”

Candy tried her best to keep her tone friendly, but tears continued to overflow from Annie’s eyes.

“Candy… I don’t want to go anywhere… I just want to stay with you!”

“Annie, there you go saying crazy things again, even though you have such a wonderful mother and father coming to get you!”

“But… Candy, I’m so afraid…”

Annie’s long, dark brown hair shined brightly in the sunlight.

It’s hard to believe that Annie, who was so scared of this forest, had come all the way here by herself.

She was probably so worried about her new life that she take it any longer. But I’m sure she had just as much hope about the great future that awaited her.

Candy smiled and moved in closer to Annie.

“You’re really scared? That’s strange, considering that the Brightons don’t look anything like Dracula.” Candy joked as she crossed her eyes and bared her teeth to imitate a vampire.

“Oh Candy…”

Annie wiped her tears as she giggled.

“That’s right Annie, there is nothing to be sad about! Today is the day you’re dreams are finally coming true.”

Candy grabbed Annie’s hand and helped her stand up, brushing off a few leaves which had stuck to her friend’s light blue dress.

“You know, if you don’t get adopted by the Brighton family, I’m going to pretty upset with you! You promised that you’d invite me to your giant mansion with so many bedrooms and feed me a magnificent meal! I’m really looking forward to that, Madam Annie!”

“That’s true… I am going to be the lady of a giant mansion!”

The tears had mostly dried from Annie’s eyes, leaving a new glimmer of hope.

“Alright, let’s go Annie! Your new parents are waiting for you!”

Annie smiled and nodded.

As they ran through the forest, hand in hand, Candy did her best to hold back the tears that welled up from within. The warm of Annie’s hand in hers… This would be the last time they would ever run together like this…

But now was not the time for tears. She had to see off Annie with a smile, as her friend left to begin a new happy life.

 

A little while latter, the children watched Annie from a distance with glum faces as she sat in the Brighton family’s two-horse carriage. Every single child was wordless with downcast eyes.

Candy ran up to meet Annie in the carriage. There were still tears in Annie’s eyes.

“Oh Annie, you have to stop crying already!”

Candy did her famous eyebrow twitch, which made Annie crack a smile.

After exchanging goodbyes with Miss Pony and the other teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Brighton boarded the carriage. The driver pulled the reins and they began moving. Ms. Reine hurried to keep up with the carriage.

“Annie, make sure you eat…”

Ms. Reine’s voice started to choke up.

“Annie… We’ll always be praying for you…”

Behind Ms. Reine, Ms. Pony nodded as she smiled warmly. Unable to endure it any longer, Annie broke out into tears again.

“Ms. Pony… Candy… All of you…”

Annie’s words trailed off. Mrs. Brighton put her arm gently around Annie’s shoulder as she sobbed quietly.

“Goodbye Annie!”

“Take care of yourself!”

Annie raised her tear-stained face and looked behind her to see the children chasing after the carriage and calling out to her.

Annie seemed to mumble something, could it have been Candy’s name? Candy was frozen helpless, unable to even say goodbye to her friend, and could only watch as the carriage gradually receded into the distance.

Once the carriage was no longer visible, Candy suddenly darted off towards tallest tree near Pony’s Home–a giant oak which had recently sprouted new leaves. When she reached it, she began furiously climbing the tree.

“Candy, that’s dangerous! Come down immediately!”

Ms. Reine yelled out to Candy as she wiped the tears from her face.

“But Ms. Reine, I can see Annie’s carriage from up here!”

Ms. Reine could hear Candy’s voice coming from the top of the tall oak tree.

“Annie! You going to have such a wonderful life! I’ll be waiting for my invitation to come see you!”

“C…Candy, If you wave from there…”

Just as Ms. Reine started to raise her voice, she felt a hand softly placed on her shoulder. It was Ms. Pony.

“Ms. Reine, let’s leave her be. Of all of us today, I think Candy is having the hardest time with Annie’s departure.”

“Yes, Ms. Pony. You’re right…”

Ms. Reine wiped her tears again and looked up at Candy in the tree.

She was perched quietly on one of the oak tree’s larger branches, staring off into the distance.

“I’m really so proud of that girl, Ms. Reine. She hasn’t complained about being sad or lonely even a single time since hearing that Annie was going to be adopted,” Ms. Pony mumbled as if speaking to herself while looking up at Candy together with Ms. Reine.

“How very true, Ms. Pony. After all, Candy was abandoned here by her parents on the same day that Annie was… I just wish that Candy could be as fortunate as Annie has been…”

 

Ms. Reine thought back six years ago to that lovely sunny day in May.

A gentle breeze blew, and white petals from the blooming hawthorn trees lining the streets scattered in the direction of the wind.

In front of Pony’s Home, a small child cried her eyes out while kicking the old battered basket she lay within. The force of her cries was nearly enough to blow away the petals which drifted around her.

“Pony’s Home” was an orphanage that was managed day-to-day by two sisters of the ministry.

Babies were frequently left on the front steps of this house, which was built as an extension to a simple, wooden church.

“Oh heavens! It looks as if today is a day destined for little baby girls.”

Ms. Pony exchanged glances with Ms. Reine and extended both hands to remove the crying baby wrapped in old rags from the basket and embrace it tenderly.

”Dear me! Ms. Reine, this girl has already stopped crying. She’s actually smiling!”

Ms. Pony, who had carried the baby inside the house, peeped outside to see another child sleeping soundly in a worn-out basket.

“Well, well. You two girls were abandoned on the same day. It’s almost as if you were sisters… What names shall we give you?”

The child who had been abandoned in front of Pony’s Home a mere two hours earlier was Annie.

“One well-behaved child, and the other… well she is certainly filled with energy! Ms. Reine, I think we’ll have our hands full with these two.”

Ms. Reine, upon seeing one of the babies grin at her, couldn’t help but smile back in response with her plump cheeks.

“It’s hard to be believe they’re already six years old. Thankfully, they’ve both grown up healthy.”

“Yes, although I think Candy still has a little bit too much energy at times.”

Ms. Pony stood alongside Ms. Reine as they continued to watch Candy high up in the tree.

“Yes indeed, Ms. Pony. It’s funny that we gave her the name ‘Candice White’ because her skin as a baby was as white as snow, and now her skin has been so tanned by the sun…”

After they had made sure Candy climbed down the tree safely, they began walking back to Pony’s Home.

“Ms. Pony! Ms. Reine!”

They were surprised by the loud voice of tattle-tale Mike who ran up to them.

“What’s wrong Mike?”

“Ms. Reine, Candy is ignoring her turn to clean the chicken coop and is going to the hill. See? She’s over there!”

Looking in the direction Mike was pointing, they saw Candy running headlong towards Pony’s hill.

The sisters exchanged glances. They both knew the other was thinking the same thing.

“Hey, aren’t you mad at all?”

Mike gave a disapproving frown as the two remained silent.

Saying goodbye to Annie was just another farewell, something very common at Pony’s Home. It was practically a yearly event.

The children could recover from this type of thing surprisingly quickly.

Except for Candy…

The sisters just couldn’t get upset at her because they knew she hadn’t shed even a single tear today. They couldn’t imagine how terribly painful it must be for such a young girl to bear such sadness.
Even now, Candy appeared to be skipping happily across the top of the hill.