日経大人OFF (Nikkei otona OFF) is a magazine series by the same company that publishes the Nikkei daily business paper.
In this post I am reviewing a special edition of that series from 3/15/2012 titled: 「美しい日本語と正しい敬語が身につく本」, roughly translated as “Guidebook to beautiful Japanese and proper polite language”.
As you can guess from its title, this magazine teaches you “beautiful” and “proper” Japanese, focusing on mistakes commonly made by native Japanese speakers. It includes things like proper readings for Kanji compounds (ex:重複 should be ‘choufuku’ not ‘juufuku’), proper polite expressions, and commonly misused expressions. There are some other interesting topics like how to sharpen your sense of word nuances. In this book, I learned the useful word 語感 (gokan) which means the nuance(s) of a word.
To be honest, this is one of the most difficult books I’ve read in this category, not just because of the language used to explain things, but more so because not being familiar with some of the expressions made it harder to understand the “right” vs the “wrong” way (or at least harder to retain the material).
Another reason I recommend this book for only highly advanced Japanese students with several years of study is because some of these topics appear to be subjective, or perhaps should I say “academic”. For example, if you look in the dictionary you’ll find the above mentioned 重複 is actually listed with both ちょうふく and じゅうふく. So you could argue that either is “correct”, though the former reading appears to be technically correct. The book itself admits these types of errors are often overlooked. (I found this link which discusses the above example in more detail, and talks about the results of a survey where approximately 40% of the people said じゅうふく was correct. As a native speaker, I don’t think it would that bad to be in accordance with 40% of native speakers)
To give another example, the book states that “注目を集める” is incorrect (or at least awkward), apparently because of the duplication in meaning between the noun and verb. However, having heard this expression in places like news broadcasts I was a little surprised. But I think is the main purpose of this book: to point out instances of Japanese that many natives misunderstand to be correct.
I had previously reviewed the book 「その日本語、大人はカチンときます！」 (That Japanese is offensive!) which has a similar theme. While that book is more accessible with its list-based format, I feel that「美しい日本語と正しい敬語が身に付く本」is overall a much more informative read due to its wide set of topics and frequent explanations. Just a word of warning, if you are sensitive to small print this magazine may not be for you, since it squeezes a lot of content into each page.
While it is out of print, you can buy used copies here (Amazon Japan). In case you are wondering how I managed to get an out-of-print magazine, I had found it at a nearby library in Oregon. You can also find it here on Booklive. Reading it in E-book form should make the small fonts less of a problem.
Ultimately, I think that more than knowledge of the “right” words, I enjoyed learning about how native Japanese speakers view their own language, for example what type of mistakes they make, and what they consider ‘beautiful’ language. This linguistic culture angle made this a worthy read for me. Polite language is one of the most unique, and difficult, parts of Japanese and seeing a native perspective on this topic was very rewarding.