Japanese language

Invoice puts Japanese company in running for greenest in Japan, at least as far as names go

Invoice puts Japanese company in running for greenest in Japan, at least as far as names go

Whereas a lot of last names in English come from professions, such as Smith, Hunter, and Baker, you don’t find a lot of work-related ones in Japan. Generally, Japanese family names have some sort of connection to the natural environment, such as Ogawa (“Small River”), Yamada (“Mountain Field”), or Takeoka (“Bamboo Hill”).

You could debate whether or not this is the result of a deep-rooted Japanese respect for nature, or simply that for centuries the feudal system forced the vast majority of the population into agriculture. Regardless of the reason, there’s no denying the linguistic phenomenon, as proven by the signatures on this invoice from what appears to be the most ecologically oriented company in Japan, at least in terms of names.

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10 things foreigners do that Japanese people find amusing

10 things foreigners do that Japanese people find amusing

Ah, the wonders of learning a second language. There’s much to be said for the sense of satisfaction and achievement that comes from communicating effectively in another tongue. There’s also much to be said about the head-scratching and sense of humility that comes from tripping up and sounding like a buffoon.

We’ve found 10 tweeted tales of confusion from Japanese people who’ve had amusing encounters with foreigners in Japan. Some strike such a chord with Japanese that they’ve been retweeted and shared hundreds, sometimes even thousands of times.

So what is it that we foreigners do that’s so amusing?

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N.Y. man’s Japanese T-shirt announces “I am not Sato,” we couldn’t agree more

N.Y. man’s Japanese T-shirt announces “I am not Sato,” we couldn’t agree more

Among RocketNews24’s bilingual writing team, you won’t find a single person who hasn’t, at some point, linguistically crammed their foot in their mouth (personally, I know I’ve gotten my knee and most of my thigh past my pearly whites on at least three separate occasions). So while we can definitely appreciate the humor involved in a strange language screw-up, we know we’re not immune to such things ourselves, and that the rest of the world can weird up its Japanese just as often as Japan stumbles over English.

Case in point: this man spotted napping on the subway in the U.S., who felt the need to inform his fellow passengers who can read Japanese that he is, in fact, not Mr. Sato.

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Textbook gives Chinese otaku Japanese lessons with a side of anime girls and dialogue

Textbook gives Chinese otaku Japanese lessons with a side of anime girls and dialogue

There’s an odd paradox in learning a foreign language, in that often the phrases most satisfying to use in real life are the least exciting to study. For example, take the phrase, “Nama wo ippai kudasai.”

It means “One draft beer, please.” Utter the sentence at a restaurant in Tokyo on a hot afternoon, where it actually produces a cold glass of beer, and for that one moment, you feel like you’re the linguistic king of the world. In a classroom or self-study setting, though there’s nothing particularly colorful or fun about it, making it less likely to leave an impression in your mind and pretty easy to forget.

Trying to combat this is a Japanese text-book, which we found on a recent trip to China, that spices things up by teaching phrases taken not from everyday life, but from Japan’s biggest cultural ambassador, anime.

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Why do so many anime characters have non-Japanese names?

Why do so many anime characters have non-Japanese names?

There are a lot of things that surprise newcomers to anime. Why are the characters’ eyes so big? How come everyone has funky hair colors? What’s up with all the panty shots?

A lot of those have simple answers. The giant eyes are an influence from legendary manga artist Osamu Tezuka, who was in turn inspired by classic Disney designs. Anime artwork uses a relatively small number of lines in drawing faces, and a large palette of hair colors is a quick and easy way to differentiate otherwise similar-looking characters. Male anime fans in Japan are extraordinarily open about their love of undies.

With those questions out of the way, let’s take a look at something a bit less cut-and-dried: Why are there so many anime characters with non-Japanese names?

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BuzzFeed’s video of “anime expressions” delivers more laughs than useful language pointers

BuzzFeed’s video of “anime expressions” delivers more laughs than useful language pointers

Last spring, BuzzFeed released a pair of videos, one dealing with what people around the world eat when they get up in the morning, and the other about what they eat after they get liquored up in a bar. Those are both interesting concepts, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and the post-drinking, pre-hangover snack is the happiest, but we couldn’t help but scratch our heads at their selections for Japan, neither of which were things we remembered eating in our time living in the country.

Now, BuzzFeed has moved on from the foods Japan puts in its mouth to the words coming out of it, with a new video titled 11 Anime Expressions To Show How You Really Feel. Let’s see how they handled the switch from gastronomy to linguistics.

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Too hot during the blackout? Cool down with an electric fan, veteran newscaster suggests

Too hot during the blackout? Cool down with an electric fan, veteran newscaster suggests

With more than 25 years of working in broadcast journalism, Japanese newscaster Ichiro Furutachi has turned in plenty of fine on-air performances. Still, each time you go before the cameras you’re spinning that roulette wheel, and it’s only a matter of time until you end up with a flub or two.

Earlier this year, the 59-year-old Furutachi elicited chuckles with his comments that exposed his lack of understanding about PowerPoint. It wasn’t Furutachi’s lack of knowledge regarding the finer points of the ubiquitous presentation software that surprised the public, but rather his admission that he didn’t even know what PowerPoint was.

What’s more, if we take the words of Furutachi’s most recent gaffe literally, it would seem that he’s not just confused about computer programs, but how electricity works, when he suggested using a room fan to stay cool during a blackout…

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The tricky game of wits that sometimes lurks behind a Kyoto granny’s compliment

The tricky game of wits that sometimes lurks behind a Kyoto granny’s compliment

One of the most characteristic parts of communication in Japan is the frequency with which people dish out compliments. Travelers and expats, for example, quickly become accustomed to being praised when displaying even the most basic skills with chopsticks or the local language.

Japanese people don’t just have kind words for foreigners, though, but for each other, too. Modesty and empathy are considered virtues of the highest order, so when someone shows any sort of ability, good manners dictate that you should notice and appreciate whatever small trace of talent can be found, as well as the effort that went into acquiring it while leading what, courtesy says you should assume, is a busy life.

Of course, sometimes these compliments aren’t triggered by the speaker being genuinely impressed, but rather just polite, or in some extreme cases, irritated.

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To say kawaii or not to say kawaii? Almost half of Japanese guys don’t want to be “cute”

To say kawaii or not to say kawaii? Almost half of Japanese guys don’t want to be “cute”

It’s no secret that Japan is seriously into cuteness. Accordingly, in most situations, deeming something kawaii, or cute, is seen as high praise.

This is especially true when it comes to women. Whereas in English-speaking countries some may take issue with what they perceive as a diminutive or demeaning connotation to the word “cute,” in Japan, calling a girl kawaii is almost universally considered a compliment. Even actresses and models who would ordinarily be described as “beautiful” by English speakers earn kawaii cred if they have a kind smile, or any other sort of soft warmth to the aura they project.

But while just about any Japanese woman is happy to be called kawaii, things aren’t quite so simple for men.

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Pokeberu, Mr. Legs, and cho beri ba: Eight Japanese words young people can’t understand

Pokeberu, Mr. Legs, and cho beri ba: Eight Japanese words young people can’t understand

After spending a year in college studying in Tokyo, I moved back to Los Angeles for about two years before coming back to Japan for work. Having always prided myself on my familiarity with Japanese slang (partly to distract myself from my terrible penmanship when writing kanji characters), I was surprised to find out how many new terms had sprung up in just the 22 months I’d been away.

At the same time, it turned out that a few of the vocabulary words I’d picked up while studying abroad had since passed their expiration dates and become obsolete. This wasn’t a one-time transition, either, as language is constantly evolving, and today we bring you a list of eight words that’ll at best make you sound like a senior citizen, and at worst simply won’t be understood by anyone under the age of 25.

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Tried-and-tested ways to learn Japanese while having fun!

Tried-and-tested ways to learn Japanese while having fun!

Everyone has their own studying methods, but no matter which one you choose, learning a language boils down to mastering four things; reading, writing, listening and speaking. I know people who study so hard they literally memorize words out of a dictionary. There are also the people who think that the best way to pick up a language is to live in the native country and speak the lingo as much as possible.

I believe in practicing over studying. And by “practicing”, I mostly mean “surfing the internet”. If you’re currently struggling with learning the Japanese language, or if you hate studying but would like to improve your Japanese, read on!

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Compose your own cheese-tastic J-pop love songs with this handy lyric generator

Compose your own cheese-tastic J-pop love songs with this handy lyric generator

One of the very first Japanese words I learned was afuredasu, or “overflow.” This wasn’t because it showed up in a textbook or a teacher taught it to me, but because afuredasu seems to show up in roughly a third of every Japanese pop song ever produced.

It’s not the only phrase that’s a regular in J-pop lyrics though, as shown by this flow-chart that can turn anyone into a Japanese lyricist.

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Japan’s Kinki University decides to change its naughty-sounding name

Japan’s Kinki University decides to change its naughty-sounding name

Sometimes, a name that’s perfectly normal in one language can sound funny, or maybe even offensive in another. One day in college, for example, my friend Gary and I volunteered to show some visiting Japanese students around campus. We met them in the student union, and as soon as Gary introduced himself, one of them couldn’t suppress a tiny chuckle.

You see the name Gary sounds an awful lot like geri, which means “diarrhea” in Japanese. So when my classmate said “Watashi wa Gary desu,” they didn’t hear “I’m Gary;” they heard “I’ve got the runs.”

Of course, the same thing can happen in reverse, too. Just ask the students and faculty of one of Japan’s proudest institutions of higher learning, Kinki University.

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Sucks to be sausupō: The trials and tribulations of Japanese lefties

Sucks to be sausupō: The trials and tribulations of Japanese lefties

I was born a lefty, but apparently somewhere along the way I decided that there must be something to this right-handedness thing, since 90 percent of the world was doing it. I made the switch to using my right hand for most things around the time I started kindergarten, and ever since, the unusual transition has been my go to excuse for never excelling at sports that favor precise dexterity over running into people as hard as you can.

Had I stuck with the cards life had dealt me, though, my daily life might have been different in a number of ways, as shown by this list of troubles left-handed people in Japan run into.

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【TBT】10 common phrases that stump Japanese students of English

【TBT】10 common phrases that stump Japanese students of English

Learning a second language is never easy, especially when there are so many things like context, nuance, and cultural connotations standing in the way. The key to conquering these hurdles, though, usually lies outside the pages of a textbook, and the Japanese Government addresses this issue by employing thousands of foreigners to assist English teachers in its education system every year. So where would a foreigner start when correcting a student on the finer points of English as a second language? One of the easiest ways would be to take a look at this collection of commonly misused phrases and their simple fixes, put together by David Thayne, the head of AtoZ English.

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Osaka criminal forgets the most important part of armed robbery: stay armed

Osaka criminal forgets the most important part of armed robbery: stay armed

In any endeavor, you can’t overstate the importance of making preparations in the proper order. For example, it’s best to plan out what you’ll say for your sales pitch prior to sitting down face-to-face with your customer. Likewise, even if you’ve made dinner reservations and meet your date at the exact time the two of you agreed upon, your courtesy and punctuality won’t be particularly appreciated if you neglected to put on a pair of pants before arriving at the restaurant.

Also, should you want to knock over a convenience store, you should actually secure a weapon before you threaten the clerk and ask for the money. Otherwise, your victim might not even realize she’s being robbed, which is what happened to one would-be criminal mastermind in Osaka.

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The awesome artwork hiding in the Japanese word processor: sakura, dragons, and sake

The awesome artwork hiding in the Japanese word processor: sakura, dragons, and sake

With over 1,800 commonly-used kanji characters, plus two different sets of 46 phonetic characters each, typing on a word processor in Japanese works a little differently than in English. Many words in Japanese have the same pronunciation but are written differently, so first you have to type the word phonetically, then select the proper rendering from a list that pops up.

The cool thing is that sometimes the selections aren’t just written characters, but drawings of the object in question. Poking around in a Japanese word processor is like a linguistic treasure hunt, and our searches turned up illustrations of mythical creatures, delicious food, and famous landmarks of Japan.

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What do Japanese people think of when they hear the word “otaku?”

What do Japanese people think of when they hear the word “otaku?”

Like with any language, the meanings of certain Japanese words change over time. Take the word “otaku,” which is originally a polite way of saying “you.” It’s so polite that overusing it can make a person sound a little wishy-washy, giving the impression that he’s not really comfortable with interpersonal relationships in general. Of course, if someone isn’t spending his time interacting with other people, then what does he fill his days with? Presumably, his solitary, or at least niche, hobbies such as watching anime. And so otaku picked up a second meaning of “obsessive nerd.” That was 30 years ago though, so a recent survey sought to answer this question: What do Japanese people imagine when they hear “otaku?”

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Eight Japanese words we’d love to import into English

Eight Japanese words we’d love to import into English

Recently, we talked about how Japanese, while a tough language to learn, isn’t quite as difficult as some horror stories make it out to be. Still, if English is your native language, certain Japanese grammar rules, like saying “wa” and “o” to mark the subject and object of your sentences, can seem like a major hassle.

With practice, though, these things start to become automatic. Even better, the Japanese language is filled with incredibly handy phrases that we’d love to import into English.

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Four ways Japanese isn’t the hardest language to learn

Four ways Japanese isn’t the hardest language to learn

It seems whenever a list of the most difficult languages to learn is released, Japanese sits near or at the top. We can see why, as the language does have quirks and peculiarities that can occasionally make you wonder how anyone, even native speakers, manage to communicate with each other in Japanese.

If we’re being completely honest, we’d love to use one hand to pat ourselves on the back for our Japanese/English bilingual capabilities, while using the other to pat ourselves for surviving in what some are calling the most dangerous country on earth. But that would tie up both hands and we’d be unable to write this article. So instead, today we’re going to explain four ways learning Japanese isn’t nearly as bad as some other languages.

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