Japanese language

Saying “Will you go out with me?” is just a Japanese thing? Well…it’s complicated

Recently, I was talking about relationships with a Japanese friend who is studying here in the UK, and she asked me: “you don’t have kokuhaku here, do you?”

I knew what kokuhaku is – it’s the declaration that marks the beginning of a relationship, the point where one person says to the other “I really like you, will you go out with me?” So at first, I thought it was a bit of a funny question. I mean, we do that in western countries too, right? Declare our feelings, ask and get asked out? Well…yes. But maybe it’s not quite the same.

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Attack on Kansai: manga creators post free comic translated into the Osaka area dialect

There seems to be no stopping the enormously popular manga-turned-anime series (and soon-to-be live-action film) Attack on Titan with fans all over the world who can’t get enough of its terrifying world. Attack on Titan has seen crossovers and fan-made tributes before, but last week the manga creators themselves surprised fans when they published a special online comic of the first issue completely translated into the Kansai dialect spoken in western Japan around Osaka.

Attack on Titan announced the free comic by posting a picture of the redesigned cover showing well-known symbols of the Osaka area, such as the Hanshin Tigers baseball team, takoyaki and of course, purple-haired obachan.

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Watch out for slang: 10 outdated words to make you sound like a “hoddypeak” in Japanese

Words go in and out of fashion just as easily as clothes and video game consoles. What seems “groovy” or “ill” one day will just sound utterly “beef-witted” a few years later.

And the same thing happens in Japanese. What were once extremely common words now just make the people who used to say them cringe. If you want to make your Japanese friends laugh with some seriously dated slang, or if you just want to test your own knowledge on some more obscure aspects of the language, then take a look at this list of 10 “dead” Japanese words.

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Scheveningen or Sukebeningen? Dutch town sounds like “pervert” when pronounced in Japanese

A beautiful Dutch seaside resort has become well-known to Japanese people over the years and unfortunately it’s not due to any special campaigns or travel commercials.

It’s all due to the unfortunate way it’s written and pronounced, according to Japanese language conventions. The town is called Scheveningen, which seems innocent enough to western ears, but in Japan, the way it’s transliterated means it’s pronounced “Sukebeningen,” which happens to mean “lecherous people” in Japanese.

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Romance and ramen in Spanish brand Zara’s crazy Japanese t-shirts that read like remixed Engrish

Walking around Japan, it can seem like every other T-shirt in sight is plastered with English that looks like it was concocted by a tipsy translator. China isn’t immune to these linguistic missteps either, as travelers who’ve run into some of the country’s less-than-clear English signage know.

But this isn’t a phenomenon that only runs from west to east. Recently Twitter users in Japan have found themselves on the opposite end of the situation, snickering at head-scratching Japanese text showing up on clothing from Spanish apparel company Zara.

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Is Japan’s “Daughter in a box” a myth?【Myth-Busters Series】

This is the first article in our brand new “Myth-Busters” series that attempts to provide definitive answers to readers’ questions about Japanese culture, language and concepts. If you’ve ever asked yourself “Is it really true that the Japanese…..?” then just ask us! We’ll let loose the RocketNews24 hound dogs to track down the answer.

Our first myth-busters topic, prompted by a question from a Canadian reader, is hakoirimusume (箱入り娘) or “Daughter in a box,” used to describe a girl who grows up protected by her family, as if being kept in a box. The term originated in the Edo Period (1603-1867), but do such shielded daughters still exist today?

Our hound dogs are on the trail! Results after the jump.

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Six Japanese business terms you already know, even if you didn’t realize it

We’ve talked before about handy Japanese words and phrases we wish we could toss around in English. This kind of linguistic jealousy doesn’t flow in just one direction, though. Japanese businesspeople regularly make use of a number of English phrases, either because they’re more concise, precise, or just sound cooler to their ears than their Japanese counterparts.

Sometimes, though, knowing English isn’t enough to understand these loanwords, since their pronunciations can get pretty garbled in the transition from English to Japanese speakers. Feeling confident in your ability to translate English translated into Japanese back into English? Read on and see how many you can decipher.

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The science behind why English speakers can’t pronounce the Japanese “fu”

Learning a foreign language is hard. Even if you master all the vocabulary and grammar, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll ever achieve a native-like accent. For Japanese learners of English, differentiating between the “l” and “r” sounds and pronouncing the “th” sound correctly can be tricky them no matter how many years they’ve been practicing.

But have you ever wondered what it’s like the other way around? What sounds do we English speakers make that sound strange when we speak Japanese? Well it turns out the sound that we mess up the most is one you might not have expected: “fu”.

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Strange English signs in China and Japan really hate vegetables, sometimes threaten to kill you

We’ve talked before about some of the reasons why bizarre English signage pops up in Asia. One of the most common causes is a fundamental difference in the way sentences are structured between English and other languages. Automated translations programs, which aren’t nearly as well sorted out as many monolingual users believe, are also among the usual suspects.

That said, looking at a flawed translation is sort of like performing an autopsy, in that sometimes there’s a limit in what it can tell you. Just like the medical examiner might say, “Well, all the baby spiders hatching inside the subject’s eyeball definitely killed him, but I’ve got no idea how the eggs got in there,” there are times like these when we look at some garbled English, and, just like we can’t stifle our chuckles, we can’t imagine why the translation went flying off the rails, or if it was even on them to begin with.

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Google’s English translation for short Japanese phrase hints at huge, TV-series-length backstory

As handy as online Japanese-to-English dictionaries are for looking up individual vocabulary words, automated translation programs tend to spit out much spottier results. A big part of the problem is how much more Japanese relies on context for meaning, which in turn means speakers can, and often do, abbreviate and omit whole words and phrases which human listeners can easily understand implicitly.

Automated programs, though, lack this ability, which means their translations are often missing vital elements needed for the sentence to make sense in English. It’s a problem software engineers and linguists are trying to address, but adding such soft logic to machines is a difficult endeavor.

In at least one case, though, the Google Translate team seems to have been too effective, as trying to convert a Japanese phrase meaning, “Goodbye, my beloved” into English produces a result that seems to have roughly 38 hours of backstory behind it.

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How to say “I love you” in Japanese – 47 different ways 【Videos】

Japan may not be that big on a world map, but there’s a surprising number of distinct regional cultures you’ll find as you make your way from one end of the country to another. Sometimes, taking the train just a few hours in one direction will put you in a spot where people eat different foods, celebrate holidays on different days, or even talk differently from where you just came from.

So, just to be prepared to communicate as effectively as possible with the locals, you might want to take a few minutes to review these videos of women saying “I love you” in the dialects of each of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

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Japanese dictionary removes heteronormative definitions of love and sex

One of Japan’s leading dictionaries has made a significant (and arguably long overdue) step towards acknowledging and normalizing homosexuality by revising the entries for words relating to love and sex. They have removed restrictive references to these feelings existing only between a man and a woman, opening up the definition of love to everyone — gay, straight, or otherwise.

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Why Japanese doesn’t need swear words

The other day, my wife and I spent the day hanging out at the beautiful and awesome Hitachi Seaside Park. As we headed towards the exit at dusk, I pointed to a grove of trees with the sun setting behind them and got to bust out one of my favorite five-dollar Japanese vocabulary words: komorebi.

In retrospect, two things come to mind. First, shouldn’t a five-dollar Japanese word really be a 500-yen word? And second, why is it that the Japanese language has vocabulary as specific as komorebi, meaning “sunlight filtering though trees,” yet doesn’t have a good equivalent for *#&!, %?$!, or even &*!$?

Heads up! The following discussion of profanity contains language that might best be read when you’re not at work or school.

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Why does Engrish happen in Japan?

Over the years, Japan has earned a reputation for its awkward command of English, with results ranging from the perplexing to downright hilarious. The country’s translation screw-ups are so common that they’ve even earned their own collective name, “Engrish.”

But for all the sites that poke fun at Engrish, it’s almost impossible to find one that talks about why it happens. So today we’re offering a bit of explanation along with the laughs, as we look at a sign in Japan that informs English-reading passersby that “Today is under construction.”

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Clever font sneaks pronunciation guide for English speakers into Japanese katakana characters

Written Japanese uses three kinds of script. At the top of the difficulty curve, you’ve got kanji, the complex characters originally imported from China that can require over a dozen brush strokes to write, with each kanji representing a word or concept.

A little less challenging are hiragana, a set of 50 curving phonetic characters, but if English is your native language, odds are you’ll have the least trouble with angular katakana. Like hiragana, katakana is a phonetic system, so each character corresponds to a syllable. Even better, while often one kanji can have three or four possible readings, each katakana has just one possible pronunciation.

Of course, you still have to memorize how to pronounce all 50 katakana (85 if you’re being really technical) in the first place. One group of graphic designers are aiming to make that task a little easier, though, with a font that combines katakana with phonetics written in English.

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How to say every Japanese car brand’s name, and what they mean 【Video】

In college, I had a classmate who, almost every day, would talk about the list of tuning mods he had planned for his car. Sometimes, he’d talk about his plans to order some sweet JDM parts from Honda’s in-house aftermarket division, Mugen, and you can’t imagine how much it drove me up the walls.

I didn’t begrudge the guy his daydream, but what I couldn’t take was the way he pronounced it “Myu-gen” instead of “Moo-gen,” adding in a phantom Y sound that has no place in the Japanese word for “without limits.”

But hey, a lot of people in the U.S. mispronounce it that way, and can you blame them? Pronouncing foreign words can be tricky, which is why there’s now a video which will teach you the correct way to pronounce the names of all of Japan’s major car makers. And, once you’ve mastered them all, we’ll even explain what they mean.

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One Direction’s Harry Styles imports Japanese to the United States

With their global popularity showing no sign of waning, One Direction have had a busy year, and are set for more of the same in 2015 after already announcing their On The Road Again Tour 2015. The band first visited Japan in January 2013, and since then floppy-haired tween sex symbol Harry Styles seems to have become quite taken with the country. Now it looks like he has made it his mission to spread a little bit of Japanese culture to his millions of adoring fans.

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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

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

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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