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.
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.
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.”
Oct 15, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Sep 27, 2014
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.
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?
Sep 17, 2014
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.
Aug 25, 2014
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.
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?
Aug 19, 2014
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.
Jul 25, 2014
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…
Jul 17, 2014
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.
Jul 11, 2014
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.
Jul 1, 2014
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.
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!
May 31, 2014
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.
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.
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.
- Ghibli background artist Naohisa Inoue’s painting technique is out of this world1
- Canada-based artist stuns with new realistic take on Naruto characters2
- Why almost all Japanese people hate root beer3
- 1,200 Japanese workers convert above-ground train to subway line in a matter of hours4
- Japanese netizens show love for “English Toast” which is neither English nor Toast5
- Can you spot the problem that led to the recall of this otherwise cute Japanese New Year’s card?6
- From mermaids to monsters: The taxidermy mummies on show in Japan【Photos】7
- Yamanashi zoo’s roly-poly resident raccoon is ridiculously round, remarkably cute8
- Stand back, kids! 64-year-old enka singer Aki Yashiro completely nails cover of Evangelion theme9
- Japan discovers awesome cheese snack that takes just one ingredient and two minutes to make10
- 1,200 Japanese workers convert above-ground train to subway line in a matter of hours1
- Japan discovers awesome cheese snack that takes just one ingredient and two minutes to make2
- Budding Japanese student artists impress us with chalkboard works of art3
- Ghibli background artist Naohisa Inoue’s painting technique is out of this world4
- Japanese sleep experts say we’ve been using our blankets wrong, help us hate winter a little less5
- Controversial pick-up artist breaks silence as campaign against him continues6
- Cat got your tongue? 10 unusual Japanese phrases that use the word ‘cat’7
- The familiar looks of “once-in-four-thousand-year” Chinese idol have Japanese netizens talking8
- Live-action Attack on Titan posters show new characters and weapons, plus one huge absence9
- Why almost all Japanese people hate root beer10
- “No one sleeps in her class!” Internet goes gaga for gorgeous Chinese science teacher1
- Hayao Miyazaki working on new project, says “I’m going to continue making anime until I die”2
- Japanese high school holds annual contest to decide the prettiest “girl” in school3
- 1,200 Japanese workers convert above-ground train to subway line in a matter of hours4
- Sorry guys! Video of “sexy ice cream girl” in Taipei only delivers on half its milky promises5
- Oysters’ amazing cleaning skills shock Japanese netizens who question their shellfish habit6
- Japan discovers awesome cheese snack that takes just one ingredient and two minutes to make7
- One Piece manga sends off Naruto with a classy secret message8
- Clever Japanese pet owners find perfect cat beds…at IKEA! 【Photos】9
- Man revives woman with AED, branded a “pervert” for removing her clothes to apply electrode pads10
- School textbook is withdrawn after “teacher” on the front is recognized as Japanese adult video star1
- Artist turns innocent Disney princesses into flirty pin-up girls2
- “No one sleeps in her class!” Internet goes gaga for gorgeous Chinese science teacher3
- Hayao Miyazaki working on new project, says “I’m going to continue making anime until I die”4
- Mickey and friends in human form are more charming than we had imagined! 【Pics】5
- A sad turn of events at a butterfly exhibition in China6
- 6-year-old boy vowed to marry his childhood sweetheart, really marries her 18 years later7
- Ten-year-old boy cuts construction worker’s lifeline because noise was interrupting his cartoons8
- 61 more images of cosmetic surgery from South Korea9
- Chinese cat with unfortunate dark patch of fur tired of people asking why it’s shocked10
- Can you spot the problem that led to the recall of this otherwise cute Japanese New Year’s card?
- From mermaids to monsters: The taxidermy mummies on show in Japan【Photos】
- Yamanashi zoo’s roly-poly resident raccoon is ridiculously round, remarkably cute
- Stand back, kids! 64-year-old enka singer Aki Yashiro completely nails cover of Evangelion theme
- Japan discovers awesome cheese snack that takes just one ingredient and two minutes to make
- Check out these amazing Ghibli-inspired tattoos
- Live-action Attack on Titan posters show new characters and weapons, plus one huge absence
- Controversial pick-up artist breaks silence as campaign against him continues
- Posing like a (video game) boss! Villainous and heroic cats look ready for a role-playing epic
- Japanese baseball fans disappointed by filthy conditions visiting Major Leaguers left dugout in
- 12 gender-bent Disney and Ghibli characters that are utter perfection
- Japan serves up yet another weird pizza, this time topped with cookie-filled chocolate bars!
- The familiar looks of “once-in-four-thousand-year” Chinese idol have Japanese netizens talking