Japanese language

10 Japanese phrases for travelers that will help, amuse, or just plain confuse

Travelling in a foreign country can be daunting, especially if you don’t know the language. While a one-year preparatory course isn’t necessary for just a week or so in a foreign land, learning a few key words and phrases is certainly recommended.

Some time ago, travel culture website Matador Network put together a list of “10 Extraordinarily Useful Japanese Phrases for Travelers“, a mostly tongue-in-cheek collection of phrases which, while at times giving some useful material, is probably more suited for those looking to jazz up their Japanese than it is for the average traveler. For that reason, perhaps, the list recently caught the eye of Japanese net users and has been garnering a lot of attention in the language’s homeland.

Check out the list below and see what you can use!

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To –san or not to –san? Should you use the Japanese honorific suffix when speaking English?

For roughly the past two decades, I’ve woken up every morning and asked myself the question “How can I use more Japanese vocabulary today?” That desire was the major reason I decided to study abroad in college, plus move back to Japan after graduation, and I’ve actually reached the point where I’ve got a pretty sizeable stockpile of Japanese words I wish I could import into my native language.

And yet, often when I hear someone use the Japanese honorific “-san” when speaking English, it feels awkward and superfluous to me. But it turns out there’re actually a few compelling reasons behind English-speakers peppering their speech with “-san,” as it solves a couple of linguistic limitations of the English language.

So what are the pros and cons of importing the word into English? Let’s take a look.

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“Welcome argument?” Mr Sato really, really wants to know where Lily-Rose Depp got her kanji shirt

Clothing with incorrect and funny English (so-called Engrish) is everywhere in Japan, and has given many foreign visitors a chuckle over the years.  So it’s always nice to see the tables turned, and Japan having the opportunity to marvel at clothing with odd Japanese writing on it.

That’s what happened this week when our reporter Mr. Sato got wind that actress and model Lily-Rose Depp had been spotted in New York wearing a particularly nonsensical T-shirt with Japanese kanji characters on it. He had only one question: “Where did she get it?”

…only one question, Mr. Sato? We’ve got a few more questions than that! So let’s take a look at the shirt in question, and crack the code behind its oddball message.

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The difference between a fat woman and a plump one, according to one Japanese Twitter artist

Like any language, Japanese has multiple words that have more or less the same meaning, but which help to put a finer point on exactly how the speaker feels. For example, pocchari and debu both refer to someone with a higher than average proportion of body fat, but pocchari doesn’t have quite the same harshness that debu does.

If we were looking for English equivalents, debu would be “fat,” while pocchari would be the softer-sounding “plump.” But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and one Japanese Twitter user recently posted a sketch diagraming, in his mind, the physical differences between a pocchari woman and a debu one.

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“I say! Rice again!!”, “Peeked in my loafs.” We decipher more hilarious misheard anime lyrics

I can never really tell what any of the musicians I like are singing about. I’ve always chalked it up to my poor hearing, but I’ve found comfort in all the misheard lyrics videos out there that provr I’m not the only one.

When a song isn’t in your native language, it makes it all the easier to hear completely weird and wacky things, like we showed you before with YouTuber AzukanoAMVs’ video “Otaku Lyrics 101”. Due to popular demand, we now have a second installment to bring on the LOLs once again! Be warned, once you hear it, it can’t be unheard.

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Japanese reporter interviews college students to find out why anyone would study Japanese

Why do we love Japan so much? What drives us to obsess over its culture, language, food, and everything else? Why do we keep coming back day after day to read articles about a country that, for many of us, is on the other side of the planet? For some the answer is easy, but for others, not so much.

One group for whom foreigners’ love of Japan is especially difficult to comprehend is the Japanese people themselves. Many of them have no idea why so many of us would bother to take an interest in Japan, much less learn its intimidating language. In an effort to try to figure this out, one of our RocketNews24 Japanese writers who lives in England did some investigate journalism and interviewed three students studying Japanese at the University of Cambridge.

Do their reasons for loving Japan match yours? Read on to find out!

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Japanese mental clinic’s hiragana alphabet chart is as humorous as it is educational

If you’ve ever entertained the notion of studying Japanese, at some point you’ll find yourself faced with the task of learning the language’s intricate writing system. The good news is that as long as you can write the strictly phonetic script sets, hiragana and katakana, and don’t mind everything you write looking like it was written by a first grader, you don’t necessarily have to know kanji.

But whether you go on to become a kanji master or not, most beginners usually start out learning hiragana first. In the past we introduced a number of handy Japanese study resources, but unfortunately we didn’t include anything for basic hiragana writing skills. So today we’d like to make-up for that by introducing this humorous hiragana study chart that has Japanese users on Twitter chuckling and doing some serious self-reflection.

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Japanese Twitter user illustrates the difference between how men and women define a “cute girl”

What do you think of when you imagine a “cute girl?” The term seems like it should be straightforward enough, whether you’re using the English word “cute” or the Japanese equivalent, kawaii. But one Japanese Twitter user claims that guys and girls use the word to mean vastly different things, and has even shared an illustration diagraming what she feels is the difference between what men and women mean when they talk about a “cute” girl.

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“What would happen if all Japanese people could speak English?” Net users duke it out

Who doesn’t love debating hypothetical scenarios about the future of a country, especially in the anonymity of the internet?

In fact, a recent Japanese Twitter exchange has led to such an economic debate. One Twitter user with a large following sparked the initial discussion by posing the question “What would happen if everyone in Japan learned how to speak English?” That post has now been retweeted thousands of times, with hundreds of people eager to share their own opinions on the topic.

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10 Japanese words you know now that irritate some Japanese businessmen (because they’re English)

One day in college, my business operations management professor was talking about Japanese automaker Toyota, and about the huge impact of its production processes and corporate culture on the business world. “Toyota owes much of its success to its kaizen system,” he told us, and while I largely agreed with what he was saying, I didn’t really agree with how he was saying it.

See, while Toyota’s ideal of continually looking for better, more efficient ways of handling tasks is nifty and all, there’s nothing particularly special about the word kaizen, which just means “improvement.” Even as someone who’s spent most of his life looking for excuses to speak Japanese, insisting on using the word kaizen, when otherwise speaking English, has always seemed a little odd to me.

Oddly enough, though, right now there’s probably a Toyota employee sitting at his desk and scratching his head over one of his Japanese coworker’s penchant for using foreign loanwords, many of which might be on this list of the top 10 commonly used English business terms that Japanese businessmen wish their colleagues would use Japanese for.

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Is a woman “middle-aged” at 30? 40? 50? Japanese men and women give different answers in poll

You may have heard that Japan is obsessed with youth, which is ironic for a country with an ageing population , this is ironic. In fact, Japan is purported to have the highest proportion of elderly citizens compared to all other countries. With so many older folks making up a vast percentage of the population, why is Japan’s society still often casually ageist, particularly towards women?

A recent poll asked “at what age does a woman become middle-aged?” and the results are extremely telling.

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Five more Japanese words we’d love to import into English

Sometimes, the Japanese language is a pain in the butt. Seriously, how is it that in the millennia over which it evolved, no one ever said, “Hey, guys, why don’t we come up separate words for ‘leg’ and ‘foot’?”, which are both ashi in Japanese?

But speaking Japanese isn’t all frustrating head-scratchers. As we’ve talked about before, it also has some handy, expressive terms and phrases that don’t have direct English equivalents. So today we’re dipping back into our Japanese dictionaries for another batch of words we’d love to import into English.

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Samurai Toothpicks with bite-sized language lessons will help you look and sound like a swordsman

If you watch a lot of samurai movies or TV shows, you might have noticed that a toothpick is about as common a costume accessory as a set of paired swords. The reason isn’t because samurai were particularly fastidious about dental hygiene, though. Many fictional samurai stories re set in the Edo period, when the end of Japan’s centuries of civil war caused the warrior class’ power and prestige to begin slowly but surely eroding.

The samurai were a prideful bunch, though, and were loath to admit the new societal reality that swordsman had suddenly become a far less lucrative profession. So even if they couldn’t afford to regularly fill their stomachs, many would still lodge a toothpick between their teeth to give the impression that they’d just polished off a lavish meal fit for a man of high rank.

Of course, it takes more than just a toothpick to transform yourself into a samurai. You’ll also need to talk the talk, which is why these traditionally made Japanese toothpicks come individually wrapped with period-correct samurai phrases, and even helpful English translations and pronunciation guides.

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Clever textbook for learners of Japanese teaches with drama, romance, and twist endings

Even as a guy who’s spent all of his adult life, and before that a good chunk of his juvenile one, studying Japanese, I’ve never been completely sold on the concept that the process of learning a foreign language has to be made “fun” at each and every stage. While you can break high-level linguistic concepts into intermediate ones, when you get down to a language’s most fundamental components, they’re really just a collection of arbitrary sounds that a group of people implicitly decided to use in the same way in order to give them meaning.

As such, there’s always going to be a certain amount of rote memorization involved with becoming actually proficient with a foreign language. But once those core concepts are introduced, they’re definitely going to stick in your memory better if they’re presented and demonstrated in a colorful way, which might be the logic behind this textbook for learners of Japanese that contains dramatic tales of romance, disease, and devotion.

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The “will boyfriend”: A new title in Japan’s evolving dating scene

The Japanese language takes a lot of cues from English when it comes to talking about romance. For example, “kisu”, the corrupted pronunciation of “kiss,” is about 100 times more common than “kuchitzuke,” the purely Japanese word for locking lips. Found the love of your life? Then it’s time to puropozu (propose), and when your bride walks down the aisle, she’ll probably be wearing a uedingu doresu (wedding dress).

Still, sometimes Japanese goes its own way, and while “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are pretty readily understood, the indigenous terms kare and kanojo are much more widely used. And every now and again, the two languages get mixed together to describe something in the Japanese dating scene, such as with the newly coined phrase uiru kare, or “will boyfriend.”

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Adorable cat inadvertently teaches us Japanese【Video】

If you haven’t noticed by the number of cute cat videos or the famous character Hello Kitty, a lot of Japanese people kind of like cats. In fact, they like cats so much, that many common words and phrases have developed using the word “cat” in them, such as nekoze, which means “hunchback” or “bent back,” (neko is “cat”, ze is “back”).

One Japanese cat owner found their kitty sitting in the exact posture that brought this word about in the first place, but the cat was set straight again by quite a surprising (read: adorable) event.

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Japanese restaurant in Thailand hangs lanterns announcing “I love boobies” and other philosophes

Even after living in Japan for more than a decade, I still get excited when I see a restaurant with paper lanterns hanging out in front of it. The mix of vibrant colors and bold calligraphy is just so uniquely Japanese that it instantly fills me with a sense of excitement.

Of course, just a bit of the eroticism has faded over time, especially now that I can read the calligraphy and tell that it usually doesn’t say anything more dramatic than “draft beer” or “grilled chicken skewers.” But while those lanterns are usually giving the menu highlights in Japan, at this Japanese restaurant in Thailand, they’re instead plastered with non sequiturs, gags, and the occasional philosophical declaration and/or love letter to women’s breasts.

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Why Does Engrish Happen in Japan? Part 2: Please refrain from using the bathroom alone

It’s time once again for an episode of Why Does Engrish Happen in Japan? If you missed the first installment (which we really should have given a clever name like Why Does Engrish Happen in Japan? ~Unexpected Opening to the Truth~) you can check it out here.

Today, we’re taking a look at a hotel in Japan that seems to be clamping down on solo peeing, with a sign posted in its lobby that requests visitors “Please refrain from using the bathroom alone.”

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Students of Japanese despair – you’ve probably been writing some of the simplest kanji wrong

Remember when you decided to study Japanese because kanji characters are just so much fun to learn? No, me neither. While it’s true that kanji can be fascinating, and they do get easier to learn and make more sense as you progress, sometimes you’ll come across something that makes you feel like you’ve been sent all the way back to the beginning again.

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No need to ask for blood types – Find out personalities via first names

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could figure out someone’s personality type without actually sitting down and, you know, getting to know them? Who has that kind of time nowadays? Think of how much less small talk you’d have to go through if you could instantly know the personality of that cute guy over there just by asking his name. Momotaro? No, thank you. Ken? I’m interested.

An interesting chart from a magazine surfaced via Twitter the other day. It describes personality types based on the first sound of your name. It’s geared toward Japanese names, but it may work for non-Japanese names too.

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