A little while ago, we introduced you to the Japanese expression “hana yori dango” (dumplings over flowers), using a picture of one of our capybara friends at the Ueno Zoo as a living example of the phrase. Well, that article got us thinking about Japanese idioms/expressions that may sound strange or funny in a different language when translated literally, and we thought it might be interesting to share a few of them with you. Here are some common phrases that we use in the Japanese language as a matter of course, but could make you laugh if you visualize their literal meaning in your mind. And yes, some of them involve cats!
- Philip Kendall
4 days ago
Anyone who has spent any length of time in Japan will tell you that onomatopoeia is not just common, but an integral part of the Japanese language. While English speakers might find sentences peppered with additional ‘sound effects’ somewhat inelegant, in Japanese onomatopoeic words are not only considered perfectly normal, but there are mimicking sounds for every possible occasion – including states of being where there is no sound to mimic – and most people know exactly how to write them.
We’d wager than few native Japanese have ever come across an instruction manual that uses mimicking words to explain potential problems with a washing machine, though…
- Philip Kendall
Apr 11, 2014
There are some Japanese words that, no matter how many textbooks you read, you’ll simply never encounter. As we’ve seen, the Japanese love a good pun, and cheesy wordplay on TV and the media in general is far more commonplace than it is in English. So it’s surprising that the owners of this Tokyo-based computer school didn’t choose the name of their establishment – and the wording on their sign, for that matter – a little more carefully.
If you can already see why so many Japanese netizens are chuckling, then congratulations – you’re clearly a Japanese slang master. The rest of you? We’ll see you after the jump.
As we’ve said before, Japanese isn’t actually as hard to learn as it’s often made out to be. Unlike English, for example, Japanese follows its own grammatical rules far more rigidly, pronunciation is easy because there is only one variant of each vowel sound to choose from (none of this tomayto/tomahto business), and it’s possible to create entire, perfectly meaningful and valid sentences without uttering a single pronoun or bothering to conjugate a verb.
Nevertheless, the language will not magically seep into you through a desire to speak it alone — you still need to encounter and study it as often as possible. With that in mind, we’d like to present to you the six and a half resources that no dedicated student of the Japanese language should ever be without. Oh, and the good news is some of them are completely free.
Well, good afternoon/evening/morning/day everyone! Today we’re going to talk about Japanese greetings and what they really mean.
Just as in English, “Konnichiwa” or “Good day” is a greeting that is technically an idiom with a complex and near-forgotten past. Just as English language greetings tend to stem from bastardizations of foreign loan words and/or full sentences that have been gradually shortened over the years, “konnichiwa” is actually a shortened version of a full and meaningful greeting, because, if anything, human beings are a lazy sort with a bad habit of cutting corners whenever possible.
When it comes to Japan’s three writing systems, kanji, hiragana and katakana, it’s the most complex of the lot that usually gets the most attention. The numerous lines and strokes involved in kanji pictographs are so revered that people nominate one at the end of every year to represent the mood of the nation. Even foreigners across the world are taken by their meaning and beauty, with many committing a patch of skin to their favourite (sometimes completely wrong) kanji in tattoo form.
But what about the least utilised member of the group, the katakana characters used for foreign words? Well it looks like they’re finally getting a bit of love, with a recent survey being conducted among foreign residents in Japan to determine the coolest looking symbol in the katakana syllabary. Place your bets now for which one comes out on top!
- Philip Kendall
Mar 28, 2014
I’ve always maintained that, while the method may work for a very lucky few, drilling lists of words and kanji characters is like trying to commit blocks of random numbers to memory – that is to say painfully hard work, time-consuming, and not in the least bit natural or fun. Rather, a better way to approach language learning is to encounter words in context so as to easier form cognitive connections and assimilate them into that which we already know.
So when I stumbled upon Koe, an upcoming role-playing game designed to help people learn Japanese as they play, I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of excitement.
- Philip Kendall
Mar 4, 2014
YouTuber and full-time Japan fan Sharla is back this week with a brand new video. After bringing us exploding condom ice cream and giving us a peek inside one of Japan’s typical love hotels, she’s currently back in her native Canada and just for kicks decided to try out a few English loan words that appear in the Japanese language on her non-Japanese-speaking friend.
As we’re about to see, despite the majority of these words originally coming from English, once pumped through the Japanese lexicon and read back to a native English speaker they make almost zero sense. The full, laugh-out-loud video after the jump.
- Fran Wrigley
Feb 21, 2014
The Japanese language is peppered with zippy onomatopoeia that allow you to express the sound of just about anything. Website Netallica recently surveyed readers to find the fastest-sounding words in the Japanese language. As you’d expect, WHIZZ, BANG and SHWOOP are nowhere to be seen!
We explore the top five fastest words, what exactly is so speedy about them, and what kind of images they conjure up for Japanese people.
- Master Blaster
Feb 19, 2014
Meet Jannine Parawie Weigel. Like any 13-year-old girl, she enjoys lemonade, pizza, the color pink, and Hunger Games (the movie not, you know, actual hunger games). She also speaks five languages, plans to get a bachelor’s degree by the time she’s 16 and was already signed to GMM Grammy, Thailand’s largest media company.
And if you don’t feel like you’re underachieving enough yet, she also has the face and voice of an angel, and by all accounts seems like a genuinely well-mannered young woman. Now before you pick up that revolver, enjoy the song-stylings of this up-and-coming Thai-German wunderkind.
Google Translate, the tech giant’s online language translation service, is not always perfect (for example, translating “twenty” from English to Japanese gives us “20″), but it’s a nice, not to mention free, tool that’s available to anyone with an internet connection. Aside from being very useful, the site is also entertaining with plenty of funny tricks to be found, like how to make Google Translate beatbox.
Here’s another trick to add to the list! Just translate a bunch of dots into Japanese and you’ll be treated to a hilarious, and somewhat melodic, interpretation of those little round symbols that perch at the end of our sentences.
- Master Blaster
Feb 13, 2014
Turning 100 years old is indeed a great achievement. Not only can we appreciate and look up to those who seem to follow the correct path to a ripe old age, but it’s always a shining example of how far we have come as a people to extend our lives so much over the years.
And so, it’s with great honor and reverence that we here at RocketNews24 would like to wish a happy belated birthday to Ms… erm… Mxy…zptlk Sugahara!
Apparently we weren’t alone in not being able to read this woman’s name. Netizens came out in droves shrugging their shoulders and figuring a cockroach got into the printing press. A chosen few however, scolded their peers for not being cultured enough to decipher it.
As any student of Japanese will tell you, its use of Chinese characters known as kanji can be a nightmare at times. And although they can be really useful at deducing the meaning of complex words, they give little in the way of clues as to how one should pronounce them.
Take the kanji for Japan (日本) for example. Even a first grader can tell you what it means, but ask a group of adults how to pronounce it and you might get a mixture of “Nihon” or “Nippon” and maybe even an occasional “Yamato” if one of those people happens to be a smart-ass.
- Casey Baseel
Feb 7, 2014
It’s kind of surprising that even with all of the high tech gadgetry you can find in Japan, most people still make a trip to a video rental store when they feel like watching a movie at home. However, online video streaming services such as Hulu have entered the market, and are finally starting to make some headway in changing how viewers get their entertainment fix.
One well-known fact about business in Japan is that in order to succeed in the country, you’ve got to be able to supply excellent customer service, which is just what one of our reporters got from Hulu Japan in this true story.
The Chinese language is widely regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn.
There are more than 80,000 Chinese characters in existence, although a non-native speaker can get by with 1,000 of the most frequently used.
To make matters more complicated, the characters that make up each word or phrase individually carry different meanings based on the context in which they’re used. For example, the Chinese character 吃 could mean “eat,” “drink,” “bear,” or “take,” depending on the phrase that surrounds it.
As hard as the language is, it can also be incredibly poetic when translated character by character into English, and sometimes hilarious.
- Casey Baseel
Jan 23, 2014
It’s pretty well known that lovers in Japan aren’t quite as direct in expressing their affection as their Western counterparts. It’s not that the feeling isn’t there, though, just that putting them into words isn’t, culturally speaking, seen as being as necessary or meaningful as in some other countries.
Likewise, Japanese couples’ communication isn’t characterized by two people lobbing insults at each other, either. A put-down is a put-down in any language, and no one appreciates being told something hurtful, as illustrated by a survey of the most hurtful things Japanese men and women have been told by their romantic partners.
While Japan’s bank of English loan words has grown to the point where “context” and even “paradigm” can be understood by most people, there seems to be only a handful of Japanese words that have been sprinkled into the modern English vocabulary. Of course, there’s things like “manga”, “sushi,” and “karate,” which English speakers can instantly recognize as comics, a Japanese food, and a way to kick ass (in that respective order), but there are also some sleeper agent Japanese words traipsing about our English conversations. Let’s take a look at Japanese words, like “honcho” (as in “head honcho”) and “tycoon” (as in “oil tycoon”), that we use in English.
Among the Japanese language’s many unique loanword mashups is nominikeshon, a hybrid of “nomi / drinking” and the English “communication.” Nominikeshon is a term that gets applied to the common Japanese business practice of workers from the same company going out together for a beer (or six) after work, and hopefully strengthening their bond along the way.
But even if you’ve technically punched out, if you have to spend time with your boss, with a large chunk of it used to talk shop, couldn’t you make the argument that you’re still working? In which case shouldn’t you get paid for drinking with your coworkers?
- Casey Baseel
Jan 22, 2014
Quick, what color means “go” at a traffic signal? If you speak English, odds are you just said “green” (and if you don’t speak English, why are you here? The articles with pictures of cute girls and cool robots are in a different part of the site).
On the other hand, in Japanese that same light is considered ao, which translates as “blue.” Crazy as it may seem, the Japanese concept of the color extends all the way down to the hues of traffic signals and mountain forests. It’s just one example of how the same word can have different meanings in different cultures.
OK, so that may be true for artsy fartsy things like colors, but surely this kind of linguistic flatulence isn’t present in the world of business, right? Wrong. Even seemingly simple things like the term “quality” can have vastly different meanings depending on the nation, as one expert demonstrates by explaining the differing definitions consumers in the U.S., Japan, Korea, and China have for it.
As mentioned many times before on this site, the modern Japanese language uses a set of characters to represent foreign words called katakana. Such characters are used for foreign place names such a Beverly Hills (ビバリーヒルズ) or people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (マフムード・アフマディーネジャード).
However, this feature of Japanese has been criticized by some for allowing the purity of the language to be polluted by foreign influences. It can also cause confusion by creating English words that have different meanings than the original.
That being said, for foreigners visiting Japan with a limited knowledge of the language this list may prove invaluable. Excluding the obvious classics like “OK” (オケ) and “McDonald’s” (マクドナルド) here are some relatively newer loan words ranked by understandability in Japanese.
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- Beautiful gym babe impresses Chinese netizens with her incredible fitness!【Pics & GIFs】4
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- Picture perfect siblings of 18 years apart melt the hearts of Chinese netizens【Photos】6
- Attack on Titan’s studio head talks sequels, keys to the hit anime’s success7
- Unfortunate Google employee forced to wander alone on eerie abandoned island for Street View photos8
- Chinese Photoshop Trolls and the Half-Blood Prisoner of the Deathly Phoenix Goblet (Part 6)9
- Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki says the anime industry’s problem is that it’s full of anime fans10
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- We take on Thailand’s five-and-a-half-pound hamburger, and live to tell the tale
- Fighter discovers Japanese giant hornet in his apartment, hilarity ensues 【Video】
- Cute and talented Taiwanese singer is actually a boy, Netizens no longer find this shocking
- We’re not going to lie…these sausage people currently trending in Japan freak us out
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