Odd Japanese Words


They arrested someone from the Department of Beautiful Women? What that department even– Oh.


Though I hate thinking of languages as mysterious, I really wonder how the heck these words came about. Continue reading

N1 on the Horizon

On July 3rd, a little over two weeks away, I’ll be taking the JLPT with my compatriots.

準備できましたか? まあ、ね

I’ve been studying for the past week or so in depth, focusing on my weakest areas. Some sections, like selecting the pronunciation for a kanji, or reading comprehension, I haven’t had much in the way of problems. Admittedly, I am a bit slow with reading. Not sure how much I can improve that in the weeks to come.

My weakest section: choosing what grammar is correct. Example (from my practice book):

30) その日、私はホームに入ってきた電車に飛び乗った。ところが、電車は反対方面に走り始めた(   )。私は電車の行き先を確かめなかったことを後悔した。

1 ではない 2 ではないか 3 のではない 4 のではないか

The answer is 2. Actually, I’m not sure I got that one wrong. It seems so obvious. But, well, I’ve already written it. Might as well leave it there. Okay, what about this one?

31) (インタビューで)
A) 「お店で一番気を付けていることは何ですか。」
B) 「衛生管理です。お客さんに食事を(   )、衛生面の管理には、何よりも注意しております。」

1 お出しになり以上 2 お出しになるうえ 3 お出しする以上 4 お出しするうえ

I think the answer is… 3? Could be 4? Or 2? And the answer is… 3!! But I think I remember doing this problem in the past, so maybe that’s why I thought of the answer? I don’t know. The brain is mysterious. I just hope that this exact problem gets on the test, so I’ll know exactly how to answer it. 😛

I’ve read so much Japanese at this point that, even if I don’t know the word or grammar exactly, if I read it aloud, a certain answer seems more correct. I suppose that’s a good thing? But there are a lot of grammar bits that I didn’t know. につけ after a verb, とあって meaning something like だから, たとえ as a way to emphasize a future ても・でも. All those いかに and いかにもs are starting to make sense. Lots of little things that are coming to light through study.

I’m not sure that I’m ready. Can’t really be sure until the test is in front of you. But studying this grammar has been very useful. Even just a little bit has made me realize it in normal documents sitting on my desk. I used to just glance over it, infer from meaning. Now, even with the sentence obscured, I have some inkling of what it’s doing. That’s definitely an improvement.

On practice tests, depending on what I’m testing, I’ll get somewhere between a 30% and a 80%. I still have a ways to go, but as long as I do a little bit every day, keep my Memrise streak going (currently 26 day streak), ask another teacher about a weird grammar point, and don’t lose myself to stress, I think I’ll be good.

If you’re also taking the JLPT this July, 一緒に頑張りましょう! If you’re not, but you’ll take it in December, and I fail this one and decide to retake it in December, then… そのとき、頑張りましょう!Never give up! Never surrender!

Japanese Tidbits: 指


Just a little mid-week post here. Inspired by a conversation I had the other day, I figured it’s worth tossing out there.

指(ゆび) is often translated into English as “finger”. On the hand, the five fingers (or four fingers and a thumb if you’re one of those people) are:

親指(おやゆび), the thumb. Or, directly translated, the “parent finger”. Given that it’s the thickest (like a pudgy mom or dad), or perhaps the most useful finger, it makes sense that it’s the “parent”.

さし指(さしゆび), the pointer finger. Pretty much the same in Japanese, as 指す is “to point”. Sometimes it’s written as 指し指, but that looks weird, doesn’t it?

中指(なかゆび), the middle finger. Again, same. Traditionally, the middle finger doesn’t have any negative meaning associated with it like it does in America. But, recently, everyone understands what you mean when you do it angrily. It also has the meaning of “brother” in Japanese sign language, which can lead to laughs from people who don’t know in the rare case of seeing JSL.

On that note, in general, the 親指 can be thought of as the “father”, the さし指 as the “mother”, the 中指 as the “brother”, the 薬指 as the “sister”, and the 小指 as the “baby”.

Back onto those last two fingers, the 薬指(くすりゆび) is the ring finger or “medicine finger” in Japanese. While we think of the ring finger as the place where wedding rings go, that practice is a new one in Japan. The medicine finger actually gets its name from the fact that that finger has the most gentle touch (it’s harder to apply pressure with it) and doctors would traditionally dip their medicine finger into medicine and apply it that way.

Lastly, the 小指(こゆび) is the pinky finger in American English. But more widely, it’s the “little finger”, a name it shares with the direct translation of the Japanese. Also, it just makes sense. Who came up with “pinky” anyways.

Last but not least, and the reason I wrote this post, is the fact that if you ask a Japanese person how many fingers they have, they’ll answer…




That’s because the toes are also considered 指 in Japanese. 手の指 and 足の指. 合わせたら、20本がある。 In American English, we’d usually say we have 10 fingers and 10 toes. With that in mind, 指 is perhaps best translated as “digit”, though that sounds a little academic to me, personally.

Japan is not unique in this distinction either. Many other languages don’t distinguish between fingers and toes, which was actually a surprise to me. But hey, we learn something new every day.

Super last but not least, when referring to toes, while they are considered 指, the most common way that Japanese people talk about them are as the つま先(つまさき), all 5 toes on a foot together. When you grab your toes (such as in the “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” song), you’re usually grabbing your つま先. When discussing how to jump, つま先 often comes up as well. After all, we don’t really coordinate each toe. The focus is on the toes together.

Anywho, hope you enjoyed a little midweek Japanese tidbit. See you on Friday when I talk about what it means to get into the game industry.

Japanese Tidbits: 水・湯


I’ve been having these moments where I just want to write something tiny and put it on the blog. Similar to how Seth Godin does his blog, where most posts are tiny with the occasional longer-form post, but not quite so prolifically.

I’ve thought: Maybe Twitter is where I should be going with these thoughts. After all, Twitter is good way to build a following and interact with others. But I’ve not been able to bring myself to do it. And instead of letting these thoughts disappear into the void, I’ll do something about it. At least, until I start tweeting.


My water heater (給湯器) broke last Friday morning while I was taking a shower. Which meant, in the middle of my cold apartment, standing in a cold shower, I now had to take my shower with cold water. It was pretty terrible. Thankfully, it got fixed this morning, and I’m all good.

But the past few days, I’ve been telling my harrowing story of cold showers in the morning to my coworkers and I noticed a little curiosity.

For those who don’t know:

水(みず) means “water”.
湯(ゆ) means “hot water”, usually with an honorific お preceding it.

For years, my use of お湯 was relegated to the onsen and sento, where it simply meant hot bathwater. But actually, and I’m sure this is pretty obvious to many people, お湯 refers to all types of hot water. Drinking water included.

Okay, so far, so good.

When talking to people about my shower experience however, I made it clear that the water coming from my shower was 冷たい水. Apparently the 冷たい(つめたい) was unneeded. Whenever a coworker told the story to another person, it always came back to being 水シャワー. The fact is, the normal state of a shower is with お湯. Therefore, it didn’t need to be mentioned that a shower had cold water. 水シャワー lets people know that it wasn’t hot.

While in English we often add a signifier to water (hot water, lukewarm water, cold water), Japanese splits water between 水 and お湯, with 水 being on the colder end of the spectrum, and お湯 being on the hotter end. People just don’t really say 熱い水.

In conclusion:

水 means “water”, usually cold or room-temperature.
湯 means “hot water”, the kind used in baths and for making tea.

Finally, if you burn yourself in Japanese, exclaiming “痛い!” is a little weird. “熱い!” is the appropriate response.

Idle Thoughts (2)

Summer is officially over. I guess that should be obvious by official dates (Summer technically lasts from June 21st-September 21st in the US; 秋分の日 was September 23rd in Japan). The air is cooling down and everyone is asking if I’m cold when I wear a t-shirt. Seems like some things never change, even though they definitely do.

This past Wednesday we had a へき地研究集会(へき研) where schools from the neighboring areas all came to my elementary school and watched some classes put on by our teachers, myself included. Another teacher and I taught the 5th graders some English while our tiny rural classroom was filled to the brim with other teachers from other rural schools. Normally, English is a relatively casual affair, and laid-back to facilitate learning. Not on Wednesday, however. All considered, it went pretty well, and I even got to talk in front of a group of 30 teachers or so about my thoughts on English education and why it’s important in an elementary school. I think just about every ALT has thoughts on the matter, but so few are allowed the opportunity to speak to a group of Japanese teachers that want you to speak. It’s a good feeling, even if I couldn’t be as eloquent as I’d like.

Thinking about my Japanese, I realize that I haven’t improved all that much recently. I am improving, definitely. But gradually. I wouldn’t mind a big boost in study sessions–say, 30 minutes more a day of dedicated study–but I don’t feel like I can act on that. Actual study is kind of hard, especially solo. With additional focuses, like game development, I’m not too displeased with my general lack of Japanese development. After all, I am making progress in other places.

Every day this past week I’ve been working on my little RPG, A Return Home. I set myself 3 months to finish it, and I have goals I want to stick to. However, about 15 days into the project, I started learning Unity. As a result, I haven’t given it the attention it deserves. Well, assuming it deserves much attention. The game is intended to be simple, but my biggest worry is that it’s both short and not worthy of time. Like a terrible short story or poem. It makes me doubt some of my writing skills while at the same time makes me want to convert it into a short story itself. I feel like that’s its proper format, and the only reason I made it into a game is something arbitrary like wanting to make a game.

The deadline for my next “update” to A Return Home is October 10th, and I’m only about 70% through the things I wanted to include. Unfortunately I won’t be able to complete everything I wanted to by that time. Why? There’s a big trip this weekend (and it’s a 3 day weekend here in Japan) to a lake near Bandai mountain in Japan. This is the 3rd time I’ve gone and it’s honestly in my top-2 trips every year. Looking forward to a weekend of hiking, kayaking, swimming in freezing water, and merriment with friends.

In 30 minutes we have a ceremony to end the first semester and then the students will be free to leave and the teachers have a nice relaxing afternoon ahead. At least I hope. I’m sure someone will come and make some busywork for us all. But if I’m lucky, I might be able to finish up some of the features I wanted to include in this update, bringing it from a eh 70% to a woo 90%. Things like finishing off the cutscene dialogue and implementing it in the game, even if I don’t polish the cutscene up.

May we all do our best.