There's an interesting trend in Japan in the way people speak, that I noticed particularly when I was back there. Younger people in particular seem to be very reluctant to use the word "I" to refer to themselves.
The Japanese word for "I" varies depending on who is saying it to whom, but the most commonly used words are 私 （わたし watashi) and 僕 (ぼく boku). Watashi is used by women (and girls) and men (the very polite way to say the same word/kanji is watakushi) and boku is used mostly by men and boys.
Another word that can be used to point to onnesself is 自分 (じぶん jibun). If you translated jibun though, it would be closer to 'myself' or 'oneself' rather than I - in other words, it's more passive and third-personish than watashi or boku, which clearly do mean I.
Here's an example sentence using both watashi and jibun.
私はラーメンが好きです。 (watashi wa ramen ga suki desu.)
自分はラーメンが好きです。 (jibun wa ramen ga suki desu.)
Both mean "I like ramen", but the second sentence is more like "Myself likes ramen".
自分 has always been in regular use to mean oneself. However, recently many people use a turn of phrase that is even more passive, when expressing their opinions - 自分の中 (じぶんのなか jibun no naka), which means 'within myself'.
In March, there were several news reports in the Japanese media about the difficulties soon-to-be college graduates are having getting 内定 (ないてい naitei), or internal pre-approval for a job (the step usually taken by Japanese companies prior to officially hiring someone) this year due to the bad economy. Young people were being encouraged by employment agencies and others to look at small and midsize companies and not just the large corporations, but one young girl expressed this sentiment, which is probably shared by many of her colleagues:
自分の中では大手企業を希望してます。(じぶんのなかではおおてきぎょうをきぼうしてます jibun no naka de wa ohtekigyou o kibou shitemasu.)
A rough translation of this would be "I want to go to a large corporation" but a nuanced one would be "Within myself, there is a wish for a large corporation". Note the difference in tone - it's really quite passive...one could even say, depending on the tone, passive-aggressive.
I never noticed people using 自分の中 so much say, 10-15 years ago. It must say something about the way people in their 20-30s and younger think these days. (Older people still use watashi, boku etc.)
Combining 自分の中 with a typical example of an English word that's incorporated into Japanese and takes on a different meaning from the original, is the phrase
自分の中でブーム （じぶんのなかでぶーむ jibun no naka de buumu)
Directly translated it comes out to 'a boom within myself'. No, that doesn't mean that someone swallowed a bomb that went BOOM, or even that someone had a very spicy burrito and farted...um never mind. ^_^ It uses the meaning of boom as it's defined on this page - "a sudden increase in popularity". So 自分の中でブーム really means that "I am very much into/passonate about/obsessed with (whatever it is)". Example:
最近パンを焼くのが、自分の中でブームです。(saikin pan o yaku noga, jibun no naka de buumu desu.) - Recently, I am very into baking bread.
This use of boom has been turned into it's own new combination wasei-eigo (Japanese-English) word マイブーム (maibuumu), combining "my" and "boom". Many people use that with 自分の中, e.g. 自分の中でマイブーム - a my-boom within myself. A "my-boom" tends to mean a short term obsessive interest in something, that eventually burns out.
I guess you could say that people who are considered to be otaku are always having 自分の中でマイブーム, though it's not limited to those who might be defined as otaku. Though if you look at things a certain way, almost all Japanese people are otaku....
Periodically, I like to look at some popular slang terms in Japan. They may not necessarily increase your knowledge of the Japanese language in a meaningful way, but I think they provide some interesting or funny insight into the culture.
Today's term is
草食男子 (そうしょくだんし）soushoku danshi
The 'danshi' part means boy/boys or man/men. (Alternate: 草食男 (そうしょくおとこ) soushoku otoko) The 'soushoku' part has sometimes been translated as 'vegetarian', but the more accurate meaning would be 'herbivore'. Here are some herbivores in the animal kingdom:
While this would be your typical carnivore:
(Lion photo credit: Arno and Louise)
In Japan, a lot of credibility has traditionally been given to the concept of "you are what you eat", (and for UK readers, I don't mean in the Gillian McKeith way). A person who eats a lot of meat is supposed to be more stereotypically masculine and aggressive, while a person who eats a lot of vegetables and non-meat foods is supposed to be gentle and compliant, like a well behaved donkey or cow.
So, a 'soushoku danshi' is the approximate Japanese equivalent of a metrosexual; someone who is gentle, refined, concerned about his appearance, kind or respectful to the females in his life. He might be more inclined to be perfectly okay with doing the dishes, or babysitting the kids. A soushoku danshi is typically in his teens to 30s - the younger generation, in other words.
Sounds like the perfect modern man, no? Well not really. In that paradoxical way that females want their men to do the dishes but still be 'in charge' and 'manly' and all that, the soushoku danshi is also seen as weak, indecisive, spineless, and just not Man Enough. This past Valentine's Day, there were even 'soushoku otoko' chocolates, for female bosses to give to their spineless underlings to tell them to get a...um, spine. (see Valentine's Day in Japan).
An even more derogatory term for this modern Japanese man is
お嬢マン (おじょうまん) ojou-man
An お嬢さん (おじょうさん ojou-san) or お嬢様 （おじょうさま ojou-sama) is a refined, sometimes spoiled, young lady. 'Ojou-man' is the male version of a young spoiled lady - in other words, a refined being who is passionately interested things like his appearance and fashion.
The soushoku danshi is alternately seen as the doom of Japanese society, or its future, mainly depending on the age of the person talking about them.
Incidentally, the current Prime Minister, Mr. Hatoyama, is seen as being somewhat of a soushoku danshi for his so-far general inability to get much done.
A modern Japanese man really has it tough. He's supposed to be kind and considerate, but still be manly and take-charge. He's supposed to be masculine, but woe on him if he smells bad.
See also: Himono onna.
New York is the City That Never Sleeps or the Big Apple. Chicago is the Windy City. Paris is the City of Lights. Sayings like this, that try to capture the spirit of a place in a short phrase, exist for Japanese cities too.
A common saying about Osaka is 食い倒れの街 (kui-daore no machi), the town that loves to eat. 食い倒れ means to eat until you drop. This is probably true...Osaka is known for great, cheap eats and is the birthplace of famous street snacks like takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
A lesser known saying takes the phrase and applies it to Kyoto. Kyoto people are generally held to be very おしゃれ (oshare, pronounced o-SHA-reh) or fashionable and well dressed. Therefore, Kyoto is 着倒れの街 (ki-daore no machi), the town that loves to dress up. Kyoto is famous for its beautiful woven kimono silks or Nishijin-ori. People in Kyoto still wear kimonos quite a lot in their daily lives, probably more than in other cities.
An even lesser known saying apparently exists about other cities. Nagoya is said to be 貯め倒れの街 (tame-daore no machi) - the town that loves to save money, or another way of saying Nagoya residents are cheap. Osaka people are generally said to be rather tight with their money too, and often are called the Scots of Japan. (Just as in any other country, various regions of Japan take friendly snipes at each other all the time.) Nara is said to be 寝倒れの街 （ne-daore no machi) or the town that loves to sleep, since the shops there close up fairly early and there's nothing to do (according to some residents) at night.
I haven't really been able to find one phrase that is applied to Tokyo though. I've read 飲み倒れの街 (nomi-daore no machi) - the town that drinks until it drops, or 履き倒れの街 (haki-daore no machi) - the town that loves...shoes? (The last one is also applied to Kobe for some reason.) My favorite -daore phrase applied to Tokyo though is 行き倒れ (iki-daore), which means to drop dead on the street. Tokyo is so crowded and so busy, that you do sort of feeling like dropping to the ground in exhaustion sometimes. ^_^
A few weeks ago, a language school in Shinjuku, Tokyo with the rather dramatic name of Fortress Japan got into trouble when they were caught, amongst other things, 1. harvesting snail and email addresses under false pretenses (in the guise of conducting surveys), and 2. threatening people to sign up for their English conversation classes by trying to scare them. The specific phrase they used was "If you don't know how to speak English, you will be a -
人生の敗北者 じんせいのはいぼくしゃ jinsei no haibokusha
This literally means a loser in life. The amazing thing to me is that this actually worked on more than a few people, who gave their money over to these people.
I live in Zürich, a multicultural and multi-lingual city where there are lots of ads for language schools. But that doesn't even begin to compare with the number of language-school ads that you see in trains, on billboards and other places in Japan. About 1 in 4 ads seem to be for language schools, and the no. 1 language to be learned (though Chinese seems to be creeping up in popularity) is still English.
What is sad is that by the time they have finished high school, most Japanese people have had at least six years of mandatory English classes, if not more. There are English 'juku' (cram schools, after-school classes) for kids as young as kindergarten age. The widely acknowledged problem with English education in Japan is that it's still oriented towards rote learning of grammar rules and spelling, rather than actually learning how to speak and understand the language - because it's easier to test kids on grammar and such than on if they can conduct a simple conversation.
There have been many attempts made to improve the way in which English is taught in Japan, but still, many people labor to speak it.
I am lucky enough to have learned to speak English when I was very young. It's not even my second language anymore - in terms of ease of use, it may even be my first. Whenever I am in Japan and it comes out that I speak English, the reactions I get are rather interesting. Mostly I just hear "羨ましい (うらやましい urayamashii) - (I'm) envious". But on the negative side, there is a mix of envy, fear, disdain and dismissal. (I've heard other bilingual Japanese people talk about getting this kind of reaction. Kikoku shijo (帰国子女 きこくしじょ）, or kids who return to Japan after some time spent in another country, were and may still be regular targets for bullying in Japanese schools.) I think that my English fluency, more than my many years of living outside of Japan, make me an 'other' to a lot of Japanese people. I've even been told, in some off moments by people who were either drunk or just out to be snarky, that I was a 'gaijin' - a foreigner, and that I didn't count as a true Japanese person. Not very nice. I've learned to keep my English-speaking-self under wraps for the most part, since I am not fond of unnecessary conflict.
Still, from now on if I run into such people, I can tell them that they are a loser in life. Or, at least think it silently. ^_^
I am leaving for Japan next week, but I've already started packing. It's not that I'm bringing an elaborate wardrobe or anything (my clothes will be various shades of black and grey basically) but I have to get a lot of お土産 (おみやげ omiyage). An omiyage is a gift from a trip, to give to family and acquaintances at your destination, whether it's home for you or not. The kanji that make up the word omiyage are 土 (earth or ground) and 産 (product), so theoretically it's a local product from wherever you went to. (Omiyage can also mean 'souvenir', but here I'm going to talk about omiyage as gifts.)
Going to Japan, if you are Japanese or have lived there long enough to be part of a community (or you have Japanese relatives), is an expensive proposition because of that omiyage obligation after a trip. In my case, I'm going to have to dedicate at least half of one suitcase to omiyage, since I haven't been back there in such a long time.
Omiyage-gifts go a bit beyond little souvenir chotchkes. They have to be attractive, and they have to be gift wrapped. Gifts are given not just after traveling, but on many other occasions too. Gifts help to oil the cogs of Japanese society.
Tokyo Station omiyage-shop. Photo credit: williacw
In Japan, the gift-giving or 贈答 (ぞうとう zoutou) business is so well oiled that you can easily pick up appropriate, beautifully wrapped gifts at a moment's notice. But when you travel, it can get a bit more difficult. Of course hordes of well heeled Japanese tourists have alerted many businesses, especially on the high end of the fashion and other industries in major tourist destinations, to the need for well-wrapped gifts. In places like Paris there are even businesses dedicated to smoothing the way of the anxious gift-shopping Japanese tourist. (These types of businesses exist in other major cities too, but I seem to notice them particularly in Paris.)
If you are already deep into Japanese society, or have Japanese relatives, you are probably well acquainted with your omiyage-gift obligations. If you're not though, here are some basic (tongue in cheek) rules to follow. (Do remember that younger (say, under 35 or 40) people don't really go along with all these rules, necessarily. If you're dealing with older or more traditional folk though, it's different.)
Japanese homes -- which are usually tiny, especially in the cities -- are typically already overstuffed with Stuff. You don't want to burden the recipient with something that have to find space for. The gift-giving culture is one reason why things like outrageously expensive melons exist in Japan. An expensive, elaborately wrapped melon makes a great gift.
Food is a great gift. (I plan on bringing several boxes of Swiss chocolates as gifts.) Cosmetics can also be good - perfume, expensive lipstick, etc. (At one time every other Japanese girl was clamouring for Dior or Chanel lipsticks.) Wine and other alcoholic beverages are a good bet too, especially if the country you're coming from is known for them.
The perfect gift for any household with a female in it is an expensive scarf from a well known label. See also: perfume, brand name cosmetics. Expensive ties are a possibility for males, for for them I would stick to food or drink gifts.
Remembering the rule about not adding to storage problems, go for small items such as t-shirts, small toys, etc.
For the first meeting, don't bring your Aunt Jane's amazing fruit cake, even if it is out of this world. for the fourth or fifth meeting it's probably ok.
Your recipient may initially act coy about accepting the gift. Just keep politely insisting they take it. It's a sort of weird ritualistic dance.
Don't be surprised or shocked or disappointed if the recipient just puts the gift away, without even opening it. This is fairly usual, especially for people who get tons of gifts. I still remember seeing the 押し入れ (おしいれ oshi-ire, a typical closet of sorts built into all traditional style Japanese homes, where futon are folded and stored) of the father-in-law of one of my uncles, who used to be an executive for a big company. It was packed with boxes of unopened omiyage.
If your gift is perishable, you will want to warn them about it. Here's a short and handy phrase:
すぐ召し上がって下さい。 すぐめしあがってください sugu meshiagatte kudasai. = Please consume right away.
As a non-Japanese person you always have the out of real or pretended ignorance. Japanese people usually assume, rightly or wrongly, that non-Japanese people are utterly unfamiliar with the rules of Japanese society. If you want to save money, you can rely on this.
In my case though, this is not an option...
In Japan, while Christmas is a popular commercial holiday, it's not even an official national holiday (schools are still in session for example in most areas). The big holiday of this time of year is the New Year's period (お正月 o-shougatsu), including January 1st itself and the days following it. O-shougatsu can either mean New Year's Day itself, or the holiday period after it up to the 7th day after New Year's Day. Most people get at least the first three days of the new year off work and school, and many get the whole week off.
The New Year period really starts around this time of year. The busy end-of-year period is called 師走 (しわす shiwasu), which literally means the master (or teacher/elder - 師 shi) runs around - meaning that it's such a busy time of the year that even the elders are not still. Shiwasu culminates on New Year's Eve, called 大晦日 （おおみそか oh-misoka). Housewives in particular are busy, since tradition dictates that the house must be made clean from top to bottom, and the New Year's feast all prepared, before the new year can be welcomed. (My mom used to lay out new underwear and pyjamas for us every New Year's eve, so we could greet the new year with pristine underpants I suppose.)
A song that kids have sung since it was introduced in the early 20th century that looks forward to New Year's Day is もういくつ寝るとお正月 (もういくつねるとおしょうがつ mou ikutsu neru to oshougatsu), which means "How many nights (to sleep) before it's New Year's?" This simple song was written by a songwriter called Rentaro Taki, who tragically died in 1903 at the young age of 23, but wrote a lot of songs that are still sung to this day. This is his most popular. The lyrics go like this:
How many nights to sleep until it's New Year's?
On New Year's Day (or during the New Year period) let's fly kites
and play by spinning tops
Come come fast, New Year's
How many nights to sleep until it's New Year's?
n New Year's Day (or during the New Year period) let's bounce a ball
and play with a shuttlecock
Come come fast, New Year's
Here's a video of someone singing it reasonably painlessly:
The first verse lists two play activities that are typical 'things that boys do', flying kites and spinning tops, while the second verse lists two typical girls' activities, bouncing a mari or decorative ball and playing hanetsuki, a form of shuttlecock (the precursor of badmington), using highly decorated paddles called hagoita (羽子板） and shuttlecocks called oibane (追い羽根）made of a hard wooden ball and colorful feathers.
This is such a well known song that parody versions abound -- rather like they do for Jingle Bells. Basically the first line stays the same, and the two following lines are changed.
This version was the standard us us kids used to sing over and over, driving our parents nuts:
How many nights to sleep until New Year's?
At New Year's (someone) ate mochi, got sick and died
Come come quickly funeral car!
初売り (はつうり hatsu uri) is the first sale of the new year; many stores these days open up on the 1st, hoping to lure in shoppers who are bored of lounging around at home. Here's a "hatsu uri reality check" kind of parody version:
How many nights to sleep until New Year's?
At New Year's (I) bought stuff I didn't need at the Hatsu uri sales
Come come quickly, payday!
お年玉 （おとしだま otoshidama) is a small money gift given to children on New Year's Day. Japanese kids look forward to getting otoshidama in the same way kids in the West look forward to Christmas presents under the tree. (Christmas presents are exchanged in Japan, but on a much smaller scale.) First, an otoshidama parody version from a kid's point of view:
How many nights to sleep until New Year's?
At New Year's I'm getting a lot of otoshidama and buying a Wii
Come, come fast New Year's!
While kids love getting otoshidama, adults of course feel the financial pinch, especially if they are obligated to give to many nieces, nephews, grandkids, and their own children. So here's the "otoshidama woes" adult point of view version:
How many nights to sleep until New Year's?
At New Year's the nieces come, the nephews come, the grandkids come...and I'm broke
Go home quickly you brats!
There are a lot of other parodies around, but I've kept it just to the PG-rated ones ^_^.
Do you know any other parody versions? If you know any Japanese people, ask them if they have any!
Yes this is indeed true. The Japanese name for it is 大仏様の鼻くそ (だいぶつさまのはなくそ daibutsusama no hanakuso). Sold at the gift shops in Nara and online, the company that makes it describes it as a puffed rice snack, coated on the outside with brown sugar, with size brown sugar kompeito candies rattling around inside. The puffs are made to look like The Great Buddha's nose snot, and the kompeito are supposed to bring you luck. Yum.
(photo by umbrajp)
While The Great Buddha's Nose Snot sounds rather dry, the Gorilla's Nose Snot is more, let's say, sticky. It's made primarily with kuromame amanatto, or black beans cooked in sugar.
As a matter of fact, there are different words for nose snot in Japanese depending on its state. I've often heard it said that the Inuits (Eskimos in non-PC parlance) have lots of words to describe snow, because they live with it all the time. In Japanese there are lots of words to describe stuff that is produced by your body, as I talked about previously. Which may mean that Japanese people are generally comfortable about their bodies, or at least find them humorous.
For nose (鼻 はな hana) snot, there are two main states:
In manga and anime you will often see a character dozing off with a 鼻風船 (はなふうせん hanafuusen), literally 'nose balloon', protruding from his nose. This is rather viscous snot with air trapped inside; in manga it's a shorthand way of depicting that someone is sleeping, often while snoring too.
When I was growing up, I was often warned to stop putting my finger up my nose to scratch out my snot (you know, as kids do. You mean you didn't....?) If I kept doing this, I was told, my nostrils will grow huge, and I'll look like a piggy. I must have believed this because I did stop putting my fingers up there for exploration. Japanese girls are somewhat obsessed with having cute little noses - a 'piggy nose' (ブタ鼻 ぶたばな butabana) is considered to be very unattractive. In manga and anime shorthand, an ugly girl is often depicted with a butabana.
Back to the snot snacks. Both the Great Buddha Snot and the Gorilla's Nose Snot are derived from traditional Japanese sweets that are sadly no longer that popular amongst kids. The re-purposing of these traditional sweets with names that would make a kid giggle and try it, is a rather ingenious way of introducing them to their cultural food heritage, I think.
Hi! I'm back! The first draft of my bento cookbook is in, and I now have a bit more time for other writing. So many people asked when this blog would be back...so here it is. I hope you'll continue to enjoy it.
So, today's word is another zokugo (俗語 ぞくご）or slang word that is popular recently:
You may already know that onna （女 おんな）means woman. Himono (干物 ひもの）means any kind of dried food, but it usually means a dried or semi-dried fish. Himono are often eaten for breakfast, and are a popular breakfast item at traditional inns. Here's a grilled horse mackerel or aji (鯵 あじ）himono.
So, what is a himono onna or dried-fish woman? It means an unmarried woman, usually in her late 29s to 30s or older, who has given up on love and sex, and is content - or resigned to - live on her own. A himono onna generally regards all that lovey-romantic stuff as too much of a bother, or mendokusai （面倒臭い めんどくさい). In fact, mendokusai is her first motivation, or un-motivation, for everything. She's stopped trying to impress the opposite sex, doesn't bother dressing attractively and goes around in the most comfortable clothes possible, including going sans bra or no-bura (ノーブラ). She may also stop paying too much attention to things like personal hygiene, or at least stop bothering with makeup, going more than once or twice a year to the hairdresser, doing her nails, and things like that, except when she goes to work. Anticipating the possibility that she will have no children to take care of her in her old age, she may be saving up a lot of her money, buying her own apartment or house (until recently it was practically unheard of for a single woman to buy her own place) - or she may be spending money on herself at will.
According the the Japanese Wikipedia entry on himono onna, she may also:
All this may sound like a misogynistic put-down of unmarried women, but in fact many women have embraced the term themselves. There are blogs out there by himono onna. This one in particular, called The Himono Onna's Household Budget Book or "Himono Onna no Kakeibo" (干物女の家計簿 - see more about kakeibo) - is very funny and cute. The blogger illustrates her posts with the most adorable drawings, where she depicts herself as a fat, clumsy seal or azarashi (あざらし) stumbling through life. In her profile, at the left of the page, she says she's 30, an OL (office lady), and her annual income is 3.64 million yen (US$40,520), and her savings are an impressive 4.57 million yen (US$50,854).
I'm rather dessicated myself...
Just a quick note: I'm not going to shut down this blog forever entirely! I might bring it back in a different form, but it will be back. Also, this is why I'm sort of busy these days. In the meantime, I've been getting a lot of nice messages from people who are enjoying the archives. I hope you'll continue to do so. ^_^