Find your Japanese in the Wild

It’s important to find your Japanese in the wild.

Nothing is worse than cookie-cutter sentences straight from the textbook. Using this prepackaged Japanese alone will make you sound like a robot.

So, it’s important to really get out there and find your Japanese at the source. You know, from Japanese magazines, Japanese TV shows, and random Japanese people.

If you want to be really hardcore though, you have to be able to find your Japanese DEEP in the wild. I’m talking about way out in the bush.

Can you spot the Kana in this photo?

Can you spot the Kana in this photo?

See, did you spot it? Japanese in the wild.

It’s there, really. No, not the elephants – though they are pretty cool too.

First person to spot the kana in this picture and comment on the location gets a free copy of the new Japanese 101: Giongo and Gitaigo app!

If you don’t have an iPhone or iPod Touch… well, sorry, but at least you’ll get kudos for being the first to find it and post! Please indicate whether or not you want the code in the comment along with your answer. If someone finds the kana and doesn’t need the code, I’ll give the code to the next person to comment that indicates that they have an iPhone or iPod Touch.

This is another test of your kana recognition skills! My wife spotted this way before I did, so I still need some kana speed recognition before I can be considered as sharp as a native!

Fun stuff. Picture taken in the Serengeti by the way. I go back to the United States tomorrow, and then off to Japan the next day!


Japanese 101: Giongo and Gitaigo App Released

Unless you’ve been living under a rock and not checking your twitter for the last 30 minutes, you probably heard that the Japanese 101: Giongo and Gitaigo iPhone app has finally hit the App Store!

You can read more about app here, and of course, check it out in the iTunes store if you’ve got a few bucks burning a hole in your wallet.

Japanese 101: Giongo and Gitaigo Screen Shot

Giongo and gitaigo are a great way to bring your Japanese to life and I really think that these fun phrases should be given more attention in textbooks. There are a ton of these phrases so we plan to update this application quite a few times. Stick a few of these phrases in your back pocket and work them into your conversations from time to time! I’m sure your Japanese friends will be impressed.

Hope you enjoy it!



Japan and Tanzania joined by Peppers

As you may or may not know, I’m actually now in Tanzania doing an internship. I’ll be here until August. I’ve picked up a few words and phrases in Swahili (really, just a few) and recently came across something pretty interesting.

The word for a “chili” or “pepper” in Swahili is “pilipili.”

In Japanese the phrase 「ぴりぴり」is a gitaigo 擬態語 to describe that tingly feeling you get in your mouth after you have eaten something spicy, like a hot pepper.

Is this just a random coincidence? I tweeted this observation and within a few minutes @gdharbin sent me a few valuable response tweets. Explaining that it comes from the Portuguese trading ships. Check out this Wikipedia link on Piri piri.

Seems like a likely story to me. As you may know, the reason that “bread” in Japanese is パン (pan), which also means “bread” in Spanish/Portuguese is due to those Portuguese trading ships as well.

Fun huh?

On a side note, another interesting thing about Tanzania that I have noticed is that Tanzanians constantly tell foreigners about how easy their language is to learn. They’ll go out of their way to make sure that you at least know the basic greetings in Swahili, and then will use them with you whenever they get a chance. Whenever my wife or I use Swahili the locals smile and gladly respond in Swahili to keep the conversation going as long as they can until it eventually breaks down and becomes English (due to our pitiful Swahili skills). After fumbling around in Swahili I frequently am asked, “how long have you been in Tanzania? Don’t worry, just learn a few words everyday and you can speak good Swahili.”

In Japan it was pretty different. I noticed that people would frequently be amazed at my ability to speak Japanese because, 日本語って難しいでしょう?どうやって覚えたの?! Japanese is difficult isn’t it?? How did you learn it?! Unlike the Tanzanians the Japanese seemed to think that their language was impossible for anyone other than Japanese to figure out.

Is Japanese really more difficult than Swahili? Perhaps. The writing system is more difficult for Westerners for sure – Swahili is written using the roman alphabet so there are no new characters to learn. Swahili is also very easy to pronounce, it’s read almost exactly like Japanese romaji. I have only studied Swahili for a tiny bit of time, but I can “read” anything aloud even if I don’t know what it means. It takes many years of study to be able to do that in Japanese…

But Swahili isn’t a cake walk. They have this weird thing called “noun classes” or something where the noun changes based on how many there are and the words preceding it and all this other stuff… But how they change depends on the class the noun is in… Like table is meza… and tables is meza… but person is mengi and people is wengi… but tree is mti while trees is miti… pipe is kiko but pipes is viko… And there are more variations. To me, for one, that’s crazy difficult.

I don’t know… There is something I like about the positive attitude Tanzanians have towards the capability of foreigners to learn their language. It’s very encouraging.

Any thoughts on this?

– Harvey

Movie: My Secret Cache

I recently saw the movie My Secret Cache (ひみつの花園).

To be frank, this was an extremely campy comedy with a completely ridiculous plot. The main character Sakiko, played by Naomi Nishida, is a girl who since childhood has only been able to get excited about money. When guys ask her out on a date, she checks to see if they are going to pay (それって、おごりですか? sore tte, ogori desu ka?), and if they are she asks them to call off the date and give her the money that would have been spent on her instead. Ouch!

As a young adult she gets a job at a bank (because she can get paid for counting money there) where she is unfortunate enough to get mixed up in a bank robbery. After the dust settles it turns out that she is the only living person who knows where the loot (the secret cache) the robbers failed to get away with is buried.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the rest of the movie has her getting involved in all sorts of activities for the sole purpose of getting her hands on that cash.

The whole thing is really silly… But you know what… It’s still fun. If you’re looking for yet another Japanese movie to watch to keep your language skills from wasting away, you might want to check this one out. It’s no masterpiece, but it has its moments. The comedy is really campy and slapstick… Very Japanese. The scenes could be taken straight out of a manga or anime. You know the type.

By the way, Naomi Nishida later was in other movies like Happiness of the Katakuri’s, Swing Girls, and Densha Otoko. She lead a very successful acting career and has a huge following. This was one of her earliest films.

Quirky crazy Japanese comedy. Gotta love it.

Actually, this movie has really great reviews. I didn’t find it spectacular though… A fun watch yes, but not amazing. Has anyone else seen this? What did you think? Maybe I wasn’t in the right state of mind when I watched it…

P.S. In case you’re wondering about the Kansai-ben iPhone Application, the application has been approved by Apple, but I’m still waiting for them to approve my contracts. If you Google “iTunes connect contract pending” you’ll come up with tons of threads of people complaining about how long the process takes. I’ve been waiting about 2 weeks now… So I guess I can patiently wait another 2 or 3 weeks before my head explodes. Once the contracts are approved the app will magically appear in the iTunes store, so keep your eyes peeled!

– Harvey

Marriage Hunting – Japanese Slang and Society

That says “konkatsu”. This word isn’t in your dictionary, but if you’ve been studying Kanji for quite some time and know a bit about Japanese society you can probably guess what it means. By the way, “konkatsu” was nominated for the 2008 流行語大賞, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’ll explain this “konkatsu” slang phrase while sharing some information about modern Japanese society and teaching you the joy of Kanji.

If you’ve ever looked for a job in Japan or been around Japanese people doing the same, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “syusyoku katsudou”. This phrase means “job hunting”. More literally, it’s the activities that one engages in to find employment.

This “syusyoku katsudou” phrase is often shortened to simply, “syukatsu” (就活).

Now, to get back to this mysterious “konkatsu phrase.” This isn’t an official word or phrase, but it is popular in Japan at the moment (seems to have been around since late 2008). Especially with the “around 30” female crowd.

You can image that the following phrase would exist (it does, but it is also slang).

From what we know of the kanji in “syusyoku katsudou” this would be the activities that one engages in to get married. Or, to be more direct, to find a partner for marriage.

Now we shorten that, as Japanese love to do… and we get…

There it is! “konkatsu!” Another important related phrase is “konkatsucyuu” 婚活中 which refers to someone who is in the process of “konkatsu.”

Of course, 婚活 doesn’t only apply to women, but to men as well.

So let’s take a look at some “konkatsu” stuff in the wild.

This video explains that the “konkatsu” phrase came about because of the increasing number of young people who cannot get married. Note, these are not people who don’t want to get married, they’re people who want to get married but just can’t successfully seal the deal!

The main reasons for this, according to the video, are the high number of financially unstable young people, and a perception difference of what marriage should be all about among Japanese men and women.

A survey done with 135 single women between the ages of 25 and 35 revealed that almost 40% of them wanted to marry a guy with a salary of 6,000,000 yen a year (about 60,000 USD at 100 yen to 1 USD… which isn’t the case anymore, but I’m lazy). The reality is that only 3.5% of young men actually have salaries that exceed that amount! Come on ladies! Your standards are too high!

Also, many women want to become full-time housewives after tying the knot, but with the tough economy more and more men want their wives to work.

“Konkatsu”, the act of actively looking for a marriage partner, includes a variety of activities including…

Taking active steps to improve yourself (積極的な自分磨き)
– Like learning to walk and sit in a chair in an attractive way.

Meeting people (出会い)
– Like at a wine drinking club (after all, people who like wine seem rich).
– There is a singles bar in Roppongi where you go alone and ask the staff to invite someone you notice in the bar to come drink with you. You know, if you don’t have the guts to talk to them yourself.
– There is also a place that specializes in hooking バツイチ (people who have been divorced once) up together.

Wow. That video explains a lot!

Here we have a video of the “konkatsu bra.” Features include a konkatsu count down timer. An apron on the front to show that the lady can cook (important for marriage). A handkerchief with the important profile information of that lady, you know, blood type, age, stuff like that. A place to keep a pen so you can jot your info down at any time… and other things.

There you have it. More “konkatsu” that you’ll ever need. Anyone here “konkatsucyuu” 婚活中? Maybe we can set up a JapanNewbie 婚活クラブ。

– Harvey

Kansai-ben iPhone App Audio Preview #2

Here is another sample from the upcoming Kansai-ben Application illustrating the difference in intonation used when speaking Kansai-ben when compared to standard Japanese.

In this audio sample both speakers are saying the exact same thing, but one person is speaking in the standard Japanese intonation and the other is a native of Osaka speaking with Kansai-ben intonation. See if you can notice the intonation difference.

Here is the typical standard Japanese intonation of someone saying “good morning,” おはようございます。

And here is the Kansai-ben intonation of someone saying “good morning,” おはようございます。

Could you catch the difference?

Notice that two different people are speaking each phrase. It’s pretty rare to find a native Japanese speaker who can speak both Kansai-ben and standard Japanese completely naturally. It would be kind of like an American trying to fake a British accent. It can be done, but it’s usually not as good as the real thing. Our Kansai-ben application uses a native from Osaka for all of the Kansai-ben audio so you’ll hear the authentic intonation.

Japanese is not a tonal language like Chinese or Thai or anything, but intonation does matter. This is why it’s important to have native audio to mimic when learning Japanese, whether its characters from your favorite Japanese movies, your Japanese friends, or some prerecorded tool like a CD that came with a textbook or this Kansai-ben iPhone application. Otherwise even if you’re saying all the correct syllables you may end up sounding like a strange foreigner!

Happy Kansai-ben’ing!

– Harvey

Kansai-ben iPhone App Preview Audio

Hey everyone,

Some audio files from the upcoming Kansai-ben iPhone and iPod Touch Application are below.

The varied differences with standard Japanese (標準語) make Kansai dialect a ton of fun to hear and speak. There are simple grammatical differences like changing the negative “nai-form” of verbs to “hen” (e.g., 行けない to 行けへん), but there are also cases where phrases are completely unique to the Kansai area, like this one:

donai mo nara hen.
“Nothing can be done about it.”
This is similar to “doushiyou mo nai” in standard Japanese.

Here is the normal speed pronunciation from the upcoming application:

Fun stuff. The actual application includes slow speed pronunciations as well. Details on the application are available here.

You can look forward to more than 100 other Kansai-ben phrases once the application is finally released.

– Harvey

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