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Top Japanese Words and Phrases of 2009

Pink Tentacle has another great year-end round up over on their site. Many are of these words and phrases are a good reflection of the big changes that happened not only in Japan, but on a global scale during the past year. Nevertheless, there are some interesting surprises on the list.

Here are the top ten: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by 3yen in Advanced | No Comments »


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Bet you didn’t know it even existed, well… it doesn’t

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic ever since I first purchased the book 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」, which I first talked about over a year ago. (Wow, time does go fast!)

Chapter 9 in the book talks about a very interesting topic that I had never really thought about before: the empty particle or 「無助詞」 as it’s called in the book. Like every other chapter in the book, this chapter begins with a small dialogue between the teacher and a student that illustrates the problem.


Have a hunch where the problem lies? (The bold font is a clue.) The book makes a distinction between particles that are simply left out (primarily in spoken Japanese) with situations where you leave the particle out in order to avoid the nuances of particles. In the case of 「これ召し上がってください。」, because the 「を」 particle has a distinctive function of making 「これ」 into a direct object, the sentence has a very strong emphasis on eating 「これ」. The book describes the nuance as 「これだけを召し上がってください。ほかのものは食べないでください。」 In other words, it essentially sounds like, “Please eat this,” which sounds kind of desperate when you’re offering someone something to eat.

Ok, so you might think to try the topic particle instead: 「これ召し上がってください。」. But again, this doesn’t work because the 「は」 particle also has its own function of making 「これ」 into the topic of the conversation as if you were saying, “As for this, please eat it”. The book describes the nuance as 「ほかのものは食べなくてもよいけれども、これだけは何としても召し上がってください。」

The most natural thing to do in this case is to not use any particles so that you can talk about something without any of the nuances and meanings that go along with 「は」、「を」、and 「が」.

Here’s another example from the book.


Again, there is no suitable particle for 「コーヒー」 in this sentence if all you want to know is whether there is any coffee left. 「コーヒーまだある?」 sounds like you want start a conversation about coffee and 「コーヒーまだある?」 sounds like, “The coffee! There still some left?” Any time you want to call attention to something minor without making a conversation out of it is a good candidate for the empty particle. Situations such as realizing you’re out of cash at the cash register and asking your friend, “Hey, do you have money on you?” (お金、持っている?) or flipping through an album with someone and saying, “Hey, look at this.” (ねえ、これ、見て。) are good examples.

Another great example is when there is no strong relationship such as, 「誕生日、おめでとう」. You don’t want to say, 「誕生日おめでとう」 (As for your birthday, congratulations) or 「誕生日おめでとう」 (Your birthday is the thing that is congratulatory) because there’s nothing specific or particular about the birthday that you want to congratulate. You just want to say, “Hey it’s your birthday. Congratulations.” without any specific relation between the two.

Based on the context, if all the particles add a meaning or emphasis that you don’t want, you’re better off not having any particle at all.

Debunking yet another myth

Students often ask their Japanese teacher, “Sensei, I noticed that in real life people leave out particles a lot. Is that Ok to do?” Whereupon the teacher will always reply, “Yes grasshopper, people leave out particles sometimes but you are not ready for that yet. You should use particles every time because it is more proper and correct.”

Actually Sensei, you obviously haven’t thought enough about the empty particle because sometimes it is not correct to insert a particle. Ahhh, I love the sound of myth debunking in the morning.


It is interesting to think about the empty particle, and when you can and cannot use particles. But as I mentioned in the beginning, I didn’t even think about the empty particle until I read this book. Ultimately, omitting particles is something that naturally comes with conversation practice and doesn’t require deep analysis to get right. What it all boils down to in the end is getting a firm grasp on what each particles mean so that you know not to use them when they say something you don’t mean.

Posted by Tae Kim in Advanced, Grammar | 8 Comments »


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でも、アニメ自体は本当におもしろいですよ!最初は、DVDを買おうと思ったんですが、一枚で6000円・・・ L(・O・;)」オーマイガーッ
幸い、Youtubeに全部載っていました。どうやら、klisa0506という物凄い親切な方が10分置きに分けてPart 1,2,3という形で14話を全てあげたみたい。ありがとうよ、klisa0506さん!Youtubeだから、画像はもちろん小さいのだが、タダだから文句はいえねーな。

朝比奈ミクルの冒険 Episode 00 – Part 1

朝比奈ミクルの冒険 part2
朝比奈ミクルの冒険 part3



んなわけで、どうでもいいことでずいぶんと自分一人で盛り上がったんですが、次回はもうちょっとまともな内容を考えてみますんで、またきてね。 ♪(#^ー゚)v



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Mo’ Moe!

「秋葉」 used to be Tokyo’s biggest electronic district. I say, “used to” because it has been steadily turning into something shadier over the years.

「秋葉」(short for 「秋葉原」) is pretty much a geek’s paradise. There are all sorts of games and electronic stores including the massive 「ヨドバシカメラ」, which was newly built not too long ago.

Well, it turns out that there are two different categories of geeks: the technology geek and the creepy geek. 秋葉 used to be for the technology geeks, guys who were into gadgets, software, and hardware. But it turns out many geeks have interests in another realm, which I can only describe as “shady”.

I go through 秋葉 everyday on my commute but I decided to take my commuter’s pass, go over there on a weekend, and actually look around and explore the neighborhood. What I found out was that probably about half of the businesses there now cater to the “dark side” of the geek population.

First of all, there were mountains of porn. What looked like perfectly normal stores would suddenly have a whole floor for porn. Some stores had a whole floor just for animated porn. Scratch that, some stores were for animated porn! You can’t find this kind of selection for this type of stuff anywhere else in the world. (Incidentally, just to be clear, I didn’t actually look around or purchase anything. In fact, I didn’t even go inside, I could pretty much tell what it was from the staircase. Just to be clear.)

Besides the monumental amount of porn, 秋葉 is increasingly turning more fetish-like. I can’t explain this any better than saying one word: 「萌え」. 「萌え」 is kind of like “ubuntu” in that it represents a whole concept and therefore doesn’t have any specific definition. The similarity totally ends there though. Let’s see what we can find out about this word on the net.

(If you want to learn more about 「萌え」, you can also check out the Japanese wikipedia entry on 「萌え」. It’s so extensive, it’s practically a research paper.)


(from はてな)

「なぜか萌え=メイドさん」 Ahh yes, the maids. As a fellow male, I just cannot understand the attraction of maids. I mean, these maid costumes completely cover the body with layers and layers of clothing. Yawn. And yet 秋葉 has totally been taken over by maid cafes, called 「メード喫茶」, for reasons beyond my comprehension. Let’s take a look at this list of maid cafes. CURE MAID CAFE in 秋葉原、ひよこ家 in 秋葉原、Cafe Mai:lish… 秋葉原、Cos-Cha hmm… 秋葉原? 秋葉原 isn’t even that big a place but I bet the list doesn’t even come close to covering all the maid cafes in 秋葉原.

Cuter without the maid costume?
(from Cafe Mai:lish)

Worse, the maids have started branching into other industries such as 萌バーガー, a burger shop and even a hair salon called moesham. (Notice the use of 「萌え」 in both store names)

The 萌え phenomenon and 2ちゃんねる* have spawned a new class of vocabulary. My favorite is 「ツンデレ」, which comes from 「ツンツン」 and 「デレデレ」. I love it because, Yahoo, of all the places, has the funniest definition ever.

ツンデレ (つんでれ)

(from Yahoo!辞書)

Basically, 「ツンデレ」 characterizes a common manga/anime female character who is aloof and cold (ツンツン) but becomes all lovey-dovey (デレデレ) when she is alone with the boy she likes. The definition above explains it much better though. The last sentence is the best because it’s worded so seriously and yet is a total smackdown on the オタク nerds who have no real chance with such a girl.

I’ve actually heard rumors of 「ツンデレ・カフェ」. Apparently there was a 「ツンデレ・イベント」 this March. I guess the maids are rude when you walk in and nice when you leave? Hmm… might be the next big thing.


I’m going to conclude here, now that I’ve managed to brilliantly turn this into a language lesson. So I’ll just put this into the “Vocabulary” category and end yet another educational post. (What? You didn’t realize that the whole point of this post was to explore the exciting Japanese language?) I’m not entirely sure if it is appropriate for the “Culture” category though.


*2ちゃんねる is basically the most poorly designed BBS in the history of the world. I mean, I tried using it once but had to stop because the user interface induced me into a temporary coma. The popularity of this website is yet another mystery I’ll never understand.


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So many ways to say, “say”!

Just when you thought I was making empty promises, here is the third and final post devoted to the word 「言う」 and the wait was worth it because the third post is a podcast!

Podcast Link
Various Slang for 「言う」 (length: 14:19)

You can subscribe to this podcast with iTunes from the following link:

Subscribe to this podcast with iTunes

This podcast features Akina as we discuss various slang for 「言う」 such as pronouncing it as 「ゆう」 or replacing 「という」 with 「つ」. We also get an explanation of 「というか」 in Japanese as well as looking at variations such as 「ていうか」、「つうか」、and 「てか」.

We also discussed 「つ~の」 and the fact that you need to have the declarative 「だ」 for nouns (and na-adjectives).

I also learned some new words like 八方美人、むずい and some culture from 10 years ago.

This is the last of three posts discussing 「言う」 so make sure to check out the previous two posts if you haven’t read them yet.

The first post discussed “Defining things with 「いう」“.
The second post discussed “Using 「というか」 to rephrase things”.


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Train your Japanese with 「もっと脳を鍛える」

I managed to find a used copy of 「もっと脳を鍛える」, the popular sequel to 「脳を鍛える」 for the Nintendo DS for only 2500 yen. This game is probably one of the hottest selling games now and even variety shows have jumped on the bandwagon by doing quizzes and checking the brain age of celebrities. I picked it up without hesitation because I knew it would help train my Japanese in addition to my brain. (Plus, it was cheap)

The game measures your brain age or 「脳年齢」 and you can play little quizzes that are supposed to help train it to a younger age (younger is better). The questions for each type of quiz change the next day once you play them and you stamp a hanko on each day that you play. New types of quizzes are unlocked as you accumulate hanko stamps on the calendar.

There are all sorts of quizzes you can play, including 5 games that will test your Japanese as well: 1)漢字書取、2)漢字合成、3)音読差分、4)四字熟語、and 5)英単書取. I’ll briefly talk about the two games I play most often to help train my Japanese.

漢字書取:The classic kanji quiz

You are given a small phrase with one kanji written in hiragana and you have to write the kanji. I aced the first quiz but it just seems to get harder and harder everyday and now this quiz totally kicks my ass mostly because I don’t even know the word much less the kanji. This quiz is great for learning new vocabulary and brushing up your kanji skills because you can re-test the ones you got wrong everyday until you get it right.

Here are some from the last time I played that totally kicked my ass. Can you get them right?

1. 断ちょうの思い

2. うじより育ち

3. 筆ぜつに尽くし難い

四字熟語:Do you know your 四字熟語?

I don’t. Well, I only know about 10 of the easiest 四字熟語 and so I get my ass handed to me on a platter on this game. I felt pretty good in the first quiz, getting the easy ones right like 「一石二鳥」 or 「以心伝心」 but now I’m lucky if I get just two right. Unlike the first kanji game, you don’t even get hiragana, just a blank spot where one of the characters is missing.

Of course, you don’t have to know all these 四字熟語 but it’s telling that native folks will know most of them even while they’re telling you that you probably won’t need to know them.

Can you fill in the blank kanji? I couldn’t but thanks to the game, I can now.

1.  若男女

2. 言 道断

3.  刀直入

4. 美 薄命

But should I buy it?

Sure, why not? It really is a fun game and perfect for the daily commute. Plus, if you go to a store with used games, you can probably get it for around 2000 yen like me. If you don’t have a Nintendo DS, with the new Nintendo DS Lite coming out, now is an ideal time to get one!

(Feel free to write the answers in the comments and no cheating!)


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I briefly mentioned 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」, an interesting book I recently picked up while killing time at a bookstore. I’m very cheap so it’s very rare for me to spend 2,000 yen on a book and actually feel happy about my purchase but this is definitely one of those books.

「日本語教科書の落とし穴」 is very interesting because it describes common pitfalls that occur from teaching textbook Japanese. This book focuses on that delicate area of Japanese where something should be correct, but upon hearing it in real-life, one is left feeling that something just isn’t quite right.

The book explains it like this.



Each chapter starts with a short conversation between a teacher and student. In each conversation, the student says something that should be correct according to standard textbook material. However, because of either social or contextual subtleties not explained in textbooks, what the student says ends up being incorrect. I’ve already used one of these conversations in the previous post.

Each chapter starts with a conversation like the following.

The rest of the chapter provides explanation on where the problem lies and provides suggestions on what the teacher should do to help correct her students. It’s obvious from reading the explanations that the authors has given a great deal of thought on aspects of Japanese that native speakers usually never consciously think about and how it causes confusion for non-native speakers. If you’re interested in finding out where the problem lies in the conversation above, get the book!

Because the entire book is in Japanese and geared toward people teaching Japanese, I highly recommend this book for advanced Japanese speakers interested in teaching Japanese or simply in learning more about the intricacies of the language.

There are a lot of good topics contained in this book and I will be going over some that caught my eye in future posts so stay tuned!


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Japanese videos on Google Video

I’ve been killing time this holiday enjoying some random videos on Google Video. I thought I’d share some interesting videos in Japanese in case anybody was looking for a fun way to study this holiday. Somebody was diligent enough to put English subtitles on the videos so you can enjoy them even if you don’t feel like studying Japanese.

Sushi Documentary

The first video is a “documentary” about sushi. And the word “documentary” is in quotes for a very good reason. It starts out like this.


Sushi Documentary

It’s quite amusing and represents, in my opinion, the image that some foreigners have regarding Japan. I remember, before I knew anything about Japan, that I used to think that Japanese was a country with very strict rules such as the appropriate angle for bowing.

The narrator speaks in a very clear, standard Japanese so people learning Japanese in a classroom should have no trouble with the style. Anyway, here are a few comments and corrections just in case.

1. Most of the Japanese population cannot afford to eat sushi everyday.
2. That’s way too much soy-sauce on the sushi. (Soy-sauce, by the way, is called 「醤油」(しょうゆ). Sometimes, it’s written as 「正油」.)
3. The wet napkin given out in restaurants to wipe your hands is actually called 「おしぼり」 and not 「雑巾」(ぞうきん), which is a cloth used to clean around the house. 「おしぼり」 comes from the verb 「絞る」(しぼる), which means to squeeze. I presume it’s because the excess water is squeezed from the cloth.

地球戦隊 フレッシュメン

Here’s another funny video featuring Shingo Katori (香取慎吾) from Smap, a “talent” group you can’t avoid here in Japan (as much as I try). This video features quite a lot of slang so those of you who learned Japanese on the streets should have no trouble. Here’s how it starts.

高校ん時の親友は、俺にこう言った。「ちょうだい?これ。お前っていいやつだよな。」 だからってわけじゃないけど、俺だって、自分のことを悪いやつなんて思ってなかった。地球を滅ぼすほどの悪いやつだなんて。

I intend to cover some of the expressions in the video such as 「というか」 and 「じゃん」 so make sure to subscribe to the feed.

I hope you find the videos as amusing as I did!


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The hardest kanji I know

This is a short post just for fun. Here are some of the hardest kanji I’ve run into over my years studying Japanese. If you learn these words, you can be confident in the knowledge that you’ve already tackled the hardest kanji (that I can think of).

躊躇(ちゅう・ちょ) – hesitation

朦朧(もう・ろう) – dim, hazy

憂鬱(ゆう・うつ) – depression

瀟洒(しょう・しゃ) – elegant; trim

The most difficult kanji is 「鬱」 with a total of 29 strokes. With a sufficiently small font size, it just looks like a black scribbly thing.

And here is my vote for the sneakiest kanji ever.

曰く(いわ・く) – to say

Fun stuff.

Posted by Tae Kim in Advanced, Kanji | 11 Comments »


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Katakana words with kanji

A small number of katakana words have kanji associated with them despite the fact that they come from a language that has never used Chinese characters. This use of kanji is called 当て字 where the reading or meaning of kanji is forced onto a word that originally didn’t have any. These words hark back to the days before katakana become the common script for foreign words and some of them come directly from Chinese like 「珈琲」. You can still see many of these 当て字 being used today such as street signs so learning them is not a waste of time.

Examples of 当て字
English Katakana Kanji
Cigarettes タバコ 煙草
Club クラブ 倶楽部
Page ページ
Coffee コーヒー 珈琲

You can see more examples of foreign words in kanji at this page.

Kanji for Countries
Many country names also have 当て字 associated with them that are rarely used. However, in newspaper headlines, the first character of the 当て字 is often used in an effort to conserve space. For instance, newspapers use words like 「訪米(ほうべい)」 for visiting the United States or 「日韓(にっかん)」 for news related to Japan and Korea. Here is a short list of the most common
country abbreviations and their full kanji versions.

Country Abbreviations
Katakana Kanji Abbreviation
n/a 日本 日(にち)
n/a 中国 中(ちゅう)
n/a 韓国 韓(かん)
n/a 北朝鮮 朝(ちょう)
アメリカ 亜米利加 米(べい)
イギリス 英吉利 英(えい)
イタリア 伊太利亜 伊(い)
ドイツ 独逸 独(どく)
スペイン 西班牙 西(せい)

Posted by Tae Kim in Advanced, Kanji | 7 Comments »


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