is sort of untranslatable but also extremely translatable. (The best kind of Japanese phrase!)
"do your best!"
"go for it!"
When I started learning Japanese at university in 2008, my classmates and I thought the phrase
was quite funny for some reason. So when we had to write a short dialogue about a holiday and commit it to memory as part of a speaking test, my partner and I shoehorned in a bunch of "
My partner showed our work to his (Japanese) mum, who sent it back covered in red corrections and with all our "
"s crossed out. Apparently they didn't work in context.
The problem is, I knew that
means "try your best", but I didn't know it sounds weird if you're talking about buying a plane ticket...
I heard lots of "
walking the first leg of the Shikoku 88 pilgrimage this spring. It was written everywhere too - in fact there were lots of interesting signs.
The pilgrimage trail is pretty well marked. Signage is consistently spaced, and in many places there's a way-marker every 100 metres.
But it's also endearingly inconsistent in design - on some stretches every sign is different, and many are handmade.
There are these little
walking pilgrims) to mark the way:
Red is the dominant colour - sometimes just a red arrow, like this stone below. Actually, there's kanji (Chinese characters) carved into the stone too, but it's difficult to see:
Some signs are in English as well as Japanese, although this was less common:
Some show you which way to turn at an upcoming junction. This took a bit of getting used to, but was very useful. Even in rural areas, I didn't get lost once.
Sometimes, the signs just said 道しるべ (
Note that many of these handwritten signs are in vertical text, and from right to left:
This next sign packs a lot of meaning into a few kanji characters:
(aka Kōbō Daishi, the Buddhist monk in whose footsteps pilgrims walk)
("two people going together" - the idea that the walking pilgrim is never alone, as Kōbō Daishi is walking with you)
The tough parts of the trail are called
(遍路ころがし; "the place where the pilgrim falls down").
This bit of
had even more signposts throughout, so you know how far you have left to go. There's a 1/6 sign to let you know when you are one-sixth of the way through; then 2/6 for two-sixths, and so on.
This picture was taken just before the last stretch, when I was a bit tired:
And of course there are plenty of little signs saying がんばって下さい
This made me smile, and was genuinely quite encouraging.
We all need a bit of encouragement sometimes!
If you can't read Japanese, but you want to recognise common signs and notices before your holiday to Japan, you should check out my new
, it starts Thursday 26th July in central Brighton.
Or if you do read Japanese but want to get better, join us for
- a summer course in learning Japanese by reading lots of easy books.