Last year went super quickly. And we did a lot of new things at Step Up Japanese! Here’s what my students and I got up to in 2018.Read More
A blog about learning and teaching Japanese, walking Japan, and sometimes about kit-kats.
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The word "sensei" is pretty well-known even among people who don't speak Japanese, but did you know that you shouldn't use sensei about yourself?
Here's what the textbook has to say:
"Use 'kyōshi' for yourself and the respectful 'sensei' for another person."
That's a pretty good starting point. But there's a bit more to it than that.Read More
Fairly early on in your Japanese-learning journey, you'll learn some set phrases like:
o-genki desu ka? (How are you?)
o-shigoto wa nan desu ka? (What's your job?)
Usually I teach that the “o” in o-genki desu ka makes the question more polite. This is true, but it’s not the whole story.Read More
Counting 1-10 should be easy, right?
“Ichi, ni, san, yon... (or is it shi?), go, roku, nana (or shichi), hachi, kyuu (but sometimes ku)...”
Oh, yeah...Japanese has multiple words for the same number! Seven can be either "nana" or "shichi", for example.
So how do you know which word to use?
Sometimes, either is fine – like when you count 1-10, for example. But sometimes, only one word will do.
Let's take a look at some of those special cases.Read More
Did you know Japan owns the most umbrellas per person in the world?
For every person in Japan, there are 3.3 umbrellas.
At least three of them are mine, left outside shops.
In 2011, fresh off the boat in Japan, I moved into my new apartment on the outskirts of Nagoya. At the weekends I'd head to Daiso, the 100-yen shop, to buy bits and pieces for my new flat.
One day, I left my umbrella in the stand outside the 100-yen shop. It was quite a nice umbrella - a neat little folding one - and I was annoyed. I went back to the shop the next day.
My little blue umbrella wasn't in the rack, so I asked at the register.
My Japanese was quite limited then, but I knew how to say 傘を忘れました (kasa o wasuremashita, "I left my umbrella").
The shop assistant looked a bit bemused, but wanted to help me, so she asked me what the umbrella looked like.
I told her the umbrella was 小さい (small). I gestured to show it was very small.
Aa, oritatami desu ka?
Oh, is it "oritatami"?
I didn't know what "oritatami" meant, and I didn't have a dictionary with me (or smartphone!), so I repeated that it was small.
The shop assistant bustled about, murmuring:
"Oritatami, oritatami, oritatami..."
She went off to look somewhere else, and then came back and apologised profusely. My umbrella was gone.
I walked home. It started to rain.
At home, I pulled out my romaji dictionary. Oritatami means "folding"!
I'lll never forget that word, I thought.
I lost my little umbrella, but I gained a new word in my vocabulary. You need more than 3.3 words per person, after all...
It's not a Japanese film though. I watched Hot Fuzz (or to give its Japanese title ホット・ファズ -俺たちスーパーポリスメン! "Hot Fuzz: We Are The Super-Policemen!")
Watching dubbed British comedies might not be the "purest" way to practise Japanese. But if you enjoy it, it's definitely worth doing. Dubbed films are easy to watch, too, assuming you've seen the film before and know the plot already.
Anyway, there's a little scene in the Hotto Fazzu dub that's a nice example of Japanese plurals in action, so I thought I'd share it with you.
Angel and Danny are in the corner shop, and the shopkeeper asks them:
satsujinhan tachi tsukamaranai no?
"No luck catching them killers then?"
"Killers" is translated as 殺人犯たち satsujinhan-tachi.
You take the word 殺人犯 satsujinhan (murderer) and add the suffix たち tachi - which makes it plural.
See? Japanese does have plurals! ...when it needs them.
Danny doesn't notice the shopkeeper's slip-up (she knows more than she's letting on), and replies:
hitori shika inai n da kedo.
"It's just the one killer actually."
PC Angel, of course, mulls over the shopkeeper's words, and realises their significance: there's more than one killer on the loose.
It's the turning point of the movie, and it rests on a plural. Yay!
You can use たち like this when you need to indicate plurality:
私たち watashi-tachi we, us (plural)
あなたたち anata-tachi you (plural)
ジョンたち jon-tachi John and his mates
If you watch Japanese tv or anime (or are paying attention in class) you've probably come across the Japanese word 皆さん (mina-san) meaning "all" or "everybody".
But what's the difference between みな and みんな? What's みなさま all about? And ... does it actually matter?
Mina means "everybody", and it's commonly used with "-san" on the end (the same suffix you put on people's names to be polite).
みなさん is often used when addressing a group of people, especially when they don't know either other too well or the situation calls for a slightly more formal greeting.
I find myself using みなさん a bunch at the beginning of term when welcoming students back and/or trying to get you all to listen to me.
As you might expect, YouTubers say みなさんこんにちは a lot too ("HI EVERYONE").
Check out the first five seconds of this video from Ari Keita:
You can't mix them up and use みんなさん though. That's technically incorrect.
Or you can even go more polite with...
In more formal situations, the -san suffix is switched up to the more polite/formal -sama.
Why does this matter? Well really, which word you use is going to depend on the situation.
Mina-sama is super formal and it would sound weird if you use it with your friends. Likewise, minna is pretty casual and might not be appropriate in a business setting.
A lot of gaining fluency in a language is about choosing the right word for the right situation.