Category Archives: Intermediate
When words collide
Minako has a great post about the difference between 「べき」 and 「はず」: http://nihongodaybyday.blogspot.com/2011/09/blog-post.html
I’ve been meaning to write about this in a post sitting in my draft folder since early 2008. Oops. But now you can read about it and get some reading practice at the same time. Like she says, the only reason English speakers have a reason to confuse the two is because they happen to translate to the same word in English: “should”. But that word itself has many different meanings so it’s yet another example of why you should avoid translating to English as much as possible.
I would add that 「べき」 is a fairly formal phrase to use when making suggestions. So you normally wouldn’t use it to suggest eating more vegetables, for example. In a conversational setting, you should stick with 「～方がいい」. In English, it’s more formal to say “it’s better to…” as compared to “you should…” but it’s the exact opposite for Japanese.
A bit of uncertainty
I would also add that 「はず」 is not always used with absolute certainty. In English, people often say “supposed to” to try to avoid accountability and 「はず」 can be used the same way.
Ａ：Huh? No word from Tanaka-san?
Ｂ：That’s right. Even though (he/she) was supposed to contact (me) by yesterday.
What I’m reading today
So today, I read a pretty mundane article about the author’s attempt to gradually lose weight instead of making drastic weight changes.
Not super interesting but still good reading practice. Here’s a bit convoluted and kinda of confusing analogy between the author obsession with eating and a classmate that you like but try to ignore. Even my explanation sounds awkward.
In addition, it looks like the American stereotype that we all carry guns in a modern wild west is still well and alive in Japan.
It was almost comical to see the surprise on some of my Japanese friends when I told them I don’t own nor have ever fired a gun. That was many years ago but it doesn’t look like the stereotype has really changed in the last 10 years.
New vocab (for me): ドンパチ
What I’m reading today
I read the first volume of サラダデイズ today. I probably won’t be reading too many comics myself but thought the site (jコミ) is worth sharing with you all as it has a bunch of free comics to read online.
This particular title, which I picked at random, is a collection of short love stories. The stories are OK and the drawing is pretty good. I don’t think I can read more than one volume but others may enjoy it more or some of the other numerous comics on the site. It also has all the readings in furigana, which is nice.
Nothing too much of interest language-wise but I did learn a couple new words such as 「中傷」.
New Kanji (for me): 貞淑
Category: Love stories (comic)
Difficulty: 2/5 (has furigana)
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Yo man! You gots to hang with 【掛ける】
You know you’ve struck gold when you look up a word and it has 23 definitions.
掛ける(P); 懸ける 【かける】 (v1,vt) (1) (See 壁にかける) to hang (e.g. picture); to hoist (e.g. sail); to raise (e.g. flag); (2) (See 腰を掛ける) to sit; (aux-v,v1) (3) to be partway (verb); to begin (but not complete); (4) (See 時間を掛ける) to take (time, money); to expend (money, time, etc.); (5) (See 電話を掛ける) to make (a call); (6) to multiply; (7) (See 鍵を掛ける) to secure (e.g. lock); (8) (See 眼鏡を掛ける) to put on (glasses, etc.); (9) to cover; (10) (See 迷惑を掛ける) to burden someone; (11) (See 保険を掛ける) to apply (insurance); (12) to turn on (an engine, etc.); to set (a dial, an alarm clock, etc.); (13) to put an effect (spell, anaesthetic, etc.) on; (14) to hold an emotion for (pity, hope, etc.); (15) (also 繋ける) to bind; (16) (See 塩をかける) to pour (or sprinkle, spray, etc.) onto; (17) (See 裁判に掛ける) to argue (in court); to deliberate (in a meeting); to present (e.g. idea to a conference, etc.); (18) to increase further; (19) to catch (in a trap, etc.); (20) to set atop; (21) to erect (a makeshift building); (22) to hold (a play, festival, etc.); (aux-v) (23) (See 話し掛ける) (after -masu stem of verb) indicates (verb) is being directed to (someone);
Yahoo!辞書 goes in more detail and has a whopping 32 definitions for 「掛ける」. There’s no way a word like that is not going to be useful. The trick is finding the common thread or concept behind all these definitions so you can actually sort it out in your head. That’s what this post is for.
Just think of Captain Hook and his umm… special hand
Basically, this verb is used to hook or hang things. What can you hang? Why anything of course including clothes on hangers, covers, your butt to a chair, emotions, bother, time, voice, money, traps, bets, and even magic spells. It’s usually just written in Hiragana.
- 迷惑をかける – hang bother (to bother someone)
- 時間をかける – hang time (spend time)
- お金をかける – hang money (spend money)
- 声をかける – hang voice (call out)
- アイロンをかける – hang iron (iron clothes)
- 電話をかける – hang phone (make phone call)
- 腰をかける – hang hip (sit your ass down)
- 魔法をかける – hang magic (cast magic)
Don’t forget about the intransitive version as well: 「かかる」. For example, 「時間がかかる」 means something takes time instead of spending time.
Most of these examples make sense if you think about it the right way except for maybe the phone. Maybe it’s because you hang the phone to your ear? Though 「電話がかかる」 means the phone is ringing before you pick it up. Maybe you expect your mom to call and the phone call is hanging on your conscience? Ha ha. Anyway, there are also some additional compound verbs such as 「出かける、見かける、話しかける、引っかかる」 that combines hanging with another verb.
What’s the best way to learn all these countless different uses of the same verb? You can take my approach and just learn them as you see them.
I’m soooo boring! Hee hee *snort*
I know there’s still many of you out there that still feels uncomfortable about the difference between the 「は」 and 「が」 particle. You might have even read my first post which covered this very topic. Maybe my explanation didn’t “vibe” with you (translation: something’s wrong with you), so let me give you a more concrete example. Ignore the parentheses, I really don’t know where they come from. I think it’s a secret WordPress plugin.
I’m going to be revisit the two particles with the following story.
While chatting over dinner at a restaurant with fellow exchange students and some Japanese students, one of the exchange students exclaimed,
We all had a good laugh because it seemed like she was saying she was boring.
If you’re reading this K, I don’t mean to insult you in anyway. Honestly, it’s the kind of mistake we’ve all made in the past. So exactly what was wrong with what she said? Doesn’t 「私はつまらない」 mean “I’m bored”? If not, how can you say “I’m bored” without insulting yourself?
The topic: direct relation=0%, implied=100%
The answer will probably blow away some of you new to this language. 「私はつまらない」 can mean either, “I’m bored” OR “I’m boring” or more accurately, 「私は」 gives us no information on which interpretation is correct.
The 「は」 topic particle only tells us the general topic of the conversation and has no direct connection to the rest of the sentence. All it says is, “this is what I’m going to talk about” and doesn’t explicitly specify its relation to the rest of the sentence.
私はつまらない～！ – As for me, boring!
As you can see from the translation, saying 「私はつまらない」 without any context is highly suggestive of your incredibly boring and dull personality. If there was additional context, you might be able to pull it off such as the next example.
A) みんな、楽しんでいるよね？ – Everybody’s having fun, right?
B) 私は、つまらないよ。 – As for me, boring.
Here, you can make the argument that you’re saying you’re bored because the question just asked was whether everybody was having fun. Another example is when you make it very clear that the role of 「つまらない」 is completely unrelated to you.
A) この映画は面白いの？ – Is this movie interesting?
B) 私は、つまらないと思う。 – As for me, think (the movie) is boring.
The identifier: it’s this one
So if the topic particle doesn’t really seem to work, what if we use the 「が」 particle instead? The 「が」 particle doesn’t specify whether you’re boring or bored either. It just identifies you as the one that is 「つまらない」. Whether that means boring or bored is kind of pretty much up to the interpretation of the listener.
A) 私がつまらない。 – I’m the one that is boring/bored.
B would be pretty puzzled because A is identifying herself as the one that is boring or bored and B didn’t know they were trying to find the one that was boring/bored. The only context in which 「が」 would make sense here is if you were trying to identify the one that was boring/bored, in other words, answering the question, “which is the one that is bored/boring?”
A) 誰がつまらない？ – Who is the one that is bored/boring?
B） 私がつまらないよ。 – I’m the one that is bored/boring.
If you do a google search on “私がつまらない”, you’ll get a small number of results because this kind of situation is pretty contrived. So 「が」 doesn’t really work for our purposes.
In general, unless you want to make a distinction between your own opinion versus other people around you, you should generally avoid using 「私は」 at all. The ambiguity of topic’s role in the sentence makes using 「私は」 and 「つまらない」 together a dangerous combination.
「私が」 doesn’t really work either because it identifies you as the one that is boring or bored among all the people who are potentially bored/boring. The only context in which it would make sense is if you knew somebody was boring/bored and you were trying to figure out which one among a group of people was the boring/bored one. It’s not a very likely scenario, which probably means you’re not using 「が」 correctly.
It is important to remember that people generally will assume you’re talking about yourself unless you say otherwise. So for the most part, you don’t have to say 「私」 with either particle. People learning Japanese often get so catch up with the contrived differences between 「は」 and 「が」, they often forget the option of using neither. So to conclude, in the original story, I would probably suggest to K to say something along the lines of the following instead next time.
Ordering food in real Japanese part 2 (ramen)
The response to part 1 was very positive so as promised, here’s part 2 of ordering food in real Japanese. I imagine the first thing most people come up with when thinking about Japanese food is “sushi” but for me, I would definitely say it’s “ramen”. Ramen was definitely a big part of what got me interested in the Japanese culture very early on. Tampopo is still one of my favorite movies of all time. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’re seriously missing out.
Ahh, the rich and complicated world of ramen. There’s so many things to cover but let’s just start with the basics. First of all, ramen is everywhere in Japan so finding it is like trying to find a Starbucks, not very difficult. However, Ikebukuro is perhaps one of the neighborhoods more famous for it’s ramen. There’s one I particularly liked whose name I can’t recall where you can crush your own fresh garlic (I love garlic).
Main Ramen Types
Before we get into all the crazy ingredients that can go into ramen, you should first become familiar with the major types of ramen. These types will be generally enough to get your ramen fix in most generic ramen shops. Of course, many restaurants try to come up with clever names but it’s usually just marketing for these basic types of ramen.
- 醤油ラーメン (しょうゆラーメン) – The most common and generic type of ramen. Nothing much to comment on here except that it doesn’t really taste like soy-sauce at all. Sometimes 「醤油」 is written as 「正油」.
- 塩ラーメン (しおラーメン) – A simple, refreshing salt-based flavor. (It works great for hangovers.)
- 味噌ラーメン (みそラーメン) – As the name “miso ramen” implies, the soup’s flavor is based mainly off of miso. If you like miso, you’ll probably like miso-ramen.
- 坦々麺 (タンタンメン） – A spicy soup with the taste of sesame seeds either black or white.
- 豚骨ラーメン（とんこつラーメン） – Literally meaning “pork bone ramen”, the soup is flavored by boiling pork bones in water. This gives the soup a whiteish color. Personally my favorite type of ramen.
- チャーシューメン – Most ramen come with a slice of pork flavored differently depending on the ramen called 「チャーシュー」. This ramen is for lovers of 「チャーシュー」 as it has several heaped on.
- ねぎラーメン – For those who like 「ねぎ」 or green onion, this ramen is for you. It’s heaped with the stuff.
- つけめん – In this variation, the noodles are dipped in the soup as you eat. I don’t really like it that much because it tends to get cold very quickly but I do enjoy a spicy one occasionally.
This is the main list but there are other types of ramen out there like 「カレーラーメン」, for example.
In addition to the major types of ramen, sometimes the cook will ask you how hard you want your noodles. Personally, I prefer al dente as do many of the more hard-core ramen enthusiasts. You can even ask for soft but who likes soggy noodles? Another great trick for a really filling meal, if the option is available, is to save the soup and order an extra ball of noodles. This is called 「替え玉」（かえだま）. It’s like an extra bowl of ramen often for as little as several hundred yen!
- めんの硬さ（めんのかたさ） – hardness of noodle
- 固めん（かためん） – hard noodle
- 普通（ふつう） – normal
- やわらかめ – on the soft side
Oh boy, this is going to be a doozy. A small number of ramen shops give you a list of ingredients, allowing you to choose each and every ingredient in your ramen (often charging you extra for each one). My wife usually picks miso, butter, and corn…. Ugh…
In Japanese, this is called 「具」（ぐ）, which basically describes the solid stuff in any kind of soup or stew. There are a lot of ingredients so I’m only going to go over the major ones except for those we already look at in the major ramen types.
- のり – seaweed (you know the stuff)
- 煮玉子（にたまご） – boiled egg (my favorite), among other similar variations of egg including: 「半熟玉子」（はんじゅくたまご） and 「味玉子」（あじたまご）
- メンマ – bamboo shoots
- もやし – bean sprouts (pretty standard)
- ナルト – steamed fish-paste cake, you know the one with a pink swirl on it (impossible to find picture due to comic named after it)
- キクラゲ - some sort of mushroom, usually chopped up to look like black stringy things, pretty tasty
Also check out this the wikipedia ramen entry. There’s a lot more information about ramen as well, such as regional specialties. It’s all in Japanese but there’s also plenty of yummy pictures to feast your eyes on. Lovers of garlic and thick とんこつ soup like me will love 熊本ラーメン, though as I painfully learned first-hand, you probably don’t want to actually eat all the garlic chips.
So there you have it. Welcome to the wonderful world of ramen! This post just barely scratching the surface so you haven’t seen nothing yet!
Ordering food in real Japanese (part 1)
If you ever learned how to order food in a classroom and/or textbook, let me assure you that is not how it’s done. Because Japanese employs a relative system of politeness, as a customer of the food establishment, you are automatically on top of the societal ladder regardless of your actual social status. Of course, that also means you’re at the very bottom when you meet with customers in your own job.
This typically means you need the following skills for ordering food in Japan.
- Very little speaking skill: You’re not obligated to say much. Just grunt and point at what you want (I write this just in case but this is a joke as grunting is generally frowned upon). Ordering food in Japan typically involves as much grammar as saying the name of the dish and maybe 「と」 if you are ordering multiple things (and a period if you insist).
- Awesome listening skills: You do however need to understand a bunch of honorific language spoken very, very quickly by somebody who has to say the same thing over and over again
- Awesome reading skills: Unless you want to eat only in fast food or family restaurants, most restaurants have no pictures and can look like some sort of ancient Chinese poem as far as you know unless you’ve beefed up learning the names of various dishes in Kanji.
Let me tell you, I thought I was pretty good at Japanese when I first arrived in Japan but when I went to buy something for the first time at a convenience store, I didn’t understand a lick of what was being said. How embarrassing!
So in this multi-part series, we will look at various types of foods and what they are called so that you can easily order them like a pro! In this part, we’ll look at some phrases that should help you navigate your way through convenience stores and fast food restaurants.
Conbini and Fast Food
You don’t really need to learn menu items in advance for convenience stores （コンビニ） or fast food restaurants. Obviously, you just pick up what you want in convenience stores and pictures are plentiful in fast food restaurants including mostly food you’re already familiar with such as the standard burgers and fries. However, the employees are going to ask you all sorts of stuff such as whether to take out or if you want to order the combo. And if you’re new to this, chances are highly likely that it will sound like a bunch of gibberish.
Just try to catch a few key words from these phrases because it’s going to be really fast. And of course, the universal rule of learning languages is that asking people to repeat themselves will not slow it down one iota.
Would you like chopsticks?
Shall I put (your items) in a bag for you ?
Is it ok just like this (without a bag)?
Shall I heat up your food?
Fast food expressions
Is it for here?
Is it for here?
Is it for take out?
How about a drink?
The lists are pretty short but the whole process is pretty standardized (and probably in a manual and everything). It should be enough to get you out the door with your food at the very least but feel free to add other expressions you’ve frequently heard that I missed in the comments.
Finally, if you’re bored see if you can identify the various おでん ingredients. I’m not going to bother going over them because as I recall, it’s all self-service at the convenience store.
Putting on your clothes was never so hard!
We really take the verb, “to wear” for granted and you never realize how much until you try to say the same thing in Japanese. 「着る」（きる） is the verb meaning “to wear” in Japanese and is pretty simple to use as you can see by the examples below.
シャツを着る。- Wear shirt.
ジャケットを着ています。- Wearing jacket.
Awesome. So we’re done right?
If things were that simple, I wouldn’t be writing this. You will appreciate how flexible and awesome the English verb “to wear” is compared to 「着る」. It’s like Superman vs Steve Erkel (forget that one episode where Steve Erkel was Superman). We can wear hats, pants, gloves, scarves, shoes, accessories, just about anything that sticks to your body. Unfortunately, you cannot use 「着る」 with any of these items. The only thing you can use with 「着る」 are things that cover your upper-body such as shirts and jackets. Things that extend from your upper-body down past your waist such as overcoats and dresses also use this verb as well. So what about everything else? Well, I prepared a wonderful list for you to study. 「など」 means “etc”. Have fun!
Things you wear and their respective verbs
- 着る 【き・る】- to wear
Clothes that cover your-upper body and more (シャツ、ブラウス、ジャケット、ドレスなど)
- 履く 【は・く】- to wear
Clothes for your lower-body and feet （ずぼん、ジーンズ、靴下、ブーツ、靴など）
- 被る 【かぶ・る】 – to cover
Items that go over such as hats （帽子など）
- かける – to hang
Items that hang such as glasses and sunglasses （メガネ、サングラス）
- 巻く 【ま・く】 – to wrap
Items that wrap around such as scarves （スカーフ、マフラーなど）
- 締める 【し・める】 – to tie
Items that fasten such as neckties and belts （ネクタイ、ベルト、帯など）
- 着ける 【つけ・る】
Items that attach such as wigs and earrings （かつら、イヤリング、ピアスなど）
- はめる – to insert
Items you stick your finger into such as rings （指輪）
- する – to do
A generic term for things like gloves, earrings, necklaces （手袋、イヤリング、ネックレス）
And don’t forget that these verbs are just for the actually act of donning the item. You must use the 「～ている」 progressive tense for when somebody is in the state of wearing them. I’m tired so I won’t even go into the words for taking things off. You can go with just 脱ぐ（ぬぐ） for clothing and 外す（はず・す） for accessories.
I have to confess that I’m not exactly a fashion guru so do feel free to add types of apparel I missed in the comments.
Mastering the art of chain conjugation
I’ve noticed a particularly difficult part of learning Japanese is getting used to multiple layers of conjugation, which is all too common in Japanese. It’s not just enough to get really good at quickly doing all the different types of conjugations, you have to be able to do several simultaneously and instantly recognize the same during conversations.
A confusing example would be something like: 「それ、よくなくない？」 meaning “Isn’t that not good?” If you want to be facetious, you can keep going such as, 「よくなくなくない」、「よくなくなくなくない」、 and so on.
I don’t know of any good tools or books that address this skill so I suggested to my students to just practice some common (and perhaps not so common) combination with various nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
For example, a very common scenario would be various conjugations for the 「たい」 and potential forms. Common expressions include things like “I can’t go”, “I didn’t want to say this”, “I couldn’t do anything”, etc. There’s a whole host of other combination you can play with for practice.
Try the following chain conjugations with random verb and adjective phrases. They are ordered roughly by difficulty. The goal is to to be able to do it instinctively and almost instantaneously with little to no cognitive processes.
I can’t [Verb]
- I didn’t want to [Verb].
- He/she/it doesn’t seem very [Adjective].
- I couldn’t [Verb] for him/her.
- You may not have to [Verb].
- You didn’t even try to [Verb].
- It looks like he/she didn’t [Verb].
- If you don’t want to [Verb], you don’t have to [Verb].
- I was told that I must try to [Verb].
- I didn’t want to be made to [Verb].
- I think it’s better that you don’t [Verb] too much.
- Even if you didn’t want to [Verb], there’s a nicer way to refuse, isn’t there?
- If you suppose the he/she always does too much [Verb], there’s no way he/she didn’t do [Verb] today.
Are there any chain conjugation you found particularly useful or challenging?
Scroll down for some sample answers. Make sure you give it a try yourself before you look, though!