Kansai people hate it when you say 「じゃん」

But who cares about them, right? That’s right, Tokyo all the way man. Whoo hoo! Sure people are cold and rude here but at least they don’t get into your business. And plus, Osaka is like a tiny, tiny version of Tokyo. (Let the flames begin!)

Ahem. Anyway, now that I got my usual pointless introduction out of the way, I once heard that 「じゃん」 was originally part of a regional dialect from… somewhere. Whether that’s true or something I just made up, this little expression has spread to gain enormous popularity in Tokyo and probably throughout the rest of the Kanto region and beyond. (I purposely made that vague because I have no idea how far this expression extends. But I’m sure it’s pretty far.)

In any case, it’s common enough that I decided to write a little about it describing what it means and how to use it. If you live in the Kansai region all I have to say is, “Ha Ha! You suck!”. But still, since you’ll hear this slang all the time in TV and movies, why don’t you just go ahead and read the rest of this post instead of hating me because I said you suck.

On a side note, I’d like to mention that this is one of those topics that is easier to explain verbally but for now, I’m just going to go with a written explanation. I leave it up to you to get out into the Japanese speaking world to learn how this expression actually sounds in real life.

Ok ok, get to the point!

Simply put, 「じゃん」 is an abbreviation of 「じゃない」, the negative conjugation for nouns and na-adjectives. However, this only applies to 「じゃない」 used in the following fashion.

-Because [he’s] a salaryman, doesn’t [he] do a lot of overtime?

The important thing to note about the example above is that 「じゃない」 here is actually confirming the positive. In fact, a closer translation is, “Because he’s a salaryman, he probably does a lot of overtime.” But it’s still a question so there’s a slight nuance that you are seeking confirmation even though you are relatively sure.

「じゃん」 is a shorter slang for expressing the same type of thing except it doesn’t even bother to ask a question to confirm. It’s completely affirmative in tone.

In fact, the closest equivalent to 「じゃん」 is 「じゃない」 used in the following fashion.

1) まあ、いいじゃない。
– Well, it’s probably fine (don’t you think?).

This type of expression is the only case where you can attach 「じゃない」 directly to i-adjectives and verbs. Once you actually hear this expression in real life, you’ll see that it has a distinct pronunciation that is different from simply using the negative. Plus, you have to realize that this type of 「じゃない」 sounds rather mature and feminine, unlike 「じゃん」, which is gender-neutral (and arguably inclined toward younger speakers). (Ha! And you thought Japanese was easy!)

Like the above, specialized use of 「じゃない」, you can also attach 「じゃん」 directly to verbs and i-adjectives as well as the usual nouns and na-adjectives. Because slang is usually created to make things easier, it’s not surprising that the rules for using 「じゃん」 are so lax and easy.

Finally, let’s get to the examples. Hopefully, you can see that 「じゃん」 is basically saying something along the lines of, “See, I’m right, aren’t I?”

1) ほら、やっぱりレポートを書かないとだめじゃん
-See, as I thought, [you] have to write the report.

2) 誰もいないからここで着替えてもいいじゃん
-Since there’s nobody, it’s probably fine to change here.

Example Conversation
A) たかしくんは、ここにいる? – Is Takashi here?
B) 知らない。- Dunno.
A) あっ!やっぱ、いるじゃん!- Ah! See, he is here!

There’s also another variation which attaches the question marker as well. The meaning is mostly the same but it adds more to the questioning, confirming tone.

A) 駅の近くにカラオケがあるじゃんか。- There’s a karaoke place near the station, right?
B) うん。- Yeah.
A) あそこのすぐ隣だ。- It’s right next to there.


So, let’s recap on what 「じゃん」 is and how it’ s used.

1. Though derived from 「じゃない」, 「じゃん」 is always used to confirm the positive.
2. It can be attached to the end of any sentence regardless of whether it ends in a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb.

Ok, the explanation was confusing but actually using 「じゃん」 should be a piece of cake!

What did 「っけ」 mean, again?

Ha ha, I’m so clever because if you translate the title of this post into Japanese, it uses the same expression that the question is asking about, thus creating a paradox and opening a blackhole in some alternate universe… or something like that.

…As you can tell, I’ve been too lazy to come up with any real content or finish any of the 20-some drafts I have waiting to be worked on. So I put together this simple post about 「っけ」. Still, it’s a simple and very useful expression, so I feel like I can give myself a pat on the back on this one.

「っけ」 is essentially a simple sound you put at the end of a sentence when you are asking about something that you are trying to recall but can’t seem to quite remember. If you want to say, “What was that thing again?” in Japanese, this expression will do just the trick. It’s also perfect for those tip-of-the-tongue type moments.

As I mentioned, you can see an example of 「っけ」 in the title of this post itself.

– What did 「っけ」 mean, again?

You can also use 「っけ」 at the end of polite sentences as well. Though it adds a bit of a casual tone to your sentence, it should be fine if you are well acquainted with the person you’re talking to. It’ll at least add a little more color to the zombie style of Japanese you find in textbooks in any case.

– What is the mean of this word? (I am a zombie)

– What was the meaning of this word, again? (shoot, I forgot)

Don’t forget to add 「だ」 to nouns and na-adjectives

The only care you need to take in using this expression is to make sure to use the declarative 「だ」 when attaching 「っけ」 to nouns or na-adjectives.

Wrong) 今日は、何曜日っけ?
Correct) 今日は、何曜日っけ?
– What day of the week is it, again?

In fact, though it’s not required, 「っけ」 is generally used with 「だ」 and 「た」 for all parts of speech. In other words, it is usually in the form of 「だっけ」 or 「たっけ」. For i-adjectives and non-past verbs, you can use 「だっけ」 by adding 「んだ」.

1) 今日は行かなくてもいいんだっけ?
– Is it ok to not go today? (I can’t remember.)

2) これからどこへ行くんだっけ?
– Where are we going from here, again?

Just keep these points in mind and you should be well on your way to using this useful expression for all the times you forget what’s going on. (Which happens quite often in my case.)

– What is this again?

– Was there a door in a place like this? (I don’t remember one being here.)

– What time does class start again? From 1:00?

というか、I have to go

A friend of mine from college spoke in the most interesting fashion because she could seamlessly weave Japanese and English together in the same sentence. She would say things like, 「Meは行かないけど、Youは?」, which amused me to no end.

You see, she had attended American School in Japan, a school filled with students completely fluent in both Japanese and English, so I guess there was no problem speaking in a hybrid language that only 1% of the world’s population would understand. I know, it sounds like a great school to send your kids to because they will become bilingual automatically. The only problem is, unless you’re a diplomat or simply rich, spending a little less than $20,000 a year for tuition might be a bit tough on your wallet.

Anyway, to finally get to the point of this whole spiel, my friend and a bunch of us were chatting in the language lab when she suddenly realized that she had to leave. She promptly left the scene after saying (much to my delight) “というか、I have to go.”

Now, what did she mean by 「というか」 and why didn’t she just say, “I have to go” instead? How does adding that extra phrase change the meaning of the sentence? I previously discussed how to use 「と」 and 「いう」 to talk about the very thing itself. In this post, I’ll try to give you an idea of what 「というか」 means and when to use it.

Ok, to finally get to the point

「というか」 attaches the question marker 「か」 to 「という」, so it’s reasonable to assume that a questioning element is being added here. In fact, 「というか」 is used in order to indicate that you want to rephrase or express the same thing in a difference way. Literally, it means “I might say this or something else (in order to express what I’m trying to say) ” This expression is obviously the most useful in actual conversations when you might say something and want to rephrase yourself in mid-sentence. The order goes like this: [the first expression]というか[the same thing rephrased].

– Isn’t that not good, or to rephrase, serious shit? (read about やばい)

As you can probably tell, this phrase is great for when you’re not sure how to phrase something like the following example.

– Miki-chan is your girlfriend, right?

– Um, you might say girlfriend, or friend, or something…

That last example was very hard to translate but it should make perfect sense if you understand the fact that he is rephrasing how he defines Miki and adding the question marker 「か」 to show uncertainty.

This phrase is especially useful for people learning how to speak Japanese because I’m sure you’ve experienced plenty of times when you didn’t know the exact word for something in Japanese. With this phrase, you can throw out several alternatives that kind of get at what you’re trying to say.

というか、I have to go

Going back to the original question, why did my friend add 「というか」 when saying just, “I have to go” would have been perfectly fine? I think it’s important to realize that she was in the middle of a conversation at the time. Essentially, she wanted to rephrase what she was talking about in order to correct it into the fact that she had to go. In effect, this is equivalent to saying, “Hey, what am I talking about? I have to go.”

By using 「というか」, you can backtrack and correct things said earlier and at the same time imply, “Hey wait a minute, that’s not it!” This is especially the case when everything has already been said and you are starting a new sentence with 「というか」.

In other words, 「というか」 can also be used to correct yourself or others by rephrasing what has already been said.

– I hear that [he’s] going out with some other woman.

– That’s just another way of saying [he’s] cheating!

This is the second of three posts discussing 「言う」.

The first post discussed “Defining things with 「いう」“.
The third post is about “Various ways to say 「いう」“.

Defining things with 【いう】

The verb, “to say” is an useful word in probably just about any language. However, 「言う」(いう), the Japanese word meaning “to say”, is practically essential because in addition to the simple action of gabbing, it is also used to define or describe things. In this post, I will go over how to combine the 「と」 quotation particle with 「いう」 to define things.

I remember back during my tender years in Japanese 101, one of the first phrases I learned was 「”XXX”は、日本語で何と言いますか。」, which means “How do you say “XXX” in Japanese?” (I’m not talking about porn here, the “XXX” is a placeholder for any word.) Of course, at the time, it was written more like 「”XXX”は、にほんごで なんと いいますか。」 because exposing Japanese 101 students to kanji would instantly render them blind. Anyway, my point is that this is one of the first expressions we dutifully memorized and already it uses grammar that involves the 「と」 quotation and 「いう」.

While the 「という」 combination, of course, can be used to quote things people actually say, it can also be used to describe what something is referred to as.

– He said, “yes”.

– Do you know the site referred to as “livedoor”?

There is no good way to translate this usage directly into English so we have to settle for similar expressions such as “referred to as”, “called”, or “known as”. This method of defining things can be mighty handy when you want to ask about definitions of words in Japanese. For instance, here is conversation from 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」, a book I will be talking about in another post.

L: 田中先生、名字は何ですか。
T: 名字は田中ですよ。
L: ?・・・名字は何ですか?
T: ???

The problem here is that the student wants to know what 「名字」 means but ends up asking, “What is [your] last name?” What he really wanted to ask was, 「名字というのは何ですか。」, which means something along the lines of, “What is the thing referred to as 名字?” or more literally, “What is the thing that’s said 名字?”

Basically, this grammar is used anytime you want to talk about the thing itself.

– Is it true that Japanese people are weak to alcohol?

As you can see in this example, the thing that is being discussed is the actual phrase 「日本人はお酒に弱い」 itself and whether it’s true or not. Here’s another similar example.

– The thing of not eating breakfast is not very good.

In this fashion, the 「という」 is defining the very action of “not eating breakfast” and describing it.

You can also combine 「こう」、「そう」、and 「ああ」 with 「いう」 to define things in general. In this case, you do not need the 「と」 so you end up with 「こういう」、「そういう」 and 「ああいう」 to means “things like this”, “things like that”, and “things like that (far away)” respectively.

A: 眠くて、学校に行く気が全然なかった。
– I was sleepy and didn’t feel like going to school at all.

B: そういう時、よくあるよね。
– That kind of time occurs a lot, huh?

The reason why you hear 「って」 all the time

If you’ve spend any length of time speaking in casual Japanese, you may have noticed 「って」 being used all the time. That’s because 「って」 is an all-in-one, magical casual abbreviation for 「と」、「という」、「というのは」、and 「とは」. Because 「って」 is so short and flexible, you end up wanting to use it basically anytime you want to talk about the thing itself.

A: マイクが呼んでいるよ 。
– Mike is calling you.

B: マイクって、誰?
– Who is this “Mike”?

A: まだ仕事が決まってないんだ。
– The job has yet to be decided.

B: 就職活動って、大変だよね。
– The “finding job” thing is tough, huh?


As you can see from the examples, using 「という」 and its casual counterpart 「って」 to define things is a vital part of the Japanese language. Sometimes, it’s optional; for times when you want to emphasis that you are talking about the thing itself. Other times, like the 「名字は何ですか」 example, it might be required or else you end up saying completely different. In either case, 「という」 and 「って」 is very useful whenever you want to define and talk about the topic itself.

To see if you truly understand the distinction between using and not using this grammar, try out these neat questions from 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」 .




Feel free to post your answers in the comments. I’ll be waiting!

This is the first of three posts discussing 「言う」.

The second post is about “Using 「というか」 to rephrase things”“.
The third post is about “Various ways to say 「いう」“.

When it’s not quite good enough to be 「まあまあ」

In this short post, I’ll be talking about 「微妙」(びみょう), a na-adjective that is used quite often in Japanese. The word 「微妙」 itself describes a state of delicate balance and indicates that things can easily go one way or the other.

You can find many examples from the WWWJDIC of this usage such as the following sentence.

-The word has a delicate shade of difference in meaning.

While the word when used in this fashion is not slang, there is one more way to use 「微妙」 that can be considered slang: a negative version of 「まあまあ」.

Many of you probably have already learned 「まあまあ」 in the classroom as a way of describing something as “so-so”. However, while 「まあまあ」 means neither good nor bad, it has a favorable connotation. 「微妙」 on the other hand, while also used to describe something that is neither good nor bad, looks at things in a negative light. To illustrate, let’s look at the two different responses to the following question.

Q: 味はどう? – How is the taste?

A1: まあまあ。- It’s not bad.
A2: 微妙・・・。- Umm… it’s not that good.

The first answer is saying, while the taste is not great necessarily, it not that bad. The second answer takes the opposite stance and indicates that while the taste is not terrible, it’s just not very good. It’s similar to the “cup is half-empty/half-full” distinction. While both mean the same thing, the attitude is completely opposite from each other.

Here are some interesting examples of 「微妙」 that I came up with. Be careful not to insult anybody using this word (unless that’s your intent)! That’s probably why they only teach you 「まあまあ」 in class.

1: あの子は、かわいくない? – Don’t you think that girl is cute?
2: う~ん、微妙だな。 – Hmm, nah, not really.

1: 明日、時間空いている? – Do you have time open tomorrow?
2: 明日は、ちょっと微妙かも。 – Tomorrow might be a bit shady.

As you can see from the second example, like most slang, you can use 「微妙」 in all sorts of situations. Try it on your Japanese friends today!

The subtler points of 「以」

」 (not to be confused with 「」)is a very useful character used in all sorts of words that compare time, space, or objects such as 以来、以降、以上、以下、以外、以内、以後、and 以前 . In all these words, the 「以」 essentially means “besides” and the second character indicates what to compare.

For instance, 「以外」(いがい) uses the 「外」 character for outside so it is describing anything outside of the thing we are comparing to.

– Is there person going, outside of Tanaka-san? (Is anybody going besides Tanaka-san?)

Notice how there is no particle between 「田中さん」 and 「以外」. While it is possible to insert 「の」 in between, in practice, it is more natural to directly attach the word to the end of the noun that is being compared. This applies to all the 「以」 words given above.

「以」 is an inclusive comparator

I think it’s important to mention that 「以」 means “besides [x]”, therefore, the thing that is being compared to ([x] in this case) is included in the comparison. For example, if we say 「三つ以上」, this means “three or more” and not “more than three”. Or when we say, 「明日以降」 this means “tomorrow or afterwards” not “after tomorrow”.

– Please select 2 or more cards.

In English, words for comparisons such as “more” and “less” implicitly exclude the thing that is being compared. People who are used to the English way of doing things need to make sure whether they need to do a little adding or subtracting before using any of the words covered here. For instance, if I wanted to say, “less than three”, I might change this to 「二つ以下」 or use some other expression such as 「未満」. Unfortunately, these comparators are not really systematic and it becomes a matter of learning vocabulary and learning when to use them based on practice.

– Children under 10 cannot go on the ride.

Here are other ways you might want to say “more than” and “less than“. Unfortunately, you can already see an inaccurate translation of 「以上」.

Sometimes, it might not be necessary to be that picky, but you should be aware of the difference for the times when it really does matter.

Finally, to prove I’m not lying, here is a similar page that explains the difference from a Japanese point of view.

It’s, like, like 【なんか】

Like, if there’s any equivalent to like, the word “like” in Japanese, it has to be like 「なんか」. 「なんか」 is a contraction of 「なにか」(何か), which means “something”. However, 「なんか」 can be used to mean something very similar to the English “like”. Take a look at the example below:

ゲームなんか興味ないよ。- Not interested in something game.

First, you’ll notice the total lack of particles. You’ll see that a lot in casual speech. Another thing to notice here is that 「なんか」 essentially means “things like” in this example. This usage is distinct for 「なんか」 and you won’t see 「なにか」 used in the same way.

In fact, just like the word “like” in English, you can stick 「なんか」 just about anywhere and still make sense! Be careful though because this might become a habit and you might, like, start sounding like the way you do when, like, you use like, like everywhere.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, there was like a strange person and like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.

If you add 「さ」 to the end of almost every phrase, you get what young people sound like in Japan nowadays. Sigh… so sad.

Hey, like, when I got on the train today, right? There was like a strange person, right? And like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.

Don’t Suffer Passively

Some of you may have noticed I recycled content from my personal blog for my last post. For the 2, 3 people that actually read my blog, I offer my apologies as I’ve been busy with real life which sucks as usual. As reprieve, I’m actually going to write about a breaking insight into Japanese. You heard it here first.

There is no such thing as a suffering passive

You may have heard about a “suffering passive” from various textbooks or teachers. In fact, here’s an explanation right here.

Essentially, the concept is that when a passive verb is used, it can sometimes indicate that somebody has suffered from that action. The first two questions that should come to mind is, “What makes it suffering?” and “How can you tell?” The only explanation I’ve seen so far is, “it just is” and “guess”. In other words, no explanation whatsoever. But don’t worry, everything will be cleared up after reading this post.

The suffering passive is essentially a fabricated concept designed for non-native speakers so I won’t go into too many details. Ask any Japanese person with no experience in teaching Japanese and he/she will have no idea what you’re talking about. To put it quite simply, there’s nothing in the language that indicates somebody is suffering from a passive verb. The suffering is only suggested from the inherent properties of the passive form.

Let’s take a very simple sentence.

いいと言った。- Said, “good”.

Now let’s change it into the passive. (reference)

いいと言われた。- Was told, “good”.

The only difference between the two sentences is that the first performed an action (somebody said something) while in the second, the action was performed on someone (was told by somebody).

Now let’s look at the following sentence.

ケーキを全部食べられた。- All the cake was eaten.

Since the verb is passive, the action of eating all the cake was performed on somebody. Let’s say that somebody is myself. Then the sentence means that somebody ate all the cake and that action was done to me. If you think of it the right way, it makes perfect sense.

The Japanese word for “passive”, 「受身」 using the characters for “receive” and “body” expresses what the passive is in Japanese much more accurately. People are doing things to you and you have no choice but to take it like a bitch. The passive indicates that the action was not done by the subject but done unto the subject. In other words, the subject had no control or input on the action.

It is this property of the passive form that can create the sense of “suffering”. However, whether the subject is suffering or not depends entirely on the context. Am I suffering because all the cake was eaten by somebody without my say? Sure, probably… but then maybe not. There is nothing in the language that says. The only thing we know for sure is that the action of eating the cake was done by others, unto me, outside of my control.

Again, think in Japanese, and things seem much simpler and clearer.

英辞郎、a godsend for Japanese learners

The 英辞郎 dictionary powered by SPACE ALC is a godsend for Japanese learners everywhere. At first, I was floored by the edict dictionary presented by Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC and its superiority to any printed Japanese/English dictionaries you can find in American bookstores. But, I have to admit, 英辞郎 is even more amazing mostly because the WWWJDIC does not have a English to Japanese dictionary. 英辞郎 is the only dictionary I know of that can give you a clue on how to take something you want to say in English and translate it to Japanese. You can enter English phrases and have a good chance at getting some suggestions for the Japanese. Unless you have a bilingual speaker around you can ask, this is the only tool I know of that can do this.

For instance, lets say you wanted to say, “They crowded into the train,” but were not sure how to say “crowded into” in Japanese. You know 「込んでいる」 means something is crowded but you’re not sure how to use that for crowding into something. If you search on 英辞郎 for “crowded into”, you get these following helpful suggestions.

# crowded into a room
《be ~》部屋に溢{あふ}れる
# crowded into a small area
# crowded into a small room
《be ~》(大勢{おおぜい}の人が)狭い部屋{へや}に押し込められる

Now you can use these suggestions and google around to see which one most closely matches what you want to say.

Yet another example. I was wondering how to say my ears popped as I was riding an elevator. I tried a couple combinations like “ears pop” and hit pay dirt when I searched for “ear popped”. I got the following:

My ear popped.

I don’t know why 「へん」 is in hiragana but I’m guessing it’s 「変」. Now, I can deduce that in Japanese, you can say your ears feel strange for changing altitudes and that there probably is no exact equivalent for the English “ear popping” phrase. Without 英辞郎, there’s really no way to look up this type of information without having a bilingual speaker handy. (Which I think is rare for most people.)

Even something as simple as trying to find out how to say “Big Dipper” in Japanese can be a major headache without this dictionary. The WWWJDIC returns no search results because it only searches the definitions of Japanese words (and poorly, I might add). With 英辞郎, you just pop in “big dipper” and there you go.

Big Dipper
【名】 《米》北斗七星

I’m surprised that this site is supposed to be for Japanese people because I think it’s far more useful to English-speaking people learning Japanese.

Oh crap, it’s 【やばい】

I was thinking of writing a theme-based post with all sorts of useful expressions and examples but I’m too lazy so I decided to do another one like the last one and just talk about one word. This time, I’m going to introduce yet another slang that you’re going to hear all the time, especially among the younger crowds.

Let’s say you woke up at 8:00 in the morning. You look at the alarm clock and you realize that you are totally late for school. If you are a robot like those characters in Japanese textbooks, you might say something like 「どうしよう」 to mean “What shall I do?” (Lit: “How shall do?”). Now let’s say you’re a real human being, you’re late, and you’re in deep shit. In Japanese, you would very likely say, 「やばい!」.

A) 授業は、もう始まっちゃっているぜ。- Class has already started, man.
B) マジで?!やばい!- For real? Oh crap! (Lit: Dangerous!)

「やばい」 in the dictionary is defined as “dangerous” and that’s a good way to remember it as long as you keep in mind that it’s the “oh shit” variety and not the “watch your head” type of danger.

You can use 「やばい」 in all sorts of fun ways. For instance, if you want to warn your friends that that one girl is crazy and they should watch out, you might call her 「やばい」. Or you found out that you totally bombed a test. You can even use it in a positive sense such as calling something dangerous because it’s so delicious.

A) 試験はどうだった?- How was the test?
B) 全然ダメだった。- Totally no good.
A) それって、やばくない?- Isn’t that dangerous?
B) うん、やばい。- Yeah, I’m screwed.

A) そんなにうまいの?- Is it that tasty?
B) やばいよ。- It’s dangerous.
A) うそだ。- Yeah right. (Lit: It’s a lie)

Tune in next time when I’ll hopefully have more than just single vocabulary explanations!