Can you do it? Maybe not, but it can be done.

This is a question I hear often and one that I had myself at one point.

What is the difference between the potential form and 「~ことができる」?

As you know, the potential form is a relative straight-forward verb conjugation indicating that one is able to do that verb. The only strange exception is 「する」 which becomes 「できる」, a completely different verb to indicate “one is able to do”.

The situation gets a little bit murkier when you normalize a verb with a generic event 「こと」 and use 「できる」 instead of just using the potential form. Ultimately, it seems like there’s two methods of expressing the potential. (Don’t complain, Chinese has… oh I don’t even know how many, there’s too many to count.)

The natural question for any learner of Japanese would be, “What’s the difference and when do I use one instead of the other?” Indeed, an excellent question! What’s even more confusing is when the original verb is 「する」 therefore becoming 「することができる」. Hey, isn’t that redundant??

It’s longer

The first and easy answer is, the 「~ことができる」 version is longer. Ha ha, aren’t you glad I’m here to clear everything up for you? Seriously though, the fact that you have another particle in there allows a lot more flexibility. Nobody says you have to use 「が」, that’s just a sentence pattern simplification.

Saburooさん, author of the 現代日本語文法概説, has some very excellent examples.

読むことしかできない – Can only read it.
読めしかしない – ????

Semantic Differences

Besides the obvious grammatical differences, what the original question is really asking is whether there’s any differences in meaning and usage. I would say the differences in nuance is so subtle, it’s debatable whether discussing them would even help learners of Japanese. The short answer is they are pretty much interchangeable and you can stop reading here.

For the rest of you who like to torture yourselves like me, let’s think about it for a second. 「~ことができる」 uses a generic event 「こと」 and a generic verb 「できる」 to say that the event is able to be done. Doesn’t it sound a bit… generic? In fact, I think using 「~ことができる」 makes it sound more like a general statement about feasibility.

電車で行けますか? – Can you go by train?
電車で行くことができますか? – Is it possible to go by train?

You can take this idea further to talk about general rules and policies.

タバコを吸うことはできますか? – Is smoking allowed (for anybody)?
タバコを吸ってもいいですか?- Is it ok to smoke? (I want to smoke.)
タバコは、吸えますか? – Able to smoke? (Are you asking if I can smoke? Otherwise, why are you asking me if you can smoke?)

In a similar vein, you can see examples of when you might want to use 「することができる」. It can sound a bit more formal since it addresses a larger audience than you personally. In fact, companies might decide to substitute even more former-sounding words such as 「可能」 in the place of 「できる」. You can’t do this with the regular potential form.

インターネットで登録することができます。- It is possible to register on the internet.
インターネットで登録することが可能です。- It is possible to register on the internet.
インターネットで登録できます。- You can register on the internet.


This is an example where not worrying about every little detail and just getting a lot of input might be the better approach. However, I think it is worth the time to examine what words are being used and what they mean by themselves (in this case 「こと」 and 「できる」).

I hope this short explanation can at least give you a general idea of the slight difference between the potential form and 「~ことができる」. As I mentioned, they are very similar and often interchangeable. My final suggestion is to keep things as simple as possible. For instance, don’t say 「することができる」 if you can help it. Why make things more complex than they need to be?

My textbook introduction and first dialogue

As indicated in my last post, after struggling with the traditional textbook approach, I’ve decided to scrap everything and start afresh. I thought hard about what I wanted from a textbook when I first started learning Japanese and came to the conclusion that I didn’t want any babying or hand-holding. If my target audience can learn trigonometry and calculus, they should certainly be able to handle Hiragana and Katakana without having it spoon-feed to them one lesson at a time. So with that, I came up with the following introduction.

The Introduction

Who is this textbook for?

The intended audience of this textbook is for adult English speakers from High School level and beyond. It is intended to be compatible with a classroom format as well as for self-learners. However, for reasons explained in the next section, a conversation partner or a way to interact regularly with someone who speaks Japanese is highly recommended.

How does this textbook work?

This textbook is guided by certain principles for learning any language and some specific to learning Japanese. Based on my own experiences and from observing others, it is my belief that using the language in each aspect of reading, writing, speaking, and listening is the only way to truly master it. In addition, it must be practiced just as it’s used in real life in order for the skills to transfer into the real world.

However, in the case of Japanese, there is a large amount of new concepts and writing systems that must be mastered before people new to the language can begin to learn real Japanese. This is particularly true for English speakers with no background with Chinese characters or particle-based grammar. Therefore, there is a fairly large amount of background material in the beginning of this textbook to acquaint the new learner to the fundamental aspects of Japanese before starting with the actual lessons.

It is my opinion that consolidating the background material in the beginning makes for a more comprehensive approach for adult learners as compared to spreading it out through the lessons all the while using crippled and unnatural Japanese until the key concepts can be adequately explained.

The basic approach of this textbook can be summarized in the following steps:

  1. Get a rough idea of the general concept
  2. Comprehend via input in Japanese with English translations (both audio and written)
  3. Practice output with writing and conversation exercises
  4. Get output checked and corrected for further expansion

The word “rough” in the first step is very important here, especially for the background material. While the first section might seem quite extensive, the goal is to get only a general idea and fine-tune it by jumping in the language. So don’t worry about fully comprehending the first section before starting the lessons. If you continuously refer back as you learn the language, you will eventually learn it all through practice.

In the first section, I intend to cover Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji similar to the beginning of my grammar guide. The only difference is more extensive practice exercises and plenty of audio. The Kanji section will be about how Kanji works and how to study it.

As for grammar, While I won’t go over specific grammar or conjugations until the lessons, I will provide a broad overview. I intend to cover what particles are, classifications of parts of speech, general sentence structure, and when to use the various politeness levels.

My first dialogue

I also spent a lot of time really thinking about the first dialogue. This dialogue was very important to me because I think it sets the tone for the rest of the book. And as I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to get the reader hooked on Japanese from the very beginning. After a great deal of thought, here’s what I came up with. (Any resemblance to persons fictional or real is purely coincidental.)

先生:  これは、本ですか?
クラス: いいえ、本じゃありません。それは、ペンです。

キム: このクラスは、簡単じゃない?
スミス: 私は、まだ難しいよ。
キム: 全然難しくないよ。
スミス: はい、はい。

先生: キムさん!
キム: はい!
先生: これは、なんですか?
キム: ええと・・・、紙ですか?
先生: はい、そうです。なんの紙ですか?
キム: ・・・はい?
先生: この紙は、キムさんの特別な宿題です。
キム: なんですか?

My goal in this dialogue was to cover the copula (or whatever you want to call it) and the negative tense for nouns and adjectives. I also wanted to have a good mix of polite and casual speech to show how each is used respective to the social position of the characters. I was really tempted to have Kim say 「わかりません」 in his second-to-last line but decided to hold off on negative tenses for verbs for now. I also wanted to write 「キムさんだけの特別な宿題です。」 but decided that was too advanced. See how hard this is? Actually, what I really wanted to write was 「この授業は、キムさんにとって簡単すぎるようなので、キムさんだけの特別な宿題を作りました。さぁ、喜んでください!おほほほほ!」

Personally, I think the best part of this dialogue is when Smith says, 「私は、まだ難しいよ。」 because it really shows that the topic particle is not the “subject” as we define it in English. Obviously, Smith is not saying she’s difficult since that makes no sense.

So that’s my first dialogue. It will, of course, have an English translation and a non-Kanji version for those who want to worry about the Kanji later. What do you think? I’m pretty happy with it but there will be lots more to come. Even though you really can’t tell yet, I already have an idea of what the various characters are like in my mind. I hope you will all eventually find out as I develop the story and finish the textbook!

A (late) intro to the original 電車男

I was looking through my old blog for fun and ran into a post about 電車男. Though the post is over 2 years old and the height of 電車男’s popularity is long past, the original story (with some commentary) as it unfolded in the 2ch BBS is archived and still around for anybody to read for free (on a geocities account no less).

If you’re not familiar with the immensely popular 2ちゃんねる BBS, it’s basically an non-threaded forum where everybody posts anonymously. There are no “fancy” features like registration and passwords. You can put whatever name you want, so most times, you have no idea who is saying what. This and the crappy UI from the 90s makes for an experience I’d like to call “craptastic”. Fortunately, the archived version of the original content has been edited and neatly organized for us.

In this post, I’ll take a quick sneak peek of the beginning to introduce you to the story. Before you decide to read it for yourself, I should warn you that it’s full of internet slang that would probably be useless anywhere except… the internet. Ok then, let’s look at the first section!

Mission.1 めしどこかたのむ

731 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:25



It begins with a cryptic message from Nameless-san on a random thread in March 2004. It’s impossible to know what he’s talking about without the previous messages but we can discern that he betrayed something somehow (裏ぐる is apparently internet typo/slang for 裏切る). The commentator helpfully adds that it was just an “ordinary thread with nothing special” anyhow.


His first message saying he can’t say how he betrayed [whatever] because he has not talent in literature gets people wondering what happened. One person asks whether he got a girlfriend. He replies no but it’s a big chance. He’s obviously flustered because he then retracts his earlier statement and says he needs to calm down.

733 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:28


734 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:28


737 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:33


738 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:35

ごめん。よく考えたら大チャンスじゃなかった…_| ̄|○

Finally, somebody tells him to give all the details. キボン is internet slang for 希望.

739 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:36


  詳 細 キ ボ ン

Finally, he reluctantly agrees to write about what happened. Because he has been only 「ロムる」ing, meaning “Read-Only Member” or what we call a “lurker”, he asks that he not be laughed at.

740 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 21:38


At this point, he isn’t even known as 電車 and is writing as 731, the number of his first post (remember they’re all anonymous).
Here’s how the story begins.

749 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 21:55





766 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 22:23




772 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 22:37



もっと気の利いたこと言えよ俺。_| ̄|○

疲れた…_| ̄|○

Whew! And that’s how he first met the person we’ll only ever know as エルメス. I think that’s enough for now so I’ll end it here. But to sum up, at the end of the incident she asks him for his address and later sends him a thank-you gift for his braveness and chivalry. More importantly, the receipt for the delivery has her number on it! What will you do 電車?!!


I think it’s really cool that parts of the original threads are still available for free online especially since I believe there’s a book out as well. If you don’t mind weeding through internet slang and banter, I’m sure there’s a lot of good primary reading material here. Otherwise, be sure to check out the drama and/or movie. I haven’t watched the movie but the drama was pretty good. They sure did pick a nerdy guy for the main character.

電車男 is one of those perfect nerd fantasies where the main character meets a beautiful women in a chance encounter and through luck and perseverance ends up 「ゲットする」ing the girl. What makes this story special is that it was originally told on an internet forum and with input from regular netizens along the way. Plus, it’s real as far as I know. I think we’re all curious about what エルメス looks like!

In addition, the time and effort people put into cheering 電車 on is very touching. The graphics are simply amazing as well! Who says you need fancy features like image uploads or BB code?!

Let me know what’s going on now!

Japan is a country where everybody goes from one crazy fad to the next such as ヨン様 (ugh…), Hard Gay, and 涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱. 電車男 was certainly a media phenomenon in its day spawning a book, movie, drama, manga, and even appearing in theater.

I haven’t been in Japan in over a year and I’m a bit out of touch so please let me know about any new fads going on!

Run Forr^H^H^H^H メロス!

I’ve known about 青空文庫 for quite a while but never really had the time to look over it. It’s a large collection of free Japanese text online. The only problem is most of these writings are quite old (old enough for the copyright to expire) and to put it politely, a bit… dry.

However, I finally took some time to read a story called 「走れメロス」 by the famous author: 太宰治. You can find the version updated to modern Japanese (新字新仮名) here and also read it directly online here.

I don’t want to give too much away but 「走れメロス」 is a rather touching story about loyalty and trust. It is required reading for most Japanese students (in middle school I believe) so it’s certainly good stuff to know for cultural reasons as well. Here’s the first few lines to get you started.


かの: I haven’t run into this word before but it is apparently used to refer to something or someone else similar to 「その」. See here for more details.

邪智暴虐: While not a phrase with much practical use, examining the Kanji for the two words 邪智 and 暴虐 gives you a very good idea of its meaning: Evil+Knowledge and Violent+Tyrannize. The kanji itself are useful to know for words like 「風邪」、「邪悪」 (used in the same paragraph)、「暴力」、and 「残虐」. 「智」、 another version of 「知」 is also a great character to know for many names.

王を除かなければならぬ: The 「ならぬ」 is an old-fashioned version of 「ならない」. You’ll see a lot of 「ぬ」 instead of 「ない」 in this story since the text IS old. 「除く」 is a creative use of the word “remove” here. I leave it to the reader to interpret exactly what is meant by “removing the king”.

人一倍(ひといちばい): This is an interesting expression to me because it means “more than others” but the math doesn’t seem to add up. If 二倍 is double, shouldn’t 一倍 be exactly the same as the original amount? Well if you consider that 一倍 is one share and 人一倍 as an extra person’s share, I guess it makes sense. It’s an expression anyway so who cares right?

Have fun with the rest of the story because it is quite long. If anybody knows of other good literature in the free 青空文庫 collection, please let me know in the coments with links!!!

φ(o_o ;)うーん How do I make Japanese emoticons?

I don’t know how other people make those cute Japanese (or Korean? …whatever) emoticons. This may sound shocking, but personally I just copy them from another site.


This site should be a good start to get you on your way to making the most basic emoticons.


If you’re excited now, let me tell you about 顔文字ナビ, a site with a HUGE collection of emoticons. The only problem is that it’s all in Japanese and finding the smiley you want might be a bit difficult.


Now now, don’t get upset. This could be a good opportunity for some simple vocab practice. Unfortunately, I can’t link directly due to the stupid frames so I’ll have to walk you through it.


Let’s start with the standard happy smileys. Go to 「よ」 and select 「喜ぶ」. You’ll get all types of happiness such as 「わーい」 (Yay) or 「キャー」 (Omg!).

(^-^) ワ~イ


You can even get smug smileys under 「自慢」 -> 「えっへん」. Aren’t you so cool?



Another common one is for sadness or crying, so let’s look at 「な」 for 「泣く」. You can get the standard crying emoticons as well as some more specific ones like 「クスン」 (sniff) whether you’re crying from just a little bit of sadness or at the end of a good cry.

(/ _ ; )クスン


Another common scenario is saying you’re sorry. You can find those smileys under 「こ」 for 「ごめん」 or 「あ」 for 「謝る」. Instead of going for the standard bowing apology, try putting your hands together for a less serious apology.

(^人^;) ゴメン

There’s obviously a lot more emoticons to play with so go to the site and look around to up your online expressiveness AND increase your vocabulary.



I remember when I was trying to get a computer job in Japan, I tried to learn some computer terminology worried that I wouldn’t understand any of the technical words in Japanese. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find such a site on the Internet. And so, in an effort to improve the usefulness of the Internet by .00001%, here’s an informative post (hopefully) for the up-and-coming programmers wanting to work in Japan.

General Terminology

オブジェクト指向 (しこう)- Object-oriented
継承 (けいしょう) – inheritance
カプセル化 (か) – encapsulation (black box programming)
抽象クラス(ちゅうしょう) – abstract class
変数 (へんすう) – variable
固定値 (こていち) – constant
値 (あたい) – value
閾値(しきいち) – threshold (often used in validation, program limits, and the like)
関数 (かんすう) – function
メソッド – method (java/c# functions)
引数 (ひきすう) – parameter
戻り値(もどりち) – return value
文字列(もじれつ) – string
配列 (はいれつ) – array
スレッド – thread (no it’s not a sled)
マルチスレッド – multi-threaded
同期(どうき) – synchronous
同期化(どうきか) – synchronize
非同期(ひどうき) – asynchronous
静的(せいてき) – static
動的(どうてき) – dynamic
実行する(じっこうする) – to execute

Design-related Terminology

定義書 (ていぎしょ) – a document that defines something (ex: XML定義書)
クラス図 (ず) – class diagram
基本設計 (きほんせっけい) – basic design (broad level)
詳細設計 (しょうさいせっけい) – specific design
仕様 (しよう) – specifications (what your program is supposed to do)
仕様書 (しようしょ) – written specifications
要件 (ようけん) – requirements
見積もる (みつもる) – to make an estimate
見積もり (みつもり) – estimate

If there are other terms you’re curious about, just let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

The most useful word… EVAR

In every language, there’s a common pattern of the most useful words being the most complicated and confusing. This is a natural consequence from the fact that the word must cover many different types of usages and meanings in order to be so useful. Due to its usefulness, it will also often go through various types of abbreviations and shortcuts to facilitate speaking, further complicating the issue. This post will cover what could arguably be the most useful and hence the most intricate word in Japanese: 「いい」. We’ll see that this word is much more expansive in scope and usage than the English equivalent word “good”. Just learning the definition is barely scratching the surface of this useful word.

Briefly on Conjugation

I’ll assume that most readers are already familiar with many of the discrepancies in the conjugation rules for 「いい」 and so I’ll just briefly mention that the discrepancies are all caused by the change from 「よい」 to 「いい」. This word is so useful and so often used that even the slight pursing of the lips to pronounce 「よ」 seemed to tax Japanese speakers and was eventually changed to 「いい」. The newer version has the added convenience of removing one pronunciation completely and replacing it with a single longer pronunciation of 「い」. The older version is now considered formal and old-fashioned. Unfortunately, many of the conjugated forms such as the negative (よくない) failed to transition over to the new pronunciation hence creating a number of discrepancies which annoy Japanese beginners to this day.

To get the full scoop, check out my page on adjectives on my grammar guide. Now let’s look at the various ways this adjective can be used. You’ll also see how these patterns translate to very different things in English and yet is just a simple adjective with some grammar patterns in Japanese.

Using 「いい」 for permission

The usage of 「いい」 for asking and granting permission is just another example of the fundamental difference between Japanese and English, as well as, a great example of how vital it is to understand how 「いい」 is used in various grammatical patterns.

In English you use words like “can” or “may” to ask for permission, in Japanese the word 「できる」 is reserved only for the ability to do something, not on whether it’s permitted or not. (This is similar to the difference between 能/会 and 行 in Chinese.)

In Japanese, you ask for permission by asking literally, “Is it good even if I…”. I’m sure many of you in Japanese class learned the phrase: 「トイレに行ってもいいですか?」 This literally means, “Is it good even if I go to the bathroom?” Your teacher may respond by saying either 「いいです」 or 「だめです」 (or the very formal 「いけません」). There’s a logical discrepancy here in that the positive answer is 「いい」 but the negative answer is not simply the negative: 「よくない」. This is because the 「てはいけない/てはならない/てはだめ」 grammar pattern set for saying you can’t do something is separate from the one that says you can do something.

However, while saying “can” versus “can’t” is not as easy in Japanese as saying 「いい」 versus 「よくない」, there is one very useful way to use negatives with the 「V~てもいい」 pattern. You can negate the verb in front to have 「~なくてもいい」. Let’s see how this translates literally for the example: 「行ってもいい」.

1. 行ってもいい。
– It’s good even if [you] go.

2. 行かなくてもいい。
– It’s good even if [you] don’t go.

Can you guess what the examples translates to in English? The first means, “You can go” while the second means “You don’t have to go”. Once again, you have two completely different grammar patterns in one language while the other is just the negative and positive version of the same grammar pattern. Except this time, it’s the other way around. This is another example of why it’s best to work in the target language as opposed to trying to tie everything into English.

Let’s look at the following example short conversation at a training seminar.

Aさん) トイレに行ってもいいですか?
Bさん) いいですよ。これは授業じゃないから、聞かなくてもいいですよ。
Aさん) じゃ、戻らなくてもいいですか?
Bさん) だめです。

This next dialog shows how slang can hide these grammar patterns but still have the same meaning. In the dialog, Aさん is not asking if the pen is a little good.

Aさん) そのペン、ちょっといい
Bさん) だめ。俺、使っているよ?
Aさん) いいから早く貸して。

Using 「いい」 for good result

There are many variations to this usage but the basic idea is to show a good result as a result of something. The most basic example of this usage is to make a suggestion.

例) 病院に行った方がいい。
– The side of going to hospital is good. (You should go to the hospital.)

例) どこに行けばいいですか?
– If [I] go, where is good? (Where should I go?)

Notice the non-literal translation uses the same word “should” but as you can see, the word “should” has many meanings which are expressed differently in Japanese. The first is a general suggestion such as “you should see a doctor” or “you should get some more sleep” while the second is conditional on the situation such as “Which way should I go if I wanted to go to the mall?” or “Where should I write my name?”

You can also use the past tense to talk about what you did (relief) or should have done (wishful thinking).

例) 早く予約してよかった!
– [I] made reservation early and it was good! (Good thing I made the reservation earlier!)

例) 早く予約すればよかった!
– If [I] had made reservation early it would have been good! (I should have made the reservation earlier.)

Again, you really can’t directly translate English phrases like “Good thing I…” or “I should have…”, you have to use a grammar pattern and 「いい」 to express a similar thing.

Here’s another example conversation.

Aさん) 頭が痛い。
Bさん) コンビにで薬を買った方がいいよ。
Aさん) どこのコンビニに行けばいいの?
Bさん) 駅の近くにあると思う。
Aさん) 今日仕事休めばよかった


In writing this article, I surprised even myself on all the various hidden but essential ways 「いい」 is used in the Japanese language. It can be expressed to indicated things you should do, things that are allowed, things you don’t have to do, and much more. I hope this article helped you realize the importance mastering the many uses of 「いい」 and why it’s better to approach it from Japanese instead of from English.

Am I missing any important usages here? Let me know in the comments!

Begin the journey to mastering your 気

「気」 is a kind of energy embodied by your mind and spirit… or so they say. Personally, I really don’t believe in all that mumbo-jumbo but we still have to deal with it because it’s often used in everyday Japanese to describe your mind-set or feelings. In fact, the characters for your emotional feelings 「気持ち」 means 「気」 that is held” and your physical feelings 「気分」 also contains the same 「気」 character.

I’m going to go over some of the most useful and basic ways to use your 「気」 and I don’t mean fireballs and kung-fu moves. Rather, I’ve compiled a list of common expressions that you can use to describe your 「気」. Though making a list of expressions is not usually not my kind of thing, these are so useful and simple (and for some reason often neglected in the classroom) that I feel it’s worth the time to list and describe them. Also, these kinds of expressions are very hard to find in the dictionary unless you almost already know what you’re looking for.

「気」 with verbs so basic, your grandma can use it

Putting aside the image of your grandma firing off hadokens, here is a list of 「気」 expressions with the most simple and basic verbs. I’ve tried to interpret some of the literal meanings as a aid in memorizing what all these kinds of 「気」 means.

  1. 気にする – Means to worry about something. It is almost always used in the negative to say, “Don’t worry about it”. The meaning is similar to 「心配しないで」 except 「心配」 involves actual worry and anxiety. 「気にしない」 means don’t even bother paying attention to it or wasting your 「気」.

    1) 気にしないで – Don’t worry about it.

  2. 気になる – Similar to 「気にする」 except instead of bothering about something, it’s becoming a bother. In other words, it’s something that is niggling your subconscious and making you wonder about something.

    1) 彼女の歳が気になる。 – I wonder what her age is. (lit: Her age has been bothering me.)

  3. 気がする – Your 「気」 is acting up and alerting your senses. As a result, you have a feeling of whatever you attach 「気がする」 to.

    1) もう終わった気がする。- I have a feeling that [it] already ended.

  4. 気がつく (気づく) – Your 「気」 attaches to you making you regain consciousness in the literal sense or in a figurative sense of just waking up and smelling the coffee.

    1) 気がついたら、もう9時になっていた。 – When I came to my senses, it had become 9:00 already.
    2) 彼は全然気づいていない。 – He doesn’t realize (or hasn’t noticed) it at all.

  5. 気をつける – Attach your 「気」 and always keep your wits about you. In other words, be careful.

    1) 気をつけて! – Be careful!/Take care!

  6. 気をつかう – Use your 「気」 to pay attention to or attend to somebody. A good host always uses her 「気」 for her guests and their needs.

    1) 気をつかってくれて、ありがとう! – Thanks for caring about me!

  7. 気にいる – This is a curious one as it uses the not-so-common 「いる」 reading of 「入る」. It is usually used in the past tense as 「気に入った」, literally meaning something entered your 「気」. This essentially means it came to your liking. It’s a shorter, easier, and more casual way to say the same thing as 「好きになった」. If you use a Japanese browser, you might also have noticed that the bookmarks are called 「気に入り」.

    1) これ、気に入ったよ。 – This has come to my liking.

    (Thanks Florian for suggesting this one be added to the list.)


I’ve tried to keep my list short and simple to prevent this from becoming a monster list with too much information. However, if you’re in the mood, you can scroll through a huge list by going to WWWJDIC, search for 「気」 and set the checkmark for “Starting Kanji”. You’ll get all sorts of useful expressions like 「気が強い」、「気が向く」、「気が散る」、etc., etc. Someday, you can become a master of at least talking about your 「気」 without even having to work out!

“Overflowing with leftover goodness…”

I love to write about parts of Japanese that are almost always left out of the standard Japanese language curriculum. This usually applies to vocabulary that can be considered “inappropriate” for the classroom. I also like to talk about topics where the explanation is usually glossed over or oversimplified because the concepts are too difficult to explain in English. I say “bah humbug!” to all that, which is why you can come here after class to get the full, unadulterated version.

So when I thought back to Japanese 101 and the time the teacher told us to only use the negative with 「あまり」 I thought, “Hey, wait a minute!” I now know that you can use 「あまり」 with the positive, the only difference is that you get the opposite meaning of the negative version. Makes perfect sense, right? Of course things aren’t actually that simple, so read on if you want to get the full scoop on 「あまり」.

Sorry, we’re all out of whatever it is you’re looking for

「あまり」 is a pseudo adverb/adjective version of the verb 「あまる」(余る), which means for something to be left over. So, when you use 「あまり」 with the negative, you are essentially saying there is nothing left over. For example, 「あまりよくない」 literally means there is no “goodness” left over. Ok, so that doesn’t make much sense. A more natural definition would be the one we all learned in Japanese 101, “not very” or “not that much”. However, it is useful to know where 「あまり」 originally came from to see how the meaning changes if we don’t use the negative tense.

Those leftovers are excessive, man!

If the negative tense means there’s no leftovers, the opposite would obviously mean that there are leftovers. In other words, something is so excessive that there are leftovers you can’t deal with. As opposed to 「あまりよくない」、 「あまりにいい」 means that something is so good that the goodness is just overflowing with leftovers. For example, 「あまりにいい天気」 means “weather that is excessively good”. This is slightly different from 「天気がよすぎる」 meaning that the weather is too good, which has a negative connotation. 「あまりにいい天気」 just means that the weather is really, really good. It’s so good that the goodness is just overflowing and the leftover goodness is just strewn about all over the floor.

1) 天気があまりよくないので、散歩するのをやめた。
– The weather wasn’t very good so I quit going for a walk.

2) あまりにいい天気だったので、1時間も散歩をしました。
– The weather was so good that I took a walk for a whole hour.

You may have noticed the positive version uses the 「に」 target particle as in 「あまりいい」. This is normal because you need to use the target particle in order to make adjectives into adverbs such as 「上手に」 or 「簡単に」. The irregularity instead comes from the lack of any particles for the negative case. I first described 「あまり」 as a pseudo adverb/adjective because you don’t need to use any particles when using it with the negative tense. It is very similar to 「同じ」, which also doesn’t require any particles to use as an adverb/adjective. Words like 「あまり」 and 「同じ」 are difficult to categorize for this reason. However, with 「あまり」, when you are using it for the non-negative tense, the normal rules apply and you do need attach the 「に」 particle in order to use it as an adverb.

A) 日本語はあまり難しいよ。
– Japanese is so difficult, you know. (grammatic error)

B) 日本語はあまり難しい。
– Japanese is so difficult.

A) ほら、難しいでしょ!
– See, it is hard!

More fun with 「あまり」

Since we’re having so much fun, I thought I’d mention a couple other things related to 「あまり」. First, because the Japanese are always trying to come up with easier way to say things, we have the casual equivalents: 「あんまり」 and 「あんま」. I would say 「あんまり」 is used even more than 「あまり」 in conversational Japanese while 「あんま」 sounds a bit masculine due to it’s short length.

1) 時間があんまりないんだよね。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

2) 時間があんまないんだよな。
-Hmm… there’s not much time.

As for using this slang for the non-negative case, while googling for 「あんまりに」 did yield a sizable number of results, 「あんまに」 didn’t turn up much so I suggest using 「あんま」 only for the negative tense.

Finally, 「余」, the kanji for 「あまり」 is also used in a some very useful words like 「余裕」 and 「余計」. 「余計」, in particular, is a word you’ll see all the time once you learn it. It’s very useful for when somebody says or does too much. Essentially, you can use it to tell people that it’s none of their business.

1) 余計なお世話だよ!
– None of your business! (lit: You’re unnecessarily taking care of me!)

2) 余計なことを言うんじゃいよ。
– Don’t say things that are none of your business. (lit: You don’t say unnecessary things, you know.)


As we have seen, there is a lot more to the word 「あまり」 than what is normally taught to beginning Japanese students. I suspect this is the case because 「あまり」 is most often used with the negative tense and covering any more would confuse the poor students. Apparently, Japanese students are very easily confused and should not be exposed to the scary parts of the language so that they can stay in their safe and comfortable cocoon of polite, “proper” Japanese (whatever that means) .

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.