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Tag: Japanese

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 Japanese words with cool ancient origin stories 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five Japanese words with cool ancient origin stories.

Everyone loves a good etymology, but the ones I find the most interesting aren’t just words passively being passed around from one language to another as it happens to often – I like the ones where there’s some kind of action.

Every language has cool word stories like that, even English with words like “clue” or “jumbo” that have pasts you wouldn’t expect out of them, and I wanted to showcase some Japanese ones this week.

There are of course plenty of other cool Japanese words out there with great etymologies, so if people like this one then maybe we’ll see some more in the future!

Read the article here.

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most ridiculous kanji handwriting shortcuts 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five most ridiculous kanji handwriting shortcuts, also known as ryakuji.

In English we have a whole bunch of handwriting shortcuts that would baffle people who only have a basic knowledge of the language. There are abbreviations of words (“gov” for government, “veg” for vegetables), abbreviations for phrases (“FYI” for “for your information,” “etc” for “et cetera” which is a whole other can of worms in itself), and even things like ” to repeat a phrase down a list, or using numbers instead of words (“4” for “for,” “2” for “to”), and more.

And it’s no different in Japanese. Since writing complex kanji can take some time, there are a lot of shortcuts that some people take when writing them that are not technically “correct Japanese.”

But when have correct things ever been interesting? So let’s take a look at the wild world of “incorrect” Japanese shortcut-kanji: ryakuji!

Read the article here.

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most hilarious Japanese euphemisms 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five most hilarious Japanese euphemisms.

One thing that I’d like to start doing more of in the W.T.F. series is really bringing Japanese things to an English-speaking audience that they really have no other way of finding out about.

While articles like “top five strange Christmas things” and “top five ways to immigrate to Japan” are perfectly fine and interesting and helpful and all that stuff, they’re most compilations (hilariously and expertly-written compilations, of course!) of things that you can find if you looked them up in English.

I’ll still do article like those, but I’d like to do as many as possible on topics that are much more difficult to look up in English, such as this week’s topic on euphemisms.

What kind of things do Japanese people like to talk their way around? Are they similar to ones we have in English or completely different? There’s only one way to find out.

Read the article here.

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 offensive Japanese insults 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about top five offensive Japanese insults.

Coming after last week’s top five strange ways to be polite, it only seemed right to do a full 180 and talk about how to be rude with some Japanese insults!

A few months ago I looked at the top five most offensive Japanese swear words, and people seemed to like it. Luckily there were still plenty of terrible words left over ready to be brought to the attention of the internet, so I jumped on the chance.

Originally this article was supposed to be a true sequel to the original and be “top five MORE offensive Japanese swear words.” But after my editor looked it over, we deduced that some of the items in the list strayed a bit far from “swear” territory and into just “not-so-nice slang” territory. I had to rewrite it a bit, but I think it’s a lot stronger now, and I’m looking forward to writing that “not-so-nice slang” article someday in the future.

The reason I really like the rewrite is mostly because of the #1 item on the list. What is it? Check it out to see.

Read the article here.

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most insane kanji place names in Japan 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about top five most insane kanji place names in Japan.

I wrote an article a few months ago about the top five myths of learning Japanese, and (spoiler alert!) learning how to read Japanese kanji was number one on that list. In my opinion learning how to read Japanese isn’t too much harder than learning how to read English.

English spelling has tons of exceptions and irregularities that sometimes make it seem more like a hieroglyphic writing system itself than an alphabetic one (I’m looking at you “colonel,” “indict,” and “mnemonic”).

But then there’s place name kanji. All bets are out the window when it comes to kanji used to spell place names (and people’s names too for that matter, but that’s for a different time). You could know every single reading a kanji has, and there’s a good chance you’ll still be completely wrong when it comes to pronouncing it correctly when used in a place name.

So that’s why this week I picked out some of the most insane kanji place names all over Japan that I could find. Even if you don’t know how to read Japanese at all, I think I wrote it in a way that will at least show how ridiculous some of these are. Enjoy!

Read the article here.


W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most confusing Japanese counter words 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about top five most confusing Japanese counter words.

Japanese is a hard language to learn, but not for the reasons most people think it is. I did a previous W.T.F. Japan about the top five myths about learning Japanese, and I stand by that kanji is definitely not the hardest part of Japanese.

Maybe someday I’ll do a W.T.F. on the top five reasons Japanese is actually hard, but for now I just wanted to focus on one of the harder aspects of the language: counter words.

In English we say a “head” of lettuce and a “loaf” of bread, but in Japanese they have counter words for everything. No matter what you’re counting – people, computers, books, sheep – there’s a counter word that must be used. You can’t just say “three sheep” and be understood, you have to say the equivalent of “three heads of sheep.”

In this W.T.F. I go over some of the more ridiculous counter words, which have tripped me and my students up for years. Even if you’ve never studied Japanese before, I think it will be a fun read just to see how linguistically different (and crazy) Japanese can be sometimes.

Read the article here.

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 strangest kanji ever 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five strangest kanji ever. A few months ago I did the top five most difficult kanji ever, which resulted in an explosion of comments demanding more articles counting down the top [insert theme here] kanji.

I wanted to start writing more immediately, but unfortunately the resource that I’d used (the Morohashi kanji dictionary) was at UMass Amherst – not exactly nearby. But now that I’m back in Japan, my local library has a copy of the 10+ volume behemoth of a dictionary, so I was able to go back and do some kanji research!

My last article was all about the most difficult kanji, but I think this one might be more fun because it’s all about the strangest-looking ones. It was fun to look through the index of Morohashi and see which ones caught my eye. Whenever a kanji made me go “whoa!” I wrote it down as a possibility. After collecting several dozen “whoa!” kanji, I sorted them by craziness and the top five are what made this list.

There were so many ridiculous kanji that I found that I think there’s still plenty left over for another few more kanji articles. So long as people enjoy reading them, I’ll keep writing them!

Whether or not you know anything about Japanese or kanji, I think you might like this article. Enjoy!

Read the article here.

Masterpiece Monday: A Drop in the Universe

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we looked at how Harry Potter is so good that it outright tells us. This week I’d like to change gears from sentences and scenes and look at the effect that a single word can have – specifically the “sound” it can have.

One thing I miss about Japanese when I’m writing in English is the lack of sound effects. For those unaware, Japanese is ripe with onomatopoeia words like sara sara for the rustling of leaves, or gotan goton for the sound of trains on tracks. There’s oven sound effect words for things we’d never imagine having sound effects, like bata bata for the sound of being busy or ira ira for the sound of being frustrated.

Using just the right onomatopoeia word in Japanese feels similar to finding just that right verb in English. Like when you write “he clambered into the car” instead of the generic “he got into the car.”

So when an author uses onomatopoeia in English, I immediately take notice.

I was inspired to read Beth Revis’s YA science-fiction novel Across the Universe after watching her video about failure that was featured on Operation Awesome. Right at the very beginning chapter, I was hit with a line that “sounded” amazing

“Daddy and I stepped back, but not so far that Mom would think we’d left her in that icy coffin alone. Ed pulled Mom’s eyes open. His fingers were big, calloused, and they looked like rough-hewn logs spreading apart my mom’s paper-thin eyelids. A drop of yellow liquid fell on each green eye. Ed did it quickly—drop, drop—then he sort of pushed her eyes shut. She didn’t open them again.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read that “drop, drop” part, I couldn’t help but smile with delight. Using the sound effect is much more effective here than just writing something instead like “Ed quickly dropped them in.”

Not only does the sound effect give us a sense of just how quickly he did it – drop, drop and then it’s over! – but it brings us as close to the scene as possible. When we can hear the physical sound the drop makes, it’s like we’re actually there with the narrator, watching – and hearing! – it happen.

Using sound effects in English can often come across as childish, and even when used well it can read awkwardly if it’s overdone. But when used sparingly and in key places like the above, it can make writing come alive far more than any verb or adjective ever could.

As always, thanks for reading. Join us next week on Masterpiece Monday when we take a look at a character with a sexy voice. See you then!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Kana Kinyobi: Hiragana う (“u”)

Hooray, it’s kinyobi (Friday)! That means it’s time to look at another kana from the Japanese alphabets. Today we’re looking at う (pronounced “u” as in “uber”).


This one’s easy. There’s a “u” right there, just chillin’ on its side. Here, I’ll show you!


Now you’ll know う whenever you see it. Awesome! Come back for next week’s Kana Kinyobi when we’ll take a look at the next hiragana: え (“e”).

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most offensive Japanese swear words 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five most offensive Japanese swear words. As an armchair linguist, I find swear words fascinating for two reasons: (1) they’re the first words in a foreign language that any student wants to learn, and (2) I can’t believe that so many languages have words that are “forbidden” or “unclean.” I mean, they’re just words!

As far as (1) goes, I think a big reason students clamor to learn swear words is for two reasons: one, it gives them some “bad” vocabulary words to use that other people won’t understand, and two, it gives the language a grittier, more authentic feel. Rather than learning how to say “I’d like three apples please,” you’re actually learning some “real” words that people use when you learn swears.

I remember in high school one Spanish teacher told her class that the best way to pick out a dictionary (before the days of internet dictionaries and smartphones) was to look up the worst swear words you could possibly think of. If it had them, great! If it didn’t, move on to another. I can’t vouch for how effective that method really is, but it did make shopping for new dictionaries a lot more fun.

So if you’re a swear-lover like I am, maybe you’ll enjoy the article. And if not, well, maybe you can learn to love them after seeing how silly it is that certain sounds in another language are considered “taboo.” Enjoy!

Read the article here.