How2: romaji

ひのとり becomes Hinotori in romaji

Anyone who either learns or attempts to learn Japanese comes across romaji or romanized Japanese. Other languages have similar systems (pinyin for Chinese, romaja for romanised Korean etc- there are many different systems to represent each language).

In simple terms, romaji (Japanese romanisation of either Kana or Kanji) for most sounds is simple. Japanese sounds are either a vowel or a consonant and examples of singular vowel sound are: “a, i, u, e, and o”. In English there are the main vowels (we’ll ignore y) but each sound is pronounced differently- which is extremely important to note.

The phonics of each sound are:

  • /a/ from fat
  • /i/ from ink
  • /u/ from Uber
  • /e/ from egg
  • /o/ from video

Please note, there are no other ways to pronounce the letters- unlike English- there is either the correct or incorrect way.

These 5 sounds are then combined with a consonant either: k, s, t, n, h. m, y, r, or w. Together sounds such as ra, ma, ya etc are created. There are obviously exceptions. The main exceptions are

  • fu (not hu)
  • ha in a sentence is pronounced as “wa”
  • wi, wu, we- these sound have been mostly removed from the language
  • wo is just pronounced o
  • n- is a consonant digraph. Imagine the m sound you make when thinking- not pronounced but made in the throat. This is n.

With this basic understanding, the following sentence can be read:

watashi ha nihongo wo yomemasu. ( I can read Japanese)

For any visitors, this is immensely helpful with reading Japanese signs or simple sentences. Now we’ll get into it a bit more.

There are a lot more rules for transliteration on Japanese and converting elongated sounds to romaji but in order to read romaji and write, you need to be aware of some slight differences.

An elongation in a u sound may be represented in one of the following ways:

  • u- without any hit elongation (technically a mistake)
  • either using uu or uo to stress an elongation
  • û shows a stress and thus elongation
  • ū uses a line to show a lengthened vowel

I hope you enjoyed my into into the romanisation of Japanese.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2: prefectures in Japan

HOW2: 都道府県 or Prefectures in Japan

When speaking English, prefectures are vastly simplified. Nara is simply Nara Prefecture, Kyoto is Kyoto prefecture, Hokkaido is Hokkaido prefecture etc. However life for the Japanese is not so simple.

In regards to prefectures, there is a lovely phrase 都道府県 (と・どう・ふ・けん or to/dou/fu/ken) which are the administrative divisions of Japan. To break it down further:

  • only 1 都 : 東京都 Tokyo
  • only 1 道 : 北海道 Hokkaido
  • only 2 府 :大阪府と京都府 Osaka and Kyoto
  • 43 県 i.e. every other prefecture in Japan.

For non-Japanese speakers the difference is almost unimportant. The difference in suffix represents the power each area had prior to WW2. Each kanji actually has quite an interesting history as to why they were chosen.

Modern use can simple be summarized:

  • 道 was initially used to represent a territory which Japan had conquered. The use of 道 is technically redundant as it simply means prefecture in modern use. One difference is that 北海道 is also a Chiho (地方) one of 8 regions of Japan and the Hokkaido prefecture government refer to themselves as the “Hokkaido Government”.
  • 都 which is used to represent the capital city- or the place where the imperial palace is. This use is quite modern. It was changed from 府 to 都 in 1943 to represent the power changes in the region.
  • 府 are metropolitan areas that previously held more power than they do today. Today’s meaning simply means prefecture, but the history of the kanji is important to residents in Osaka and Kyoto
  • 県 meaning prefecture technically comes from the classification of land areas which was started by the Portuguese when they arrived in Japan. Japan adapted this practice and the prefecture system was born.

I hope you found this interesting. Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: 芭蕉翁記念館 or Basho Memorial Museum

A extremely nice outside

While walking around Iga, I saw the Basho memorial museum and decided to visit and it was an interesting visit but I need to make my first warming:

If you are not proficient in Japanese, please do not visit.

The entire museum is in Japanese, both old and modern, and it the hall offers no help for non-Japanese speakers.

The displays did show some of Basho’s writings, along with pre-modern renga and haikai literature along with giving the modern Japanese equivalent nearby and was quite interesting. The problem was the display. Tickets cost 300 JPY and there is only on room which you can enter.

The books and small items on display were extremely good, better than they had any right to be. The concept of Basho is extremely important to Iga, as he was born in Iga. The park grounds do offer 2 more basho sites, which are a lot more interesting to look at.

Final thoughts, a good place to visit if you are good at Japanese. If you are not, consider purchasing a book or item- you will get more enjoyment out of it.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2: Japanese Halloween

Japanese vocabulary for Halloween

Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

Halloween is a very commercial time for the Japanese, especially those with children or those who work with children. Here’s a handy list of some spooky vocabulary for you.

Firstly, picture the scene you are at a ハロウェインパルティ(Halloween party) and you are really enjoying seeing all the 怖い飾り(spooky decorations) hanging all around you.

The problem with these 怖い飾り is that they are sub-dollar store quality. You look around and see a giant hairy くも(spider), in it’s 蜘蛛の巣(spider web)along with black コウモリ (bat- animal) small orange かぼちゃ (pumpkins). There are かぼちゃ everywhere! They are next to the キャンディー/ 菓子 (sweets or candy), and next to a TV where a ホラー映画 (horror film) is playing.

You’re actually a bit bored and you decide to mingle a bit, you have- like many others decided to 仮装する (wear a costume) and there are some good ones tonight! There is a ミイラ (mummy), ゾンビ (zombie), 魔女 (witch), an old fashioned おばけ (ghost) – is that a bed sheet?- not too original then; a 吸血鬼 [or the more updated  ヴァンパイア] (vampire), and finally is that several 骸骨 (skeletons) doing the 骸骨の踊り (skeleton dance) from the 1929 Disney short?!

What sort of party in what sort of 御化け屋敷 (haunted house) did you go to?

Japanese advertising: the need to google

When advertising in Japan, don’t worry about the website, worry about gooogle

Japanese has a non-latin based writing system which is unique, even though there are borrowed elements within. This did not pose a problem originally but this changed with the computer age.

Most websites use a Latin based Web address to search (exploringlanguages.org is a brilliant example) rather than a Arabic, Japanese, cyralic or other root based language. One reason for this is the adaptability the Latin based system, as it can spell out the phonics of other language systems.

This has effected Japanese in a particular way. While English language learning is heavily emphasised at schools here, not everyone understands the need; either globally or within Japan. This has left many people without the ability to read non-Japanese scripts–which brings us back google.

As any polygot knows, you can Google in other languages, without exception. Therefore what often happens in Japan is that advertisers don’t include their website address (due to the Latin based system ) but they instead include the information one is to Google to get to the website.

While it is a strange system, its the Japanese way and not likely to change any time soon.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Ninja 101

What’s in a name?

Ninja have not always been known as ninjas- it has differed due to time and place. But first what makes up the name Ninja?

Ninja or 忍者 is the on-yomi or Chinese reading of two kanji- 忍 meaning to hide, steal, endure, self-restraint and 者 meaning person or practiser. The name dates back to the 6th century with the kun-yomi 志能便-the original kanji for Shinobi, another name for a ninja written today using the following kanji: 忍び. But Shinobi was a shorting of the phrase 忍びの者, which when is reduced to the kanji reads 忍者 or Ninja.

But what about place (are you ready for the Japanese?) The following table lists all the different places that have either used a different name or have used the same names but with different kanji

京都・奈良  水破(すっぱ)・ 伺見(うかみ)・ 奪口(だっこう)・ 志乃比(しのび)
Kyoto/Nara Suppa, Ukami, Dakkou, shinobi
青森県   早道の者(はやみちのもの)・ 陰術(しのび)
Aomori Prefecture Hayamichinomono, Shinobi
宮城県   黒はばき(くろはばき)
Miyagi Prefecture Kurohabaki
神奈川県   草(くさ)・ かまり 物見(ものみ)・ 乱破(らっぱ)・ 突破(とっぱ)
Kanagawa Prefecture Kusa, Kamari, Monomi, Rappa, Toppa
東京   隠密(おんみつ)・ 御庭番(おにわばん)・ お庭番(おにわばん)
Tokyo Onmitsu, Oniwaban, Oniwaban
山梨県   透破(すっぱ)・透波(すっぱ)・三ツ者・出抜(すっぱ)
Yamanashi Prefecture Suppa, Suppa, Mitsumono, Suppa
愛知県   饗談 (きょうだん)
Aichi Prefecture Kyoudan
福井県   隠忍術(しのび)
Fukui Prefecture Shinobi
新潟県・富山県   軒猿(のきぎる)・郷導(きょうどう)・郷談(きょうだん)・間士(かんし)・聞物役(ききものやく)
Niigata Prefecture and Toyama Prefecture Nokigiru, Kyoudou, Kyoudan, Kanshi, Kikimonoyaku

In addition to this, different names appeared at different times and changed at different times. From the Asuka period (飛鳥時代) where Shinobi and Shyoutokutaishi (聖徳太子 the list above was not exhaustive), to the Nara Period (奈良時代) where Ukami was predominately used, to the Sengoku period where most other ones were used and finally to Edo period- the twilight of the ninja- where Oniwaban was introduced.

So, what’s in a name, as it turns out rather a lot. Each of the reading given (and there are further ones!) could be analysed, but not everyone would be interested in that so I’ll stop here.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.