How2: Japanese Halloween

Japanese vocabulary for Halloween

Photo by Rahul on

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?

It’s coming…

It’s the c word… Christmas

The selection at Nitori (review to come)

When I was last in Japan 5 years ago as a 留学生 (ryuugakusei or foreign exchange student) in Nagoya, Christmas seemed more like a passing interest- it was something un-Japanese and not really important. Only Daiso had anything christmas related; not anymore.

The Christmas industry in Japan has exploded. Every shop from convenience stores offering food to order, clothes stores with Christmas related items to furniture stores offering decorations.

Some of the products at Nafco

You cannot even escape it in Aeon. Although they have no current visible christmas products, they are self advertising products to order with Christmas music playing, which is a bit too soon.

Never mind 七五三 (shichigosan, a festival where children go to shrines, post to come) on the 15th, I imagine that Christmas fever will just intensify starting November 1st.

For the moment, Bah humbug.

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.

The problem with learning Japanese at University

For those that have been bitten by the Anime and Mange bug, or those who have fallen in love with the idea of Japan, studying Japanese at university and moving to Japan may be a no brainer but let me ask you one question- if your dream is to move to Japan, what will you do to live?

If you answer is a half-hearted teach or a depressed groan with translation escaping your lips, you may want to rethink your study plans- unless you want to be caught in the ALT/ English conversation school cycle.

Why do I say this? Because of one reason, I’ve seen it happen many times. Japan is interested in internationalisation, at least international communication- it is one reason why there are so many English conversation schools and why so much emphasis is put on English education in the school system. But understanding Japanese is not required for these jobs. All teaching is done via emersion with the Japanese teacher acting as a translator if needed.

Did you see the issue with that last paragraph? Japanese is not needed. This is further compounded with one issue- in order to acquire a visa, ANY degree is accepted.

Let’s say you want to escape the ALT cycle in Japan, and you have studied Japanese the problem when you look for jobs is that most jobs for foreigners in Japan are looking for a specific skill set. Did you degree include programming, engineering, biology, chemistry or anything scientific? No?! You are then looking at entry level jobs or office work.

But what about translation, you may ask. Most translation jobs in Japan require experience in the field you want to enter i.e. medical experience for medical translation, law experience for law translation etc.

What’s the solution? Another degree (this is the option I took)? Or perhaps (if you can) change your degree focus slightly (cultural anthropology or international relation and Japanese etc) to something that includes another skill set. If you don’t and translation doesn’t excite you and nor does being a pronunciation parrot, you’ll be heading back home within a year or be spending even more to fix a mistake.

What do you think? Any suggestions or advise?

As always happy exploring.

Why Japanese people?

For anyone that is familiar with Japanese culture, “Why Japanese people” is a throwback to Atsugiri Jason who initially featured on the TV programme  ‘Sokuhou! Ariyoshi no o-warai daitouryousenkyo 2014,’ and is still being referenced today.

But when considering Japanese its self, why Japanese people is a good starting point.

Japanese is a mix of Chinese characters, naturally developed script (hiragana and katakana) and loanwords. Which makes it seem like a bit of a mess and it can be at times.

Kanji, the famous symbols from China and used by the Japanese for about 2000 years- which is nothing considering that Japanese far predates this date. The symbols use was changed to fit the Japanese language more effectively. So while Chinese is more like a western language in its construction (subject-verb-object language), Japanese is not. Japanese is a subject-object-verb language and traditional use of Kanji is remarkably hard to understand. Additionally, in early times, Kanji would often not fit with Japanese mora ( a sound used to denote a ‘letter’ in Japanese), so something had to change.

Japanese, therefore, had a need and hiragana (developed by women in the Hei-an period as they were not allowed to learn Kanji- or be allowed the same level of education as men) filled that gap. Hiragana is used to write okurigana, kana which allows various grammatical forms to be expressed- from particles to adjectival endings.

Next, the language of men- katakana and strangely the language of cultural divide. Katakana has to be split into pre- and postwar katakana. Modern katakana is used for transcription of load words into Japanese and also used to allow words to look more non-Japanese (used quite often in advertisements)- this is where modern Katakana’s use mostly ends.

Historical Katakana is slightly more interesting. In more recent times, it was used interchangeable with hiragana for okurigana, creating at times strange looking sentences and texts. But historically is more interesting still.

The change from a kanji-based system to a kana based, was more defied by the reduction in China’s influence on Japanese culture. One positive of this was the increase in literacy rates in Japan. The literacy rate further increased with the popularity of famous poems, one of them being “The Tosa Diary” (土佐日記) by Ki no Tsurayuki (紀貫之).

Lastly why not mention the origin of Katakana? Well there are 2 main theoires of its delelopment. One is by Buddhist scholars in the 9th centry as they helped transccribe texts from China- this theory is accepted by most. But some research does suggest that it may have orginiated from 8th centry Buddhist texts from Korea instead.

There is a lot more about the history of written Japanese, but this should give you an insight into the world of written Japanese.

As always, enjoy discovering more