Japanese cautions at stations

Today is the last day of September. I almost missed my deadline for this post, but I made it!

This is the out of blue, but do you know what “hyogo” are? They’re writing on posters that tries to convey messages to the public. In Japan, they’re usually illustrated with characters and put up at stations. You’ll know what I’m talking about as soon as you see one. The following is an example of one.

The Tokyo Transportation Bureau created this one. I found it on a bus and took its picture recently. In this poster, two strange creatures (not human beings) bump into each other on the platform. Also, the train has eyes and a mouth and is making a surprised expression. There are hyogo above and below the illustration. 
We Japanese have seen these all the time since childhood, so we don’t find them special, but don’t you feel this is a bit weird?
The author Haruki Murakami lamented once that there are too many hyogo in Japan.

By the way, I didn’t take this picture because I liked the poster, but because this hyogo has some grammatical points worth mentioning.
  1. nagara aruki
  2. kou naru kamo
  3. yame you
Do you know what “nagara aruki” (#1) is? This means walking on the platform while using your cell phone. It’s hard to see, but the character on the right side is looking at his red phone. He is focusing on his phone so much that he bumped into the person next to him.
Of course, you can use this grammar with expressions other than “while playing with your mobile phone” (keitai o ijirinagara). “While reading” (hon o yominagara) or “while being drunk” (yopparai nagara) are both types of “nagara walking” and could cause accidents.
The left part of this picture is cut off, but the English sentence says “No mobile phones and games while walking”

It seems many people think that it’s easy to use “nagara”, but I’ve realized that even advanced learners often misuse it. Everyone is convinced that “nagara” is the same as “while”! “Nagara” is certainly often translated as “while”. However, there is one important condition.
nagara: A person is doing two activities at the same time
Here are some examples of correct usage.

  • (Watashi wa) keitai o ijiri nagara, (watashi wa) aruku. (I walk while using a cell phone.) 
  • (Kare wa) ongaku o kiki nagara, (kare wa) unten suru. (He drives while listening to music.)
Here are some examples of mistakes.
  • (watashi wa) hon o yomi nagara, (kanojo) wa terebi o miteiru. (??) (She is watching TV while I am reading.)
  • Ame ga furi nagara, (watashi wa) hashitta. (??) (I ran while it was raining.)
Do you see the problems? The first example describes activities done by two different people. In the next one, “ame ga furu” (It is raining) is not the speaker’s action. As you probably noticed, you must have the same subject before and after "nagara".

Here are the corrected sentences:
  • Watashi ga hon o yondeiru aida/toki ni, kanojo wa terebi o miteiru.
  • Ame ga futteiru aida/toki ni watashi wa hashitta. Or: ame no naka, hashitta.
Next, kou naru kamo” (#2) indicates that this kind of result may happen because of “nagara walking”. "kamo" is the casual/short form of "kamo shiremasen".

Lastly, “yameyou” (#3) is the casual/short form of “yamemasho”. 

This is such a simple hyogo using only one kanji, but it includes three useful expressions! It’s a great one to use as Japanese learning material. Do you ever try to learn Japanese by reading hyogo or advertisements?

Anyway, when you put these three expressions together, it reads “Please stop walking while looking at your mobile phone. It may cause an accident.” Yes, this is true, but each of us just have to pay attention to our surroundings. I wonder how effective this hyogo is in decreasing the number of the accidents? 


Omissions in Japanese

It’s summer now! Or is it the end of summer? Most of you have already come back from your vacation. I’m going to take mine after summer ends. I’ve chosen where I want to go, but haven’t planned anything yet, so I don’t know if I can actually go or not. If I make it there, I’ll let you know.

Today, I’m thinking about omissions in Japanese. We even leave out “watashi” or “anata” in Japanese sentences. You often wonder what’s hidden in these sentences when you hear or read Japanese, don’t you?

First of all, I’ll write about the omission of subjects. When you speak with another person, you know you are either talking about yourself or him/her even if there are no subjects in your sentences.

But, when you start talking about a third person, you definitely mention his or her name the first time they come up. Otherwise, you don't know who is being spoken about. And then you may keep talking about this person without mentioning their name again. This is probably not always the case, though.

However, why do the speakers know who they are talking about? The reason lies in verbs. There are some verbs with which it is obvious who the subject is.

Here are three examples.
1. ageru, morau and kureru: For example, if you use “kureru”, the subject can’t be yourself
2. keigo (polite Japanese): For example, if you use “irassharu”, the subject can’t be yourself.
3. iimashita and itteimashita (someone said): For example, if you use “itteta”, the subject generally  can’t be yourself. (However, when it’s used to mean “I was saying”, the subject can be the speaker.)
(I won’t discuss here why the subject can’t be the speaker when “kureru” and “irassharu” are used, but if you want to know, please ask me in the comments below.)

The point is that you can often guess who does the action from the verb even though the subject is omitted. Therefore, it is important to listen or read carefully to notice which verbs are used.

Next, I’ll introduce very short sentences. Some words are omitted from these. I am sure those living in Japan have heard this sort of thing many times.
1. watashi wa beer.
2. Nihon wa nagai n des ka?
A literal English translation of “watashi wa beer” is “I am beer.” This doesn’t make any sense, but if you say this when you order beer at restaurant, it does make sense. The complete version of this sentence is 
“Watashi wa beer ni shimas.”
Here “shimas” means “choose” or “decide”, so the sentence means “I choose beer among the drinks on the menu.” The verb is omitted because you can guess what the speaker is trying to say from the situation even without the verb.

A literal English translation of the next example, “Nihon wa nagai n des ka?" is “Is Japan long?” Japan is long indeed from north to south, but the actual meaning of this question is “Have you been in Japan long?”
The complete version of this sentence is 
anata ga Nihon n iru no(jikan) wa nagai n des ka?”
Half of the sentence was omitted, but if you ask this to someone whom you’ve met for the first time, it makes sense.

In the last example, nothing is left out grammatically, but there is no verb.
Q. mou Tanaka san ni aimashita ka? (Have you already met Tanaka san?)
A. mada des. (Not yet.)
This “mada desu” implies “mada atteimasen” (I have not met). Although the actual meaning is “mada atteimasen”, which is a negative sentence, “mada desu” appears in an affirmative form. I think this is interesting.
Basically, “mada + desu” has the meaning of “mada … shiteimasen” (haven’t done yet). You can guess which verb is implied from the previous sentence.

This is a bit off-topic, but I heard a funny conversation when I went to dinner with my bilingual friend the other day. She was talking in both Japanese and English and he person at the counter asked her, “Nihon wa nagai n des ka?” Her English is perfect, but she looks completely Japanese. I found it funny to ask this question to a Japanese person. I think it is more natural to ask her, “kaigai wa nagakatta n des ka?” (Did you stay overseas long?) 


"Shirimasu" (know) is never used.

I’m sorry that I didn’t write an English post in May.
June is the rainy season in Japan. The other day I was thinking that it hasn’t rained a lot in Tokyo this year … and then I got caught in a torrential downpour. All of sudden it started pouring and I got soaked, but it wasn’t even raining at the next train station! As it gets hotter, we’ll have more and more local downpours.

Today I’m going to write about how to use “shiru” (shirimasu). First of all, I want to make sure you know something: “I know” is not “shirimasu”!
I know. shitteimasu
I knew.:shitteimashita
Do you know? :shitteimasu ka
I don’t know. :shirimasen
I didn’t know. :shirimasen deshita 
Te-form is used for affirmative sentences and in questions, and masu-form is used for negative sentences. Why is that? First, I would like you to understand the difference between te-form and masu-form.


  1. indicates an action in progress  [example] ima watashi wa asagohan o tabeteimasu. (I am having breakfast now.)
  2. indicates the continuation of the state that has happened some time ago.  [example] watashi wa Tokyo ni sundeimasu. (I live in Tokyo.)
  3. indicates a habitual action  [example] nihon de gakko wa 4gatsu ni hajimarimasu. (The school year starts in April in Japan.) 

Let’s go back to “shiru”, then. The English definition of “know” is as follows:
to have something in one’s mind or memory as a result of experience or learning or information
This means that the state of “I know” has been continuing since someone came to know something sometime in the past. Te-form #2 applies here. 

The example I mentioned for te-form #2, “Tokyo ni sundeimasu”, would be translated as “I live in Tokyo” in English. Because this describes the current state starting from the past, we use te-form. If you say, “Tokyo ni sumimasu”, it would be something that is going to happen in the future (masu-form #1).

The next point is the difference between “shiru” and “wakaru”.
I think many of you have already noticed that Japanese use “wakarimasen” instead of “shirimasen” when they say “I don’t know.” For example:
Q. Kono hen ni yubinkyoku ga arimas ka? (Is there any post office around here?)
A. Sumimasen, wakarimasen. (Sorry, I don’t know.)
In this case, “wakarimasen” doesn’t mean “I don’t understand your question”. It means “I don’t know where it is”. Japanese often use “wakaru” in this way, so you must figure out what it is meant from the context. 


Every day is "mai nichi", but every child is NOT "mai kodomo".

The sakura season went by quickly and the weather has been unstable in Tokyo since then. We often have rainy days and sometimes have windy days too. Spring weather changes a lot. Did you enjoy the sakura this year? 

Today we are studying “mai” and “every”. “Mainichi” or “maishu” appear at the beginning of Japanese textbooks since they are easy and useful words. However, it isn’t always the case that “mai = every”. Advanced learners have probably already noticed this.
mai: something always happens at a certain time
every: regular occurrence at specified intervals
Only when these two definitions coincide is it possible to translate “mai” as “every” and vice versa.
As you know, “mai” is prefixed to another word when it is related to time, such as in “mai nichi” (every day), “mai asa” (every morning), “mai toshi” (every year), “mai kai” (every time) and so on. Other examples include “mai shoku” (every meal) or “mai shiai” (every sports match). These have the meaning of “every time”, so you can use “mai”.

Also, "every five minutes" is “go fun goto” in Japanese. This usage can be applied to other time-related words as well.

What about other cases? Let's study some definitions and examples from an English dictionary (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary).
every: refer to groups of three or more which are seen as wholes
I think “subete”, “zenbu” or “minna” work well in this case. I will translate the following sentences. (Keep in mind that these are my own translations and there may be other ways to translate this text as well.)

  • Every child in the class passed the examination. (kono class no kodomo tachi wa minna shiken ni gokaku shita)
  • I've got every record she has ever made. (kanojo ga ima madeni tsukutta (dashita) record o subete motteiru.)
You can also say “dono ________ mo”.

  • class no dono kodomo tachi mo shiken ni gokaku shita.
  • kanojo ga dashita dono record mo motteiru/ kanojo ga dashita record wa dore mo mottieru.

What happens when “every” takes on the meaning of “each”?
every/each: every person, thing, group, etc., considered individually
I would say sorezore” or “ichi X ichi(one X one X).

  • He enjoyed every minute of his holiday. (kare wa yasumi no ippun ippun wo tanoshinda.)
  • They were watching her every movement. (kare tachi wa kanojo no ugoki o hitotsu hitotsu miteita.)
  • Each of us has a company car. (watashi tachi wa sorezore kaisha no kuruma o motteiru.)
  • He gave us 5 pounds each. (kare wa watashi tachi hitori hitori ni go pondo o kureta./ kare wa watshi tachi ni go pondo zutsu kureta.)
maitoshi haru ni saku sakurawa nihonjin ni totte taisetsuna mono des. 
sore wa tada no hana dewa naku, toki no nagare ya jinsei no henka nado o tsuyoku kanjisaseru mono des.
hitotsu hitotsu no chiisai hana wa jinsei no ichi byo ichi byo ni mo niteiru to watashi wa omoimas.
sakura wa nihon ju no dono machi ni mo uetearu node, doko ni sundeitemo, nihonjin wa sakura to tomoni seicho shitieru no des.

(Sakura, which bloom every spring, are important to Japanese people. 

They are not just flowers: they strongly remind us of the flow of time and the changes in life. 
I think every small flower represent a second of our life. 
Sakura trees have been planted in every town in Japan, so Japanese people grow up with sakura wherever we live.)

I should have posted this earlier. The Golden Week has just begun today!  Happy Golden Week, everyone in Japan !!


I hope (part 1)

The weather in Tokyo is getting warmer little by little, but it is still cold. I hope you haven’t caught a cold. I have almost gotten sick twice this winter but took care of it immediately, so I got better soon and have been well. Every time I feel a little sick, I take some medicine, go to bed early, and sleep a lot that day. This makes my condition better the next morning. I haven’t gotten a serious cold for last five or six years.
Some people are reluctant to take medicine, but I think that it is better for your body to take medicine when necessary.

“I hope” is one of the most common expressions that non-Japanese people want to know soon after starting to learn Japanese. I usually simply teach “to ii” to a beginner, but this is a tentative expression because “to ii” is not always used in the same way as “I hope” in English. For example, there is the common English phrase “I hope you had a good weekend”. You can’t directly translate it into Japanese. Thus, I am writing about this point today.

First, translate the next English sentence to Japanese: "I hope it will be warm tomorrow." 
Ashita wa atatakai to ii.
Ashita wa atatakai” is a speaker’s hope. This part should end with the dictionary form of verbs or the short forms of nouns and adjectives. “To” indicates “if”—essentially, a hypothetical.
So, if you directly translate this Japanese sentence, it is "If it is warm tomorrow, it would be good."
The dictionary shows “nozomu” or “kibou suru” as the definition of hope, but these words are not used in this situation. In Japanese, we just use an “if” expression. We don’t strongly show the speaker’s desire. I think that is interesting.

Let’s look at more examples.
"I hope you (will) have a nice trip." This expresses hope for events that will happen in the future. In Japanese:

  • Tanoshii ryoko da to ii ne.  (It would be good if it is a nice trip.)
  • Ryoko ga tanoshii to ii ne.   (It would be good if a trip is nice.)
  • Tanoshii ryoko ni naru to ii ne.  (It would be good if it will be a nice trip.)
Next is a hope for events happening now. "I hope you are having a nice trip."
  • (anata ga) ryoko o tanoshindeiru to ii na.  (It would be good if you are enjoying the trip.)
This hypothetical sentence can be used to assume something for the future and the present, but not for the past. Basically, no past tense verb can precede “to”.

You must be wondering how the Japanese express "I hope you had a nice trip."
  • Tanoshii ryoko datta? (Was it a nice trip?)
  • Ryoko wa tanoshikatta? (Was the trip nice?)
  • Ryoko o tanoshinda? (Did you enjoy the trip?)
Ask if it was nice or not. This is the best way. Very simple and easy.

While I was thinking about “I hope”, I realized that it is such a complicated expression that I can’t finish writing about it this time, so I am also going to write about it in the next few posts. This is the end for today. See you next time.


be boring - be bored / surprise - be surprised

For the first post of 2015 I am going to explain about how to use words describing one’s feelings. First of all, please look at the two sentences below.

  1. a-, kono eiga wa tsumaranai na.
  2. a-, tsumaranai na.
In English,
  1. (sigh) This movie is boring.
  2. (sigh) I am bored.
Isn’t it strange that both “boring” and “bored” are “tsumaranai” in Japanese? Would the second sentence be “I am boring”? Let’s think about sentence 2 a little more. I think that it is a shorter version of “I think the current situation is boring.” This person feels that the current situation is boring because of certain reasons, such as there being nothing to do nor anyone to play with.

Let’s have a look at some other words.
  1. I am surprised.
  2. This news surprised me.
  3. I was surprised by this news.
If you translate these to Japanese,
  1. (watashi wa) bikkuri shita / bikkuri shiteiru.
  2. kono news wa watashi o bikkuri saseta.
  3. (watashi wa) kono news ni bikkuri shita / saserareta.
In sentence 2, “bikkuri saseru”, the causative form of “bikkuri suru”, is used. In sentence 3, you could use either “bikkuri shita” or “bikkuri saserareru”, which is the causative-passive form. The causative-passive form expresses a stronger level of surprise.
In fact, sentence 2 is not that common. Sentence 3 is used more often, showing that Japanese people generally prefer sentences that start with "watashi" (I).

By the way, “You scared me!” would be “bikkuri shita! / bikkuri sasenai de yo!” when translated to natural Japanese.

I will now introduce another example which has the same pattern as “bikkuri suru”.
  1. I am annoyed. (watashi wa iraira shiteiru.)
  2. He annoys me. (kare wa watashi o iraira saseru.)
  3. I was annoyed by that fly. (ano hae ni iraira shita / saserareta.)
There are cases in which both an adjective and a verb can be used to express one’s feelings. For example, “kanashii” and “kanashimu”.
  1. I am sad. (watashi wa kanashii.)
  2. I feel sad about his misfortune. (kare no fuko o kanshindeiru.)
  3. He made her sad. (kare wa kanojo o kanashimaseta.)
When you use the verb, as in sentence 2, the object takes “o”. The causative-passive form, “kanashimaserareru”, is never used. This pattern applies to “ureshii” and “yorokobu” as well.

As we have various feelings, there are many words to express your emotions: nervous, excited, disappointed, upset, embarrassed, etc. Please try to remember how to use these words and express your feelings in Japanese.

The year 2014 has ended and the year 2015 has just begun. If you are feeling satisfied without any regrets from last year and many hopes for this year, that’s wonderful. Last year I myself have experienced enjoyable, sad, good and bad things as usual. I hope that 2015 will be an even better year!! 


2015, the year of the sheep

Happy New Year! Akemashite omedeto gozaimas.
What is your new year's resolution? I am sure that some of you have decided to study Japanese harder. Gambatte kudasai !
Mines are to work more, to study this language more as a teacher and to paint pictures (for a hobby). This year I am going to be more creative. I expect painting will be changing my viewpoint.

minasan, kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimas.

Minako Okamoto