yoi otoshi o!

In Western countries you say “Happy new year” or “Happy holidays” around this time of the year. In Japanese there are two expressions equivalent of “Happy new year”.
akemashite omedeto.
“Akemashite” means that a new year, day or season begins. Therefore, this is a greeting for celebrating a new year start. "Omedeto" is congratulations.
yoi otoshi o.
“Mukaete kudasai” should follow this, but it is omitted. The meaning of “mukaete”(mukaeru) is that the time is approaching. "Yoi" is good. "Toshi" is a year and it is preceded by honorific "o". The whole sentence conveys that you spend a good year end and greet the new year.

You should not say “akemashite omedeto” before the 1st of January. You say “yoi otoshi o” instead of good bye when you see off your friends or colleagues at the end of the year.
I should have written this post earlier, but you still can say “yoi otoshi o” today and tomorrow!

Thank you very much for reading my blog this year. I do appreciate it! I have made up my mind to write the English version more.
dewa, minasan, yoi otoshi o (よい おとしを). rainen mata aimasho!


sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, umami + shibumi

We, human beings, can recognize the six basic tastes: amami (sweetness), sanmi (sourness), shioaji (saltiness), nigami (bitterness) and umami (savory taste). Moreover, there are other common adjectives to describe tastes such as karai (spicy), oishii (delicious), mazui (awful tasting), shibui (bitter, strong). In each country, people eat many different cuisines, but these basic tastes are common among human beings. So, I don’t need to explain about them, but I will simply explain about umami and shibumi.

Umami was discovered in Japanese cuisine by a Japanese person. In 1906, this Japanese scientist discovered umami in kombu seaweed. After that it was discovered in dried bonito flakes and shitake mushroom. Today we can taste umami in broth from kombu seaweed, dried bonito flakes and shitake.

Also, shibumi is an original word in Japanese. If you think of shibui food or drink, it would be a strong tea or a tannic taste of full-bodied red wine. In addition, we have a shibui persimmon in Japan. When you eat unsweet persimmon, it would be such a terrible taste that you can’t eat it anymore. That is shibui tatste, but if you have not experienced it, it is hard to imagine the taste. So, please try it if you have a chance it is really bad though…)

When you change the last letter “mi” of these words for tastes to “i”, the nouns turn to adjectives. And, the adjectives have other meanings than just tastes. I will introduce them today.

1. amai (sweet)
I wrote about this before, so please see my old post.

2. umai (savory, delicious)
When umami turns to umai, it means the same as oishi. Men can use umai istead of oishi.

Other meaning A: skillfull
Example: kare wa uta ga umai. (He is good at singing.)

Other meaning B: in a satisfactory state
Example: saikin shigoto ga umaku itteiru. (Lately my work has been going well.)
*umaku is an adverb.

3. oishi (delicious)

Other meaning: in a satisfactory state with stronger connotation of being profitable
Example: sono toshi wa oishi hanashi da. (That investment sounds good.)

4. mazui (awful tasting)

Other meaning: awkward, unlucky
Example: sono hanashi wa tannin ni kikareru to, mazui. (If another person hears this story, it would be bad.)

5. nigai (bitter)

Other meaning; trying, hard
Example: ano shippai wa nigai keien datta. (That failure was a hard experience.)

6. karai (spicy, hot)

Other meaning; harsh, hard
Example: ano sensei wa kibishikute, seito e no hyoka mo karai. (That teacher is strict and his evaluation to students is also severe.)

7. suppai (sour)
Basically, suppai means only a sour taste, but there is one expression.

Example: kuchi o suppaku shite iu.watashi wa annani kuchi o suppaku shite itta noni, anata wa wakatte kurenakatta. (Although I have told you this so many times, you didn’t understand me.) *suppaku is an adverb.
Meaning: having to give advice so many times

8. shibui (astringent)

Other meaning A: I wrote this before, but shibui is a word unique to Japanese and it describes a Japanese aesthetic sense. With this sense we feel beauty in a quiet and refined atmosphere, not seek for beauty in brightness. We find shadows beautiful, not light and we find older people attractive, not youth.
Example: kono heya no interior wa grey ya beige ga ookute, shibui funiki da. (There is a lot of grey and beige in this room, so the interior has a tasteful atmosphere.)

Other meaning B: serious and unsmiling in appearance (I think this meaning is related to an unpleasant feeling when you eat something astringent.)
Example: kare wa tomodachi no warui uwasa o kiite, shibui kao o shita. (He had a sour expression on his face because he heard a bad rumor about his friend.)

Today we know that every cuisine has umami in it, and it is especially strong in Asian food. Therefore, Japanese knew from experiences that the pleasant savory taste (umami) is condensed in broth (dashi) which is the most important element in Japanese cuisine. As a foodie, I am very proud of the fact that a Japanese person discovered “umami”.
And, the Japanese feeling of finding beauty in shibui things is expressed in “wabi sabi”, one aspect of Japanese cultures. Also, the Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki , made an interesting analysis of this sense in his book “陰翳礼讃” (In praise of shadows). I recommend this book to understand Japanese aesthetics.


see a doctor / isha o miru?

Hello everyone, long time no see! It is now October. Long summer is completely over in Japan, It is sad that summer will be gone, but I am happy with this coolness.

Today I will write about one example that you can’t translate directly between Japanese and English. This is an easy sentence, but even advanced students may get it wrong sometimes. Even when someone makes the mistake, the people who hear it probably won’t correct it because they understand what the person means.

Isha o miru.
Of course, it is "I will see a doctor”. But, this is wrong because you can’t always translate “see” into “miru”. Especially when “see” has a meaning of “meeting”, use it carefully.
1) be near and recognize somebody, meet somebody by chance
Example1: I saw your mother in town today.

Meaning 1: Kyo machi de anata no okasan o mita yo. → I only saw her. I didn’t speak to her. It implies my meeting her was by chance (a coincidence).

Meaning 2: Kyo machi de anata no okasan ni guzen atta yo. → I spoke to her even though it was only a greeting. It also implies my meeting her was by chance (a coincidence).

2) visit, have a meeting with somebody
Example: I am seeing my lawyer tomorrow.

Meaning: Ashita bengoshi ni au.

3) receive a call or visit
Example: She is too ill to see anyone.
Meaning: Kanojo wa guai ga waru sugite, dare ni mo aenai.

4) spend time in the company of somebody
Example: She doesn't want to see him any more.
Meaning: Kanojo wa kare ni mou aitakunai.

So, when you have a purpose such as talking or doing something with someone, you use “hito ni au”. “hito o miru” is an action when you become aware of someone by using your eyes. Therefore, It is ok to translate "I will see a doctor” into “isha ni au”, but I think it is more common to say “isha ni iku” or “byoin ni iku”.
Also, “a doctor examines a patient” (to assess their condition of health or illness) is “isha ga kanja o miru” We use a different kanji from the normal “miru” for this “miru”, but it is an example of the action “miru”. We think of a human body as a thing in this case.
Furthermore, I noticed something from talking with non-Japanese people. “Hospital” and “clinic” are differentiated in English. Although there is a difference in definitions in Japanese, we don’t care about the difference between “byoin” (hospital) and “shinryojo” (clinic) in daily conversation. Actually, I think we often say “byoin ni itta” even when we went to a clinic.


endangered languages

For those who took the JLPT on July 1, otsukare sama deshita. Was it hard?
The number of native Japanese speakers is approximately 130,000,000 based on the population of Japan. It is the 9th largest language in the world. (Chinese is the first and English is the second.) But, Japanese is spoken only in Japan. So, I don’t know if it is a useful language.

I read an article in National Geographic the other day, and was very surprised to read, “One language disappears every two weeks from the planet.”
Today there are 6000-7000 languages in the world, but half of them will disappear in 100 years. UNESCO announced that about 2500 languages are in danger. 583 are critically endangered. One of them is Ainu, whose speakers live in Hokkaido. Surprisingly, no more than 15 people can speak it.

There are seven other languages in Japan which are categorized as either “severely endangered” or “definitely endangered”.

  1. Yaeyama-go
  2. Yonaguni-go
  3. Okinawa-go
  4. Amami-go
  5. Kunigami-go
  6. Miyako-go
  7. Hachijo-go
The seventh, Hachijo-go, is the language of Hachijo island, located 287km south of Tokyo, but the other languages are from islands near Okinawa or Kagoshima. UNESCO approved them as independent languages, not dialects.

While it is embarrassing, I did not know there were any non-standard languages in Japan besides the Ainu and Okinawa languages. However, if you think in terms of geography, in the past people rarely came and went from islands, so it was natural for them to be able to develop their own original language.

But, the law of the jungle works in the language world, too. As countries unite, the main language replaces others. If you speak Japanese in Japan, it is easy to live there. If you look at the rest of the world, English, Chinese, Hindi, etc. work the same. In fact, there becomes no need to speak minor languages.

Air travel and the internet have become prevalent in our contemporary life. This makes the world smaller and smaller. Also, as urbanization continues, minor cultures become similar to main cultures. We shouldn’t forget that there are important things disappearing behind those changes.

By the way, I went to Disneyland with my family when I was in elementary school. One of the attractions in Disneyland is called “It’s a small world”. Visitors go around the attraction by boat. There were many dolls in ethnic dresses lined everywhere. They sing “It’s a small world”. A world peace was created there.

It was Tokyo Disneyland, so of course that song was in Japanese. The dolls sang “sekai wa semai” (The world is small). I remember feeling strange about this Japanese even though I was still young. I was wondering, “Is the world small? The world is huge, so isn’t it interesting? Shouldn’t the places I have never seen or never been to be in the huge world?”

Moreover, “semai” usually is used with a negative connotation. For example, “uchi ga semai.” (The house is small.) or “michi ga semai.” (The road is narrow.)  Therefore, I found it strange that the dolls were singing cheerfully “sekai wa semai.”

The smaller the world becomes, the more difficult it is to keep one’s own culture. It may be inevitable.