• ゲームやサムライに興味を持って来日

    [From August Issue 2013]


    Alberto SESTI
    Giulia VALENTI

    Alberto SESTI and Giulia VALENTI came to Japan in March and are studying Japanese at TOPA 21st Century Language School in Koenji, Tokyo. Alberto and Giulia are both from Rome, Italy. Alberto played Japanese games as a child and this led to his interest in Japanese culture. He studied Japanese language and history in college.

    Giulia was interested in Japan’s samurai, and she studied karate for more than ten years in Italy. After developing a fondness for Japanese pop culture, including fashion and visual-kei bands, she decided to go to Japan to study. Both share an interest in cosplay. They often cosplay as characters from the popular game “Final Fantasy.”

    “Before coming to Japan, my family and I were worried because the Italian media had reported that the water in Tokyo was contaminated after the Great East Japan Earthquake. But I was relieved to hear from a Japanese friend that these news reports were exaggerated and I didn’t change my resolve to go to Japan,” says Alberto.

    The two of them study at school every day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Giulia says kanji is the hardest to study. Alberto says kanji is his forte, but he has a hard time studying sentence patterns. In addition to studying at school, they also learn a lot of Japanese by watching Japanese dramas. “I’ve recently been watching ‘Last Cinderella’ and ‘35-year-old High School Student,’” says Alberto.

    Alberto and Giulia live together in Toshima Ward. They spend a lot of time together watching TV and going to their local Book Off (a store selling used books and CDs). “Japanese houses are small. We quarrel from time to time, maybe because we are in the same room most of the time,” they say, half joking.

    On her days off, Giulia often goes to Harajuku and Shibuya. “In Japan there are many people who enjoy all kinds of fashions. I like that it’s acceptable for people to dye their hair all kinds of colors,” she says. Giulia cooks both Italian and Japanese food. “I like things like curry rice, soba, omuraisu (omelet with rice) and oyako-don (chicken and egg on rice).”

    Alberto says he often goes to Akihabara on his days off. “Wherever you go in Italy, the landscape looks the same, but Japan has all kinds of scenery, old towns, new towns. I never get bored.” Alberto says he wants to get a job with a Japanese game developer in the future. Giulia wants to find a job in Japan related to fashion.

    TOPA 21st Century Language School

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi













    Read More
  • 日本で日本語を学ぶ

    [From February Issue 2013]


    The best way to learn a language is to live in the country where it’s spoken. In Japan, most learners go to a Japanese language school. Japan has many such schools. And there are a lot of learning materials.

    The Kichijoji Language School in Musashino City, Tokyo, has four terms a year. It has about 100 students, though this depends on the time of year. Courses are run for eight different levels. In addition to these, there are also private lessons and preparation courses for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

    “The goal of the Kichijoji Language School is to get you to be able to produce the language that you’ve studied,” says principal TSUCHIYA Iwao. “Teaching only to read or only to write isn’t effective. So we put emphasis on conversation practice where students use what they’ve learned at each level. Living in Japan, they hear honorific language used in everyday conversations. Since it’s hard for them to use such language, they practice it until they can.”

    One good thing about Japanese language schools is that the students can learn about Japanese culture and make friends through school events. The Kichijoji Language School offers excursions for those who wish to participate. Excursions are to well-known spots or places where they can learn Japanese history, places like Kamakura or Mt. Takao. Events like yearend parties or summer evening festivals, commonly held at Japanese companies or schools, are also organized. “Sometimes students organize their own trips and invite along classmates,” says Tsuchiya.

    At the Kichijoji Language School, about 20% of graduates go on to higher education institutions in Japan. “Some go to Japanese college or vocational school while others continue their studies in their own countries. We had a student who came to Japan to work after working as a cartoon animator in his country.”


    Evergreen Language School


    The Evergreen Language School is in Meguro Ward, Tokyo. In addition to running courses for those wishing to enter higher education, the school runs standard courses, two or three days a week courses and private lessons. Though it varies over the course of the year, the total number of students is currently about 20. The school takes part in events held in shopping arcades, holds speech contests and organizes cultural exchanges with private high schools.

    “It’s been 25 years since we founded our Japanese language school and during that time, people from 70 countries have studied with us,” says principal NAITO Sachiko. “Currently we only have a few students because we haven’t been recruiting overseas at study abroad centers.” The Evergreen Language School was founded in 1949 as an English conversation school. “We give lessons that are tailored to suit our students’ needs. In terms of Japanese lessons, five years ago the ambassador to Senegal studied with us every day for a year and a half and after this, ties between Japan and Senegal were strengthened,” says Naito.

    “We had a case in which a German who had come to Japan to start a headhunting business was transferred to our school from the Japanese language department of a famous private university. After graduation, some students stay in Japan to go on to higher education, to work, or to start a business. I’m glad they are active in so many areas.”


    Academy of Language Arts


    “Since we have students of so many different nationalities, I’ve often noticed a difference in each student’s background and general knowledge,” says KUROKAWA Hikaru who is an administrator for the Academy of Language Arts (Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo). The school has about 100 students and average class sizes of about 12.

    “We offer Japanese language classes that focus on improving communication skills in conversation, in conjunction with using a textbook we have lots of discussions, debates and pair work. I’m happiest when I see students making progress who didn’t speak a word before,” says Kurokawa.

    The advantage of studying Japanese in Japan is of course that you have more opportunities to engage in conversations in Japanese. When you go out, most people on the street are speaking Japanese. Most station names are written in kanji, but they are often also written in hiragana and the roman alphabet. You can practice reading those names.

    Watching TV is another effective way to learn. Advanced learners can pick up common Japanese expressions as well as words that have recently entered the language. Advanced learners can also learn about what’s happening in Japan and study the Japanese way of thinking. Beginners are ought to watching news shows with sign language. As they are aimed at people with hearing difficulties, the announcers speak slowly and the subtitles are accompanied by hiragana text. It’s possible to learn Japanese conversation while at the same time enjoying dramas and animations.

    For those who like to sing, karaoke is another good way to learn. The lyrics are shown on screen. So you don’t fall behind, the letters of the lyrics change color to indicate which part you should be singing. It’s important to choose slow tunes as most new hit songs have many words to pronounce in quick succession and are hard to sing.

    Working full time or part time is also a good way to learn. With your Japanese colleagues, you not only talk about work but also chat, so your vocabulary grows. At work, you are obliged to use honorific language which many foreigners tend to avoid. It is good practice. However, you need to be careful because, depending on the type of visa you have, the occupation you can have and hours you can work may be restricted.


    Japanese textbook section at a bookstore / Manga section


    Large bookstores often have a section containing textbooks for learning Japanese in which books for all levels are sold. Those bookstores also stock useful learning materials, such as cards for memorizing kanji. If you go to the children’s book section, you’ll find many easy, useful books such as illustrated dictionaries and picture books.

    Manga are also excellent materials for study. Most manga are covered in plastic film, so you can’t see the contents before buying. Some popular ones, however, come with samples that show what kind of manga it is. Manga cafes stock a wide range of comic books for you to browse. There it’s possible to choose a title based on whether the kanji has hiragana readings and on the kind of language used.

    Kichijoji Language School
    Evergreen Language School
    Academy of Language Arts
    Shinjuku Main Store, Kinokuniya

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo




















    Read More
  • 人づきあいから学んだ語学

    [From June Issue 2012]



    New Zealander Carl ROBINSON is the CEO of Jeroboam Co., Ltd., a wine importing business based in Japan. “In the wine business,” he says, “the people you meet are happy to see you.” Being a social animal, he’s just as happy to meet people. A natural communicator, since coming to Japan in 1990, Robinson acquired his language more through immersing himself socially, than studying textbooks.

    “I still think immersion is a good thing because you just have to figure it out,” he says. Robinson originally came to Japan with his wife for a working holiday. One option was to stay in Tokyo as English teachers – they could make a little more money, but maybe experience less of the language and the culture. Instead, they did the exact opposite: for six months they lived as the only foreigners in a small town in Oita Prefecture.

    “It was certainly tough not having anyone to help you, but it was also very, very satisfying once you started to realize that people could understand you.” Robinson admits he’s no “kanji freak” totally focused on studying, so ultimately, the desire to interact drove him to improve his Japanese. “I certainly wanted to communicate with the people I was working with and the people I was seeing every day.”

    After that half year, Robinson and his wife moved to the UK. But they still loved Japan, and six years later they arranged a transfer for Robinson’s wife to her employer’s Tokyo office. Robinson, who had been working in the wine business, found a job as a sommelier for the Tokyo American Club. The timing was perfect. “We came back here in 1996, and it was just at a time when wine was starting to take off in Japan.”

    After eight years of consulting and organizing events, Robinson chose to move into importing. As CEO of Jeroboam, he says, “I needed to improve my formal Japanese and to learn a lot of technical language that I hadn’t been exposed to before.” In deals with bankers and lawyers, he enlists the help of bilingual staff. “Because you don’t want to make mistakes in situations like that.” Still, all internal communications are in Japanese. “It’s important to have your own style, especially if you’re running a company,” he says.

    Robinson’s Japanese has been put to the test under stressful situations. Last March, Robinson was at work when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. “It was certainly challenging when you’re making decisions that seriously affect other people,” he says. And before that, Robinson faced a crisis of a different kind: the economic shock of 2008. He had to use his Japanese to nurture his employees during uncertain times, both to lead and to inspire. “It really pushes your Japanese ability.”

    It’s situations like these that reinforce Robinson’s philosophy. Relying too much on memorization, he believes, gives too much emphasis on language structures and gets in the way of what you’re trying to say. The best way to learn, for Robinson, is total immersion. His one recommendation for students of Japanese is to go to a place where they can be totally surrounded by the language. “It’s tough,” he says, “but it’s a good way to learn.”

    Jeroboam Co., Ltd

    Text: Gregory FLYNN













    Read More
  • 性別と言葉の壁を乗り越えて

    [From May Issue 2012]


    Renee KIDA

    American Renee KIDA is the HR manager at the Kohoku IKEA in Yokohama, Japan. Her job requires Japanese every day, but despite having majored in Japanese, she could say little more than sumimasen (I’m sorry) and daijoubu (okay) when she first arrived. Getting to where she is now took skill and perseverance in the face of numerous obstacles.

    Usually talkative, Kida says her lack of Japanese left her feeling rather lonely at first. She tried taking language courses, but her real breakthrough happened on the job. Early on she found herself supporting a team whose members spoke no English. “Up until that point, I was around a lot of people who spoke some English, so as soon as I didn’t understand they would just switch to English and I never seemed to progress. Working with that team … I got over the psychological barrier about worrying about making mistakes.”

    Similarly, there was a period when Kida found herself responsible for the phones during the lunch break. “I remember my hands being sweaty, and not being able to eat my obentou (pack lunch) as I was so nervous,” she says. So she wrote a script and memorized it. “I learned to handle the phone through practice … Now I often find the phone easier than email.”

    Another obstacle Kida faced was gender roles in Japan. The HR director at her former employer even said once that if Kida planned to stay in Japan long term, she would need to find a Japanese husband. “I had to really monitor my way of communicating to not come across too strong, and had to struggle to be taken seriously.”

    Still, as she saw things, “I chose my job, so I had to figure out a way to still get credibility and make it work for me.” And the status of women was changing, too. “When I first got here it took a qualified woman 15 years to get her first promotion, and there were no women in sales. Not a single one!” These days, though, even the company where the HR director told Kida to find a Japanese husband has a female president.

    Kida’s final challenge was herself. Working in marketing at a medical device company, even with promotions, she felt stuck. So she quit her job, went back to school, got an MBA and also studied more Japanese. All the while she worked a part time job at a friend’s training company. Eventually, though, she began working at IKEA and has moved up over time to her current position. It’s a good company for women. “We have many women managers – close to 50%! And I feel our company culture is very women friendly, allowing us to contribute and grow in many ways.”

    Ultimately, Kida says, “Finding your right profession and, or, place to work is an art or refined skill, regardless of country.” And she seems to have mastered that art; in her heart, she loves her life here and says that she is grateful for it.


    Text: Gregory FLYNN









    来田さんにとって最後の挑戦は自分自身でした。来田さんは最初、医療機器の会社でマーケティングの仕事をしていましたが、何度昇進しても先がないと感じました。それで仕事をやめ、学校に戻ってMBAを取得し、日本語ももっと勉強しました。その間ずっと友人のトレーニング会社でパートとして働きました。しかしその後はイケアで働き始め、歳月を経て今の役職に昇りつめました。イケアは女性にとって働きやすい会社です。「女性の管理職が多いんです--およそ5割です! それにうちの企業文化は女性に好意的で、多くの面で貢献でき、成長させてくれます」。




    Read More
  • おとぎ話に感化され、アカデミックな研究を

    [From April Issue 2012]


    Yannis PANAYOTOPOULOS, a post-doctoral fellow of Geophysics at Tokyo University, first fell in love with Japan watching television programs in his native Greece. One of them was the American show “Shogun.” The most important one, though, was “Manga Nippon Mukashi Banashi” (Cartoon Once Upon a Time in Japan), an animated series of traditional Japanese fairy stories. “I remember watching this classic manga when I was a kid, and was always fascinated with the Japanese culture and values portrayed in the series,” says Panayotopoulos.

    Though Panayotopoulos wanted to start learning Japanese straightaway, a language teacher suggested he wait until he had finished high school and could handle the English in the textbooks. “Once I finished high school, true to my dream, I asked my parents again if I could now finally start learning Japanese. Less than a week after that, I was sitting in a classroom at the Japanese-Greek Friendship Institution getting myself introduced to Mrs. SUZUKI, my Japanese teacher for the next six years.”

    Those lessons paid off: In 2002, after finishing a degree in geology in Greece, Panayotopoulos made his way to Tokyo University on a Japanese Ministry of Education scholarship where he earned a masters degree and PhD in geophysics. Because there is so much seismic activity, for a geophysicist, Panayotopoulos says, “Japan is the place to be!”

    While Panayotopoulos uses Japanese 99% of the time, it wasn’t always easy. “Although I knew some Japanese when I arrived, attending lectures at the university was a whole different game. In the beginning, I had hard time understanding the scientific terms used in the lectures.” But these days, he says, he can give lectures in Japanese himself.

    Some of this growth is thanks to the people in Panayotopoulos’ life. “When I first arrived, my best friend that I met back then – and the guy that gave the welcoming speech to my wedding – was a Japanese guy. I remember taking turns sleeping at each other’s houses when we were both university students. His mother just loved me!” Moreover, Panayotopoulos says, “My colleagues and supervising professors have been extremely supportive for all my years in Japan.”

    A strong advocate of cross-cultural communication, in his free time he runs Japan’s International Gamers Guild Tokyo. “We have lots of Japanese members joining us not just to play games, but also to make foreign friends. You can hardly say that everyone in the club is fluent in both Japanese and English, but people willing to communicate always find a way to do so and have fun on the way!”

    He says he’s never experienced the same language barrier that other expats seem to come up against. “I tend to think that people that have problems communicating in Japan are probably bad communicators to begin with,” he says. “These people are not willing to embrace a different culture. Which makes me wonder why they bother leaving their country in the first place.”

    Ultimately, Panayotopoulos’ Japanese wife probably explains his Japanese growth the most. “I always joke with her that after I met her, I wanted to study Japanese harder so that I could fully understand what she said, but now that I can, I wish I never had. She complains that when she first met me, my Japanese was cute because it was really polite. Now she says I sound like a Japanese oyaji.”

    Japan’s International Gamers Guild Tokyo

    Text: Gregory FLYNN













    Read More
  • 趣味が夢の仕事にトランスフォーム

    [From March Issue 2012]

    Andrew HALL

    Before landing a job as a content planner for a design company in the toy industry, American Andrew HALL worked as a gourmet reporter on TV Asahi’s evening news show, as a columnist writing about stock trading, and as a translator of the “Yakuza” video game series. “I can only assume it was my language skills that landed me these jobs, because I’m sure no expert on gourmet cuisine, stock trading, or yakuza,” he says.

    Hall is, however, no amateur when it comes to toys. “I had always wanted to work in the toy industry,” he says. “I was born in ‘81, which means that I was the right age to experience some of the most memorable American cartoons of the 80’s, with ‘The Transformers’ being at the forefront. Little did I know that many of them originated from Japanese animation studios or toys… I was stunned to find that many of the ideas that had captivated me so greatly as a child had all come from the same distant country.”

    Right after graduating with a B.A. in Japanese he moved to Tokyo. “I envisioned that becoming fluent in Japanese would allow me to become a translator, letting me work closely with the various media I enjoyed so much.” Still, it would be some time before Hall landed his current job. “I had gained lots of interesting language experience, but didn’t seem much closer to working in my dream industry. You can’t exactly just go knocking on someone’s door, I thought.”

    His determination to acquire the language made for a steep learning curve: “The important thing is to aggressively learn and adapt through this. Make an error once, it’s understandable. Make the same error again, and that’s on you.” Hall applies this approach to all aspects of his life and feels that it’s helped him get to where he is today.

    “During my years of study in college, I remember feeling challenged by upper level courses where there tended to be more focus on public speaking than on kanji comprehension and writing,” he explains. “Motivation filled in those gaps, as I had my own intense interests.” Hall doesn’t measure success in terms of academic qualifications, but instead puts more emphasis on practical ability. “You can have a black belt in the dojo, but if you don’t know how to use your skills, suddenly when things get rough, it’s not going to count for much.”

    Hall now translates and plans content for Part One Co., Ltd., a design company that does work for some of the largest toy companies in Japan. He landed the job by contacting the president of the company directly, an approach which initially landed him a small translation job. At Part One’s online shop e-HOBBY, his work now includes creating proposals for new Transformers exclusives, doing research for manufacturers and developing new international projects.

    Hall finds working in Japan enjoyable. “Something I’ve always respected about Japan is the culture of craftsmanship present in work. The concept of adhering to great quality and design despite the pressure of cost-performance. I love being a part of that.”

    Overall, this kind of passion is central to Hall’s success. He explains, “What I learned getting where I am now is that an MBA is not a necessary qualification to being hired in most Japanese industries. It turns out that the most important qualifications are great Japanese ability and more guts than ‘Grimlock.’”

    Part One Co., Ltd.

    Text: Gregory FLYNN













    Read More
  • 日本語に突撃

    [From February Issue 2012]

    Daniel ROBSON

    Japan can be intimidating for newcomers, but plenty of people who arrive with little or no language skill under their belt can still find success. “I came to Japan armed with a teeny, tiny amount of spoken Japanese,” says Daniel ROBSON of his arrival here in 2006.

    That little Japanese was “mostly learned from Japanese punk and pop songs or from this awful home study CD that taught me how to speak perfect Japanese circa 1930. Whenever I spoke Japanese learned from that CD set, people laughed.”

    Now, his work relies on interactions in Japanese. “I work as an editor at The Japan Times and a freelance writer for publications around the world. I also run a tour agency, ‘It Came From Japan,’ which takes Japanese bands to tour abroad, and I put on a monthly live show in Tokyo called ‘Bad Noise.’”

    He explains, “As a freelance writer, I use Japanese to line up assignments, interview bands or videogame creators, and so on – I write about music, games, city guides and Japanese culture in general, so of course I need to understand what the hell is going on around me in order to write about it.” And moreover, “As for booking bands for live shows and organizing tours, I couldn’t do a good job at any of that without being able to contact bands, create promotional material, chat with customers and so on.”

    So how did Robson do it? “I really wanted to become fluent, but as an overworked freelancer I never had much time to study.” At first, “I mostly learned by osmosis, drinking in the sort of bars where no one knew any English and I would be forced to speak Japanese.” It was slow going, “but I picked things up slowly but surely, and eventually got a teacher for one-on-one lessons, which I kept up for a year and a half.”

    He also met his future Japanese wife, who spoke little English, the bonus was that it, “helped in terms of practice!” He recalls, “I guess the biggest challenges at first were things like phone calls to sort out a bill or some other problem, and of course kanji.” But persistence is key: “Bit by bit it all sticks.”

    “It’s inevitable that one has to adjust to the customs and culture of another country.” Yet there are still situations when Robson says, “You want to smash your head repeatedly against a wall … Like when someone says ‘it’s difficult’ when what they really mean is ‘no.’ You have to learn to read those situations.”

    And I still struggle with kanji, whether it’s penetrating a short email or enduring 50 hours of Final Fantasy XIII for a review.” But as he says, “There are other difficulties, sure, but no one ever got anywhere by focusing on the negatives!”

    Being married to a Japanese, “We speak Japanese at home 99% of the time, and these days I even understand my in-laws slightly old-fashioned vocabulary.” Besides, he loves living here. As he says, “Tokyo is 300 times better than London in almost every way, and I love it here.”

    Bad Noise

    Text: Gregory FLYNN





    今では、彼の仕事は日本語でやりとりします。「私はジャパンタイムズで編集の仕事と、世界の出版物のフリーライターをしています。バンドツアーの手配会社『It Came From Japan』も経営しています。これは日本発信の仕事で、日本のバンドを海外ツアーに連れていきます。『BAD NOISE!』というライブも東京で毎月行っています」。


    それでは、ロブソンさんはどうやったのだろうか? 「流暢になりたいと本気で思いましたが、働きすぎのフリーランスには勉強する時間があまりありませんでした」。最初は「主に英語を知らない人しかいなくて、自分から日本語を話すしかないバーのようなところで飲んで、少しずつ学びました」。それには時間がかかりました。「でもゆっくりですが確実に理解し、やがてマンツーマンでレッスンしてくれる先生を見つけて1年半続けました」。





    Bad Noise


    Read More
  • ビジネス文化は思いもかけないことがある

    [From January Issue 2012]

    Alessandro ALLEGRANZI

    Although Alessandro ALLEGRANZI, holds dual American and Italian citizenship, Japan has fascinated him ever since reading the samurai novel Musashi in junior high school. “It was great fun, and really opened my mind to a completely different culture and world,” he says.

    “I’ve had an interest in Japan since that time, but unfortunately didn’t get to study the language until college, when I attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenessee, USA. I studied the language for four years.”

    The big change for his Japanese came, however, during his semester abroad at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. “I remember for the first few weeks people kept giggling at my Japanese, and when I asked why, they said it was because I spoke like an old woman. Thankfully, after a few yakuza and samurai period movies, the problem solved itself.” He goes on, “I learned more during those four months in Japan than during the four years in the US combined.”

    He now works for a freight forwarding (shipping services) company in Tokyo. “I focus on the USA-Japan lane, and sell the company’s services, organize rates and customer support, etc.” More specifically, “On a typical day, I actually spend most of the time outside the office, making sales calls, visiting clients and prospects. I usually get back to the office around four or five, and stay there until seven or eight glued to the computer doing correspondence and clerical stuff.”

    “I am the only foreigner in the office. The vast majority of my sales calls are in Japanese.” He continues, “Business Japanese is a totally different beast. Just in terms of vocabulary I felt like I had to learn a whole new language. ‘Bonded warehouse,’ ‘customs inspection,’ etc., were all terms I had to learn from scratch. Additionally, in school I had learned keigo (formal Japanese) towards the end of my studies as a sort of afterthought.”

    The culture also presented some surprises. For example, “One of the guys who works under me in exports leaves every day at 6pm sharp.” As a result, everyone criticizes the man: “He is lazy; he doesn’t care about the job, the list goes on.” Yet, according to Allegranzi, this is the most efficient man in the office. “To me, as an American, the whole phenomenon is ridiculous. However, in Japan, in a lot of cases, how long you work equals how well you work.”

    According to Allegranzi, this is because, “In Japan, generally the company is the focus, and the individual is a cog in the machine.” But actually, he has come to appreciate one effect of this. “The sense of unity and togetherness also has its positive side. It takes a while to break in and be accepted, but once you’re part of the group, you’re in.”

    Text: Gregory FLYNN











    Read More
  • 日本人との会話

    [From December Issue 2010]

    When you have the opportunity to speak with a Japanese person, you will usually be asked where you are originally from. You can reply in English as Japanese people generally understand the pronunciation of foreign country names. However, there are some countries whose names in Japanese are different from their English ones, such as Chuugoku for China, Kankoku for Korea, and Igirisu for Britain. Other country names also expressed a bit differently, include Suisu for Switzerland, Oranda for the Netherlands and Amerika for the USA.

    You will most likely also be asked what it is that you do. And while westerners generally answer with their job title, such as “engineer” or “sales clerk,” most Japanese simply say “company staff,” unless they are professionals, such as a “doctor” or “lawyer.” Those who work at leading companies may also inform you of their company’s name.

    You may also discuss your family. In doing so, you should clearly distinguish between your brothers (kyoudai) and sisters (shimai), older or younger. When Japanese refer to them, generally they say “ani” for an elder brother and “otouto” for a younger one, or “ane” for an elder sister and “imouto” for a younger one. “Kyoudai” means also “siblings,” but it is written in hiragana when it refers to “siblings.”

    The English words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are also usually well understood. However, in the case of a steady boy/girlfriend, while using the term “koibito” in conversation is a little bit old fashioned, nowadays, “kareshi” or “kare” for a boyfriend and “kanojo” for a girlfriend are more common. “Kare” also means “he” while “kanojo” means “she.”

    Expressions describing a person’s appearance may also be used in conversation. A beautiful woman is “bijin” while an ugly woman is “busu,” which, in Japan, is considered an extremely rude word, so don’t use it. A handsome man is “ikemen.” But the word “hansamu,” adopted from English, is also commonly used.

    “Shumi” (hobbies) are also good conversation topics. Those who are obsessed with anime and manga are called “otaku,” and have been regarded as being hesitant to communicate with people, preferring to escape into virtual worlds, with Akihabara, Tokyo as their headquarters. But nowadays, they are no longer considered odd, while Akihabara has become a well-known tourist attraction.




    家族のことを話すこともあるでしょう。注意すべきことは、 兄弟、姉妹が、あなたの年上なのか年下なのをはっきり言うことです。日本人は一般的に、兄と弟、また姉と妹を区別して言います。「きょうだい」は「シブリング」(兄弟、姉妹を含めた意味)としても使われますが、「シブリング」を意味するときにはひらがなで書きます。




    Read More
  • 日本の地図と地名の意味

    [From November Issue 2010]

    Do you know that the kanji “日本” and “日” (ni / nichi / hi) means “day” and/or “sunshine”? Do you also know that “本” (hon / moto) means “book,” but also “origin,” and/or “home”? In brief, together “日本” means “the origin of sunshine.” This is why Japan is often referred to, in English, as “the land of the rising Sun.”

    On a map you can see that Japan is mainly made up of four big islands, the largest one being “本州”/Honshu(u). “州”/shu(u) usually means “state,” but on some occasions it may also mean country. “本州”/Honshu(u) means “home state,” and can generally be translated as “mainland.”

    The smallest of the four islands is “四国”/Shikoku. Previously it was made up of four independent States (countries), which have now become four distinct prefectures. Originally in the southern islands of “九州”/Kyushu(u) there were nine States. Now, they have become a group of seven prefectures. The northernmost island is “北海道”/Hokkaido(u) which literally means “North Sea Road.” The kanji “道”/do(u) road is said to have been used because there were already main arteries such as “Tokaido(u)” and “Tohokudo(u)” in the area.

    Japan is divided into eight regions; Hokkaido(u), Shikoku and Kyushu(u) form one region, while Honshu(u) is subdivided into 5 regions that include Tohoku, Kanto(u), Chu(u)bu, Kinki and Chu(u)goku. The kanji “東北”/To(u)hoku exactly fits the English word “northeast.” Kanto(u) is considered to be the center of Japan’s economy and culture and also where To(u)kyo(u), Japan’s present capital, is located. Chu(u)bu is physically located in the middle of the country, while the Kinki region is commonly referred to as “Kansai.” Chu(u)goku is often confused with the neighboring country of China as it is also written and pronunced “中国”/Chu(u)goku, and is therefore often referred as the Chu(u)goku region.

    In Japan’s 8 regions there are 47 ken/prefectures, but in To(u)kyo, O(o)saka, Kyo(u)to and Hokkaido(u), the word “ken” is replaced with other names. Instead, they are called To(u)kyo(u)-to, O(o)saka-fu, Kyo(u)to-fu and Hokkaido(u). Since “do(u)” is already part of its name, no additional ending is required. This is somewhat similar to the capital of the U.S.A., Washington, which is commonly referred to as Washington D.C.

    The region’s largest cities are (from north to south): Sapporo, Sendai, To(u)kyo(u), Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyo(u)to, O(o)saka, Ko(u)be, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. Central To(u)kyo(u), where many non-Japanese live and work, is divided into 23 wards.

    Kyo(u)to had been the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years. “都” (to / miyako) means “capital,” so Kyoto means the “Capital of Kyo(u).” “東京”/To(u)kyo(u), is located to the east “東” (tou / higashi) of “京” /Kyo(u), and therefore means, “To(u)kyo(u),” the capital east of Kyo(u). Located within To(u)kyo(u), a big town “新宿” /Shinjuku means “new inn.” “新” (shin / atarashii) means “new” and “宿” (juku / yado) means “inn.” This name was derived from the new inns that were being built in that area. Thus, each place has its own name-history.









    Read More