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Blog archives here...

September 06, 2008

Word of the Day



nerve; courage

Usage Examples:

度胸を試す to test one’s courage

度胸のある courageous

度胸のない timid; fearful




August 31, 2008

Word of the Day:





Usage Examples:


無駄足 (むだあし) a fool’s errand; a pointless trip

無駄話 (むだばなし)idle chatter

無駄骨を折る (むだぼね を おる)to make vain efforts

無駄書き (むだがき)idle scribbling

無駄死に (むだじに)a pointless death

無駄遣い (むだづかい)waste





August 27, 2008

From Japanese Culture from A to Z: Business, History, Politics, Sex, and More


This video includes a brief introduction to kaizen…




August 23, 2008

The gaijin debate in Japanese 


Every now and then, I still hear Americans state that they could never really master Japanese because it is just “too difficult.” 

Poppycock. Videos like this prove that non-Japanese---including Westerners---can successfully master Japanese.  

Watch this video for inspiration as well as language study. The foreigners in this video all handle the Japanese language competently. The Australian woman is kind of annoying---but I suspect that she would be annoying in English as well. 

The key word from this video is: 




August 20, 2008

Word of the Day 


(げひん な) 

coarse; vulgar; low


下品な行動 vulgar conduct 
下品な話 coarse language
下品な印象を与える to make a coarse impression
下品なテレビ番組 a low-brow television program



August 17, 2008

Word of the Day 



potentiality; dormancy


 Usage examples:

潜在自我 the subliminal self

潜在需要 latent demand 

潜在能力 potential capabilities

潜在購買力 latent purchasing ability



August 13, 2008

Word of the Day 


(みりよう の)


Usage examples:

未利用資源 unused resources

未利用地 (みりようち) vacant land



August 09, 2008

Word of the Day 


(ひょうかん な)

intrepid; daring; fierce


Usage examples:


剽悍な戦いぶり  a fierce way of fighting 

剽悍な少女   an intrepid girl 

剽悍な語り口   an intrepid way of talking 

剽悍な顔つき   a bold expression 

剽悍な風体     a bold posture



August 04, 2008

Watch your language

From my YouTube channel: My take on learning and using profanity in a foreign language. This one could obviously apply to any language; but I believe it is especially relevant for Japanese.




August 02, 2008

Word of the Day 



This is a basic word, but it has a number of idiomatic uses that you may not be a aware of.



Usage examples: 

命拾いする (いのちびろい する) to have a narrow escape (from death)

命懸けの (いのちがけ の) of life and death; perilous to one’s life

命乞いをする (いのちごい を する) to beg for one’s life

命からがら with bare life

命取りの (いのちとり の) fatal; mortal

命綱 (いのちづな) a lifeline   


Japan's Longest Day


If you are interested in Japanese history as well as the Japanese language, you might check out the documentary Japan’s Longest Day. The movie explores the closing days of World War II from the Japanese point of view. For those of you who are still working on your listening skills, the movie also has subtitles. 

I was able to find this documentary at my local public library. My guess is that you will be able to as well.





July 27, 2008

The Japanese language and wartime  

I have written before about Jack Seward, Occupation-era Army veteran and author of numerous books about Japan and the Japanese language. Seward was one of the relatively small number of Americans whom the U.S. government trained in the Japanese language during World War II. 


Here is an article about Bryan M. Battey, who graduated from high school in 1942, and shortly thereafter attended the U.S. Navy school of foreign languages. Like Seward, Battey’s wartime training in the Japanese language evolved into a lifelong fascination with Japanese culture. 

The article notes that Battey had strong motivation to keep his grades high while in the Navy languages school: 

"We were tested regularly," he [Battey] wrote in a private memoir. "Motivation was high. Failure meant Okinawa, or Iwo Jima."


July 23, 2008

The Japanese government gets serious about promoting Japanese abroad

I think this report is evidence that Japan has gotten past the whole "hen na gaijin" concept.  (For those of you who are aren't aware, 変な外人 is a somewhat pejorative way of referring to a gaijin who is truly comfortable speaking Japanese.) During my last trip to Japan, I found that the Japanese now expect visitors to speak Japanese while visiting their country---and this goes for Americans as well.

The Japanese government has stepped up its efforts to promote Japanese studies abroad as well, as this article from the Yomiuri Online describes.

This effort may be partly a response to China, by the way. China has also launch some high-profile programs of late to promote the study of Mandarin abroad.


July 20, 2008

A bit about Japanese dialects....

I've been YouTubing again. Here is a response to a reader question about handling Japanese dialects like Kansai-ben, etc.


In the video, I mention my recent experience with Mikawa-ben in the Nagoya area.






July 17, 2008

A reader question about future book plans 

Dear Ed: 

I noticed that you haven’t written a kanji book yet. Do you have any plans to write one? 

Aimee Weiss

Honolulu, Hawaii 


Dear Aimee: 

A kanji book has been a frequent topic during my regular brainstorming sessions. 

I make it a rule to only produce books that I think add a unique angle to Japanese language studies. Right now, basic student needs in the kanji realm have been answered by some good publications. First there is the timeless Kanji & Kana by Wolfgang Hadamitzky & Mark Spahn. (This text should be in the library of every Japanese language student.) 

For kanji flashcards, both Tuttle and White Rabbit Press have brought some excellent products to the market.  

I don’t want to create something that merely duplicates these efforts.

If I do produce a kanji book in the future (and I would bet that I will at some point) it will hopefully answer some need that these other products don’t answer.  

As a small publisher, you have to shoot for the niches.



July 13, 2008

Word of the Day 


(かち なし) 

without value


This word appeared in a recent news headline, as North Korea rejected a proposal from the president of South Korea as worthless:





Supplementary vocabulary:


北朝鮮(きた ちょうせん) North Korea

韓国 (かんこく) South Korea

大統領 (だいとうりょう) president

提案 (ていあん) proposal

拒否する (きょひ する)to reject; to turn down



July 10, 2008

Word of the Day




ideal combination


Example usage:


あの二人は名コンビです。 Those two make an ideal pair.




July 09, 2008

Word of the Day


(ゆうこう に つかう)

to make the best use of; to use effectively


Technically, I suppose that I should call this the "phrase of the day"---as it really is more than one word.

This expression comes in especially handy in business, where making the optimal use of everything (time, resources, etc.) is always of top importance.

Usage examples

時間を有効に使う  to make the most of one's time

お金を有効に使う to use money effectively

資産を有効に使う to use assets effectively


Supplementary vocabulary

時間 (じかん) time

お金 (おかね) money

資産 (しさん) asset; assets



July 08, 2008

Word of the Day 


(だいたん な)

bold; daring


大胆な発表 (だいたん な はっぴょう)a bold announcement

大胆な行動 (だいたん な こうどう) daring behavior


July 07, 2008

Word of the Day 


(ひれつ な)

mean; contemptible


Usage Example: 

卑劣な行動 (ひれつ な こうどう)contemptible conduct

卑劣なテロ (ひれつ な テロ) vile terrorism




July 06, 2008

Word of the Day 


(ひってき する)

to be a match for, to be equal to  

Usage Example: 

上位モデルに匹敵する性能 performance that corresponds to a superior model (of product, machine, etc.)


 Supplementary vocabulary: 

上位(じょうい) performance; rank

性能 (せいのう) capacity; power 



July 03, 2008

Word of the day



panic; scare 

Here is a word for these uncertain economic times. The following compounds may come in handy when discussing the stock and commodity markets of late:


Usage examples:

金融恐慌 (きんゆう きょうこう) a financial panic

恐慌相場 (きょうこう そうば) panic market (stocks/commodities, etc.)

恐慌状態にある (きょうこう じょうたい に ある)to be in a state of panic


July 02, 2008


Word of the Day  


(かいがい きんむしゃ)

overseas employee  

If you work for a Japanese company outside Japan, you will almost certainly come across this term at this point. 海外勤務者  refers to an employee who has been assigned to a temporary overseas position. These are the individuals frequently called “advisors” or “coordinators” in the overseas branches of Japanese companies.  



June 29, 2008

A chance to study in Japan 

I have had a lot of time on the ground in Japan; but all of it has been for work purposes. I never had a chance to go to Japan as a student----partly because I didn’t start to study Japanese until near the end of my undergraduate career. By the time my Japanese was up to speed, I was about to graduate. 

Nowadays, of course, many high school students have the opportunity to study Japanese, and can therefore identify their interest in the language much earlier.  

Here is a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer about a recent high school graduate, Rebecca Muth, who won a Japan Foundation Language Study Program for a two-week trip to Japan. I can’t think of a more interesting experience for the summer between high school and college (if you are interested in Japan, that is.) 

Rebecca Muth has apparently acquired a high degree of proficiency in the Japanese language at the age of 17. I was still three years away from my first Japanese class at that age; Ms. Muth has already had studied Japanese for three years.



June 23, 2008

Podcast: The Unification of Japan

  • This broadcast takes a brief look at the most influential warlords in Japanese history: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
  • A brief look at life in Japan under the Tokugawa shoguns.

June 23, 2008

Sega Yakuza 2 fans want their game in Japanese 

I will start by admitting that I am hopelessly behind the times when it comes to video games. (My knowledge pretty much ends with the arcade games of the early 1980s---Asteroids, Space Invaders, etc.) 


Yakuza is a realistic video game that leaves my arcade games of 25 years ago in the dust. The original version of the game had a Japanese-language soundtrack; but Sega dubbed it over with an English one. This was a gamble on Sega’s part, of course. On one hand, the English-language soundtrack compromises authenticity; but on the other hand, how many U.S. and Canadian players of the game understand Japanese? 

It seems that fans have spoken, and they want the game to be in Japanese. (The fans did, however, say that they want subtitles.) Therefore, the next version of the game, Sega 2, will feature a Japanese-language soundtrack.



June 18, 2008

The Brazilian presence in Japan 

Here is an article in SFGate about the Japanese presence in Brazil. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thousands of Japanese left their country to seek their fortunes in Brazil.  

Many of these immigrants’ descendents still live in the Sao Paulo area. I was in Sao Paulo for an extended business trip about ten years ago, and I visited the city’s Nihonmachi. This is a worthwhile stop if you have a chance to visit Brazil. (Brazil supposedly has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan.) 

There is also a large Brazilian presence in Japan these days. Brazilians have been traveling to Japan to work as temporary laborers for the past twenty years. They tend to cluster around Japan’s automotive plants. 

When I was in the Nagoya area last week, I heard a great deal of Portuguese in shops and restaurants. In nearby Toyota City, Portuguese signs are more common than English ones; and the local bookstore contained a whole shelf full of Japanese-Portuguese dictionaries.  

I suspect that most of these materials were for the benefit of Brazilians who are studying Japanese. However, the study of Portuguese has increased over the past decade in Japan, as Brazil has become a popular location for Japanese manufacturing operations.


June 14, 2008


Back from Japan 


If you have been wondering where I’ve been, I have just gotten back from a two-week business trip to Japan. I am exhausted and glad to be back. 

If you are planning any travel within Japan, may I suggest that you pack lightly. This past week I had to drag four pieces of luggage through train stations throughout Japan. Not a very enjoyable experience. This was especially challenging during the morning rush hour in Osaka. I would bet that there are still some Japanese laughing at the silly gaijin who was apparently trying to transport half of his worldly possessions through the subway systems.

Which brings us to the word of the day: 鮨詰め(すしづめ), or “packed like sushi”. This figurative expression is often used to describe trains and subway systems.


鮨詰めの電車 =  a crowded train “packed like sushi”




June 01, 2008

Word of the Day 



brake; stop


common usage pattern: 歯止めを掛ける = to apply the brakes; put a stop to


 From the news:

子どもの肥満増加に歯止めか 米CDCの調査




Supplementary vocabulary: 

国民(こくみん) people; citizens 

肥満傾向(ひまん けいこう) tendency toward obesity

危機感を募らせる (ききかん を つのらせる) to cause a sense of crisis

人口(じんこう) population 

割合(わりあい) proportion

前回(ぜんかい) last time




May 25, 2008

Word of the Day




giving up smoking; stopping smoking


According to this news article, various personal habits can be spread from person to person. So if your spouse quits smoking (or develops a weight problem) you are likely to do the same. 

禁煙と肥満は家族や友人に伝染 米ハーバード大調査  



Supplementary Vocabulary List

肥満(ひまん)corpulence; overweight

家族(かぞく) family

喫煙(きつえん)smoking (tobacco)

習慣(しゅうかん)custom; habit

伝染する(でんせん する) to spread; to be contagious

研究結果(けんきゅう けっか) research results

と同様(と どうよう) the same as



May 18, 2008

Word of the Day



secret story; secrets


This word is featured in the headline of an online article about the royal wedding in the UK




Supplementary Vocabulary:

英女王(えいじょおう)British queen; queen of England

初孫(しょそん)first grandchild





May 12, 2008


This is the kanji with a negative attitude, as its meaning is “not, negation.” The kun reading of this character, na(i), is most often written in hiragana in contemporary Japanese texts. This is also true of its conjugated kun forms, like naku naru 無くなる (=get lost; go missing; to die). There are two on readings, MU and BU. These are located at the beginning of many compound words, and the high frequency of both readings makes the distinction between MU and BU mostly a memorization task:

MU-beginning words:



無休(むきゅう) no holidays; never close (said of a store or business

BU-beginning words:

無事(ぶじ)safe and sound


無用心(ぶようじん)unsafe; lacking caution

Words that end with the kun reading:

A few words, like mottainai 勿体無い (=wasteful) end with the kun reading.

Words that end with the on reading:

Words that end with the on reading of are rare:

皆無(かいむ)nothing; nil

有無(うむ)existence; presence



May 04, 2008



Northern Hemisphere

The excerpted article below discusses the phenomenon of winter. Included are the Japanese words for the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. 





真冬日        まふゆび  dead winter, the middle of winter

四季        しき      four seasons

一年中     いちねんじゅう   all year round

一番       いちばん  number one ; the most     

寒さが厳しい  さむさ が きびしい   the cold is severe

南半球  みなみ はんきゅう   Southern Hemisphere

逆になる       ぎゃく に なる  to be reversed; to be opposite

未満       みまん       under; less than

中心      ちゅうしん    the center

範囲      はんい       range; scope


April 26, 2008

"So many people in Russia studying Japanese" 

Russia and Japan haven’t always been on the friendliest of terms. Tension between the two countries began in the late nineteenth century, when both wanted to control Manchuria and Korea. Then there was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, which the Japanese won. Since the end of WWII, Japan and Russia have had a dispute about the ownership of the South Kuril Islands. 

Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to be hurting the popularity of Japanese language studies in Russia, as this article notes: 

[Japanese Prime Minister] Fukuda earlier visited a school in Moscow to watch a Japanese class being taught.  

After meeting with pupils from the lycee, he said: "I am very surprised that so many people in Russia are studying Japanese."  

There are currently 14 schools in Moscow teaching the language.  

"The Japanese government intends to continue efforts to popularize the national language and expand programs for Russian-Japanese exchanges," he said.  

Read the complete article here.


Tutorial: The Acquisition of Profits



rijun no kakutoku


Nihon no kigyoo wa tashu-tayoo na seihin no seisan o okonau koto ni yotte rijun o kakutoku shi, seichoo shimasu. 


"Japanese companies acquire profits and grow through the production of a wide variety of products."

Continue tutorial....



April 20, 2008

A Japanese-language article about campus life in the U.S. 

The university discussed here is the University of Cincinnati, which happens to be my alma mater: 


大学生らが銃の携帯を主張 キャンパスでの護身に必要と


米オハイオ州シンシナティ(CNN) 米国の大学キャンパスなどで銃乱射事件が続発している事態を受け、一部学生らの間で最近、自衛のために銃を携帯したいとの声が高まっている。


Read the complete article here


Key Vocabulary:


大学生ら (だいがくせいら) university students

銃の携帯 (じゅう の けいたい) carrying guns

主張する (しゅちょう する) to insist on

護身 (ごしん) self-defense

必要 (ひつよう) necessary

銃乱射事件 (じゅうらんしゃ じけん) random shooting incidents

続発する (ぞくはつ する) to occur one after another

自衛 (じえい) self-defense



April 14, 2008

Another good use for Japanese language skills…. 

Determining what flavor of potato chip you want at a Japanese food mart: 

Because he knew Katakana, the Japanese alphabet, Carmel Middle School eighth-grader Allan Schaefer was able to read the different flavors of potato chips at Sakura Mart in Indianapolis. He chose curry flavor over French salad. 

Schaefer was among a group of eighth-grade students in a Carmel Middle Japanese class who had a hands-on experience last week with the Japanese language and culture.  (continue...)


Teaching Japanese in Shelbyville, Indiana 

I don’t know if you have any interest in teaching Japanese to high school students. Here is a profile of Nihongo student who learned Japanese and did exactly that… 

In high school, Steve VonWerder wasn't voted "most likely to teach Japanese." 

"Most language teachers learn their language in high school," VonWerder said, "but I didn't study any foreign language in high school." 

In fact, the Shelbyville High School teacher didn't show any interest in learning a foreign language until he traveled to Japan as a missionary at age 24. 

"I wanted to teach English in a foreign country and do Christian work," VonWerder said. VonWerder learned Japanese in six months through immersion. For him, learning the language was a necessity, not a novelty. 

"I had to learn Japanese so I could buy my bananas," VonWerder said. "How could I pay my bills if I couldn't speak the language?" (continue reading…)



April 08, 2008

Is Japanese enrollment declining at this Maine college?  

For those of you who are interested in who is studying what language, this article may be interesting. The sample here is admittedly a small one (students at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine). But a sample is a sample. Now let’s dig in. 

The article states outright that Russian language enrollments are declining. This is an old story. Russian language studies enjoyed considerable prestige during the Cold War, and a big surge of popularity during the Gorbachev era. In 1990 many Americans believed that Russia was going to become the next economic superpower. We now know that history turned out differently. 

The article doesn’t exactly say that Japanese enrollments are declining, but that they are small to begin with. This doesn’t surprise me. Japanese is a difficult language, and it has none of the chic appeal associated with some European languages like Italian and French. Japanese is a language for dry, practical people who study business, accounting, and engineering. So what’s wrong with that? As the professor who is interviewed in the article reminds us, Japan is still the world’s second largest economy, China notwithstanding. 

My guess is that the Japanese language will never enjoy stratospheric levels of popularity in the U.S. There is too much competition from other languages these days (Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, etc.), and too many other countries occupy so much of the news. But Japanese remains an extremely useful language, and my guess is that it will remain so well into the foreseeable future.



April 06, 2008

Word of the day:


-times, fold


U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama is setting records on the fundraising front,  as this article notes:






Read the complete article here..


Supplemental vocabulary: 

米大統領選 (べいだいとうりょうせん) U.S. presidential election

民主党候補指名争い(みんしゅとう こうほ しめい あらそい) fight for the nomination of the Democratic Party

首位を走る (しゅい を はしる) to take the lead

献金額 (こうけんがく)donation amount

暫定数字 (ざんてい すうじ)tentative number

貢献者 (こうけんしゃ) donor

寄贈者 (きぞうしゃ) contributor; donor

選挙 (せんきょ)election

競争 (きょうそう)competition


The many ways to say "to wear" in Japanese

I just couldn't resist that swipe at wearing neckties....




March 30, 2008

Word of the day



immediately before; right before


The headline  below contains some disturbing news. Apparently a large ice shelf at the South Pole is on the verge of collapse due to global warming.




Supplementary vocabulary: 

南極(なんきょく)South Pole

大規模 (だいきぼ)large scale

棚氷(たなごおり) ice shelf

温暖化 (おんだんか)(global) warming

崩壊 (ほうかい)collapse




March 25, 2008

Word of the Day



firm, unshakable 


The following article describes U.S. Vice President Cheney’s trip to Israel. While in Israel, the VP affirms the U.S. commitment to U.S.-Israeli ties 

米副大統領がイスラエル訪問 「揺るぎない」関係維持を約束




Supplementary vocabulary

米副大統領 (べいふくだいとうりょう) U.S. Vice President

訪問 (ほうもん) visit

関係維持 (かんけい いじ) maintenance of relations

約束する (やくそく する) to promise




March 21, 2008

Word of the day


(ひなん する)

to criticize; to rebuke


The article hyperlinked below discusses U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, and her rebuke of China. (Click here to read the complete article) 




Supplementary vocabulary: 

ペロシ米下院議長 (ペロシ べいかいんぎちょう)U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi

会談(かいだん)conversation; talk

中国 (ちゅうごく) China


March 19, 2008

Chinese or Japanese?

And here your host addresses that age-old question: should I study Japanese or Chinese?























More about Japanese corporations


Here is an example that I culled out of a business textbook, for those of you who are interested in Japanese corporate life.  

The excerpt describes the successes that the Japanese economy experienced in the postwar era, including the successful weathering of two oil shocks: 

第二次大戦後、日本は奇跡的ともいえる高度成長を遂げ、経済大国と呼ばれるまでになったが、その成長を支えた主役は企業であった。その後、日本は二度のオイル・ショックも見事に乗り切り、その強さがあらためて認識された。 (continue...)


Word Focus:


Sometimes you fail, and that is exactly what the word失敗(しっぱい), or “failure” is all about. The following excerpt discusses the failure of a civilian rocket that was launched (and subsequently crashed) in New Mexico: (continue...)


The word  表面 = surface. And the suffix conveys the idea of becoming something. When you add 表面 and and then make this combination a Sino-Japanese verb with the addition of する, the result is 表面化する, which means to come to the surface.   (continue...)

Having a High Head:



zu ga takai


There are times when you are better off to quit when you're ahead, because a situation or a person is very difficult to handle. Seki no yama 関の山 describes a situation in which even the best effort will result in either a maintenance of the status quo, or possibly a deterioration in conditions: (continue...)




Japanese Compound Words

Japanese Business Vocabulary On CD-R

Why You Need a Foreign Language and How to Learn One

Modern Japanese Vocabulary: A Guide for 21st Century Students

Tigers, Devils, and Fools: A Guide to Japanese Proverbs


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