A fast chance for some kanji review!

夜間工事 23時30分〜翌5時30分 車線変更

Use the rikaichan popup dictionary on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help reading this sign.

I took this at night in Kyoto in an area where there’s been a lot of road work at night, which involves diverting traffic.

I’d only just learned the reading of  夜間yesterday when I transcribed them in my post about this traffic safety poster, which you might want to check for more reinforcement after reading this post, if you haven’t read it yet.

工事(こうじ)is a common compound meaning construction or road work.

I was happy to see やかん again so soon after writing my last post and to have the chance to test my recall. This sign makes them hard to miss!

I was curious about other common collocations and found 夜間授業(やかんじゅぎょう) in one of  the example sentences given by the Denshi Jisho online Japanese dictionary,  meaning ‘night classes.’

Once my attention was focused on this sign, it gave me some other
useful examples of familiar characters that I’d understood but couldn’t read with confidence.

The character 翌 looked familiar and the context gave me the meaning, ‘the following’ or ‘next.’  The sign abbreviates the compound 翌日(よくじつ), which is the form that I’ve seen this character take in the past.  I also realized that without a clear context like this, I might confuse it with 習おう, to learn.

Thanks to this sign I’ll steer clear of that mistake!

Originally posted 2012-08-12 23:01:54.

Even monkeys fall from trees, especially this one!

サルスベリ 猿も木から落ちる 滑る

Use the rikaichan popup dictionary if you need help reading the words transcribed above.  They include a tree’s name,  a proverb, and a verb.

Your studious friend has just failed an exam, a first.  You console her by saying 猿も木から落ちる!Even monkeys fall from trees.  Nobody’s perfect.  I was reminded of this common expression when I went to Kyoto’s Botanical Garden and saw a サルスベリ tree.

I can never resist touching these trees,  but their smoothness must make it hard for even monkeys to keep their grip!  Hence the whimsical name, which combines the words for ‘monkey’ and ‘slide’.  These are known as Crape Myrtle in English.

さるもきからおちる! Is one of the most often heard  Japanese proverbs that use animal imagery.  What others come to your mind?

Originally posted 2012-08-01 14:12:18.

How do you say ‘casual’ in Japanese? You just did!


Use the rikaichan popup dictionary on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photos if you need help reading the sign.

Mr. Young Men wants you to know that they’re a casual okonomiyaki place,  in case that’s not already apparent from looking at the storefront. It’s in the Shinkyogoku  shopping arcade just north of Shijo Dori in Kyoto.

The sign made me realize just how Japanese the word ‘casual’ has become.  A friend sometimes uses it with me when we’re speaking Japanese,  as in when he asks if I’m free for dinner and adds that it’s casual. That’s when I know we’ll be going to our favorite cheap standing bar  or something like that.

He doesn’t speak much English at all but I’d  thought that maybe he’d somehow picked that word up and enjoys breaking it out when he talks with me.  When I saw this sign, I understood that it’s  commonly used these days among Japanese, and he isn’t using it with  me just because I’m a native English speaker.

Of course you need to put a bit of a different spin on the pronunciation, but loan words like this are a great way to beef up vocabulary.  I knew that ‘formal’ had entered the Japanese language, so this usage doesn’t really surprise me.  I use カジュアル in conversation once in a while and people seem to understand it, but I suppose I felt like somehow it was cheating, that there’s a more accepted Japanese term in wider use that I should know.

I wrote a post recently that included ‘creative’ as a なadjective in Japanese,  and I’ve been wondering lately about other words, adjectives especially, that are borrowed from English that I could be adding to my Japanese language arsenal, knowing that this list is ever expanding.

Speaking of adjectives, a great way to get some exposure to lots of natural, descriptive language in manageable chunks is to check out restaurant review sites in Japanese.  Rikaichan comes in very handy here.  To get a taste of this kind of authentic content, check out a review of Mr. Young Men on this very popular restaurant review site,  and use rikaichan if you need help with it.  Sites like this that feature lots of candid, colorful, descriptive comments from site users are a great way to spice up your studies!

Have you discovered any loan words  lately that have added to your Japanese fluency?

Originally posted 2012-08-01 09:00:02.

Wanted: Creative nurses!

看護師募集 看護師の心を大切にしたい 私達と一緒に実践しませんか  クリエイテイブな看護

Use the rikaichan popup dictionary on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help reading this recruiting poster for nurses at a Kyoto hospital.

This poster first struck me visually, with its use of a traditional building as a backdrop, outdoors with smiling faces under a beautiful sky instead of the more typical austere hospital setting.  Then I noticed that the message that it’s striving to convey defied my expectations to at least the same extent.

Over the years many of my English students have been nurses in Kyoto and they’ve always talked about how physically and emotionally demanding the work is, with irregular hours that include graveyard shifts, the stress of bearing so much responsibility,  and a lack of discretionary power.

This poster seems to be a response to that reputation,  and is a great example of an English adjective that has become part of the Japanese language recently and takes the な form.  Its use seems to emphasize the hospital’s focus on a break from old standards and expectations,  in giving nurses more say in the way things are done, and to feel more valued and appreciated as partners in the process, not just passive, obedient workers at the hospital’s disposal.   Using ‘creative’ instead the Japanese equivalent highlights the break from tradition in a powerful way.

This ‘creative’ approach can only help with recruitment, I would think.  I’m curious about how it’s implemented.

Speaking of evolving language and attitudes,  my Japanese teacher corrected me recently when I used the word 看護婦 instead of the newer form 看護師 for ‘nurse.’  Seems that かんごふ  isn’t an up to date term and かんごし has replaced it, as in this poster.  Am I showing my age!?

Can you think of any other words In Japanese that  been replaced by new forms?  What words or kanji characters in the poster were new to you?

Originally posted 2012-07-31 02:51:42.

Heaven’s River: The Milky Way and the Tanabata Star Festival

I just got a second coffee and a blueberry scone and commented to the Starbuck’s staffer that I was glad the rain had stopped. 雨やんでよかった!She reminded me that it’s especially good news because today’s Tanabata, the Star Festival.

Then she said ‘Milky Way’ in English,  and I remembered that according to the legend,  two deities represented by stars are separated by the Milky Way, and can only meet on Tanabata night.

I wanted to know how to say ‘Milky Way’ in Japanese and asked her.  Heavenly River! 天の川(あまのがわ).  I should be able to remember it it this time.  The trick will be to remember this reading of 天. Another example that comes to mind is 天下り(あまくだり, descent from heaven.  A colorful expression for the common but increasingly frowned upon practice of giving high level bureaucrats cushy private sector jobs when they retire.  What we might call a golden parachute in English.

Because of the similar sound, I think of the word for sweet, 甘い when I see this reading of 天,  and then I think of that sweetest of candy bars, Milky Way,  and I find a new way to remember how to read this heavenly kanji combination.

あまのがわ、あまくだり。。。。Have you come across of any other examples of this reading for the character 天 in conversation or readings?

Originally posted 2012-07-07 02:38:53.

The sand dunes of Tottori

photo by geofrog, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

I was talking with my friend Yutaka the other night, sitting at the counter of my favorite bar listening to some tunes by The Who from their BBC sessions LP.  He just took a trip to Tottori Prefecture, and though I’ve never been to 鳥取県,  I’ve heard about the sand dunes and camels.  The first time I saw pictures I had a hard time believing it was Japan!

I couldn’t say the word for ‘dunes’ even though I’ve heard it before when that area has come up in conversation.  This time I made a point of asking him how to say it, and took the time to see what the word’s components are.  As is so often the case when I do this, I learn a lot and discover some unexpected connections, and easy ways to anchor my new knowledge to things I already know on some level.

砂丘(さきゅう)means dune in Japanese.  The first character means sand, すな。When my friend told me this much, my eyes lit up as I realized that it’s the same reading as in 黄砂(こうさ)。黄砂 might well not be familiar to you if you don’t live in Japan or neighboring countries, but based on the information in this paragraph, you might be able to understand and pronounce it.  Hint: the first character is the kanji for a primary color.

Could you get the color and maybe the reading, too?

黄砂 literally means ‘yellow sand.’  It makes its way to Japan and neighboring countries from China via high winds and makes a nuisance of itself by causing allergy-like symptoms like sore throats and doing damage to car finishes, etc.  The word comes up in conversation here  when strong winds pick up.  As desertification has spread in China, the amount of yellow sand has increased.

The word for dune, 砂丘 uses this same reading.  My friend added that the second syllable means hill, or おか。so dune is literally ‘sand hill.’  When I started writing this post, I got a surprise, though. I’d expected 岡 to pop up when I wrote the word in hiragana, because I’m familiar with that kanji for ‘hill’ from last names like 岡本、and places like 岡島. This  kanji has eluded me to this point, but 丘 is on my radar screen now.

A third example of this reading of the kanji for sand is the one I’d overlooked when I started writing this post, and I only realized it because my Japanese teacher pointed it out when I shared the draft with her. 砂糖!Sugar.  I’d totally overlooked this reading because I’ve come to see that word as a unit that means sugar, and hadn’t examined the kanji individually for years.

If you don’t have this reading for 砂 committed to memory yet,  you might use its English meaning, ‘sand’ as a mnemonic device to help you lock it in.  Think of the first two letters of ‘SAnd’ and you’ll never forget the さ in the words above!

Funny how as my kanji knowledge grows,  the most familiar old characters and words like 砂糖 offer up new discoveries.

One of these days I’ll get to the dunes of Tottori!  Have you been there?

Originally posted 2012-07-04 12:19:21.

Katakana Japanese Reading Practice #20: Yoga Studio’s Sign

Yoga studio's sign in katakana Japanese alphabet


If you’re studying hiragana and katakana, try reading this sign. Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool with my transcription below the photo if you need help.  That’s rain on their arms, not sweat.

JapanesePod101.com – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Originally posted 2013-04-30 12:50:11.

Katakana Japanese Reading Practice #22: McDonald’s Japan Sign

Tokyo McDonald's sign in katakana Japanese alphabet


If you’re studying hiragana and katakana, try reading this sign. Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool with my transcription below the photo if you need help.

JapanesePod101.com – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Originally posted 2013-03-13 23:53:36.

Katakana Japanese Reading Practice #24: Coin Locker Sign

Japan train station coin locker sign in katakana Japanese alphabetコインロッカー

If you’re studying katakana, try reading this  sign.

Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool with my transcription below the photo if you need help.

JapanesePod101.com – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Originally posted 2013-01-16 12:48:14.