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舟を編む・ふねをあむ Part 2

My reading notes for the second part of the novel 舟を編む by 三浦しをん. From page 37 to 121.

I make this notes to help me understand the novel, but I think that it could also help any Japanese learner trying to read this novel in Japanese.

Links:

Part 1 was focused on Araki but part 2 follows Majime.

Characters

I will note only the characters appearing for the first time in part II. For the other characters, see part I.

トラさん

Majime’s cat.

タケおばあさん

Majime’s landlady. She owns the lodge called 早雲荘・そううんそう and Majime is her only tenant at the time. Even if she used to live on the first floor, she eventually came to use the second floor, leaving the first floor to Majime’s book collection.

林香具矢・はやしかぐや

Kaguya is the grand-daughter of Mrs Take. She left Kyoto to come to Tokyo and move in 早雲荘 to stay with her grandmother. She works as a cook in the restaurant 梅の実.

Places

早雲荘・そううんそう

This is the name of the lodge where Majime lives and where Kaguya moves. It belongs to Mrs Take.

梅の実・うめのみ

This is the name of the restaurant where Kaguya works. It will become the new place where our compilers team go for dinner on the days where they hold the hebdomadary reunion.

Tips to understand the story

p. 37: 神田川・かんだがわ

Majime sings 「まどの~したには~」 while opening his window. These are the lyrics of the song 神田川 by かぐや姫. The song was released in 1973. The lyrics go: “窓の下には神田川”. Under my window, the Kanda river. That’s why the novel says that, under Majime’s window, instead of the Kanda river, there was only a thin irrigation channel.

I can’t get the refrain out of my head, 若かったあの頃…

p. 45-46: ツーカー

Mrs Take says to Majime that they have a “ツーカーの仲”. ツーカー, also written つうかあ means that two persons know each other’s mind well. Majime reflects upon this expression and wonders where it comes from. つうかあ is a contraction for “つうと言えばかあ”. Majime has read an etymology of this expression, but it was not an established one.

Instead of つう and かあ, Majime asks himself why it couldn’t be “おーいと言えばお茶” or “ねえと言えばムーミン”. These associations puzzled me because I find strange that Majime should think of it. This is how I understand them, and I hope that I am not mistaken:

“おーいと言えばお茶” refers to a famous green tea drink called おーいお茶. The drink was first sold in 1985 but only got its name おーいお茶 in 1989. This drink must have been very popular at the time since it changed the image Japanese had of “tea”. It was not only a warm beverage that was taken at home, but it was also a cold drink in a plastic bottle that one could drink anywhere (see Wikipedia).

“ねえと言えばムーミン” refers to the famous character of Tove Jansson, Moomin. There is a well-known anime adaptation of the book that came out in 1990, but before that, a first anime adaptation was released in Japan in 1969. The opening and ending song of the series was “ねえ!ムーミン”. It must have been popular enough if the author of our book decided that even Majime knew at least the title of the anime’s song…

p. 53: そういうひと

Majime is reading the definition of “love” 恋愛・れんあい and all dictionaries of the time describe it as a feeling between a man and a woman. Nishioka wonders if:

恋愛の対象を「特定の異性」に限ってしまうのは妥当でしょうか

before adding:

まじめちゃん、もしかしてそういうひと?

Majime does not understand right away what Nishioka is hinting at. In fact, to understand Nishioka’s remark, we have to remember that Majime said, p.31, that he never thought of whether he would like to have a girlfriend or not. To be honest, I didn’t understand straight away that Nishioka thinks Majime may be homosexual. It’s hard to get allusions and suggested things in a foreign language…

p. 57: リアルに

Majime is struck by Nishioka’s use of リアルに to say 本当に or 実に. I have checked the dictionary myself, and リアルに is translated as “realistically”.

Majime says that he is not familiar with the adverb リアルに and plan to see whether it should be added to the dictionary. I guess the meaning of this word evolved with time?

p. 62: 女性の板前

To understand this passage, I had to search for Japanese explanations… Well, I feel reassured to see that even Japanese didn’t understand this passage! 😄

Talking about Kaguya, the young woman he fell in love with, Majime says that she is a cook and uses the word 板前・いたまえ. I knew the word まな板・まないた which means “chopping board”, and I knew from the film that Kaguya works in a restaurant, so I didn’t check the word 板前 because I guessed it meant “cook”.

What puzzled me is Nishioka’s remark: “まじめ、おまえやっぱり…!”. The book then says that this time, Majime knew what Nishioka was hinting at and added: “香具矢さんは、女性の板前さんです”.

To understand Nishioka’s やっぱり!, we have to remember that page 53, Nishioka thought that Majime was gay. We also have to know that 板前・いたまえ is more frequently used for men, which I didn’t know. When he hears that Kaguya is a “cook”, Nishioka assumes that she is a man, which confirms the image he has of Majime, hence the やっぱり!.

p. 68~70: こころ by 夏目漱石

Again, a difficult part…

Having seen that Nishioka thinks that Kaguya is interested in him, professor Matsumoto suggest that Nishioka should settle himself in 早雲荘, the lodge where both Majime and Kaguya live.

Of course, Nishioka asks why professor Matsumoto comes to such a strange idea. His reply is:

漱石の「こころ」を現代によみがえらせるチャンスだと思ったのですが。

  • 漱石の「こころ」 is the novel Kokoro by Soseki (漱石・そうせき).
  • よみがえる means “be brought back to life”, “rise from the dead”, “be restored to life”, “revive”. We have here the causative form: よみがえらせる.

I thought that it would be an opportunity to revive Soseki’s novel Kokoro in the modern times.

I haven’t read Kokoro, so it was harder to understand the dialogue that follows. Nishioka says that he remembers this book from his school manual “ああ、国語の教科書に載ってましたね” and can only remember that the testament contained in the novel was terribly long, which was funny “遺書が異様に長くて、まじウケた”. Of course, Araki is shocked by Nishioka’s remark: “「こころ」に対する感想が、それなのか!(…) おまえ本当に、なぜ出版社にいるんだ.”

A little further, professor Matsumoto explains that if Nishioka were to move to 早雲荘, a three-way relationship would be bound to start between Majime, Nishioka and Kaguya. Professor Matsumoto refers to Sensei and K both loving the same woman in Kokoro. Professor Matsumoto thinks that one has to experience things to truly grasp their meaning and being able to define them.

(After having done some research and re-read this part carefully, it does not seem difficult after all…)

p. 79~83 のぼる and あがる

Majime reflects upon the difference between あがる and のぼる. When Kaguya proposes to go to the park together, Majime thinks that what he feels is exactly what you would call “天にものぼる気持ち”.

天にものぼる気持ち is an expression which means “feel as if one is going up to Heaven”, “be in seventh heaven”.

This expression allows him to grasp the difference between あがる and のぼる. Whereas あがる focuses on the destination following the rise, のぼる focuses on the rise itself, the process of ascending. For example, climbing a mountain 山に登る is more about the ascension itself than reaching the peak.

In the same way, the expression 天にものぼる気持ち describes how a great emotion or a strong joy makes your soul become lighter and raise to the sky. With のぼる, the ascension is more important than the state of “having ascended”.

p.113 料理人

Majime looks up the word 料理人 in the 言海, a dictionary compiled at the end of the 19th century and considered to be the first Japanese dictionary of the modern times. The 言海 gives the definition of 料理人 as such: 料理ヲ業トスル者、厨人.

  • ヲ is another graphic for を, which I didn’t know.
  • 業・ごう
  • 厨人・ちゅうじん is an outdated word which isn’t used anymore. As Majime sadly remarks, it shows that a dictionary, even a remarkable one, cannot escape its fate to fall behind times (my English is not good enough to translate the beautiful Japanese sentence: “どんなにすぐれた辞書でも、時代遅れになる宿命は避けられない” p.113).

p.94, p.108, p.118-119 馬締の恋文

The love letter Majime writes to Kaguya is sometimes referred to as 恋文・こいぶん, especially when Majime himself talks or thinks about it, sometimes as ラブレター, a word used by Kaguya and Nishioka.

lettre de majimeI was surprised to find the complete letter at the end of the novel. It’s called 「馬締の恋文、全文公開」. The letter of Majime contains 漢文・かんぶん, Classical Chinese. To be more precise, Majime inserted Classical Chinese poems (by Chinese and Japanese authors like Soseki) in his letter. Understanding the meaning of the poems is important to understand the meaning of the letter.

Among the poems, there were several verses from the Chinese poet Li Shangyin of the Tang dynasty. I remember having loved his poems when I studied them years ago. I understand why Majime’s letter is so puzzling. Being able to read and understand Chinese classical poetry is in itself challenging. But to truly understand the implicit meaning of some verse, one has to have a really good literary knowledge.

The 「馬締の恋文、全文公開」at the end of our book reproduces Majime’s letter with explanations from Nishioka (and another character). Nishioka translates the poems in modern Japanese, which is strange because I thought Nishioka was not that keen on literary things…

I have read the letter. It is written in a literary but contemporary Japanese. I can’t understand the poems without Nishioka’s translation. But still… even if I hadn’t Nishioka’s translation of the poems, and even though I also have difficulties understanding the rest of the letter because Japanese is not my mother tongue… still I think that I would have understood that this is a love letter.

Why does Kaguya say that she didn’t know whether the letter was a love letter or not?

In the film, we can see that the letter was written in calligraphy. In this case, it is easy to understand why Kaguya couldn’t read it. But in the novel, unless I missed the information, it is not said that the letter was written in calligraphy. They only refer to the Classical Chinese insertions….

Have I missed something in the novel? Or did the film add the calligraphy part to explain why Kaguya could not read the letter? I made some research on the internet, and I found this blog where the author asks the same questions that I am asking myself: 1- how come that Nishioka and the other character can translate Classical Chinese poems? Is it something anyone working in a publishing house can do? 2- why Kaguya doesn’t know that this is a love letter? Even if the letter is hard to read and the meaning not always clear, the message of love contained in it appeared plainly to the author of the blog.

… 🤔

Conclusion

It took me a lot of time to finish this long second part, mainly because I stopped reading the novel for a long time. In the meanwhile, I focused on my JLPT program and even read another novel. But eventually, I came back to 舟を編む. I can’t say that I am reading it comfortably, I have to be extremely concentrated, I always have my dictionary nearby and I sometimes have to look for explanations on the internet. In other words, I would have abandoned this novel if it were not a really good one, with both funny and melancholic tones and interesting contents about Japanese language, literature and the publishing world. This confirms that motivation has to be found in the contents. I am not struggling with this novel to improve my Japanese, but because I want to understand a  novel that interests me.

Making reading notes takes a lot of time, but it helps considerably. Without them, I would certainly just skip the difficult parts and continue reading. In the end, I would have missed a lot of the novel’s depth.

Motivation: starting a bullet journal

Last week, I experienced several days of complete discouragement, and I ended up doing almost nothing concerning Japanese, I even skipped studying Anki for several consecutive days (which I rarely allow myself to do).

To get back in the saddle, I decided to start a bullet journal for Japanese. When I first heard of bullet journaling some time ago, I was very interested in it but soon became very doubtful concerning whether it was for me or not. At the time, I just watched the introductory video without really reflect on the pros of the bullet journal.

To me, it looked like another way of creating a to-do list. I have tried numerous systems to organise my study and be more productive, but I never stick to any to-do list, task manager, time tracker, or other productivity tools that exist out there. The to-do lists that I created myself invariably turned into an unpleasant reflection of my procrastination, and I ended up feeling guilty and even more disheartened than before.

On the other hand, having no system made me feel like I have great ideas but never put them into practice. For example, I would like to make intonation exercises and even promised myself that I would transcript dialogues to see how many kanji I can write and so on. But these things are not a priority right now and weeks go by without seeing any of these resolutions fulfilled.

The bullet journal

After days of complete apathy, I needed a way to organise myself and looked more deeply into bullet journaling. After reading most of the site and blog of the bullet journal, I thought that starting a bullet journal devoted to anything related to Japanese (included this blog) might be a solution.

As it is my first bullet journal, I followed step by step Ryder Carroll’s instructions on bulletjournal.com. I soon realised that I would have to add a “weekly log” to my journal, as suggested. I am only a beginner in bullet journaling, and I still don’t know if it will work for me. However, I can already say that I like some features, which I think, combine well with  studying Japanese and writing a blog:

Actionable item

Of course, the bullet journal is here to help you compile all your monthly and daily tasks, but Ryder Carroll also speaks of “actionable item”. Tasks marked with a dot are just items that require an action from you, contrary to notes or events. I like the term “actionable item” because it does not bear the (to me) negative connotations of “things to do”, “deadline”, “assignment”, etc.

Migrate without guilt

In most systems that I have tried, tasks had to be done, and undone tasks were pointing at me disapprovingly. “Migration”, or transferring your task to another day, was not supposed to happen, it was an accident. In the bullet journal system, however, “migration” is a “cornerstone” of the whole system.

More than simply listing tasks, I see it as a way to write down any inspirations, ideas, resolutions to not forget them. You then see when would be the best time to do them (scheduled tasks) or if they are worth your time at all. You complete what you can achieve on a given day, week or month and migrate the tasks you could not complete to the next month.

This is a great way to reflect on procrastination. I often blame myself because I end up postponing, again and again, the same task. In fact, it may be that this task is not so meaningful to me, I am not procrastinating, I am just not interested in it. In this case, I should just get rid of this task to concentrate on the things that are really worth it.

Collections

The ability to incorporate “collections” inside the bullet journal is a fantastic feature. I like having all my ideas concerning Japanese in one place. For example, I already created a page devoted to this blog and post ideas. Every time I think of a new subject to my blog, I write it in the “blog ideas” collection of my bullet journal. I also plan to create a collection for “books to read”. Whenever I come across reading recommendations (mainly on WordPress’ blogs) or a book in a bookshop that interests me, I will write it there. Finally, I will also create a collection for my JLPT study plan (i.e. how many lessons I have to study in each of my books vs the remaining days).

Don’t lose track of the bigger picture

Having both a daily log and a monthly log allows me to keep track of time. When self-studying, it is easy to let the days fly away without even realising it. In the end, we get nowhere, not because Japanese is difficult, but because managing one’s time is difficult.

Bullet journal vs agenda

Why not just use an agenda? This is the question that I am asking myself, even after I started my bullet journal… Most agendas have what you would call a monthly and daily logs and some of them even incorporate blank pages to add “collections”.

I still don’t know if bullet journaling will prove more efficient than just keeping an agenda. I have a little personal agenda for the end of 2017 and next year, but as I am experimenting the bullet journal, I plan to use it for any personal data except Japanese study.

Conclusion

As suggested on bulletjournal.com, I will try the system for at least two months and see if it helps me in my studies. As I am sticking to the original and simple version of the bullet journal (no drawings, no design, no colours), it takes me only a couple of minutes each day, so I know that I am not spending more time organising my studies than actually study. I will certainly come with an update in two or three months on this subject!

Japanese news: on natto, vitamin K and femur fractures

I found an intriguing article today on the Asahi website. The title of the article is :

中高年の骨折は「西高東低」 原因は不明、納豆が関係か.

  • 骨折・こっせつ fracture of a bone

The title says that concerning bone fractures of middle-aged and elderly persons, it is “high in the West and low in the East”. Even if the reason for this difference is unclear 不明, it may be related to the consumption of natto 納豆.

Link to the article

What is defined as “high” or “low” is the proportion 割合・わりあい of persons who broke their femur 大腿骨骨折・だいたいこつこっせつ.

  • 大腿骨・だいたいこつ is the femur or thighbone. Together with 骨折・こっせつ, which means “fracture of a bone”, it means “fracture of the femur”.

Research groups 研究グループ・けんきゅう say that the differences between West and East Japan could be related to eating habits 食生活・しょくせいかつ.

The survey 調査・ちょうさ carried out is based on data coming from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare 厚生労働省・こうせいろうどうしょう. The survey concerned people above 40 who had a femur fracture 大腿骨骨折をした40歳以上の男女.

The goal of the survey was to examine the differences by prefecture: 都道府県別・つどうふけんべつ

  • 都道府県・とどうふけん is a Japanese prefecture. Adding the word 別・べつ, which means “difference”, gives the idea of “differences by prefectures”.

The results of this examination prove that there is a disparity 偏り・かたより (bias, lack of balance) between men and women.  If we compare the prefectures, the proportion of femur fractures is higher in West Japan and lower in East Japan, and this is true for women as well as for men. The article says:

「西高東低」の傾向が浮かび上がった

  • 傾向・けいこう tendency, trend, inclination
  • 浮かび上がる・うかびあがる rise to the surface, appear, emerge, come to light

The tendency “West high, East low” emerged (from the results).

The reason 原因・げんいん for such an important regional disparity 地域間の偏り is indistinct, unclear はっきりしていない.

In the past, the (amount of) consumption 消費量・しょうひりょう of natto 納豆・なっとう by Japanese had been given as a reason to explain why Japanese had a high concentration 濃度・のうど of vitamin K in the blood 血中・けっちゅう. Natto contains 含む・ふくむ a lot of vitamin K, which helps to bring the calcium to the bones:

カルシウムの骨への取り込みを助ける.

  • 取り込む・とりこむ means “to bring in”. Here, I think we can translate by “to enhance the absorption of calcium into the bones”.

To explain the results of the survey, researchers turn to eating habits.

A professor of Osaka Medical College explains that people should undergo a medical examination 受診・じゅしん, absorb 摂取・せっしゅ calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K, make a habit 習慣づける・しゅうかんづける of doing sport, and be careful of underweighting やせ過ぎ・やせすぎ.

Even if the article does not comment on the professor’s statement, it tends to show that the mere absorption of natto, or vitamin K, is not enough to prevent femur fractures. It should be supplemented by sport and good eating habits.

Conclusion

The title caught my attention because I like natto and eat it often. I am not particularly interested in nutritional facts, though.

At first, I thought that the article would be very difficult to read. It contained three obstacles:

  1. medical terms (such as 大腿骨骨折)
  2. numbers and words related to surveys, like 割合 or 偏り
  3. name of prefectures

But after looking up a few words and isolating what was important and what was not, it was not that difficult. For example, I didn’t try to translate the results obtained in this or that prefecture. More than the survey itself, I found that the conclusion drawn from the results was interesting, and focused on it.

Japan travel guides

For this Wednesday, I have decided to compare some travel guides. I have been to Japan only once, it was a five days trip to Tokyo in March of this year. In December, I will make my second trip to Japan, to Kyoto this time.

French guide vs Korean guide

To prepare the Tokyo trip, I used both the French travel guide Le Guide du Routard and one Korean guide called 프렌즈 도쿄, published by 중앙books.

It is obvious that French and Korean do not travel in the same way. When the French guide contains a lot of information concerning places to visit, with historical contents and anecdotes, the Korean one makes sure you will miss any of the trendy boutiques of Tokyo.

In the Routard, travellers will find places to stay, places to eat or drink and of course, places to visit. The authors always select places of cultural and historical interest, as well as traditional architecture or on the contrary, modern and impressive buildings. They all come with interesting explanations about the place’s history and so on. The guide is perfect for travellers who really want to discover Japan, from the most traditional and authentic spots to the modern ones.

The Korean guide is full of places to go shopping and eat or drink. They give the address and a full description of all the boutiques where you can buy clothes and accessories, trendy cafés and a lot of restaurants too. As for places to visit, the guide does mention them but it really isn’t the core of the book.

As I am used to travelling with the Routard, I was very shocked by the Korean guide. When travelling abroad, buying clothes and drink a fancy coffee is not my priority. I want to discover the country’s cultural heritage, and learn more about historical places. Korean travel guides are not for me I guess…

But, I must admit that the Korean guide gave us the best restaurants we went to on our trip. I like the Routard, but when it comes to restaurants, it can be somewhat disappointing, at least concerning the Tokyo guide. They give only a few addresses and among them, I found several French restaurants. Now, why should I want to eat French in my first five days trip to Tokyo?

Even if the Korean guide did sound superficial to me, I would have missed a lot of foodies if I had taken just the Routard. So having the two was not bad at all.

Japanese guide るるぶ

For this winter trip to Kyoto, however, I bought for the first time a Japanese guide. This was a new shock… At first, I hated it, the inside is just as the cover, full of information, colours, titles, all kind of fonts, photos and commercials. Just flipping through it gave me a headache and it took me a lot of determination to study it. I am glad that I made the effort because, under the overwhelming and colourful presentation, the guide is well structured and very useful.

guide japonais1

The るるぶ guide for Kyoto has very colourful and rich contents

How the book is structured

The first part contains general information about Kyoto, namely:

  1. Places to visit: 人気京スポット全部知り
  2. Kyoto’s cuisine: 絶品京グルメ全部食べ
  3. Souvenirs worth buying: お目立て京みやげ全部買い
  4. Cultural experiences you can make in Kyoto: 流行りの京体験全部見せ

The second part is a focus on the central parts of Kyoto with things to do, places to eat and souvenirs to buy.

The third part is the main guide. The guide focuses on 6 areas of Kyoto. At the beginning of the book, you will find a map with the 6 areas marked with different colours. As you can see on the picture above, each area is easily found in the book thanks to the bookmarks on the left page.

The last part gives indications concerning Kyoto’s neighbouring places.

Why I like this guide

Related to what I said concerning French and Korean guides, I find the Japanese one to be a good mix between the two. Temples and other places to visit are the main entry for each double page but the guide gives a lot of valuable information about what to eat, what typical dessert to taste and what to buy.

The pictures of food make me want to try absolutely everything, even what I don’t like or can’t eat.

What I particularly appreciate are the promenades proposed for each area. There is a clear little plan with things to do, see and eat on the way:

guide japonais 3

Example of a promenade proposed in the るるぶ guide

Talking of maps, the guide comes with a booklet entitled “京都まち歩きmap”. It contains a lot of detailed maps of all the areas of Kyoto. I like detailed maps and on this point, I must say that the Japanese guide wins over the Routard (though, some may prefer clear and simple maps):

comparaison cartes

The same area of Kyoto. On the left, Le Guide du Routard, on the right, るるぶ

Conclusion

If I were to take only one guide, it would still be the Routard. I like how they focus on cultural aspects of Japan. Even if I will make further researches concerning the places I plan to visit, the descriptions contained in the Routard are a good start. Furthermore, it focuses on places worth of interest for European, whilst the Japanese guide aims at Japanese…

This being said, the るるぶ guide is a great supplement and I am glad that I ignored my first distaste of the flashy cover and bought it. If you plan a trip to Japan and can read some Japanese, I really suggest that you take a look at one of these Japanese guides.

Learning strategies: working on intonation

When I hear non-Japanese talking in Japanese I sometimes think “wow, it sounds like Japanese!” and sometimes not. The difference is not the level of Japanese spoken, not the vocabulary, not the grammar employed, it is the intonation. Unfortunately, I feel that intonation is often neglected when learning Japanese. We have so much work to do to get familiar with a completely new sentence structure and way of expressing oneself…

Can it be that most of books and materials to self-study Japanese don’t encourage to work thoroughly on Japanese intonation? I don’t know every material of course, but I have the popular method “Genki”, and new words come without explanations about how to pronounce them, I mean by that, which syllabus should be higher.

I found indications on how to pronounce new words in several Korean resources to learn Japanese. Japanese grammar and Korean grammar are so similar that books aiming at Korean can go fast on basic grammar and focus on pronunciation instead. To give you one or two examples of how words are introduced:

cakewalk

일본어 무작정 따라하기 (The Cakewalk series: Japanese conversation)

 

This comes from a Korean series called “The cakewalk series”, which has great resources for beginners. This series is mainly focused on pronunciation, and the beginner’s books introduce very little vocabulary and grammar. Instead, it asks you to listen and repeat again and again to get the right Japanese pronunciation from the beginning.

EBS

초급 일본어, EBS FM and Donga publishers

 

This comes from a booklet accompanying a radio program in Korean to learn Japanese. Here again, they focus a lot on how words are supposed to be pronounced to sound Japanese. The Korean host actually insists a lot on which syllabus should be higher and which low.

But of course, even if being aware of these particularities is important, nobody actually learns a word like this. The best way to get the intonation right is to listen to a lot of Japanese. But here again, just listening is not enough. I know it because I hear English all the time and believe me, the results are not there… 😢

As I said in a previous post, immersion is not enough. Getting the right intonation requires a lot of conscious work. Just listening will improve your listening skills and your speaking skills too, but if your intonation is wrong, I don’t think that it can be fixed by just listening.

To me, the best way to work on intonation is as follows:

  • First, find a dialogue in Japanese slightly under your level, or something that is easy to you regarding vocabulary and grammar. You have to have both the audio and the script.
  • Listen to each phrase and repeat several times. Ideally, repeat without looking at the script.
  • Record both the dialogue and yourself repeating each sentence after the native speaker.
  • Listen to your recording and try to see the differences. I suggest that you mark on your script the parts that sound different when you pronounce them.
  • Work on these parts by repeating, recording and listening several times.
  • Save your recordings somewhere to listen to them again later and compare them with your future recordings. It is the best way to see if you have made progress and to become aware of where and why your intonation was not right.

It may sound laborious but recording oneself is vital. Sometimes we are simply not aware that our intonation is not right. Or we feel that it sounds strange but can’t say what exactly is wrong. Listening to one’s own voice is really the best way to correct oneself.

Conclusion

I think that intonation is too often neglected. We mainly focus on using the right word, using the grammar correctly and being able to finish our sentence. When it comes to pronunciation, the main focus is to get the sounds correctly. But we often stay unaware that some syllabus must be higher than others, and when we speak Japanese it does not quite sound Japanese, and we don’t know why.

I personally will try to make the above exercise from time to time, once a week would be a good start I think. When I speak English, I have such a sordid French accent that I want to dig a hole in the ground, hide in there and never go out again. Learning English has always been accompanied by a persistent feeling of shame. The reason was that I knew that my pronunciation was not even close to what it should be, but I didn’t know how to fix it.

As I learn Japanese for pleasure, I don’t want any bad feeling to be associated with it, and certainly not a feeling of shame because of my French accent. But one cannot control what one feels. The only way is to get to the source of the problem and work hard to reproduce the beautiful Japanese intonation that makes the language so sweet-sounding.

Japanese news: カズオ・イシグロ received the ノーベル文学賞

For today’s news article, I have selected a short and easy one. I still don’t feel confident in reading long articles or articles about politics, I fear they might be discouraging…

Anyway, there is a subject that interests me this week: the British writer Kazuo Ishiguro カズオ・イシグロ receiving the Nobel Prize ノーベル文学賞.

Link to the article

This is a short article published on Asahi this morning, mainly focused on Kazuo Ishiguro saying that a part of him is Japanese, as announced by the title:

イシグロさん「私の一部は日本人」 ロンドンで取材対応

The word 取材・しゅざい means “collecting data”, “doing research for an article”, “covering a story”, “gathering news”. Here, we can simply translate it by “interview”.

To say “to grant an interview” we use the verb 応じる・おうじる:取材に応じる.We find this expression at the beginning of the article: “取材に応じた”. In our title, we have the noun 対応・たいおう which can be used in a lot of situations and have different meanings. Here it simply carries the meaning of “response”.

The article starts by describing Ishiguro’s reaction when he heard (about the information) that he received the Nobel 受賞の一報. When he first heard of it, he thought it was a case of fake news フェイクニュース. Then the Academy phoned him to ask him to come to the Award Ceremony 授賞式.

Hum, it is 受賞 but 授賞式? 😒 Why? 😟

In this other article about the same subject, the word 授賞理由 appears. It seems that both 受賞 and 授賞 exist (the latter being maybe more respectful?), but 受賞 is the most commonly used word. In my dictionary, 授賞 only appears in: 授賞の理由 and 授賞式.

Ishiguro said that, even if he grew up in England, his way of seeing things ものの見方 and his view of the world 世界観・せかいかん received a Japanese influence 影響・えいきょう. He said that his parents are Japanese and that he saw the world through his parents’ eyes: 親の目を通じて世界を見ていた. The expression ~を通じて・つうじて means “through”.

To conclude, I must admit that I am not familiar with Kazuo Ishiguro’s work… I would like to read An Artist of the Floating World, it’s been a long time since I haven’t read a novel in English!

Book review: 「私が彼を殺した」by 東野圭吾

This is the 5th novel of the detective Kaga series by Higashino Keigo. If you are not familiar with Higashino Keigo, he is certainly the most famous contemporary Japanese writer of mystery and detective novels. His books are systematically translated into Korean, but sadly, there are only a few translations available in English or French…

Detective Kaga series is maybe the main series of Higashino Keigo. The first novel of the series was published in 1986 and the last one only some years ago. Reading the books of the series in order allows us to see how Highashino Keigo himself evolved and how the society changed, too. For example, the use of cellphones or other “new technologies” is slowly introduced and used in his novels.

I would say that the first three novels of the series,「卒業」, 「眠りの森」 and 「悪意」, where more or less focused on Kaga himself and you could say that he was the protagonist or one of the protagonists of the novels. In this three novels, we get to learn a little about Kaga’s past and life and I recommend to read them in the order of publication.

In 「どちらかが彼女を殺した」 and 「私が彼を殺した」, however, it seems that Higashino Keigo decided to focus entirely on the case and didn’t let us draw near to Kaga’s past or feelings or thoughts. In 「どちらかが彼女を殺した」, there is only one focalization. The novel is told using the third person and we only see Kaga through the eyes of another character. In this novel, there were only two suspects and both the protagonist and Kaga tried to know which of the two was the culprit.

The novel 「私が彼を殺した」 presents a lot of similarities with 「どちらかが彼女を殺した」. First, the title very resembles the previous one, and we are warned that there will be three suspects. But what is different is the focalization. We have three different narrators, each speaking using the first person. It will be obvious from the beginning that these three narrators are the three suspects in the case…

Now, imagine the position of the reader: you are supposed to read about a criminal case but the story is told by the three suspects! As a reader, you have no other choice but to rely on what you read. What is more, each narration begins where the previous one stopped. This means that you don’t know what the suspects have done during the time when they were not the narrator.

Are we to trust what the narrators say? Can the reader find out who is saying too little or who says too much and gives clues? Anyway, This is a novel where the reader must definitively be attentive to everything that is said, and work his or her way through the case. The reader is supposed to take the role of a detective and find the culprit…

My feelings

This is one of the best detective stories that I have ever read, and I am not saying that because I am a fan of Higashino Keigo but because I couldn’t stop thinking of the case even when I was not reading the book. I am tempted to say that this is my favourite Higashino’s book so far… but there was 「悪意」, too, and I can’t choose between the two.

All I can say is that I read this book in less than a week (I mean, the book was in Japanese, so consider it to be very fast), it is the kind of novel that you can’t stop once you started it. For once, I was not focused on understanding the novel in Japanese, but on finding who done it. Detective story readers surely want to read novels where they can find the culprit themselves, and this is the case in most of Higashino’s novels and this one is no exception. I would even say that the reader has to be active.

I highly recommend this novel to everyone who can read in Japanese. As Kaga does not appear that much (in fact, I always felt like I was the detective of the story, not him), there is no need to have read the previous novels to read this one.

Conclusion

I just don’t understand why Higashino’s novels are not massively translated into English or French or any other western languages. His books are always covering the tables of Korean bookshops, each new publication is a best-seller and former novels belong to the steady-sellers shelf… I may be mistaken but as far as I know, only few novels of the Kaga series are available in Western languages and 「私が彼を殺した」has not been translated into English. I know that a French publisher translates some of Higashino’s work but they do not focus on the Kaga series. 

We are still so fascinated by Agatha Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd as if nothing could be done that would be half so good. But what Higashino Keigo does is also incredibly daring. He plays with narration codes and offers us an exciting reading experience.

If you like detective stories, if you like to hunt down a suspect, collect clues and work your way through a case, if you like to feel that you are maybe manipulated and enjoy it, if you like to see protagonists gather in a room to discuss the case and reveal the culprit à la Agatha Christie… then learn Japanese. 

 

Daily Japanese Study: JLPT N2, second month recap

I really can’t tell where September has gone… In France, September has that particular taste of going back to work, going back to school, theatres and concert hall launch their new season, bookshops are filled with new publications… I would say that September is the beginning of the new “cultural” year, and I usually feel empowered by the general atmosphere.

In South Korea where I am living now, I couldn’t tell the difference between August and September. September’s afternoons were still incredibly hot, and I missed this “going back to work” feeling. I wish that we could have a chilly weather and even a grey sky, that I could use my autumn clothes, take a warm cup of tea and feel that now it’s time to study.

Anyway, I have to face it, September is over, and it was my second month of studying for JLPT N2 with the Shin Kanzen series. Let’s make a little recap of this month, with a focus on grammar.

Overall Feeling

Concerning the Listening and Reading books, I have no problem doing my exercises thoroughly and regularly. These books are challenging but not as intimidating than the grammar or the vocabulary books, and it is more about practising than memorising new things, so it doesn’t add too much burden on my weekly study.

Concerning the kanji book and despite my good resolutions to study kanji seriously, I must admit that I have wholeheartedly fallen behind schedule. I find some dubious pleasure in sabotaging my study plan by skipping days and days of kanji study (to be honest, I think that I don’t enjoy studying kanji at all).

As for the vocabulary book, I was extremely relieved when I finished the first part! The first part is divided into chapters that each contains an insane number of exceedingly difficult words to memorize. As I rely on Anki, it is possible to remember a lot of words, but still, I was tired at the end!

The second part of the vocabulary book is much more appealing! It does not focus on learning new words, but on mastering the ones we already know. For verbs, for example, it will give the different context in which a certain verb can be used. All the chapters of part 2 are useful in the extreme, not only to pass the JLPT but for Japanese in general. What is more, the second part of the book has a different structure than the first part and I am almost under the impression that I am studying a new book. I am glad that I got out of the somewhat repetitive circle of the previous lessons.

Last, the terrifying grammar book. Grammar is definitively the most difficult part for me. Each lesson brings 5 to 6 new grammar points, and even if the book is well structured with great exercises, I feel that I am mixing all the similar grammars and can’t remember how most of them are formed. I had to define some strategy to feel at ease (well, at least, to not feel desperate) with the grammar I have to learn for N2.

How to remember JLPT N2 grammar?

This is a question that I constantly ask myself. Most of the JLPT N2 grammar would not be used in daily conversation, so the strategy to use the grammar to remember it is harder to put into practice.

So far, what worked for me is to create artificial confrontations with the grammar points. There is no doubt that the N4 or N3 grammar will appear regularly in everyday life Japanese. If you watch anime, or if you read books, you will necessarily come across all sorts of grammar points, and you will be able to memorise them almost without efforts.

As for the N2 grammar, you can’t just wait for it to turn up in your daily life. You have to go and look for it. I am doing it in two ways:

  • First, I regularly read the example sentences of the Shin Kanzen book. I don’t bother to remember all the explanations given with each grammar point, I read them once and translate them into French in a notebook in case I need to revise them quickly. But what I try to do often is to read again and again the example sentences. It gives a better idea of what the grammar is used for than any complementary explanations. Also, I hate to have to memorise if a grammar is used with -masu form or dictionary form or any other form and I hope that by reading out loud, many times, the same sentences, I will get a feeling of what is correct and what is not.
  • Secondly, and that is a little more fun, I try to be particularly attentive to grammar when I read a book. Not every single N2 grammar point appears in a novel, but I can find some of them. When I come across one, I always read the sentence out loud and make sure that I understand it completely.

grammar

By applying this second strategy, I realised that one of the reasons why I had difficulties remembering N2 grammar points is because I tend to see them as pure grammar things that have to be remembered as such, for themselves and out of context. To me, it is a little like remembering random numbers.

What I try to do, is to desacralize the grammar, if it makes any sense. By focusing too much on grammar points and how difficult they are, I almost make them inaccessible. In reality, there is nothing much complicated in learning a language’s grammar. I will give a concrete example:

The other day, I realised that one of the characters of 「私が彼を殺した」, the novel I am currently reading, often said “あたしとしては”, which I never considered as difficult. In fact, I never really reflected upon this particular grammar, because it is easily understandable. Had I not been paying extra attention to grammar points while reading, I would not have realised that this was actually an N2 grammar. It was just a way of saying “as for me.”

I need to keep in mind that the grammar is just a way to express something and that there is nothing really difficult in it.

Conclusion

Mastering the grammar is vital for N2 because “vocabulary”, “grammar” and “reading” are all packed in the same amount of time. The reading part requires a lot of time because the texts are long and difficult. The only way to finish the reading is to rush on vocabulary and grammar. I would say that there is no need to lose time on vocabulary: either one knows or not. But the grammar part is the tricky one. If you don’t master it, you could be tempted to spend too much time reflecting on the good answer and I am sure that it does help, that with some thinking, it is possible to pick the right answer. But in this case, I doubt that one can go through the entire reading part before the end of the time… That is why I need to feel more confident with the grammar before December!

Good resolutions for October:

  • Obviously, working on this kanji book!
  • Regularly read the example sentences of the grammar book
  • Put special efforts on adverbs and kun lecture of words containing only one kanji like 予め or 承る…
  • At some point, I will have to redefine my study plan because I might have lost sight of it in the course of September… I want to be sure that I can finish the books before December!

 

Your can read my first month recap’ here.

カントリー・ロード, Japanese Version

This song is a Japanese version of the famous Take me Home, Country Roads by John Denver. It appears in the Ghibli Studio film Whisper of the Heart, directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. The protagonist Shizuku, a 14-year-old girl, has to translate the original version into Japanese for her school. The song then becomes an essential element in the story.

Whisper of the Heart is my favourite Ghibli film. It may not have the magic and fascinating elements contained in Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but it is one of the most inspiring movies I have seen. I wish I had seen it when I was the same age as Shizuku, it may have encouraged me to follow my own way. It is a film about working hard to achieve one’s dream and finally find oneself. I feel empowered every time I watch it.

Contrary to other lyrics I have studied until now, I will focus more on translation and less on grammar and vocabulary.

ひとりぼっち おそれずに
生きようと 夢みてた
さみしさ 押し込めて
強い自分を 守っていこ

  • ひとりぽっち means “being on one’s own”
  • 押し込める・おしこめる can have several meanings. I think that the most appropriate one is “to shut up”, “to lock up”

I was dreaming of living all alone without fear. Let’s put the loneliness aside and preserve my determination.

カントリー・ロード
この道 ずっとゆけば
あの街に つづいてる
気がする カントリー・ロード

I knew the word 続く・つづく which means “to continue” but I was puzzled to see it with the particle “に”. By searching the dictionary, I learned that “Aに続く” means “to lead to A”, which naturally makes sense in these lyrics.

Country Road, I feel that if I kept following that road, it would lead me to that town.

歩き疲れ たたずむと
浮かんで来る 故郷の街
丘をまく 坂の道
そんな僕を 叱っている

  • 佇む・たたずむ stand still for a while, stop, linger
  • 浮かぶ・うかぶ I know this verb mainly as either “to float” or “come to mind”. I think that “come to mind” fit here.
  • 丘・おか a hill
  • 坂・さか a hill

To understand the difference between 丘 and 坂, let’s have a look at a Japanese definition:

  • 丘・おか: 土地の小高い所。低い山。小山
  • 坂・さか:一方は高く一方は低く、傾斜している道

丘 is used to describe the hill in itself, as a high place or a small mountain. 坂 is used to describe the inclination of the hill, the slope.

If I stand for a while, tired of walking, my hometown comes to my mind and the inclined path turning around the hill watches me reproachfully. 

I understand this passage as such: Every time “he” stops for a while, the souvenir of his home country haunts him and the “country road”, the path that leads to his home, reproaches him to walk away instead of following it to come back home.

カントリー・ロード
この道 ずっとゆけば
あの街に つづいてる
気がする カントリー・ロード

Country Road, I feel that if I kept following that road, it would lead me to that town.

どんな挫けそうな時だって
決して 涙は見せないで
心なしか 歩調が速くなっていく
思い出 消すため

  • 挫ける・くじける be depressed, lose heart, be discouraged
  • 心なしか・こころなしか somehow or other, I somehow felt, I somehow get the impression
  • 歩調・ほちょう the pace at which one walks

Even in the most disheartened times, by no means will I let my tears show. Somehow or other, I start to walk faster, to leave the memories behind. 

カントリー・ロード
この道 故郷へつづいても
僕は 行かないさ
行けない カントリー・ロード

Country road, even if this path leads to my home, I won’t follow it, I can’t follow it.

カントリー・ロード
明日は いつもの僕さ
帰りたい 帰れない
さよなら カントリー・ロード

Country road, tomorrow, as usual, I will want to return, I can’t return. Farewell, country road.

I am surprised to see that Shizuku totally transformed the meaning of the original song. When John Denver sang about returning home, Shizuku evokes, on the contrary, someone leaving his home behind and walking away, resisting the temptation to follow the “country road” that leads to his hometown.

It is much more natural for a 14-year-old girl who is thinking about her life, to wish to go away instead of “returning home”. That’s why I find the Japanese version of the lyrics so meaningful for the film. It also accentuates the bitterness she feels when Seiji goes to Italia, feeling that he fulfils the contents of her song and she doesn’t. She still has to learn that one doesn’t necessarily have to “leave” to follow one’s route.

These lyrics are the final translation of “Take me home, country roads” by Shizuku. But before completing the final version of her translation, she first wrote a first one and showed it to her friend Yuko. This is the extract Yuko sings in the film (with a rough translation):

白い雲わく丘を まいてのぼる 坂の街
古い部屋 ちいさな窓 帰り待つ 老いた犬

An inclined path that goes up around a hill surrounded by white clouds. The old dog is waiting for my return behind the small window of my old room.

カントリー・ロード
はるかなる 故郷へ つづく道
ウェスト・ヴァジニア
母なる山 なつかしい わが街

Country roads, the road that leads to my home, in the distance. West Virginia, mountain mama, old sweet home.

As we can see, Shizuku evolved a lot between the two translations. In the first one, she more or less stuck to the original version and the overall meaning of the song. In the final version, she gave a personal interpretation of the song. Having no experience herself about missing one’s home country, she wrote about what she felt, as she explains in the film. The new version is much more personal and very far from the original version, too. I never realised that the difference between the two translations of Shizuku was also a way to express how Shizuku’s personality develops and she slowly becomes herself. I can say that I discovered a new element of the film with today’s post!

 

Currently reading: 私が彼を殺した by 東野圭吾

Even if I am still reading 舟を編む (progressing very slowly), I couldn’t resist the temptation to start a new novel by Higashino Keigo. I am reading the Kaga series (加賀恭一郎シリーズ) and I bought the 5th novel of the series: 私が彼を殺した.

When I started the novel, I really felt comfortable, I think the Japanese word 落ち着く would be appropriate to describe this feeling. Steadily reading the same author has the consequence that you get used to his or her style of writing. I have read 6 novels of Higashino Keigo so far in Japanese and I feel accustomed to his writing. Returning to one of his novels after a long pause felt like returning to a familiar and comfortable place.

I have read very comfortably a good third of 私が彼を殺した this weekend and I think that there are three reasons why I can read this novel quite easily:

  • To begin with, Higashino Keigo’s novels are not difficult. If I compare with 舟を編む for example, Higashino Keigo’s books are very straightforward. Everything is said or described plainly and there are no long or difficult descriptions (except for the crime scene but it does not concern every novel).
  • As I said before, I think that I got used to Higashino’s style of writing. This can be a problem when learning a language. I could be under the impression that I am progressing when I am only getting more familiar with a certain author. On the other hand, being able to read something in Japanese without effort is a great joy and a good motivation booster.
  • Finally, it seems that the Shin Kanzen Series N2 that I am studying at the moment pays off. I am happy that I started this novel because it encourages me a lot to continue to study N2 material. The grammar book is especially hard and discouraging but seeing that I can read a novel easily now motivates me.

To say a word of the story itself, I am both very excited by it and a bit disappointed. Disappointed because, like the previous novel of the series, I fear that we will never get to follow detective Kaga’s decisions and actions. He will be seen through the eyes of the other 3 protagonists. But the story is captivating and the novel’s structure is very appealing: the story is narrated by three protagonists, each speaking with the first person. The back cover says that there are 3 suspects in this case, no doubt that our three narrators are these 3 suspects… Higashino Keigo does not only tell a new detective story with each novel, it seems that he also creates a new way of telling a detective story!

I will not make any reading notes for this novel because I don’t really need to. I haven’t come across any difficult part that would need some extra attention or vocabulary investigation. This novel is really something that I am reading for pleasure, not to study Japanese. 😁

Read my review of the 私が彼を殺した here.

Environment vs Commitment

Recently, I am thinking a lot about what it means to immerse oneself in a “target language environment”. As every language learner, I try to immerse myself in Japanese, listening to Japanese news, reading as much as much as possible in Japanese, and even playing games in Japanese, and so on. Sometimes, I think of how easy it would be to learn Japanese if only I was living in Japan and I come to envy those who can study or work there…

But of course, the environment is not everything. I would even go as far as to say, that in the couple “environment-commitment”, environment count for almost nothing, what counts is your attitude. And then I asked myself: am I really immersed in a Japanese environment or am I only surrounded by it?

Environment vs Commitment

We are all aware that living in a country is not enough to speak fluently the language. We all know, or have heard about, people who spent years in a foreign country without actually mastering (or even speaking) the language. On the contrary, I have met several language learners who could speak or write an excellent French without having set foot in a French spoken country or who had just arrived in France.

Being surrounded by the target language or living in a country where this language is spoken is not enough to bring you to fluency. What counts is how you use this environment, what you make of it and how you make it yours. You have to be active.

We can even say that a poor environment concerning the target language but a firm, and absolute commitment is a thousand times better than a rich environment without any active involvement.

Commitment strategies

This may seem obvious, but it is also very easy to forget because relying on the environment is so much easier. I think that a good way to remember to stay active is to create personal strategies concerning concrete examples.

For example, I read books in Japanese. This alone will help me improve my Japanese, but if I am willing to put more energy and consciousness in the process, it will help me more. In the novel I am currently reading, I try to seek every grammar point that I am learning for JLPT N2. When I see one, I write the phrase down in a notebook if I can, or at least read the phrase out loud. Doing this will help me get familiar with the grammar, and I know that I am not reading lazily, but stay alert and consciously pay attention to what I am reading.

Another example is setting your computer in Japanese. If you tell your browser that your favourite language is Japanese, every time you want to install a new plugin, for example, the explanations will come in Japanese. Of course, you don’t really need to read all these explanations, you know what this plugin is used for, and you can select “download” without even bother to read anything in Japanese. But then, why have set your browser to Japanese? If you do read the contents that are proposed to you, it will make the difference between a useless Japanese environment and a useful one. It is like the WordPress dashboard I am using to write this article. I know exactly where are the functions I want to use and I could make my way through it without knowing a single word in Japanese. But I always try to read mentally every function before selecting it: 投稿・とうこう、アイキャッチ画像・がぞう、購読ブログ・こうどく…

To start creating your personal strategies, list everything that you are doing in Japanese. These are your environment. For each of these things, try to find something you can do to actively use this environment and be completely involved in it. Don’t stay passive.

Conclusion

Even if you don’t live in Japan, if you don’t attend Japanese course, if you don’t have Japanese friends, you still can reach a good level of Japanese if you really want to. A bad environment is only a pretext we find ourselves to justify our lack of progress when the only thing to blame should be our lack of commitment. Being active and having the attitude of an enthusiast learner is the best way to travel through your Japanese journey and reach your goals.

 

Japanese News: France not going to Pyeongchang?

I was very surprised when opening Asahi website this morning to see an article stating that France may not attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang if the relationship with North Korea gets worse. Let’s analyse Asahi’s article

Link to the article

The title is not difficult to understand:

フランス、平昌五輪不参加の可能性も 北朝鮮情勢を懸念

The word underlined is Pyeongchang. I am always fascinated with how Japanese use kanji for Korean places and names, when Korean themselves don’t use them anymore (they write everything in hangeul, even Names). For example, Japanese newspaper, when talking about Korea’s actual president, would write 文在寅(ムンジェイン)when Korean do not usually use the kanji and simply write the name in hangeul. That’s interesting because Japanese could use the sole katakana transcription like they do for other foreign names. But given that Koreans do have kanji names, Japanese media prefer to use them. The problem is the pronunciation. I don’t know how 文在寅 or 平昌 would be pronounced in Japanese but it would be different from the Korean pronunciation. That’s why the Korean pronunciation is given in most cases. In our article, however, it is assumed that everybody can read 平昌 as ピョンチャン.

五輪・ごりん is another way to say オリンピック and is often used after the city’s name: 東京五輪、ロンドン五輪…

情勢・じょうせい means “situation”, “condition”, “circumstances”, “state of affairs”.

懸念・けねん fear, anxiety, concern, apprehension.


The article reports that フレセル (Laura Flessel), French Minister of sports スポーツ相, talked about the possibility for France to not participate in Pyeongchang Winter Olympics: フランスが参加しない可能性.

French team would stay at home if the security cannot be guaranteed: 安全が保証されない場合, referring mainly to North Korea’s recent missile launch ミサイル発射.

The article cites Laura Flessel:

安全が確保されない場合、フランス選手団は国にとどまる

Which in French was:

si (ça s’envenime et qu’)on n’arrive pas à avoir une sécurité affirmée, notre Equipe de France resterait ici.

source

The French sentence is very strange in fact, Flessel mixed two different ways of expressing condition and hypothesis in French:

type1: possible condition

“if the security is not guaranteed, the French team will stay at home.”

and

type2: hypothetical condition

“if the security were not guaranteed, the French team would stay at home”.

But what Flessel said is “if the security is not guaranteed, the French team would stay at home”, which sounds strange in French. To me, it looks like she started to express a possible condition and wanted to soften it at the end by saying that all this is only hypothetical.

Anyway… I think that the Japanese translation evokes a possible condition, not a hypothetical one.

The article then reports that Paris has just been chosen to be the host city 開催都市・かいさいとし of 2014 Summer Olympics 夏季五輪・かきごりん.

According to European media, it is the first time that a possible (hypothetical?) abstention is evoked by a cabinet minister 閣僚・かくりょう. The Japanese expression is “平昌五輪の参加を見送る可能性”. I knew the verb “見送る・みおくる” with the meaning “see somebody off”, but I learn right now that it also means “let sth go”, “resign oneself”, “stand by doing nothing”, “put off”.

The article ends citing IOC President Thomas Bach saying that “doors were open for North Korean team’s participation”:

北朝鮮選手団の参加に扉を開いている

扉・とびら a door

This sentence puzzles me completely… 😲 Shouldn’t it be either:

扉が開いている: the door is open (it is in the state of being open)

or:

扉が開けてある: the door has been opened (intentionally by someone) and is now in the state of being open.

but 扉開いている…

🤔

Conclusion

There is a gap between Flessel’s position and the hopes that South Korea President 文在寅(ムンジェイン)uttered in his address to the  UN General Assembly yesterday (September 21st):

My heart is filled with great joy when I imagine North Korean athletes marching into the stadium during the opening ceremony, a South-North Korean joint cheering squad enthusiastically welcoming them alongside the brightly smiling faces of people from all over the world. It is not an impossible dream.

source

I am curious to see how things will evolve…

 

Discover Japan

I guess that “Discover Japan” is a well-known magazine among people interested in Japanese culture, but I discovered it only recently… In fact, I saw an interesting issue in a bookshop last year (September 2016) about Tokyo Olympics and bought the magazine thinking that I would read it later. At the time, I was not able to read in Japanese but I am glad I bought it because I can enjoy reading it now.

Discover Japan has a beautiful website which presents each issue of the magazine and even gives access to some articles online. I think that it is possible to buy an old issue via Amazon or other sites and they even offer a wide range of e-versions, but I haven’t tried them.

As for the issue I have about Tokyo Olympics (Discover Japan 2016年9月号 Vol.59), it is a very thorough and interesting overview of the different aspects of the games preparation and what it means for the hosting country. There is, for example, a parallel made with the Games of 1964 and a recollection about how it changed Tokyo at that time. There are also surprising articles about the meals that were served in 1964 and will be served in 2020 to the athletes. The issue also gives a lot of numbers relatives to the Olympics, and even make a presentation of worldwide Olympics partners. Finally, for those who want to follow the 2020 Games, there is a short description for each sport and the name of Japanese athletes to keep in mind.

I don’t usually read magazines, but I buy one in Japanese from time to time. Magazines articles are often short and pleasant to read, with beautiful pictures.

 

Daily Study: Listening to Okinawa radio

This weekend, I went to a Japanese restaurant where you could hear the radio of Okinawa. Back home, I checked their website, and they have several programs accessible in streaming.

I have always considered the radio to be one of the best ways to improve one’s listening skills. People tend to speak at a natural speed and use expressions they would use in everyday life. I often listen to audiobooks too, but the reading speed of the speaker is much slower than real life conversation. Even if I can understand some audiobooks, I am totally lost when it comes to radio programs or Japanese people talking to each other.

If you take a look at the radio of Okinawa and go to the “streaming” page, try the first program “ゴールデンアワー”. They speak so fast!! 😮 Compared to the slow and peaceful stream of an audiobook… I take it as a challenge and a way to get out of my comfort zone in the hope that I will get better at listening to Japanese.

I like the program called スクリーンへの招待 because I can more or less understand it, and the contents interest me. The announcer reads film critics sent by listeners, it’s always short and simple. In fact, more than film critics, it’s more about the listener’s 感想・かんそう his or her feelings and impressions on the film.

This program is updated once a week, and the last shows can be accessed for free. It only lasts about 20 minutes, so it’s a good way to do a short session of Japanese listening.

Conclusion and further reflexions

Listening to ゴールデンアワー was very discouraging because they speak so fast I can’t follow. But the only way to get better is to get used to this kind of pace and immerse oneself in spoken Japanese.

Too often, learners stick to learning material which is spoken much too slowly and clearly and do not reflect how Japanese people actually speak. I think it’s a good thing to confront oneself with “real” Japanese, even if it is beyond one’s level.

I know that it works because I have experienced it with German. For all the languages I have learned, listening has always been the most difficult part. With German, however, it is the other way around, listening is almost the only thing that I can do properly now. The reason is that I found German sounds so beautiful that I listened to German a lot: the radio (the Deutsche Welle has incredibly good contents for learners), dramatized audiobooks (I have a lot of Sherlock Holmes adventures dramatized), series (I loved German so much I even watched Tatort, so you see…), songs, films… I was always listening to something in German, and I started the day I learned my very first words in German. Of course, in the beginning, I didn’t understand a thing, but it was like music to me, so I just listened. Naturally, my listening skills improved to that extent that I was soon able to watch a film without subtitles (when it is not always the case in English).

I don’t know if I will keep listening to Okinawa radio, but it is part of my working on listening strategies!

 

Japanese News: People’s reaction after North Korea launched another missile over Japan

It’s time for me to study a news article! I have come across an interesting (but difficult) article about how Japanese people reacted when they received the alert (emergency notification) concerning the missile North Korea launched over Japan this morning (Sept. 15th).

Link to the article: またか。逃げようない。ミサイル通過、周辺地域では

To start with, some vocabulary relative to the subject:

  • ミサイル missile
  • 発射・はっしゃ firing, shooting, launching
  • 通過・つうか going through, passing through
  • 緊急・きんきゅう emergency
  • 避難・ひなん taking refuge, evacuation, seeking shelter
  • 避難訓練・ひなんくんれん evacuation drill

The article focuses on three cities where evacuation drills have been organised: the city of Takikawa 滝川市・たきかわし, the city of Sakata 酒田市・さかたし and Yurihonjou 由利本荘市・ゆりほんじょうし.

To summarize the article, even if evacuation drills have been made after North Korea launched a missile over Japan on August 29th, citizens of the above-mentioned cities remained calm when they received the alert notification.

In Takikawa city, the person interviewed said that he was working in the fields when he received the alarm message. There had been a specific evacuation drill in case people would be weeding (草取り・くさとり ) when they received the emergency message 緊急メール・きんきゅう. But, the person interviewed said that he remained calm 冷静・れいせい and, given that a second message came soon afterwards, saying that the missile already went away, there was nothing else to do:

家の中にいた住民が何人か外に出てきたが、すぐに通過のメールが流れたので、それ以上することもなかった

source: Asahi

I had to do some research to understand this passage. It seems that people in the area concerned received two messages, as you can see in this post. It explains how to find the emergency alerts on an iPhone (it concerns the launch of August 29th) and there is a screenshot of the author’s phone where we can see that two messages were sent. The first message concerns the launching of the missile ミサイル発射 and it urges citizens to take shelter. The second concerns the missile having flown over the country and gone awayミサイル通過 and only says to not get close to anything that looks suspicious.

I guess that when they received the second alert, people stopped worrying.

In the Yurihonjou City, a woman said that, even if she participated in an evacuation drill and was supposed to take shelter in the citizen’s hall 公民館・こうみんかん, she didn’t leave her house on the morning of September 15th. As she says, if the missile were to fall もし落ちれば, it would be the end おしまい, and struggling desperately じたばた would not change anything.

Conclusion

Even if there are numerous articles in English about how politics reacted to this new provocation from North Korea, it’s harder to find articles (in English) about how people reacted in the concerned areas. As far as I can tell from this article, even if evacuation drills are organised, the people don’t seem to worry much. On the other hand, I read the post linked above (about emergency alerts on iPhone), and one can see that it is somewhat disturbing to receive a message saying that a missile has been launched and that you should take shelter! 😨

∗緊急速報・きんきゅうそくほう “emergency report”, alert.

Korean resources: “Japanese Sentences”

I am currently renewing a strategy I had at the beginning and which consists in listening to a lot of Japanese sentences (almost until I know them by heart), to learn vocabulary and grammar pattern at the same time.

At that time, I used a Korean book which is called “Japanese Sentences” and belongs to the “Cakewalk series”. Even if the book has a title in English, it is published in Korea and entirely in Korean (and Japanese of course). Now that I am using this book again, I think it might interest other Japanese learners with an intermediate level, even if you don’t speak Korean.

This is a little review of the book. If you want to order it via an Asian bookshop in your region, here is the reference:

book title: 일본어 필수 표연

From the series: 무작정 따라하기

Author: 후지이 아사리

Editor: 이지톡 (eztok)

ISBN: 9788960472730

How the book is structured

It is a small but thick book of 550 pages which contains 990 sentences in Japanese.

It is divided into 4 parts, each containing several chapters:

Part 1: Expressions often used in everyday life

  1. Everyday life
  2. School
  3. Work
  4. House

Part 2: Expressions you will use in all sorts of contexts

  1. Being ill
  2. Communication
  3. Days off
  4. All kinds of institutions
  5. Ceremony of marriage and funeral ceremony
  6. Others

Part 3: Expressions you will use when travelling in Japan

  1. Arrival
  2. At your travel place

Part 4: Expressions you will use to express your sentiments

  1. Happiness
  2. Anger
  3. Sadness
  4. Pleasure
  5. Others

Each chapter is then divided into several sub chapters. For example, the first chapter of the first part, “everyday life”, is dividing into “morning”, “going to school, going to work”, “go home”, “computer”, “evening”. Each sub chapter contains around 20 to 30 sentences and ends with a dialogue.

The book presents, on each double-page, 5 sentences in Japanese on the left page, and their translation in Korean on the right page. There are also some complementary explanations in Korean.

I don’t speak Korean

Even if you don’t speak Korean, you can take advantage of the many useful sentences that are in this book. The CD (see below), is the best merit of this book. Of course, this means that you can understand the sentences in Japanese or know enough grammar to just look up unknown words.

So, what is the level of this book? As is written on the back, this book aims at beginners. But, what is meant by “beginner” is more some kind of “pre-intermediate” or even “intermediate” level. I think that it uses mainly N5 and N4 grammar, but there are some complicated words (I would even say: a lot of) that are above the N4 level.

I will pick some random expressions from the book so you can judge for yourself:

  • 文化祭で友達と歌を歌うことにしました
  • 図書館で資料を探しました
  • お得意様は大事にしないといけない
  • 頭が痛いんですが、頭痛薬をいただけますか
  • 今日は定休日だって
  • お口に合いますか
  • ビザの延長を申請しに来たんですが

(to me, it is not “beginner” at all… 😒)

In my opinion, this book is great for intermediate students or above. I have just passed N2, but I am far from mastering this book. Even if I do understand the sentences when I see them, I would not be able to say them quickly and naturally if I had to.

I think that there can be a gap between the resources you use to improve your reading skills and the one you use to learn how to speak Japanese. In my case, even if I am studying N2 books, I like to go back to easier material to train my pronunciation and my speaking skills. Being able to understand the sentences without having to reflect upon the grammar or look up words allows you to concentrate on listening and speaking, so aiming at easier material can be a good strategy.

This book’s good points

The CD

“The cakewalk series” is focused on listening and speaking. All the books of the series come with a very complete audio (mp3 CD), and the goal of the author is to confront the student with Japanese intonation as soon and as completely as possible.

Our book contains two audio files, and I think you will use mostly the second one.

  1. The first file contains all the sentences read in this order: Japanese (read by a man), Korean, Japanese (read by a woman). The dialogues are read in this order: First, the entire dialogue in Japanese, then, one Japanese sentence at a time followed by its Korean translation, last, the whole dialogue in Japanese again.
  2. The second file contains all the sentences in this order: Japanese (read by a man), time for you to repeat the sentence, Japanese (read by a woman), time for you to repeat. As for the dialogues, it is first entirely read in Japanese, then sentence by sentence with time to repeat.

You can easily listen to the mp3 while doing other things, or really concentrate and try to repeat each sentence. I find the CD to be much more useful than the book, in fact, I almost never open the book.

No Furigana

Furigana written above kanji are very useful but not very natural. What is natural is to associate a kanji with a sound, a pronunciation that we hear, not that we read. The Cakewalk series wants us to use our ears, not our eyes, to know a word’s pronunciation.

In this book, the kanji pronunciation in hiragana is given at the bottom of the page. You can hide it or try not to look at it while you listen to and read a sentence. Even if there are kanji you don’t know, try to repeat them, following the sound you just heard, don’t read the hiragana. We have to trust our ears and concentrate on long and short sounds and intonation.

Conclusion

As you can imagine, Korea has tons of great material to learn Japanese. When you are confident enough in Japanese and don’t need translations or explanations, using other’s countries material can be a good idea. I have several books from the Cakewalk series, and they have all been very useful.

This book is great if you are looking for a collection of useful sentences, all in one place, with both a reading and a listening support. Sometimes, I just let the mp3 run and find myself repeating some sentences even without thinking of it. It’s a good way to get assurance in speaking and work on the Japanese intonation.

 

Motivation: don’t pass N2 in 4 months and be enthusiastic!

I am preparing the JLPT N2, and I think that I might have put myself too much into it. I met several Korean students who passed N1 and even a girl who got a full mark at the section “language knowledge” of N1 😳

I also saw that some Koreans can pass N2 in 4 months (beginning from nothing) and it made me reflect upon level and enthusiasm and how one is so much more important than the other.

Don’t pass N2 in 4 months

Last week, I came across this advertisement for an institute in Seoul (Japanese sisa) that offers a course to pass N2 in 4 months. (I roughly translated it)

sisa

Source: Japansisa

As you can see, the course aims at complete beginners and promises that you will get N2 in only 4 months. The line that I translated in light blue indicates clearly that the purpose of this course is to add a line to your resume.

If you can study like Koreans do, it is maybe possible to pass N2 in 4 months, but still, I was very shocked when I saw that. For these course takers, the purpose of “learning Japanese” (“cramming for a test” would suit more I think) is only to add a line to their resume and make their way through a very competitive, demanding and stressful society.

If you don’t need to make your resume look like it has a hoarding disorder don’t try to pass N2 in 4 months. Take your time and enjoy every step of your Japanese learning journey!

Stay enthusiastic

Japanese learners who study on their own have to face the big challenge of staying motivated, especially if they are not living in Japan and don’t have the opportunity to go there often or even at all. But they have something that is priceless: they are enthusiastic. When I read blogs of beginners who start memorising hiragana, I feel empowered by their energy. Even people who don’t invest much time in Japanese and spend weeks or months to learn the alphabets and their first kanji are so much more inspiring than those who passed N2 in 4 months… because they are so excited about it.

I was too much focused on JLPT these days, and now I try to be as enthusiastic as I was at the beginning. I realise that the real source of motivation is not “how good you are in Japanese” but “how enthusiastic and excited you are about learning Japanese”, “how much you love Japanese”. Unfortunately, I experienced that excitement and level grow in opposite directions.

It’s the same for all languages, the farther you go, the more boring become the words you encounter, the articles you read. The excitement of the first days, when you learned how to say “this is a book” in a manual full of cute drawings tends to fade away, and you are only faced with serious, grown-up material.

beforeVS after

(if you want to know the difference between these grammars, have a look at lesson 5 of the Shin Kanzen Grammar book for N2)

Let’s find back the excitement of the first days/months! I guess we all have our reasons why we are so excited about learning Japanese.

Conclusion

I wish people would not ask “how is your Japanese level?” or “how good you are in Japanese?” but “how much do you love Japanese?” or “what excites you so much about Japanese culture?”. Your Japanese level can be compared to the kilometres you have made, but your enthusiasm for Japanese is the energy that keeps you going. If I wanted to go somewhere, I would not worry about the distance made yet, but about the strength and power I have in reserve.

Twice ~ Cheer up (Japanese version)

I am not a K-pop or J-pop fan and to be honest, I am not familiar with trendy groups. Having said that, I do appreciate some famous songs that I know and “Cheer-up” by Twice is one of them. This song was so popular when it came out that several candidates for the presidential elections (2017) in Korea used this song as part of their campaign, changing the lyrics to promote their candidature. This was one of the weirdest things I saw in my life…

Anyway, Twice has made their debut in Japan this summer and released an album with all their title songs in Japanese.

I hesitated a lot before translating the lyrics of “Cheer-up” because:

  • It’s much more difficult than I imagined, sometimes what they say just does not make sense (to me)
  • I have checked several English translations found on the internet, and they are all different! But the worst thing is that, in several parts, they all differ from mine! 😱There is a greater probability that they are all right, and I am wrong… But as it would be totally pointless to post my own translation if it were just a copy of others’, I will stick to my interpretation.

What decided me to turn thoughts into action is this post by Kotobites. Lyrics do not always make sense, and the meaning is sometimes hard to grasp because of limited grammar. But it is definitely an excellent exercise that forced me out of my comfort zone. And I did learn some very interesting expressions like “よそ見させない” or “既読スルーされる”.

The lyrics are very long, but I really had fun translating them. It is frustrating to understand every word and still don’t see what the meaning of a phrase is. But it is fun too, to try to crack the lyrics, especially if you study only one or two strophes a day like I did.

Please, keep in mind that I am maybe (certainly) wrong in some parts of my translation. Don’t hesitate to correct me in the comments!

Note: when I post about Japanese songs, I like to illustrate my post with a drawing inspired by the song’s music video or film in which the song appeared. In this case, it refers to the original Korean music video.

Lyrics

君から鳴る ベル ベル
ごめん マジ無理
バッテリー
減るの早すぎる

  • 鳴る・なる “to ring”
  • 無理・むり means “impossible”, while まじ means “seriously”, “really”. The two together mean something like, “really impossible”.
  • 減る・へる to decrease, to diminish.
  • 早い・はや(い) + すぎる. すぎる is a grammar point which means “too much”, “excessively”. Drop the い of the adjective and add すぎる.

I am sorry, but I can’t receive all your phone calls (it’s really impossible), my battery is decreasing too rapidly.

着信が 止まらなくて
スマホがパンっ!
弾けそうだよ

  • 着信・ちゃくしん incoming message or call (on the phone)
  • 止まる・とまる to stop. Here in the negative form 止まらない・とまらない + the form て which only means “and” “so”. With an い adjective or the negation ない, replace the い with くて.
  • スマホ smartphone
  • 弾ける・はじける to burst open. そうだ is a grammar point which means “look like”, “seem”. It is attached to the ます form. In the case of 弾ける it is はじけ+そうだ.

Calls from you won’t stop, and it seems that my phone will explode.

んで? なんで?
私のせい?って思うだけで
胸キュンするなんて
だけどね みんな カワイイねって近づくの

  • せい means “fault” here
  • って is a casual way of saying と
  • きゅんする means “be shocked by emotion” or “momentary tightening of one’s chest caused by powerful feelings” and is often used with 胸・むね chest.
  • なんて is a grammar which means “things like”.
  • だけどね however
  • 近づく・ちかづくto get acquainted with, to get closer to, to get to know.

Why is it my fault if your heart is torn apart (or things like that) when you think of me (by only thinking of me). It’s just that everybody is approaching me telling me that I am cute.

I first thought (and most translations on the internet go in that direction) that “っておもうだけで” referred to “why is it my fault”. The meaning would then be something like “I am sad or upset just to think that it could be my fault – that you consider it to be my fault”. But, きゅんする is used when suffering from a great emotional shock, for example when parting with a lover. I think this word would be strange referring to the girl being upset and instead, applies best to the boy being in love with her (but not able to see her often). Secondly, I think that the expression “なんて” (but I may be mistaken) may be used to take some distance from what is said and would suit better if it referred to the guy’s feeling. 🤔

As for people trying to get close by saying she is cute… I just don’t understand how it is supposed to make sense here. Is it a way to say that the boy’s approach is nothing new to her because she is used to hearing such things? Or on the contrary, that the boy is saying something else than just “cute”, and that’s why she will eventually fall for him? Or am I totally mistaken with the translation? But well, there are some lyrics that I don’t even understand in French, so… 

Ah さっきの電話ごめんね
友達といて shy shy shy
まだ会えないごめんね
かけ直すから later

  • さっき some time ago
  • 会えない・あえない is the potential form 会える・あえる of 会う・あう, here in the negative form: 会えない “not able to meet”.
  • かけ直す・かけなおす to call again, to call someone back.

Ah, sorry for not answering your call some time ago, I was with friends (that’s why I was shy). Sorry if we still can’t meet, I will call you back, so see you later.

おねがい 急かさないで
前のめりな Baby
もう少し ガマンしてね
よそ見させないよ

  • 急かす・せかす to hurry, to urge on. Here, the form ないで means “don’t…”
  • 前のめり・まえのめり first means “pitching forward”. But here, it describes someone who can’t wait to do things and urges things on.
  • 我慢する・がまんする to be patient
  • よそ見・よそみ means “to look away” but, in this particular context and associated with させない, the negative form of the causative form of the verb する, it means to look another girl/boy. よそ見させない・よそみさせない is a way to say “do not let or make your partner have an affair”.

I beg you, don’t urge me, restless baby. Be a little more patient, I won’t let you go after someone else (look at another girl).

When I googled よそ見させない, I found it associated with “浮気させない”. 浮気・うわき means “unfaithfulness”, “infidelity” or simply “extramarital sex”. I found out that there are three ways of using this word, which allow us to make a little grammar revision:

  • Active form: 浮気する having an affair, cheat on your partner
  • Passive form: 浮気される your partner cheated on you, your partner is having an affair.
  • Causative form: 浮気させる, more often used with the negative form 浮気させない which would mean “let or don’t let your partner cheat on you”.

CHEER UP BABY
CHEER UP BABY 追いかけて
胸の扉を叩いて
今よりも もっと大胆に
気がないフリして 恋してるの
ホントは君が好きだよ
Just get it together
and then baby CHEER UP

  • 追いかける・おいかける to chase, to run after
  • 扉・とびら door, gate
  • 叩く・たたく to knock, to beat, to strike. Here in the imperative form 叩いて・たたいて
  • よりも is an emphatic form of より.
  • もっと more
  • 大胆・だいたん bold, daring, audacious. It’s a な adjective, so changing な into に transforms the adjective into an adverb.
  • 気がない・きがない to be uninterested
  • ふりする means “to pretend to”
  • 恋する・こいする to love

Cheer up Baby and chase after me. Knock on the door of my heart more audaciously than now. I am pretending that I am not interested but I love you, I really like you.

ソワソワしてる姿 浮かぶし
ドキドキしてるの 伝わるけどね
ダメダメ軽いと 思われるから
メッセージ届いても 既読でスルー

  • そわそわ restless, nervous
  • 姿・すがた figure, form, state, condition
  • どきどき the heart beating fast
  • 伝わる・つたわる to be transmitted
  • 思われる・おもわれる is a passive form: I will be thought to be…? = you will think that I am…
  • 届く・とどく to reach, to arrive (ex: for a message)
  • 既読・きどく “already read”, it is the notification that will appear next to your message when it is read. (on Line, for example).

I am well aware of your restlessness (the restless figure of you comes to my mind), and I know that your heart is beating fast with emotion (your beating heart is transmitted to me), but no, it would not be good to reply to your messages (it’s no use), you would think that I am easy (light). I leave your messages “read” but unreplied. (Even if your messages arrive, I let them “already read”)

What she means is that she reads the boy’s messages so that he knows she has read them – the “read” 既読 mark will appear on his phone – but she does not reply, leaving him even more restless than if she hadn’t read them at all. I found this article about “being left already read” 既読スルーされる. I love this expression, haha!

Oh oh oh 許してね boy
やりすぎなのかな 胸が痛いよ
Oh oh oh どうすればいいの
夢中になっちゃう
夢中になってる

  • 許す・ゆるす means “to permit, to allow” but it most probably means “to excuse”, “to forgive” in our context.
  • やる means “to do” and is here associated with “すぎる”, which means “too much”. すぎる is attached to the ます form of a verb. In the phrase やりすぎなのかな, she is asking herself if she didn’t go too far.
  • すれば is the ば form of する. It means “if” and express a condition. “どうすればいい” means “how shall I do?, what should I do?”.
  • 夢中・むちゅう trance, delirium. 夢中になる・むちゅうになる means that you love something so much, you are in a trance. Here, the form てしまう is attached, which means that something is done completely with a possible negative consequence. 夢中になってしまう is contracted into 夢中になっちゃう.

Forgive me, maybe I went too far, my heart aches. What shall I do, I am so into you.

Ah 悩ませてごめんね
嫌いじゃないの shy shy shy
不安にしてごめんね
打ち明けるから later

  • 悩む・なやむ to be worried, to be troubled. 悩まさせる・なやまさせる is the causative form and means “to make someone be worried”.
  • 不安・ふあん means “to be restless”. 不安にする・ふあんにする means “to cause someone to be restless
  • 打ち明ける・うちあける to confide in sb, to open one’s heart to sb., to lay bare one’s feeling.

I am sorry that I have troubled you, I don’t dislike you (I am shy because I like you). I am sorry if you are restless because of me, as I will eventually open my heart to you, we’ll see each other later.

こんなに 苦しいのは
君のせいよ Baby
あと少し 本気見せて
奪いに来て欲しい

  • 苦しい・くるしい painful
  • N+のせい the fault of, because of
  • 本気・ほんきseriousness, earnestness. 見せる・みせる means “to show” and is here in the imperative form.
  • 奪う・うばう to take by force, to rob sth. The form ます + に来る means “to come to do sth”.
  • ~て欲しい・ほしい is used when you want someone to do something. “I want you to…”

If I am in such a pain, it’s your fault. From now on show me a little more earnestness and come to take my heart.

CHEER UP BABY
CHEER UP BABY 会いにきて
君の気持ちを 今すぐ
ありのまま 全部届けてよ
これ以上 私に近付いたら
恋してるオーラ隠せない
Just get it together
and then baby CHEER UP

  • 会う・あう Here again, the form ます+に来る. Come to meet (me).
  • 気持ち・きもち feelings
  • まま means “as something is”, for example, “show me your feelings as they are”. あり is the noun form of ある.
  • 届ける・とどける to deliver, to notify.
  • 近づく・ちかづく to come, get closer. The form たら means “if”.
  • 恋する・こいする to love
  • オーラ aura
  • 隠す・かくす to hide. Here, we have the potential form 隠せる・かくせる in the negative form 隠せない・かくせない be unable to hide.

Cheer up Baby and come to meet me. Tell me all that you feel for me right now (deliver all your feelings as they are, right now). From now on, if you come closer to me, I won’t be able to hide the fact that I love you (the aura of my love for you).

もぅ 傷つくの 怖いだけよ
臆病な心に 気づいて

  • 傷つく・きずつく to get injured, wounded.
  • 怖い・こわい frightening
  • 臆病な・おくびょうな cowardly, easily frightened, scared.
  • 気づく・きづく to see, to perceive, to notice, to become aware of, to be conscious of, to realize. Used with に.

I am just afraid of getting hurt and I am aware of my cowardice (my easily frightened heart).

君を好きな気持ちが
バレちゃう前に聴かせて
迷いをとかしてよ

  • ばれる “come to light”, “be discovered”, “be revealed”. Here again, the ~てしまう form contracted into ちゃう.
  • 聴かせる・きかせる is the causative form of 聴く・きく “let hear” or “let know”.
  • 迷い・まよい means “perplexity” or “indecision”, “doubts” or “delusion”. I think it can mean “indecision” or “doubts” here.
  • とかす means to dissolve

Before my feelings for you are exposed, let me hear (…), dissolve my doubts.

I think that what is meant here is: Before she exposes her feelings and reveals her heart, she wants to be sure (of the guy’s sincerity). To clear up her doubts, he should let her hear how sincere he is (this part is omitted in the lyrics). Once again, I don’t know if my interpretation is correct…

Be a man, a real man
gotta see u love me
like a real man

CHEER UP BABY
CHEER UP BABY 追いかけて
胸の扉を叩いて
今よりも もっと大胆に
気がないフリして 恋してるの
ホントは君が好きだよ
Just get it together
and then baby CHEER UP

Motivation: Find something that exists only in Japanese

Among the usual advice given to language learners is the idea that one should pursue one’s field of interest in the target language. For example, if you like history, try to read history books in Japanese, if you like cooking, try this Japanese recipe, and so on.

I am following this advice, of course, but even if it makes the learning process more enjoyable, it does not prevent me to feel demotivated from time to time.

For example, I am interested in Japanese modern history. What I can do is buy a History book for children with illustrations and try to read it. If I want to learn more about a historical event, I can try to understand the Wikipedia page in Japanese. But to be honest, I think I would finally give up and read what I want to know in English.

This kind of method always leaves me with a demotivation phase after the euphoria of the first days. I think that there are two reasons for this:

  • either I don’t really want to understand the content of what I am reading, I am reading it only to improve my Japanese (this is true for example when it comes to books for children or contents that I already know),
  • or the information I want to obtain can be easily accessible in English, so why bother? (I always try to read the Wikipedia page in Japanese but I soon switch to the English one)

But there is an even deeper reason why I experience demotivation: I am using what I like as a tool to improve my Japanese. The language, because I am learning it, becomes a goal in itself. But that’s strange because languages are only tools that convey information, that allow us to communicate. The language should be the tool that allows me to understand this Wikipedia page in Japanese, not the other way around.

Of course, when learning a foreign language, there is no choice but to read or listen to a lot of various material in order to increase one’s language skills. But if you do only that, you may experience demotivation and lack of interest.

To re-boost your motivation, I suggest that you should choose something you really want to understand, something for which you have a great interest and, more importantly, something that exists only in Japanese. Do not concern yourself too much with level. Even if the material is far too complicated for your actual Japanese, it doesn’t matter. The idea is not to understand this material but to want to understand it. This desire will refuel your motivation. If you can, try to study this material. You will see that it won’t feel like studying at all, it will be a lot of fun. If it is really too difficult, try to recognize at least the words you know, and you will see that you can figure out some of the contents. Keep that material for later and in the meanwhile, think that you are studying to be able to understand it one day.

Confront yourself from time to time with material you choose for their contents only, not for their ability to teach you Japanese.

We could sum-up with this scheme:

study vs motivation

I am reading all kind of things in Japanese to improve my Japanese: this is the regular studying course.

It is only when I realize that I need to improve my Japanese in order to read things (I really want to read) in Japanese that I refuel my motivation.

To give an example, some days ago, I came across a radio program about air-raid on Japan at the end of World War II. I really wanted to listen to this documentary (which was, in fact, an interview) and I listened to it again and again until I was able to thoroughly understand what was said. It took me a lot of time and efforts but I really enjoyed it. For once, I wasn’t studying Japanese, I was using it. At the end, I was not able to understand everything, but I was more motivated than ever. If I study hard, next year, when Japan commemorates the end of the Pacific War, I may be able to understand radio programs without even think about it.

My actual motivation source is the novel「シャーロック・ホームズ対伊藤博文」by 松岡圭祐 that I received as a present some days ago. I would not have bought it myself since it is way too complicated for my level, but I am very glad I have it, even if I can’t read it now.

As far as I can tell, this novel tells the story of how Sherlock Holmes, during the three years of disappearance that followed the Reichenbach fall, went to Japan and met Ito Hirobumi. Together, they worked on the Otsu Incident. As I love the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and am interested in Japan modern history, I can’t wait to read this book! At first, I was shocked by the idea that Sherlock Holmes went to Japan and met Ito Hirobumi, but now I am just very impatient to know what will happen. This is really a novel I want to read for the story it tells, not to improve my Japanese. Unfortunately, I tried to read the first chapter and I am overwhelmed with unknown words. But as I said earlier, the desire to read this book is more important – in terms of motivation – than actually reading it. I put the book on my Japanese shelf and every time I spot its cover I am motivated to learn more and more words to make my way through reading fluency. I know that some day, I will pick up this novel and realize that I am actually able to read it!

舟を編む・ふねをあむ Part 1

Reference: 舟を編む、三浦しをん、光文社、2015

I am beginning a new book, and I chose 舟を編む・ふねをあむ by 三浦しをん・みうらしをん because it deals with dictionary compiling, a world I don’t know much about but that I find interesting. The novel was adapted into an anime and a film. To learn more about the novel and the story, have a look at my previous post on the subject.

In these reading notes, I will only focus on difficult expressions and words and occasionally work on some challenging extracts. If you are learning Japanese and want to read this novel (which is not that easy), I think this notes might help you. The pagination I give refers to the reference mentioned above.

Characters

To begin with, a list of all the characters that appear in this first part.

荒木公平・あらきこうへい

The novel opens with Araki as a child and describes his love for words and words’ meaning. We learn how he got his very first dictionary and how he finally started to work at the publishing house 玄武消防・げんぶしょうぼう. Then, the novel pack 37 years in a line break and we meet Araki again, announcing to 松本先生, the head of the dictionary-compiling department, that he desires to go into retirement because his wife’s health is bad. He promises to find himself a successor before the date of his retirement. Their dialogue is the opening scene of the film.

松本先生・まつもとせんせい

I am not sure, but I think we can call Professor Matsumoto, the head of the “dictionary-compiling department”. Although of a great age, he is still working, and I think that he expected Araki to do the same.

西岡・にしおか

A colleague at the dictionary compiling department. From what we learn from a reflexion of Araki page 26, he is a relaxed young man for whom accuracy and words’ meaning is definitively not a question of life and death (see how he defined the word “island”).

馬締光也・まじめみつや

Majime works in the sales department of the same company. He feels very uncomfortable with people and loves dictionaries. When Araki hears about him, he thinks that Majime could well be his successor. Majime enters the dictionary-compiling department and becomes the protagonist of our novel (although, during this first part of the novel, Araki is the main character).

佐々木・ささき

A female colleague at the dictionary department. She edits and classifies the 用例採集カード.

Places

玄武書房・げんぶしょぼう

玄武書房 is the name of the company where our compilers work. 書房 can mean “bookstore” and “publishing company”. 玄武書房 is a rather big publishing company with over 500 employees (p. 14). They have a sales department (where Majime works), and we learn from Nishioka p. 18 that the employees make a round of bookshops. I assume that they go to bookshops to sell the books published by the company (in the film, we can see a scene where Majime is trying to get a bookshop owner’s attention).

辞書編集部・じしょへんしゅうぶ

The “dictionary-compiling” Department of Genbu publishers is located in an annexe building 別館・べっかん, on the 2nd floor.

七宝園・しつぽうえん

A restaurant where the team is used to gathering and where they celebrate the welcome party 歓迎会・かんげいかい of Majime.

Important words

用例採集・ようれいさいしゅう

用例採集カード are cards where the compilers write down every new word or every new usage of a word they come across in their everyday life. If you have seen the film, you know how important they are in the story. Professor Matsumoto always has 用例採集カード with him, even while eating lunch he still writes down every new word that enters his ears (p.11).

Tips to understand the story

いぬ p. 5, 6

At the very beginning of the story, we see the young Araki fascinated with the meanings of the word “dog”. Other than the common meaning of “dog”, Araki learns in a film that “dog” can also mean “spy”. “Dog” really means “spy”, but it doesn’t seem to be widely used. Out of curiosity, I have checked the Japanese trailer of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, but the word mole was either translated as スパイ or even もぐら (mole). Maybe 犬 is only used in a Japanese context?

As Araki soon learns, “dog” also means “useless” 無駄・むだ, a strong contrast to the common association between “dog” and 忠犬・ちゅうけん, “faithful dog”.

ちんちん p.12

Araki and professor Matsumoto are talking about their first dictionary. Araki teases professor Matsumoto, asking if his first dictionary was 色っぽい・いろっぽい, which doesn’t mean “colourful” but “sexy”, “erotic”, “provocative”.

Araki then recalls how he, as a kid, used to search for シモガかった言葉. シモ here is 下・しも and refers to “one’s private parts”, “the genitals”. 下掛る・しもがかる means “talk about something indecent”, “talk dirty”. He then admits that he was sometimes disappointed and give the example of ちんちん. His dictionary only gave the meanings of “begging (for a dog)” and “the sound of boiling water”. As I didn’t know the other meaning of this word, I had to look it up to understand Araki’s remark. ちんちん is a children word to say “penis”, I guess you would say a willy in English.

しま p. 25

The film (and from extracts I saw, the anime) has skipped this passage. When Araki first meet Majime, he does not only ask him to define 右・みぎ but also しま. Majime then asks which しま Araki is referring to. As there were some words I didn’t know, I made some research:

  • ストライプ:written as 縞, しま means “stripe.”
  • アイランド: island, 島, the first (and only) meaning that came to mind to 西岡 (and myself).
  • 志摩・しま is a city in the Kansai region
  • よこしま means devious, getting out of the right path. さかしま means “reverse”, it’s used to translate the title “à rebours” by Huysmans.
  • 揣摩臆測・しまおくそく is a fourth character expression that means “giving one’s imagination full play without any ground”.
  • 四魔・しま are four demons of Buddhism 仏教・ぶっきょう

When trying to define the world 島・しま, Majime notes that it should take into account the meaning “ヤクザの縄張り” (やくざのなわばり) which means “Yakuza turf”. 縄張り・なわばり means “sphere of influence”, “domain”, “turf” or “territory”. To understand Majime’s remark, I had to check a Japanese dictionary myself. The word “島” is really used to refer to a ヤクザの縄張り.

土左衛門・どざえもん p.26

Nishioka defined an island as something floating on the water, and Araki asked him if a 土左衛門 was supposed to be an island too. I didn’t know this word, so I looked it up, and it means “a drowned body”.

Araki’s sarcasm is made clear, but the word in itself is so strange that I have checked its etymology. If I understand correctly, 土左衛門 is the name of a rikishi, a professional sumo wrestler, who lived in the first half of the 18th century. It is said that his name was used to describe a drowned person because of 土左衛門’s appearance… Even if I can perceive the reason of the comparison, it is still a weird association, I think…

When I searched the internet for this word, I found an article advising that one should not mix up 土左衛門 with ドラえもん, which is an even more weird association, haha.

Going from drowned bodies to sumo wrestlers to Doraemon bought me very far from the novel…

大渡海 vs 大都会 p.27

Araki asks Majime to put all his strength into だいとかい. He means the 大渡海, the new dictionary the team is about to start compiling. But, when hearing だいとかい, Majime takes it to be the song 「大都会」by the group クリスタルキング. The song was released in 1979. You have to listen to the song to understand what the 「あ~あぁ~!」 of Majime stands for!

Conclusion

The first part was not very long, and even if it took me some time to get into the story, it was not that difficult after all. I found the encounter between Araki and Majime hilarious in the novel (much more than the same scene in the film), but to me, the charm of the novel reveals itself only with a great amount of vocabulary search. Nonetheless, reading this book is very pleasant!