Book Review: 『ハングルへの旅』by Noriko Ibaragi

About the book

Title: 『ハングルへの旅』(はんぐるへのたび)
Author: Noriko Ibaragi 茨木のり子
Published by 朝日文庫

Japanese poet Noriko Ibaragi (1926-2006) learned Korean in 1976, when she was 50 years old. Ten years later, in 1986, she recorded her experience of learning this new language in『ハングルへの旅』.


『ハングルへの旅』p. 85

『ハングルへの旅』is a beautiful story about learning a new language and a new culture. I heartily recommend it to everyone interested in language learning, or everyone learning both Japanese and Korean. As a language learner, I kept smiling at Noriko Ibaragi’s anecdotes, most of them I had experienced myself. And for someone who is interested in the relationships and history between Japan and Korea, seeing Korea through the eyes of Noriko Ibaragi back in the 1970s/80s was fascinating.

I kept finding similarities between Noriko Ibaragi’s experience with language learning and mine. Right from the beginning, I felt an immediate bond with the author. She opens her book talking about the answer she would give when people asked her why she was learning Korean. She says that this question annoyed her because there were all kinds of reasons that would be too long and complicated to explain. In the end, she ended up saying 「隣の国のことばですもの」.

『ハングルへの旅』is full of anecdotes that any language learner can relate to. For example, when visiting a tourist attraction in Korea with a friend, Noriko Ibaragi says that they chose to follow the guided tour in Korean rather than Japanese, even though they could understand only one third of it. Who hasn’t done the same? Reading this book made me realise that, even though learning a language has become much easier today than it was in 1976, the experiences we make as learners have remained the same.

『ハングルへの旅』also allowed me to learn a lot of interesting facts about learning Korean in Japan at the time. I learned for example, that Japanese and ethnic Koreans in Japan would often refer to the Korean language as 朝鮮語, but it sounded pejorative to Koreans, and South Koreans associate 朝鮮 with the North. When NHK launched a Korean class, instead of choosing between 朝鮮語 and 韓国語, they called it ハングル講座.

It was also captivating to read about the ethnic Koreans of second of third generations (在日), who once grown up, would start learning their 母国語 again. I like how Noriko Ibaragi does not talk about her experience only, but includes her classmates, friends and people she met along the way.

Noriko Ibaragi does not shy away from mentioning the two countries’ common past, even noting her own blunder when she complimented a Korean poet who was around her age on her excellent Japanese. She realises too late that this Korean poet belonged to a generation who was forced to learn and use Japanese at school during the Japanese rule of Korea . 「ハッとしたが遅く、自分の迂闊さに恥じ入った。」

She compares some features of Korean with Japanese and talks about her travels to Korea, things that surprised her and the conversations she had with strangers met during her travels. Whenever she talks about the differences between Japanese and Korean culture, language or customs, she always keeps an open heart and finds beauty and appeal in Korean particularities that are different from her country.

You don’t need to know or speak Korean to read this book (she gives a translation and reading for everything written in Korean), but you will find this book even more interesting if you do. There are chapters where Noriko Ibaragi talks about Korean words she finds interesting, Korean pronunciation, what she finds difficult in learning Korean, and so on. I think that these chapters could feel abstract if you are not particularly interested in the Korean language. That being said, 『ハングルへの旅』will remain a fantastic read even if you skip these parts.

Japanese level

I was bracing myself for a difficult book to read in Japanese, but 『ハングルへの旅』was not that challenging. There were some passages that I found difficult, but overall, it was a smooth read. I would say that I found this book more difficult to read than most mystery novels that I have read so far, but it was very engrossing, and constantly coming across things that I could relate to made the reading easier.

This is an extract to give you an idea of the Japanese level and show how the author adds Korean words into her text (what I wrote in brackets was furigana):

かささぎという鳥は「까치 [ッカーチー]」だ。
いつか百貨店 [べっくワジョム] で、小さな木版画を買おうとしてあれこれ見ていたとき、からすとも、かささぎともみえる鳥二羽を指さして、
「까치죠? [ッカーチージョウ](かささぎでしょう?)」
「그래요 [クレヨ](そうです)」
『ハングルへの旅』p. 199

I am sure that this is an experience any language learner can relate to! But if you are also learning Korean, maybe you can sympathise even more with her difficulty to get the 濃音 right…


Amidst all the tensions between the two countries, the 反日 movements in Korea and the 嫌韓 books or articles published in Japan, reading 『ハングルへの旅』was heartwarming. I have read one of those 嫌韓 books last year, out of curiosity, and I was shocked by the way the author constantly mocked or diminished Korea. 『ハングルへの旅』was written in 1986, but it is great book to read today.

Further readings: Noriko Ibaragi talks about Takumi Asagawa (浅川巧), a Japanese who worked in Korea during Japanese rule, and fell in love with Korean culture. He is buried near Seoul. Noriko Ibaragi mentioned that she read the book 『朝鮮の土となった日本人―浅川巧の生涯』(1982) written by Historian Soji Takasaki (高崎宗司). I am interested in the life of Takumi Asagawa, and I think that I might read the shorter『白磁の人』(1994) by Takayuki Emiya (江宮隆之).

2020 Reading challenge!

First step in completing my reading challenge for 2020!

Inhae reads the News: October 2019

Welcome to a new series on my blog: Inhae reads the news (in Japanese!).

I will post in this category on the 25th of each month. I will select one or two topics that have caught my attention during the month and choose two or three articles that I would like to study. It is not a monthly news wrap-up, or a summary of the main news, I am just picking topics that particularly interest me.

What I will try to do is to sum up the articles or at least, give some context and explain what they are about. Reading the news might seem daunting, but I always find that the real difficulty lies in the context rather than the language level. Articles often refer to events that readers already know, so it can be tough to climb on the bandwagon.

Then I will select some passages to study. For now, I will just give vocabulary and a loose translation of each sentence.

But keep in mind that I am learning Japanese myself, and sometimes I struggle to understand what I read. In fact, I am doing this to improve my reading level and force me to read difficult texts. As a consequence, it is possible that I make mistakes…

I hope that this series will be useful for those who would like to read the news but find it still difficult!

Note: I mainly use articles that I read on Mainichi.

嫌韓 (けんかん) – Anti-Korean sentiment

嫌韓 (けんかん) means “anti-Korean sentiment” and seems to be booming in Japan since the recent tensions between the two countries, at least according to newspapers like Mainichi or Asahi.

(To sum up the context of these tensions: In 2018, South Korea Supreme Court ordered Japan firms to compensate victims of forced labour during the period of colonisation. Japan considers that this question has been definitely settled with the treaty of 1965. This year, Abe took economic sanctions against South Korea, leading to a large-scale boycott of Japanese products by Koreans.)

At the beginning of October, I saw several articles on the anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. Mainichi pointed out that Japanese television channels purposely broadcasted emissions that would entice anti-Korean sentiment. They do it to gain audience rate and to keep up with other channels.

Let’s have a look at an article published at the end of September. The title of this article is 「嫌韓」あおるテレビよ、これでいいのか クレーム来ないからやりたい放題? Let’s see what it means:

  • あおる: instigate, incite, stimulate, agitate, kindle, inflame
  • やりたい放題・ほうだい: as one pleases, at will, to one’s heart’s content.

I always find that titles are hard to understand at first, but they make more sense once one has read the article. Here, it asks television channels if it is really okay to incite anti-Korean sentiment, and to do as they please just because no one complains.

Let’s study what journalist (TBS) Shigenori KANEHIRA (金平茂紀) says in this article:


  • 視聴率・しちょうりつ: audience rating (for a TV program for example), viewing rate.
  • あおる this word was in the title!
  • 政界・せいかい: the political world, political circles

Shigenori KANEHIRA says that TV channels make programs that inflame the antagonism between Japan and Korea or incite anti-Korean sentiment by mocking Korean society and Korean political world.

It is not mentioned explicitly here, but Shigenori KANEHIRA is referring to Korean ex-Justice Minister CHO Kuk who was in the middle of a series of scandal and finally resigned on October 14th. That day, the three Japanese media I have on my phone made breaking news about it. It’s interesting to note that Asahi wrote チョグク in katakana while Mainichi used the kanji 曹国.

I wonder if they would have made an alert for this in normal circumstances. I don’t know if Japanese are usually so interested in Korean politics. It might be that, as stated above, a lot of media have talked about CHO Kuk, so it would be weird to be the only media not alerting the public when he resigned…?

Let’s continue with the article 多様性と冷静さ、取り戻そう 「嫌韓」の空気、青木理さんと考える 政権がお墨付き、あおるメディア . This is a long title, but we can divide it into three parts (separated by a space). We know that the article will be about:

  • 多様性と冷静さ、取り戻そう
    • 多様性・たようせい: diversity, variety
    • 冷静な・れいせいな: calm, coolheaded, self-possessed, dispassionate. (-さ transforms the な adjective in noun).
    • 取り戻す・とりもどす: take back, regain, recover, restore
  • 「嫌韓」の空気、青木理さんと考える
    • 青木理・あおき おさむ: Osamu AOKI.
  • 政権がお墨付き、あおるメディア
    • お墨付き・おすみつき: a high official’s stamp of approval. Here it means that the government has (tacitly) given its approval for having anti-Korean thoughts or speech.
    • あおる: instigate, incite, stimulate… Media are inflaming people’s anti-korean sentiment.

First, the title says that people should regain a self-possessed and dispassionate attitude, as well as the plurality or diversity (of opinions in the media). Then we will reflect on the atmosphere of anti-Korean sentiment with Osamu AOKI. Finally, it seems that both media and the government incite anti-Korean sentiment among Japanese.

The article interviews Osamu AOKI, journalist, TV commentator and former correspondent in Seoul because he was the target of some harsh criticism on social networks.

In September, a female Japanese tourist was attacked by a Korean man in South Korea. She was violently grabbed by the hair and photos of the attack show that the man had an aggressive attitude. Mainichi says that Japanese media have massively broadcasted images of the attack, especially on television. Invited as commentator on a TV program, Osamu AOKI said that this kind of event would not have been reported by foreign correspondents and broadcasted by Japanese TV if it weren’t for the current state of affairs. He meant by this that an event were the victim has not been seriously injured or killed does not usually qualified to become a topic for news. He said that by broadcasting this event, televisions only inflame anti-Korean sentiment among their audience. Let’s study what he said:


  • 邦人・ほうじん: this word is used to talk about Japanese in a foreign country. The Japanese girl who was attacked in Korea is a 邦人.
  • 保護・ほご: protection. Together with 邦人, I guess it means something like “protection of nationals abroad” ? But I don’t know if it refers to a specific law.
  • 特派員・とくはいん: special correspondent

Osamu AOKI says that special correspondents would write about accidents involving Japanese abroad if they are injured, dead, or if they disappear (in other words, if they fall under the protection of nationals abroad…?). They would not have written about this event normally (普段の状態だったら).


  • 報じる・ほうじる: report, inform
  • 悪循環・あくじゅんかん: vicious circle

In other words, if news that would not be reported in normal circumstances are reported, it is because of the current period. It becomes a vicious cycle.


  • 増幅する・ぞうふく: amplify
  • 燃え広がる・もえひろがる: spread to, extend itself

Here, Osamu AOKI explains what he means by “vicious circle”: if TV commentators in Japan and Korea say things that amplify anti-Korean sentiment, it will only spread further (it will create an atmosphere that will encourage TV to broadcast programs that incite this sentiment further).


  • 本来なら: properly, by rights.
  • 注目する・ちゅうもく: pay attention to

Osamu AOKI concludes that if events that should not have become news receive so much attention, it will only deteriorate the relations between Japan and South Korea.

Conclusion: This assault had become viral on social networks and a lot of Koreans have apologised for it. The question is whether TV channels should have broadcasted it as much as they did or make programs around it. Obviously, seeing the images of the assault again and again can only incite anti-Korean sentiment. The conclusion of the article is that media should be more careful and should not encourage hatred or antagonism. Another point of concern is that right-wing magazines published a lot of articles against Korea along with articles on Japanese politicians. This gives the impression that Abe and the Japanese government tacitly approve anti-Korean articles.

あいちトリエンナーレ2019 – Aichi Triennale 2019

Aichi Triennale is an important arts festival that takes place in Nagoya every three years.

This year, a part of the exhibition called 表現の不自由展・その後 had to close just three days after the opening of the festival. This exhibition displayed artworks that were once censored in Japan, hence the title 表現の不自由展・その後 . The most sensible works in this exhibition are a work representing a comfort woman (similar to the statues displayed in South Korea), and one representing an image of emperor Hirohito being burned.

Daisuke TSUDA, the artistic director of the festival, decided to close the exhibition after receiving threats, including threats of terrorist nature.

However, the exhibition 表現の不自由展・その後 (often called simply 不自由展) has reopened for one week before the end of the festival. Visitors were selected by lottery and had to follow a guided tour through the exhibition. They were also forbidden to share photos of the exhibition on social networks.

Let’s see how Mainichi describes this re-opening in an editorial. The title of the editorial is 「表現の不自由展」再開 それでもなお課題は残る . They announce the re-opening of the exhibition but say that problems remain.


  • 考慮する・こうりょ: consider, take sth into consideration, take sth into account, give thought to.
  • やむを得ず・やむをえず: unavoidably, necessarily, inevitably
  • 措置・そち: measure, step.

Talking about the closing of the exhibit, the article says that it was an inevitable measure to ensure the security of the visitors and people working there. (more literally: taking into consideration the security of the visitors and persons related, it was a necessary measure).


  • 脅す・おどす: threaten
  • 催し・もよおし: meeting, gathering (here: event)
  • あしき: bad. It’s easier to remember this word if you know that it is also written 悪しき.
  • 前例・ぜんれい: precedent.
  • verb -ます stem + かねない = something bad might happen.

If things had remained like that (if the exhibit had stayed closed) it would/could have created a (bad) precedent showing that if there is an event that you don’t like, you could force it to close by using threat.

I am assuming that this Japanese sentence expresses what you call in English the third conditional, but I am not sure. I am also not used to seeing かねない in the past tense… But translated like that, this sentence makes sense so…


  • 暴力・ぼうりょく: violence
  • …に屈する・くっする: yield to, submit to, give in to, succumb to…
  • 姿勢・しせい: posture, position, attitude.
  • 示す・しめす: show, display
  • 評価する・ひょうか: value, estimate, rate, recognise, appreciate, acknowledge the value of.

Adopting an attitude that does not succumb to violence (meaning = the decision to re-open the exhibition in spite of the threats) is worth praising.

I am not sure but I think that the word 点 implies that “on this point”, we can praise the organisators, but that on other points, problems remain (as the title says).

Now let’s move to another article. During the whole week during which the exhibition was reopened, authors and artists involved in the exhibition held a hotline to answer questions and complaints (and sometimes, receive encouraging words!) by the public. This is what I would like to study here. The article is called 不自由展抗議電話最長1時間半 作家グループが目指す対話の可能性とは 電話窓口ルポ . Once again, a rather long title that we can divide into three parts:

  • 不自由展抗議電話最長1時間半
    • 不自由展・ふじゆうてん: this refers to the exhibition in question. The whole name is 表現の不自由展・その後 .
    • 抗議・こうぎ: protest, protestation, complaint
  • 作家グループが目指す対話の可能性とは
    • 目指す・めざす: adm at, have sth in view
  • 電話窓口ルポ
    • ルポ: reportage (ルポルタージュ)

The article will be a reportage on the call center (meaning that the journalist actually went there and saw them work, it’s not just an article about it). We will learn more about the possibility of dialogue that the group of authors is looking for. And we learn that a conversation can last for one and a half hour.


  • 発案する・はつあん: suggest, propose, make a suggestion. This is the kind of word whose meaning you can easily guess if you know the kanji.
  • 演出家・えんしゅつか: artistic director (film, radio, TV).
  • 再開する・さいかい: reopen (it refers to the re-opening of the exhibition). Here again, it’s easy to guess the meaning if you know the kanji.
  • 開設する・かいせつ: establish, set up, start, open. It refers to the establishment of the call center.
  • 計・けい: in total, in all.

Akira TAKAYAMA is a theatre director. He belongs to the group of authors who proposed to create the call center. He says that since the opening of the call center on October 8th (which is the day of the re-opening of the exhibition) they have received 482 calls in three days (until October 10th).


  • 回線・かいせん: a communication channel. Here: a telephone line.
  • 交代・こうたい: change places, switch places, relieve (a shift), change (the guard). Here it means that the 30 authors relay each other, they don’t work all at the same time.

There are 5 phone lines, and around 30 authors who relay each other to take the calls.


On the first day, they received 307 calls and could only answer 20/30% of them. On October 10th, they received 70 calls and were able to answer more than 70% of them.

To be honest, I have struggled a little with this sentence (maybe my brain automatically freezes when I see numbers?). It is the 70件で that I misunderstood. I thought it meant that on the 10th, they had answered 70 calls. In my head, the sentence meant: “They were only able to answer 20/30% of the 307 calls they received on the first day. On the 10th, however, with 70 calls answered, they have been able to answer more than 70% of the total calls.” It was possible in terms of numbers, but it would have been a weird way of putting it.


  • 少女像・しょうじょぞう: Statue of Peace (representing comfort women). Here it refers to the artwork displayed in the exhibition.
  • 昭和天皇・しょうわてんのう: Emperor Hirohito (Showa). Here again, it refers to an artwork.
  • 抗議・こうぎ: protest, protestation, complaint.

Akira TAKAYAMA says that a lot of people called to complain about the statue of peace and the Showa emperor (the works that I mentioned above). Several people have said they have felt emotionally wounded by it.

Conclusion: There have been a lot of discussions around the Aichi Triennale: was it closed for security concern or was it censorship? But I was very surprised to read about this call center. It is highly admirable that the authors and artists have found a way to talk with the public, answer criticism and build a dialogue. The article says that some conversations could last one and a half hour! 

Currently reading: 「朝鮮開国と日清戦争」by 渡辺惣樹

Some days ago, I saw this book piled up in a bookshop in Seoul: 「朝鮮開国と日清戦争 アメリカはなぜ日本を支持し、朝鮮を見限ったか」by 渡辺惣樹 (わたなべ・そうき)


「朝鮮開国と日清戦争」by 渡辺惣樹  (草思社文庫)

They have a decent selection of non-fiction books in Japanese, but not so much space that they would pile up a lot of titles. So naturally, my attention was drawn to this title.

I am both interested in the Sino-Japanese war and Korea history, so it seemed that this book was for me. I must have spent 20 minutes, standing before it, wondering if I should buy it or not, for I was sure that I could not read it.

Even if I hesitated a lot before buying it, it was still an impulse. I hadn’t gone there to buy a History book, and before seeing this book, I was not even thinking of reading one soon. If I were to start reading a History book in Japanese, this is what I should have done: I should have made some research on the internet before, find which books or authors were praised for being easy to read and maybe begin with some general overview of History in Asia, or maybe buy a History book for children, with illustrations and furigana. Instead of which, I just bought a book I knew nothing about (apart from the title).

Currently reading - 「朝鮮開国と日清戦争」by 渡辺惣樹1

What is this book about?

The title tells us what this book is about: the opening of Korea, under the Joseon dynasty and the Sino-Japanese war “朝鮮開国と日清戦争”. The subtitle tells us what is the point of this book: understand why the United States supported Japan and turned their back to Korea: アメリカはなぜ日本を支持し、朝鮮を見限ったか.

Many things have been written about the relationship between Korea and Japan. But to fully understand the relation between the two countries, it is necessary to begin before the annexation in 1910. Another important thing is that we cannot understand this relation without taking into account other actors, in particular, the United States and China. Therefore, I am very excited about this book.

First impressions

I only just began to read it, but I can say that I am agreeably surprised. First, the Japanese level is not as hard as I expected. I had to check a lot of vocabulary at the beginning, but the same words keep coming back, so the task is not as daunting as it may seem.

The first chapter is exciting. The author focuses on the process that led to Korea opening to commercial trade. I like the writing style of the author who tells History as a history. The narrative is easy to follow, and the book is very straightforward. As a reader, we know exactly where we are, and why we are talking about this or that event.

I am particularly curious to see how the author talks about Korea. I found a comparison between Korea and Japan of the time, even if comparing the two was not the point of the chapter. For example, when talking about the first diplomatic delegation sent by Korea (Joseon) to the United States, the author compares it with the delegation Japan had sent some years previously. The superiority of Japan is undeniable, but the comparison was not necessary here. The entire chapter was only focused on the United States and Korea, and the author almost never talked about Japan here, except to say that they were miles ahead of Korea.

This is just a little detail that I noticed, and I am eager to see if this is just an isolated example or if it will be the general tone of the book. But the impression that I have from the first chapter is that Korea was entirely passive. The author of the book depicts very well how the different actors in the United States worked to sign a commercial treaty with Korea, but Korea’s point of view is never taken into account. The whole story is told from the United States’ position, and nothing is said about what happened in Korea at the time. The author almost never mentions the names of Korean rulers, and we don’t know how they saw and discussed the intrusion of American ships near their coasts. It seems that they didn’t have any strategy, or to go further, that Korea was only a passive object to conquer, not an “actor” of the Asian scene at the time. (but maybe it really was so?)

I had a look at the Amazon page of the book to see what readers said about it. The first critic says “これが客観的な記述か、と言えばそうである部分と、その上であくまで日本の立場、視点からの解釈が含まれている。

How do I read this book

I read this book with my electronic dictionary, Wikipedia and my notebook. It has been a while since I have read a History book and somehow, as soon as I started it, I was itching to take notes as I did at university. I do not only take notes about the contents of the book, but I also like noting when I feel that the author is a little partial. I also write down vocabulary because there are many words worth remembering for the sake of this book, but I don’t want to have them in my Anki.

I use Wikipedia because I like to read further about what the author mentions. Also, the author sometimes evokes Japanese names that are certainly known by Japanese but not by me. In this case, there is no furigana, and it is where my electronic dictionary proves extremely useful. Of course, I use it to look up standard vocabulary, but I would be limited if I only had an English-Japanese dictionary:

  • There are some words that I can’t find in the bilingual dictionary, and I am very grateful to also have Japanese-Japanese dictionaries in it: I always find what I am looking for.
  • As for names of people, events, fights and so on, I use the ニッポニカ, an encyclopedia in my electronic dictionary that I never opened before! It’s convenient to understand what a name stands for. If I want more information, however, I usually read the Wikipedia page in English.

When I read this book, I usually only read one or two pages if I have time, but I feel satisfied even if I only read a paragraph a day.


I may have sounded a little critical of this book, but I really love it. I am learning a lot from it, and I really enjoy reading it. If I know that the author is not always objective and sometimes tend to see things from a Japanese point of view only, it does not bother me. After all, I want to read this kind of books, because I am curious to see how Japanese historians talk about this period. The book is really interesting and well documented, I am sure that it will allow me to understand better the relation between Korea and Japan, or at least, understand how Japanese see this relation.

The author has written other books, and I would like to read them later, especially those who are more about Japan.

That’s it! I probably won’t be able to write a book review before the end of the year, but it’s fine.

Japanese News: Japan women’s ice hockey: first Olympic win!

Today, I will study an article about Wednesday women ice hockey game where Japan beat the unified Korean team 4-1.

The context

South Korea and North Korea have created a unified team in women’s ice hockey for Pyeongchang Olympics. The unified Korean team was defeated 8-0 by both Switzerland and Sweden and Wednesday’s game against Japan was a highly anticipated match. To Koreans, defeating Japan in sport is a big achievement in itself.

With Japan winning 4-1, both teams had their moment of glory: Japan women’s ice hockey won its first Olympic game and the unified Korean team scored its first goal. As strange as it may sound, the arena exploded with cheers and flag-waving when Korea finally scored, as though the girls were winning a gold medal…

Anyway, I was eager to read about the “historical victory” of Japan women’s ice hockey team in Japanese.

I found a long article on NHK News Web: アイスホッケー女子日本が南北合同チームに勝ち初勝利

Every time I start reading a long article in Japanese, I feel discouraged and have difficulty focusing on what I am reading. I decided to print out this article and work on it with a pen in hand. What I can say is this: reading on paper instead of reading on a computer screen doubled my comprehension of the text!

First part

The first part of the article summarizes the game and insists on the fact that it was the first time that Japan women’s ice hockey team won in Olympics. The expression used is 「初勝利をあげました」. I was surprised to see the verb あげる used here.  In fact, あげる has the meaning “to produce a favourable result” (profit, sales result, work or school-related results…). It is therefore used to say “to notch up victory”.

Before Wednesday’s game, both Japan and unified Korean team had lost their first two games. The article uses the word “連敗・れんぱい” which means “successive defeats”. Wednesday’s game was the last match of the preliminary round “予選リーグ最終戦”.

Japan is the first to score soon after the begin of the match. To score first is “先制点を決める”. We can also say 先取点をあげる. Japan scored two points in the first period, but in the second period they were under the pressure of the Korean team “合同チームに押し込まれる” and finally conceded one goal “一点を返されました”. During the third and last period, Japan scored two more goals and outdistanced Korea again “二点を奪って再び引き離し”.

Japan participated in two Olympics (Nagano and Sochi) but never won a match. This time, Japan women’s ice hockey team is third of its group and a last game on the 18th will decide Japan’s final rank (5th to 8th).

Second part

The second part of the article has the title: “初勝利つかんだ選手たちは”.

“つかむ” means “to grab” and can be used in both the physical meaning and the figurative one.

This second part is mainly composed of interviews given by the players who scored and the coach. Six names appear in this part and I find it so frustrating to not be able to pronounce them. I can recognize some Family names like 小池・こいけ (because I saw it a lot lately in political articles!) but I am not even close to being able to pronounce the first names…

An interesting expression is about the first score “先制点” that “leads to” victory. The article says “オリンピックの初勝利につながる先制点”. “つながる” means “be related to” but can also mean “lead to”, “result in”.

The players are happy that they won thanks to “relentless efforts” “粘り勝ち” and hope to end 5th of the general ranking. The players and the coach expressed the same wish in different ways:





They all use similar expressions: “in order to…” “I want to…

The noun 星 does not mean “star” here, but “point”, “score”. It collocates with the verb 稼ぐ・かせぐ. The expression 星を稼ぐ means “score a point”. The player used the verb “積む・つむ” which means “pile up”.

Third part

The third part of the article focuses on Korean players and coach: 南北合同チームの監督・選手は

They seem satisfied by their performance. Even if they lost the game, they “did their best”: 最善を尽くす・さいぜんをつくす. The verb 尽くす・つくす means “do to the utmost of one’s power, do everything” and can be used in expressions such as “全力を尽くす”.

Last part

The last part names this victory a “historical first victory” and insists on the atmosphere of the arena that was not ideal for Japan: 圧倒的なアウェーでつかんだ歴史的初勝利

The article says that most of the arena was supporting the unified Korean team, waving the unification flag while the cheerleading delegation 応援団 sent by North Korea kept cheering the unified team. The arena was indeed very loud and got excited “会場がすごく盛り上がる” every time Korea had the puck, and it even grew louder when Korea scored its first and single goal. This resulted in an atmosphere “圧倒的なアウエーの雰囲気” that played against the Japan team.

The coach even talked of an extremely difficult match “会場の雰囲気もあって非常にやりづらい試合”.

But, despite it all, Japan women’s ice hockey team achieved a “historical first victory” 歴史的な初勝利.


Japanese News: North Korean in Pyeongchang

Some hours before the opening ceremony of Pyeongchang Olympics, I have chosen an article about North Korea’s delegation.

Link to the article: “米側と会わない” 北朝鮮 米副大統領と接触の可能性否定

This article mainly tells us that the delegation sent by North Korea to Pyeongchang will not take the Olympics as an opportunity to meet with Vice President Mike Pence or other U.S. officials who attend the opening ceremony.

Let’s have a look at some interesting words that can be used in other contexts:

We know that North Korea sends a delegation to attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics. The verb to say “send” or “dispatch” is 派遣する・はけんする. This word is formal and used to say things like “dispatch an army” or “send a delegate”. But, used before a noun, it can take the meaning of “temporary”, with the idea that someone is dispatched temporarily somewhere to perform a task. For example, we can say “派遣社員・はけんしゃいん” which is a temporary worker from an agency. If a professor comes from another university to give conferences, he is a 派遣教授・はけんきょうじゅ, a visiting professor.

North Korea doesn’t have the “intention” to meet with U.S. officials. The word “intention” is 意向・いこう. To say “intend to do something” in a rather formal way, you can say “…する意向がある”, literarily “to have the intention to do…”. But 意向 can also mean “one’s mind”, what somebody wants to say. For example, I found the sentence “こちらの意向がうまく伝わっていないようだった”, which means “it didn’t seem as though our message was getting through to them”.

Our article says that “for the time being”, “at this point in time”, North Korea has denied any intention to meet with U.S representatives. The word 現時点・げんじてん means “present point in time” and is often used with the particle で like in 現時点では.

To North Korea, this visit to Pyeongchang is “purely and genuinely” 純粋に to participate in the games, not to discuss political matters. I knew the adjective 純粋な・じゅんすいな which means “pure”, “genuine”, but I didn’t know that it can be used adverbially like in English to say that you do something only for something. To give a similar example, I found the expression “純粋に趣味で…する” to say that you do something for pure enjoyment, without caring for the results.

To say the North Korean delegation will not “meet” U.S officials, the word used is “接触・せっしょく”. This is one of the first words I learnt in Japanese, it certainly was in some “2000 words” list book for beginners. However, I still feel very unfamiliar with it and I am sure that I never used it. 接触 has two meanings. The first is a physical contact but I don’t think that you would use 接触する in a casual situation. The second meaning, the one that interests us here, is “to come in contact with”. You can come into contact with someone 接触する, get a chance to meet someone …に接触する機会を探す, keep in touch with someone 接触を保つ or, on the contrary, lose contact 接触を断つ (たつ) or even avoid contact 接触を避ける.

That’s it for today, I will be watching the opening ceremony tonight!

Japanese News: Moon Jae-in and the comfort women agreement.

Several articles on NHK News Web (main source) discuss South Korea President Moon Jae-in’s press conference that took place on January 10th.

  • 記者会見・きしゃかいけん: press conference

Of course, Japan media were closely watching what Moon Jae-in would say about the Japan-Korea agreement on the comfort women issue that was signed in 2015 by the two governments. This agreement is referred to in Japanese as:

  • 日韓合意: Simply, the Japan-Korea agreement
  • 日韓両政府の合意: Similarly, the agreement between the two governments of Japan and Korea
  • 慰安婦問題をめぐる合意: The agreement concerning the comfort women issue
  • 慰安婦問題をめぐる日韓合意: Japan-Korea agreement concerning the comfort women issue.
  • 慰安婦問題の「最終的かつ不可逆的な解決」を確認した2015年12月の日韓両政府の合意: The agreement between the two governments of Japan and Korea from December 2015 that confirmed the “final and irreversible settlement” of the comfort women issue.

Korea had already announced, through its Foreign Minister, that it would not ask for re-negotiation of the agreement. However, Korea Foreign Minister reiterated Korea’s wish for Japanese apologies.

  • 再交渉・ざいこうしょう: Re-negotiation. The word 交渉・こうしょう means “negotiation”.
    • The verb used to say “asking for re-negotiation” is 求める・もとめる which means “to request”, “to solicit for”, “to ask for”
  • 謝罪・しゃざい: an apology.

By acknowledging the agreement signed with Japan in 2015, Moon Jae-in renounced to honour one of his election campaign promises:

  • 「再交渉する」としていた大統領選挙での公約を撤回することを明らかにしました
    • 公約・こうやく: a public pledge, an election pledge.
    • 撤回する・てっかいする: to withdraw, to revoke, to retract

The article starts with financial concern, saying that Moon Jae-in announced that the former comfort women who refused financial compensation from Japan would receive support from the Korean government instead. Secondly, South Korea does not plan to give back the money received from Japan when the agreement was made in 2015, it will instead use it to try to solve this issue.

  • 日本からの支援金受け取りを拒否している元慰安婦たち.
    • 支援・しえん: support, backing, aid. This word is used in contexts such as “support to orphans”, “moral and material support”.
    • 受け取る・うけとる: receive
    • 拒否する・きょひする: refuse, decline
    • 慰安婦・いあんふ: comfort woman, that is, a woman forced into prostitution by soldiers.
      • 慰安・いあん simply means “comfort”, “relaxation”, “recreation”. I guess that the use of this word as a euphemism for “prostitution” is limited to the context of the war (for example, the word “慰安所” that meant “military brothel”). Apart from this meaning, the word 慰安 mainly refers to “rest and relaxation from work”. For example, a “慰安旅行” is a trip that a company organises for its employees in order for them to relax and take some rest from the stress of work (If I am not mistaken, a 社員旅行 is more focused on team building, whereas a 慰安旅行 aims at relaxation).
  • 日本政府からの支援金を返還しようとする考えはない
    • 返還・へんかん: return, restoration, retrocession, restitution, repayment. This is a difficult word used to say, for example, “retrocede a territory”. But if we know the meaning of 返 from the verb 返す・かえす, we can guess the meaning of 返還 from the context.
  • 問題を解決するためのよい目的で使用されるのは望ましい
    • 望ましい・のぞましい: desirable, advisable.

The second part of the article is about what Korean press said about it. A major newspaper emphasised that in exchange for not asking for re-negotiations, Korea requested that Japan should take the next step and left newspaper said that, the ball was in Japan’s court. The conservative press, however, criticised Moon Jae-in, saying that this whole affair had only one goal: criticise former president Park Geun-hye. An internal conflict should not prevent the government to show a mature attitude concerning international relations.

  • 日本に再交渉を求めない代わりに自発的な後続措置を注文した
    • 代わりに・かわりに: in exchange for, in place of, as a substitute for.
    • 自発的・じはつてき: spontaneous, voluntary, on one’s own initiative
    • 後続・こうぞく: succession? It could also mean “following”, “behind”.
    • 措置・そち: a measure, step, move, action.
    • 注文・ちゅうもん here means “request”.
  • 日本政府に心からの謝罪を促したことで、ボールは日本側に渡ったが、日本は応じていない
    • 促す・うながす: urge sb to do st, call upon
      • This left radical newspaper says that Korea asked for sincere apologies and that now, the ball is in Japan’s court. I heard an interesting expression this week, related to this issue:  “ゴールポストを動かす”. From a Japanese point of view, Korea is constantly “moving the goalpost further”, every time Japan reaches it. In other words, when Japan formulates apologies concerning the comfort women issue, Korea would say that they are not sincere enough or criticise the choice of words and ask again for apologies, giving the impression that people will never be satisfied anyway. I find it interesting to see that both sides use a similar metaphor.
  • 予想どおり、再交渉が目的だったのではなく、前の政権を非難するため、この問題を道具として利用しただけだった。国内でどのような政治的な争いがあったとしても、外交や安全保障問題は成熟した姿を見せてほしい
    • 政権・せいけん: political power or simply: a government, a cabinet, an administration
    • 避難する・ひなんする: criticize, denounce, condemn
    • 争い・あらそい: a fight, a battle, a conflict.
    • 成熟した・せいじゅくした: ripe, mature

The article then cites Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary, who insisted on the fact that an official agreement between two countries had to be respected. Chief Cabinet Secretary used several N2 grammar points, let’s revise!


  • の末に・のすえに means “after having (discussed, reflected, debated for a long time over a subject), we came to the conclusion that… In our text, the use of this grammar allows the Chief Cabinet Secretary to insists on the fact that this agreement is the result of long negotiations between Japan and Korea.
  • をはじめとする this means “beginning with”, meaning that the speaker could cite several examples but only mentions the most representative. In our case, the most representative example is the American government, but this grammar also means that the speaker could have cited other examples. It insists on the fact that this agreement has been acknowledged by the international community.
  • として: this grammar means “in the position of”. For example, for parents 親として, caring for the children is natural, “in the position of the parents”, it is natural to… Here, I think that we can simply translate by:  concerning the government, for the government.

The article ends with the mention of Korean protests that take place every Wednesday around the statue of the comfort women erected in front of the Japanese embassy and symbol of the citizens’ protest. Citizens said with one voice that such a humiliating agreement is invalid and urged Moon Jae-in to return Japan’s money.

  • 日本大使館の前に設置された慰安婦問題を象徴する少女像
    • 象徴・しょうちょう: symbol
      • The reference to the statue may be a way to mention that Korea hasn’t done much to honour its own part of the agreement.
  • また集会で参加者たちは、「日本政府に10億円を返還しろ」とか、「屈辱的な日韓合意は無効だ」などと、一斉に声を上げていました。
    • 屈辱的な・くつじょくてきな: humiliating
    • 無効・むこう: invalidity
    • 一斉に・いっせいに: all together, with one voice, all at once, in chorus


To go further, I found two interesting articles (in English) from The Diplomat that present the affair and reflect a certain irritation that may be a general sentiment among Japanese viewers. This first article gives the context that led to the signature of the agreement and this second article tries to understand what are Moon Jae-in’s intentions in this affair.

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:


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.


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.”


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”:


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)


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…



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.


I am curious to see how things will evolve…


Japanese news: comfort women statues on Seoul buses

This Summer, replicas of statues of comfort women (women coerced into military prostitution by the Imperial Japanese Army) can be seen on Seoul buses (only one bus line is concerned). Of course, this new example of what Japanese news call “反日抗議イベント”, gave rise to reactions in Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide (who seems to be affiliated with a negationist organisation) commented:


(Source: Asahi)

  • 抱える・かかえる to have on one’s hands
  • 連携・れんけい cooperation
  • 極めて・きわめて exceedingly, extremely

At a time when Japan, the U.S. and Korea should cooperate to deal with the problem of North Korea, (this action) is extremely regrettable.

To work on my reading of news articles, I propose to study this article from Sankei News. I chose this article because I was curious to see what this newspaper would say on the question. I expected it to be plainly critical and wanted to see how it would express its condemnation of Korea’s action. Being able to read the news in another language has the advantage that one can get a glimpse of each position concerning a controversial issue.

The article is very long, 6 pages! The general argument is that South Korea should not launch such actions at a time when North Korea should be the priority. Let’s examine the title:

北のミサイルより「慰安婦バス」 徴用工像と慰安婦像イベントに没頭する韓国に危機感ゼロ

  • 慰安婦・いあんふ comfort woman
  • 徴用工・ちょうようこう means “drafted worker” but “forced labourer” would be more appropriate.
  • 没頭する・ぼっとうする be immersed in, be absorbed in

No sense of impending crisis: Korea is more absorbed in “comfort women buses”, statues of forced labourer and statues of comfort women than in North Korea’s missile.

I will only study the second and third part of the article.

Part II: どこかで見たような人形が…

In the second paragraph, the article evokes the statue of comfort woman 慰安婦象・いあんふぞう who took place in Seoul buses. The article underlines the fact that the statue is made of plastic (statues of comfort women being generally in bronze).

Then the article does something that I find quite strange. It cites a Korean member of the Japanese media staff who once studied in Osaka, saying that the comfort woman statue reminds her of another similar one seen in Osaka. The article then says that she refers to “くいだおれ太郎”, the mascot of Dotonburi in Osaka. I read the interesting story of くいだおれ太郎 on Japan Info. What I find strange is that the article should compare the comfort woman and this cheerful and mischievous clown (I know it’s a little far-fetched but Kuidaore Tairo’s outfit reminds me of the Imperial Japanese army flag, a reason why I consider this comparison to be of bad taste).

When the journalist took the bus, two Korean broadcast systems were conducting interviews of passengers. As a girl was interviewed, the folk song 民謡・みんよう “Arirang” was being played. It is not in the article, but the song, which is some kind of unofficial national anthem, is played when the bus passes the Japan embassy.

The journalist then says that an old man interviewed-back 逆インタビュー・ぎゃく the Korean reporter to ask him if he knew since when Arirang was sung.  The atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable のんびりした.

That the comfort woman doll should be on the bus or not does not seem to bring ordinary citizens 一般市民・いっぱんしみん to reflect seriously 深刻に・しんこくに upon the comfort woman issue 慰安婦問題・いあんふもんだい.

The article uses the grammar ~ていようが which I didn’t know. It means “whether… or not”. I was relieved to find out that it is an N1 grammar…

I wonder why the journalist says that… is it just because a grandpa is more interested in the history of the song Arirang than in the presence of the statue?

Part III: パフォーマンスの対象

The article begins this third part saying that a “divergent view” 異論・いろん would not be allowed 許されない・ゆるされない here. What the article calls a “divergent view” is:


  • 路線・ろせん line (a bus line)
  • わざわざ especially, take the trouble to do, go to the trouble of doing.
  • 乗せる・のせる put someone (in a car, on a train).
  • 果たして・はたして is it really….?

Was it really necessary to go as far as to take the extra trouble to put those statues on the bus? 

The article then examines the involvement of the city of Seoul in this action. The “comfort women buses” 慰安婦バス・いあんふばす are initiated by a private 民間・みんかん company and, as the article cites, has no relation to an undertaking originated from the city: ソウル市の事業と無関係.

However, the article goes on, the city of Seoul informed 広報・こうほう the media of the action before it began 事前・じぜん. Seoul’s mayor even rode in the first bus carrying a comfort woman statue and, with a humble and quiet 神妙な・しんみょうな look 面持ち・おももち, accompanying the discourse with a hand gesture 手を添える・そえる (on a picture, the mayor can be seen putting his hand on the statue’s), said:


  • 犠牲・ぎせい a sacrifice
  • 悼む・いたむ to mourn for, to grieve at

This is the opportunity to mourn for those who have been sacrificed.

He also said that a new agreement 合意・ごうい that would satisfy the people 国民が納得できる・なっとくできる was needed. An agreement between Japan and Korea on the comfort woman issue was signed in 2015 by Korea former president Park Geun-hye and Japan prime minister Abe. Now, Korea criticises this agreement as being too easy a way to settle the problem.

The article says that this  “performance” suits well 映る・うつる the mayor of Seoul who participates in the customary 恒例の・こうれいの assembly 集会・しゅうかい of protestation 抗議・こうぎ against Japan that takes place before the Japanese embassy every Wednesday and created 造成・ぞうせい Memorial 追悼・ついとう facilities 施設・しせつ to commemorate the comfort women.

(I see that “performance” also means “a display of exaggerated behaviour” in English. I think that this is what is meant here by パフォーマンス. In my humble opinion, looking at the picture of the mayor putting his hand on the statue’s one is enough to see why the journalist speaks of “performance”)

People who see the comfort woman statue on the bus, either consider it comical コミカル, or see it sincerely 真摯に・しんしに as an object of mourning 追悼対象・ついとうたいしょう, like the mayor of Seoul.

The article concludes this part on a more practical criticism: even if elderly persons 高齢者・こうれいしゃ, persons with a handicap 障害者・しょうがいしゃ or pregnant women 妊婦・にんぷ want to sit down, the statue won’t offer its seat, and it will be like this for the whole month of September. (To be fair, only 5 buses out of 31 for this bus line carry a statue…)

The other parts of this long article are more focused on the growing menace of North Korea and the way South Korea seems to be unconscious of it, more occupied by pursuing anti-Japanese actions.

Well, it’s always important to look at both sides of a controversial issue!

The Korean film Battleship Island in the Japanese news

Today, I have read an article on the NHK News Web about the Korean film untitled Battleship Island who came out today (July 26th) in Korea.

Read the article

Battleship Island is a way to call Hashima Island, an uninhabited island in the prefecture of Nagasaki where Koreans were used as forced labourers by Mitsubishi from the 1930’s until the end of World War II. The island is now inscribed as a World Unesco Heritage site and photos of the remaining concrete buildings are quite impressive.

To understand the first two paragraphs of the article, we need to know some advanced vocabulary:

  • 炭鉱・たんこう coal mine (which were situated on the island)
  • 徴用・ちょうよう requisition, impressment. The term  徴用工・ちょうようこう is used to describe the Korean forced labourers.
  • ~をめぐって concerning, in regard to

… and some grammar like the causative-passive form: 働かされた・はたらかされた which is the shortened form of 働かせられた and means something like “were made to work”.

  • 軍艦島・ぐんかんじま Battleship Island. (another name of Hashima Island, and title of the Korean film)
  • 長崎市・ながさきし Nagasaki
  • 端島炭鉱・はしまたんこう. The first two characters are Hashima, and the last two mean “coal mine”.
  • 過酷な・かこくな cruel, harsh
  • 坑内・こうない within a mine shaft
  • 閉じ込める・とじこめる to lock up, to shut up
  • 爆殺・ばくさつ killing in a bombing
  • 察知する・さっちする to sense (danger)
  • 脱出・だっしゅつ escape

To summarise the first two paragraphs of the article, the Korean film Battleship Island takes as subject 題材・だいざい the Korean forced labourers 徴用工 who were “made to work” in the Japanese coal mines 炭鉱. At the end of the war 終戦・しゅうせん the Japanese army, in order to hide the existence of these labourers, plans to lock them up 閉じ込める in the mine shaft 坑内 and kill them by explosion 爆殺. Sensing danger 察知, the labourers try to escape 脱出.

The article then says that starring big Korean stars, the film promises 見込み・みこみ to become a blockbuster ヒット作.  Among the spectators of the first day, were a girl in her twenties who said that things that occurred on the island were not all made public yet: 明らかになる・あきらかになる means “to become clear”, “to be made public”. A man in his fifties said that Japan had to make apologies 謝罪・しゃざい.

Koreans who were forced-labourers in Japanese industry at that time or their bereaved families 遺族・いぞく keep taking action against 相手取る・あいてどる Japanese enterprises to ask for compensation 賠償・ばいしょう for the damage 損害・そんがい. The article then concludes that the film will raise a negative 否定的・ひていてき public opinion 世論・よろん about Japan’s past history.

That’s it for the article! The release of Battleship Island seems to be quite an issue in Japan as I saw many articles on the subject. It certainly won’t help appeasing the relationship between Japan and Korea…

If you are interested in the film, which does feature Korean drama’s stars, here are the two trailers: