Thursday, June 23, 2005


I was reading Indonesian, Singaporean, and Indian blogs last night, and I realised that those of us who write in English, but may speak another lanugage at work or school all day, whether native or not, tend to mix in non-English words. I actually like this, because it give you the flavor of a place. The problem is in comprehension by people who don't understand that additional vocabulary. So, I have started a vocabulary list of words that I might use, or have already used. Perhaps this will be educational (plastic smile) for everyone! Anyway, here goes (in no particular order--if it ever gets big enough, I will worry about it then):
  • gaijin 外人(がいじん)--A non-Japanese, a foreigner, often a non-Asian foreigner, ME!
  • shinkansen 新幹線(しんかんせん)--Bullet train, literally 'new trunk line'. There are several lines, the most highly used being the Tokkaido Shinkansen, which runs from Tokyo to Hakata in Kyushu(changing to the Sanyo Shinkansen after Shin-Osaka station). There is also a recently completed Kyushu Shinkansen, that will eventually link to Hakata. I ride the Tohoku (northeast) Shinkansen, which runs to Morioka or Hachinohe, with branch lines that piggy back on the main line and then go to Yamagata or Akita. There is also the Niigata line and the Nagano line.
  • sobetsu kai 送別会(そうべつかい--Farewell party, also sometimes called by resident gaijin a sayonara party.
  • keitai or keitai denwa 携帯(電話)(けいたい(でんわ))--Mobile (phone), cell phone, handy phone.
  • sho-ga-nai (しょうがない)--It can't be helped, c'est la vie. Common slang for shikata-ga-nai (仕方がない).
  • keibajo 競馬場 (けいばじょう)--Racetrack, horse racing track. Scene of scene over failure to deliver last order.
  • shoji 障子(しょうじ)--A sliding screen with rice paper panels. Not to be confused for juggling bag target.
  • bakayaro ばかやろ!--The thing someone fed up to the gills says. Literally means 'damned fool', or something like that. Also the name of a series of movies which consisted of small sketches of people being pushed beyond the edge to the point where the explode and make this exclamation.
  • eigyo 営業(えいぎょう)--Sales. An interesting Japanese-English combination word is 'eigyo man', meaning salesman.
  • mochi もち--Often called a 'rice cake', it is nothing like the sort of rice cake that you find in health food stores that is puffed rice in a round shape. It is a cake (meaning a flat shape, rather than a sweet confection) of mochigome, or glutinous rice, pounded into a rubbery state, traditionally with a massive wooden hammer in a massive stone gizmo (a pestal-like thingummy). It is eaten especially at New Year, and is baked, boiled with a chicken soup, and probably other ways.
  • daifuku 大福(だいふく)--A confection by wrapping a thin layer of mochi (see above) around red bean paste (anko). There are also strawberry daifuku, which add a fresh strawberry. Daifuku literally means 'big happiness', and are the same characters used at Chinese New Year in China for celebratory gifts and on moon pies. (I don't know if there is a relationship or not.)
  • o-bon お盆(おぼん)--A festival held generally in August, though the timing depends on the place. It is also sometimes called the lantern festival, which is because candles are placed on little boats, and floated down the rivers. This aspect of the festival probably came later, from Buddhism, and is very similar to the Thai loi kratong festival. It is probably a much more ancient harvest festival that pre-dates Buddhism. One aspect of the festival is welcoming back the dead for a certain period, and then sending them back on their way, which is where the lanterns are used.
  • bon odori 盆踊り(ぼんおどり)--The dances which are danced at the o-bon festival (see above).
  • salaryman サラリーマン--A salaried male worker. Often a lifetime employee of a company.
  • kokutetsu 国鉄(こくてつ)--Japan National Railway, or JNR. This was the name of the company prior to being privatised, when it changed it's name to simply 'JR'. Kokutetu literally means 'national rail,' and technically doesn't exist anymore, since it has been privatised, but many people continue to refer to JR in this way.
  • maké inu 負け犬(まけいぬ)--Literally a 'loser dog', meaning someone who is beaten and weak.
  • iikagen ni mesamenasai いい加減に目覚めなさい(いいかげんにめざめなさい)--Literally 'open your eyes to bullshit', though bullshit is just one translation, and the word doesn't make use of any scatology. The character of Maya Akutsu in JoOh no Kyoshitsu says this to students to challenge them.
  • naki mushi 泣き虫--Literally 'cry bug', but is used also exactly the same as 'crybaby' in English.

I will try to add to this list, and refer to it when I use these words in future. If there is something that I mention that you want me to list, leave a comment. If you want a really comprehensive English<-->Japanese online dictionary, the one used by most translators in my company is ALC's.


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