Author Archive - Adam

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The Hitchhiker’s English Guide to Japan

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

or rather, a fancy title for: “My Favorite English Loanwords in Japanese”


Though English notoriously steals words from almost every language in the world, Japanese also surprisingly takes a ton of words from English. Since I came to Japan in April, I’ve noticed that even if I don’t know a certain Japanese word, its English equivalent is likely a perfectly viable word, too. The catch: of all 46 written script characters in the Japanese language, only one is a pure consonant (an “n” sound). And like Stanford students, the Japanese love to shorten and play with words. So when English words get converted into Japanese, they sometimes become entirely unrecognizable to someone who has never heard Japanese before. Additionally, these words may take on slightly (or even very) different meanings once they’ve been converted.

So on the off chance you find yourself stranded in Japan without any Japanese knowledge and absolutely no English signs to point you in the right direction (a rare chance, I admit), here are some of my favorite English loanwords in Japanese and their meanings. They probably won’t actually help you get around anywhere. But I hope they make you smile. For additional fun, try pronouncing them out loud.

  • Posted in a Japanese hostel lobby; a great example of English produced with Japanese pronunciation in mind.

    Word: スマート; Pronunciation: sumaato; English: smart. This doesn’t mean “intelligent.” It means either “stylish” or “slim.”

  • Word: マーカー; Pronunciation: maakaa; English: marker. This one’s just fun to say.
  • Word: トイレ; Pronunciation: toire; English: toilet.
  • Word: トイレットペーパー; Pronunciation: toirettopeepaa; English: toilet paper. Yup.
  • Word: アップ; Pronunciation: appu; English: up. This handy little word has a bunch of meanings, ranging from “increasing” to “an up-hairstyle.” Combine with another loanword, kyaria, to make kyariaappu, and you’ve just created “career up”: getting promoted.
  • Word: スマホ; Pronunciation: sumaho; English: smartphone. Originally sumaatofon. Nearly unrecognizable in its current form.
  • Word: コミュニケーション; Pronunciation: comyunikeeshon; English: communication. You’d think they’d have a common word for this, but for some reason, this hefty English word is the one most often used to express the idea. The only problem is that “communication” is a noun, so in order to make it a verb, they add “to take.” So the verb “communicate” becomes “to take communication.”
  • Word: 飲みニケーション; Pronunciation: nominikeeshon. This is a slang combination of the Japanese verb nomu (to drink) and the English word “communication.” It loosely means “to conduct business while drinking alcohol.” Example sentence: “I am ridiculously excited to engage in nominikeeshon this summer when I do my internship in Japan.”
  • Word: セクハラ; Pronunciation: sekuhara; English: sexual harassment. This extremely shortened word encompasses not only physical/verbal acts but even extends to not hiring enough women in the workplace, for example.
  • Word: バイバイ; Pronunciation: baibai; English: bye-bye. Used very often.
  • Word: アメフト; Pronunciation: amefuto; English: American Football. They shortened the crap out of this one.
  • ラブラブ; Pronunciation: raburabu; English: love love. It means “head over heels” or “lovey dovey.” Also a great illustration of the differences between English and Japanese pronunciation.
  • Word: パンツ; Pronunciation: pantsu; English: pants. Meaning: underwear. Be careful using this one — you may wind up with unintended consequences.

There you have it. You’re now completely equipped to make it on your own in Japan. If anything bad happens, I’m not legally responsible in any way.

What are your favorite loanwords in English? Other languages? Let the fun continue!

Redefining “Far”

Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Tokyo Subway

Attendants cramming people onto a Tokyo Subway (courtesy of Google). It's not as bad in Kyoto, but it gives you an idea of Japanese commuting life.

I thought I knew what the word meant; after all, I lived in Slavianskii Dom for the last two quarters. At the mention of Slav, people either smile because they like how far away it is, recoil because they hate how far away it is, or stare blankly because it’s so far away they’ve never heard of it.

But let’s take a second to consider just how far Slav really is. At the end of the Row, Slav indeed defines just how far away you can live while still remaining on campus. For me last quarter, “far” meant a hazardous, full-speed bike ride down the Row, through White Plaza, around the Circle of Death, left at the top of the Quad, right at the Bio building, and a final stop at Mudd Chemistry. Whew. If I successfully ran all the stop signs, ignored all the tabling student groups, escaped the Circle of Death with my life, navigated my way around the Marguerite buses by the Oval, and found a parking spot amid the throng of Chem 31B students, I could cut my travel time down to…7 minutes. If I felt lazy on the uphill ride home: 15 minutes. 15 minutes defines Stanford’s conception of distance. It used to define mine.

Coming to Kyoto on Stanford’s BOSP program four weeks ago rewrote my definition. No longer can I just roll out of bed, grab a quick bite to eat, and fly out the door a few minutes before class. I commute now. On every school day (and on most weekends), I wake up at 7:00 AM, eat breakfast with my host family, and leave the house at around 8. I bike for 15 minutes down a large hill to the nearest subway station, board and ride for another 15 minutes, then change trains and arrive at the school 10 minutes later. Including change times, the whole trip takes me around 45 minutes, triple the time it takes me to lackadaisically pedal across Stanford campus. The return trip takes longer. That hill I mentioned? It’s a single lane with no bike lanes or sidewalks, so cars, bikes, and pedestrians all battle for supremacy.

Do I have it bad? Not really. Some people on the program come from as far as Osaka, at least an hour’s train ride away. And this type of commute is routine for most Japanese college students: I recently talked with a girl who commutes for a total of 4 hours every day. That’s the equivalent of a 20-unit course load. Inconceivable!

What lessons can we Stanford students take from this commuting lifestyle?

– Taking more time to get to class can be enjoyable if we let it. Instead of dangerously racing against the clock, leave your dorm a couple of minutes earlier. Enjoy the sunshine. Listen to music (with only one earbud, of course). Observe people; Stanford students are fantastically interesting. Or take a few minutes more to walk to class, simply for the change of pace. You’ll see campus in a whole new light.

Yamashina, Kyoto, Japan

Sakura trees on the way to school. Walking instead of biking offers some great photo ops.

– Use public transportation; for those without cars, this opens up a whole world outside of Stanford. Ride the Marguerite (for free!) to get into Palo Alto for some delicious food or a quiet cafe for studying. Or take the CalTrain and get into San Francisco more! It’s an underutilized service that takes at most an hour and can get you directly to one of America’s greatest cultural centers.

– Most dorms on campus are really only separated by a 5-minute bike ride (or a 15 minute walk). In the grand scheme of things, that’s not so far. So when you’re looking to draw next year, add more weight to the community and amenities and less to the location.

Most people talk about how large Stanford’s campus is. But it doesn’t seem big at all anymore. Of all the things I miss about Stanford, the last thing I expected to miss was just how close and connected we all are.