Onomatopoeia – How to “Sound” More Japanese

Posted on March 27, 2017 | genkijacs

“Onomatopoeia” is the beautiful art of describing things or actions by imitating or creating sounds. While in English and other European languages, they are mostly used to describe actual sounds, Japanese utilizes a wide variety of Onomatopoeia for all kinds of situationa. It is therefore very important to at least understand their meaning during conversation and if you want to go even further than that, using them yourself will make you sound more natural and less like a Japanese schoolbook. Just go ahead and try while we give you a short introduction to the world of Onomatopoeia.

Basically, Japanese Onomatopoeia can be divided into five categories:
1. 擬声語 (Giseigo)
2. 擬音語 (Giongo)
3. 擬態語 (Gitaigo)
4. 擬容語 (Giyougo)
5. 擬情語 (Gijougo)

The first two groups contain expressions that are used to describe actual sounds. However, as the kanji (for those of you who can read them) indicate, the Giseigo are only used for voice-related sounds (of animals or humans) such as ぶ―ん (buun = buzz), にゃん (nyan = meow) or うわーん!(uwaan = a child crying loudly).

Giongo on the other hand basically cover all the other sounds like ザーザー (zaa zaa = heavy rain) or めらめら (mera mera = suddenly bursting into flames).

Words contained in the third group, Gitaigo, are used to describe states or conditions. These are expressions such as がたがた (gata gata = rattling/clattering), むしむし (mushi mushi = hot and humid) or びしょびしょ (bisho bisho = soaked).

Giyougo, however, are usually used for motions or movements (often related to travelling from one place to another). Among these, you will find expressions like うろうろ (uro uro = wandering aimlessly) and グータラ (guutara = not having enough will power to do anything), which is probably the way many of us feel when having to leave our beds on Monday mornings.

The last group, Gijougo, contains words that describe certain feelings and emotions like i.e. ウキウキ (uki uki = cheerful) or うっとり (uttori = being fascinated by something beautiful).

Just in case you have been wondering, some onomatopoeia do in fact have kanji. Here are some examples:

燦々 (sansan = brilliant, shining)
齷齪 (akuseku = anxious feeling when under time pressure)
煌々 (koukou = bright and shining light)

However, these kanji will most seldom be seen in daily life as onomatopoeia are usually written in either Hiragana or Katakana.

Of course, these are just some examples. There are thousands of onomatopoeia in the Japanese language used in countless situations. Using them, you can talk about the weather, temperature, food, sickness, character traits, shapes and figures, accidents or even sports. They are therefore extremely convenient in daily life and not to be underestimated. Besides, they are very fun to learn.

Just go ahead and try!

数字世界へようこそ – Welcome to the World of Numbers

Posted on March 20, 2017 | genkijacs

For those of you who already had the pleasure of entering the Japanese “counting-system” during their studies, it probably goes without saying that learning all the different ways of counting various things can get you more than frustrated. And having to remember whether to use the original Japanese or the Sino-Japanese numbers (derived from China) does not make this any easier.

However, the Japanese “World of Numbers” can be quite fun in the context of Japanese sayings. Counting from 一 to 十, we would like to introduce one interesting phrase for each number. We hope you will find them just as amazing as we do.

一(いち)= one
.一を聞いて十を知る (いちをあいてじゅうをしる)
“You need only open one page of a book to understand everything.”
This phrase describes a person that understands all the content after learning only small pieces of the whole. It is thus, a wise and clever person.

二(に)= two
一石二鳥 (いっせきにちょう)
“To kill two birds with one stone”
The meaning of this saying is exactly the same as in English: Achieving two things at once.

三(さん)= three
一押し二金三男 (いちおしにかねさんおとこ)
“First power, second money, third manly appearance”
This phrase describes the three most important things that it takes for a man to gain a woman’s heart. According to this saying, the most important thing about a man is his authority, followed by his wealth. However, these two are not sufficient. The man should also be handsome.

四(し)= four
四知 (しち)
“the four knowledges”
In ancient China, some people valued a “four step path” to approach one another. These were known as 「天知る」, “knowing about the heavens” ( equivalent to “talking about the weather”), 「神知る」, “knowing about the gods”, 「我知る」, the “knowing about oneself” and 「子(相手)知る」, “knowing about your partner”.
The phrase 四知 refers to a person that does not understand this path and would reveal deep secrets even to people he barely knows.

五(ご)= five
“wind on the fifth and rain on the tenth”
This saying is a metaphor for peace and security in the world as the fifth (were there would usually be wind) and tenth (where there would be rain) of a month were believed to be good days for the crops on the fields.

六(ろく)= six
“eight faces, six arms”
This simply means that one can achieve great things when working together with others. Another interpretation is that work gets easier when you share it.

七(なな)= seven
“the parents’ influence is sevenfold”
This saying tries to evaluate a parent’s influence on their child. It thereby reflects on two different points of view: behavior and status.
With this phrase one can express that a child is most likely to assume his parents’ behavior in both good and bad ways. However, it also often used to describe that children hugely benefit from their parents’ fame or position in society.

八(はち)= eight
“The one looking from the outside has many eyes.”
Whenever you find yourself in a serious fight with a good friend and searching for someone with an objective opinion to help you out, this phrase might come in handy.
It simply means that the one who is not involved is able to see the matter in a different, neutral light.

九(きゅう)= nine
“gain a whole life after nine deaths”
The phrase 「九死」(=nine deaths) refers to situation that you are unlikely to survive. On the contrary, 「九死に一生を得る」is often used after escaping a life threatening situation.

十(じゅう)= ten
“ten men, ten colors”
This wonderful, very wise saying describes a fact that is known all over the world: everyone is different. Not only by the looks, but also by opinions, tastes etc. no man is 100 % equal to another.

Are you a carrot?

Posted on March 13, 2017 | genkijacs

Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of. They are part of being human. That is to say, everybody makes them and no one can totally escape them. Especially when learning Japanese, it is absolutely natural to mix up grammar or vocabulary since it is full of expressions that sound terribly similar.

However, there are some mistakes that you should rather avoid unless you are eager to find yourself in an embarrassing situation. Here are some of the most dangerous mistakes that Gaikokujin often get confused with.

1. Imagine yourself in a restaurant ordering a 痴漢バーガー(chikan ba-ga-) instead of a チキンバーガー(chikin ba-ga-). If that has ever happened to you and you have been wondering what that weird smile on the waiter’s face was about, let us enlighten you:
痴漢 (chikan) = pervert; チキン (chikin) = chicken.

2. A lot of foreigners might have accidentally asked a rather corpulent woman whether she was a carrot, ニンジン (ninjin), simply because they understood that she might be pregnant, 妊娠 (ninshin). However, we strongly advise to ask neither of the two unless you are 100% sure that she really is a carrot, ehhh… pregnant.

3. At least once in your life, you might come to a point when you see fit to go to your superior and ask for a big 恐竜 (kyoryu). In that case, you will most probably be highly disappointed as asking for a dinosaur rarely meets with success. Yet, had you actually been referring to a higher 給料 (kyuryo), salary, you might actually be able to achieve your aim. (But let us be honest: Who would wish for a raise when they can have their own dinosaur?)

4. Have you ever tried to compliment a young mother by saying to her child 「怖い赤ちゃんですね。」(“Kowai akachan desu ne.”)? We suggest you don’t start doing so now. No woman appreciates her child being called a “scary” or “creepy baby”. Instead you should rather smile at the little boy or girl saying 「可愛い赤ちゃんですね。」(“Kawaii akachan desu ne.”) referring to it as “cute”. (Even though it might really not be as cute as its parents think.)

5. Another awkward situation will arise should you mix up 座る (suwaru), to sit down, and 触る (sawaru), to touch. Just imagine a poor foreigner pointing at the nearest chair asking 「触ってもいいですか。」(“May I touch this?”).

Have we made you nervous about talking Japanese now? In that case, there are plenty, plenty more expressions to worry about, so you better study hard, or else!

Just kidding. It is okay to make mistakes, so don't be too hard on yourself. The only way to memorize all these is to remember all the funny and awkward situations your errors have let you to and learn from your mistakes. Your Japanese friends will totally understand. :)

Jorean...? or rather Karanese...?

Posted on March 06, 2017 | genkijacs

Anyone who has taken the effort of studying both Japanese and Korean might have recognized some undeniable similarities between the two. Not only is the sentence structure identical in many ways, but their pronunciation of words is also incredibly similar.

Actually, there is a lot of discussion among linguists about whether these languages are related or whether it is simply due to Chinese influence in Asian languages that make them sound as though they belong together. (However, the Chinese sentence structure differs a lot from the Japanese and Korean one).

Here are some words that Japanese and Korean seem to share:

Japanese Korean English
写真 (shashin) 사진 (sajin)


計算 (keisan) 계산(gyesan) math
地震 (jishin) 지진(jijin) earthquake
新聞 (shinbun) 신문(shinmun) newspaper
簡単 (kantan) 간단(gandan) easy