Japanese

Let’s learn Japanese through terrible “American jokes”

If you’re an English-speaking foreigner living in Japan and are prone to cracking jokes, it won’t be long before someone responds to something you’ve said with a shrug of the shoulders and the phrase “American joke”. This used to confuse me immensely (“but, but, I’m not American!”) before I realised that an Amerikan Jōku doesn’t have to be told by an American, or be related to the United States in any way. It’s just what you say in Japan when you have the feeling the person you’re talking to is making a joke, but you don’t really understand what’s funny – and want to avoid the potential awkwardness of explicitly saying so.

Today we bring you 10 “American jokes” posted to Japanese website 2channel. Impress and appall your Japanese friends in equal measure by trying out one of these painful puns on them. Who says humour doesn’t translate?

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Better know a train nerd: 36 different classifications for Japan’s “densha otaku”

You may already be aware that there is a subculture of train fanatics in Japan known as densha otaku, or train nerds. But did you know that there are loads of sub-subcultures within the densha otakus? From those obsessed with train noises to experts in train lunch boxes, we’ve got them all covered for you.

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10 Japanese expressions that sound delightfully strange and funny when translated

A little while ago, we introduced you to the Japanese expression “hana yori dango” (dumplings over flowers), using a picture of one of our capybara friends at the Ueno Zoo as a living example of the phrase. Well, that article got us thinking about Japanese idioms/expressions that may sound strange or funny in a different language when translated literally, and we thought it might be interesting to share a few of them with you. Here are some common phrases that we use in the Japanese language as a matter of course, but could make you laugh if you visualize their literal meaning in your mind. And yes, some of them involve cats!

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Best instruction manual ever? What to do when your washer goes “kiiin”, “shaaa”, or “pokopoko”

Anyone who has spent any length of time in Japan will tell you that onomatopoeia is not just common, but an integral part of the Japanese language. While English speakers might find sentences peppered with additional ‘sound effects’ somewhat inelegant, in Japanese onomatopoeic words are not only considered perfectly normal, but there are mimicking sounds for every possible occasion – including states of being where there is no sound to mimic – and most people know exactly how to write them.

We’d wager than few native Japanese have ever come across an instruction manual that uses mimicking words to explain potential problems with a washing machine, though…

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Six (and a half) essential resources for learning Japanese

As we’ve said before, Japanese isn’t actually as hard to learn as it’s often made out to be. Unlike English, for example, Japanese follows its own grammatical rules far more rigidly, pronunciation is easy because there is only one variant of each vowel sound to choose from (none of this tomayto/tomahto business), and it’s possible to create entire, perfectly meaningful and valid sentences without uttering a single pronoun or bothering to conjugate a verb.

Nevertheless, the language will not magically seep into you through a desire to speak it alone — you still need to encounter and study it as often as possible. With that in mind, we’d like to present to you the six and a half resources that no dedicated student of the Japanese language should ever be without. Oh, and the good news is some of them are completely free.

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Good grief! It’s a Snoopy-themed Japanese tea house!

Japan’s favourite cartoon dog continues his quest for country-wide domination this month with a brand new Snoopy-themed cafe scheduled to open in Oita Prefecture on April 19th. The cafe’s theme fuses Snoopy cartoons and traditional Japanese style, or wa (和). The new venture comes hot on the tails of Snoopy x Japanesque, a collaboration last year that saw the cute line-drawn character from Charles M. Schulz’s comics combined with traditional Japanese artisan works.

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What does “Konnichiwa” really mean? Understanding Japanese greetings

Well, good afternoon/evening/morning/day everyone! Today we’re going to talk about Japanese greetings and what they really mean.

Just as in English, “Konnichiwa” or “Good day” is a greeting that is technically an idiom with a complex and near-forgotten past. Just as English language greetings tend to stem from bastardizations of foreign loan words and/or full sentences that have been gradually shortened over the years, “konnichiwa” is actually a shortened version of a full and meaningful greeting, because, if anything, human beings are a lazy sort with a bad habit of cutting corners whenever possible.

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International Court of Justice orders halt to Japanese whaling

It’s no secret that you can buy whale meat in Japan. It’s served in schools to young children and even offered up 16 different ways at this shop in Tokyo. In fact, the Japanese have had a history of whaling that dates back to the 12th century. In recent history, however, Japan’s whaling program has been condemned by the international community and its practice of consuming whale meat proven unhealthy. But both whaling and the eating of whale meat, whether you agree with it or not, may be a thing of the past as a result of a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice.

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Getting a haircut in Japan: A survival guide

Getting a haircut in another country – in a foreign language – can be a daunting experience. We’ve all heard stories about that one unfortunate soul who, just wanting a trim, indicated a few centimetres between thumb and forefinger, only for the hairdresser to think that was how much they wanted to remain on their head and start lopping off hair left, right and centre.

Japan being Japan, of course there are a few surprising and funny things they do at salons that are different from back home too! But with some simple words and phrases under your belt, you can visit a Japanese hair salon with confidence.  Join us after the jump for a guide to surviving – and hopefully enjoying – a haircut in Japan!

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Why there were 19 syllables in the Japanese word for “saxophone” during WWII

A photo of what appears to be an entry in a Japanese textbook tweeted by Kurita as been surprising netizens across the country. It shows a list of foreign loan words that had been turned into Japanese during the early 1940s. Most surprising of the list, as pointed out by netizens, was the word for “saxophone,” which was transformed into an awkward 19-character-long mouthful. Let’s take a closer look at why this happened and the results of English being deemed an “enemy language” during WWII.

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We try “Zunda” Kit Kat – it’s confusingly delicious!

It’s no secret the Japan is home to a vast array of flavors for the popular chocolate covered wafer. From Grape, Chili, and Wasbi flavors to bake-able Custard Pudding Kit Kats, there’s a seemingly never-ending stream of possible varieties for the popular sweet snack.

This time we’ve stumbled upon some Zunda Flavored Kit Kats. After a brief explanation on what zunda is for those of us not schooled in Tohoku region cuisine, an attempt will be made at describing how these deceptively deep candies taste.

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19 movie posters seen through the eyes of Japan, from “Malkovich’s Hole” to “Captain Supermarket”

As we’ve seen before, with many international releases the names of films can sometimes be vastly different from the original. The changes are made for a variety of reasons due to language, culture, or style. This begs the question: How much of an impact do these title changes make on the people who see them?

Just for fun, we took 19 movies from other countries that have had their names changed for Japanese audiences, translated them back to English and put them in their original posters.

So join us after the jump for such gems as Academy Award-nominated Nairobi Bees, Love is Deja Vu with Bill Murray, and cult classic Captain Supermarket. What, never heard of them!?

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Testing English “loan words” on people who don’t speak Japanese (Spoiler: they don’t make sense)

YouTuber and full-time Japan fan Sharla is back this week with a brand new video. After bringing us exploding condom ice cream and giving us a peek inside one of Japan’s typical love hotels, she’s currently back in her native Canada and just for kicks decided to try out a few English loan words that appear in the Japanese language on her non-Japanese-speaking friend.

As we’re about to see, despite the majority of these words originally coming from English, once pumped through the Japanese lexicon and read back to a native English speaker they make almost zero sense. The full, laugh-out-loud video after the jump.

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What’s the fastest-sounding Japanese word? (Hint: it’s the noise a bullet train makes)

The Japanese language is peppered with zippy onomatopoeia that allow you to express the sound of just about anything. Website Netallica recently surveyed readers to find the fastest-sounding words in the Japanese language. As you’d expect, WHIZZ, BANG and SHWOOP are nowhere to be seen!

We explore the top five fastest words, what exactly is so speedy about them, and what kind of images they conjure up for Japanese people.

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15 Japanese students who are really nailing this high school thing

High school is a drag, especially in Japan. Along with all the typical tests and homework that come with being a student, there’s a seemingly never-ending list of rules (you must wear special indoor shoes, wear a mask if you’re sick, open all the windows in the dead of winter to ventilate the room) that are enough to make even the most diligent of students want to scream. That’s why these Japanese students are really nailing this high school thing. Not only have they found a way to have a little fun amongst the stress and pressure of school life, they’re pulling it off with style and creativity that not only brings a smile to their own faces, but the faces of procrastinating netizens all over the world. Nailed it!

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Japanese pronunciation of “……” in Google Translate gives us a laugh

Google Translate, the tech giant’s online language translation service, is not always perfect (for example, translating “twenty” from English to Japanese gives us “20”), but it’s a nice, not to mention free, tool that’s available to anyone with an internet connection. Aside from being very useful, the site is also entertaining with plenty of funny tricks to be found, like how to make Google Translate beatbox.

Here’s another trick to add to the list! Just translate a bunch of dots into Japanese and you’ll be treated to a hilarious, and somewhat melodic, interpretation of those little round symbols that perch at the end of our sentences.

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10 weird and funny things Japanese people do

Not so long ago, a friend of mine from the UK came to visit me here in Japan. After showing him around town and making sure to take him to all of the most popular tourist spots, he remarked that quite a few of the subtle behaviours Japanese people exhibit seemed, while in no way offensive, remarkably different to those of our own countrymen. As we worked through a couple of the more unusual customs and behaviours that my friend had noticed, it struck me that at some point during my eight years of living here I had come to accept the everyday quirks of the people around me as entirely normal and not in the slightest bit odd.

Last year, we discussed the 10 things that we love and the 10 things we just can’t stomach about Japan, but today we at RocketNews24 felt it was time to present you with a list of random but genuine observations, from the peculiar to the downright endearing, about the Japanese people themselves. Enjoy!

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Surprising foreign words Japanese people are likely to know

As mentioned many times before on this site, the modern Japanese language uses a set of characters to represent foreign words called katakana. Such characters are used for foreign place names such a Beverly Hills (ビバリーヒルズ) or people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (マフムード・アフマディーネジャード).

However, this feature of Japanese has been criticized by some for allowing the purity of the language to be polluted by foreign influences. It can also cause confusion by creating English words that have different meanings than the original.

That being said, for foreigners visiting Japan with a limited knowledge of the language this list may prove invaluable. Excluding the obvious classics like “OK” (オケ) and “McDonald’s” (マクドナルド) here are some relatively newer loan words ranked by understandability in Japanese.

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Japanese phonetic character catching on as emoticon in the Middle East

Sometimes obvious things are hidden right in plain sight and it takes the fresh perspective of someone in another part of the world to point it out. One Twitter user stumbled on such a hidden gem recently when searching the Japanese character for “tsu” , which in the katakana alphabet is written ツ.

As you can probably see from the image above and in the text of the previous sentence, the letter looks quite a lot like a smirking face. This may appear obvious to many Western readers, but according to online reaction most Japanese netizens were taken by surprise at this discovery and had never noticed the similarity. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the character is also apparently getting an unusual amount of use in Middle Eastern countries.

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Tea cups and biting breasts: Japanese phrases that sound like weird English

The Japanese love to have fun with words. Kotoba asobi (wordplay) makes up a pretty large portion of Japanese humor on variety programs and comedy shows – possibly a side effect of so many kanji characters sounding phonetically identical despite wildly different meanings.

But YouTube’s The World Video Tour has taken it to a whole new level with a video series of Japanese words and phrases that sound a lot like totally unrelated English terms. Below, we’ll watch the series’ host have some fun with foreign tourists to see if they understand what he’s trying to say.

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