It’s funny how a language reflects the people who speak it, and vice versa. Much of famously nuance-filled indirectness of the Japanese people has its roots in the language itself, although it’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg question of which came first. For starters, Japanese speakers often leave off the subject when speaking, since it’s almost always clear from the overall sentence. If I ask Yasu if he’s posted the latest manga to the website, I’d just say, Atarashii manga wo dashimashita ka? (lit. “New manga [object marker] put out [question marker]”) without adding a subject (“you”) since I’m obviously asking about something Yasu did. Sentences can get even shorter — if the rest of my meaning is clear from the context, maybe because I’m holding the manga in question in my hand at the time, I might just say “Dashimashita?” and he’d know what I was asking about. Also, Japanese makes use of passive forms of verbs to express concepts without specifying who did the action, with sentences like “it has been decided” rather than “my boss decided it,” which serves to soften statements and smooth the creation of consent in groups. Passive voice is usually not used that much in English, but in Japanese, making a statement while leaving the subject unspecified is quite common.
Another interesting grammatical tidbit which reflects the character of the Japanese people is the verb ending “masho” which corresponds to “let’s…” as in “let’s eat” (tabemasho), “let’s go” (ikimasho) or “let’s not smoke” (tobacco wo yamemasho). In situations where verbal or written warnings would be worded in a command form in English (don’t smoke, don’t ride on the escalator backwards), it’s common for Japanese to express the same message with this softer “let’s…” verb form, making statements like “let’s put our telephones into vibration mode” (manner mode ni shimasho) or “when a pregnant woman or elderly person gets on the train, let’s give our seat to them” (seki wo yuzurimasho). These statements subtly create a warm and fuzzy “let’s all cooperate” atmosphere that make people want to do their part for the good of everyone. Every year, the Japanese tax office sponsors commercials featuring famous TV personalities walking to their post office to mail their income tax forms — “Let’s fill out our tax forms accurately and honestly,” is the verbalized message. It’s quite different from the way things are usually done in the U.S.
Many aspects of life in Japan can be different from America and Europe, and marriage is one of them. For centuries, Japan’s entire population has been recorded in “family registers” which are kept on file at city offices throughout the country. When a woman marries a man and goes to live in his house (called yome ni iku or “go as a bride”), she is completely erased from her father’s register and joins her husband’s, taking his last name, and when she dies, being buried in her husband’s family grave. This system works both ways: males often join their wife’s families households, too, called muko ni iku or “go as a son-in-law”), legally taking their wife’s last name. Males sometimes join their wife’s households but keep their own last names, a rarity called “Masuo-san” (MAH-soo-oh-san), named after the husband of Sazae-san in Japan’s most popular and longest-running anime — if you ever want to floor Japanese people with your knowledge of Japan, pull this term out and watch their eyes go wide. Since I keep my own last name even though I’ve joined my wife’s household, I am a Masuo-san as well.
Japanese calendar season continues, and once again I’m amazed at the speed with which our unique 2005 calendars are selling out. A week ago we had 180+ different anime, JPOP, traditional, swimsuit idol and other great calendars, and now we’re down to 130 or so. We still have lots of these excellent calendars, which are beautifully printed on large sheets of paper and sold in the Japanese market only. Check out our still-amazing selection of calendars before the ones you want disappear forever.
J-List is really humming, both in Japan and our San Diego office, as we ship hundreds of packages a day to everyone. We’ve got 24 hour turnover on shipping EMS orders, and the San Diego office is also working very hard to get all DVD player, bishoujo game and T-shirt orders out the next day. We hope we can serve you in some way!
Remember that you can see dozens of great gift ideas by clicking the “Looking for gift recommendations?” link on the right side of the site. We’ve gone through the entire site and selected some excellent items you might want to consider giving to others this year. And everything in the list is in stock and ready to be shipped out right away!