Japanese students study a total of six years of English, even more if they go on to college, and even though most people don’t attain real conversational fluency, English does seep into the culture here in many interesting ways. The Japanese use thousands of foreign-loan words in their daily lives, mostly from English, but sometimes the meanings get changed a little. In Japanese usage, “milk” (miruku) always refers to powdered creamer for your coffee, and some words for makeup are shifted in meaning: “rouge” means lipstick and “manicure” means nail polish. Sometimes the Japanese will use words from languages other than English for style or phonetic reasons. For example, to avoid problems with similar words such as “crown” and “clown,” they turn to French for the latter term: pierrot. Gaijin living here often pick up Engrish words like phone box (phone booth), cash corner (ATM) stand and pocket bell (beeper) and regularly embarrass ourselves using these words with other foreigners.
There are some interesting expressions that the Japanese use a lot in speech, which can be fun for foreigners to pick up and use since no one expects us to know them. If something is too small, like your end-of-year bonus or your bank account, it’s suzume no namida (soo-zoo-meh no nah-mee-da), which means the tear of a sparrow. To express the concept of flattering or brown-nosing someone, there’s the phrase goma-suri which means to grind up sesame seeds — so if you laugh at a dumb joke your boss makes, you’re grinding his sesame seeds for him. If you’re hiding something but your secret is discovered, the Japanese would say shippo ga deta which means that your tail has popped out from inside your clothes — somewhat similar to the phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” in English. And if someone is kao ga hiroi they literally have a “wide face” — which means that everyone knows them and that they have a lot of influence.
The J-List staff had fun last night at a “welcome party” for two new employees. We gathered at our favorite beer restaurant and had a nice time welcoming the new staff members to our little group. We ate and drank, then all went out for a few hours in a karaoke box. Having official “drink parties” is an interesting aspect to company life in Japan, and there are several events throughout the year where the J-List staff gathers to have fun and relax outside of the workplace.
One of the most popular products we sell here at J-List are the original Japanese T-shirts with messages like “I’m looking for a Japanese Girlfriend.” Our two newest T-shirt designs are bizarre parodies of famous Japanese products, Pocky chocolate stick snacks and Black Black caffeine gum. Very wacky and off-color, the shirts look great, and are sure to get giggles from any Japanese who see them. See the new shirts on the site now.