One famous aspect of the Japanese language is its vagueness and subtlety of meaning. For example, passive speech is used much more in Japanese than in English, e.g. “it has been decided” rather than “my boss Mr. Yamada decided it,” and important information is often communicated through the choice of verb used. Information is often left off of sentences entirely when the meaning is understood by both parties, which can be a challenge for gaijin who wonder why they haven’t heard a sentence subject mentioned in the past five minutes. The other day I received a question through J-List’s Facebook page from a customer asking when the Poddities phone strap adapters for the iPhone 5 would come in. I asked J-List’s Tenga-and-iPhone-gadget guru Tomo about this, but instead of specifically naming the product, I used the word are (ah-rey), which literally means “what one over there, away from both of us” but which also acts as a generic stand-in for any noun. He figured out what I meant and told me they’d be coming in this week, and we talked a bit about how cool they were, meticulously engineered adapters that allow you to securely attach Japanese phone straps or carabiner clips to an iPhone 5. Then he said, “Wait, just to make sure I’m not misunderstanding, you were asking about the Poddities adapters for iPhone, right?” Since neither of us had specifically stated the product’s name we hadn’t been 100% sure we were on the same page.
Speaking of vague relationships… (Takasaki-sensei and Izumi-sensei)