You know you’ve been in Japan too long when your mother sends you a bottle of nutmeg spice for Christmas, and a Japanese person asks what it is, upon which you immediately answer, without having ever heard what the spice is called in Japanese, “This is nutsmeg, which is great in warm milk.” For some inexplicable reason of phonetics, some English words are imported into Japanese in their plural forms. Words like shirt, suit, swimsuit, peanut, and sport always appear with the ‘s’ sound on the end, even if you’re discussing the word in its singular form. In Japanese, one refers to a suitcase as a “suitscase,” and it takes the brain a few months to get over the weirdness of this — ditto for learning to ask for “peanuts butter.” Similarly, the anime Fruits Basket probably weirded a lot of fans out at first when they first heard the title. There seem to be three reasons for some English words being mapped to their plural versions in Japanese. First is the rather convenient lack of singular/plural in Japanese grammar — saying hana ga kirei means either “the flower is pretty” or “the flowers are pretty” depending on how many flowers you happen to discussing. Also, the softer tsu ending on the plural forms is easier for Japanese to pronounce than a hard t consonant sound. Finally, converting some words to their plural forms also avoids the dreaded L/R confusion that can be a problem in the language. Because “fruit” and “flute” would have the exact same pronunciation when rendered in katakana, the writing system used for expressing foreign loan words, the musical instrument became furu-to and the edible stuff became furu-tsu.
A photographer that J-List has a relationship with came up in conversation in the office the other day. “Oh, he’s mo-chu this year,” my wife said, “so we can’t send him a New Year’s Card.” It was a word I’d never heard before, so my ears perked up immediately — it turned out to be formal state of mourning due to the death of a family member within the past year. By far, the most important holiday to the Japanese is Oshogatsu, New Year’s Day, and part of the fun is receiving nengajo, or New Years Cards. But because of whatever sadness visited his family this year, we’re unable to send him a New Year’s Card. Also, when you see someone for the first time after Jan. 1st, you greet them with akemashite omedetou gozaimasu, literally “congratulations on opening the new year,” but it’s taboo to use this greeting for someone who has had a death in the family the previous year.
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of our local “ishi-yaki imo” (ee-shee YA-kee ee-MOH, or stone-baked sweet potato) vendor, driving around outside my window now. Like an ancient Japanese version of the Ice Cream Man, baked sweet potato vendors meander through the streets with their special trucks which contain ovens that are constantly baking the sweet potatoes over heated stones so that they’re steaming hot and delicious. Like getting a nikuman (meat-filled Chinese bun) from a convenience store or holding a hot can of coffee on a train platform, baked sweet potatoes are a great way to warm up when it’s cold outside. When Americans see dead leaves raked into a pile, most probably think of taking a flying leap into the leaves. But in Japan, a pile of dead leaves is the perfect place to bake your own foil-wrapped sweet potatoes, and you can see this happening quite often in the cooler months. I love the sound of the song they sing (see video).
J-List is your source for cool T-shirts with aesthetically cool kanji characters, hilarious messages and cool original anime designs. We’ve posted our newest T-shirts today, featuring the cute image of the Kodama from Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki, on shirts for guys and girls. Like all J-List T-shirts, these new additions are hand-printed by our experienced staff in San Diego, and all sizes are full U.S. standard sizes. Why not browse our extensive line of cool original T-shirts and Hoodies? (They also make great holiday gifts.)
Do you have a blog or other website? Would you like to help us spread our brand of fun Japanese popular culture? If so, we hope you’ll consider joining the Friends of J-List, our affiliate program (although we hate to use marketingspeak words like that). It’s easy to show exactly the J-List products you want to show, and link to exactly the products you want to link to, and you get cash or store credit for every sale. For more information read this page.
Remember that J-List is having its first ever Domo-kun Free Shipping Sale, a great excuse for you to get that Really Big Domo-kun plush for your room and save big (yes, the sale applies to all Domo items, even big ones like that need to be sent via EMS). We personally think the Standard Domo-kun Plush is just about the coolest thing from Japan, and I’m sure friends or officemates would agree with us. Browse our Domo-kun selection now!