I often write about the way Japanese is a vague and nuanced language, and how some of the challenge for foreign learners is figuring out what’s actually being said around us. This vagueness takes many forms, for example subject or object being omitted entirely when it’s clear from the context, or using the passive voice to obfuscate who is responsible for an action (for example “it has been decided” rather than “my boss decided it”). As in languages like Spanish, there are three demonstrative pronouns in Japanese, which are これ kore (koh-reh, “this one, near me”), それ sore (soh-reh, “that one, near you”) and あれ are (ah-rey, “that one over there, away from both of us”). This third word is kind of interesting, because it can also act as a general wildcard for any word you don’t want to mention overtly, such as things related to sex, menstruation and so on. In the Wake Up Girls! idol anime, for example, this word あれ are is used to refer to the terrible earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, which is still too painful to mention directly. The sexual gag-laden anime Seitokai Yakuindomo must have been extremely difficult to create English subtitles for, since words that can be referred to vaguely in Japanese must be overtly stated in English. In one scene Shino explains why she bought a red swimsuit — “because my ‘that’ day is close” — but this has to be spelled out expressly in the English subtitles for it to make any sense to us.
The reason Shino bought a red swimsuit….