More Fun With Japanese English

Bailey and his dad in a rare moment of sitting still before a soccer game.

A few weeks ago I was at my son’s soccer tournament and he allowed a goal (he’s a goalie).  From our side of the crowd, after the initial letdown, a shout went up: “Do Mai!”

Confused, I turned to my friend next to me, who is Japanese, but grew up mostly in the U.S.  Without me asking, she knew exactly what I wanted to know.  She explained that it really is a form of English that the crowd shouts – it’s pronounced “DOH – MY” and it is a shortened and Japanese style way of saying “DON’T MIND”.  Yep, that’s right.  They didn’t want my son to fret about the goal he allowed, so the common yell is “Do Mai!”  Any time someone misses a goal or basket or hit in any game, or allows a goal, basket or hit, that is what the crowd shouts at their team.  Basically they’re saying “don’t worry about it – you’ll do better next time.”  It’s meant as form of support and solidarity with the players.

I hunted around and found a whole long list of these types of words, which I know I’ve mentioned before here.  Here’s the site I found, called “TELFtastic“.  Have fun with it!

But trust me, this is not the last time I’m mentioning this.  As a writer and language aficionado, I find the whole phenomenon of mixing Japanese and English to be fascinating.  Enjoy!

Japan in Hawaii

This is one of the most interesting photos from our recent sojourn in Hawaii over the holidays.  It is my two kids, ages 12 and 9, as they enter the submarine “USS Bowfin” which is parked next to the visitors’ center at Pearl Harbor, and available to tour along with the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri.  When Marc and I were first in Hawaii over thirteen years ago, the Arizona was the only thing to see, so we were glad to be back and see the additional ships.  Showing it to the kids was just magnificent.  When you don’t live in America, there is little reason to be patriotic as an American.  This visit connected the kids to a very important time in their country’s history and it was tangible and real for them.

That being said, every single sign at Pearl Harbor is in Japanese as well as in English.  That is by no means a phenomenon limited to the touristy areas.  All over Honolulu signs, menus, products – all Japanese.  This one struck me particularly because I do not know a lot of Kanji symbols – but I do know the one for “enter” and that’s it right there.  Because we live in Japan, we didn’t notice for a little while that what we were seeing was not usual for a small, American city, but it is.  There’s not another American city, I would bet, with more signs in Japanese than Honolulu.  Even some menus were printed in Japanese as well as in English.  The guidebook to our hotel was in both languages.  One waiter told us that no one could get a job in Honolulu in the restaurant or tourist industries without knowing – or being willing to learn – some basic Japanese.

Just a quick aside: there is an Ugg store right on the main strip in Waikiki.  Why, might you ask, do Hawaiians need Australian sheepskin boots?  It’s not the Hawaiians who need Uggs; it’s the Japanese.  To a man, every single patron in the shop was Japanese.  AND, there was a line out the door to enter the shop (I assume so there was not a fire-code violation) comprised of all Japanese shoppers.  Ugg boots are not for wear in Hawaii where the temperature hovers between 77-82 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.  Ugg boots are for Japanese tourists to buy less expensively than in Tokyo and wear when at home.  This speaks to the buying power of the Japanese tourists and the volume of them vacationing in Hawaii.

So there are the kids, entering a wholly-American experience of a war sub, with Japanese signage.  I think it actually made them comfortable as the meshing of their bi-cultural lives.  Certainly it was interesting for all of us to encounter a place loaded with Japanese people and Japanese signage, where WE are the natives.

Japanese Lessons – Common Usage

I’m very lucky to have friends who can instruct me on common usage of Japanese.  This week’s entry is particularly relevant to those of us who are turning or have recently turned 40, so enjoy!

Everyone knows that in English, especially in the U.S., we say that forty is the new thirty.  Well, in Japan as well, it’s in vogue to be forty years old.  In fact there’s a whole context to turning forty.  People who are in and around forty years old are, “ARA4″

Ara4 is the Japanese way of shortening “around forty.”  It’s a pretty typical mixture of Japanese and English expression to create a short term that’s rife with meaning.  People who are ara4 are at or near the pinnacle of their careers.  They are able to take advantage of the height of fashion.  They have money and are not afraid to use it.  They not only have the money to be comfortable, but they have the background, experience and intelligence to use it well.

What gives me a giggle is that it’s a progressive usage.  A few years ago, the term that was popular in Japan was “ara-sa” which is short for “around thirty.”  Don’t forget, the Japanese have trouble with the “th” digraph in English, so “thirty” in English is pronounced “sah-tee.”  Hence, ara-sa.  It was cool to be thirty or thereabouts.

Don’t forget that in Japanese society, everything new is great.  New cars, new fashion, new everything.  So it stands to reason that society values youth.  Slowly, that’s changing.  I understand that it’s a bit of a contradiction in Japanese society.  Age is revered and respected, but youth is valued and relevant.  The young are taught to respect and learn from their elders but to move forward with progress – at least in most respects.  It’s another one of those quirks of society.

Now, however, perhaps things are changing a little bit.  It’s not only youth that is valued so highly – the forty-year-old set is not yet over-the-hill apparently.

For me, on the cusp of my fortieth birthday, I love this idea.  I plan to be in vogue and ara-4 for a few years.