One other thing I just LOVE about Japan: Speaking Nihongo part 2

…So, with Nanpa eliminated as a motivating force for study I moved  on to the motivation that has given me the lowest level of gratification. Nevertheless, the hope of doing it effectively someday still springs eternal: Retaliation!

In English, I have a whole arsenal of expletives at my disposal for use in those situations where I need to let some jerk know verbally that they’ve trespassed upon my good nature and crossed some line I’ve drawn that represents the boundary of what is acceptable and what isn’t. It happens from time to time here, to put it mildly. I mean, I’ve moved the line here several times to compensate for Japanese ignorance, but some transgressions I feel are, or should be, universal and thus unforgivable regardless of cultural differences. Like if a parent grabs their child and pulls them away from me shrieking “Abunai” (dangerous). Or if some asshole in an effort to push me without actually coming in contact with me uses his briefcase as a buffer, etc, etc, etc.

The Japanese version of profanity is often formed  by simply dropping the politeness, using the informal version of words, and maybe dragging out some of the tones and rolling the “R”s a bit. “Baka yarou” means stupid or fool. “Baaaka Yarrrrrou!” means something akin to “You stupid motherfucker!” “Urusai” means “Noisy.” Uruse!” means “Shut the fuck up!” That “ai” to “e” transition to strengthen the potency of words is used a lot. “Yabai” which means something like dangerous or inconvenient or damnbecomes “yabe” which can either mean great or super cool or seriously fucked updepending on the situation! “Osanaide kudasai!” means “please don’t push me.” “Osu na!” means “Push me again motherfucker and I’m liable to break my foot off in your ass!”

There are a shitload of bad words, of course. But, I’ve found they are not nearly as effective as the dropping of politeness! If you use the bad words, the assumption on the part of the listener is that you are a stupid foreigner, incapable of managing the subtleness of the Japanese language and only capable of being as rude as you were back home. But, if you show the listener that you are well aware of polite and formal Japanese as well as colloquial and informal ways of speaking, that you understand that the formality or informality of your words is the key to truly making insults that will linger, then you can cuss effectively here.

Even something as simple as the way you say “you” can be more potent than saying fuck. “Anata” is the formal way of saying you. More commonly the person’s actual name is used. which westerners will probably find extremely weird and it took me quite a while to start doing. “Ohashi san wa genki desuka?” “Genki desu, okage sama de.” “Is Ms. Ohashi feeling Well ?” Yes, I am, thanks to you and the powers that be!” But, if you substitute “Omae” which also means you, usually reserved for friends, then it’s a spat in the face to a stranger, totally disrespectful. Yep, profanity can be just that simple in japan. The downside is if you are unaware of such things, and most foreigners are, then there’s a potential of your being profane every time you open your mouth and Japanese are being tolerant because of your ignorance. Like Eddie Murphy said about foreigners in America, that only learn how to curse:

But, like I said, this is the least gratifying. I rarely use it. I don’t even cuss people out in NY that often unless they’re friends or family.

But, the ultimate motivation and feeling of gratification comes from using Japanese to accomplish everyday task I had no dream of accomplishing a year or so ago. From giving directions to a taxi driver, to ordering a pizza on the phone,  to joining a health club, to conversing with my co-workers about something other than the weather: The hits just keep coming and they’re music to my ears! For all you uni-lingual people out there…bilingualism is a friggin’ high that keeps on keeping on (so far anyway) I remember when i was a kid and most of my friends were bi-lingual. I was so friggin’ envious of them. Mostly Spanish, but there was also French and Jamaican Patois, and that Trini language, and other kinds of unintelligible broken Englishes. I even envied them.

Now, I’m practically one of them. (-:


11 Responses to “One other thing I just LOVE about Japan: Speaking Nihongo part 2”

  1. 1 Andy
    February 10, 2009 at 1:06 pm


    You give me motivation to actually study the language as opposed to
    my teacher’s body. The trouble is… too many of the teachers are
    young, pretty, and willing! The one old guy I found was (unfortunately)
    a really bad teacher.

  2. February 10, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    My teacher tends to gloss over these subjects and instead sticks to the “Japan is the greatest country on Earth” lesson plan, despite the fact that she willingly lives in the US.

    • February 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm

      Yeah, well she’s behaving the way an ambassador ought to. I really didn’t have much to good to say about America till recently but if you asked me now I too would claim my birthright “the greatest country on earth.” God it feels good to feel this way. But, I’d never torture a paying student like that (-:

  3. 4 cooledskin
    February 11, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Mmm, you’re right. Bilingualism IS fun. And it’s not something you get to say a lot, because it sounds snotty. It’s true though!

    • February 12, 2009 at 1:13 pm

      Ain’t it? I mean ain’t it the coolest thing? Just walking around communicating in something you once perceived as random unintelligible noise? Yeah, to hell with snooty or snotty, I’m Bilingual (practically) dammit! (-;
      thanks for the shout cooled


  4. 6 James
    February 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Loco, you sure do know how to brighten up my interest in Japan. Not that it’s dimmed or anything, just haven’t had a chance to catch up on blogs lately with work, Nihongo no kurasu and a new girl on the radar. Just glad to see that you’re still making it around in Yokohama and your posts are as great as ever!

    BTW, is there a slang or shortened term spoken in Japanese for Yokohama??

  5. 8 Aka Gaijin
    February 11, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Agree with Andy. I’ve got two middle aged female teachers, and both are extremely distracting. Really trying to memorize new words, but my mind just seems to wander. 😦

  6. 10 Rune
    February 13, 2009 at 5:30 am

    I’ll keep studying Japanese and then one day tell you if quadrolingualism is twice or three times as fun =)

    I’m lucky enough to be from a small European country (Denmark, population 6 mill.) So we all have english and a third language since grade school. I started english in 5th grade 22 years ago. German at 12. Back then you were lucky to have s choice between german and french as a third language in gradeschool and that choice would stick untill you reached high school. In high school, I continued english and german and took russian for 2 years. Unfortunately we were only two seniors who choose the course so no third year for me. Back then high school students would choose between two specialisations. Linguistics or Science/Mathematical. I chose linguistics, hence my third elective language russian, but as a linguistics student I had one year of compulsory latin as well. I have to mention that I went to a scolastic highschool. There are also Commerce high-schools and Engineering/Techincal high-schools.

    Now adays, the kids start english even earlier, I believe some places as early as 3rd grade. The electives have grown as well, with some schools providing chinese lessons from 5th grade.

    The high-school system has also been revamped since my days with now three specializations for scolastic high-schools.

    In the school system in Denmark we have a homeroom system much as in japan. Electives are introduced slowely so in the first couple of grades, all the kids are together. Then it’ll start with a couple of hours a week and by high-school be about 1/3-1/2 of your curriculum. Even though we have the same culture of everybody in a neighbourhood going to the same school through what equates to junior high and some them keeping on in the same high-schools and an emphasis on home-room. We don’t have the same tradition of keeping strong lifelasting friendships with schoolmates like I have read is fairly common in Japan. This I find quite sad.

    • February 13, 2009 at 5:53 am

      Yeah, same in America, though I am friends with some of HS mates
      Yeah, a couple of my JHS students were caught forming a lifelong relationship up on the roof last year (-;

      thanks for the shout and the info about Denmark.Really interesting.


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