Tag Archives: Japanese Language

Shimatta しまった – I messed up

I was on the Shinkansen a few weeks ago coming back from Tokyo Haneda airport and in my boredom I was leafing through the free shopping magazine they have in the back of all the seats.  I was quite amused to find this picture of a man who has pee-d his pants.  It seems the advert is for some extra thick pants that will absorb any extra dribbles that you didn’t manage to shake off.  Or thinking about it more, perhaps it is aimed at older gentlemen who have lost the level of control they once enjoyed.

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I particularly like the guys remark: “Ah! Shimatta”.  I guess it would be best translated as “oh dear” or “oh! crap!” rather than the more literal “I messed up”.  Basically you would say Shimatta to express that you made some kind of mistake or something regrettable happened.  It is often added to the end of  sentence after a verb in ‘te’ form like this:

Pantsu ni shiko shiteshimatta – Oh dear I did a pee in my pants.

Kagi wo nakushiteshimatta – I unfortunately lost my key.

Myself I have a  light grey suit and I have to say I encountered this problem once or twice, not so much by random dribbles but from splashbacks around the ankles.  Needless to say I avoid wearing that suit now and will never buy another light coloured suit!  Nappy-pants are not the answer.

Okurimono 贈り物 – a gift

Last night I had an encounter with the delivery guy.

He was dropping off something from Amazon and after I signed for it he asked me if I spoke Japanese and then proceeded to give me a bit of a lecture about my address. The adress on the parcel was very inaccurate and he had spent an hour of his sunday evening trying to find me, and was a bit p–ed off about it.  He was telling me to make sure I input my address again properly in Amazon.  This was a surpise to me because I order form Amazon all the time without any trouble, which I told him but he wouldn’t accept it.  In the end I just said ‘OK I’ll go and reinput my address’ to get rid of him.

A few minutes later I realised that the parcel was from my mum and that was why teh address was so woefully inaccruate.  Unfortunately it was too late to catch the deliver guy and tell him that it was just a gift.

贈り物 not to be confused with おみやげ。

Jyouchou 冗長 – Redundancy

We have a small army of full time cleaners at the company.

The times I see them they tend to be just cleaning bizarre things over and over again. For example, they clean the underneath of the roof over the main entrance.  Excuse me but how can dust gather on the underside of something, does not that defy gravity?  If maybe 1 or 2 molecules gather there, surely it does not warrant cleaning that EVERY DAY right?  And anyway, how many people are really going to be looking up at the ceiling as they enter a building?

I am sure these cleaners cause more damage than anything else, due to over polishing the surfaces and wearing them out.  It is totally redundant activity.

They also like to clean the toilets.   I’d say about 1/3 times I go to the toilet it is closed due to cleaning.  I then have to walk to the next one which is in another building a fair walk away.  I probably spend about 20 minutes a week walking to/from the toilet due to this.  The toilets are all marble though and its nice when you look down at the urinal and there are no wet stains there. But I’d prefer them clean it only once a day, preferably when no-one is around.  Cant they come in before/after work hours like normal cleaners?

But the annoying part is what they DON’T clean. That is, the entire of our office space!  I am in a huge 50m x 20m room, and the cleaners never enter it.  As a result, we have to clean it ourselves!  Yes, that is right, even though we have an army of cleaners and they spend the day pointlessly scrubbing immaculate surfaces, I have to come in at 7am twice a week every 6 weeks to vacuum the floors and dust the tables!!!  It’s madness.  I thought it was a security thing, they don’t trust the cleaners inside the office, but when I asked someone (casually and innocently at an enkai) I was told that is not the case at all.  That person (a senior manager) didnt know the reason why we did it.  So I think it is another one of these activities we do for team building/immasculating purposes.

So clearly I think the work they are doing is redundant, and with the way the global economy is going, it makes me wonder how long it will be before some of the cleaner army are culled into redundancy.  An announcement was made today about how we should try to cut costs by asking other departments if they have spare pencils before ordering new ones, and by recycling envelopes etc.  This kind of activity will save maybe $100 a year maximum, whereas I really wonder how much they are paying in wages for people to clean that-which-is-already-clean.

冗長 (jyouchou) means ‘unneccesary, tedious, verbose, redundant’ and should not be confused with 解雇 (kaiko) which means ‘discharged’ or ‘dismissed’

Kanjou 感情 – emotion

Yesterday I came across a really amazing art/conceptual website called We Feel Fine that automatically collects emotions expressed on the web in blog posts and presents them in a really nice Flash-like interface.

wefeelfine-japanThe site is actually a few years old but it is one of the most impressive I have seen in a while.

As you can see above it shows many ‘feelings’ (posts from blogs, twitter etc) like animated stars in the universe.  If you click on one it reveals the full feeling sentence and the author information.  The example above shows feelings from Japan – it is possible to drill down by City, Age, Location, Weather, Male/Female etc.

wefeelfine-options

There is an interview with the authors of the site on .net magazine.

From their ‘mission’ statement:

Since August 2005, We Feel Fine has been harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs. Every few minutes, the system searches the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. When it finds such a phrase, it records the full sentence, up to the period, and identifies the “feeling” expressed in that sentence (e.g. sad, happy, depressed, etc.). Because blogs are structured in largely standard ways, the age, gender, and geographical location of the author can often be extracted and saved along with the sentence, as can the local weather conditions at the time the sentence was written. All of this information is saved.

The result is a database of several million human feelings, increasing by 15,000 – 20,000 new feelings per day. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices, offering responses to specific questions like: do Europeans feel sad more often than Americans? Do women feel fat more often than men? Does rainy weather affect how we feel? What are the most representative feelings of female New Yorkers in their 20s? What do people feel right now in Baghdad? What were people feeling on Valentine’s Day? Which are the happiest cities in the world? The saddest? And so on.

The interface to this data is a self-organizing particle system, where each particle represents a single feeling posted by a single individual. The particles’ properties – color, size, shape, opacity – indicate the nature of the feeling inside, and any particle can be clicked to reveal the full sentence or photograph it contains. The particles careen wildly around the screen until asked to self-organize along any number of axes, expressing various pictures of human emotion. We Feel Fine paints these pictures in six formal movements titled: Madness, Murmurs, Montage, Mobs, Metrics, and Mounds.

I was preparing to create a new feature for my company’s intranet that looks up a products unique ID codes based on the specification information you input.  For example, you input the model name and size, and it gives you a list of possible matches.   I decided I would use AJAX to do this and was studying some AJAX libraries to use such as YUI, jQuery, Dojo and Prototype.  While studying these, I randomly clicked on the profile of one of the developers, and then followed through this which was one of the developers web projects. Nice bit of serendipity.

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Shaze 社是 – Company Rules

korea-saluteLike most traditional Japanese companies, we begin each morning by doing light exercises.  After that, on a rotation basis someone goes to the front of the room and reads out the SHAZE (company rules/motto/philosophy). They then have to give a short ‘one point speech’ about ‘anything they want’ although it must be about work, and must be deadly serious.

What is SHAZE?

The SHAZE is basically a list of rules that we employees must abide by.  Here are some examples:

  • Always greet others loudly and clearly (ちゃんと挨拶をするな)
  • Enjoy your work (楽しき働き)
  • Work together as a team
  • etc etc

As you can see, despite reciting these every day for the last 3 years I cannot actually remember more than 3 of the lines from this 15 line chant.  This is because the rules are so vague and redundant.  In reality, I do not see anyone obeying these rules, and in fact most of the time they do quite the opposite. Nevertheless we continue to recite them every morning.

The true purpose of SHAZE

Superficially, SHAZE is there to get us to obey these lame rules.  However I suspect that the real purpose of SHAZE is this:

  • Force everyone to arrive on time by having a very large an public meeting right on the starting bell at 08:30
  • Create a kind of ‘OK it is work time now’ moment (Japanese like to clearly seperate timezones in this way, there are many other examples such as the communal hand clap at the end of a work party)
  • Force everyone to improve public speaking skills and confidence by running the SHAZE once every 6 weeks.
  • Create a kind of military-like ‘we-are-one’ atmosphere where everyone stands to attention and acts in unison.
  • To avoiding deliberate non-conformance to Japanese tradition

SHAZE Directors cut

Most days we just do the standard 15 line SHAZE.  But sometimes we have what I call the ‘Directors Cut’ which can last up to 5 minutes.  There are several versions of it:

  • 1st of the month Directors Cut
  • 21st of the month Directors Cut
  • Presidents version
  • New Year version
  • New Fiscal year version

The contents are basically ‘more of the same’, but just last longer and are harder to say.

Dodgy Religious Element

The is something about SHAZE that gives me the creeps in that it reminds me very much of a prayer or religious chant.  There is the vicar character at the front leading the pulpit, and the rhythm of the speech is very much like a prayer.  It is difficult to describe, but it also has this very distinct ending with is very much like ‘amen’.

In the New Year SHAZE they even bring in a real priest and get them to do SHAZE in the company’s shrine outside in front of the whole company.  Interestingly the priest turns up in this massive 7-series BMW, so I suspect it is a profitable business for them.  It is beyond ridiculous to see a fully fledged priest in all the robes, strutting around the shrine splashing water in the idols while at the same time reading out bizarre company slogans about some of the projects we are doing.  We use a lot of acronyms so the priest has to chant about ‘TTOP’ project and ‘BMO’ initiative etc.  It is really horrific actually.

How I deal with it

Personally I never say the SHAZE and I notice a few others around me dont either.  When we are hit with the Directors Cut, I genuinely cannot say it anyway is it is too long to memorise.  When I have to lead the SHAZE myself, I have it written in romaji so I just read it numbly in the best military voice I can muster.

For my ‘one point speech’ I normally have to spend a whole morning preparing something, writing it up and getting it reviewed so it is understandable.  I normally just explain what I have been doing lately or some little challenge that I was faced with.  Its banal stuff.

Translation Notes

It is not easy to translate directly but SHAZE basically means company rules or company motto.

In my opinion it would be better translated as ‘a big fat waste of everyones time.’  For example:

  • Wow, todays meeting was a real SHAZE.
  • With the late start, long distance and all the traffic, by the time I got to COSCO it was already closed.  It was a total SHAZE man.
  • We spent 3 weeks preparing the data for system dept, but in the end they decide to pull a SHAZE on us and cancel the project.

Goumon 拷問 – Torture

torture

Anyone who has worked in a Japanese school/office will get the sub-joke above.

Today I had to go and renew my driving licence for another three years.  Who would have thought such a simple thing would lead to today’s word being Torture?  Read on…

I should have known the Gods were against me when I punched in the phone number of the traffic centre to my car’s navigation system: “No matches found”.  I then looked for the post code of the traffic centre on the little reminder postcard they had sent me: no postcode.  No problem, I thought, lets just type in the address.  Oh, I cant read the kanji…:(  I then spent about 10 mins trying to find the place randomly on the navi before getting out of the car and trying to find someone to read the address.  A kind lady looked at it and said ‘Im not sure how to read that kanji, why dont you call them?’.  So I did, but its was 12.30 (lunchtime) and there was no reply.  In the end, I found someone who could read the kanji, got it registered in my navi and we (my son in tow) were off.

Once on the road we got there OK, parked illegally in front of a restaurant with a ‘no parking – fine 10,000yen’ sign in front of it, and went inside the traffic centre. They might as well write ‘welcome to the microcosm of Japan’ on the doors because that is exactly what it is – all the best and worst things about Japan rolled into one little 100m3 space.

The entire building is dedicated to renewal of car licences.  Thus, you are basically put onto a conveyor belt system the moment you step inside and guided, cajoled and sometimes pummelled around the building through “steps 1-8”.  Division of labour, Fordism…I now know exactly how a sausage roll feels on its journey from being a pig to a little deep fried thing wrapped in coloured plastic.  I am not complaining about the efficient bureaucracy, I was just surprised (impressed?) to see such a simple task improved to such a degree…at the expense of any humanism whatsoever.  I think they must have gathered 50 of Japans most anally retentive people into a building, put little blue jackets on them, then left them there to breed for two centuries with instructions to improve the licence renewal system.

Steps 1-6 were great, you just get given a bit of paper at step 1, you give it to someone else at step 2 and they stamp it.  You show the stamped paper to someone at step 3, then pay some money to someone at step 4.  Next was the eye test, which took about 8 seconds.  At this point I was almost having fun because it was so ridiculous but also so smooth.

But Step 6 was odd.  I was given a bit of paper with two 4-digit pincodes on by an old man.

Him: Please invent two 4-digit pincodes and type them into this machine.

Me: OK…do I have to type these numbers?

Him: No, just make some up.

Me: So whats this paper for then?

Him: Its just an idea for some numbers.

Me: Ah OK…well should I make up some numbers that I can remember?

Him: No, theres no need to remember them.

Me: What is the purpose of the numbers actually?

Him: They get written on your drivers licence card.*

Me: Yeah, but why?

Him: You dont have to understand why, just pick some numbers.

Me: OK. Can I use these numbers on the bit of paper?

Him: yes of course.

Me: OK then I’ll do that.

Him: Thanks.

Me: By the way, why dont you just put the numbers onto the card automatically instead of printing them on paper, asking me to use them or pick new ones, then getting me to type them into another machine?

Him: I dont know.  Please go upstairs now to Step 7.

* This is not actually true, as the numbers are not printed on my card.  I think you have to quote them if you ever lose your licence card.

Step 7 was only one step of 8, but it took 2 hours whereas the other steps took only a total of maybe 8 mins combine.  Step 7 was the torture step.

You see, 4 years and nine months ago, I ran a red light on my scooter and picked up some points and a small fine.  Because that occured less than 5 years ago, it affected my licence renewal.  Not only could I only get a 3 year licence (standard one is five years), but I got put in the naughty room with all the other naughty people that had picked up points on their licence.  This is what step 7 was – torture/revenge for breaking the law.

I handed my card to the man upstairs, and his smile turned to a look of mild disgust and admonishment as he saw that I was destined for the naughty room.  He led me all the way to the end of the corridor and set me down.  The room was like a Japanese classroom – spartan and designed to last the eons, not for comfort.  The chairs were harder than the desks, and we were packed in like sardines too.  Shortly after another man came in and lectured us all for 10 mins about what the next 2 hours would entail.  He then showed us a crappy video which lasted 40 mins, then spent 80 minutes telling us various obvious things.

First up was that we have to wear seatbelts.  He illustrated the point with literally 7 or 8 different newspaper articles, and several sets of charts.  Several other points were given in exactly the same way: speed, drink driving, running red lights – all of these are dangerous and the stats back it up 100%.  About 10 mins into his lecture my son fell asleep on me and started snoring – I made no attempt to stop him as I was starting to hate the lecturer with a passion and came close several times to just standing up and throwing things/people around the room.

But the time passed, I got my licence (and a numb arse), then we were back on the highway.  I thought to myself: next time I will bring a magazine.

Translation Notes

I actually learnt the word Torture last year, for reasons I will explain in another post one day.  I was told that it can be translated as GOUMON 拷問 or GYAKUTAI 虐待, however when I looked up Torture on ALC I could not find GYAKUTAI mentioned anywhere.  It turns out that GYAKUTAI means ‘abuse’ rather than torture.

Kentou 検討する – to consider it

fingerWhen I first started working at this company I didn’t get off to a good start with the Systems department for various reasons.  They were very cautious and would always give me the bare minimum of permissions, and be very guarded about their reasons for doing various things.  Unfortunately, while setting up the company website, I needed their help for various things including asking them to use their time to set up various things on the server (because they would not give me access to do it myself).  Often they would refuse to do it, or they would take months to do it, or they would do it completely wrong etc.

One of the senior guys in that department has spent too long staring at a UNIX command prompt, and he seems to think and act like a computer.  He has basically no social skills, although he is very knowledgeable about IT, server admin and so on.  When he writes emails, he doesnt address you with ‘Dear Mr X’ and he doesnt bother to sign off with ‘Best Regards, Mr Y’, he simply writes what he wants to say in the simplest way possible. Actually I think this is a good way to write email, I find it a pain in the a– to always type those salutations every time, however it IS social ettiquette and should be respected as such.

Translation Notes

Anyway, one time I asked them to do something and I got a very simple one line reply:

検討します

I hadnt come across 検討 before so I looked it up and it was translated as ‘to consider’ or ‘to deliberate’.  I took this as a good sign, thinking it just meant he would think about it and then do something.  However a week or so later there was no follow up.  I tried to follow it up a few times but my emails were ignored.  In the end I got my manager involved and he told me that 検討 has quite a negative nuance of ‘I cant be arsed to do that’.  Basically if someone says that to you they are politely saying ‘I’m not going to do that for you’. It seems to be one of those Japanese words that shouldn’t be translated literally