Friday, November 20, 2009

Expressing One's Thoughts

When expressing one's thought, feelings, opinions, ideas and guesses, "~ to omou (I think that ~)" is frequently used. The particle "to" indicates that the preceding sentence or words are a quotation.

Since "~ to omou" always refers to the speaker's thoughts, "watashi wa" is normally omitted.

Ashita ame ga furu to omoimasu.
I think it will rain tomorrow.

Kono kuruma wa takai to omou.
I think this car is expensive.

Kare wa furansu-jin da to omou.
I think he is French.

Kono kangae o dou omoimasu ka.
What do you think about this idea?

Totemo ii to omoimasu.
I think it is very good.

If the content of the quoted clause expresses one's intention or speculation about a future event or state, a volitional form of a verb is used preceding "~ to omou." To express a thought other than one's volition or opinion toward the future, a plain form of a verb or adjective is used preceding "~ to omou" as shown in the examples above.

Oyogi ni ikou to omou.
I think I'm going to swim.

Ryokou ni tsuite kakou to omou.
I think I will write about my trip.

To express a thought or idea you have at the time of your statement, "~ to omotte iru (I am thinking that ~)" is used rather than "~ to omou."

Haha ni denwa o shiyou to omotte imasu.
I'm thinking of calling my mom.

Rainen nihon ni ikou to omotte imasu.
I'm thinking of going to Japan next year.

Atarashii kuruma o kaitai to omotte imasu.
I'm thinking that I want to buy a new car.

When the subject is a third person, "~ to omotte iru" is used exclusively.

Kare wa kono shiai ni kateru to omotte iru.
He thinks he can win this game.

Unlike English, the negation "I don't think" is normally placed within the quoted clause. It is possible to negate "~ to omou" such as "~ to omowanai," however, it expresses stronger doubt, and is close to the English "I doubt that ~."

Maki wa ashita konai to omoimasu.
I don't think Maki is coming tomorrow.

Nihongo wa muzukashikunai to omou.
I don't think Japanese is difficult.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Conversation Openers and Fillers

In conversations, openers and fillers are used quite often. They don't always have specific meanings. Openers are used as signals that you are about to say something, or to smooth communication. Fillers are usually used for pauses or hesitation. English also has similar expressions such as "so," "like," "you know," and so on. When you have opportunity to hear native speakers' conversation, listen carefully and examine how and when they are used. Here are some openers and fillers frequently used.

Marking a new topic

Sore de


So (informal)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Relationships with Animals: Cats

In Japan, neko (cats) are regarded as both auspicious and fearful. The way cats wash their faces look as if they are inviting good luck, so cats with that gesture are represented in an auspicious ornament as maneki-neko (a beckoning cat). In restaurants and other business in which customer turnover is important, it is customary to display a figure of a maneki-neko (招き猫).

On the other hand, there was a time when cats were thought to transform into monsters; among the many Japanese monsters is bake-neko (a goblin cat). There is the saying, "Kill a cat and you will be cursed for seven generations". Click here to learn more about Japanese ghosts.

In the West, animosity between cats and dogs is assumed, but in Japan, this animosity is thought to exist between dogs and monkey. Two people, who cannot get along are said have a dog-and-monkey relationship (ken'en no naka, 犬猿の仲). In Japan a cat's favorite dish is katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) rather than cream or milk, and the expression "Neko ni katsuobushi, (猫に鰹節)" is a warning not to put temptation in people's way. A cat's meow in Japanese is nyan-nyan(ニャンニャン) or nyaa-nyaa (ニャーニャー).

More Expressions Including Cats

Karite kita neko
(borrowed cat)
To describe someone behaving in an unusually quiet or well-behaved way opposed to his/her original nature, like a cat in unfamiliar territory.

(a cat's tongue)
A person who can't eat or drink very hot foods.

Neko kawaigari
(to indulge a cat)
For doting on someone in the way some people dote on their cats.

Neko mo shakushi mo
(cats and ladles too)
Everybody, "Every Tom, Dick and Harry."

Neko ni koban
(to give gold coins to a cat) D
on't offer things to people who are incapable of appreciating them, "Pearls before swine."

Neko no hitai
(a cat's forehead)
To describe a tiny space.

Neko no ko ippiki inai
(not even a kitten around)
Some place showing no sign of life at all.

Neko no me no you ni kawaru
(to change like a cat's eye)
Something that changes rapidly.

Neko no te mo karitai
(to want to borrow a cat's paw)
Very busy and shorthanded (therefore you want to get help, even from cats.)

Neko o kaburu
(to put on the cat)
To play the hypocrite, "To be a wolf in sheep's clothing."

(a cat's back)
For someone with a stoop or a round shoulder.

Is Red the Color of Love?

Part 2: Japanese Conception of Red

Red is generally called "aka (赤)" in Japanese. Click here to learn the kanji character for it. There are many traditional shades of red. The Japanese gave each shade of red its own elegant name in the old days. Shuiro (vermilion), akaneiro (madder red), enji (dark red), karakurenai (crimson) and hiiro (scarlet) are among of them.

The Japanese especially love the red that is obtained from safflower (benibana), and it was very popular in the Heian period (794-1185). Some of the beautiful clothing that were dyed with safflower red are well-preserved in the Shousouin at Todaiji Temple, more than 1200 years later. Safflower dyes were also used as lipstick and rouge by court ladies. At Horyuji Temple, the world's oldest wooden buildings, their walls were all painted with shuiiro (vermilion). Many torii (Shinto shrine archways, see the picture below) are also painted this color.

In some culture the color of the sun is considered yellow (or even other colors). However, most Japanese think that the sun is red. Children usually draw the sun as a big red circle. The Japanese national flag (kokki) has a red circle on a white background. Just like the British flag is called "the Union Jack," the Japanese flag is called "hinomaru (日の丸)." "Hinomaru" which literally means, "the sun's circle." Since "Nihon (Japan)" basically means, "Land of the rising sun," the red circle represents the sun.

There is a word called "hinomaru-bentou (日の丸弁当)." "Bentou" is a Japanese boxed lunch. It consisted of a bed of white rice with a red pickled plum (umeboshi) in the center. It was promoted as a simple, staple meal during World Wars, a time that was hard to get a variety of foods. The name came from the meal's appearance that closely resembled the "hinomaru." It is still quite popular today, though usually as a part of other dishes. Here are the pictures of "hinomaru (right)" and "hinomaru-bento (left)".

The combination of red and white (kouhaku) is a symbol for auspicious or happy occasions. The long curtains with red and white stripes are hung in wedding receptions. "Kouhaku manjuu (pairs of red and white steamed rice cakes with sweet beans fillings)" are often offered as gifts at weddings, graduations or other auspicious commemorative events. Red and white "mizuhiki (ceremonial paper strings)" are used as gift wrapping ornaments for weddings and other auspicious occasions. On the other hand, black (kuro) and white (shiro) are used for sad occasions. They are the usual colors of mourning.

"Sekihan (赤飯)" literally means, "red rice." It is also a dish that is served on auspicious occasions. The red color of the rice makes for a festive mood. The color is from red beans cooked with rice. A Baby is called "akachan (赤ちゃん)" or "akanbou (赤ん坊)." The word came from a baby's red face. "Aka-chouchin (赤提灯)" literally means, "red lantern." They refer to traditional bars that you can cheaply eat and drink at. They are usually located on the side streets in busy urban areas, and often have a red lantern lit out front.

Here are some other expressions including the word red.

akago no te o hineru
To describe something easily done.
Literally means, "To twist a baby's hand."

Stark-naked, completely nude.

akahaji o kaku
Be put to shame in public, be humiliated.

A deficit.

akaku naru
To blush, to turn red with embarrassment.

aka no tanin
A complete stranger.

A red traffic light, a danger signal.

makkana uso
A downright (barefaced) lie.

shu ni majiwareba akaku naru
You cannot touch pitch without being defiled.

The connotations of red in Japanese include "complete" or "clear" such expressions as "akahadaka (赤裸)," "aka no tanin (赤の他人)," "makkana uso (真っ赤なうそ)." The interesting thing is that it is black that has the connotation of completeness (e.g. a black lie) in English

Is Red the Color of Love?

Part 1: Valentine's Day in Japan

In Japan, it is only the women who give presents (mainly chocolates) to men. Japanese women are usually too shy to express their love. (Though it might not be true nowadays.) Therefore, Valentine's Day was thought to be a great opportunity to let women express their feelings. However, this is a custom that smart chocolate companies spread to boost their sales, and it has been very successful. Now the chocolate companies in Japan sell more than half of their annual sales during the week before Valentine's Day. Men are supposed to return gifts to women on a day called "White Day" (March 14th), a Japanese creation.

Does it sound good to you? Don't get too excited when you get chocolates from Japanese girls! They might be "Giri-choko (obligation chocolate)." Women give chocolates not only to their loved ones ("A true love" chocolate is called "Honmei-choko.") "Giri-choko" is the chocolate given to men such as bosses, colleagues or male friends that women have no romantic interest in, just for friendship or gratitude. The concept of "giri" is very Japanese. It is a mutual obligation that the Japanese follow when dealing with other people. If someone does you a favor, then you feel obligated to do something for that person.

Unlike the West, sending a Valentine's cards is not common in Japan, and the phrase "Happy Valentines" is not widely used. "Happy Birthday" and "Happy New Year" are common phrases. In this case, "Happy ~" is translated as "~ omedetou (~おめでとう)."

Speaking of love, which color do you think is the color of love? Many people would probably say it is red. Heart shapes are usually red, and red roses are romantic gifts. Red can also represent passion, revolution, fire, blood and so on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Talking About Love

Part 3: More Expressions

Here are some proverbs that include "koi."

Koi ni shishou nashi.
Love needs no teaching.

Koi ni jouge no hedate nashi.
Love makes all men equal.

Koi wa shian no hoka.
Love is without reason.

koi wa moumoku.
Love is blind.

Koi wa nesshi yasuku
same yasui.
Love becomes deep easily,but cools down soon.

"Soushi-souai (相思相愛)" is one of the yoji-jukugo (四字熟語). It means, "to be in love with one another."

The Japanese sometimes use the English word "love" as well, though it is pronounced as "rabu (ラブ)" (since there is no "L" or "V" sound in Japanese). "A love letter" is usually called "rabu retaa (ラブレター)." "Koibumi (恋文)" sounds a bit dated, and it is more a literary word than a conversational word. "Rabu shiin (ラブシーン)" is "a love scene". Young people say "rabu rabu (ラブラブ, love love)" when they are very much in love.

"Ai(愛)" can be used as a female name. Japan's new royal baby was named Princess Aiko, which is written with the kanji characters for "love(愛)" and "child (子)." Click here to read more about Japan's new royal baby. However, "koi(恋)" is rarely used as a name.

There is another word pronounced thesame as "ai" and "koi". Since their meanings are distinctly different, I don't think there is any confusion between them when used in the proper context. With different kanji characters, "ai(藍)" means, "indigo blue," and "koi (鯉)" means, "carp." Carp streamers that are decorated on Children's Day (May 5th) are called "koi-nobori(鯉のぼり)."

Talking About Love

Part 2: Ai and Koi

Here are some words including "ai (愛)" or "koi (恋)."

The words including "ai" The words including "koi"

(one's favorite book)

(first love)

(sad love)

(love, affection)

(one's boyfriend/girlfriend)

(a dog lover)

(love letter)


(a rival in love)

(one's cherished car)

koi ni ochiru
(to fall in love with)

(to use habitually)

(to be in love with)

(mother's love, maternal affection)



(disappointed love)

Koi" is a love for the opposite sex, or a longing feeling for a specific person. It can be described as "romantic love" or "passionate love." While "ai" has the same meaning as "koi," it also has a definition of a general feeling of love. "Koi" can be selfish, but "ai" is a real love. Here are some lines that explain them well:

Koi is always wanting. Ai is always giving.

"Renai (恋愛)" is written with the kanji characters of both "koi" and "ai." This word means, "romantic love." "Renai-kekkon (恋愛結婚)" is a "love marriage," which is the opposite of "miai-kekkon (見合い結婚, arranged marriage)." "Renai-shousetsu (恋愛小説)" is "a love story" or "a romance novel." The title of the movie, "As Good As It Gets" was translated as "Renai-shousetuska (恋愛小説家, A Romance Novel Writer)."

Talking About Love

Part 1: "I love you" in Japanese

One of the most popular phrases in any language is probably "I love you." In Japanese, "love" is "ai (愛)," and the verb form "to love" is "aisuru (愛する)." "I love you" can be literally translated as "aishite imasu (愛しています)". "Aishiteru (愛してる)," "aishiteru yo (愛してるよ)" or "aishiteru wa (愛してるわ, female speech)" is normally used in conversation. However, the Japanese don't say "I love you" as often as Western people do, because of cultural differences. I am not surprised if some Japanese say that they have never used these expressions in their life.

The Japanese generally don't express their love openly. They believe that love can be expressed by manners. When they put their feelings into words, it is preferred to use the phrase "suki desu (好きです)". It literally means, "to like." "Suki da (好きだ)," "suki dayo" (好きだよ, male speech) or "suki yo (好きよ, female speech)" are more colloquial expressions. There are many variations of this phrase, including regional dialects (hogen). "Suki yanen (好きやねん)" is one of the versions in Kansai-ben (the Kansai dialect). Since the phrase can also mean "I love it," and because of the popularity of Kansai-ben, it is used as the name of an instant noodle soup product (See the picture below).

If you like somebody or something very much, "dai (literally means, big)" can be added as the prefix, and say "daisuki desu (大好きです)."

There is another word to describe "love" which is "koi(恋)." The kanji character for "kokoro (心, heart)" is included as part of both kanji characters. Compare the kanji characters below (From left "kokoro," "ai" and "koi").

Both "ai (愛)" and "koi(恋)" can roughly be translated as "love" in English. However, they have a slightly different nuance.

How a kiss really works‏

Article 1:
Statement of Love: The Kiss
1. Kiss on the hand
I adore you

2. Kiss on the cheek
I just want to be friends

3. Kiss on the neck
I want you

4. Kiss on the lips
I love you

5. Kiss on the ears
I am just playing

6. Kiss anywhere else
lets not get carried away

7. Look in your eyes
kiss me

8. Playing with your hair
I can't live without you

9. Hand on your waist
I love you to much to let you go

Article 2: The Three Steps

1. Girls:
If any guys gets fresh with you, slap him.

2. Guys
If any girl slaps you, her intentions are still good.

3. Guys & Girls
Close your eyes when kissing, it is rude to stare.

Article 3: The Commandments

1. Thou shall not squeeze too hard.

2. Thou shall not ask for a kiss, but take one.

3. Thou shall kiss at every opportunity.

* Remember *
A peach is a peach
A plum is a plum,
A kiss isn't a kiss
Without some tongue.
So open up your mouth
close your eyes,
and give your tongue
some exercise!!! Here are a few reasons

why guys like girls:

1. They will always smell good even if its just shampoo

2. The way their heads always find the right spot on our shoulder

3. How cute they look when they sleep

4. The ease in which they fit into our arms

5. The way they kiss you and all of a sudden everything is right in the world

6. How cute they are when they eat

7. The way they take hours to get dressed but in the end it makes it all worth while

8. Because they are always warm even when its minus 30 outside

9. The way they look good no matter what they wear

10. The way they fish for compliments even though you both know that you think she's the most beautiful thing on this earth

11. How cute they are when they argue

12. The way her hand always finds yours

13. The way they smile

14. The way you feel when you see their name on the call ID after you just had a big fight

15. The way she says 'lets not fight anymore' even though you know that an hour later....

16. The way they kiss when you do something nice for them

17. The way they kiss you when you say 'I love you'

18. Actually ... just the way they kiss you...

19. The way they fall into your arms when they cry

20. Then the way they apologize for crying over something that silly

21. The way they hit you and expect it to hurt

22. Then the way they apologize when it does hurt. (even though we don't admit it)!

23. The way they say 'I miss you'

24. The way you miss them

25.The way their tears make you want to change the world so that it doesn't hurt her anymore..... Yet regardless if you love them, hate them, wish they would die or know that you would die without them ... it matters not.
Because once in your life, whatever they were to the world they become everything to you. When you look them in the eyes, traveling to the depths of their souls and you say a million things without trace of a sound, you know that your own life is inevitable consumed within the rhythmic beatings of her very heart.
We love them for a million reasons,
No paper would do it justice.
It is a thing not of the mind but of the heart.
A feeling.Only felt.

Relationships with Nature: The Firefly

The Role of the "Hotaru" in Japanese Society Related Resources

The Japanese word for a firefly is "hotaru." In some cultures hotaru might not have a positive reputation, but they are well liked in Japanese society. They have been a metaphor for passionate love in poetry since Man'you-shu (the 8th century anthology). Their eerie lights are also thought to be the altered form of the souls of soldiers who have died in war.

It is popular to view the fireflies' glow during hot summer nights (hotaru-gari). However, since hotaru inhabit only clean streams, their numbers have been decreasing in recent years due to pollution.

"Hotaru no Hikari (The Light of the Firefly)" is probably one of the most popular Japanese songs. It is often sang when bidding farewell to one another such as at graduation ceremonies, the closing ceremony of events, and the end of the year. This tune comes from the Scottish folk song "Auld Lang Syne," which doesn't mention fireflies at all. It is just that the poetic Japanese words somehow fit the melody of the song. There is also a children's song titled "Hotaru Koi (Come Firefly)." Keisetsu-jidadi" which literally translates into "the era of the firefly and snow," means one's student days. It derives from the Chinese folklore and refers to studying in the glow of the fireflies and snow by the window. There is also an expression "Keisetsu no kou" which means "the fruits of diligent study."

This is a rather newly invented word, but "hotaru-zoku (firefly tribe)" refers to the people (mainly husbands) forced to smoke outside. There are many tall apartment buildings in the cities, which usually have small balconies. From a distance the light of cigarette outside the curtained window looks like the glow of a firefly.

"Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies)" is the Japanese animated film (1988) which is based on autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka. It follows the struggles of two orphans during the American firebombing at the end of World War II.

Relationships with Nature (3): Bamboo

Bamboo (take) is a very strong plant. With a sturdy root structure, it is symbol of prosperity. Simple and unadorned, the bamboo is also symbolic of purity and innocence. "Take o watta youna hito (a man like fresh-split bamboo)" refers to a man with a frank nature.

Bamboo appears in many ancient tales. "Taketori Monogatari (Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)" also known as "Kaguya-hime (The Princess Kaguya)" is about the princess of the moon who is found inside a bamboo stalk, and returns to the moon in the end. It is the oldest narrative literature in kana script, and one of the most beloved stories in Japan.

Bamboo and sasa (bamboo grass) are used in many festivals to ward off evil. On Tanabata (July 7), people write their wishes on strips of paper in various colors and hang them on sasa.

"Take ni ki o tsugu" (putting bamboo and wood together) is synonymous with disharmony. "Yabuisha" ("yabu" is bamboo groves and "isha" is a doctor) refers to a quack. Though its origin is not clear, it is probably because just as bamboo leaves rustle in the slightest breeze, an incompetent doctor makes a great to-do about even the slightest illness. "yabuhebi" ("hebi" is a snake) means to reap ill fortune from an unnecessary act. It comes from the likelihood that poking a bamboo bush may flush a snake. It is a similar expression to, "let sleeping dogs lie".

Bamboo is found all over in Japan because the warm, humid climate is well-suited to bamboo cultivation. It is frequently used for construction and handcrafts. Shakuhachi, is a wind instrument made of bamboo. Bamboo sprouts (takenoko) also have long been used in Japanese cuisine.

For years, people were told to run into the bamboo groves in the event of an earthquake, because the bamboo's strong root structure would hold the earth together.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Relationships with Nature (2): Pine

The pine (matsu) signifies longevity since it is an ever-green tree, lives for a long time and grows beautifully weathered with age. It has been valued since ancient times and has been incorporated in over 100 family heraldic designs. The pine is also an essential part of any Japanese landscape. It is often drawn in the background of Japanese paintings.

The pine, bamboo, and plum (sho-chiku-bai) are an auspicious combination symbolizing long life, hardiness and vitality. The pine is for longevity and endurance, and the bamboo is for flexibility and strength, and the plum is for a young spirit. This trio is often used in restaurants as a name for the three levels of quality (and price) of its offerings. It is used instead of directly stating quality or price (e.g. the highest quality would be pine). Sho-chiku-bai is also used for the name of a sake (Japanese alcohol) brand.

Kadomatsu are decorations made with assembled pine branches enhanced by a stem of bamboo and spray of plum tree branches. During the New Year, they are placed in front of the house gate. Originally, kadomatsu were displayed to invite the gods in, but these days they are another New Year's decoration.

Matsutake (pine mushroom) is a highly fragrant and edible mushroom that grows naturally near Japanese red pines in autumn. Whether grilled or cooked with rice, the Japanese enjoy the unique aroma and flavor. Matsutake production has fallen dramatically in recent years and it has been turned into an expensive gourmet item

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Relationships with Nature (1): Cherry Blossom

"The cherry blossom (桜, sakura) is the national flower of Japan. It is probably most beloved flower among the Japanese. The blooming of cherry blossoms signifies not only the arrival of spring but the beginning of the new academic year for schools (Japanese school year starts in April) and of the new fiscal year for businesses. The cherry blossoms are symbols of a bright future. Also, their delicacy suggests purity, transience, melancholy and has poetic appeal.

During this period, the weather forecasts include reports on the advance of sakura zensen (桜前線, sakura front) as the blossoms sweep north. As the trees begin to bloom, the Japanese participate in hanami (花見, flower viewing). People gather under the trees, eat picnic lunches, drink sake, view the cherry blossom flowers and have a great time. In cities, viewing cherry blossoms in the evening (夜桜, yozakura) is also popular. Against the dark sky, the cherry blossoms in full bloom are especially beautiful.

However, there is also a dark side. The Japanese cherry blossoms open all at once and seldom last more than a week. From the way they quickly and gracefully fall, they were used by militarism to beautify the death of the suicide units. To samurai in the ancient times or soldiers during World Wars there was no greater glory than dying on the battlefield like scattered cherry blossoms.

Sakura-yu is a tea-like drink made by steeping a salt-preserved cherry blossom in hot water. It is often served at wedding and other auspicious occasions. Sakura-mochi is a dumpling containing sweet bean paste wrapped in a salt-preserved cherry-tree leaf."

A sakura also means a shill who raves about his mock purchase. Originally referring to people who were admitted to watch plays for free. The word came about because charry blossom are free for viewing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


November 15 is "shichi-go-san." It is the event where parents celebrate a child's growth. "Shichi-go-san" means "seven-five-three." Three or seven year-old girls and five-year old boys are taken to a shrine and the parents pray for their future.

Japanese Translation


Romaji Translation
11-gatsu 15-nichi wa shichi-go-san desu. Kore wa oya ga kodomo no seichou o iwau gyouji ni atarimasu. Onnanoko wa san-sai mata wa nana-sai, otokonoko wa go-sai no toshi ni, jinja ni omairi ni ikimasu. Watashi wa nana-sai no toki ni, shichi-go-san o shimashita. Shichi-go-san niwa, kimono o kiru koto ga ippanteki desu. Watashi ni totte osoraku hajimeteno kimono de atta node, totemo kireina ishou ni wakuwaku shita mono deshita. Seisou shita kodomo no sugata o, shashinkan de utsushite morau koto mo yoku okonawaremasu. Watashi mo shichi-go-san no toki ni totta, daishi tsuki no shashin o motte imasu. Haha wa watashi no shichi-go-san no kimono o, ima made zutto daijini totte imashita. Watashi no meikko ga nannen ka go ni kite kureru no o, watashi wa tanoshimini shite imasu.

Note: The translation is not always literal.

Beginner's Phrases
○It is common to wear Japanese clothing, kimono on this occasion.

•Shichi-go-san niwa, kimono o kiru koto ga ippanteki desu.

•しちごさんには、きものを きることが いっぱんてきです。


Proverbial Fish (Part 2)

Part 2: More Expressions

Sakana (Fish)
The kanji character for fish has three different readings; "sakana," "uo," and "gyo." Here are the words including the character for fish. From top to bottom, "sakana-ya (fish store)," "uo-ichiba (fish market)," and "kingyo (goldfish)."

The kanji character for fishis included as part of most kanji characters for the names of fish. See the examples below: from left iwashi (sardine), sake (salmon), tara (cod), and same (shark). All of them have the character for fish as a radical.

"Uo-gokoro areba mizu-gokoro (魚心あれば水心)" came from the close relationship with fish and water, and it indicates that when one likes the other, the other will come to like you. It also means, if one helps the other, the other will respond to the kindness. It is considered as a useful tactic in business situations or love. It is similar to the English expression "One hand washes the other." The Japanese expression "Nigashita sakana wa ookii (逃がした魚は大きい)" is almost a literal translation of the English expression, "Every fish that escapes appears greater than it is". "Mizu o eta uo no you (水を得た魚のよう, Like fish in water)" indicates a person who takes an active part, or proves to be really capable in his/her favorite filed.

Although This is not really the name of a fish, there is a expression called "sushizume (すし詰め, packed like sushi)". Take-out sushi comes in a small box (sushi-ori), where the pieces of sushi are squeezed very close together. Therefore, this expression indicates a situation that people or things are packed close together, or very crowded. It is similar to the English expression "packed in like sardines".

Proverbial Fish (Part 1)

Part 1: Expressions including Fish

Japan is an island nation, therefore seafood has been essential to the Japanese diet since ancient times. Although meat and diary products are as common as fish today, fish is still the main source of protein for the Japanese. Fish can be prepared grilled, boiled, and steamed, or eaten raw as sashimi (thin slices of raw fish) and sushi. There are quite a few expressions and proverbs including fish in Japanese.

Tai (Sea bream)
Since "tai" rhymes with the word "medetai (auspicious)," it is regarded as a good luck fish in Japan. Also the Japanese consider red (aka) as an auspicious color, therefore it is often served at weddings and other happy occasions as well as another auspicious dish, sekihan (red rice). On festive occasions, the preferred method for cooking tai is to boil it and serve it whole (okashira-tsuki). It is said that eating tai in its full and perfect shape is to be blessed with good fortune. The eyes of tai are especially rich in vitamin B1. Tai is also considered as the king of fish because of the their beautiful shape and color. Tai is only available in Japan, and the fish that most people associate with tai is porgy or red snapper. Porgy is closely related to sea bream, while red snapper is only similar in taste.

"Kusatte mo tai (腐っても鯛, Even a rotten tai is worthwhile)" is a saying to indicate that a great person retains some of their worth no matter how his/her status or situation changes. This expression shows the high regard the Japanese have for tai. "Ebi de tai o tsuru (海老で鯛を釣る, Catch a sea bream with a shrimp)" means, "To get a big profit for a small effort or price." It is sometimes abbreviated as "Ebi-tai". It is similar to the English expressions "To throw a sprat to catch a mackerel" or "To give a pea for a bean."

Unagi (Eel)
Unagi is a delicacy in Japan. A traditional eel dish is called kabayaki (grilled eel), and is usually served over a bed of rice. People often sprinkle sansho (a powdered aromatic Japanese pepper) over it. Although eel is rather costly, it has been very popular and people enjoy eating it very much.

In the traditional lunar calendar, the 18 days before the beginning of each season is called "doyo". The first day of doyo in midsummer and midwinter is called "ushi no hi." It is the day of the ox, as in the 12 signs of the Japanese zodiac. In the old days, the zodiac cycle was also used to tell time and directions. It is customary to eat eel on the day of the ox in summer (doyo no ushi no hi, sometime in late July). This is because eel is nutritious and rich in vitamin A, and provides strength and vitality to fight against the extremely hot and humid summer of Japan.

"Unagi no nedoko (鰻の寝床, an eel's bed)" indicates a long, narrow house or place. "Neko no hitai (猫の額, a cat's forehead)" is another expression that describes a tiny space. "Unaginobori (鰻登り)" means, something that rises rapidly or skyrockets. This expression came from the image of an eel that rises straight up in the water.

Koi (Carp)
Koi is a symbol of the strength, courage and patience. According to Chinese legend, a carp which courageously climbed up waterfalls was turned into a dragon. "Koi no takinobori (鯉の滝登り, Koi's waterfall climbing)" means, "to succeed vigorously in life." On Children's Day (May 5th), families with boys fly koinobori (carp streamers) outside, and wish for boys to grow strong and brave like carp. "Manaita no ue no koi (まな板の上の鯉, A carp on the cutting board)" refers to the situation that is doomed, or to be left to one's fate.

Saba (Mackerel)
"Saba o yomu (鯖を読む)" literally means, "to read the mackerel." Since mackerel are a common fish of relatively low value, and also rot quickly, when fishermen offer them for sale they often inflate their estimate of the number of fish. This is why this expression has come to mean, "to manipulate the figures for one's advantage" or "to offer false numbers intentionally."

The Extended Use of the Verb "Suru"

The verb "suru (to do)" has many extended uses that occur quite often.

To make
(a) Adverb form of
I-adjective + suru
To change I-adjective to adverb form, replace the final ~i with ~ku. (e.g. ookii ---> ookiku)
•Terebi no oto o ookiku shita.

•I turned up the volume of the TV.

(b) Adverb form of Na-adjective + suru
To change Na-adjective to adverb form, replace the final ~na with ~ni. (e.g. kireina ---> kireini)
•Heya o kireini suru.

•I'm cleaning the room.

To decide
It should be used when you are choosing from several available alternatives. Click here to learn more expressions when ordering at a restaurant.

•Kohii ni shimasu.
•I'll have coffee.

•Kono tokei ni shimasu.
•I'll take this watch.

To price
When accompanied by phrases indicating prices, it means "cost."

•Kono kaban wa gosen en shimashita.
•This bag cost 5,000 yen.

To feel, to smell, or to hear

•Ii nioi ga suru.
•It smells good.

•Nami no oto ga suru.
•I hear the sound of the waves.

Loan word + suru
The loan words are often combined with "suru" to change the word into a verb.

•doraibu suru
•to drive

•taipu suru
•to type

•kisu suru
•to kiss

•nokku suru
•to knock

Noun (of Chinese origin) + suru
It is combined with nouns of Chinese origin to make a noun into a verb.

•benkyou suru
•to study

•sentaku suru
•to do the washing

•ryokou suru
•to travel

•shitsumon suru
•to ask questions

•denwa suru
•to telephone

•yakusoku suru
•to promise

•sanpo suru
•to take a walk

•yoyaku suru
•to reserve

•shokuji suru
•to have a meal

•souji suru
•to clean

•kekkon suru
•to get married

•kaimono suru
•to shop

•setsumei suru
•to explain

•junbi suru
•to prepare

The particle "o" can be used as an object particle after a noun. (e.g. "benkyou o suru," "denwa o suru") There is no difference in meaning with or without "o."

Adverb or Onomatopoetic expression + suru
Adverb or
onomatopoeic expression can be combined with "suru" to change them into verbs.

•yukkuri suru
•to stay long

•bonyari suru
•to be absent minded

•niko niko suru
•to smile

•waku waku suru
•to be excited

Taiyaki – Fish Shaped Snack

The Japanese consume many fish in their daily diet. There are also various snacks that have a seafood flavor. Even some sweets have a fish influence. "Taiyaki" is a fish-shaped snack filled with red bean paste (sometimes a custard or chocolate filling inside). It was first introduced in 1909, and it is still very popular today. You can easily find it anywhere in Japan, especially at food courts and Japanese festivals. I love freshly baked taiyaki. "Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun (Swim! Taikyaki!)" is a 1975 Japanese hit single. The song is kind of dark and is described as a satire of the overworked Japanese businessman. However, the catchy melody stuck with children, and became a surprise mega-hit. It sold more than 4.5 million copies, and remains the largest-selling Japanese single of all time.

Japanese Translation



Romaji Translation

Nihonjin wa mainichi no shokuseikatsu ni, sakana o ooku toriirete imasu. Gyokairui fuumi no sunakku-gashi mo takusan arimasu. Okashi ni sae, sakana no eikyou o ukete iru mono mo arimasu. Taiyaki wa, sakana no katachi o shita okashi de, naka ni anko ga haitte imasu. (Nakami ga kasutaado ya chokoreeto no mono mo arimasu.) 1909-nen ni hajimete hanbai sareta no desu ga, ima demo totemo ninki ga arimasu. Nihon zenkoku dokodemo, tokuni faasuto fuudo tengai ya omatsuri nado de, urareteiru koto ga ooi desu. Watashi wa yakitate no taiyaki ga daisuki desu. "Oyoge! Taiyakikun" wa 1975-nen ni nihon de hitto shita shinguru desu. Dochiraka to ieba kurai kanji no kyoku de, hatarakisugi no nihonjin sarariiman wo fuushi shita mono da to iwarete imasu. Demo, sono oboeyasui merodii o kodomo tachi ga kuchizusami, odorokubeki daihitto to narimashita. 450 man mai ijou o uriage, genzai demo nihon de mottomo ureta shinguru to natte imasu.

Note: The translation is not always literal.

Beginner's Phrases
○There are also various snacks that have a seafood flavor.

•Gyokairui fuumi no sunakku-gashi mo takusan arimasu.

•ぎょかいるいふうみの すなっくがしも たくさんあります。


Japanese Rice Cake-Mochi

Mochi (sticky rice cake) is an important food in Japanese culture. For example, people decorate their houses with special mochi called kagamimochi and eat zoni (rice cake soup) during Japanese New Year's holidays.

Steamed mochi rice (glutinous rice) is pounded to make mochi. Traditionally, wooden mortars and pestles are used to pound mochi rice. Fresh mochi is soft, but it hardens quickly. Prepacked mochi blocks, which are flattened and cut into square pieces or shaped into rounds are available at grocery stores. Mochi get mold easily, so it's best to cook soon.

Hard mochi pieces can be grilled, deep-fried, boiled, and more. Cooked mochi is very sticky, so be careful not to choke it. It's important to take a small bite at a time.

Sweet Potato Picking – Imohori

Sweet potato picking is a favorite outdoor activity for Japanese children in fall. Sweet potatoes are called, "satsumaimo" and the color of the skin is reddish purple. Many kindergartens organize sweet potato picking as a school outing during this season. There are various children books that have an "imohori" theme. One of my favorite books is "Ookina Ookina Oimo (The Great Big Potato)". Simple yet humorous pictures are drawn with only one color, which is the color of the sweet potato. The book shows how wonderful and wild a child's imagination is. It would be nice to be as imaginative as an adult.

Japanese Translation

芋ほりは日本の子供たちに人気のある秋の野外行事です。サツマイモの皮は紫がかった赤い色をしています。多くの幼稚園はこの時期、芋ほり遠足を行います。芋ほりがテーマの絵本はたくさんあります。私のお気に入りのひとつは、「おおきな おおきな おいも」という本です。シンプルで、そしてユーモラスな絵が、サツマイモの色一色で描かれています。この本は子供の想像力のすばらしさをよくあらわしています。大人になっても、そういった想像力があるといいですね。

Romaji Translation
Imohori wa nihon no kodomotachi ni ninkino aru aki no yagai gyouji desu. Satsumaimo no kawa wa murasaki gakatta akai iro o shite imasu. Ooku no youchien wa kono jiki,imohori ensoku o okonaimasu. Imohori ga teema no ehon wa takusan arimasu. Watashi no okiniiri no hitotsu wa, "Ookina Ookina Oimo" to iu hon desu. Shinpuru de, soshite yuumorasuna e ga, satsumaimo no iro isshoku de egakarete imasu. Kono hon wa kodomo no souzouryoku no subarashisa o yoku arawashiteimasu. Otona ni nattemo, sou itta souzouryoku ga aru to ii desu ne.

Note: The translation is not always literal.

Beginner's Phrases
○There are various children books that have an "imohori" theme.

•Imohori ga teema no ehon wa takusan arimasu.

•いもほりが てーまのえほんは たくさんあります。


Aki no Mikaku – Autumn Taste

The Japanese autumn is celebrated with many delicious foods. Autumn is referred to as the season for appetite (shokuyou no aki). There is also a word for popular fall foods, which is "Aki no mikaku". They include chestnuts, pine mushroom, pike mackerel, persimmons, Japanese sweet potatoes, Japanese pears and so on. In North America, there are not many dishes with chestnuts.

Japanese Translation



Romaji Translation
Nihon no aki wa, oishii tabemono ga takusan arimasu. Shokuyoku no aki to iu kotoba mo aru gurai desu. Mata, aki naradewa no oishii tabemono no koto o, aki no mikaku to yonde imasu. Aki no mikaku niwa, kuri, matsutake, sanma, kaki, nashi nado ga ageraremasu. Nihon ni inai toki niwa, korera no tabemono wa minna koishiku narimasu ga, watashi wa kono kisetsu, toku ni kuri ga tabetaku narimasu. Watashi wa kurigohan ya, kuri o tsukatta iroirona okashi ga suki desu. Hokubei dewa, kuri o tsukatta ryouri o amari mikakemasen. Anata no kuni dewa, kuri o tabemasu ka. Moshi sounara, donoyouni taberu no deshou ka.

Note: The translation is not always literal.

Beginner's Phrases
○I especially crave chestnuts during this season.

•Watashi wa kono kisetsu, toku ni kuri ga tabetaku narimasu.

•わたしは このきせつ、とくに くりが たべたくなります。


All About Verbs

One of the characteristics of the Japanese language is that the verb generally comes at the end of the sentence. Since Japanese's sentences often omit the subject, the verb is probably the most important part in understanding the sentence. However, Verbs forms are considered to be difficult to learn. The good news is the system itself is rather simple, as far as memorizing certain rules. Unlike the more complex verb conjugation of other languages, Japanese verbs do not have a different form to indicate the person (first-, second, and third-person), the number (singular and plural), or gender.

Japanese verbs are roughly divided into three groups according to their dictionary form (basic form).

Group 1: ~ U ending verbs
The basic form of Group 1 verbs end with "~ u". This group is also called Consonant-stem verbs or Godan-doushi (Godan verbs).
•hanasu (話す) - to speak
•kaku (書く) - to write
•kiku (聞く) - to listen
•matsu (待つ) - to wait
•nomu (飲む) - to drink

Group 2: ~ Iru and ~ Eru ending verbs
The basic form of Group 2 verbs end with either "~iru" or "~ eru". This group is also called Vowel-stem-verbs or Ichidan-doushi (Ichidan verbs).

~ Iru ending verbs
•kiru (着る) - to wear
•miru (見る) - to see
•okiru (起きる) - to get up
•oriru (降りる) - to get off
•shinjiru (信じる) - to believe

~Eru ending verbs
akeru (開ける) - to open
ageru (あげる) - to give
deru (出る) - to go out
neru (寝る) - to sleep
taberu (食べる) - to eat

There are some exceptions. The following verbs belong to Group 1, though they end with "~ iru" or "~ eru".
•hairu (入る) - to enter
•hashiru (走る) - to run
•iru (いる) - to need
•kaeru (帰る) - to return
•kagiru (限る) - to limit
•kiru (切る) - to cut
•shaberu (しゃべる) - to chatter
•shiru (知る) - to know

Group 3: Irregular verbs
There are only two irregular verbs, kuru (to come) and suru (to do).
The verb "suru" is probably the most often used verb in Japanese. It is used as "to do," "to make," or "to cost". It is also combined with many nouns (of Chinese or Western origin) to make them into verbs. Here are some examples.
•benkyousuru (勉強する) - to study
•ryokousuru (旅行する) - to travel
•yushutsusuru (輸出する) - to export
•dansusuru (ダンスする) - to dance
•shanpuusuru (シャンプーする) - to shampoo

Monday, November 2, 2009

Let's Learn Hiragana



•to work

•one day

•family treasure

•to clean


touki no sara陶器の皿
•ceramic plates


•to break


•to kill

•to throw


•old well

•to count



•to torment


ki ga kuruu気が狂う

Let's Learn Hiragana

Here are some expressions including oni.

Oni ni kanabou 鬼に金棒
(Literally means, "Oni with an iron club")
--To make one invincible.

Oni no inuma ni sentaku鬼のいぬまに洗濯
(Literally means, "Do laundry while oni are away")
--When the cat's away, the mice will play.

Oni no kubi o totta you鬼の首を取ったよう
(Literally means, "As in beheading oni")
--To achieve a major success.

Oni no me nimo namida鬼の目にも涙
(Literally means, "A tear even in an oni's eye")
--Even the hardest heart will sometimes be moved to pity.

Kokoro o oni ni suru心を鬼にする
(Literally means, "To make one's heart an oni's")
--Harden one's heart against pity.


In a village of Musashi Province, there lived two woodcutters: Mosaku and Minokichi. At the time of which I am speaking, Mosaku was an old man; and Minokichi, his apprentice, was a lad of eighteen years. Every day they went together to a forest situated about five miles from their village. On the way to that forest there is a wide river to cross; and there is a ferryboat. Several times a bridge was built where the ferry is; but the bridge was each time carried away by a flood. No common bridge can resist the current there when the river rises.

Mosaku and Minokichi were on their way home, one very cold evening, when a great snowstorm overtook them. They reached the ferry; and they found that the boatman had gone away, leaving his boat on the other side of the river. It was no day for swimming; and the woodcutters took shelter in the ferryman's hut, – thinking themselves lucky to find any shelter at all. There was no brazier in the hut, nor any place in which to make a fire: it was only a two-mat hut, with a single door, but no window. Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to rest, with their straw rain-coats over them. At first they did not feel very cold; and they thought that the storm would soon be over.

The old man almost immediately fell asleep; but the boy, Minokichi, lay awake a long time, listening to the awful wind, and the continual slashing of the snow against the door. The river was roaring; and the hut swayed and creaked like a junk at sea. It was a terrible storm; and the air was every moment becoming colder; and Minokichi shivered under his raincoat. But at last, in spite of the cold, he too fell asleep.

He was awakened by a showering of snow in his face. The door of the hut had been forced open; and, by the snow-light (yuki-akari), he saw a woman in the room, – a woman all in white. She was bending above Mosaku, and blowing her breath upon him; – and her breath was like a bright white smoke. Almost in the same moment she turned to Minokichi, and stooped over him. He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any sound. The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched him; and he saw that she was very beautiful, – though her eyes made him afraid. For a little time she continued to look at him; – then she smiled, and she whispered: – "I intended to treat you like the other man. But I cannot help feeling some pity for you, – because you are so young.... You are a pretty boy, Minokichi; and I will not hurt you now. But, if you ever tell anybody – even your own mother about what you have seen this night, I shall know it; and then I will kill you.... Remember what I say!" ]

With these words, she turned from him, and passed through the doorway. Then he found himself able to move; and he sprang up, and looked out. But the woman was nowhere to be seen; and the snow was driving furiously into the hut. Minokichi closed the door, and secured it by fixing several billets of wood against it. He wondered if the wind had blown it open; – he thought that he might have been only dreaming, and might have mistaken the gleam of the snow-light in the doorway for the figure of a white woman: but he could not be sure. He called to Mosaku, and was frightened because the old man did not answer. He put out his hand in the dark, and touched Mosaku's face, and found that it was ice! Mosaku was stark and dead....

By dawn the storm was over; and when the ferryman returned to his station, a little after sunrise, he found Minokichi lying senseless beside the frozen body of Mosaku. Minokichi was promptly cared for, and soon came to himself; but he remained a long time ill from the effects of the cold of that terrible night. He had been greatly frightened also by the old man's death; but he said nothing about the vision of the woman in white. As soon as he got well again, he returned to his calling, going alone every morning to the forest, and coming back at nightfall with his bundles of wood, which his mother helped him to sell.

One evening, in the winter of the following year, as he was on his way home, he overtook a girl who happened to be traveling by the same road. She was a tall, slim girl, very good-looking; and she answered Minokichi's greeting in a voice as pleasant to the ear as the voice of a song-bird. Then he walked beside her; and they began to talk. The girl said that her name was O-Yuki; that she had lately lost both of her parents; and that she was going to Yedo, where she happened to have some poor relations, who might help her to find a situation as servant. Minokichi soon felt charmed by this strange girl; and the more that he looked at her, the handsomer she appeared to be. He asked her whether she was yet betrothed; and she answered, laughingly, that she was free. Then, in her turn, she asked Minokichi whether he was married, or pledged to marry; and he told her that, although he had only a widowed mother to support, the question of an "honorable daughter-in-law" had not yet been considered, as he was very young.... After these confidences, they walked on for a long while without speaking; but, as the proverb declares, Ki ga aréba, mé mo kuchi hodo ni mono wo iu: "When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth." By the time they reached the village, they had become very much pleased with each other; and then Minokichi asked O-Yuki to rest awhile at his house. After some shy hesitation, she went there with him; and his mother made her welcome, and prepared a warm meal for her. O-Yuki behaved so nicely that Minokichi's mother took a sudden fancy to her, and persuaded her to delay her journey to Yedo. And the natural end of the matter was that Yuki never went to Yedo at all. She remained in the house, as an "honorable daughter-in-law."
O-Yuki proved a very good daughter-in-law.

When Minokichi's mother came to die, – some five years later, – her last words were words of affection and praise for the wife of her son. And O-Yuki bore Minokichi ten children, boys and girls, – handsome children all of them, and very fair of skin. The country-folk thought O-Yuki a wonderful person, by nature different from themselves. Most of the peasant-women age early; but O-Yuki, even after having become the mother of ten children, looked as young and fresh as on the day when she had first come to the village.

One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp; and Minokichi, watching her, said: –

"To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen. I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now – indeed, she was very like you." . . .

Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded: –

"Tell me about her.... Where did you see her?"

Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman's hut, – and about the White Woman that had stooped above him, smiling and whispering, – and about the silent death of old Mosaku. And he said: – "Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was afraid of her, – very much afraid, – but she was so white I . . . Indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of the Snow." . . .

O-Yuki flung down her sewing, and arose, and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face: "It was I – I – I! Yuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it! . . . But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!" . . .

Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind; – then she melted into a bright white mist that spired to the roof-beams, and shuddered away through the smoke-hole.... Never again was she seen.

Japanese Ghost

Japanese ghost is usually a thing of summer. The Japanese have their own ghosts, and there are a few terms to describe them.

Obake, Bakemono
Literally means, "transforming thing." "O" is an honorific prefix and "bake" is a noun form for the verb "bakeru (to change, to transform)." It can also be used more generally to refer to anything that is weird or grotesque.

According to Shinto beliefs, all people have a soul called "reikon." When a person dies, the reikon leaves the body and joins the souls of its ancestors. However, when a person dies suddenly by murder, is slain in battle, commits suicide, or when he or she hasn't been given an appropriate funeral, the reikon may become a yuurei to seek revenge. Many yuurei are female ghosts who suffered badly in life from love, jealousy, sorrow, or regret. Male yuurei are less common.
Yuurei usually appear in a white kimono (katabira), which people were buried in the old days, and have no legs. They also wear a white triangular piece of paper or cloth (hitaikakushi) on their forehead. They usually appear between 2 and 3 a.m.

Here is one of the famous yuurei stories "Bancho sara-yashiki (The Story of Okiku)" in
Japanese and English.

In Japanese:

Okiku wa Aoyama Tessan no ie ni, jochuu to shite hataraite imashita. Aruhi kahou de aru juu-mai no kouka na touki no sara o katazuketeiru toki, Okiku wa ukkari sono sara no ichi-mai o watte shimaimashita. Okotta Aoyama wa Okiku o koroshi, sono shitai o furuido ni nagesutemashita. Sonogo maiban Okiku no yuurei ga ido kara araware, sara o yukkuri kyuu-mai made kazoeruto, totsuzen hitsuuna susurinaki o hajimeru no deshita. Sore wa nandomo nandomo kurikaesare, Aoyama o kurushimemashita. Tsuini Aoyama wa ki ga kurui, Okiku no fukushuu wa hatasareta no deshita.

In English:
Okiku works as a maid at the home of the samurai Tessan Aoyama. One day while cleaning a collection of ten precious ceramic plates, which is a family treasure, she accidentally breaks one of them. The outraged Aoyama kills her and throws the corpse into an old well. Every night afterwards, Okiku's ghost rises from the well, slowly counts out nine plates and then breaks into heartrending sobs, over and over and over again, tormenting the samurai. Finally, vengeance is wrought when Aoyama goes insane.

Literally means, "bewitching apparition." They include monsters, goblins, and ghouls. They usually appear at dawn or dusk. Unlike yuurei, which are the souls of the dead and downright scary, youkai are comical, bizarre and mischievous in some way. Here are some youkai.

Oni, demons or ogres, are one of the most famous youkai. They are huge and have horns. The color of their body is red, blue, or black. They usually carry a big iron club (kanabou). They are best known for guarding the gate of Buddhist hell. They also often appear in folktales. (Momotaro, Issun-boshi etc.) They are dumb, cruel, and malicious.

Setsubun (Feb. 3rd), there is a custom to drive away evil sprits. People scatter soybeans outside of doorways, shouting "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi! (Demon out, Good luck in!)."


Kappa are supernatural creatures which live both on land and in water. They are as tall as a four or five year old child. They have a beak-like snout, and fins on their hands and feet. They also have a shell on their back, and a water-filled dish on their head. As long as the dish is full of water, kappa keep their supernatural powers. Kappa are known for dragging people into the water and pulling out their livers through their anuses.

Although kappa harm people sometimes, there are also many tales where they have helped people. They are very curious. They often appear in cartoons because of their lovable images.
Kappa love sumo wrestling and cucumbers. That is why cucumber sushi rolls are called "
kappa maki". "Okappa" are bobbed hairstyles because they look like the kappa's hairstyles. Kappa are excellent swimmers. There is a saying "Kappa no kawa nagare (a drowning kappa)" which means, even an expert can make mistakes sometimes.

Female monsters with long, flexible necks. They look just like ordinary humans during the day, but at night, they extend their necks to frighten or spy on people. They sometimes turn their human faces into those of demons.

A snow woman, appears in a white kimono on a stormy night. She causes travelers to become lost and freeze to death.

A one-eyed goblin, literally has a large eye in the center of its face. It looks like the shaved head of a priest. It does not play tricks, but just scares people.

Tengu is also a youkai. Tengu is a mythical mountain goblin. Tengu has a red face and extremely long nose, and carries a "hauchiwa (feathered fan)." Part man and part bird, tengu have supernatural powers, though they are mischievous rather than evil.

Tengu are worshipped by "yamabushi (mountain priests)," and they usually wear the costume of "yamabushi" with tall "geta (wooden clogs)." Minamoto Yoshitsune (a great warrior in 12th century) is famous for being taught martial arts and strategy by a tengu on Mt. Kurama, north of Kyoto.

Tengu also have been known to abduct children. In the Kamakura period (1192-1333), there were many sudden disappearance attributed to kidnappings by tengu.

There is a saying "tengu ni naru (to become a tengu)," which means to become conceited.