Sunday, December 27, 2009

Writing New Year's Cards

Part 2: How to Write New Year's Cards

When dating the card, the word "gantan (元旦)" is used instead of the date that card was written. "Gantan" means the morning of January 1st, therefore it is not necessary to write "ichi-gatsu gantan". As for the year, the Japanese era name is often used. The year 2010 will be "Heisei nijuuni-nen (平成22年), the 22 year of the era Heisei. Although nengajo are often written vertically, it is acceptable to write them horizontally.

When sending New Year's cards from overseas, the word "nenga (年賀)" should be written in red at the front (side with stamp and address). This way post office holds it and delivers it on January 1st. Unlike Christmas cards, nengajo shouldn't arrive before New Year's Day.

Write your name (and address) at the left side of the card. You can add your own message or draw the picture of the present year's zodiacal animal (eto). The animal of the year 2010 will be the tigar (tora).

Writing New Year's Cards

Part 1: Expressions Used in New Year's Cards

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Do you send Christmas cards? The Japanese send New Year's cards (nengajo) rather than Christmas cards. Try sending them to surprise your Japanese friends!

Nengajo begin with set greetings. Here are some common expressions.

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.

Shinnen omedetou gozaimasu.

Kinga Shinnen

Kyouga Shinnen



Tsutsushinde shinnen no oyorokobi o moushiagemasu.

--Happy New Year.

All expressions basically mean, "Happy New Year". You can choose any of them to begin your card. "Kinga Shinnen (謹賀新年)," "Kyouga Shinnen (恭賀新年)," "Gashou (賀正)," and "Geishun (迎春)" are seasonal words not used in regular conversation. The rest of the three expressions can be used as a greeting. Click here to hear the sound files for New Year's greetings.

After the greeting, add words of thanks, requests for continued favor or wishes for health. Here are some common expressions, though you can add your own words as well.

Sakunen wa taihen osewa ni nari arigatou gozaimashita.
Thank you for all your kind help during the past year.

Honnen mo douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
I hope for your continued favor this year.

Minasama no gokenkou o oinori moushiagemasu.
Wishing everyone good health.

Talking on the Phone

Part 2: Useful Expressions More of this Feature

At the Office

Business phone conversations are extremely polite. The mark * indicates the caller's phrases.

* Yamada-san (o) onegaishimasu.
Could I speak to Mr. Yamada?

Moushiwake arimasen ga, tadaima gaishutsu shiteorimasu.
I'm sorry, but he's not here at the moment.

Shou shou omachi kudasai.
Just a moment, please.

Shitsurei desu ga, dochira sama desu ka.
Who's calling, please?

* Nanji goro omodori desu ka.
Do you know what time he/she will be back?

Chotto wakarimasen.
I'm not sure.

Mousugu modoru to omoimasu.
He/she should be back soon.

Yuugata made modorimasen.
He/she won't be back till this evening.

* Nanika otsutae shimashou ka.
Can I take a message?

Yes, please.

Iie, kekkou desu.
No, it's O.K.

O-denwa kudasai to otsutae negaemasu ka.
Could you please ask him/her to call me?

Mata denwa shimasu to otsutae kudasai.
Could you please tell him/her I'll call back later?

To Somebody's Home

* Tanaka-san no otaku desu ka.
Is that Mrs. Tanaka's residence?

Hai, sou desu.
Yes, it is.

* Ono desu ga, Yuki-san (wa) irasshaimasu ka.
This is Ono. Is Yuki there?

* Yabun osokuni sumimasen.
I'm sorry for calling so late.

* Dengon o onegaishimasu.
Can I leave a message?

* Mata atode denwa shimasu.
I'll call back later.

How to Deal with Wrong Number

Iie chigaimasu.
No, you have called the wrong number.

* Sumimasen. Machigaemashita.
すみません。 間違えました。
I'm sorry. I have misdialed.

Talking on the Phone

Part 1: Phone Call in Japan

Even though you start understanding a language better, it is always difficult to talk on the phone in a that language. You can't use gestures which help a lot most of the time. Also, you can't see the other person's facial expressions or reactions. You have to listen very carefully to what the other person says. Talking on the phone in Japanese might be especially harder, since there are some formal phrases customarily used in phone conversations. (The Japanese normally talk very politely on the phone unless talking with a friend.) Let's learn common expressions used on the phone. Don't be intimidated by phone calls. Practice makes perfect!

Phone Call in Japan

Most public phones (koushuu denwa) take coins (at least a 10 yen coin) and telephone cards. Only designated pay phones allow international calls (kokusai denwa). All calls are charged by the minute. Telephone cards can be purchased in almost all convenience stores, kiosks at train stations and vending machines. The cards are sold in 500 yen and 1000 yen units. Telephone cards can be customized. Some companies even use them as marketing tools. Some cards are very valuable, and cost a fortune. Many people collect telephone cards just like postage stamps are collected.

Telephone Number

A telephone number consists of the three parts, for example, (03) 2815-1311. The first part is the area code (03 is Tokyo's), and the second and last part are the user's number. Each number is usually read separately, linking the parts with the particle "no." In telephone numbers 0 is often pronounced as "zero," 4 as "yon" and 7 as "nana" to reduce confusion (as 0, 4, 7 and 9 each have two different pronunciations). If you are not familiar with Japanese numbers, click here to learn them. The number for directory enquiries (bangou annai) is 104.

The most essential phrase is "moshi moshi." It is used by the caller when connected. It is also used when one can't hear the other person well, or to confirm if the other person is still on the line. Although some people say "moshi moshi" to answer the phone, "hai" is used more often in business.

If the other person speaks too fast, or you couldn't catch what he/she said, say "Yukkuri onegaishimasu (Please speak slowly)" or "Mou ichido onegaishimasu (Please say it again)." "Onegaishimasu" is a useful phrase when making a request.

Particles: Wa VS Ga

Particles are probably one of the most difficult and confusing aspects of Japanese sentences. Among particles, the question I am often asked is about the use of "wa(は)" and "ga(が)." They seems to make many people confused, but don't be intimidated by them! Let's have a look at the functions of these particles.

Topic Marker and Subject Marker

Roughly speaking, "wa" is a topic marker, and "ga" is a subject marker. The topic is often the same as the subject, but not necessary. The topic can be anything that a speaker wants to talk about (It can be an object, location or any other grammatical element). In this sense, it is similar to the English expressions, "As for ~" or "Speaking of ~."

Watashi wa gakusei desu.
I am a student. (As for me, I am a student.)

Nihongo wa omoshiroi desu.
Japanese is interesting. (Speaking of Japanese, it is interesting.)

Basic Differences Between Ga and Wa

"Wa" is used to mark something that has already been introduced into the conversation, or is familiar with both a speaker and a listener. (proper nouns, genetic names etc.) "Ga" is used when a situation or happening is just noticed or newly introduced. See the following example.

Mukashi mukashi, ojii-san ga sunde imashita. Ojii-san wa totemo shinsetsu deshita.
Once upon a time, there lived an old man. He was very kind.

In the first sentence, "ojii-san" is introduced for the first time. It is the subject, not the topic. The second sentence describes about "ojii-san" that is previously mentioned. "Ojii-san" is now the topic, and is marked with "wa" instead of "ga."

Wa as Contrast

Beside being a topic marker, "wa" is used to show contrast or to emphasize the subject.

Biiru wa nomimasu ga, wain wa nomimasen.
I drink beer, but I don't drink wine.

The thing being contrasted may or may not stated, but with this usage, the contrast is implied.

Ano hon wa yomimasen deshita.
I didn't read that book (though I read this one).

Particles such as "ni(に)," "de(で)," "kara(から)" and "made(まで)" can be combined with "wa" (double particles) to show contrast.

Osaka ni wa ikimashita ga, Kyoto ni wa ikimasen deshita.
I went to Osaka, but I didn't go to Kyoto.

Koko de wa tabako o suwanaide kudasai.
Please don't smoke here (but you may smoke there).

Whether "wa" indicates a topic or a contrast, it depends on the context or the intonation.

Ga with Question Words

When a question word such as "who" and "what" is the subject of a sentence, it is always followed by "ga," never by "wa." To answer the question, it also has to be followed by "ga."

Dare ga kimasu ka.
Who is coming?

Yoko ga kimasu.
Yoko is coming.

Ga as Emphasis

"Ga" is used for emphasis, to distinguish a person or thing from all others. If a topic is marked with "wa," the comment is the most important part of the sentence. On the other hand, if a subject is marked with "ga," the subject is the most important part of the sentence. In English, these differences are sometimes expressed in tone of voice. Compare these sentences.

Taro wa gakkou ni ikimashita.
Taro went to school.

Taro ga gakkou ni ikimashita.
Taro is the one who went to school.

Ga in a Special Circumstance

The object of the sentence is usually marked by the particle "o," but some verbs and adjectives (expressing like/dislike, desire, potential, necessity, fear, envy etc.) take "ga" instead of "o."

Kuruma ga hoshii desu.
I want a car.

Nihongo ga wakarimasu.
I understand Japanese.

Ga in Subordinate Clauses

The subject of a subordinate clause normally takes "ga" to show that the subjects of the subordinate and main clauses are different.

Watashi wa Mika ga kekkon shita koto o shiranakatta.
I didn't know that Mika got married.


Now let's review the rules about "wa" and "ga."

* Topic marker
* Contrast * Subject marker

* With question words
* Emphasize
* Instead of "o"
* In subordinate clauses