JOK Notebook

Brain in Knots

I'm back from a great vacation to San Diego, feeling completely refreshed. For five days my husband and I thought about nothing more complicated than what to eat or drink or which beach, park, or beautiful street to explore next with our dog.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

That was a welcome change from the state I was in until the trip. I'd been working way too hard, and then a Japanese email I received just before the holiday tied my brain in knots. 

Actually, it was a really cool email, filled with lively chatter and interesting tidbits. Among other things, it afforded these realizations:

• The word つぶやくmeans "to mutter; murmur; grumble," as well as "to tweet on Twitter." So tweeting is like talking to oneself, not caring if anyone hears! Brilliant!

• In the section of Tokyo called 浅草 (あさくさ), there's a temple called 浅草寺 (せんそうじ). The 浅草 kanji are identical, but kun readings prevail in the first case, whereas the second reading combines three on-yomi. I had no idea all that was going on in Asakusa!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa on a rainy day.

• The following words differ by just one hiragana, but that greatly affects their meanings:

細い (ほそい: thin; slender; fine)

細かい (こまかい: detailed)

I know I've had that same insight before, but it's not as if much ever sticks in my mind when it comes to kanji!

• There's a fantastic word related to kanji, and I knew nothing about its existence:

漢字圏 (かんじけん: countries that currently use Chinese characters in their writing or that have used them in the recent past)

How have I never heard of this term?! Here's the antonym:

非漢字圏 (ひかんじけん: countries that do not use Chinese characters in their writing; non-kanji countries)

I also struggled like crazy to understand the following sentence, which my correspondent wrote in response to my apology for my late email:


私 (わたし: I); 遅い (おそい: late); -がち (apt to do); 誰 (だれ: who); 常に (つねに: always); 前 (まえ: in front of); 座る (すわる: to sit); 握る (にぎる: to grip); わけではない (it is not the case that); 以外 (いがい: with the exception of); 時間 (じかん: time); 大事 (だいじ: important); 思う (おもう: to think); 気にする (きにする: to mind, worry about), 大丈夫 (だいじょうぶ: okay) 

The vocabulary wasn't tough, and I understood bits and pieces, but I somehow could not assemble the parts into a meaningful whole. I therefore turned to Kensuke-san, my trusty language partner, and we analyzed every bit of it until I felt satisfied. It took awhile!

One problem was that when I read 誰も, I assumed that it was the first part of 誰も ... ない (no one), so I expected to see a ない  later. Then I did see a ない  in the わけでもない phrase, and although that seemed like a strange pairing for 誰も, I figured it was good enough. But that was wrong. 誰も means "everyone" in this case.

However, as it turns out, わけでもない does partially negate the phrase. The expression わけではない (usually with a は, not a も) can translate as "it does not mean that ..." or "I do not mean" but is more like "it is not the case that" here. So with 誰も ... わけでもない, we have "It is not the case that everyone ..." or "Not everyone ..."

Whereas 誰も seemed like a significant "landmark" to me, one that signified (or didn't signify!) whom the clause was about, Kensuke-san zeroed in on the first し (the one after 私も遅くなりがちです). It made him anticipate a second し at the end of the next clause, and he was right; there is indeed another ですし. The し ... し pair also told him that whatever she was saying about one clause, she was also saying about the next. On hearing that, I grew a little more frustrated with my lack of comprehension because I simply could not see a relationship between her various comments. She started off saying that she's also apt to be late. Then she talked about monitors and smartphones and everyone or no one. What was it all about?

Kensuke-san filled in a gap for me by explaining 握る. Generally, he said, it has the nuance of “tightly gripping,” but in this case it means "staring (at one’s phone)." Ah, okay, then. The second clause literally translates as "people are not always in front of a monitor or staring at their cell phones." In other words, they don't always have access to email. Little does she know that I'm glued to my monitor! It turns out that I have no excuse for my late email to her!

Ah, but she doesn't want one. That's what she says with the final clause, though I couldn't get that either, mainly because それ以外の時間のほうがもっと made little sense to me. Thanks to Kensuke-san, I now know how to interpret that last clause:

I think it's more important to enjoy life than (to write email). So it’s fine! Don’t worry about it!

Clearly, she doesn't know me. Speaking of -がち, I'm apt to worry about things endlessly, such as whether I fully understand Japanese sentences. Although it's a relief to know what one means, it really doesn't hit the spot until you grasp all the little bits, does it? Let's break down this last clause again:

• The それ以外の時間 means "at other times."

• The のほうがもっと means "more than" (because もっと is "more" and のほうが is "than").

• The 気にしなくて is like 気にしないで, "don't worry about it; forget about it."

At last, there it is! I've scratched the very last itch.

Just in case you're feeling the slightest bit itchy, here's the whole thing again, along with a translation:

I also tend to be late, and it's not as if people are always glued to their monitors or cell phones. I think it's more important to enjoy life than to write email. So it’s fine! Don’t worry about it!

私 (わたし: I); 遅い (おそい: late); -がち (apt to do); 誰 (だれ: who); 常に (つねに: always); 前 (まえ: in front of); 座る (すわる: to sit); 握る (にぎる: to grip); わけではない (it is not the case that); 以外 (いがい: with the exception of); 時間 (じかん: time); 大事 (だいじ: important); 思う (おもう: to think); 気にする (きにする: to mind, worry about), 大丈夫 (だいじょうぶ: okay) 

I can finally stop worrying! With my mind cleared, I would like to introduce the newest essay, which is 1761 on 舞 (dance):

It's a giant piece of writing (27 pages!), packed with information about the culture and language, as well as photos. I hope essay 1761 will make you dance with delight!

Have a great weekend!


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