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Archive for the 'Max in Shanghai' Category


Heroes is a TV show from America’s NBC. It follows a group of men and women who suddenly develop superhuman powers.

There is a woman with a split personality, a man who can fly, another who can paint the future, and a girl who can regenerate her injuries.

But my personal favourite1 character is 中村広2, who can bend time and space. Not only is his superpower the coolest, he has the added power of being able to speak Japanese at a native level.

中村広 (広 for short) has a sidekick, Ando, who he speaks almost exclusively in Japanese to. Try closing your eyes and listening to what they say; you might find out you will understand more than you think you could!

Here are some words I have learnt from Heroes:

運命・うんめい Destiny/Karma. Chinese learners will recognise3 the characters as the same as the Chinese, except backwards: the Chinese word is 命運. Whenever Ando doubts their mission, 中村広 tells him that it’s their destiny: 「運命だよ!」 or something similar.

ピンチ・大ピンチ A problem. Taken from the English word ‘pinch’, as in ‘I say, I’m in a bit of a pinch, can you help me out?’ When 広 gets a gun pointed at him (I won’t spoil the plotline for those who haven’t seen the series, but suffice it to say that it happens a lot) he gets a sheepish look and says 「ピンチ!」

やった! よし先生4 explained this Japanese word in a Jpod lesson much better than I ever could. “Sometimes I just wake up and the sun is smiling and I just say… やった!” I’m paraphrasing though, as I can’t find the right lesson. It was one of the funniest lessons I’ve heard. なつかしい!I can’t for the life of me find which one it was though… Perhaps someone with a better memory could put the link in a comment to this post? But I digress. The first time 広 successfully uses his superpower to teleport, and at other moments of elation, he pumps his fists into the air, closes his eyes, and yells 「やった!」

I’m now going to write a little about the latest episode. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to stop reading now, as I’m going to talk about plot points that might ruin the story for those who haven’t seen episode 16.

In last week’s episode, 広 and Ando were separated, so there wasn’t much dialogue in Japanese. They meet up towards the end of the episode, and 広 reluctantly tells Ando that he will be continuing his journey on his own. Ando isn’t too pleased. He says,


After seeing that line, I did the same thing as many readers did just now, I typed the line into Firefox, toggled Rikaichan, got no answer on the じゃん part of the line, and scratched my head. I kept watching until the end, taking note of the celebrity cameo appearance made during the scene between 広 and Ando.

愛香5 explained quite simply to me that じゃん=じゃないか and that she had explained this to me before. 「おぼえてる、じゃない?」 she said, which just confused me even more. Is Ando saying that it’s not destiny? Was 愛香 saying that I didn’t remember? It was all too confusing. Then I did something I should have done a long time ago.

I called up the Jpod grammar bank in the learning center, looked under ‘J’ for ‘じゃない’ and found out what it meant. I won’t get into too much detail, I’ll let you have a look through it yourself!

After jumping through all those hoops to find out the meaning of those 3 syllables, it took me about 10 seconds to find it in the grammar bank. 早かった、じゃん?

Check your local guides for when Heroes airs, or watch it at the NBC website.

1 favorite
2 なか・むら・ひろ or ‘Hiro Nakamura’ in the show
3 recognize
4 せん・せい
5 あい・か


A New Japanese Greeting

One day I was at a 上海1 sports centre2, playing table tennis with some friends. Table tennis is very popular here; the place I was at had about 10 tables in a gymnasium.

While the others were playing doubles, I had a wander around the centre. Next to the table tennis hall, there was a gym where a group of approximately 20 people were practising 空手3. There were men and girls of many ages, all in neat formation, doing drills. The instructor was at the front, barking out orders and counting. He wasn’t counting in English, or even Chinese, but was yelling out in a bloodcurdling voice 「いち・に・さん・よん」

Whenever people practice 空手, they do so using Japanese instead of the language of whichever country they are in. So all over the world, or at the very least all over 上海, there are instructors yelling out 「いち・に・さん・よん」 to their students, in deference to the Japanese origins of 空手. The same is true of Taekwondo, which has its origins in the Korean peninsula. When practising Taekwondo, commands are yelled out in Korean.

But as you can imagine, there aren’t many things that a 空手 instructor has cause to scream out at the top of his voice to his class. Anything spoken to individual fighters, or instructions on how to perform moves was said in Chinese. Language doesn’t play much part in beating an opponent to a pulp.

At the end of the training session, everyone got the opportunity to practise their 日本語4. Everyone lined up in single file along one of the walls, from tallest to shortest. Then the tallest one broke off, faced the second shortest, bowed and said a very polite thankyou. Then he continued to the third tallest fighter, thanking him also. Then the second shortest broke off, and did the same to the third tallest. This continued, and in this way, everyone got the chance to thank everyone else. Only the Japanese could have come up with such an efficient, polite way to end a training session.

Allow me to sidetrack a little though. This ‘polite thankyou’ had not been taught to each fighter. This was a 空手 lesson, not a language lesson. So no one had bothered to correct anyone else’s pronunciation, and no one in the room was a native speaker. I’ll also tell you that this greeting is usually rushed over very quickly by Japanese people when they have to say it to many people. Combine that with the fact that it’s usually mumbled under the breath, while bowing at 45 degrees, and you’ll find that in real life this utterance doesn’t always sound like it does when 夏子先生5 and her colleagues say it on JPod.

Let’s continue with the language lesson though. What do you think that each fighter said to each other? As I mentioned, it was a very polite thankyou.

Of course, it was 「ありがとうございます」, often the first phrase that a Japanese learner learns.

But it came out rather differently. As I mentioned, no one had taught anyone in the room the proper pronunciation, or explained the lightning-fast pronunciation of native 日本人 when saying this. So there was a room full of people bowing deeply to each other and yelling at the top of their voices,

“Osssss… Ossss… Osssss…… Ossss…..”

And I totally agree with this pronunciation. I have been in a roomfull of サラリマン6 when they have greeted each other. They have bowed deeply to each other and said what sounded to my ears like “Osss….”. I actually expected them to come up from their bows with a sheepish grin, expecting “Osss” to be a joke or something.

I have even tried it out. I met a group of Japanese friends last week, and upon meeting them, bowed and said “Osss….”. I expected them to laugh at me, but they returned my “Ossss….” with an “Osss….” of their own.

1 シャン・ハイ
2 center
3 から・て
4 に・ほん・ご
5 なつ・こ・せん・せい
6 Japanese white collar workers. ‘Salary Men’.

Bowing Practice

I went to a concert last night, put on by a Japanese band playing African drums. Everyone I met was 日本人1. Just before leaving, I went over everything I had learnt about saying goodbyes in Japanese. I rehearsed it in my head: 「でわ、さきにしつれいします」2. Arms by my side, lowered eyes and a bow from the waist. A bow as deep as I could, look at the floor for 3 seconds, then come back up. I quite proud of my bowing technique, I’d practiced it in the トイレ3 earlier. But instead of returning my carefully rehearsed bow, everyone kept shaking my hand, patting me on the back, giving the half-hug. Everyone kept saying “see ya”, “bye”, “Thanks for coming”, “再见”4.
It was a bit strange. After hearing so much about ritualised traditions in Japan, and preparing myself for them, I had received a hi five, a bright smile and a ‘Thanks for coming’. All my practice for nothing!
I am always amazed by Japanese culture. Just when I think I have a grasp on it, it changes!
1に・ほん・じん, Japanese person
2“Well, excuse me for leaving first”. A very polite thing to say before leaving the room.
1Zai Jian, Chinese for ‘goodbye’.

Looking for Ranma

爱香 and I were on the outskirts of 上海, looking for a comic called ‘乱馬1/2’. I had bought an English copy of 乱馬1/2 in Sydney, but now needed the Japanese version, so I could study it.. We had gone up and down 福州路, which is where the major concentration of bookshops are in 上海, but had no luck finding the original Japanese version. Our last chance to find 乱馬1/2 was to head out to 古北区, where the biggest concentration of Japanese expats and shops are.
After reading a tiny ad in a Japanese magazine, we had gone up and down the same road three times, into an apartment block, back out the same apartment block, to the security guard at the front of the apartment block, and finally to a スーパー across the road.

As soon as we entered, I had a bad feeling. It looked just like a normal スーパー; vegetables, cereal, fruit… a lot of edible stuff but no 漫画. We wandered through, and were pleasantly surprised to find 4 shelves full of books. Only one small shelf was 漫画 though, but only a small proportion of that was understandable to me, and not a single copy of 乱馬1/2. 爱香 was interested of course, and started looking through the grown-up books. I picked up a copy of クレヨンしんちゃん, a comic about about a rude little boy who loves exposing his penis, and started working my way through it.

After a while I heard 爱香’s voice talking to someone else. Her voice had that high twittery sound and her verbs all had ‘ます’ on the end of them, which usually means she’s talking to someone she hasn’t met before. I kept reading.

After finishing another クレヨンしんちゃん story, I wandered over to where 爱香 was. She was talking to another lady, and they were looking over a map. The map was printed on a plastic bag, and they were pointing to it. The other lady seemed to be giving directions, 爱香 would say ‘はい’ every now and then. The other lady had some some friends too; two other well dressed ladies were listening intently. Every now and then the other lady would ask her friends to clarify something 「。。。ですね、。。。」 and the others would frown hard, as if they were deep in thought and give a long 「うん。。。。」

I had a peek over 爱香’s shoulder to look at the map. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and the Japanese was so fast and at such a high pitch that I didn’t get it at all. I wandered back to the 漫画 section, put クレヨンしんちゃん back, and picked the next book in the series.
I got a little way through it, with 爱香 and her new friends still twittering behind me. Eventually I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see 爱香, grinning. Clutched in her hands was the same plastic bag, filled with magazines.
「これもらった!」 she said, still smiling.
I froze. “I know this,” i thought. What did Peter先生’s say about giving/receiving verbs? I did a mental calculation… ‘これ=this… もらった=received…put the verb first… means… ‘I received this!’
“Really?” I said. “They gave you that? Who were they?”

“I didn’t know them,” 爱香 replied.

It turns out that 爱香 had just asked a passer-by if she knew of any good bookshops. She had asked her friends, who had a plastic bag with a map on it. She had given 爱香 the bag, and taken about 10 minutes of her time to explain the directions to the bookshop on it. Then, she had called her friends over to help out. There were many other recommended bookshops which didn’t have directions on the bag, so one of the ladies had left the store, gone across the street, found a magazine with a map in it, and brought it back. After taking more time to explain the way to the bookshop and give 爱香 some recommendations on good books, she had given the magazine to 爱香, along with the bag, and other various magazines she had also brought from across the street, just in case we got bored on the way. I couldn’t believe it. As 爱香 explained all of this to me on the way to the next bookshop, I felt bad that the only thanks I gave her was a mumbled ‘アリガトウ’ and a clumsy bow.
爱香 often asks me why I like Japan so much. I don’t think I have ever given her a satisfactory answer. I use words like ‘friendliness’ and ‘diligence’ and ‘ニンテンド’ but I don’t think she gets it yet. It’s not that people from other cultures wouldn’t help you, it’s just the diligence in which Japanese people will fall over each other to help out a complete stranger. It’s not the only time it’s happened either.

But that’s another story, maybe for another post!

Learn Japanese with Max in Shanghai

Hi. My name is Max. I live in Shanghai, China and I’ve been studying Japanese since November of 2005. Or, as might be more appropriate 平成17年.

I’ve always been interested in Japan. My aunt lives in Japan, so one of my cousins are Japanese. I traveled to Japan often as a kid, and was always sorry to leave. Every time I have left 東京羽田空港1 I have sworn to return.

I come from a bilingual family, so when someone asks me how long I been learning, I usually dodge the question and say ‘quite a while’. I haven’t been reading and writing for long, but since coming to Shanghai I have seriously tried to master Chinese.

At the time of my last trip to Japan, in November of 2005, I was already seriously learning Chinese. I was so interested in Japan that it was a natural step to start learning Japanese too. After returning to China I stumbled upon Japanesepod101. I’ve listened to it every day ever since.

With this blog I hope to keep you informed about my process in learning Japanese. I am lucky that my significant other speaks Japanese very well. Her name is 森爱香2 and she will be helping me (and us out). Here she is now:
Oh sorry, she’s on the phone, I’ll get her to introduce herself later.

Also, I hope to be writing in Chinese occasionally. I hope you all know your 漢字, you’ll be suprised how much you’ll be able to work out if you’re determined.
1とうきょう・はねだ・くうこう. Tokyo’s International Airport.

2もり・あい・か, or just ‘Aika’.