the novanet

Posts Tagged ‘日本語

Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Shrine


After a full day of Kyoto tourism on day one, day two found my dad, Jenn, and myself up a bit earlier than Mom and John who wanted to get a bit more rest out of the morning. They had, after all, just finished a twenty-six hour journey not two nights earlier.

Our goal for the morning was Fushimi Inari Taishataisha (大社) meaning “great/grand/head shrine” , Inari (稲荷) being a god(dess, depending on the story), and Fushimi (伏見) being the area where her head shrine is built.  Thus, 伏見稲荷大社 – Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Video/Audio Tour

Listen to the sounds of the mountain as you read this blog entry, or have a first-hand view of what it’s like to walk through the gated passageways of Fushimi Inari by playing the short clip below.

The shrine is my favorite Kyoto tourist spot, and I recommend it to anyone going there. The shrine is comprised of a long walk through many gorgeous and picturesque orange torii (arches/gates) up a mountain by way of long cobbled stone steps. The entire mountain (also named Fushimi) is given over to the shrine, so while the main gate of the shrine may be a stone’s throw from the nearest train station it doesn’t take much wandering before you can convince yourself you’ve left the bustle of a Japanese metropolis behind.

This was a place I really wanted my family to see, but my brother’s health and mother’s knee made the hike questionable for the two of them. Thus, their resting during the morning was the perfect opportunity to Jenn and the Father up to see it.

The shrine begins rather typically for anyone who has been to another large shrine, but just a little bit of hiking will take you back behind its colorful facade.

Paper cranes and wooden prayer boards

Our early departure gave us a mountain wrapped in a fog and seemingly empty of other sightseers. My camera was grateful for the lack of people, particularly at a spot where the gates are built so thickly and near to each other that it’s hard to say whether you’re inside or out. Usually these two walkways are bustling with people on their way up and down the mountain, but we were happily able to get photos with just us and the orange passageways.

At the first peak we took a small side journey up to a little graveyard populated with guardian statues and miniature torii. Going back to the same spot again in August, nearly half a year later, I found out that by taking the right narrow path through that place you can find a dirt path that opens up onto a view of the whole of Kyoto; not that the fog would have let us look back on that cold March morning.

The rock paths at the top were wet and slick with the morning fog, but cobblestone steps were carved out for sure footing on the way to the top. From here, I’ll just let the photos take you up and around the mountain.



Disappearing into the Fog

Here’s another video, this one to give you an idea of just how thick the fog was (and how silly my dad is)




The Japanese writing on the backsides of these gates may seem as beautiful as the red beams themselves, until you realize it’s simply the name of a rental car company


“Let’s protect the green of the mountain from forest fires”


A bamboo forest was hidden off to the side of the start of the trek



What’s in a Name

Saturday I attended a gathering at the famed watering hole “Waterr”, where everyone was suppose to be fashioned in red. I say this as an explanation for the lousy amounts of it you can see in the photo below the next paragraph.

I had invited my 後輩 from the lab, that is, another study abroad guy who joined Inui-ken with the new semester. He’s sporting a name that seems to be fairly common within our generation: another Matt. Note that when I write his name in English, there’s nothing to be done about it but to write it exactly the same as mine. We’ve only got the one script, after all.

In Japanese, we have a few more options.

Matt and Matt

On Japanese Syllabaries

When Matt and I both signed up to go to a fare-well party our lab was holding on, the event’s list of participants had both our names written on it, but each written in a different script. One was written in Katakana, and the other, Hiragana.

Katakana and Hiragana are symbols standing for the exact same sounds – that is, there is a one-to-one correspondence between Hiragana and Katakana characters. The difference lies only in shape and usages, and from those differences comes a sort of… gut feeling, if you will; some sort of subconscious association between the characters and something in the back of your mind. Thus the same word will have a different impact written in both of the syllabaries.

Katakana was traditionally established and used by men. It is characterized by simple figures, sharp angles and straight edges. Nowadays it is used to transliterate foreign words like “rock climbing” into the closest thing Japanese can get: ロッククライミング (rokku ku-rai-mingu), as well as as a sort of italics for Japanese words. This is the script I’m use to seeing my own name in, as foreigners’ names are written in it.
Hiragana was developed after Katakana by aristocratic women looking to get into the world of early Japanese literature but who found themselves forbidden to use the manly Katakana script. So, they created their own. Compared to Katakana, Hiragana are far more fluid, flowing, and soft. They often have loops and bends, features completely lacking from Katakana. If I tell you both of the following characters are for the same syllable, one written in Katakana and the other in Hiragana, it should be obvious to you which is which.


Hiragana is now the standard way of inscribing the sounds of the Japanese language itself. It is used as a reading guide above difficult or rare Kanji words (this is called “furigana”). It is also the script used for the grammatical particles and affixes that appear in standard Japanese.

Your typical written sentence in Japanese will consist mainly of Kanji and Hiragana, with Katakana appearing only when an imported foreign word needs to be used.

With all that background laid out, perhaps you’ll have a glimmer of why Matt and I goodnaturedly started arguing about whose name had been written in Hiragana – まっと – and whose had been written in Katakana – マット. We both wanted to be the the original and manly マット, because Hiragana is girly and its not okay for men to be feminine. We set up our arguments and eventually took it to the courts.

I presented a rather strong case. I had been at the lab for a longer period of time, and was also the elder Matt. You have may heard that seniority is a Big Deal in Japanese culture. Furthermore, I’m just more manly, dangit. Look at all my adventures! Just look! With those details in the clear, it should be obvious that my face was in mind when the sender wrote マット.

We eventually took the argument up to the top, and the gent who sent off the letter bowed to my side of the case. Go me.

Go マット!

Fun with Japanese

Japanese has a lot of words that stand very near each other in a phonetic sense. If you write these words with their kanji (Chinese ideographs) they might not look much alike  (巨大<>兄弟) but if we write them in the phonetics you’re use to we get kyodai (gigantic) and kyoudai (siblings).  This is the part where I make a gigantic siblings joke, but instead I move boldly forward.  Another example: kawaii (cute) and kowai (scary).

Usually people give you the benefit of the doubt or make the connection, but other times…

If only I could link this post as explanation to the woman I asked for permission to sit on her dog, then she’d see it was all just a silly misunderstanding.
座る<>触る suwaru (to sit) and sawaru (to touch)

Similarly, perhaps this post could help put my lab-mate more at ease when he’s around me. He’s seemed on edge ever since I asked him if he minded if I got naked in the lab, when all I wanted was to remove a flash-drive from a PC.
抜く<>脱ぐ   nuku (pull out) and nugu (take off clothes)

Written by Matt

2011/10/25 at 8:36 am

Japanese Classes and 登山会 (Mountain Climbing Club)

I’m sitting in the room I’ve lived in for the last three weeks trying to jog my memory of what’s happened since I came here.

Well, I at least remember today, so I think I’ll just start there!

Tohoku University Japanese Courses

My first Japanese classes since coming to Sendai and enrolling at Tohoku University were held at this morning.  I managed to test into the highest level of Japanese offered (thanks CLS!) and my kanji (the Chinese characters used in Japanese) skills were graded as being at a level higher than any of the classes they actually offer (thanks RTK!).  The Japanese program here is a bit interesting at higher levels where you get to choose different “classes” within the subject.  Each one meets only once a week for an hour and a half.  I’m personally taking grammar and reading on Thursdays (today’s classes) and listening and speaking on Mondays.  A few different groups are offering free walk-in Japanese lessons, including an attractive technical Japanese course, on other days throughout the week, so I’m planning on attending those whenever possible.

登山 – Tozan, mountain climbing

Today was my initiation into the Tohoku University tozan club.  The university clubs here all seem to have their own clubhouses on campus, and the tozan club was no different.  It wasn’t much more than a dingy, poorly lit shack, but it was crammed with benches, tables, game consoles, and anything else necessary to the Japanese university student, including manga (Japanese comics).  An entire wall and a half of the club had manga books stacked from floor to ceiling, three rows deep, neatly stacked in a variety of bookshelves handed down from one place or another.  Opposite that wall was the gaming wall, where the latest consoles (a Playstation 3) to the earliest (PS1, N64, TurboGrafx!?) and their games waited for emergency procrastination situations.

I ended up spending my entire lunch hour with the guys over there, and they made sure to let me know I could pass time in the clubhouse whenever I pleased.  It definitely looks like a good place to sharpen those Japanese skills.  Our first club party will be a river-side barbecue this Saturday.  My attending depends on whether or not I’ll be going climbing in the nearby Yamagata prefecture with an older gentlemen I met at the local climbing gym, but that’ll be another post.

Speaking of the local climbing gym, I have a date there tonight and had better be on my way.  But first!  One last thing…

Critical Language Scholarship Note

I linked them above and I’ll do it again – the Critical Language Scholarship for the summer of 2012 is open until November 15th, 2011, and it’s something I really recommended if you’re interested in one of the languages they offer.  I’d find it hard to believe there’s a better program out there.

Written by Matt

2011/10/13 at 4:42 pm