Archive for December, 2005


Sarcasm does not translate well in Japan!

Posted by on Saturday, 10 December, 2005


Sarcasm does NOT translate well in Japan. Be aware of this fact when you venture out in this country trying to be “funny” !! I am not joking when I say this, but deadly serious. There are extremely few situations where you can get away with sarcasm and your intent and meaning actually is understood by the recipient!

Sarcasm illustrated

I will give a very simple example, and I am not kidding around when I write this, even basic sarcasm such as I will display below DOES NOT translate in 9 cases out of 10!

It’s a cold gray day, rain is pouring down outside. You say to your (Japanese) co-worker:

– Oh, LOVELY weather today, isn’t it!? (今日は素晴らしい天気だな~! “Kyo wa subarashii tenki desne!”)
– Huh? What do you mean? I don’t really like rain! (え?どういう意味?僕は雨があまり好きじゃないけど! “Eh? Do yu imi? Boku wa ame ga amari suki janaikedo!”)

he replies while thinking “Strange foreigner…”

– No, no, no. That’s not what I meant, I meant…..ah…forget it!

I kid you not. This is what the conversation would be like. And now don’t get me wrong, I don’t credit this to stupidity, ignorance, or any language barrier. This is simply a cultural wall. The Japanese language, in itself, is so ambigiuous and vague that direct sarcasm simply does not fit. There are lots of situations where Japanese people say one thing and means another, but that is hardly sarcasm – that is simply the way polite conversation works here.

On the other hand, there are a FEW situations where you can get away with sarcasm as I’ve learned recently. However, I think it only works if you’re female! You see, women in general are not really allowed to be rude or angry and can definately not curse in public. So if some rude old “ojisan” (old man) rushes in front of you onto a train or bus or any similar situation where you’ve been blatantly ignored or offended, you may use sarcasm to get back at him – AND IT WILL TRANSLATE FINE! Such is the magic and mystery of the Japanese language! I will give you a quick example:

You are standing on a train platform, patiently waiting in line to get on the train. At the last minute a smelly old man squeezes ahead of everyone onto the train. Then you can say:

ご親切に! (“goshinsetsuni”)
あら~、失礼しました! (“ara~, shitsure shimashita!”)

The first phrase really means “Why, how kind of you” and the second means “Oh, excuse me” but said with a certain dry intonation (very important) and a dry look (also important), you’re meaning will be understood by everyone around you (and everyone except the old guy will chuckle inside).

Hopefully this simple warning and small tips can be of some use to you in your everyday life!!


Hiddens gems in Tokyo

Posted by on Wednesday, 7 December, 2005

OK, I’ve been a bit busy lately so I really haven’t had the time to update so much, but I will desperately try to get back to my old routine. I’d like to start off with a series of posts I’ve been thinking of doing a while now, and that is presenting some “hidden gems” in Tokyo, i.e. some places in Tokyo you might not be completely aware of (at least as a “regular” foreigner here).

FIrst up is Futagotamagawa, which is located by Tama River to the west of Shibuya. Go on the Tokyu Denen-chofuDen-en-toshi line (also the extension of Hanzomon-line; thanks for the heads up John!) from Shibuya a few stops (5 or so) and you’re there. Futagotamagawa is a rather fancy place to live in Tokyo (as far as places outside the Yamanote line go) and has a gorgeous town center, which lies mainly to the North of the train station. The main attraction here is a HUGE Takashimaya department store, consisting of five different buildings (four of them connected by walkways) with, among other things, the best food floor I’ve ever seen in a department store, a truly lovely Starbucks where you can sit outside on the roof terrace and enjoy a great view, and the best “Shoronpo” (小籠包) – Chinese steamed dumplings – in Tokyo, IMO.

For more information, go to Tamagawa Takashimaya homepage (in Japanese)

On the other side of the main street running along the station (i.e. on the station side) there are various shops and restaurants too. For example a Bagel & Bagel shop, a great Indian restaurant and an outdoor coffeeshop serving great smoothies!