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[sci.lang.japan] Frequently Asked Questions

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Archive-name: japan/language
Posting-Frequency: monthly-ish
Last-modified: February 27, 1997
Copyright: (C) 1997 Olaf Meeuwissen

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                      Frequently Asked Questions

      The last posted version of the FAQ should be available at
                      or a mirror site near you.

     For reasons of a private nature I didn't have  any  time  to
     work on the FAQ.  So, no changes this time around.
                                                          -- Olaf

                 Ask me no questions, and I won't lie
                 No guarantees, just a promise to try
                                      -- Soul II Soul

Subject: Table of contents Q1 The group and its FAQ Q1.1 Say, how about some introduction? Q1.2 How can I help? Q1.3 Things to look out for. Q1.4 Newsgroups and the fj.* hierarchy Q1.5 Mailing lists Q1.6 Where can I find out more? Q2 The language Q2.1 How do I say ...? Q2.2 How do I say `I love you'? Q2.3 How do I say `Congratulations'? Q2.4 How do I say `Happy birthday'? Q2.5 How do I write ...? Q2.6 How many kanji are there? Q2.7 Why is everyone using different romanisation schemes? Q2.8 What is the correct way to write something in romaji? Q2.9 How do I send/read e-mail in Japanese? Q2.10 How can I see Japanese characters while surfing the Web? Q2.11 Is "gaijin" a derogatory word?
Subject: Q1 The group and its FAQ This chapter answers frequently and not so frequently asked ques- tions about <news:sci.lang.japan> and its FAQ. If you are only interested in real, Japanese language FAQs, do yourself a favour and skip directly to any of the other chapters. But before you do, there's one question you might want to take a peek at before you jump ahead. Q1.6 tells you where you can find additional or more in depth material.
Subject: Q1.1 Say, how about some introduction? Ok, here goes! This is the FAQ of <news:sci.lang.japan>. It tries to answer questions that have a habit of popping up in this newsgroup, and then some. Since seeing the same questions and answers time and time again does get a bit boring, they've been put together here in the hope that keeps you from boring us. So, if you have a question, look here first, and, if you can't find a satisfactory answer, then annoy <news:sci.lang.japan>. Please, don't bug me with your questions. Chances are pretty big I don't have an answer ready to dash off anyway, so it would take time away from maintaining the FAQ! Of course, FAQ-related ques- tions are welcome. In case you see a question in the group that you know is answered here somewhere, please tell people so by e-mail, don't shout it all over the newsgroup ;-). On many a news reader, hit `r' for `reply' (instead of `f' for `followup'). If that doesn't work for you, ask a local guru or have fun with your on-line help and/or the manual pages.
Subject: Q1.2 How can I help? Of course, answers to as-of-yet unanswered FAQs are very welcome. Then, there are bound to be typos, mistakes or pieces of outdated info in the FAQ at some time or other. It would be most helpful if you not only point them out, but include the correct info as well. That'll save me a bundle. And, naturally, any kind of suggestions to improve the FAQ are appreciated. Please send contributions to <> and I'd certainly appreciate it if you put any one of `slj', `faq' or `sci.lang.japan' in the subject of your mail. Helps speed up processing and weeds out my mailbox a bit at the same time :-).
Subject: Q1.3 Things to look out for. I haven't quite found the time to get around to these, but future versions of the FAQ may contain several of the following fre- quently asked and answered questions (in bubble-up order): * How do I write my name in kanji/kana? * Why are romaji evil? * Can anyone recommend a good dictionary? * I just can't remember those hiragana/katakana. Help!! * What are hiragana/katakana? This list is far from complete and I dare everyone to beat this list. See Q1.2 on how to get your list to me. Preferably with answers!
Subject: Q1.4 Newsgroups and the fj.* hierarchy The fj.* hierarchy can be thought of as the Japanese version of Usenet. For example, <news:fj.sci.lang> discusses pretty much the same kind of topics as <news:sci.lang> but in Japanese. One exception is <> which is basically in English and deals with topics foreigners may encounter when liv- ing in Japan. Apart from the above groups, some other groups deal with language, Japan and Japanese as well. People interested more in linguistics and translation than in Japanese may find something of their liking in <news:sci.lang> or <news:sci.lang.translation>. If you are looking for more culture oriented news, try <news:soc.culture.japan> or <news:soc.culture.japan.moderated> if you find the former a bit too flame infested. Some miscellaneous Japan related groups: * <news:comp.research.japan> * <news:alt.japanese.text> * <news:alt.japanese.misc>
Subject: Q1.5 Mailing lists Besides <news:sci.lang.japan> there are a number of Japanese related mailing list out there in cyberspace. Here follows an incomplete list: * The `Nihongo Discussion Group' covers pretty much the same ground as the news group and is posted to it as well. For subscription information and archives visit <>. * The `Gakusei Mailing Lists' are a bunch of mailing lists for informal conversation in Japanese. There are lists on several levels of proficiency and separate lists for romaji and kanji/kana posts and a list devoted to grammar (in English). For more info, send email with `info gakusei-L' in the body to <>. * The `"Honyaku"' mailing list is for anyone interested in translation. You can find subscription details (and some links to other info) at <>.
Subject: Q1.6 Where can I find out more? While this FAQ is going through its rebirth and growing pains, there will be an, hopefully ever decreasing, pile of information missing. In the mean time, here are some info-thirst slaking pointers to places with more information. If your news reader knows an URL when it sees one, click away, fire up your favourite browser otherwise. * Rafael Santos started this FAQ a long, long time ago. Then he went overboard just a teensy-weensy bit ;-) and created the `Japanese Language Information pages'. These pages ooze info at <>. But, while going overboard just that bit, the original FAQ started withering. And that's when * Ben Bullock started a racket in the group, ultimately leading to his `Alternative sci.lang.japan FAQ' which can be found at <>. * Jim Breen, of EDICT-fame, has a page `Things Japanese' with a bunch of Japan(ese) and EDICT related pointers at <>. * John Wiederspan put together a `Guide to Japanese Computing' at <>. Make sure you also check out the parent directory. * Taki Naruto put together some info on using Japanese on PCs running English based Windows. Check out <>.
Subject: Q2 The language Recognizing the fact that there is, currently, not a lot of con- tent in the FAQ, I collapsed all questions into one chapter. By the time the questions in here start to show some kind of struc- ture I will split off parts into more appropriately named chapters. Guess what'll happen? Right! Questions and cross references will be completely (and automagically) renumbered. Safest thing to do anytime is to refer to questions by name, not by number, ever!
Subject: Q2.1 How do I say ...? Let's be clear on this. There is no one single best answer for this kind of question. There are many different ways to convey the same thing and whichever is best depends on the situation, a lot! Are you talking to your best friend, your boss or to a com- plete and utter stranger? Do you want to borrow a couple of thousand yen or get someone to pass you the salt? Having said that, use your judgement when using any of the answers below and remember that your mileage may vary. [ed.: I want to include a section on politeness and collapse those sections with really short answers into this one. Anyone care to write this?]
Subject: Q2.2 How do I say `I love you'? You don't! At least, according to common lore. Most people sug- gest you show the person in question your affection. But, if you want to ignore this advice, you can try your luck with "ai shite imasu" or "daisuki desu". Since you (usually) say this to some- one you know (quite) well, it is probably more natural to drop the politeness level a bit and use "ai shiteru" or "daisuki da" instead. To add some emphasis, you could add a sentence final "yo".
Subject: Q2.3 How do I say `Congratulations'? "omedetou gozaimasu" is the standard polite form for `Congratula- tions'. Depending on the situation, a simple "omedetou" may be enough, though.
Subject: Q2.4 How do I say `Happy birthday'? "otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu". Situation permitting, simply "otanjoubi omedetou" may suffice.
Subject: Q2.5 How do I write ...? This FAQ uses ASCII characters exclusively, so it's a bit tricky to answer this question directly. One way out would be to include ASCII `art' depicting the kana and/or kanji, but I feel this takes up too much space. Instead, try Jeffrey Friedl's gateway to EDICT at <>. You don't need any Japanese capabilities to use it. Note that there are mirror sites in California at <> and Canada at <>
Subject: Q2.6 How many kanji are there? Apart from the obvious too many, you mean? Approximately 50,000. And what's more, this staggeringly big number seems to have been reached as early as around the end of the second century AD! To give you some idea, many concise bilingual dictionaries carry a comparable number of entries for each language.
Subject: Q2.7 Why is everyone using different romanisation schemes? Romanisation schemes are a reading aid, just like furigana. They convert kanji and kana to something you can, supposedly, read and when pronounced actually resembles Japanese pronunciation. The reading part of this is fairly easy, but the pronunciation part is a lot harder. It depends heavily on the target language and, to make matters worse, opinions on what best represents the Japanese pronunciation in a given target language differ, widely at times. [ed.: I'd like to include a striking example or two. Any ideas?]
Subject: Q2.8 What is the correct way to write something in romaji? There is no one correct way to write anything in romaji (see Q2.7). As a logical consequence, romanisation flames are rather futile. There are, at best, recommended ways. Perhaps the closest thing to a correct way is the romanisation scheme the Japanese government announced on December, 9, 1954. Based on the "gojuuonjun", it uses the following kana to romaji conversions: n wa ra ya ma ha na ta sa ka a - ri mi hi ni ti /chi si /shi ki i ru yu mu hu/fu nu tu /tsu su ku u - re me he ne te se ke e -/wo ro yo mo ho no to so ko o rya mya hya nya tya/cha sya/sha kya ryu myu hyu nyu tyu/chu syu/shu kyu ryo myo hyo nyo tyo/cho syo/sho kyo pa ba da za ga pi bi - /di zi /ji gi pu bu - /du zu gu pe be de ze ge po bo do zo go pya bya - /dya zya/ja gya pyu byu - /dyu zyu/ju gyu pyo byo - /dyo zyo/jo gyo kwa gwa The table does not stand by itself. It comes with a couple of rules as well, the first of which says that in principle you have to use the romanisation that's on the left hand side of the slash, if there is one of course. The right hand side alterna- tive is only to be used for words with strong international con- notations, those that are customarily romanised that way or if it strongly improves the information content. Rather vague and prone to abuse, but that's what it says. The other rules are: * To disambiguate the letter `n' in a word like `kinen', you use a single quote if it is the romaji `n'. So `kinen' is to be interpreted as `memorial', whereas `No smoking' is `kin'en'. * The "sokuon" (small tsu) causes doubling of the following con- sonant, as in `sippai'. * The "chouon" (lengthened vowel) is represented by a caret, ^, over the vowel. However, in case the vowel is a capital you are at liberty to write the extra vowel, as in `Oosaka'. * Finally, and curiously, you can capitalize all Nouns if you please, not just proper Names and the initial Word of Sen- tences. Sounds very German, if you ask me. By the way, the dashes in the table indicate the fact that the use of these kana for Japanese words is discouraged. In the "gojuuonzu" these positions are either empty or filled with kana from other columns. [ed.: I believe this romanisation scheme is known as "nihon shiki", but am not altogether sure about that. Could someone verify this?] If you are familiar with romanisation schemes, you may have noticed that the above roughly encompasses the two perhaps most famous schemes: "kunrei shiki" and "hebon shiki". The former uses the alternatives on the left hand side of the slash, while the later opts for the right hand side, with some minor excep- tions for both: * Both systems miss the entries for `dya', `dyu' and `dyo'. * "kunrei shiki" uses `di' and `du', whereas "hebon shiki" sticks to `ji' and `zu' for the same kana, thereby introducing ambiguity. * Both systems have some extra romaji covering kana in the "wa gyou" (wa column) that have slipped into disuse, namely `wi' (both) and `we' ("kunrei shiki") or `ye' ("hebon shiki"). "kunrei shiki" also uses `wo' instead of `o'. * Before the voiced versions of "ha gyou" romaji, like `ba', `pa', etc., and before "ma gyou" romaji, "hebon shiki" uses `m' instead of `n', leading to things such as `shimbun' instead of `shinbun'. Both systems were invented in the 1880's. A strictly Japanese invention, "kunrei shiki" was the official romanisation scheme prescribed by the government in 1937. "hebon shiki" was developed by an international group including James Hepburn and made its claim to fame when Hepburn adopted it for the third edi- tion of his Japanese-English dictionary in 1886. Subsequently, his name got attached to the scheme, as in Hepburn system, and went through some minor revisions since then. You may also find it referred to as "hyoujun shiki" (standard form!). Of the two, it is the least likely to be mangled in pronunciation by non-Japanese (but still a far cry from being idiot-proof).
Subject: Q2.9 How do I send/read e-mail in Japanese? Before anything else, remember that there is e-mail software out there that is not 8-bit clean. Next, don't forget that you can never be sure what route your e-mail takes from you to the addressee, nor that it will always take the same route. That means that your message may meet e-mail software that is not 8-bit clean. The only fail-safe way around this is to send your Japanese message in a 7-bit encoding, i.e. JIS, iso-2022-jp or iso-2022-jp-2. Shift-JIS and EUC-JP are 8-bit based encodings and may get mutilated on the way. Unfortunately, some mail software is a bit over-zealous and also strips the escape character indicating begin and end of encoding changes. Ken Lunde, wrote a utility called `jconv' that can, among other things, put stripped escapes back in. The source is at <> and compiles without any problem. This same program can also detect the encoding used and convert between encodings if desired. If you really have to send 8-bit based encoded e-mail and it does get mangled, you can try sending it uuencoded. The receiving end will have to uudecode before being able to read anything. With `jconv' there should not be any real need for this clumsy approach.
Subject: Q2.10 How can I see Japanese characters while surfing the Web? Even if your computer does not have any Japanese capability at all, you can still see Japanese characters provided you have a graphical browser. Ka-Ping Yee wrote Shodouka, a mediator that gets the page you want to see, translates all Japanese characters to graphics and sends the result to you. Quite simple, isn't it? Oh, in case you wondered, "shodouka" is Japanese for `calligra- pher'. You can find Shodouka at <>. If your computer has some Japanese capability, at least has access to Japanese fonts somewhere, there is a much simpler approach. As of version 1.1 Netscape Navigator supports Japanese. All you have to do, after installing, is set the docu- ment encoding in the options menu to Japanese (auto-detect). This ought to work. If not, you can try setting it to shift-JIS or EUC-JP and reload the page. Netscape Navigator runs on virtually any platform. Requirements for Japanese support vary a bit though. Unix systems only need Japanese fonts for X-Windows. These should be available from <>. Windows95 and WindowsNT need Japanese exten- sions which should be available freely from <>. For the Macintosh you may need Kan- jiTalk or JLK. [ed.: Can someone verify the Macintosh requirements? I can't because I only have access to fully Japanese capable Macs here ;-(. Also, comments about other browsers are very welcome.]
Subject: Q2.11 Is "gaijin" a derogatory word? In and of itself "gaijin" can hardly be said to be a derogatory word. Most people and dictionaries will tell you it is just short for "gaikokujin", means `foreigner' or `alien' and can be contrasted with "houjin" (Japanese person). Any negative conno- tations that come with the word are the results of gross general- ization, lack of information, (hyper)sensitivity, and the like. Whether these negative associations are implied, depends on con- text. Kids playing in the street exclaiming "Ah, gaijin da!" are gen- erally just surprised at the sight of a foreigner. Real estate agents using "Gaijin wa dame!" are pigeon-holing all obvious foreigners into a group of potentially troublesome customers they'd rather not have. [ed.: I think most of the fuss around the word is caused by overly PC-sensitive types not comfortable with the idea of (sud- denly) being part of a rather conspicuous minority.] -- _/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/_/ Olaf Meeuwissen Ph.D. student, Shinshu University, Japan Information Management Systems Laboratory

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