A Story of Words

A couple of weeks after I arrived in Japan, I came across a rather cunning little device while nosing around at a department store:


“Word cards” are often used by Japanese students to help them remember English vocabulary – one precise mini flashcard at a time. Ever-determined to improve my mortifying Japanese, I snatched up a set and almost immediately began to scrawl down Japanese words I heard or read during the course of the days. I have toted the set of cards around with me for months now, yanking it out unabashedly and, with the shakiness of a child, printing the words in hiragana (often calling on the assistance of a Japanese person) and, underneath, in romaji. Yesterday, during a teaching shift, I scribbled down words on the last two cards of the ring and, primly satisfied, finished off quite a random collection of words gleaned during the first months of my Japanese study. I give to you, highlights from Volume One of Liv’s Word Cards:

ganbarimasu: I will do my best!

This is the first word I wrote down during, perhaps, my second teaching shift. Carnitas had taught it to me a couple of days before as a suggestion of something that would be good to tell my boss.


“1 jikan” or “3 jikan” is what I have had to tell the folks at the internet cafe for months now.

dekita I was able to do it!

What young students often cry out when they finish a worksheet or a crafts project

massugu straight

Taking a cab home one night I asked the cab driver to go “kita,” thinking it meant “straight.” Bob and Sean informed me the next night that, no, “kita” did not mean “straight!” – it meant “North.” Since I was actually traveling South at the time I gave this direction to the cab driver, this was an even sillier mistake. “Massugu” is a word I have not forgotten since.


from Sean, a fun one to pull out from time to time.


We eat skewers of these quite often at the  yakitori place with frosty pints of beer and they are most excellent.

Taberuto eat.

Not “table”.


From Himalaya-san, my Japanese teacher. I now use this compulsively.

muchi ignorance

Another one from Bob and Sean, who sniggered over yakitori as they first used it to describe each other and then only told me what it meant after ten minutes.


Nihongo wa muzukashii, desu nee???


the word I kept confusing with “muzukashii”

Kareshi boyfriend

Peaches gave me a book called 70 Japanese Gestures before I came here – filled with very charming – but as I have learned, old-fashioned – hand gestures f0r things such as “myself,” “funeral,” “money,” and “girlfriend/boyfriend.” Unaware of the negative connotation for the latter, I used the gesture for “boyfriend” while chatting with Himalaya-san, who giggled and after composing herself, taught me the actual word. Later, over Mexican food with Carnitas, I used the gesture again only to invoke his horror. “That’s for dirty old men,” he said. “Don’t do that! It gives me a shiver…!”

Atsukamashi cheeky old man

like the ones who shove past you on the subway platform.

Namaiki cheeky little children

like the ones who kancho their teachers in class.


as in “poor thing.” Himalaya-san said “kawaiisou neko [kitty]” when I told her using the worst possible Japanese/spastic pantomime that I had seen a dead cat in the street earlier that day.


I recently mortified Sean by gently suggesting to the waitress at the kaiten sushi restaurant that because of his towering stack of empty sushi dishes he was a buta, wasn’t he?


Fun to say!

Iku the command form of “go.”

Good to know, since I had mistakenly thought the command form for “go” was “ika,” which actually means “squid.”


This one came from another teacher at school as an example of Japanese words he thought were fun to say.


Thanks to Bob, I can now order things without mayonnaise. Shudder.


What young students sometimes bellow during class.

Otoutoyounger brother

I miss mine.

Kimochiwaruibad feeling

The text book gave the definition as “gross” but the principal at my school said it was more like “bad feeling” – a good word, she said, to describe the man who killed the English teacher at NOVA last week.  She then watched as I used white-out to cover the mistake I made while writing the character for “chi” and then as I corrected it and finished writing the rest, said, “Perfect.”

On to Volume Two …

One Reply to “A Story of Words”

  1. So glad you are blogging! I enjoy knowing what you are up to half way around the world! Can you send me the password so I can see your pictures? Thanks! Oh, and thanks for the link on your blog!

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