Friday, November 17, 2006

One of the brighter spots about my emerging fluency in Japanese is that I worry less about grammar, pronounciation, and listening skills, and more on other more interesting nuances, phrases, euphemisms and expressions. Things are still very frustrating for me at times, but I’m catching a lot of things with my ear I didn’t catch before. When speaking to an English teacher at one of my schools, I heard her use the phrase “hakoiri musume.” 箱入り娘This literally means something like “boxed daughter.” Hako means box. As I was not sure exactly what she meant, I made her explain it to me.

It means something like sheltered daughter. Picture an insulated lap child, somewhat naïve and ignorant about the ways of the world. She is a girl or a young woman who still lives at home with well-to-do over-protective parents. It came up in conversation when we were talking about overprotective parents. The teacher I was talking to mentioned a mutual acquaintance, and I had to laugh because I was about to ask about her. I can think of several other women I know who fit this category quite well. So for posterity and my own personal amusement, I have decided to list a couple other phrases I have picked up lately.

Goma o suru – ごまをするThis phrase literally means “do the sesame” or “grind the sesame.” When you eat tonkatsu (a fried pork dish with a sesame sauce) you have to grind the sesame seeds yourself. You grind them into a powder and then mix it with some goo. Outside of this context, it means something along the lines of flattery, especially in a flirtatious context. Someone who is overly flattering or complimentary might be accused of “grinding” or “softening” the sesame. This would also be the case if you were insincere or were less than honorable in your motives. I have never heard it used seriously.

Haraguroi – 腹黒いThis literally translates to black stomach. In more traditional Japanese culture, people held the notion that one’s ‘heart’ or ‘mind’ existed in one’s stomach. So the idea literally means that somebody has a dark, or evil soul. They may be smiling and happy on the surface, but they have a ‘dirty mind’ as it were.

Hashinoshita – 橋の下 I was joking around with some teachers and practicing the first word hakoirimusume (boxed daughter) and trying to gauge its usage and people’s reactions. I asked one teacher, whose son I know, if he has a boxed son. Hashinoshita was his response. It means “under the bridge” or homeless, abandoned and disowned. Its not too dissimilar from the English translation in the same context. He wasn't being very serious either.

Nekojita - This literally translates to "cat's tounge." Cats will not drink or eat anything if it is too hot, so Nekojita refers to a person who doesn't eat or drink anything too hot. So while everyone else has finished their coffee or tea, this person is waiting for it to become lukewarm.

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