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The Mecha Monogatari: Appendix II – Japanese Terms and Phrases

Posted by Doug on November 29, 2008

In the Mecha Monogatari, I use a lot of Japanese terms and phrases, partly because I feel it lends greatly to the “Japanese-ness” of the story and because some terms just simply do not translate well into English, but also because I simply think the Japanese language is cool. The following is a list of Japanese words and phrases I have used in The Mecha Monogatari so far. This list neither is complete nor is to be taken as authoritative: my understanding of the Japanese language is sharply limited.

Arudīja: see Ōmiya Arudīja

akatachi: “Red Sword”

Akihabara: a shopping district in Tokyo known for consumer electronics and the otaku subculture.  Sometimes called “Akiba.”

Ano…: “Umm…”

Asuka-jidai: a period in Japanese history, which lasted from the mid-sixth century to the  early eighth century C.E.

bai bai: “bye bye.”

bakayarō: “idiot.”

banzai: a battle cry or cheer. Literally, “ten thousand years.”

benkei: “strong man.”

bokkuko: a tomboy, so named because of the stereotypical use of the masculine personal pronoun ‘boku.’

bōya: “boy.”

bōzu: sometimes translated “sonny” or “squirt.” Can be used as a honorific(?) suffix.

chan: an honorific suffix usually used towards young girls, as it has connotations of cuteness.

chikushō: a Japanese curse sometiems translated “beast”

chikushome: a Japanese curse sometimes translated “son of a bitch.”

dai shōgi: a variant of shōgi played on a larger board (15×15 as compared to the 9×9 board in regular shōgi) and with more pieces (65 instead of 20).

daishō: a daitō and shōtō together.

daitō: a long shinai. According to the International Kendo Federation, the maximum length of a daitō in competitions is 120 centimeters.

domō arigatō: “Thank you.”  Frequently shortened to domō.

enka: a genre of Japanese music often compared to American country music.

futon: a flat mattress, which is approximately 5 centimeters (2 inches) thick.

ganbare: a Japanese phrase of encouragement, often translated “Hang in there!” or “Do your best!” Ganbare yo is a dialectal variant of ganbare.

Gandamu SEED: see Kidō Senshi Gandamu SEED

gomen: short for gomen’nasai or “I am sorry.”

gundan: army corps.

Hagakure: a classic work of Japanese literature, comprised of practical and spiritual guidelines for warriors, drawn from the commentaries of Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a seventeenth-century samurai.

hai: “yes.”

Harō Kiti: Hello Kitty, one of Japan’s goodwill tourism ambassadors to China.

hayabusa: “falcon.”

hentai: “pervert” or “perverted.”  In Japan, this term is not usually applied to pornography.

hijū: “soaring eagle.” A piece in dai shōgi.

Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū: a school of Japanese swordsmanship, founded in the early seventeenth century by Miyamoto Musashi. It is mainly known for its dual-wielding techniques.

ichigiri: “one cut.”

ichii: see ittō rikui.

imōto: “little sister”

ishii: see ittō rikushi.

ittō rikui: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army captain. Ichii is a shorter form of ittō rikui.

ittō rikushi: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army private first class. Isshi is a shorter form of ittō rikushi

janken: paper-rock-scissors

Jieitai: the Japan Self-Defense Force, comprised of three service branches (the Kaijō Jieitai, the Kōkū Jieitai, and the Rikujō Jieitai).

jingisukan: “Genghis Khan,” a dish of grilled mutton, popular in Hokkaidō.

jūdō: “the Way of Gentleness,” a Japanese martial art that emphasizes throws, grappling, and joint locks

juni: see jun rikui.

jun rikui: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army warrant officer. Juni is a shorter form of jun rikui.

Kaijō Jieitai: the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

kami: in the Shintō faith, kami are spirits. A more thorough explanation of this term can be found on the Wikipedia article on kami.

kannushi: a Shintō priest responsible for maintaining a shrine.

Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū: a school of Japanese swordsmanship, founded in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century by Matsumoto Bizen-no-Kami Naokatsu.

katana: a curved Japanese backsword with a blade length of 60 centimeters or longer.

kendō: “way of the sword.” A Japanese martial art based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship.

kendōka: a practitioner of kendō.

Kidō Senshi Gandamu: a classic mecha anime series known in the west as Mobile Suit Gundam.

Kidō Senshi Gandamu SEED: a mecha anime series known in the west as Gundam SEED.

Kirin Ichiban: a brand of Japanese beer.

kisama: literally “you,” but used as a curse, i.e. “you bastard.”

kishin: “fierce god.”

Kōkū Jieitai: the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

Kōkyo: the Imperial Palace, the main residence of the Emperor of Japan.

komainu: a stylized lion-dog statue, usually found at Shintō shrines.

kotatsu: a traditional piece of Japanese furniture, which consists of a table frame with a heavy blanket draped over it, with a table top sitting on top. Typically, there is a heater built into the table frame.

kumichō: yakuza slang for “boss.”

kun: a Japanese honorific, typically used towards boys or, in a workplace, towards subordinates.

kuroguma: “black bear.”

kuso: “excrement.” Many Japanese profanities use variations of this word.

Kyokujitsu Shō: the Order of the Rising Sun, Japan’s second-highest military decoration.

mamori: “talisman.” In The Mecha Monogatari, a mamori is a titan pilot’s good luck charm.

masaka: an expression of disbelief.

mecha: see meka.

meka: walking vehicles operated by a pilot. Generally, they are large bipedal machines used for military purposes. Often romanized “mecha.”

miko: a young woman who serves at a Shintō shrine. Often translated “shrine maiden” or “priestess.”

moe: a feeling of protective attraction, usually towards a young female (real or not), based on a favored aspect of the subject’s appearance…okay, that’s a terrible explanation. Of course Wikipedia does it better.

mondai nai: “No problem,” or “It’s not a problem.”

monogatari: a Japanese narrative tale similar to an epic.

Muji: A Japanese retail company, sometimes compared to Target or Old Navy.

NHK: see Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai

nii: see nitō rikui.

Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai: “Japanese Broadcasting Corporation.”  A television and radio broadcasting company.

nisa: see nitō rikusa.

nisō: see nitō rikusō.

Niten Ichi: see Hyōhō Niten Ichi.

nitō rikui: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army first lieutenant. Nii is a shorter form of nitō rikui.

nitō rikusa: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. Nisa is a shorter form of nitō rikusa.

nitō rikusō: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army staff sergeant. Nisō is a shorter form of nitō rikusō.

ōjosama: “princess.”

ōkami: wolf

Ōmiya Arudīja: a professional association football/soccer team. Their team colors are blue and orange; their mascot is a squirrel.

oneesan: “older sister.” Does not necessarily refer to someone’s actual sister—it is sometimes used by youths to refer to an older girl who is a complete stranger, for example. It can be used as an honorific. Variants include neesan, oneechan, neechan, and nee.

oniisan: “older brother.” Does not necessarily refer to someone’s actual brother—it is sometimes used by youths to refer to an older boy who is a complete stranger, for example. It can be used as an honorific. Variants include niisan, niichan, oniichan, and nii.

oya oya: “oh my goodness.”

petanko: “flat girl.”  A term used to refer to girls and/or women with small breasts.

purikura: from “Print Club.”  It is somewhat popular for Japanese youths to go to purikura photograph booths with their friends to have pictures made, which would be printed on stickers and collected in a book.

Ramune: the classic Japanese soft drink, which comes in a variety of different flavors.  Its distinctive feature is its use of Codd-necked glass bottles.

Rikujō Jieitai: the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force.

rikushichō: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army corporal. Shichō is a shorter form of rikushichō.

ryū: a school or style of martial arts.

Sakurajima: an active volcano near Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture.

samurai: a term for the military nobility of preindustrial Japan.

san: an honorific suffix. Usually translated as “Mister,” “Mrs.,” or “Miss.”

sankyū: the Japanese pronunciation of the English phrase “Thank you.”

San’nanashiki Senjinzōningen: “Type 37 Battle Robot.” The technical designation of the Atlas-class titan.

sansa: see santō rikusa.

santō rikusa: a rank in the Rikujō Jieitai, roughly equivalent to a U.S. Army major. Sansa is a shorter form of santō rikusa.

sashimi: raw seafood, served as a delicacy.

satsubatsu: “savage”

seiza: in Japanese culture, seiza is the traditional, formal way to sit. To sit seiza-style, one kneels with the tops of their feet flat on the floor, and their buttocks resting on their heels.

senjōhime: “battle-princess”

sensei: generally, a teacher, although it can also be used to refer to a doctor. It can be used by itself or as an honorific suffix (e.g. “Yamagishi-sensei”).

Shibuya: a district of Tokyo known as a center of Japanese fashion.

shichō: see rikushichō.

shikangakkō: military academy

shikata ga nai: “It can not be helped.” A more thorough explanation of this phrase can be found on the Wikipedia article on shikata ga nai.

shikona: a sumō wrestler’s ring name. In The Mecha Monogatari, the term shikona is used to refer to the names or titles given to exceptional titan pilots.

shinai: a practice sword made from bamboo used in kendō.

Shintō: “Way of the Gods.” A polytheistic and animistic religion native to Japan.

shō-dan: “black belt.” The first degree in the ranking system used in many Japanese martial arts, including kendō.

shōgi: a Japanese board game similar to chess.

shōtō: a short shinai. According to the International Kendo Federation, the maximum length of a shōtō in competitions is 62 centimeters.

sogekihei: “sniper”

sukebe: a person abnormally interested in sexual gratification.

sukumizu: a school swimsuit.

takeyari: “bamboo spear”

tankōbon: literally, “single book”.  Most manga originally are published in magazines; later, multiple chapters from a single series are collected together and published in a tankōbon format (resembling a paperback book).

tatami: a mat that is used as flooring in Japanese homes.

tatsumaki: “tornado”

temizuya: a basin at a Shintō shrine for ceremonial purification.

tessen: “iron fan,” a folding fan with metal spokes that could be used for keeping cool, signaling troops in battle, or as a weapon.

Tōdai: a shorter form of Tōkyō daigaku, or the University of Tokyo,  which is considered the premier university in Japan.

urusai: “shut up.” Literally, urusai means “noisy.”

Yagyū Shinkage-ryū: a school of Japanese swordsmanship, founded in the mid-sixteenth century by the legendary swordsman Yagyū Muneyoshi.

yakuza: traditional Japanese organized criminal organizations.

yen: the Japanese unit of currency.  ¥ is the symbol for yen.  As of this writing (March 2, 2009), ¥100 is worth approximately $1.03.

yōkai: usually translated “spirit”, “monster”, or “demon.”  A term that encompasses a variety of Japanese mythological creatures, which can be good, evil, mischievous, or annoying.

zettai ryōiki: literally “absolute territory,” this phrase has come to refer to the portion of a girl’s thighs that is exposed when she wears a short skirt and socks that come up over her knees.

EDIT (12 Dec 2008): Added material from Book One, Chapter VI and Book Two, Chapter I.

EDIT (2 Mar 2009): Added material from Book Two, Chapters II through V.

EDIT (4 Mar 2009): Added material from the latter part of Book Two, Chapter V.

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