May your Giri and Fundoshi Never Lack


giri to fundoshi kakasarenu
Never fail to do your duty or wear your fundoshi

The 大辞泉 (daijisen) Japanese-Japanese dictionary has this definition:

Just as a man must always fasten his fundoshi, so should you never fail in your social obligations.

And the Kodansha J-E translates it as: “Social obligation and underpants–two things you can’t do without”

‘Twonce in a while, you come across an expression that captivates the imagination.  This morning when discussing what to get for my mother for Mother’s Day, Yumi said this to me.  Upon seeing the glee in my eye and my hand reach for the dictionary, she immediately regretted opening her mouth.

Let’s break this gem down!

義理 giri – duty; obligation

Giri is most often used when describing social obligations–things one ought to do to stay in good standing with society.  Usually it carries a somewhat negative connotation for the one with the giri.

“I have to buy my boss a souvenir (but I don’t want to).”   This is giri.

“I have to go to his party, because he went to mine.”  This is giri.

“I have to buy a big screen TV and eat pizza all day Sunday for the big game.”  This isn’t technically giri.

義理チョコ giri choko is a great word for Valentine’s Day.  Bosses get a lot of girichoko, I imagine.

to – and

fundoshi – a fundoshi; a loincloth; a piece of cloth wrapped around a guy’s waist

Fundoshi is, well, go here and see for yourself.

欠かされぬ kakasarenu – not to be lacked

This is the negative of 欠かす kakasu – to fail; to miss (doing something).

ぬ is a negative ender often used in proverbs or moral statements.  I’m not sure why it takes a passive form here.  Grammar isn’t my strong point, but my guess is it is for poetic purposes–to give it more of an authoritative feel.

Cat, Grandma, and Poop

Just a quick entry.

This morning, minutes after waking up, Makoto saw two of his favorite things at once–grandma (baba) and cat (neko)–and decided to put the two together saying, 「猫ばば」 (neko baba)

猫糞 neko baba [lit. cat poop] is slang for embezzlement, pocketing, or just plain stealing. It basically means to pocket something found that is not yours and then use it as if it were yours.

Cat is ‘neko‘ of course, but the 糞, usually pronounced fun, uses the baby-talk ‘baba‘ sound.

But why ‘cat poop’?

Cats tend to hide their poop.  Just as a thief would find someone’s wallet and quietly pocket it, a cat kicks sand over his poop to hide it.

For more on this marvelous piece of slang, see our How to Wow pages.

Fire Baths and Villains 五右衛門風呂

Makoto has been enjoying watching
となりのトトロ tonari no totoro (My Neighbor Totoro)
over and over again.* It is a famous anime that you can buy in the States on DVD through Disney. It is set in rural Japan some time in the fifties or sixties.

Yumi mentioned the atmosphere of the movie reminds her of her childhood. For example, the scene at the train station feels like it is the big city while home is utterly in the country with no easy way of getting around.

The thing that shocked me was she also mentioned, like in the movie, they used to take weekly baths heated by fire. She swears they had electricity and running water, but, still, they had a bath heated by fire.

Which leads to an interesting vocabulary word.

goemon buro
a bath heated directly on a fire

I can’t say this is very useful in the 21st century, but the term for a bath heated by fire is named after a thief (Ishikawa Goemon) whose punishment was to be boiled to death in such a bath. Pleasant isn’t it?

“Mommy must I take a Goemonburo?”
“Yes, dear.”

“Ok. I’ll get in. By they way, why do they call it ‘Goemonburo’?”
“Oh, that’s because a villain named Goemon was boiled to death in a furo just like the one you are in.”


* and over and over and over again.

The Top Three Japanese Proverbs

Ok, I don’t have an official list, but these three proverbs tend to be the first new learners learn. I like pushing ことわざ kotowaza proverbs and other famous sayings because you essentially kill two birds with one stone – 1) you can learn new vocabulary and 2) learn a bit of cultural Japanese.

Speaking of killing birds:

#1: 一石二鳥 isseki ni chou

MEANING: “to kill two birds with one stone” lit: “one stone; two birds”


一石 isseki
(This is ICHI with SEKI = ISSEKI (the ICHI becomes いっ, making a short skip between I and SEKI))
ichi – one; seki – stone, rock”



NOTE: this is the same as the English, to kill 2 birds with 1 stone.

#2: 猿も木から落ちる。 saru mo ki kara ochiru.

MEANING: “Even monkeys fall from trees. (Even experts mess up once in a while.)”


(Other readings: en)

mo = “also, too”

(Other readings: MOKU, BOKU)
(OTHER: MOKU YOU BI – Thursday)

から kara = “from”

落ちる ochiru
“to fall, drop”

#3: 十人十色 juu nin to iro

MEANING: “different strokes for different folks” lit: “10 people; 10 colors”



“people, person”
(OTHER READINGS: hito, jin)


100 Years Love

Whoah! Setting up a new computer with a few heavy orders days really eats up blog time!

Today’s post is brought to you by the hiragana あ and the phrase 百年の恋も冷める.

First a word from our sponsors:

The Hiragana あ, normally priced at $29.95 fell last week for the first time ever under the $20 mark ($19.99). Thousands of people have taken up this offer, but wait, if you call now, you can learn this kana for free! That’s right. Without spending a yen or a yang, you too can own the very first kana in the hiragana syllabary*. As seen everywhere! Billions sold. Hurry, quantities are limited!

あ is found in great phrases like 愛人スキャンダル (aijin sukyandaru a love scandal) and あいつは変 (aitsu wa hen that guy is strange). We mustn’t forget the exclamatory ああ! Lastly, who could imagine taking the あ out of love? That would leave only い which sounds suspiciously like stomach 胃. Not a pleasant (love) affair.

Speaking of あい, here is today’s phrase:

hyaku nen no koi mo sameru
Even a love of 100 years can grow cold in an instant.

hyaku 100
nen year(s)
no possessive marker
koi love
mo also, even
冷める sameru become cold

I hear this a lot from Yumi while teaching the art of 太鼓腹 to Makoto. 太鼓腹 taiko bara is a musical artform which uses your exposed stomach as a taiko drum.
太鼓腹 Taiko Bara

* Unless you count using iroha

Sayounara 「あばよ」

You say ‘good-bye’ and I say ‘hello.’

Or more interestingly:

You say ‘good-bye’ and I say ‘あばよ.’

Tired of the same ole 「さようなら」? Or is 「またね」 not cool enough for you anymore? Here are two ways to say ‘good-bye’; both of which aren’t very useful, but may spice up your Japanese with your friends!

1) さらば saraba

Essentially this has the same origin as 「左様なら」 【さようなら】. The 「さ」 (written with the kanji for left – 左) apparently acted like the modern 「そう」 to mean, ‘like that.’ You can often hear 「左様」 used in Jidai flicks to mean, ‘like that’ or ‘that’s right.’ (様) meaning ‘kind’ or ‘like’ here.

Originally pronounced as 「さあらば」, it adds 「さ」 (like that) with あらば (あれば if that is the case)

2) あばよ abayo

This doesn’t seem to be in usage much any more. To Yumi, it sounds like a word that would have been popular when her parents were children. But this is all the more reason to use it!

The origin of this word seems to be a mystery, but there are a few educated guesses.

  • Educated Guess #1: Comes from baby talk 「あばあば」 with a 「よ」 stuck at the end for good measure.
  • Educated Guess #2: Comes from a corruption of 「塩梅良う」 an bai you which means, “(I hope) Everything is fine” like 「よろしく」. [This isn’t too useful, but 塩梅 may occasionally be heard.]  The ‘anbai’ could also be from 按配 which has the same pronunciation and means ‘condition.’
  • Educated Guess #3: Comes from a corruption of the above 「さらば」 with a 「よ」 stuck at the end for good measure.

And Good-bye comes from ‘God be with ye’:

1591, from godbwye (1573), itself a contraction of God be with ye, infl. by good day, good evening, etc.

居留守 for When the NHK Man comes a-knockin’

In my last post I mentioned a word which means ‘to pretend one is not home when one really is.’ Here it is:

i rusu

It starts with 居. This is the kanji behind the famous 「いる」 which shows existence as in:

inu ga iru.
There is a dog.

You may happily go about your existence never knowing 居 is the brains behind いる’s unquestionable success. Very rarely does it make its presence known. It is like the proverbial woman behind every successful man. Hidden, but we all know she is the better half.

And to continue my ramble:

留守 is less glamorous but still quite important. Without 留守 we wouldn’t have these words:

留守番 rusuban Staying home alone; taking care of things
留守番電話 rusuban denwa Answering machine

I guess that’s about it. Maybe 留守 isn’t so important.

Anyway the 番 here means to watch and protect the house while everyone else is gone. We see this also in 番犬 banken – a watch dog.
番犬 & Boy

Now back to our practical use example. I’ll quote my earlier comment for background information:

This is especially useful for when the NHK ‘donation’ guy comes around. NHK is like the US’s PBS but people actually watch it and it has good, but often boring content. However, everyone with a TV is required to ‘donate.’

(居留守中バウトエルたち) irusu chuu bautoeru tachi The Boutwell’s pretending to be out.

bautoeru san imasu ka? NHK no shuukin desu. antena miemasu yo. Terebi aru deshou.
Are the Boutwell’s in? I’m collecting NHK subscriptions fees. I see your antenna. Don’t you have a TV?

Of course we no longer have to fear the NHK man. We live in Florida.