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The Mainichi Shinbun alerts us to the publication of 'The Periodic Table: Learning Basic Chemistry through Moe', featuring cute-anime-girl personifications of the elements. A quick google dug up a couple of sample pages:

  • Potassium ("I don't wanna be used like that")
  • Chromium ("My acid-resistant blade is invincible")
  • Xenon ("A maverick, huh? Well, that's not so bad...")
PS: I don't think the Mainichi's "Learning through Moe" quite captures the feel of "萌えて覚える"...

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I've always had a slight nervousness about pronoun use in Japanese -- I don't have enough practice at casual speech to feel confident -- so I thought this article in the Asahi about 'omae' was interesting (not that I'd use it anyway).
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This Japan Times article about keigo (politeness language) includes the following fantastic suggestion:
Takeshi Okamoto, CEO of marketing company Afia Corporation, writes on his Web site that keigo may not be compatible with the post-war Constitution, which stipulates in Article 14 that all citizens are equal under the law. In particular, he questions the social hierarchy implied by keigo expressions and asks, "Isn't it a form of prejudice that keigo is used (or not used) toward people based on their age, their job record, and date of entry into the company?"

I'm no fan of keigo, but I have to say that he's out on a limb with that one...

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Not such an interesting one this time, but:

空気を読む [kuuki wo yomu] (lit. to read the air)
to read the situation; to sense the mood

Mostly I'm posting this because it came up in my Japanese lesson today and then again in the episode of Lucky Star (#20) which I watched this evening, and I like that kind of synchronicity.

Incidentally, in internet slang at the moment 空気を読めない is often abbreviated to 'KY', meaning somebody who can't sense a mood. The kanji pun 空気嫁 seems to have a similar meaning (though it comes from the imperative form of the verb rather than the negative potential).

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Stumbled across a piece in the Asahi Shimbun about the only double-track cable car system in Japan. In Japanese but I suppose the rest of you can look at the pictures :-) (Bonus note for Martin: includes the phrase なんじゃこりゃっ.)

The system was originally built in 1918 to carry visitors to Houzanji temple up and down the mountain; it was double track because of the large numbers of visitors at the time. By 1929 a sort of prototype amusement park had developed (with the aeroplane ride you can see in the last photo). During WW2 the mountain was taken over by the army as a base for looking out for planes that had had to make emergency landings; there's a nice anecdote in there from somebody reminiscing about sneaking in the day after the war ended and being delighted to discover that the aeroplane-ride tower was still standing. After the war the amusement park reopened, but in the 90s the bottom rather fell out of the market, and the owners retargeted their business at young kids (hence the cat and dog cable cars). The article finishes with a nice diversion into 'unexplored railway stations', ie ones apparently in the middle of nowhere. Cable cars being the way they are, when the lower car stops at the useful station at the bottom the upper car also has to halt. So they built a station platform up there in the middle of nowhere -- but if you get off all you can do is hike down the mountain...

(I should point out that I can't actually read Japanese newspaper articles unaided; I use Rikai which allows you to hover over Japanese text to get popup text with the dictionary lookup for individual words. Since mostly where I have trouble these days is the vocabulary, that's dead handy.]

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さばを読む [saba wo yomu] (lit. to read a mackerel)
to manipulate figures to one's advantage

Just ran into this one in an Asahi column [Japanese] where it was used in the context of somebody fibbing about their age. I suspect it of being one of those half-dead phrases people would recognise but not use. (How many people actually say 'a stitch in time saves nine' these days, for example?)

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