Length IS important

July 6, 2008

Length is important – the shorter the better. At least, when words are concerned. Japanese have this tendency to always shorten words. Well, I guess it’s normal to call McDonalds “McD” or similar, instead of using the whole name; just to give an example. But here, they do it with every second word, it seems. In daily life, you encounter abbreviations and contracted terms all the time. “sotsugyou ronbun” (graduation thesis) becomes “sotsuron”, “famiri resutoran” (family restaurant) is contracted to “famiresu”, and thousands of other instances; not to forget the famous universities “Kyodai” (Kyoto daigaku) and “Todai” (Tokyo daigaku). Similar to the funny katakana words I mentioned in a previous entry, you really have to know the complete word in order make sense of the abbreviation.

Though being useful when talking, this makes it sometimes really difficult to follow conversations: It took me a while to recognize that “yamasemi” is not a normal Japanese word that just was not part of my vocabulary, but a fusion of “yamabiko” and “seminar”, the first denoting the name of a type of robot used in this lab.

Now. some days ago we had a funny incident, which was the trigger of this blog entry: There was a meeting with the intention of brainstorming about a specific problem. In Japanese, this is called ブレーンストーミング (bureen sutoomingu), which became ブレスト (buresuto) in the official title of the meeting … which incidentally is also the word for “brest”. Not really the best title for a meeting, is it? Strangely, (nearly) nobody seemed to wonder about the word, just accepting it, now written down in the protocol and the internal web page. And that’s a true story – I’m not making this up. Honest to god.

Now, let’s slowly switch over to the photos: The first one features a stuffed frog. Huh? Well, we have this crazy tradition in our lab here, where you take this frog and pace it somewhere, at the desk of a person who’s not there at the moment. So, allegedly, this frog is not being moved, but emerges here and there magically (it “translocates”). So far I’ve had it attached to my computer, my running shoes, my tea cup, my laser scanner, …. you get the picture. It sounds strange, but it’s really funny! Oh, speaking about traditions: The fourth pic proves that even in Japan, I’m keeping up the custom of “fighting” with toy light sabers. 🙂

The pineapple snapshot resulted from a spontaneous “pizza party” with people from my lab: We just gathered, made lots of different pizzas, drank something … just had fun. However, the creations got more advantageous in the course of the evening: The one from the picture was – obviously – a pineapple one, but baked inside of the fruit. Pretty cool. Likewise cool, but by far less tasty was goya pizza, with a topping of goya chanpuru (a typical Okinawa dish, based on this very bitter vegetable), which was a tad too bitter for my taste, and didn’t go that well with the cheese.

The other pictures feature mainly foodstuff again – things I bought or prepared at home. You know the procedure: I wrote some more explanations as caption to each pic, so that this entry won’t get too long. Enjoy!



  1. Part A: Luckily this habit didn’t escape my attention thanks to the legendary “Super Famicom” … otherwise it might have started to get depressing when it comes to really understanding the Japanese spoken by the natives.

    Part B: May the force be with you… if you succeed in stuffing your intestines back into your stomach after that lethal stab :>

  2. Yeah, being warned beforehand is a good thing. However, it’s only the first step – you can’t even guess the meaning of these contradicted words, since it’s an “n:1” hashing problem, where oh so many potential word combinations get mapped onto the same abbreviation, thus rendering the function highly non-bijective.

    WTF? Sorry, it’s getting late (1:45 a.m.), and I’m getting too technical here. I think I’ll better go to bed.

    Let’s just conclude that it’s another facet of colloquial Japanese that makes it difficult to understand.

  3. […] Kusatsu, we sometimes used the gym for playing a bit of basketball. As I already explained in the “brest entry”, Japanese like to shorten their words. Correspondingly, I often heard the sentence: […]

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