Thursday, 17 November 2011

What is a Kappa?

Ye Olde Kappa depiction

Kon nichi wa my fellow Japan junkies. I was thinking that it is high time that I talk about one of this site's mascots, the Kappa. The Kappa is a prominent character in Japanese folklore, being counted as a member of the "lesser" water deities (perhaps lesser in terms of their standing in the deity hierarchy, but certainly not in terms of prominence in both scholarly literature and Japanese pop culture). The theories of the origins, physical features and malevolence/benevolence of Kappa vary quite a bit, so let me describe the common and most interesting image and traits of the green water imp.

The beak-ed Kappa kinda looks like a cross between a human and a turtle, sporting big claws, a shell, a scaly hide and an optional modesty-protecting loincloth. They have a rather smart green complexion of which there is debate to whether or not it is granted to them from eating their beloved food, cucumbers. Illustrations depict Kappa with anywhere from little to a lot of body hair, but despite this variance, the head is always seen crowned with a circumference of hair which surrounds a central water reservoir referred to as a 'sara' which is the same word used for plate/dish in Japanese. Contained within the Kappa's sara is its liquid life force, appearing as water and presumably so, though, scholars love to point out that nobody is 100% certain that the composition of the liquid is water. Pfft... why hedge your bets mates? It's a freaking water imp, of course it's going to be water!

Probably one of the most interesting parts of Kappa folklore is that of the strategy of stopping or defeating a Kappa. You see, the Kappa are known to be both benevolent and malevolent, and one of their many nefarious penchants, is that of springing from the water and seizing upon anything from a person (particularly a child) through to a horse in order to drag it to a watery grave where it will have a feast of its victim's organs, Bleech!. What? A little imp dragging a horse into the water... oh yeah, by the way the Kappa apparently has exceptional strength; what a boss! Must be all that basashi*. So should you encounter a pesky Kappa, legend says that, although it kinda wants to bite your head, it can be stopped in its tracks by giving it a polite bow. You see, though a Kappa doesn't bat an eyelid at killing the innocent, it nevertheless feels honour-bound to at least reciprocally bow at its future meal before declaring itadakimasu. And right there is its undoing, as bowing causes it to spill its precious aqueous life force onto the ground, severely weakening it, and by some accounts, cause it to make an early exit to the, ermm, pearly cucumber fields in the sky.

Riverside Kappa warning signs, to this day, can still be seen posted about in order to ward children away by using cartoony images of scary water imps patiently awaiting a fatal misstep by little Kenichi-kun^ or Mariko-chan^. In fact, many people think that the Kappa were created purely as a tool to scare children from getting themselves into a potential drowning situation, a theory that I am a fan of.

But, let's hold up for a second, poor ol' Kappa are getting quite a bad rap here.They are known to be good too. The thing is, once a Kappa is made to make a promise to reform, it will with the utmost loyalty, hold true to its promise. There are a few situations where a Kappa will promise to come good. One such situation is when bargaining for their release from their captor. Another is when they wish the safe return of a severed limb...errr what?

Well, despite their livestock-towing strength, their limbs are prone to 'being liberated.' For example, it was (or is?) not particularly weird to see a horse running home to their owner with one or more Kappa arms lodged in their thigh. Upon the sight of this, farmer-san could, in the interests of their community, keep the arm for a future bargaining session as this presents a good opportunity to turn one or more of the local Kappas away from a life of crime. The Kappa will frantically seek out its divorced arm/s in order to reattach them within the few-day long window of time its body has the ability to do so. All of a sudden, I'm thinking that the villain, Cell, from Dragon Ball Z had some partial inspiration from Kappa folklore.

Capturing Kappas is an attractive venture because you can make them do work for you as payment for their release (and retribution for eating the local swimming squad). They are skilled healers, famed for their bone setting magics and ability to produce salves. They are also put to work in the fields and one has been known to help construct a drainage system on flood-prone farming land in old Edo, a deed offered as payment to a human that saved its life years prior. This area is in the vicinity of Kappabashi in modern Tokyo.

The word Kappa abounds in the Japanese lexicon. For example, 'Gappa' (from 'Kappa') is found in the term Gappadoki/ガッパドキ which is an old term for drowning that is apparently still used in some regions of Japan. 'O-Kappa' is a Kappa-like hairstyle, 'Kappa' refers to both the old straw-made and modern plastic poncho style raincoats and Kappa Maki is a type of sushi roll containing Kappa's favourite, cucumbers!
パー子ちゃん and カーくん

 Speaking of Kappa Maki, one of the most popular and iconic restaurants in Japan is Kappa Zushi/カッパ寿司. This chain of restaurants can be found in most Japanese cities, and of course, the flagship model of the restaurant is the cucumber sushi roll. The mascots for the restaurant, カーくん (Ka-kun) and パー子ちゃん (Pa-kochan) are a couple of cute water imps, presumably enslaved into servitude by an enterprising sushi chef.
カッパ巻き Kappa Maki

Kappa Tea, made from real Kappas!!!

Cutesy Kappa are now rife, seen in various pieces of merchandise, in manga, anime and video games, and of course, they are seen on this very website :D I have been personally assured that my Kanji-slinging sidekick is a vegetarian. Oh, the cucumber recipes he could tell you!!

Well there you are, the Kappa. If you are so inclined, there are many more legends about the Kappa to be found, such as the one of their fondness for sumo or their eternal hunt for the shirikodama (roughly translates to 'butt ball'..WTF). Yearrr, didn't want to write about that last one so much...

So to finish up, please enjoy some happy snaps of me and my friends when we found a Kappa out in 茶臼山 Chausuyama area, Aichi.

See you next time.
basashi: horse sashimi / raw horse meat
† itadakimasu: phrase said before having a meal, literally meaning (I will humbly) receive
^ -kun and -chan are suffixes that are often and affectionately attached to children's names

Monday, 14 November 2011

Japanese Mini Lesson 5: Essential English teacher vocabulary. しんちょう vs "チンちょう". Brought to you by naughty 5年生 boys.

Foreign males teaching English in Japan at elementary and/or junior high school level, will inevitably get poked, prodded and asked a number of undoubtedly rude questions at one point or the other. One of the more clever traps devised by my little rapscallions is the "チンちょう、何センチ?" / "chinchou, nan senchi?" question.

Now, before I explain the下ネタ-ic (rude joke) device here, I will make you appreciate their strategy here. So, the most common question I get (in fact, a question I only just recently stopped getting on a clockwork daily basis) is 身長、何センチ? / shinchou, nan senchi? This means "How tall are you," with the first kanji of shinchou meaning body/self (身) and the second meaning long/length (長), and then following into nan senchi, which will roughly mean "what + centimetre(s)?"

Now it gets classy ladies and gents. With the simple change in pronunciation from 'shinchou' to 'chinchou' you get something completely different. チンチン / chinchin is a common slang term for penis. So when 身長、何センチ? becomes チン長何センチ? well, damn it, you've read this far, you know the result.

So when I first encountered this question, I was almost fooled into replying with the well-rehearsed hyaku kyuu juu (190), though, something was obviously awry. I must commend the head mischief maker as he summoned all he could to keep a perfectly straight face whilst asking me, but to his dismay a ripple of stifled and not-so stifled chortles were erupting around him. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on, but I knew that there was no way I was going to answer this. Then as the question was offered again by one of his partners in crime, it dawned on me. God damn it. I then told 'em that the jig was up! Haha, we had a laugh and I only got it asked 20 more times afterwards....orz.

So may this lesson come in handy to Japan's current and future English-teaching fellows. Also, let it be an insight into classroom culture in Japan!

This has been Daniel reporting from the frontlines.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sometimes, the simplest of teaching materials work the best....

Teaching a chant from Eigo Noto 1 text book. It involves singing about colours and clothes (cap and pants). I make the chant a kinaesthetic exercise and 2 lucky volunteers will get to become "Cap Girl" and "Pants Man" by the simple act of proudly taping my A4 print-outs of MC Hammer or Cap Girl to their chests. The volunteers must (in time with the lyrics) point at their assigned item of clothing and the colours (on flashcards that are stuck to the blackboard). Choosing a Pants Man is always an exercise in hilarity. There is so much laughter, it really gets them motivated. I also get them to do a cool pose for Cap Girl and Pants Man. The chant is one of the better ones in the Eigo Noto universe, so that also motivates them to sing along. Pants man must always be a volunteer as it can be a little embarassing for some (pants or "pantsu" is underwear in Japanese), so let the rowdier mischief makers go ahead and become English-chanting MC Hammers. Also explaining the difference between Pants and Pantsu is a good idea.

Also, in Japan Clip-it is a dolphin. The more you know ~~☆

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Searching for Japan Blogs?

Came across a great website that provides links to many great Japan blogs. So if you're a fishing for some good reading, check out the constantly updated list over at The Japan Blog List.
The Japan Blog List

The next one is good if you are searching specifically for JET bloggers

Japanese Mini Lesson 4: You can really sink your teeth into this Japanese lesson

It doesn't matter where you live, you'd be silly not to get out there and sample a variety of restaurants in your surrounding area. Going around and trying different cuisines at various restaurants makes the mandatory process of fueling your body that much more exciting after all. MASSIVELY OBVIOUS SEGUE ALERTZWORZ!!!

Soooo, should you count yourself as a bit of a restaurant-touring gourmand, perhaps this Japanese noun and it's following expression will come in handy:


食べ歩きをする (verb)
tabearuki wo suru

So we literally have eat-walk/ eat-walk do. This expression means to go out and try food at various eating establishments. So if you're a bit of a foodie and you want to attest to that fact in Japanese, well then, you are now loaded with the know how.

 例文  /  れいぶん  /  Reibun (Example Sentence):
I often go out and sample various restaurants, so you may feel free to call me "The Gourmand" if you would like to.
Literally: Regarding me, walk-eat (going out to sample restaurants) do matter numerously exist therefore, "The Gourmand" call me agreeable (emphatically).
Literal translations like these are useful for you guys coming to grips with the order of verbs and objects etc. in Japanese sentences. They are often hilarious too, so that's a bonus.

But some of you beginners of Japanese might be thinking that something is up here. "Where's the る in 食べる/eat?" and "I thought walk was 歩く!" you may be asking and pondering respectively. Well, what we see here is an example of a (and I'm going to avoid technical terms for this one) "double verb sandwich." However this double verb sandwich has actually been altered to make it a noun. So there are two things funky going on with 食べ歩き. Before it gets too confusing, let's break it on down.

Funky 1. Double verb sandwiches (DVS)s are commonly formed in Japanese. When fusing two verbs together to make a DVS, you must think of the first verb in it's ーます form and proceed to rip off the ます, leaving the ます verb stem. So in the case of 飛び込む (to literally jump, leap, dive or plunge into something physical or conversely to figuratively leap, plunge into something intangible) we have taken 飛ぶ (to fly, leap etc.) put it into the polite/ます form, 飛びます, proceeded to cut off the ます (in working with my analogy, let's just imagine we're trimming off the bread crusts for our DVS) and we are left with the ます stem form, 飛び, rather than the dictionary form 飛ぶ. Place this together with 込む and you have your DVS.

Funky 2. Altering a verb to make it a noun: When you slice off the crusts of a polite/ます form verb to make a ます stem, you can "noun-ify" a verb. I am fairly confident in saying that you can't just use the ますstem as a noun for any old verb you choose because some sliced verbs may rarely or never be used in speech or writing and not be in circulation at all. With that said though, consider the very relevant 歩き. In this form, we have the noun, 'walk' as used in sentences such as "to go on a walk" or "this walk will go through the forest and take 5 minutes."

So, there you have it. 食べ歩き! Gourmands and Japanese scholars take note! Next time you are in Japan, make sure you indulge in 食べ歩き. It is indeed a very excellent part of the world to do it, thanks to the considerable regional variety.

Have fun learning Japanese! If you want to share some DVSs, drop me a comment! Cheers.
Bonus Material

Why make DVSs in the first place? 
Well, I would say to add a dimension or flavour to a verb in order to create these cool all-in-one double verbs. The Japanese have been able to modify the first verb in DVSs with the second in order to (for example)

-modify the extremity to which a verb is done (particularly in the case of DVSs ending in ー込む- which can be used to say "do/done thoroughly")
-form a verb or noun that at once describes a process that comprises two (truly or roughly) simultaneous actions (today's 食べ歩き being a great example)
- otherwise add nuance or flavour to the leading verb
- plus (likely many) other purposes.

 Here's a fun note on DVSs
You will often see double verb sandwiches with a に filling (has the analogy gotten old yet?? :p). For example, to go out (and have a good time/play/visit etc.) 遊びに行く is the phrase of choice. Here we have the ますstem of 遊ぶ (play, enjoy oneself etc.), the delicious に particle, with a slice of 行く (to go, proceed), so literally "to go and play." Here's another: 見に来る (見る's ますstem, に, 来る) so literally to see and come, meaning "to come and see."

Thanks for staying around! Love ya!