Posts Tagged ‘Katakana’


I mentioned in the summer preview that Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ might be the season’s funniest title. I think many Tamayura fans can guess the reasoning behind the title, but since I heard the FAPcast guys wondering about it, there is probably no harm in elaborating.

Instead of a speech on loanwords and stuff, though, let me just translate/quote part of the “aggressive” entry from one online katakana buzzword dictionary:


(syn. assertive, proactive, offensive)

As many of you already know, this word is often used to describe positive and proactive behavior. However, dictionaries also mention a second meaning describing the offensive nature of actions or qualities.

The word is not suited to describing an attack meant to harm another person. Rather, it signifies progress in a positive and forward-looking way. A word which might be used when dealing with an indecisive and half-hearted colleague.

As you can see from the above, the basic meaning of the loanword has been relegated to little more than a footnote, which often happens with Japanese.

So unfortunately for some, there is little chance of Fuu and the other girls swinging cleavers around. They will more likely take a proactive approach to making new friends or the like.

To further dispel dreams of violent catfights, I will point out that the “aggressive” part of the title is subject to the katakana-to-hiragana override, an artistic touch meant to increase the cute factor of a word or phrase. This is a popular technique in slice-of-life titles, and I explained it in more detail in a Tamako Market post some time back.

Further yet, the show abandons the standard spelling of the “more aggressive” phrase, which would be “moa aguresshibu”, in favor of a single word where the final “a” of “more” and the initial “a” of “aggressive” melt into each other. This kind of lazy speech adds to the informal feeling of the title.

In-universe, the word “aggressive” is often used as part of a motivational chant in conversations between Chihiro and Fuu.

The initial broadcast of the second season has just began – let us enjoy it, aggressively.   

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The title of KyoAni’s latest show, Tamako Market, seems like a straightforward affair. Tamako is the main character’s name and the market is an important part of the setting – no tricks there. But viewers with basic Japanese reading ability might notice something odd about the title (no, not the bird nested between the “ma” and “ke”). It is all written in hiragana, up to and including the obvious loanword maaketto (market), which you would expect to appear written in katakana.

Two seasons ago, we had Mankind has Declined replacing its kanji and katakana with hiragana to strengthen the fairy-tale feeling of the setting. But this is probably not what is going on here, though director Yamada did admit that at one point, Tamako Market was planned to include significant fantasy elements (with a prince from a mysterious land appearing and Tamako possessing a magical ability).

The Japanese writing system has a long history which affects how the different scripts are viewed. At the point when only kanji were used in Japan, the art of writing was accessible only to the upper classes. Similarly, the original use of katakana was for notes during study of Buddhist texts. Hiragana, on the other hand, was the script of the masses ever since its invention. For a long time, it would not appear in official documents but it would in poetry and fiction. Both men and women were expected to know it, and hiragana was the script of everyday life – short notes, diaries, shopping lists…

The kana syllabaries are an original Japanese creation, and hiragana was the most widely used of the two. This means that, to this day, hiragana is the script the Japanese feel most comfortable with. The Japanese also value hiragana characters for their soft, curvy shapes. Research shows that when presented with the same text written using different scripts (kanji, hiragana, katakana), Japanese readers tend to point to the text written in hiragana as ‘warmer, more pleasant’ than the other two. This might also have something to do with how hiragana brings to mind the sweet days of childhood.

So the non-standard hiragana usage in the title can be seen as part of setting the mood of the show – a promise of a heartwarming slice of life. That Tamako’s name is one composed entirely of hiragana characters is also surely no coincidence.

While Tamako Market is KyoAni’s original piece, the studio has already met with this phenomenon in works it adapted. Remember Lucky Star? The obviously English-inspired title ends up written not in katakana, as you would expect, but hiragana – らき☆すた. And K-On? Both kanji (軽音) and katakana (ケイオン) would be perfectly fine candidates for the writing of the title, but again we get hiragana instead – けいおん. The unexpected appearance of hiragana in those titles can certainly be linked to their identity as soothing slice of life shows.

On a side note, I see a mochi replacing one of the strokes in the “ta” in the title…

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With the broadcast of the first episode of Another right around the corner, it’s time to take one more look at what we learn from the preview. Last time, our main character found out more about Mei than he bargained for. But Mei sure knows how to get even…

“You’re Sakakibara Kouichi, right…? Nobody in class told you? Your name makes them think of death. And no ordinary death. Cruel and senseless death surrounding a school.”

Kouchi’s family name happens to overlap with the alias of the real-life homicidal maniac Sakakibara Seito. The murderer’s resume includes beheading a child with a hand saw… but then again, Sakakibara himself was no more than fourteen when he committed his crimes. There should be no surprise that the incident shook Japanese media and society, and it will undoubtedly still be fresh in the mind of those watching Another.

Notably, the killer’s alias was something he made up himself, and it’s writing does not match that of a normal family name. In fact, the characters used (酒鬼薔薇聖斗) can be interpreted as “a demon drunk on the blood spilled through his holy fight”, which tells us a lot about the murderer’s mind…

The main character of Another has his name written in the standard kanji meaning basically “a field of sakaki trees”, so there’s no risk of mixing the two up on paper, even if the phonetic similarity is disquieting. This way, the precise kanji writing, which indicates both meaning and reading, saves the Japanese language from its numerous homophones.

Except that Mei plays around with that paper-thin defense. As she walks away, she pronounces Kouichi’s family name one syllable at a time, tearing away the rhythm associated with a kanji word and bringing it to the fair playing field of simple sounds. Somewhere where there is no way to distinguish between demons and innocents. The producers join in on the sadistic fun by displaying the word in the phonetic katakana.

The first episode is coming to our screens soon enough, let us hope for a great ride.

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Most people who regularly watch anime have probably had at least passing thoughts about learning Japanese. First you pick up some of the words and phrases that have already penetrated the fandom lexicon, like kawaii or ohayou. Then you have a taste of the Japanese grammar and see that, while different from your native tongue, it is not that difficult. Unfortunately, at some point you realize that there are at least two thousand of those shrub-like kanji waiting for you, and you think it’s about time to give up. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Rules? What rules?

The Japanese grow up surrounded by kanji. They learn to associate some of the basic symbols with their meanings at the age when discovering the world around is all a big adventure. And then they go to school to start rote learning the hundreds of kanji still left. The people behind the Japanese education system never held much doubt about the best way of internalizing the writing system – write every kanji a thousand times and it will stick naturally. That’s anything but fun. Maho doesn’t think its fun.


Whenever the girls meet up online, take a look at Maho’s speech bubbles. The energetic blonde is happy enough to stick to the easier hiragana and katakana rather than type the kanji. This applies even to very simple words a girl her age is certain to know. As is often the case with contemporary Japanese youth, she evidently has no problem reading the words her friends use, she’s just too lazy to type properly herself. The word processing software that converts kana to kanji is really handy and it takes neither much time nor effort to use… which makes me afraid to think what Maho’s hand-written school assignments look like. Actually writing the kanji is, after all, incomparably more bothersome than just typing them out…

Consider other Maho scenes to see how this detail fits into the picture of her personality. Maho is impatient and dead set on instant gratification. She won’t put more effort into things than is necessary, unless there is an obvious incentive to do so. It is difficult to image her sitting down and practising her kanji when she couldn’t be bothered to research what the ‘thirty-second rule’ in her hand-held basketball game actually is. At least it’s not only Subaru that has his hands full with her. I pity the teacher who expects her to keep still and quiet during class…

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