Break It Down

When I run into a sentence that, at first glance, seems difficult to me, such as, to pick a not so random example, this one:


I like to break it down in the hope that it will help me to understand it.  Previously, I tended to break them down word for word.  However, following an idea from kotobites, I have decided to work phrase by phrase instead.

So, after a first look, it seems to me that the sentence breaks down readily into three parts:




Part (1) is set off by a comma, and a quick look indicates that it is a precursor to the actual sentence, so it looks like the meat of the sentence is composed of parts (2) and (3), and, because it’s Japanese, part (3) must have the verb in it, so I’m going to start there.

And now I have to look at it a little more closely.


すっかり – completely, thoroughly

変わってしまう – to change (because it is the てしまう form, this either indicates a complete change or an unintended change)

などいうこともある – there are things, as well (it is the も that adds the “as well” part) – there’s no need to break a known phrase down word by word

So perhaps this is something like things such as that are completely (or unintentionally) changed

Okay.  So far so good, I think.  Some things are getting changed.  What are these things?  That leads me to part (2).


Part (2) looks like it has two halves joined by の


そこ – there, that place

を – direct object particle

利用する – to use

人 – people

People who use that place


服装 – clothes, clothing

や – and indicating that the list is not complete

様子 – state, appearance

まで – until, to, something along those lines.  This is clearly connecting this phrase to something else, so I won’t worry about it right now.

And, as I said earlier, the two parts are joined by の indicating possession

So this all becomes the clothing and appearance (and so on) of people who use that place

So that is what is completely changed.  Cool.  We’re making progress.

Now for part (1)


古い – old

駅 – station

が – subject particle

きれい – clean or pretty

になると – to become

An old station becomes pretty

So, putting everything together, I am going to translate this as:

When an old station becomes clean and pretty, the clothing and appearance of the people who use it completely change as well.

I am now pretty confident that I understand the sentence.  So, some notes on how I chose to translate it.  I decided to use both clean and pretty for きれい just because it seemed to me to suit the idea better than using just one or the other.  I also left out the and other things part that is implied by the use of や instead of と because I felt that it wasn’t necessary for the sense of the sentence, and including it would have made the thing rather clunky.

As your Japanese level rises, you encounter longer and more complicated sentences, and you have to develop the ability to understand them.  Honestly, when I started writing this post, I was confused by the sentence, so you just watched me work out what it means and improve my technique for breaking sentences down.

Thanks to nathan for help understanding a sentence in a previous post, to kotobites for the phrase-by-phrase breakdown method and to Lady Caladium for her comments about translation.

We’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out whenever we can!



So That’s How You Do It…

Not long ago, I was stumped by the following sentence:


I was sure from context (because I could read the rest of the paragraph) that I knew what it meant (and this was later confirmed by a native speaker) but I couldn’t read it.  It seemed to me to mean the exact opposite of what it had to mean.

The real meaning is something like:  I think nothing is more easily affected by appearance than humans.  I kept reading it as something like:  Humans beings are not affected by appearances.  I knew it had to be wrong, but I just couldn’t figure it out.  (For an extended breakdown of my mistake, just go back one post!)

So I asked for help.  And I got some from


I think the problem is that くらい doesn’t mean “about” as in “let’s talk about that,” (that would be について or に対して) it means “roughly.” In this sentence it means the same thing as ほど. So you get, “There probably isn’t anything influenced by outward appearances as much as humans.”

and from


Sometimes, I find that the way you break down the sentence can either put you on the right path or not.

So with this sentence, the way I would look at it is to break it down into 4 parts:

1) 人間くらい
2) 外見に影響される
3) 物はいない
4) だろう

And then focus on the core bit of information – in this case, number 3 (=”there is nothing”).

Once you have the key bit of info, you can then build out the translation of the full sentence.

So then I would look to 1) and add that to 3) = “There is no thing… as much as humans”

Then to fill out the sentence, add in 2), which modifies the 物 in 3) = “There is no thing that are influenced by outward appearance as much as humans”

Then add in the nuance of 4) = “I think no thing are influenced by outward appearance as much as humans”

In short, what helps for me is finding the core information in the sentence and then adding in the additional information.

Apologies for the dodgy English phrasing – I always do this for parsing longer sentences for meaning rather than accurate translation!

As Nathan says, having a set phrase like くらい…ない embedded inside the sentence can really throw you (it threw me when I first read it!), since the two parts of the set phrase are not close to each other.


Thanks to Nathan and Kotobites for sorting that one out.  I was really having problems with it.




Okay.  I’m stumped.  I admit it.  Here’s the beast that has gotten the best of me:


You see, the problem is, I know from context what it must mean, and I consulted with a Japanese friend who told me that what I thought it must mean is correct, but I can’t figure out why it doesn’t actually mean the opposite of what it must mean.

Is that confusing?

Let’s break it down.

人間 – human beings.  Okay, I’m off to a good start.  I know what the first word means!

くらい – about.  So far so good.

So I am going to go with

人間くらい – about human beings.  It might be rash to make a decision so soon, but I’m going with it for the moment.

外見 – outward appearance

に – particle indicating direction

影響される – to be affected.  Yes, it is a passive tense verb.

物 – thing

So I am going to take another leap forward and go with

外見に影響される物 – thing affected by outward appearance

は – topic marker

人間くらい外見に影響される物は – about humans, things affected by outward appearance or maybe things that are affected by human outward appearance…?

いない – do not exist

だろう – probably

Which leads me to the (WRONG) translation of:  Where humans are concerned, things affected by outward appearance do not exist.  The following sentences lead me to think that it should mean exactly the opposite.  So I did the unthinkable:  Google Translate.

There will not be anything influenced by human appearance

Okay.  That didn’t help.  So I sent the sentence to a Japanese friend.

I think nothing is more easily affected by appearance than humans.

Which makes perfect sense in context, but I can’t get that out of the sentence.  So…anybody else want to have a go at making this one make sense?

Not A Fun Story

Japanese Graded Readers, Level 4, Volume 2.  I am reading the true story of Takashi Nagai, a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki.  As you can imagine, this is not exactly a happy story.

For example:


原爆症 – atomic bomb disease

というのは – the thing called

原爆症というのは – The thing called atomic bomb disease

We can already see that this is going to be depressing…

原爆から出た – came from the atomic bomb

放射能 – radiation

を – direct object particle

浴びて – this really means took a bath or can be used for took a shower

原爆から出た放射能を浴びて – radiation from the atomic bomb that showered the area (yes, I have added some words that aren’t exactly there in the Japanese

Let’s keep going…

体の – body followed by the particle that shows possession

いろいろな部分が – various parts followed by the subject particle

悪くなる – to become bad

体のいろいろな部分が悪くなる – various parts of the body become bad

恐ろしい – terrible

病気 – disease

です – is (the actual truth is slightly more complicated than that, but let’s go with it)

体のいろいろな部分が悪くなる恐ろしい病気です – is a terrible disease in which various body parts become bad

So, how about

Atomic bomb disease is a terrible illness cause by the radiation that showered the area from the atomic bomb in which various body parts become bad.

Well, it’s a level four graded reader, so this sentence is somewhat simplified.  “Various body parts become bad” is clearly not the best way to express this idea, but it works.

In other words, this is not a cheerful book.  Still, it is reading practice, and that’s what I’m looking for.






1 Book and Counting…

As anyone who has studied Japanese for any length of time knows, one of the most frustrating fun aspects of the language is counters.

In English, counting is easy.  1 dog, 2 buildings, 3 cars, 4 cds…you just give the number and then the item.  (We do, of course, have a few counters…5 pieces of paper, for example, or 2 glasses of soda but, by and large, you just name the item).

Not so in Japanese.  The number has to be followed by a counter, and the counters differ based on what sort of item you are counting.

Here’s a list.  Have fun with that.

I was reminded of counters while reading today, because I came across this phrase:


This phrase is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

First:  the way large numbers are counted in Japanese:

二十万 (にじゅうまん) means 20万, and 万 is 10,000, so that gives us 20 units of 10,000, which, in English, would be 200,000.  (And, speaking of counting, wow there are a lot of commas in that sentence.  I would count them for you, but I don’t know the counter for commas in Japanese).

Back to the sentence.

二十万人 (にじゅうまんにん) where 人 (にん)is the counter for people (as long as you have 3 people or more – there are special words for 1 person and 2 people).  So, anytime you give a number of people, the number must be followed by 人 (にん)indicating that it is a number of people.

And then, just to drive the point home, apparently:


the sentence ends with 人 which is ひと here and not にん because…Japanese (yeah, I know, on’yomi and kun’yomi…no time for that now).  So 人 (にん)means I am counting people and 人 (ひと) just means people.  So the addition of の人 to the end of the sentence seems rather redundant.

Oh, and, just to be completely thorough: 以上 (いじょう) means more than.

二十万人以上の人 = more than 200,000 people

Actually, because of the redundancy, it means more than 200,000 people people.

Okay, okay.  What about on’yomi and kun’yomi?

Supershort version:  Kanji originally came from China and each one already had 1 (or more) Chinese readings (sounds) and those are the on’yumi.  The Japanese then added their own readings (sounds) and those are the kun’yomi.

So, sometimes 水 is みず (kun’yomi) and sometimes it’s すい (on’yomi).

So, the question arises, how do I know when to use which?  The on’yomi sounds tend to occur when the kanji is part of a word.  In the word 海水浴, it is すい.  The kun’yomi sounds tend to occur when the kanji is a word on it’s own. 水 all by itself is みず.

So, when I learn a new kanji, should I memorize the on’yomi and kun’yomi?

Good question.  Thanks for asking.

In my opinion (keeping in mind that I’m just some guy with a blog) no.  When I first started learning the kanji, I did have a go at memorizing on’yomi and kun’yomi, but I gave that up after a day or two and just focused on learning words instead.

I learned 水 (みず) and I learned 水曜日 (すいようび) and 海水浴 (かいすいよく) and picked up the on’yomi and kun’yomi that way.  That was what worked best for me.  YMMV.

And, just to makes things more interesting…sometimes 人 is にん as in 六人 (ろくにん) and sometimes 人 is じん as in 日本人 (にほんじん).


Euphony.  That’s why.

Euphony basically means pretty sounds.  The idea is that some sounds are more pleasing to the ear than others (or that some combinations of sounds are simply easier to say than others) and there are a lot of pronunciation changes that occur in Japanese because of euphony.

Just try counting things in hundreds, for example.

100 is ひゃく (百)

200 is にひゃく (二百)

So what is three hundred?  Clearly it is 三百 which is clearly not pronounced さんひゃく because that would be to easy because that is not an appealing sound to the Japanese ear or not easy to say.  It is さんびゃく.  The pronunciation change is not evident in the kanji, though, so you just have to memorize it.  600 and 800 also have changes for the sake of euphony.  Because…Japanese.

Fun, isn’t it?

And all of this just because I happened to read a sentence in a book!

Speaking of which, I’m going to get back to reading.


(P.S.  If I really were counting commas (and there were ten or less), I would use the set of words for items for which there are no readily available counters.  That’s a whole other post.)







Reading! – 読書は基本的です

Reading is fundamental works a little better in English than in Japanese, because you can add that tiny pause after fun…still, it is fundamental in either language.

I am a big believer in setting easily obtainable goals (as stepping stones to harder goals) and then celebrating each one I reach.  Today, I am celebrating having finished the first level 4 graded reader story:  雪女 (The Snow Woman).

A great story and a fun read but…what is it with Japanese literature and sad endings?!

It probably won’t surprise anyone to know that I love to read, and I have been longing to reach a level in Japanese where I could read something interesting.  These readers are perfect more.  (You can find them here.)  (I should add, however, that I found the first two volumes of level 4 on Amazon, which reduced the shipping and the wait time.)

I am enjoying reading these stories so much that I am already looking ahead to the day that I finish them (there are only three volumes after all) and I have my eye on some books called Nihongo Tadoku which go a level higher.  If anybody out there has read them…how are they?

Anyway, having finished story the first story in volume 1, I am on to story two, which is called:  永井隆原爆の地長崎に生きて, which means something like Takashi Nagai, Living in Nagasaki, the Land of the Atomic Bomb.

Okay, so the first story was sad, and this one will be serious and probably sad as well.  Where the first story had lots of lovely drawn pictures, this one, being a true story, has photographs.  On the cover of the book is a picture titled 子供たちと過ごす永井隆 – showing Mr. Nagai lying in a bed (possibly in a hospital) with his son and daughter sitting next to the bed.  Although 永井さん has what might be a half-smile on his face, the children look quite glum.

I haven’t looked at story 3 yet, but I’m hoping it will be something a little lighter!


More Japanese Graded Readers

I ordered Level 4 volume one of the Japanese Graded Reader set (or, to give it it’s proper name, レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー日本語よむよむ文). As it turns out, Amazon has it (you know – the place where you can buy my novel!) so I was able to get it quickly. 

What I got was a nice cardboard slipcover containing five booklets and a cd.  The first booklet is typical of the set.  The story is 35 pages long, which isn’t as long as it sounds, since there are a lot of pictures – very cool pictures, I might add.  Each story is 5,000 to 10,000 words long.  I think every single kanji has furigana, which is too much, in my opinion, but they aren’t that hard to cover up or ignore.

The booklets are written in the Japanese fashion, with the words in columns and from right to left.

Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the first page of the first story:


Some pages are mostly picture, as this one is, and some pages are entirely text.  I am only a few pages in, but the story seems interesting so far, and it’s a delight to find something fun to read.

After a look at these stories, I have already ordered volume two.  Now, I’ve got some reading to do!