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UTAU wiki:Japanese Language and Culture

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As UTAU and VOCALOID are products of Japan and their main users are from Japan, there are many of us who try to reach out to the Japanese users. But before you do so, you need to know a bit about them, and the Japanese language.

The Japanese language

The Japanese language is a language isolate which is spoken mostly in Japan. In linguistic typology, it is Subject-Predicate (SP) positioning language. Japanese particles are used to indicate part of speech (subject, object etc.) and auxiliary verbs play an important role in sentence structure. Though the theory that Japanese belongs to the Altaic and Korean family of languages is one of the most popular hypothesis, this has never been fully substantiated.

The archaic Chinese language has made a great influence on the archaic Japanese language. Old Japanese did not have their own alphabet originally and adopted Kanji from China with its archaic spoken language. However, many English and German words have been translated into Japanese since Edo era and a lot of those Japanese words, especially western social-scientific terms or academic languages of natural science, are now used in China. This is why some of the Japanese Kanji symbols and idioms are the same with Chinese.

If has only few sounds and it is phonetically simple. There are basically five standard vowels; "a", "i", "u", "e" and "o". Syllables are formed by a single vowel or a consonant followed by a vowel, except "んn".

Japanese has various levels of honorific expressions like other Asian languages such as Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese. There are basically three kinds of honorifics, respectful, humble, and polite language.

Dialects

There are many subcategory dialects with their own unique accents and vocabularies according to region. Yet nowadays Hyoujyungo/Kyoutsuugo(Standard/Common language), which is mainly based on the Tokyo dialect, is taught in school and used in mass media nationwide, so most Japanese can speak this standard language and have no difficulty communicating one another. The Japanese language taught in overseas is also the standard language.

The Japanese alphabet

They are in syllables, and there are ways to write it; it is in Katakana, Hiragana, Kanji and Romaji. Collectively, Katakana and Hiragana are referred to as Kana, and is used to identify Japanese writing in general.

An easy way to memorize the whole kana matrix is to firstly, know that instead of a-e-i-o-u, they spell as a-i-u-e-o.

So, to memorize it, remember the above, and the consonants in this order: kaga, saza, tada, na, habapa, ma, ya, ra, wa, n.

Hiragana

Hiragana was invented from Kanji around the 9th century. At first Hiragana was regarded as "the letter for women, not for men", but since Hiragana was phonetic (each representing a single syllable) and easy to write, it came into general usage. Nowadays it is the basic letter in the Japanese language. Usually nouns are written in kanji, verbs and adjectives are written in a combination of kanji and particles are written in hiragana. It is also used to clarify the pronunciation and meaning of Kanji. Hiragana gives the soft and sometimes cute, immature impression especially when used to depict a word which is normally written in Katakana or Kanji. Hiragana can be told apart from Katakana by its smoother strokes and edges.

When Hiragana is used to clarify the pronunciation of a Kanji character, it is called Furigana. Sometimes Furigana is also used to clarify English texts or phrases, such as in a Manga. Furigana is typically aimed for children-specific mediums like comics, anime or television shows, but it is popular with foreign Japanese enthusiasts too, enabling them to read and understand Japanese faster.

Used as a reading aid for names, it is called Okurigana. In Wikis like UTAU wiki, names are accompanied by an Okurigana, to clarify pronunciation, and its existence is mandatory in many Wikis. Sometimes Katakana is also used for Okurigana.

Katakana

Katakana was also derived from Kanji around the 9th century. Historically it was created for the reading aid of Chinese classics. Nowadays it is commonly used to write adopted words, loanwords and foreign words. It is also used to lay stress on a word or a phrase. Katakana often gives the impression of something special or unusual. Sometimes in transcription of dialogue, characters that would normally be rendered in hiragana or kanji are written in katakana instead. This conveys a sort of "accent", "alienating" or "robotic" feel. Katakana can be told apart from Hiragana from its harder edges and almost curveless lines when being written.

Katakana and transliterations

Katakana is often used to transcribe words from foreign languages. Like Hiragana, it only contain vowel sounds ("a") and consonant-vowel sounds ("ka"), with the exception of the "n". This poses problems when adopting foreign words, where syllables end in consonants. Generally final consonants in English are represented by "u" sounds in Japanese , as U is the weakest vowel when it used as a final vowel and often drops in many pronunciations. So for example "spice" is rendered as スパイス "supaisu". The exception to this rule is with T, D and Y, which are rendered as "to", "do" and "i" instead. Hence "Cendrillon" becomes サンドリヨン "sandoriyon". "Sh", "Ch", and "J" as final consonants are sometimes represented as シ チ ジ (shi, chi, ji) and other times as シュ チュ ジュ (shu, chu, ju). The former is a little more common, as it takes up less space in writing.

Since Katakana is a Japanese phonetic system, its phonetic system is incomplete for English words. Even with Modern digraph additions, there are still a few sounds that are not represented. Although strictly speaking V can be represented (as in エヴァンゲリオン) with katakana, it is much more likely to see ベール than ヴェール for "veil". This is because the B sound is often substituted for V. "Th" does not exist at all, and is generally represented with "S" or "Z" kana. The "R" and "L" sounds are both written with the "R" kana. (However, ル as a final is almost always "L", as final "R" is usually represented with a non-rhotic accent, such as konpyuutaa.)

Therefore, it takes some practice for the English speaker to determine what word is meant from katakana. Sometimes it really could be two different words, because phonetic distinctions possible in English could not be rendered in the Japanese, and you must rely on context. レベル could be "rebel" or "level", レッド led or red, and so on.

Kanji

Many Kanji alphabets in the Japanese language have several pronunciation and interpretations respectively, and they are often different from those of Standard Chinese language and the Korean language. In addition, the combining of Kanji often creates the totally new meaning, which is another difference from the Chinese language. Kanji in the Japanese language gives the hard, strict and formal impression.

Kanji is important in the Japanese language, and in learning the language, several characters of Kanji must be memorized to be able to read and write Japanese fluently.

Romaji

Romaji is Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji written in Latin alphabet letters. There are several different romanization systems that dictate how Kana is written using Latin alphabet letters. The most widely used system is called the Hepburn Romanization system. Historically, other romanization methods existed as well, such as Nihon-shiki and Kunrei-shiki.

These days, almost all Japanese words, letters and sentences are romanized using the Hepburn system. UTAU wiki adopts Revised Hepburn Method, the most well-known romanization to western users.

Romaji can be a great help to read Japanese for the people who started learning them. However, to be exact Latin alphabet letters do not always show how Japanese words are actually pronounced. ぢ is "ji" in Hepburn, "di" in Nippon-shiki and "zi" in Kunrei-shiki but none of them is perfectly the same as the sound ぢ in Japanese.

The Japanese culture

Like every country has its original culture Japan has its own culture and traditions. Japanese culture is heavily influenced by Shinto, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Onmyōdō and Confucianism beliefs and you need the knowledge of them if you want to deepen your insight on the Japanese culture. They have exerted a great influence on every aspect of Japanese culture, including art, literature and architecture, and on the morals and way of thought of the people. Many Japanese traditional arts or sports such as Sumou, Sadou (tea ceremony) or Kendou reflect the view of the world of Shintou, Zen (Chen) Class Buddhism or Confucianism.

Japanese people often japanize foreign cultures by their interpretation and embrace them. The Chinese culture made a great influence on the Japanese culture, and it also was japanized as well as co-existed with the Japanese culture. The prevailing misunderstanding is that the Japanese culture is the derivative of the Chinese culture, but this is not true. Before the diffusions of the Chinese culture, Japanese people already had their own spoken languages and lifestyles. And Japanese people have been taking just parts of foreign cultures that are relevant to their lives in the long history.

In addition, the western culture has been introduced to Japan since the Edo Era. Now many Japanese people live in the eclectically japanized western lifestyle.

Influence

Its influence to the western world includes creative works such as films, animations (prominently known as Anime), manga (Japanese comics), technology, and industrial products, karaoke, sports like judo and karate, Japanese gardens, and Japanese foods such as sushi, sashimi, tempura, sukiyaki and tofu.

The influence of animes to the overseas world is profound that it has spawned fans, otakus, parodies and derivative works that are inspired by the former. In fact, some character illustrations from Japan are erroneously termed as Anime, despite not originating from animated media, due to the similar drawing style.

Religions and view of life and death

Views of life and death of Japanese people have been mainly influenced by Shinto and Mahayana Buddhism in the long history. Shinto is the natural indigenous religion of Japan and it has been existed from ancient time in Japan. In old Shinto, everything in the universe has a soul (life) and Kami inside. Kami are a difficult concept to translate as there is no direct similar construct in English. They are often translated in English as "spirits", “gods”, "essences" or "deities", that are associated with many understood formats; in some cases being human-like, in others being animistic, and others being associated with more abstract "natural" forces or intangibles in the world such as mountains, rivers, lightning, wind, waves, trees, rocks, breaths and words. With Shinto culture, many Japanese people feel lives belong to "the great nature" and all the lives are the parts of the world.

The Buddhism was combined with Shinto after it reached Japan in the 6th century via China and Korea. It is a major presence in the life of the Japanese people and most of them have a Buddhist altar in their homes, where they place offerings, burn incense and pray for the repose of their ancestors. Its doctrine of impermanence that nothing in the world is ever-lasting and metempsychosis because of karma made Japanese people think lives are ephemeral and fleeting, everything in the world flows and lives are transferred to another.
Nowadays the most characteristic thing of the views of life and death which Japanese people have is that the most of the people do not always share the same views even they share the same background of a religious world; such as where lives come from, where they go, if Kami (gods) give lives or what lives after death are like.
According to statistics by Agency for Cultural Affairs, most Japanese have at least one religion, but when you ask them which religion they believe in, most will answer that they don't have one. However, Shinto and Buddhism are often practiced in their daily customs instead of as their religion. The same person will pay his respects to a Shinto shrine at the beginning of the year, visit a Buddhist temple during the bon festival in summer, and celebrate Christmas at the end of year. This is partly because of the tolerant nature of Shinto.
Because of the Shinto culture, the special affection to human-shaped objects can be seen among Japanese people. Since early times Japanese people have believed the human-shaped objects, which are often called 人形(hitogata) or 形代(katashiro), are the things that have the resting or residing room for Kami or souls. Also still there is a custom of taking dolls to shrines or temples to pray for the repose of souls. Priests or monks recite a sutra and the dolls are cremated. These might be the reason why some people in Japan often talk as if Utauloid and Vocaloid characters were real human beings.

Japanese attitudes

What good behaviors and courtesy are can be vary considerably between countries. The culture of the place where one is born and raised greatly influences his sense of values. Although the people grew up in the same country do not always have the same values, there are some attitudes that many Japanese people think courteous commonly and often make people from other cultures wonder why.

1. Changing one’s attitude toward others according to the order and rank of each person within the group; age, social status and other such considerations
2. Showing courteous and being submissive to others, particularly to higher ranking/older/superior people
3. Going with public opinion and refraining from saying one’s personal opinions, especially objections
4. Humbling himself, his family or whatever he belongs to
5. Not showing his feelings openly
6. Going silence without describing himself when others seem to misunderstand him
As it is represented by various levels of complex honorific expressions in the Japanese language, Japanese people have placed great emphasis on vertical relationships and group consciousness.When Japanese people gather together in any numbers, their behavior is greatly influenced by them. Using honorific expressions is the way to display their respect with polite attitude. Though there are some polite expressions in the English language, people from other countries often feel Japanese people are too servile specially when they habitually use a lot of humble expressions.

Japanese attitudes towards strangers may vary so differently that it is pretty difficult to predict how they see everyone else as a whole. This is attributed to the concept of Honne (本音) and Tatemae(建前), Japanese terms that describe recognized social phenomena. Honne, literally "true sound," refers to a person's true feelings and desires, and is shared only among the "Uchi" (inside) persons. These may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one's position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden. Tatemae, literally "façade," is the behavior and opinions one displays to a "Soto" (outside) person, a stranger. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one's position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one's "honne". This is the typical attitude to a stranger whether he/she is a Japanese or a non-Japanese.
The honne/tatemae divide is considered to be of paramount importance in Japanese culture. The border between Soto and Uchi is not fixed and is always changing; the basis for such a partition may be family, lineage, neighborhood, hometown, gender, hobby group, alumni, colleague and nationality. It usually takes time for "outsiders" to be invited to "insiders" community.
This stance, however, sometimes causes misunderstandings between Japanese and people from other cultures, who may find these attitudes dishonest.
The fact that Japanese behave in this way and take these attitudes have a historical background and it can be partly explained by a tradition of avoiding friction.
Common interests like in hobbies and fandom sometimes show a way to bridge these gaps for a usual "Soto" person to belong in an "Uchi" classification of an individual in a way easier than the usual.

English proficiency

There are an increasing amount of Japanese users able to competently converse in English, but many of them often believe the stereotype that “We Japanese” are not good at English.

They give reasons like:

  • Japan is an island country (and reasons out isolation as cause of ineffective teaching)
  • Japanese language is a very isolated language and very different from English in its grammar (adaptability)
  • The English education in Japan is not good (depending on quality of education and the school)
  • Japanese pronunciations are different from those of English (also depending on quality of education)
  • Japanese people are shy (though this is a stereotype)
  • They don't talk openly about feelings especially to "outsiders" (many other cultures share this sentiment)
  • They are afraid of making mistakes and are not used to joining in discussions or expressing opinions (this is also a stereotype)

The English language has almost twice as many vowels as Japanese, several consonants Japanese lacks, and final consonants. This makes it very difficult for Japanese people to distinguish and pronounce English words. In addition, the Japanese word order is almost the reverse of English, which is another factor that makes it difficult for them to master English. (Major examples: A verb always goes at the very end of a sentence in Japanese, unless there's an ending like "ne"; what we would call "prepositions" are "postpositions" in their language; the "relative clause" is completely different in construction; modifiers always come before modifees; the concept of a "full sentence" does not really exist. Interestingly, Japanese clause structure is very similar to German infinitive clause.) According to the Ministry of Education of Japan, it takes 1,500 to 2,000 hours of study for a Japanese to properly learn the basic English command, compared to about 500 hours for an European.

English is taught in Japan as a compulsory subject from junior high school. However, written language is stressed much more than spoken language, as it is a prominent feature of the high school or college entrance exams, and students have been put under pressure not to make a single mistake. This is said to be one of the reasons why they are not so used to colloquial expressions and communicating in English. This trend is changing recently and many students go to English-speaking countries such as the USA, Australia, Singapore or the Philippines as exchange students to learn English.

Communicating

Why would you speak with a Japanese person? In UTAU and VOCALOID affairs, chances are you will speak to one or will be corresponded with one. This will be mostly attributed to song comments, obtaining permission, reactions to voicebanks and whatnot. This goes both ways, and also applies to other people from other countries.

When approaching a Japanese person, and you're not sure if they can understand English, write in Japanese if you know how to converse in Japanese; otherwise, accompany your English text with a Japanese translation (using machine translation). Plain and grammatical English is better and it also helps a machine generate the accurate translation. This would often make Japanese people feel easy to talk to, so they can have a gist of what you're trying to say. However, keep in mind that machine translations is not perfect. You will be surprised at the result of a re-translation of words (English-Japanese-English translating).

One of the biggest obstacles in conversations is vocabularies, the way of expressing your opinion and choice of words, which can result in breakdown of communication in bad cases. Some common expressions in English may sound too strong/intimidating to the people that are not used to English because of the culture differences; this also can happen the other way around. We should bear this in mind when conversing with people in other cultures, and use simple words. Try not to use many idioms or other expressions that are not meant literally, because very likely it will make no sense unless you carefully search for an equivalent idiom. It is also key to consider, if the word you are using has multiple meanings in English, whether you are choosing the correct Japanese word to convey the appropriate meaning. Being accustomed to English, we don't realize how many words have multiple meanings: just (only/recently/for great justice), back (in the past/behind/return), return (give back/go back), and so on.

Another obstacle is that the way of thinking differs in languages. The Japanese thinking pattern is not linear but is like drawing a circle to the center of topic, and Japanese speakers drop subjects and objects because they follow the context and can restore the omitted words easily. But this way of thinking often leads to the cultural misunderstanding; Japanese people don't tell their thoughts clearly, they avoid conclusions deliberately and they don't express pro and con when needed, but that's not what they really mean. Whenever you confront this mind gap, give them additional questions in things that you consider vague. They are willing to answer them for clarification.

It is also important to keep an open mind when conversing with such people as well.

Internet culture

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications recently announced there are more than 90,000,000 internet users in Japan. Perhaps the common thing they share with the rest of the world is usage of YouTube, Twitter, and Windows Live Messenger.

To speak of the internet culture in Japan, the role of 2ch (2ちゃんねる) must be mentioned. It is an internet bulletin board of all sorts of topics. According to the research of Net Rating Co., there were 11,700,000 2ch users as of 1994. One of the features of 2ch is its anonymity. Users can post their writings without creating accounts or internet names. This easygoing style appealed to the mainstream users in the early time of the internet, but also brought many slander, foretelling of crime and outright discrimination in the cyberspace. Furthermore, the administrator was reluctant to exclude such abusive usage so the manners and rules on the internet as a whole is yet to be settled. Because of these reasons, the proportion of those who do not trust the information on the internet is relatively high in Japan.

Many internet slang and memes were created in 2ch. The influence of 2ch is waning yet it is still one of the largest internet community in Japan.

The influence of 2ch resulted in the creation of its western counterpart, 4chan.

Social internet interactions

Japanese cyberspeak (Japanese internet slang)

wktk - When you see this in videos, someone in them is eagerly awaiting, or excited.
www - If the western users has LOL (laughing out loud), this is their way of saying lol. The longer the w's, the longer the lols. Example: "wwwwwww" equals to "lololololololol".

It comes from the word "warota", meaning "I laughed". It also looks like a crinkled smile, as in ^w^. Generally this denotes amusement, but sometimes it's an insult, such as "声が高いwwww" ("High pitched voice, lol").
Coincidentally, writing "ha" in Katakana (whose output is the following character: ハ) to express laughter results as: ハハハハハハ. As a shortcut, Japanese users instead write a continuous string of w's.

で(ry - ?. Sometimes "what do you mean by that?" in an offensive way.
ざわざわ - "Zawazawa", onomatopoeia for muttering. Usually said before a major or climactic part.
すごい (凄い) - "Sugoi", which means awesome, cool. Mainly a staple compliment even some western people are familiar with.
かわいい (可愛い) - "Kawaii", cute. Curiously, this is among widespread Japanese words that have made its way into western vocabulary.
エロい - "Eroi" - from the word "ero", based on the Greek god of the same name, who represents sexually intimate elements. As an adapted word into the Japanese vocabulary, it pertains to something pornographic and sexual.
すばらしい - "Subarashii." - Means wonderful or amazing.
うまい - "umai" - literally "tasty", but in this context generally used figuratively for something good, like "sweet" is in English as slang.
いい (良い) - "ii" - "good".
すぎる (過ぎる) - "sugiru" - literally meaning to exceed, this verb is attached as a suffix to words to indicate they are too (adjective/verb). Sometimes the ru is left off, which makes the phrase a noun. The most common form seen here is すごすぎ (sugosugi), "too awesome".
萌え/もえ - "moe" - another word that has passed into the Western vocabulary, it literally means "budding" and generally can be interpreted to mean that the described object is endearing and attractive. Common signs of moe include blushing, maid outfits, clumsiness, glasses, and so on.
かっこいい - "kakkoii" - a common word for "cool", can mean "handsome" when applied to a male.
GJ - seen in comments at the end of a video, meaning "good job".
Note: Many of the i-adjectives shown here might not show up like this, but in slurred forms. Perhaps the most common slurred form is ええええ, though there are others. So you might see かわあああああああ or すげええええええ. Generally if the first three letters of the romanization are the same and you don't think the word could be something else, it might be a slurred version.

Japanese emoticons

It should be noted that Japanese computer systems uses an entirely different kind of character encoding, like UTF, Shift-JIS and EUC. There are some emoticons that do not work well with the default western encoding provided with operating systems using the English language. Due to this, some Japanese-inspired imageboards retain Shift-JIS encoding to accommodate Japanese emoticons. Many emoticons use Kana characters (such as ノ for an arm), which cannot be ported faithfully using the English character sets.

Western and Japanese (strictly Eastern, as many are used by Koreans and others) emoticons are fundamentally different. The former consist of essentially an "eye" and "mouth" component, such as :( . Some add a nose in between, but this is almost always just a hyphen (such as :-) for example) and rarely adds any other information. Variants of this simple structure are rare and mostly involve "upper head" components, such as C=:) (chef) or >:( (angry face). They are intended to be read by tilting the user's head at a 90 degree counterclockwise angle.

Japanese emoticons, on the other hand, are intended to be read right-side-up. At their most basic they consist of two eyes and a mouth, like ^_^. Often parentheses are included to form the sides of the face, such as (^_^) . Arms are quite common in this structure, such as \(T_T)/ . Sometimes even props are seen, as in the wonderful icon for throwing a table: (ノ ゜Д゜)ノ ==== ┻━━┻

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to understand for a Western user is the practice of sometimes including katakana to clarify the meaning, which to the foreigner clutters up the smiley and makes it more confusing. Consider (゚ー゚)(。_。)ウンウン as an example. The first part is of a head going up and down, while the second part, "un un", is the Japanese word roughly corresponding to "yeah" or "mmhmm". Thus this is the "yes yes" smiley.

^_^ - Most basic emoticon; happiness emotion. :) equivalent. Variations include ^^ ^.^ and \(^^)/ which are progressively more intense; the last approaches intensity of :D . Note that when semicolons are added to this, as in ^_^;;; , they represent sweatdrops.

V_V - Actually rarely seen Japanese emoticon for sadness; used more often in Western boards where smilies in this style have caught on, and is much easier to type on a Western keyboard than, say, _| ̄|○ or (;_・) are. X_X is very similar (DX is equivalent to this).

m(_ _)m - Bowing expression of apology. Not to be confused with bowing expression of gratitude, m(._.)m.

ToT - Crying expression. The eastern/Japanese equivalent of the emoticon :'(. Variants include T_T which acquires the special meaning of "defeat" in \(T_T)/ (not to be confused with \(--)/ "surrender").

*_* - Stunned expression; can mean "lovestruck".

(*^_^*) - Blushing expression.

( ̄へ ̄) - Extreme discontent. Equivalent to >:( .

ヘ(^_^ヘ)(ノ^_^)ノ - Means to dance or sing.

八(^□^*) - Petitioning emoticon.

+_+ - Shining/glimmering eyes. Often used in western culture to signify extreme interest in an object.

OTL - Slumping down in exasperation. Its variants include OTZ, or orz. Miku in Project Diva does this expression if you have failed in clearing a song.

Japanese ASCII Art

Mainly found in Japanese imageboards like 2ch, ASCII art (pronounced as "as-key") is prevalent at times, and in amazing cases, shows an accurate portrayal visually. However, the original ASCII art originated since the dial-up BBS times in the USA.

Just like in emoticons, Japanese ASCII art differs from the fact that SHIFT-JIS and other pagecode systems are used. This makes porting of Japanese ASCII art to western encoding impossible in accuracy.

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