Recently, I became curious about the origin of the common Japanese word “ありがとう” (arigatou), which is used in modern Japanese to express gratitude or simply say “Thank you”. I had heard from several people that it originally meant something like “It is hard for me to exist”, and for some time I accepted this explanation. After all, one way to write this word is “有り難う”, which contains a form of “aru” (to exist), and a form of “gatai” which can be used to mean the previous verb is difficult to do.

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Yuko Tamura wrote an insightful article about the many ways of abbreviating Japanese words and phrases. Today, I would like to follow up on this with a little overview of things abbreviated in the domain of grammar, where Japanese appears to be just as rigorous with cutting things out as it is with lexical expressions.

A town in western Japan has turned the hatpin urchin, seen as a nuisance of the ocean as it devours seaweed, into a local delicacy.

Ainan in Ehime Prefecture has released a variety of the sea urchin fed with scraps of the town’s signature agricultural products of broccoli and citrus.

KanjiVG (Kanji Vector Graphics) provides vector graphics and other information about kanji used by the Japanese language. For each character, it provides an SVG file which gives the shape and direction of its strokes, as well as the stroke order. Each file is also enriched with information about the components of the character such as the radical, or the type of stroke employed.

It is very easy to create stroke order diagrams, animations, kanji dictionaries, and much more using KanjiVG. See Projects using KanjiVG for a growing list of applications of the KanjiVG data.

As mentioned earlier, this is because most of Hokkaido’s Japanese place names are derived from アイヌ語. There was a conscious effort by 和人 in the 19th century to map out Hokkaido with Japanese place names under assimilation policies of the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Not all Ainu place names were rendered into Japanese in the same way, however. Some took the sound of the Ainu name, some took the meaning and some were shortened. For example, 札幌 is shortened from “sat poro pet” (dry, big river). 旭川 (Asahikawa), on the other hand, comes from a name misheard by 和人 as “cup pet” (morning sun river), but is thought to have had a different original name like “cuk pet” (autumn river). The misheard meaning was translated into 旭 (asahi, morning sun) combined with 川 (kawa, river).

Inakadate, the village in northern Japan’s Aomori prefecture famous for their rice paddy art, today unveiled their latest creation. The seeds of their labor, which were planted in June, have now grown and filled out the canvas, rendering versions of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Seiki Kuroda’s “Lakeside,” which depicts his wife Taneko Kaneko.

Japan's Nationality Act asks young adults with multiple citizenships to choose one country, but it appears that not everyone does. Many choose to live in the gray zone. Similarly, many Japanese seeking a life abroad are required to give up their Japanese passport. How long can Japan look the other way?

With several thousand characters to contend with, how were the Japanese able to use typewriters before the advent of digital technology? The answer is the kanji typewriter (和文タイプライター or 邦文タイプライター), which was invented by Kyota Sugimoto in 1915. This invention was deemed so important that it was selected as one of the ten greatest Japanese inventions by the Japanese Patent Office during their 100th anniversary celebrations in 1985. Here are some photos of that first model. (Photos courtesy Canon Semiconductor Equipment.)

Almost every change Yabe-san introduced risked decreased efficiency and quality of service in the short term. Having the cleaners distracted from their jobs by talking with passengers, decreasing measurement and oversight. Even making the cleaning crews more visible to the customers went against the hospitality and travel best practices which hold that this kind of work is to take place out of sight and all friction for the customer is to be removed.

But everything Yabe-san did increased the possibilities for human connection. Not the usual, scripted staff-customer communication or the usual manager-staff meetings, but inefficient, unnecessary communication not directly related to completing the task at hand.

Rather than managing for control and compliance, he was managing for transparency and connection.

Internally this not only resulted in a skyrocketing of morale but an outpouring of creative ideas. The Tessei staff not only came up with innovations that improved their own jobs, but helped design the shape of the bins on the new Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, and they came up with the idea for the nursery and baby areas in Tokyo Station.

And, of course, it was this feeling of human connection that resulted in passengers cleaning up after themselves because they did not want to create extra work for someone they had just seen working so hard.

It led to people realizing that we are all on this train together. Yes, it eventually made processes more efficient and less expensive, but more importantly, it actually made life a little bit better for everyone involved.

Well, actually, there are a ton of different ways to say “father” in Japanese, and what better day to take a look at them than today?

"Today" being yesterday, the third Sunday in June, or Father's Day (父の日).

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