New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and coach Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Berra probably never studied Japanese — the man could barely do English — but his comment has been on my mind recently.
Due to some crazy confluence of traditional broadcast media and social media, Twitter decided to bid on the 放映権 (hōeiken, broadcast rights) for Thursday night National Football League games and air them on their app this season. Reading the Japanese tweets as they scroll below the game has become my new Japanese study obsession: You really can observe a lot by just watching … sports with thousands of Japanese strangers.
Judging from tweets I saw during the Sept. 22 “Thursday Night Football” broadcast of the game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans, there were many Japanese fans who were excited about suddenly having access to アメフト (amefuto, American football) on their スマホ (sumaho, smartphones).
One tweeted おはようございます。すでに TNF 観戦中です (Ohayō gozaimasu. Sude ni TNF kansenchū desu, “Good morning. I’m already watching the TNF [game]”).
The games start on Thursday at 8:25 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in the United States, which is Friday, 9:25 a.m. in Japan (10:25 after Nov. 6 due to daylight savings). This tweeter demonstrates the excellent efficiency of Japanese by adding the suffix chū — a single character, 中, that literally means “middle” — to a verb compound to say that he is “in the process” of doing that verb. This works with countless verb compounds and is useful on Twitter, Facebook and when texting.
Another user found the game by accident: 何となくTwitter開いたらNFL中継してたので、そのまま観てしまっている。スーパー ボウル以来観てなかったがやっぱり面白い (Nantonaku Twitter hiraitara NFL-chūkei shiteta no de, sono mama mite shimatte iru. Sūpā Bōru irai mite nakatta ga yappari omoshiroi, “I opened Twitter randomly and they were showing live NFL, so I just started watching it. Haven’t seen any since the Super Bowl, and it’s really fun”). A more concise user agreed with his evaluation of the game: ツイッターで観れるとか最高過ぎ (Tsuittā de mireru toka saikō sugi, “It’s too cool that you can watch on Twitter”).
American football is most popular in the Kansai area around Kyoto and Osaka. This regional slant is often reflected in the language used in tweets.
After a run toward the end zone that was marked down just short of goal, a user tweeted simply “TDやん” (TD yan, “Touchdown, innit?”). And he was right! After a review, the referees called the play a touchdown.
Yan is a Kansai alternative for じゃん (jan), which itself is short for じゃない (ja nai, “isn’t it?”). I would recommend jan over yan for most students of the language, but either is easy to add to adjectives and nouns. いいじゃん (ii jan, “That’s nice”) in particular is especially useful as a way to reassure someone that something is good/fine/OK.
Another Kansai phrase I found was the multipurpose あかん (akan), which is used to mean either 1) something isn’t going well or 2) something is not allowed. In this case, a user was commenting on the Texans: テキサンズあかん (Tekisanzu akan, “The Texans are crap”).
This was an accurate assessment of the game. The Texans couldn’t hold on to the ball on kickoff returns: また落としたんかい (Mata otoshitan kai, “[They] dropped [the ball] again?”).
And they couldn’t make it past midfield on offense: そこそこ進むんだが、敵陣入る直前ぐらいから厳しくなる (Soko soko susumun da ga, tekijin hairu chokuzen gurai kara kibishiku naru, “They move pretty well, but it gets tough right before they get to Pats territory”).
The game turned into a blowout, and one user declared it オワタ (owata, OVER) well before time expired. This is a shortened form of 終わった (owatta, ended) frequently encountered online. It’s made more dramatic through the use of katakana.
As the game got away from the Texans, Japanese Twitter turned its attention and sense of humor to more important matters: ベリチックが、時代劇によく出てくる悪代官に見えてきた (Berichikku ga jidaigeki ni yoku dete kuru aku-daikan ni miete kita, “[Patriots coach Bill] Belichick looks like the evil prefectural governor that’s always in historical dramas”).
Another user replied to this with a side-by-side picture of Belichick in a hoodie and the Emperor from Star Wars: 一時期は現地でもダースベイダー扱いでしたからね。仕方ないですね (Ichijiki wa genchi demo Dāsu Beidā atsukai deshita kara ne. Shikata nai desu ne, “For a time, even over there he was thought of as being like Darth Vader. Guess it can’t be helped”).
So change your phone settings to Japanese on Thursday night/Friday morning and tune in. Just don’t expect to get any work done. A couple of people commented on this: ライブとかやめて、仕事にならないから！ (Raibu toka yamete, shigoto ni naranai kara!, “Stop showing the game, I can’t get any work done!”). And be sure to check your data package first: 仕事にならない上に、データー通信量を使いはたした (Shigoto ni naranai ue ni, dētā tsūshinryō o tsukaihatashita, “Not only did I not do any work, but I also used all my data”).
It will be interesting to see if the NFL can expand its audience through the new platform. It is evident that there is a Japanese market for it, both of longtime fans and new converts. The next match is between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 6 (Oct. 7 in Japan), and there will be seven other games available over the course of the year (www.nfl.com/schedules/2016/TNF) These are great opportunities to polish your football vocab and learn more efficient Japanese netspeak.