Asking questions to the Japanese internet


Special To The Japan Times

The internet is a repository for the best and worst that humanity has to offer, and Japan is no exception. The website Yahoo! 知恵袋 (Chiebukuro, literally “bag of knowledge”) is a great resource for language learners and for anyone interested in observing Japanese interact online, but you have to be careful to weed out the interesting material from the nonsense and the 荒らし (arashi, trolls).

Yahoo! Chiebukuro is the Japanese equivalent to Yahoo Answers. Users leave questions and others provide answers … in some fashion or the other. The user who asked the question can then select a response as the ベストアンサー (besuto ansā, best answer).

Before digging too deep, readers should know how one goes about asking for help in Japanese. The simplest is 教えてください (Oshiete kudasai, “Please tell me”).

This simple imperative form is employed when folks have simple questions, such as this poster (bit.ly/sandoicchi) who is curious about the contents of sandwiches: サンドイッチの具で欠かせないもの、またはめずらしいもの、教えてください (Sandoicchi no gu de kakasenai mono, mata wa mezurashii mono, oshiete kudasai, “Please tell me things that are essential or rare sandwich fillings”).

There are more polite ways to ask for advice as well. When making a request, you can employ the half-unfinished phrase ~頂けたらと思います (~itadaketara to omoimasu, “I was hoping you might provide me with ~”). Left out from this phrase after the itadaketara (literally “if I could receive”) and before the to omoimasu (I think/feel) is an implied いいな (ii na, it would be good) or 嬉しいな (ureshii na, I would be grateful). There’s even a Chiebukuro post about this grammar pattern (bit.ly/itadaketara)!

You can see this pattern in action in the lawn care section (bit.ly/lawncareJP): 誰か芝の除草剤についてアドバイス頂けたらと思います (Dareka shiba no josōzai ni tsuite adobaisu itadaketara to omoimasu, “I was hoping someone might provide me with advice about herbicide for my lawn”).

The best posts, however, are the ones that are more personal. In a way, many of these posts become human dramas.

For example, this post (bit.ly/YayoiJidai) in the 友人関係 (yūjin kankei, friendships) section, isn’t about friendships at all: 弥生時代の 悪いところ。を教えてください。(Yayoi jidai no warui tokoro. O oshiete kudasai, “Please tell me. The bad things about the Yayoi Period”).

One commenter gently corrects the user to relocate the post to the history category, but the others provide responses to what must be an elementary school student completing a school assignment or a bored junior high schooler, judging from the awkward syntax. The responses are pretty funny: あさりばっか食うところ (Asari bakka kū tokoro, “They only ate clams”) and ネットがつながらない (Netto ga tsunagaranai, “They didn’t have internet”) are two of the best.

But you have to be on the lookout for trolls seeking attention. Many of the top posts are fairly racy in nature, such as one where a man claims to have slept with his sister-in-law (bit.ly/YatteShimatta) The use of the pattern ~ようです (~yō desu, It seems as though ~) seems a little awkward and makes the post feel suspect: キスで止めれば良かったのに彼女の部屋に行きやってしまったようです (Kisu de tomereba yokatta no ni kanojo no heya ni iki yatte shimatta yō desu, “It would’ve been best if I stopped it at a kiss, but it seems as though we went to her room and did it”).

Some responders give sincere advice, but others call him out pretty quickly: 相当おヒマなん ですね (Sōtō ohima nan desu ne, “You must have a ton of free time”). Note that 暇 (hima, free time) is given in katakana; this is a relatively common method of applying emphasis on the internet and in Japanese in general.

In another very elaborate post, a user claims to have witnessed a woman knee a pregnant woman in the stomach as she alights at Shinjuku Station (bit.ly/ShinjukuEki)

The user gets called out a number of times. In one, a commenter accuses her of going “fishing”: 釣りにしては面白くない内容 ですね (Tsuri ni shite wa omoshirokunai naiyō desu ne, “This isn’t very interesting content for someone trolling”). Here tsuri is an equivalent to the “luring” nature of trolls.

Another commenter says pretty simply that such an outrageous story would have drawn more attention: これが本当なら ニュースになるよ (Kore ga hontō nara nyūsu ni naru yo, “If this was true, it’d be on the news”). The commenter then goes on to accuse the poster of being jealous of pregnant women, perhaps because she’s too old to conceive herself.

If you’re the kind of person who reads advice columns, you’ll find plenty of people looking for honest help, such as this user’s post (bit.ly/EnOKiru) trying to decide whether to 縁を切る (En o kiru, cut ties) with a friend or to put up with his eccentricities, which include super sweaty palms that get on his game controllers and a general lack of manners/awareness.

The friend writes out a list and tries to decide whether 私の器が小さすぎるのかな (Watashi no ki ga chiisasugiru no ka na, “Am I too intolerant?”). It’s hard not to feel for both of them; clearly one isn’t able to communicate and the other isn’t able to listen.

Check out the browser extension Rikaichan or Rikaikun for some assistance reading these posts: Both will provide you with the pronunciation and English definition when you place the cursor over a Japanese word. Although to reinforce new words, it’s always best to force yourself to write them out in a separate notebook.

Finally, you’re bound to run into the oddball question here and there that users feel comfortable deploying under the cover of internet anonymity, such as this somewhat morbid question (bit.ly/yokomuki): 本人の希望で、うつ伏せ、横向き等で棺桶に入る 人はいますか? (Hon’nin no kibō de, utsubuse, yokomuki nado de kan’oke ni hairu hito wa imasuka, “Are there people who go into a coffin face down or sideways of their own volition?”).

My recommendation is to revel in the bizarre nature of these questions and to enjoy hunting down glimpses into Japanese life. Because on the internet, nobody knows you’re a 外国人 (gaikokujin, foreigner).