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Peter Backhaus
For Peter Backhaus's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Jul 14, 2023
Long story short, cont’d: Brevity rules in Japanese grammar
The Japanese don"t just abbreviate their vocabulary, when you"re short on time even grammatical structures can get the chop.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Jun 9, 2023
Za grammar notes: How to properly handle the 'the' in Japanese
The Japanese have stripped "the" down to one or two of a greater number of tasks that the word normally does in English. We know this process as semantic narrowing.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Mar 3, 2023
Japanese mottos: Where there’s a will, there’s a zayū no mei
Japanese business culture in particular is partial to the idea of a person being able to sum themselves up with a catchy — and insightful — phrase to live by.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Dec 2, 2022
The linguistic side-effects of yet another year with COVID-19
As we the end of our third year of life in the pandemic, it's time for a review of all the newly popular vocabulary that has sprung up as a result.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Nov 11, 2022
Don’t get confused using your ei bii s(h)ii's when writing Japanese
There are two systems in place to romanize Japanese. One way reflects how the language is pronounced today, the other might be more true to original Japanese.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Sep 2, 2022
Body language: Know your Japanese from head to toe
Whether itu2019s the leg of a chair or the ears of your bread, Japanese is just as prone to assigning human body parts to inanimate objects as English is.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Jun 17, 2022
Getting ‘hai’ is more difficult than you think
Itu2019s a simple word but sometimes using a well-placed u201chaiu201d is all it takes to facilitate a good conversation in Japanese.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
May 27, 2022
Da trouble with da, the less formal cousin of desu
The simple "da" in Japanese isn't so simple when you delve into the purposes it serves and the ways in you should be using it correctly.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Mar 26, 2021
Does Google Translate make foreign language learning unnecessary? Not quite
Idioms and other turns of phrase are often taken literally when left to Google Translate to make sense of things. That means translator jobs are safe for now.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Jul 7, 2020
Playground love: Exploring the green among the gray
Some playgrounds are closed due to the pandemic, but outdoors activity is still what most doctors order.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Nov 12, 2019
Middle? Inside? Relax, the kanji for naka has this one in the bag
The kanji for "naka" is used in many different ways. A rectagle with a line cutting it in half, the kanji is also one of the easiest to remember.
Japan Times
CULTURE / Books / ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES
Sep 21, 2019
'Japanese Linguistics': Insightful description meets valuable instruction
"Japanese Linguistics" is a broad-spectrum primer on Japanese, covering everything from grammar to the social context of the language, for the undergraduate student or avid polyglot alike.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Jun 3, 2019
Don't give up yet on giving and getting in Japanese
One of the first things taught in anthropology classes is that presents exchanged in a given society hardly ever come for free. When someone gives another person something, that always entails some sort of obligation. Acts of giving and receiving are hence highly sensitive social endeavors, and so is the language of these acts.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Apr 1, 2019
Heisei it ain't so! An era of great vocabulary is ending
In the beginning there was the word. More precisely, the prefix. When the Heisei Era officially started, on Jan. 8, 1989, Japan's economy was still merrily bubbling along. That must have been one reason for the popularity of 超 (chō, hyper-). The prefix itself is anything but new, but the idea to make just everything a "hyperlative" is an early Heisei thing. The 1990 edition of the authoritative dictionary 現代用語の基礎知識 ("Gendai Yōgo no Kiso Chishiki," "The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words") lists the prefix, in its shortened katakana version チョ (cho), as one of the newcomers of the year.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Feb 4, 2019
Wake up and smell Japan through new vocabulary
The world is full of smells. Good smells and bad smells, pleasant and unpleasant smells, fragrant and pungent smells. Though the nose is not our most reliable advisor in perception — eyesight is far more important, as is well known — smells clearly have a say in our view of the world. And there is quite a lot to say about them, too.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language
Dec 3, 2018
A dash of hiragana in the 'foreign' soup
Japanese words you'd think should be written in katakana will sometimes show up in hiragana. There's a cultural reason behind these rare switches.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language
Nov 5, 2018
A hiragana-kanji mix can make reading a lot easier
It's no news that Japanese writing is a complex affair. Apart from the sheer number of characters u2014 48 each for the hiragana and katakana syllabaries plus an almost open-ended number of kanji u2014 there are also various rules about when to use what.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Oct 1, 2018
Nothing is left undone with the plethora of negative prefixes in Japanese
Everything in life has a negative side to it. This nasty fact has also left its mark on Japanese, in the form of negative prefixes that will turn just everything into its opposite.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Sep 3, 2018
Getting to know Japan on a first-name basis
What's in a first name? In Japan, you'll find insights into societal change.
Japan Times
LIFE / Language / BILINGUAL
Aug 13, 2018
Japanese surnames: Among the usual suspects, you're bound to find some curveballs
How many Japanese surnames are there anyway? It's a tricky question, because the total depends on how you decide to count them.

Longform

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