Language | WELL SAID

A great way to describe exceptions and surprising happenings

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Ichi-nensei ni shite wa, zuibun ōkii desu ne. (She is quite big for a first grader.)

Situation 1: Mariko is at home playing with her classmate Rumi. Their mothers, Mrs. Okubo and Mrs. Yamashita, are chatting nearby.

山下: まりちゃんは、一年生にしては、ずいぶん大きいね。

大久保: まり子は4月生まれだから。3月生まれのるみちゃんとは、1歳近く違うのよね。

Yamashita: Mari-chan wa, ichi-nensei ni shite wa, zuibun ōkii ne.

Ōkubo: Mariko wa shi-gatsu umare dakara. San-gatsu umare no Rumi-chan to wa, issai-chikaku chigau no yo ne.

Yamashita: Mariko is quite big for a first grader.

Okubo: That’s because Mariko was born in April. She is almost one year older than Rumi, who was born in March.

The pattern XにしてはY is used to indicate an exception to a generally agreed upon standard. “Y” represents the idea that goes against what is naturally inferred from “X” (English translation of the pattern might use “considering” or “for”):

彼女(かのじょ)は60歳(ろくじゅっさい)にしては若(わか)く見(み)える。 (She looks young for a 60-year-old.)

In Situation 1, Mrs. Yamashita says Mariko looks big for a first-grade elementary school student and her mother explains that she is big because she is almost a year older than Rumi.

Situation 2: The teacher is giving a lecture in music class.

教師: 神童と呼ばれたモーツァルトは、三歳でチェンバロを弾き始め、五歳にしてピアノ曲を作曲したと言われています。

Kyōshi: Shindō to yobareta Mōtsuaruto wa, san-sai de chenbaro o hiki-hajime, go-sai ni shite piano kyoku o sakkyoku shita to iwarete-imasu.

Teacher: Mozart was called a prodigy and is said to have begun playing harpsichord at 3 years old, and composing songs for piano at 5 years old.

The pattern にして is mainly used for formal or written Japanese. It is used to indicate a period of time in which something surprising or admirable happens. In Situation 2, the speaker points out the surprising fact that at 5 years old Mozart was able to write compositions.

When following an age, にしてcan be replaced by で. However, it loses some of the nuance of surprise or admiration:

彼女は30歳(さんじゅっさい)で初(はじ)めてタバコを吸(す)い始(はじ)めた。 (At 30 years old she started smoking for the first time.)

Another usage of にして can be seen in the pattern X1にしてX2, in which both X1 and X2 are a noun phrase, the stem of a na-adjective or a noun phrase that is modified by an adjective respectively. In this case, にして can be translated as “both” in English:

室井(むろい)は、彼女と結婚(けっこん)することにより、学長(がくちょう)にして理事長(りじちょう)という立場(たちば)を手(て)に入(い)れた。(By marrying her, Muroi obtained both the position of university president and chair of the university board.)

Bonus Dialogue: Yuta is speaking with his uncle, Mr. Okubo.

勇太(ゆうた): ぼく、本当(ほんとう)は小説家(しょうせつか)になりたいから、医学部(いがくぶ)じゃなくて文学部(ぶんがくぶ)に行(い)きたいと思(おも)っているんです。おじさんから、父(ちち)を説得(せっとく)してもらえませんか。

大久保(おおくぼ): 医者(いしゃ)になっても、小説家にもなれるよ。たとえば森(もり)鴎外(おうがい)は医者にして偉大(いだい)な小説家だったし、他(ほか)にも北(きた)杜夫(もりお)、渡辺(わたなべ)淳一(じゅんいち)など、たくさんいるよね。

勇太: えっ、そうなんですか!

大久保: 勇太くん、もちろん知(し)っているよね?

勇太: いえ、全然(ぜんぜん)。

大久保: 小説家志望(しぼう)にしては、全然聞(き)いたことがないのか。勇太くんはどんな小説を書(か)きたいの?

勇太: アニメの原作(げんさく)です。いっぱいアイデアがあるんだけど、全然文章(ぶんしょう)にならないから、文学部に行って文章の書き方(かた)を学(まな)びたいと思って…。

大久保: 趣味(しゅみ)で小説を書いていたわけでもないのか。これはちょっと考(かんが)えなおしたほうがよさそうだなあ。

Yuta: I honestly want to be a novelist, so I’d like to go to the literature department, not the medical department. Uncle, could you persuade my father for me?

Okubo: Even if you become a medical doctor it’s possible for you to become a novelist at the same time. For example, Ogai Mori was a doctor and a great novelist, and there are many others such as Morio Kita, Junichi Watanabe and so on.

Yuta: Oh, really?

Okubo: Yuta, of course you know of them, right?

Yuta: No, not at all.

Okubo: Considering your wanting to be a novelist, you’ve never heard of them? … What kind of novel do you want to write?

Yuta: I’d like to write original anime. I have a lot of ideas, but I can’t write a single sentence, so I’d like to go to the literature department and learn how to write.

Okubo: You haven’t written a novel even as a hobby? Maybe you should reconsider.