Symbols

Posted by on March 29, 2010

Tengu1-long-nosed-goblinWe start the final week of Japanese English month with a great guest post from English teacher, coursebook author and fellow blogger Vicki Hollett from Learning to speak merican.

For earlier guest posts, see our Japanese English page.

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A cute gesture English teachers quickly learn in Japan is ‘Who me?’ Students make it by pointing to their nose when their teacher signals they should speak. And if teachers make the mistake of pointing to their chest to identify themselves, the class may think they’re referring to their T-shirt or blouse.

So if the nose is a symbol of ego in Japan, can you guess what a nose that’s growing in length might signify? (Clue: It has nothing to do with Pinocchio or lying. The answer is below.)

Here are some more Japanese symbols, this time emoticons (emoji) found in emails and text messages. Can you work out what they mean? (Again, the answers are below.)

(^_^)
(>_<)
(ToT)
m(_ _)m

Notice the symbols aren’t written sideways on, and also notice the importance of the eyes. Research studies have suggested that the Japanese read facial expressions by looking mainly at the eyes. In the West, it seems, we’re more focused on the mouth and this might be reflected in the emoticons we use.

But to write really cute messages in Japan, you probably need animated emoji or decomail (decorated mail with larger animated .gifs). A new Japanese cell phone arrives with thousands of symbols to choose from. In a recent study, using decomail was one of the top three things Japanese women did that appeared cute. Some other ‘cute’ things Japanese women say they do are ‘Look through my lids with upturned eyes’ and ‘Blow off a trivial worry by silently smiling’. Wow! That could take practice.

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And the answers are …

A lengthening nose signifies conceit. Tengu ni naru = (literally) to become a long-nosed goblin means ‘to become conceited’.

(^_^)        = I’m happy
(>_<)       =  I’m troubled
(ToT)        =  I’m crying
m(_ _)m =   I’m sorry

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