JAPANESE WORDS AND PHRASES
Japanese words, phrases and forms of address come naturally to almost all the characters in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series. Many require more explanation than is possible in the stories, though I do try. If you want to know what something means or how it's used, this is the place to look. If I've missed anything, please do let me know.
TITLES AND TERMS OF ADDRESS
-ama — One title for a woman religious, appended to the name. (e.g. Jion-ama)
-chan — A friendly or affectionate suffix added to the given name of a child, an older girl, a much younger person of whom one is fond, or, casually, between close women friends.
-denka — Title for a prince or princess appended to the name. Like "royal highness.” (e.g. Irtysh-denka)
-heika — Title for queen or king; appended to the name. Like “majesty.” (e.g. Ryuujin-heika)
-hime — A title for a princess, appended to the name. Hiko is the male form. Like "royal highness." (e.g. Otohime)
-kun — A friendly or affectionate suffix added to a boy’s given name, or the name of a work subordinate.
-kyoju — A suffix or title indicating a professor, specifically.
-sama — A very polite suffix added to a name or a title to show great respect. Can also serve as a title, e.g., Lady, Lord. Noriko can be called "Noriko-sama" for Lady Noriko and also "Soke-sama" for, roughly, "Honored Martial Arts Mistress."
-san — A polite suffix added to anyone’s surname, given name or title.
-sencho — A suffix or title indicating master (of a vessel) or captain.
-sensei — A suffix or title indicating master (of a craft or skill) or teacher.
WORDS AND PHRASES
Agar–Agar — Also called Kanten; a sea vegetable used to jell liquids.
Ainu — An aboriginal people of Japan, very ancient, residing in Hokkaido and other northern areas, with their own civilization and trade routes, who came from the north and west. Distinct from the Wajin or Yamato Japanese, the dominant ethnic group, who came from the south and west and are slightly less ancient.
Almond Tofu — Almond milk, sweetened and jelled with agar-agar.
Amazake — A sweet, low-alcohol drink made from rice. Often served warm, it is considered suitable for children.
Bizen-ware — Pottery made in what is now Okayama Prefecture, unglazed and fired slowly due to qualities of the clay, often with decorative hidasuke marks cause by rice straw being wrapped around the pieces while being fired. Valued for its rustic qualities, often used for tea ceremony.
Bonito — The skipjack tuna, usually dried and shaved for use as a condiment or in soup.
Buddhism — Brought to Japan in 552 C.E., Buddhism seeks the enlightenment of the practitioner through performance of a specific practice. There are many sects of Buddhism, some (Nichiren; Shugendo; Zen) native to Japan. Temples are always Buddhist, but may have Shinto Shrines in their precincts. Japanese people generally see no conflict between the two and often practice both. The two systems normally get along well in parallel, but there is, historically, some balancing of power and influence between them.
Cha — Tea. O-cha is green (unfermented) tea; ko-cha is black (fermented) tea. Oolong-cha is Oolong (partially fermented) tea. An O-cha-ya is a tea house: a place where tea is served and meetings are held, parties are given, and often Geisha dress and sometimes live there.
Chado — The way of tea; the study and practice of the tea ceremony.
Chakras — Places in the body where the chi gathers and is stored.
Chi — The physical stuff of which the universe is made; sometimes called life-force. Qi in Chinese.
Cho — Unit of measurement: about 109 meters or 119 yards.
Chonmage — Classic man's hairstyle. Samurai shaved their heads in front. The remaining hair was pulled up into a tail and shaped into a knot on the top of the head. Other men didn't shave the top of the head, but would tie their hair up and back.
Coppice — A managed forest, usually small.
Daikon — A long white radish, mostly eaten cooked or pickled.
Daimyo — A feudal lord of a large domain, rather like a duke.
Dai-Tengu — The larger form of Tengu, often taking the form of yamabushi to harass religious.
Dango — Balls of mochi (pounded and molded short-grain sticky rice) grilled and served in a sweet and savory sauce.
Dojo — Practice hall. Used for martial arts or athletic facilities and Buddhist practice halls.
Edamame — Soybeans in the pod, boiled in salted water, served as a snack.
Fuki — Japanese word for the Butterbur plant. Little people are reputed to live under the huge leaves.
Fukusa — A small scarf used as a wrapping for small items.
Furushiki — A large decorative fabric square used for forming bundles and carrying things; sometimes furoshiki.
Futon — A thick mat made of cotton batting, often quilted, used as a mattress.
Gagaku — Ancient Court music also used in Shinto ceremonies.
Ganbaru — To make an effort; to try one's best. Often heard as Gambatte!, the imperative: do your best!
Geisha or Geiko — Arts person. A highly trained entertainer, not a courtesan; dresses quietly but very well, her obi ties in back, wears a simple hair style.
Genkan — A designated foyer, just inside the door, considered an extension of the outdoors, and where one removes one’s shoes.
Geta — Thong-toed shoes with wooden soles set on horizontal risers to protect the feet from wet, muddy or snowy conditions. Orion would wear extremely high ones called koma-geta, sometimes 20 centimeters high, squared off and requiring both a special swinging gait and an escort to maneuver. Maiko wear ones called okoba with cutaway toes that are about 10 centimeters or so high, in which one can walk unaided.
Gi — Trousers and wrapped jacket often used in martial arts practice. Usually made of heavy white cotton canvas, the belt holding the jacket closed is colored to show the wearer’s rank(s). Noriko’s belt is black but embroidered with many colors showing the levels of black rank (dan) she has achieved in her various disciplines. Similar to a samue, but samue can be any color and the sleeves and legs often tie closed at the wrists and ankles.
Gobo — Burdock root. A long root vegetable slightly bitter in taste used in soups, stews and salads.
Go-chiso-sama-deshita — Literally, "it was a feast," said in thanks at the end of a meal to both thank the cook and express gratitude generally for the food provided.
Hachimaki — A headband, sometimes of toweling, tied around the head across the forehead to collect sweat.
Hakama — Long and wide pleated trousers worn as part of a dressy outfit by both men and women, over one kimono and usually under an outer robe. In Court or very formal clothing, the legs extended well beyond the wearer’s feet and required a special way of walking, rather like dancing.
Hanami — Flower-viewing party, specifically large celebrations for viewing the cherry blossoms.
Hangyoku or maiko — An apprentice geisha, with a more elaborate costume and hairstyle than a fully qualified geisha; these are the entertainers normally seen in public and at public performances. True geisha or geiko are rarely seen in public. Hangyoku is the Tokyo term; maiko is the Kyoto, and more commonly used, one.
Hara — Located in the belly, a central storehouse for chi.
Hijiki — A popular sea vegetable.
Hinin — Non-person, either outcast for criminal behavior or part of a hereditary underclass (eta) that performed certain jobs, or people who worked in the entertainment industry, even if not born to it. They could not mix with mainstream society and had limited rights.
Hiragana — A phonetic Japanese writing system used in writing Japanese.
Ika — Small squid, or calamari, eaten by humans (among others.)
Ikebana — The art of decorative flower or plant material (leaves, branches) arranging.
Inryo — A carved box for carrying small things, hung behind or through an obi, held in place by a netsuke. Similar pouches were also made of cloth, but people also just tuck things into their obi.
Irori — Floor-level hearth in the center of a room.
Itadakimasu — Literally, "I receive." This is said when one is served something before consuming it, as thanks.
Izakaya — A drinking establishment like tavern, pub or bar serving a wide menu of snacks from which one can put together a meal.
Japanese Potato — A round root vegetable of neutral flavor grown in the mountains.
Jinbei — Short trousers and a wrapped short-sleeved jacket, worn in hot weather, mostly by men, or for loungewear; can be used as a uniform if marked with a crest.
Jitte — A poking weapon, with a hook to catch a sword near the handle.
Jigoku — Buddhist "hell." A series of places for post-death punishment to expiate karma before reincarnation.
Joseon, Goreyo — Old names for what is now called Korea.
Kai-awasae — A matching game, like Concentration, only played with paintings on shells. Renko's version matches kanji. A similar game called kamta matches segments of archaic waka poetry, which is written 5-7-5-7-7-7, with each other. It's now also played in English, but always uses the same hyakunin-issu poems, a collection of single poems by 100 different poets.
Kami — Though often translated as “god” or “deity”, “spirit” is a better choice. Kami are spirits of various kinds, of Shinto origin. The honorific O- is used for particularly important ones.
Kampai — Cheers!
Kanji — Chinese characters used in writing Japanese.
Kata — A formal routine of movements used to practice martial arts.
Katakana — A phonetic Japanese writing system used for foreign words.
Katana — The Samurai long sword, worn with a wakizashi, a short sword or dagger.
Karayuki — Sending people overseas to work supporting Japanese colonies abroad. Usually the people were women; usually they were set to work in brothels, no matter what they were told before they left Japan.
Kemari — A game using a small bean or bran-filled bag; rather like hacky-sack. Cuju is the Chinese version. Many different games can be played with this toy.
Kim chee — A fermented cabbage pickle with varying quantities of garlic, red pepper and sometimes fish, that originated in Korea but is popular in Kyushu. Also spelled kim chi.
Kimono — A wrap garment, length adjusted by its belt, worn by men and women, in many formal and informal styles. Literally: a thing to wear.
Koku — Unit of Measurement: 40.95 US Dry Gallons; 5.12 US Bushels: customary measure of payment for petty and other officials. It was supposed to be the amount of rice consumed by one person in one year.
Kotatsu — A table that sits over a heat source and is covered with blankets or quilts to provide a warm seating area.
Kraken — Giant squid, often thought of as sea monsters. This word is northern European. The Humbolt Squid is one variety of large squid. The deep-sea Colossal Squid, rarely seen, is the real Kraken or Umi-bozu.
Kyoju — Professor, specifically, rather than the more general “Sensei.”
Macha — Ground green tea, used as a beverage or a flavor.
Manju — Steamed buns of wheat flour, stuffed with a variety of tasty savory or sweet fillings.
Meishi — A business or calling card. Used in Japan for centuries, but became popular for all in the Meiji era.
Meridian — Routes through the body through which the chi flows according to classic Chinese medicine.
Mikan — A kind of tangerine; also called a Satsuma.
Miko — Sometimes called Shrine Maidens. Young female apprentice Shinto priests. If they do not leave the service of the kami on marriage, they can advance in the Shinto clergy and are as adults either simply called "priests," or "shamans" if they develop special skills and learning.
Mirin — A sweet wine used in cooking.
Miso — Fermented soybean paste used for soup and seasoning.
Mochi — Cooked sticky rice, pounded into a dough and used in various applications, from savory crackers to sweet desserts.
Mon — family crest or emblem.
Naginata — A combat weapon something like a pike or halberd, a long pole with a sword blade on the end. Used by women, men and even children.
Netsuke — A carved toggle, almost always stone, used to hold an inryo (small pouch or purse) to an obi or belt. Usually solid, they can be more elaborately carved, like Noriko’s, to hold a blade or throwing star.
Ninja – Mercenary practitioners of Ninjitsu, or Ninpo, the art of using whatever is handy as a weapon, and cross-trained in many martial arts skills; known for stealth, skill and quick reactions. There were two great Ninja families or schools hidden in Mie that were ultimately destroyed, as they were considered too dangerous by the powers that be. The male remnants were mostly absorbed into existing forces. There was a separate order of women Ninja that disappeared, at least officially, at that time. This was the Mochizuki School. High-ranking women were often guarded and defended exclusively by women. All Samurai women were trained in various martial arts, but mostly defended their homes and families rather than fighting on the field, though many did. This training became less common as women’s rights were suppressed in the Edo period, but the tradition of women as warriors persists to this day, and many women practice various martial arts. Shinobi is another way to pronounce the characters that form the word ninja. A woman ninja is called a kunoichi.
Noren — Short curtains used in pairs to partially block an entryway and show a business is open; usually have a design, direction, or the name of the business dyed in.
Nori — Extremely popular sea vegetable, part of sushi, also eaten at breakfast.
O-nigiri — Filled rice balls wrapped in nori sheets, a light meal or snack.
Obi — The belt of a kimono; of varying widths and complexities depending on the formality of the kimono.
Ofuro — A hot tub, with the water heated to use for bathing.
Oiron — A courtesan, very expensive, sometimes with some Geisha-like music or dance training. Wears her obi tied in front, usually flashily dressed; they had and some still have public advertising parades, complex and decorated hair.
Older Sister — Ane, for one's own sister, o-ne-san for someone else's, or in reference, or as a title of respect. A specific title is often used instead of a name to indicate relationship. There are also specific titles for younger sisters (imoto) and older (ani) and younger (little) brothers (ototo). These are generally used affectionately.
Omakasi — Chef’s choice, usually used in sushi restaurants but can be used elsewhere.
Onagi — A word that means "the same."
Oni — Classically, guardians of Yomi, the Shinto underworld, or Jigoku, the Buddhist hell. Large and fierce, often with horns on their heads, of red or blue skin, both male and female, and often wearing tiger-skin skirts, there are many kinds of Oni, both helpful and malign, confabulated with "outsiders" or foreigners; sometimes simply "others," more often a kind of demon. Setsubun, in early February, is a festival that chases them out, welcoming fortune, but in places welcomes them in so they can grant fortune, and sometimes they visit to encourage children to behave. A variable sort of yokai, depending on who you ask and where you are.
Onsen — A natural hot spring used for bathing.
Oshibori — Small, damp towels used to clean one’s hands before eating.
Ponzu sauce — A citrus flavored soy sauce compound often used in Kyushu.
Pumpkin — Kabocha pumpkin, a large, round, green-skinned, orange-fleshed, winter squash.
Ri — Unit of measurement: about 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles.
Sake — Rice wine, made in many flavors and strengths.
Sakura — Flowering cherry trees. There are several kinds that extend over a season, but the Yoshino variety is often planted in large groves and is the most highly celebrated and feted with hanami — flower viewing — parties.
Samue — Long trousers and a long-sleeved wrapped jacket, similar to a jinbei, and worn for heavier work or in colder weather. The sleeves can often be tied or fastened closed at the wrist; the trousers at the ankle.
Sekitan — Coal.
Sento — A public bathhouse, but not with a natural hot spring like an onsen. The water is artificially heated.
Senbei — Rice crackers, made mostly of mochi, deep-fried and seasoned in different ways.
Shakuhachi — A Japanese flute.
Shinto — The native animistic religion of Japan; Shrines are always Shinto. It incorporates the Imperial heritage, and has been used as a state religion to unify the nation on occasion, but mostly easily co-exists with Buddhism. Many Buddhist Temples have Shinto Shrines in their precincts. Shinto is the "way of the Kami." Shinto practice consists primarily of honoring the kami in various ways and inviting their participation in the world of the living.
Shiromuku — Special white wedding kimono, usually lined with lucky red.
Shugendo — The discipline practiced by yamabushi, a combination of Buddhism, martial arts and a very ancient form of mountain worship.
Soke — A formally certified martial arts master who can start a school, teach independently and award ranks.
Shakujo — A tall staff used as a walking stick and a weapon, usually by warrior monks; similar to a quarterstaff in use, but shorter. Topped with noisemaking rings to warn off small beings and bugs so the bearer doesn't step on them.
Shaolin — Chinese school of martial arts, founded and maintained by temples. Often called kung-fu in the West. The name is also used for the school of Chinese vegetarian cooking started in temples.
Shide — Braided strips of white paper used for spiritual purposes in Shinto rituals.
Shiso — Also known as perilla; a spicy herb used in cooking.
Shoji screen — Screen or door made of a wood frame covered at least in part with paper to provide light.
Shuriken — Throwing star; an edged weapon that can be hidden in the hand for combat or thrown to deadly effect.
Sohei — Warrior monks and sometimes nuns specially trained to defend their temples. At some times, some of them might not be true religious but might be mercenaries hired by different temples.
Sugoi — An expression used to mean "Great!" or "Wonderful!" or "Super!"
Tabi — Split-toed ankle socks that fasten in the back.
Tajitu — The yin-yang symbol associated with martial arts in Chinese philosophy.
Tamagushi — Evergreen branches decorated with shide used in Shinto ceremonies.
Tansu — A portable set of stairs with drawers in it.
Taro — A tasty round root vegetable.
Tatami — Thin mats or thick floor tile made of woven reeds or straw.
Tengu — A kind of evil being that turns from a partial human into a crow, kite or small hawk. Possibly a demon.
Teppanyaki — A restaurant serving charcoal grilled items, the style of food served there.
Toki — Japanese Crested Ibis, nearly extinct, coming back due to intense conservation and breeding efforts.
Tokonoma — A display alcove built into most rooms.
Train — A long decorative piece of fabric fastened around the waist over all; very dressy.
Tsukumogami — A kind of yokai. When very old, some household objects, tools and even animals acquire a kami or spirit and become able to act independently and intelligently.
Tsunokakuchi — A second wedding headdress with symbolic meaning.
Uchikake — Colored kimono worn by the bride after the ceremony; often the background is lucky red.
Ume — Flowering and fruiting plums. They bloom early, before the sakura.
Umeboshi — Salt pickled plums or apricots of many varieties, mostly eaten at breakfast.
Umi-Bozu — The Japanese word for the Colossal or Giant Squid. In folklore, the souls of monks who failed to attain enlightenment, sometimes out to steal the souls of drowning sailors.
Uta-bikune — Buddhist nun who preaches and teaches by singing in public places.
Wakame — A popular sea vegetable.
Wakizashi — A short sword or long dagger, one of a Samurai's two swords, the other being the katana.
Wajin — Japanese people of the predominant ethnic group — almost everyone.
Wasabi — A hot and spicy root, grated and served as a seasoning. Not quite horseradish, but similar.
Wataboshi — A wedding headdress with symbolic meaning.
Yamabushi — Mountain ascetic, practitioner of Shugendo.
Yokai — Sometimes yukai. A catch-all term for a variety of supernatural beings, ghosts or other denizens of the material or non-material world.
Yukata — A light kimono provided by inns and used at home or in the neighborhood, in the summer and as loungewear.
Yomi — More formally, Yomi-no-kuni or Yomo-tsu-kuni, sometimes Ne-no-kuni. Simply, the Shinto version of a Hades or Sheol-like underworld; not specifically punitive, but not particularly happy either, a vague and shadowy place that is similar to the realm of the living. There are also references to a more heavenly world above (Takama-ga-hara) and the middle world (Ashihara no Naka-tsu-kuni) in which we live.
Yomotsu hirasaka — Often translated as "the gates of hell," the entrance to Yomi, usually a volcanic hot spring area, but supposed to actually exist in Izumo, according to the Kojiki, an ancient history of the origins of Japan and at least to some extent, the basis of Shinto. One can visit the actual spot.
Zabuton — A portable floor cushion, for sitting.
Za-isu — A small, portable floor chair or stool. Isu is the word for a regular chair.
Zori — Thong-toed shoes for daily wear; flat, with usually woven, soles. See, e.g., geta.
Zukin — A style of kerchief used to cover the head or hair, with a band on the front going back into ties and a triangular center. Buddhist nuns wear these sometimes as do workers. They come in various sizes, from bandanas to large scarves.