Today’s episode of Nihon Terebi News is a very interesting one to watch, particularly for Japanese language students. Today’s episode shows many efforts by volunteers in Japan to help cleanup the damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake,1 both young and old. As the news show states, volunteers have been flooding in and helping, but they still need more volunteers. They then give advice to people about what to do if they want to volunteer. I really am happy to see so many people helping to rebuild, but also that the transition from damage control to restoration is happening.
Also, residents in Chiba Prefecture, were treated by a visit from Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.2 You can see this around 10:30 on the video. The Imperial couple came and spoke with people who suffered there, as part of their tour along Eastern Japan which will extend through other prefectures hard-hit by the disaster. Although I am not particularly interested in royalty, I was interested by the different in language used when describing the incident.
If you notice carefully, the language used to describe what the Emperor and Empress did is more polite, and often uses passive voice, which is a kind of keigo or polite language. For example, the Emperor is described as tennō heika (天皇陛下) where heika (陛下) is a title of respect meaning something like “majesty” in English. Also, as mentioned earlier, passive voice is often used to describe what he did. For example, instead of saying “he visited” (hōmon shimasu 訪問します) the newscaster said “was visited by (the Emperor)” (hōmon saremasu 訪問されます). Also it was interesting to hear the Imperial couple speak with residents. Obviously, the language is very polite on both sides. The Emperor speaking with one elderly man about his health, simply said go-kenkō wa (ご健康は) which is another excellent example of Keigo language.
In English, you almost always have to be explicitly about everything, but in Japanese, this can sound pretty wordy if the topic is already understood. This is a frequent mistake Japanese-language students first make: saying too much, repeating things already known. So, here, when the Emperor asked about the man’s health, he didn’t have to say ‘you/your’ or ‘how is it [your health]?’. It was implied, and sounds nicer in Japanese when people are less direct.
Anyhow, while Japan is building, food and agriculture remain a challenge. The last third of the news segment shows shortages of basic staples like rice and vegetables, and challenges with distribution. The Tōhoku area of Japan is an important agricultural center, and this could mean the next few years will be difficult as food prices fluctuate and shortages of some items may occur. As logistics improve, things will recover of course, but as you can see it will take a little while.
I just wanted to post another update. A few people have told me these are useful, so I will do my best to keep them up for a while (schedule permitting). As a language student (and a poor one), the extra listening practice is always useful for the JLPT.
Have a great weekend!
1 I think this name is a bit long, but news sites like Asahi Shinbun use it. I think Great Tohoku Earthquake makes more sense, but maybe it won’t stick. Here, “Tohoku” means the area to the north and east of Japan. Also, the damage of the earthquake extended far beyond the Tohoku area to all of Eastern Japan, so maybe Asahi Shinbun is right…
2 Interesting discussion in the comments section about how to properly refer to the Emperor. Thanks to Robert for the helpful information. I certain learned some things!