Wednesday 21 December 2011

New Words

About this time every year, the TV and newspapers do features on new words that have come into the language. One of the obvious ones is 's'maho', short for smart phone. And there are stupid catch phrases coined by show biz people.  But as you can imagine, a lot this year were to do with the disaster. Here's my choice:

SOHTEI-GAI (想定外) 'outside the realms of probablility'.  This was Tepco's first excuse for the nuclear accident and it met with derision from the general public. Actually it's based on the laws of probability. They meant that based on their  calculations, the likelihood of a tsunami of that size were slight. Later it became known that experts had been warning of a high tsunami (there was one of similar size 1,000 years ago in the Heian period) but the warnings had been ignored, because of cost. The phrase also seemed to sum up Tepco and the government's shirking of responsibility - if the accident couldn't have been predicted then no one was responsible for it. (So-called 'stress tests' are now being carried out, computer simulations  to calculate worst case scenario situations, on the remaining nuclear plants as a condition to them being reopened.) Anyway, this phrase has worked its way into common speech. The other day I made a rather unpalatable proposal to one of our mangers and he said it was 'sohtei-nai' i.e. 'within the realms of probability', or in other words, he was half expecting it.

FUHYO HIGAI (不評被害) This is a difficult one to translate. According to internet sources it means 'financial damage caused by harmful rumours or misinformation'. And indeed it is one of the criterion for compensation. But it's used in a much more general sense to mean prejudice against us in Fukushima.

JOSEN (除染)'decontamination, clean up'. We hear this word all day every day but you won't find it in a dictionary. It certainly isn't in my regular Japanese dictionary and an online search on Kojien, equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary, was fruitless. Just goes to show how our world changed on 11 March. On Sunday went with a friend to a farmhouse just outside Koriyama where they make traditonal paper-mache dolls. When I asked where the boss was, I was told he was out dong 'josen'. It was a Sunday and the village had roped in the locals to clean the neighbourhood, specifically to hose down the schools and the routes to school. JOSEN rules our lives at the moment. Until areas are cleaned up, peope won't be able to return to their homes. And  there is the still unresolved problem of where to dump the soil that's removed.

KIZUNA (絆) Every year a priest in Kyoto decides on a single Chinese character (kanji) which sums up the past year. And he writes it with a huge brush and a big flourish. This year he wrote the single character 絆 (kizuna) . It refes to the ties, bonds, connections between people.  A tragedy like this makes you re-evaluate your life. Suddenly someone to share your problems, someone to rely on, seems more important than having a nice house or car. Marriages are on the increase. It will be interesting to see if the children of today develop different values from the 'throwaway' generation of their parents.

And finally, something completely different. OSAKA-TO KOHSOH (大阪都構想), a new word meaning 'Osaka capital project' the baby of  Hashimoto Toru (橋下徹), 42, father of seven, newly elected mayor of Osaka City. Until two weeks ago he was governor of a much bigger area, Osaka prefecture (Osaka-fu), but resigned to stand for the lesser position of Mayor in order to promote his vision of a single Tokyo style authority for Osaka. His argument is that there is a lot of waste with both the prefecture (fu) and the city (shi) having libraries and other duplicate facilities. He wants to cut waste, cut losses and use the money saved to solve Osaka's many problems (education, homelessness etc. etc.) He has experience. He famously negotiated through the night with civil servant unions to cut pay and after that put Osaka-fu in the black for three years in a row. He's the person to watch:  refreshing, dynamic, decisive. Such a contrast to the government in Tokyo. I wish we had someone like that in Fukushima.
And a very goodnight to you all


  1. Hi

    I'm a UK journalist looking to interview a woman who lived through the earthquake and tsunami. All very last minute but might this be something you are interested in? My email is


    Kate Graham

  2. Kate,

    I'm also in the UK and have suggested to several journos that they speak to Anne as a prime source of sane info about these events so very pleased that at least someone has picked up on it, even though I don't know you!

    Hope something good comes of it.

    Jeremy Hoare