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Intermediate Japanese Language Learning with Dazai Osamu

Complimentary Japanese Reading Lessons From Maplopo Schoolhouse

Season ONE—水仙 (Page Ten)


EP.10 Spotlight: なかなか, Dazai Osamu (太宰治), Daffodil (水仙)

Video file / Audio File / Online Intermediate Japanese Course

Read the full EP10 transcript, Spotlight: なかなか | Intermediate and Advanced Japanese

Okay. Time for a spotlight… let’s  shine it on this part of the sentence.

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

Okay. So, meaning… なかなか means “quite” or “considerably,” or, “very.”  Uh, の in this instance denotes “how much.” And then immediately after that, 御 (which is  an honorific in this case) and 上達 which means “improvement.” Now, a quick note. Sometimes, that  の can… disappear. It’s not entirely necessary.

Two examples of 御 acting as an honorific: ご注意  or, ご飯.

So, ご注意 means: “Be careful!” We hear this a lot in Japan with kids. ご飯 means: “food,” and you can use  that if you want, and it’s a very common expression… uh, if you’re feeling like a tough guy…  you like to say 俺 then you can also say 飯—it’s a little, uh, cooler way to say “food.”

So, if we pull apart the meaning of this word a little bit more, なかなか, it essentially carries the meaning of “it’s not so easy to reach  that level that the person has achieved.” So, if we have a line—and in the middle of that line, you have an achievement—that, let’s say, is the… the middle. Just past that middle point  you’re going to have this ability to say なかなか. So, it’s illustrating the degree of what you’ve  described has exceeded the average. Okay? That’s basically なかなか in a nutshell.

So, we have three example sentences for you. Here’s the first one:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

And, this basically means: “He’s  quite handsome.”

Our second sentence:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

Here we have: “Tatsuye’s cooking  (or, food) is quite tasty.”

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

In this last example: “This child is quite smart.”

In this last example, “This child is quite  smart,” you’ll notice the の is not there. So, there are two important considerations when  you want to use this phrase. We’ll talk about the second one (which is the most important to  this story), in just a second. But, the first one is this. Because this means to successfully reach a certain achievement, right? —You’ve surpassed the middle point and you’ve achieved something…  you’re quite good at cooking… or quite good at… sword play as we learn in the story. You  don’t use this word when you’re talking about negative things that you don’t  really achieve.

So, for example:

(Speaking Japanese)

[Laughing] So, you don’t really achieve a certain  state of ugliness. Uh, maybe if you’re working on a Halloween costume or something like  that, but… so, you would not use that (なかなか) here.

(Speaking Japanese)

And, you hopefully are trying  not to be more stupid. (And, if you’re taking this class with us, then  you’re most certainly not in that category). So, there are exceptions to this just like  there are exceptions to any kind of grammar (quote-unquote) “rule,” But, the basic idea is you don’t use なかなか in these sorts of instances.

One very important reason why this is worth  highlighting, is because なかなか is a judgment expression… right? So, in order to use it—in  order to recognize that someone has achieved a certain level of success in a certain area—you  have to be observing their movement along that success line, right? They were average, and now they’re above average. And, in order to do that you have to be judging them—in a way, right?

So, to do that you have to be at a slightly elevated position than the person you’re judging in order to make this comment. And, as you’re likely aware, in Japan that can be a little complicated, right? So, having considerable skill is great… but who’s commenting on the possession of that  skill is even more important. And in this story, you have the retainers jokingly commenting on  the improvement of the lord’s skills. And, that’s bad usage. Even with that honorific 御. 御, 御, 御  doesn’t save you from other things in Japanese.

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