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Intermediate Japanese Language Learning with Dazai Osamu

Complimentary Japanese Reading Lessons From Maplopo Schoolhouse

Season ONE—水仙 (Page TWENTY TWO)

 

EP22. Spotlight: ようだ, Dazai Osamu (太宰治), Daffodil (水仙)

Video file / Podcast Episode / Online Intermediate Japanese Course

Read the full EP22 transcript, Spotlight: てしまう | Intermediate and Advanced Japanese

[Soft Piano Music Playing]

Today’s expression is all about Star Wars. Well, not exactly… but, it’s about… uh, ようだ, which I like to think of as Yoda. And, we’re gonna talk a lot about… feelings. Okay. Let’s do it. And, we’re going to flip the model a little bit for you, and start with examples. Because it’s a little complex in Dazai’s story, and we want to kind of highlight some examples first. So, let’s take a look at our examples. And, the first example is the line from the story. First, in Japanese:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

So here Yoda is saying… [laughing] Or, not… Yoda’s not saying but…, the, uh…, the translation would be for this one:

“We don’t seem to have to coddle him anymore.”

And now, three example sentences:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“Shoko seems to have a strong fondness for Japanese sake.”

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“It looks as though that restaurant isn’t exactly hoppin’.”

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“I’ve tried all sorts of things, but nothin’ really seems to be working.”

In English, it’s pretty easy to see the pattern that’s going on here, right? “Seemed to…,” “Seems to…,” “Looks as though…,” “Seems to be…,” What we’re doing here is we’re trying to soften our appraisal of what it is that we’re seeing, right?

So, we’re recognizing some sort of, uh, state, or condition, in the… sentence here (where we’re talking about the restaurant) … we’re noticing that it’s empty. And so we’re making some sort of assumption that it’s not very busy. But, we’re not being super, super direct about it. We’re noticing how it “appears to be,” or how it “might likely be…,” we’re describing a kind of gut feeling instead of coming right out and saying: “ah, that place is not busy.” Or, “that place has no customers,” right? So, we’re using a euphemistic phrase to soften it.

It might not be much of a surprise to you to know that this sort of euphemistic phrase is common in Japan—that people prefer elegance in speech and in writing—and, um, this is one example of that, right? So, the evolution of the word comes from this appreciation of softness, and, uh, leaving room for ambiguity. So, you’ll see a lot of that with Japanese—and you’re certainly seeing it here in all of these examples, right?

By the way, there are a number of these guessing or supposing auxiliaries throughout the text and in Japanese, in general, and you can get access to those in the full course where we pull apart lots more stuff than what you can get here just on YouTube.

Let’s switch away from the grammar a little bit and notice Dazai’s technique here, right? ‘Cause that’s part of the fun of literature, right? —and learning maybe how to write if you’re trying to boost your writing chops, this is a kind of cool thing to pay attention to.

So, in two instances here in the second paragraph, and again in the fifth paragraph, Dazai has these little quote blocks. And, they’re pretty cool to pay attention to, right? So, uh, you’ll notice some interesting things going on here: rhythm of, uh…, of the sentence itself, word use (repetition of word use), this sort of stuff is generally called “parallelism.”

Let’s hear it:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

So in this first quote block, Dazai is talking about the book he’s read, right?

“On the Conduct of Lord Tadanao.”

And, he’s referring to this discussion that the retainers have where they’re kind of digging at the lord, right? In the second quote block, Dazai is talking about his own world and remembering past events where he and his friends are digging at his senior.

You may remember a while back, Dazai described the retainers as kind of being in this lowly position, right? He’s placing them beneath the lord. And, when he made that reference, he [stuttering] he kind of, uh. was siding with the lord… he’s being compassionate towards the lord and feeling his… (the lord’s) … disappointment in overhearing this kind of gossiping, right?

But yet in this second quote block, Dazai really tends to identify with his friends. I mean, this is something that he did, right? And, he experienced it and he’s putting himself down. He’s recognizing that in the same way his behavior, with his friends, is just the same as the retainers. And it’s probably even more complex for him because he does identify with the lord, right? So, there’s technique going on here, there’s also a feeling going on here that he wants you to recognize as he’s telling you the story.

[Soft Piano Music Playing]

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