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Intermediate Japanese Language Learning with Dazai Osamu

Complimentary Japanese Reading Lessons From Maplopo Schoolhouse

Season ONE—水仙 (Page TWENTY FOUR)

 

EP24. Spotlight: ないわけではあるまい, Dazai Osamu (太宰治), Daffodil (水仙)

Video file / Japanese Podcast Episode / Online Intermediate Japanese Course

Read the full EP24 transcript, Spotlight: ないわけではあるまい | Intermediate and Advanced Japanese

[Chill Music Playing]

Okay.

So, with this spotlight we’re going to get a little deep in the weeds here with some, uh… advanced writing styles, and some really good Japanese smoke. Alright. So, let’s listen to Dazai’s sentence first:

(Speaking Japanese)

“These days, that senior is quite spry—we don’t seem to have to coddle him anymore. Ah, ha, ha, ha.

I suppose… I wouldn’t say, as a matter of course, there weren’t nights like that where we’d exchange such crude remarks.”

Let’s take a look at our three examples:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“I guess with a girlfriend who’s into knitting it’s not unnatural I’d develop the same interest, even though I’d never previously been interested.”

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

“It could be, as a matter of course, that it’s not unexpected when living in a foreign country to see its negative side.”

So, that’s a lot, right? And, maybe that sounds a little bit like a mouthful… it would be difficult to get out. Uh, remember a few things, here. So, first of all, Dazai’s usage of this expression is a bit dated, right? So… he’s doing that a lot in the story. He’s writing in a time that’s beyond us, and he’s writing about a time that’s beyond him. So, that’s part of it.

The second reason is this is… um… writing—and not speech. So, you’re going to get a little bit more leeway with the amount of words you can jam into a sentence.

Um, and the third thing is what I kind of alluded to at the beginning, is that there’s intention… [stuttering] this intentional layer of smoke that’s being placed out there when these expressions are being used. And we’ll talk more about what that is, and how it plays out, and it will feel familiar to you in English as well.

Um, let’s make it a little simpler by changing the examples into a more modern version of how they might read. What is this “smoky” expression we’re talking about? Let’s isolate it in Dazai’s sentence, and then give you a modern version of it just after that. So, the expression is:

(Speaking Japanese)

And, how would this sound now?

(Speaking Japanese)

So, a subtle difference.

Let’s listen to these two examples as if we were to write them today:

(Speaking Japanese)

(Speaking Japanese)

Alrighty.

So, as I said, this is going to be us deep in the weeds here today. But this will all make sense. There are two things we want to pull apart here—first is structure. So, let’s look at this expression as Dazai presents it to us in the story:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

So if we wanted to get the meaning carried over to modern times we would say it a different way, just like Reiko pronounced a moment ago. So, let’s hear and see how that works:

(Speaking Japanese)

(Speaking Japanese)

Okay.

Now that’s that exact flip from old style to new style, right? Now, he’s adding this little bit at the end:

(Speaking Japanese)

Which means: “with near 100% certainty.” But remember, it’s not about wanting to be closer to “sure” … it’s about pulling away from being “sure.” And so, it’s an optional usage that he’s using. If you didn’t need that little bit at the end, we could reduce this little expression a little bit more. Like this:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

Okay.

That’s your structure. Let’s take a look at meaning. So what’s happening here? This is, as you might recognize… a double negative, right? So, you’ve got ない and you’ve got ない. Two ないs in one part of a sentence! Grammar teachers everywhere are entering a panic right now.

But (!), you shouldn’t panic, and sometimes… and the reason is, because sometimes we use double negatives. And we use them for a multitude of reasons which we’ll get into in a little bit. But I want you to not be freaked out about this because it’s very normal. It’ll bend your brain a little bit. But, here are a few simple things that we say regularly in English that might make you feel a little bit more comfortable.

So, double negatives like: “not unusual,” “not unlikely,” “not unheard of,” or “not unexpected.” Maybe even: “not inconceivable,” or “not unkind,” right? These are all things that we say all the time. We don’t think of them as double negatives, but, they effectively are, right? So, that’s what’s happening in this example.

Dazai is trying to create distance… trying to layer smoke down on on his writing… [clearing palate] …and he’s using this double negative, ない and ない. Okay? Now, what if he didn’t use that? What would this sentence… maybe sound like if he didn’t use the double negative? Well, let’s consider what the expression would sound like if it weren’t a double negative and this is what it would sound like:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

So here (without the double negative), you have basically—a positive meaning, right? A very… somewhat direct… (notice how I said “very somewhat direct?” I’m kind of softening my… my speech there…) but, it’s a rather direct way of saying what it is you want to say. And the meaning of that expression is that: “things are going to naturally happen in the course of life,” right?

So, we say in these examples: “as a matter of course.” Uh, we had written down somewhere earlier the idea of like kind of the “way rivers flow,” right? It’s a natural progression of things. Uh, you’re gonna see things happen. If you move to Japan, for example, a lot of people are in this… “ah, japan is amazing—honeymoon phase—for a long time. Sometimes people get out of that quickly. But, other times people are in it a long time. And, people will ask you:

“Are you still in that stage? Can you see some negative aspects of Japan?”

Inevitably, these sorts of things start to happen, right?

That’s what this means.

So, good or bad, uh, things are gonna rub off on you. We have this example about knitting, right? And if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend who loves to knit, then, if you’re seeing knitting all day long, you’re probably going to maybe be interested in knitting. It’s just (a) very natural thing. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

So why might Dazai be adding these different layers of smoke to this sentence? Well, quite simply he might be just embarrassed that he’s had these same sort of exchanges with friends (commenting on a senior) that the retainers had (in a way), uh, against the lord, right? And he’s finding that by sharing this he’s he’s allowing you to kind of understand the story—but he’s really maybe not so happy about it—and so, he’s distancing himself [stuttering] himself from it a little bit, and that might be one of the reasons why he uses this expression. Another reason why he might be using it—and this is a common thing with, uh, double negatives—is that, as we learned previously, you can use parallelism in a story, right? It creates unique rhythm. And, he seems to like this sound… this “あるまい.” Right? And, so we see it pop up (Boop! Boop! Boop! Boop!) and that could be another reason why he’s using it as well. Okay let’s close this lesson out and just zero in on these expressions really fast. So, the main expression we’re wanting you to keep in mind is this:

(Speaking Japanese—1st Reading)

(Speaking Japanese—2nd Reading)

Which essentially means:

(Speaking Japanese)

(Speaking Japanese)

If you’re sitting in front of an open dictionary right now, or if you already know the meaning of this word, you might be able to see that わけ is essentially at its core: “reason,” right?

So: “how things got this way,” “how things started” …kind of, maybe “a sequence of events” … something like that. The particulars of a situation.

So, when it’s used in this phrase, that’s always gonna be, you know, hiding out there in the meaning of what’s happening. And, what’s being discussed in the sentence, right? Its inclusion in the expression and in the sentence, then, is essentially answering the unasked question of “why?” “Why” is it that something is happening? And, uh, it’s used by the speaker (or, the writer in this instance) to somewhat justify
a position, right?

So, if you’re a man and you’re suddenly knitting and your buddies are asking you: “Hey, what’s
up with the knitting?” Uh, you might respond in the way we gave you an example for earlier, right? You’re kind of telling them: “Well it’s just kind of natural that this happened because my girlfriend knits.” So, wrapped up in this, uh… definition… is not only the reason, and not only justifying, but also saying that: “well of course it’s natural that I would learn to knit—or want to know how to knit—because my girlfriend is a knitter.” Just a matter of fact sort of thing that happens naturally (as we said in the beginning)
like the rivers flow, right?

That’s all about what this means. A little complicated… a little smoky… but, when you clear it away and look kind of clearly at it, it’s probably pretty easy to get a feeling for.

You can probably see this in Dazai’s example too. How he might be trying to kind of justify the actions he had as a young person, right? Well, all young people talk smack about their adults, right? Their seniors who kind of are riding them… it’s very normal… very natural for them to kind of say not so great things, maybe, about their teachers.

They’re not bad people, and what they are saying they don’t mean to kind of, um, disappoint someone necessarily, (or, have them be heard) but it’s just something that happens.

Get more examples, and even more audio and video so you can solidify your understanding by visiting the full course at maplopo.com forward slash schoolhouse.

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