24 - The Land of Many Rices

I'm pretty good at Japanese.

And I still can't say something like, "I like rice."

Well, I can... I guess. But I mess it up 82% of the time. Even just now I got all confused about it and had to ask Rei.

Because ご飯 (gohan) means "rice."

But ご飯 (gohan) also means "food" or "meal."

(Bonus Note: メシ [meshi], the [super] casual [sometimes rude] form of ご飯 [gohan] uses the same kanji, 飯, although I see it written in katakana a lot.)

That's why we have words like:

(Literally: "morning + rice.")

(Literally: "midday + rice.")

(Literally: "night + rice.")

I start thinking about that, and I wonder, if I say something like:

gohan ga suki
(Literally: "rice + が + liked.")

...does this mean "I like food?"

...or "I like rice?"

And I trip on that little bit of Japanese. Well, it could mean both, but if you want to say, "I like rice," then yeah, you'd say ご飯が好き (gohan ga suki).

But what about the nuance? People probably picture white rice, but if you specifically wanted to say "white rice," then suddenly you have two options:

white rice

shiroi gohan
white rice

There was a 6-month period where my idiot brain decided to chop the い (i) off of 白い (shiroi), by the way, so I went around saying 白ご飯 (shiro gohan) to everyone.

Then, finally, Rei's like, You know that's not a word, right?

Oh, dear.

Hold on--it gets worse.

If we're at the grocery store, and I say:

A: 玄米買う?
genmai kau?
Want to buy brown rice?
(Literally: "brown rice + buy?")

Then you might say:

B: いや、白米にしよう。
iya, hakumai ni shiyou.
No, let's get white rice.
(Literally: "no + white rice + に + let's do.")

However, you would NOT say 白いご飯 (shiroi gohan), because 白いご飯 (shiroi gohan) is only used for cooked white rice.

And "uncooked rice" in general is called 米 (kome), in general, although you could also say 白米 (hakumai) when pointing out (uncooked) white rice:

My failure to master this mysterious rice language is doubly shameful, as I was born and raised in "the rice country." The commonly used word for America in Japanese is アメリカ (amerika), but the kanji version is 米国 (beikoku), "rice + country." The word 南米 (nanbei, "south + rice") means "South America" (and this one's even quite commonly used).

Yeah, all kinds of countries have kanji, even if they don't teach you that in school. Then you're in some government office, filling out a form, and BOOM--kanji everywhere.

  • You don't really hear people saying 米国 (beikoku) for "America" very often.
  • Neither do you hear people saying 欧州 (oushuu) for "Europe," which is the kanji version of ヨーロッパ (yooroppa).
  • And yet, you DO hear people say 欧米人 (oubeijin) for "westerner; western person" quite frequently, which takes the kanji from these words.

On a tastier note, one uber-delicious type of rice is チャーハン (chaahan), "fried rice:"

They write this in katakana usually (who knows why), but the kanji are pretty cool: 炒飯 (chaahan). The kanji 炒 shows up in 炒める (itameru), which means "to stir-fry."

This is not to be confused with the painfully similar kanji 炊, which shows up in 炊く (taku), which is the verb for "to cook rice (in a rice cooker)." This makes sense, because that same kanji shows up in the word for "rice cooker," 炊飯器 (suihanki), the "rice + cook + container:"

The kanji also shows up in the word 自炊 (jisui), "self + cook rice," which means "cooking by oneself," usually showing up as 自炊する (jisui suru), "to cook one's own food."

90% of these are words that I learned very late in my Japanese studies, because I had lots of access to textbooks and flashcards, but very little access to Japanese people. Seriously, I passed JLPT N1 before I knew the words 自炊 (jisui) or 炊く (taku), for example.

That seems strange, because now I hear them all the time, whereas a word like 新米 (shinmai), "new + rice," which means "new person (e.g. in a company); newbie," was one of the first words I learned in Japanese (maybe in Genki I? I forget).

But I very rarely hear that word, let alone use it... although I think I used it last week. I made Rei write an example sentence with it:

kono ko shinmai da kara iroiro oshiete agete.
She's new, so teach her a bunch of stuff.
(Literally: "this + kid + newcomer + is + because + various things + teach + give" [sorry for the long example].)
(Note: This 子 [ko] means "kid," but it often means "boy" or "girl." I hear guys saying it about girls they or think are cute all the time.)

Looking at this lesson, I am struck with two thoughts:

1) When in the world did I learn all of this Japanese?

Because honestly, it seems overwhelming reading this--and I wrote it myself! But I just picked all of this information up naturally by having fun in this language, paying attention, and making note (and flashcards) of new stuff I didn't know. It's a game that will never get old, because:

2) There is such an incredible depth to every language.

There is always more to learn--even if I got better than the average Japanese adult, there would still be more to learn. So we have to enjoy the learning process, yeah? It will all come together eventually.

I promise.

Even if you're "new rice."

Bonus Phrases:

メシ くった?
Have you eaten?
Note: This is masculine language.

あさごはん なに たべた?
What did you have for breakfast?
Literally: morning + rice.

もうすぐ ひるごはん だ。
It's almost lunchtime. // It's lunchtime soon.
Literally: midday + rice.

よるごはん なに?
What's for dinner?
Literally: night + rice.

しろい ごはん ほしい。
I want white rice. // I feel like (some) white rice.

おこめ あらって。
Rinse [wash] the rice.

アメリカ いきたい。
I want to go to America [the US].

べいこく から オバマ だいとうりょう が らいにち しました。
President Obama came from the U.S. to visit Japan.

チリ って なんべい だっけ?
Chile's in South America, right? // Where's Chile, again? South America?

おうしゅう に は れきしてき な たてもの が おおく のこって います。
There are still many historical buildings remaining in Europe.

ヨーロッパ りょこう は たかい よね。
Trips to Europe are expensive.

あの おうべいじん なにじん だろう。
I wonder where that Westerner's from.

わたし は チャーハン に する。
I'm gonna have fried rice.

たまねぎ を よわび で いため ます。
Cook the onions on low heat.

ごはん たいて ある?
Have you made rice? // Is there rice (made)?

すいはんき こわれちゃった。
The rice cooker broke.

まいにち じすい してる。
I cook (for myself) every day.