Did You Know Jpop Can Improve Your Colloquial Japanese?

  • February 12, 2018 / Lily Cernak

Memorizing vocabulary and getting grammar patterns straight can, at times, be boring and difficult. It’s hard to read a long list of words and their meanings and have it not all go floating away. Especially since textbooks do not often give contextual examples for each word. This is where listening to music can come in handy! In this post we will discuss on how Jpop can improve your colloquial Japanese.

We often get music from our native countries and languages stuck in our heads. This is frequently annoying, but if the song stuck in your head is a Japanese song, it can end up burning the words and phrases used in the song into your memory forever. These can be words and phrases you may not have had memorized previously! In the same way, it can contextualize colloquial grammar usage, and serve as an aid in learning grammar patterns.

That said, some Japanese music is better for this than others. No matter the language, there are singers who enunciate and singers who do not. There are singers who write nonsensical lyrics and singers who write straightforward lyrics, etc.

Jpop Song #1: Heart Station

For this article, we will be looking at the lyrics of a song called “Heart Station” by a Jpop (Japanese popular music) artist named Utada Hikaru. We will be discussing the words and grammar used in those lyrics. When the song gets stuck in your head, you’ll have a full understanding of exactly what you’re hearing

Here is a link to the song’s music video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7Ho43zuHyk

And here are the lyrics. Each section of the lyrics is in a table with the Japanese on the left, ro-maji in the middle, and English on the right. Followed by a short discussion of any unclear words or grammar.

肌寒い雨の日 Hada samui ame no hi A day of chilly rain
訳ありげな二人   Wakearige na futari A problematic-seeming duo
車の中はラジオが流れてた   Kuruma no naka wa rajio ga nagareteta Inside the car, the radio was playing

Let’s Break Down the Lyrics!

1. Hada

The “hada” in “hada samui” means “skin,” so the literal meaning of “hada samui” is “skin cold.” Since “samui” is an i-adjective all on its own, tacking a noun onto its front to make a new adjective sounds a little odd. But since “hada samui” still ends with “i” it behaves just like any other i-adjective.

2. Wakearige na

“Wakearige na” is an interesting word. If we break it down, here is the composition:

  1.  “wake” (reason/situation)
  2. ari” (the stem form of “aru,” which is to have or to be)
  3. ge” (which is technically the kanji , which can mean “feeling” among other things)
  4. na” (this whole word is a na-adjective).

So, it is an adjective meaning “a feeling that there’s a reason/situation.”

3. Nagareru

You may have seen “nagareru” before used to describe flowing liquid. However it also used to describe things (such as sound) that flow in a metaphorical sense.

さようならなんて意味がない   Sayounara nante imi ga nai “Goodbye” has no meaning
またいつか会えたら Mata itsuka aetara If we are able to meet again someday
素適と思いませんか   Suteki to omoi masen ka Don’t you think it would be wonderful?

4. Nante

There are many different ways in different contexts to translate “Nante”. When placed directly after a noun (or in this case, a greeting), it can have a very similar function to the particle “wa” (marking the topic of the sentence). However, it feels stronger and more nuanced than “wa”: “Such a phrase as “goodbye” has no meaning.

You will notice that sometimes, in very casual Japanese and/or in Japanese music, the speaker/singer will leave out some grammatical pieces or parts of words. Generally speaking, we do not advise mimicking this behavior, since it can give you bad habits. (Don’t worry, speaking more correctly will not make you sound uncool!).

Either way, it is good to be aware that this happens both so that you do not become confused, and so that you do NOT accidentally imitate bad grammar. For example, in “suteki to omoi masen ka?,” there is no “da” after “suteki,” even though it is a na-adjective that “to omoi masen” follows.

私の声が聞こえてますか?   Watashi no koe ga kikoete masu ka? Can you hear my voice?
深夜一時のheart station   Shinya ichi ji no heart station The 1:00 at night heart station
チューニング不用のダイアル Chu-ningu fuyou no daiaru An unusable dial
秘密のヘルツ   Himitsu no herutsu Secret hertz

5. kikoeru

Kikoeru” is sometimes translated as “can hear,” but note that it is not the Potential Form conjugation of “kiku” (to hear). The Potential Form conjugation of “kiku” is “kikeru,” which means “can hear” as in “animals can hear far-away noises.” “Kikoeru” is “can hear” in the sense of “is audible,” as in “I can hear the highway from my apartment.” Since both “kikeru” and “kikoeru” are sometimes translated to “can hear” in English but have different usages, be careful of these two words.

心の電波 届いてますか? Kokoro no denpa todoite masu ka? Are the radio waves of my heart reaching you?
罪人たちのheart station Tsumibito tachi no heart station The sinners’ heart station
神様だけが知っている Kamisama dake ga shitte iru Only God knows
I miss you    

In music, one hears formal or polite Japanese used comparatively rarely. When it’s used, it is usually for effect, mood, or sound; or to make a particular word a desired length. For example, “todoite masu” might be in -Masu Form. It’s because it is one of the only lines where a question is being asked directly to the singer’s lover. It also might be in -Masu Form partially to lengthen the word (if the word were in Plain Form, it would be “todoite iru”).

忘れなきゃいけない Wasurenakya ikenai I have to forget
そう思うほどに どうして Sou omou hodo ni doushite Why is it that as much as I think that,
いい思い出たちばかりが残るの Ii omoide tachi bakari ga nokoru no Only good memories remain?

6. hodo

Hodo” is one particle that we did not cover in our recent series of particle articles. In a dictionary, “hodo‘s” definition is “degree” or “extent”. However the way it’s used is often closer to a meaning of “to the degree that I…” or “the more that I…”.

For instance, “Sou omou hodo” is literally “the degree to which I think that.” Adding the additional particle “ni” afterwards makes it “to the degree to which I think that.”

If the sentences or phrase uses “hodo”, a second sentence or phrase that explains what other thing occurs to match the degree of the action in the “hodo” phrase follows it.

So, if we were to translate all three of these lines as one sentence, this can be the translation. “The good memories are the only ones I can call to mind, to the same degree that I think ‘I have to forget.’ ”

7. tachi

Tachi” is being used in “omoide tachi” to create a plural (“memories”). However note that this is a somewhat stylistic/unofficial use of “tachi.” “Tachi” is normally only used to pluralize words related to people or animals.

For more on how to use the particle “no” as an explanative sentence-ending particle, see our article on sentence-ending particles here.

離れていてもあなたはここにいる Hanarete ite mo anata wa koko ni iru Even if we are apart, you are here
私のハートの真ん中 Watashi no ha-to no mannaka The center of my heart

Some textbooks teach the “Verb in -Te Form + mo” grammar pattern only in terms of asking or giving the ok to do something. (For instance, “Tabete mo ii desu” as “You may eat”) and do not explain that a verb in -Te Form followed by the particle “mo” means “Even if I [verb]” (“Tabete mo ii desu” essentially means “You may eat,” but is more literally “Even if you eat, it is ok”).

“Verb in -Te Form + mo” is a very useful pattern. It is quite frequently used outside of asking or giving an ok. For more on -Te Form and grammar patterns that use -Te Form, click here.

あなたの声が聞こえた気がした Anata no koe ga kikoeta ki ga shita I had a feeling I heard your voice
深夜一時のheart station Shinya ichi ji no heart station The 1:00 at night heart station
いつもどこかで鳴っている Itsumo dokoka de natte iru It’s always sounding somewhere
二つのパルス Futatsu no parusu Two pulses

8. ki ga suru

Ki ga suru” is a handy expression that literally means “To do a mind/feeling”.  However it’s used in the same way as the English expression “To have a feeling that.” Japanese has a fair quantity of expressions using “ki”. (Ki is a word which is difficult to translate and in different contexts means mind, feelings, psyche, heart, etc). Be careful not to mix up “Ki ga suru” (to have a feeling that) and “Ki ni suru” (to be bothered over/to worry about).

9. naru

Naru” when written with this kanji (鳴る) as opposed to hiragana alone (or this kanji 成る which is the seldom-used kanji for “to become”) essentially means “to make sound” or “to ring out,”. It’s used for a slightly odd variety of noises. This is most commonly used on telephones or bells ringing or stomachs gurgling.

心の電波 届いてますか? Kokoro no denpa todoite masu ka? Are the radio waves of my heart reaching you?
恋人たちのheart station Koibito tachi no heart station The lovers’ heart station
今夜もリクエストきてます Konya mo rikuesuto kite masu Tonight, too, we have requests
I love you    

Normally, when you see a verb that is in -Te Form and “iru,” follows it, that verb is the Progressive tense. (For example, “taberu” is “to eat,” “tabete iru” is “eating”). However, there are some verbs that become a sort of strange past tense when in -Te Form followed by “iru.”

Kite masu” does not mean “coming” as in “currently en route;”. It means “has come.” The verb “iku” (to go) is the same way – “itte masu” does not mean “going” as in “currently en route;”. It means “has gone.”

With verbs that do this, it’s a good idea to think of their -Te Form + iru as meaning “in a state where the verb action is completed” in order to reconcile the presence of the “iru.”

私の声が聞こえてますか? Watashi no koe ga kikoete masu ka? Can you hear my voice?
深夜一時のheart station Shinya ichi ji no heart station The 1:00 at night heart station
今もぼくらをつないでる Ima mo bokura o tsunaide ru Now, too, it’s linking us
秘密のヘルツ Himitsu no herutsu Secret hertz
心の電波 届いてますか? Kokoro no denpa todoite masu ka? Are the radio waves of my heart reaching you?
罪人たちのheart station Tsumibito tachi no heart station The sinners’ heart station
神様だけが知っている 秘密 Kamisama dake ga shitte iru himitsu A secret only God knows

One final note:

In many of the Progressive tense verbs in this song, you will notice that an “i” sound gets dropped. (For example, “todoite masu” is technically “todoite imasu,” but the “i” in “imasu” is not being sung. Similarly, “tsunaide ru” is technically “tsunaide iru”). Leaving the “i” out in “-Te Form + iru” verbs is a very common occurrence in day-to-day speech. This is mostly due to people speaking quickly (just as how in English, many people unconsciously slur “going to” into “gonna”). In songs, this is sometimes done for stylistic reasons, and sometimes to make the verb shorter so that it fits a particular rhythm.

Aaand, that’s the end of the lyrics of “Heart Station”!

We hope this article and this song have been interesting, and have been useful to your studies.

If you have any questions about the words or grammar in this song, about listening to jpop for language practice, or if there’s a song you would like us to do a lyrics article on, leave us a comment. We would love to hear from you!



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