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Dirty Tricks for Writing Better Japanese

Here’s a nifty trick I’ve been using when writing Japanese emails, etc. Like so many things, it uses the power of Google and is best explained by example.

The Example

Let’s say I’m trying to write an email to a Japanese friend who I recently met up with for the first time in a few years. I want to say something that roughly translates to:

“It was really great to see you recently in Japan. Talking and hanging out with you just like old times reminded me of what a dear friend you are to me.”

A bit soppy, but it’ll do for an example.

So I take a quick stab at writing this in Japanese not worrying too much about errors for now:

この間、日本で会えてくれて、本当に嬉しかったよ。数年振りでも、相変わらずXちゃんと話ができたり、楽しく遊んだり出来たので、やっぱり、Xちゃんは僕の心に親 しむ友達と思えたよ!

Now, I fully expect my Japanese to be filled with grammatical slips and nonsensical bits (history has shown!). Let’s see if we can’t improve on my first attempt.

The Method

The trick is to use google’s quotation mark search feature. When you put a term in ” “, you are telling Google to match that term exactly. This is useful, because it means I can take pieces of my Japanese sentence above, and see how many times that exact phrase has been used before.

Okay, so first example: I’m not sure about the 数年振りでも phrase. Makes sense in my head, but who knows, right? So here’s what I get when I google for that exact phrase:

172 million hits! If you google the same thing, you’ll probably get a different result (because Google just kind of fakes these numbers, I think), but the important thing is I can see my phrase used in context right from the Google search results page:

  • 数年振りでも変わらず
  • 数年振りでも変わらぬ空気

So I’m feeling a bit more confident in this phrase. What else? Well, the Xちゃんは僕の心に親しむ友達と思えたよ is an obvious candidate. There’s lots here I’m not sure about, including the use of は, the 心に親しむ友達 and whether I want to be using 思えた form of 思う (the use of the potential form of 思う is something I haven’t wrapped my head around yet).

But just googling “Xちゃんは僕の心に親しむ友達と思えたよ” brings back no results (not surprisingly!). So what you have to do is trim it down to sub phrases. This gets easier with a bit of practice.

I look up 親しむ in my dictionary (you still need the old toolbox handy!) and I see that I’m being reckless with my particles. So forgetting about the 心 bit for now, I google “親しむ友達” and google shows me the results for ”親しい友達” instead. Neato!

SIDE NOTE: Most of these results seem to come from facebook pages, but when I google:

“親しい友達” -facebook

I still get a lot of results. I also get results for “心から親しい友達”

Looking up 思える in the dictionary, it seems like it’s actually a different verb from 思う with a different usage pattern (なるほどね). So now I can google “親しい友達に思えた” and “親しい友達のように思えた” and since the latter gets a hit, I’m leaning towards that. I also try 思える instead of 思えた and I get a few more results and I’m thinking that’s probably what I want.

I think that’s enough to illustrate the idea. After a bit more googling, I finally settle on this:

この間、日本で会ってくれて、本当に嬉しかったよ。数年振りでも、相変わらずXちゃんと話ができたり、楽しく遊んだりできて、やっぱり、Xちゃんは心から親しい友 達のように思える!

Now, this probably still has errors. That’s not really the point. The point is that it has gotten better than my original attempt! This may all seem arduous, but in reality, it goes quickly once you’ve got the hang of it. Depending on how important the writing is, you can spend more or less time doing this. Plus, it’s a good way to learn!

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