You need to be careful with おまえ (omae) – the potential pitfalls of pronouns in Japanese

Japanese has a lot of first-person pronouns (‘I’) and second-person pronouns (‘you’) in particular, the choice of which is dependant on the relative status of who you are and who you are talking to. In English, we use pronouns all the time and when talking to a superior we tend to change our phrasing rather than vocabulary to show respect.

So when we hear words such as in Japanese TV shows and anime, it is easy to think that pronouns such as 私 (watashi) or 俺 (ore) for ‘I’, and お前 (omae) or あなた (anata) for ‘you’ are largely interchangeable.

A case that came up in the news recently goes to show why the choice of pronouns in Japanese is so important. The incorrect use of the pronoun お前 led to the resignation of Ryoichi Yamada, a superintendent in Niigata prefecture.

In June 2017, a boy committed suicide as a result of school bullying. On the 11th October, Mr. Yamada arranged a meeting with the boy’s family to offer his apologies and discuss what can be done better going forward.

Unfortunately, during this meeting he referred to the father as お前 when asking a question. He did later apologise for using the word, but the damage had been done and he tendered his resignation the following day.

Why was using お前 inappropriate?

お前 is a highly informal word meaning ‘you’. As you would expect for an informal word, you would only use it . Even so, a close friend could take offence at being referred to as お前. It is more often used used amongst males than females. With this in mind, it is not hard to see why there has been outrage over his choice of words.

In this case, Mr. Yamada had taught the boy’s father in the past. This is the reason why the superintendent may have thought using お前 would have been acceptable. However given the situation, one would expect the superintendent to be using extremely humble language, and so the use of お前 was highly insensitive.

I would be very wary of using words like this, especially as a beginner to Japanese. Part of the following video by Japanese Ammo with Misa explains from a Japanese perspective why learners should refrain from words like omae.

Note: the whole video is great, but I’ve set it to start from the part where she talks about Japanese pronouns.

Tips on using pronouns in Japanese

Pronouns are generally not used often in Japanese, as the context indicates who the topic of conversation is. For instance, if I say:

魚が好きです。

さかながすきです。

It is assumed that I am the one who likes fish even though I didn’t use the word 私(watashi).

Therefore, it is more natural not to use pronouns at all.

If you do need to refer to a specific person, it is better to refer to a person using their actual name:

小原さん、いつアメリカに来ましたか。

おはらさん、いつアメリカにきましたか。

Ms. Ohara, when did you come to America?

You can also refer to someone using their occupation or status.

Words can be used in this way include 先生, 課長, 博士:

先生はいつアメリカに来ましたか。

せんせいはいつアメリカにきましたか。

Teacher, when did you come to America?

お巡りさん、東京駅はどこですか。

おまわりさん、とうきょうえきはどこですか。

[Police] Officer, where is Tokyo station?

If you are interested in knowing the different words for ‘you’ in Japanese, this video on second-person pronouns explains the contexts in which you can and cannot use various words.

Pronouns are a tricky thing to get used to, and there are also gender and regional differences in usage too. I recommend sticking to the above tips until you’ve been exposed to the language enough to get a feel for when certain pronouns should be used.

Learn Japanese with Netflix?

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What if you could make your Netflix sessions more effective by learning Japanese at the same time? I’ve recently joined Netflix and it is turning out to be a pretty good resource for studying Japanese, even though I am not in Japan currently.

It turns out that there are quite a few Japanese TV dramas, anime series and films available internationally, with the list of Japanese language content increasing every week – great news for language learners!

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How can Netflix be used for Japanese study?

The Japanese content on Netflix is a good way of working on your Japanese comprehension, as you can choose whether to have the English language subtitles on or off.

Changing the subtitles for shows on Netflix is simple: just look for the speech bubble icon in the bottom right corner of the play menu which will allow you to change the language of the subtitles displayed, or change the language of the show if there is more than one available.

Screenshot 2018-09-16 at 14.02.12

As you can see from the above, my Netflix is in Japanese, so the list of languages under 音声 (おんせい) refers to the audio language and 字幕(じまく) shows the language subtitle options.

Setting your home country to Japan changes the language of the interface to Japanese, but also gives you access to a greater number of Western shows with Japanese subtitles too.

The best ones to watch in terms of Japanese study are the Netflix originals (known as Netflixオリジナル作品) as you more often than not have the option to choose Japanese subtitles or Japanese closed caption (CC).

Here are a couple of ideas on how you can incorporate watching Netflix into your study routine (depending on your language level of course!):

  • You could watch a series that you already have watched in English and then rewatch with the Japanese subtitles. This helps you focus on how much of the language you can understand without looking anything up, as you are already familiar with the characters and story. The main advantage of using Japanese subtitles is that it will be much easier to pause and look up new words or phrases in the dictionary as and when you encounter them.
  • Watch using Japanese subtitles only, or try watching without any subtitles to really test your listening comprehension skills. Whilst this seems the most difficult and scary to do, the nature of TV will help fill in a lot of the important context of what is happening. It is also the best way to get used to the language being spoken at a natural speed (rather than at a slow speed as it tends to be in most language study materials).

Pros and cons of using Netflix to study languages

Whilst I don’t always watch things more than once, I find that rewatching a series allows you to more accurately identify what aspects of the language you need to focus on (ie. is it vocabulary that is hindering your comprehension or is it grammar?) as you do not need to pay attention to the storyline as much. If it is not vocabulary or grammar, then it is often your listening comprehension letting you down.

What I find most useful about Netflix is that some videos can now be downloaded for offline viewing on the app which now makes it much easier to study on the go. The main downside with Netflix at the moment, however, is that there is not much in the way of variety: rom-com and food lovers, in particular, are likely to find something to enjoy here, but others may struggle.

I hope that more Japanese language content is to be added in the future; fortunately, there has been a steady stream of new content over the last few months. Netflix will notify you when content that relates to your interests is added.

One thing I’ve noticed which I hope will get fixed is that the subtitles are in white, which can be a bit tricky to see depending on the scene.

List of Japanese language content currently streaming on Netflix UK

I’ve compiled a list of Japanese language TV shows, films and anime that I’ve found on Netflix UK below (those that have options for Japanese/English or no language subtitles are given in brackets). I try to update this on a weekly basis!

NB: this does not include content that has been dubbed into English (eg. Pokemon X & Y, Yugi-oh!).

Dramas & TV

Ainori (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Atelier (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Blazing Transfer Students (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Erased (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Good Morning Call [Seasons 1 & 2] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Hibana: Spark (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Japanese Style Originator (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Jimmy: The True Story of a True Idiot (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Kakegurui [Live Action] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Love and Fortune (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Love and Hong Kong (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

My Little Lover (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Million Yen Women (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Mob Psycho 100 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Playful Kiss Season 1 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Playful Kiss Season 2 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

REA(L) OVE (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Re:Mind (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Samurai Gourmet (Japanese/ Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)

Saboriman Kantarou (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Smoking [Season 1] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Spiritual House (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Switched (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Terrace House: Aloha State (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

The Could’ve-Gone-All-the-Way Committee (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

The Many Faces of Ito (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Anime

009 RE: Cyborg (English/ no subs)

A.I.C.O Incarnation (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Aggretsuko Season 1 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Aggrestsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Ajin: Demi Human (English/ no subs)

Aldnoah Zero (English/ no subs)

Attack on Titan (English/ no subs)

Back Street Girls Gokudols (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Baki (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Batman Ninja (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Black Butler [Season 3] (English/ no subs)

Black Lagoon (English/ no subs)

Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail (English/ no subs)

Bleach [Seasons 1-3] (English/ no subs)

Blood Lad (English/ no subs)

Blue Exorcist (English/ no subs)

B: The Beginning (Japanese / English/ no subs)

Case Closed (English/ no subs)

Children of the Whales (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Code Geass : Lelouch of the Rebellion (English/ no subs)

Cowboy Bebop (English/ no subs)

Cyborg 009: Call of Justice (Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)

Cyborg 009 vs Devil Man (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Death Note (English/ no subs)

Devilman Crybaby [Season 1] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Dragon Pilot (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Durarara!! (English/ no subs)

Elfen Lied (English/ no subs)

Erased (English/ no subs)

Eureka Seven Seasons 1 & 2 (English/ no subs)

Fate/ Apocrypha (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Fate/ EXTRA Last Encore Season 1 (Japanese CC/ English /no subs)

Fate/ Stay Night (English/ no subs)

Fate/ Stay Night unlimited Blade Works (English/ no subs)

Forest of Piano (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Fullmetal Alchemist (English/ no subs)

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (English/ no subs)

Gunslinger Girl (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Gunslinger Girl –Il teatrino- (English/ no subs)

Gurren Lagann (English/ no subs)

Hero Mask (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Hi Score Girl (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Hunter X Hunter (English/ no subs)

ID-0 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Kakegurui (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Kill la Kill (English/no subs)

Knights of Sidonia (English/ no subs)

Kuromukuro (Japanese/English/ no subs)

Last Hope [Parts 1 & 2] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Little Witch Academia (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Lost Song (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Magi Adventure of Sinbad (Japanese/English/ no subs)

Mobile Suit Gundam UC (English/ no subs)

Mushi-shi (English/ no subs)

One Punch Man (English/ no subs)

Rurouni Kenshin (English/no subs)

Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Samurai Champloo (English/ no subs)

Samurai Flamenco (English/ no subs)

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (English/ no subs)

Sirius the Jaeger (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Space Dandy [Seasons 1 & 2] (English/ no subs)

Steins Gate [Season 1] (English/ no subs)

Sword Art Online (English/ no subs)

Sword Art Online II (English/ no subs)

Sword Gai (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Terror in Resonance (English/ no subs)

The Asterisk War Season 1 (English/ no subs)

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K Season 1 & 2 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

The Seven Deadly Sins (English/ no subs)

Tokyo Ghoul (English/ no subs)

Trigun (English/ no subs)

Vampire Knight Season 1 & 2 (English/ no subs)

Violet Evergarden (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Your Lie in April (English/ no subs)

Yuki Yuna is a Hero (English/ no subs)

Films

A Silent Voice (English/ no subs)

Battle Royale (English/ no subs)

BLAME! (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Bleach [Live Action] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Blue Exorcist: The Movie (English/ no subs)

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (English/ no subs)

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F (English/ no subs)

Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry (English/ no subs)

Fairy Tail: Phoenix Priestess (English/ no subs)

Fate/ Grand Order (English/ no subs)

Flavors of Youth: International Version (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Full Metal Alchemist [live action] (English/ no subs)

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (English/ no subs)

Garden of Words (English/ no subs)

Gantz: 0 (Japanese/English/ no subs)

Ghost Pain (English/ no subs)

Godzilla (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Godzilla The Planet Eater (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Halo Legends (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Harlock Space Pirate (English/ no subs)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (English/ no subs)

Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Lupin III: The Castle of Caligostro (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Magi: The Labrinth of Magic (English/ no subs)

Manhunt (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)

Persona 3 the Movie: #2 Midsummer Knights Dream (English/ no subs)

Steamboy (English/ no subs)

Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale (English/ no subs)

The Birth of Sake (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

The Eternal Zero (English/ no subs)

The Many Faces of Ito [Live Action Movie] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)

Tokyo Ghoul: Jack (English/ no subs)

Tokyo Ghoul: Pinto (English/ no subs)

So is Netflix worth it for Japanese learners?

At this stage, there is not quite enough content for me to recommend subscribing purely for learning Japanese (there appears to be a good selection of Korean and Taiwanese dramas compared to Japanese content), but if you already have a subscription I definitely recommend checking the Japanese language stuff out.

Of the content I’ve watched, some of my favourites from the above list are Midnight Diner, My Little Lover and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you are interested in reading more about Japanese content on Netflix, check out this post where I write in greater depth about my top 8 TV shows, anime and films.

However, my absolute favourite TV show on Netflix, especially in terms of learning about Japanese language and culture is Japanese Style Originator’ as each episode focuses on different aspects of traditional Japanese culture. There are 54 episodes, some of which are up to 2 hours long so there is plenty to get your teeth stuck into!

What would be your recommendation for something to watch on Netflix? Have I missed anything from the above list? Let me know in the comments!