皆様、こんにちにゃあぁ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online. When you set off to learn Japanese, it’s an experience that is both thrilling and sometimes treacherous! Even if some are brave enough to go it alone, it’s safer to go with a friend, a helper, someone to guide you through the twists and turns so you don’t hurt yourself tripping over a word or two. But, mistakes are all part of the process! But guides act as your safety net, giving you shelter in the storm. We’re Kiki and Koko, your guides, your camp counsellors of Japanese language and culture, if you will. In Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Essentials, we’ll be guiding you through important aspects of learning Japanese, whether you aim to be an expert level traveller or just a casual hiker who needs enough to survive a night in the woods.
So, in the previous lesson, we taught you the important first steps to creating a sentence such as general sentence order. So, without having the proper structure, your sentence will just fall apart! So, be sure to take a quick look at that before going any further in this lesson.
Also, we always try to only give you as much as you can carry in your pack at a time! So, if there’s anything that isn’t covered here, know that it will be taught to you when you build up your strength.
Next, we’re going to introduce you to a very important tool that you’ll use every day, so you’ll want to keep it on hand at all times! It’s the 助詞, joshi, or particle, known as を, wo. (We discuss what particles are here) The odd thing about を, wo, is that while it’s the hiragana を, wo, it’s pronounced お, o in speaking, usually. Sure, there’s times where in certain speech it may sound closer to wo, but for your general use, just saying お, o even if you’re reading, writing, or using を, wo, is the protocol.
The particle を, wo, indicates the direct object before it. But, even English grammar needs a bit of explaining. You might be asking, what’s a direct object? I’m a doctor not a grammar scientist! To which we would… question everything about that premise. But, a direct object is basically what is being affected by the transient verb. Allow us to demonstrate!
興子ちゃんは [稲荷寿司]を 食べます。
Kouko-chan wa [inarizushi] wo tabemasu.
Koko will eat/eats [inarizushi].
So, while this doesn’t apply to everything, it’s a bit helpful in identifying the direct object. In this case, inarizushi is the direct object. What happened to the inarizushi? Koko will eat it. The verb had an effect on the inarizushi. In this case, は, wa, indicates the relationship to the rest of the sentence. As for Koko, she will eat inarizushi.
But, here’s what’s interesting. Something that we usually save for more advanced lessons, but we think you can use this or at least store this as information for later. So, Japanese obviously just doesn’t work the same way as English.
私たちは 森を 歩きます。
watashitachiwa mori wo arukimasu.
We walk in the woods.※
※Literally, ‘We walk the woods’
So, while in English, we say, we walk IN THE woods as the default phrase, in Japanese, we literally imply a causative nature to our actions. You can still ask yourself, what happened to the woods? And, you can accurately answer: Walk them. So, definitely be careful to notice these sorts of uses that are very different to English. You can’t think of Japanese language with the same mindset as English. You have to sort of start with a clean slate as to what the language is and how sentences and grammar work in order to really absorb it.
While after hearing about は and を, you might not think these could be in any way interchangeable or confusing, right? …Not exactly… So, this is something that definitely takes a trek in the forest to even think to wonder. So, there are times when you might trade your を, wo, for a は, wa. But, it’s all about context and intention, here. Of course for the intended purposes above, that is the basic usage of を, wo, but we just don’t want you to be surprised with a wild は, wa, encounter when you might have been expecting を, wo.
Just like in differentiating は, wa, and が, ga, in situations where you’re contrasting objects, deciding between を, wo, and は, wa, has a similar protocol. Let’s say someone says: You play shamisen?
ギータは 引きます。(implying: 三味線は弾きません）
giita wa hikimasu。(implying: shamisen wa hikimasen）
I play the guitar. (implying: I don’t play the shamisen）※
※The pronouns can be left out completely and also rely on context in conversation.
While of course, you could easily say:
私は ギータを 引きます。
watashi wa giita wo hikimasu.
I play the guitar.
It oddly enough gives a different implication. The を, wo, gives it more of a basic statement feel that could be implying that they will do this or that they do this. It feels more like two statements rather than a comparison. In the first case, it’s as for guitar, I play it. In the second case, it’s more of a statement. I play guitar. This could easily be translated as I will play guitar. This concept is a bit difficult to portray, but hopefully it gives you a basic idea of how these can be slightly interchangeable, so if you hear a は, wa,where you would expect a を, wo, never fear!
But, wait, what about を, wo, and が, ga?, you may wonder, are these interchangeable, too? Well…It gets a bit complicated to give a simple answer without leaving something important out of the equation. But, for now, in your beginning stages of learning Japanese, giving you only what you can fit in your travel pack, we would recommend just trying to follow the basic grammatical structures that make these quite a bit different. While you can equally say:
Suueedengo wo hanasemasu.
I can speak Swedish.
Suueedengo ga hanasemasu.
I speak Swedish.
It still gives a different implication. They can be translated in the exact same way, but again, が, ga, in this case emphasises the fact that it’s Swedish that they speak. In the first, it’s more general, that they can speak Swedish. Then… we’re sorry, but you can also say:
Suueedengo wa hanasemasu.
I can speak Swedish.
We know, it seems confusing at first, but this, again, still follows the same rules, like saying, As for Swedish, (I) can speak it.
Well, that may not have fully cleared up every discrepancy… In fact, it may have made more questions than answers… However! That’s the thing about Japanese or any language for that matter. This is an ongoing topic where we’ll try to continue building upon it. But, for now, you have the building blocks to using を, wo! While essentials are, of course, essential, it does imply the basics. We’ve definitely given you more than the basics to work with, here. But, if it’s too much to take in, then no worries! Just focus on the first half, and work with that.
We weren’t completely kidding when we said Japanese language can be a winding forest through which you may need a guide. But, at the same time, Japanese language is beautiful and you wouldn’t want to miss a moment of it. That’s why we’re here for you as your guides making sure that you’re able to wield the tools you need to explore and take in the new sights and sounds, broadening your horizons and expanding your mind, connecting with something new.
But, that’s not the end of our journey of getting back to the basics, learning the first building blocks of survival in Japanese language. You want to make sure that you’re ready and up to date on the latest. And, the only way to stay up to date is to subscribe to the Electronic Mailing List of Tomorrow, today, usually found at the side or bottom of the site page. You’ll get the latest of these Japanese-speaking life saving lessons sent right to your inbox so you’ll be caught up on the latest articles, videos, podcasts, and more. Also, feel free to join our Patreon, if you’d like to support our survival and the creation of more content to be made available to as many people as possible.
Thank you for joining us! We hope that you continue with us on this adventure, and we appreciate that you’ve chosen us to assist you on your Japanese learning journey!