"Don't fuck around"
"Don't be a screw off"
The full title of this book is Zakennayo!: The Real Japanese You Were Never Taught in School but perhaps it should have been "Zakennayo!: Scoring with J-girls Using Out-of-Date Slang from the Bubble Period". The title and the cover graphic - a guy trying to pick up a girl - give away the theme of the book.
Him: Derumo mitai kanojo ocha shinai?
Her: Ge, gaijin eigo wakannai yo.
Him: You look like a model - fancy a cuppa?
Her: Eh? A foreigner! I don't speak English.
I am no expert on the street slang in Tokyo circa 2006 but I doubt the word "derumo" (an inversion of "moderu") still does the rounds. When I asked one of the guys in my office he suggested it was from 20 years ago. Zakennayo! was written in 1995, and it is showing its age. Unlike Making Out in Japanese, which showcases casual speech but shies away from ephemeral slang, Zakennayo! revels in expressions which were probably dated by the time the book was printed:
hama o "a hammer boy" (as in MC Hammer); a J-boy who dresses and acts "black"
There are many such gems, but let's not dismiss the book so lightly. Zakennayo! has an excellent hook - it follows the adventures of a bunch of 20-somethings in Tokyo, chronicling their adventures linguistic and otherwise.
Kenny - an American English teacher and all-round stud. Very pera pera.
Nigel - a British Newswriter. Speaks like a girl. No game whatsoever.
Sharon - an Australian hostess. Speaks Japanese, fancies Taro.
Taro - a Japanese-American from Hawaii. Never mistaken for a gaijin.
Keiko - a Japanese girl. One of the targets of Kenny's affections.
The book covers the events of one evening in Tokyo - think Melrose Place in Japan - and from the get-go the questions loom: Will Kenny get lucky? Will Nigel learn to stop speaking like a girl? Will Taro notice Sharon? Will Sharon make the first move? Who will Keiko sleep with? Overlook the dodgy, outdated slang and there is a lot of vocab to be gleaned from the pages as the characters make their way around the city. A lot of the words are vulgar to the point that you probably will never need to use them, but just as everyone looks up the word "fuck" in the dictionary as a child (at least those of us born before the Internet), it is always nice to satisfy one's curiosity and more importantly, to understand what is being said by those around you. After all, knowledge is power.
A quick look at the chapter headings reveal the nature of the beast:
Gaijin da! (It's a foreigner!)
Talking about Gaijin
Facts of Life for English Teachers
2. The ABC's (sic) of Japanese
Teen Talk for the Joys of Sex
3. Street Jive
Kiddy City (NB Nothing to do with paedophilia!)
4. Waiting at Hachiko
Getting Picked Up
V. Talking About People
Like a Peach
V. The Gay Life
VII Hookers and Gangsters
Time to Run
VIII Disco City
Beauties, Sluts and Bimbos
X After Hours
XI Romance and Lowlife
A Walk in the Park
XII Talking About Sex (considering the whole book is about sex, kind of redundant)
Tryst at Maruyama-cho
Getting Ready for Bed
Sleepless in Tokyo
So is it worthwhile purchasing? I confess I received my copy from a friend who was leaving Japan, but I did read it cover to cover.
Why it's bad:
1. Romaji - your reading won't improve.
2. Woeful as a phrasebook unless you spend most nights trying to pick up - even then, if you can't come up with better lines that those from Zakennayo! you're in trouble.
3. Out of date slang
4. Everyone is a stereotype
Why it's good:
1. Romaji means that absolute beginners can read Zakennayo! straight away
2. There are a lot of words and phrases that you might not find anywhere else. For example, if you plug ネコ (neko) into EDICT or Eijiro they will tell you it means "cat". Zakennayo! will tell you that it also means, in gay parlance, the receiver, or "bottom". (タチ (tachi) is the "top") .
3. Kenny occasionally gives good advice. Nigel does speak like a girl, and would be wise to learn more casual speech patterns.
4. The cultural references, though over the top, are often spot on - people do meet at Hachiko, there are gaijin bars filled with people aiming to bridge the Japan/Gaikoku gap and it is not uncommon for people to wind up in love hotels after a night of drinking (how else do so many rabu ho stay in business?)
5. It covers the gay and lesbian scene, something a lot of books avoid.
6. Some of the situations are scarily accurate.
7. It is funny. It is soooo bad it is good.
Some people dismiss Zakennayo! at face value, but it has an irresistible charm, like a lecherous but amusing uncle at a party who gets away with saying nearly anything because of his unabashed straightforwardness and rakish wit. As one Amazon reviewer puts it:
Zakennayo! is a refreshing romp through Tokyo in the disguise of a book about slang. It's delightfully politically uncorrect and pokes fun at nearly everyone, from gaijin adventurers to the gatekeepers of Japan's insular culture. A fun read for a rainy day or any day in Japan.
This hits the nail on the head. Zakennayo! isn't a textbook, but it is amusing and occasionally useful. My advice - at your next party wait until everyone has had a few wines then break out Zakennayo! and ask your Japanese friends what phrases they would and wouldn't use. Cross out all the dodgy ones and keep the rest. And have a good laugh in the process.
• Publication Date: 1995-11-01
• ISBN: 0452275067
• Author: Philip J Cunningham, Kim Wilson Eversz
• Illustrator: Kim Wilson Brandt