Japanese Words and Phrases For Beginners: Tsukubai, Suikinkutsu, Shin-jinrui, Shinnenkai, Soubetsukai, Suikinkutsu

Japanese Words and Phrases For Beginners


A collection of Japanese words and phrases for those not quite ready to take on hiragana, katakana and kanji.

The letter z corresponds to the Latin c (or d) in English, though it doesn’t round at the ends of vowels like in Spanish and French. Palatalization and affrication turn t, s, d/z and h into [tS], [S], [dZH] and f before i.

1. Tsukubai

Tsukubai is a short stone washbasin for purifying one’s hands and mouth. It is often provided at the entrance to tea gardens or holy grounds such as temples. Its name is derived from the Japanese verb Tsukubau meaning to crouch or bow down indicating its purpose as an act of humility.

Tsukubai consists of a stone basin with a supply of water through a bamboo pipe called kakei. A wooden scoop and a stone lantern is also usually placed nearby. It is surrounded by stones assigned various roles *yaku-ishi in accordance with established Tea ceremony procedures. Often, the surface of the ground around the tsukubai is covered with moss to symbolize age and longevity in Japan.

2. Suikinkutsu

Suikinkutsu, also known as a water koto cave, is an upside-down pot buried underground that makes music-like splashing sounds. Often found next to a stone wash basin called chozubachi in Japanese gardens, the jar creates calm, cooling tones as it drips. Suikinkutsu were conceived in the late 16th century by Kobori Enshu, and are said to offer a way of cleansing one’s mind and body.

A good suikinkutsu has drops that originate from various spots on the jar. A well made unglazed jar also holds moisture better, which results in more drops and thus better sound. There are metal suikinkutsu available nowadays as well, and they can be built to play continuously.

3. Shin-jinrui

The Japanese language is notoriously difficult for foreigners to learn. However, learning some basic phrases will help you make your way around and show some respect to locals.

Chushingura – the real-life story of the Forty-seven Ronin (masterless samurai) and their successful revenge against their feudal lord. Daimyo – provincial feudal lords in the Edo Period. Sankin kotai – the system of alternate residence where feudal lords had to spend time in the capital city, Edo. Kempeitai – the police force of Japan established in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Kawaii – Japanese culture of cuteness and its associated fashion and lifestyle. See also keitai.

4. Shinnenkai

(Xin Nian Hui) Shinnenkai is the Japanese equivalent to Bonenkai but for New Year. It’s like a year end drinking party and is an opportunity for people to let off some steam and wish each other good luck in the New Year.

If you see a large group of people in suits drinking at an izakaya around New Years, chances are that they’re having a bonenkai or shinnenkai. So if you’re looking for a place to kick off your new year with a bang, come join us at JASO’s annual Shinnenkai! The event is free of charge, so come early to secure your spot.

5. Soubetsukai

The Japanese language has a lot of words and many of them are very difficult to pronounce. It can take a long time to understand the meaning behind these words. The most difficult one is probably Kanpai (). Kanpai means “cheers” but in reality it is a compliment because hard workers are highly regarded in Japan.

A soubetsukai is a farewell party held for teachers leaving a school. The faculty that remain visit each departing teacher and pour them sake or beer and talk for a minute. This is a great way for the staff to say thanks to their departing colleagues. The soubetsukai also gives the departing teacher a chance to say goodbye to their students.

6. Suikinkutsu

Suikinkutsu is a device that produces a musical sound by the droplets of water. They are typically found in Japanese garden ornaments surrounded by water to add beauty and harmony to the gardens. The sound they make can be divided into two groups; ryusuion and suitekion.

Traditionally a suikinkutsu is located near the wash basin chozubachi used for the tea ceremony.

It is a jar that is buried upside down, and when water drips into it, it creates tinkling music that sounds like harp. This is often combined with a stone tsukubai to enhance the ambiance of the Japanese garden. It is also a great way to meditate.

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