Let's learn Japanese with Godzilla! The most famous fictional beast of all time.

I'm sure you know Godzilla is ゴジラ in Japanese, but did you know that ゴジラ is a blending of ゴリラ (gorilla) and クジラ (whale)?

ゴリラ クジラ ゴジラ

In 1954 Toho 東宝映画(とうほうえいが) stunned the Japan with a movie about an ancient giant monster whose habitation was disturbed by atomic bomb testing. Having been freed from the depths, ゴジラ decides to visit Tokyo.

The original movie is worth seeing. If you are a Kurosawa fan (come on, you're studying Japanese, being a 黒澤(くろさわ)(あきら) fan is kind of required, isn't it?), you'll recognize the paleontologist Yamane 山根(やまね). The actor's name was 志村(しむら) (たかし) Shimura Takashi (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takashi_Shimura ). He was the samurai leader in 七人(しちにん)(さむらい) (Seven Samurai) and starred in 21 of Kurosawa's 30 films. 

We watched ゴジラ (1954) last night and I was most struck by the fact that, at the time of filming, WWII was less than a decade in the past. To see Tokyo destroyed—and by a radioactive beast at that—must have been doubly shocking to the original audience. We may smirk at the "rubber suits," but if you squint your eyes, the special effects are remarkable even today.

I picked a few lines for us to break down today. Let's get started!

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First, the professor 山根(やまね) is examining a large depression in the ground.

「これがある生物(せいぶつ)足跡(あしあと)()ったら… (きみ) 信用(しんよう)するかい?」

Vocabulary & Notes


Vocabulary & Notes




Vocabulary & Notes


Vocabulary & Notes


Vocabulary & Notes


Vocabulary & Notes

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      • Please do! This was really interesting.

        I have a question about the “animal counter” used:

        I see 一匹 was used, but for large animals I thought 一頭 was the correct word. But I also heard the 一匹狼 expression, and I would have classified wolves as large animals, so maybe it is not that cut and dry… So I would like to have a clarification on the use of the animal counters.

        • Excellent question. Normally this is true, but as you see from the line on this page, 一匹 is used for Godzilla–at least here. It is also used in Attack on Titan 進撃の巨人 to refer to the giants.

          We aren’t 100% sure, but it seems 一匹 is used to belittle even a large animal as if it is just a dumb small pest. That was my impression and Yumi agreed. In both cases, the lines in which 一匹 are used indicate either sympathy (Godzilla) or belittlement (Attack on Titan). ゴジラ is just a poor little creature. The 巨人 are nothing more than ants to be stomped on.

          Think of how David talks to Goliath upon meeting him. Instead of recoiling in fear and awe, he puts the giant in his place with his words (and then a stone).

          Yumi says 一頭 has a nuance of respect since these tend to be useful animals like oxen or cattle.

          Also, Yumi just discovered an interesting tidbit. She read that until the Meiji period, even horses and cows were counted with 一匹. During the Meiji period, Japan imported tons of Western ideas. One of these ideas was to count cattle by “head.” And that may have been where 一頭 came from (literally “head”)

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