Keywords: Question

Japanese Big Question Mark 1 - Handicaps

Chris Hayashida: I added a note earlier on another page on how to ask for the proper handicap in a game.

I took it from the Hikaru no Go manga, when the freshman asks Touya Akira for a game in the Kaiou Go Club. The roomaji and translations are mine.


ikkyoku utanaika
Would you like to play a game?




asoko aiteru kara
I'll meet you over there.


e-to, okiishi wa?
Um, handicap?


okiishi iranai senban de utasete kurereba.
I don't need a handicap if you let me go first.

Note by ViciousMan: This is how the exchange goes in the official English version:

  • Okumura: Shall we play a game?
  • Akira Toya: Sure.
  • Okumura: There's an open board over there.
  • Akira Toya: How many stones would you like to put down?
  • Okumura: I don't need any. Just let me go first.

Chris Hayashida: The problem is that I'm not sure the difference between "nanmoku desuka" and "okiishi wa?" Is this a mistranslation on my part? Or is one more polite than the other?

I remember hearing "okiishi wa" when I played Go in Japan. It was a different circumstance. A 2-dan came to America, and I played (and was close) on four stones. They were really impressed, as I had just started playing. When I visited Japan, I got to play him again. His girlfriend saw the middle of the game where I was losing horribly, and asked "okiishi wa?" Nine stones, he said. I guess I let them down. :(

Anyway, if you can help me understand this, I figure it might help other Japanese language students that are also learning to play go. If you want to correct a translation, or explain more, please feel free.

Bill: Remember that the Japanese leave out parts of a sentence much more often than we do. You can think of okiishi (handicap stones) as the topic, and nanmoku (how many stones) as the subject of the question. Typically one or the other is left out. IMX, okiishi was left out more often.

Hmmm. Actually, rendering them in English works OK. "What about handicap stones?" and "How many stones?" :-)

Chris Hayashida: Just to be clear, does that mean "okiishi wa nanmoku desu ka?" is a good sentence?

Bill: It makes sense and is grammatical. :-)

FredB?: I thought the counting ending for stones was -shi and the counting word for points of territory was -moku. In the chapter "Dai 71 kyoku" where Akira plays against the politician, his assistant and two supporters they discuss appropriate handicaps: "Watashi wa 5-shi de" (As for me, [I'll play] with 5 [handicap] stones.) "Itoi-san ga 5-shi nara watashi wa 6-shi da na" (If Itoi-san [is taking] 5 stones, I'll [take] 6 stones, I guess.) From this I would expect the question form to be "Okiishi wa nanshi desu ka?" instead of "Okiishi wa nanmoku desu ka?". Can someone more fluent in Japanese confim this?

Bill: Both are correct.

Coconuts: Consider that one is "As for a handicap, how many stones?" while the other is "..., how many (handicap) points?"

Bob Myers: My interpretation of the "oki-ishi wa" in the dialog above is that it means "Do you want to take a handicap?", or "What about a handicap?", rather than "How many stones?", which normally would either be "nan-moku desu ka", or "nan-shi desu ka", or some variant thereof. Note the specialized form seimoku? for nine stones.

On another point, where did the "let's meet over there" translation come from? It should be "there's a board open over there."

Chris Hayashida: Heh. That was a bad translation on my part. :)

Bill: Well, more literally, it's "Over there {it} is open, so...." For a good translation you often have to fill in the blanks. Translation is an art. I would not call your translation bad, since you conveyed the suggestion that was the point of the statement. :-)

JBQM 1 last edited by Dieter on July 5, 2008 - 12:49
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