Japanese orthography takes one for the team

Train Man (『電車男』, Densha Otoko)'s official mangafication by HARA Hidenori (原秀則) has reached the volume 1 mark.

For those not in the know, Train Man is an allegedly true* story about a guy who uses the online forum 2channel to win the heart of a girl he meets on the train. There's a pretty good summary here, and you can still read it in its original format (if you speak both Japanese and Otaku). There are a few comics inspired by Train Man being published right now but as far as I know Hara's is the only one officially and directly (i.e. royalties-payingly) based on the original posts themselves.

The point of interest to me as an amateur linguist is that Hara goes to unusual extremes to replicate the posts' original style. Of course the ASCII art is there, the キタ━━━(゚∀゚)━━━!!s and the ( ・ω・)s, but there are also panels like this one, where the nervous Train Man meets the girl, Hermes, for the second time:

 あ…… / いえ 全然大丈…jぽgんf……… んご…

[flustered noises] / No, no, it's totally oka--... jpognf... [gulp]

(The original was 「いえいえ、全然大丈jぽjんf;、」」, meaning basically the same thing.)

"jぽgんf" is the money cluster here. Roman characters do pop up in Japanese sometimes, but normally only for acronyms and initials (in which case they're usually capital letters, too). No, jぽgんf is the result of mashing the keyboard while in Japanese input mode and ending up with the string "jpognf". The program tries to interpret this as romaji input and convert it into Japanese characters, but "jpognf", being random, is not phonetically acceptable. So it takes the parts that are acceptable, like "po" (= ぽ) and "n" (= ん) and leaves the rest as romaji.

So, in the context of a bulletin board post, it makes perfect sense to represent a mid-sentence clam-up with a half-kanafied keyboard mash like this. It conveys physical awkwardness during the act of typing, and is easily parsed as a meta-metaphor for physical awkwardness during the experience being typed about. But in the context of an official, published, one-way "work" like a book (even a comic book), I think most editors would reject it as too third-wall-breaking.

This manga is obviously an exception since that interactive BBS flavour is the whole point. But note that even here an editor has stepped in, changing "jぽjんf;、" to "jぽgんf". I can only guess that s/he felt there were too many js, and that ";、" would look untidily like "…" when verticalised.

One particular lost-for-words keyboard mash you see a lot on the Japanese internet is all or part of this sequence:


... which is what you get when you walk from left to right along the Q and A rows of the keyboard: "q a w s e d ...".

* I'm tired of qualifying every single statement about the whole thing, so for the purposes of this post let's just pretend it was indeed all true.

Popularity factor: 4


I l-o-v-e HARA Hidenori's stuff. I'll have to look out for this one next time I'm at Book-Off.


I'm probably slow to catch on here, but what does w mean as a symbol? I see it at the end of Japanese sentences on the Internet. Is it a kind of smile?


Yep. "w" is short for (笑) (which is "spelt" (=entered by typing) "warai")


Aah, naruhodo. That's cool. Lazy typing strikes again.

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