Kanji Clinic #69, The Japan Times April 14, 2005
"Japanese girls devise their own written language"

Several months ago my female high school students introduced me to a remarkable secret code called gyaru moji (“girls’ characters”). “Go ahead, Sensei, try and figure out what this says,” they playfully challenged me, so I dutifully took a look at the text message on one of their cell phones: こωL=ちレ£。レ十“w(キ?

At first glance, the message appeared to be a meaningless jumble of input errors, but with a bit of help from my giggling charges I was able to decode it: こんにちは。げんき?(Konnichiwa. Genki? “Hello. Are you feeling OK?”) This is how I, a 50-year-old foreign obasan (“auntie”), became hooked on the teeny-bopper phenomenon of gyaru moji.

Also known as heta moji, (“unskillful characters”), gyaru moji were created several years ago by young women who felt the need to keep the contents of their text messages secret from their parents, male classmates, and teachers, as well as nosy passengers on crowded trains. Sending a message to a female pal in gyaru moji is considered a gift of love, since typing it can take twice as long as inputting the same sentiment in standard Japanese.

Gyaru moji are a mixture of hiragana, katakana, and kanji; mathematical symbols; letters in the English, Greek, and Russian alphabets; numbers, including Roman numerals; and a wide variety of other symbols, all of which can be generated with Japanese word-processing software on personal computers and cell phones.

Here’s how it works: In the case of hiragana and katakana characters comprised of left and right components, a look-alike substitution is made for each component. A wide variety of possible substitutions allows numerous permutations of these characters; for example, hiragana け can appear as レナ, L†, 1+, Ιナ, or|ナ; hiragana た as 十二, ナ=, +=, or ナこ; and katakana ハ as 八, ノ1, or ノ|.

Symbols used as substitutes for one-stroke hiragana include Greek letters and math symbols, such as τ forて, ω for ん, § for す, ∪ for し, and ζ for そ. A look-alike kanji may be called upon as a stand-in for katakana: 世 for せ, 回 for ロ, 才 for オ, and 干 for チ. Finally, Romanized versions of kana may be transcribed into similar-looking Russian letters, as in Яё for “re,” йё for “ne,” and мб for “mo.”

Enthusiasts of component analysis as a kanji learning tool may be interested to know that one of the ways gyaru moji devotees toy with written Japanese is by typing the left-right components of individual kanji separately, especially when the component is itself a kanji. Thus 学校 (gakkou, “school”) appears as 学木交; 相談 (soudan, “advice”) as 木目言炎; 性格(seikaku, “personality”) as 小生木各; and 趣味 (shumi, “hobby”) as走耳又口未.

Non-kanji symbols can also be substituted for kanji components, a practice that may offend kanji purists. These stand-ins include katakana (e.g., キ旨 [指, yubi,“finger”], シ木木しい [淋しい, sabishii, “lonely”], ナ月る [有る, aru, “have”]) as well as other symbols (e.g., タ〇前 [名前, namae, “name”], 生〒走 [生徒, seito, “pupil”], →糸者 [一緒, issho, “together”], and 一∴※斗王里 [一品料理, ippinryouri, one-dish meal]).

For a bit of fun, why not send a brief gyaru moji e-mail message to a friend, regardless of your (or their) gender? To make your Japanese word-processing software produce the more obscure symbols, type in きごう (kigou, “symbols”) and then use the selection function. Use your imagination to invent your own unique renderings, as the girl pros do, or stick to the tried-and-true found in Gyaru moji, heta moji, koushiki BOOK (ISBN4-408-21038-2). ナ二й0∪ω〒“йё! (たのしんでね, Tanoshinde ne, ”Have fun!”). Here’s a quiz to help you get your feet wet. Below the quiz you will find additional  gyaru moji messages to cut and paste onto e-mail messages.

Translate the following common Japanese phrases written in gyaru moji into standard written Japanese. Answers are below.

1. 才 (よ Э ぅ
2. 1£∪”めま:/〒
3. ナ二” レゝ 女子(キ
4. レ)まイ可日寺ナょй0?
5. まナ二θ月θйё
6. →糸者L=〒〒⊇う

1.おはよう(Ohayou, “Good morning”)
2.はじめまして(Hajimemashite, “How do you do?)
3.だい好き(Daisuki, “I love you/it”)
4.いま何時なの?(Ima nanji na no?, “What time is it now?”)
5.また明日ね(Mata ashita ne, “See you tomorrow”)
6.一緒に行こう(Issho ni ikou, “Let’s go together”) 

Here are some additional phrases to cut and paste onto your e-mail messages:


Good evening.

I’m sorry.

ごめんね。 Gomen ne

じゃあね。 Jyaa ne
See you later.

無理しないでね。Muri shinaide ne
Take it easy.

おこっている? Okotte iru?
Are you angry?

Don’t give up.

I hate (you, it).

内糸者ナ二” Э

。 Naisho da yo
It's a secret..

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