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I have this phrase in my JLPT textbook:


My translation, which must be incorrect in some way, is, "my superior is hard to approach as he/she is friendly." It seems to me that implies some kind of connection or causality. It's not that the superior is friendly and hard to approach, there is something about their friendliness that results in how it's hard to approach them.

I'm reasonably sure about the definitions of individual words, but it seems to end up as an illogical assertion. How can someone who is friendly be hard to approach?

What am I not understanding about this sentence?

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??「気さくで近寄りがたい」なんて、おかしいねえ・・ 何かのミスプリ? – user1016 Mar 3 '13 at 13:56
@Chocolate:何回も確認して、「気さくで近寄りがたい」が書いてある。「日本語能力試験」対策日本語総まとめN1語彙, page 26, question 22. – Questioner Mar 4 '13 at 8:59
おかしいですねぇ… ここにもありますが、ここでは不正解とされていますね。 bulo.hujiang.com/question/305164 「~‌​~は気さくで、近寄りがたい雰囲気はゼロ...」とか「~~は気さくで、近寄りがたい美人っていうより...」ならOKかと思うんですが・・・ – user1016 Mar 4 '13 at 9:27
From a more personal level, it could be because the speaker is operating on the principle that if they a tough nut to crack, then they're the real deal, with friendly people seeming to be fake, in their perception – Roy Fuentes Mar 4 '13 at 23:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think you've more or less got the meaning of the words right. I would say 近{ちか}寄{よ}る means 親{した}しくなるようにする in this context (sense 2 in 大辞林). 親しくなる is similar to the figurative meaning of "get closer [to]" in English, so your literal translation works pretty well: "hard to approach".

Look at this definition for 気さく. In particular, it says 親{した}しみやす[い], which seems to directly contradict 近寄りがたい. The best translation probably depends on context, and there isn't much context to base a choice on, so I'll choose the first translation from the Kenkyusha J-E, which highlights the contradiction: "approachable".

So, we're trying to put these two meanings together:

  • Hard to approach
  • Approachable

I checked a number of dictionaries, but I couldn't figure out a way to make sense of this contradiction. So, based on comments from @Chocolate and others, as well as the seeming contradiction between the words, I believe:

The sentence doesn't really make sense. Sorry!

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I think it's clear now after time and others input that the book is in error in some way, and your assertion that the sentence simply doesn't make sense is correct. – Questioner Mar 7 '13 at 6:44

The other commentators probably understand these words better than I but I don't find the concept of a boss who is both friendly (気さく) but able to put some distance between himself and his staff (近寄りがたい) for the purposes of managing them that difficult to grasp.

However I just asked a native speaker who tells me, as have the others above, that the two expressions are complete opposites of each other!

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I think the point is that this contrast is nowhere to be found in the sentence. Interpreting で as "because" would have one conclude, that because he is friendly, he is hard to approach, which is somewhat paradoxical. – Earthliŋ Mar 4 '13 at 21:45
I saw the で as "and"/"at the same time". Perhaps I have always been wrong but I thought で could be used to convey contrast(?). – Tim Mar 4 '13 at 21:51
Maybe, sure. If I try hard enough, I can read it both ways as well. But on a first reading, it does sound kind of odd. Maybe just a lack of context, as often the case with these example sentences... – Earthliŋ Mar 4 '13 at 21:54
If the sentence is correct then context is important. Contrast may be the wrong word. I am trying to come with a Japanese expression with the same nuance as "firm but fair" but have not found one yet. – Tim Mar 4 '13 at 23:05
@DaveMG: Well I am afraid my inquiries have just reconfirmed the others input (see the addition to my answer above). – Tim Mar 6 '13 at 14:22

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