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I know "koto" means thing, but I've seen it used like this in my Self-Study Japanese book:

Nihon no koto ga yoku wakarimasu ka.

and

Chiimu no koto o kangaete imasshita

Does this mean Japan's thing or Team's thing? I don't understand. Also I can't use Kanji, just Hiragana.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is 「こと」 that actually means "thing(s)" and there is 「こと」 that does not mean "thing(s)".

「ふたつのことをかんがえています。」 means "I am thinking of two things."

The こと clearely means "thing". In the following sentence, however, こと does not really mean that.

「すみこさんのことがすきです。」 = "I like/love Sumiko."

One could possibly translate it as "I like the things about Sumiko." but that would not be natural English, would it? We just often prefer to speak more indirectly than to say something like 「すみこがすきだ。」 all the time.

In neither of your two sentences, does 「こと」 really mean "thing(s)".

  1. 「にほんのことがよくわかりますか。」

  2. 「チームのことをかんがえていました。」

Sentence #1, unfortunately, is a mysterious sentence to us Japanese-speakers. I could only guess what it would mean in the world of Japanese-as-a-foreign-language. They probably want it to mean "Do you know a lot about Japan?" while it could only mean "Does it tell you a lot about Japan? (referring to a book or something)" to Japanese-speakers.

Sentence #2 makes perfect sense and it means "I was thinking about the/our team."

In either case, I did not use the word "thing(s)" in my translations. I could have used it but that would have only made my translations look wordy. e.g. "I was thinking about things regarding our team."

You will keep encountering the structure "Noun + の + こと" for as long as you study Japanese, and it will just mean "regarding (Noun)" most of the time.
 

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Great explanation! Helped me understand the very mysterious "「こと」". And if I may ask for further clarification, does 「こと」 literally mean (Aside from its other meaning "thing") - about this or about that? So: にほんのこと literally means About Japan? and チームのこと literally means About the team? –  Imagine.Create Jul 18 at 12:43
    
@Imagine.Create A literal translation would be "Japan's thing(s)" and "the team's thing(s)" respectively. I think what you're asking about is a precise translation, and the answer to that is, there isn't one. It depends on the context of how it's used, but on the whole this is just a piece of Japanese grammar that has no English equivalent. –  Ataraxia Jul 19 at 17:59
    
Alright, thanks for clearing that up :) –  Imagine.Create Jul 19 at 18:10

こと is an abstract thing. In English when you say something like "I don't know much about XX." or "I know a bit about XX." The about XX part is XXのこと. 

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