Nov 1, 2012

Heta-Uma (Unskillful but Skillful) and Uma-Heta (Skillful but Unskillful)

There is the word "ヘタうま (heta-uma)" in Japanese, which hardly can be translated into English. Heta-Uma is combined with the two words, "へた (heta)" and "うまい (umai)". "Heta" means unskillful or primitive, and "umai" means skillful or sophisticated.

In the 1980s, Teruhiko Yuasa, a Japanese illustrator, advocated the concept "heta-uma." He insisted that artworks, which were seemed to be unskillful but in fact were skillful, were most excellent, and called them "heta-uma." And he also criticized artworks, which were just quite skillful but not excellent, and called them "uma-heta."

I'd like to show one of his artworks "情熱のペンギンごはん (Passionate Penguin's Meal)". I think that it isn't realistic but quite skillful. At least it doesn't seem to be primitive for me at all, so I'd like to call it "uma-uma" (skillful and skillful).

In the previous entry "I Hate SongsSung by Whitney and I Love Songs Sung by Carole" I made a comparison between Whitney Houston and Carole King. In the words of Teruhiko Yuasa, Whitney Houston's songs are typically "uma-heta." Her songs are just quite skillful but without any substance.

Sony used to be like what Apple is now, but now it lost its luster. Sony invented Walkman, but it couldn't invent iPod, iTunes, and iPhone. It's not only Sony, but most Japanese electronics companies are slumping. Panasonic, one of the largest Japanese electronics companies, released the report about the estimate of huge loss in fiscal year 2013.  I myself don't want to buy products made by Japanese electronics companies, but I actually bought Apple's products, iPod, iMac, and iPhone.

When I compared the specs of electronic products, sometimes I find that Japanese products were best, but they don't make me want to buy them at all. I guess that they resemble to Whitney Houston's songs, "uma-heta" (skillful but unskillful).

The specs of Whitney Houston might be better than most singers, but her songs don't move me at all. Recent Sony's Products don't move me either, but Apple's products touch me.

In the entry "Why Do I Buy AppleProducts?" I wrote "Nowadays the specs on PCs are not different so much, so the feel of them are important for me. In this mean iMac is as same as my Mont Blanc's fountain pen, whose touch is really nice." Apple's products don't seemed to be unskillful, so they can't be called "heta-uma" (unskillful but skillful) but "uma-uma" (skillful and skillful), but it's clear that Apple doesn't pursue specs on the paper. For example, the size of display of iPhone 5 isn't largest in smart phones, because Apple took account of usability.

One of the strangest electronic products that I've ever seen is the PC with an air washer made by Fujitsu, one of the major Japanese computer manufactures. Who wanted to PC with an air washer? It is "uma-heta" (skillful but unskillful), isn't it? No, it is just "heta-heta" (unskillful and unskillful).


  1. I stumbled upon your blog by accident while googling "heta uma", and I must say your explanation of this complex word has been most illuminating. Thank you for such an enlightening post and I look forward to reading more of your entries.

    1. Comments on my weblog give me energy to live! Thank you.

    2. I've just arrived in the same way as the other commenter. Thank you, yagian!

  2. I agree with Anonymous, great explanation. Thank you!


    This is where I discovered the word "heta-uma". But I feel like the translation "bad-nice" is lacking. Yours is a better translation.