I get no kick from champagne

Today was my school's Yosenkai (予餞会): a sort of graduation party held a month or two before graduation. Imagine a graduation ceremony where all of the solemness is replaced by sentiment (I think I exceeded my weekly quota of the words "senpai" and "arigatou") and the third-year homeroom teachers put on a goofy skit, and you're practically there.

took my banjo and joined the brass band for their renditions of 卒業 ("Graduation") and 未来へ ("To the Future") and, sadly, the brass band has so few members that I rang out loud and clear. Perhaps too loudly. And quite possibly not all that clearly, now that I think of it. The stage has no foldback, you see. I was entirely at the mercy of the students in the control booth. (To be more accurate, my audience was at their mercy.)

Another notable feature of the 予餞会 is the video messages. Every year, all of the teachers who taught the graduating students at some point over the past three years, but transferred to a different school afterwards, record a greeting which is projected onto a gigantic screen at the front of the auditorium. It was a little eerie the first time I saw it two years ago, because I didn't know any of the faces and didn't speak enough Japanese to understand what they were saying. "Giant unknown face saying something unintelligible in harshly recorded but powerfully amplified audio" is a recipe for unease. But this year I knew everyone. Hey, it's Mr Y! Heh, he's put on weight! And Ms S! I didn't know she could play guitar!

And, of course, there was the obligatory three kids who have a punk band. The lead singer rambled a bit in between songs, but the songs themselves, for want of a less stereotypical phrase, rocked.

Wait -- is this rhyme?

The first verse of "Willows of Ginza" (銀座の柳), written in 1932 by SAIJOU Yaso (西条八十) (music by NAKAYAMA Shinpei (中山晋平)):

植えてうれしい 銀座の柳
江戸の名残の うすみどり
吹けよ春風 紅傘日傘
Uete ureshii/ Ginza no yanagi
Edo no nagori no/ usu-midori
Fuke yo, harukaze/ benigasa, higasa
Kyou mo kuru-kuru/ hito-doori
(Happy that they're growing/ the willows of Ginza
Memories of Edo/ in their muted green
Blow, spring wind!/ Parasols, red parasols!
Today, too, coming and going/ People passing by)

Fun fact I just learnt from the Wikipedia article about Saijou above: "Yaso" was his real name. His parents gave it to him in the hopes that it would make suffering pass him by, because 八十 are the kanji for "eight" and "ten", a sequence in which "nine" is skipped, and "nine" (九, く) is synonymous with "suffering" (苦).

Why hasn't Hollywood called yet?

It would be cool if there was a movie where, at the climax, the hero was trapped and forced to communicate with the villain by CB radio. He'd be like "You'll never get away with this! ... Good buddy! Over."

And the villain would reply "RADIO SILENCE, FOOL! Over."


It's always something

I found this at the train station this morning.

Five words: "Grimace and Odie's love child".


Gegege no movie

Via mayumical -- work has begun on a live-action version of Gegege no Kitarou! But who will play his free-roaming eyeball, which is possessed by the spirit of his father?

Hey, it beats the world's largest ball of twine

According to this article:

Kuriyama Village's famous winter sightseeing destination, the "Brightly Shining Ice Lantern and Kamakura Festival" began on the 27th at Yunishigawa Onsen ...

... and will run until the end of February.

That's not "Kamakura" as in the city, it's "kamakura" as in "little playhouse made of snow". You can see some pictures of what I'm talking about here (scroll down to the second batch). Elementary and junior high school kids make a bunch of three-meter high snow forts, and the city illuminates them at night for the tourists.

Where does the word "kamakura" come from? Koujien has no kanji listed for it, and since they're originally an Akita thing from up north I don't think they have anything to do with Kamakura the city. Still, the kanji for Kamakura -- 鎌倉 -- mean "Sickle Storehouse", so maybe way back in the day people in Akita kept their sickles in snow houses during the winter. Seems like they'd rust, though.

Or maybe the "kama" comes from kami, "god", because, again according to the book of K, kamakura were originally used as part of a ritual/festival for the water god/s.


Irregular Weekly Four 10: 行住坐臥

This week's phrase comes to us from Buddhism:

gyou ju(u) za ga
go stop sit recline

In modern Japanese, 住 normally refers to making one's home someplace (住む, 住所), but originally it meant simply "stop", "stay in one place", and that is the meaning here.

You hardly see 坐 at all these days -- 座 has replaced it in most contexts, although originally the two meant different things: 坐 was used for the action of sitting, and 座 indicated a place one sits. (In fact, it's more common to write this phrase 行住座臥 nowadays, but 行住坐臥 is the original.)

臥 comes from 臣 + 人. 臣 was originally a picture of an eye looking downwards, means (among other things) "to put something down"*. Add the 人, "person" radical and it means "to put one's person down", i.e. to lie down and/or sleep.

行 has pretty much always meant "go", but I will note that according to this wikipedia article the specific Sanskrit word being translated as 行 here is gamana (गम्मन). And yes, I did only mention that because I wanted to have Sanksrit on this page.

So, the idea is that these characters summarise every kind of action a person can take, and they are referred to as the 四威儀, "four dignities" -- yet another example of Buddhism's fondness for classification and listing things. Note also that the list is organised in descending order of difficulty.

(I seem to recall this list being used in the context of Zen as the basis for an argument that sitting zazen is the most ideal state for human beings, since "going" and "stopping" (standing) are too difficult to be prolonged forever but "reclining" (sleeping) is too easy to be worth doing for long.)

Nowadays, this compound is also used in non-religious contexts to mean simply "at all times", "whatever you're doing". There's even another version 日常坐臥, which replaces the first two characters with 日常, "everyday" or "regular" and uses "sitting and reclining" as shorthand for all four actions.

* It also included the meaning of "to look down in respect or fear", which is why it's often used in words that refer to royal retainers -- or, nowadays, government officials. 大臣 (daijin) is one common word of this type that's still in use. It's usually translated "Minister", e.g. 文部大臣 (mombu daijin, Minister of Education), 左大臣 and 右大臣 (sadaijin and udaijin, the classical Ministers of the Left and Right). Sometimes it just means "big shot", though, as for example in the four-letter compound 一夜大臣, "one night daijin" = "overnight millionaire".


A post about bookstores that will probably bore you

Des has some typically accurate commentary on this bone-headedly wrong article about bookstores. I would like to expand on the "soon, we'll abandon Amazon.com in favour of individual publisher websites" point with an analogy to real-world bookstores in Japan.

In Japanese bookstores, some types of book are usually organised by publisher first, then author -- in particular, 文庫 (bunko, roughly equivalent to paperbacks) and manga.

This makes sense for manga, because most are collected editions of works that are serialised in the manga magazines, who in turn know their readership well. If you mostly read Shounen Sunday, most of the comics you buy will probably also be from that magazines, so it makes sense to put them all together.

(Exception that proves the rule: "Indie" comics that did not first appear in periodicals are often in a whole separate section... divided by author.)

Organising bunko this way is less sensible, except for special imprints focused on a particular type of book, like "classics" or "thrillers translated from English", where one might indeed care who the publisher or editor or translator was. The case for separating general fiction by publisher is much weaker. And many bookstores are gradually recognising this fact and instituting the more progressive and customer-friendly system where general fiction bunko are all thrown together and arranged by author, publisher be damned.

In other words, Japan has one foot in Sutherland's magical wonderland where readers occasionally know and care who published the book they want. And yet the number of bookstores carrying books from only one publisher is remarkably small. It's almost as if people are willing to pay a modest surcharge per item in exchange for convenience, time and the ability to browse and search and compare easily! Why, I think these "stores" might actually catch on!



Being an unreconstructed WATAYA Risa fanboy, it was inevitable that I would go see the movification of her first novel, Install, on the big screen. I came away thinking: eh, that was pretty good. Spoilers may be below.

Consider the official website. Now compare it the original cover of the book. You can see the similarities -- blue background, girl standing awkwardly right in the centre. But you can also see the differences: the book's cover is almost confrontationally plain, but the movie image fills the empty space with colorful flowers, and the baldly, unromantically drawn schoolgirl has become the ethereally beautiful UETO Aya.

Don't get me wrong: I think Ueto does a fine job in the role. But she's just too damn cute. If nothing else, it's impossible to imagine her feeling "lost in the crowd" -- she creates crowds in the real world.

On the other hand, KAMIKI Ryuunosuke was perfect as Asako's elementary-school-aged partner in creepiness. Nothing but praise for that kid.

The rest of the movie's decorating frenzy was hit and miss. You have to appreciate their efforts to get as much colour and shape and stylised fun into the thing as possible -- most of the story involves people sitting inside a closet chatting on the internet -- but some parts just grated. The music, for example, was a never-ending but often-repeating cavalcade of twongs and plinks and "nah"s that was used as perky sentence punctuation so often I started to feel like I was watching Rugrats. On the other hand, Roy, who went with me, liked the music. Clearly, he's wrong. No! I mean... your mileage on the music issue may vary.

One of the reasons I liked Install when I read it was the lack of an obvious moral or message within it. As Roy notes, you can see this as tacit support of the status quo, and you might find a movie with such a theme rather uninspiring. But the flip side of "even apparently dramatic actions won't make much difference" is "you're already there" -- a kind of Who Is The Self That Searches For The True Self? thing -- and I think that's an underappreciated concept.

I'd want to read the book again before I develop this thought too much, but tentatively: Asako begins the story feeling lost and adrift, but quickly meets her Virgil, Kazuyoshi, who introduces her to an online Other World where the same anonymity makes her life more meaningful and structured and, more importantly, gives her power.

Of course, the other people in this world have the same anonymity and the same power, which leads to certain confusing and unpleasant situations. It doesn't take Freud to see this as a metaphor for the character's impending non-virtual sexuality. (It's interesting that although the movie is generally more colourful and jolly in tone than the book, the book was more comfortable with playing up the absurdist side of things here.)

On the other hand, Kazuyoshi is far more experienced and confident in the Other World, but he still finds the Real World confusing and unpleasant in some ways.

But while Kazuyoshi is showing Asako the ropes of the Other World, she is indirectly helping him learn to handle the Real World. And by the time the jig is up, they have both learned something about how to affect and let themselves be affected by their surroundings, rather than remaining passive and adrift. In particular, that they can build a connection with even the unlikeliest people.

It's certainly less viscerally appealing than a story where they learn about themselves by riding a sidecar-equipped motorcycle across Europe fighting neo-nazis, but I liked it OK.


When even playing is working

Kokuyo have announced a new line of cardboard desks, Buzz Lightyear- or Disney Princess-themed and aimed at preschoolers. They're called はじめてのデスク -- "My First Desk". They'll cost \2,500 and be so light and small that even little kids will be able to move them around.

Part of me wants to say "Aw, don't give the kids desks, they'll spend enough of their life sitting at a desk as it is." But realistically I know that kids love to pretend they're doing adult things and will probably get a real kick out of having their very own play cubicle.


The only poem in the entire Manyoushuu that mentions monkeys

oh, how frightful!
they put on airs
and do not drink
look closely and
they seem like monkeys

I thought I was misunderstanding this at first, but I was forced to conclude that yes, in this poem, it is the sober people who are being compared to animals.

(I dug this out of the Manyoushuu Search Engine I linked to earlier in the week.)

Still more meat

Joi Ito explains. You enjoy (especially if you speak Japanese, and don't speak whatever crazy Euro-tongue O-Zone do.)

The Tenth Night: by far the weirdest of the lot

A much-appreciated link from the So New Media Lit Tracker Blog, or "SNeMLiTraB", reminded me that I never did post the final part of NATSUME Souseki's "Ten Nights of Dreams". So here I go.

Now is probably a good time to re-thank everyone who helped me with these, including but not limited to such august personages as (in alphabetical order): Atsuko, Ayako, Hiroshi, Jonathan, and Vanessa.

Here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Looking back I see a lot of places they could be improved, but unless someone actually wants to pay me to do it, I'll just be quietly moving on to new projects.

Everything is based on the e-text at Aozora Bunko, and while I'm tying things up I probably should thank NOGUCHI Eiji, credited at the bottom there, for entering it in the first place.

So, without further ado, here is...

The Tenth Night

Shoutarou had staggered home seven nights after the woman took him, and had been feverish in bed since. Ken came to tell me the news.

Shoutarou was the most handsome man in town, and a good, honest fellow. He only had one vice: when evening came, he would put on his panama hat, sit down in front of the fruit stand, and eagerly admire the faces of the women who went past. There wasn't anything else as interesting about him as this hobby.

When there weren't many women, Shoutarou looked at the fruit instead. There were many different kinds. White peaches, apples, loquats and bananas were all carefully arranged in two rows of boxes, ready to be given taken away and given as gifts. "Beautiful," Shoutarou would say as he stared. "If I went into business, it'd have to be a fruit shop." But that was just talk; all he ever did was loaf around in his panama hat.

Occasionally he would comment in more detail on the fruit, admire the colour of the summer mandarins and so on. But he had never put down the coins to actually buy any fruit. And of course he could not eat for free. He could only praise the colours.

One evening a woman appeared at the fruit stand. She was well dressed and looked quite the lady. Shoutarou loved the colours of her kimono, and he was even more impressed by her beautiful face. So he politely doffed his beloved panama hat in greeting. The woman pointed at the largest box of fruit and said "I'll take this one, please". Shoutarou immediately grabbed it and passed it to her. "Oh, my, it's so heavy," the woman said, holding it awkwardly.

Shoutarou always had plenty of free time, and more importantly he was an easygoing, generous man. "Please, allow me to carry it for you to your home," he said. Then he left the fruit shop with the woman and didn't come back.

Even for Shoutarou, this was really too much. Just when his family and friends were beginning to wonder aloud if something serious had happened to him, the seventh night arrived and he came back, exhausted. A crowd quickly gathered around him. "Shou, where were you?" they all asked.

"I rode a train into the mountains," Shoutarou answered.

It was a remarkably long train. According to Shoutarou, they'd gotten off the train and exited straight into a meadow. The meadow was very wide, with nothing but green grass growing wherever you looked. Shoutarou walked through the grass with the woman until they suddenly came to the edge of a precipice. "Now jump from here", the woman said to him. When Shoutarou looked over the edge, he could see the cliff face stretching down but not the actual bottom. He took off his panama hat and demurred several times. Finally the woman asked him, "If you don't leap as far as you can off this cliff, you will be licked by a pig -- is that all right with you?" Now, Shoutarou hated two things: the Naniwa-bushi reciter Kumoemon, and pigs. But after comparing this dislike with the possibility of losing his life, he decided against the jump. Upon which a pig approached him, oinking and grunting. In desperation, Shoutarou hit the pig on the snout with the betel-wood walking stick he was carrying. The pig rolled over and tumbled off the cliff, oinking as it went. Shoutarou sighed with relief, but almost immediately another pig approached and snuffled at him with its big snout. Shoutarou had no choice but to lash out with his stick again, and the pig squealed and rolled straight down towards the bottom of the cliff. Then another pig appeared. Shoutarou suddenly realised, looking beyond this newest adversary, that there were uncountable thousands of pigs advancing as one across the green grassy meadow, oinking as they came, with their eyes fixed on him. Nevertheless, Shoutarou had no other option but to use his betel-wood stick to strike each one on the snout as they approached. Mysteriously, whenever the stick even touched a snout, the pig would would tumble over and fall down towards the bottom of the ravine. When Shoutarou looked over the edge again he saw a great line of pigs rolling down towards the bottom, so far below it was out of sight Had he really sent that many pigs down there? He began to feel afraid of himself. But the pigs kept coming and coming, snorting and squealing, like a great black cloud that had grown legs and started walking across the meadow.

Shoutarou fought bravely, striking snouts for seven days and six nights. But his strength eventually ran out, his arms became as soft as konnyaku jelly, and finally, he said, he was licked by a pig and fell over the edge.

"I told you looking at women would lead to no good," Ken said at this point. I couldn't help but agree. Then Ken said he wanted Shoutarou's panama hat.

Shoutarou's case looked hopeless. That panama was all but Ken's.

Tis the season

Valentine's Day is only three weeks away and the wheels of the consume-mobile are starting to spin. As you all no doubt remember from last year and the year before, in Japan, Valentine's Day is the day on which girls give things to guys. This can be because they like them, or because they love them, or just because they work with them. Guys return the favour on White Day, exactly one month later. It's a bit mercenary, but at least everyone knows where they stand.

This cutely attired but dead-eyed maid can be found in various places throughout Loft in Omiya, and I presume other Lofts as well.


I was going to make something like this, but now I don't have to

万葉集検索, the "Manyoushuu search system", is a search front-end for the entire "Ten Thousand Leaf Collection" of Japanese poetry.

It even includes the freaky kanji 原文 ("original versions"), like

for what we now write
I'm so glad kana were eventually invented. Those old using-kanji-for-sound poems are like reading English in Alpha Bravo Charlie format.

(Ashihiki no (or ashibiki no) is one of my favourite old Japanese phrases, because even though it appears in scores of poems, no-one today knows for sure what it actually means. It's just a pillow-word that comes before 山, "mountain". My favourite theory is that it comes from 足引き and means something like "tiring to the legs", but the phonetic evidence is against me, I hear.)

Trickle of whimsy

I haven't heard the tunes, but the cover art for Bedtown's new album is delightful.


Gentlemen, I put it to you that this comic book about a robot cat lacks formal consistency

Doraemon (ドラえもん) is... eh, wikipedia. To summarise, he's a robot cat from the future, sent back to the present day by the descendants of NOBITA Nobi (野比のび太) to prevent Nobita from ruining his family. It's like Confucius meets the Terminator.

And, like the Terminator franchise, it initially seems to raise some troubling paradoxes. If Doraemon succeeds in his mission to make Nobita a conscientious student and hard worker, future generations of Nobita would have no need to send Doraemon back, and so... but wait -- it can be logically explained. You see, even with Doraemon around, Nobita still slacks off and fails academically. If anything, having access to all of Doraemon's neat gadgets makes Nobita spend even less time working.

That's the horrible, Twilight Zone twist, you see: Nobita's descendants already were living in a timeline where Doraemon had been sent back. Clearly, their only option is to send back another, more powerful robot to destroy Doraemon and prevent him from ruining Nobita's life.

Anyway, last week I read a genuinely eerie Doraemon story about a gadget called the "time warp reel". In the story, this is a device you can use to wind time forward. You don't actually warp through time -- you're still there in the intervening periods. You just don't remember them. What it really is is an amnesia reel.

At first Nobita uses it to shorten the wait for his friend Shizuka* to come home. Then he uses it to skip the wait until the TV show he wants to watch. Then on Christmas morning he gets a boring present from Santa (a set of biographies of famous, hard-working people like Lincoln and NOGUCHI Hideyo) and decides to skip ahead a whole year to see what next year's is. It, too, is boring, so he skips ahead again. And again. Finally he is an adult, and finally finds an interesting present under the tree -- but it's not for him, it's for his son.

That's when he realises: he's wasted his life. Worse -- he skipped it. And he remembers what Doraemon told him: "You can't ever get back the time you skip". And man, that is a genuinely chilling moment. I mean, logically you know that some exception will be made to whip him back to normal, but still. Freaky. Plus, who's been living his life all these years? He got married and gave birth to a son, he clearly hasn't just been zonked out. So where is the self that has been running things while his "real" self has been time-skipping? And what claim does his "real" self have to be "real" when it has spent less than an hour being his self over the past couple of decades?

These are not new philosophical issues, but I was surprised to see them appear, even indirectly, in a comic that ultimately is just about Nobita getting beaten up by Gian and scolded by his mom.

* She's also, incidentally, his future wife. There is no ambiguity about this and it's a little creepy because apparently Nobita knows but she doesn't.


Irregular Weekly Four 9: 輾転反側

Take it away, "big" tags:

ten ten han soku
squeak roll opposite side

輾転 means "roll over", including "... in bed". And 反側 means "turn over in bed". So the whole thing means "toss and turn many times, i.e. all night". It apparently comes from a famous poem in the 詩經 (Shi Jing or "Book of Odes"):

關關雎鳩 在河之洲
窈窕淑女 君子好逑。
參差荇菜 左右流之。
窈窕淑女 寤寐求之。
求之不得 寤寐思服。
悠哉悠哉 輾轉反側。(etc.)

Which I will now attempt to translate, except substituting robotics for terms I find it difficult to precisely pin down:

The robot waterfowl that go "guan guan!"/ Are in their river country.
The modest lady/ Is a wise man's best companion.
Short and long robot vegetation / On the left and right it goes by.
The modest lady/ Sleeping and waking I seek her.
I seek but do not find/ Sleeping and waking, a slave to my thoughts.
Ah woe, ah woe/ I toss and turn all night. (etc.)

It goes on, but I lost hope.


Announcing Good News from the South

OTOMO Yoshihide has a blog!

The clothes you are wearing are the clothes you wore

Thanks to all of y'all for your help with finding commercials. I think I thought too hard about it: the most popular part of the lesson has turned out to be the fan remake of the Budweiser "Whassup" spot, featuring Mario and Pikachu.

The commercial which gives me the greatest pleasure, though, is this musical routine about a McDonalds hamburger, starring "a younger Jason Alexander who seems to love the HELL out of the McDLT", as RetroJunk says.

It's impossible to explain to the kids why I love it so much, though. An almost mystical awe fills me when I consider that someone from a major ad agency must have pitched this full-blown, non-ironic musical number about a hamburger, with a cast of dozens, to be filmed on location -- and then actually gotten the contract. And then the execution is even better. Notice the "hot" people dressed in hot colours and the "cool" people dressed in cool colours. That's 80s fashion for you. You couldn't do that today. You'd have to use ironic trucker caps instead, with obscene slogans about celebrities on them.

But really, the key point is Jason Alexander. Who would have believed, upon seeing the way he whips his head from side to side on the claps between "And the hot" and "Stays hot" -- let alone the way he does that sideways groove thing in between "It's a good time" and "For the great taste" towards the end! -- that this guy would later become the very face of televised pettiness and cowardice in the 90s?

Advertising doesn't even dream like this any more.


Royal poetry

Here are some poems released, as is traditional, by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan at the end of last year (oh, all right, here's the English version), and here are a whole bunch of poems read by various members of the imperial household at this year's New Year's Poetry Reading (歌会始). Unfortunately the English version only includes a few of them, and to be honest I'm not sure it would be wise to barge in and take a crack at it myself.

I didn't know there was a whole separate word for "poem composed by the Emperor", but there is. It's 御製, gyosei, and it's made of the prefix that usually gets translated as "honorable" plus the word for "make".


If it's on a jumper, it must be true

Submitted for your approval: two sweatshirts with slogans derived from the otaku, and in particular 2channel, subculture.

The top one says アキバ系, akiba-kei. Akiba is short for Akihabara (秋葉原), the place in Tokyo which has the highest concentration of dealers in electronics- and IT-related goods, plus a secondary pleasure-focused market in manga, anime, cosplay cafe service, etc., that arose to service all the geeks while they were buying their essential equipment. And kei means "style" or "type". So a person wearing this would be announcing that they are the kind of person who hangs out in Akihabara -- i.e. an otaku, and also probably prone to ponytails, headbands, backpacks, and overweightness, as befits the Akiba-kei stereotype.

The bottom jumper says 萌え, moe. Moe refers to affectionate, perhaps romantic feelings towards non-real females, like cartoon characters and game heroines. (I don't see why it couldn't also refer to males, but I've never heard a woman use that way.) Clearly, this is something that otaku would be more likely to feel than others, which is why this is right next to the Akiba-kei sweatshirt.

"In Teacher's Eyes", by YUMENO Kyuusaku

Only a day later, this snow had
magically turned into nasty sludge
and hazardous sheets of ice. True story.

Here's a translation of a very short story called 「先生の目玉に」 ("In Teacher's Eyes") by YUMENO Kyuusaku (夢野久作), who wrote many a trippy fantasy piece but didn't bother to build most of them around a moral like this one. I worked from the text at Aozora Bunko.

* * *

In Teacher's Eyes

A group of children were playing together when snow began to fall. "Hey, ho, it's started to snow!" they sang gleefully.

  "Fall, snow, do not halt!
  "Turn into sugar, turn into salt!"

"What would you do if it turned into sugar?" came a loud voice. Surprised, they turned and saw an old man with a white beard, a white kimono, a white hat, and a staff like a long, clear icicle.

The children stared at the old man in astonishment. He smiled brightly and asked them again: "What would you do with the snow if it turned into sugar?"

"I'd put it on a rice cake and eat it," answered Sankichi.

"I'd let grandma have it," said Chuutarou.

"I'd give it to the bees in the garden," said Tamako.

The old man looked most pleased. "Wonderful, wonderful," he said. "What good children you are. And if it turned into salt, what would you do then?"

"I'd rub it into Teacher's eyes!" answered Akutarou, who had been keeping quiet up until now.

The old man's expression quickly darkened. "Very well. I'll give you what you want, so wait right here," he said, and vanished.

Right away, it began to snow so fiercely that nobody could see anything but white.

All the snow that fell on Sankichi and Tamako and Chuutarou was sugar, but Akutarou's snow was nothing but hard, grainy salt. It got into his eyes and hurt so much he couldn't bear it. He cried all the way home.

* * *

The moral, I hope, is obvious: don't mess with teachers. We have powerful connections. Also, when you are born, try not to get named "Akutarou" (悪太郎), because it means "bad boy" and that's got to hold you back in life.


FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN! (or, "A Grass and Tree Pagoda")

I was thinking of translating a few of Taneda Sontouka's "free haiku", but then I discovered that MIURA Hisashi and James GREEN had already translated all of them and made them available for free. Awesome! The notes are a particularly nice touch.

Now some minor kibitzing. Sometimes I think their translations suffer from English-haiku-ese: the tendency to present the images one by one, discretely, even when the original flows normally as a sentence, and the related tendency to make everything a noun -- preferably a gerund. For example:


Stretching ahead -
The straight road,

I would have gone with something more like "On a long, straight road/ And lonely", which admittedly is not perfect (are there any adjectives more boring than "long" and "straight"?) but is 20% shorter and, I think, a bit smoother. But perhaps I am just flattering myself. Another example:


Not having a house -
Only the deepening of autumn.

The survey conducted exclusively within my head says: "Without a house/ Autumn just gets deeper".

I don't want to pick too many nits, though, I think they've done a great job overall, and this is poetry -- of course we're gonna disagree on interpretation and cross-language word-choice.

Plus, I honestly admire them for having the cojones to put the originals next to their translations like this. I wish more translators would. Perhaps in the Olden Days there were editorial issues, especially with non-Roman alphabet languages, but in this hyperconnected neon-plated post-pre-singularity world of the future -- today! -- that excuse is starting to look pret-ty lame, Milhouse.

Japanese baseball

I saw a book not long ago which sought to explain the differences between English and Japanese baseball terms, to those who were most familiar with the Japanese ones. I think this may be it: 「野球の英語辞典—メジャーの実況放送も愉しめる」 ("The baseball English dictionary: enjoy [US] major-league game broadcasts too"). Today, I found something similar designed for English-speakers (although you have to at least be able to read Japanese to get much out of it): A Slightly Askew Glossary of Japanese Baseball Terms, by Steven P. Venti of the Japan Association of Translators.

遠征(えんせい) -- The literal meaning of this expression is to conquer a far away place, which means that we are referring here to a road trip, an away series; often heard when one of the half dozen teams located in the Kanto area head out to one of the less civilized areas of Japan.
I also like 二死から四球病, which is pronounced "two outs kara four balls byou" (give or take a little katakanafication) -- in the context of baseball, English pronunciation often gets attached to Chinese characters this way.


I got so carried away with mammal fever

that I drew a comic strip about it in Japanese.

The no-holds-barred world of professional poetry (no, really)

Japan has a new Karuta Queen.

Fifteen-year-old Saki Kusunoki [楠木早紀] was recently crowned 2005 Karuta Queen, the youngest person ever to grab the title for being the quickest woman at the annual poetry card game competition held at Omi Jingu [近江神宮] shrine in Otsu [大津市].

In karuta, which is played with about 100 cards each with part of a poem printed on them, two players race to find and pick up the card matching a poem read aloud. The player who collects the most cards wins.
In a key moment during the final match, Kusunoki heard one of her favorite poems read aloud. "That's my card, I mustn't miss this one," was her reaction.

Karuta can be brutal, as this essay attests. To win, Kusunoki had to know a bunch of poems and be in peak physical condition, so she could hit the cards first. Now that is a sport I can get behind!

You can see a picture of her in action here (on the left). And her comments after winning?

It's a relief. I'm really happy. I want to try my best on my [high school] entrance exams too.


Irregular Weekly Four 8: 天網恢々

"I am Christmas Cthulhu.
Fear me!"
Best holiday-themed cookie ever.

This week's four characters are:

ten mou kai kai
heaven net wide wide

(That little symbol in the fourth position means "repeat the appropriate kanji" -- in this and most cases, the previous one.)

By itself, these characters mean "Heaven's net is coarsely woven" -- as in, the holes are big -- but they are only part of a longer quote from chapter 73 of the Dao De Jing:

The way of heaven is to not fight, yet win well; to not speak, yet answer well; to not call, yet cause to come; to be lax, yet plan well. The net of heaven is coarse, but nothing escapes it.

So, when someone says 天網恢々, they aren't just saying "Heaven's net is coarsely woven", they're also saying "...but it'll get you/him/her/them in the end."


Bleg: commercials and things for English class

So the Language Lab at my school is back in working order and I have figured out how to get my school-issue laptop display to output s-video-style, tunnel through the beast and appear on the students' individual monitors. Now I am trying to think of something fun to show them for the first lesson of the year.

My first thought is: commercials. They're short, they're focused, they're usually available online. I did a commercial lesson once and it went over OK. But that tape is gone now, and I haven't watched TV in an English-speaking country for years, so I'm not sure what to replace it with. Can anyone give me any suggestions? The criteria are:

  1. Not too raunchy (sorry, northern Europe)
  2. Fairly expository visuals (talking heads are bad; hero shots of the product are good)
  3. Contains at least some English (no Nike all-picture spots designed to be shown worldwide)...
  4. ... But that English shouldn't be too fast or too difficult to understand
I've already raked through the various 80s download archives and found a few useable things, but now I'm looking for more modern stuff that Google doesn't find because it's buried within individual company homepages.

Any suggestions?

No matter how many buttons you push, you never get a human

KDDI and I Bee have launched the world's first bipedal mobile-phone-controlled robot, to go on sale in February. You have to put it together from a kit yourself, but that just means it will be grateful to you and call you Mother, and possibly even protect you from hostile robots controlled by the mobile phones of your enemies.

More information (in Japanese) is here. Pictures of the robot are scattered throughout the I Bee site (which has the best domain name ever). And a PDF showing how the control system works can be viewed at KDDI's site here. You use the direction pad in the way you'd expect, and the 10-key pad is used for special actions which can apparently be individually downloaded (!) and assigned to any key the user likes. The blue screen at the top left shows one hypothetical setup:

  1. Forward roll
  2. (Not set)
  3. Sideways roll
  4. Kick
  5. Lightning kick
  6. Punch
  7. Dynamite punch
  8. (Not set)
  9. (Not set)
  10. Duck and block
After the Robo-Apocalypse, I bet a lot of people are going to feel pretty silly about having downloaded the "Kill all humans" action.


I can make you a man: another post featuring overuse of the word "come"

Today, today, the second Monday in Januar-ay, is Coming of Age Day in Japan.* This is a national holiday, which, according to Japanese Wikipedia, is legally dedicated to:

Celebrating and encouraging young people who awaken to the fact that they are adults and resolve to live their own life [i.e. rather than being a passenger in their parents' lives].

The day in its modern form was instituted in 1948, and was celebrated on the 15th of January until 2000 when the entertainingly named "Happy Monday System" (ハッピーマンデー制度) was made law and several public holidays were changed to the Xth Monday in the Yth month, instead of fixed dates, to ensure maximum three-day weekendage.**

Anyway, in Japan, coming of age happens when you turn 20. But since there are more than three hundred different days on which a person might conceivably turn 20, a given year's Coming of Age day in January applies to everyone who will, legally, come of age that year.

In other words, even after you attend your town's Coming of Age event and squeal (or exclaim in a manly fashion) over reunification with people you used to go to elementary school with, you still don't get to drink or smoke until your actual birthday. Psych!

Coming of Age Day is also an excuse to dress up. Guys get stuck with the business suit or sombre man-kimono, but girls get to wear furisode, literally "swinging sleeves": the young maiden's formal kimono with, yep, three-foot-long sleeves. These will get shorter as their wearers grow older and more married, so now's the time to enjoy them.

* 成人の日, seijin no hi, literally "adult day", where "adult" is written with kanji that mean "become" (成) and "person" (人).

** As of 2003, Marine Day, Respect For The Aged Day, and Health And Sports Day are the other holidays covered by the Happy Monday System. Heh! "Happy Monday."


Come on-a my department store

I'm pretty sure what they're aiming for here is an English equivalent of "irasshai, irasshai" which is what shopkeepers say to try to get you to come to their stall, or in more recent times what they say to welcome you once you're inside. (The longer version irasshaimase is more common in the later case, though.)

And it literally does translate as "come, come". But... we don't do that in English. There's no "shop greeting", at least to my knowledge. And without a destination or idiomatic companion, "come" sounds like... well, you know.

All that aside, the picture is cute but I'm not sure I understand the sales proposition. Come to the Seibu Winter Market/Fair (西武冬市) and be bitten by a stuffed animal? Come to Seibu and bite a stuffed animal yourself? Either way, I'll pass.

Or maybe it's some kind of no-holds-barred Tyson-style ear-biting stuffed-animal wrestling match... I do kinda wanna see that.


You'll never get into a book by Raymond Briggs that way

So I bet many of you saw the sleeping salarymen page -- but did you realise that in Japan, even the inflatable snowmen are overworked? Poor guy, he's asleep on his... base.

Although sometimes when I look at this photo it seems like he's checking his zipper.

And: Robot, South Korea claims world's smartest. I've long thought that doing the thinking in a separate box would be the best idea, at least until computers get a lot smaller. Let's all enjoy its chilling final words:

"I will see you again next time when I will have become wiser."


Interesting Romanization problem

Since the Japanese writing system was developed entirely independently of the Roman alphabet, there are a few different Romanisation systems in use. I have to admit I don't follow the ISO standard myself; for the word 富士, I prefer "fuji" to "huzi", and I like to include all the vowels ["Junichirou", not "Junichiro-with-a-macron", and also note my lack of distinction between に and んい] -- and on top of that, I usually let personal preferences override my system, e.g. the talent who writes her name YOU but pronounces it yuu.

Korean I am sure has similar problems although I am not familiar with them.

Why do I bring this up? Well... my Japanese-resident readers will already know this, but there's a Korean star who's very big here right now. I don't know how to enter his name in Hangul, but he's listed in the IMDB as Yong-jun BAE -- although he seems to prefer the romanization "BAE Yongjoon". The standard katakana version of his name seems to be ぺ・ヨンジュン, PE Yonjun. (The "P" and "B" thing, I think, has to do with aspiration of the sound.)

However, the women who have made him a superstar in Japan generally refer to him as ヨン様 -- Yon-sama, which is the Yon of his given name plus "sama", a more formal version of "san" which is, if I understand these things correctly, being used to playfully (or terrifyingly seriously) imply that he is like unto royalty.

Note that all of these Japanese pronunciations are romanised "Yon" and not "Yong". This is because, to make a long story short, Japanese doesn't distinguish between /n/ and /N/ ("ng") the way Korean does, and before a /d/ or an /s/, you get /n/ not /N/. (You get /N/ before a /k/.) [Update: I lied. Before an /s/ you get a nasalised version of the preceding vowel. But, hell, it's pretty close to /n/ and the important thing here is that it ain't "ng".]

So, when writing news stories in English, do you call him "Yon-sama" to reflect how the nickname is actually pronounced in Japan? Or do you form a hybrid, taking the "Yong" direct from Korean and affixing the Japanese "sama" to it to get "Yong-sama"? And then there's the complicating factor of those die-hard Japanese fans who make sure to pronounce his name the Korean way...

As those Google news links show, the editorial community hasn't arrived at a final decision, but "Yon-sama" seems to be winning.

Oh, and I started thinking about this upon reading that Yon[g]-sama has donated about 30 million Yen to tsunami relief and inspired many of his fans to do the same. Hurrah!


First post!

Ah... Another visitor. Stay a while. Stay forever!

Yeah, I'll never get tired of that. Anyway, this is the requisite meta-post. There's not much that looks different about the new No-sword, I'll grant you that, but it has become an all-Unicode operation, so feel free to comment in whatever damn language and script you please! Yeeehah! I think I'm gonna cut-and-paste me some things in three major Asian languages, to celebrate! (And to test.)




They sure don't use a lot of punctuation in Korean, do they?

Oh, and the RSS feed

Is it working OK? Sorry, I don't use an aggregator so I can't check for myself. The address should be: http://no-sword.jp/blog/index.rdf

A spoonful of cocoa

[Reposted here because I actually do want feedback, even critical feedback, hint hint.]

This is a poem by ISHIKAWA Takuboku (石川啄木), written in 1911.

I know the terrorist's sad heart--
the single heart, with words and actions
barely kept apart,
the heart whose words are stolen
and must speak with acts instead,
the heart that makes me and my body enemies--
it is the sadness felt by any one who burns, determined.

After the endless argument
the cocoa has gone cold. I sip a spoonful
faintly bitter on my tongue,
and know the terrorist's sad heart,
his sad, sad heart.

Context: this is the second poem in a collection. The first one is called "After the endless argument"; it's rhythmic, with the refrain, "But no one makes a fist to pound the table/ and shout 'V NAROD!'" "V narod" is Russian, a slogan that means "to the people" and is associated with a few different revolutionary movements of the time (including, I think, Narodnaya Volya, the group that eventually managed to kill Alexander II).

So you have the rumbling, repetitive, almost anthemic "we argue, but why don't we get the people involved and take action like 19th-century Russians did?" poem followed by the asymmetrical, solitary musings here. But I was pretty surprised to find the word "terrorist" (テロリスト) in a poem from 1911.

I'll post the original Japanese in the comments. Feel free to critique my rendering or offer another of your own... I did take a few liberties, and as far as poetic ability goes, let's just say I ain't no Ishikawa Takuboku.