And the best part is it technically counts as self-defence

I am so looking forward to this movie: Sengoku Jieitai 1549 (『戦国自衛隊1549』, "Warring-States Period Self-Defence Forces, 1549"). A Self-Defence Force platoon is somehow sent back in time, complete with modern weapons and equipment, to 1549 -- the height of Japan's Warring States period! And then they fight moderniser and military genius Nobunaga! I'm not sure why... but who cares?! This summer: NOBUNAGA VERSUS A TANK!

Notes for nerds: this movie is actually a remake of the 1979 Sengoku Jieitai, which was itself based on the book by HANMURA Ryou (半村良). Woah, and I just found an English dub of the movie. G.I. Samurai, eh...


Maybe everyone else knows this, but I just realised that the movie IDs at IMDB are in rough chronological order. Movie 0000001 is Carmencita, starring Carmencita as herself. (IMDB's users have given it an average rating of 5.4/10.) All kinds of 19th-century shorts are down there in the single- and double-digits.


Another missed call

Roy and I went to see 『着信あり2』 (Chakushin Ari 2, "One Missed Call II"), the sequel to a Japanese rip-off/remake(?) of a Korean Ringu rip-off. Yeah, yeah, simulacra etc.

The poster art sums up the story surprisingly well -- you have the boyfriend on the left, whose reaction to everything, from teary admissions of love to unthinkably horrific supernatural phenomena, is a low-level confused look; the heroine in the middle, who is mainly a motivator for other characters; and the hard-bitten investigator on the right, who's thinking "hey, the lighting guys are eating all the donuts!"

There were thrills, there were spills. People got folded to death. Other people got their mouths sewn up. And it also served as an incisive commentary on how the kids nowadays, they just use their cellphones too much! "Being pursued and mutilated by a relentless angry ghost" is a metaphor for "Not having enough alone time", clearly. Now all we need is a film which gives youngsters a well-deserved yet horrific come-uppance for wearing their pants too low. You can see their unmentionables, for heaven's sake! If the government won't act, the revenge-seeking spirits of creepy girls with long, tangled black hair will!

Also: best use of a synthesised suona to set the mood (the mood being "Hey, we're in Taiwan!") ever.

There are no words

Well, there are, but they're in Japanese. And I'm not going to translate any of them, because I feel it would make your experience here less special.

(I found the site via Yahoo!BB magazine, of all institutions.)


Grand Finale by ABE Kazushige (阿部和重)

The winner of the 132nd Akutagawa Prize was announced in January, and the winning novel was published in Bungeishunju earlier this month. Being cheap, I waited for the magazine publication, which is why this post is too late to qualify as news yet too half-assed to qualify as literary criticism.

Grand Finale (『グランド・フィナーレ』) is the title of the winning novel, and it's a great title, one of those titles that hovers ominously over the entire book, informing all of the action but never quite granting you the luxury of a single, clear interpretation. The story itself works like that, too: it starts off with a hallucinatory scene involving talking animals, then spirals down through revelation after revelation about the protagonist, who becomes progressively less sympathetic as we learn more about his true nature (hint: he likes photographs of little girls). By the time you reach the end, the beginning has changed so much it's practically inside-out.

Mind you, it isn't just a straight "For you see, he is secretly a monster living in a jar of Tang!" switcharound, either. There's some Tang, sure, but there's also some watered-down redemption, some themes that recur retrograde and inverted -- it's a remarkably intricate work, given its length.

The author, ABE Kazushige, is both male and 36, so he didn't get much press, but apparently he's been in the lit trenches for some time now. (There's a reason the book's obi says "Literature has finally caught up with Abe Kazushige"). His speciality, at least in these books, is the long monologue that doesn't seem forced. Although the book is in (semi-reliable) first-person, every so often one of the supporting characters will get a speech that, although in a single set of quotation marks, goes on for several pages. And it works! He has a firm enough grip on his characters and their speech patterns to get away with it -- and he sets up the shot carefully, so that it never comes across as meaningless exposition. On the contrary, I began to look forward to these stained-glass windows into their minds.

While we're on the topic of the Akutagawa Prize, I also read one of the short-listed novels: YAMAZAKI Nao-Cola's 『人のセックスを笑うな』 (Hito no sex wo warau na, or "Don't laugh at other people's sex lives", literally), which is the curiously blunt and non-heartwarming -- yet not gritty or sneering -- story of a sweet affair between a college student and one of his teachers, twenty years older than him.

I enjoyed Hito no sex, but I have to admit it wasn't as funny as I thought it would be, based on the title. In fact I was surprised by how sincere a lot of it was, and apparently this turned the Akutagawa judges off, too; almost every judge who mentioned the book said that they had nothing in particular against it, but that it was "immature" or "simple". I guess we are to think of it as the charming hut next to the Gothic cathedral of Grand Finale.

And yes, Nao-Cola is a pen name, and it was indeed inspired by Yamazaki's love of cola-flavored soft drink.


Low-class vocabulary lesson

These days, the preferred Japanese entertainment (and "entertainment") industry slang for a large-breasted woman is 巨乳, kyonyuu, literally "giant breasts". The antonym is 微乳, binyuu, with a meaning you can probably guess, but some prefer the term 美乳, binyuu -- same pronunciation, but it means "beautiful breasts".

These are all respectably kanjified terms, although I doubt they have any basis in actual Chinese vocabulary. However, there is an older slang term for the amply endowed, apparently dating back to the eighties: ぼいん, boin, which seems to be onomatopoeic for the mental impression such a person makes. (A boi-oi-oing sound effect is not uncommon in cartoons to accompany the sudden appearance of a sexy female character, and ぼいん is also the sound of being punched, or bouncing.)

OK, so what's the opposite of ぼいん? ないん, nain. An extremely cruel blend of the general sound outlines of boin with the negating word nai. Ouch.

UPDATE! And in Korean...


Irregular Weekly Four 14: 盲亀浮木

More animals. More Buddhism. A compound so rare that Windows' Japanese entry algorithms don't even know it. Yeah, I have a problem.

mou ki fu boku
one-eyed turtle floating wood

"盲" can refer to blindness of varying degrees, from the literal eyes-don't-function-at-all variety to the entirely metaphorical "he is blind to the wonders of our teachings". In this case, the 盲 turtle in question is traditionally considered literally one-eyed, although he himself is only part of an analogy.

And that analogy is as follows: given all the various hells and hungry ghost worlds and so forth, the chances of being reborn sentient in a world where Buddha's teachings are known -- theoretically giving you a chance to escape the cycle of rebirth -- are as small as the chances of a one-eyed turtle rising to the ocean and entirely randomly slotting neatly into a floating log. Oh, yeah, and he only comes up for logs once every century (or millennium, in some versions).

Those are some long odds, I'm sure you'll agree. But I'm sure that every time the turtle rises, he's all "OK! OK! I am definitely due for a win this century. Come ooooon, loggy! Papa needs a new pair of scutes!" This is known as the one-eyed reptilian gambler's fallacy.

Nowadays, this compound has been secularised and simply refers to a very, very unlikely event, but the "blind turtle" analogy is a very old one in Buddhism that you can allegedly trace back to Buddha himself. The most florid elaboration on the theme that I know of was written by Nichiren, in a letter to a nun in 1279 AD. You can read the original here, thanks to my research assistant M., or this English translation courtesy of the SGI-USA.

The ocean represents the sea of the sufferings of birth and death, and the turtle symbolizes us living beings. His limbless state indicates that we are poorly endowed with roots of goodness.
Stop snickering at the back there. It's a perfectly serious discussion of poorly-endowed one-eyed turtles.



Is this the first Onion article with product placement? Or just the first one to combine egregious unfunniness with an absolutely stone-cold straight plug and link to the sponsor, making the deal obvious?

The unfunniness might be due to overzealous sponsor-end editing rather than authorial ineptitude, but that just highlights the problem. I don't begrudge the Onion the right to make a living somehow. The ads all over their pages are A-OK with me. I don't even have a problem with in-article product placement, in principle. But when, in practice, it comes out by-committee pap that isn't even mildly amusing, it's worthless as entertainment and backfires as advertising. D'oh.

Biotechnology update

Hey, remember a while ago when BoingBoing linked to those Japanese seed things that sprouted into a weird little pod with writing on it? I found one that a friend of mine had been given for real. "In the wild", so to ironically speak.

My camera's resolving power isn't fantastic for small objects in the dark, so I'll note for the record that it says だいじにしてね! ("Take care of yourself!").


Some things never change

The decade immediately following the end of WW2 was, I hear, the peak for jazz in Japan. It was never bigger before, and it never got as big again. I think part of that has to be because that was when you had the place flooded with American GIs, paid relatively well and looking to hear some music that reminded them of home.

Naturally, there were a bunch of Japanese bands playing the music and releasing their own versions of the US hits, but there was also a sub-genre of music aimed at English-speaking audiences within Japan. This stuff fascinates me. My favourite example of the genre is "My Ichiban Tomodachi", a song written by Tom Oliver and Stan Sagat and performed by vocalist Nancy UMEKI*, the Victor All Stars, and an American harmony group called Deuces Wild.

Tomodachi (友達) means "friend", and ichiban (一番) means literally "number one" or in this context "best". These are common, useful words that you would expect a person stationed in Japan to pick up -- yet they aren't all that well-known to those outside the loop, which means that a song using them creates a strong sense of community. (The other song recorded at the session was another Oliver/Saget composition called "Sayonara".)

Anyway, "Tomodachi" is one of the only uptempo numbers Umeki performed in her early career, and is also notable because she trades lines and even whole verses with Deuces Wild, so the idea is that we get both sides of the story (although both were, ultimately, written by one old American dude). And it's cute:

I've got a guy, but he's not mine,
He always seems to resist me,
Cause when the lights are low and the moon's aglow--
He's just my ichiban tomodachi.
It's the same old theme whenever he's near,
He acts like a brother to me...

She goes on for a bit, then the guys step forward, opening with some vintage spoken-word-over-doomp-a-doomp-piano:

"Well, Nan, you sure do have a problem."
"Yeah, and one that we can really appreciate!"

I had a chick, she was so fine,
I always flipped when she kissed me,
I thought our love was cool, but now I'm the fool,
She's just my ichiban tomodachi. ...
NANCY: Does she make your love platonic?
DEUCES: Yes, our caresses are rebuffed**
NANCY: Well, the whole darn thing's ironic
ALL: Cause I never seem to get enough!

Cute, and kind of fascinating, because I have conversations just like this all the time, in both languages.

* This was the stage name used at the time by Miyoshi UMEKI, who would go on to be fairly successful in the US, even starring in the movie version of Flower Drum Song (as a Chinese woman, natch). Her two US albums are now only available in Japan, possibly because the cover of Miyoshi sings for Arthur Godfrey is so creepy.

** OK, a little creepy there, but I think we're supposed to assume that they're aiming to caress different ladies, at different times.


Bacchus Cognac Chocolate

... from Lotte. "Fine cognac chocolate that adds elegance to your moments of relaxation."

I don't want to be a negative nelly here, but if you asked me to pick the single Classical god who least epitomised elegance, it would be Bacchus. The guy rides a goat! His whole raison d'etre is sloshing, puking drunkenness! He once made a dude cut his own son up with an axe!

Also, it don't taste so good.


Kudos from the past

Published several years ago, but I just noticed it in the bookstore today (it was on prominent display because the author, FUKUI Harutoshi (福井晴敏) has been getting some press for film adaptations of other works): 『月に繭 地には果実』. The title means something like "a cocoon on the moon; on Earth, fruit".

(I don't fully understand either, but the story is about a technologically advanced lunar civilisation trying to return to Earth 2000 years after they abandoned it to pollution and barbarism. Presumably at some point someone will make a long speech about cocoons, fruit and celestial bodies, the context of which would enable a hypothetical reader to translate the title more meaningfully.)

Anyway, what caught my eye was not the title but the picture on the cover. If you go to Amazon for the close-up you'll see that it's a neat pastiche of traditional Japanese Where's-Wally-like battle-scene painting, where half the warriors have helmets and/or lasers. Nice! Be sure to check out all three volumes.

I checked inside and the cover was designed by a TAKAHASHI Masayuki (高橋雅之), but I don't know if he actually produced the artwork or not.


I didn't believe that the Beatle wig would be the next big thing in hairstyles at first,

but now that Jille and Mina have both put it on the cover... well, I still don't believe it.

More Shojo Beating

Part 2 of my post on Shojo Beat's starting lineup. Part 1 is here. I'll try not to spoil anything (and I haven't read that far ahead anyway), but if you want your SB experience to be absolutely pure you may wish to stop reading now.

4. Crimson Hero. Oh, man. And here I was thinking Nana had some rangy guy friends. The boys in Crimson Hero are so gangly and their clothes so outrageously large that they're like gigantic walking kites. Kites of smouldering passion... for volleyball!

For you see, Crimson Hero is set in an alternate universe where people actually care about volleyball. Nobara, the boyish heroine, wants desperately to play volleyball for her school. But Nobara's mother wants her to go into the family business -- running a fancy-pants Japanese restaurant. And Nobara's sexy aunt... well, she doesn't care either way. Anyway, I think we all know where this is headed: Nobara gives up on her dreams and does what her mother says forever, her resentment coming out only as passive aggression and intentionally inappropriate taste in men.

This is a sports manga, which means there's a lot of believing in oneself. In fact, there's a whole fractally iterated system of self-belief. First you have to believe that you can try... then you have to believe that you can win... then you have to believe that you believe... then others have to believe that you believe in them... and, of course, all of these moments of clarity must be sparked by someone else yelling at you: "If you don't want it bad enough, go home! I'm disappointed in you! I never picked you for a quitter! etc.! etc.!" Because there's nothing more motivating than abuse coming from a guy who could be his own sail when he goes windsurfing.

5. Godchild. Two words: Gothic. Lolita.

Godchild is part of a complicated mythos. I erred by buying the manga entitled Godchild, volume 1: 19th-century anti-hero Cain's story starts in some other book called Forgotten Juliet, it seems. Godchild is actually book five. So I found it all a little baffling. The first story in the book is a psychotic riff on Alice in Wonderland about a March Hare-themed rabbit-masked serial killer. Cain must catch this killer while fending off the hordes of long-haired, velvet-dressed girls half his height that keep throwing themselves into his arms.

There are scalpels, ribbons, blood (not too much, though), mysteries, nursery rhymes and lace: it's a stylishly-done pastiche of all your favourite 19th-century themes. The art also eschews the standard Shojo wide-open-spaces-with-flowers feel in favour of densely packed panels filled with detail and dark tones. And gargoyles.

6. Kaze Hikaru. So, between when America forced Japan open with Perry's black ships and when the Meiji emperor took power and began modernising (= Westernising) Japan with his bare hands, there was a lot of debate about where Japan was headed as a country, and a lot of that debate was conducted with swords. The Shinsengumi were hired guns on the side of the Shogunate (so, against the emperor) but time heals all wounds and today everyone loves them.

Kaze Hikaru asks the obvious question: what if a stinky girl secretly joined the manly men of the Shinsengumi? Wouldn't her girl germs render the whole group unable to perform their duty?

A lot of the fun in this story is the Mary Sue-ish thrills of seeing the heroine, Kamiya, meet and interact with actual historical figures, so it'll be interesting to see if it takes off in America, where no-one really cares who OKITA Souji was in love with.

Kaze Hikaru's character designs are cute and cuddly rather than lean and angular -- it's probably the most aww-inducing of the six initial titles Viz has picked out -- but that just makes it all the more surprising when one of them kills some dude for being a traitor. (Also, I bet it will make the final chapter, where everyone dies of TB or is executed by the new government, a real downer.)

So, that's it. Six titles! Only ONE can survive! Let the battle begin!


Irregular Weekly Four 13: 大器晩成

My research assistant and I haven't finished gathering bits and pieces relating to the compound I wanted to post today, so here's something last-minute.

tai ki ban sei
great vessel late make

That third character, 晩, almost always means "night" in modern Japanese (and Chinese, for all I know), but it means "late" here because the phrase comes from oldity old-old Chinese -- specifically, the Tao te Ching, chapter 40 or 41 depending on your editor.

The first half of the chapter is concerned with how various types of people react to information about the Tao, and the last half of which explores why the Tao is so difficult to understand, via a series of paradoxical analogies:

Bright ways can seem dark; ways that go forward can seem to go backward; flat ways can seem bumpy. High virtue can seem lowly as a valley; boundless virtue can seem insufficient; healthy virtue can seem ailing. Innate truth can seem to change; great pureness can seem dirty, a square can seem cornerless. A great vessel is never quite finished. A great sound is never quite audible. A great image never quite has a shape.

(Note that if we used the modern meaning for 晩, we'd get "a great vessel is made overnight", which is exactly the opposite of what any self-respecting aphorism would want to say. Also note that 若, actually meaning "young", is here used to mean "is like" or "seems like" -- I think this is a phonetic thing.)

Anyway 大器晩成, in modern times, has come to mean something like "Rome wasn't built in a day". Unlike "Rome...", though, it can also refer to things that aren't a definite goal-oriented process, e.g. a friend who, although talented, remains unsuccessful.

It also travels through time

Doraemon iPod! For a limited time only.

Translation war

over at Hanzi Smatter, relating to comments from this post. I do think Tian has a tendency to be a bit Mandarin-o-centric, but on the other hand his commenters regularly supply information he lacks, so it all works out. Hell, that's what comments are for. And I learnt a new word.


A billboard advertising in a human face... forever

The Mainichi Shinbun says:

Mazda has begun putting up a 311-meter long advertisement in JR Tokyo Station's underground walkway. The theme is "family" and photographs of sixty family groups are featured. The poster is part of the PR effort for the new "Premacy" minivan, launched on the seventh of this month, and will remain up until the 28th.

When they finish slapping that sucker on the walls, it'll be the longest advertisement ever -- the previous record was only 274 meters.

It's like Christo sold out or something.

Shinran online

I just found a bunch of Shinran's writings translated into English and put online... for you.

Shinran was the most important early figure in Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, which holds that Amitabha so loved the world that he pledged not to enter Nirvana until every other sentient being was chillin' in his special Pure Land, all set to become buddhas themselves just as soon as Gilmore Girls finished.

For beginners, I recommend A Record in Lament of Divergences (歎異抄, Tanni-Shou), which was written not by Shinran himself but by one of his disciples, who wanted to set the record straight about what Shinran actually said. This makes it simple, short and to the point. Chapter 1 goes like this:

When you begin to believe that the Mysteries of Amitabha's Vow will save you and see you reborn [in the Pure Land], and your heart is set upon chanting the Nembutsu, you will immediately receive His blessings, which reach all people and exclude no-one.
Amitabha's Fundamental Vow does not distinguish between the old and the young, nor the good and the evil. Only belief is needed, because the vow was to save all living things, buried deep in sin and evil and burning with worldly desire though we be.
Therefore, if you believe in the Fundamental Vow, no other goodness is required, for there is no goodness greater than the chanting of the Nembutsu. Nor need you fear any evil, for there is no evil which can overcome Amitabha's Fundamental Vow. -- This is what Shinran said.

Hmm... charismatic founder who wanted to save all humanity... no matter what you actually do, faith can get you into heaven... hey, remind you of any other religions?

That was my translation, by the way, the one on the site is different. They're the experts, I'm objective. Compare and contrast!


Much more heartwarming than Gus Van Sant's film about teenage boys and elephants

Via eiga.com, we learn that filming for the upcoming movie 『星になった少年』 ("The Boy Who Became A Star") has been completed. Or, as they say in Japanese English, the movie has "crank[ed] up".

Starring YAGIRA Yuuya of Nobody Knows fame, Boy Who Became is based on the true story of the young man who became the first boy elephant trainer in Japan, as documented in 『ちび象ランディと星になった少年』 ("Midget Elephant Randy and the Boy Who Became A Star"). Yagira went to a Thai elephant shelter to practice dealing with the animals, and by the end of shooting he was so captivated by their "charms" (魅力) that he himself almost wanted to become an elephant trainer.

TOKIWA Takako (常盤貴子), who plays his mother, added: "When the elephants were around, the set was really calm. I'm sure that this movie will communicate their charms to everyone who sees it, too -- perhaps there'll even be an 'elephant boom' this summer!"

So be sure to wear a helmet.

Pre-empting the stalkers

Reading some entertainment stories at Nikkan Sports, I saw an ad for this: ましゅログ (Mashu-log). It's the official blog of the 20-year-old idol known as Mashiro (真白, very similar to 真っ白 which means "pure white").

Mashiro herself isn't my type, but I have to give her people props for putting this together. It's surprisingly well done. No idea if she writes it herself or not, but it wouldn't be hard -- it's only about one cellphone mail message's worth every couple of days.

Here's her Valentine's Day post:

ましゅの今年のバレンタインは…お仕事( ̄▽ ̄;)いいんだモ〜ン!
OK!! Open wide☆
Today's Valentine's Day, wight? So that's a present from Mashu** to you☆
This year for Valentine's Day, Mashu... worked. ( ̄▽ ̄;) Whateveeer!!***
Is evewybody else having a wonderful Bwalentine's Day?

* This is the sound of you producing a long back vowel as you open wide.

** She refers to herself as "Mashu". If you were a fan, you'd find it endearingly immature.

*** As in "I don't care if you laugh at me".


Don't play doctor with your food

Behold what I found heavily discounted at the supermarket the other day:

A "write on the sweetened wafer and then eat it" kit from "Rakugakids". (Rakugaki (落書き) is Japanese for "writing in unapproved places", including everything from bombing the A-train to scribbling on the wall in your room.) This is a little strange to begin with, but the real oddity is the syringe. I'm not one of those folks who believes that touching a toy gun instantly turns kids into Trenchcoat Mafiosi, but even I think it might be unwise to encourage kids to play with syringes at all, let alone consume any unnaturally-coloured fluids they may contain. ("It becomes a water pistol after you've finished!" is also not something that needed to be written on the box. If there's one thing worse than a kid with a water pistol, it's a kid with a water pistol that's really a syringe.)

The mothers of Japan clearly agree, because this was down to almost half-price. So I thought I'd protect some innocent kids and snap it up.

The idea is to draw on the wafer and then eat it, thus symbolically rejecting the notion that art must be "consumed" by others to be valid. Even if I make art just for myself, it's still art!, this snack screams. I won't let The Man hold me back! I'm moving into a commune in Hamburg!

The back of the package has some example pictures that also express an anti-corporate spirit by blatantly ripping off well-known trademarks. For example, in America the DMCA would legally bar this kitty from saying "hello".

Out of the box and spread on a table, it looks like this:

For my first wafer, I decided to attempt the kanji 日, meaning "sun" or "day". It's easy to write, not too far evolved from its pictographic origins (a circle with a dot in the middle, representing the sun), and so it's one of the first Japanese characters most of us whiteys learn. How hard could it be to draw?

... Surprisingly hard. But stay positive, I told myself. It's only a practice run! Pretend it's an OS X widget and don't lose heart!

Wafer 2 was destined to receive the imprint of 飛, "to fly". Why 飛? Simple: I asked Butterflyblue what her favourite kanji was, and that was the answer she gave. I was trusting her to pick something hard, and she didn't disappoint. Anyway, it turned out like this....

Total disaster. Looks like one of the Blue Man Group sneezed on a cracker. Sorry if I just ruined your favourite character for you, BB.

I decided to retreat into the safety of my native character set, and indulge in a little self-promotion.

Hey, not bad! I should have spent more time pre-planning the letter sizing, though. That's why I'm a writer, not a designer.XXXX EDIT THIS SENTENCE LATER

Confidence thus embiggened, I was ready to push this product to the limits of its recommended usage patterns.

Time to draw a picture -- of Abraham Lincoln! I believe this proves once and for all that Lincoln was, indeed, the first US president to be drawn on a rice-based Japanese snack food.

Maybe it's the fumes from that synthetic blue liquid, but I don't think that's a bad Abe at all.

I'll admit it, I got cocky. Too cocky. And that's why I tried to write 川上弘美 (KAWAKAMI Hiromi), the name of one of my favourite authors. I, uh... I meant it as a compliment.

That 美 really turned out nasty. I'm sorry, Ms Kawakami.

Final result: five soiled wafers and fluid to spare! I will refrain from the obvious joke involving a certain branch of Christianity.

Rakugaki complete, it was time to move on to the eating phase. I decided to start with Abe, since he seemed the most trustworthy. Sadly, he tasted precisely the way you would expect gleaming blue artificial candy goo to taste, and I felt sick before I'd even finished his hat. Also, is there a word that means the same as "echo", but applies to flavours rather than sounds? Because that's what this stuff did inside me for hours afterwards.

Also, the syringe did not become a good water pistol at all, because it was impossible to remove all of the ultramarine residue within it. Nothing but disappointment.


Love is in the air. Also, souls

It's Valentine's Day, and I have not one but two poems, each containing one of the kanji in 塊魂 (Katamari Damacy), the game that stole so many hearts in the year leading up to today.

First, an anonymous poem from the Kokinwakashuu (古今和歌集), which contains damashii*:

If my soul, so sick with love, left me and lost its way,
would they linger yet as empty words, my sad remains?

And next, a much more recent poem from YOSANO Akiko (與謝野晶子, or 与謝野晶子 in modern characters) that contains katamari:


Thirty-year-old woman
A thirty-year-old woman's heart
is a lightless, smokeless
soundless ball of fire,
a deep red disc of sun
in an evening sky,
still and intent and burning.

Aww, yeah.

* Actually, damashihi. But no-one cares.


RIP Arthur Miller.

Such a great writer that not even high school English managed to turn me against him.

Shoujo Beat: the lowdown, part 1

English-language Shonen Jump is about to get a sister publication called Shojo Beat. (For those who came in late: "shonen" theoretically refers to manga aimed mostly at boys, and "shojo" to manga for girls, although of course the two audiences aren't segregated that neatly, especially outside Japan.)

The starting series lineup, which I snarfed from Nikkei, is:

  • NANA (NANA −ナナ−), by YAZAWA Ai (矢沢あい), from Shuueisha (集英社)
  • Crimson Hero (紅色HERO), by TAKANASHI Mitsuba (高梨みつば), also from Shuueisha
  • Absolute Boyfriend (絶対彼氏。), by WATASE Yuu (渡瀬悠宇), from Shougakukan (小学館)
  • Kaze Hikaru (風光る), by WATANABE Taeko (渡辺多恵子), also from Shougakukan
  • Godchild (ゴッド チャイルド), by YUKI Kaori (由貴香織里), from Hakusensha (白泉社)
  • Baby and Me (赤ちゃんと僕), by RAGAWA Marimo (羅川真里茂), also from Hakusensha

Interesting point number one: titles from lots of different companies. As far as I know, Shonen Jump only has stuff originally published in the Japanese magazine, 『週刊少年ジャンプ』 ("Weekly Shonen Jump"), which is published by Shuueisha.

Being both intrepid and literate, I thought I'd mosey on down to Book Off, get me a second-hand copy of Volume 1 of each of these titles, and see what's what. (Yes, it is deeply embarrassing to be the only male in the pink-and-white wonderland of the shojo section, thanks for asking.) I can't promise there won't be any spoilers, but I'll do my best. Here we go:

1. NANA. Nana is the 500-pound gorilla in this lineup, as far as I can tell, and it's the only one I'd read (or even heard of) before this experiment. I resold my copies long ago, but here's what I remember: it was originally going to be a series of unconnected stories about girls named "Nana", but after writing two backstories Yazawa said the hell with it and turned it into one big continuity with an ongoing plot. So, it became the story of two girls named Nana who live together. You can see them both on the cover of a "premium fan book" here. The one on the left, who writes her name in katakana (ナナ), is a punk rocker with lots of scary, rangy male friends who play bass. (Including this one dude who's, like, covered in piercings, and is only 16, or something. That kid scares me.)

The one on the right writes her name with kanji (well, one kanji and a repeat symbol: 奈々) and is a whiney norm who just wants to land herself a good man and settle down. They're the original odd couple! Except repeatedly betrayed by guys they trust. As you might expect, they both learn from each other yada yada. Neither of them is anywhere near as cool as their mutual friend Junko, who has j-dreads.

Three more things about Nana:

  1. A lot of its backgrounds are photographs of actual bars and hipster spots in Tokyo that you can really go to if you want, although of course you won't find any cartoon characters there.
  2. Although I believe this will be the first official translation of Nana into English, the French translation is already well underway. There's a lesson there somewhere.
  3. Serendipity! Via Rachel I learn that a Nana movie is in production and will star these people (yeah, it's in Korean.) What the hell, while we're at it, let's link to the game as well, coming out next month, in which you can become "the third Nana" and taste the crazy romance of life in Tokyo as a young woman named Nana. Just like you always wanted.

2. Definitely Boyfriend. So there's this whole genre of shonen manga where the dorky, unpopular male protagonist somehow becomes the target of a magical/robotic/magically robotic babe's affections. Definitely Boyfriend is a girl-centric version of this story, specifically the subtype in which the magical babe actually ends up being more of a life trainer to help the clueless nerd -- in this case, a high-school girl named Riiko whose parents are conveniently not living with her -- win the heart of a non-magical person, usually a childhood friend.

There's one big difference, though, and that is this: in the boy version of this story, other boys are jealous of the nerd who got the babe, but they express it in farcical ways, like running around in boggle-eyed packs, plotting ludicrous operations to steal the babe's heart, and frequently weeping rivers of tears. In DB, other girls are jealous and they express it in nasty and all-too-plausible ways, like ganging up on the lucky girl, kicking mud on her clothes and calling her an ugly bitch. Girls are scary.

3. Baby and me. Elementary-school boy Takuya's mother dies shortly after giving birth to his younger brother, Minoru. Takuya has to grow up faster than expected, make sacrifices, learn not to randomly yell I HATE EVERYBODY to his dad, etc. It unfolds more or less like you'd expect, but it's pleasant reading. The author is pretty funny, too; her commentary in "Chapter 1" is "GAAAA!! TAKUYA, MINORU AND PAPA ARE ALL SO UGLY IN THESE EARLY STORIES!!!" I wonder if that'll make it into the translation.

Trivia: Internal evidence in the text suggests that it was originally to be called 『お兄ちゃんの僕』 ("I, Older Brother").

More next time.


The "March of the Fruit Flies" MP3

linked from here is neat. Sounds like an outtake from Scope.

Valentine's Day is coming

And Google News Japan is abuzz! ... with articles about 50 Cent's latest single, "Valentine's Day Massacre".

But also!

  • ICHIKAWA Yui launches trading card line, bends over birthday cake! (Standard practice for idols, this.) But what about Valentine's Day, Miz Ichikawa?

    Up until now I've given hand-made chocolate to the guys I like, but I'll be busy with work this year so I don't think I'll do anything.

    Too busy? Has she already forgotten the MSN-sponsored date in the park we enjoyed?

  • YOSHINAGA Sayuri gives chocolate to 1000 random folks in a movie theatre, to thank the public for seeing her new movie, 『北の零年』 (Year One in the North* -- it's a historical drama about the settling of Hokkaido [although the Ainu were already there]). Any fond memories of Valentine's Day, Miz Yoshinaga?

    When I was a little girl there was no Valentine's Day, so.... If there had been, I might have given chocolate to that boy I had a crush on, I suppose.

    59 and still holding her own with the ISHIHARA Satomis of this world.

  • Valentine's Day Survey from Yahoo! Japan! Since love and mushy stuff like that is for girly-girls, 78% of their respondents were women. 50% of folks surveyed said that what they wanted most on Valentine's Day was chocolate -- but only 13% of all respondents said they wanted it to be hand-made! That is cold, ladies.

* Although the Japanese title is pronounced Kita no Zero-nen, so why the English version is "one" instead of "zero", I do not know.


Sometimes companies can be too transparent

One year ago, Japan's government decided to stop importing America's CJD-ridden cows. As a result, Yoshinoya had no choice but to stop selling their trademark -- which is to say, only -- dish, beef bowl, and replace it with an ever-rotating menu (that, as the months passed, came to be increasingly reliant on pork).

They have not yet found a reliable and cheap source of non-poisonous beef. But today, for one day only, they sold beef bowl again anyway.

11 a.m. was the official start time. Since today is a public holiday (Japan's national foundation day, 建国記念の日), I was off work, so I decided to drop by then. When I did, I found a line spilling out of the store and extending for twenty meters or so down the road. Not being insane, I decided to come back later, and did so at about three o'clock.

The line had vanished but the place was still pretty busy. I took a seat between a young family and a bunch of high school boys in tracksuits, and ordered my beef.

The tracksuited boys were already snarfing their carbs down, but the family must have arrived just a few minutes earlier because they were still waiting. The father was explaining the situation to his daughter, who was too young to quite get it. "But mummy buys beef all the time at the supermarket." Yes, but not Yoshinoya beef! "What's Yoshinoya?" It's... it's where we are right now.

Finally my food arrived. It was... OK. Like I said last year,

the busier Yoshinoya gets the worse their food tastes. The best Yoshinoya meat is the stuff that's been soaking in the spooky artificial sauce/flavour matrix since 3 a.m., just waiting for you to stagger in at 5:00, take a seat across from the off-duty hookers, and order a bowl. So today's Yoshinoya was a little bland, comparatively.

I have to admit I was moved nearly to tears by the brochure they gave me along with the food, though:

We will never forget the eleventh of February, 2004.
The day we let the fire beneath our beef pots go out. The sadness we felt when we became unable to serve beef bowl to those customers who so kindly patronised our stores.
It has been one year since then. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.

OK, those last two sentences may not have been in the original.
They also included a slightly disturbing section headed "Why only one day?"

Ever since we stopped selling beef bowl in February last year, we've been ceaselessly investigating possible new beef sources.
Generally speaking, in cold storage, beef keeps for up to twenty-four months...

Oh, I don't like where this is going at all... They source this fact to the International Institute of Refrigeration, by the way.

And so we began gathering American beef from places all over Japan that had some in storage.
Building our stockpile little by little like this, after one year we finally had enough to make about one day's worth of beef bowl.

Yeah, I kind of wish I hadn't read that after all.


Irregular Weekly Four 12: 君子豹変

If a superior man was worth half a panther, what would you get if you tried to buy one that way?

kun shi hyou hen
superior man panther change

Confusing? It should be! It's from the I Ching, the most confusing book in history! But perhaps the context will help. If you're following along at home, look up hexagram 49, moving sixth line:

The superior man changes like a panther.
The inferior man molts in the face.
Starting brings misfortune.
To remain persevering brings good fortune. [Wilhelm/Baynes]
[The sixth SIX, divided, shows] the superior man producing his changes as the leopard (does when he) changes (his spots), while small men change their faces (and show their obedience). To go forward (now) would lead to evil, but there will be good fortune in abiding firm and correct. [Legge]

"Molts in the face"?

Anyway, clearly what we have here is two guys -- three, if you include the translator -- trying to bluff us into believing that what they wrote is comprehensible. But let's face it: it isn't. For one things, leopards can't change their spots. That's why we have that whole turn of phrase about it. I would stand on their shoulders and suggest something like:

The superior man moves like a panther. The inferior man changes only his face. Setting out = suffering, staying put = happiness.

In any case, the four-character compound has come to mean "Admitting one's mistakes promptly and moving on". Originally it was praise, but in recent times it's come to be used critically as well: "A new girlfriend already? Don't you think that's a bit 君子豹変?"


Let the healing begin

At right, a "healing" product. You drive your hands into the green bunny head's temples and then relax. I'm not sure why this is better than just relaxing without your hands inside a pillow, but ours is not to question why.

To fill up space and make the formatting work, I now present the single most stroke-intensive kanji in my entire dictionary:

Not one, not two, but three horse (馬) radicals! Plus a tree (木), which makes a total of thirty-four strokes. This is what gives 䯂 the decisive advantage over its closest three-animal kanji rival, 麤, which only has thirty-three -- three deer (鹿) at eleven strokes each.

See your taoist if pain persists

There are those who say that Zen is too dry, too detached from everyday life to be relevant in today's world. To them I reply, "Oh yeah? You clearly haven't read this passage in the Shoubougenzouzuimonki, smart guy!" And then they say, "What passage? Stop using demonstratives without a clear referent." And then I say "Why don't you look in your pocket?" and they do, and discover a beat-up old printout of this blog entry. "Oh my God was that there all along?!" they cry, and I just smile mysteriously. Anyway:

Dogen said: Once, a growth appeared on Dahui Zonggao's bottom.
"That's a big problem," said the doctor when he saw it.
"A big problem as in I'm going to die?" asked Dahui Zonggao.
"Very likely," replied the doctor.
"If I'm going to die young," said Dahui Zonggao, "I need to meditate a lot more before I go." And so he sat zazen with even greater determination than before -- so much that the growth was squashed into nothingness and no longer a problem.

Ew, right? Dogen follows it up with an anecdote about how when he was the boat to China, he got the runs, but then there was a big storm and he forgot about his illness, upon which it quickly went away. The moral is: throw yourself into zen so hard that you forget everything else, because diseases go away by themselves if you just ignore them. Kind of like grade-school bullies.


Definitely may-vie (kill me)

The Ring was as we all know based on a Japanese movie called Ringu (『リング』). When it came time to show the American version in Japanese theatres, there was no title clash, because the new version has "the" in it. So many a Japanese person went and saw Za Ringu (『ザ・リング』) and everybody was happy, especially the distributors.

Now there is a new remake of a Japanese movie. The original is called 『呪怨』 (Juon, which means "Grudge"). The remake is called The Grudge. But, problem: "grudge" is not exactly in the top 100 most commonly used English vocabulary list, and it also doesn't katakanify very well (I think you'd get gurajji, and that just sounds too much like a made-up Tibetan word for "spirit-energy").

What to do? Simple: copy the Ring-bearers, and add "the" to the original Japanese title! And so 『THE JUON/呪怨』 is coming soon to a theatre near me, and the pattern has been set.

(I love the picture at the bottom of that page, incidentally, where it looks like the creepy crawling girl is holding floor plans. Floor plans... of unthinkable terror! Not even Feng Shui can save you now!)

Four Japanese words the standard kanji for which obscure the real etymology

  • 志す, kokorozasu: to aim at, to aspire to. Obviously kokoro (心: heart, spirit, etc., like I said last week) + sasu (差す: to stretch something out (usually the hand or arm)): to "point one's heart at something", along exactly the same lines as 指差す, yubisasu, "to point one's finger at something". The kanji 志 is made of 心 and 士, the latter of which is in this case a warped version of a footprint, signifying going somewhere.
  • 雷, kaminari: thunder (and/or lightning). Really from kami (神), "god", and nari (鳴り), "call" or "cry".
  • 巫, mekannagi: a kind of sacred performance artist and/or shaman, usually female. The word is made of:
    1. me, woman, usually kanjified 女
    2. kamu, became modern kami, god, as above
    3. nagi, to calm or soothe, related to the modern word nagomu (和む), to calm down
    But it all gets crammed into the single character 巫. Incidentally, the specifically male version is okannagi, same etymology except me becomes o (man), and is written 覡. If you leave out the me and the o you get the unisex kannagi, which is written the same as the female version, 巫.
  • 男, otoko: man, male. You knew it had to break up into smaller parts, if only because of the related word otome (乙女, nowadays meaning "maiden"; note that telltale me). Etymology is oto (in this case meaning "young") + ko (child). Yes, this means that "otoko no ko" (男の子: "boy" as opposed to an older male) is redundant.


Apparently these were really popular in the 80s.



How to decide where to go for dinner

The Waitress Uniform Collection page. Now you too can learn to identify the specific frills and patterns that signify French, German, Italian and Video Game Fantasy World cultures in the uniformspace.

I like CoCo Ichibanya.

They serve good food, for a chain of curry restaurants, and they also name their dishes with helpful clarity. Beef Curry. Pork Curry. Cheese Curry. Shrimp Cutlet Curry.

Which is why I was a little disturbed by the posters on the walls announcing their new, limited-time-only dish, "Grandmother Curry".

Fortunately, it doesn't contain actual grandmothers: it's just a modern recreation of the very first menu item the company ever had, back in S53 (1978). "Everything began from this flavour," their promotional material says. It is, if you will, the "grandmother" of the current CoCo Ichibanya franchise.

I'm still leery of actually saying "Give me a Grandmother Curry, please", though.


And a bunch of crazy crap on the walls: Things I Learnt This Week

Hee hee hee... why yes, I am 12, why?
1. Some Japanese ads are trippy in a "lots of surreal stuff happens really fast, and then a cute girl winks at you while holding the product" way, but some of them are, like, totally deep, man. Check out this commercial for Kewpie-brand low-fat mayonnaise (I think). I'll wait.

Woah, right? That hole is a warp hole to the sky that makes things big... but, like, maybe what we think of as normal is actually totally tiny and it just makes them regular size... and what if you fell into the hole and all the way into the small world? Could you enlarge the hole and go through it again and just be, like, colossal? And if you flew an airplane straight up into the sky, would you buzz out of the hole below you, insect-sized?

2. One of my students has spent his entire life thinking that that gigantic metropolis on America's east coast is pronounced "Mew York".

3. The reason a lot of old websites in Chinese have a space between every single character is because back in the day, USA-made browsers and other software didn't know where to put breaks in text that had no spaces. So Chinese webmasters would put a space in every other character, so that the program could break the line anywhere rather than trying to render it as a single endless horizontal beam.

4. You can look at DoCoMo's emoji charts on the web. Note that they're all in the Unicode "private use area", despite the fact that many of them duplicate "Miscellaneous Symbols" in U+2600-26FF. Bad DoCoMo! Stop hindering convergence!

This guy has a helpful but grumpy page saying that DoCoMo's overseas units putting the same icons into different places in the character set, but since (e.g.) 58942 = 0xE63E, I think the problem is actually that DoCoMo's Japanese mobiles use Shift-JIS, whereas their overseas units started more recently and must serve peoples of more varied languages and so use Unicode. That is to say, presumably if you were to specify in the header that a page was in Unicode, you could serve it up to European or Japanese mobiles with the same code numbers and expect the same emoji to emerge(y). I could be wrong, though, I'm not a mobile developer.

5. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life was the best English-language comic book published in 2004. ("That's not something you learned. That's just an opinion." Silence, reader!) Immediately after finishing it I leapt aboard my internet stallion and rode it to ordering-issue-2-and-O'Malley's-previous-book-at-Amazon town. That's one inconveniently-named town.

6. That's no inconveniently-named town... that's a hard-boiled mystery!


Irregular Weekly Four 11: 鉄心石腸

Previous IWFs have, I admit, tended to focus on the foppish side of four-character compounds. Autumns, evenings, gold, heaven, Buddha, you get the drill. Today I aim to correct this with the manliest damn compound I could tear from my dictionary.

tes shin seki chō
iron heart, stone guts

Much like a man, it's so easy to understand that explaining it is almost pointless—and yet, since I am a man, I will proceed to do so. It means an indomitable will. That's it. No ifs. No buts. No hidden depths*. No original source in long-forgotten poetry about willow trees. Iron heart, stone guts.

Further: it is very hard to get this compound wrong. 鉄腸石心 (tetchōsekishin, "iron guts, stone heart") and 鉄石心腸 (tessekishinchō, "iron stone heart guts") are also correct. Students of combinatorics will note the implications of this: namely, if you say the word 鉄 and then follow it up with 心, 石 and 腸, in any order, you have a 50% chance of producing a recognized four-character compound.

Finally, there's 鉄胆石腸 (tettansekichō, "iron liver, stone guts"), for those who are too grizzled to acknowledge possession of even an iron heart.

* Oh, all right, one hidden depth -- 心, usually translated "heart" because it is used in the word for the physically existing organ (心臓 -- 臓 means "[internal] organ", and that part on the left that looks like a regular moon (月) radical is actually derived from 肉 -- meat. In Japanese this special "looks exactly like 'moon' but is actually 'meat'" radical is, charmingly, referred to as にくづき -- "meat-moon")... where was I?

Ah, right, so 心 is usually translated "heart" but in metaphorical contexts it is often closer to "spirit" -- or, more accurately, it represents a basic metaphysical concept that, as you might expect, doesn't map easily to English. This is, for example, why translations of and references to Natsume Sōseki's famous novel 『こゝろ』 (Kokoro, the native Japanese word to which 心 was assigned when they first started importing Chinese characters) normally just call it Kokoro rather than Heart or Spirit -- because there is no single, satisfying English word with the same connotations.

In fact, according to the J-Wik the original title of 『こゝろ』 was 『心 先生の遺書』 ("Kokoro: The note Sensei left" [when he killed himself]). So it may be that Sōseki wanted to emphasise the Japaneseness of the word kokoro in the title, dissociating it from the Chinese character 心 -- in other words, resisting "translation" of the word away from (native) Japanese, in the same way as his postwar translators to other languages did.


The Foolish Triangle, by IWAYA Sazanami

[This is not exactly a translation but more a re-imagining of 『三角と四角』 ("The Triangle and the Square") by IWAYA Sazanami (巌谷小波). As you might guess from those links, I'm working from the Aozora text.]

The Foolish Triangle

There was once a triangular ruler, the kind you might use while learning geometry, who was very proud of the fact that he had three sharp corners.

"The world's full of stationery, but none of it has more corners than me," he would say to himself smugly. "When it comes to angles, I'm number one!"

But one day, a pencil that lived in the same desk came up to him and said, "Yo, triangle! Triangle! I always thought that no-one had more corners than you, since you brag about them so much, but did you see the drafting board that arrived just before? It's got you beat, dude."

"I beg your pardon?" said the triangle, frowning. "More corners than me? Stop talking such nonsense. It's a wide world, but nobody in it is pointier than I."

"Whatever, dude," said the pencil. "I know what I saw."

"Perhaps there is something wrong with your eyes."

"Hey, if you don't believe me, go look for yourself."

"Very well, I shall. And I shall know if you're lying."

"Fine with me, because I'm not."

And so they went to look, and the triangle had to admit that the drafting board had four corners -- one more than him. What's more, all of the rest of the stationery, that had always looked up to the triangle before, was now gathered around the drafting board admiring its corners instead.

"Boo-yah!" said the pencil. "You see, dude? I told you it was true."

"All right, all right, you win" muttered the triangle. Because really, what else could he do? Still, he was a bad loser. Miserable little board, he thought, barging in where you weren't invited, with your fancy corners. You'll pay for embarrassing me like this. And before long the perfect plan for revenge occured to him.

So, on the way home, he stopped at the scissors' place.

"Scissors, old friend," said the triangle "Can I borrow you tonight?"

"I guess so," replied the scissors. "But what do you wanna cut?"

"Something quite hard, as it happens," the triangle said. "How's your edge?"

"I'll cut most anything, but if you think it'll be a problem I could sharpen up a little before we leave."

"Perfect! Let me sharpen you just a smidge," said the triangle. "This might sting at first, but it can't be helped and it won't take long."

And so the triangle sharpened the scissors until they seemed sharp enough, then went home and waited impatiently for the sun to set.

Eventually, it did, and night fell. Once the whole desk seemed to be asleep, the triangle crept out of bed. Heart pounding and scissors under his arm, he tiptoed stealthily over to the drafting board.

It was dead to the world and snoring like there was no tomorrow. Perfect! thought the triangle. Now, my four-cornered friend, I shall cut off every last one of your points, and as of tomorrow I shall once more be the King of Corners.

Snip! went the scissors, and off came one of the drafting board's corners. The board didn't seem to notice, though, so the triangle snipped off another. The drafting board still didn't wake up. "Well, aren't we a sound little sleeper," snickered the triangle, and with a final snip! snip! he cut off the board's last two corners.

"Thanks ever so, scissors," the triangle said, and he hurried back to his house and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, he left the house looking as innocent as he could. The desk was abuzz. Everyone who saw him said, "Have you seen the drafting board? It's totally awesome!"

What the devil--? thought the triangle. Wondering what had happened, he went over to see for himself, and found the drafting board strutting around proudly -- for not only was he not cornerless, he now had eight!

Of course, we all know that cutting off four corners will only make twice as many, but the triangle was no geometer. "That oblong magician has turned octagonal in a single night!" he said to himself, shocked. "If this keeps up, by tomorrow he'll have ten -- maybe even twenty corners! Bah! I may as well give up!"

And that is just what the foolish triangle finally did.


Deep beneath the mountains of Antarctica

The white chocolate kitkats were tasty. The green tea kitkats were delicious. The melon kitkats were disturbing, but not unexpected given Japan's passionate and ongoing love affair with melon.


Street Angel

Every so often I re-trawl the web for information about things I was previously unable to learn much about due to insufficient knowledge of Japanese/Chinese. The bonus here is, of course, that while I am studiously memorising more Han characters, people who learnt to write them in primary school are also making more websites. Websites for ME!

Our subject today is Zhou Xuan (周璇), prewar singer from Shanghai who performed the song that plays at the most beautiful moment of In the mood for love. it's also the title song if you're using the Asian name of the film, 花様年華. Here's all the English stuff I found.

This page has been up forever, and the guy who runs it was astonishingly helpful when I e-mailed him out of the blue to ask him what else he knew.

This page at Shanghai Soup has a bunch of songs you can listen to, including what seems to be Zhou Xuan's most famous track, 夜上海 ("Shanghai Night": "夜上海 夜上海 你是个不夜城"*)

Legendary Chinese Pop Fun! (I think that's a pun, not an error) has all kinds of cool stuff. There's a Zhou Xuan page, of course, complete with VCD reviews:

Someone hanker for old Shanghai,but this movie proved that was only some rich peoples life. At that time.Lower classes people's life were very hard.They oppressed by rich peoples and Japan!(Oh!)

-- But there are also pages about early Asian 78s (with scans!) and old-school Mandarin pop music -- including Lee Hsianhsan, who was actually Japanese, born in Manchukuo.

And, finally, this isn't English, but here's a page of search results for Zhou Xuan at the mysterious Baidu.com, and here are the lyrics to 花样的年华. Well, that only took a few years. Any Chinese-speaking readers want to translate it properly for me? (I won't even inflict my pitiful attempt on y'all.)

* "Shanghai night, Shanghai night, you are here [and so] it isn't night in the city?"

Thai election posters.

Hey, there are candidates other than Thaksin!