Bikini models in blog shock

Via Yuki: talent agency Anthem is apparently encouraging its talent to blog. You can find the full list here, but they all link to each other too.

Some are more interesting than others. (We can now consider it conclusively proven that "Good morning! I slept for twelve hours" isn't any more interesting when a bikini model says it.) Some have more purikura than others. Some are written in Japanese so cutesy I'm ashamed to understand it. None have comments.

As Yuki says, the one that looks most promising is KABA-chan's. He even has a picture of himself with his blog editor! (Well, 担当(者). Close enough.)

It's your town now

Shocking but true tales in ergonomics
Chapter 11 and a few final thoughts are up! Oh, so very up. And with six hours to spare!

I've included a picture of my workspace to the right there, so that you can see the depths a man sinks to when he spends a whole month translating Botchan. Stay in school, kids! (But not translating school.)

In other translated-novel news, David James Karashima's translation of KANEHARA Hitomi's 『蛇にピアス』 is out! We at No-sword offer Mr Karashima our sincerest envy congratulations, and respectfully beg for a job.

"No, In A Good Way"


Chapter 10

is not up. Nah, I'm just kidding. It's totally up.

This one centres around a "Victory Celebration", my rendering of 祝勝会 (shukushoukai (literally "celebrate-victory meetup"). Nowadays people have shukushoukai to celebrate winning important baseball games, getting into university, and so on, but the one in this chapter is probably more military in nature. Specifically, according to Wikipedia, it refers to a celebration of the Treaty of Portsmouth, which basically formalised Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

My homage to vintage Marvel sound effects is also included.

Furry green balls celebrated, used as mascots

Today is Marimo Day in Japan. What's a marimo? Here's a hint: they look like this. As you can see, they're balls of algae that roll around the bottom of Lake Akan in Hokkaido.

The official Japanese Lake Akan homepage even has a marimo mascot. His blue-and-white getup is a cartoonified version of traditional Ainu clothing, and he's playing a kind of jaw harp called a mukkuri.

Here's a neat picture of a marimo and... maybe a marimo spirit? I don't even know. But neat.

Someone at Fandom Wank asked,

"Is there such thing as J-Country?" And I am here to say: Yes, there is. Although the Japan Country Music Association is about to disband, J-Country itself will live on, as this page of J-Country links attests.

As an aside, I personally have heard some pretty rockin' bluegrass bands here.


The first 150 pages of JJ magazine's May issue, rendered into English text at two words per page

Cover: sandals. Hide pores, princess face. First white girl appears. Diorsnow whitener, number two. Dior fragrance. Girly bags. Ayu on a motorbike. Sandal catfight! Model's selections: Mie, dancing, "slightly ethnic"; Yumi likes wrinkled shirts; for Rina, character t-shirts; Miki almost bares navel; Mariko shows shoulder skin. Louis Vuitton's cherry bags -- no! Pinky! Some competition. More Pinky. More Mie. More Pinky. Sports styles. Contacts for "chihuahua eyes". Clear impression.

Index begins. Another ad. Index continues. People wearing white on the streets, then models. Now Emily's "white style". "Ethnic" t-shirt: "move bitch". Riiza: celeb. Lesser stars. Next: casual versus simple. Readers wearing white, white.

"Beauties: it's their skin." "Skin-baring idol" tops for students and OLs. Cute phone! Look devilish. No, conservative. Sparkle! Gather! Enter dorky younger man. GIANT SCARY EYE ATTACK. LIPS! STOP IT LANCOME! White clothing every day. God almighty, more white. Baby pink: "classy-girly". Eurotrash on perfume bottle.

Bags (white, of course.) More bags, some shoes. A fan. Faded photo. "Spot breaker". Blue eyes. Tokyo: full of white. Kobe: full of white. Imperfect people can wear white too! Even pants. More beauty through lucidity.

Chanel bags, CD backdrop. Weird goo on face. "'C' is for cupcake." "Become an It Girl." Charlotte Ronson: interviewed! Hotdog. Branded t-shirts: Provence. Hawhy? Izu Girl. Popeye. Rainbow. Dior punch!

Car ad. Hey, there's Liv Tyler. Ooh! Cat on scooter! Slightly naughty princesses: heels. Night partying. "Paparazzi"? Please. Eating on a couch. School shots. "Serious dating." Is that Salma Hayek? Pink shoes, white shift. Older JJ cover shots. How to attract guys: favorite brands, Yada Akiko, shoulder flash, skin, mermaid, accessories, scents, "me-long" hair.

A "spring of light". Woah, hot. Bags. Hot again: Duras. Next: camisoles. Polka dots. Lace. Ribbons. With cardigans. With jackets. Deodorant ad, all pink. Family plans for phones. Kobe princess.


Chapter 9

is up. There's a party, and a lot of weird stuff happens, and there was one word that took me like five whole damn minutes to figure out (へえつく張る, a Tokyo-accent variant of 這いつくばる).

There's also a racial slur, kind of. Our hero calls the Clown a ちゃんちゃん (chan-chan) which, in context, can only have been meant as an insulting likening of the Clown to a Chinese person: ちゃんちゃん was slang for the queue which all Chinese men had to wear during the Qing (aka Manchu) dynasty, who still ruled China when this was written. What's more, it comes after some lighthearted drunken singing which happens to refer to the Sino-Japanese War, which ended with Japan advancing into Manchuria, and we all know how that story ended half a century later.

Of course at the time it didn't seem quite so ominous; even the British empire had formed an alliance with Japan a few years before Botchan was written. Still, from a modern standpoint it can make for some slightly uncomfortable reading. And unlike a straight reprint of Huckleberry Finn or something, this is a translation: the question is not "do I censor the historically accurate racial slur?", but "how precisely do I render this slur into English, given that I'm not exactly adhering to period speech?"

In other words: I granted myself license to upgrade my Botchan's epithets to words like "motherfucker", to keep his forcefulness (as I hear it) relatively the same for a modern reader -- so is it also OK to tone down words that have become more taboo since the book was written?

In the end, I decided, I guess it is OK. But I didn't want to lose the ugly, racist aspect of the line entirely -- that would be too dishonest -- so I tried to compromise. Maybe later I'll asterisk in a link to this blog entry.

How to cook for forty revolutionaries

I've been hearing this and that about To Serve the People, a novel by Yan Lianke which Chinese authorities have banned for (apparently) a variety of reasons, one of which being that its very title parodies one of MAO Zedong's most well-known slogans.

So, having a knack for missing the point of most things in favour of their shiny, shiny linguistic aspects, I thought I'd go find out what Mao's "serve the people" is in Chinese. And I did. It's 为人民服务, although I guess he wrote it before the language reforms, when it was 為人民服務 (which it still is in Japanese kanji). It breaks down to "for the benefit of (为) the people (人民), serve (服务)", I think.

Here's what it looks like in Mao's handwriting, and note how they use that exact handwritten version as an element in, f'rexample, this poster.

More Mao at good ol' Zhongwen.

Lawson literature roundup

God only knows what the staff at my local convenience store think of me, but I just can't stop buying this stuff.

"Mind tricks that work: 78 techniques for making people do what you want". Call me crazy, but I don't think that dressing like the Phantom of the Opera is going to get me very far.

"Pro-Wrestling Superstar Biographies: HULK HOGAN". He's playing electric guitar by page 3, people. BEST BIOGRAPHY EVER.

Today is...

  • ... the day of 利休忌, rikyuu-ki, an annual (Buddhist) memorial service for Sen no Riykuu. And if you don't know who Sen no Rikyuu is, clearly you haven't spent enough time kneeling in front of exquisitely rustic pottery.

    Except, actually, 利休忌 is only today in the Omotesenke (表千家) tea ceremony tradition. The Urasenke (裏千家) folks observe 利休忌 on the 28th. And Rikyuu himself actually died on April 21st. I have no idea what that's all about.

  • ... さくらの日, sakura no hi, Sakura Day. The sakura start to blossom around the end of March (depending on where you are), but why the 27th specifically? It's a mathematical pun. The word for "blossom" in Japanese is sa-ku, and if you put it into short-form numbers [a whooole other post, that], that's 3-9. 3 x 9 = 27. Groan.

  • ... 仏壇の日, butsudan no hi, Buddhist Altar Day. This commemorates an order given by Emperor Temmu in 686: 「諸国の家毎に仏舎を作り乃ち仏像及び経を置き、以て礼拝供養せよ」 ("Let a Buddhist place of worship be built in every home in every province; furthermore let Buddhist statues and sutras be placed therein; this having been done, pray and remember the dead there"). Those butsudan are still in most Japanese homes today.

Today's events come courtesy not of Wikipedia but rather of this page, which although barely legible is quite informative.


~ boogaloo (n)

Yesterday was Electricity Day (電気記念日) in Japan, commemorating the switch-on of the nation's first electric lights on this day in 1878 (50 arc lights at an engineering university which later became the University of Tokyo's School of Engineering).

I celebrated by buying a new electronic dictionary. I debated throwing down an extra 10,000 yen or so to get one that also had an encyclopedia, a medical dictionary, etc., but then I realised that I... didn't really want them anyway. All I really needed was a decent set of dictionaries that work within Japanese, and the SL-LT3W has Koujien (my J->J dictionary of choice), the Sanseido Old Japanese dictionary, and the Iwanami dictionaries of proverbs and four-letter compounds -- both of which I've been feeling the need for anyway. So, in a way, I saved myself over 5,000 yen with this purchase! ... Right?

The SL-LT3W seems OK so far. Key response is noticeably slower than my old dictionary, and it's also bigger and more awkward to use while reading -- I don't see myself ever getting to the point where I can use it one-handed, unlike the old one. But, to be fair, the new one does have a lot more data to store and search through than the old one did.

So much more, in fact, that I find myself getting distracted from my reading by the chains of association I can now follow electronically, the endless maze of ever more obscure lexical and orthographic oddities. It's bad for my immediate reading goals, but... it's so gooood.

Literary feud continues unabated, unnoticed

Earlier in the month I posted about a mini-feud over translations of Souseki's London writings. This week the saga continued.

Unrelated observation: the Japan Times do a great job of equipping the online edition of their letters page with useful hyperlinks. Well done, Japan Times.


Irregular Weekly Four 18: 一味同心, 諸行無常

All things must pass:
This is the rule of life and death.
End life, end death:
Enter Nirvana, become joyful.

I've covered a lot of compounds that come from classical Chinese literature. Here's one from the Japanese canon, specifically the Tale of the Heike (平家物語).

ichi mi dou shin
one interest, same spirit

Here it is in context, which means section 8.3 of ol' Heikalot, at least according to this rather excellent online version. I've bolded いちみどうしん (the hiragana for 一味同心) and its English equivalent in my translation.

The province of Bungo was ruled by Yorisuke, Secretary of Justice, Third Rank. His son, the courtier Yoritsune, had been put in charge, but the capital sent a messenger to Yoritsune. "The Heike have already become separated from the gods, been abandoned by the Emperor, left the Imperial Capital and become defeated soldiers, bobbing on the waves. Therefore, it is not acceptable for the people of the Nine Provinces and Two Islands* to take them in. Associate with them not, but rather join together with the East and the North [of Japan] and drive them out entirely," were the orders, and so he delegated the task to Ogata no Saburou Koreyoshi.

* i.e. Kyushu + Ikijima and Tsushimatou

Well, you probably guessed that it meant something like that already, huh?

The opening sentence Tale of the Heike includes another of my favourite four-character compounds -- hell, one of my favourite phrases, period. This one is much more famous and comes from the Nirvana Sutra (涅槃經).

sho gyou mu jou
everything goes, nothing eternal

The full context is:

The voice of the bells of Gion Shouja,
An echo of "All Things Must Pass"

(Gion in this case having nothing to do with Kyoto's geisha district, but referring instead to Jetavana Vihara in Savatthi.)

Just when you thought economists couldn't have a worse public image

UEKUSA Kazuhide: busted.

The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday ordered Kazuhide Uekusa, a well-known economist who was a regularly featured guest on television programs, to pay a fine of 500,000 yen for using a mirror to look up the skirt of a high school student in April.
The court also ordered that the small mirror be forfeited.

I have to admit I snickered when I read that bit. Since hand mirrors aren't exactly difficult to come by, or especially expensive to replace, it's clearly all about making this as publicly humiliating as possible for Uekusa.

Curious, I searched for more information about the forfeited mirror's fate, and found this at Sanspo:

刑事訴訟法によると、没収物は検察官が処分すると定められている。「価値のあるものの場合は公売などに掛けられますが、特段の価値がなければ廃棄されます。ああ、あの手鏡ですか? その程度のものでしたら廃棄になるのでは」と東京地検の広報担当者。
★Where will the mirror go?
The forfeited mirror. If the court's judgement stands, it will probably be destroyed.
According to the Criminal Procedure Code, forfeited goods are to be disposed of by the public prosecutor. "Items with value are put up for auction and so forth, but items with no particular value are destroyed. Oh, that hand mirror? My guess is something like that would be destroyed," said a PR person at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office.
We get the feeling that if "that mirror" were sold via online auction it would fetch quite a high price... too bad!

Anyway, the lesson is clear: if there's one thing that absolutely doesn't fly in Japan, it's the sexualisation of high school girls! ... Oh, wait.


The thirty-three names of Kwan Yin

Bootleg No-sword merchandise
spotted in Ameyoko shock

Found at Wikipedia and also here: the thirty-three names/titles of Kwan Yin, according to a book from 1783. (The idea that Kwan Yin has thirty-three forms is much older, but I think this might have been the first attempt to actually list them all.) I think I have most of these right, and even if I don't Kwan Yin will save me if worst comes to worst.

  1. Kwan Yin of the Willows [willows are medicinal]
  2. Kwan Yin who Rides on the Dragon's Head
  3. Kwan Yin who Holds a Sutra
  4. Kwan Yin the Haloed
  5. Kwan Yin the Playful [rides a cloud]
  6. Kwan Yin the White-Robed
  7. Kwan Yin of the Lotus
  8. Kwan Yin who Watches the Waterfall [which quenches the fire of evil]
  9. Kwan Yin, the Dispenser of Medicine
  10. Kwan Yin of the Fish Cage
  11. Kwan Yin, the Jewel of Virtues [as in The Four]
  12. Kwan Yin, the Moon which is Reflected in Water [this is a metaphor for the idea that her virtue is reflected in us]
  13. Kwan Yin of the Single Leaf
  14. Kwan Yin the Blue-Necked [long story; apparently involves Shiva]
  15. Kwan Yin, the Influence of Virtue
  16. Kwan Yin the Long-Lived
  17. Kwan Yin of the Many Treasures
  18. Kwan Yin who Guards the Door to the Cave [so that poisonous snakes can't come out. No, really]
  19. Kwan Yin of the Great Peace
  20. Kwan Yin of the Refreshing Pond
  21. Amadai Kwan Yin [it's hard to find a Japanese source for what Amadai means, but I think this page says it translates as "Boundless Mercy and No Fear"]
  22. Kwan Yin Clothed in Leaves [a reference to some tribe, apparently]
  23. Kwan Yin of the Lapis Lazuli [saves people in trouble at sea]
  24. Kwan Yin who Respects the Great One/s
  25. Kwan Yin of the Clam
  26. Kwan Yin [who Protects us During] All Six of the Day's Divisions [i.e. all day long]
  27. Kwan Yin the Universally Merciful
  28. Kwan Yin, the Horseman's Wife
  29. Kwan Yin whose Hands are Clasped in Prayer
  30. Kwan Yin, the Oneness
  31. Kwan Yin who is Not the Two Deva Kings [and yet she appears as them, and they are fundamentally the same although apparently quite different]
  32. Kwan Yin who Holds the Lotus
  33. Kwan Yin, the Anointer


But no television until the 50s

Today is Broadcasting Day (放送記念日), marking the day on which, in 1943, NHK as we know it was established. And that day was chosen because it was the 18th anniversary of Japan's first radio broadcast:

「アーアーアー、聞こえますか。JOAK、JOAK、 こちらは東京放送局であります。」
"Ahh, ahh, ahh, can you hear me? JOAK, JOAK, this is the Tokyo Broadcasting Office."

The "Ahh, ahh, ahh" was apparently designed to give listeners a chance to fine-tune their crystal sets.

I should note that NHK themselves claim to have been around since well before 1943. I assume the discrepancy is caused by some technical/legal issue that I don't care about.

From the Ray Parker Jr files

A few people I know have mailed me about/linked to articles like this one, which claim that gazonga-ginormifying gum* has become a "big hit" in Japan. I'm going to go on the record and say that I've never heard of it, which leads me to suspect that the whole thing is not quite as big a deal as the BBC believes.

You can look at the company's website here, which mentions a mid-march Health and Beauty Show. (Note that according to this page, the gum went on sale last July.)

I further note that Google News in Japanese doesn't seem to have any stories about the gum, although there are other Health and Beauty Show-related stories about nanocapsules and 15-minute blood analysis by cellphone. Nor does a quick web search reveal much non-commercial buzz about the gum, except for people linking to it going "heh, breast-enhancing gum". And none of my female friends have mentioned it**.

I therefore propose the following explanation: that the gum is probably selling quite well to the usual health-and-beauty-product demographic, but that talented PR people in the Bust-Up booth at the Health and Beauty Show managed to get a few foreign reporters convinced that it was a wild fad sweeping the nation like some voluptuous Mothra. (It certainly wouldn't be the first time journalists had proved willing to believe anything they were told about Japan, especially with this kind of sexualised zing.)

But I must admit, I could be wrong. My Googling skills have proved unimpressive in the past, and I haven't exactly gone out of my way to ask my female friends if they ever chew gum to make their breasts bigger. So I invite my readers, especially Japan-dwelling ones, to share what they know in the comments section.

* I know, I know. I don't normally use the word "gazonga", but I couldn't think of a better word that alliterated with "gum".

** Although, of course, they wouldn't, would they?


"1919-1926: Burst in wealth and popularity of writers"

Remarkably detailed (not to mention small-fonted) timelines of Japanese historical events, especially the Meiji period.

In fandom they refer to this as "crack"

The Romance of Old Japan, written by the Champneys in 1917. From Chapter VII, "The Folly of the Khan":

My forebodings were confirmed when the Khan suddenly grasped my arm:
"Ware thee, Marco," he cautioned beneath his breath. "Hojo hath commanded that we be beheaded. For the moment mask thine alarm; but when I give the sign -- flee!"
An icy sweat oozed from my every pore.
Tokimune with hateful sneering face pressed close upon me.
"Is the honorable Tojin ill?" he snarled. "Meseems thy complexion hath assumed the hue of a green olive."
"Verily," assented the Khan, "the melons of which my master partook anon have engendered most damnable gripes. Needs must he repose himself for a little space. Request is proffered that the august General retire."
Bowing obsequiously our host resumed his promenade.
Parting the foliage the Khan disclosed a wall. "Mount upon my shoulder and leap!" he whispered.
"But what of yonder side?" I gasped.
"It can hold naught worse than death!" was his reply.

If Reischauer's prose was that purple I might have finished his history by now.

Ooh baby I like it raw

I am a complete sucker for MATSUSHIMA Nanako endorsements, so you can bet I was first in line to try out the new, rebooted Namacha-brand green tea. The first advertisements, at the bottom there, seemed to position her as a very force of nature. She eats tea leaves raw! I mean, I know that's the whole point of a product called 生茶, and they claim the new flavour gets you even closer to the foliage-eating experience... but that's still pretty hardcore. This must be the 茶葉感動 (chaba kandou, "Powerful emotion [caused by] tea leaves") that they keep mentioning.

Best of all, for a limited time only each bottle of Namacha comes with a bonus miniature bottle containing...

A small sachet of tea! Yes, Namacha may be the first tea-based drink in the world to use recursion as a promotional tool.

Against all my better instincts, I steeped me a cup of the meta-tea, and it tasted... weak. Must have put too much water in.


Least. Practical. Script. EVER.

It's like trying to read a book in a parallel-universe Earth ruled by bad web designers from 1996.


Spring is perfectly evenly sprung

Where do I even begin?

It gives me great pleasure to announce that we have entered 春分, shunbun, or "spring divider", the fourth section of the 24-part traditional Sino-Japanese calendar. This one is timed to coincide with the vernal equinox, so there are a bunch of other neat holidays going on around the world too, including the alliterative Zoroastrian festival Norouz in Iran. And if I am not mistaken Aleister Crowley claimed that the Book of the Law was dictated to him over the equinox.

But back to East Asia -- like 啓蟄, 春分 is divided into three mini-seasons, and they are as follows. In Japan:

  • 雀始巣 -- "Sparrows begin to build nests"
  • 桜始開 -- "Sakura begin to blossom"
  • 雷乃発声 -- "Thunder's voice rings out"

And in China:

  • 玄鳥至 -- "Swallows arrive [back from migrating south]"
  • 雷乃発声 -- "Thunder's voice rings out"
  • 始雷 -- "First lightning"

The equinox is such a big deal in Japan that it's even a public holiday, which we get tomorrow since today is a weekend. Hurrah for culture!


The artificial moon

Hey, look what I found out in Kayabachou -- world headquarters of the Kao Corporation. I still don't understand why their name is "Flower King" but their symbol is a moon, but I like the fact that their product range spans from detergent to pet care products to classy hair dye brands, as though they were still living out a century-old definition of the word "hygiene".

Also visited today: a vegan (I think) cafe in Omotesando called "Pure" (thanks Will) where the staff all wear their hair like Erykah Badu. A lot of people snicker at vegan restaurants, but speaking as an ex-vegan I can tell you that a vegan restaurant is far, far more likely to have tasty food than a regular one. Their clientele is about the pickiest eating demographic there is. They can't afford to fuck up a single avocado-based spread.

After that, I headed northeast to the combined Yayoi-Yumeji Museum in Bunkyou-ku to see me some pre-war pop culture. Early modern kimonos, influenced by Art Nouveau, which was in turn influenced by older Japanese ukiyo-e prints! Pictures of women gazing languidly out the window! ("These forlorn, listless women appear quite frequently in female-oriented commercial art of the era".)

One floor up was the collection of illustrations and promotional materials from melodramatic 家庭小説 ("domestic novels") of the Meiji and Taisho periods. Of course you had the old classics like 『金色夜叉』 ("The Golden Demon") and 『不如帰』 ("The Cuckoo"), but there were also a bunch I'd never heard of, like one called 『無花果』 ("The Fig") about a Japanese guy who marries an American, meets with a series of tragedies, and eventually converts to Catholicism. Heaven was represented on the poster as a sort of fairy kingdom ruled by Mary. The only sign of Jesus was a lion savagely tearing at the demons who were trying to pull the hero down to Hell. Unless maybe that was Mark.


"My child... shit"

Awesome post about Japanese names from Butterflyblue.

To add: I recently heard that names that end in tou (or toh or to), like Saitou, Satou, Itou, Katou, etc., denote some kind of connection with the all-powerful Fujiwara clan of yore. (fuji = 藤 = tou). I doubt it holds for all people whose names end with that, of course...

Special metacharacter update

Since the post about repeater marks got so much feedback, I decided I probably should mention another word for them: 踊り字, odoriji, or "dancing/leaping/skipping characters". If くりかえし won't induce your input algorithm to cough them up (I'm looking at you, OS X), おどりじ might.

Tales from the Couldn't-Even-Make-This-Stuff-Up File

It's gotten to the point where I eagerly check Wikipedia's "today" page first thing in the morning to see what craziness awaits me. Today is:

  • The Anniversary of the Opening* of Meiji Village! This is an attraction in Aichi prefecture which houses a bunch of authentic Meiji-period villages and transportation devices shipped in from all over Japan. Unfortunately, as far as I know, it doesn't hire actors to walk around in Meiji-period clothing coining Japanese words for "freedom" and "company".
  • GHOST DAY!* Why? Because KAKINOMOTO no Hitomaro, ONO no Komachi and IZUMI Shikibu all died on this day in history. Not in the same year, though. In any case, if you happen to be a melancholy poet or diarist, stay away from construction sites and undercooked meat today.

Appropriately spookily, Japan's first scientific ghostbuster INOUE Enryou was also born on this day.

* The word used for "opening" in the day name (明治村開村記念日) is 開村, "open [a] village". Other delightfully specific words in the 開 family include 開店 for "open a store", 開園 for "open a garden", and 開局 for "open a post office or telegraph exchange". This is why I love Japanese.

** OK, OK, "Spirit of the Deceased Day". The 精霊 in 精霊の日 is read shouryou, not seirei.



Most decent-sized Shinto shrines in Japan have a big shed or two like this, to store the giant wheeled floats between festivals. I can't prove it, but I'm sure there's some connection between this fact and the preponderance in Japanese science fiction of giant robots that burst out of silos, hidden or otherwise, in the middle of major cities.

300 Tang Poems, complete with dubious 1920 translations. That's a lot of Tang poems. Number 255:

玉階生白露, 夜久侵羅襪。
卻下水晶簾, 玲瓏望秋月。

Her jade-white staircase is cold with dew;
Her silk soles are wet, she lingered there so long....
Behind her closed casement, why is she still waiting,
Watching through its crystal pane the glow of the autumn moon?

I think she forgot her keys.

In other news, here's an ad for Australia's first pop-up toaster.

Irregular Weekly Four 17: 唯々諾々

All about doubling! And obedience.

i i daku daku
only (ditto) yessir (ditto)

The second and fourth characters there are "repeat" signs. I've never seen them in a Chinese context, so unless a reader can correct me here (note: someone did) I'm going to suggest that they're a Japanese invention (nope). There are a few of them:

  • 々 - repeat preceding kanji (国国 → 国々)
  • ゝ - repeat preceding hiragana (こころ → こゝろ)
  • ゞ - repeat preceding hiragana, except voiced (すず子 → すゞ子)
  • ヽ - repeat preceding katakana (ココア → コヽア)
  • ヾ - repeat preceding katakana, except voiced (スズ子 → スヾ子)

If you want to repeat two kana, there's a sort of long wave that doesn't have a Unicode equivalent (maybe because it's two characters long) but (I lied. See comments.) is usually electronically rendered as /\, or /″\ if it's a voiced repetition (like, say, ひとびと → ひと/″\). And if you want to repeat a two-kanji sequence, you just use two 々s, like this: 次第次第 → 次第々々.

Using these metacharacters instead of just writing the real characters twice is entirely optional, I believe (except in proper nouns which require them), and indeed becoming less common, especially the kana ones. And all of them are referred to as kurikaeshi ("repeat"), if you were looking to input them into your computer.

Finally, there are also 〃 and 仝, which I think are used mainly to indicate repetition in lists (like English ditto marks).

So, having got that out of the way, we can see that this four-character compound is really a pair of two-character phrases, both of which use doubling as an emphatic technique. 唯 means "only" or "just", and 唯々 means the same thing only more emphatically: "absolutely nothing but...". 諾 means "yessir", "understood", etc., so 諾々 represents a more vigorous obedience.

The whole compound, 唯々諾々, therefore means "to follow someone's orders blindly without considering whether they are good or bad". And since a lot of smack gets talked about the "samurai code" and so forth, I should mention that I've never come across it used in a positive sense. Indeed, my kanji dictionary entry for 諾 makes a point of including this quotation from an old Chinese history:

A thousand people's "yessir, yessir" is not worth a single superior man's "but what about..."
You can read it in context here.


If that is your real name

From the Japan Times:

The Kabukiza in Ginza is presenting special kabuki programs in March, April and May to celebrate the shumei (succession to a stage name) of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII. Kanzaburo, 50, has mastered both tachiyaku (male lead) and onnagata (female) roles. He is showing off his prowess by playing the leads in several plays, which are all significant in the Nakamura clan repertoire.
Nakamura Kanzaburo, is one of the most prestigious stage names in kabuki. Arriving in Edo in 1622 as a kyogen trained actor named Saruwaka (literally, jester) Kanzaburo soon got permission from the Tokugawa shogunate to establish the Saruwakaza theater in Nihombashi, where he staged performances of "Young Men's Kabuki" and steadily rose to stardom.

Actually, saruwaka is literally "monkey kid" (猿若), but its cultural meaning is equivalent to English "jester".

1622 is very early in the history of kabuki, incidentally, given that the first recorded kabuki performances (a courtesan named Okuni dancing in a riverbed) took place in 1603. The Man didn't even start clamping down on kabuki until 1629, when the No Girls rule was promulgated to stop male patrons brawling over who got to hire the actresses afterwards. Patrons promptly began brawling over the actors instead.

Authorities got sick of the whole thing and banned kabuki for a year at the beginning of the 1650s. Troupes were only allowed to start performing again after they promised to actually stage coherent plays from then on, instead of stringing together bawdy songs and skits. See? Censorship does work.

(The whole story reminds me of that strip club in Idaho that got around nudity laws by instituting "art club nights". In a few centuries, today's stripping will no doubt have evolved into a formalised art form that only old people are interested in.)

Another cool kabuki-related word is 一夜漬け, "overnight pickle", which referred to a topical play about the foibles of public figures written, rehearsed and opened with lightning speed. They didn't even use pseudonyms, originally, which led to pressure from the Man yet again -- so playwrights just started changing the names and setting the story a few centuries earlier. D'oh!

"Monkey faces", by TERADA Torahiko (寺田寅彦)

(This was first published in the April 1933 edition of 文芸意匠 ["Literature and Design"? "Literary Design"? Dunno.] I'm working from the Aozora Bunko text.)

In the the movie Maruga*, monkey familys appear in some scenes. The baby monkeys resemble humans much more closely than the parent monkeys do. To be specific, they look like old people. To be even more specific, they look more like old women than old men. It makes you wonder -- maybe if humans lived much longer lives, they'd gradually come to look like adult monkeys do. And indeed, the 100-year-old ladies that get written up in Western picture magazines often do have monkey faces.

Suppose that as living things get older, they become "superior". And then grant that as humans age, they start looking more and more like monkeys. Wouldn't we be forced to conclude that monkeys are superior to humans?

Conversely, if we insist that monkeys must be inferior to humans, wouldn't that mean that both monkeys and humans become increasingly inferior as they age?

These are the theories of Human-Monkey Relative Worth and Elder-Younger Relative Worth that you might come up with based solely on facial features.

Similar theories of relative worth are quite common in the world today. Judging people based on their possessions; trying to rank humans according to the colour of the skin; creating a scale for hiring and promotion based on exam and mental test results; deciding on a social system without considering anything other than economic issues: these are all the result of such theories.

This is something to think about.

* I have no idea what movie he's talking about.



The creator of Katamari Damacy, TAKAHASHI Keita, on... stuff:

Takahashi also noted the connection between Katamari Damacy and his sculpture education at art college. In particular, he looked back on his experiences in which he was forced to focus on the tactile rather than the visual, as well as the enjoyment he got from "being able to feel things with one's hands."

And it's so true -- KD really does put you right down in the environment, getting your hands (well, ball) dirty, rather than skating above it only interacting with selected items on your way to the boss chamber.

Also makes you wonder what kind of games we might get from someone who has a serious passion for dance (there are "dancing" games now, but they're mostly just music-centric rhythm games in disguise), or something even more specific like woodblock printing or calligraphy. (Which reminds me, I never did see Mojib Ribbon in stores anywhere.)

Happy Shoe Day!

Yes, I do plan to post about every single special day listed in the Japanese side of Wikipedia.

Today, my friends, Japan celebrates* Shoe Day! Established in 1932 by the "Japan Shoe Alliance" (日本靴連盟), it actually commemorates an event that took place in 1870: NISHIMURA Katsuzou's opening of Japan's first western-style shoe factory in Japan.

You can see a picture of the great man himself at the bottom of this page.

Today is also TAKEUCHI "Creator of Sailor Moon" Naoko's birthday, and the 35th anniversary of the opening of Expo '70 in Osaka.

* By which I mean "remains almost completely unaware of".

Whirling terror from Korea

via Wyatt: Fan Death!


Deep, dude

Hey, I found that famous part in Chuang Tsu/Zhuang Zi/荘子 where the guy can't tell if he's a butterfly or not. Here's what it looks like in my edition, modernising characters here and there, plus my translation (courtesy of the notes in the book):

Long ago, Zhang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly. A flippity flappity butterfly, having a grand old time and knowing nothing about Zhou. But when he woke up he was immediately back to being Zhou again, plonkety thud. Now, we can't say whether Zhou dreamed that he'd become a butterfly or the butterfly dreamed that it had become Zhou -- but they are, nevertheless, different entities. This is called "things changing" (物化).

(Zhang Zhou was Zhuang Zi's "real" name.)

I suspect that there's a technical meaning of 物化 that would illuminate this passage more, but I'm not that familiar with Zhuang Zi. Anyone?

Think different... ly, about trademark law

First Taiwanese iPod shuffle ripoff: sighted! It's called the "Super Shuffle", and as you can see from the photos, it's a complete clone right down to the marketing materials. (The only photo on that page depicting genuine Apple materiel is the closeup of the iPod Shuffle's reverse side [against a red background], for comparison purposes.)

The vendor says he's getting inquiries from all over the world, including the US. But he isn't worried about any trouble from Apple.

"Actually, we've already talked to a legal specialist. It's a different size and weight than the iPod Shuffle, and the software inside is different too. No problem."
-- But the design is the same, right?
"You think so? Nah, it's different. Look closely." (Laughter)

More about the Super Shuffle's specs here -- even if you can't read Japanese, the acronyms tell the story.

Language notes for language nerds: Both articles use the slang word 激似 (gekini), which is interesting because it consists of a Sino-Japanese word(?) 激, (geki, "violent") + the stem of the native Japanese verb 似[てる] (ni[teru], "resemble"). You see the same pattern in 激安, gekiyasu, which means "extremely cheap".

超, chou, "super-", is another example of a Sino-Japanese prefix that (in the casual speech of the young) can attach to native Japanese adjectival phrases. 超安い, 超行きたかった, etc. (It can also attach to Sino-Japanese words, of course, e.g. 超綺麗.)


News you can't use

1. Doraemon's new voice actors have been announced! The eponymous robotic cat will be voiced by MIZUTA Wasabi. Weirdly, the Gian(t) gig has been given to a 14-year-old, which is like half the age of all the other voice actors.

2. Azumi 2 has opened, and according to a "confidently smiling" UETO Aya, it features "a more grown-up, womanly Azumi". Me, I just want to know what the deal is with that movie's subtitle: "Death or Love". Uh, I choose... "Love"? Is this a trick or something?


Furthermore, Mysterio is gay for him

Superman Origin Comics! At last the truth can be told.


I found a new baby

The Nihongogen Daijiten (日本語源大辞典) or "Big Dictionary of Japanese Etymology" was finally published last month, and I picked up my copy earlier this week. 1200 pages of meticulously edited fun.

Most serious Japanese dictionaries these days explain the origin of at least some words, but the problem is that you never know if they're right or not. Japanese etymology is at a disadvantage when compared with, say, Euro-language etymology, because there just isn't anything we can effectively compare and contrast Japanese with. We know a lot about how Japanese evolved after they started writing things down, but the origins of words and constructions that predate the introduction of Chinese characters are often very difficult to pin down.

What this means, of course, is that everyone is free to come up with their own hypotheses. And, naturally, any given dictionary will tend to prefer the hypotheses its editors think make the most sense. But for all we know, those editors could be betting on entirely the wrong horse.

The Nihongogen Daijiten is an attempt to solve or at least neutralise this problem by bringing everyone's ideas together in one place, from the carefully backed-up linguistic arguments to crazy stuff some drunk guy wrote down centuries ago.

So, for example, if you look up "Fuji" (as in the mountain), you can see the commonly heard explanation that it derives from the Ainu word huchi, meaning "God of Fire", but also these other theories:

  • It evolved from ho-de (火出, "fire comes out")
  • It's a shortened version of kefuri-shigeshi (煙茂し, "smoke grows")
  • It's a shortened version of fu-ji-na (吹息穴, "hole that breathes out")

... and it comes down to which source you want to trust the most. (Sometimes the editors add a note weighing in on one side, or proposing an entirely different derivation, but this too is scrupulously identified as editorial comment.)

Similarly, proposed origins for yome (嫁, "wife") include:

  • yobi-me (呼び女, "woman you call")
  • yoha-me (弱女, "weak woman")
  • yo(shi)-me (吉女, "good woman")

... and six others.

The two explanations of musuko (息子, "son") I find most convincing are musu-ko (生す子, "child you cause to live") and musubi-ko (結び子, "connecting child").

Plus, who knew so many folks were proposing non-Chinese roots for the word ke (気), which means "air" or "spirit"? It came from kagu (嗅ぐ, "to smell"), it came from kaze (風, "wind")...

And so on.

So, for all those people who were thinking "I like Matt's blog, but I wish he'd spend more time going into excruciating, irrelevant detail about where certain words may have came from", your prayers have been answered.

The percentage of my readers who will care about this is so small I should have just e-mailed them

The Japanese-to-English Game Industry Jargon Dictionary.

しんでしまうとは なにごとだ! 〔成句〕 〔ドラクエ/RPG〕
What do you mean by just dying like that?! [Catchphrase] [Dragon Quest/RPG]
The King at the end of Dragon Quest says this to you when you die in battle. "Well, I didn't exactly mean anything by it..."

What did he say in the English version?


Irregular Weekly Four 16: 古今無双

Special stripped-down I'm-doing-other-things version.

ko kon mu sou
yore now no twin

"From the days of old to modern times, never has there been something like this before!" 古今 is an independent word in its own right, and appears in a couple of other compounds with similar meanings:

  • 古今独歩 -- ko kon dop po -- "yore now solitary walk"
  • 古今無類 -- ko kon mu rui -- "yore now no match"

And in one that means more or less the opposite:

  • 古今東西 -- ko kon tou zai -- "yore now east west" → "everywhere, throughout all recorded history"

Only in Japan. No, really... it's only possible in Japan.

(Well, maybe in Mongolia and Hawai'i too.)

A few weeks ago there was a nasty incident at an Osaka elementary school: a 17-year-old ex-student came back with a knife and killed three teachers.

This week, to help cheer the kids up, twenty sumo wrestlers dropped by to serve special sumo food called chanko-nabe to them. Photo.


The two Rs

The Mahabharata online. No... the whole Mahabharata. Wow.

That weapon, quickly let off by the wielder of gandiva, blazed up with fierce flames like the all-destroying fire that appears at the end of the yuga. Similarly, the weapon that had been shot by Drona's son of fierce energy blazed up with terrible flames within a huge sphere of fire. Numerous peals of thunder were heard; thousands of meteors fell; and all living creatures became inspired with great dread. The entire welkin seemed to be filled with noise and assumed a terrible aspect with those flames of fire. The whole earth with her mountains and waters and trees, trembled. Then the two great rishis, Narada, who is the soul of every creature, and the grandsire of all the Bharata princes (Vyasa), beholding those two weapons scorching the three worlds, showed themselves there. The two rishis sought to pacify the two heroes Ashvatthama and Dhananjaya. Conversant with all duties and desirous of the welfare of all creatures, the two sages, possessed of great energy, stood in the midst of those two blazing weapons. Incapable of being overwhelmed by any force, those two illustrious rishis, placing themselves between the two weapons, stood like two blazing fires. Incapable of being checked by any creature endued with life, and adorned by the gods and danavas, they two acted in this way, neutralising the energy of the two weapons and doing good to all the world.
The two rishis said, "Those great car-warriors who have fallen in this battle were acquainted with diverse kinds of weapons. They, however, never shot such a weapon upon human beings. What act of rashness is this, ye heroes, that ye have done?"

Totally different subject: look to the right. It says:


The vertical text reads tate-oki, literally "arranged standing/vertically". The horizontal text reads yoko-oki, "arranged lying down/horizontally". They cross over at 置, which is the o of oki in both words.

The point of this ad is that the modular storage units being advertised can be arranged in any orthogonal way you please, but I just thought it was a neat visual demonstration of the two ways that Japanese text can be written, complete with the words for "vertical" (tate) and "horizontal" (yoko).

To get more specific, vertically written text is referred to as tate-gaki (縦書き), and horizontally written text is yoko-gaki (横書き). So if you need a neat visual mnemonic to remember any of this, just stare at this photo until it's burned in your brain.


The most uplifting day of the year

It's International Women's Day! Let's all celebrate by not learning Esperanto. (Link indirectly via languagehat.)

Special Japan-only bonus celebration: It's Escalator Day! According to Wikipedia, this commemorates the unveiling and demonstration of Japan's first escalator at the Taishou Exhibition (大正博覧会) in 1914 (大正三年, Taishou Year 3), held in Ueno, Tokyo. Here are some cakes that were also viewable there. Mmm... pre-war cake.

In the interest of fairness, I should mention that Mitsukoshi also claims the glory of having run Japan's first escalator. However, according to a note at the bottom of this page, Mitsukoshi didn't renovate, escalatorise and reopen its Nihonbashi branch until the 28th of September in 1914. If this is correct, Mitsukoshi can claim the first permanent escalator in Japan, but not the very first.

You can look at a small picture of that escalator (presumably) here, courtesy of the Japan Elevator Association. But you can't ride it, because it was destroyed in an earthquake.


Best poem ever: "i went fishing with my family when i was five", by Tao Lin

(Via the SNeMLiTB): Go to monkeybicycle.net and click on the blinking link to the left. Yes, there's a reason I'm not linking directly to it.

Three more poems probably by the same guy.

Controversy in translation

Early in February, the Japan times published a review by Donald RICHIE (for it is he!) of Tower of London, a new book collecting some of NATSUME Souseki's (for they are his!) London writings. As you'll note if you read the review, Richie doesn't exactly criticise the book or the translator (one Damian FLANAGAN), but he still sounds like a grumpy dragon who just wants the quick-moving ones to go away.

Flanagan is also an enthusiast (as well as a scholar) and boosts his author at every opportunity. He admits that his goal is "promoting Soseki to the very forefront of world literature." ...
The value of the present collection is in the fact that even if it is negligible the author is not, and thus all information is welcome -- particularly through the kind of knowledge that Flanagan brings to his translation, his introduction and his notes.

Sort of "yes, yes, throw it on the Souseki pile", which you have to admit is understandable, given that he's spent his entire career introducing Japanese culture to English-speaking audiences. He must be getting sick of the early modern Japanese canon by now, particularly its minor outlying works. (Even by inconceivably major authors.)

Anyway, two weeks later the Japan times published a letter from Alastair DINGWALL, who introduces himself as "the publisher of the first English translation of Natsume Soseki's 'the Tower of London'". (I can't find a link for his version, sorry.) Dingwall apparently hasn't read Flanagan's translation, and so he doesn't pick any bones with it, but he does object to Flanagan's alleged (by Richie) slighting of TSUNEMATSU "Sammy" Ikuo and his Soseki Museum in London.

Yesterday, the saga continued with a letter of rebuttal from Flanagan himself. His words' minced:unminced ratio is very small. He begins by denying any denigration of Tsunematsu or his work. Next, he addresses Dingwall's translation, calling it "one of the worst translations of a Japanese classic ever to find its way into print". Ouch.

Finally, he takes aim at Richie himself:

Richie's review of my new book is described by Dingwall as being "generous and knowledgeable." It was certainly generous toward me, but it was disparaging toward Soseki himself, which is ultimately what matters. Nor was the review knowledgeable -- virtually every sentence contained a factual error and Richie compounded the offense by quoting mistranslations of Soseki's works.

Double ouch.

Now, I haven't read much of what Souseki wrote in London, and none of it in English (except for bits and pieces from his private journal in Donald Keene's Modern Japanese Diaries), so I have neither the means nor the motivation to take sides in this feud. But an accusation of quoting mistranslations in a review of a translation is rather strong, so I decided to do some googling and find the primary evidence so that we could all judge for ourselves.

Apart from titles, all of which look OK to me, Richie's review contained two Souseki quotations:

  1. "The two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant years of my life. Among English gentlemen, I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves."
  2. He refused London's admirable public transportation system, did not trust himself to train or cab since "their cobweb system was so complicated"...

And here's what Souseki originally wrote:

  1. 倫敦に住み暮らしたる二年は尤も不愉快の二年なり。余は英国紳士の間にあつて狼群に伍する一匹のむく犬の如く、あはれなる生活を営みたり。 (Source)
  2. この広い倫敦(ロンドン)を蜘蛛手(くもで)十字に往来する汽車も馬車も電気鉄道も鋼条鉄道も余には何らの便宜をも与える事が出来なかった。 (Source)

I'm not going to offer my own versions, because that would just muddy the waters -- and again, because I don't want to take sides -- but I will note that the second quotation is from "Tower of London" itself. If Richie was in fact quoting an earlier translation instead of the one he was currently reviewing (which is the only way Flanagan's accusation makes sense, if it applies to that quotation too), some might call that a bit of a breach of scholarly etiquette.

Side note: I scarcely dare imagine what Flanagan would think of my current Souseki project, in which the word "buttmunch" appears.

Not a real doctor

The Doctor PC Jr Development Page is "an information page about the Doctor PC Junior system, which was manufactured by Bung [in China] in the 1990s."

Winner of the Least Likely To Be Covered By Beyonce Award, 1969

"Slave to Love" (『恋の奴隷』), lyrics by NAKANISHI Rei (なかにし礼), music by SUZUKI Kunihiko (鈴木邦彦), popularised by OKUMURA Chiyo (奥村チヨ), verse 1:


Ever since I met you
I've been a slave to love
Curled up in your lap
Like a puppy


So always let me be near you
I won't get in the way
When I'm bad, please hit me
The kind you like, the kind you like--
That's what kind of woman I want to be


Release the hounds' parasites

Hanamaru Udon has the cutest udon-mascots ever. They don't have anything to do with hibernating bugs... they're just cute.
Now that I've been blogging a couple of years here, I've covered most of the major Japanese holidays a couple of times each. Besides which, anyone with an interest in Japanese culture probably knew about them already. So, having totally ignored Hinamatsuri, today I'm going to talk about something more obscure: 啓蟄, Keichitsu: "Hibernating Bugs are Revealed".

Keichitsu is one of the 24 sections of the traditional Japanese calendar (which they got from China). Each section is further subdivided into three equal "seasons" (候), giving us the traditional 七十二候, or "Seventy-Two Seasons". Each of these "season" is five days long, which almost adds up to a single (solar) year, but not quite, which has led to some confusion over the centuries.

Anyway. Keichitsu's three seasons are:

  1. 蟄虫啓戸: Hibernating Bugs Open the Door [and come out]
  2. 桃始笑:  First Smile of the Peaches [i.e. peach trees begin to blossom]
  3. 菜虫化蝶: Caterpillars Become Butterflies
Early spring business as usual, in other words.

Since Keichitsu theoretically begins on March 6th these days, we are in the first day Hibernating Bugs Open the Door. I propose we all start dating our official work documents this way.

Language note for language nerds: In China, they call this period not 啓蟄 but rather 驚蟄, "hibernating bug surprise". Why? Because the given name of the Han Dynasty's sixth emperor (only the second to actually exist, though) was 啟 -- effectively the same character as 啓 in 啓蟄 -- and, due to certain ancient Chinese name taboos, it would not have been acceptable to use the emperor's name that way. So they changed the word to 驚蟄, which was almost the same in meaning and pronunciation.

Once Emperor 啟 died, the Chinese tried to change 驚蟄 back to 啓蟄, but for some reason the de-reform never caught on, and it remains 驚蟄 to this day. Or so I hear.

All of this happened after China had transmitted its 24-by-3 calendar to Japan, by the way, which is why Japan has generally stuck with the characters 啓蟄.

So much apocryphy!

Enormous collection of Christian apocrypha. Award for Best Title goes to the Infancy Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. I know that "Pseudo-Matthew" is just a literary fiction designed to convey that the work in question was attributed to Matthew, but is now believed not to have been written by him after all... but I can't shake the image of a shadowy figure in a rubber Matthew mask taking notes as he watches the infant Jesus play.


It's on!

Me vs. Natsume Souseki! For one month only!


Later superseded by the "one picture classic"

Via Muninn: the Thousand Character Classic.

I wonder how many extant copies there are that read like:

Huh. I just learnt that 玄黃 (black and yellow) is a proper word that means (black) heaven and (yellow) earth, or black-and-yellow silk offered to the gods. The Thousand Character Classic's educational powers have somehow remained potent all these centuries! Flee!

Over the ground lies a mantle of white

When you wake up to an unnaturally quiet morning, you know that one of three things is true: either a zombie apocalypse has left the world a lonely wasteland, or it has snowed overnight, or both.

Last night we had snow but no zombies, and it was still snowing when I left for the bus stop. The roads were slushy and unsafe, and on top of that the bus was also full of third-year junior high school kids, because today is the day that high schools in my area announce who got in and who didn't, and they make you go to the school in person to find out.

These factors combined to make me spectacularly late -- more than half an hour! When I walked into the staffroom, I was expecting some ribbing. Instead, I found everyone standing around uncertainly, looking at their watches and writing things on the blackboard. Their eyes went wide when they saw me.

"Matt!" they said. "Did you come by bus?"

"Yeah, sorry. I caught my regular bus, but it ended up being this late... the snow and all..."

"Were there students on the bus with you? How many were there? Is it true that the bus stopped at Ishikawa Elementary School for 10 minutes?!"

You see, today is the first day of term-end exams, and a sizeable chunk of the student population didn't turn up on time. (Some of them were indeed on the bus with me.) But since the teachers all, and I mean all, drive cars to school, none of them knew exactly what the problem with the public transportation system was, or when it might be resolved.

I alone walk the mysterious world of the bus, where the students shriek and howl. I alone tread the road from the bus stop to school, along which the students perform their terrifying ritual of riding bicycles and reading e-mail at the same time. I bear the scars of these accursed outlands. I am the Shaman.

The bus was late coming and then late on its way, I told them. Warm and damp and crowded with lonely souls it was, not only junior high students but also old men, driven into the bus by the weather, sore and grumpy and unable to figure out the ticket machine. The students, they will come, but you must give them time, for the path they must travel is slippery and for some reason a bunch of trucks are blocking half the road out by the 7-11.

My role as representative of the Other World finished, I sat in my chair and fell silent. And as I drank the ceremonial green tea -- made according to strict ritual, viz. (1) put the teabag in the mug, and (2) fill the mug with hot water -- the other teachers decided to postpone the exam for 10 more minutes, by which time all of the students had indeed arrived.


From the "I bet they thought of the title first" department

Rune Blader!

"No, you must be thinking of the other guys. They weirdly run blades. We wield rune-blades. Easy mistake to make."


Irregular Weekly Four 15: 単刀直入

To stick a sword directly in,
by which I mean to be blunt,
I really love Uniqlo.

A special treat for you this time: a four-character compound that people actually use!

tan tou choku nyuu
one sword straight in

Note that this tantou (単刀) is different from the other tantou (短刀) you might have heard in martial arts contexts. 短刀 literally just means "short [Japanese-style] sword", so over the centuries it's had many different referents, but nowadays (according to Wikipedia) it is used for blades designed along the lines of a katana but less than 30cm in length. (A non-Japanese-style dagger of this length would be called a 短剣.)

But 単刀 is different. Rather than referring to a specific kind of sword, it describes the general phenomenon of a single person wielding a sword. And "straight in" means "from the front, directly into the body". The whole compound, therefore, symbolises the most direct fighting style possible. No tricks, no fancy footwork, no massed armies. Just one sword, straight in. And so it means "to cut to the chase" or "to stop beating around the bush" or "to give it to [someone] straight".

You can use it adverbially, with a に:

tantouchokunyuu ni itta hou ga ii no ka na?
Maybe I should just come out and say it?

Or as an adjective (na- style):

tantouchokunyuu da ne, kimi wa
You don't waste any time on small talk, do you?
tantouchokunyuu na shitsumon desu ga muryou de itadakeru no deshou ka?
Sorry to be so blunt, but is it free of charge?


Step right up and I'll sing it

I have a friend back in Australia who I thought might dig these: the manga-style covers of Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, in Japanese paperback, volumes 1 and 2:


Unfortunately, the cover of 『犬は勘定に入れません…あるいは、消えたヴィクトリア朝花瓶の謎』 (To Say Nothing of the Dog... or, the Riddle of the Vanished Victorian Vase) isn't nearly as cool.

Also kind of neat:

Two student stories

1. Pronunciation drill for "places in a city", as included in the textbook:

ME: Library.
STUDENTS: Library.
ME: Art gallery.
STUDENTS: Art gallery.
ME: Botanical garden.
ONE STUDENT, SOUNDING UTTERLY FLABBERGASTED: 豚肉ガード?! ("Butaniku gaado?!" "Pork guard?!")

2. Practicing an "invite someone somewhere" conversation, with specific details supplied by the students:

STUDENT A: Are you free this Saturday?
STUDENT B: Yes, why?
STUDENT A: How about going hiking?
STUDENT B: Sure. What time?
STUDENT A: Is five o'clock OK?
STUDENT B: [suddenly breaking into Japanese] Five o'clock?! In the morning? That's way too early!
STUDENT A: Uh, OK, in the afternoon.
STUDENT B: A hike that starts at five in the afternoon? That's absurd! The sun goes down at 5:30 this time of year!
ME: Hey, that's no way to treat someone who invited you to go hiking.
STUDENT B: "Invited", ha! To some half-assed stumbling in the dark he hadn't spent even a minute thinking through! That's supposed to be a compliment?!

She was kidding, but... I think Student A and I both felt a little afraid.