Classical Japanese has a posse

Yet another blog devoted to people wearing too many layers of clothing at once has swum into view: Sarashina Nikki, a blogged translation of the eponymous book, most well-known in English in Ivan Morris's rather more dramatically titlified translation As I Crossed A Bridge Of Dreams.

If anyone out there has another blog about old-school Japanese language or literature, I guess this post would be a good time to plug it. (I had high hopes for Tangled Thoughts, subtitled "Writing a dissertation about Yosano Akiko", when I stumbled across it in a Google search, but alas its updates are sporadic and sketchy.)


Classical Japanese verb categories: are they fucking with us?

In Amida's latest (and second) post, he notes in passing:

I love that "keru," "to kick," gets a class of its own even though it is indistinguishable to me from kamiichidan verbs.
The twisted logic behind this is something I've been considering blogging for a while, and now I have a reason to. (Warning: heavy-duty linguistics ahead.)

Here's the deal: keru started out in the Nihonshoki as kuu, a shimo-2-dan verb conjugating kuwe, kuwe, kuu, kuuru, kuure, kuweyo. (Its true self was "kuwu", basically.) The kuwe form then turned to ke, presumably via a relative of the process that turned words like kwaidan into kaidan, which caused problems with the kuu- forms because keu would get pronounced kyou and that would really make the verb irregular.

So, the ancient Japanese did what they always did when unsure what to do with single-mora mizen/renyoukei verbs: standardized the root and threw as many rus at it as they could spare. The end result was ke, ke, keru, keru, kere, keyo, which is indeed exactly the same as a kami-1-dan (i.e. kamiichidan) conjugation in all important respects.

But keru made the fatal mistake of having a stem that ends in e, whereas all the kami-1-dan verbs have stems ending in i. Thus, it cannot be in the same class, and since Japanese vowel order is a, i, u, e, o, the i stems get to be "kami" (upper) while the e stem got relegated to "shimo" (lower).

From a morphological point of view, this is a rather obtuse way to classify things. The sensible thing to do would be to group everything together into the "STEM, STEM, STEM+ru, STEM+ru, STEM+re, STEM+yo" category, and add a footnote pointing out that all the stems end in i except for ke(ru).

But the kami/shimo system was applied anyway, probably just to be consistent with the 2-dan verbs, which are also divided kami/shimo based on the i or e distinction. It makes sense to do this for 2-dan verbs: the i/es in question aren't part of the stem and can't be deduced from it. If you don't know whether a 2-dan verb is kami or shimo, you don't know what its mizen, renyou or meirei forms are. But extending the kami/shimo system to the 1-dan verbs, where it was entirely irrelevant, served only to enrich Big Conjugation Charts and related industries.

The tragic ending to our tale is that although keru was the first and for many centuries only shimo-1-dan verb, it eventually cracked under the pressure, and by the time everyone started speaking modern Japanese it had become a regular 5-dan verb. All of the current shimo-1-dan verbs are simplified refugees from the shimo-2-dan category.

Good name pun, though

Remember Moe-tan? Now there's Moeru Diet.

Presumably the idea is to lose so much weight that you actually become two-dimensional, and can date the girls depicted therein. (One of whom, the heroine, is a maid and calls you "master" (go-shujin-sama), natch.)

That's not a business card. This is a business card.

So I was reading through a book on Japanese business manners* and I got to a part about giving someone your business card:

I know I haven't been working in a non-high-school-related office for very long, but wouldn't handing out business cards the size of placemats make you seem a little arrogant?

To say nothing of using an obvious pseudonym like "○山○子". That's just insulting.

* 『即戦力になるための実践!ビジネスマナー-基本ナマーが身につけば、一歩先のスタートラインに立てる!』-- "Practical! Business Manners For Becoming A Useful Weapon [in your company's arsenal]: If You Learn Basic Manners, You Can Stand One Step Ahead At The Starting Line!", by OKADA Sayoko, illustrated by ANDOU Shigemi and TAKAHASHI Naomi.


Great moments in game localization I: Why the bad guys in River City Ransom say "BARF!"

River City Ransom was a beat-'em-up for the NES that was released in 1989 but still has a pretty respectable online following. To judge by the fanpages, this is in no small part because it has enemies who say "BARF!" when you defeat them.

But why would they say something so bizarre? Because the original Japanese was:

"げーっ!", or gee!*. This is not really a word as such. It's a representation in kana of a more primal sound, something that comes from the throat or deeper and might be rendered in an English comic book as "ack!" or "urk!", say. The sound of someone coughing or choking or... barfing. It's also a sound people voluntarily reproduce to suggest such a reaction, like English: "Ew!", "Gross!", "Oh, man!" In the absence of contextual information (which is how many game translations were done those days) "BARF!" is a perfectly reasonable attempt at Englishing it.

In any case, it would be churlish to complain, since that "BARF!" has brought so much joy to so many people. A "better" translation like "urk!" would actually have had a negative effect on the overall game experience. So barf on, residents of River City... barf on.

Lesson: Some of the hardest dialogue to translate from Japanese to English refers to the simplest, most fundamental human behavior: laughing, weeping, getting punched in the stomach by a guy in a white zoot suit.

* Hard "g", and "ee" represents a double-length version of the "e" in "get". Romanization fails completely here. And I haven't even touched on the little っ.


Oh man

So in my dream, there were these things called "wake gators" -- miniature alligators that crawled onto your back, up near the shoulder, while you were asleep, and then just stayed there until later in the day when you accidentally brushed them off and realized that an alligator had been on you all day. (I learned about them when one fell into the sink while I was brushing my teeth.)

There was even a book called Wake Gators: the Hidden Killers, so presumably they could also do... things... other than just staying there.

Of course, since they only came near you while you were asleep, this wasn't scary during the dream because I was "awake" the whole time. But when I actually woke up this morning and realized that I'd just been lying there, asleep and vulnerable, for hours... well, let's just say that I've never reached behind my back to touch my shoulderblades quite so apprehensively.


Hurrah for editors, woo

Iwanami Bunko has released (at least) two editions of the 臨済録 ("Record of Rinzai"). Yes, I have both. Come on! It's Rinzai!

One was first published in 1935, and edited by Asahina Sougen (朝比奈宗源), himself a Zen priest. ("Sougen", also romanized "Sogen", is a title; according to my dictionary it means "the root of all things".) My copy is a 34th edition, printed in 1984.

The other was published in 1989, and edited by Iriya Yoshitaka (入矢義高). I do not know if he is also ordained or otherwise formally involved in Zen Buddhism, but what interests me is that the new edition silently replaces the old. Its catalogue number is identical (Blue 310-1, for those who are hip to the IB system), and you can no longer find any mention of Asahina's edition by searching at Iwanami Shoten's homepage, despite the fact that all of their other out-of-print books seem to be listed. It's rather curious and, dare I say, a little suspicious. (Or maybe it's S.O.P. and I'm just ignorant.)

So, anyway, I thought it might be interesting to look at the different ways the two editions handle one of Zen's most famous passages.

They present the original Chinese with almost identical punctuation:

ASAHINA: 道流、爾欲得如法見解、但莫受人惑。向裏向外、逢著便殺。逢佛殺佛、逢祖殺祖、逢羅漢殺羅漢、逢父母殺父母、逢親眷殺親眷、始得解脱。不與物拘、透脱自在。
IRIYA: 道流、爾欲得如法見解、但莫受人惑。向裏向外、逢著便殺。逢佛殺佛、逢祖殺祖、逢羅漢殺羅漢、逢父母殺父母、逢親眷殺親眷、始得解脱、不與物拘、透脱自在。

But their yomikudashi are a little different:

ASAHINA: 道流、爾如法の見解を得んと欲せば、但人惑を受くること莫れ。裏に向い外に向って、逢著せば便ち殺せ。仏に逢うては仏を殺し、祖に逢うては祖を殺し、羅漢に逢うては羅漢を殺し、父母に逢うては父母を殺し、親眷に逢うては親眷を殺して、始めて解脱を得ん。物と拘らず透脱自在なり。
IRIYA: 道流、爾如法に見解せんと欲得すれば、但だ人惑を受くること莫れ。裏に向い外に向って、逢著すれば便ち殺せ。仏に逢うては仏を殺し、祖に逢うては祖を殺し、羅漢に逢うては羅漢を殺し、父母に逢うては父母を殺し、親眷に逢うては親眷を殺して、始めて解脱を得、物と拘らず、透脱自在なり。

And their translations into "modern Japanese" are as different as you'd expect from two people working fifty years apart:

ASAHINA: お前たちよ、正しい見解を得ようと思うならば、何はともあれものについてまわってはいけない。内に向っても外に向っても、逢ったものを皆殺せ。仏に逢えば仏を殺し、祖師に逢えば祖師を殺し、羅漢に逢ったら羅漢を殺し、父母に逢ったら父母を殺し、親類縁者に逢ったら親類縁者を殺して、始めて解脱することができよう。そういければ、なにものにも束縛されず、全く自由自在である。
IRIYA: 諸君、まともな見地を得ようと思うならば、人に惑わされてはならぬ。内においても外においても、逢ったものはすぐ殺せ。仏に逢えば仏を殺し、祖師に逢えば祖師を殺し、羅漢に逢ったら羅漢を殺し、父母に逢ったら父母を殺し、親類に逢ったら親類を殺し、そうして始めて解脱することができ、なにものにも束縛されず、自在に突き抜けた生き方ができるのだ。

Asahina's omaetachi yo is a lot more casual than shokun, as far as forms of address for groups of people go. On the other hand, Iriya avoids the Zen jargon of 自由自在 ("[for one's] own reasons, [one's] own existence", maybe?) and goes with 自在に突き抜けた生き方 ("a way of living that has broken through to freedom") instead.

Here's my version, just for the hell of it:

Listen: if you want to gain the right perspective on things, you can't let anything distract you. Looking within or looking without, whatever you encounter, kill it immediately. If you run into Buddha, kill Buddha; if you run into the founder of our sect, kill the founder of our sect; if you run into an arhat, kill the arhat; if you run into your father or your mother, kill your father or mother; if you run into a different relative, kill that relative. Then you'll achieve freedom for the first time, and nothing will bind you.

(I am absolutely positive there are typos in this post somewhere. Typing Japanese one-handed while glancing at a tiny paperback is more difficult than I expected.)


They'll take your money -- and never give up!


P.S. Press Gang sucks!


She's probably fleeing from Train Man

Lukia -- the only watch that leaves a vapor trail so that you can find your way home when lost on picturesque cobblestone streets. As long as you don't spend too much time nuzzling lampposts.

Notice, too, that the "CM story" specifies that it is Christmas. If it doesn't look particularly Christmassy to you, that's because "Christmas" in this context, i.e. the context of diamond-studded watches, signifies not the patchwork Western celebration of gluttony and people you are related to by blood, oh yeah and God, but rather the Japanese variant, which has been efficiently pared down to cake, love, and a transfer of jewellery and/or furs from those with Y chromosomes to those without.

Not that I'm complaining -- I actually prefer it that way.


Wyld! Stallynz!

Indisputable evidence, in the form of an artifact from the future, that Bill and Ted was a documentary:







DDT, part 2: won't someone think of the children?

Here's the front cover:

『ピン子ちゃん豆日記』, literally "Pinko-chan bean diary", where "bean" means "good/serious/trustworthy/diligent person" and Pinko-chan is a name -- but whose? Since it's a little girl's name, we can only presume it's that kid to the right there, but she doesn't get a single line inside.

Other things written on this cover:

  • 戦災孤児を救いましょう -- "Save the war orphans"
  • 面白くて為になる教育漫画 -- "Entertaining and useful educational manga" (I count at least three separate lies there)
  • 戦災孤児援護協会 -- "War Orphan Support Association"

Aha! A culprit. Inside we learn that the pictures were drawn by one 竹田慎平 (TAKEDA Shinpei?) who turns up on other websites about old manga.

On the back, we learn that this book was published on April 10th, Showa 25 (1950), and read a message warning us that recently, certain scoundrels have been publishing wicked things and claiming to be doing it for the war orphans, and so we should avoid their offerings and stick with the safe, reliable work of the War Orphan "store your flour in a DDT can" Support Association.

So watch it, or you might end up with a black eye. Just like that duckling down at the bottom left.


DDT and you

So, I found a 50s-vintage Japanese comic book and I thought some of you might enjoy seeing some of it. Believe it or not, this three-page piece is probably the most coherent story in there.

I have taken the liberty of replacing the text with a quick and unelegant, yet arguably quite representative, English translation, which I have punctuated extremely sparsely because I love the way that super-early, unpunctuated English comics read. I know I should have put it all in capitals but I didn't remember until I was almost done. This is one of the many reasons why I am not a typesetter at TokyoPop.

And now, our feature presentation.

Yes, I do think this comic was at least partly sponsored by a person or organization with a financial interest in DDT. The father spends half the comic book wandering around in his DDT kimono. It's pretty punk rock, actually. (Though not as punk rock as storing flour in a box that apparently used to hold DDT.)

More about this tomorrow.


Conversion experience

I can pinpoint the exact panel at which UOZUMI Seiji's Samurai Baseballers won me over. It was this one:



Soseki on haiku and big galoots

Because disrespectful chatty Soseki translation is what we do best.

A feeling for haikai? Not in the West, nah. They have things like senryuu in their poetry, but nothing like haiku, which aren't even really "poems" anyway. You could probably go ahead and call those suckers unique to Japan.
I mean, think about it. Japan and the West are different even down to the way they build and decorate their houses. In Japan, something as small as a tanzaku can really pull the room together, but the West builds on such a large scale that you wouldn't even notice such a teensy little thing.
Haiku aren't going to evolve, just change. You can make them as complicated as you want, or throw a bunch together like some crazy bazaar, but it won't mean squat. Japanese clothes are simple, Japanese houses are simple, and in the same way haiku are simple too.

Ha! We sure showed him.


Get it before the lawyers do

The first part of 『蘭学事始』 (Rangaku Kotohajime, "the early days of Dutch learning"), an 1815 work by SUGITA Genpaku on the history to date of Dutch (= Western) learning's spread in Japan, online for your cross-cultural pleasure. It's surprisingly readable.

When westerners began sending more and more boats to our western shores in the Tenshou and Keichou periods (1573-1615), they openly ("yang") sought trade, but secretly ("yin") wanted other things. [Presumably conversion to Christianity, because...] Disaster ensued, leading to the most extreme prohibitions in the history of the country. This is well known. I do not have all the details of that wicked religion, nor is it relevant here; no more need be said on the subject.

Y'all only get half a bar, in other words. Burrrn!

The Imperial March

I found out the other day that there exist in Japanese lyrics to Star Wars' "Imperial March" theme. Some claim that they were actually included in very early releases of the film, but most agree that they were simply invented by sci-fi geeks at a convention. Here they are, with hyphens to help you sing along.

帝国はとても強い     tei-ko-ku wa totemo tsuyoi
戦艦はとてもデカい     se-n-kan wa totemo dekai
 ダースベーダーは黒い     Daa-su Bei-daa wa kuroi
 トルーパーは白い     toruu-paa wa shiroi
デススターは丸い     De-su su-taa wa marui

Or, in English, "The Empire is very strong/ The battleships are very big/ Darth Vader is black/ The [storm]troopers are white/ The Death Star is round."

Network question

How can the guy in the next room be talking Egyptian to his wife over IP if I can't even get Blogger's homepage to load? Curse him! (I am obviously writing this long after the fact.)

Also, woah. The walls are really thin here. Interesting.


I am living in a pit

A few days ago, I moved into the latest in my string of temporary residences: a "gaijin house", which is Japan-based English-speaker English for "guest house aimed at (or restricted to) foreigners". It's a fairly large two-story building with five bedrooms, one kitchen and one bathroom on each floor. I am paying 50,000 yen per month for the right to live in a room that smells curiously of leather and is seven square meters in size.

The deposit, though, was only 30,000 yen, and 20,000 of that is refundable (allegedly), so it's not really that bad a deal.* Right now, money is more important to me than comfort, and it's not like I'm going to be home all that much given my new job and easy access to the Yamanote line.

The strange thing is that my street is lower than both the one before and the one behind. And I mean a lot lower. I live on the second floor, and when I open my window I'm still slightly below ground level of the street behind. So, I'm either living in some extremely fiercely eroded but long-dead river channel... or in the only barely metaphorical jaws of an old earthquake rift, all set to swallow this building whole when The Big One hits.

I imagine that it is the housemates that make or break a place like this. So far I've met three of the other four people on my floor, and they all seem either cool or happy to keep to themselves, and that works for me too.

* Please do not comment to tell me how bad a deal it is, unless you also have the means to hook me up with a better one.


Tie-Dyed Mars

Space Settlement: a 1975 design study from Nasa. The chapter about low-gravity lava lamp construction is particularly insightful.


I hereby declare war on peace and happiness

Back on Tuesday (maybe).



The final result of this thread deserves a wider audience.


Like a son

Looks like I got out of that industry just in time

The Korea Advanced Intelligent Robot Association ... announced yesterday it has begun operating, on a test basis, robots that can help young students pronounce English words.
According to the ministry, 64 such robots will be supplied to apartment complexes in Seoul, Bucheon and Bundang in Gyeonggi province by the year's end. Once testing is complete, the ministry and association plan to improve on the robots' weaknesses based on feedback from users, and to commercialize them as early as late next year at around 1 million won ($960) each. ...

Those who have high-speed Internet access can connect the robots to the Net, and then download contents of their choice from the ministry [of Information and Communication]'s Web site.

I'm trying to imagine a family which can afford, and wants, a million-won robot, but doesn't have high-speed internet access.

I'm also visualising a Korea twenty years from now full of all-grown-up hipsters using "Kill all hu-mans" and "Inefficiency must be eliminated" as greetings.

(via Language Log.)


So you don't work on a contingency basis?

So there's a credit company which has this gimmick: repay them within one week, and they don't charge any interest. You might think that "No Interest Loans" would be a good name for a company like this, but that's old economy thinking, loser. No, this company has gone for something short, sleek, and downright outrageous in its counterintuitiveness: No Loan!

The commercials are kind of cute, too. And they get props for using an idol who knows sign language and Korean and who "never forgets a face".


Keep on shinobin'

First things first: despite the subtitle, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade is not about ninjas getting invasive cardiac surgery. Such a movie would be cool, I admit. The doctor would go to make the first incision, and the anaesthetised ninja would disarm him and break his neck, purely as a reflex action. Then another doctor would try, and fail, and then wave after wave of doctors would pour into the OR, scalpels in hand, only to join the growing pile of medical gown-clad corpses. Then finally a bearded hospital administrator would bellow "ENOUGH!" and the whole scene would freeze, allowing the hospital's mystical cardio-thoracic champion Jade Clamp to leap down from the observer's booth and perform the surgery by reaching directly into the ninja's chest and pulling out his heart while it was still beating.

But Shinobi is not that movie. Instead, it's an answer to the question, "What if we took the Hero-style CGI-driven approach to mano a mano action, and applied it to specifically Japanese cinematic traditions of martial arts representation?" And I thought it was a pretty good one. The influence was obvious, but the different ways of structuring and visualising the action were also substantial.

(One major one is that over in China, when people fly, they sort of waft or soar like birds, but in Japan, ninjas leap and spring like frogs or grasshoppers. I think this is because the most influential special effects in this area were done not with wires but by having a stunt man jump down from the roof and then playing that film in reverse so that the character jumps up -- but at regular gravity-driven speeds.)

And, of course, instead of famous Chinese people and places, Shinobi stars famous Japanese people, from the indisputably real (TOKUGAWA Ieyasu and HATTORI Hanzou) to the totally made up (Yashamaru, the superhuman shinobi who fights with steel tentacles that come out of his overlong sleeves... at least, I hope he was totally made up.)

I guess the movie was based on a manga/anime; I haven't read or seen those, but the movie was pleasingly anime-like. If I'm going in to a modern action movie about ninjas, I want to see teleportation (check), video-game-like waves of thrown weapons arcing through the air in perfect formation (check), slowed and stopped time while ninjas slice up twenty enemies one by one (check), lady ninjas who use sex to distract and then kill with poison (check)... it was really all there.

The story was, naturally, the weak point. There was a lot of standard ninja guff about being weapons, and if we don't fight, what can we do? To which the answer is, "I don't know, take up a hobby, or form a super-hero squad or something."

To sum up, look at this image. If you like it, you'll probably like Shinobi.

After the movie, and no doubt inspired by it, Aya said to me, "You know, you've been losing some weight recently. You should put some muscle on too."

"What, like Odagiri Joe?"

"Mmm... more like Michaelangelo's David."

"So you're saying you want me to look as good as the sculpture which represents the perfection of the male human form." [When viewed from below. But I didn't know that then.]


Fortunately I managed to bargain her down to the Thinker.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned the Shinoblog, your one-stop source for pictures of pictures of NAKAMA Yukie gazing meaningfully into the distance while people embrace her from behind.


Needless mystification watch

From a story about the female Ronald McDonald a woman in a Ronald McDonald-inspired suit:

The Japanese adverts, which promoted the new McGrand burger, first appeared last year and had a big impact on popular culture, particularly the culture of costume play, known as "cospre".

It's obvious even from this sentence that the word コスプレ derives from "costume play", so why spell it "cospre"? If you absolutely must transliterate, at least keep the u's in there: cosupure.

(I won't even get into the fact that "cosplay" is a word in English now, too -- it may not be in the OED, but come on -- this is a story about sexy clowns on Japanese TV.)

Also, I really doubt that it had a "big impact on ... the culture of cosplay". Someone turn that sentence around 180 degrees.