"I am currently employed as a maid. Any questions?"

Fascinating, Captain. (via Minami.)


Life hacks

Here's one I learnt from a guy in an Ikebukuro bar:

  1. Buy a musical instrument
  2. Practise regularly -- preferably every day -- for a few years: sometimes on your own, sometimes with other peopl

Voila, you're a competent musician!

The beautiful thing about this hack is that you can modify the extent to which you become competent by simply fine-tuning the practice time.



Airline discovers way to make money from people who don't even go outside

Last year, ANA earned some respect in collecting-tiny-figures-of-cartoon-women circles by releasing some tiny figures of cartoon flight attendants in and to celebrate the release of the new ANA uniform. (Which represent ANA's ninth generation of flight attendant uniforms, for those keeping score at home.)

Now the fourth through eighth generation are back. Because what better way to mark the twentieth anniversary of ANA's international service?


Forever unsent

I picked up this old postcard at a secondhand bookstore.

My best guess is that it was taken at the Mikuni in Fukui prefecture, which unless I am very mistaken -- and I might be -- faces the ocean. The kanji in parentheses are "天恵的避暑地", transliterating as "heaven-blessing-y avoid-heat place" ("avoid-heat place" being a standard vocabulary item meaning "summer retreat/resort".)

I wish I knew when it was taken, but there isn't any more information on the card. But it was at least long ago enough to show the worlds of parasol-bearing trad ladyhood and shawl-slung mod flapperdom colliding:


Ex-industry gossip

It seems to me that Berlitz aim to be the Ivy League of the English Conversation world -- the place where you go when you're so serious about learning English that you're even wearing a suit. They don't have celebrities in their ads, they brag about rejecting the vast majority of teacher applications they get, and all that jazz.

But then they carefully put that aside and proceed to seltzer themselves in the face by using their on-train advertising time to teach passengers the phrase "working hard or hardly working?"

Seriously, Berlitz. What's next? "Hot enough for ya"? "I just flew in from Hong Kong -- and boy, are my arms tired!", perhaps? Maybe we can dig back even further and teach the people about "Oh, you kid!"


This post is totally not about prostitutes

Language Geek called me out!

The article she mentions is really quite interesting. Here are a few of the more interesting words/phrases it containeth:

  • 寝技一本 (newaza ippon): "Refers to being good in bed. When an amazingly beautiful man marries or dates a horrible woman, people will say, 'her newaza ("'sleep'-trick") got her that one.'"
  • 晩晩婚 (banbankon): marriage after the age of 35. This is a comic redoubling of the ban ("evening") of long-established Japanese word bankon (晩婚, "evening [i.e. late] marriage"), which disturbs me a little due to the low cutoff age.
  • MKIN -- pseudo-acronym for makeinu, "loser dog", which is used (by some!) to refer to unmarried women over 30... hey, I don't build the society, I just live in it.

  • Memorial Sex-less -- When the two parties to a "sexless riage" say things like "Okay, if the Hanshin Tigers win!" or "When it's our anniversary!" in an attempt to tie sex to specific events and thus make it more likely, but don't actually go through with it.

Okay, I'd better stop before I start to cry, or option this article and turn it into an inspiring cinematic experience in which three small-town gals realize that their friendship is worth more than any man could ever be.


My personal favorite word in the entire collection

A woman once told me that in summer she spent so much time lying around the house in a yukata that her mother asked her if she was supposed to be a jorou or something. (See yesterday's entry.) That was my first exposure to the word and I do not think it is entirely due to that woman's charms that it remains one of my favorite words -- period -- today. Its sound -- so rich, so decadent! Its kanji (女郎) -- so saucy, so impudent! And so not the original kanji.

賣春婦異名集 (Baishunfu Imyou Shuu, "A Treasury of Alternate Terms for Courtesans"), by MIYATAKE Gaikotsu (宮武外骨) -- this being the book I was mysteriously referring to yesterday -- has this to say about the word:

After abandoning native Japanese words like ukareme ("woman afloat"), saburuko ("agreeable/playful child"), and tawareme ("woman of pleasure") in favor of the Sino-Japanese keisai ("overturner of castles"), at the beginning of the Tokugawa period these keisai began to be called jorou (女郎). Deriving from the word jourou (no?) kata (上臈方), which referred to female servants of nobility, jorou was originally written (and pronounced, presumably) "上郎" and only became "女郎" later. (i.e. 上 ("upper") → 女 ("woman") -- M.)
In the Nanajuuichiban shokunin-zukushi uta-awase of just over four centuries ago, the "Crossroads Queen" is written "上臈"; [ISE Sadataka's] Ansai Zuihitsu notes: "Jorou: In earlier times this did not mean a courtesan, but could refer to any woman", and also, "Jorou used to mean 'a lady' is not part of the speech of our country's common folk" (i.e. it is Sino-Japanese); and finally, in NISHIKAWA Sukenobu's Hyakunin jorou no shinasadame ("Critical notes on 100 jorou"), ladies of every profession from "Empress" to "Streetwalker" are included.

Sorry about the cramped, parenthetical, aside-y style; I never quite know how to cram in all the interesting information and links I find while putting posts like this together. I need an editor. Or some self-control. Nah, editor.

Gaikotsu spells it ぢょろう, by the way, which is even more charming.

Actually, I think Leviticus is against it too

I got my hands on a 1921 book about Japanese words for "prostitute", and upon reading it discovered that pretty much every word in the Japanese lexicon has been used to mean "prostitute" at some point. English translations of some of these words would include:

  • Duck
  • Pumpkin
  • Child
  • Phantom Wife
  • Teamaker
  • Werebird
  • Crossroads Queen
  • Monkey
  • Rice Seller
  • Lionette

I also learnt the word ラシャメン女郎, rashamen jorou, "felt/cotton hooker", which meant a hooker whose clientele were Dutch, back in the Dutch Learning days. Apparently those Dutch folks wore a lot of felt and cotton, and this was remarkable and bizarre because who would mix felt and cotton?!


"Negotiations requested in a timely manner will be done after you are in your sleepwear."

See what happens when the Gor books come back in print?


A discovery that rocked and shocked the nation of my mind

There is a Japanese verb kaimamiru (垣間見る) which, as the kanji suggests, means "to peer through a gap in a fence". That's not the rock-/shocking part. The r/s part is that there were older forms kaimamu and kaibamu.

miru? Archetypical vowel-stem verb? What the fuck are you doing acting like a consonant-stem sucker, dude?

... ::me:being able to sing

Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve 10 is, as I write this, on prominent display at Tower Records in Shibuya. (For those who came in late, ON10 is part 2 of a 3-part series of extreme gooditude and -- dare I suggest -- uncomfortable relevance to us Japan-based white devils.)


Animism in action

A sign near Shinjuku station:

It says arukitabako wa dame, or "no arukitabako". Arukitabako is a compound: aruki (from aruku, to walk) + tabako (from "tobacco"). It means "walking (around) while smoking"; you're supposed to stand by the ashtray and smoke there instead, and most people do nowadays. Note that tabako is being used to refer not to the cigarette itself but to the act of smoking it.

There are lots of Japanese compounds like this: tachi.shon ("standing" + "[take a] leak")*, kui.nige ("eating" + "run[ning]", leave a restaurant without paying). Even when you could conceivably make a new compound verb from the elements (kuinigeru would be quite acceptable, morphology-wise), the tendency to turn it into a noun which takes suru if necessary is apparently quite strong. (Compare Google frequencies if you don't believe me.)

The child artist behind this gem, however, has turned this tendency on its head, and broken down aruki.tabako to not "walk[ing] + [smoking a] cigarette" but rather "walk[ing] + cigarette".

Near the sign is written (in English):

Please use these stand ashtrays conforming to the rules without nuisance to others.

Normally I would hardly even notice a missing comma in a sentence like that, but combined with the Walking Tobacco, the images it conjured up of rogue stand ashtrays that don't conform to the rules, thus constituting a nuisance to others, were just too vivid to ignore.

Also, to judge from the picture, bears are involved in all of this. I do not know why.

* In some speakers' Japanese, the ti + x = tx rule has turned this word into tasshon. Just sayin'.


But this rhyme took me a little longer

Based on some suggestions from e-mailing readers, I rewrote the Ranyōshū program to make it slightly more contextually aware. It now calculates the next character based on:

  • The current ku (line)
  • The current position in the ku -- first character, middle character, or last character (or second-last character, if in the final ku)
  • The character that came immediately before.

In other words, the program's model of a waka is very simple: ABBBC, DEEEEEF, GHHHI, JKKKKKL, MNNNNOP. Given the character at position X and the type of character at position X + 1, it applies a little randomness to its list of possible successors (as observed in the Manyōshū itself) to select a character to fill position X + 1. (If there are no possible successors listed for the current situation, it defaults to "が".) This iterates until a complete waka has been created.

Since this approach means that we effectively ignore 10% of the Manyōshū data -- all the fragments, and any other waka that aren't in what eventually became the traditional 5-ku style -- Ranyōshū II has a smaller overall data set, but the finer gradation of position lets it create more varied and interesting works. For example, its Most Probable Composition is:

Which I'm sure you'll agree is a lot more satisfying than chanting aranaku mo over and over again.

Oh, yeah, and I also took out the random break in the middle, since it interferes with free interpretation. Enjoy.

(P.S. The old version is still available, too.)


Not long is how long that this rhyme took me

Update: The first generation of this program is now obsolete.

So, I wrote a program called Ranyoushuu that writes semi-random waka according to a style it learnt from reading the entire Manyoushuu. It produces remarkably believable lines, given that all it knows is:

  • The chance each character has of being the very first character in a waka
  • The chance each character has of following any other given character, within a ku
  • The chance each character has of being the first character in a ku (except the first ku), given the last character of the previous ku
  • The chance each character has of being the second-last character in a waka, given the third-last character. (New!)
  • The chance each character has of being the very last character in a waka, given the second-last character.

Knowing these things, of course, we can produce the Most Likely Waka -- the Pythagorean (and Platonic!) Ideal of the waka, the sequence of Most Likely Characters produced when we ignore meaning entirely. And it is:


Relentless, machine-like negativity, with a twist of wist at the end: waka, I unmask thee!




I like to imagine him sinking majestically back beneath the waves off the coast of Hokkaido

IFUKUBE Akira (伊福部昭) is dead. IMDB has him listed as a composer on almost three hundred movies, but the one that everyone, including me, is going to remember him for is Godzilla. And not only the music -- apparently he also helped with the sound design, including Godzilla's indignant roar and bone-jarring stomp.*

I only have one CD collecting the best of his monster movie music, but his work prefigures a surprisingly large proportion of Philip Glass-style pop minimalism, with repeating themes moving up or down a scale step, pulse harmony, strict rhythms going neatly in and out of phase... it's all there, folks, except more menacing.

The Godzilla ending theme includes a song which I will include here in its entirety as tribute to Ifukube-san.

やすらぎよ 光よ
とく かえれかし
やすらぎよ 光よ
とく かえれかし
Prayer for peace
O peace, o light,
Please return to us soon.
O peace, o light,
Please return to us soon.

(Although the lyrics were actually written by Godzilla screenwriter, KAYAMA Shigeru. Ssh.)

* I also notice in that story that "[t]owards the end of the Second World War, he was exposed to radiation during lumber testing." Whether this gave him lumber-related super-powers or not is a secret he took to his grave.


The forbidden city


It's okay, though, their target market doesn't understand irony anyway

So I watched Hummer's Super Bowl Commercial. Apparently Hummers are what happen when gigantic, ugly, city-levelling monsters and gigantic, inhuman, city-levelling machines reproduce.


The Degree commercial, on the other hand, is marvellous. I quite literally marvelled.

As for Burger King, I applaud their attempts at zaniness, but speaking as a resident of Japan I can confirm that they have a long way to go.


An evil snowman sitting in his own waste

These are the nightmare beings in my neighborhood.


Example sentences from the Beijing Language Institute's Concise Chinese-English Dictionary (Beijing, 1979)

  • 在生产中不要单纯地追求数量。 -- Don't strive merely for quantity of production.
  • 为国除 -- do away with the traitor for the good of the country
  • 今昔对比 -- constrast the new society with the old
  • 血债累累 -- blood debts without number
  • 历史课由谁担任? -- Who will be in charge of the history course?


When worlds collide

Noticed this in the AM/PM today:

"Wait a second. Did that say..."

Nnnneeeerrrrdsss! Unusually glamorous nnnneeeerrrrdsss!

Or maybe just a coincidence.


I am very excited about this



Sorry, Portugal

Considering a post about arigatou [gozaimasu] came from, I decided to first google to make sure I wasn't duplicating anyone else's work. Unfortunately I didn't get very far into the search results, because most of them were about the folk etymology: that it's from Portuguese obrigado. This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Arigatou is the Western Japanese way of saying arigataku, the adverbial form (more or less) of arigatai. The basic rule is replacing ku with u, but in this case that produced au, which becomes ou (→ a lengthened o) through the magic of sound change. This also happened to omedetou (← (o)medetai) and ohayou (← (o)hayai). (It is not a coincidence that despite the Tokyo version getting "Standard Japanese" status, the standard politeness terms were imported from the old Imperial capital!)

Another common example of kuu is in tou ni, which coexists with toku ni and means "already" or "long ago". (Both of them come from toshi (疾し), an OJ adjective meaning "vigorous" or "fast" or "early".) You can hear a tou ni at the end of every chorus in KAJI Meiko's song The Flower of Carnage on the Kill Bill soundtrack.

So, given that gozaimasu is a Sino-hoity-toity form of aru, arigatou gozaimasu breaks down to arigataku aru: "to exist arigatai-ly". Arigatai is ari-gatai: to be, to exist (ari) + to be difficult to do (-gatai, probably related to katai, to be (physically) hard).

But using this to mean "I thank you", i.e. "It is difficult/rare for [such kindness as yours] to exist", is a relatively recent development. The form ari + gatai has been around (as arigatashi, of course) since Manyoushuu times, which in Japanese linguistics means "forever". In that poem it just means "unlikely to be". It can also be found sprinkled throughout Heian literature meaning "rare" or "difficult" without any special connection to the idea of gratitude.

The generally accepted theory about the "thank you" usage is that it derives from the Buddhist community, sometime in the middle of the second millennium, and in fact the Lotus Sutra is often mentioned as a source of the phrase itself (specifically, the part in the parable of the burning house where the father says "汝等所可玩好希有難得..."). I have no idea whether this is true or not, though. (UPDATE: It probably ain't. See comments.)

Oh, and knowing this makes the doumo seem a lot more sensible. "No matter what, it is difficult for [such kindness] to exist..."

Bonus information: omedetai comes from o (politeness prefix) + mede (from medu, which became modern mederu, "to like, to adore") + itashi ("extremely", possibly related to modern itai, to hurt).

Bonus link: "Cool, I get drunk!"


The world in a grain of sand

Saw Aeon's new subway advertising today. KATOU Ai looking cheerful alongside these words:

(fuwafuwa no seetaa mo
kirakira no akusesarii mo hoshii kedo,
ichiban hoshii no wa,
pikapika no eigoryoku dattari suru
I want a soft, fluffy sweater.
I want shiny, glittering jewelry.
But what I really want is sparkling English skills.

There's a lot you can say about that.

First, the content. The first poster in this series was SAKAGUCHI Kenji, and he was saying "Does getting lifelong English skills this year seem like wishful thinking? Think again. It's possible. It's absolutely possible." I will leave the difference between these sentiments and the female version's materialist rhapsody as an exercise for the gender studies student.

Second, the Japanese version. Notice that there are three gitaigo, mimetic words, in there: fuwafuwa ("soft, fluffy"), kirakira ("shiny, glittering") and pikapika ("sparkling"). Also notice that only fuwafuwa is written in hiragana. Do I think that this is because it describes something big and snuggly-wuggly rather than something tiny and piercing? Yes, I do!

Third, the English version. Do you agree that it is rather awkward? I do not think it was wise to advertise an English school using a bilingual text the original of which is about 25% mimesis. I also note that dattari suru, a sort of playful copula acknowledging the unusual nature of the sentence's assertion, has been entirely lost in translation. (It has become "is", basically, which is exactly what da, the regular copula, would have become.)

You can watch the (only barely related) campaign commercials at Aeon's site, too. If nothing else it's the first commercial for an English conversation school I can recall seeing in which a woman uses English to rebuff someone's advances.


Also you could maybe bake them some cookies

So, reading this week's Tsubasa. Syaoran and Kurogane have just rushed off to do something frightfully dashing and brave as part of their ongoing multiverse-spanning quest to retrieve Sakura's memory-feathers. Sakura -- in a divine little bonnet -- looks sad because she is unable to fight huge monsters alongside them.

SAKURA: I... I can't do anything...
MOKONA: [non-human comic relief] Yes you can!
SAKURA: (looks at Mocona)
MOKONA: You can wait for Syaoran and Kurogane to come back!
SAKURA: (smiles, 100% reassured) ... Yeah.

Now there is one princess who won't be keeping her princessing career after marriage.