Submitted without comment


In defence of "Wii"

I'm really enjoying the worldwide outrage over Nintendo announcing that the official name of their new console, hitherto known only as the Nintendo Revolution, was to be "Wii". It reminds me of the way everyone reacted to Galileo the DS. I predict some grudging retractions and impatient demands that Nintendo hurry up and ship more Wii to the North American continent. (Or will the plural be "Wiis"?)

Yeah, yeah, I'll admit it, the puns with "wee" are easy, but I can't see that hurting it at all. Is "fear that a six-year-old might snicker at me" really that major a factor in people's purchasing decisions? Plus, there's the flipside: "whee!" Combined with "WOOO", I think it brings a healthy exuberance to consumer electronics.

Anyway, one "industry analyst who spoke in the condition of anonymity" in that story comes off sounding particularly silly:

"It's a sound that doesn't exist in Japanese, so Japanese people will struggle to pronounce it."

You know what other sound "doesn't exist in Japanese", by this person's implied standards*? The "D" in "DS". Didn't seem to matter much. Nor, I imagine, did the "D" issue have much effect on CD or DVD sales. There are plenty of people who can already or will quickly learn to pronounce "Wii", and in any case, it doesn't matter if Japanese speakers don't say "Wii" exactly the same way as English speakers, as long as each group can understand itself.

Consider the worst-case scenario: an old Japanese guy walks onto the gaming floor of an electronics shop immediately pre-granddaughter's birthday and says "Yeah, I want to buy a, uh... wai...? uii...?" Now, is the salesperson really going to have trouble figuring out if he means "Wii" or "PlayStation"?

(Incidentally, wi used to be a perfectly normal Japanese mora, and there are even kana for it: ゐ, ヰ. I know this isn't relevant to modern Japanese, but imagine if those characters became widely used in communities like 2ch when writing about the device. Nintendo would effectively own 2% of the non-kanji Japanese alphabet.)

Our intrepid analyst continues:

"Nintendo let the code name gain a little too much currency: people were used to it, and it was widely accepted as the console's name."
"Now they have a stupid-sounding manufactured name ... [a]nd they're going to try to use it to replace an evocative, well-accepted name that people have been using for well over a year. Bad, stupid move."

So, wait, they should have kept "Revolution"? But that <v> is a sound that "doesn't exist in Japanese"! So are the schwas, and that <r> and <l> are dicey at best.

It seems to me that this analyst just doesn't think "Wii" is as cool as "Revolution". That's a perfectly valid opinion. I disagree, and I think that Nintendo's "reach out to literally everybody. No, everybody" market strategy means that "cool" doesn't matter very much in any case, but I guess we'll have to wait a year or two to see who's right.

In the meantime, though, I won't suffer the abuse of linguistics to support his/her arguments.

* "Not used in standard Japanese circa 1945."


0. Create list

My friends John and Heather have gone all Web 2.0 and put qwer.us in beta. It's a free online to-do-list-keeper they made which focuses on "simplicity, extensibility, and robustness". These are probably the three things I crave more than anything else when it comes to software, especially online, so I recommend it wholeheartedly.

(Of course, my personal to-do list is just an index card with "read English book, then turn over" on one side and "read Japanese book, then turn over" on the other.)


One night of gender-ambiguous love was all we knew

I learned a great new word today: 言寄せ妻, /koto.yose.duma/, literally "word-attracting wife". It means "a woman around one's relationship with whom rumors arise".

妻, /tuma/, is the standard word for "[one's own] wife" these days, has been for centuries as far as I can tell, and the overenthusiastic/metaphorical/sarcastic usage is also very old. For example, there's another word 一夜妻, /hito.yo.duma/, "one-night wife", which means a courtesan, or a one-night stand, or -- due to an unfortunate overlap of the "one night" idea -- the star Vega.

But you can also write hitoyoduma like this: 一夜夫. Pronounced exactly the same, it means "one-night husband", and refers to a man that one only spends a single night with. (Not Altair, though, I don't think.) In fact, this usage might even be older: it's in the Manyoushuu!

wa ga kado ni / chidori shiba naku / okiyo okiyo / wa ga hitoyoduma / hito ni shirayuna
"At my gate / many birds call and call: / "Wake up! Wake up! / Of your one-night husband / do not let others know!"*

And there are other words where /tuma/ is used in the male sense, notably 稲妻, /inaduma/ or /inazuma/, which means "lightning" but is literally written "rice-plant husband", allegedly because lightning was common in August just when the rice was about ready to harvest.
It turns out that originally /tuma/ could mean either "husband" or "wife" -- "spouse", in other words. Etymologically, some people think it is essentially the same /tuma/ as the one that means "edge" (and is related to /tume/, "finger-/toenail"). The Iwanami kogo jiten, for example, states that it is exactly the same word, and the usage dates from when new spouses would have their own place to live on the edge of their in-laws' main house. This seems too just-so to be a real etymology, but since other non-crazy proposed etymologies listed in the Nihon gogen daijiten generally rely on /mi/ (身, "body/self") turning into /ma/ through some vowel change process unknown to me, who knows?
I will note, however, that the final /ma/ in /hakama/ (袴) probably comes from /mata/, "fork/crotch". Just saying, is all.

* Or maybe the birds only call "wake up! wake up!" and the poet thinks to herself "Aw, man, people are going to find out about my one-night husband." It depends on your interpretation of 我が.


The muted almost-love story is nice, though

Via Mark, a profile of one KOBAYASHI Toshie, a "skilled typesetter [who]... made a good living until the 1980s, when digital systems replaced her and analog typesetting machines." I would have liked to hear a lot more about typesetting and a lot less about how to stay young at heart, but that's because, unlike her, I am already old and crotchety at heart (not to mention an alarmingly high proportion of the rest of my body).


Happy summer wedding

Most people with even a passing interest in Japanese popular culture have heard of Morning Musume, the rotating all-girl audition-fed entertainmob that periodically divides into smaller "units" to release singles targeted more precisely at certain market sectors, only to later recombine and go on tour with MATSUURA Aya TOKITŌ Ami. They are an adorable harmonizing shoggoth, and their pentapedal master is Tsunku, a sinister, ambiguously dressed pop genius who has or shares writing credits on virtually all of their material but still finds time to dispense love advice to the nation at large in book form.

Now, according to a post on his blog, he's getting married this June. (The first round of auditions begins in April. ... Kidding.) As a detached, scientific observer, I am wondering whether this will lead to any changes in his art-harem. Will any of them, for example, be allowed to have boyfriends if they too date them safely and chastely from across the country? (His relationship with his fiancee began when she was still living in Fukuoka.) Will he still have time to micro-manage every last feather on their outfits? Will they start singing about being married as well as just (occasionally) getting married?

Bonus, unrelated news for Japanese learners: a sudden wave of stories about SETO Saki's new DVD, Love, all referring to her behind and thighs as being mucchiri. (Apparently quoting her.) This is normally where I would explain what the word meant, but since it's mimetic, you'd probably be better off just looking at the pictures.


Folk can be such assholes

"Chiverie" or le charivari is a...

wedding night prank to interrupt the wedding couple at night by a crowd clanging pots and pans, ringing bells and horns. The bride and groom were expected to appear in their wedding clothes and provide treats for their tormentors.
According to French tradition, it is used to be practiced for widows or widowers who were getting remarried or the grooms coming outside of the village.

Man, how goddamn annoying can folk customs get? I'd almost rather be burnt alive inside a wicker man.


Who you gonna call? And how you gonna look up their phone number?

Chris writes about yuureimoji:

[T]here are apparently certain characters called 幽霊文字 ("ghost characters") that have no readings, meanings, or examples of use. Even if you look them up in a dictionary you get definitions like 意義未詳 (reading and meaning unknown). Examples of these ghost characters are 暃 and 碵.
They all come from the JIS set, which is a set of characters that are standard for computer terminals to display. Apparently during the compliation of the JIS set, some characters that weren't actually characters got onto the list accidentally -- either because they were miswritten versions of actual characters or the compilers misread certain kanji.
So why do they appear in dictionaries? ...

This seems like an eminently sensible development to me. People are always complaining about kanji having multiple readings, saying that one reading per kanji would be preferable. What, then, could be better than kanji that have no readings? (Borges would loved it, too.)

But are they all really mistakes and nothing more? Japan has a long history of literacy, and only a very small portion of that had anything to do with computers, and snap-together writing systems are wide open to abuse innovation. It doesn't matter whether a new character is created intentionally or not -- if enough people use it, the Blue Fairy of descriptivism makes it a Real Character.

Here's Chris's list, for reference:

粫 挧 橸 膤 袮 閠 妛 暃 椦 軅 鵈 恷 碵 駲 墸 壥 彁 蟐

A couple of these are about as real as you can get: was apparently in use as part of a place name; is a Chinese surname (pronunced /yŭ/, it seems); 膤 is, according to my dictionary, part of a placename in Kumamoto prefecture: 膤割 (Yukiwari).

袮 is allegedly a simplified version of 禰, meaning "one's father's mausoleum", and this is quite believable because after all 尓 is a simplified version of 爾. And I don't see any real reason to doubt 軅's validity as a Japan-made variant on 軈 -- all it takes is one influential writer to omit that 心 at the bottom and the dot on top, and a new character is born.

On the other hand, even the JIS bigwigs admit that 妛 and 椦 are indeed just mistakes.

This is the kind of topic that Google can't really do justice to, sadly. Which is why I propose we launch an all-Wikipedia investigation! What could possibly go wrong?

Update! A helpful follow-up from Chris.


It was the Pointer Sisters?

I am so glad that I was born early enough to watch spots like the Pinball countup on Sesame Street. Do they still show that, I wonder? Last time I checked the show out it was about 80% Elmo, which, as I'm sure you all know, means that 20% or less of it was good.

In other news, the 7-11 near my work has stopped selling oxygen-in-a-can. I am disappointed because I didn't get to try or even photograph any. I guess that health fad is just too mid-90s.

Etymology corner! Here are four words, presented in order of recorded appearance and in strict one-letter-one-phoneme notation to show similarity, that are probably related:

  1. tagau (be different) (8th C)
  2. tagui (type, kind, things that are together/match) (8th C)
  3. tigau (be different) (10th C)
  4. (o)tagai (each other's, reciprocal, etc.) (12th C)

The question of exactly how they are related is complicated. Most sources I can find analyze /tagau/ as some variation on /ta/ (hand) + /kafu/ (reciprocal action, related to modern /kawaru/ (think 換)). It is then possible to explain the other three away as vowel variations on that one proto-word, attested since the dawn of time.

But not everyone will settle for that. /tagui/ in particular is suspicious because it is almost as if not as old as /tagau/ but has a suspiciously different ending. That might indicate /ta/ + some other verb, possibly /kumu/ (group together) or something to do with modern /kuwaeru/ (add something to another thing), which is in turn related to /kuu/ (eat)... or it might not be breakdownable beyond /taguhu/.

Then there is the idea, most notably recorded in the Iwanami kogo jiten, that /tigau/ is the same /kafu/ but the /ti/ is actually related to the /ti/ (路) meaning "road" or "direction". (Seen in modern /miti/, /yamazi/, etc.) Of course, even if this was the case, the two words meant more or less the same thing before long, so it's kind of a moot point.

So, in summary, although it might be tempting to get all Hebrew and propose an ur-root TGH, it probably ain't justified.


Alternate history for phonetics nerds

I wish Google Books would let you download things to read at home, because they really have some fascinating stuff in there. The other day I found A Standard Alphabet for Reducing Unwritten Languages and Foreign Graphic Systems to a Uniform Orthography in European Letters, by Karl Richard Lepsius.

Lepsius's alphabet predated the IPA by a good few decades and apparently got some practical use (check out the lists on the first few pages) but, as you may have noticed, lost out in the end. I personally suspect that this is because Lepsius burdened his letters with endless diacritics instead of giving them zany dangling hook-legs, failing the Fun Test.

Ah, the days when linguists said things like this...

In the first edition of the Standard Alphabet only the ancient pronunciation of the Sanskrit was taken into consideration, which, if we treat the language in a strictly scientific manner, must indeed still be regarded as the Standard; but it cannot be denied that the present pronunciation of the Brahmans must also be taken into consideration.

The section on Japanese starts on page 245 by the Google count. Notice the use of what looks like 子 instead of ネ for the ne in the katakana chart. That's hentaigana, baby. For me, seeing that was like noticing a Tasmanian Tiger peeking out from the underbrush in some old landscape photograph.


The four subjects of writing on Japan

Idea from Language Log. (I like the original poetry one the best.) I do this all the time, I know. What can I say? It's a weekend.

  1. Japanese people sure do bow and smile a lot, and their language is quite different from English. What are they hiding?
  2. Check out this mysterious cartoony sex toy I found! (Page translated by BabelFish.)
  3. My Japanese lover and I have come to stay at an onsen by a quiet, picturesque lake, but s/he has a face like a porcelain mask that prevents me from reading their emotions.
  4. Geisha were totally not prostitutes. Not.


"I don't deny, gentlemen, that this mart is marty...

"... What I am asking you is, is it marty enough?"


Example 1: The Setting Sun, by DAZAI Osamu

So I mentioned in my last post that it's much easier to decode cold, standoffish conversations in the original Japanese. Here's where I try to explain what I mean. I don't have a copy of Snow Country handy, but I think there are a good few examples in the first few pages of Donald KEENE's translation of The Setting Sun.

Take the opening lines. In English:

Mother uttered a faint cry. She was eating soup in the dining-room.
I thought perhaps something disagreeable had got into the soup. "A hair?" I asked.
"No." Mother poured another spoonful of soup into her mouth as if nothing had happened.

Now the original Japanese, with hyper-faithful Englishification to show differences:

[One] morning, in the dining room, as she sipped a spoonful of soup, Mother --
-- uttered a faint cry.
"A hair?"
Had something unpleasant gotten into the soup? I wondered.
Mother, as if nothing had happened, lightly poured another spoonful of soup into her mouth ...

I think that a is something that every Japanese speaker is familiar with. It's the "I just realized/remembered something" noise, and I don't think it has an equivalent in English. A sudden intake of breath and opening of the mouth? "Oh!" maybe, a few decades ago? Whatever, I think "uttered a faint cry" alone gives the wrong impression -- to me, that sounds more like Mother's arthritis started playing up or someone kicked her under the table.

A bit lower, we have iie translated as no. "Iie is not the same as no" is one of those mystical, poorly-explained crumbs Japanese learners are generally tossed quite early on, and this is probably a good example. Maybe it's just me, but I think that no in the English, with its full stop and everything, feels extremely cold. A decisive conversation-ender. In Japanese, though, it's not punctuated -- it doesn't need to be -- and just sort of floats there in the air as Mother keeps eating her soup. Mother comes off as more absent-minded or distracted than anything else.

In general, Japanese is also much more accepting of direct embedding. Rather than saying "I wondered if something unpleasant had gotten into the soup," you say, "Had something unpleasant gotten into the soup? I wondered." Actually, it would probably be more accurate to say that the way Japanese relative clauses work makes this kind of distinction less meaningful to begin with, even impossible to make in some cases... but either way, you get what feels like a direct line to the thoughts of the characters.

Put simply, Japanese lets you use direct quotes and dangling, unpunctuated fragments where traditional literary English style requires strict punctuation and encourages a "tell, don't show" approach to what people are thinking. Translators who stick to this style have no choice but to wrap their texts in a thin layer of gauze, and this is a big part of why translations of Japanese stories often seem so dry and detached. (Of course, lots of Japanese books, especially from the 20th century, are dry and detached, but not in the same way or to the same extent.)

By the way, I don't mean to pick on Keene specifically here. It's possible that my aesthetics are not shared by the majority of the people who would read a book like this, and in any case, I have no idea what he or his editor were aiming at with this translation, or what kind of time limits or restrictions they were under -- not to mention the fact that this was published almost forty years ago and even the best translations age.


Reading in a second language

Roy has a great post about reading Kokoro in Japanese after already having read it twice in English:

The first time I read it, I liked it because I was supposed to. ...
Today I can appreciate the work on a personal level. I identify with, or am repulsed by certain characters. The novel inspired an emotional reaction. None of that happened before. My intellectual comprehension of the novel also was further stimulated, particularly surrounding the comparison between Sensei and Boku’s father.

I've noticed this too. I attribute it to two main factors:

  1. Enforced close reading. I read English, especially English novels, faster than is probably ideal. (I have to consciously slow down when I read poetry.) But reading in Japanese is relatively new to my brain. The sentences don't come as naturally as breathing, like English ones do, and I occasionally get delayed by words I have to think about or even look up. So my Japanese reading is meticulous in a way that my English reading just isn't. If an unusual word is used twice by two different characters, or a particular sentence doesn't seem to serve any narrative purpose, I'm probably going to notice and ponder it, and if the writer meant something by it, chances aren't that bad I'll figure it out (or at least find an explanation that satisfies me). End result: I get a lot more out of each page.
  2. Cultural context. Knowing how Japanese people actually talk, in Japanese, makes a difference. The 20th-century Japanese canon, in particular, is in my experience a lot more enjoyable when you understand why so many of the conversations seem cold and standoffish, and learn how to read what the characters really mean by what they say. This is often a translation issue, too, but I'm going to keep quiet about that until I have enough achievements of my own to hide my hubris behind. Anyway, the point is: now that I'm in Japan, I have context, and that helps a lot.

That's not to say that there aren't any disadvantages, of course. I often fail to recognize literary and other references because I just don't have the background knowledge, and although reading slowly is enjoyable I do sometimes wish I could progress through my "to read" pile a little more rapidly.


Cynically fishing for pageviews

Behold the cover of this week's Young Champion! Yes, those are indeed aprons with a heart-shaped hole in the front, worn over a black dress with a heart-shaped hole in the front, severely undercutting the efficacy of both apron and dress in favor of heart-shaped decorative function.

I hereby declare maidophilia's Baroque period open!

Also, I snicker because I remember when NATSUKAWA Jun was trying to position herself as more of a "sexy" idol than a "cute" one.

Meanwhile, in the music industry, tomorrow will see the official release of OOTSUKA Ai's latest single フレンジャー, "Furenjaa". That title evoked mixed emotions in me when I first saw it, because I parsed it as "flenjer", which sounds like "flenser", and flensing is gruesome stuff. On the other hand, I learnt the word "flenser" from Judy Blume's Blubber, so it took me back a little.

Actually, though, the preferred English spelling is "Frienger". This makes the meaning much clearer: "friend" + "ranger". "Ranger" in Japanese kind of corresponds to "Super-" or "-Man/-Woman" in English: a morpheme that can be used to form superhero names and/or titles. (This is thanks to a series of old television shows which we in the western world were also exposed to, albeit through a glass darkly, in the form of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.)

So, to summarize, the song positions her as a superhero whose powers are eating, drinking, and being a good friend. I don't mean to be dramatic, but I think this is going to break J-pop in half.

O du Verlegung alles Vergehens in Gang: wie brachtest du's dar

It's difficult for me to understand how anyone can argue against hanzi as a writing system even as they post things like this.


The unique

Via Language Log, an article about les clubs d’orthographe, or, as the French say, "the clubs of orthography": groups of people who gather in abandoned churches* to take dictation that is difficult by design and therethrough rejoice in the perverse orthography of the language of love.

Of course, it wouldn't be an article about language -- much less about French! -- without some ill-informed pseudo-linguistics, and participant Vonick Epaillard obliges:

I expect dictations in English are not very exciting, because the only difficulty with English is the accent. In French, we have irregular verbs, complexities with past participles, lots of rules, exceptions to those rules and exceptions to the exceptions. It’s a real challenge.

Can you spot his error? It is, of course, that dictations in English are not very exciting not because they are too easy, but because taking dictation is boring as hell.

Oh, right, I guess also, "the only difficulty with English is the accent" is just madness. In fact, spelling is one of the most difficult things about English, viz. "ghoti".

I am always entertained by people's perverse desire to believe that their language is the most difficult in the world. Is it really as universal as it seems? Does anyone know of any languages where the common wisdom among native speakers is that it's very simple, really, and that one should be able to pick it up without too much trouble? I suppose English might fall under this definition, given how many native speakers seem to expect everyone to know it worldwide.

Constructed languages intended for everyday use don't count, because if they don't aim at or at least claim simplicity they undermine their reason to exist. On the other hand, maybe one measure of a conlang's maturity is when its speakers start to take pride in how difficult it is, and write smug books compiling quirks and bloopers. (Do Esperanto speakers still think that their language is logical and easy?)

* Okay, I made that part up, but you have to admit it would be fun.



KittenAuth is, for reasons explained at MetaFilter, non-ideal at distinguishing humans from machines. I have, therefore, devised a more advanced version, and created a mockup below.

Which word best describes this being?


You'll notice the sneaky double gotcha in there. I am confident that this will at least stem the tide of psychopathic killbot splogs.



One of the rules of thumb you hear when studying Japanese culture is "Shinto for beginnings, Buddhism for endings," and it's true that most Japanese folks I know only really get involved with Buddhism or temples for funerals or other death-related matters, like visiting their ancestors' graves at certain times of year. So, it isn't surprising that many temples try to extract as much money as they can from the recently bereaved, since that's a major income source for them. (At least, as I understand it via Japanese media.)

One of the strangest results of this situation is the kaimyou, 戒名, literally "regulation name," a posthumous name that is sold -- almost never given -- to people, or more accurately to their families, and displayed at and after the funeral.

Originally, kaimyou were given to the living -- specifically, to people who had embraced Buddhism and agreed to follow the regulations. (Specifically, the big five: no killing, no stealing, no drinking, no lying, no adultery.) But now that everyone is born into Buddhism and really nobody becomes a monk or nun any more, the old kind of kaimyou is irrelevant, and they have gradually evolved into a weird form of conspicuous consumption. When you die, your relatives buy a kaimyou for you as part of the funeral service, and their choice will play a big part in determining the impressiveness of your funeral and grave marker.

As I understand it -- and Wikipedia backs me up, the actual kaimyou is only two characters long. This has always been the case, ever since Buddhism's earliest and best friend in Japan, Emperor Shoumu, received the houmyou (basically the same thing as a kaimyou) 勝満, pronounced Shouman, and meaning "Victory" + "Fulfilment".

(Nowadays, this is a popular name for tonkatsu restaurants, because if the first character is read in the native Japanese way, it becomes katsu. But I digress.)

But if kaimyou are always two characters long (because everyone is equal after they die), how do temples charge by the character? (Because oh yes, they do... something like 100,000 yen per, is the figure often quoted.) Well, this is ingenious: you can also buy extra characters that, although technically not part of the kaimyou, are still included wherever it is written down, and add to the general illustriousness of the thing. Also, most people don't really know or care about the difference: "the longer, the better" is the rule, and they're sticking with it.

The cheapest add-on character set is 信士 (shinshi) for men or 信女 (shinnyo) for women, both meaning basically "believer". The next step up is 居士 (koji, "someone who is there") or 大姉 (taishi, literally "big sister"). You can also get an ingou (院号) or an indengou (院殿号), both originally references to places of residence (院 is a common element in temple names) but quite divorced from that now. 院殿号 beats 院号, because it is longer. And, of course, you can throw a fully customisable set of characters in the middle there: this is called a dougou (道号), "way [of Buddhism] name".

I decided to try out the parsing rules on some famous examples. Here's AKUTAGAWA Ryuunosuke, a.k.a. 懿文院龍之介日崇居士:

懿文院 (the ingou, meaning "beautiful writing") +
龍之介 ("Ryuunosuke", his name -- I guess this counts as the dougou?) +
日崇 (the actual kaimyou, literally meaning "revere(s) the sun", but not uncommon as a monk name... to do with Nichiren, I think, rather than actual sun worship) +
居士 (koji, which is thrown in with the 院 part. In this context you can see how this is basically a fancy -san.)

Or consider enka queen MISORA Hibari, a.k.a. 茲唱院美空日和清大姉:

茲唱院 ("Luxurious/growing song", the ingou) +
美空 (her stage name, Misora ("beautiful sky"), again I guess used as a dougou) +
日和 (the actual kaimyou: "good weather" if read in Japanese) +
清大姉 (the female version of koji with 清 ("pure") added on the front as an optional extra)

Another singer, HONDA Minako, had a much simpler name: 釋優馨. The 釋 at the start would be 釈 in modern characters, and, pronounced shaku is a phonetic reference to Sakyamuni; the fact that her posthumous name begins with it indicates that what she has is a houmyou, the Pure Land equivalent. The other two characters are equivalent to the two-character kaimyou, and mean "lovely voice". There's no shinnyo or anything on the end because, apparently, Pure Land don't do that these days (I guess because their tradition is more about just praying than actually joining the temple?); the 釋 is their equivalent, I guess.
You know who had a ridiculously long one? TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, that's who. Actually, he apparently had two, but just check out the longest: 東照大権現安国院殿徳蓮社崇譽道和大居士. Damn.

東照大権現 ("Great Incarnation Illuminating (from?) the East" -- I'm not sure if this is technically part of the indengou below, or just a special bonus bit that got tacked on because he was the most powerful man in Japan. Certainly some places list his posthumous name without this bit, starting from...) +
安国院殿 (the indengou, meaning "safe[ly governed] country") +
徳蓮社 (part of the dougou, I think, and apparently a Tokugawa thing (the "徳" is the "Toku")) +
崇譽 ("Revere" + "Glorify" -- Still in the dougou, I believe...)
道和 (the actual kaimyou -- "Harmony of the Way")
大居士 (supersized koji).

There are also special kaimyou-compatible titles for those who die underage, from 童子/童女 (male/female child) all the way down to 水子 (the infamous mizuko, referring to those who die before being born), but those are too depressing to talk about.


Till I heard Tansai speak out loud and bold

Iwanami Bunko has republished its 1932 AOKI Masaru-edited edition of (SAWA) Tansai Shujin's 通俗古今奇観 (Tsuuzoku kokon kikan), an Edo-period translation of the Ming Chinese work 古今奇観 (gujin qiguan), apparently a.k.a. 今古奇観 (jingu qiguan), in either case meaning "Strange spectacles modern and ancient", a collection of folk traditions and histories. Tansai's translation apparently had a fairly strong influence on Edo literature and, therefore, Japanese literature up to and including the present day. (Or at least until the Meiji period, when Soseki reinvented Japanese literature from the ground up with his bare hands, glancing only occasionally at the Western canon for ideas. But that point is debatable.)

More importantly, this book is an old classic buried under two layers of noticeably non-modern editing, not to mention crappy printing. Naturally, I bought it. I can feel my speech patterns falling back in time already.

From Tansai's original introduction:

There are rather a lot of chapters, and it would not be easy to publish them all. For this popularization [i.e. Japanese version], I will begin with those that are not too long. "To climb to the heights, one must begin from the depths..."

Now that's a translator after my own heart.


I accordingly linked to Sam Adams

  • The Journals of Lewis and Clark! Fantastic. I have already adjusted my computer's innards in such a way as to force it to mail me an entry aday, so that I can relive their wild linguistic adventures. Misspelling the word "legging"! Using then-innocent but now-dirty-sounding phrases like "jurk their meat all day"! I love primary sources.
  • Wenbudao. Their current top post is about Chinese BASIC, which I didn't even know existed but sure is interesting. The permissible Chinese variables were apparently the radicals, which must have been handy if you were writing a utility to count suns and compare corpses to bamboo. (Searching for a Japanese equivalent, I found G-BASIC, which can accept commands in katakana.)
  • Is this really Six Records of a Floating Life? Shouldn't there be two more records?


One hundred years of Showatude

All-CGI old-school kaijuu pastiche 『惑星大怪獣ネガドン』, English title Negadon: the Monster from Mars, has been released on DVD. (I hear the US release is scheduled for summer.)

Creator AWAZU Jun insists on the official site that if you like "kaiju (giant monsters) and robots... more than double cheeseburgers, then you've got to watch NEGADON," but I don't know about that. Maybe if you like them more than Freshness Burger double cheeseburgers, but the McDonalds or Wendy's double cheeseburger is probably too low a bar to use there. The eponymous giant monster Negadon itself is a little too blank and personality-free for that.

On the other hand, if you like well-executed nerd folk art (and I do), then you've definitely got to watch Negadon. The attention to detail in this short makes the Köchel Catalogue look like a shopping list scrawled on the back of a Starbucks receipt. The retro-future itself is flawless, from the celebratory hot-air balloons right down to the rocker switches in the robot cockpit, and the color and atmosphere really are just like period film stock. Even the posters have authentic period-style fold lines. A few more references of this sort are listed in the Wikipedia entry.

The story, set in "Showa 100" (reigned over, one assumes, by a 124-year-old Emperor Hirohito), is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a 25-minute kaiju homage: humans do something inadvisedly scientific, a monster is awakened, an ex-scientist with science-related pain in his past is persuaded to return to science in order to defeat the monster. Unfortunately, though, the monster itself is disappointing. It's a floating, quasi-mechanical thing that works very well in CGI but doesn't have much in the way of character. I would have greatly preferred a digital recreation of a guy in a rubber suit, even if that meant enduring a bit more of the Thunderbirdsy feel of the humans here.

The robot is delightful, though.

The disk also includes an interview with the director, some wireframe-to-final "making of" shots, and two older kaiju-in-CGI shorts of his -- the latter two of which will make you realize just how important and marvellous the dingy-but-rich Showascope is. One thing it doesn't include is subtitles or a soundtrack in English, which I presume means that US distributors Central Park Media are still working on it. You have to wonder how they plan to handle it. If I were running the project, I'd commission two English versions: one that was faithful to the original and, in dub form, performed by decent voice actors, and one that was completely over-the-top US-company-recuts-Gidora-style craziness, performed by shameless hams. (I'd no doubt regret my decision given that trying to intentionally produce period inanity usually just leads to modern banality, but that's still what I'd do. And then I'd ride my unicorn to the moon!)

P.S. According to the schedule at the bottom of the Japanese site, you can see it on the big screen at Tollywood in Shimokitazawa between the 8th and 28th of April, as part of the "New Generation Animation Festival" (新世代アニメーションまつり).


Why do Japanese kids, especially girls, wear hakama when they graduate college?

I really should have guessed the answer to this, but it's basically the same phenomenon as Western academic regalia. According Wikipedia, hakama were a common designated uniform for female college (ish) students from the Meiji to early Shouwa period, and they've managed to linger on until now as graduationwear.

Incidentally, although this is also from Wikipedia, the world-famous sailor suit high school outfits date back to the late 1800s for male students (the collar a few years earlier) and the early 1920s for their female counterpart -- which is to say, as militarism really began to get a-chugging, the nation clad even its female young in navy uniforms.