What shock! Then, Matt learns-him to read the books in French?

But yes!

There are many practical and noble reasons to seek a reading knowledge of a language. Spite is not one of them, I know, and yet it has driven me here. (Don't even ask.) Returning to the Indo-European fold after so much time pottering around in East Asia is quite a shock. Compared to Japanese, French is... English. With more definite articles.

I'm starting off easy, with Fines Fleurs de L'Humour Français, which has a facing-page Japanese translation and is assez drôle, apart from the occasional wince-inducing use of names like "Roth" and "Lévy" to foreshadow avarice and deceit. My favorite so far:

Le Singe et le Perroquet
Le singe dit:
 -- Je grimpe au faîte des arbres; je m'accroche par la queue aux plus hautes branches; je monte à cheval sur des chiens dans les cirques; je fais le mort au coup de carabine; je sais imiter l'homme; je balaie les appartements.
 -- Qu'est-ce que c'est ça? interrompt le perroquet. Moi, je parle!
 -- Eh bien! Et moi, dit le singe, qu'est-ce que je fais donc depuis un quart d'heure?

(I was sure that the joke would be "Yeah, well I don't do any work for humans, so I guess I win." Pleasant surprise.)

Next stop: Salome! And perhaps one day Madame Chrysanthème, the infamous story that kicked off the first big wave du Japonisme littéraire.

Puis tout ce Nagasaki s'illuminait à profusion, se couvrait de lanternes à l'infini; le moindre faubourg s'éclairait, le moindre village; la plus infime cabane, qui était juchée là-haut dans les arbres et que, dans le jour, on n'avait même pas vue, jetait sa petite lueur de ver luisant. Bientôt il y en eut, des lumières, il y en eut partout; de tous les côtés de la baie, du haut en bas des montagnes, des myriades de feux brillaient dans le noir, donnant l'impression d'une capitale immense, étagée autour de nous en un vertigineux amphithéâtre. Et en dessous, tant l'eau était tranquille, une autre ville, aussi illuminée, descendait au fond de l'abîme. La nuit était tiède, pure, délicieuse; l'air rempli d'une odeur de fleurs que les montagnes nous envoyaient. Des sons de guitares, venant des «maisons de thé» ou des mauvais lieux nocturnes, semblaient, dans l'éloignement, être des musiques suaves. Et ce chant des cigales,--qui est au Japon un des bruits éternels de la vie, auquel nous ne devions plus prendre garde quelques jours plus tard tant il est ici le fond même de tous les bruits terrestres,--on l'entendait, sonore, incessant, doucement monotone comme la chute d'une cascade de cristal....


More on Portuguese romanization

Coming from the city of brotherly love, James has posted a translation of the pronunciation-related bits of Diego COLLADO's Ars grammaticae Iaponicae linguae. This is my favorite part:

When tç is in a word, which is quite often, a student should beg God to reveal their talent in pronunciation...


A gaudy hat hung unattended on a pole in Ebisu


So, thanks to Wikipedia, everyone knows the difference between an acronym and an initialism. Well, everyone, if you're so smart, what do you call a sequence of three English letters derived from an entire Sino-Japanese word and the first letters of the Roman-character spellings of two other words, one Japanese and one borrowed from English?

Because that, my friends, describes the hip new catchphrase "QBK". It is short for kyū ni bōru ga kita [no de] (急にボールが来た[ので]), which means "the ball suddenly came (up to where I was)[, so...]". This was the lamentably ill-put post-game excuse offered by Japanese forward Yanagisawa for completely botching an easy shot at goal in the game against Croatia (YouTube). For obvious reasons, it inspired little understanding or sympathy back here on the home front. (Of course, there are conflicting reports as to what actually happened.)

So far, I've only heard it used by people referring to Yanagisawa specifically. It remains to be seen whether QBK has what it takes to get general and stay in the language, say as a "my bad"-style acknowledgment of a stupid mistake.



Two years ago, sixty-odd bits of hypothesized wall art from the early 7th century -- which would make it Japan's oldest -- were discovered in Hōryūji. The other day, they found eighty more pieces, plus a couple hundred other fragments of plain old wall.

Archaeologists are apparently comparing the tiny fragments of art to other images from a little later to draw conclusions such as "these stripey lines are probably some guy's pants" and "this squiggly bit must be the trees". Sadly, the edge pieces remain elusive.

Also, structural evidence and fire damage suggest that these are pieces of the original Hōryūji construction, which burnt down in 670.

To get to the title: Hōryūji is located in Ikaruga, a place named after a type of bird and written with some neat kanji: 斑鳩. Some people think that the word may be mimetic. I can only assume that these birds sound like prewar automobile air horns, in that case.


And this is why I don't talk about politics

Will: "You know, a lot of times I wish the president were still elected the old-fashioned way. Most votes: prez. Number 2: vice prez. None of this "ticket" BS."

Me: "I loved that idea when I first heard it. It must have made the White House like The Odd Couple."

Will: "You'd think. But back in the day it was really just feds and anti-feds. And... once you're president, well, it's hard to actually advocate the states all that much. So I don't imagine it was that bad."

Me: "I was thinking more about arguments over wigs and things."

The back streets

Moji no ura-dōri (freely, "The Back Streets of Orthography") has an interesting post about a library poster with インターネット利用 (internet riyō, "internet use") furiganafied as インターネットをつかう (internet o tsukau, "use the internet"). In other words, these furigana aren't just a pronunciation guide -- they're a gloss, giving the native Japanese words roughly equivalent to the Sino-Japanese word below them.

That in itself isn't so unusual. It was all but normal back in the Meiji period, when you could apparently use whatever the hell kanji you wanted to write a word, as long as the furigana were clear. The unsettling thing for me is that these furigana change the very structure of what they're attached to. インターネット利用 is a (compound) noun, but インターネットをつかう is a sentence (or at least a clause). The furigana undermine the kanji at the most fundamental level, but the overall meaning of the poster remains unchanged.

Incidentally, this is all probably for the benefit of very young library users, who might not know the word riyō no matter how it's written.


Representing the slash community

In the latest episode of Sayonara Zetsubō-Sensei, KUMETA Kōji completely depantses the world of soft-core in-comic-magazine photo spreads of teenage girls. In a single panel!

Oh, how I laughed.


Nuthin but a 字 thang

For some reason, the posters for Chakushin Ari: Final have star Jang Keunsuk's name in both katakana and Hangul. Why?

The "Korean Boom" is more or less over, and although the door is now wedged open for Korean actors to have starring (if not headlining) roles in Japanese dramas and movies, I think the number of people who grew up in Japan and can read Hangul remains pretty small.

On the other hand, Korean people who moved here as adults can obviously read Hangul, but it'd be very surprising if they couldn't also read katakana. The subset of immigrants who can't read katakana, can read Hangul, and would be likely to go see a trashy horror movie can't be very large or rich, surely.

This leaves three explanations that I can think of:

  • The designers just thought it looked cool to have an uncommon writing system on the poster.
  • The producers wanted to emphasise the internationalness of the cast in an immediately eye-catching way.
  • Jang himself required it in his contract.



The enemy within everywhere

No-sword has been flooded with literally tens of visitors arriving through Language Log's very kind sublink today, so I thought in return I'd post about something they love down there at the Plaza: snowclones.

Well, only one, but it is in Japanese:


(Teki wa X ni ari, "The enemy is at/in/within/etc. X." -- note pre-modern final form /-i/, which is what makes the pattern distinctive in modern Japanese.)

The original version was "敵は本能寺にあり", teki wa Honnōji ni ari ("The enemy is in Honnōji [Temple]"), Akechi Mitsuhide used it to kick off the Honnōji Incident (1582), in which he betrayed his liege Nobunaga. Nobunaga was staying at Honnōji, so Akechi surrounded it with troops and eventually forced Nobunaga to kill himself as the place burned to the ground.

As I write this, Google returns 43,100 results for Akechi's original version, and 94,700 for "敵は*にあり". In particular, it's a very popular way to say that the enemy lies within:

  • 敵は我にあり (X = "self")
  • 敵は身内にあり (X = "family, inner circle")
  • 敵は本能にあり (X = "instincts" [honnō, pun intended])
  • 敵は脳幹にあり (X = "brain stem")

But skimming the first few Google pages alone I find other versions apparently giving the enemy's location as:

  • Chiba (敵は千葉にあり)
  • South by southeast (敵は南南東にあり)
  • Akihabara (敵は秋葉原にあり)
  • The staff room (敵は職員室にあり)
  • Cambodia (敵はカンボジアにあり)
  • Roppongi Hills (敵は六本木ヒルズにあり)
  • The refrigerator (敵は冷蔵庫にあり)
  • The sky (敵は大空にあり)

Also, because ni ari can also be interpreted as an archaic copula, functioning more or less identically to modern desu*, the teki wa X ni ari snowclone can also be interpreted to mean "the enemy is X". I found examples of this pattern assigning enemy status to such diverse phenomena as:

  • Baseball umpires (敵は球審にあり)
  • Coca-Cola (敵はコカコーラにあり)
  • Code compilers (敵はコンパイラにあり)
  • Difficulty sleeping (敵は寝苦しさにあり)
  • Just hemorrhoids (敵はほんの痔にあり, another pun)

(Of course, there are some cases where a sentence can be in either of these two categories depending on context: S"Roppongi Hills is itself the enemy!" vs "The enemy is somewhere in Roppongi Hills!")

* In fact, ni ari is a distant ancestor of desu.

More lip-flapping

Scott has dug up and onlinegeput his history of H sounds in Japan (no, not those H sounds). I particularly like the use of evidence from regional dialects. Living in Tokyo it's easy to forget that all over Japan, (old) people are speaking versions of Japanese that retained different aspects of the older systems (and developed in different directions afterwards, of course.) Okinawan, for example, has some awesome correspondences.


"Disappeared as if by some cruel joke"

One Ian Smith has put his dissertation (?), Sakaguchi Ango and the Morality of Decadence online, and since it includes both a translation of Ango's immediately post-war essay Darakuron (On Decadence) and a useful critical introduction to said essay, I deem it worth a read!

Having said that, his chosen English style for Ango seems a bit... careful? uptight? But then again, he is probably a PhD by now, and I... well, I once saw a PhD from quite near. When I get some Ango up on the Bass Harp, we can fight it out on the hypercapitalist field of public opinion, I suppose.

Tangentially related: I recently read Robert "Chrysanthemum and the Bat" Whiting's Tokyo Underworld, which follows the rise and fall of post-war black marketeer and pizza restaurateur Nick Zappetti but has all kinds of fascinating digressions, and I would recommend it to anyone. Whiting knows what he's talking about; he conducts interviews; he digs up primary sources; he is a true historian and an enviable writer. I haven't been disappointed by one of his books yet.

Poetry terminology question

In the Wu-Tang Clan's "Protect Ya Neck", Method Man's final couplet is:

Niggaz off because I'm hot like sauce
The smoke from the lyrical blunt make me *cough*

(Where "*cough*" represents the sound of a cough.)

Would it be accurate to call this 'eye oblique-rhyme'? Or, since "Protect Ya Neck" was not really intended to be viewed by the eye at all, would it just be some kind of implied oblique rhyme?


Don't try anything cute

JAPAN IN GRIP OF KAWAII SHOCK! As usual, things are subtly off throughout the article (Spirited Away as an example of "cute"?), and a discussion of the subtle differences between English "cute" (British or American?) and Japanese kawaii is missing, but there is an interesting bit at the end:

Indeed, Japanese have come up with nuances of cute and use phrases such as "erotic-cute" and "grotesque-cute" in conversation.

Yes, Japanese do! And foreign, such as my, do too! Erokawaii and gurokawaii are really useful words in a culture where so much of the cool art revolves around reacting to and commenting on kawaii things.

Having said that, though, this isn't some special effort that Japanese word-coiners are making for cuteness' sake. /Ero/ and /guro/ have long since been absorbed into the language as standard /i/ adjectival roots -- I think via the popular Japanese-sounding coinage /eroguro/, which conflates the two and is an old and respected criticism of popular entertainment -- and today can be attached to all kinds of words, with varying degrees of self-consciousness. Erokanashii ("ero" + sad)? Check. Gurotanoshii ("guro" + fun)? Check.

And, to take another step back, many (most?) Japanese adjectives can handle this treatment, again with the caveat that some usage is intended to be entertainingly non-standard. Even usage like this is understandable to all, though, and so you have words like omoshirourayamashii (funny/interesting + enviable) and urusakawaii (noisy/annoying + cute). The only obvious non-semantic restriction seems to be that combinations where the first half ends in /i/ are avoided, even down to removing final /i/s where necessary. so /kawakakkoii/ (cute + cool) is more common than the expected /kawaikakkoii/... but /kakkokawaii/ (cool + cute) is more common than both put together.


I just can't stop talking about old Portugo-Japanese texts online

Last time, I promise. (Until I get around to writing up the Feiqe Monogatari, even though I can't find it online.)

I didn't notice the other day, but the Aesop site I linked to also has the bit at the end of the Esopo/Feiqe book where certain difficult words are explained: "Cotobano Yauarague" (言葉の和らげ, "A word-softening").

Xiqirini monouo nozomu coto. I, coicogaruru.
Fitouo axu< yu<coto.
Axij michi.

I think the I in the definition for acogaruru stands for item in the Latin sense. There are also some annotations in Portuguese (in pink on the webpage), such as "Contentamento & quietação" as an extra gloss for "Anracu: Yasu< tanoximu."


<gue> to fabulas

ESOPONO FABVLAS: Latinuo vaxite Nippon no cuchi to nasu mono nari (エソポのハブラス:ラチンを和して日本の口となすものなり) was a Japanese translation of Aesop's fables printed in Rōmaji in the year "Goxuxxe yori M. D. L. XXXXIII" (1593 AD) by -- who else? -- Portuguese Jesuits. And, as my link above implies, it is online. There are three books: Aesop's biography (abbreviated) (Esopoga xogai monogatari racu), the fables themselves (Esopoga tcucurimonogatarino nuqigaki), and a second volume (guequan) of fables.

The last three links in that paragraph lead to webpages which summarize, tabularocitously, the contents of each volume. Click on a story link in the second column to see the original text, with Japanese-orthography version below, followed by cross-references and related fables from different books.

For example, here's the horse and the ass:

Vmato, robano coto.

Aru vomani ychidan qecco>na curauo voqi fanayacani xite saite touoruni, robano miguruxiguenani vomoniuo vo>xete yuqiyo<ta tocorode, cano nori vmaga coreuo mite, nangi najeni vareuo rajfai xenu zo? tadaima vareuo fumitauoso<mo miga mamagiato yuyuxigueni nonoxitte suguitaga, sono vma fodono< rio<axiuo fumivottaniyotte, norivmaniua niyauanu toyu<te, coyenadouo vo>suru tameni giguye tcuca uaita. So<atte funtouo vo>xerarete denbacuni zzuru to qi, cudanno robani yuqiayeba, robaga tachitodomatte yu<ua: cocouo touoruua itcuzoya tai(m)en xita norivmadeua naica? satemo sono toqino nangiga qua g(o)nua itcuzonofodoni fiqicayete cacu asamaxu<ua nar(i)s(a)gattazo? vareua motocara iyaxij mi naredomo, (m)a da funtouo faco<da cotoua naito fagiximete suguita.


Fitoua yxeino sacanna tote, tauoba naiyaximeso: sacayuru monono tachimachi votoroyuruua mezzu rax(i)caranu xejo<no narai gia.

Man, so true. Pride coming before a fall? Totally mezzuraxicaranu. Some observations:

  • I really love that verbal 和す (to JAPANIFY [a writing system]) in the title.
  • Particles are not separated from the word they follow, which places more emphasis on that aspect of the syntax than modern romanization systems do (it's as if we wrote "thedog was chasing acat" in English)
  • The particle は (/wa/ in modern Japanese, but /ha/ in OJ) is <ua>, which is primary evidence that by the late 1500s the /ha/ → /wa/ change was well and truly complete.
  • On the other hand, at first glance it looks like the /wo/ → /o/ change hadn't yet begun; the particle を (MJ /o/, OJ /wo/) is <uo>. But then you notice that, for example, 置き (MJ /oki/, OJ /öki/) is <voki>. Assuming that "initial <u> → <v>" was an orthographic rule (not uncommon), this indicates that <uo> actually represented the mora which, in MJ, is pronounced /o/. Huh? Why? Because in the Edo period, that mora was pronounced /wo/. Y'see, the separate OJ morae /wo/ and /ö/ (the non-umlauted alternate /o/ never appeared as a consonantless mora, IIRC) had merged into /wo/ by Edo times, but they didn't become /o/ until later. Oh, Edo period! You so bilabial!
  • Similarly, words like 逢えば (MJ /aeba/, OJ /aheba/ (逢へば)) are written with a <y>: <ayeba>. Japanese mora ending in /e/ have a weird history in which they all started out different, then gradually merged into /ye/ (well, not all; /he/s at the start of words and morphemes were retained), then changed to /e/ relatively recently. The English word <yen> is another example of this.
  • Not to belabor the point, but <fito> for modern /hito/, etc. This one surprised me; for some reason, I thought that change had happened earlier.
  • Am I the only person who finds "lt" and "gt" unintuitive for < and >, and wants to use "lt" and "rt" (left and right) instead?
  • が and か in Chinese loanmorphemes (MJ /ga/ and /ka/, OJ /gwa/ and /kwa/) are still <gua> and <cua>*. (At first I was confused by <gue> and <gui>, but then I realized that that's just the Portuguese showing. I think.)
  • Were the morals (下心, which in modern Japanese usually means something like "ulterior motive") in the original, or did the Jesuits add them for the benefit of their local audience?

The full text of the Fabulas is also available here, although for some reason the capital letters are all double-wide but the lower-case ones are standard ASCII, so if your browser can't figure it out make sure you set it to view as Shift-JIS.

(No luck finding the Feiqe Monogatari, except for pictures of the cover.)

* Not surprising, because this lasted until pretty recently, especially in the upper classes. A history teacher friend told me that Hirohito still pronounced them this way.


Foreign quarter

Discovered: Old Yokohama in ukiyoe, courtesy of the Kanagawa Prefectural Library. Includes lots of pictures of foreigners, and not just US/UK types -- there're people from Russia (魯西亞), Mongolia (蒙古), France (佛蘭西), Nanking (南京), and more.

(Actually, I should confess that I don't know if that Mongol guy was really from Mongolia or just from China or Russia or something, but here are some more picture scrolls of his people invading Japan a few centuries earlier, anyway.)

In conclusion, I also want to give it up for this sweet picture of a train.


Time cube

So, those crazy Aymara people think that the future is behind them and the past in front. Big deal. In Japanese, the past and future are both in front and behind.

To refer to the past, you can use words such as mae (front) or saki (tip, destination). To refer to the future, you can say ato (back) or, again, saki, albeit in the set phrase kono saki (this saki). Also, just to confuse things a little more, in the olden days, ato sometimes referred to the past. Ato no tsuki (back moon) means "last month".

(Of course, Japanese has trouble controlling its spatial metaphors in general. Temae (literally "hand-front") started its career as a humble first-person pronoun, but nowadays it's an extremely rude second-person one. I think the key issue driving this was a changing understanding of exactly whose hand the person or thing being referred to was in front of.)


Dansō kissa

Interview I conducted with KIRA Ayumu, who runs 80+1, a dansō kissa, or "male clothing cafe", where all the waiters are women dressed as trim and stylish men.

(In a few days this post will turn into the interview itself for archival purposes, but for now, you should read it there!)

The Manyōshū is for lovers

... of breasts.

midoriko no / tame koso omo ha / motomu to ihe / ti nome ya kimi ga / omo motomuramu

"Nurses are supposed to be for infants -- are you still sucking the teat, that you want one so bad?"

According to the Kadokawa Sophia Bunko edition of the MYS, this tanka mocks a too-youthful male suitor. Burrrn!

Fun facts: the very, very old Japanese word /ti/ (including baby-talk redoubled version /titi/) can end up either "breast" or "breast milk" when translated into English. The same goes for /oppai/. However, Chinese loanwords referring to the same phenomena are not, as far as I know, ambiguous at all: they mean one or the other.

This suggests a consistent, intriguing native conception of that whole semantic area -- although obviously context clarifies things in most cases. Few drunken strip club attendees would shout "show us yer breast milk!"

Whoa, Superman's gay?

Via Dorian, I learn that suddenly Superman's handlers are all "Yo, everybody! Superman? So not gay," which made me laugh because if there's a more effective way to make everyone think you're gay than to strenuously deny it for no obvious reason, I've yet to discover it.

Personally, I just want to know if he's stopped beating his boyfriend yet.

But I mostly wanted to recommend Dorian's other recent Superman post, especially the last line.


Obscure blog No-sword reported from Japan, was ignored

All you people should be familiar with the Language Log deconstruction of Dan Brown's anarthrologic opening-sentence style:

"Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

This use of a person's name preceded by the name of a job, without a preceding article (an anarthrous NP, as we grammarians say when chatting with our own kind in the secretive cabals that we sometimes hold) is odd because occupational descriptions like "fertilizer salesman" aren't normally used as titles. [...] It is true that noun phrases like "fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson" are found in newspaper articles [...] but I have never yet found anyone but Dan Brown using this construction to open a work of fiction. The construction sounds to me like the opening of an obituary rather than an action sequence.

Since you cannot visit a bookstore in Japan right now without finding yourself up to your pink, murderous albino eyeballs in Da Vinci Code merchandise, I thought I may as well see how respected Japanese translator ECHIZEN Toshiya (越前敏弥) handled it. My notes and a few websites indicate that the first sentence came out as:


I read fewer newspapers than I should, but I'm sure somebody will correct me if I'm wrong, so I'm going to go out on a limb: although the bit that corresponds to "renowned curator" still comes before Saunière's name, this doesn't have the same journalismic ring as the original. For one thing, Saunière's age should be in brackets (and Arabic numerals) after his name. For another, though, I don't think Japanese journalists use apposition like that. Instead of saying "ルーブル美術館の高名な館長、ジャック・ソニエール", they would put it together as "ルーブル美術館の高名な館長のジャック・ソニエール" or something like that, explicitly linking the two bits of the sentence. (Actually, I don't think that 高名な (renowned) would be in there either, but we'll let that slide.)

But Echizen didn't have to go to great or even moderate lengths to avoid the journalistic tone. He didn't even have to fiddle with Brown's infodump-led structure. Although apposition isn't that big in newspapers, it's normal fiction, and more generally, "modifier precedes modified" is what Japanese is all about.

So, you see, Brown's much-maligned style is perfectly clear and natural after all. Once you get it far, far away from the Indo-European language family, that is.

(In fact, Echizen's front-loading is even more extreme than Brown's: Saunière's age, which Echizen puts before the name, isn't mentioned until sentence three in the original. I guess he thought that it was better to draw the character more fully as early as possible, rather than ration out information gradually over the course of what is after all an action scene.)


Let the pretending to be injured begin

When the last new magazines were released yesterday, it finally became literally impossible to open a magazine in Japan without seeing a picture of a female celebrity wearing a Japan football jersey, and I knew that the World Cup had come.

The only consolation is that there is an interesting way to say "world cup" in Japanese: W杯, pronounced /daburu hai/. W obviously stands for "world", so 杯 means "cup" -- the same as the /pai/ in kanpai (cheers; literally "dry cup", to be taken as a friendly suggestion).

The interesting part is the W. Many English initialisms are used in Japan, like CM for "commercial [movie]", but W is a special letter: it can represent meaning all by itself. This is because it is generally pronounced "double" instead of "double-u", so it's handy for referring to things that are doubled. (Do we do this in the Speakingenglishosphere too? I'd never noticed, if so.)

For example: Wチーズバーガー (double cheeseburger): an English word borrowed into Japanese and now refused all contact with its native orthography except the idiosyncratic Japanese W. But W can also be applied to Japanese words, e.g. 不倫 (/hurin/, affair) → W不倫 (/daburu hurin/, an affair where both partners are cheating on a spouse.) To be honest, I think that W-attaching is a more or less productive process, and you might have a case for categorizing this version of the character W with the kanji rather than the Roman alphabet.

"But wait! The W in W杯 isn't one of those Ws! It just stands for 'World'!" True. So why bring it up? To illustrate, as if further illustration were necessary, the relentlessly boring nature of football.


From my sickbed

Asahi recently launched Gubinama, their new third beer. The advertising campaign stars KONISHI "Blue" Manami (小西真奈美), and its station poster prong looks like this:

Yes: an illustrated guide to the correct supralaryngeal configurations for (the vowel sounds in) each mora in the word Gubinama. I have summarized this information, as I now understand it, in the table below.

/gu/Lips pursed, head tilted to one side like a curious innocent seeking guidance and protection
/bi/Lips drawn back, teeth displayed in smile, chin brought near shoulder as though communicating an unconscious, instinctual desire for physical contact
/na/Eyebrows raised like one reacting with surprise but not displeasure to an unexpected event or suggestion
/ma/Head thrown back with laughter, possibly inspired by sheer joy of speaking word Gubinama

So be sure to practice before your next night on the town, because improper modulation of your coquettishness may lead to misunderstandings.

(Note: There are also some posters for the ladies with FUJII "Matthew" Takashi, which I really wanted to contrast with the Konishi version, but it seems they are much rarer and I haven't managed to capture one on film.)

As for the name Gubinama itself, nama ("raw, unprocessed") means "draft", while gubi is a relative of the more common mimetic word gui(tto), used to evoke the idea of gulping a beverage down. (And note the similarity between it and gulp, too.)


Best argument yet for relaxed IP laws

Superman vs a Popeye that emerges from a robot's head. Enter giant warthog.

Source: Shonen Jiraiya, Volume 1 (『少年児雷也(1)』), by SUGIURA Shigeru, whose Popeye-appropriating ways I have mentioned before).


Here is a song for you

Everyone's favorite not-quite-making-it-big-in-the-U.S. idol UTADA Hikaru is about to release her fourth solo Japanese-language solo album (but sixth album overall), ULTRA BLUE. In the June 5th edition of the free Tower Records sales-chasing mini-magazine, she discusses the title:


It's like, I just thought that "ao" was totally a keyword. It's the sei in seishun, when you're young and full of dreams... but "blue" has this enigmatic side to it, too. Like, the color of just accepting things. And I thought, that's totally me right now.

Ao is a native Japanese word for "blue/green" (think: the color of the sea, the sky, young leaves), written with the Chinese character 青, which is also sometimes used to write the Chinese-derived morpheme of roughly the same meaning, sei, instead. Seishun literally means "blue/green spring" and figuratively refers to the time when you are, well, young and full of hopes and dreams. (It starts sometime after you enter junior high or high school and ends either during or when you graduate from university, I believe.) Your salad days, when you are still... green.

See, the problem is that ao is an example of the very common phenomenon whereby color words don't quite map perfectly from one language to the other. If you say that ao is blue, you're saying that in Japan, you step on the gas when the light turns blue. If you say, okay, I guess ao is green, you're arguing for a green sky over East Asia.

(An interesting Wenbudao post a while ago suggested that the reason it pulls this double duty in Japanese but not in English, etc., is because Japanese only has four native color adjectives, and the first three are reserved for white, black and red. ["But what about midori?" (the other word for green), I hear you cry. That was originally a noun referring to new plant growth, and only became used as a color word later on.])

In summary, ao or 青 might be useful for implying youthfulness, but as a native English speaker I don't think that "BLUE" is.

However, having said all that, Utada has lived much of her life in New York and her English is reportedly very good -- some dare call her a native speaker. I don't think she is unaware of this issue. She's just playing to her audience: Japanese speakers. When they first learn colors, ao generally gets assigned to "blue", and not many of them care enough to get to the point where they learn that sometimes it's "green" instead. She is using the English of Japan rather than of New York to make her point.

That, or I'm reading way too much into some line she spun out desperately while trying to think of an interesting soundbite about the album.


Exercises in madness

Remember last year when I posted that incredibly bad Japanese translation of Hamlet's soliloquy? The mystery has been solved!

Well, kind of. According to ASHIZU Kaori's What's Hamlet to Japan?*,

[a]lthough some scholars have supposed that the cartoon referred to an actual production of Hamlet, Masao Tanaka has shown that it was designed to make fun of Hoffman Atkinson's Exercises in the Yokohama Dialect (1873).

And, since Atrus the Otaku has scanned the entirety of the Exercises and put them online, you can confirm Tanaka's scholarship for yourself. And I strongly recommend that you do.

Normally, I would want to add some illuminating linguistic commentary when linking to a book like Atkinson's Exercises, but in this case that would be gilding a pre-gilded gilt-edged lily. If you speak even a little Japanese, this will be one of the funniest books about the language you have ever seen.

It isn't just that it uses a non-standard orthography to be more accessible to English-speaking readers -- that's not a crime, although it does rocket-boost the humor. It's the fact that Atkinson, or his source, had almost no grasp of Japanese grammar or syntax at all, and even his vocabulary was iffy. Any poor innocents who followed its advice would have been walking around shouting the equivalent of "You! Bring boat! This me money!", like ill-mannered Incredible Hulks.

(Another possibility: Yokohama Japanese in the 19th century was different from all other forms of the language on record, and closely resembled a recently arrived foreigner's first fumbling attempts at what is recorded everywhere else. I find this very unlikely, but since I wasn't there, I suppose I can't quite rule it out.)

A sample:

EnglishAtkinson's JapaneseObservations
Have you none in variegated colors; these are too plain?Kuroy, shiroy, ah kye arimasen?"Black, white, no red?"
LaundrySin turkeysentaku
Would you like to see some old Satsuma screens of wonderful variety and strong pattern?Die job screen high kin arimas?"Sturdy screen look have?"
One, twoStoats, stats/hi/, /hu/ → /s/. Yokohama accent, or simple mishearing? You decide
You must make less disturbance driving nails into the wall, or I shall be obliged to punish youOh my pompom bobbery wa tarkshee pumgutzI surrender
* Which includes some marvellous illustrations of Japanese Hamlet characters.


No terrorizing any time

While other nations dither and fret about the danger of suitcase bombs, Japan's approach is more proactive: here, suitcase bombs are banned from the subways altogether!

And they aren't leaving any loopholes: this sign specifically forbids even "large quantities of matches." I imagine the dividing line is around a briefcaseful.


I wanna give a shout out to Cola anomala... and all the betel nuts

Apparently working from the curious assumption that coffee should be a refreshing jangle rather than a muddy, hostile punch in the mouth, Nescafe recently started selling Sparkling Cafe: coffee plus carbonation. Generations of European philosophers are jittering in their graves.

Let me stress that it is not a coffee cola. There is no cola involved. It's just you against the combined unpleasantness of coffee and carbonic acid, and your only defense is the unseemly amount of sweetening Nescafe threw in there.

No, I do not like Sparkling Cafe, but nor do I blame them for trying. Japan's beverage industry seems to be experiencing a minor boom in carbonation right now. Coca-Cola, for example, carbonated active diet to make Freestyle.

Coca-Cola are also doing their best, via a "Coke, Please!" campaign, to get Japan using their brand name instead of just the generic "cola" when ordering drinks. So far, they have not succeeded, even after reviving a commercial song they last used in the sixties: Sukatto sawayaka Coca-Cola, or "Clear, refreshing Coca-cola." (Not exactly Sondheim, but an improvement on the previous jingle, "Coca-Cola, the suspicious foreign drink that burns.")

Plus, the slogan "Coke, please!" makes me imagine ODB endorsing Pepsi. "Coke, please!"


Admin: Reboot

Yes, another reboot, this one hopefully leading to a site marked up more sensibly.

If the RSS reset too, you can read the last few posts on the old version of the site here.

Bic in Japan

I always assumed that the company name Bikku Kamera meant "big camera", and was just an example of "bad man/Batman" double consonant devoicing. But a co-worker noted yesterday that according to Wikipedia, I was wrong:

On a trip to Bali, company founder Arai heard local children using the phrase bic, bic, and, told that it meant idai (great, grand), used it as the company's name.

On the other hand, it seems that this Balinese bic itself derives from English "big". This would mean that my "devoiced /g/" theory was accurate as far as it went, but the assumption that this took place within Japanese was mistaken.

Lesson: Loanwords in Japanese are a psychedelic fever swamp.

When in doubt, link