If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man

Another thing advertised to Japanese men about this time of year: body hair removal. My favorite ad features a pie graph claiming that 89% of women think body hair is "totally gross!" ("超イヤ!"), while 11% think that "it can't be helped" ("仕方ないと思う"). Who says that the art of statistics is dead?

Below this, a woman strongly urging us men to get every non-scalpal part of our skin hair-free. She looks like this:

I know it's impolite to insult people without their knowledge, so I will put this very carefully and generously: I do not feel that she is in any position to be giving advice about hair. Anonymous model, groom thyself.

By the way, she's saying "剛毛は勘弁!", which means something like "Spare me the bristles!" or, in sassy rhyme, "If you're bristly, our future's thistly!"


Mount Fuji sucks

In the olden days, climbing Mount Fuji was dangerous. The trails weren't graded, there were bears, and without advice from the government no-one had any idea whether it would be better to go during a midwinter blizzard or a fine day in late summer.

Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate.

Today all of these problems have been eradicated, which you might think would make climbing the mountain too easy. Fortunately not. Danger has simply been replaced with its universal equivalent in the First World: Inconvenience.

Actually climbing the mountain is easy. Walk up a few inclines, scramble up a few rocky slopes, and you're done. The problem is psychological: enduring the stop-start shuffling pace as you become one with the perfect storm of tour groups gathering at the top. I hadn't really thought much about how many people you could fit around the ring of a volcano crater, but I would never have guessed that it was this many. 20% of the ascent time is spent standing absolutely still and waiting for your line's turn to go through the bottleneck.

Me, I hate waiting in line for things I don't really want... and let's face it, I don't care that much about standing on the highest mountain in Japan. It's not like it's made of chocolate, or bustling with monocled guys in top hats who say things like, "You there! Hold my wallet while I sprint drunkenly along the edge!"

(Note: this isn't a "why are all these tourists ruining the places I want to tour?" backpacker rant, it's a "why didn't I foresee that on a fine Saturday night in the middle of climbing season, Mount Fuji would be so crowded that all pleasure I might derive from the experience would be leached away?" lament.)

Are you for real? I climbed this far and I'm still in Japan?

On the other hand, positives:

  • Paying a 300% markup on hydration is a humbling and valuable reminder of certain facts I usually try to ignore.
  • The sunrise is impressive. I guess.
  • Not needing the oxygen you brought or getting a headache from altitude sickness makes you feel like a big man. Especially if you had a sore throat to begin with. You know what they say: feed a cold, drag a sore throat up to three kilometers above sea level.
  • It's fun bonding with guys from Osaka over the difficulty of lighting cigarettes in such a thin atmosphere.
  • Excuse to buy a new LED light. (Not that I needed it: see overcrowding.)
  • Excuse to buy a staff.
  • Nobody died.
  • Ego-boosting mail from friends requesting that I, specifically, not die. (This is also a negative, as it betrays a disturbing lack of faith.)


Because it is there

I'm off to climb Mt Fuji. If I don't write again by 9 a.m. Monday, Japan time, I have been killed or inapacitated by the attempt. (I am writing this mainly so that if I do die, there will be a logical place for sentimental tributes/snarky glee other than the Ueno Clinic post below.)

See you later!


Mildly NSFW broken metaphor talk

Ueno Clinic circumcizes penises. (They probably do other things as well, but I don't even want to meet one of their receptionists in a bar, let alone research the specifics of their penis-cutting-based operation.)

Anyway, circumcision is what they are famous for, and every one of their ads includes this alarmingly well-conceived visual metaphor:

When they've booked a lot of space, they usually contrast it with the same guy with his turtleneck down in normal position (wait! I'm buying into their claims about normality!), surrounded by delighted women.

Sometimes, they have cartoons instead. But I think they missed the mark on this one:

MAN, PRE-OP: Ri.. r-r-rove r-r-ou...

WOMAN: I don't understand what you're saying... the way you are now, love just doesn't get through to me!

MAN, PRE-OP: Doctor, my feelings don't get through!

DOCTOR: No, not like that, I'm sure. Let's fix you right away!


First of all, I think this woman is awfully presumptuous to assume that this guy is trying to say something about love. If she really can't understand what he's saying, he might just be hitting her up for a loan or asking if she knows what happened to his copy of Odelay! Plus, it doesn't look like she's even trying to understand him. Look how far that phone is from her ear. It's not a Star Trek communicator, lady.

More importantly, though, in my experience, people don't talk through their genitals. Maybe with them, sometimes, but not through. And certainly not over the phone.

Camera-equipped cellphones excepted, I suppose.


Pre-end-of-war anime

I snarfed these from a Metafilter post just for you!

  • 動絵狐狸達引 (Ugoki-e kori no tatehiki, "Moving-picture kitsune-tanuki rivalry") -- I love the electric-guitar shamisen music about five minutes into this. Where can I get me some more of that?
  • くもとちゅうりっぷ (Kumo to chūrippu, "Spider and tulip") -- note the direct importation, from U.S. influences, of already-fossilized blackface/minstrel imagery. The songs are much worse in this one.

I like how the little bug in the second one pronounces "sayōnara" so that you can hear the etymology: "Well, if that's how it is... [I'll be off]." It's not that this pronounciation is entirely dead now, but it's certainly a lot rarer. (Of course, it might have been rare back then, too, and just pronounced unusually in this cartoon for some reason.)


English Teacher Natsume Sōseki

... is the (translated) title of a book by KAWASHIMA Kōki that I am reading right now, and it is proving quite the read.

Many Japanese people derive comfort, not to mention glee, from Sōseki's having gone on the record as a student hater of English (although his love of kanbun ([Classical] Chinese) is not generally found as inspiring an example), so it's interesting to see some samples of his actual work from that period. Like:

An Ennichi

In Tokyo, there are so many temples, dedicated to gods, that almost every day in the month is a festival day, held in memory of one of those gods. Near my house, there is a small temple dedicated to Inari. Though the temple is not magnificent, the festival is very popular. It is called Goto-Inari. The 5th instant was a festival day and I went at night to it. On that night the weather was very clear and the street was so crowded by people that I hardly made my way through them. By the road, market gardeners arranged their plants to sell them. I bought a plant from a market-gardener and returned home at 9 o'clock.

That was apparently written when Sōseki was 17 or 18, not long after he entered Tokyo Imperial University.

Kawashima also helpfully includes an example of DAZAI Osamu's work at around the same age, forty-odd years later in the early Shōwa period:


Do you know why Japanese costume has two big "SODE"? Perhaps, you do not know. This "Sode" has an interesting story. I will tell it to you. Long long years ago, there was a very very fair woman. She was so tender and fair that many men of that day wrote to her many love-letters. If she took a walk, men flung their letters into her pocket. At last, she had no space to receive their letters on her person. And then that very clever woman made "SODE" in her costume. Is this story not interesting, Sir? All Japanese wish to have love-letters flung to them.

"... Note," says Kawashima, "that unlike Sōseki's composition, [Dazai's] is constructed with a certain 'story-ness.' At this age, Dazai was already thinking of becoming a novelist, but this idea could not have been further from Sōseki's mind. This is readily apparent in their respective compositions."

Indeed, one cannot but observe that Dazai is already a writer in all but paycheck: he ups the word count with obvious hearsay and nonsense, and the finished product is an embarrassingly plaintive and desperate plea for approval.


The Eight Principles of Yong

A Wikipedia link, but a good one. And hey, it's the weekend.

I can see this being the basis for some pretty wild pseudo-Sinology. "Etymologically, 'yong', or 'permanence,' means, 'A strange stone on the jade table supported by an iron pillar next to a crab with tiger teeth and a rhinoceros horn pecking a golden sword.' This profound observation is just as relevant in the fast-paced business world of today."

The tale of the tremendously hideous imposter

Fake Japanese cosplayers pwned! (Via Fandom Wank.)

We are Aki Amamiya, webmaster of 【Fatal dose+a】, and Ayato, webmaster of 【CANDY DRUG】.

We happened to discover a tremendously hideous imposter creating and running a website with pictures stolen from our sites and claiming that they are his own.


Fashion corner

Apparently, the Miss Universe pageant has a "national costume" segment (民族衣装審査).

This year, Miss Japan went in the traditional garb of the stiletto-heeled red ninja, reflecting Japan's past as a largely agricultural nation of peaceful farmers and ruthless, garishly-dressed assassins. I suppose it has a certain quaint charm.


Pedro Kibe is rolling in his grave

One can be spoon-fed strawberry ice-cream by only so many ersatz maids before such fleeting pleasures pall. In their place rises an emptiness, a melancholy, a primal longing for a more meaningful, spiritual existence. Fear not. When that time comes, there is a place you can turn: Akihabara St Grace Court. Yes, it is a nun cafe. Well, technically, it's probably a "religious sister" cafe at best, but you get the idea.

Pictures. (Funny how the standard girly hand-clasps blur so easily into imitation prayer.) Blog. (With helpful note: "This establishment is an amusement cafe taking churches and [religious] sisters as its theme, and not an actual religious group." Just in case you were wondering whether maybe the Dominicans had changed their stance on miniskirts and thigh-high stockings.)

According to Akiba Blog, instead of "Welcome home, master," they say "O, lost and wandering lamb! Welcome to Grace Court!" (迷える子羊よ ようこそグレースコートへ) (Matt. 18:12)


Learn Ainu online

Courtesy of Sapporo TV Radio. The archive on the right goes back seven years. Japanese (and Ainu) only, unfortunately.

This post brought to you by listening to Oki's album Tonkori all day at work and then reaching for the banjo as soon as I came home.


"Why not fight freely without heavy protectors and restricting rules?"

Finally, an organized sport I can get behind 100%: SPORTS CHANBARA!

The harmony of the world

The dream of one million years of mankind


Sports Chanbara is about strengthening the international community by striking the folk of many nations with padded sticks, and being so hit in turn. Now, a lot of sports and martial arts say this kind of thing, but Sports Chanbara is the only one I know of with a founder who explicitly designed his sport to allow, say, a Masai spearmen to fight against a Japanese swordswoman in a wheelchair. Anything goes, my friend!

For example, say you wanted to have a fight where twenty kids with short swords fought four adults with triple nunchucks. A normal martial art would say, "That kind of foolishness is disrespectful to our founder." But Sports Chanbara says, "Oh, hell, yeah! Suit those kids up quick!"

Also, the word chanbara is an abbreviated form of chanchan barabara: the first half is mimesis for the sound of swords clashing, and the second half is... well, some people say it's the sound of severed limbs hitting the floor, others just that it represents one's enemies scattered and fleeing. I know which explanation I prefer, but either way, as an evocative name for an athletic pursuit it sure beats "football" or "discus throwing."


Slow news day

Best cat picture ever.


Soul man

"We've all been looking forward to O-Bon this year," K. told me on Thursday, the day the festival started. "It's my grandfather's first one!"

"His first?! But he-- oh. You mean 'as a guest.'"

"We actually lit the o-mukaebi (welcoming fire) yesterday, because too many of us were busy tonight."

"Man, that must be like the ghost equivalent of making him catch a five A.M. flight. Shouldn't you be more reverent?"

"It's OK, he's family. Plus, on the weekend we have lots more relatives coming over to our place, so he won't mind."


"No, no, living ones."

Bonus link: Lafcadio Hearn on O-Bon.

'To-night,' says Akira, seating himself upon the floor in the posture of Buddha upon the Lotus, 'the Bon-ichi will be held. Perhaps you would like to see it?'

'Oh, Akira, all things in this country I should like to see. But tell me, I pray you; unto what may the Bon-ichi be likened?'

'The Bon-ichi,' answers Akira, 'is a market at which will be sold all things required for the Festival of the Dead; and the Festival of the Dead will begin to-morrow, when all the altars of the temples and all the shrines in the homes of good Buddhists will be made beautiful.'

'Then I want to see the Bon-ichi, Akira, and I should also like to see a Buddhist shrine--a household shrine.'

'Yes, will you come to my room?' asks Akira. 'It is not far--in the Street of the Aged Men, beyond the Street of the Stony River, and near to the Street Everlasting. There is a butsuma there--a household shrine--and on the way I will tell you about the Bonku.'

That "all things in this country I should like to see" is very touching to me, and very characteristic of Hearn, I think. (I also plan to start asking "Tell me, I pray you; unto what may X be likened?" instead of "Huh? X? What's that?" in future.)


More about kara

Patrick asks, how come kara means "China" if it comes from a Korean place name? Good question.

First of all, the specifics. (Yeah, I looked them up.) It is most likely a slight mangling of Gaya, an early-first-millennium "confederacy of chiefdoms" in southern Korea with close ties to (western) Japan.

This was the original meaning. Since Gaya was so important to Japan at that time, and since people worldwide were a lot fuzzier on geography (especially when oceans were involved), it came to mean "foreign" in general, and got applied to Chinese things too. I guess as the idea of China became more important in Japanese culture -- and since Gaya itself had long been absorbed by Silla -- "China" overtook "Korea" as the primary meaning.

As for karashishi, right, "Chinese lion" -- or actually, "Chinese beast". To expand a little on Anonymous' explanation, shishi is the native Japanese word for "meat/game" in general, so if you wanted to specify a lion in particular, you had to call it a karashishi to distinguish it from its subjects, like the inoshishi (wild boar) and the kamashishi (Japanese serow).

(Japanese Wikipedia advances the related theory that shika (deer) is from shi[shi] (meat) + ka[wa] (skin).)


Two unrelated stories

1. I had The Flight of the Bumblebee in my head for eight hours at work today. I am completely exhausted from jiggling my leg in time all day.

2. Over the weekend I went drinking with my friend Y. We saw something called "healthy fried chicken" (ヘルシー空揚げ) on the menu, and ordered it out of curiosity. It took a long time to arrive -- so long that I began to suspect that I had unwittingly involved myself in some kind of performance art highlighting the folly and futility of requesting "healthy fried chicken". When it finally came out of the kitchen, it looked just like any other kara-age, right down to the dish of mayonnaise (!) on the side.

"Excuse me," Y. asked. "Just curious: what exactly is healthy about this fried chicken with mayonnaise?"

"We make it with breast meat," the proprietress explained.

Linguistic fun fact: Etymologically speaking, kara-age means "plain [← kara, empty] frying", because you use either no batter or a very light one to make it (as opposed to, say, tempura). You often see it written 唐揚げ, which means "Chinese-style frying", but this is ateji; the kara- in words like karaimo (Chinese potato) and karauta (Chinese poem) is not related to the kara that means empty. (It's probably a state or city-state name from ancient Korea.)


Cool spots for hot dates

As promised, the follow-up to yesterday's post: a run-down of great date locations for summer. Let's take it location by location.

Air-conditioned cafe

Pro: Feels like you're in Karuizawa. (The Tokyo Disney Sea of pre-Tokyo Disneyland Japan.) Con: When a woman is in an air-conditioned space too long, she loses interest in matters of the heart. "Which means that no matter what high-level techniques Sugiura brings to bear on air-conditioned cafe waitresses and department store girls, their response is lacklustre at best." And so we begin to understand the kind of mind that can think itself in Karuizawa upon entering a cheap coffee shop.

Beer garden

The girls in beer gardens are out for thrills. Thrills! And money. One Akiyama relates his story of sharing a kiss and a steamy embrace with "K-ko" (hopefully not the one we met yesterday, with a fiance), but being asked for 500 yen to continue. This, ahem, "blunted the point of his desire", but we readers are urged to take heart, as it indicates that kisses are within the pale.

Also, when you're in a beer garden, you feel like you're in Karuizawa.

Air-conditioned hotel

The ne plus ultra of summer date destinations, with television, beer in the fridge, and an atmosphere like -- you guessed it -- Karuizawa! Or Miami. (No, in a good way.) Tamura explains the appeal:

As soon as you walk in the door, you can take off all your clothes, turn on the TV to watch the wrestling, have your woman fix you something to eat... it's the greatest! You feel just like a caveman.

Eerily, recent studies have suggested that Neandertal man spent a surprising amount of time lying on the cave-bear skin naked and hollering for another mammoth steak as he watched two ochred-up guys fight in the hearth across the way. With air conditioning supplied by a tiny dinosaur on a treadmill attached to a fan, of course.


The Devil's music

Märchen Witch Orchestra. They play interesting instruments. Their website includes a page featuring dozens of cute witch pictures. And they sound like this.

Fish are jumping and the cotton is high

A few months ago, rummaging through a pile of old magazines in a second-hand bookstore, I found a magazine called Onna no Hyakka (loosely translatable as "Womanology", "Chickopedia", etc.) published in 1962. The cover had a picture of une femme en déshabillé and the headline "女の性感をゲキする涼しい愛撫 真夏に役立つ24時間の性生活" ("Cool caresses to drive women wild -- A 24-hour sex life for mid-summer.") I immediately resolved to blog it instead of making yet another "Japan is too goddamn hot" post when summer came around. Onna no Hyakka's time has come.

The main article begins with the tale of K子 (K-ko) and her fiance S. Like a good young couple, they put their summer bonus in the bank. But, as K-ko explains...


We won 1,500 yen playing mah jong, so we added another thousand and went shopping. Totally groovesville!*

And what did they buy? An icebox! Yes, they won't be able to afford a refrigerator for a couple of years, but S feels that an icebox is much better for a young couple like them anyhow -- why, K-ko comes over just about every night now! And that's when he turns on the charm.

He strips down to his singlet and suggests that she get comfortable in just her chemise. He mixes her a gin fizz (entertainingly katakanafied ジンフィーズ), which she praises. She puts the glass to her forehead and says "Ooh, that feels good." He says "I know something that'll feel even better." He fills a bag with ice and bashes it seductively against the wall a few times. He gives her an ice-pack massage. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, he's invented physiotherapy.

But it's not just engaged couples who can enjoy summer, the writer assures us, before inviting "Yotchan", a doorman at Cabaret S_____ in Shinjuku, to take center stage and explain his "cheap hotel + perfume tactic" (安ホテルで香水戦術). Amateurs, you see, will invite their lady friends to expensive hotels with air conditioning, but Yotchan knows what the ladies really want: to be taken to a cheap hotel with a pedestal fan in the room and then sprayed all over with even cheaper perfume.

The scent combines with the alcohol content to set the mood, and nature does the rest. This, Yotchan assures us, is a pleasure that one simply cannot savor in a room with actual air conditioning. Also, those places are expensive, so he only goes if he doesn't have to put up the geld (ゲル). Pure class.

Then there's Aihara, who recommends the old frozen-lemon massage trick -- Aihara is allegedly an intern at S______ Medical School, but this doesn't stop him from claiming that he personally has witnessed breast augmentation caused solely by the application of lemon -- and Yoshii, a bartender who smiles meaningfully as he explains his "siphon caress" technique (it involves empty glasses)... but it is late. Stay tuned next time for the best cool places to take your girlfriend when you run out of lemons at home.

* Yeah, yeah, you try translating goki after midnight.


From the Education Is Propaganda department

Linese.com is a new website brought to you by the Chinese government and designed to promote the half-lion, half-Mandarin hybrid currently being bred for its skills in magic.

No, apparently it is designed to teach Chinese to us foreigners and also facilitate communication online, etc. I would like to tell you more about it, but its interface is sluggish and buggy and, perhaps because of the Yahoo! story, I can't get any of the links to work... except, curiously, a photo-rich blog written by Francis TCHIEGUE from Cameroon ("我总体想喊这一句话,五个字: 我爱你中国!").

(Later) Aha! A lesson about Yao Ming and "就要...了" has loaded... it allegedly has an audio component, but I can't find how to make the mp3 play, or even where it might be located so that I could download it and play it myself. I think this site could do with some fine-tuning. Still, I guess I got the general idea about 就要...了 from the PDF download. Which reassuringly maintains the grand old language-learning material tradition of the older male authority-figure character who is kind of a jerk:

wáng xiăo yŭ : liú lăo shī , wŏ men qĭng yùn dòng yuán hē yĭn liào , hăo ma ?
WongXiaoyu: Professor Liu, why don't we buy the athletes a drink?

liú lăo shī : hăo 。 wŏ men zhŭn bèi yì xiē kuàng quán shuĭ ba 。
Professor Liu: Sure. Let us prepare for them some mineral water.

ān nī : xiăo yŭ , wŏ men kuài qù măi ba 。
Annie: Xiaoyu, Hurry and let's go buy the water.

liú lăo shī : wŏ zài zhèr děng nĭ men 。
Professor Liu: I'll wait for you here.

"Let us prepare" indeed. Slacker.


Urgent update!

The Gubinama corpus has expanded: we now have evidence for how /to:/ is pronounced.

("Thanks for drinking!")

Here Konishi appears to be employing what we might call "megaphonation"; it may be that this is required for long vowels in the Gubinama dialect. Certainly, as we saw last time, short vowels are pronounced with such vigor and expressiveness, with the entire upper body active in some cases, that distinguishing the two varieties could very well be difficult without an unmistakable indicator like this.

Also, is it just me, or is she wearing the same outfit as she was for /bi/ and /ma/ last time? This must be from the same photo shoot. I wonder if they took a "thanks for nothing, you cheap bastards!" sequence, too, just in case.


Call me Queen Ishmael

Japan's love affair with televised necks in scarves continues with 『CAとお呼びっ!』 (CA to o-yobi!, "Call me [a] C[abin] A[ttendant] [, not a 'stewardess,' etc.]!", based on the manga by HANATSU Hanayo). That o-yobi!, while related to modern keigo forms like o-yobi shimasu (humble) and o-yobi ni naru (respectful), evolved in a different direction and is now used more or less exclusively to signify that the speaker is a woman not to be underestimated, whose orders the speakee would do well to obey. At once.

For example, joō-sama to o-yobi! (literally, "Call me 'queen'!") is the stereotypical thing for a dominatrix to say to her bottom/s. A more directly blunt form like joō-sama to yobe! might equally convey her contempt, but it would not reinforce her right to feel and express that contempt the way that the traditionally +refined +female "unnecessary o-" form does. (People in less extreme situations sometimes abuse regular keigo for a cold, aloof effect, too; just like in English, too much politeness can be rude.)

Since my mother knows about this blog now, I should probably mention that I have no idea if real dominatrices actually say this or if it is just a cliché -- perhaps itself rooted in some other memorable work of popular entertainment -- but it's as closely associated with them in popular culture as leather goods are.


If you only watch one Spoo-related YouTube video this year

Spoo has hit the Anglosphere! May I recommend in particular the video of multiple Spoos performing the ending dance from Suzumiya Haruhi no utsu? (Via.) (What? You don't know the dance?)


Also, bari ≠ "very"

A friend recently made the claim in passing that the Fukuoka-dialect conjunction batten, meaning "but" or "even so" was from English "but then". I found it a bit difficult to believe. Sure, Kyūshū has had contact with European nations on and off for almost half a millennium, but I don't think all that much of that contact was in English (at least until relatively recently), and why would they would have borrowed a conjunction when they had perfectly servicable ones of their own?

This page's explanation is more believable: -ba + to te mo, which, being a sequence of particles with no context, is difficult to translate meaningfully, but if you speak Japanese you will note the similarity to -te mo, demo, etc., along the same lines. "Sakata" here claims that they have related forms battemo in Hakata and battemu in Tsushima. "Dr. Unibon" says that Toribia no Izumi specifically debunked it using Edo-period evidence. So, I hereby declare the intra-Japanese explanation the winner, Occam's Razor-style. (I know, I know... Don't all rush to call your editors at once.)

For those who've caught Kyūshū-ben fever, for which the only cure is more sentences ending in bai, I quite liked this introduction (apart from the strange insinuation that "Rāmen wa bari umaka! would be more "grammatically correct" if it had a desu on the end.)