Linkdump: Africa and Emyli

Friday links. Meagre because I'm packing.

PAL, the PanAfrican Localisation project, is a "sítio web com recursos e informações para os localizadores e a localização na África".

Scholarly papers on kami.

Archives of the proceedings of the Japan Academy (日本學士院), also available in English but harder to search that way (via Simon).


Tousled hair can be sexy. Touching your own face can be sexy. But the law of diminishing returns should always be kept in mind.

Admin: I'm moving to Kanagawa this weekend. Next week's posts might be delayed. Discussion suggestion in the meantime: Possible interpretations of Hotaru no hikari's English subtitle, "It's only little light in my life".


Dirty jokes of old Japan

All of these are from a work entitled Enshō nazo tsukushi ("Naughty puzzles selection"). I presume the book is of Edo vintage based on the art style, lettering, etc. but can't precisely date it because my edition is a modern facsimile with absolutely no publication information at all.

"Someone who just can't get enough, no matter how many times they do it."

"A loose woman -- or an old person visiting the ceremony!"

(Didn't Carnac the Magnificent do this one?)

"Something that gets dug right away."

"A flighty woman's latest crush -- or the earth where a horse just took a leak!"

(Because it's good for fertilizer, I guess? Also, pardon my reliance on the hippie usage of "dig". The original uses the word horeru, which can mean either "fall in love" or "get dug up".)

"Something that dribbles juice as soon as you split it open."

"A ripe watermelon!"

(You can't really say this in English without sounding mildly psychopathic. I just wanted to point out that although the standard format is to give both halves of the double-entendre in the answer, thus making it two single-entendres, this one doesn't dare clarify its saucier implication. Conclusion: there were limits.)

"Someone who gets lucky underwater."

"A fisherman -- or Urashima Tarō!"

(I'll admit it: I laughed.)


More talk about women and liquor

Remember the Gubinama poster phonetics lesson? Suntory have decided to try the same thing promoting Kinmugi, their own new happōshu:

Note that although the vowel sounds in /gu/ and /mu/ seem identical, subtle differences do exist. The former must be pronounced like a playful girlfriend, but the latter requires a subtler "settled, devoted wife" configuration. (The commercials feature a wife-signifying apron and "I'll be waiting with the Kinmugi!" slogan.)

Perhaps this is why Suntory went to the trouble of engaging the services of ex-Takarazuka star DAN Rei. Using a Takarazukan is also a smart way to avoid accusations of sexism, if only by muddying the gender-identity waters beyond human comprehension.

Bonus link: If you want to pretend extra hard that Dan will be waiting for you this evening with a cool near-beer, YouTube has you covered.)


Hawaiian kanji follow-up

Joel at Far Outliers has posted a detailed look at that Hawaiian kanji scheme that I mentioned on Monday, including a full syllable-word-meaning-kanji chart. Check it out!


Video repurposes the radio star

So Suntory has a new chūhai brand called "Awa's". Awa is Japanese for "froth, bubbles, head (of a beverage)", and the sales hook seems to be that Awa's is fizzy in the extreme! So much so that even young women might want to drink it, instead of the tired, rumple-suited middle-aged men slumped over the bar at midnight who define the traditional market for highballs. Well played, Suntory... well played.

But dig this: the commercial interpolates the "oh-wa-oh" from the Buggles' overclassicked "Video killed the radio star" -- except as "awa-oh". (I was never good at phonetic transcriptions. All are welcome to improve on my notation in comments.)

It's no exaggeration to say that I never even dreamed that such a thing might happen. Such are the diamonds that emerge when you use unfathomable purchasing power to gather half of the world's culture together in one place, and then squeeze.

As an aside, I am not sure whether the "'s" in the brand name is a stiff translation of the particle no (as in awa no chūhai, "froth[y] chūhai"), or a plural indicator with unnecessary apostrophe. I have taken the precaution of writing a curmudgeonly and patronizing letter to the Times about the "brewer's apostrophe", though, just in case.


On eating both

Beef and eel, together at last. On rice! Yeah, I ate it.

Sukiya's "eel-and-beef [donburi]" here is one of the most shameless appeals to gluttony I've seen since arriving in Japan. Taste, texture, freshness, the fundamental culinary wisdom of combining an oily fish with a fatty mammal -- the copy mentions none of these. It simply says "両方、食べたい。" -- "I want to eat both."

And why? Because there are people like me who will see such a thing and think: Hmm... now that you mention it, I kind of do want to eat both.

Sadly, I must report that this dish has very little to recommend it other than outlaw thrill. Sukiya is a fast-food chain -- high volume, low prices -- so neither the beef nor the eel have enough character to really contrast with each other. They just combine into a greasy lump of unsettlingly neutral protein.

The pinnacle of the food chain is a lonely place.


This will end well

Via Eve, two great tastes that taste great together: Hawaiian kanji.

Hawaiian tradition places great emphasis on honoring ancestors. The largest ancestry other than Hawaiian represented among the students at Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu is East Asian to include Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, and Korean. These ancestors are honored by learning their languages. The one thing that all four languages share is the use of kanji. ... [I know a few non-Japanese people who wouldn't be happy about that word choice --Matt]

With Ms. Kawachi’s help, Dr. Wilson chose 45 kanji for 45 Hawaiian words each of which began with a different hakalama symbol. For example, for the syllable "ma", "maka" or "eye" was chosen, and for the syllable "la" "lani" or "heaven" was chosen. [...] A second innovation was to establish two diacritical marks [...] The first diacritic indicates a syllable with a short vowel, while the second diacritic indicates a syllable with a long vowel. When no diacritic is included, the kanji is to be read as a full word. The end result is a chart of 45 kanji with two possible diacritic marks that allows children to read and write anything in Hawaiian through a combination of full words and syllables.

The diacritics seem to be ° and ¯ respectively, and the examples they give include:

Ke aloha aku nei i nā lani, nā kuahiwi, nā honua, a me nā wai o ka ʻāina kupuna.

子° 王°田°作° 王°立° 欠°魚° 魚° 森¯ 天、 森¯ 立°王°可°混°、 森¯ 走°大°王°、 王° 品° 森¯ 口°魚° 生° 人° 食¯魚°森° 立°花°森°。

We greet the heavens, mountains, earth, and waters of the land of our ancestors.

Japanese writers thought this kind of thing was a good idea too... in the fifth century A.D.! Oh, snap! You got served, Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu!

To be fair, the diacritics are an improvement on manyōgana. But their distribution is badly flawed. Using "no diacritic" to indicate "character used for meaning, not just sound of first syllable" is probably part of the ancestor-respecting thing, conscious or otherwise, but only one character in the example sentence falls into that category. Clearly these characters should be marked, and characters used for short syllable sounds unmarked. The text in that case would look like this:

子 王田作 王立 欠魚 魚 森¯ 天°、 森¯ 立王可混、 森¯ 走大王、 王 品 森¯ 口魚 生 人 食¯魚森 立花森。

... which is clearly an improvement.

Apparently the kids learn more characters as they grow older and can drop them into sentences too, but I still can't see characters-for-meaning overtaking those short syllables in frequency.

Incidentally, as another person with Japanese bias, it sounded odd to me at first that they would be choosing characters for meaning rather than sound. For example, 天 is lani or la, nothing like the sounds it has in any of the other countries that use the character. But then I realized that this tactic prevents the oft-lamented Japanese situation where multiple, entirely unrelated sounds are attached to each character and there is no way to tell which is intended other than context.

All this is just idle speculation, of course. If this system were ever used widely it would quickly evolve into a simplified syllabary, just like manyōgana did into kana.

Two final thoughts. First: I wish I lived in Hawaiʻi so i could send my kids to this school. And second: if anyone has any images of the "hakalama", a native-Hawaiian syllabary mentioned in the article, I'd love to see them.


Shizuoka dialect in the news

A micro-pseudo-scandal when girl-next-doory actor NAGASAWA Masami used the word chinpurikaeru (pout, sulk) at a media event. Chinpurikaeru is not a standard Japanese vocabulary item, you see, -- it's Shizuoka dialect, so most of the reporters in attendance didn't know it. What they did know was the (unrelated) morpheme chin which means "penis"*.

The result was that nobody there understood what she had said, but it sure sounded dirty to them. And if there's one thing Japanese reporters love, it's things that are dirty at the elementary-school level. Of course, Nagasawa's management swooped in with urgent explanations, so the story ended up "Nagasawa Masami uses dialect word that sounds like 'doodle'" rather than "Nagasawa Masami's mysterious pee-pee pronouncement". I hear that on television they subtitled it. It's a balancing act: you want the naughty buzz, sure, but you don't want anyone to walk away with the impression that Nagasawa would really talk about what boys have... you know, down there.

(In Shizuoka. Boom boom!)

Re the word itself, according to the Internet it exists in a few variants, too: chinpurikaku and chinpurikoku. TNC Shizuoka Jimotees has more details in Japanese. I wouldn't be surprised if the -puri is the one in SJ words like tabeppuri (way of eating), but no idea about the chin.

Breaking news: While writing that last paragraph I learned another new word: jimotee. Comes from jimoto (one's local area, home town) and means something like "townie". And now you've learnt it too.

* My guess is that this one is related to words like chiisai meaning "small", same as the chinko in Edo times that meant "child" (= "little one") and gave us fantastic compound words like chinko-shibai (play performed by chinko).


Wet silk

I found a copy of Die schönsten Kimonos in a Jimbochō bargain bin. It includes a reproduction of an 1893 book of kimono/obi patterns (visual, not structural), either entitled or prefaced with the characters "意匠斬新" (Ishō zanshin, "Design innovation"), and einem Nachwort von Peter Thiele.

Here's one pattern that caught my eye:

It's called 海底, "Ocean floor". I like the seaweed and general bloopy forms, but what's up with the 3D-graphics-demo-from-1989 spheres? Anyone know?

Another good one: 古瓦, "Old kawara".

The word kawara, by the way, is thought to come from the Sanksrit kapāla meaning "dish" or "skull". This makes it almost suspiciously good supporting evidence for the reconstructed sound change of non-morpheme-initial Japanese /h/ -- from "p" to "f" to "0/w".


You can't hear that whistle blow

Japanese train departure melodies on YouTube and else where. (I know that "elsewhere" is one word. I had too many links, what can I say?)

Now that I've gotten the MetaFilter out of my system, let me offer some brief commentary. Departure melodies are played just before a train leaves a station. They are, in theory, an improvement over ululations and buzzers for several reasons:

  1. They are less abrasive, which is important when the platforms are already jam-packed with commuters and humming with stress;
  2. Their tempos can be, and are, set to a friendly walking pace, subtly encouraging people to take their time (in a way that a sudden WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW from above really doesn't);
  3. They can be different for each station, which helps remind people dozing on the train to get off when it's their stop; on the other hand, it also exposes bare skin to marketers (for example, this endearingly nerdy page explains that the closest station to Disneyland plays "It's a small world after all").

Put less positively, they are an attempt at mind control, directly targeting the emotions and designed to aggregate over kilodays and megapersons into predictable, profitable customer behavior. And you can get addicted.