Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shiso-flavored Pepsi?

What were they thinking with this one???

Ok, so every year for the past few years there has been some random limited edition flavor come out that's only available in Japan and only for a limited time!! Japanese people will buy anything if it's only for a limited time. They love their gentei stuff in general (限定= limited issue or limited area goods) - maybe as much as they like cute stuff.

Anyway back to the nastiness, horrible. Two summers ago it was cucumber Pepsi, which wasn't very good. Last year it was apparently Blue Hawaii, which I may or may not have tried but obviously did not leave much of an impression on me if I did. This year? Shiso-flavored Pepsi. What is shiso you may ask? Well the English translation is apparently a "beefsteak plant", which I know has just got your mouth watering already. Basically though, it's that edible minty leaf thing that you may find garnishing your sushi. Shiso by itself isn't too bad I guess, actually pretty good wrapped around (horse) meat, but the mere idea of mixing it with Pepsi is just beyond disgusting to me. It makes me feel like reaching back in my vocabulary about 20 years or so to call it grody. Or maybe it just makes me feel like reaching back into my throat to purge the vileness from my body before it reaches my stomach. That my friends is what grody tastes like. So of course I bought one, but just so I could drink it and tell people how grody it was.

First off, it's green. Smell? Sort of like that wasabi-ish dry spice that shoots up your nose and burns just a tinge. Taste? It sort of lags a bit - at first it just tastes weird like when you were a kid and mixed Mountain Dew in with your Coke and then accidentally put orange juice in instead of orange Fanta, but then the shiso kicks in and it's sweet and spicy at the same time. I've had spicy beer before as well, and I am going to have to say that God did not intend drinks to be spicy. Ever. It does not work.

In the also-ran category, Coke has decided to come out with their own gentei version that people will buy even though it's disgusting, green tea Diet Coke. While I've heard personal account that this is really not good either, it just doesn't trigger my gag reflex as much as shiso Pepsi.

Oh, and as an added bonus, McDonald's is having a special on their McNuggets, which are now a 100 yen until July 2nd (more gentei, I can't control myself!!). They now come with more Pokemon meat, as can be seen on the box to the left. Mmm... pikachu meat.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yakudoshi - the year of calmity

(Please excuse the crap pics as I'm still arguing with Canon over mine and am limited to my phone's camera and existing internet stock)

So I recently got to see a little bit of the more Japanese side of my girlfriend lately in the form of a lesson in Japanese superstition, which I shall now pass on to you. See there's this thing in Japanese called 厄年 (read yakudoshi, year of bad luck/calamity) in which all sorts of bad things can happen to you - you're supposedly more likely to lose your job, get cheated on, get seriously injured or what have you. Normally being a rather sane and grounded individual she of course didn't believe such nonsense, but she's had a series of unlucky experiences lately which she has come to associate with this, such as feeling the squish of a roach-zilla on her toes as she put on her sock (not sure if it was already dead or if she killed it), almost getting hit by a car on her bike (I got her beat on that one) and other such things. As other examples of yakudoshi, I found stories about people getting hit while standing waiting for a stoplight by a bike at just the right angle to break a leg, and apparently Princess Diana was on her yakudoshi the year everyone found out about her affairs and she got divorced (!!).

I personally had not heard of yakudoshi, but here's the gist as it was explained to me. There are apparently some slight regional variations on this, but basically it goes that at the ages of 25, 42 and 61 for men and 19, 33 and 37, you better watch your back for the boogeyman because random shit is waiting for you around the corner. These years are based on the old system for counting years in which you are born at age 1, so basically you just take a year off that. The middle of these is supposedly the worst (called taiyaku 大厄 in Japanese - 42 and 33 for men and women respectively) with the year itself (本厄, honyaku) being preceded and followed by years that lead into and tail off with the bad luck (前厄 and 後厄, maeyaku and atoyaku). You can see a chart of this year's yakudoshi to the left. As with some other Japanese superstitions, reasons for the years picked is widely thought to do with alternate meanings for the readings of the numbers. 4 is generally an unlucky number in Japanese because it can be pronounced shi, as in 'death', and thus 42 (shi-ni) is bad... but only for men. 33 for women can be pronounced 'sanzan', which can mean terrible.

So what do you traditionally do in such years of calamity? Well in order to shoo away the bad luck you go to a shrine for either 厄祓い or 厄除け(yakubarai and yakuyoke) in order to get rid of bad luck or serve a preemptive blow to possible forthcoming calamities. At the shrine you can either give the priests a few man (couple $100USD) to put your name in a ceremony they go through several times a day to scare away the bad luck demons, or you can buy one of their lovely, overly-priced protective charms. Obviously the more money you spend the better, so they have charms anywhere from 500 yen to 50,000 yen (the crystal ones are allegedly most effective for yakudoshi... expensive buggers). My girlfriend went for one of the cheaper options - they sell you a wooden peg which you write your name onto and then smash it down into a board with holes using a mallet as shown above. There was also the standard omikuji, which are sort of like your luck horoscope which you read and then tie onto a string with all the other omikuji for the day as a sort of prayer to the luck gods. (Mikuji picture on the left courtesy of Wikipedia)

Where does such superstition come from? Well, it comes from onmyodo (陰陽道), the Japanese version of astrology based on the Chinese zodiac system. Exact roots aren't known for sure, but there was an ancient custom in China stating that children from the ages of 7 to 9 should be careful of calamities which some think may have some correlation. Onmyodo originally came from Chinese Wu Xing and the yin/yang principle introduced to Japan in the 5th and 6th centuries, then was mixed with Shintoism, Taoism and Buddhism. This form of astrology is more popular out here than that associated with the western zodiac. The whole yakudoshi biz was believed by the aristocracy and higher ups by the Heian Period, and knowledge had spread to the general population by the Edo era.

And you may wonder why does it last for 3 years and not just one? One opinion I found from a Shinto scholar is that this comes from an ancient Japanese tradition called 致斎 (chisai) in which you are supposed to distance yourself from celebration, mourning or any other gathering for 3 days if you are in contact with a death, birth or other bloody act which needs purification in the sight of the gods. This normally holds for the day before and the day after the actual event itself, a concept that could have been carried over to yakudoshi as well.

I found one site trying to make some ridiculous parallels between yakudoshi and supposed superstitions in the west and other countries, but I couldn't find any information anywhere online to corroborate these correlations in English. Just out of interest I'm going to list these to see if anyone else has heard of any of these superstitions:

  • ENGLAND - for men any year ending in 4, and for women any year ending in 7. To ward off bad luck you're supposed to gather fruit off a tree in the number corresponding to your age and leave them outside for 3 days and 3 nights, then burn them. The more witnesses you have the better (so everyone can laugh at your superstitious ass).

  • SPAIN - for men 24 and 44, for women 14 and 34. To cure yourself, you're supposed to surround yourself by relatives and friends while eating a certain number of pieces of horse meat corresponding to your age. After this there's a big party with singing and dancing... silly Spaniards, that's their solution to everything!

  • EGYPT - for men and women every 4th year from the age of 4 all the way through your 50's. To cure this you're supposed to get a piece of fabric from a local elder and keep in on you for that year. I think this sounds sort of like a Muslim "DON'T kick me" sign.

  • TURKEY - for men 23, 43 and 63 and for women 13, 33 and 53. This is cured by the relatives and friends getting together and making a life-sized clay doll and robing it with colorful clothing, then washing it away with water. The person has to stay in the house while this is being done so he can keep from laughing at all his stuperstitious relatives and friends.

These all sound rather ridiculous and I doubt any of them really exist, but then again I think the whole yakudoshi thing is ridiculous too. I think I'll just hide up on the 13th floor with my black cat underneath a ladder and toss salt over my shoulder until the whole thing blows over.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dispelling common Japanese misconceptions about translation: advice for the aspiring

So the other day I got a mail from a friend I used to work with saying that another friend of hers was looking into how to get started in translation. As she knew that I've recently done the same, she figured maybe I could help give him some friendly advice, and set up a meeting. I have been translating at every job I've had since I got to Japan about 3 years ago now and been accepting freelance work on the side for more than 2 years, but I'm really just getting started at doing freelance work fulltime, so I wasn't sure how much advice I'd be able to offer him. I figured that some experience is better than none though, and as he was just starting out my advice couldn't hurt really.

There are a few things that I feel Japan usually misunderstands about the world of translation, so I stuck to the basics. Here's what I told him:
  1. Lots of people think that if you can understand both languages you can automatically be a translator - false. Translation involves 2 main skills: understanding the source text and skillfully putting that into words in the target language. For example, for me this means that I not only have to be able to understand what is written in Japanese, but also need to be able to write well in English. There are plenty of people that aren't very adept at writing in their own language, and if you're one of those people then you're going to need to work at that to be a good translator. It's not just about accuracy (although that is important, it can be pedantically overemphasized amongst Japanese translators), but also about style.

  2. Just because you know both languages doesn't mean you should translate both ways. Uggh... this is probably the most common and annoying misconception in Japan, even with translation companies. In the rest of the world, people generally translate into their native language, basically because no matter how well you learn your 2nd (3rd, 4th, etc.) language, you will always have tiny imperfections or not know all the colloquialisms of the foreign language. In Japan, many people think of a translator as someone who translates between both languages in their pair, and then add an extra step by having a native speaker check the work. I don't care how good Kenji's English is I guarantee that mine is better, and likewise he's always going to know more Japanese than I. From a quality standpoint, whenever possible I should leave translations into Japanese to them, and they should leave translations into English to me.

  3. Work in-house for at least a year or so, and get yourself a specialty. While not strictly required, both of these help for sure. Working in-house means that you often have direct access to the person who wrote the text in the first place and can confirm hard to understand clauses directly. It also means that you have time to build your skills and specialized vocabulary.

    As far as a specialty goes, you will make far more money in the long run translating a niche market than you will in general translation. Law work, including patents, and medical work can easily command twice the price of general translation work, but even technical fields such as IT or engineering can make money. I forget where, but one place I saw online said that in the long run it's most important to pick your specialty based on what you enjoy as opposed to what the most expensive field du jour is.

  4. Decide rates based on the source, not the translation! The reason for this is simple and logical, and looking around at some translation companies I can't believe this escapes them... if I'm translating from Japanese to English, I have control over how many words I write, but I can't do anything about how many characters are in the original source text. Thus to take any question of the translator just being wordy in order to inflate their fee and focus on making the best possible translation they can, you should base payment on the source. It's the most fair way to do things.

  5. A word-for-word translation is not always the best translation. As mentioned in 1 above, you are writing for an audience, and different audiences understand things differently. If you have a warning label in Japanese that says "please do this," it should be in command form in English, not left as a kind request. Also there are entirely too many direct translations out there that come off as very stiff and hard to read.

  6. Keep up your skills and never stop learning. In order to do this, you need to read regularly in both languages and also write in your native language, e.g. the target language you're translating into. Many people realize they need to continuously work on their 2nd language, but neglect to work on their native language skills as well. These skills will totally fall off if you don't use them!
Those are the basics I believe. Specific rates and all are whole different can of worms... maybe I'll get into it some other time.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sanma's SUPER Karakuri TV, and Japanese relationships as told by "famous" wives

So I'm not much of a fan of Japanese tv, but one show that I do watch at least semi-regularly is Sanma's SUPER (!!!) Karakuri TV. The host, Sanma, is one of Japan's most famous comedians, and known for having extraordinarily big teeth... he's ok (See right). They of course have the obligatory "talento" panel gathered to comment about things, but have some funny stuff on there using actual people, not tv personalities. They've also had a bunch of foreign regulars over the years, including Thane Camus, Bobby Olugun and Robert Baldwin. In the past they've had stuff like the foreigner Japanese quizzes with "Japan King" Robert Baldwin, the Hiroshima-born Canadian that knows entirely too much about Japan, or they'll have quizzes with 3 old guys (note: old people that don't care anymore and will say absolutely anything), or my all-time favorite when they used to have the drunk salarymen quizzes where they'd ask a drunk guy on his way home from a drinking party some question and then let him use a public phone to call whoever he wanted to try and find out the answer, often to hilarious result.

Anyway I watched it tonight (7pm Sundays and on channel 6 in Tokyo, btw), and afterwards there was a "special" (considering every other week is a special, it has about as much meaning as them calling the tv-personalities "talent") with five famous wives asking them about their spouses, and I thought it might be a small window into Japanese relationships so I left it on... it wasn't interesting enough to receive my undivided attention, but here's what I remember of it.

So the 5 wives were Junko Akimoto (60-something year old singer), Akira Hokuto (female pro-wrestler... scarily mannish), Izumi Ogami (announcer and voice actor), Nozomi Tsuji (overly cutesy former Morning Musume singer) and Miki Fujimoto (pretty hot former Morning Musume singer).

They talked about a few topics, the first of which I remember the discussion being about married finances. It's fairly well-known that the wife holds the purse strings in most households in Japan, at least traditionally. Miki-chan was the newlywed (or rather will be next month), and was talking about them each keeping their own finances, which most of the other women said was unrealistic as time goes on, especially after kids. I'd say that's a fair assessment, but not reason enough for me to hand over my entire paycheck to the wife every month and have her give me a monthly allowance. Everyone was shocked, or maybe disappointed would be a better description, at one of the wives when she said that she's the one that gets an allowance. I've heard from several former co-workers that they indeed let their wives control the money... they say they don't have time to worry about bills, supposedly because they are too busy working absurd hours at the office or something. I don't see why Japanese guys are so stereotypically bad with money though... one of the wives said her hubby wastes all kinds of money on an aquarium and fish, and another said her hubby wastes all kinds of money on a car (I could totally see that one, actually).

The other question I remember them asking was "your trick to a healthy relationship." First up was Maki-chan who said she mails her fiance about 10 times daily, for stuff like when she wakes up or telling him where she's going or whatever, and that he's always good about responding. I believe in communication, but 10x/day... wow. She got lots of "he~~~s" from that one. I agree with the overall concept of keeping in touch as much as possible and all though, which the other guests seemed to think was unrealistic.

Next up was Nozomi-chan, who said they kiss everyday, which shocked everyone. Examples she gave were a good morning kiss, a goodbye kiss before going to work, a kiss when you get home and before you go to sleep - nothing that odd. The host's comment was that that sounds really stupid and unnecessary, and pretty much everyone (except Maki, bless her heart) agreed that keeping that up was just about impossible. To me it's not surprising to hear them say that with all the talk you hear about sexless marriages and married couples sleeping in separate beds and all, but disappointing nonetheless.

Well ok, I guess it wasn't really that informative to me at least, but it did reaffirm a few ideas I have about relationships in Japan, and maybe it'll give you a better idea of things. If you kiss someone every day and sleep in the same bed then you are living a miracle to them... I guess extremely low standards are good in that they make it easy to be impressed, but it's still hard for me to believe this kind of stuff is considered standard for the state of relationships in Japan. Sorta depressing, no?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Cash for Clunkers"? Pfft... get a load of Japanese shaken

Steven Levitt over at freakonomics brought up the US "Cash for Clunkers" program again, which just passed the US House of Representatives. Before details were released, he was originally speculating that they would make it so cars over a certain age would be available for a trade-in of $3,000-4,000 or so in an effort to get older, dirtier cars off the roads and replace them with more fuel-efficient models. According to the article, the final details of the plan are thus:
Under the plan, owners of cars and trucks that get less than 18 m.p.g. could get a voucher of $3,500 to $4,500 for a new vehicle, depending on the mileage of the new model.

The plan does have several hurdles that will keep some potential buyers on the sidelines. The clunker being traded in will be crushed or recycled, meaning it will have no trade-in value beyond the voucher. Of the 25 million vehicles estimated to qualify for the voucher, most will be trucks: even 15 years ago, only five models of midsize sedans managed just 18 m.p.g.

To ensure the vehicles being crushed are actually coming off the road rather than cinder blocks, the trade-ins have to have been registered and insured for at least the past year.
So they settled on an mpg rating as opposed to a year rating to focus on removing foreign oil influence as opposed to lowering emissions directly. If, however, they did decide to try for lowering emissions, they could look no further than Japan for a plan as they have a great plan for doing so. It's expensive for consumers, but that's part of the point - giving negative incentives to owning cars so people will look into the alternatives and not be so wasteful. (This would of course need to be supplimented with such alternatives to be effective, but these could be made if the people wanted it badly enough.)

First off, most know that gas is more expensive in Japan than it is in the US, but then that's true for pretty much the rest of 1st-world countries as well. I don't have a car anymore so don't really look too closely, but last time I noticed regular gas was around 120JPY/liter ($4.62/gallon at today's exchange rates) out here - it was pushing on 200JPY/liter (~$7.50/gallon) back when Americans were complaining about $4-5/gallon.

But gas isn't the real expense of having a car out here, it's only a very small part. Just to get a license in Japan you're forced to go spend about 300,000JPY on driving school lessons (note: transfer of foreign license is exempt of this). And if you buy your own car you have to have proof of a place to park it, which unless you live way out in the country you're definitely going to have to pay for and could run you several 10,000s of yen a month, especially if you're around Tokyo. Also, one of the better parts of Japan's temporary economic stimulus package has made it so that you can use the highways to get anywhere for only 1000JPY, but all Japanese highways are tolled. Just to give you an idea of the normal rates, it usually costs give or take 10,000JPY to go from Tokyo to Sendai one-way, which will take you 365km and roughly 5 hours. A ticket on the shinkansen meanwhile will cost you about the same and get there in 2-2.5 hours, less than half the time.

Then there's the major cost in getting a car out here - the shaken system ("shah-ken"), which is basically a system requiring you to get your car inspected every 1-3 years depending on age and type of the vehicle. New passenger vehicles don't need to be inspected for 3 years, then after that they need inspection every 2 years. The inspection itself will cost you anywhere between 50,000~100,000 with any repairs deemed necessary on top of that, including scheduled maintenance items like tires, timing belts, clutches, etc. Most anywhere you take your car they will make you replace something, so normal costs to expect could be anywhere from the 60~80K JPY range for kei-cars to more like 100~200K for higher end cars (my '00 WRX cost about 150K).

This is why used vehicles depreciate so fast in Japan, and also why you don't see all that many cars that are more than 10-15 years old... not too many people are willing to spend more than the car's worth every 2 years just to keep it on the road, and for a lot of cars the shaken cost exceeds selling value after about 10-15 years or so. Older cars that aren't wanted are either exported to poorer countries that can still use them or crushed. This makes it almost impossible to find classic Japanese cars, and puts the price of those you do find prohibitively expensive for most. On the flip side, this means that most cars in Japan, including the older ones, are normally kept in spectacular running order - no clunkers. Also, because of the gas prices and highway costs, along with the craptacular traffic in urban centers like Tokyo, most people consider the spectacular train system a great alternative for long trips and commutes, opting out of using the car for long distances and keeping the odometer reading relatively low as well.

Now bringing us full circle, the consequence of this is cars in better shape due to regular and expensive inspections, meaning better gas mileage and lower emissions. Older cars are just as expensive to hold onto as newer ones, so newer cars with even lower emissions are the norm. As a corollary, newer cars mean that people have to buy cars more often, further feeding the economy (normally). Also due to the higher gas prices and highway costs, people are more likely to buy more efficient cars in the first place... if they decide to buy one at all. I'm sure if the American system took this as its model, well first off you'd have a bunch of pissed off Americans, but you'd certainly cut emissions and raise fuel efficiency.

In closing, this is why I do not own a car in Japan. The end.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Manga for adults?

So the other day I was in a rather typical situation - getting my haircut and making small talk with the barber. The place I go to get my hair cut is actually pretty interesting - they measure my hair on different points of my head with a ruler after cutting it and put it all on this spiffy diagram to save for the next time I came in, so after a few times they know exactly to a science how to cut your hair. Not only that, but everyone in the whole store knew me and my girlfriend by name after the first time going there... and to top it all off they give this awesome scalp massage. Spectacular service!

Anyway, my barber seems like at least a halfway intelligent guy and is pretty cool, and the last time I went in the conversation somehow got onto tv. I find Japanese tv to be barely tolerable in most situations and spend my time in front of a computer to avoid it - I'll spare you the reasoning, but if you're interested then reading this might give you an idea why - so I tried to change the topic by asking him what he's read lately.

Read? Nope, not him. Or at least, not books. He apparently devotes all his reading energies into either manga or magazines. I've personally never been able to get into manga, but I know that a decent portion of the Japanese population, including adults, spends a fair amount of their social reading energies with it.

If I were to pick up the latest issue of X-men or whatever at my age back home then I'd be labeled a nerd before I got the front page open, but I'm not even sure if it's possible to ride the train home from downtown Tokyo without seeing at least one 30 or 40-something salaryman flipping through this week's issue of whatever manga. I can see ulterior motives sometimes though as some of these are interspersed with pictures of J-girl nekkidness... I'm talking about pictures of actual girls here, but you will also find plenty of adult-content manga out there with nudity as well, which just boggles my mind.

There are all sorts and kinds of manga out there on any topic - from your standard Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist to the more obscure, like the Kuroudo title I mentioned the other day to manga versions of famous books like Vagabond (based on the classic novel Musashi, written in the 1930's and translated in 1981 if you want to look for a copy) and even on historical events. Predominantly it's targeted towards boys/men, but there are also female-oriented manga out there as well.

It is probably because of this range that many people flock to manga as a lighter, more enjoyable alternative to books, but I'm still not sold. There are certain titles out there that I'm sure I'd enjoy (Vagabond and Kuroudo are probably both interesting), but I'd just rather stick with books... how much of it is just a personal prejudice I'm not sure, but books just feel more sophisticated. To me, reading manga for something would be akin to opting to wait for the movie to come out back home, and with some exceptions I'd say that in my experience the original format is far and away better when it comes out in book first (or movie for that matter).

Sure it's probably easier to get through the manga, but maybe that's another reason I like the books... if I'm going to pick up language from reading, I'd prefer it to be as sophisticated as
possible. Also as a translator, it's important to stay read up in both languages to keep my skills from dwindling. You get plenty of people who come out to Japan and lose their high-level communication abilities in English due to lack of native-level input, but then trying to avoid talking over everyone's head will do that to you... I'd like to keep that from happening, in both languages.

Also I don't want to make it seem like everyone out here only reads manga - I'd say books on the train probably still outnumber manga... there's also a fair bit of PSPs and DSes out there, as well as the girls that will sit there and just mess with their phones the entire time they're on the train.

So bottom line, does reading manga instead of books make my barber a simple person? Nah, I think it just makes him more Japanese. I think I can deal with that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What happened to real bbqs?

Ah yes, the charcoal, smoke from the grill, drinks and friends, hot dogs and bur... wait, what happened to the burgers?!? It's barbeque season, and as barbeque is one of the things I think the US does best in terms of food, I take pride in firing up the grill with some regularity out here as well. There are definitely some things I miss though, like burgers!

This past weekend I helped organize a little barbeque, and while I was grabbing a spot and setting up the grill, the Japanese co-organizers were over at the store picking up the meat and everything. Knowing from previous experience, I explicitly told them to pick up burgers and sausages that could be placed in a bun, resembling what you or I might know as a "hot dog" (go ahead, do the airquotes along with me).

Japanese people love barbequing, but the concept of a burger on the grill seems to be utterly lost to them. My partners in crime come back with the standard Japanese faire - yakiniku-style meat (small little bite-sized pieces that can be eaten easily with chopsticks - see above), yakisoba, veggies, and some quite nice bacon-wrapped asparagus sticks. What's missing? Where's my burgers?? They tell me that the store, while touting itself online as a "bbq specialty" market that even rents out grills and other ancillary barbeque equipment and furniture, does not carry burgers. Or buns, for that matter. That sir is an outrage!! It is a rather standard outrage here though as I mentioned, because I've been to many a barbeque in Japan and never see them pull out burgers. I should note, however, that speaking to a German attendee he said that Germans don't really do burgers either... he was with me on the sausages though.

So yesterday, feeling slightly unsatiated with my whole barbeque experience, I went to the store and bought some hamburger meat and made some hamburgers, fired up the grill yet again and topped them off with some Jack Daniel's Honey BBQ sauce, with Old Bay seasoned fries on the side (it's a MD thing). Situation tastily averted.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Got published again...

Ok now this announcement is a little late for sure, but as it's somewhat interesting (to me, at least) I figured I'd put it out there. Besides, normally I'm doing confidential stuff which I'm not allowed to talk about, so this is fun for me. :P

As I've been paying the bills as a translator lately, I've been seeing a whole bunch more stuff and reading a bunch more lately. Most of the time I'm working with technical stuff like manuals and work specificiations and such, but I also get some general translation coming through which can be fun.

For example, the other day I was asked to translate one line for a manga called 蔵人(kuroudo) ... here's a review from Amazon:





The stage is Shimane-ken.

A foreigner visits a sake brewery. His grandmother was a Japanese who left for abroad and told her grandson how her father used to make sake while reminiscing about his brewery.

In a modern Japan which has largely broken away from sake, making a manga about foreigners taking part in sake brewing is something that could only be done by the author of "Natsuko's Sake".

The days of training through making the rounds of his own brewery that is no more... this book tells the interesting tale that our hero Claude has taken on, to learn how to make sake in a different culture without understanding Japanese.

While I argue with the premise that he's the first to come up with the idea of a foreigner brewing sake, it does sound somewhat interesting if the author does it right.

Anyway, so I found out the other day that the book that I translated the line for got published, woo! You can see my work in the June 5th edition of Big Comic Original published by Shogakukan. If you're in Japan then check it out next time you're in a conbini or something.

Test Your Brain

I saw a few brain teasing tests and quizzicles for those that like IQ-type stuff - follow the link. Originally seen at the Freakonomics blog.

Monday, June 08, 2009

˙˙˙plɹoʍ ǝɥʇ ɟo ǝpıs ɹǝɥʇo ǝɥʇ ɯoɹɟ ɟɟnʇs ǝdʎʇ noʎ uǝɥʍ ǝʞıl sʞool ʇı ʇɐɥʍ sı sıɥʇ

˙ƃɐqlooʇ ɐ sı ǝʞıɯ :sd

˙ǝɹǝɥ os op uɐɔ noʎ uǝɥʇ 'ɟlǝsɹnoʎ ɹoɟ ʇno ʇı ʎɹʇ oʇ ʇuɐʍ noʎ ɟı ¿ʞuıɥʇ noʎ op ʇɐɥʍ - ʇoɥs ɐ ʇı ǝʌıƃ p,ı pǝɹnƃıɟ puɐ uʍop ǝpısdn ɟɟnʇs ǝdʎʇ noʎ sʇǝl ʇɐɥʇ ǝuıluo ǝʇıs sıɥʇ pǝʇʇods ı os

Edit: Confused? Go here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tipping the Scales - the US vs. Japan

Well I am feeling just great here - given my reemergence on the capoeira scene as of the past year or so and my more than open work schedule as of late, I'm probably in the best shape I've been since moving out to Miyagi almost 3 years ago now. My weight's right about where I want it, and being so active gives me a ton of energy. Maybe it's rubbing off, but my female companion person has been feeling the need to get back into exercising, which with her schedule is a much more arduous task.

To reach her newly founded goal of losing 5kg, she is using one of the newer fitness fads out here lately (and apparently worldwide I'm told), Core Rhythms. It replaced Billy's Boot Camp, so that automatically gives it cool points. I find it to be absolutely hilarious, but she enjoys it and that's all that's important. She wanted to have a definite starting point to the whole thing though, so she picked up this scale that measures BMI and body fat and all, which brings us to today's topic.

You see, Japan has entirely unrealistic weight standards for me and just about any other non-Asian descent foreigner here you speak to, but that won't stop the doctor from tell you you're fat based on his standards if you go in for a checkup. I wasn't totally sure what BMI was exactly, or what acceptable values for it or body fat were, so I did a little research on world standards and how they stack up against Japanese standards as shown in the instruction manual for the scale and what I could find online.

First off BMI, or Body Mass Index, is basically your weight divided by the square of your height.
Anything below 18.5 is underweight, 18.5-24.9 is acceptable and over 25 is overweight. There are different levels of everything, for example over 30 is obese, over 40 is morbidly obese and under 15 is known as "Skeletor".

So this is the ideal range, what's the actual ideal? Well this is where you start finding different results... there have been studies by a Japanese guy (go fig) that say that the absolute ideal is between 21 and 22 according to this and this other sites, meaning that at roughly 5'6" you should weigh 138lbs! This is just simply not going to happen anytime in my lifetime. The instruction book for the scale said you should aim for 23 however, which would put me at about 145lbs or so. Here's a readout on a site I found based on the Japanese standard:

Your height: 169cm
Your weight: 68kg

Your height-standard weight is 62.83kg.
Your ideal weight is 57.12kg.
Difference between your weight and the standard is 5kg.
Difference between your weight and the ideal is 10kg.
Your obesity level is NaN (searched again and came up with 8.228%)
Your BMI index is 23.8. that means that BMI 22 is even too high, what?!?!? Me at 57kg (BMI 20 and 122lbs!) would just be disgusting, but I'm convinced that this is exactly the kind of unrealistic weights that Japanese doctors expect to see from Japanese people. As this brings back not-so-fond memories of pictures of me as a scrawny, pimple-faced high schooler, I don't see that happening ever, ever again. If you have any muscle mass at all then that is totally unrealistic, and even with no muscles would still make you look all scrawny and puny like some goth chick in Harajuku or gyaru in Shibuya so skinny that she looks like a skeleton with skin, and believe you me, you will witness this at least once with a little walking around. The proof that doctor's spread this kind of weight goal to everyone is in the pudding - everyone here is chasing unrealistic weight goals and it shows.

This to me is such a huge disservice to the Japanese public - if you think all girls are self conscious about their weight then you should see what it's like with some seriously effed standards breathing down their necks (see Harajuku/Shibuya reference above)... stressful I'm sure. It makes me think of a situation where a kid's parents pressure him to get straight A's his whole life, then he gets a B+ one day in gym or something because he's all skeletor and stuff and his parents shit a collective brick. What good is that really? Not everyone wants to be a stick figure with a 4.0 GPA, geez.

As for those body fat levels, according to this site healthy for my age would be between 8-19%, and my girlfriend should be aiming for 21-33%. The simplified goals in the scale instruction manual list 10-20% for men and 20-30% for women, not too far off. With a body fat % of 17ish, I'm right inside the world safe zones both here and on BMI, but I hope to get the fat one down a little.

I shall not be losing 10 or even 5kg, in fact if anything I might wind up gaining a little overall in terms of muscle - screw Matsutaka-sensei and his whack standard weights to hell!! I won't let my girlfriend get down on things - I think she's awesome staying in the BMI23-25 range and focusing more on keeping the fat down. If she hits 22 then I'm taking her out for some yakiniku or something, no unrealistic goals for her either.