Friday, July 17, 2009

Fun with ALC

I spend a fair amount of time digging through dictionaries and resource materials with work and other things, and one of my favorite tools online has got to be ALC. It's just your ordinary Japanese-English dictionary, but they have slang in there too and a great variety of alternative ways to say things... sometimes too much, actually. These variations can be dangerous for someone just starting out learning Japanese (the first entries for 格好いい, which would basically mean 'cool', are "cool beans", "off the hook", and "on point"- cool beans!! Flashback to 5th grade...), but if you're working with a good base of knowledge and backing up use of ALC with other sources, like Japanese-Japanese dictionaries and more traditional sources, then it's quick and awesome.

Anyway, a side effect of this variation is that I sometimes run across some rather bizarre example sentences, some of which I'll share now.

Searching for 凝視する I came up with the following entry:

There was another incident around that time where she was seen throwing a parakeet high into the air at a busy road, and staring at the bird as it fell and was run over by cars.
I don't know who this Aki person is, but apparently she throws dead birds into oncoming traffic, sweet.

Or this one was particularly good, under the entry for 考えられがち:

People often tend to think of this word as having the same meaning as "homo (homosexuality)", but "okama" is used in a much wider sense.
This is actually quite true - "okama" has more range than just covering your garden variety gay guy, and is probably closer to meaning a cross-dresser. I really wasn't expecting that looking up a phrase that basically means "is often thought of as", but yeah thanks for the info.

Of course next, I just had to search for the term "okama" itself:

Women who go out together with "okama" are said to "stick to the bottom of the 'kama'" and so are referred to as "okoge", or the "scorched rice" found at the bottom of the pan.
Wow, and there you have it... learn something new every day! Lesson of the day: "okoge" means faghag in Japanese, nice!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

1Q84, chapter 1

If you don't want to know what the book is about, read no further.

So the linguistic nerd in me is looking for an outlet to make studying fun again. Apparently translating stuff all day for a living isn't good enough, so I've decided to do one paragraph from each chapter of 1Q84 as I read along just to give people a taste of what they otherwise couldn't read without picking up the Japanese original. I'll give the original, then the translation, then some thoughts on the chapter itself.


Don't be fooled by outward appearances. There's always only one reality.

Aomame inhaled deeply and then exhaled. She then climbed over the railing while continuing to chase the melody of Billy Jean with her ears. Her mini skirt rolled up around her hips. "Who cares!" she thought. If they want to look, let them look. It's not like they're going to see what kind of person I am just from seeing under my skirt. Besides, her firm, alluring legs were the part of Aomame's body that she was most proud of.

Well it's a little harder to capture the art of an author's work than I was thinking, but that's basically the gist of things.

The book opens to the first of 2 main characters, Aomame. She's supposed to be a stunning beauty that doesn't try to stand out, but with an odd name like that she always gets teased (I've never heard that name, and it sounds like edamame, the green beans everyone traditionally snacks on with beer).

As with many novels, we find our subject in a very normal situation, with a twist. This time around, our girl Aomame is trapped in an endless traffic jam on the Shutoko, the Tokyo expressway, in a taxi with an abnormally good sound system. The music evokes memories she has no earthly reason to remember, then upon the suggestion of her knowledgeable driver decides to hop out and take an emergency ladder down to ground level and hop a train so she can make her meeting on time (the Shutoko is elevated).

I think that first sentence above is going to have something to do with the theme of the book - there's always only one reality. I liked how Murakami sneaks an MJ reference in there too... almost too precognizant with his timing on that one. Then again it is supposed to be 1984, so I'm sure Billy Jean was playing all over the place.

And there you have it - the highly abridged summary of chapter 1 of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.

For an introduction to the book, go here. Stay tuned for more.

Uniqlo: Japan meets the Gap

In Japan there's this store that everyone goes to, but most people don't readily admit or talk about. Well, at least that's how most Japanese people see it to the best of my knowledge, but there are plenty of foreigners that are just nuts about the place and can't rave about it enough... I myself wouldn't go quite that far. This store has a name, and its name is Uniqlo.

Uniqlo is sort of like the Japanese version of the Gap - or maybe what the Gap should be. Their prices are cheap and they'd like to think they have style, but most people just go there for plain items they wear layered under stuff that can blend in with whatever they're wearing. Uniqlo's strengths are its affordable prices and comfort, which in trying economic times such as these are a great business platform. While Toyota is posting its first annual numbers in the red ever, the owner of Uniqlo has just this year become the richest man in Japan at a net worth of $6.1B USD, surpassing the former top Hiroshi Yamauchi of Nintendo fame. In fact, Tadashi Yanai hasn't ruled out trying a buyout of the Gap to catapult his company's ambitions for going global and hitting the US market fullscale. In actuality, the economic downturn is probably helping Uniqlo's numbers since these are about the only times that no-name and cheaper business models can take off in Japan - as an example, the used book store Book-Off made used books popular around the time of the bubble collapse.

Anyway, I recently stopped by Uniqlo as I was running embarrassingly low on underwear that didn't have holes in them, and while wearing Japanese pants for me is normally akin to a Chris Farley "fat guy in a little coat" session due to 15+ years of soccer and capoeira, Uniqlo is rather well known for comfortable undies and fitting us furriners. So I decide to give them a shot.

So I went out to the newly opened Shinjuku store (pictured above) and got my shop on. While I was there I stopped in the UT section, which is Uniqlo's attempt at fashion in "designer t-shirts", if such a diametrically opposed juxtaposition of terms is allowed (Armani Exchange would like to think so). They had some interesting candidates, but none were interesting enough for me to walk away with. Top candidate is pictured at right, courtesy of the UT homepage.

I must say though, they have put a little effort into things, including buying up rights to put out some random stuff that appeals to foreigners. One great example is Warner Brothers products, which does include Looney Tunes, but also includes the Goonies (!!) and Batman... most Japanese people don't even know about the Goonies!

Japan is absolutely littered with Uniqlo stores, but if you're not in Japan and want to see one, you only chances will be if you live close to New York or LA... or you could just wait for Tada-chan to buy out Gap or some other sucker.

Oh and to anyone wondering, the boxers were still just a tad snug, but I'm sure they'd be fine for most... you might still need to go up a size from what you're used to.

[Edited for embarrasing grammatical errors... my brethren in the "I judge you when you use bad grammar" Facebook group would be ashamed. :'(]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tokyo erections

Really, I don't like morning people.

I'm not sure what kind of noise ordinance laws there are in Japan, but I am frequently awakened from my slumber on weekends by overzealous go-getters, looking to seize the day before I would argue it should even begin. No, the yaki-imo guy is not trying to make a comeback, but as I have alluded to in the past he certainly is not the only one in Japan that finds it acceptable to roll around in a little truck with a big microphone.

No, this time around it is election season, and the propaganda trucks are out in full force. By propaganda trucks, I am simply referring to the campaign trail as seen in the 1950's of America and Back to the Future. Today is the big day for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections, so hopefully from here on out I will be able to sleep past 9am - these guys have been rolling by my place as early as 8:30 am almost daily for about the past week or two, and I for one am glad that it is all coming to a close. Incidentally, this will be the first time that my girlfriend has voted. The vast majority of Japanese that I know have little to no interest in politics, and that goes double for young people.

So why are Japanese political campaigns stuck in the '50's, you ask? Well there's some stupid law that says that they can't have advertisements on tv, so they have to resort to posters littered everywhere, enough pamphlets and handouts to overfill my mailbox was past the brim, and... little trucks with big microphones, what the hell.

You'd think it would irritate people, but then Japanese are so used to people yelling in their daily lives that I'm sure they just ignore with the rest as it's phased out into white noise in the deep abscesses of their minds. Whether it's the army of guys passing out fliers and trying to talk you into coming to his store in front of the station, or the people standing in the streets yelling outside stores about the "special sale" they have every single week, or the shop clerks constantly yelling 'irrasshaimase' as they walk through stores for 30 years, it must just be second nature to them to ignore some yakiimo schmo or Ichiro Blow politician in their noise truck.

Oh and for those that don't know, the Communist Party is alive and well in Japan with 13 representatives (of 125 total) already in the local assembly - I've seen posters around all over the place, and one of the 3 candidates for the district in which I reside is a pinko commie. Doesn't he look menacing folks? I'm sure he'd chew a baby's head off and spit it out like a piece of overchewed gum... or at least talk it to death.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I've picked up a copy of Haruki Murakami's newest novel, 1Q84. There was quite a buzz when this book came out a little over a month ago (5/29), despite the fact that the author has made it a point not to divulge much information about the book. The cover itself has no synopsis or teaser on the back or inside cover. He has told people that many wished they could've read one of his more famous previous works, Kafka on the Shore, without knowing what it was about, and thus is giving readers that opportunity this time around. This makes it sound like there might be nice twist in there somewhere, but as the first of the 2 volumes already released is 500 pages and the story doesn't end in the 2nd volume, it might take me a while to get to it!

Besides all the hype surrounding this book, what caught my attention was the title, obviously referring to the classic work of George Orwell, 1984. In Japanese 'Q' is the pronunciation of '9', and a friend of mine who marathoned the book (1,000 pages in a weekend!!) tells me that he does indeed refer to the Orwell book a few times. In respect of the author's request I haven't looked up any real details, except I did see a one-sentence description on the wiki page:
1Q84 is described as a "complex and surreal narrative" which "shifts back and forth between tales of two characters, a man and a woman, who are searching for each other." The themes consist of murder, history, cult religion, violence, family ties and love.
As this book isn't slated for translation into English anytime soon I figure it wouldn't be too bad to share. Also since this keeps most everyone that would be reading this from picking it up, I'm considering giving away the story here as I go through the book... assuming it's good enough for me to get through.

By the way, for any of those that do read Japanese I highly recommend the works of a certain Kotaro Isaka (Japanese only). Unfortunately I don't believe any of his work has been translated up to this point, but as a few of his books have been made into movies already one can hope, right?!?

Chapter summaries:
Chapter 1