火曜日, 6月 29, 2004

New Vegetarian Restaurant in Kobe

    Last night, my friend Misa and I went to Vegismile, a new vegan restaurant in Kobe. It's a terrific place with many interesting choices for vegetarians. It is a little hard to find, but it's near Hankyu Rokko station, in Nada-ku.
    I don't know of any other vegan restaurants in Kobe, or even completely vegetarian restaurants. Yum Jam in Motomachi is good for "Asian vegetarian and semi-vegetarian dishes" -- the ones with fish and seafood are clearly marked on the menu. But Vegismile is better if you want more casual food and atmosphere. Misa and I had the veggie burger plate and dorias, with Kahlua Soymilk to drink, a rare combination but very tasty. The burger was especially good. It had a very rich, mushroomy taste almost like meat, but more flavorful.
    The owner and chef of Vegismile is Takeshi Yamamoto. He studied with vegan chefs in the U.S., Canada and New Zealand after he developed an allergy to animal products. (I got this information from an article by Chris Page in Kansai Scene magazine.) In most ordinary restaurants around here, they put meat and fish in everything. The vegetarian choices are usually zero. The salads and omelets or rice dishes have meat in them, and everything else has fish or seafood. The bakery in JR Sannomiya station has raw ham slices in the salads, yuck! And many bakeries use lard in the bread. Ironically, one of the few places you can find a decent salad around here is Wendy's. They also have baked potatoes and coffee jelly frosties. I've started going there a lot for their garden salad (now that I'm completely sick of Starbucks).
    I bought a tofu burger at Daimaru once, and I asked the woman selling them first "Does this have any meat or fish in it?" and she assured me "No, just vegetable" so I bought it and took it home, but when I bit into it there were shrimp inside. You really have to question everything.

土曜日, 6月 26, 2004


      Here is another cool Japan blog by someone I know.


     By the way, look at the "How to Get a Japanese Boyfriend" post - I was the "American Friend." This conversation was unbelievably hilarious.

Kobe International Scrabble Competiton

      Little did I know when I was placed here that Kobe is the place to be for COMPETITIVE SCRABBLE. Today I went to the 33rd annual 神戸国際スクラブル大会, the Kobe International Scrabble Competion. I happened to see an announcement for this event in the Kansai Time Out, and I thought I'd go check it out. It was held in the Crystal Tower, a glass skyscraper in Kobe's Harborland.
      "In some ways, Kobe is more international even than Tokyo," a Canadian Scrabble enthusiast who teaches in Kyoto told me. "Kobe has had a Scrabble Association for over 30 years."
      I have no experience with competitive Scrabble, but I enjoy a Scrabble game now and then as much as anyone. Wanting a challenge, I registered in the "expert" group. I was out of my league however, and lost both games. My first opponent was an Australian ALT I had met previously at JET events. He and I had radically different interpretations of what one wears to a Scrabble tournament, as I was wearing jeans and he was in a suit. My second opponent wore a shirt from the Scrabble World Championship he went to ten years ago in Malaysia. He threw a lot of words at me I could have sworn were not words, like AAL, OU, DEV, CH, LEY, and WUS, but when I challenged him (to challenge someone you are supposed to yell "Challenge," but what people yelled instead was "Jisho," the Japanese word for dictionary, and someone with an International Scrabble dictionary came running over) they were all there all right. After the game the Canadian woman looked at our board and told me that many of those words would not be allowed in American Scrabble. To play International Scrabble you have to learn them, I guess. Hardcore.
     We had to play with those annoying clocks they use in chess tournaments. Each player had 25 minutes to complete the game, for a total time of 50 minutes. You also had to use your time to keep track of both your own and your opponent's score, and I found it distracting to do so much math during the game.
      After two games, the results were announced and everyone got prizes. Although I played horribly, I got a nice little embroidered bag. Then they took a group photo.
      It was kind of surreal. One nice thing about it was that there were some cute Japanese kids playing in the beginning division, and they actually did quite well, winning a lot of applause when their turns came to get prizes.
      There will be another competition about this time next year, so if any of you are in the area and remotely interested in Scrabble, you should give it a try.

金曜日, 6月 25, 2004

A Misogynist Conversation

      This is most puzzling backhanded compliment that I have ever received:
(from a middle-aged, professional Japanese male acquaintance)

     "The reason that Western women are unsuccessful at dating Japanese men is because most Western women, except for you, have a strong personality."

     What do you mean I don't have a strong personality!?

     The same man made some other offensive comments, including his opinion that Japanese women who date foreign guys are "not the most desirable of Japanese women. If they didn't have something wrong with them, they could have a Japanese husband."

     I was stunned.

Dr. Seuss in Japan

      Thanks to my friend Musashi's good advice about using the Dr. Seuss tongue-twister book "Fox in Socks" to teach English pronunciation to Japanese students, I got some good results using Dr. Seuss in my English classes, and I started to wonder why he is not better known in Japan. When I first mention his name, everyone looks completely blank. Why?

      To answer this question, I started reading Dr. Seuss' authorized biography by Judith and Neil Morgan, "Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel." I was mainly looking for anything concerning Dr. Seuss and Japan. And I found some surprising things. First of all, he drew some political cartoons during WWII that negatively depicted Japanese-Americans. These cartoons are also mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Dr. Seuss. Could that be one reason why Dr. Seuss books aren't used here (while many other, less talented writers' offerings are) to get students interested in English?

      It's an interesting idea. But there's more. Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) actually spent time in Japan, including 3 weeks in Kyoto, after the war, on an assignment for Life magazine. His project was--get this--to visit schools in Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe and collect students' drawings. I will quote from page 137 of his authorized biography:

"Ted's assignment was to learn how the years of American occupation had changed the aspirations of Japanese schoolchildren. His Dartmouth friend, Professor Donald Bartlett, with close diplomatic ties to Japan, had arranged with teachers in Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe to have their students draw pictures of what they hoped to be when they grew up. About fifteen thousand drawings were submitted and Ted saw that Westernization had indeed invaded their minds."

      The biography goes on to comment that although relatively few of the drawings showed the students in kimono, the ones that did formed a high proportion of the ones published by Life magazine. Mr. Geisel was critical of the way that Life presented his findings, saying that the editor was "anti-Japanese" and "raped the article."

      On page 145, while describing how Mr. Geisel was inspired to write "Horton Hears a Who" in the fall of 1953, it says:

"The theme of the book--"a person's a person no matter how small"--had grown out of visits to Japanese schools, where the importance of the individual was considered an exciting new concept. Ted dedicated the book to his "great friend" Mitsugi Nakamura, a Kyoto university professor whom he had met through Donald Bartlett."

      I remember reading "Horton Hears a Who" as a young child, and I would never have guessed that it had anything whatsoever to do with Japanese schools. Was there some kind of subliminal programming in the rhymes that subconsciously drew me to a teaching position in what could be one of the very same Kansai-area schools he visited?

      All of that, and schoolchildren in the very same Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe fifty years later have never heard of Dr. Seuss, probably the most celebrated children's picture book author ever to write in English.

      In my research I also discovered some amusing Dr. Seuss parodies. I like "Fox in Socks, Prince of Denmark."

水曜日, 6月 23, 2004

Trip To China

     From August 1st I'm going to China for 3 weeks on Intrepid's "Roam China" Trip. I need to go to Osaka soon to get a travel visa. The Chinese consulate is only open 9-11:30 on weekdays. Could there be any more inconvenient hours? Should be worth it though...looks like so much fun.

火曜日, 6月 22, 2004

Shizuoka Translation Contest

     When I don't have anything else to do I try to work on my entry for The Shizuoka International Translation Competion. The deadline is December 10, 2004, and the grand prize is ¥1,000,000 and a year of study at a university in Shizuoka. There are also ¥300,000 and ¥100,000 prizes. Pretty nice. I don't think I'll win, but anyway it's something to do.

     Hamster bite update: it's healing but the skin around the bite feels kind of numb, as if all the nerve endings are dead. The bite marks are still visible and look purple around the edges. Must be the HAMSTER VENOM.

月曜日, 6月 21, 2004

ゆるやか vs. なだらか

バスの窓からみると(  )丘が続いていた。
A なだらかな B ゆったりした C ゆるやかな D ゆるい

     I came across this question in a book of Japanese practice questions. I felt fairly confident the answer was C, yuruyaka na, because I knew that it means "gently sloping" and the sentence roughly translated is "When I looked out of the bus window, I saw a row of ( ) hills." When I turned to the answers, though, I found that it is A, nadaraka na, a word I had never heard before. When I looked up nadaraka in the dictionary, it refered me back to yuruyaka. If yuruyaka means "gently sloping," nadaraka means "having a gentle slope." Yet for some reason, you can't say yuruyaka about hills or mountains, only about slopes or curves. What is going on?!
      To make matters more complicated, you can apparently only say "yuruyaka na tani" gently sloping valley, not nadaraka na tani, a valley with a gentle slope.

Silent Hill 4 - Settlers of Catan - Hamster Bite

     I pre-ordered Silent Hill 4 from Amazon.co.jp and it arrived yesterday (Sunday). It came with a bonus mini-disk, which I haven't tried yet so I have no idea what's on it. I was busy all day Sunday. First I went to my gaming group and played Settlers of Catan and a really boring game called Cosmic Encounter. They said it was the game Magic the Gathering was based on. It was sooooo painful. Then I went to my Chinese lesson. Yes, I'm studying Chinese a bit too. It's fun, since I'm still at the stage in Chinese where even the simplest converations are challenging. Anyway, I studied Chinese with my friend over coffee and then went home late, so I haven't had time to play Silent Hill 4 yet.
      The big question is, will I be able to play it at all? I'm on a couple Silent Hill mailing lists and I act like a big fan of the series, but the truth is I'm not as enured to evil horror games as all that. I kind of suck at them actually.
      I think the mist and low visibility in the first two Silent Hill games is really cool. From the screenshots of the 4th game, it looks surprisingly clear and realistic, and I wonder if it can be as scary if you can see everything. The plot of the 4th one sounds kind of scary though. Your character wakes up one day and finds himself locked in his apartment. Eventually he finds a hole in his bathroom leading to another world.
      Settlers of Catan is a German board game that came out about 10 years ago. It has been released with new package art in Japan. It's really easy to play, and it doesn't get bogged down in lengthy boringness the way Monopoly or Risk do. No matter what happens in the game, it's generally over in an hour or two.
      On Saturday my hamster, Zedrake, bit my finger really hard. All I did to provoke the attack was to pick him up and put him in another container so I could clean his cage. Blood spurted all over the tatami, reminding me of the gory scenes in Kill Bill. I love my hamster, but I never succeeded in taming him. So we're like two roommates who don't get along: I buy all the food and clean up after him, and he sleeps all day, acts grumpy, and tries to sever my finger with his pointy little teeth.
      Usually, instead of picking Zedrake up, I open his cage and let him walk into his hamster ball, which he does, and then I close the hamster ball and he runs happily around the apartment in it until I'm done cleaning the cage. But this time I thought I'd do something a little different. I'd just seen "High Fidelity," and you know that scene at the beginning where the kid, Marcus, picks up his pet hamster and puts him in the sink while he cleans the cage? I thought that would work with my hamster. But no.
      I was going to play Silent Hill, but after seeing so much of my own blood I didn't have the stomach for video game gore. Sorry. You'll have to wait until I run out of excuses to hear my impressions of the game I was so eager to play I pre-ordered it last month.

"Install," by Wataya Risa

      On February 20, 2004, Wataya Risa was awarded the 130th annual Akutagawa Prize at age 19 for her novel Keritai Senaka (A Back I Want To Kick), making her the youngest person to ever win the coveted literary prize. She also won the Bungei Prize at age 17 for her first novel, Install. Both are bestsellers.
      I'm excited about her right now because I read Install last week and I loved it! I just started reading Keritai Senaka. I can't believe how good Install is. I bought it half-price at a used bookstore not even expecting to like it that much, because I buy so many Japanese books and usually I just lose interest and give up after a few pages. But Install was different. Once I got past the first few pages (which were a little difficult) I started to really dig her writing style. When the main character woke up in her room after deciding to skip school for awhile and described the "harmful honey-colored" (yuugai na hachiiro) light, that was the point I started to really like the book. And it just got better and better.
      The first thing I noticed was the richness of her vocabulary. It's no surprise that her vocabulary is better than mine in Japanese, but there's something unique and sophistocated about the way she uses words. Although I found myself using my Japanese dictionary quite a bit, the extra effort was worth it because the words she used and the way she used them were really interesting.
      The second thing I liked was the absurd, yet plausible situations that occurred in the story. There was nothing that was impossibly unrealistic, yet the book was full of very funny situations. Like when the main character, a high school girl, receives a big box of underwear samples from her neighbor. That was really funny. And instead of going to school, she winds up in her neighbor's closet chatting on an Internet porn site every day. The novel occasionally touches on deeper social issues such as the university entrance exam system, the anonymity of the Internet, deception vs. authenticity, how to get yourself out of an emotional crisis (this is the meaning of the "Install" title; there's a parallel between re-installing a computer and re-starting your own outlook on life), the way children are exposed to explicit sexual content at a young age, and the weakening of family and neighborhood ties. The voice of the teenage character is exactly right. She captures perfectly what it's like to be 17.
      I was completely blown away by the quality of the writing in this book. I was hoping I wouldn't be disappointed by the ending, and I wasn't. It was satisfying. In retrospect I think the crisis moment of the plot occurred during Asako's cyberchat conversations with Seiji. When he asks "Who are you?" that question resonated on multiple levels. That's the important question, isn't it? The many deceptions of the main character were necessary for her to get herself out of the rut she was in, but ultimately her disguise wasn't as complete as she thought it was, and she had to return to her own true self.

New Blog

      Hi. Welcome to my blog. This will be a page for me to talk about my interests and keep in touch with friends and family in other countries. I was inspired by No-Sword's blog an interesting blog site about life in Japan, with both Japanese and English sections. Mine won't be as good as that, but at least I can give blogging a try and see what happens. I live in Japan too. If you are reading this and considering a job teaching English in Japan, by all means do it! It was the best decision I ever made.
      Topics I'll probably discuss: Japanese literature, vegetarianism in Japan, Japanese language study, places I go in Kansai, hamsters
      Likes: Japan, Japanese, literature, travel, languages, games, movies, small rodents, Wataya Risa, Silent Hill
      Dislikes: baseball, natto, war

      Yoroshiku ne.