金曜日, 7月 30, 2004

Dragon Quest/Warrior Games

...are more fun than most recent Final Fantasy games.
This person agrees with me:

5 of 13 people found the following review helpful:

Dragon Warrior 7 is better than Final fantasy 10, April 25, 2003

The day bought i bought dragon warrrior 7 i had final fantasy 10 so i played dragon warrior 7 and i was like yipee doodle day this game is better than final fantasy 10 so i ran over final fantasy 10 with my tractor.this games graphics are awesome,there the best graphics i've seen in my life ,the battle system is great i love this game so much i could marry it.my point of advice is buy it and you'll be a dragon warrior yourself.ye hah gidee up horsie.

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    Next, I perused Amazon for reviews of a fantasy novel I picked up at the used bookstore (Wantage) the other day. Opinions are divided about this one too - Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I haven't read enough yet to pass judgement, but so far it seems so generic that it will remind you strongly of any other fantasy you've ever read, be it Tolkien, Jordan, Goodkind, Eddings, or whoever. Anyway I thought this reader review was classically slack:

1 of 16 people found the following review helpful:

sucked, May 7, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
the book was awful even though i didnt really read it but from what i read and heard it was really bad

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木曜日, 7月 29, 2004

Engrish 4 U

    This morning walking down the street I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt proclaiming in big English capital letters:


    Once on the subway platform I saw a woman wearing a long flowing blue skirt with pleats and a menu for a pancake restaurant printed on it in garish white letters, with prices. This struck me as absurd. It would have been an elegant skirt without the IHOP menu on it. Though for all I know, skirts like that are fashionable in the U.S. too right now. Because I can be wrong sometimes about distinguishing between Engrish and international fashion. I thought all of those "JUICY" T-shirts I've been seeing lately were Engrish. Choose JUICY, In Search of JUICY--that's not real English, is it? Turns out Juicy Couture originates from the U.S., not Japan.

    There is a new coffee called "DRIVER" in the vending machine at the station by my school. Below a picture of a steering wheel, the English text on the can explains, "A brand new fine coffee for all drivers. Enjoy the taste and refresh your mind!" If this coffee is really for drivers, what is it doing in a subway station? The people who stop at canned coffee vending machines are pedestrians and passengers of public transportation. I think a legitimate driver would grab a coffee at a gas station or drive-through coffeeshop or something. Then it occurred to me that maybe it's a marketing strategy to appeal to us commuting to work by public transportation because we only wish we were driving. It must work by tapping into a subconscious collective fantasy to escape from the underground maze of urban transportation and hit the open road.
    Then again, maybe it's just meaningless English drivel like so much else.
    Lastly, I was looking in a Kobe souvenir shop for a souvenir for a friend. I saw a box shaped like a house with pictures of Beatrix Potter-ish animals cavorting on it. It was labeled Maple Cake. Below that, it said:

    Dear animals are also favorite delicious cakes.
    Using many materials selected carefully,
    the confectionery craftsman burned carefully and raised.   

    Not only did the cake not have any dear animals in it (carefully burned and raised animals), I also don't understand how it can be a maple cake without any maple sugar or flavoring in it. The ingredients are: "flour, egg, vegetable oil, granulated sugar, lemon juice, honey, baking powder (may contain milk)."
    I was thinking of getting it for my friend anyway as a joke so I asked the salesclerk (in Japanese), "How does this taste?"
    I expected him to reassure me that it was delicious, in which case I would feel no compunction about buying it for the Engrish laugh value, but instead he evaded the question. "We sell a fair number of them," he said cautiously.
    "I see," I said, still thinking about buying it.
    "If you want a really good cake, you're better off going to a specialty bakery. These cakes are for souvenirs, so the taste is not that good. Well, they're cheap, and you get what you pay for," he said, warming to his topic.
    "Oh!" I said, thinking it probably doesn't taste so good after all if he is willing to be this honest.
    "Well, it's not completely inedible," he laughed.
    I went home without buying the Maple Cake.

水曜日, 7月 28, 2004

Favorite Books in Adulthood - General Fiction

    The line between this and my science fiction list is perhaps a little blurry, since I'm putting 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale on here even though they're about future dystopias; on the other hand, I put Under the Skin on the SF list because of the aliens. So let's say for the sake of clarity that some of my favorites on the list below are speculative fiction that are sometimes considered science fiction, but are usually in the General section of the bookstore or library, and you can tell the difference because these books have no aliens.
    I'm going to save my favorite Japanese novels for a future list, otherwise several Japanese novels I read in English translation (The Tale of Genji, The Makioka Sisters, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) would definitely be in there. But it would make the list too long, so I'll do a separate one later.
    If the title is hyperlinked, click on the link to read it online.
   Let me know if you have any problems with the links, or more general comments.

1) Great Expectations
    Charles Dickens

    Brilliant, brilliant, and best of all, DARK. As a disillusioned young adult in a dark time, I related to it, and I thought the writing was perfect.

2) The Rainbow
   D.H. Lawrence

    This book touched my soul when I read it 10 years or so ago, giving me a great fondness for D.H. Lawrence. Unlike most of the books on this list, I didn't like it because it was clever or funny or insightfully well-written. It was more of a subliminal pull into a deep ocean of feeling.

    I love D.H. Lawrence's luxurious, sensuous prose. His fiction is full of characters with fluid, transgressive sexual identities, questioning their place in the world, religion, love, human relationships. The "rainbow" of the title is the rainbow bridging the gap between men and women.

3) The Handmaid's Tale
    Margaret Atwood

A feminist classic.

4) 1984
    George Orwell

    A classic for anyone, worth re-reading every 10 years or so; Orwell's concepts are so painfully true. I did feel depressed at the end, unable to sleep pondering his conclusions about human nature. After some thought, I decided that perhaps Orwell underestimated human nature too much; particularly the outcome of Winston and Julia's love affair, permanently altered by the events of the torture chamber, did not ring true for me.

5) Steppenwolf
    Hermann Hesse

"Welcome to the Magic Theater. For madmen only. Price of admission: your mind."

6) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    I love Sherlock. Especially the drug references. Not really. I love his old-fashioned detective mind.
    To be honest I should have put this on my adolescent list, since I went through my Sherlock Holmes phase in high school, but I forgot to list it. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, etc. are also all excellent.
    Why is Arthur Conan Doyle known as "Conan Doyle" in Japan? It annoys me that they inexplicably dropped the "Arthur". First names are NOT dispensable. This is who the kid detective cartoon character "Conan" is named after (not Conan the Barbarian, the first "Conan" reference that springs to my mind), together with Edogawa Ranpo (whose pseudonym is itself a Japanization of "Edgar Allen Poe"). I'm interested in Edogawa Ranpo, an influential writer of popular fiction, but I think he's to blame for the supremacy of the mystery novel in Japan over other forms of genre fiction. I would prefer that science fiction was more popular. But Edogawa left a legacy of mystery fans instead, and the Japanese SF writers were not so influential.

7) Mystical Paths
   Susan Howatch

    My favorite of Susan Howatch's curiously readable Church of England series. The main character of this one, Nick Darrow, is the most fascinating and charming of Howatch's creations. The plot concerns his suspenseful investigation of a friend's mysterious death.

8) Lady Chatterley's Lover
D.H. Lawrence

9) The Magus
    John Fowles

    Fowles is a skilled postmodernist writer. This cryptic, ambiguous novel is one of his earlier works. The protagonist reluctantly agrees to a job teaching English on a remote Greek island. There he meets a mysterious old man who tells him a fascinating blend of truth and fiction about his involvement in World War I and the identity of a beautiful young woman in his employ. The protagonist must search the very depths of his soul to discover what is true in this hall of mirrors. My favorite part is the fable "The Prince and the Magician," which is a simplification of the larger novel and appears near the end, by which time it seems very mysterious and resonant.

Click here to read the story "The Prince and the Magician," if that link doesn't work, click here.

    There are some John Fowles discussion groups on Yahoo, even one pretentiously named "The Magus Discussion," but to my disappointment these groups were inactive when I joined. The messages in the archives were mostly of the variety of "hello...is anyone there?"

10) The French Lieutenant's Woman
    John Fowles

    I also read The Collector and it's a bit hard to say which I liked better, but I'll go with this one since it has more characters and more substance to ponder over. The Collector is great, but after all it only has two characters. I read The French Lieutenant's Woman (afterwards referred to as the FLW) after reading Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, and the FLW was by far the better novel. The Crimson Petal had a promising premise but left me with an AWFUL taste in my mouth at the end. The ending was so icky I could no longer respect the characters. I think the Crimson Petal may have been inspired by the FLW, because the FLW is the classic postmodern out-of-context take on Victorian mores. The downside is that you can't really believe too much in the characters of either novel--the presence of the author is too intrusive--but once you get used to that, it's a dense, interesting, thoughtfully arranged masterpiece.

11) Chronicle of a Death Foretold
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    I only read this once and it was some time ago, but I remember it as being really good. And I recently got a copy from somewhere so I'll re-read it. Very cool. I should also read his other books.

12) Arrowsmith
    Sinclair Lewis

    Sinclair Lewis is one of my mother's favorite writers. He was almost the Dickens of American literature in his day, and now it's surprising how little his works are read. He was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
    All of his main novels (Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, and Arrowsmith) are good, but Arrowsmith is the least cynical of his creations. It is an inspiring story about a doctor named Martin Arrowsmith.

13) Babbitt
    Sinclair Lewis

   This 1920s satire of the vacuousness of our American popular culture still rings true in many ways. I am sure there are some biting quotes in this that would impress you with their applicability to the stupidity of our times, but it's been a good eight years since I read it, so you'll have to see for yourself. I read some readers' reviews on Amazon though and found that a lot of Amazon readers really don't like Sinclair Lewis, especially high schoolers who had to read this one for English class.

    The Wikipedia article on this influential satire suggests that Babbitt is rumored to be the source word for Tolkien's hobbit.

14) The Name of the Rose
   Umberto Eco

    This is an important modern novel, and the most accessible of Eco's works. It's a murder mystery set in a medieval abbey, but the plot is heavily weighted with philosophical and literary references, making it more dense with meaning than the average mystery. It's been about 8 years since I read it--I should probably read it again too.

15) Jane Eyre
    Charlotte Bronte

   I'm not really a Bronte or Austin fan --AT ALL-- but this is the one out of all of them that I actually thought was pretty good. I couldn't get through Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice, and I really don't know what all the fuss is about those, but you don't have to be a romantic heroine fan to like Jane Eyre because it has a good plot and interesting writing, and the character of Jane is more realistic than romantic. Perhaps for that reason, I had no trouble sympathizing with her throughout her adventures.

16) David Copperfield
    Charles Dickens

   I liked this classic bildungsroman for the scope and variety of the characters and the amusing portrait of 19th-century life. I felt the most kinship with Mr. Wilkins Micawber, a minor character who was perpetually in debt. I read this when I was very poor myself and worried about perpetual enslavement to my student loan debt, so I was really amused by some of the things he said. Here is one of my favorite quotes ever:

"The victim, from my cradle, of pecuniary liabilities to which I have been unable to respond, I have ever been the sport and toy of debasing circumstances."

-Mr. Micawber, David Copperfield
    Although there are many other characters in the book with many more speaking lines than Mr. Micawber, you will find that when the word "pecuniary" is used, he is always either the speaker or the subject of the sentence. Thus you can easily find the utterances of Mr. Micawber in an online text by searching for the word "pecuniary". Just for fun, we have:

pecuniary difficulties
pecuniary obligations
pecuniary liability
embarrassments of a pecuniary nature
a victim to pecuniary involvements of a complicated nature
Mr. Micawber's pecuniary affairs
pecuniary difficulties
pecuniary difficulties
pressure of pecuniary liabilities
the pecuniary part of this obligation
the pressure of pecuniary embarrassments
the pecuniary means of meeting our expenses
pecuniary nature
pecuniary liabilities
pecuniary liabilities
pecuniary liabilities
pecuniary advances
pecuniary aggrandisement
with respect to the pecuniary assistance enabling us to launch our frail canoe on the ocean of enterprise

(this is towards the end; as you can see we are nearing a resolution of his pecuniary difficulties)

pecuniary accomodation
'Mr. Micawber being now on the eve of casting off the pecuniary
shackles that have so long enthralled him'
pecuniary emolument
pecuniary liabilities
pecuniary liabilities

    Yes, there were 24 instances of the word "pecuniary" in this novel, and, bound by the pecuniary shackles that have so long enthralled me, I enjoyed every one of them. It's great when literature allows me to laugh at my own misfortune.

    Another unforgettable minor character is Uriah Heep, whose secret weapon is his bogus humility. This was hilarious and I think it would be especially funny to read again after coming to Japan.

    The airhead Dora Spenlow turned out to be an amusing character also, especially after David married her and expected her to know something about housekeeping, or cooking, or anything, despite her sheltered upbringing, but her vapid dialogue revealed that she was as clueless as a newborn infant.
    Observe her behavior in this passage. Jip is her little dog. David had just given her a cookbook with the hope that she might learn to do something useful for a change.
    But the cookery-book made Dora's head ache, and the figures made her cry. They wouldn't add up, she said. So she rubbed them out, and drew little nosegays and likenesses of me and Jip, all over the tablets.
    Then I playfully tried verbal instruction in domestic matters, as
we walked about on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, for example, when we passed a butcher's shop, I would say:
    'Now suppose, my pet, that we were married, and you were going to buy a shoulder of mutton for dinner, would you know how to buy it?'
    My pretty little Dora's face would fall, and she would make her
mouth into a bud again, as if she would very much prefer to shut
mine with a kiss.
    'Would you know how to buy it, my darling?' I would repeat,
perhaps, if I were very inflexible.
    Dora would think a little, and then reply, perhaps, with great
    'Why, the butcher would know how to sell it, and what need I know?
Oh, you silly boy!'
    So, when I once asked Dora, with an eye to the cookery-book, what she would do, if we were married, and I were to say I should like
a nice Irish stew, she replied that she would tell the servant to
make it; and then clapped her little hands together across my arm,
and laughed in such a charming manner that she was more delightful
than ever.
    Consequently, the principal use to which the cookery-book was
devoted, was being put down in the corner for Jip to stand upon.

    Dora's character was relaxing to me, making me think "Thank God I'm not an idiot."
    With Mr. Micawber and Dora, the book was a good self-esteem boost, making me feel like my own life wasn't so bad. The character that almost ruined it all for me though was Little Em'ly. I liked Em'ly at the beginning, which made her undeserved fate all the more bitter for me. Em'ly was the pretty, intelligent childhood friend of the eponymous David. Gifted with a skill for languages and a hunger to see the world, her potential was stunted in a small fishing town where she was expected to marry her cousin, a homely imbecile named Ham. She does what I would certainly do in her situation, run off with a dastardly rake, in this case David's sketchy friend Steerforth. Here is where things go horribly wrong. In a modern novel, I'm pretty sure she would be rewarded for her choice; who wouldn't prefer traveling around Europe with a scoundrel to an arranged marriage with your idiot cousin? She would have been better off throwing herself off a cliff than wasting her days in that inbred hick town. But Dickens didn't see it that way. He really had it in for poor Em'ly. Her reputation ruined, she returned home begging for forgiveness from her devastated family, but they still considered her a fallen woman, and the story came to a tragic end. As far as I'm concerned, she had absolutely nothing to apologize for. The life she left behind was no kind of life for her. Times have changed for women, and I guess I should be glad for the reminder, but I was disappointed in Dickens for taking the wrong side.
    The French Lieutenant's Woman takes up this same "scarlet letter" issue with some interesting twists, not all of them flattering to women either, but at least Fowles gave the woman in question the power to decide her own fate and assign meaning to her life as she chose. That's one difference between the 1960s when Fowles wrote the FLW and the 1840s when Dickens wrote DC, although both novels were set in roughly the same period.

17) The Edible Woman
    Margaret Atwood

    I'm fond of this amusing, surreal depiction of a young woman who suffers an identity crisis when she becomes engaged. It's one of Atwood's earliest works (besides her poetry) and it comes off rather dated, but it's enjoyable for the characters and dialogue.

18) The Sins of the Fathers
   Susan Howatch

    You often see this title as a big old hardback book for sale at a cheap price in used bookstores (I think I saw it the other day here in Kobe, in fact, either at Manyo or Wantage). If you do see it and you're in the mood for a long, character-centered novel, you should give it a chance. It kind of looks like an old romance novel sitting there in its faded glory, but it's more than it pretends to be. It's the story of a family told from the perspective of four different characters. The narration is masterfully shaded to bring out nuances of meaning in the characters' behavior. The use of T.S. Eliot's "Four Seasons" poem is well done. I've remembered this one fondly for many years.

19) The Cider House Rules
    John Irvine

    A good book (I haven't seen the movie) but depressing.

20) A Man in Full
    Tom Wolfe

   I'm not as crazy about this novel as my mother. The only favorite books we can agree on are Arrowsmith and Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis; Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky; Mystical Paths by Susan Howatch, and this one. Otherwise, our reading taste is markedly different, as she doesn't like science fiction, fantasy, books about talking rabbits, or postmodernism. This is not destined to be a classic read for generations to come, but the character of Conrad is really good, and for contemporary realistic fiction I admit it's well done.

    Was interrupted in writing this post (granted I have been working on it for HOURS now, even forgetting to eat lunch) by Mr. Y., a teacher asking me if I wanted to play shogi. He is truly a fearsome player. And I'm...a novice who has never won a game. So I feel very tense when I play shogi with him. Nevertheless I agreed. Now, after losing both games of course, I'm trying to regain my previous carefree blogging frame of mind. Where was I? Shogi is an awful drain of mental effort for me, almost unpleasantly difficult, but perhaps if I let him teach me there will come a time when I can play shogi competently. I'm lucky any teacher wants to play any game with me, of course, but if only it was a game I had some chance of winning!

    After the game I had to polish up the list a little and renumber it, so I delayed publishing it for another day. I can't believe how much time it took to do this list. I worked on it most of yesterday and today at school, in between shogi and paperwork chores for my school. Sorry for the length and the many digressions. Thanks for reading.

Used Foreign Book Store in Kobe

    Wantage Books in Shin-Kobe is a small used bookstore packed full of foreign (English) paperbacks. The prices are very good, mostly about 200-300 yen, and they have a lot of Lonely Planet books. I bought Lonely Planet Taiwan and one for Tanzania & Zanzibar. (300 yen each). My next vacations after China will probably be Zanzibar and then New Zealand, at the request of friends :) - someday I want to go to Bali and Taiwan too.
    To find it, take JR or the subway to Shin-Kobe station. If JR, go across the walkway to the big hotel building. If the subway, you're already at that building- walk outside and down the hill. After you walk downhill to the other side of the building, you should see a Yoshinoya and a Fuji film place across the street. Cross the street, and head down the narrow road to the right of the film place. You'll see a sign in English for the bookstore.
    Awhile back I told you to go to Manyo bookstore in Sannomiya for used English books--but they don't have much of a selection compared with Wantage, since Wantage is ALL English books. Wantage is also better because if they don't take your books that you want to sell, they will at least donate them to a charity, book sale or bazaar, while Manyo will just offer to throw them away for you.
    The problem with Wantage is that it closes early, 5:30 on weekdays, and it's only open M-F. After discovering its existence on the Internet I rushed there after school yesterday. They had a lot of great books I'd already read, and others I'd never heard of, so it was hard to know what to choose. I took a lot of time looking through them because they are so crammed into the bookstore it's hard to see all of them, and most of the rows of books have another layer of books behind them. I wound up getting maybe 10 books. I read while having a salad at the nearby Wendy's and while taking the train home, but when I got home all I felt like doing (I should have been packing and cleaning, but) was playing Dragon Quest 1 on Super Famicon. OK, I tried playing Final Fantasy 1 awhile back--sometimes I just miss those really old games--and it was really bad. Not fun. And I had a thief character in my party and then I discovered that the thief character is completely useless, because he never gets to steal anything! So I was utterly discouraged. But Dragon Quest 1, that is actually fun. It's REALLY old. Older than Final Fantasy 1. But it's better. It's FUN.
    I was just called away from writing this post by a phone call from the vice principal. He told me to come down to the principal's office. Sounds scary, but actually it was just the yearly ritual of bowing deeply while the principal hands me a piece of paper with my job title written on it. This is symbolic of renewing my contract for another year. The whole time he was talking I was just mentally preparing myself to bow low enough to be respectful to the most high-ranking person in the school. This is where those boring school award ceremony assemblies actually have some kind of use; you can mentally practice the procedure for receiving something with both hands and bowing.
    Every time I talk to the principal, he asks me if I've adjusted to life in Japan. That's probably all we'll ever talk about. I've been here now for exactly a year and two days. I adjusted in the first month. But that's okay. I always say yes and he smiles and looks pleased.

火曜日, 7月 27, 2004

Guin Saga

    The first five of Kaoru Kurimoto's epic Guin Saga novels have been translated into English. Recently I've been noticing this series at used bookstores because it's so incredibly long, conspicuously occupying 2-3 shelves worth of bookshelf space. I was amazed to find out they were all written by the same author. In the 1970s, author Kurimoto announced that she would create a new record for the longest series written by a single person. Her plan was to write a 100-volume epic fantasy series. Not one to give up having made up her mind, she has persevered through the years, creating a popular and successful series.  Volume 95 was published in Japan last June.
    I want to read these, but the used bookstores never have volume 1. I don't think it would be the same if I started with volume 32 or whatever.
    Has anyone read them? Please comment.

金曜日, 7月 23, 2004


Snowclone - a phrasal template. Now-famous Internet search examples include "The new black," "The hidden epidemic" and "I, for one, welcome our new * overlords". That is, you can do a search for any commonly-used phrase or grammar pattern and enjoy making the results seem significant in some way.

This catchy word was apparently cloned--um, I mean coined--by Glen Whitman on January 15, 2004.

I wondered whether any Japan-related snowclone searches would yield any interesting results.

First I tried "The Japanese love of *" on Google.

The Japanese love of small hand-held gadgets
The Japanese Love of Robots
The Japanese love of the abstract
The Japanese love of bathing in hot springs
The Japanese love of nature
The Japanese love of simplicity
The Japanese love of plants
The Japanese love of ritual
The Japanese love of American junk culture
The Japanese love of internal tourism
The Japanese's love of "long working hours, refusal to take vacation time, and marathon commutes to cramped housing." (But is this really love?)
The Japanese love of ceremony and obsession with predictable courtesies
The Japanese love of Anne of Green Gables
The Japanese love of water sculpture
The Japanese love of sound effects
The Japanese love of soft food
The Japanese love of eating contests and their superior munching technique (huh?)

...and so on. "Love of nature" seemed to come up a lot. Of course this search is in English and thus reflects only English speakers' stereotypes about what Japanese people love.

Notice how some of these are somewhat contradictory; "simplicity" and "nature" would seem to be at odds with "robots," "American junk culture," and "long working hours."

It would only be fair to search for The American Love of:

high-tech medicine
the land and its identity
the open road
athletic competition
the gadget
these lists
the marketplace of ideas metaphor
mail-ordering nearly everything
elective procedures
the mall
casual living
leaving the lights on all night
matched sets of bedroom furniture
white meat

...and so on. Plainly these lists are not terribly accurate; as an American I don't love most of those things. The only things I love on the list above are liberty, freedom, coffee, and perhaps neologism if it's cleverly done (after all, look at the topic of this post.) I like casual living and mail-ordering nearly everything, but I don't think I love them. As for beauty, I usually appreciate it but probably no more than the average person.

Other freshly coined words I like - cabbit and meh.

My feelings for most of the things on the American list are closer to hatred or indifference. To illustrate this, let's repost the list with my personal preferences included:

naming    -  depends on what you're naming, but I think naming is a necessity rather than a cultural obsession
automobiles -    nah, I don't like them
high-tech medicine -    it's OK I guess
the land and its identity -    Never having lived "on the land," I'm not really sure what this means, but I'm picturing Scarlett O'Hara on Tara, and that's not me.
the open road -    indifferent
athletic competition -    hate it
beauty -    ok in its place
liberty -    love it
the gadget -    indifferent to most of them
baseball -    hate it
killing -    hate it
competition -    most schools, jobs, and social groups are too competitive and I don't like it, but a little fun competition can be good
freedom -    indispensible for a happy life
these lists -    well, I don't know...
coffee -    love it
commerce -    meh
the marketplace of ideas metaphor -    meh
neologism -    like it
mail-ordering nearly everything -    I wouldn't say I love it
elective procedures -    it's important to vote
the mall -    hate it on principle, but tolerate it if I have to go shopping
violence -    hate it
casual living -    like it, but probably because I don't know how to live formally
leaving the lights on all night -    hate it
firearms -    I wouldn't want them in my house
matched sets of bedroom furniture -    ew, tacky
white meat -    don't eat it
bigness -    um...
boasting -    a bad habit

   Then I did a snowclone search for It's like *, only different! My favorites - see if you can imagine what these can possibly be describing:

It's like swimming, only different
It's like worms, only different
It's like chess, only different
It's like fun, only different
It's like science, only different
It's like parsley, only different
It's like December, only different
It's like Japanese, only different (in reference to the Greek script; more English speakers now are probably familiar with Japanese writing than Greek, you think?)
It's like 13, only different (About the number "31")
It's like reality, only different
It's like Chinese, only different (referring to Finnish)

I am trying to think of more Japan-related ones I could do that wouldn't promote stereotypes...let me know if you have any ideas. Thus ends my foray into pop linguistics.

木曜日, 7月 22, 2004

Favorite Books in Adulthood: Science Fiction

Read these books.

1) Beggars in Spain *+
    Nancy Kress

    I can't recommend this series enough. The writing is outstanding. The main character is genetically engineered not to need sleep, but her accidental twin is normal. The characters are great, and the author keeps introducing new plot twists throughout the series to keep things from getting stale.
    The novella "Beggars in Spain" (it is now a full-size novel) won the Nebula Award in 1991 and the Hugo in 1992.

2) Wild Seed *-
    Octavia Butler

    Butler didn't win for Wild Seed or Kindred, but she won best Novelette in 1984 (Nebula) and 1985 (Hugo) for Bloodchild. Bloodchild and the other stories she published in the same volume are also excellent. Wild Seed and Kindred have long been my favorites of her novels, partly because I was interested in the African American history she wove through them, but I suspect now that her portrayal of the slave trade in Wild Seed might have been rather unrealistic--it certainly didn't show the death, disease and hideous cruelty present in other works like Morrison's Beloved. Anyway, it's a brilliant novel and still one of my absolute faves. I met her in Seattle and had it autographed. She's a really nice person.

3) Dune *-
    Frank Herbert
Won the Nebula Award in 1965 and the Nebula in 1966.

4) Doomsday Book
    Connie Willis
1992 Nebula, 1993 Hugo.

5) As She Climbed Across the Table
    Jonathan Letham

6) Gateway *+
    Frederick Pohl
Won the Nebula in 1977 and the Hugo in 1978.

7) Kindred
    Octavia Butler

8) A Game of Universe
    Eric Nylund

    I have been wishing for years Eric Nylund would write another book like this. His other books are okay, but not as fun as this one.

9) Midnight at the Well of Souls
    Jack Chalker

    This book is cool...actually I read it not long before leaving to come to Japan so I didn't get a chance to read the whole series, and unlike the other books on this list I've only read it once. But yeah. The way the characters were reborn as different lifeforms on different worlds was kind of how I felt like I became a new person when I got to Japan. The plot is a little wacky, but it's well-written and original.

10) The Forever War
    Joe Haldeman
Won the Nebula Award in 1975 and the Hugo in 1976

This is a very famous SF novel that's also very good.

11) To Say Nothing of the Dog
    Connie Willis

    Not as serious as Doomsday Book, but with the same time travel laws and appearances by a minor character or two from the other book. The tone is light after you get past the opening sequence, and the book turns into something of a parody of Victorian manners, but the science fiction element is there too and it's amusing.

12) Under the Skin
Michel Faber

    The author didn't intend this to be science fiction but if you read it you'll see why it's not a very mainstream novel. Ethically it challenged me deeply and when I saw the opportunity to become vegetarian later I took it, not without thinking of issues raised in this disturbing, brilliant novel.

*+ This is the first book in a series and the whole series is really good.
*- This is the first book in a series, but...

Books that appear on other lists (The Dispossessed, Flowers for Algernon) were omitted (though those both won Hugo and Nebula awards too).

   I like science fiction; oddly, there's probably still a ton of good SF books I haven't read yet. Looking through the list of Joint Winners of the Hugo and Nebula Awards I'm struck by the fact that I haven't even heard of many of the authors. I feel like the ones I've really liked on the list above I discovered almost entirely by accident. Maybe that's because, with science fiction more than other genres, it's harder for me to know in advance what I'll like before I put some serious effort into reading it. Sometime that initial effort pays off, and often it doesn't. I wouldn't have thought I'd like Pohl's books because they have these intimidating hard sci-fi-type covers, but unexpectedly I really related to his writing. And I wouldn't have started reading them at all if I hadn't been out of money, looking for something to read in the free book box on the Microsoft campus where I worked briefly, and there was Pohl's The Far Shore of Time. There is a cafe in Kobe at Motomachi station which is called Eschaton and every time I see it I think of that book because Eschaton was the aliens' name for Judgement Day in that series of books. Now I'm just rambling so I'd better stop. Right now.

水曜日, 7月 21, 2004


        Last night Takashi, whom I met at a used bookstore in Sannomiya, took me to the Mandarake store in Osaka's Umeda. Mandarake is a chain with other stores in Nakano, Shibuya, Chiba, Nagoya, Namba, Fukuoka, and Shingu, as well as an online store. That store is a trip. Specializing in merchandise of interest to manga and anime fans, it also has some video game memorabilia and a karaoke stage. The Umeda store, not far from Umeda station, used to be a disco. The interior looks like a cave. There are signs at the entrance prohibiting photography inside the store. All the store merchandise is either wrapped in plastic or inside display cases. Some of the employees are dressed in cosplay costumes, and there is a place at the landing of the cavernous stairs where you can vote for your favorite employee cosplay.
       The first floor is full of old books and magazines--most of them manga. Since I'm not really into manga, for better or worse, most of the store merchandise is outside the sphere I can comment on knowledgeably. They have for instance old manga magazines carrying work by such famous names as Osamu Tezuka. I enjoyed going to the Osamu Tezuka museum in nearby Takarazuka, but at Mandarake everything is behind plastic or glass, so cool as it is to see the old magazines I'm not going to buy them just to look inside.
       My quest was to find gamebooks, especially foreign gamebooks translated into Japanese, but they had nothing like that (we asked). I pored through the small section of non-manga books and found some things I liked, though. The only proper gamebook I bought was an old Dragon Quest II one from 1987. I also bought a manga Takashi recommended with good pictures and a disturbing storyline, and a few cheap (100-200 yen each) RPG-related paperbacks. They turned out to be "replays," which Takashi explained is when an RPG runs in a magazine, and fans send in details of how they completed the game, and the most imaginative of the readers' games get published in these books. The format is kind of a dialogue between the gamemaster and the readers/players. Weird. I've never read one and I'm not sure if they're worth reading, but now I have a few of them.
      The clerk at the register was dressed up like an anime nurse. After I paid for my books, we went up the stairs and at the landing there was a form where you could vote for the store employee with the best costume for the day.
       On the second floor, the atmosphere of the store became even more unique. The first thing I noticed was a stage with karaoke equipment, and sure enough as we were shopping a few people (employees and customers) wandered up there to sing mournful renditions of old anime tunes. By the stage there's a "cosplay corner" with sketchy looking Sailor Moon costumes and fake school uniforms. I didn't spend much time looking at these because they kind of gave me the creeps. They had some brightly colored wigs and a booth to try them on if you want. None of the cosplay costumes were very cute or attractive, and something about them made me want to run in the other direction.
       Part of the floor was dedicated to amateur fanzines. Takashi is kind of into those, but I wouldn't even know what to look for. The other side of the floor was more interesting to me, because it was full of full of second-hand toys, games and video game memorabilia. They had a few shelves of old video games--really old games, with some rare RPGs that interested me. I have a super famicon I don't use much so I bought a few of the old super famicon games I wanted to try. My family will be interested to note that I bought a Shonen Ashibe (Goma-chan) Super famicon game. It looks adorable.
       They also had various anime-related collector items. One I noticed was a voice actor's script for a Doraemon episode. There were also plenty of old video game soundtracks, posters and strategy guides, new and old. At this point I noticed some young people who looked like tourists, and I wondered if they had come to Japan for no other purpose than to stock up on anime gear. There was also a store employee who was determined to speak English to me even though I always spoke to him in Japanese. Sometimes I resent the assumption that I even speak English. Takashi thought this guy went overboard too...when I bought my super famicon games he insisted on telling me the price and counting out my change for me in slow, faltering English, even though I had spoken nothing but Japanese to him and I could clearly see the price on the cash register. I wish I could say he was also in some goofy costume, but actually he was dressed normally.
       We had dinner at the vegetarian restaurant in Rokko and when I got home it was late. I'm glad I went, it was fun. The prices were not high so I feel like although I bought a lot I didn't really spend that much money.
If I ever go back I'll check to see if they have any old board games to play with my gaming group. They had one antique board game there yesterday that looked kind of cool, but it was missing some pieces and also it seemed to be a translation of an American game (a travel game I'd never heard of). Otherwise I might have bought it. If I buy an antique board game, I'd rather buy an original Japanese one. So maybe if I check back another time they'll have something cool like that.
       Everyone is lethargic from the oppressive heat, which makes it hard to sleep at night even with the aircon on. I like summer much better than winter, but the weather makes me feel slow. Physically and mentally. Yesterday I went outside and read my book near the vending machine, hoping some of the students would want to practice their English with me, but aside from some hellos it was pretty useless. That's my job. I'll try not to dwell on it too much or I'll get depressed thinking how useless I am here during the summer holidays. Better to just enjoy reading manga and using the Internet, I guess.

火曜日, 7月 20, 2004

3-Day Weekend

    My neighbor Josh agreed to take care of Zedrake for me while I'm in China. I made inquiries at some pet hotels, but the ones that accept small animals seem to be both expensive and far away. I was afraid I'd have to take Zed on a bus or a train, and I'm not sure how he'd cope with that, but Josh is right next door and I think he's fond of Zedrake. I'm really glad.
    It was a 3-day weekend due to Marine Day. On Friday I met my friends M. and J. for coffee, and later food. J. started imitating an annoying burikko customer she had at work. I asked what "burikko" meant. M. looked it up for me on her electronic dictionary. It said something like "burikko: a girl who pretends to be cute." How funny. I learned that burikko talk in a cutesy, affected way that grates on the nerves (you may have noticed them saying things like "arigato" and "ne" in a childish tone of voice) and smile a lot with their heads tilted to one side. There are some special poses associated with burikko, for example making an L out of the thumb and forefinger of your right hand and supporting your face with it, with the thumb under your chin. My friends told me that a bit of a burikko act is good to put on in front of your boyfriend, but too much burikko and everyone will hate you. M. pulled out her purikura collection and we were able to identify several of her friends who looked suspiciously like burikko, at least in front of the purikura camera.
    We had fun imitating burikko for the rest of the night.
    Yesterday I went out to Suzurandai for a dinner party and as I was about to head up the stairs to my friend's apartment this huge spider came running out at me. It was as big as a tarantula, but not one because the legs weren't fat and hairy. Monaco and I backed away to let it go past, and Mike started chasing it away from the entrance to the stairs with a broom. It was then that the spider started jumping. It was the funniest thing. It ran a few steps and then jumped, ran and then jumped, which looked really strange for such a huge spider. I couldn't stop laughing. Our friend told us later that she found a spider bigger than that in her house...gulp.
    On Sunday I made soba, buckwheat noodles which are eaten cold in the summer. Last year I thought ew, cold noodles, and never tried this particular dish. But the other day when I saw it in the supermarket I wanted some. If you buy the soup for it (tsuyu) at the store, it always has fish stock in it. I made my own version by reading the labels of the tsuyu at the store and approximating it without the fish. I cut up a package of fresh shiitake and boiled the pieces for a few minutes with some konbu dashi powder, then added soy sauce, mirin and vinegar. Then just strain the shiitake out before you serve it. You can eat it with ginger or wasabi paste and/or sliced green onions for extra flavor. It was good. I had it again for lunch today.
    You probably think that's an acceptable soba variation, but last night I started craving something really weird. We were on the train home from the party in Suzurandai and the subject was cinnamon. E. said that whenever she makes desserts here, Japanese people always comment on the cinnamon in disapproving tones. Apple cobbler, gingerbread, pumpkin pie, egg nog--oh, those have cinnamon in them, they taste like cinnamon, people say, as if they are either allergic to it or ethically opposed. I started thinking about how much I like cinnamon and then it hit me--cinnamon on tofu. One of those combinations that no one has probably ever tried in human history. So when I got home I tried some cinnamon sugar on some silken tofu, and of course I thought it was good. Am I crazy? I think it would be even better if you put it in a food processsor and made a pudding out of it. But I may be crazy or my taste buds may be seriously out of whack. I live alone so I have no one to check these things with, to re-synchronize my sense of taste with that of another person. Another American-Japanese fusion food I invented (this one is more for winter though) is azuki beans in oatmeal. Use canned sweetened azuki beans to sweeten your cooked oatmeal, and sprinkle crushed peanuts on top. This is the one I really want to promote and have named after me. It's delicious.
    The rest of the weekend was pretty uneventful. Oh, wait. I found a
previously undiscovered video shop and rented Blue Velvet, which I'd never seen before but I thought was cool due to the brilliant Lynch/MacLaughlin combination that made Dune and Twin Peaks so great, and several taped episodes of Atashinchi, which is the greatest show for learning Japanese and so easy to understand compared with other anime and TV programs. So I started watching all of the episodes of Atashinchi in order from the first one. On the third tape I had a surprise: Little Mikan gets a job in a supermarket giving out food samples, and when people say she looks young she protests that she's is in her second year of high school. Until that episode, based on her small stature relative to adults and general level of maturity, coupled with the fact that the target audience for this show is preschool aged, I had assumed she was still in elementary school. That makes Mikan older than my students. *Big shock.*


    A site with tremendous creative potential, as yet unrealized, holds a story with enigmatic power...

Choose Your Own Adventure Online Story Engine

    This is a site for fans of the children's gamebook series Choose Your Own Adventure to write their own stories imitating this grand tradition.
    I don't have high expectations for most of the stories on the website above, but I saw a couple good ones...check out The House and A Stoner Life.
    It's like Wikipedia, only different.
    I read online that the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series books 1-20 were translated into Japanese at one point. Like other gamebooks rapidly disappearing all over the world thanks to the popularity of more high-tech gaming media, they are almost impossible to find. I've never seen one, or any other translations of foreign language gamebooks into Japanese. Stay tuned as I descend further into the dungeon of unbelievable nerdiness and try to track down Japanese gamebooks.
    I became interested in gamebooks again recently when, while looking for something to do on the Internet, I came across Demian's Gamebook Website, an excellent site, and got sucked into reading his reviews of all sorts of gamebooks. In addition to the CYOA series, I used to like the Fabled Lands (Quest) series by David Morris and Jamie Thompson. My interests in games and books come together in this endangered and obscure media. Interestingly, the Internet has enabled a sort of reblossoming of gamebooking. In addition to the CYOA site, Demian's link page lists a plethora of other Internet resources, like Sryth (I recently started playing this, very playable and nice; the gamemaster is constantly upgrading and improving it) and Project Aon, where you can play the Lone Wolf gamebooks free online. What could be more delightfully retro than playing an online game that simulates a pen and paper game? Who needs a graphics engine when you have an imagination? I tried the Lone Wolf gamebooks on the online site and I'll tell you what bothered me about them. Sure, they're good games I guess. But the character you have to play is not very customizable. You have to play a man, and if you don't want to starve during your adventures you have to learn Hunting. I thought at the beginning I would play as a vegetarian. I deliberately chose not to learn the Hunting skill in favor of cruelty-free skills such as Healing and Animal Kinship. Unfortunately, the books aren't really vegetarian friendly that way. If you don't learn Hunting by the second or third book it becomes a distinct disadvantage, and you sometimes wind up eating food that is poisoned by your unscrupulous enemies.
    So now I'm in Japan and naturally I'm curious about what kind of gamebooks they have here. Here, where fantasy novels and SF-themed manga abound, and video games are ubiquitous, it seems like it would be fertile ground for gamebooking. My research on this topic is still in an early stage and I hope to discover more interesting information later, but lately I've been searching the used bookstores in my area to see what kind of gamebooks I can find in Japanese. It's no use looking in new bookstores or in any of the Amazon websites, they're out of print and always sold out. You have to look in used bookstores, where they're mixed in with the cheesy genre fantasy with anime-inspired covers. The gamebooks themselves are often based on video games, as if after playing the real game you might want to play a gamebook with the same characters. (Cheesy.) So far I've found Dragon Quest books (this is not the same as the English-language Dragon Quest, but another one based on a Japanese video game) and Toruneko's Dungeon (also a video game) gamebooks. One of the Dragon Quest ones was only 30 yen. Now I've found a genre of rare books that I can afford to collect.
    Just found out on Wikipedia that Dragon Quest Nintendo games were renamed Dragon Warrior in North America due to a trademark conflict with the '80s American Dragon Quest RPG. The article also noted that the games were so popular with children in Japan that the Diet passed a a bill outlawing the release of Dragon Quest games on days other than a Sunday or a holiday to prevent children from skipping school. Is it really that good a series? Outside of Japan, the Final Fantasy series is far more popular.
    So I was looking for gamebooks in the Manyo bookstore in Sannomiya. If you don't know this used bookstore, and you live in Kobe, you should go because it's the only used bookstore in Kobe I know of that accepts books written in English. You kind of have to search for the English section and what they have is pretty random, but English-language books are usually so expensive here it's worth a look. I bought a copy of Mrs. Bridge (good book) in English for just 200 yen there. It is on the 3rd floor of the Sunpal building in back of the Daiei by Sannomiya station.
    I had this list, several pages long, of gamebooks that have supposedly been published in Japanese, mostly during the '80s. I got the list off the Internet, but I have yet to find any of the books. They are just too obscure. Anyway, I met a guy there who questioned me and when I told him my mission and we exchanged keitai mail addresses, he mailed me that I should try looking at a store called Mandarake in Osaka. The name of this store appeals to me because it sounds like the fantasy plant beast mandrake (is this intended?) featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, yet it's also undeniably a Japanese word (meaning something like "Tenthousandfull.") The store apparently has a lot of manga and gaming otaku type used books. I'm off to this store tonight after work.

Scary Children's Books/ Unexpected Watership Down Connections

     These wouldn't be frightening to an adult. They aren't Silent Hill, or even Stephen King. A child of the pre-Goosebumps Books generation, I didn't go out of my way to read scary books, so this list will be very short.   I'll put these in chronological order of when I encountered them, NOT in the order of perceived scariness.

Sublist: Books That Scared Me When I Was A Child

1) The Tar Baby     Read it online! 
      The only story in fairy tale collections I had as a kid that scared me, although Andersen's The Snow Queen (read to me on the day my brother was born) was a little creepy also.  
      There is just something grotesque about a baby made out of tar and wearing clothes, especially since the rabbit inexplicably didn't realize the thing wasn't alive and kept talking to it, expecting it to answer. The story becomes even more nightmarish as the rabbit becomes stuck in the tar, unable to extricate himself. This story has been interpreted in various ways, often in terms of race relations, with the baby representing constructs of white culture that ensnare African-Americans. The term "tar baby" can also be used in business or literary contexts for any kind of trap, seemingly innocuous in itself, in which we become mired by our own efforts, which is particularly awful since we have only ourselves to blame. 
      I instinctively hated this story when I was very young, refusing to allow my parents to read it to me. Ironically, though, my very favorite book from later childhood on, Watership Down, is in many ways indebted to the Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox stories of Uncle Remus.  Consider Watership Down, Chapter 5, page 32 where El-ahrairah is introduced as a folklore hero who also happens to be a trickster rabbit: 

"Uncle Remus may well have heard of him, for some of El-ahrairah's adventures are those of Brer Rabbit."  
    In fact, Watership Down contains a reference to this very story.  In Chapter 48, Dea ex Machina, Doctor Adams spares Hazel's life and returns him safely to the downs, saying:  

"Yes, he has got something the matter with that leg, you see," said Doctor Adams.  "But he could perfectly well live for years, as far as that goes. Born and bred in a briar patch, Brer Fox."  

    "Doctor Adams" is clearly an appearance by the none other than the novel's author, Richard Adams.  This is kind of funny and rather postmodern, like when the author appears on the train near the end of The French Lieutenant's Woman. I know I'm getting off topic here, but I have one more thing to say about this.  I read a news article recently that said that Richard Adams, the author, is in favor of exterminating the rabbits living in his native area of English countryside. This would mean killing the very rabbits that inspired his phenomenal bestseller and catapulted him to fame. According to the article, the elderly Mr. Adams is sick of always being known as the rabbit guy. He thinks the rabbit population is way out of control. "If I saw a rabbit in my garden, I'd shoot it," commented the writer.
     It took me a few days to get over the shock.  The betrayal!  This is the danger that comes from taking an allegory too literally.  How could he of all people, their creator, betray Hazel and Fiver?  The present Richard Adams would not in fact be the kindly "Doctor Adams," but some more sinister figure, in league with the builders who destroyed the Sandleford warren in the hellish "For El-ahrairah To Cry" chapter.  It gives me shivers.

2) The Witches of Worm
    Zilpha Keatley Snyder 

     Snyder was one of my favorite children's book authors. A prolific writer, she won Newbery awards for The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid, and The Witches of Worm, and she is still writing today. I think I read all her books that were available in my childhood, including her very decent fantasy trilogy beginning with Below the Root. Although several of her books deal with supernatural and occult themes, The Witches of Worm is the only one that stands out in my mind as being really creepy. It is about a girl named Jessica who rescues a hairless blind kitten. The kitten, whom she names "Worm," is actually a kind of demon. The atmospheric, suspenseful writing makes this an absorbing, unique story.

3) The Doll House Murders 

      A girl named Amy is staying at her aunt's house, where her great-grandparents were murdered. In the attic, she finds an old dollhouse that is an exact replica of the house where she is staying. The dolls move to new positions every night, re-enacting the events of the night of the murders.  Kind of frightening for a kid.

4) Rosemary's Baby  

      So was this. I think I got both these books at my elementary school library.

5) Frankenstein     Read it now!
    Mary Shelley 

     For some reason this was the only book of the five that I never finished. That seems strange in retrospect because I loved Mary Shelley and Frankenstein isn't even that scary, though it is a little hard to read compared with the others. I remember reading biographies of Mary Shelley and giving a presentation on her life for a class in 8th grade. After that I tried reading Frankenstein, but I put it down in the middle when the monster suggests that Dr. Frankenstein make him a bride. The creepiness had built up gradually over many chapters and suddenly I just couldn't read any further.  Yet I continued to idolize the author for her romantic, tragic life.

   I am trying to understand what scares me and desensitize myself to it so that I can finish playing Silent Hill. That game (yes, I'm still on the first game) is like a scary book that you can't bear to read for long periods of time because the tension is unbearable. But I've never actually read a book that was that scary. Even scary movies I can generally watch all the way through without constantly pausing them to catch my breath and remind myself of reality. Not so with Silent Hill games, making them an irresistable challenge to me, but also driving me crazy in the process. Maybe if I go back and finish Frankenstein, I'll have the strength to continue.

金曜日, 7月 16, 2004

Favorite Books in Adolescence

1)  Till We Have Faces 
    C.S. Lewis 
  Kind of a twisted fairy tale, based on the myth of Psyche and Cupid.  I loved this book in high school.  It's very profound.
2)  Crime and Punishment
  Fyodor Dostoevsky 
  Near the beginning of my Russian Literature phase, I loved this book. I was 14. I guess it appealed to the alienated loner in me. I haven't re-read it since.
3) The Odyssey

  I had the verse translation by Robert Fitzgerald.  It's beautiful. I memorized the first few pages because they were so fun to say.  I read it on my own, but later I read Fitzgerald's translation of The Iliad for my World Lit class.
4) The Brothers Karamazov
  Fyodor Dostoevsky 
  Also very profound, with good characters.
5)  The Fountainhead 
   Ayn Rand 
  You must read this. An exciting novel of ideas. 
6)  The Dispossessed  
      Ursula K. LeGuin   
   I read a lot of LeGuin's science fiction and fantasy novels. The Dispossessed is still my fave. It's a utopian science fiction novel with  many interesting ideas and characters I grew to love.  Only one thing bugged me:  Shevek, a scientist on an anarchic planet, learned a foreign language in 6 months by shutting himself up in his room with a dictionary, a grammar book and a couple books written in the language.  He didn't have any real people to talk to, yet he was able to communicate when he went to the new planet. I was struggling with Japanese for years and years--and years--and I knew this was unrealistic. As much as I loved Shevek, I resented him for that easy victory. 
7) Clan of the Cave Bear 
  Jean Auel 
8)  Julie of the Wolves
   Jean Craighead George
  I liked the survival adventure genre at that age - Julie of the Wolves is one of the best.   
9)  Valley of Horses 
      Jean Auel
  I also liked Jean Auel's books because it was fun to see how Ayla survived in the wild - especially in Valley of Horses when she lived alone in a cave for years.  She gathered many interesting plants and tamed and hunted dangerous wild animals. I liked imagining how I would pull that off. 
10) Flowers for Algernon  
    Donald Keyes
11)  The Grapes of Wrath 
       John Steinbeck

12)  Maia 
       Richard Adams 
  I read this 1000 page + epic fantasy novel several times when I was about 13-15. I'm surprised to see on Amazon that it's now out of print. The paperback copy I had in high school was so huge and flimsy it fell apart quickly and I had to re-read it in coverless sections. Although all the explicit sex certainly makes this title memorable, it also had a good story and was compellingly written.   
13)  Romeo and Juliet
       William Shakespeare
14)  A Tale of Two Cities
       Charles Dickens
    We read these two (Romeo and Juliet and Tale of Two Cities) in 9th grade English. I liked them a lot then, but I think I was just impressed by them because it was the first Shakespeare and Dickens I ever read. It was years before I got around to reading A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield.  My favorite now is Great Expectations.    

水曜日, 7月 14, 2004


    An enkai is a workplace party in Japan. Although the atmosphere is rather formal to call it a "party," there is a lot of drinking. It's usually at a restaurant that serves dainty portions of attractively displayed Japanese food, and you sit on the floor--sitting crosslegged is not allowed, unfortunately. Another interesting feature of enkais that I learned recently is that the highest-ranking person sits farthest from the door. So in the typical company, the CEO would sit farthest from the door, and that way the kimono-clad serving staff know to serve everything to him first.
    We're teachers, though, and presumably equals, so at every enkai I've been to (quite a few now) with the teachers at my school, we draw numbers at the door to get our seating assignment. Why can't we sit where we want? Oh no, then we might actually sit by someone we want to talk to. The idea is that you're supposed to socialize with people you don't normally get a chance to talk to at the office. It is a must for workplace relations.
    Everyone is supposed to eat exactly the same thing at an enkai. They are nice about bending the rules for vegetarians, though. My school calls in advance and orders a vegetarian meal just for me before the event. My friend Fi who doesn't like fish told me her school does the same thing for her. So they are flexible in that way, and they've never been unpleasant to me about it. But it's definitely a cultural difference. Even if I weren't vegetarian, I wouldn't like having no choice in the matter. Where's the fun in that? At the workplace dinners I went to in the U.S., ordering was part of the process of getting to know each other. Also, we ate sushi sitting on chairs at a table, which seems impossibly quaint and far-away to me now. My farewell dinner before coming to Japan was at a sushi bar in my hometown, which makes a convenient point of contrast for me when I go to enkais here. The conversational topics are basically the same--the usual workplace gossip and polite chit-chat--but the rules are different.
    They never have coffee at these places; they serve you beer, sake, and tea, in that order, whether you like it or not. The drinking etiquette is highly developed. It's well-known that in Japan you can't pour your own drink but must wait for someone to pour it for you. When you notice your neighbor's drink is low, you must refill it. That way, you can tell who the pariah is at your office by observing whose glass is empty. Everyone makes a big fuss over the sake. There is just one kind of beer and just one kind of tea, so the many different varieties of sake on the menu always provoke an excited discussion. Should we get this kind or this kind? Never mind that they taste pretty much the same.
    An enkai wouldn't be complete without a toast and a few more unnecessary speeches. The enkai I went to last night was all women (gender segregation again) and I was struck anew by how few full-time teachers there are at my school. In addition to the female teachers, the female office staff and any woman who has ever worked at the school in any capacity was also invited to the dinner last night. On my left was a woman I'd never seen before who left the school 12 years ago if I heard correctly. On my right were two women of the office staff whom I didn't know too well, and one teacher I get along well with. After an initial awkwardness, we had a pretty good conversation. Towards the end of the evening, we were all staring at a teacher at the next table--or rather, her feet. She had risen to a kneeling position, and we had a clear view of her glittery stockings peeking out under her long dress. At first I thought everyone was staring at her sparkly stockings. And I thought they were pretty cool. This teacher, Ms. K., is always pretty and fashionable, and I like her sense of style. But then it turned out that the others were impressed by her silver anklet.
    I must have seen hundreds of anklets in my life, so I confess I didn't even notice it until the other women at my table started talking about it.
    "You can say mimiwa for earring and udewa for bracelet, but you can't say ashiwa for anklet," remarked Ms. M, the teacher at my table. (As in the rest of this post, all conversations are translated from Japanese.)
    "That's because sukiyaki in English is still sukiyaki. Anklet in Japanese is still anklet." explained one of the other women.
    They complimented Ms. K. on her anklet, and she walked out with us. On the way, though, she explained that she had to stop at a bakery on the way home to get a cake for her husband.
   "Erai ne," said one of them--it sounded strange to hear this said about buying a cake--usually it means something like "I admire you." It took me a minute to figure out that it was her thoughtfulness to her husband that was considered admirable.
   Ms. K. disappeared into the bakery. We continued to the subway station. "Ms. K.'s husband eats cake twice a week," Ms. M. confided to me. "Don't you think that's too much?"
    Shortly afterwards, Ms. K. caught up with us. "Your husband eats cake twice a week, was it?" Ms. M. asked.
    "Four times a week, actually."
    "What about the other days?" I asked. "What does he eat for dessert?"
    "On the other days...I guess he falls asleep before dessert."
    We boarded the subway train. We started talking about health and weight. They all have those scales that measure body fat. I was quiet because I don't have one. One of the office women thought I didn't understand the conversation based on my silence and tried to draw me in by asking if I understood the Japanese words for body fat and aojiru, a health drink made from the juice of green vegetables. Of course I understand these words because health-conscious people talk about them constantly. So I told her I understood it already. But I had to ask about the next word that came up, kurosu. It sounds like the English word clothes or perhaps cloves, so I was momentarily confused. She puts cloves in her aojiru? How would that taste? I wondered. But it means black vinegar, a health food fad item.
    "I drink black vinegar every morning. I mix it with aojiru." Ms. K. proclaimed.
    "Erai ne," murmured the others. "I could never do that."
    "I have it delivered to the house in bulk," said Ms. K.
    "How about your husband? Does he drink it too?"
    "Him? No, he only likes sweet things. He eats a lot of cake. Sometimes I ask him, 'What do you want for breakfast, honey? Toast or cake?' and he'll always have the cake. I caught him eating shuu creme (cream puff pastry) for breakfast once. Shuu creme and coffee. While I have black vinegar and aojiru."
    I can imagine their breakfast table.
    "But he's not fat?"
    "No, he's thin actually. Men are so lucky."
    I tried bringing up my health food bias of organic food, but nobody cared. Black vinegar is in and organic produce is out, I'm afraid.
    That's the end of my story. It's not too exciting, I know, but I wanted to cover the topic of enkai for my blog readers back home. Now I want to back up a bit and talk about what vegetarians actually get served at enkai-style traditional restaurants. It's not like any other vegetarian food you might have experienced elsewhere. Japan doesn't really have a vegetarian cooking tradition anymore, the celebrated monastery tofu dishes notwithstanding. So it's always fun to see what they come up with. Here are a few of the usual suspects...

    Yuba - this stringy soy processing by-product is tofu's answer to string cheese. It doesn't have much taste. It's mostly texture. It often appears in place of one of the fish dishes.

    Vegetable tempura - when you're lucky, a plate of this appears near the end of the meal. Sometimes they serve it with a mixture of matcha and salt to dip it in, yummy.

    Bland tofu and vegetable dishes - with a light soy sauce flavor, these are fairly tasteless and unsatisfying. After eating these and taking the train home, I'm invariably starving by the time I get back and find myself eating again as soon as I step in the door. Did they actually contain any calories? Or were they just decorations in the shape of food conjured by some wily sorcerer?

    Konnyaku sashimi - This is one of my favorites. I think it's so funny. Other countries have the garden burger and the tofu turkey, but Japan has no need of those. If you don't know konnyaku, it's a transparent, gelatinous, non-caloric food made from a kind of potato starch and used as an ingredient in many Japanese dishes. Served in thin slices with soy sauce and wasabi, it looks and tastes a lot like raw fish. Well, the wasabi helps.

    Three things floating in a tasteless soup - served in a fancy lacquered bowl with a lid, this soup is missing the fish stock that would normally flavor it, so it's basically small boiled objects floating in a bowl of hot water. Last night the three items were a single shiitake mushroom; a single slice of negi (Japanese green onion), and a piece of tofu cut in the shape of a maple leaf.

    Miso-flavored eggplant or tofu dishes - I like these. You can never go wrong with miso flavoring. Last night there was something flavored with yuzu miso, a heavenly combination. Yuzu (the English translation is "citron," but it's one of those things I don't think we have back home) is one of my favorite flavors, along with coffee, matcha, and lychee. You can put yuzupon cooking sauce on any bland Japanese vegetarian food and it becomes tasty as if by magic. I often use it when cooking at home. There are also other kinds of ponzu sauce that are usually ok for vegetarians--aji-pon and lemon-pon are good too. I like to make vegetarian udon using yuzupon in the broth instead of fish stock. Now that I know about the existence of yuzu miso, I need to learn to make something with it at home. It was the only really tasty thing in the whole dinner.

月曜日, 7月 12, 2004

A Relaxing Week

    Looks like it's going to be a relaxing couple of weeks without any major challenges. There are no more classes, although the students are still around. I walked around the school a bit earlier to see many of them zealously pursuing their Club Activities. I could hear the ubiquitous strains of music of the brass band and chorus clubs. I saw the tennis team playing tennis, the swim team swimming, and the badminton, basketball and gymnastics teams practicing in the same crowded gym. I talked to one student, who was "embarrassed" to talk to me, but everyone else was too busy.
    With this blog and my other projects, I no longer have trouble killing time, so I'm finding the break from classes relaxing.
   Last Thursday after going to Osaka, I visited my friend S. in Sanda and we went to "Nihongo Salon" there. I'd heard of this before but I didn't really know what it was, and when I saw many familiar faces coming in I wondered, "How can people of such different ability levels in Japanese be in the same Japanese class?" --because there really were people of all levels there. Actually, though, it's not a class, but rather a classroom meeting place where volunteer Japanese tutors come in and tutor learners one-on-one in conversation at whatever level is appropriate. At the end, the tutors have a meeting where they discuss problems that have come up and their strategies (S. wanted to stay and eavesdrop to hear them talking about us but I wasn't comfortable doing this, so we left) and after that everyone generally goes out for a friendly drink together. It was a sociable, positive atmosphere and I wish it was a little bit closer to me because there's no way I could go to Sanda every week. It cost me 1000 yen each way on Kobe Dentetsu, absurd considering you can go to Osaka for 390.
    Of course, there are opportunities for language tutoring in Kobe. I have language exchange partners. If I wanted to, I could get a volunteer tutor at KICC. But there's something appealing about the semi-structured framework of Nihongo Salon.
    Yesterday I hosted the monthly game meeting at my apartment. It was so-so. Settlers was fun as always (somehow I have a reputation for being "evil" at that game, and the guy Misa brought to introduce me to began to hate me when I continually set the Robber on him) but Cranium didn't hold everyone's interest after the first hour. Some people in the group are leaving to return to their countries after I've barely had a chance to get to know them. M., who is going back to Seattle, told me "goodbye...keep on being a smiling evil genius." I said "Thanks, likewise," but he said "I'm not smiling."
    "And he's not a genius." said his friend.

I Don't Remember Why I Liked These Books So Much

These books were among the most often re-read of my childhood collection, but why did I like them so much? The reason escapes me.

1) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
   E.L. Konigsburg

   This is not a bad book. In fact, it's pretty well-written, but now it escapes me what exactly the point was. Recently I rented The Royal Tannenbaums. Early in this angst-filled movie about child prodigies in a dysfunctional family, there is a nod to this modern classic of children's literature when two of the children run away to a museum. Is it a symbol for identifying more with the intellectual world of the mind than with your parents? The intellectual kids of this book and The Royal Tannenbaums have a lot in common in that respect, but most kids these days have more pressing problems to worry about.

2) Harriet the Spy
   Louise Fitzhugh

    I think I re-read this a lot just trying to figure it out. Many aspects of Harriet's life in an upper-class New York family made no sense to me. What is an egg soda? What's a dumbwaiter? Why did the rich woman want to stay in bed all day? Why did Harriet have a nanny, and why did she need someone take care of her when she was already, what, 12? It intrigued me, but ultimately it's a flawed book that is becoming more fatally dated with each passing generation. The recent movie version did nothing to revive the popularity of this dying children's classic.

3) The 100th Thing About Caroline
    Lois Lowry

    Yeah, I re-read this a lot and liked it, my favorite of Lois Lowry's, probably because I identified with the main character, Caroline. But the plot had nothing important or deep about it, as far as I can remember. Why did I like it? I may never know.

4) The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    Beverly Cleary

    I was fond of this story about a mouse. It was pretty light, without the deeper undertones of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, though, so I don't feel like it justifies a place on my favorite book list.

Favorite Nonsense Verse from Alice

'I'll tell thee everything I can;
There's little to relate.
I saw an aged aged man,
A-sitting on a gate.
"Who are you, aged man?" I said,
"and how is it you live?"
And his answer trickled through my head
Like water through a sieve.

He said "I look for butterflies
That sleep among the wheat:
I make them into mutton-pies,
And sell them in the street.
I sell them unto men," he said,
"Who sail on stormy seas;
And that's the way I get my bread--
A trifle, if you please."

But I was thinking of a plan
To dye one's whiskers green,
And always use so large a fan
That they could not be seen.
So, having no reply to give
To what the old man said,
I cried, "Come, tell me how you live!"
And thumped him on the head.

His accents mild took up the tale:
He said "I go my ways,
And when I find a mountain-rill,
I set it in a blaze;
And thence they make a stuff they call
Rolands' Macassar Oil--
Yet twopence-halfpenny is all
They give me for my toil."

But I was thinking of a way
To feed oneself on batter,
And so go on from day to day
Getting a little fatter.
I shook him well from side to side,
Until his face was blue:
"Come, tell me how you live," I cried,
"And what it is you do!"

He said "I hunt for haddocks' eyes
Among the heather bright,
And work them into waistcoat-buttons
In the silent night.
And these I do not sell for gold
Or coin of silvery shine
But for a copper halfpenny,
And that will purchase nine.

"I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,
Or set limed twigs for crabs;
I sometimes search the grassy knolls
For wheels of Hansom-cabs.
And that's the way" (he gave a wink)
"By which I get my wealth--
And very gladly will I drink
Your Honour's noble health."

I heard him then, for I had just
Completed my design
To keep the Menai bridge from rust
By boiling it in wine.
I thanked him much for telling me
The way he got his wealth,
But chiefly for his wish that he
Might drink my noble health.

And now, if e'er by chance I put
My fingers into glue
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
Into a left-hand shoe,
Or if I drop upon my toe
A very heavy weight,
I weep, for it reminds me so,
Of that old man I used to know--

Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow,
Whose hair was whiter than the snow,
Whose face was very like a crow,
With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,
Who seemed distracted with his woe,
Who rocked his body to and fro,
And muttered mumblingly and low,
As if his mouth were full of dough,
Who snorted like a buffalo--
That summer evening, long ago,
A-sitting on a gate.'

-Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There Text courtesy of the Gutenberg Project

金曜日, 7月 09, 2004

Favorite Books in Childhood

1) Watership Down
    Richard Adams

   My favorite book since age 10.

2) The Chronicles of Narnia
    C.S. Lewis

   My favorites were "The Magician's Nephew," "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," and "The Silver Chair."

3) The Westing Game
    Ellen Raskin

   This book rocks.

4) The Adventures of Pinocchio   Read it online!
    C. Collodi

My favorite book when I was very young (pre-Watership Down and Narnia).

5) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland     Read it online!
    Lewis Carroll

6) Through the Looking-Glass (And What Alice Found There)     Read it online!
    Lewis Carroll

    Everyone knows Alice, but have you read the originals lately? It's worth reading for the puns alone. I also really like the nonsense verse, particularly Jabberwocky and the poem about talking to an aged man sitting on a gate (see next post). I've read the Japanese translation, and unfortunately most of what I like so much about Alice is untranslatable. How can you translate Jabberwocky? I can't even give a coherent explanation for "slithy toves" or "mome raths." But somehow it's brilliant.

7) Bridge to Terebithia
    Katherine Paterson

    This contains a reference to teaching English in Japan. Do you remember it? The author must have had a JET-like experience way back when.

8) The Changeling
    Zilpha Keatley Snyder

9) The Headless Cupid
    Zilpha Keatley Snyder

10) Ratha's Creature
    Clare Bell

11) Clan Ground
    Clare Bell

   These are two unusual fantasy novels about prehistoric wildcats who discover fire.
We named one of our cats Fessran after a character in Ratha's Creature.

12)The Phoenix and the Carpet     Read it online!
    Edith Nesbit

   Also enjoyed Edith Nesbit's other books, especially the others in this series about time-traveling siblings. Was quite impressed that they are all available online through the Gutenberg Project.

13) The Little Princess     Read it online!
    Frances Hodson Burnett

    This is so much better than you might expect. The movie versions do it no justice.

14) Searching for Shona
    Margaret J. Anderson

   Love this book.

15) Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    Robert C. O'Brien

   Love this one too. This makes a good pair with Flowers for Algernon, on my adult favorite book list.

16) To Nowhere and Back
    Margaret J. Anderson

   A beautiful, poignant book, now out of print.

17) Daughter of the Empire
    Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts

   Loved this book with its intelligent heroine outwitting powerful rivals in an awesome fantasy setting.

18) Baby Island
    Carol Ryrie Brink

   The author of Caddie Woodlawn also wrote this delightful desert island adventure story.

19) Of Nightingales that Weep
    Katherine Patterson

    Set in Japan in the 12th century during the Genpei wars, this is the only book about Japan that I read as a child. It didn't exert any influence on me to study Japanese, but I enjoyed the story and the characters. Paterson, who is best-known for her award-winning Bridge to Terebithia, wrote a few other young adult historical novels set in Japan, such as The Master Puppeteer and The Sign of the Chrysanthemum. This is the only one of her East Asian novels I related to though. The scene when the young emperor is drowned is particularly memorable, and I appreciate the fact that it's real Japanese history. The ending was a bit puzzling to me as a child, but when I re-read it when I was a little older, I thought it was cool that it was not the typical romantic ending.
    I don't enjoy Japanese historical fiction too much usually. It almost always bores me, whether it's in Japanese or English. The fact that Paterson succeeded in making the topic interesting-- in English --for young readers --is pretty remarkable and you've got to give her credit for trying to make a difficult subject accessible.

20) The Egypt Game
    Zilpha Keatley Snyder

21) Lizard Music
    Daniel Manus Pinkwater

22) Animal Farm     Read it online!
    George Orwell

23) King Solomon's Mines     Read it online!
    H. Rider Haggard

This thrilling adventure story was great escapist reading.

24) Mara, Daughter of the Nile
    Eloise McGraw

    I read this at about the same time as Daughter of the Empire. They both have main characters named Mara and "Daughter" in the title, so I sometimes got confused when I remembered them later. Anyway, they are both exciting books with good female protagonists.

25) Figgs and Phantoms
    Ellen Raskin

    This is a bit bizarre and readers should probably start with The Westing Game instead. I enjoyed all of Raskin's books, though, and this one deals with some deep issues (namely, death). There are some witty, charming touches once you get used to all of the obscure family lore.

木曜日, 7月 08, 2004

Shogi Trivia

      I'm reading a manga about shogi. As you probably know, shogi is the chess variant played in Japan. The manga, "Secrets of Shogi", (将棋の秘密), is full of surprising/possibly apocryphal bits of random information about this game. If you're interested, here is what I've learned so far.

      -The oldest extant shogi game pieces are from the 11th century, Heian period. They were excavated in 1993 from Kofukuji Temple in Nara. The game pieces had the same characteristic five-sided shape as they do now.

      -China, Korea and Japan are the only countries that use kanji characters on their game pieces. The Chinese game pieces are round, the Korean game pieces are 8-sided, and the Japanese shogi pieces are 5-sided with a pointed end facing up. Although shogi pieces resemble those other games in appearance because of the kanji, the rules of shogi are the closest to the Thai game of Makruk. The Chinese chess variant includes such landscape features as "castles" and a "river" (sections of the board with special movement rules).

      -The five-sided shape of shogi pieces apparently has some significance in Japan. The manga illustrates that it is the same basic shape as ema (prayer cards, often with pictures of Chinese zodiac animals on the front, found outside shrines), omamori (protective amulets you can buy at temples and shrines) wooden cards travelers used to carry called tefuda, and houses (think of the front of a simple house line drawing, with a sloping roof).

      -The biggest version of shogi (and the biggest playable chess variant in the world) is a 15 x 15 grid board with 130 total game pieces. This was not the biggest shogi set ever created, however. The book shows pictures of massive shogi sets, the purpose of which I can scarcely begin to imagine. The Dai Dai Shogi (Big Big Shogi) set is 17 x 17, with 192 pieces, while the Maka Dai Dai Shogi set is 19 x 19 with 192 pieces. The biggest is Tai Shogi (泰将棋), 25 x 25 spaces, 364 game pieces. The reason for this gratuitous upsizing is unclear.

      -Shogi is the only chess variant in the world that allows you to reuse the pieces you capture from your opponent. This is possible because the opposing sides are not identified by color, but only by the direction they are facing.

      -Professional shogi players are employed by a shogi association based either in eastern or western Japan, depending on where they live. In addition to a base salary, which comes from sponsorships by newspapers, TV networks, and other companies, they can win as much as ¥32,000,000 on a single game.

      -The lines on a shogi board are cut with a katana blade.

      -The feet of a traditional shogi board are shaped like the flower called kuchinashi. This is a pun, because kuchinashi also means "no mouth". The "no mouth" is a reminder that people watching the game better keep their mouths shut. Naturally, shogi players hate it when you interfere and give advice while other people are playing.

      -Most shogi boards that I've seen here in Japan are not the flat table-top kind we're used to using for board games in other countries. Instead, the game board itself forms a wooden cube-shaped table that is the right height to play on if you're sitting on the floor. If you're playing with this kind of board, turn it over and see if there's a square pointy-tipped thing poking out of the middle of the underside of the board. This is called the board's "heso," or navel. One theory is that the heso improves the acoustics of the board--when you put a piece down, it should make a satisfying clacking sound against the wooden surface. But the manga says that this is related to the "kuchinashi" concept. It suggests that the heso exists so that you can tell people who interfere in your game, "Shut up or I will impale your severed head on the underside of the board."

      -There is a live-action shogi game in Tendou city, Yamagata-ken, every year in April. People dressed in costumes play as the shogi pieces. You might remember that Harry Potter & friends did something like this with chess at the end of the first book/movie, and so did Alice in Through the Looking Glass.

      -The game pieces are specially angled so that if you put all twenty of your pieces together with the sides touching, they will form a perfect circle.

      -One obsolete shogi piece is called the "drunken elephant" (酔象). It represented the heir to the throne (why not?). With this piece, you could continue playing even if your king is killed. The drunken elephant piece was abandoned in the modern game because it led to some pretty long drawn-out games, as you can imagine, and too many ties. It was only after this piece fell into disuse that the practice of reusing your opponent's captured pieces developed.

Source: 将棋のひみつ   学研まんが新ひみつシリーズ
Published:2003年6月18日 学習研究社
監修: 安恵照剛
構成: 湯川博士
漫画: 加賀さやか