土曜日, 10月 30, 2004

Warm and fuzzy meme

At the risk of looking like I'm fishing for compliments, I'll try this little game...from a friend's livejournal...

1. Tell me one thing you love about me.

2. Tell me two things you love about yourself.

3. Look through the comments. When you see someone you know, tell them three things you love about them.

4. Do this in your journal so I can tell you what I love about YOU.

金曜日, 10月 29, 2004


    My news this week is that I've made my plans for Christmas travel. I'm going to Taiwan with Misa for a week (provided my school approves the nenkyuu, as they should). She found a good deal - round trip to Taiwan for under $300 - it was just over 30,000 yen including the airport tax at both airports. Isn't that good? This will be my cheapest overseas vacation so far. I have a Lonely Planet Taiwan, a couple years old, from a used bookstore, and Misa has a guidebook from this year in Japanese. We're in the process of deciding what to do in Taiwan. I plan to be there through the emotionally tricky season of Christmas and my birthday, and come back before New Years.
    I've been interested in visiting Taiwan since high school - when I met my first friend from there. I've heard their popular culture has been heavily influenced by Japan. Should be interesting. It will be a little warmer than Japan in the winter, but still cool. I'm really looking forward to it.
    It gets crazy expensive to fly out of Japan after the 22nd of December, so we have to leave on the 21st. Since my last E3 class is on the morning of the 21st, that means leaving in the afternoon (taking half a day off) to go to the airport.

水曜日, 10月 27, 2004

Trivia no Izumi goes to North America

    Fuji Television has announced that they will create a North American version of Trivia no Izumi to air next spring in the U.S. and Canada. Instead of releasing the same show with English subtitles, as they have done in the past with other programs, Fuji decided to remake the show for an American audience, including the utilization of American actors and the collection of trivia that is more appropriate for an English-speaking audience.
    The dynamics of the show will remain the same. The symbol of the show, the "heh" button, will stay the same, but in English it will be called "HEY".

source: 日本経済新聞

金曜日, 10月 22, 2004

Random Quote from Kingdom of Loathing

Around the bend, you find a curious thing: A door completely covered with salad...


        In Japan, autumn is considered the best season for reading. As we say "summer reading" in my country, they say "dokusho no aki" here. I don't know why it's any better for reading than any other season, but I'll go with it. I have a lot of time to read this week because it's exam week, and I have no exams to grade.
        Last night I found the legendary Sannomiya Public Library for the first time - usually I go to the Chuo library in Okurayama. Having heard that the Sannomiya library has a better selection of English books - and all in one place - I was happy to find it. All I wound up getting there was Great First Lines, edited by Celina Spiegel; a book of famous quotations, and a Torey Hayden book I hadn't read yet, Ghost Girl.
        From the book of great first lines (the memorable first sentences of famous novels, with the answers in the back so you can test your powers of literary trivia) - my favorites:

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."

        -Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

"Incredible the first animal that dreamed of another animal."

        -Carlos Fuentes, Terra Nostra

"In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages."

        -Patrick Suskind, Perfume

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

        - L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

"I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life."

        -James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

"I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot", or "That Claudius", or "Claudius the Stammerer", or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius", am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never since become disentangled."

        -Robert Graves, I, Claudius

        I found several books I wanted to read after reading their first lines. I tried searching for them on the library homepage first, but having no luck, I ordered three books from amazon.co.jp, two of which because I liked their first lines. I ordered I, Claudius and Giovanni's Room, and yet another Torey Hayden book, Beautiful Child.
        The "Perfume" book looked interesting too, but I think I'll wait and read it later. I could get it slightly cheaper (or at the library?) if I read it in Japanese. Since it's a translation anyway, not originally in English, I might attempt it. I learned a long time ago that I don't enjoy much reading Japanese translations of English books, but if it's a translation from German, Japanese should be just as good as English.
        Now for my reading in Japanese. I'm trying to get through a chapter a day of Seirei no Moribito, but it's more difficult to read than I expected. I do like it though. Here is a summary of the chapters I've read so far:

Prologue: The heroine, Balsa, a 30-year old female bodyguard, is walking along a bridge minding her own business when she sees a child falling from a royal procession, which is going by on another bridge. The procession is the household of the second wife of the emperor, and the child is thrown off when the ox pulling their carts begin rioting. She acts quickly and saves the child.

Sample obscure word appearing in this chapter: いしづき On an umbrella, spear, staff, or mushroom, this is the small pointy bit that touches the ground.

Chapter 1: Expecting a mere monetary award, Balsa is startled to find herself treated to an elegant feast to thank her for saving the child's life. The child is the 10-year old second son of the emperor. In this culture, it is not seemly for a commoner like Balsa to look in the face of royalty, so her hostess, the prince's mother, does not appear. However, during the meal, her chief retainer entreats Balsa to stay the night in the palace. Thinking it strange, Balsa complies. There is a detailed description of the marvelous onsen bath she takes in the palace (a bit of Japanese culture creeping into this story about a supposedly imaginary kingdom...)
        In the middle of the night, Balsa is awakened by none other than...the empress and the prince! The empress tells Balsa the strange story of a mysterious power that has possessed the boy, urging Balsa to take him under her protection. It seems that the boy's life is in danger, and his own father is trying to kill him! If news leaked out to the people that a spirit (suspected to be a legendary water spirit from the foundation myths of this country) had taken up residence in the boy, the people would lose faith in the royal family and revolt. The empress loves her son, however, and touchingly remarks that she would far rather he be safe, even if she should never see him again, than to have to look upon his dead face. She reveals that the fall from the bridge was no accident. Another attempt was made on his life not long ago, an accident in the bath, but he survived. The reason the boy is thought to be possessed is that he behaves strangely in his sleep. When he is possessed, he glows with a strange light, and the noise from the outside world stops. She has consulted two experts on magical phenomena about him, but she cannot openly allow an exorcism to be performed or word would leak out to the commoners that the royal family had not vanquished the water spirit hundreds of years ago.
        Balsa reluctantly takes charge of the boy, although she thinks protecting him is likely to cost her her life.
        One thing that amuses me about this book is that it contains the place names 二ノ宮 and 三ノ宮. It's funny to me that a fantasy book would have the place name Sannomiya in it, the name of a place I go to all the time in real life. I know the real meaning though is something like "second palace" and "third palace," so I shouldn't make too much of the coincidence.
        Upon undertaking the mission, Balsa suggests that the second empress set fire to the second palace, making it seem as though her son set the fire in his sleep and perished in the blaze.

Uncommon words found in this chapter:
つかのま soon
生業 (なりわい)an old word for 職業
跡目 (あとめ) succession
歯を食いしばる gritting your teeth - both the empress and the small boy are always doing this.
夏至 (げし) summer solstice

        Since this book has furigana over all the kanji, I have gotten some knowing remarks from people assuming that I am reading it for that reason, but much of the vocabulary is so obscure and so far removed from my everyday life that the furigana does not really help me understand it. I still need to look up a ton of words every chapter.

Chapter 2

        This chapter starts with a new character, Shuga, an astrologer, as he watches the smoke from the second palace burning. Having watched the stars all night, he is suspicious about the fire and resolves to go consult his superior, the highest ranking astrologer in the land. There is then a digression about the history of the kingdom (Shin Yogo Kokoku), set forth in order to inform the reader "why astrologers are so important to this kingdom." Actually, the history lesson is not as boring as I feared it would be. The author's university major was cultural anthropology, specializing in the Australian Aborigines. She used some of her knowledge in this area, I think, to enrich the history of her fictional kingdom. Shin Yogo Kokoku also has aborigines, the "Yakuu" people, and from their legends comes the idea of a water spirit that takes the spirit of a child once every hundred years. The founders of the current regime supposedly vanquished this spirit two hundred years ago, but we are left to believe that the creature was never really destroyed.
        Shuga pays a visit to the grand high astrologer, who favors his observations with a promotion to the status of favored disciple, over his rival who is older than him. You can imagine the levels of keigo here, as well as in the conversation in the previous chapter between the empress and the commoner Balsa. After Shuga takes the irreversible step towards becoming a grand high astrologer himself, it is revealed to him that there is a "dark face" to the emperor's work that he never before suspected. Basically, the emperor and grand high astrologer have assassins at their command, whom they call "Hunters" (狩人 - かりゅうど), and they use them to carry out a lot of dirty business. Both Shuga and his master think that the young emperor did not perish in the flames, and they guess at the strategy plotted by his mother, to send him to safety in the company of the bodyguard who saved his life. They even know Balsa's name and reputation. The Hunters are deployed to find her and kill her, and capture the prince.  

Chapter 3

        Balsa escapes with the prince, whose name is Chagumu. She tells him that as a prince of the blood, he died in that fire; in his new life he must behave as an ordinary boy. He "grits his teeth" and accepts this fact. She tells him that if things go well, he might someday see his mother again.
        After walking most of the night, they arrive at a town where Balsa seeks shelter from a boy and a girl living in a handmade shelter under a bridge. Balsa saved the children in the past from violent ruffians, so they are eager to help her. She gives them some money in exchange for sheltering her and Chagumu for the day and doing some shopping for them. The boy, Tohya, is happy to do this. It's his normal job anyway, since he earns his living as an errand boy. Since it is not uncommon for him to do other people's shopping as part of his job, it will not rouse suspicion. Balsa knows it is likely that she is being followed. Balsa tells the children a little of her task, without telling them the whole story, or the identity of the boy. She and Chagumu fall asleep. Chagumu is possessed by the spirit while he sleeps, a frightening episode for Balsa. Tohya and the girl come back later with all the supplies and food. Here is the second Japanese culture thing I think is funny in the book so far. It's the first time I've read a fantasy book where people buy bento lunches and eat them with chopsticks. Yum yum, there is a lot of description of the yummy rice and fish bentos they eat in this chapter. To give credit to the author's powers of imagination they are not exactly like Japanese box lunch bentos. The sauce on the fish sounds a little different from what you could buy any day at the train station. Still...

Chapter 4 - This is the chapter I must read today. It's going to be one of those books where the point of view changes every chapter, so it's going to be a bit difficult to get into the shoes of each new character at first. The story I'm most interested in, of course, is Balsa and Chagumu. That's the main story. What is the creature possessing Chagumu? My student who recommended the series to me told me that her favorite character is Chagumu. She said she has Chagumu's picture on her keitai. Thus far, Chagumu has not done much but "grit his teeth" and bear the fact that he's being separated from the only life he has ever known, but because of my student's comment "He is so cool!" I think he must eventually do something more than this. So I'm curious about what kind of person Chagumu will turn out to be. I also like Balsa. What a coincidence, I'm turning 30 soon, and little did I expect to find a 30-year old main character in a children's book! She's very cool to me - she has a fearsome reputation as a fighter with her "short spear" (短槍).
        Another thing I like about this series is the attractive and intriguing illustrations. They are more detailed than the usual manga style, so much so that they remind me of some of my favorite illustrations in books I read in childhood --C.S. Lewis' and Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books had expressive illustrations like these. A cryptic motif in some of the pictures arouses my curiousity - namely, a recurring emblem of a young face or hand with an aged one. This must relate to some interesting theme about the aging cycle, I think. So far there has been no clue what it might mean.
        Seirei no Moribito won the following children's literature awards:


水曜日, 10月 20, 2004

Trivia no Izumi Part Two

No.468  "Run Merosu" was inspired by the time the author, Dazai Osamu, had to rush around to pay off a loan.
No.467 There is such a thing as an emerald green cockroach.
No.466 The ancient Egyptians shaved their eyebrows if their pet cat died. If their dog died, they shaved their whole body.
No.465 There is a boy band with Ultraman singing backup vocals.
Trivia Seed No.046 The height of newspaper stands in train stations is about 5m 80cm.
No.464 There is a play based on "Planet of Giants".
No.463 There is a crab that makes a beckoning gesture with its claw to the female to invite her into his lair before mating.
No.462 There is a karaoke single consisting entirely of the shouts of action star Bruce Lee.
No.461 Worried about growing bald, Yamada Kosaku, who composed the song "Red Dragonfly," added the katakana symbol for "hair" (ケ)to the kanji of his last name.
No.460 There is a lake called "Chaagogugagogumanchaugugagoguchaubanagangamaugu".
No.459 The actress who did the voice of "Shinku" (悟空) in Dragon Ball once called a friend and said "Hi! I'm Shinku!" (homophonous with 真空, vacuum, void).
No.458 The most probable die roll is "5".
Trivia Seed No.045 The place Japanese housewives most frequently stash their pin money is in a chest of drawers.
No.457  Once a pro wrestling tournament was held with everyone wearing tiger masks.
No.456 The character "Noppo-san," famous for his line "Dekiru kana?" wrote a play called "Open up! Bonkikki".
No.455 There is a rose called "chinchin" (penis).
No.454 In order to walk without making a sound, ninja walked with their feet standing on the back of their hands.
No.453  In the Warring States period (15th century), there was a samurai general who wore a helmet emblazoned with the word "Love".
No.452 Sanyuutei Koyuuza lit the sacred fire for the Olympics.
No.451 Kentucky Fried Chicken was originally a gas station.
Trivia Seed No.044 Out of all the mascots of Japan's pro baseball teams, the one that can run the fastest is Hokkaido's Nihon Hamfighters' "B.B.".
No.450 In the movie version of "Heidi," the role of "Peter" was played by Charlie Sheen.
No.449 There is a May Doll that has ridden on a motorcycle.
No.448  There is a fossil of dinosaur vomit.
No.447 The Nobel prize was established because Alfred Nobel was deceived by a young woman.
No.446 The Ishiwara Army had a comedy show.
No.445 "Tsuutengaku" belonged to "Yoshimoto Kougyou". (I know Yoshimoto Kougyou is the comedy company associated with manzai, but I don't know the significance of "Tsuutengaku" (通天閣). If anyone knows, please explain! Thanks.

月曜日, 10月 18, 2004


    Yesterday was the National Chinese Language Speech Contest (全日本中国語スピーチコンテスト), sponsored annually by the Hyogo Prefecture Sino-Japanese Friendship Society (兵庫県日中友好協会). My Chinese tutor was a volunteer helper this year. She encouraged me to enter. No thanks, I said, but, curious as to how this event compares with the English language speech contests which plague ALTs and inflict untold suffering on our students, I decided to go as an observer. Most high schools in Hyogo prefecture don't even have Chinese language programs, which should have been a warning to me.
    First, the master of ceremony and the judges made some remarks, and then my tutor made a nice speech in Japanese. She compared language use with cooking; just because you have all of the ingredients together (vocabulary and grammar points) doesn't mean you can combine them well to make a delicious dish. Her speech was to be the last speech I understood for the rest of the day.
    The first part of the program consisted of high school students who seemed to be reading short stories in Chinese off of a paper. I guessed that they were short stories or fables because several speakers read the same ones. It was difficult to understand their heavily accented pronunciation. I would have liked to read along and thus have some chance of understanding them from looking at the kanji, but I was kept in the dark, because the packets with the texts of the speeches were only given out to the contest participants, not gatecrashers like me. I am not sure whether to blame them or myself for my utter lack of comprehension.
    The second part of the program was for high school students who had written their own speeches. There were only two of these. They were seniors in high school (I understood that much) and one spoke about "我的理想” (My ideals) while the other spoke about "My self-introduction and my ideals." At the end of each of these two speeches, one of the judges, a Chinese native speaker, asked the speaker really easy questions about her speech in Chinese. Despite my lack of comprehension of the girls' speeches, I understood the Chinese woman's questions perfectly. She asked questions like "What is your surname?" "You want to be a doctor, is that right?" and "Have you traveled abroad?" In both cases, the embarrassed girl said "対不起" (Pardon me), not understanding the question. The Chinese woman asked again more slowly, but still the girls couldn't answer well, even though they had just been talking about those things in their own speech. It was pathetic to watch. I hate to think what would happen if they did a question and answer segment of the English speech contest. I'm afraid it would have the same results. The problem is that kids are expected to speak well before they learn how to listen. It's all backwards.
    After that, two middle-aged Japanese housewives gave speeches in Chinese, which I didn't understand but I think were about friendship between China and Japan, and then there were more speeches by other advanced speakers, mostly college students from 神戸外国語大学, 関西外大、 and other foreign language-intensive colleges in the area. Some of them seemed pretty good. During the advanced division, the time limit was lengthened to 5 minutes (it was only 2 minutes for the first group of speakers). I didn't want to sit through all the 5-minute speeches at my painfully low level of comprehension (would you?), so I left about two hours into the contest, sending an apologetic email to my tutor. If I'd stayed to the bitter end, it would have been about 5 hours total. Now I know that one of the few things more boring than an English language speech contest is a speech contest you can't understand at all.

    On Friday, I finished reading 呪怨. It was a quick read. Irrationally, a couple parts of it did scare me. Not consciously but subconsiously, and I actually had a nightmare about it one night. However, the second half of the book was disappointing because nothing really was resolved, and the same things kept happening over and over again to different people. Sometimes the exact same scene was repeated with different characters. It's eerie, but it's too repetitive to be good writing.
    There were three parts of the book where the characters didn't take off their shoes in the house. Apparently if you're entering a haunted house with the intention of burning it down, or if you're entering someone's apartment to kill them, it's okay to leave your shoes on.
    The most overused word in the book was 充満する。It's a verb meaning that the air is suffused with something like a bad smell or a sense of foreboding. That happened a lot.
    I think the movie will be better (scarier) than the book, but I read the book first to prepare myself. I'll watch the movie soon.
    Now I'm starting to read 精霊の守り人, the first book in a fantasy series recommended to me by one of my students. It has furigana on all the kanji so it should be easy to read, but on the very first page I got tripped up by some of the obscure vocabulary, like ずだぶくろ、a large cloth carry-all bag, originally for holding Buddhist scriptures. To remember this I'm imagining that my new Italian handbag is a ずだぶくろ, but I know this is incorrect usage. I have probably never seen a real one and never will. Despite such extinct vocabulary on the very first page, I want to like this book, because the series is supposed to be one of the best of Japanese fantasy.
    Still enjoying Kingdom of Loathing. I also started playing Dragon Quest V on Super Famicon yesterday. I finished 1, but 2 didn't grab me so I skipped from one to five. It seems fun. You can get monsters to join your fighting party, and the story seems more well-developed than the earlier two games I saw.

水曜日, 10月 13, 2004

I am sad

    I just heard that someone I cared about committed suicide.
Colin's obituary
    Although I have not seen him for years, I've thought of him often. In 2003, his close friend Rachel Corrie died. She was run over by a bulldozer in the Gaza strip while defending Palestinian homes. There are so many sites on the web about Rachel Corrie, I didn't know which link to include, but click on the above one and it will take you to a nice Wikipedia page that tells the whole tragic story. Here is a memorial speech given by Colin in honor of Rachel Corrie in 2003. From this speech you can see that he was a beautiful, spiritual person who loved her deeply. I'm so sorry he's gone.

火曜日, 10月 12, 2004

I want to marry a 漫才師

...or become one. My friend S. and I were talking about this over the weekend when I visited her in Mie-ken. We decided that she would be the boke and I'd be the tsukkomi. It would be great. I would love to see a movie about a pair of non-Japanese women who try to succeed in Japanese manzai. Would that be a funny movie or what?
    I don't know much about manzai yet, I just think it's cool. My exposure to this two-person comedic form is limited to the 2001-2003 M-1 Grand Pris competitions I watched on DVD over the weekend. Hopefully by watching enough of them, I can decide on some manzaishi I like and go to see them live in Osaka. Here is the website where you can look up performance dates. I love Osaka.
    S. told me that once a pair of manzaishi went on the Larry King Live show in the U.S. and did their routine in English. It fell flat and they protested, "This is very funny in Japan!"
    Comedy is probably the hardest thing to translate.
    The "Shiritori Essay" book got a little boring, so I didn't finish it. Instead I'm reading "Juon," the novelization of a hit horror movie. It's very grotesque, but easy to read. I'm also watching "The Office," a British television comedy about a paper company, and playing Kingdom of Loathing. This is a refreshingly fun and addictive, free online game. I'm a Turtle Tamer.

水曜日, 10月 06, 2004

Trivia no Izumi Complete Trivia List! Part I

    Part one of my project to translate the complete List of Trivia from the popular TV program Trivia no Izumi. To read the complete list of trivia in Japanese, see this website. It's on Wednesday at 9:00. The idea of the show is that the viewing audience submits their surprising bits of trivial information, and the guests on the show give it up to 20 "heh" points each depending on how amazed they are. There is a golden brain awarded at the end of every show for the trivia with the most "heh" points. They get an expert in the field to confirm each thing, which is usually rather amusing, and they always show a demonstration of whatever is being discussed (i.e., an octopus opening a bottle).
    Each show also has a "trivia seed," which is a question sent in by a viewer, usually something really stupid along the lines of "which would win in a fight, a Japanese sword or a machine gun?" Honestly, this was the "trivia seed" for a recent program (not posted on the website yet). Every now and then, there is an interesting one, like the time a viewer asked them to find the most common things mothers say when scolding their children. They interviewed people all over Japan to find the top ten. I found that segment to be rather culturally informative.
    If my translations are inaccurate, your corrections are welcome. Enjoy.

No.519 One of the verdicts a badminton referee can choose is "I didn't see it clearly."
No.518 To promote morale, there is a CPR dummy that says "Thank you."
No.517 The 4th of April, the 6th of June, the 8th of August, the 10th of October, and the 12th of December are on the same day of the week every year.
No.516 There is a baseball league where amateurs can play retired Major Leaguers.
No.515 The ants that are working above ground are all grannies.
No.514 There is an automatic machine for mixing ink on your inkstone for calligraphy.
No.513 A rhinoceros horn is made of fur.
No.512 Milk from the mother is called mother's milk, but milk from the baby is called "witch's milk."
Trivia Seed No.052 When a pro golfer uses an umbrella to golf a par 4 course, the best results are achieved with a gentleman's #13 umbrella.
No.511 There is a contest to determine who has the smelliest shoes in America.
No.510 There is a plant called "meat" (o-niku).
No.509 To help improve the relationship between his wife and his mother, Mori Ogai made them play a board game together. (Note: "Sugoroku" is a simple race-style board game resembling "Chutes and Ladders" or "Candy Land".)
No.508 There is a newspaper about kamaboko (a Japanese food made out of fish paste).
No.507 There is a Kansai Dialect version of a CD by the Carpenters.
No.506 Lupin the Third and Zenigata Keibu went to the same university.
No.505 What a rhinoceros beetle eats in its pupa stage determines whether it will become a king in the future.
Trivia Seed No.051 In a fight between a Japanese sword and a water cutter, a Japanese sword wins.
No.504 The word next to "nodochinko" in the dictionary is "nodochinpo". (I'm not sure why this is funny.)
No.503 The Japanese word for "cockroach," gokiburi, was originally gokiKAburi. It became "gokiburi" due to a typographical error.
No.502 Mizuno Seiro was the Okayama Prefecture representative in a contest for counting bills quickly.
No.501 An octopus can open a bottle.
No.500 There was a pro baseball pitcher who used to throw the ball over his shoulder.
No.499 A bug exists whose farts are 100°C.
No.498 Noguchi Hideyo read his own biography and said "It's all made up."
No.497  The name of the liquid that collects at the top of yogurt is "whey". (This is one of those things English-language related that are not at all surprising to an English speaker. Of course it's called whey.)
Trivia Seed No.050  A lion's favorite roast meat from a yakiniku restaurant is harami.
No.496  An adult man's urine stream turns 180°after flowing a length of 2 cm.
No.495 A stink bug can lose consciousness from its own stink.
No.494 There is a Chinese 4-character expression "kitto baka" (sounds like the word for "certainly stupid."
No.493  In medieval Europe, when a woman declared her love to a man, she gave him an apple scented with her underarm odor.
No.492 The concept of "warp," previously considered possible in space science, was declared impossible in 1997.
No.491 A frog exists that can survive a fall of more than ten meters.
No.490  There is a haircut model doll that is bald.
No.489 The word for the condition of appearing to be frightened and unable to calm down is "rori rori."
Trivia Seed No.049 The "Bottomless Swamp" in Hokkaido known as "Dragon God Swamp" has a depth of only 2m37cm. 
No.488 Akai Hidekazu and Takada Nobehiko once had a fistfight in a karaoke box over who would get do the next song.
No.487 The Vietnamese word for "dove" is "chinpoko" (a dirty word in Japanese. Another kind of trivia that is not so funny from the point of view of an English speaker. After all, some Japanese words look like dirty words in English, and we got over that a long time ago. It's nearly inevitable that such things will happen between languages. I guess we English teachers are lucky there are no English-to-Japanese examples of this, or we'd never hear the end of the giggles.)
No.486 Rika-chan's shoes (she is a doll similar to Barbie) taste bad. (It was explained that they are deliberately flavored that way to discourage small children from eating them.)
No.485 When crawfish mate, the male turns the female face up and clasps hands with her.
No.484 In the "Ninja village" in Mie Prefecture, Ueno City, there is a train with a ninja's face.
No.483 Ultraman once sang a rap song.
No.482 In the Edo period, the shogun had an attendant whose only job was to carry around a receptacle for his urine.
No.481 The name "Bach," translated into Japanese, is "Ogawa" (creek). I think the reason this is funny is because Ogawa is also a Japanese name.
Trivia Seed No.048 When a snail races with a slug, the winner is... the slug.
(I watched this one. It was really stupid. They showed the tape in fast motion because the actual race took all day.)
No.480 Ishikawa Takuboku (a poet and intellectual, lived 1886~1912) once wrote a love letter to a man thinking he was a woman.
(Ha! I wish I'd seen that one. I have a book of his poems.)
No.479 The lead of a mechanical pencil glows when you heat it in the microwave.
No.478  The crustacean called a daphnia, or water flea, has an extremely sharp head which it uses for self-defence.
No.477 The daphnia's head becomes sharp when it senses danger.
No.476 "Yakubusoku" 「役不足」(a kanji compound that looks like it means insufficiently useful) is a compliment.
No.475  When you play Hitoto Yo's "Weeping in Sympathy" in slow-motion, it sounds like Hirai Ken singing.
No.474 A narwhal's horn is its tooth. (Note: A narwhal, also called a "sea unicorn," is an arctic whale. The Japanese word is 一角, pronounced イッカク, meaning one-horn.)
No.473 The sign for the restrooms in the Sapporo subway is wearing a scarf.
Trivia Seed No.047 When you go fishing for crawfish on the Amazon River, using cuttlefish as bait, you catch crabs.
No.472 There is a manga set on a post-nuclear war earth where people fight by playing Nintendo.
(Only in Japan...)
No.471 There is a choral song called "Samuburi no Uta" (Song of the Cold Yellowtail).
No.470 There is such a thing as a snail with fur.
No.469 The Columbian military hatched a plan to drop pornography from the air in order to sap their enemy's will to fight.

That's all for Part 1 - will post Part II soon.

火曜日, 10月 05, 2004

Update II

    I don't have to do the speech about human rights after all. I'm glad. It's a good thing I didn't really want to do it anyway.

月曜日, 10月 04, 2004


    My friend invited me skiing in Nagano in early January. That takes care of my winter plans in January, but late December is still unaccounted for. Suggestions? I'm so scared of being stuck on my birthday (Dec 23) and Christmas with nothing special to do.  It's a "bad" birthday number too... I don't even want to say it :(
    I am working on translating the trivia of Trivia no Izumi from their webpage and so I can post it on my blog in English, but it's really time-consuming (over 400 things). I might start posting it bit by bit as I get it translated.
    I went to Costco on Saturday. Yes, they had Halloween candy (or candy that could pass as such) that I bought for my students. They also had Halloween pumpkins, which tempted me, but I didn't buy one because I thought it would probably rot before the 31st.
    Today really feels like a Monday. The weather turned cold suddenly over the weekend. This post seems to have a gloomy storm cloud hanging over it. Can you feel it? Oh well. I have to go teach now.

金曜日, 10月 01, 2004

Swing Girls

    Tonight I went to see Swing Girls, the new Yaguchi Shinobu comedy about a high school jazz band. The director followed up on his success with the hit Water Boys, about a high school boys' synchronized swim team, with this similarly structured teen movie. I loved Water Boys because it was so funny and captured the essence of something I can't describe about Japanese high schools. Swing Girls did the same thing, with many funny moments and a great performance at the end. Although in a way it's just the same old story of an unlikely club pulling together and succeeding despite the odds, there's something a little edgy about both films. The acting and directing are terrific. The boy in Swing Girls, played by Yuta Hiraoka, was particularly adorable.
    The movie of Wataya Risa's Install is coming out this New Years' Day. Here's the website. I saw a preview for it at the theater! I am definitely psyched to see that, although the preview looked a little over-intellectual and not as stylish as I would like it to be after reading the book. I love the gerbera design on the website, though. It's my favorite flower.

Rating Language Fluency in Japanese

    I remember looking at this Rate Your Language Fluency Test soon after I arrived in Japan a year ago, and I think I score farther along the fluency continuum now than I did, particularly in the area of being able to understand overheard speech on the street. This test is not specific to Japanese though, and I think it would be good to make up one tailored for Japanese fluency. For one thing, these self-score fluency tests always use "reading the newspaper" as a barometer of your reading ability in a language. I don't think this is necessarily the most appropriate measure when it comes to Japanese. Personally, I hate reading the Japanese newspaper!

   Here is my attempt at devising such a self-rating system...please make comments!




1) Reading skills (choose one)

a You have not yet learned hiragana and katakana.

b You know hiragana and katakana. You can read simple sentences with some effort. You don't know any kanji. You are afraid that if you learn kanji, you will forget hiragana and katakana.

c You read hiragana, katakana, and up to a few hundred kanji. You can read e-mails, signs, maps, and other things useful for daily life in Japan.

d You enjoy reading in Japanese. You read manga, novels, newspapers, or other books or magazines while consulting a dictionary. Although your reading speed is much slower than your native language, you can finish reading a story or book with some effort and enjoy it. You frequently make mistakes with kanji with multiple readings, because you're not sure which way to pronounce it in context. You also may encounter many kanji while reading that you don't know at all. I think this level is approximately equivalent to JLPT Level 2.

e You can read well without consulting a dictionary. When you come across an unfamiliar word, you can guess the meaning from the context. If you then look up the word anyway, the dictionary confirms the meaning you thought it was. You know approximately 2000 kanji or more. When you finish reading a page, you can often guess what the first word on the next page will be. You have favorite Japanese writers, and own several of their books in Japanese. You can get accurate information from Japanese webpages and instruction manuals. You use a kokugo dictionary more often than dictionaries to and from your native language. You can watch a foreign movie (Chinese, Korean) with Japanese subtitles without feeling like you're missing anything important. You sometimes know kanji that your Japanese friends don't know (this can occur at any level, but is more likely to happen here, unless you are a kanji prodigy). When you see a kanji with multiple readings, you know the correct reading, hesitating or making a mistake only very rarely. I think this level is approximately equivalent to JLPT Level 1.

f All of the above and more. You can read things that are difficult for Japanese people to read such as classical texts, textbooks containing specialized technical language, poetry, Noh drama, that kind of thing. When there is a game show or quiz book with kokugo questions designed to stump the Japanese audience, you know the answers and wonder how the game show contestants can be so clueless! You know many "四字熟語” (Chinese 4-character expressions) well. You have favorite "四字熟語.”
You can read kanbun. You can read "grass script". I'm just throwing a bunch of things in here that I can't do. I don't really know anyone who can do all of them!

Your score:

a) 0 points - Get out there and learn kana already.
b) 5 points - Kanji don't bite.
c) 10 points - You can live comfortably in Japan with this.
d) 15 points - It's amazing how many years it takes to get to this level.
e) 20 points - I think this is "fluent" at reading.
f) 25 points - You are amazing.

2) Listening skills (choose one):

a) You cannot understand spoken Japanese at all except for the occasional word.

b) You can usually understand what people are saying when they talk to you directly. They must speak slowly and use easy Japanese for you.

c) You can listen to things that are more detailed and use more vocabulary than basic conversation, and get the gist. You can understand Japanese cartoons such as Doraemon and Atashinchi. If you ask for directions on the street, you can understand the answer.

d) You can understand conversations both in standard Japanese and in your local dialect, although you may not know all the slang words you overhear. You can enjoy going to Japanese movies without subtitles, although you might not understand everything. You have favorite Japanese TV shows. If someone leaves you a voice mail message in Japanese, you understand it after listening to it a few times. When the cashier tells you the price of something at the cash register, you understand and find correct change without having to look at the visual display.

e) You can understand Japanese conversations overheard on the street and in other public places. Your Japanese friends talk quickly and use idioms when they talk with you without stopping to explain themselves, because they know you can keep up with them. They don't slow down their speech for you. If someone leaves you a voice mail message in Japanese, you understand it the first time. You can understand news stories and documentaries in Japanese. You could write large numbers accurately if they were dictated to you quickly in Japanese. You have no trouble understanding the TV and radio, although you may occasionally miss details. Sometimes you draw a blank on a slang term or katakana word that you hear for the first time. If you are having trouble programming your VCR or connecting to the Internet, you can call customer service and follow their detailed instructions without requesting customer service in English. You can not only watch Japanese movies without subtitles, you can walk in after the movie has already started and infer what you missed.

f) You understand 100% of what you hear on the TV and radio, just as if you were listening to your native language. No details escape you. You are familiar with slang terms and abbreviations used in the spoken language, such as Raishin (来神) for "Coming to Kobe" and "Dorakue" for "Dragon Quest" - when you hear a shortened word like that you guess immediately what it's referring to, whether it is a shortened katakana word or shortened kanji compound. You can watch a TV show that has been dubbed in Japanese with the voice actors talking very fast in order to keep up with fast-talking non-Japanese actors, (I am thinking of Chris Barrie's speech on Red Dwarf and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour--they sound absurdly fast in the Japanese dubbed versions!) and you can follow their speech and enjoy the jokes. You can listen to Japanese comedy such as manzai and rakugo, and understand it. You can understand slang in more than one local dialect.
    Listening comprehension in Japanese is fairly easy compared with the other 3 skills, but I tried to put in the (f) category everything I still consider to be difficult.

a) 0 points. Take a class.
b) 5 points. Many English teachers in Japan are at this level.
c) 10 points. You're getting there.
d) 15 points. Only more time in Japan will improve your ability further.
e) 20 points. Listening fluency.
f) 25 points. Nothing escapes you.

3) Speaking skills (choose one)

a) You can speak a little, but you must use gestures and English words to communicate most things.

b) You can explain what you want or need, ask questions, and use grammar constructions such as -koto ga arimasu. You tend to overuse the word "watashi wa." Sometimes people find your accent difficult to understand.

c) Your accent seems more natural, and you can say many things with confidence. You still have trouble talking about anything beyond common everyday situations, and you break down and speak English frequently.

d) You can speak on a variety of topics, but you often have to ask the person you're speaking with how to say the word you want in Japanese. You can ask questions and talk to people wherever you go in Japan, but sometimes you mispronounce words, especially katakana words and words with double vowels or consonants, leading to misunderstanding. When you have an in-depth conversation in Japanese, you find it helpful to have a pad of paper nearby to aid communication.

e) Your vocabulary has grown, so you almost never have to use an English word or ask people how to say something. Instead, if you don't know the exact word, you just explain what you want to say using different Japanese words. You have Japanese friends whom you talk to primarily in Japanese. You can communicate adequately with a person who doesn't speak English, whether that person is Japanese or from another country with Japanese as your only common language. You have no fear. You don't need to take a dictionary or a pad of paper with you when you go out knowing there will be a need to communicate in Japanese. You can talk on the phone easily, whether it is a phone interview for a job or consoling a friend who broke up with her boyfriend. You can express any need or question you can imagine in Japanese. Even if your speech isn't always perfect, you are confident in your ability to make yourself understood.

f) You would have no trouble giving an academic presentation or defending your doctoral dissertation in Japanese. You are frequently mistaken for a native speaker on the phone or in dim lighting, as long as your appearance doesn't give you away. You think in Japanese to the extent that it is difficult to switch back to your native language. You speak more quickly in Japanese than in your native language. You are eloquent and persuasive in Japanese. You use keigo and kensongo well enough to impress employers at a job interview.

a) 0 points. More time in Japan and/or a class for you.
b) 5 points. You need to talk with Japanese people more, and get them to help you.
c) 10 points. This is an intermediate level.
d) 15 points. Another year or so in Japan will take you to the next level.
e) 20 points. The much-coveted prize of fluency is yours.
f) 25 points. You can now become rich and famous appearing as the celebrity foreigner on talk shows. Milk it for all the ego-boosting shock value its worth.

4) Writing skills (choose one)

a) You are practicing writing kana using a children's Anpanman coloring book.

b) You can write hiragana and katakana.

c) You can write hiragana, katakana, and some simple kanji.

d) You can write a one-page essay, speech or letter in Japanese, but you have to consult the dictionary and if you ask someone to correct it for you, they point out many grammatical mistakes. Your handwriting looks a little strange to a native speaker. If you're a teacher and you write something in Japanese on the board, your students may laugh at you and you don't know why. You can send keitai mail in Japanese. You think in Japanese while you're writing.

e) You can send long e-mail in Japanese (several paragraphs). You can write a letter or essay and proofread it yourself, making sure it doesn't contain any mistakes. You think in Japanese while you're writing, and know when something doesn't sound right grammatically. You use idiomatic expressions in your writing. You can write fiction in Japanese. Your sentences are often long and complex, whether you're sending an e-mail or writing a formal essay. If you notice your writing contains the same word or grammar too many times, you change it to make it read better, just as you would in your native language. You don't make mistakes when choosing kanji from the computer or keitai program, but you might not be able to write them all by hand. When you write by hand, your stroke order is usually right. Your handwriting is similar enough to a native speaker's that you would not get ridiculed for writing on the board or making a handwritten comment on a handout that you distribute at a class or a meeting. It would be hard for anyone to tell from your writing that you're not a native speaker.

f) You can write accurately all of the one thousand-whatever frequently used kanji, without making mistakes between easily confused kanji. You can write poetry in Japanese. You always know the right stroke order and how many strokes something is. You win prizes for your calligraphy. You have had newspaper columns published in Japanese. You are working on a novel, play or poem in Japanese, and are looking for a publisher.

a) 0 points. Anpanman will help you.
b) 5 points. Don't stop now.
c) 10 points. Now to put them all together...
d) 15 points. This is intermediate, but not so far from fluency as you might fear.
e) 20 points. Writing fluency.
f) 25 points. Go you.

    As you can see, the person who scores 25 points in all four categories (and I seriously doubt there could be such a person!) gets 100% on this test, but I consider 70-80% fluent, don't you?
    I hope this test isn't seen as being unfair or cruel to people at the beginning stages of learning Japanese - or people learning Japanese outside Japan. No one is meant to score 100% on this test, certainly not me. I don't pretend to have all the answers about learning Japanese. I just hope this post will amuse you and generate some comment about Japanese study.