月曜日, 2月 28, 2005


    I'm beginning to become addicted to George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy series. I just finished the first book, "A Game of Thrones". It had considerable charm, and according to reviews I've seen the next two are even better. The fourth book in the series comes out March 7.
    I'm also reading a long fantasy series in Japanese, but it's a secret for now, since I'm reading it pretty slowly and I don't know when I'll finish.
    I also read Ishmael, a philosophical treatise featuring a talking gorilla; a compelling read, although after a few days had passed I found that the urgency of the message was receeding in my mind. The author divided human societies into two groups, the "Leavers" and the "Takers". Almost all civilizations in recent history have been "Takers," consumers who are destroying the earth for the sake of our own short-sighted advantange. The book urges us to look to "Leaver" societies for the solutions to today's problems. But how? Perhaps the later books in the series provide more answers about how we can stop seeing enviornmental destruction as progress.

金曜日, 2月 25, 2005


    I just finished a lavish dinner with my school English department at a French restaurant called ルー・サロメ - La Salome. I don't even like French cooking that much, but even I could recognize that this place is a cut above the ordinary. Everyone was quite impressed with the food and atmosphere.
    Due to the fact that there are fewer kids, nationwide, each year, there will only be 8 homeroom classes at my school next year, down from 9. For me, that means only teaching 8 times a week - and my schedule is bare enough as it is.
    There is some talk, though, of letting me have another class. Dare I hope that it might actually happen this year? It would make so much sense to let me teach a writing elective for the third years. Heaven knows the JTEs don't really like to do it.

木曜日, 2月 24, 2005

Looking at your pudding

    Last night on Trivia no Izumi they convened a panel of experts to determine "the male mannerism most likely to arouse a woman's maternal instinct".
    The answer was: "Innocently holding up a cup of pudding to inspect it from the bottom."
    I have to say it really doesn't do anything for me.

火曜日, 2月 22, 2005

If you haven't seen this link already...

    A faithful re-enactment of Katamari Damashi in Playdoh is here.

What counts as 助詞

    I took my first Japanese classes way back in the eighties, so no doubt the teaching methodology has changed a lot since then, but in my experience I distinctly remember the prefixes "o-" and "go-" called "honorific particles" along with direct-object-wo and other nakama of that ilk. It turns out though, and this makes sense if you think about it, they aren't really "particles" if by particles you mean 助詞 (joshi). They're 敬語 keigo, honorific language.
    The grammar pretest in my textbook on 国語の常識 contained a section where you had to identify all the particles in the given sentences. と、が、を、は、の、and に are easy. But did you know that だけ and ばかり are also particles? I thought they were just, you know, words. Maybe I thought that because you can translate them into English, and because they are more than one syllable long.
    You might be surprised also at one of the "particles" in this sentence:

Taro to Jiro dake ga, sono koto wo shitte ita.

   Okay, so we have と、だけ、が、and を so far. Can you find the last one?
   It's the て of 知っていた。 And here is one way that the grammar taught in Japan seems really different from the way Japanese is taught as a second language. It seems counterintuitive to end any word or morpheme with a small っ, a character that is meaningless and unpronouncable without something after it. But according to this, the basic word is 知っ , and て, like た in the sentence 物足りない食事だった, is a 助動詞 - in other words a separate unit, a kind of particle that "helps" verbs. In another part of the test, I was asked to write the adjective in the sentence:

Sono dekigoto ha totemo mezurashikatta.

    I wrote 珍しかった, (mezurashikatta) which I think of as one word.
    The answer was 珍しかっ. (mezurashikat-)
    In other words, they treat 珍しかっ and た as separate morphemes.
    This seems strange to me. I mean, you can't even type 珍しかっ on a computer keyboard without typing the final -ta and then deleting it.

    Some of the things they told me in the chapter on grammar really go without saying, though. I consider the following sentence the finest example I've seen of stating the obvious.

Some languages, like English, have rules about capitalizing the first letter of proper nouns, but Japanese doesn't have that kind of rule.

    Anyone who is reading that sentence and doesn't know that ...

    Lest you say that I don't understand the intention of sentence, I'll state for the record that I do realize it was probably to point out that proper nouns are capitalized in English (something you'll know if you've ever seen English), and not to say that they're not in Japanese, but I still think it's funny to imagine Japanese with capitalization, or anyone needing to be told that it's not there.

日曜日, 2月 20, 2005


    Yesterday I met with Pretty Sunshine for the last time before she goes to Inner Mongolia. I'll miss her! She and I had okonomiyaki and cake with Malifact, Homodachi, and Tisha.
    Afterwards, Pretty Sunshine and I went to the library and worked on translating a list of names from the battle of Okita Nawate. It's not for me. Do you think I would do that for fun? I did it for someone else. Even with the help of Pretty Sunshine, a curious student sitting next to us, and the reference librarian, there were some we couldn't verify for sure. I spent a long time in the public library reference section, where they have books especially devoted to names of people in the Sengoku era, and still there were some that could have more than one reading. It was really hard, since there's no good Internet database of the readings of historical Japanese names. I can't wait until the Japanese Internet is big enough that you can look up that kind of thing easily.
    I also rented Ringu and watched it, finally. I've been kind of obsessed with it ever since seeing The Ring several months ago. Everyone told me Ringu was scarier, so I was prepared for the worst. I've read I-don't-know-how-many reviews and message boards about it, trying to work up the nerve to see it. However, I actually thought The Ring was better and scarier. It's really just a matter of preference though. They're both great and really creepy.
    I don't believe in ghosts. But here's an unsettling thought. The Wikipedia article on ghosts says:

The natural occurrence of infrasound, which are sounds below human auditory frequencies (below 20 hertz), could possibly explain the notions of feeling a 'presence' in the room, or unexplained feelings of anxiety or dread, as certain infrasonic frequencies are known to have these effects on the body. The frequency of 18hz is known to cause the human eye to vibrate, which can make pale forms appear in the peripheral vision.

   Sometimes I have "spooky feelings" in my apartment (especially after watching a horror movie, especially one that features Japanese closets like I have in my house...ew), maybe there are some infrasound frequencies coming from somewhere. The "vibrating eyeball" effect sounds like it could be real, so in a way it's scarier than actual ghosts!

木曜日, 2月 17, 2005

So Busy in March (...Not)

    Graduation is the last day of February, and I have no classes in March. Last year I nearly went crazy with boredom. With two parts anticipation and one part dread, I look forward to the most boring part of the school year. I have my correspondence courses, books to read, websites to surf, etc. etc. Nonetheless, I feel like my sanity suffers a little bit each time I have to go a long stretch making believe those things count as work.
    I spent my 3 class periods today teaching the kids how to use Google and Wikipedia in English. It was fun, but oddly stressful. The students seem less Internet-savvy than I thought. There are a few computer nerds in each class, definitely, as I've noticed on other occasions, but on the whole they were unfamiliar with basic search methods, especially in English. Also, I can't count the times they messed up their searches with spelling and punctuation errors --even though all they had to do was copy from the handout. I was always running around and correcting them. That must be why I feel more tired than I usually do after class. Like typing "load of the rings" instead of "lord of the rings". Unfortunately, "load of the rings" also exists as a kind of joke, and so they got a list of sites for it and didn't have a clue anything was wrong.
    One girl even typed "lordoftherings" without spaces into the search box. Doesn't she know we need spaces between words in English?
    I'm not blaming them - as usual, my expectations were a bit too high.
    I feel so negative and irritable lately. I need to snap out of it. I've been taking the "Step" classes at the gym, which are really good. I need to go to the beginning aerobics class today, then maybe I'll feel better.

月曜日, 2月 14, 2005

The Gentle Twelve

   Nostalgic for really funny comedies, and tired of not being able to find obscure American movies at the video store, I thought it would be a good idea to seek out the funniest Japanese comedies I could find. The Internet is full of lists of "funniest movies of all time" from the perspective of an English speaker, but the results of a search for 邦画 (Japanese movie) and 爆笑 ("explosive laughs") is rather sparse. However, Japan is not a comedy vacuum. I think the movie "Water Boys," about a boys' synchronized swimming team, is pretty funny. "Shimozuma Monogatari" seemed funny, although I had trouble understanding what the whole point of it was. What else is funny? Please comment if you have any recommendations.

    This week I watched a spoof comedy called 12人の優しい日本人. A parody of the 1957 American film "12 Angry Men", the title means "Twelve Nice Japanese People," or "The Gentle Twelve", which is the English title on the DVD case. Actually, the DVD has no English (or Japanese) subtitles and it seems it to have never been released outside Japan. It is directed by Nakahara Shun, who is known for "The Cherry Orchard".

    Since I had never seen the original "12 Angry Men," I decided to watch that first. In the original film, 11 of the 12 jurors are convinced at the outset that the defendant is guilty, and it takes Henry Fonda about 90 minutes to overcome their racism, class-based and generation-based prejudices enough to persuade them that he might be innocent.

    The Gentle 12 starts from the premise that the jury system is introduced in Japan. Instead of having 12 angry, opinionated people arguing, we have 12 nice, gentle people who believe from the beginning that the defendant is innocent. Then one young man, playing the Henry Fonda-like role, starts asking them to reconsider. The opening scenario is thus the opposite of 12 Angry Men.

   The Gentle Twelve preserves the tension and group dynamics of the original, with some amusing parallels and twists. The case itself, though, has been completely changed. Here is a summary of the scenario we are asked to consider.

    The defendant is a beautiful, 21-year old, divorced single mother who works as a supermarket cashier by day, a club hostess at night. On the night in question, she ordered a pizza for her 5-year old son and then went to meet her ex-husband, who was drunk. After drinking canned soda from a vending machine, they had a disagreement. A witness saw her and the ex-husband fighting in the street, and testified that she yelled "Shinjae!" ("Die!") and then pushed him in front of a truck. The truck driver honked his horn, but could not stop in time, hit the man and killed him instantly. The woman is now on trial for murder.

    The jury that is asked to consider this case is a motley crew of men and women of varying ages, each with their own personality quirks and behavior patterns. I particularly admired the acting of Juror 10, a woman who absolutely could not defend her point of view and was nonetheless obstinant until the end. All of the acting was pretty good. Some of the characters who got on my nerves in the beginning started to grow on me as time went on. Anyway, as a group they represent kind-hearted but indecisive ordinary people, and this can be seen in the very first scene when they have trouble deciding what drinks to order. From there on out you know it's going to be 優秀不断, folks.

   The only one who does not seem to be affected by indecisiveness is the young man who sets himself up to convince the others that she's guilty. To do that, he tries to get them to re-examine their assumptions and look at the case logically. There are several tense and amusing scenes with him arguing with another character, asking them why they believe the defendant to be innocent. They come up with a lot of ridiculous reasons, from "She bought her ex-husband a can of juice, so she must be a nice person." to "Feelings, I guess?" to "Because the chestnut told me so." ("Can chestnuts talk?" was the icy reply). In this dialogue, he is questioning a guy who believes the defendant's story over the witness'.

A 僕は、被告の話を信じるな。
B なぜですか?
A え?
B 被告は、21才で、美人で、スタイルもよく、証人の主婦は年まで太っていて、脂ぎってからですか?
A そう! (pointing his finger like a gun) 当たり。ピンポン!

A As for me, I just believe the defendant's testimony.
B Why?
A Huh?
B Is it because she's 21 years old, gorgeous and fashionable, and the witness is a fat, greasy old lady?
A Yes! That's right! You hit the nail on the head.

   Then there is the man who says 有罪でも、無罪だね ("Even if she's guilty, I'd vote innocent!") and laughs like it's a big joke. He later expounds that he believes the victim clearly deserved to die.

   At first I thought that it would follow the pattern of 12 Angry Men, with one juror convincing all the others. Therefore, I felt the film had a low point in the later middle when it seemed like no ground was being gained or lost. Actually, though, the outcome was different and well worth watching, surpassing my expectations. It had seemed to slow down because the tide was changing direction.

    I enjoyed the parallels with 12 Angry Men. In 12 Angry Men, the eyesight of one of the witnesses is called into question. In The Gentle 12, it is the witness' hearing that is disputed. She claims she heard the defendant shout "Die!" - Shinjae! However, she could have misheard her shout "Ginger Ale!" - Jinjaeru!

    In 12 Angry Men, the jurors automatically believe the witnesses, and it's a big revelation to them that witnesses could lie or be mistaken. In this movie, it was funny that the jurors discounted the witnesses' testimony immediately - "oh, of course they're lying!" Likewise, another big "revelation" of 12 Angry Men - that you might say "I'll kill you" and not really mean it - is again treated lightly by these characters. "'Die!' - I say that all the time, what does that prove?"

    In 12 Angry Men, the men don't identify themselves by name during the discussion, but a couple of them boast about their occupation. At the very end, as they're walking out of the courthouse, two of the jurors introduced themselves by name, and shake hands. The Gentle Twelve imitated this, with its own spin. As in the original, the jurors don't introduce themselves by name, and it comes out during the discussion that one of them is a bank employee and another is a lawyer. At the end, they leave the jury room two by two, and each pair has a short conversation where they say something real to each other, giving us a glimpse of their lives outside the jury room. The two jurors who made a special point of their professions inside the room both revealed that they were lying. The bank employee was really a dentist, and the lawyer confessed he is really an actor playing a lawyer. I liked that.

    I recommend this film if you're a fan of the original "12 Angry Men," or if you tend to like films that feature tense group dynamics taking place in a single room. As a comedy, it was a subtle social commentary with many funny scenes.

木曜日, 2月 10, 2005


    I bought a new mobile phone today. It's a Foma P900i. My phone number and keitai mail address are exactly the same as before, so please start contacting me again if you have any wish or desire to.
    I received the correspondence course materials from U-Can the other day. The kanji kentei course looks okay, but nothing revolutionary. The other course though, 国語の常識, I'm really psyched about. Ever since I opened the box and saw all of the cool stuff included, I was really into it. The kanji course is just kanji. But the 国語 course covers everything - grammar, proverbs, kanji, keigo, even making speeches and writing letters. There are two cassette tapes, lots of good reference materials, 6 textbooks, and you even get an electronic dictionary (no English, but it has a yojijukugo game). The level is quite high (3rd year students who were at my desk yesterday to ask my help with English paged through it and told me they found it difficult) but it's motivating.
    I'll post a couple of expressions I learned from the first textbook.

玄人はだし (くろうとはだし) (origin: contracted from 玄人がはだしで逃げる)

"Professional barefoot"

To be such an expert at something that even the professionals, frightened, run away from you in a hurry (barefoot). The textbook pointed out that you cannot say the opposite, 素人はだし - amateur barefoot. In the context of an online game, though, this would be a cool expression - you are so hardcore that the newbies all run away from you barefoot.

紺屋の白袴 (こうやのしろはかま)

"White pants at a dye factory"

To be so busy working for others that you have no time to do the very same thing for yourself. A JTE told me she is an example: "I'm a teacher, but my son is uneducated." It's easy to think of other examples - you don't develop your pictures, even though you work in a photo shop; you don't fix your computer, even though you're an IT technician. It seems like we *should* have an expression with the same meaning in English, but I can't think of one, can you?

水曜日, 2月 09, 2005

Trippiest Commercial?

    My vote goes to the Kewpie Mayonnaise Tarako Pasta Sauce commercial, which is playing non-stop on a television in the pasta section of my neighborhood Daiei.

You can see the commercial here.

An army of pink kewpie dolls with no legs rhythmically jump forward, chanting "Tarako, Tarako" in an odd sing-song voice. Then it cuts to a zombie girl sitting at a table in front of an electric-blue wall with a clock. The effect is weirdly hypnotic. The kewpie army just turned the girl into an undead monster! Should we be frightened? Or is she just pale and sleepy? Why is it impossible to walk away while this commercial is playing?!

I found the online movie of the commercial on a bulliten board titled キューピーマヨネーズのCMがかっこいい (Kewpie Mayonnaise Commercials Are Cool!)

Tarako is codfish roe. I don't think it sounds that yummy as a pasta sauce, but just to let you know I did start eating fish and seafood again after one year without any. I still don't eat meat (chicken, beef, pork, etc), and I try not to drink milk (I use soy milk, even in coffee) but my case against fish has always been comparatively weak. It was mainly fish's reputation as a brain food that made me relent. Not any subliminal messages from TV commercials or anything.

金曜日, 2月 04, 2005

E3 Classes


    The topic: "All Convenience Stores Should Close at Midnight."
    My favorite argument, by a student on the "against" side: "Bad people need to have a meeting. Having a meeting is very important to them. So the convenience stores should not close at midnight."

Next class -

Thanks, Matt, for posting on your blog the link to the Retrojunk site. I got permission to use the computer lab for 8 of my 9 classes next week, so we're going to have fun watching those zany commercials. I love them. I made up some listening comprehension questions for them this morning. My favorites are the Cheetos commercial, Encyclopedia Brittanica, First Legend of Zelda, Pepsi Michael J. Fox, and Transformer Insecticons. I think "The Clapper" and "Allmost Home Cookies" are relatively easy too, so I'm including them. Priceless!

This is a map that shows you how much more you need to travel. Here are mine, showing countries visited:

create your own visited countries map

And states:

create your own visited states map

I had to keep re-doing the states, it was really hard - each time I tried doing it, I looked at the map and realized I forgot one. I think this version is accurate!

水曜日, 2月 02, 2005

Phat Jobs

    If I weren't planning to recontract for a third year, I could try for these lucrative but temporary jobs near Seattle.

I love job listings like this:
Do you speak Japanese? Do you like to play video games?

Yes, yes!

Then there are questions like these:
Want to build the best Japanese search engine on the planet? Want to work on the most exciting team at Microsoft?

No, and no...and it seems they want a native Japanese speaker, anyway.
    Ah, why do I even bother to drool over job listings, when the die is cast and everyone knows I'm fated to spend another year on JET. I'm addicted to Kobe. It's convenient, nice, friendly, comfortable, everything you could want in a city. Trying to support myself in Seattle on those 3-6 month type jobs would probably be rather stressful. I've been there, and I know what it's like. After much angst I turned in my recontracting form marked "yes". Who knows, they could decide not to recontract me, but the vice-principal told me the principal wants me to recontract, for what that's worth.
    My Japanese still isn't as good as it should be, and that's a reason for staying. After my kanken defeat, I developed the following tentative study plan:
    - I registered for two 10-month correspondence courses through "U-Can University" - 国語の常識 and 漢検 (levels 4-2). If you're not satisfied when you get the materials you can send them back at no charge, so I'll look at them first and possibly only continue with the best of the two, since they are a bit expensive. If they both look great though, I can afford to take both of them. The kanken one should provide me with a more systematic way of studying - I didn't really enjoy the yellow-cover books I bought to study for the test last time. You practice writing the kanji, if you have the energy you look up the compounds you don't know in the dictionary, you do the tricky, repetitive little exercises. Boring. I never felt like I was really mastering the material.
    - With the help of one or both of those courses, I want to get a good score on the 3-kyuu kanken in June and the 2-kyuu in January a year from now. If I take the J-test on top of that, I should certainly have enough Japanese qualifications for my resume.
    I bought two new board games recently: Lord of the Rings, the 2000 game by Reiner Knizia, Japanese version; and Lost Cities, also by Reiner Knizia, German version. We're planning to play the Lord of the Rings at my game group meeting on Sunday.
    I finished reading T.C. Boyle's "Riven Rock". Based on a true story, it chronicles the 20 years that Stanley McCormick, a schizophrenic, misogynist millionaire, spends isolated from all women, including his long-suffering wife Katherine. I liked the historical detail, but I was hoping that there would be a more meaningful ending to Eddie O'Kane's subplot, since the author devoted so much time to him, Stanley's male nurse, that he almost eclipsed Stanley as the main character. There also wasn't much closure for poor Katherine. It was so unfair.
    I watched the Korean movie "My Sassy Girl" (Japanese title: 猟奇的な彼女) the other night. What a dysfunctional relationship. Those who are, in any way, sensitive on the topic of male and female relationships should be warned to avoid it because of all the female violence against men. The main character is constantly being hit, threatened and knocked around by both his mother and his girlfriend, and that's not funny. His mother hits him with anything on hand, and his girlfriend is dangerous from the beginning. However, there were a few genuinely funny scenes in the film. My favorite was the excuse the crazy girlfriend gives to get the guy out of class. It was also cool how she told off people who were misbehaving in trains and restaurants. I almost liked her when she was yelling at a guy in a restaurant for underage prostitution. To remind you it's supposed to be a love story, there was a cheesy frame to it all involving burying a time capsule in the ground and meeting to unearth it two years later. Way over the top. The very end was nice, though.
    It's better viewed as a comedy than a love story. I couldn't see anything romantic about what happened between those two pathetic characters. One commentator on Amazon.co.jp said that the plot was like a manga. I guess the violent femme/hapless male combo is common in manga, not that I would know; I don't like that kind of manga. But I can see why the movie might be popular with manga fans in Japan. It was recommended to me by a guy in Taiwan during my trip there.