11 December 2009


How about a bottle of Marie Antoinette's placenta?

Yes, it looks gross, but the name has a definite article, so you know it's quality.

1 October 2009

On Host Clubs, Racism and Robotics

This is a pretty snazzy little documentary by Japanese-American Adam Yamaguchi for the show "Vanguard".

Usually when I see Westerners talk about Japan about TV, especially when they talk about major cultural differences like femmy men pouring drinks for yuppie spinsters, or the emergence of robots in the workplace, they present it as being extremely weird-yet-common place (in a "that's so Japanese" sort of way), so it's refreshing to see something that's well analyzed and with a knowledgeable host.

I still don't quite get the robot thing though. Maybe Kyushu is too inaka (ie. the boonies), but I've never seen a robot in Japan. Not once, ever. But, unlike other news magazine documentaries I've seen about the robotics-versus-immigration debate (or, "non-humans versus sub-humans"), this documentary actually talks about cultural differences behind this phenomenon.

I was thinking too, about how people act in stores. I was just at the grocery store and was watching the kid in front of me at the till. The cashier was using ultra formal Japanese with him but not making eye contact. The kid took his change, didn't look at her or respond, and just walked away. This is not really unusual in Japan, and from a fuh-fuh-fuh-foreigner's point of view, at first it was kind of nice, but the ultra-formal Japanese sounded so scripted anyway after a while that now it doesn't even feel like they're talking *to* me. My point is, replace that cashier with a robot and no one would notice.

And I really feel sorry for the Koreans, Chinese and Brazilians in the documentary. I mean, there are enough angry rants in here as it is so I'll save it, but I feel for you, dawgs.

Edit: I want to become a host because, as some of you know, it's been my life-long dream to get drunk every night and talk about virility for some old grand-mama who might be-- nay-- is decked out like a Christmas... tree

20 September 2009

The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in the LL Room

Or, "How To Be An Asshole So Overtly That No One Can Really Be Offended" (volume 1)
Or... "I had a really terrible week at work."

If you're a long-term reader, you may remember, my pièce de résistance "The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in a Japanese Office Environment", which gave instructions on the following leftist revolutionary activities:

- If a coworker leaves a stack of papers on your desk, hide it

- Abuse the laminating machine

- Blame your own bad English on your "dialect" (etc.)

I wrote a guide on being an ass of an ALT, which many of us certainly are, but many of my Japanese coworkers have expressed concern that I took the ethnocentric route and ignored the Japanese point of view, because, dammit, we're all human beings and human beings are basically evil, spiteful simian turd-throwers.

So, in my second volume, I will give advice for any team teacher unlucky enough to be forced into working with a lazy, stupid, badly-dressed punk of a gaikokujin. Sometimes, if they push you, you gotta shove back.

So let me present, the The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in the LL Room.

1. Talk about the ALT to the students in simple, understandable Japanese in front of the Japanese-speaking ALT.

Have you ever walked into a classroom, noticed an ALT chatting with some students, and announced in a loud voice "彼は外人だから英語がぺらぺらだね!" (He's a white, so that's why he's fluent in English!"). If you have, then you're probably the former principal at my school.

2. Got team teaching class? Mark some papers!

Your prefecture spends $40,000 a year to bring a foreign language teacher in to assist you in your classroom to enrich the classes for both you and your students.

But this is probably a good opportunity to get some of that pesky marking done. So while the ALT is up at the front of the class "assisting" you, you should stand at the back, completely ignore him or her, and get the real work done. Marking tests and quizzes.

(Alternative: still ignore the ALT, and give him or her these tests or quizzes to mark!)

3. Bring up the war with a nuance of blame (even if the ALT is not American).

There's absolutely no better environment than an international communication class to bring up the war. Not only bring it up, but avoid any association with your country and any aggression, while still demonizing the enemy. POWs? Huh? Unit 731? What's that? Seriously-- what is that? I've never heard of it. Should I know? ...Let's talk about Hiroshima instead.

4. What's his name? I think it's "ALT" or something.

It takes time -- and time is money, as the students inexplicably all know how to say in English -- to ask the foreigner it's name, and it probably wouldn't understand the question in the first place, so let's call it by it's job title. The ALT. No wait-- ALT-sensei to be polite. Well... ALT-san, anyway. And the ALT don't mind if you use it's job title to describe it while talking about it in front of it as though it wasn't sitting right there looking at you. It is an ALT after all. It's like calling a spade a spade, or a German Shepherd a German Shepherd.

If correctly used, this guide will ruin all international communication, effectively destroy the chance that the ALT will choose to recontract, and spread hideous lies about xenophobia in Japan the world over.

Disclaimer: Dear bosses, there is no Nishimura-sensei. If there was, I'm sure he would be very nice.

2 September 2009

The Difference Between "Gaikokujin" and "(Go Home You F'ing) Foreigner"

One of the first things any ALT hears during orientation back in their home country is "don't try to change things." The system is what it is, the culture is what it is, and trying to change everything will probably alienate you further and cause you much frustration and gnashing of teeth. 99% of the time, this is true.

But back last winter, I was given a stack of essays to mark by students who made a trip to Asia Pacific University, a major international school in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. They met some of the foreign students there, of which there are many, and came back and wrote about their experiences. Most of them were okay, but maybe 20-25% of them kept referring to the full-time Japanese speaking students as "foreigners".

[Editor's note: In Japanese, gaikokujin (外国人) means "non-Japanese", though literally means "foreigner". It's applied very liberally, and has no particular negative nuance despite exclusion and generalization. Japanese people generally don't refer to people by race or nationality, for better or for worse. Most people here just think of people as being Japanese-- or not. So if you're a Canadian tourist, for example, you think of yourself as being a foreigner in another country. However, if you're a Japanese tourist, you might think, 'Ooooh look at all the foreigners here.' And just a side note, last time I went on vacation to Canada I said in shock and horror "God damn there're a lot of white people here!"]

So they kept calling these Chinese and Indonesian and Sri Lankan students "foreigners", and it kind of dawned on me how the students clearly don't know the difference in nuance between the benign word "gaikokujin" and the much more negative word "foreigner", so I showed them the distinctly negative definition in the Oxford English dictionary:

1. a person who comes from a different country
EXAMPLE: The fact that I was a foreigner was a big disadvantage.

2. a person who does not belong in a particular place
EXAMPLE: I have always been regarded as a foreigner by the local folk.

and left it at that.

Next essay, a couple of students talked about "the foreigners" [actually "foreign" fish from tropical "countries" invading Japanese waters], so I figured, yeah, I guess I really can't change anything. If Japan wants to be weird and xenophobic, they can do it without me.

But then when I got to school today the teacher from this particular class asked me to correct a draft of a speech one of these students wrote, and the whole thing was about the word "foreigner" -- about realizing through the experience at the university and my little lecture about it that the word "foreigner", or even "gaikokujin", can hurt or offend people. He went on to give his own opinion that this is left over from Japan's period of national isolation and said we should try to look at each other as being simply human beings before than anything else. Dude! I was absolutely floored, because, to be honest, I've been really sick of the whole "gaijin" issue lately. Sick of it being an issue. Both for recent depressing personal reasons, and broader reasons [for the latter, read the last two posts].

This is the first time where I know-- not hope, but know that I've made a difference here. So despite whatever you hear at orientation, if there's something that's really important to you, don't just do the whole "ALT gaijin clown" thing even though it's easier and it's what they want you to do, but do your duty as a teacher and as someone representing your country and at least try to tell people about your point of view. If you do it respectfully, it won't hurt the wa, and someone out there might just be listening.

26 August 2009

You know what I mean...

24 August 2009

Big Daddy America and His Taste for Those Oishii Japanese Hamburgers

I haven't really paid attention to Adbusters since I left Canada-- well, specifically before that, when I went from being a poor student to really poor student who couldn't afford to buy a copy, but McDonald's Japan's ongoing... uh... somewhat racially insensitive advertising campaign (involving much stereotypical gaijin boobery) and the flood of offended middle-class white people on Debito.org's forums talking about writing ineffectual letters to McDonalds asking the company to voluntarily cease what I assume is a multi-billion yen campaign got me thinking: it would be so much easier just to culture jam the hell out of it. If Japan's legal system is as "weak" with "really no protection for this type of thing" as some people claim, then maybe they should take another route. For example, if Mr. James cardboard cutouts in front of McDonalds stores across the country are so offensive, how about covertly decapitating his cardboard cutout next time you're there for your America Burger? You could even slash his corrugated belly as to make it appear to be seppuku if you want to get really theatrical (you then should make a cardboard tanto and leave at the scene of the crime). I'm pretty sure the actor that plays Mr. James might be considering seppuku that already anyway. At any rate, there are some excellent comments on the forums though, so I do recommend taking a look. [And, no, I'm not going to explain here what the big deal or what my own opinions are.]

Strangely though, this all led me to revisit Adbusters, which has an article on their front page called "The Soul of Japan". This article surmises that Japan's current socio-economic crisis is a psychological reaction to the country's subservience to America since the end of WW2. This article, written by a Japanese-American university professor runs the gauntlets of articles about Japan appearing in English media-- ie. mentions bullet trains and anime and kawaiiness. He also very curiously mentions Mishima Yukiyo, who back in the 70's famously tried to inspire a group of Japanese soldiers to overthrow the democratically elected government and reinstate the emperor by giving a rousing ultra-nationalist speech from a window high above. But the window he chose was so high up that the soldiers could hardly hear a word he was saying, and those that could started laughing at him. Realizing what a total ass he'd made of himself, he committed seppuku and had his teenage male lover cut off his head. Another dead hero dying for the motherland.

(Kelts, the author, does have some pure gold quotes from Murakami Haruki though, who says in horror of the mid-20th century influx of Americana: "It was everywhere. And we’re not French, you know. We liked it." But I digress.)

The author repeatedly sympathizes with nut-cases like Mishima and fascists like the colourfully racist Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro (pictured together to the right -- the far right), and claims that the emasculation of Japanese men is the result of the younger brother relationship the Japan apparently has with the US -- along with being kawaii. He quotes visual artist Murakami Takashi, claiming,
"Evolution teaches us that cuteness is a symptom of dependence, urging adults to care for infants, puppies and kittens who are, after all, entirely helpless. A Japan shaped by its reliance upon big brother/big daddy America would naturally perfect this form of expression. Murakami’s theory goes: Be cute, and Daddy might be good to you, however much you hate 
it – and him."
I heard this sort of thing before before in Western media, but have never heard any Japanese people talk about it outside of that medium. It strikes me as bullshit and fits snugly on Western stereotypes of Japan, that somehow Japan and her citizens are over-saturated sickly sweet bunny-soft sakura-pink cuteness. Ugh. Was the grown who I saw hork into the sink in the staff room this morning just expressing his inner-kawaii? What about the pock-marked teenagers that laugh at me at the grocery store? It's very hard to maintain these cartoonish stereotypes while actually living in Japan.

Parallel to Japan, Canada has a similar ambivalent sentiment about the US. Back in the mid 20th century, like everywhere, there was sudden a massive flood of American pop culture and media. Most Canadians consume this media loyally and sometimes forgetting it's from a foreign country, but we also have politicians who do things like stomp on George W. Bush dolls on camera and say little quips like, "I hate those bastards!" [read: fired] (and we also publish magazines like Adbusters for that matter). And then we have Canadians who totally buy into anything Hollywood and talk about American foreign policy using the disturbingly and shockingly ignorant self-inclusive phrase "we". Canadians too have spent the last 50 or 60 years wrestling with this relationship, and how our own country's identity and culture fit in, and no one would say that we, for instance, like hockey because it appeases the Americans with the innocent ever-winter lumberjack image. Or produce maple syrup because it is associated with warm childhood memories of eating pancakes. Catch my drift?

The article ends with a sense that Japan is picking up the pieces, working out the baggage from World War 2 and overcoming the present pseudo-Western materialism, and finally starting to build self-confidence for a future where the article literally says Japan may even culturally eclipse America. (This is where my BS-alarm goes off again.) I do think Japan has a major self-confidence problem, but I don't think that comes from having post-war diplomatic or cultural links to the US. I think it comes from not having enough links to the outside world if anything. I think a lot of Japanese people are very insecure about their country's place in the world as an active member of the global society.

With all that being said, I do think that the article is correct that Japanese youth are now more than ever very strongly invested in the world around them and are not just interested in American pop culture, but their immediate mainland Asian neighbours and beyond. Kelts is also right, of course, that the not-so-liberal and only vaguely democratic Liberal Democratic Party's goose is cooked and Japan's future is wide open. That goes without saying.

However, this article and that recent Time Magazine article both seem to take a very ethnocentric view of Japan, with the former largely interviewing Japanese writers and artists who have extensive international experience but paying no attention to the millions of Japanese people that have never even left the country, or even their own respective islands. I love all those Murakamis, but what would a person who thinks Japan is it's own continent distinct from Asia say about globalization? But this overwhelming notion that Japan's future somehow rests in the hands of America, or "the West", is something that Westerners think about a lot, but isn't a big domestic issue here. I think the assumption of Japanese subservience to the West is by and large a Western one.

Where does this all links up to Mr. James gaijin circus campaign, itself sponsored by McDonald's (an Adbusters-targeted multinational that is a global champion of equal opportunity employment)? I apologize: it really doesn't directly, but I think both the stereotypes as Westerners as super-cool clowns and Japanese as extremely prone to cute pop culture and ritual suicide are damaging to international relations and very unbecoming for multinational corporations and the magazines that criticize them.

23 August 2009


The BBC published an interesting article about how facial expressions -- the most basic and meaningful form of communication -- are not universal and can change quite dramatically from culture to culture. The study, carried out by Glasgow University, dealt specifically with Westerners and East Asians. This is great for me since I'm a Westerner living in East Asia.

According to the article, "East Asian participants tended to focus on the eyes of the other person, while Western subjects took in the whole face, including the eyes and the mouth." The study concluded that because of the relative importance of the eyes in conveying emotion, it can make things a bit ambiguous (and, really, a bit socially disastrous) cross-culture.

For example:

One of these faces expresses fear, and the other, surprise.

The article didn't mention smiles at all, which is interesting, because I think that's the biggest difference between Eastern and Western facial expressions. Here's a page from Canadian comic book artist Guy Delisle's book "Shenzhen":

Of course, this is not to say Westerners don't do this. To quote my old Japanese Studies professor, "is a matter of degree". I think we all do this -- dry laughs and sad smiles to smooth over anger or sadness or anxiety. I do this pretty much every day at work. I even know people who heartily chuckle when they're scared. The difference, I suppose, is people in East Asian people tend to do this at a higher frequency and maybe in different situations than Westerners.

In Will Ferguson's book, "Hitching Rides with Buddha" in Canada, or "Hokkaido Highway Blues" elsewhere, he talks about being given a ride by a Tokyo University professor and his less-than-enthused wife, who was "nodding with that painfully polite smile that many uninitiated Westerners mistake for being a sign of friendship. It is actually a sign of extreme disease." Later in the book, he describes someone smiling to express inexpressible sadness.

In other species such as chimps, I should add, baring ones teeth in what looks very much like a human "smile" is actually a sign of hatred.

Aside from the obvious anthropological reasons, the reason why this is all so important is -- like I said at the beginning -- facial expressions and body language are the cornerstone of human communication. In inter-cultural communication, being able to read things like expressions can be essential for assessing a situation. And so I'll end this with an open question-- has anyone ever had serious social faux pas with people from different cultures stemming in nonverbal communication?

23 July 2009

Translation Exercise: "God Hates Japan" (5)

Last time I believe I made some promise about writing real entries, but a man's got to do what a man's got to do. This might be another way of saying that life's been pretty swell lately but not in a write-about-it-in-my-blog sort of way. Do you want to hear about how good eel tastes? Care for the details of playing guitar, about why I chose not to watch the solar eclipse [damn evil spirits] or recording my own model versions of Martin Luther King-themed speeches for the annual prefectural speech contest? I didn't think so.

Anyway, here she goes. I transcribed the Japanese from paper while drinking-- nay, imbibing a White Russian and watching The Colbert Report (because that's how we roll), so if you notice any typos, let me know.

Original Japanese translation






My translation back into English

For example, on Hall & Oates or Queen. Anyway, really filthy stuff.

When Mariko handed her life over to Toyota, she became a child of the last generation that has to experience feelings of obligation and respect and self-sacrifice to the Japanese concept of "harmony", which exists to brainwash the public.

What are people like me who are born after 1975 like? You should forget about us. We multiply, we eat a lot, we breed endlessly and also break down endlessly. Besides, we don't believe in things like "generations".

Mariko would start to lecture me like a big sister about my "scene" and when she'd finish her ego driven, meaningless minuet, she'd go out again to buy Burberry products with the salary she earned as an office assistant. In 1995 she married a dentist from Chiba and became pregnant with the child that would become my nephew. I'd only see my big sis once a year but I'd always end up being lectured about how I was wasting my life.

I probably sound like quite the spoilt brat, but if it's any consolation, I'm hardest on myself and this severeness implies I cannot maintain the many inheritances from this country such as the dams, roads, food production, the launch of man-made satellites, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, agricultural science, etcetera. Really, it would probably be more interesting to blow all these things up, but I guess I shouldn't talk about things I can't do myself.


There was a lot of odd non-JLPT vocabulary here. For my own benefit, I'll give a few examples of the curios I found.
際限なく・さいげんなく・Endlessly, without end -- there seem to be lots of ways to say this. Another one for the pile.
妊婦する・にんぷする・Basically means "to become pregnant", though as a noun this means "expectant mother", so it might be interpreted as "to become an expectant mother".
羽目になる・はめになる・To flatter, or to relax one's chi if you want to get technical -- but, the whole phrase "少しでも気休めになるなら" means "if it's any consolation", which is kind of neato.
Shout outs

Quick shout out to Kozo who posted his own translation of the last block of text in his own blog. He, I believe, can be counted as being a native speaker of both English and Japanese, so he picks up on some of the finer grammatical points that skip right over my head. And, he knows exactly what Burberry is, which is a little suspicious ;) [Disclaimer: I understood that it was a fashion company from context, but refused to acknowledge the existence of such a brand]


I'm still considering making a separate study blog, or maybe a half-decent multimedia job that could land me my next blog at some nerdy IT corporation. Maybe a third Japanese Studies blog that could get me into grad school somewhere half-respectable?

21 July 2009

Translation Exercise: "God Hates Japan" (4)

I think this is it. Next time I'll go back to posting real content. Honest.

Original Japanese translation






My translation back into English

It was a perfectly good place. After all, Saitama isn't exactly the Congo, right? Those girls who abandoned the world and all those that live there were extremely demeaning. My best friend Tetsu also, in a state of disbelief, told me what he heard about Mormons. I don't know what to call it, but the parish priest or the father gathers all the kids together in one room one time per month and preaches on the sin of masturbation. He gave everyone some paper and a pen with special transparent ink and makes them mark down the number of times they masturbated in a month. After that, he collected all the paper and after tacking them to the wall, he cut the lights and in the room the stars appeared. That actually must have been beautiful. Anyway, the priest called that "the world of sin" or something, and gave the young Mormons the mission for the next month of extinguishing all stars.

Suddenly, Tetsu and I could only imagine while child-versions of these girls were like.

Chapter 4

Huh? Me? I was born in 1975 a little north of Tokyo. My only sibling, Mariko, was born in 1970 but because her sensibilities are completely different from mine, I could almost think she was born in 1955.

If you ask her what kind of person she is, probably in a word, she would first say she was the owner of all of Burberry's merchandise. Supposing Burberry made tampons, Mariko would definitely be buying them. When she was young, what she was most crazy about was the cheap foreign band Duran Duran. Still, she often thinks of the days when every Friday she'd go down to Harajuku and dance outside of the gym in rockabilly clothing. How embarrassing. Really the worst. The biggest fight we had as siblings happened after I drew tits and fangs on the cover of her precious concert calender from 1982 to 1986.


Exhausted. I'm not sure-- I actually have no idea who or what a Burberry is. Also, it took me forever to realize that 原宿 is "Harajuku", despite being plastered on Gwen Stefani-themed perfume bottles everywhere.

Also one of those annoying instances with those mutant words where the first kanji is the Japanese-reading and the second is the Chinese-reading, for you linguistics nerds out there.

There were also quite a few words and phrases that I couldn't find in any dictionary, so some of this translation is strictly a figment of my own imagination. So if you or anyone you know has accuracy tips, please share.

15 July 2009

Translation Exercise: "God Hates Japan" (3)

Long time no see. Last time I wrote here I was just starting to study for the JLPT, and since then I studied for pretty much two-months straight, overdosed on Japanese, jumped into the Tafuse River, drowned, was resurrected and now am sitting in front of my computer writing again.

So I continued translating Douglas Coupland's Japan-only novel "God Hates Japan", which is not an anti-Japanese religious diatribe by the Westboro Baptist Church, but rather, a look at how Japan and the Japanese people are handling the country's own modern era in a vein similar to how Coupland has tackled Canada or before that, the United States in his other novels. So here's the third instalment.

Original Japanese translation


そのため僕は木曜の真夜中を待って、二人の黒い自転車に忍び寄ると、ブリキ鋏でスポークを 中央の軸から切断してしまうことで、直接復讐を果たした。僕は誰が見ていようが全く気にならなかったし、実際、最低でも一握りほどの人間が目撃していただ ろうが、その後、警察からも誰からも連絡はなかった。


と うもろこしばかり食べてるマヌケどもめ、よくも僕らの国へのこのことやって来て、自分たちでさえ理解していない錆びついた絵空事を押し付けやがって。あい つらがキミコを誘拐したんだ。あいつらが、駅に入ってきた地下鉄の前へ押し出すように、リエコとカオルを殺してしまったんだ。


そ の夜は気温も高く、暖かかった。僕は受験地獄のために猛勉強していなければならないはずだったが、ほんの一吹きのモンスーンで、とても集中なんかしていら れなくなった。僕はキミコが何を見ているのか想像してみようとした。一体どこへ行ってしまったんだろう。神殿の中へか?宗教は神殿が大好きだ。それとも神 様のもとへ行ったのだろうか?それにしても神様というのはあまりに日本っぽくない考え方だった。日本では一人の神様のところに行き、欲しいものを祈って、 もしそれで叶わなければ、また次の神様に祈りに行くんだ。

他 に何があるだろう?たぶん、僕は同時に、まともな理由もないくせに、どう見たって最低な、この地上の世界を見捨てる道を選んだ彼女たちに怒りを考えてい た。僕らは比較的恵まれた地域に住んでいた。テニスコートやキャヂラックや貴族の称号なんてものとは無縁だとしても、十分にいいところだった。

My translation back into English

Chapter 2

For that reason, I waited until the middle of the night, snuck up to their black bikes and by using a pair of tin snips to cut the centre shaft of the spokes, I took direct revenge. I didn't feel uneasy at all that someone might be watching, and in reality, at worst probably only a handful of people saw me, but afterwards, I didn't get any word from the police.

But staring at a wheel-less bicycles is really strange. Like the star that the girls were searching for, when I got home I couldn't fall asleep at all. Because I felt over-irritated...

These goddamn idiots eating nothing but corn, how dare they come to our country and push this rusty pipe dream that they themselves don't understand. They kidnapped Kimiko. They killed Rieko and Kaoru, like pushing them in front of a subway train coming into the station.

Chapter 3

That night the temperature was high and it was hot. I was in exam hell and should have been studying extra-hard, but with the mere gust of the monsoon, I really couldn't focus. I imagined what Kimiko must be looking at. Where the hell did she go off too? In a temple? Religions love their temples. Or, did she go below her God? Nevertheless, "God" isn't really a Japanese way of thinking. In Japan, we go to one god, pray for the thing we wish for, and if it doesn't come true, we go and pray again at the next god.

What else is there? Probably, despite not having a good reason, and nasty now matter how you look at it, I was mad at these girls that chose a path that abandoned the world above ground. We lived in a relatively well-off area. Even if things like tennis courts and Cadillacs and the names of nobility are unrelated, it was a perfectly fine place.


Nothing mind-blowing here. Some of the grammar is a bit slangy, and lots of strange vocabulary which I won't bore you with. For some reason, the spell-checker doesn't like "snuck" as the past-tense of "sneak". Yup.

Just one small note, which is, it has occurred to me that posting several pages of a published novel-- published in the country from which I'm writing no less-- is morally iffy, so I should take this opportunity to say that this is really for the sake of my own studying. I'm only posting it in case anyone's interested or has comments.

And if anyone at kencho is reading this, this is how I spent my POD.

11 May 2009

Translation Exercise: "God Hates Japan" (2)

The second page I translated wasn't neeeeeeeearly as hard as the first one. It was actually pretty readable. Anyway, if you're into this nerdy stuff, take a look and give me your opinion.

Original Japanese Translation





My Translation

Conversely, Scott, the typical blonde Canadian, regardless of his kakkou-ii skater style, also had an idiotic feeling about him. He'd always announce how he met Kimiko for the first time in front of the AMPM convenience store where he was performing tricks on his clunky Mormon Church supplied bicycle. Probably, that guy's hackneyed bravado and perfect teeth were the reason Kimiko found religion, and under her influence, Rieko and Eriko were also introduced.

When the rumours started flying around class, I didn't believe it at all. Why did it have to be them? But what came to mind first was, as Mormon missionaries, while they send no one but this stupid lot to the advanced countries, there's a flow of excellent people to remote places like Sierra Leone or New Deli.

Perhaps I should say, what the hell is religion? What's religion really in the first place? No, seriously. I don't especially want to become a sarcastic person, but, as might be expected, Kimiko's eyes speak for themselves. It seems she got both Rieko and then Kaoru. Those dead, empty-looking eyes, even when walking down the street or through the halls, when looking at ramen shop signs approaching people, cars, or with close objects, didn't change focus. It was like she stared at the horizon and was searching in the night's sky for the first star to appear.

Scott stole three people from our world. He erased their essence as people and transformed them with human-deodorant.


I'm not sure about the last two sentences of the third paragraph. One of those awkard situations where I knew what he was trying to say, but wasn't sure how to put it.

8 May 2009

Translation Exercise: "God Hates Japan" (1)

In 2001, Canadian author Douglas Coupland released a book in Japan strangely titled, "God Hates Japan" (神は日本を憎んでいる). I don't know that much about the book itself, but he wrote it in English, it was translated into Japanese, and published by a manga studio of some sort.

Anyway, I bought a copy off of the Japanese Amazon site a few years ago, and it ended up in one of many boxes with all my other books when I left for Japan. I'm home on vacation right now and was going through my stuff and thought I'd translate a couple of pages of this mouse-gnawed book since the Japanese Proficiency Test is coming up and I need some practice.

First here's the annotated first page of the original Japanese (for educational purposes only), then my English translation below.

Original Japanese translation


高校生活最後の年に、クラスでかわかった3人の女子が宗教を見つけた。物語を始めるには妙な場所かもしれないが、(1) それが結構そうでもなかったりする。何かの役に立つかは分からないが、そんなキミコとカオルとエリコの3人は、(2) クラスの中でも背の高い方だった。そんな彼女たちの身のこなしは見事と言うしかなく、(3) 生物教師のウエダをして、第二次世界大戦争の国民の食生活における乳製品の大量導入が、結果的に、日本人をより優れた民族にしたごとの生きた証だと言わしめたほどだった。なんて気味の悪いファシストなんだろう。とにかく、3人は現実に存在した。クラスでも有数の美人で、喩えるなら、タンポポやオヒシバの僕らと較べたら、薔薇や牡丹の3人は、正統派美人の確たる例として、僕らの前に叩きつけられた。

でも彼女たちが、偶然に宗教を発見したわけではない。それは、モルモン教宣教師のスコットとカービーが、僕の家から6軒先にあったキミコの家の隣にホームステイし始めてからのことだ。カービーのやつは、(4) いかにもアメリカのテレビドラマに登場する、カリフォルニアの砂漠の真ん中に取り残されたトレーラーを改造したクリスタル・メタアンフェタミン精製所に収入を試みそうなやつだった。(5) どこかマヌケな怠け者といった感じで、あの滑稽なモルモン教徒の定番(ユニフォーム)であるシャツとネクタイでさえ、その下品さをカモフラージュしきれなかった。しかも、教会が髪を切ってしまうまでは、きっと角刈りだったに違いない。


(1) それが結構そうでもなかったりする
Bad way to start. I'm not sure what this is referring to exactly, which is a bit problematic. I found three hits for this phrase on Google so it is Japanese. If anyone has ideas, please let me know.
(2) の中でも
This phrase is used as "among" or "above".
(3) をして ... 言わしめた
My friend Kaori helped me with this one, and I finally found a entry in Yahoo辞典 with a translation of this phrase into standard, modern Japanese, which says something. The final verb is reflexive, stretching waaaay back to the を particle, which is used after a name to mean "make someone say".
(4) 登場する、... 収入を試みそう
Here too the final verb seems to modify the proceeding verbs. I'm also not 100% sure about this, but it seems to be "try to ... and ...".
(5) といった感じ
This phrase means "a typical ...". I don't know it's relation to the many other phrases that mean basically the same thing.

My translation back into English

Part 1

In their last year of high school life, three cute girls in my class found religion. This might be a weird place to start a story but, sometimes that doesn't seem to be enough. I don't know if this is going to help in some way, but that trio of Kimiko, Kaoru and Eriko were even the tallest in class. I won't say anything about them other than the way they carried themselves was splendid, to the point that they made the bio teacher Ueda say that they were living proof that the abundant introduction of milk products into the citizens' diet during World War 2 created a race that had surpassed the Japanese. What a creepy fascist. Anyway, these three actually existed. As the leading beauty queens in the class -- if you were to make an analogy, when you compare to us dandelions and wiregrasses, these three roses and peonies -- as definite examples of the orthodox beautiful girls -- slapped us in the face.

But these girls, they didn't just accidentally find religion. That is, the Mormon missionaries Scott and Kirby were on their first home stay trip in Kimiko's house six doors down from mine. This guy Kirby was the kind of guy that would try to make it onto an American TV drama or try to make a living in a trailer in the middle of the California desert modded into a crystal meth lab. He was a typical idiot punk and even in those funny prerequisite Mormon shirts and ties, it was impossible to camouflage that kind of vulgarity. In addition, as far as the church cutting his hair, it was no doubt a proper buzz cut.


So this was incredibly hard to translate. I would be surprised if my version is 70% accurate in terms of grammar, and not just because my Japanese is atrocious, but because a lot of the phrases are obscure and the sentences are really surprisingly complex. This is probably appropriate for ikyu-test takers.

If you have any comments, suggestions or translation ideas, I'm all ears, folks.

21 March 2009

Translation Exercise: "Wolf Totem" (2)

Here's part two of my translation of Wolf Totem (狼图腾) by Jiang Rong (姜戎). This time, to make it a little bit more readable, I mixed in the source text (the English) with my Japanese translation. And like last time, please feel free to point out any errors, irregularities or suggestions.


神なるオオカミ (Wolf Totem・狼图腾)

夜に、狼が狩りに出かける時に、陳が浅く眠る。彼はガスマイに交代する時に狼が囲いに侵入したら呼ぼうと言って、動物を退却させるのを助けて、必要に応じ て真っ向から戦うと約束した。ビルギーはやぎひげをしごき、微笑し、そんなに狼に執着している中国人と会ったことがないと言った。北京の学生が表した異常 な興味の程度に満足そうだった。

At night, when the wolves came out to hunt, Chen would sleep lightly. He had told Gasmai to call him if a wolf ever broke into the pen when she was on guard duty, assuring her that he would help drive the animal away, fight it head-on if necessary. Bilgee would stroke his goatee, smile and say he'd never seen a Chinese so fixated on wolves. He seemed pleased with the unusual degree of interest displayed by the student from Beijing.


Late one snowy night during his first winter, Chen, flashlight in hand, witnessed at close quarters a battle between a wolf, a dog and a woman.


"Chenchen! Chenchen!"

陳はガスマイの逆上した泣き声と犬たちの荒っぽい吠える声で目が覚めた。彼はフェルトのブーツを穿いてデールのモンゴル風のローブのボタンを掛けてから、懐中電灯と羊飼いの棒を持って外に出た。懐中電灯の光が雪を切るように進んで、詰め込んだ羊たちから力ずく離しているため狼の尻尾を握ているガスマイを見 せられた。狼が必死になってガスマイを噛んでみていた。同時に馬鹿な太っている羊は狼にぞっとしてほとんど凍死して密集し、風除けに後退りし、雪片が 蒸気になったほどぎっしり詰め込んだ。狼は前部が動けなくされた、ガスマイと綱引きをしながら地面を足で掻き、羊に噛み付くことだけできた。陳は助ける ためよろよろ歩いて行ったが何をすべきか分からなかった。ガスマイの二匹の犬は羊にがんじがらめにされた。大きいな狼に行けないから、荒っぽい無力な吠える羽目 になった。同時にビルギーの五・六匹の猟犬が隣人の犬たちと一緒に、囲いの西に他の狼を戦っていた。吠える声と遠ぼえと苦しんでいる泣き声は天地を揺さ ぶった。陳はガスマイを助けたかったのに足が動けないほど不安定だった。生きている狼を触るという監房が身がすくむような恐怖で消えた。

Chen was awakened by Gasmai's frantic cries and the wild barking of dogs. After pulling on his felt boots and buttoning up his Mongol robe, his deel, he ran out of the yurt on shaky legs, flashlight and herding club in hand. The beam of the light sliced through the snow to reveal Gasmai holding on to the tail of a wolf, trying to turn it's fangs on her. Meanwhile, the stupid, fat sheep, petrified by the wolf and nearly frozen by the wind, huddled together and kept backing up against the windbreak, packed so tightly the snowflakes between their bodies turned to steam. The front half of the wolf was immobilized; it could only paw at the ground and snap at the sheep in front of it, all the while engaged in a tug-of-war with Gasmai. Chen staggered over to help but didn't know what to do. Gasmai's two dogs were hemmed in by the huddled sheep. Unable to get to the big wolf, they were reduced to wild, impotent barking. At the same time, Bilgee's five or six hunting dogs, together with their neighbor's dogs, were fighting other wolves east of the pen. The barks, the howls and the agonizing cries of the dogs shook heaven and earth. Chen wanted to help Gasmai, but his legs were so rubbery he could barely move. His desire to touch a living wolf had vanished, replaced by paralyzing fear.

Okay! That's it for now.

My question this time is the difference between saying "何々
して" and "何々し". I know the "て" form is sometimes used to show a direct connection between cause and effect, and the stem form of a verb is often used in a list of events, but here I perhaps inappropriately mixed and matched where I saw fit. Any comments about this?

I also wanted to thank Kozo, a friend of mine from university and easily one of the nicest people I know, who gave me heaps of good suggestions. He's been doing translations as well, but rather than doing them are grammar-vocabulary exercises, he's refining his already-excellent written Japanese. He also asked if he could give a shot at his own translation, and needless to say, his is a lot more accurate. But interestingly, there are a few places where mine's not necessarily wrong, or at least not completely wrong, but our choice of words is quite different. I also saw a version his parents did, which was again quite different. Maybe he'll let me post them in some sort of translation exposé.

16 March 2009

Translation Exercise: "Wolf Totem" (1)

Classes are over and I'm starving for something to do. I've been translating pretty much anything I can get my hands on, just for the practice, but unfortunately most of the English language literature I have is itself a translation -- either from Russian or Chinese or Japanese -- or is written in post-modern vernacular and is almost impossible to render in another language.

A few weeks ago, I tried to translate a few paragraphs of "Wolf Totem", a famous modern Chinese model by Jiang Rong. Here's the broken-Japanese result:


神なるオオカミ (Wolf Totem・狼图腾)





注: 陳陣=チェン・ジェン



Source text: Wolf Totem (狼图腾) by Jiang Rong (姜戎)

Having Bilgee beside him was comforting. Chen rubbed his eyes to clear away the mist and blinked calmly at Bilgee, then raised his telescope again to watch the gazelles and the wolves.

Since his earlier encounter with the wolves, he had come to understand that the inhabitants of the grassland, the nomads, were never far from being surrounded by wolves. Nearly every night he spotted ghostly wolf outlines, especially during the frigid winter; two or three, perhaps five or six, and as many as many as ten pairs of glittering green eyes moving around the perimeter of the grazing land, as far as a hundred li or more distant. One night he and Bilgee’s daughter-in-law Gasmai, aided by flashlights, counted twenty-five of them.

Like guerrilla fighters, nomads strive for simplicity. During the winter, sheep pens are semicircles formed by wagons and mobile fencing, with large felt rugs that serve as a windbreak but cannot keep out the wolves. The wide southern openings are guarded by packs of dogs and women on watch shifts. From time to time, wolves break into the pens and fight the dogs. Bodies often thud into yurt walls, waking people on the other side; twice that had happened to Chen Zhen, and all that had kept a wolf from landing beside him was that wall. Frequently, nomads are separated from wolves by no more than a couple of felt rugs.


Japanese novels are generally written in present tense, while English novels are frequently written in past tense. In Japanese, when talking about hearsay or a character’s past experiences, is past tense appropriate?

10 March 2009

Tarzan-ben Japanese

Or, "Condescension: how pidgin languages are born"

Some people here seem to immediately assume Westerners can't speak a word of Japanese and will use oversimplified Tarzan-like Japanese (ie. me... *points to chest* frrriend!), lacking grammar or appropriate politeness levels and reinforced with inane grunts, redundant hand gestures and with whatever bits and pieces of English vocabulary they remember from high school in order to try to accommodate the hapless manchild foreigners. For example, as I was writing this, a member of the main office staff at Ichikoko came in an had an Tarzan-ben conversation with me.

Free you say?

And of course, the badly pronounced basic English vocabulary just happens to correspond to the simple Japanese vocabulary that all the foreigners in this country know already, and it ruins the rhythm of the conversation making it a lot harder to understand than if they just used one language or the other in the first place, and makes whoever it is trying to talk to you sound condescending as hell.

26 February 2009

The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in a Japanese Office Environment

Or, "How To Be An Asshole So Subtly That No One Really Notices" (volume 1)

1. If someone leaves anything on your desk on days you aren't there, hide it on the days that you are.

I've had huge stacks of marked tests, sample MEXT-approved textbooks and a big bag of white rice (only in Japan) waiting for me on my desk after a couple being away for a couple of days. While there's a 99% chance that if it happens, this belongs to a teacher directly beside you who forgot you actually work there, studies have shown [citation needed] that quietly picking up this object up, bringing it to an empty table nowhere near the offender's desk and discretely abandoning it sends a firm but absolutely innocuous message. The first time you'll get an apology from the offender, and after that they'll keep quiet.

2. If you forget your lunch, there's always omiyage.

Shiroi-koibito and day old green tea are part of a balanced lunch.

Plus, Shirokoibito was my club name back in Roppongi in the 80's.

Surely, no one will notice a few extra missing, but they may quite possibly notice those few extra wrappers on the edge of your desk and wonder who the hell you think you are.

3. Cut someone off when they say goodbye

If you're in the process of stealthily "going home for lunch", and someone catches you red-handed and begins to say "otsukaresama desh---" [have a nice d---], cut them off with a friendly, if not brisk "konnichiwa!" You're the forty-seven ronin, and the front door is Kira Yoshinaka and Nishimura-sensei is Prince of Sendai [see below]. Right?

You gotta do what you gotta do, man.

4. Laminate shit.

That's what the laminating machine's there for.

5. If you make a spelling or grammar mistake in class, blame it on your dialect.

This happens to the best of us, where the teacher -- who obviously has read "The Furious Guide to Being Passive Aggressive in the LL Room", or felt scorned by what they read in "Your ALT is Just Not That Into You" (both available from Doubleday) -- smugly points out an obvious mistake you made in front of the whole class, and it's always embarrassing, unless you act a bit holier-than-thou, up on your English high-horse, and say that they're wrong and it's actually a very common way of saying it in your own dialect, and then indignantly lament the misfortunes of the Americocentric English education system.

If used properly, this guide will help bring about antipathy, foster a vague infamy, halt pesky enkai invitations and help cement negative stereotypes about Westerners.

14 February 2009

Case of the Racist Hatemongers

So I was walking around Tenjin, Fukuoka this sunny February afternoon, spending copious amounts of money on CDs and music equipment, singlehandedly saving the local economy. I walked past a group of fascinating gentlemen -- pictured below -- and out of the corner of my eye I caught the word 外国人 ("foreigner") on their banner. My interest piqued, and I joined their small audience of a two old women and a glassy-eyed junior high school student.

On closer inspection, it turns out they're racist hatemongers. It's easy to tell a racist hatemonger in Japan from any other kind of protester* because, try as you might, they will not make eye contact. They won't even pose for a nice group photo.

* Note: There are always protesters in Tenjin, it seems, and the vast majority of them are pretty cool, so I don't mean to generalize them or Japanese people at large. Last time I was there we were approached by some people protesting the war in Gaza, who were interested in discussion, not shouting scat out of megaphones.

So what makes them racist hatemongers? Well, let's focus on what makes them hatemongers to start. This group is called "在日特権を許さない市民の会", or "Association of citizens who will not allow special rights for zainichi", with "zainichi" (在日 -- properly "Japanese people of Korean descent" but literally "Koreans living in Japan") being a common ethnic slur for Koreans.

To let the matter speak for itself, I'm going to quote their website:

In a Japanese society where wild ideas based on a bygone mistaken understanding of history such as "victims of the Empire of Japan" or "poor zainichi" have still not been wiped out, it is a fact that an unspoken social agreement to handle Japanese of Korean descent and [mainland] Koreans* still remains.
* Note: A slur for mainland Koreans this time.

If you're unaware of who these "victims of the empire" are, I suggest you head to your local library. I'll give you a hint though: it's about the same number as "victims of the Reich".

On group leader Sakurai Matoko's website, he describes the Japanese colonization of East Asia to be a very good thing for the region, and describes the Chinese (using another slur, of course) and Koreans as "beasts" who hold no value in human life. And one fun little tidbit even accuses Confucius of cannibalism.

Anyway, not to harp on this, because -- like I said -- there are more people in Fukuoka who are protesting for human rights than protesting against them, but I have a personal problem with the way these right wing groups that talk about Koreans. This stems in something I saw at ground zero in Hiroshima last year. In front of a monument dedicated to the 20,000 Korean victims of the atomic bomb, many of which were "forced labourers", there was a black van giving an idiotic racist rant similar to Sakurai's.

This is like skinheads protesting in front of the camp in Dachau. Absolutely jaw-droppingly disgusting.

And the reason I would post any of this here is, I think the vast majority of Japanese people want nothing to do with assholes like Sakurai, but in a general sense, there are a lot of soft-core historical revisionists in Japan, and to make a spectacle of these hate group's ignorance is the best way to fight this dangerous ideology. The best way that doesn't involve balaclavas and baseball bats, that is.

And if you want to send a message to Sakurai personally, you can reach him by e-mail.

Sakurai's screen name, by the way, is "Doronpa", which I believe translates as "scatmuncher".