15 November 2010

Chariots of the Gods

Exhibit A: A Japanese stone lantern in Hiroshima

Exhibit B: A Protoss Dragoon from StarCraft

Exhibit C: ...

Maybe? ;)

10 November 2010


I redesigned the logo and was playing around with CSS settings, and I emphasize the word playing since this blog really shouldn't be high up on my list of priorities right now. But looks pretty snazzy, eh?!

26 October 2010

How to Count Flying Bunnies in Japanese

(Ignore that watermark)

Japanese is not an easy language to learn at the best of times. One of the things which is, while not exactly hard, a headache is the fact that it has a couple of hundred "counter words". We have these to some extent in English too, like three pants (the North American variety) are "three pairs of pants", or two cows are "two heads of cattle", etc. But in Japanese, there are tonnes of 'em. There's nothing outstandly difficult about learning these besides volume, but there are a few irregularities. One such irregularity is the counter for birds, which is 羽. One bird is 一羽, two is 二羽, and so on. This counter, however, is also used by one mammal: rabbits.

And why is that?

According to anglo Wikipedia:
Japanese Buddhist monks were not allowed to eat any meat other than birds, but liked rabbit meat so much they came up with the contrived "explanation" that rabbits are actually birds, and that their ears are unusable wings. The rationale was that while moving, rabbits only touched the ground with two feet at a time. Nowadays, hiki is the usual counter for rabbits.
I didn't quite buy this because-- Wikipedia-- and checked around a bit. And in response to this theory, somebody posted on the Japanese internets:
I was also interested in the answer that it is related to Buddhism, so I asked an acquaintance who is a Pure Land Buddhist monk. I asked the Pure Land monk, Have you ever heard 'You can't eat rabbits, but if it's a bird, it's okay?

"Rabbits, cows, pigs, birds
and fish: you can't eat any of them! Doesn't that kind of theory sound like it has the intention of showing contempt for Buddhism?" he said angerly.

Accord to Wikipedia, "There are many opinions as to the origins, but according to the Nihonshoki, in the year 675, Emperor Temmu forbade the eating of meat of the five beasts -- cows, horses, dogs, macaques and chickens -- and ordered the protection of young fish between the dates April 1st and September 30th and through subsequent bans, rabbits (usagi) which are a pun of cormorants (u) and herons (sagi), were avoided by being treated as birds, or perhaps because because their long ears resembed birds feathers [...]."

[Editor's note: what?? Okay, there are some points where I have no idea what he was on about, so I apologize for any Engrishy parts]

「ウサギも牛も豚も鳥も魚も全部ダメ! そのような説には仏教を貶めようとする意図があるのではないか」

Wikipediaによると、「この由来には諸説あるが、『日本書紀』にある天武天皇5年4月17日(675年5月19日)の肉食禁止令で、4月1日~9 月30日まで稚魚の保護と五畜(ウシ・ウマ・イヌ・ニホンザル・ニワトリ)を食べることが禁じられ、それ以降の禁令などにより鳥の鵜と鷺(または佐芸)をもじりウサギとし、「鳥」として扱うことでこれを回避した、あるいは大きく長い耳が鳥の羽に見えるからとする説が有力とされている」とのことです。
The author listed from other theories, but to be honest, the mix of extremely formal Japanese relating to empirical edicts and absolute nonsense about getting by dietary laws through semantics is a bit too much for me right now. I decided to test my luck elsewhere.

Another website states,
In Japan until the Meiji Period (from 1868), for religion (Buddhist) reasons, the eating of four-legged animals was forbidden. During that time, hungry people said "Rabbit's ears look like feathers, so let's make 'em birds so we can eat 'em!" "Rabbits fly (ie. leap), so they must be birds!

I don't want to argue for arguing's sake, but I think the "rabbit = birds", therefore "one bird, two bird" way of thinking is plausable. No matter how you look at it, rabbits are not birds (hah!) and it was just an excuse for people that wanted to eat meat. ;)

日本では明治時代まで、宗教上(仏教)の理由から四本足の獣を食べることが禁じられていました。そのときに「うさぎの耳は鳥の羽と同じだから鳥にしよう。だから食べてもいいんだ!」 「うさぎは飛ぶから鳥だろう!(実際ははねている)」といって食べていたそうです。

Yet another website says (and this is the last one, I swear),
Before the Meiji period, there was a teaching that "If you kill a living thing, and eat it's flesh, a Buddhist curse will be put upon you", and it was forbidden. (Editor's note, I read somewhere they'd just sentence you to death, ironically, if you killed an animal to eat.) This meant, mainly, raising animals to eat was forbidden, but it was decided that hunting and eating deer or bears or wild birds and calling them "medicine eats" (Editor's note: I could probably translate that more gracefully but I choose not to) and the eating of meat little by little by sick people to help them recover was acceptable.

People who ate meat once didn't forget that taste, and for warriors who used up their energy in battle, it became a source of nutrients. Feigning that it was "medicine eats" and eating wildlife made them feel guilty. Especially the four-legged variety.

So, with their feather-like long ears and hippity-hopping around, rabbits are probably just birds, right? So, they started counting "flocks" of rabbits. If so, they felt a little less guilty and could catch and eat a lot of them.

明治以前は、「殺生して、肉を食べると仏罰があたる」という仏教の教え(名目??)で肉食が禁じられてました。 これは、食べるために動物を飼うことを主に禁じていて、狩猟したシカやクマや野鳥などを食べることは「薬喰い」といって、 病人の体力回復のために少しずつ肉を食べてもいいと認められていました。

一度肉を食べた人はその味が忘れられないし、 戦などで体力を使う武士は肉が栄養源になっていました。 「薬喰い」と称して野鳥獣の肉を食べることは後ろめたい。 特に四本足の動物は後ろめたい。

そこで、羽のような大きな耳を持って、ぴょンぴょん飛ぶウサギは鳥かもしれない、だったら1羽2羽と数えよう。 それなら、すこしは後ろめたさが少なくなる。 たくさん捕まえて食べることもできる。

So there you have it! There are many theories, but it is ostensibly because rabbits are delicious.

24 October 2010

Senkaku Island Notes

I've been going through a huge time line of the Senkaku Islands conflict which I found online in order to prepare for (maybe) having to write an essay for a grad school application. (We'll find out about that part soon enough.)

But I was reading through the time line and through some essays and newspaper articles and was thinking back to conversations I was having with Ikumi about it and what she was saying about extremely patriotic-- and sometimes just very extreme essays-- Japanese people were writing about the crisis on websites like mixi. I also happened to see a photo album on the Globe and Mail's website with a wide variety of far-right racist douchebags.

With all this swimming in my head I started reading a 40 year old essay by famous Japanologist Donald Keene and just-as-famous Mishima Yukio buddy talking about the cultural effects the Sino-Japanese War had on Japan, and he started off the whole essay talking about how before the war Japan still had a definite image of China as being culturally and militaristically absolutely superior to the still-東夷 Japan, with huge Chinese ironclad warships visiting Japanese ports and Japanese diplomats still being given "the treatment" in China while trying everything to impress Chinese diplomats in Tokyo. As the extremely popular war progressed there was a wide-scale propaganda campaign put on by newspapers and book and woodblock print publishers to glorify Japanese soldiers while depicting the Chinese as weak and cowardly and wholly undeserving of their now-perhaps-mythologized glorious past. This view of China seems to have continued on to this day amongst the previously stated far-right racist douchebags, some of whom are in parliament, and a lot more revealingly: it was during the same war where the image of the Chinese went 180° that China lost the Senkaku Islands to Japan. (This is only after an evenings pre- and post-StarCraft 2 reading, but) I think the economic and diplomatic conflict between Japan and China over the last two months, as well as the general attitude of nationalist groups in Japan toward China, really began during the war 115 years ago. The atrocities of World War 2 and subsequent US occupation, the communist revolution in China and sometimes forced attempts to "reunite" the country, and more than anything, the discovery of 100 billion barrels of oil in the vicinity of the islands of course have a huge role on this crisis, but I think the crux of the issue has, Japan and China are at a crossroads right now the same way they were 115 years ago in terms of regional power and influence and Japan seems to be relying too much on those old post-war stereotypes of China being a backwards, lesser country and China seems to be embracing the even older stereotypes of their own grandeur.

(How many Chinese or Japanese ultranationalists will leave long rants in the comments section now...)

9 October 2010

The Etymology of Kaba

Ikumi: your wish is my commend!

Kaba is the Japanese word for hippopotamus. This word probably has one of the strangest etymologies I've ever seen, so I thought I'd break that down.

The Japanese "kaba" uses the kanji 河馬, which comes from the Chinese "hema", using identical characters. The kanji in both cases seem to come from the Latin "hippopotamus", which is literally "river [河] horse [馬]", however, Japanese Wikipedia says it's also possibly a direct translation of the German word flusspferd, which is also literally "river horse", probably also coming from the Latin. Now, that Latin comes from the Greek ἱπποπόταμος, which you can almost see from the Greek characters is almost letter-for-letter the same. As you can see to your left, hippos used to live all the way down the Nile to the Mediterranean, where the ancient Greeks saw them in the mouth of the river and gave them that silly name. So, there you go! A Japanese word with an ancient Greek root.

19 September 2010

The Etymology of Genki

I've been using Google Anal-ytics to keep a bit track of who comes to this site and why, and I noticed people that come here via Google searches are coming here for completely unrelated reasons. This is unfortunate.

But one caught my eye, which is "etymology of genki". Genki, as my readers know, is already one of those words that foreigners in Japan use in daily conversation, but no one really knows where it comes from.

Until now.

The breakdown:

  元気 ("gen - ki")
  元 gen ("base, foundation")
  気 ki ("chi, spirit, life force")

Somewhat similar to European humorism, you could have good ki and bad ki and they would affect you physically and emotionally. This is a major spiritual and linguistic concept in Japanese, where there are well over 10,000 words which use the 気 character. Now in modern Japanese, the common word byoki (病気) means "sickness", or literally "sick ki". However, in classical Japanese, genki was spelled 減気, rooted in the word herasu (減らす-- note the kanji), which means "decrease". So, if your bad ki gets reduced, you're genki. In modern Japanese, the character's changed and it has a more positive meaning, which is "happy and healthy".

Case closed.

17 September 2010



20 May 2010

London 2012 Mascots Look Like Vortigaunts

Former Saga resident Charlene posted in her blog about London's lovable... eh... well, shiny Olympic mascots for the 2012 games, Wenlock and Mandeville -- which I believe are named after the finger puppets from Salad Fingers.

I realized, though, that I'd seen them somewhere before. It's been bugging me all day, but as soon as I got home today it hit me like a sack of oranges.

Exhibit A: Wenlock and Mandeville, Mascots

Exhibit B: The Half-Life game series aliens, the Vortigaunts.


Wenlock and Mandeville are Vortigaunts!

This is probably to get us ready for the invasion!!

AUGHHHH! *hyperventilate*

12 May 2010

Meanwhile at the Sock Kiosk...

Introducing the official socks of the Rastafari religion:

I've been told this is revenge for marketing lattes as "zen".

6 February 2010

Scary Japanese Toys 日本の怖いおもちゃ

As seen in a claw vending machine at a mall near you:

Bits and pieces of Gloomy the magic bear!

No idea what these are, but they look like blood parasites of some sort. Maybe actual size.

Not sure about this fella either, but he seems to be a communist. I wanted him SO BAD (not in that way) but I suck at claw games, and they only give you one chance.

I've never seen Usavich, but I gather he's a guard. I was thinking that Usavich and Putin-chan might be capitalists or American spies or something, since why would the communist have put them in jail otherwise? Anyway, like I said, I've never seen it but I've worked out a pretty complex back-story in my head that I'll share sometime.


Since this is food, it does not technically count as a toy, but it reminds me of a webcomic of years past and made me happy. This may or may not be whale-flavoured potato chips.

Anyway, my girlfriend is handy with the scoop machine and got me a Usavich masukotto, so this will have to do for now.

UPDATE: Usavich

26 January 2010

Product Test: Suntory "Chocholate Sparkling"

"Chocolate Sparling", or チョコレート・スパークリング, is chocolate flavoured soda and is about as disgusting and horribly misguided as it sounds.

Let me preface this by saying that in English "sparkling" is an adjective and not a noun, and is translated into Japanese as 発泡 (happou). Just to make sure, I checked out Yahoo's Japanese dictionary, which had no entry for スパークリング (supaakuringu) at all. And for the record, this drink has NO BLOODY BUBBLES AND IS NOT SPARKLING IN ANY SENSE OF THE WORD. So congratulations, Suntory. You've managed to fracture both the English language and the Japanese language in one go. That's a new one I think.

I was sceptical, but like with many impulse purposes in Japan, it had to be done for science.

It obviously doesn't have any chocolate in it, and it tastes less like real chocolate and more like scratch n' sniff chocolate. Or more specifically, at one of my schools the language lab key's key chain has a small scented plastic mock-up of a bun with chocolate syrup on top, and Chocolate Sparkling smells exactly like it smells. Chocolate Sparkling tastes like a key chain.

Since I began this article, I finished the bottle. I had to stop halfway for a while because I began to feel nauseous and dizzy. Less than 200mls to go and I began hallucinating and was rambling and speaking in tongues and imagining surviving snails on the edge of straight razors in no time.

Here's an after picture:

In short, stay away from this.

25 January 2010

Follow-up: I Want You Under My Wheels

I felt kind of bad for writing that, because I was definitely kind of hard on Saga. But since then, three very telling incidents have occurred:

1) An old man in a small truck almost hit me when he was driving on the wrong side of the road.

2) A woman almost hit me when I was crossing on a pedestrian crossing on a green, and she slowed down and just managed to avoid killing me, and when I passed she sped up again and went through the red.

3) Just today a woman was blocking a cross walk and she had a black courtin covering her driver's side window.

This is within the space of four days.

18 January 2010

I Want You Under My Wheels

FACT: The Japanese verb for "to run somebody over" is hiku (轢く). The kanji for hiku is made up of two kanjis: "car" (車) and "fun" (楽しい, or 樂しい in it's classical form).

If you have ever driven, rode a bike or walked in Saga City, even if for a single day, you've almost been hit by a car. You might not even have been aware of it, but your life was in grave danger. If expressed as a percentage, there is a 99% chance as a cyclist that you will be hit within 24 hours if you don't absolutely watch where your going, because god knows the drivers aren't.

FACT: This isn't just a(nother) gaijin complain-a-thon!

Saga is also well known in Kyushu for it's drivers. A quick search around the Japanese internets for the words 佐賀 (Saga) 運転 (driving) 怖い (frightening) gets some interesting responses.

"Saga has a lot of wild drivers, so it's scary -- (*breaks down in tears*)"

One user, asked their worst memory in the entire island of Kyushu, gave Saga drivers as one of many Sagan examples:

"The drivers are bad and cars are scary. Crash, SA-GAAAAAA."

On the same page, another user wrote,

"Sagan drivers have the worst manners in Kyushu. Go back to driving school and learn from the beginning!"

So as you can see, Saga well known for it's colourful driving culture.

For example, the other I was riding my bike to the mall, and I passed the entrance to a parking lot. The driver was sitting across the sidewalk (stupid mistake #1), well across the solid line marked with "止まれ" , or "STOP!" (stupid mistake #2). She was looking right to see if traffic was coming her way and kept her head at a 45° angle as she began to pull out (stupid mistake #3), barely avoiding hitting me (stupid mistake #4-- well, while technically #3 and #4 are the same, almost hitting *me* put her own life in immediate danger). A half second away from being under her wheels, I swung my hands wildly, and said "What the HELL do you think you're doing??" in English. She had a stupid look of shock and horror on her face similar to Sadako's victims in "The Ring".


A couple of weeks ago, I was riding to the station with my friend, and we almost got hit twice within three kilometres. This is not a joke. Luckily my friend was in-between me and the car both times, which would have probably provided cushioning for me to survive if worst came to worst, but between a guy not looking to see if anyone was coming before pulling out (and already well across the solid line marked, of course, with STOP!), and a guy flagrantly going through a red light in front of the biggest train station in the prefecture, it's almost comically ridiculous.

One theory is, that similar to the film Maximum Overdrive, the cars in Saga have somehow gained senscience and are waging a terrible war against mankind which have enslaved them for over a century; their hapless drivers watching in horror from behind the wheel as pedestrian after pedestrian, cyclist after cyclist is mowed down like so many toy soldiers under the feet of wanton boys.

On the highway home from Fukuoka, there's a big sign saying "Be careful. Fatalities due to car accidents are increasing." Right there on the highway bus, I muttered between my teeth, "No shit!"

And when I say I have close calls on a nearly daily basis, I'm not kidding. I have no idea how I've made it this far. I've come to the conclusion that I'm not a victim here. I'm a survivor. And I used to live in Montreal! I know stereotypically bad drivers when I see them.