Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Well, that was ugly. I still have one more exam left before starting the ritual disembowelment. But I think the non-Western language adventure may be ending. I've never studied so inefficiently or had so much trouble memorizing a few things. And I also underestimated the time required throughout the semester. I just hope to survive at this point.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Learning Japanese

Learning Japanese this semester was a very different educational experience than any I've had since seventh grade. That's when I started learning Spanish, which was my first foreign language.

What I've liked most about the class:
-- keeping a blog was a new and fun experience for me. I probably didn't maximize its possibilities as a language-learning tool. Still, the prospect of writing about Japan and Japanese culture (even in English) made me much more aware of Japan-related things during my time on the internet. I think I learned a fair bit about Japan just by reading news articles and the like that I probably would have skipped if I hadn't started studying Japanese and keeping a blog.
-- I'm happy to have learned a new alphabet (hiragana, katakana, and a couple kanji). This feels like an accomplishment.
-- I got on to the elevator in my apartment building the other day with an Asian. She was closest to the buttons, so she asked me what floor. I said "13" and it took her a while to find the right button. "My English is not very good," she apologized. "Oh, where are you from?" I asked. After she said Japan, I said something in Japanese. She practically screamed, "Oh! you speak Japanese?!" Happily, the elevator reached the 13th floor just then, and I got off. But I was happy to know that if I had only 10 seconds or so, I could say something in Japanese and give a Japanese person the illusion that I could speak the language.
-- Class always seemed to go quickly and efficiently.
-- Just memorizing stuff was a challenge for me; it's been a while since I've had to learn in this way.

If I had to complain:
-- I'm not a big fan of the yellow textbook. In my opinion, it doesn't always have enough explanation or enough examples for language use. For instance, it seems that several things we had to know about which verbs take which particles in different instances were only communicated in class. Then, as class often went quickly, I often didn't take very helpful notes. So I'd be left without a written record of something that might have been important.
In fact, it seemed that the yellow textbook was like a summary of important points in some more detailed textbook elsewhere, which we didn't have ("The Main Textbook"). I realize that introductory books should not be overwhelming, but this one seemed a little too scant compared to some of the things we were asked to do in class and in homework assignments.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Stay tuned

I owe a post on learning Japanese this semester, and I've started thinking about it, でも わたしは げんき じゃ ありません、(fever and cold all weekend, but it's improving...) so I'm going to wait until I can think a little more clearly, and positively. In the event that I fall asleep in a couple minutes and never wake up, I will say that I enjoyed learning Japanese very much, and I thought that class was challenging but good (challenging and good, in my better moods). Also, love to my family.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Research Question

Will I write a better-than-average blog post after ordering delivery from Caffe Swish? I got shrimp and vegetable tempura as an appetizer ($7.50) and grilled chicken with mashed potato in spicy garlic sauce -- Japanese-style, according to the menu ($10.95). And the salad with the entree, rather than miso soup. (Salad = lettuce.)

My Chinese friend's reaction to hearing that I was ordering Swish: "nasty!" But then: "actually japanese food at swish is not too bad..."

Columbia Cottage does not have these things but CC has fortune cookies... So I might or might not write better blog posts after eating Swish's Japanese food, but I will never learn that "[I] have a deep interest in all that is artistic," or that "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm," as I have by ordering Sesame Chicken from CC. And I can now ask a Chinese speaker for a tasty bedtime snack of "niu-nai and you-yu" (milk and squid, apparently). And then there was the other fortune I saved, but can't find at the moment, that said something like, "Stop searching for happiness. It is sitting right beside you." I thought I could use that someday in lieu of an engagement ring, for which the going rate now is apparently 1/4 of annual salary. The fortune is at least as romantic as "I want you to cook miso soup for me for the rest of my life," which this article claims to be a typical Japanese proposal line. (I personally would ask for spaghetti or french toast.)

(But my Chinese friend's reaction to hearing that I sometimes order from CC: "omg!!!!")

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Glass a Day for the Heart

Hakone. Des Japonais fêtent l’arrivée du Beaujolais et l’ouverture d’un « Beaujolais Nouveau Spa ». (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi). Link here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ashita no class

I'm always so happy, momentarily, when Sensei sends an email entitled "Ashita no class." A snow day! But then I realize that "no" is not English, but romaji, and my disappointment is so great that I can't help but write a blog post about it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Technology finally gives us something good

Go here, turn on your computer sound, and switch to "manic mode."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


For the first time last night, as far as I know, Japanese class figured in my dream. Conveniently, the NY Times has a story on dreams today, here.

What kind of dream was it? Well, I'll just quote the paper and you can take a guess: "as a host of studies have shown, most of our dreams are bad."

Interestingly, this science-section story features a creative video. But is it a realistic portrayal of dream-work or an imitation of Bunuel-Dali surrealism, or both? My first impression is that it's a fairly predictable imitation on its own merits--but it's transfixing as an illustration to a science story in the NY Times.

So, music: given this intrusion, and my recent, um, study habits, Morissey's "The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get" seems appropriate (where I am "you" and Japanese is "I"):

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Rummaging through my past on youtube, I came across this curiosity:

"If I Had a Hammer" was one of my parents' standard lullabies, and I still prefer it sung a cappella, half as fast (at most), and by my mother. She has a singing voice only a son could love, but for me she's next to Joan Baez (to whom she seems to bear some resemblance -- from a sufficient distance -- in pictures from the late 60s):

Sunday Times

I'm phoning this one in (わたしはてんわをします、as it were) because the New York Times is making things too easy (やさしい):

1. The first article, "Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place," is about clothing that doubles as urban camouflage to elude would-be criminals.

"Japan’s ideas about crime prevention are a product of deeper cultural differences. While Americans want to protect themselves from criminals, or even strike back, the creators say many Japanese favor camouflage and deception, reflecting a culture that abhors self-assertion, even in self-defense. 'It is just easier for Japanese to hide,' Ms. Tsukioka said. 'Making a scene would be too embarrassing.'"

Do not miss the slide show.

2. The second article is a profile of a Japanese royal, cousin of the current Emperor.

"NEVER tight-lipped about his recurring battle with cancer, he still surprised many Japanese by admitting that he was an alcoholic and checking himself into rehab over the summer. Family problems, he explained.

"The inevitable strain of a quarter-century marriage, a cousin’s cryptic comments, existential questions about the nature of family and life itself, all of this, he said openly, had contributed to his heavier-than-usual drinking."

Just when I was doubting whether I chose the right language this semester... thank you NY Times!

Thursday, October 18, 2007



Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Contrary to what was said in class today, NYのちかてつはべんりじゃありません。 It is an unpredictable hellhole. (Upcoming dilemma: will it drive me to Murray Hill, or will I bite the bullet and live elsewhere?)

とうきょうのちかてつはすてきです--if you're short. I thought Paris, DC, Rome, and Vienna were ok; London and Prague were adventures. Brussels, Lille, and Seoul were pretty good. I still think that riding a subway is like being in a sci-fi movie--the subway is a marvel of human ingenuity, but more dystopian than not.

American Cartoons in Japan

My one-stop shop for Japanese culture, The Wall Street Journal, delivers again. A Page One story yesterday was "Cartoon Characters Get Big Makeover for Overseas Fans." (The WSJ always has one quirky front-page story. I think this is the third in a month about Japan, after the air conditioning story and the cellphone novel report.) I excerpt at length for those who don't have subscriptions:

Characters occasionally thrive despite their foreignness. When Nickelodeon looked into bringing SpongeBob SquarePants to Japan, market research said the show was bound to flop. Japanese viewers were believed to favor characters whose appearance exudes warmth and comfort, a concept known in Japanese as iyashi. Iyashi characters -- typically round, with no mouth and small eyes -- rose to prominence in Japan during the long-running economic slump that began in the early 1990s, when people were anxious and uncertain about the future.

SpongeBob, with his square body, huge mouth, buckteeth, big bug eyes and somewhat annoying personality, was the antithesis of iyashi. But viewers didn't mind: Nearly two million households soon tuned into the show every day. One thing that may have helped is that SpongeBob lives in an undersea world without humans and overt cultural references. "There is very little about SpongeBob that is 'American,'" says Cyma Zarghami, president of the Nickelodeon MTV Networks Kids and Family Group.

When Craig McCracken created the Powerpuff Girls show, he deliberately gave it what he thought was a "Japanese look." But when the show first aired in Japan in 2001, it failed to attract a wide audience. So Cartoon Network decided to reinvent the characters to boost its appeal in Japan, an idea Mr. McCracken welcomed.

In their transcreation, Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles got Japanese names and the lives of typical Japanese junior-high-school students. Since Japanese kids like to dress up like their favorite characters, the girls got more realistic outfits, with miniskirts, matching vests and hip-hugging belts.

Toei Co., the Japanese animation house brought in to help rework the characters, kept the original Powerpuff premise of crime-fighting girls with superhuman powers. To appeal to a preference among Japanese children for longer, more dramatic plots, it made the seven- to 11-minute shows 15 to 20 minutes long. It also gave them a common Japanese theme: accepting people who are different.

"Monsters can be anyone who is different from us. If we change our attitude, they can become our friends," says Hiromi Seki, a producer at Toei who helped create the show. That's a particularly relevant message in Japan, where the pressures among children to conform are very intense.

In one episode, an evil character threatens to bring about an eruption of Mount Fuji that would make Tokyo unbearably hot and spark global climate change. In another episode, a heartbroken performer of traditional kabuki theater turns into a monster and wreaks havoc on his community.

"In Japan, girly love themes are a must," Ms. Seki says. When "Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z" was launched in Japan a year ago, the executives at Cartoon Network soon realized that the revamped plots and skimpier outfits not only attracted young girls, they also broadened the audience to include animation-obsessed adult men known in Japan as otaku, or geeks, who were also fans of the original.

So the network came out with special consumer goods like bookmarks, limited-edition DVDs and pop music targeted at viewers like Hironobu Kamata, a 42-year-old manager of a copyright office in Tokyo. Mr. Kamata wakes up every Saturday morning to watch the Powerpuff Girls.

His favorite character is Miyako Goutokuji, the blond girl known as Bubbles in the U.S. "I love it all! The characters are so cute," says Mr. Kamata.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I had a feeling we'd learn a couple sooner or later. Which reminds me of the song my French teacher used for adjective day: Léa by Louise Attaque (apologies for the video, which is clearly not the band's).

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Makes a Good Podcast?

Sensei has asked us to post on what makes a good podcast. I've actually never listened to a podcast before. And I don't have an ipod, which I assume is related. Clearly, my idea of a good podcast is one that rants like a cranky old Luddite.

But seriously: A good podcast would be not too boring and not too dumb. I hesitate to suggest more specific criteria until I learn more about podcasts.

But in honor of the Chinese Communist Party's National Congress, which started today, and of my recent readings on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I further suggest that a good podcast avoids:
-- blind actionism
-- adventurism
-- ultraleftism
-- ultrarightism
-- capitulationism
-- snakes, dragons, and poisonous weeds
-- revisionism
-- waving the red flag to oppose the red flag
-- the Lui-Deng line
-- opposing the principle of being both red and expert
-- opportunist deviations
-- great-power chauvinism

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday post

Thank you to all the commenters on my last post. However, I'm now forced to take drastic measures to ensure that my comment-numbers revert to the mean: I will write the rest of this post in French.

But first, congratulations to the girl who refused to show me the Yasakuni shrine when I was in Tokyo: she just got a job at NHK, which is apparently the Japanese BBC. (I didn't know what the shrine was at the time; another friend suggested that we go there. Instead, we visited a Buddhist shrine, a private garden, and a museum for a Japanese movie legend, Torasan. (Sensei, sound familiar?) Of course, there was no English in this museum, but she was sweet and patient. And I ate soba noodles for the first time.)

So the French. You might have noticed that this blog is almost entirely in English. Well, Sensei tells us that writing in Japanese is The Next Big Thing. But unlike my more advanced classmates, I'll have to ease my way out of English by writing in another foreign language first.

Je m'excuse d'avance: j'écris sous le signe d'un rhum imminent et souffre donc d'un grand narcissisme, avec mes souvenirs d'enfances (des offices de ma mère...), etc. Mais je me sens aussi obligé de rendre ce blogpost assez intéressant pour ceux qui s'obstinent à le lire:

Malgré ce que peut laisser croire les romans de portables (q.v.), les japonais ne sont pas assez chauds, paraît-il. J'ai lu qu'ils avaient des relations intimes les moins fréquemment des nations développées (43 fois par an en moyen). Et ensuite un article dans Le Monde sur les conséquences démographiques: des experts préconisent la disparition des japonais en 800 ans. Mais qui sait: 800 ans, c'est longtemps, et puis les japonais ne sont peut-être pas les plus froids, mais les plus honnêtes, ou les plus modestes, en répondant aux sondeurs.

En réponse à une remarque hier sur mon post précédent: à mon avis il est dégueulasse de voir certains japonais se cacher derrière les bombes atomiques pour minimiser leurs crimes et leur responsabilité pour la deuxième guerre mondiale. Certes, le bombardement était un événement horrible, mais il figurait dans une grande série d'événements horribles. Les alternatifs n'auraient pas été forcément mieux, et d'ailleurs il aurait fallu 50 bombes atomiques en plus pour tuer autant de civils japonais que le nombre de victimes des crimes de guerre japonaises. J'ajoute qu'un ami asiatique a été scandalisé par les propos cités, surtout sur la défense (ou même le déni) de l'impérialisme japonais. Si on était en Chine en 1967, disons, je serais tenté d'écrire une affiche accusant quelqu'un d'être un Khrushchev.

Et passant du coq à l'âne (expression que j'adore -- pour sa traduction mot par mot en anglais, gardant les racines), j'ai enfin lu un livre en français! C'est le premier en deux ans, je craigns. C'était Le Vent par Claude Simon: un roman intéressant, mais aussi frustrant et un peu pédant.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Article on Japan

In the New York Times:

"Already 78 years old and in failing health, the Rev. Shigeaki Kinjo no longer wanted to talk about that fateful day 62 years ago toward the end of World War II when he beat to death his mother, younger brother and sister.

"Brainwashed by Japanese Imperial Army soldiers into believing that victorious American troops would rape all the local women and run over the men with their tanks, Mr. Kinjo and others in his village here in Okinawa thought that suicide was their only choice. A week before American troops landed and initiated the Battle of Okinawa in March 1945, Japanese soldiers stationed in his village gave the men two hand grenades each, with instructions to hurl one at the Americans and then to kill themselves with the other. [...]

"Mr. Kinjo agreed to tell his story again because the Japanese government is now denying, in new high school textbooks, that Okinawans had been coerced by Imperial troops into committing mass suicide. [...]

"After the Americans landed, Japanese soldiers expelled Okinawans from shelters and used them as human shields. Thousands are believed to have committed suicide in villages occupied by Japanese soldiers; mass suicides did not take place where there were no soldiers."

Friday, October 5, 2007

An Open Letter to My Professors

Dear Professors,

If I had special powers, I assure you that my very first exercise of them would be to arrive to class on time, every single day. Alas, I have none.

It pains me nearly as much as it must pain you when I lumber in late with my laptop. Is it not richly ironic that I myself taught for two years, and nothing (to exaggerate slightly) galled me so much as my students' tardiness?

(Even if my only special power were that of invisibility, and I could thereby sidestep the drama of a conspicuous late entrance, I realize that you might still find it unsettling if I simply showed up in my seat five minutes into class.)

So it goes without saying that I sympathize deeply with your vexation--I share it, in fact. If I had any power at all to alleviate it, please believe me when I say that I would not fail to do so.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007



Self-portrait as a dogu:

Monday, October 1, 2007

Another Friend Gets Engaged

Japanese connection: He once dated a Japanese girl, and a half-Japanese girl, but his fiancee is Chinese. (He's of Vietnamese ethnicity.)

"True Love Will Find You in the End," Daniel Johnston: