New Years

New Years is tomorrow, and for nearly all cultures (even though it may happen on different days) it is seen as a time of renewal and regeneration.  I don’t see why this blog should be any different.

Starting tomorrow, this blog will take a slightly different direction.  It will still be about Japanese – in fact, moreso than it is now.  I will still occasionally write about things that interest me.  I will keep it on this domain and blog for right now.  But starting tomorrow, I will be starting a new daily feature that I think you all will find interesting, and even useful.

I won’t spill the beans until I roll it out, but I think you’ll like it.

Looking forward to your feedback.

A New Direction

I started three different blog posts, and abandoned them right in the middle.  That’s a sign that I need to do something different.  I’m starting to bore myself, and if I’m boring myself, I can’t imagine what I’m doing to everyone else.  I’ve run out of interesting things to say – even to myself.

I have a few ideas on how to escape from this, but it requires a complete shift and thinking and some new ideas, neither of which I truly have right now.  I have several ideas, but they’re not cheap, and one of them’s *really* not cheap.

But I will do something with this.  It’s not a resolution, per se, as I don’t do New Years resolutions – they’ve always struck me as a bit superstitious.  But it’s clear I can’t continue blogging this way.  I need a focus.

So I’ll be taking some time to think about what direction I want to go, and unless I learn something so fascinating I can’t keep it to myself, expect something different in the new year.

Thank you for sticking around thus far, though.  This is not me throwing in the towel.  This is me recognizing I need to try something different.

Christmas

Today is Christmas in Japan, and tomorrow is Christmas for me.

Christmas and Japan really seem to have a strange relationship with each other.  It does seem that Japanese do celebrate Christmas – in their own way.  It’s been stripped of any religious or spiritual significance, and has been converted into a time where people eat fried chicken.

It will, perhaps, surprise Japanese people that that is not a tradition here.  It turns out that someone lied a long time ago and said that KFC is a tradition in America.  Trust me.  It isn’t, and it surprises us whenever someone tells us how big a deal it is in Japan.  But even so, every culture needs its own traditions, and I could think of worse.

Christmas means different things to different people here.  For some people, it is the celebration of their savior’s birth.  For others, it’s a time to eat good food with family and watch football.  For others, it is a lonely time as they think about family they lost.  Some people will be spending their first Christmas alone.  For good or bad, it is a matter of cultural identity for us Americans, much like the sakura trees are for Japanese people.  It’s one day out of the year where things are completely quiet, no stores are open, and there is a certain amount of peace where there usually isn’t.  All of the ruckus and hubbub leading up to the holiday is replaced by peace, as children open their presents in the morning, people sing carols, have parties, and for just one day it seems everyone forgets the rest of the year and tries to focus on what really matters.

No matter how you spend Christmas, whether it is a special day, a not so special day, a day full of fried chicken or roast turkey, or soda and chips from the local konbini, I wish you a happy one.

 

Reflections

It is that time of year again – nay, that time of the decade.  The time where we hit an arbitrary marker that causes us to look back on a particular, arbitrary period of time, and think about how it measures up against a series of arbitrary criteria that matter not to anyone.  But we have, indeed, hit upon one of those markers, so this is a good time for reflection.

I consider this blog to be aimless and disorganized.  Usually my posting schedule is “oh, I have something to post about, I think I’ll post about it.”  So I write up a bit of a post and then click publish.  That’s it.  Generally, what you see, I’ve just taken five to ten minutes to write up, and then clicked the little button.  The fact that it’s even of the quality it is, is pretty much a miracle.  It could probably be more if I were willing or able to put aside my personal integrity and turn into a kind of “social chameleon” – being what people want me to be instead of who I am.  That is, indeed, how you get followers.  It is also how you eventually lose sight of who you are and become solely subject to the whims of your audience.

But, the truth is, that what I’m doing now isn’t working.  I’m just blogging about whatever I want, whenever I want to, and at the end of the day, there is no coherent mission to this blog, no cohesive theme or idea other than loosely talking about all things Japanese, and while folks may consider it interesting, it’s only marginally useful.

I generally do not do new year’s resolutions.  I consider them to be additional pressure that I don’t need in my life, to bite off too much and eventually end up scaling it back until it’s worthless.  But perhaps it would be a useful exercise, as the decade comes to an end, to figure out what I want to do with this blog and then do it.

It’s either that or stop posting, and I don’t really want to do that.

Leggo my eigo

Many years ago, when I was a teenager in the late 80s and early 90s, the cult that I was raised in had a propaganda magazine called “Youth <insert year here>” where leaders of the cult would attempt to be relevant to the youth of the day, and most of the time, they just came off as condescending.

I remember very little about that magazine, to be honest.  I remember the very first magazine that came out had a large photo of the cult leader’s face adorning the front, inside was a crossword puzzle of trivia from the cult leader’s autobiography, and it went on like that.  About the only bright spot was Monte Wolverton’s drawings.  For the most part the attempt at trying to be relevant to the teens of the time fell completely flat, as such magazines are wont to do.  It’s about as jarring as watching a middle aged, balding caucasian guy trying to rap about minivans or computers.

Still, a broken clock is right twice a day.  I remember an article they wrote about Japan.  This was at a time when the Japanese culture was just starting to make inroads around the world as “cool”, and I think they were trying to nip that in the bud.  They talked about a “cultural superiority” that they felt the Japanese had – and narrowed down on the fact that they insisted on completely mispronouncing English words.  As they put it, their word for “baseball” was basubouru, and if you tried to correct them, they would correct you.

Sadly, I have seen some hints that this, while likely not quite as widespread as they would have liked us to believe, is not entirely false.  The very first video I watched was the “Morning Musume English Lesson”, and in that same episode, they had English “shiritori”, where you were supposed to connect words by their last syllables.  What they were doing was many things, but it was not English.  For what they actually ended up doing was taking the katakana butchering of English words and using those .  So “toilet” became “toireto”, etc.  Probably massively simplified the game for them, and I can’t blame them for that, but the truth is that what they were doing had only a passing resemblance to English.

I remember also seeing that in an AKBingo video, where an English speaking girl said “Follow me on Instagram and Twitter” in a normal American accent, and they could not understand a single word she said.  She repeated it in Japanese, and they understood it then, and said “Oh, that’s cool!”  It is.  But for all of the English classes they had, they couldn’t even understand a basic English word that was shared across cultures without having someone spell it out for them.

I have maintained previously that the language that many Japanese speak and think it’s English, is not.  It bears a passing resemblance and shares its grammatical structure with English, but it’s almost unrecognizable.  I’m not entirely sure the cult leaders who called this “cultural superiority” were correct – I think it’s probably the fault of those who are trying to teach them English and failing, and the Japanese simply not knowing better.

In my Japanese lessons, there is not much emphasis on proper pronunciation.  One of my co-students pronounces “me” with a long A sound.  There is usually very little attempt to pronounce the “r”s properly, and there is a kind of English sing-song in the pronunciation that I doubt a Japanese person would recognize or respect.  In a very real way, we are not speaking Japanese, in the same way that Japanese do not tend to speak English.  I try hard to get the pronunciation right (as best I know) and even then, I often get it wrong because I introduce stresses into the word without realizing I did it until after the fact.

Japanese would – rightly- want me to work on my Japanese pronunciation so they could understand me.  Perhaps I would have an American “accent”, but I think that’s alright, as long as they can understand what I’m trying to say.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask to expect the same in return.  Of course, just as with the Japanese, we love when they make an attempt to learn and understand our language – and we’re often more than willing to forgive errors in pronunciation, just as I would expect them to – but I don’t think it’s too much to ask to at least have them recognize that what they are speaking is not really English.  It’s not good when you think you’re really good at a language and are barely understandable.

For the Japanese folks that may or may not be reading, here’s how you can tell if you’re speaking not-English: if you put vowels where they are not written in the word.  English is very precise with how we write words, even though they may sometimes be pronounced unpredictably:  if there are no vowels between consonants, then there are no vowels between consonants.  Full stop (pardon the pun).  I can’t think of any exceptions offhand, so it’s a good rule of thumb.  Try to remove those vowels and the ones at the end, and you’re halfway there.

 

Jyukugo

Japanese jyukugo fascinate me, because each one tells a story.  Sometimes the story is boring, but sometimes they offer an unwitting insight into the mind of a culture.

I was reminded of this when I learned the jyukugo 電池.  The two kanji together mean “electricity” and “pond”.  But if you put them together, it means “battery”.  It’s a very poetic word, and not really intentionally, I think.  The Japanese people needed to think of a word for electrical storage, and well, why not?

I’ve often been curious as to how these words arise.  The word for “wife”, for example, is “kanai”, or 家内.  The two kanji mean “inside” and “house”.  One could say that this isn’t a very forward thinking jyukugo, but then, the Japanese culture is thousands of years old, of course it’s not.  Sometimes you just have to take a word at face value.  That’s the word.  Trying to demand that an entire country change their language because it offends you is…  well… what seems to happen these days.  But it’s not reasonable.

Jyukugo are one thing about Japanese culture that I’m willing to accept for what they are.  Some are poetic.  Some are not.  Some are disturbing.  And some are beautiful, in their own way.  We don’t have these same kinds of constructions in English for the most part, and in some ways, I kind of wish we did.  It would make my language much more interesting.

In my opinion, Japanese is difficult, incomprehensible, inscrutable, and a whole bunch of other words that start with “in”.  But it’s beautiful.  English is all of those things, and ugly, too.  I guess that’s one reason I like Japanese – for the same reason I collect porcelain dolls.  I like beautiful things in my life.

Speaking Out

Today’s post isn’t going to be about Japanese at all, though I might find a way to fit it in.  I do have a Japanese post waiting in the wings, but I think I want to discuss something else.  If you would like a Japanese post, please skip this one, and the next one will be about Japanese.  If you just want to unfollow me, well, go for it, I guess.

I have been on this planet for somewhere around forty-five years, and I have seen some crazy stuff.  I believe I was born when Gerald Ford was President – I was born not long after Nixon resigned.  I was in my 20s and living in Oregon when Clinton was impeached – I remember purchasing and setting up a state of the art CRT television at the time and seeing him apologizing for lying to the American people.  Even then, impeachment was a divisive topic, and even though he was impeached in a bipartisan manner, he was ultimately acquitted.

This is to say, I have seen many craven political things in my time on this earth, and none can hold a candle to the craven partisan display I saw in my country today.  Today I saw a group of people so driven by hatred for a man that they were going to impeach him one day after his election – it was just a matter of finding the right things to impeach him for.  And through all of this, they still haven’t succeeded.  Oh, sure, they impeached him, but on “crimes” so flimsy that they wouldn’t even make it past a grand jury if they had been trying to actually prosecute.

I’m tired and burnt out of the whole thing, and I just want it to stop.

I think, worldwide, that politics are not a pleasant thing.  I know that Japan has a parliamentary system, much as Great Britain has.  They also have a constitution that makes at least a basic attempt at providing human rights (in practice, not so much, much of the time, but they try, anyway).  But in any country, a constitution really is just a piece of paper – it’s the ideas on that paper that are what actually matter.  And when you have a group of people who are so blinded by irrational hatred that they’re willing to shred those ideas just to get their pound of flesh, well, we’re not in a very good place.

I also know that in Japan, people write prayers on little slips of paper and pin them to shrines.  Pin a few on shrines for my country, please.  We really need it right now.

I’m intentionally not stating how I lean politically.  As far as you know, I could be a Trump supporter, or I could be someone who really dislikes the guy but has a deep enough respect for our constitution as to be able to recognize a travesty of justice when I see one.  Or I could be somewhere in between.  It doesn’t matter.  My government disgusted me last night, and I remain disgusted today.  In fact, it disgusted me so much, I am considering donating to a political candidate for the first time in many years.  Hint:  It’s not a Democrat.

I am not ashamed of my country right now, but I am ashamed of my House – and if the Senate doesn’t act quickly to trash this piece of… well, I’ll be ashamed of them, too.  Perhaps, or perhaps not, I am ashamed of the President too.  It doesn’t matter.  There are more important things to be concerned about at the moment.

I think things will turn out okay, but I hate the process.  Just make it stop already.

Okay, I’m done, I think.  Next post – Japanese.