Saturday, February 27, 2010

Yeah, yeah - FFXIII is out

Teacher: 突然ですが、先生は明日からお休みします。
Student: なんで休むんですか?
Teacher: (三年間、この日を待っていた)。

Teacher: Sorry it's rather sudden, but from tomorrow I'll be absent from class.
Student: Why won't you be here?
Teacher: (I've waited for this day for three years).


Kind of funny commercial, but it is representative of how some people feel about these games. I remember a time when Final Fantasy did that for me, but it was years ago. I don't think I've been excited for a Final Fantasy game since VII or VIII. And they didn't really help my feelings towards the franchise. They weren't bad, but they just didn't do it for me. Ah well - I'll always have FF VI.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sumo gets even more Japanese

That headline is putting it in the nicest possible terms. Honestly I got a bit angry reading about this, and I'm not even a fan of sumo.

I'm talking about the Japan Sumo Association's recent decision to limit the amount of foreigners allowed to participate in the sport. "Foreigner" here means foreign-born. So tough luck to those naturalized citizens.

I especially like his point:

How about having some international sports leagues limit their Japanese players to one — say, Japanese in Major League Baseball teams? Including those Japanese who have naturalized? Oh wait, do I hear calls of racism from the Japanese Peanut Galleries? Yes, the shoe on the other foot would pinch, wouldn’t it? And the sport as a whole would suffer since innate talent (as we have seen by the number of talented sumo rikishi from overseas) is hardly a nativist issue. But try telling that to the racist JSA.

Let's take it one step further and limit MLB teams to one foreigner per team, not just Japanese. Hey - it's an American sport, right? So let's keep it pure. Let the Japanese wannabe-players compete with all the other foreign-born players.

J-Word Play #7 (Answer)

Last week's riddle read:


A round of kudos to Joe for giving the correct answer.


オムウレツ or オムウライス (Omelets or Omelet rice)

So the riddle says: "There's a restaurant with parrots lined up in front. What kind of restaurant is it?"

The answer here depends on connecting the word パロット (parotto; parrot) with the other Japanese word for parrot - オムウ(omuu). From there you can pun your way into either オムウレツ (omuuretsu; omelets) or オムウライス (Omu-rice).

Denizens of Japan #5: Karasu (Crows)

Ah, the crow. If the eagle is the king of the bird kingdom, then the crow must be the asshat. These things didn't bother me too much back in the States, but that may just be because I never really had to contend with them. They were just kind of there.

In Japanese, "crow" is からす (karasu). The kanji (烏) looks almost exactly like the one for bird (鳥; tori). Interestingly, the sound a crow makes is almost exactly the same in English and Japanese - "caw" or かあ (kaa). Anyway, in Japan people don't use trash cans or bins when we put out our trash. At least they haven't anywhere that I've been. Usually you bag your garbage and put it in a designated area outside - usually on a curb or in the street. If you're lucky, your trash area may be caged off or in a little shelter. Normally, though, you're putting your garbage under a little net. People will put rocks on top of these nets to make it more difficult for animals to get at the bags, but crows aren't stupid. These dingleberries have big, nasty-looking beaks, and they know how to use them. It's not uncommon to be walking down the street and see a torn garbage bag or two under a net, with orange peels and chopsticks and whatnot scattered all over the pavement. In those cases all you can do is curse silently and pump your fist at any crows you see nearby, and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.

The sounds these guys make also annoy or alarm some folk. When my friend from the States visited, he commented that "those bastard birds" kept waking him up every morning. They don't wake me up, but I can see how they would some people - they sound like shrieking infants.

Honestly, the size of these things has always freaked me out a little. While they're generally pretty cautious, bumming around power lines and high fences, occasionally they will come pretty close. And although I think I could take on a crow, those beaks could do some serious damage. And don't tell me I'm being paranoid. "They're birds, aren't they?"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Pretz!

I have to say, these commercials are catchy. In an odd kind of way.

Just another random thought 2/23/10: McFail

Right now McDonald's in Japan is running a promotion called "Big America," which entails featuring a new huge-ass burger every (I believe) couple of weeks. They're big, because Americans like big things. And burgers. Get it? Big America.

I tried to get a Texas Burger a few weeks ago, but alas they were all I have decided not to buy any of the others out of spite! Anyway, the other day I was in a McDonald's eating not a sumptuous-looking Hawaiian Burger, but rather a passably good Chicken Fillet sandwich (Take that, McD!). I looked down at my tray, and noticed this:

Now this actually isn't so much of a McFail as it is someone in Marketing's McStake (Zing!), but what's with the nomenclatural inconsistency? Texas Burger, New York Burger, Hawaiian Burger, and California Burger. Why not Hawaii Burger? Nit-picky? Maybe. But I get paid to teach people stuff like why it's more correct to say "the opportunity to do something" than "the opportunity of doing something." Man, someday I'm gonna miss this job.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

J-Word Play #7

This one is from Dylan. See if you can crack it:


I'll post the answer next week along with credit to any winners. Send your answer(s) to:

Ramen Biker

Haha - what a jerk...makes me want to eat some ramen.

Getting by in Japan: Nutrition

As should be fairly self-evident, living in a foreign country almost invariably presents a number of challenges. The exact nature of these obstacles and how difficult they are to adjust to depends on a number of factors, such as which countries one is moving from and to, personal adaptability, profession, language ability, etc.

From now on I'd like to periodically write about some of the challenges that I and friends of mine have faced in Japan, and hopefully provide some resources and/or advice in each case. It's my hope that this will be of help to someone living in or planning to live in Japan.

Since coming here and adjusting to living alone, I've found myself becoming more and more conscious of healthy living. When there's no campus dining hall or mom to cook for you, you basically have three choices: (1) Eating out all the time, (2) Buying pre-made stuff like sushi or sandwiches every day, or (3) Manning up and learning how to cook. Options (1) and (2) can both get expensive and unhealthy, and they don't add anything to you as a person. I think you can see where I'm going with this.

I'll save cooking tips for a future post. First, I want to talk a little bit about how my diet has changed since coming to Japan. It's a frequent observation that Japanese people are generally much thinner than we in the West. I credit several factors for this trend, but diet is no doubt an important part of it. Aside from eating different foods, Japanese people eat less. Sometimes this means smaller portions, but what I have in mind is snacks. In my experience, Japanese people don't chow down between meals as often as we do in the States, anyway. I've attempted to drop this habit recently. We eat for a lot of reasons aside from hunger - boredom, depression, social interaction. Reading about the science behind some of it makes you think.

Cutting out snacks can be tough. Sometimes you just want to eat. I know - about an hour ago I was going to town on a big bag of pretzels I got at Costco. I think the trick, however, is always trying to keep nutrition in mind. Tangerines make good, healthy snacks. Bananas, too - those are filling. But if you really need something less healthy and yet don't want to go overboard, read on.

Before I link this more fully to living here, another, related challenge I have encountered has been trying to adjust my diet in conjunction with my exercising routines. There have been times during the past year when I have wanted to put on muscle. Protein and calcium are important for getting strong.

But how the hell do you know what your body needs when all the nutrition facts are in Japanese?

And what about trying to make sure you're getting enough vitamins and minerals? One thing I frequently miss about life back home, as insignificant as it sounds, is the availability of nutrition labels that provide Percent Daily Value information. Ok, these yogurt raisins have 12.9 g of fat, but what percentage of your daily allowance is that? If you don't know how much fat is okay to eat per day, knowing that you just ate 12.9 g means absolutely nothing to you!

Worry not - I'm here to help. If you care about your daily allowances, you will have to do some arithmetic. Luckily, it's not that difficult. From the Mayo Clinic's website on food and nutrition, here is the first part of what you need to know, condensed into a nifty table (based on a 2,000 calorie diet):

Reference values for nutrition labeling: How much should you get each day?
NutrientAmount for adults
Biotin0.3 milligrams (mg)
Calcium1,000 mg
Copper2 mg
Folic acid0.4 mg
Iron18 mg
Magnesium400 mg
Niacin20 mg
Pantothenic acid10 mg
Phosphorus1,000 mg
Protein50 grams (g)
Riboflavin1.7 mg
Thiamin1.5 mg
Vitamin A5,000 international units (IU)
Vitamin B-126 micrograms
Vitamin B-62 mg
Vitamin C60 mg
Vitamin D400 IU
Vitamin E30 IU
Zinc15 mg
Reference values for nutrition labeling: How much should you get each day?
NutrientAmount for adults
Total fatLess than 65 grams (g)
Saturated fatLess than 20 g
Trans fatLess than 2 g
CholesterolLess than 300 milligrams (mg)
Total carbohydrate300 g
FiberAt least 25 g
SodiumLess than 2,400 mg
Potassium3,500 mg

Unfortunately International Units (IU), which are used in a couple places, are pretty ambiguous. But then I doubt you're going to be monitoring your Vitamin A intake that closely, so let's move on.

Ok, now that you know you should probably be eating less than 2,400 mg of sodium per day, how do you figure out how much sodium that Men's Pocky has? Well, if you're good at Japanese then you're dismissed. I promise you there's nothing amusing from here on in - just stuff you already know. If you can't read Japanese, or don't know the words for stuff like calories and sodium, here's some nifty information for you!

Calories - エネルギー (enerugi)
Protein - たんぱく質 (tanpaku shitsu)
Fat -脂質 (shi shitsu)
Carbohydrates - 炭水化物 (tansuikabutsu)
Sodium -ナトリウム (natoriumu)
Fiber -繊維質 (seni shitsu)
Sugar - 糖 (tou)
Iron - 鉄 (tetsu)

Vitamin - ビタミン (bitamin)

Those are probably the most important ones to know. If you can read katakana, you should be able to figure out any other nutrients. If you can't read katakana, get studying! I'll leave you with a couple compounds you'll want to know if you're into eating healthy:

全粒粉 - if you find this one on a pack of bread, it indicates whole wheat. Snag that!

脱脂乳 - skim milk. Unless you enjoy drinking cream-like cow juice, I recommend looking for this.

Update: Tim adds - "Don't forget high fructose corn syrup. That crap is in everything 果糖ぶどう糖液糖. But it is usually just the last 2 kanji, 液糖."

Update (1/13/11)I had been thinking about adding this addendum for a while, forgot, and then Orchid at 1000 Things About Japan wrote an entry on labeling information and reminded me.

It's important to pay attention to labeling and serving sizes. As Orchid notes, different products measure serving sizes in different amounts. The amount is noted with the nutrition information, but figuring out the total property values isn't always straightforward.

Above is a blurry photo of a box of Kilimanjaro Blend coffee. The label notes that the values correspond to one juice box (1本), which is 250 ml. Sometimes, though, the information will refer to 100 ml, or 200, or some other arbitrary amount. And the total contents may not be printed clearly on the front of the label. In this case, you must look on the back for 内容量, which means "amount contained." It will usually say something like "内容量: 500 ml."

Also, sugar is not always sugar. In America, I believe labels usually specify how many calories are compose of sugar. In Japan, though, many times you won't see the kanji for sugar (糖 or 砂糖 or 糖類). You may only see 炭水化物, carbohydrates. But if you're eating or drinking something sweet, chances are many or most of those carbs are actually sugar.

Update: 3/9/11 - new post related to nutrition. Beware of vague labeling!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My awesome Valentine

I got a Valentine from a student today that I just had to share. It's a small bag of candy with a message written on it in magic marker.

It reads:


It doesn't really translate exactly (which often tends to be the case), but basically:

The *baby talk-like Japanese that you sometimes use is super cute. (lol)
*Although our English class won't continue from here, please remember me.

How cute is that? This is from a girl who is generally pretty quiet - it's always rewarding to hear from the quiet ones. I didn't realize I spoke カタコト (baby-talk, babble) Japanese, but hey, if it helps students remember my classes, then goo-goo-gah-gah, mofos.

Update: Daniel left some feedback in the comments section about the translation of girlie's note:

カタコト can also be written 片言, so it's closer to "broken Japanese" than "baby talk" I think. And it's not that class won't continue, in that second line she's saying, "I only get to see you during English IB, but I hope we can be friends forever!" Or something like that. 接する is closer to "interact with" and "spend time with" than "continue."

So as my first Japanese teacher used to say, "Let's enjoy our mistakes!"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lemon Cider

What the hell is she doing to that poor giant lemon? Whatever it is, she seems to enjoy it. Sadistic girl!

Update: According to my friend Ben (and his Japanese girlfriend), "gyuuuu" is the sound of hugging, as "chuuuuu" would be a kiss.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The "Daddening" of games

Not exactly a post about Japan, but video games are, uh...often Japanese? Anyway, here's a pretty fascinating article from Kotaku about how games have begun to trend toward putting players in the role of father. When properly executed, it's certainly an effective way to engage players and amplify both motivation and emotional response.

I haven't played Bioshock 2 yet, but I find the idea of playing as a Big Daddy and protecting Little Sisters to be an interesting and not unwelcome twist.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I agree

Expect another full post or two this weekend, but for now - a morsel for you to feed on:

A perfectly reasonable reaction from the kid, I think. In Japan, Kewpie is pretty much a cultural icon - you see little Kewpie key chains and food items all over the place. And just so you know, they are singing about 鱈子 (tarako), which is salty fish eggs. Tarako over pasta is a popular dish over here, hence the advertisement for Kewpie brand tarako pasta sauce.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The best milk ever

It's all in Japanese, but all you have to know is this - in the first commercial, the boy's cohort tells him that drinking milk will make him strong. In the second commercial, the girl's friend says that drinking milk will make her beautiful. In the third, milk seems too grant super concentration. I'd better start drinking more milk.

J-Music and Me: 8-Bit Ikimono

When it comes to J-pop and J-rock, I'm very picky. There's a lot of stuff out there that just doesn't do it for me. Maybe part of the reason is that most rock/pop stars in Japan are also idols and TV or movie stars. They're watered down because they don't focus on their music. Now I'm sure the same charges can be leveled against many Western artists, but in most cases not the ones I like. People like David Bowie and Sting are the exception rather than the rule (and even they are a lot more well-known for their music than the movies they were in).

Get the hell outta here, SMAP
That's right, SMAP - stop singing and go make another poopy movie!

Basically a lot of mainstream artists just strike me as toolboxes. That said, I do try to give Japanese artists a chance, and sometimes something will strike a chord with me for one reason or another. This time I wanted to share a music video by a band named Ikimono Gakari (いきものがかり). Some people translate their name into English as "Creature Clerk" or something to that effect, but I don't find that accurate enough. In Japanese, an ikimono is a living thing (or, yes, a creature), and a kakari (or gakari in some cases) is a clerk or caretaker. But an ikimono gakari, I believe, is a school child who is charged with the task of taking care of his or her class' wildlife - whatever pets or plants they may be keeping.

Anyway, while Ikimono Garakri probably isn't a group I would listen to on my i-Pod, they do have some pretty rad music videos and the songs themselves aren't too bad either. Last year I came across a video of their's that features 8-bit video game graphics. Woot - right up my alley. Doesn't hurt that their vocalist is easy on the eyes, either, although that's a pretty standard feature of J-pop. So here's Ikimono Gakari's "Kimagure Romantic," which I figure to mean something like "Fickle Romantic"

(Used to be on YouTube, but appears to have been removed. For now, check it out here:

Friday, February 5, 2010

More banana madness

No FFVII Remake? QQ

There's word over at Kotaku that a FFVII remake, which some people have been anticipating, is not looking so likely given the amount of time and money such a production would cost. I just wanted to weigh in by saying: Tough doody.

Sorry if any Final Fantasy VII fans out there are offended. Actually, no, I'm not. Final Fantasy VII was a good game, and at the time I enjoyed it. But it hasn't aged well. Many people who consider it their favorite game or RPG of all time do so because it was their gateway to the realm of RPGs. I'll be the first one to admit that nostalgia can add a powerful pull to a game. I've been playing since the first one for the NES, though, and it's my personal opinion that FFVII wasn't the peak of the series. Not even close. I hate to trash a good game, but its cult-like fan base has really turned me off on it. Why should there be a remake of FFVII? There hasn't been a remake of FFIV or VI, and those two were awesome. And the crappy FFIV remake doesn't count - that had horrible voice acting and crappy FFVII-like graphics. I'm talking about a full-blown PS3 remake, which is what people have been hoping for in FFVII's case.

To anyone who doesn't follow video games and has no idea what I've been going on about, apologies. Final Fantasy VII is one topic that gets me worked up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Let's enjoy Japanese: Playing around

I noticed that Dumb Otaku wrote up a post today about the use of the Japanese word 遊ぶ (asobu). He writes:

The word for “play” in Japanese does not necessarily have the same context in Japanese as it does in English.
In English when we think play we think, in general, we think games or sports. From tennis and golf to video games or mind games.
The word 遊ぶ (あそぶ) can mean up to three main things.
  • to play
  • to spend time pleasantly
  • to pay a social visit

I'm not going to rehash what he's written - if you're interested in examples for his three categorizations, you can pop over to his site and have a look. What I did want t add, though, is something that has become one of my language education-related pet peeves.

Whenever I ask my students about their winter/summer/spring vacation or what they did over a long weekend, I inevitably get: "I played with my friend." This is where I try in vain to teach them to use the expression "hang out." "I hung out with my friend," I tell them. They rarely remember. But you can hardly blame them - the textbooks always translate 遊ぶ as "play." I'm sure there are people who will tell you that "hang out" is not proper English, but do you know of any teenagers or adults that get together to "play?" Whenever I have the opportunity, I try to explain that "play" is used mostly just for children in this context and "hang out" is for anyone who's not a child.

But alas, just as sure as the automatic Japanese reply to "How are you?" will always be "Fine, thank you. And you?" I don't see this play/hang out confusion getting better any time soon.

Pretz Commercial

Beep ba boop ba boop be bop boo...or something.