Thursday, December 30, 2010

December Blog Matsuri!

Welcome to the December 2011 Japan Blog Matusri! I'm very pleased to be this month's host, and would just like to quickly thank Nick of Japan Soc for keeping it going, and all those who participated this month. The theme for this time was "Japan Firsts." All right, let's see what we have.

First off, this is a little unconventional, but it's the holidays so let's not be too nitpicky. Christina wrote in about her first Japan experience, so I'll host that right here:

"I first went to Japan when I was fourteen, and then again at fifteen. The second trip was the time I had...wait for it...ever participated in a giant group dance while wearing a turban. Seriously. I was living in Okinawa and my sister was doing a traditional Okinawan dance, Eisa, for her school festival and I got to be a part of it. It was insane. And I can still do the dance, 3+ years later."

Thanks, Christina!

My First Cooking Class...and It's in Japanese!
Next, a very delicious entry from QQ's Adventures in Japan. Her first cooking class, with a twist. If the pictures are any indication, she has a future in the culinary arts.

Hajimete Desu!
Rene over at Shoujiki Shindoi brings us a collection of her Japan firsts, from TV to JLPT. We wish you luck and safe travels in your trip next year, Rene!

J-RPG or My First Japan Experience
Blog Japon features a post about a topic near and dear to my heart - video games. They can indeed be a good tool (or incentive) for learning the language.

The Western Sentai Invasion of the 1990's
Sanjo-chan over at Centakume gives us a look at her gateway into the realm of J-Land - sentai (戦隊), which is a Japanese word roughly meaning "fighting force." Ah, Power Rangers was just coming into popularity when I was growing up. Meee-mories.

Japan Firsts
Haiku Girl reflects upon some of her own Japan Firsts, along with the reason why she came to be interested in Japan. Can you guess? Shenmue makes a guest appearance but turns out not to be the reason why Haiku Girl came to be fascinated by Japan.

The Purple Sumo of Naeba

Lee-san at LoneleePlanet shares his first time skiing with us. Skiing can indeed be a humbling experience for noobs (I myself have only gone once), but being in a beautiful place can certainly make for an enjoyable and memorable time.

Japan Firsts: Yakuza
 Proudly representing JADJ, Joe weaves a tale about his first (drunken) encounter with Japanese mobsters. The lesson I came away with? That all Yakuza want is your respect...and some beer.

Mt. Fuji Pictures
Finally, Xamuel's submission of his first trip to Mt. Fuji. Some beautiful pictures and some Enrish, too. I still have to get out there one of these days...

Well, that about does it. Another matsuri and another year successfully come and gone (never seen a year that hasn't). We hope you had a great 2010 and wish you a happy and healthy 2011. 良いお年を!Next month's matsuri will be hosted by MarieLo at A Bag of Sweet Delights. Our next matsuri will be held over at Lonelee Planet, by our one and old Reesan. よろしくお願いします!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Let us entertain you!

As another year comes to a close, I've been thinking recently about not only what course my life will take in 2011, but what I can do to improve the blog. According to Google Analytics, we're getting quite a few readers on a regular basis these days. In business, it's often not that wise an idea to ask the customer what he wants, as he often doesn't know. Despite that, I'm going to give it a go.

What do you think? Is there anything you'd like to see more or less of? Any kind of new content that you'd like us to take a whack at? Please leave us a comment and let us know what you're thinking!

Also, please be encouraged to check out the poll on the right-hand sidebar and leave your feedback.

Oh, and for you procrastinators out there, don't forget about the Blog Matsuri deadline!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Healing waters

At my part-time school, there are three vice principals - each is in charge of a different shift. Just a couple hours ago, two of them walked into the lounge area. One of them set down a pail of water on the floor and walked away. The other one sat down, leaned over, and put his hands in the water. He continued to sit there, slumped over with his hands in the bucket. I kept reading my book and pretended not to notice.

A little while later, one of the teachers came by to retrieve a printout from the nearby printer. The following conversation ensued:

Teacher: Oh, did you hurt your hand?
VP: No, but I'm not feeling very well.
Teacher: Ah. I have some cold medicine at my desk - do you want some?
VP: I'm ok with this, thanks.
Teacher:, is that going to help?
VP: Yeah, it looks like it will.
Teacher: Ah...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds some of these unconventional healing methods a little less likely to help than just taking some medicine.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

And happy other holidays for those of you who celebrate them.

Japanese Firsts: Yakuza

I'm very excited to be able to contribute to the 2010 December Blog Matsuri. This is a first for me and coincidentally the topic of this month's Matsuri is Japanese Firsts. The Japanese First I'll be talking about is my run in with the Yakuza. I'm hoping this will be a Japanese Last as well. I'm going to give away the ending now and say I survived.

Everyone knows about the Yakuza. If you're an avid video game player or movie watcher and someone mentions Japan, you will picture the following things in this order: robots, ninja, samurai, and the Yakuza. And maybe also school girls. I'm not here to judge.

I knew very little about the Yakuza when I visited Tokyo with my friends a couple years ago. I knew that they still retained, or at least said they retained, the honor of the time of samurai. I knew they were famous for often missing part of their little finger, lost as punishment for some dishonor. I also heard that many have large tattoos across their back of carp and/or dragons. That was the extent of my knowledge. With just missing little fingers and back tattoos to go on, unless a Yakuza guy wanted to pinky swear or decided to walk around the streets of Tokyo without his shirt during the cold Japanese autumn, I'd never know he was Yakuza by just looking at him.

My friends and I had spent the night going to bars and singing karaoke in Tokyo's Shibuya district. I was having a great time, but my friends were falling asleep. Early in the AM they decided to catch the first train back to our hotel. This being my first time living it up in Tokyo I decided to see what sort of debauchery was going on very early on a Sunday morning. I wandered around trying to find someone else in the same state of mind as me, namely full of caffeine and alcohol. It seemed hopeless and I was preparing to catch the subway back when I spotted a group of about 7 or 8 young Japanese guys sitting in front of a convenience store drinking some beer. One of my favorite pastimes is randomly hanging out with strangers in Japan. I thought I might as well sit down and join them, though at this point I was new to Japan and my Japanese ability was nearly non-existent.

I walked up to the group, which caused them to stop talking and look at me. I smiled, and used the little Japanese I knew to say good morning and introduce myself. They seemed to think this was pretty funny. I struck up a conversation with two of the guys who were sitting a little outside of the group. Before they could introduce themselves some other guy said their names were Hotdog and Ketchup. I'm doubting that was their real names but from then on, that's what they were known as. I ended up sitting down near them. They were being friendly but kept nervously glancing at one guy in the center of everyone else. I didn't get his name, actually no one told me their real names, but for this story I'll call the guy in the center Yoshi. Yoshi was the smallest guy in the group but for some reason everyone seemed a bit afraid of him. He appeared upset at me joining them. He kept talking quietly to the people around him, who nodded whenever he talked, all the while stealing glances at me. It was then that I first thought that this didn't seem like a normal group of guys. It was also then that I remembered hearing Yakuza don't always take too kindly to foreigners in Japan. Due to my poor Japanese I didn't understand what he was saying, but I got the distinct impression that he was talking about how they were going to jump me in a minute. Hotdog and Ketchup looked nervous. I asked them what was going on. Hotdog looked at me and said, "It would be a good idea to buy him a drink. Like, right now." I decided to take Hotdog's advice and went into the convenience store and got the best beer they had, a Sapporo. While in there I wondered what the heck I just got myself into.

I came out of the convenience store and gave Yoshi the beer. He looked at it, looked at me, cracked it open and took a swig. He smiled, not a very friendly smile but enough to make me think my offer was sufficient. Yoshi turned to the guy next to him and told him to get everyone drinks. The guy immediately obeyed. Yoshi asked me a couple questions such as what I thought about Tokyo and Japan and Japanese food and the like. I just said that Japan is the best, I love Japan, every country should be like Japan. Yoshi seemed to think these were acceptable answers. The guy came back with drinks and handed them out. He gave Yoshi another beer and a bottle of whiskey. Yoshi handed the bottle of whiskey to me and said how he heard foreigners can really handle their alcohol. Oh crap, I thought, he's going to make me drink this whole thing. Yoshi said "Kanpai!" and everyone took a drink. I took a little sip. Yoshi looked at me and said "More, more!" OK, I thought. I took a real swig. He seemed pleased about this. I noticed other guys secretly pouring out their beers on the ground. Genius, I thought, and poured out discreet amounts of whiskey whenever Yoshi wasn't looking.

I went back to sitting with Hotdog and Ketchup. The mood was significantly lighter now, and I no longer felt like I was about to suffer bodily injury. We talked for awhile, sometimes some random other guys of the group would ask me a couple questions. I was a complete shutterbug on that trip, so I thought that since we all seemed to be getting along, I should get a picture with everyone. I pulled out my mobile phone and asked if it would be OK to take a picture. Everyone said at once, "No, no, not of him. Not of him” referring to Yoshi. They said it was OK to get a picture of me, Hotdog, and Ketchup though, who I guess were low on the totem pole or not Yakuza at all. Here's that picture.

Hotdog is the one wielding the hot dog in a threatening manner and I'm the non-blurry white guy.

After another 20 or so minutes talking with Hotdog and Ketchup some of the other guys brought me into their conversation. They kept asking me a question which I didn't understand. Hotdog translated and said to me, "Do you respect him?" gesturing to Yoshi. I said yes. The guys asked again and Hotdog said, "Do you REALLY respect him?" I said that of course I did.

After awhile Yoshi decided it was time for everyone to go. Everyone stood. I said my goodbyes. Yoshi faced me and everyone quietly watched. He gave me a small bow. Everyone looked at me for my response. I got the feeling I was expected to be humble about this so I bowed back and said “Doumo arigatou gozaimashita," which is 'thank you very much'. Yoshi seemed pleased with that so he waved everyone to follow him and they left. I headed in the opposite direction in a bit of a round-about way to the station.

And there ends my experience with the Yakuza. You might be wondering how I KNOW they were Yakuza. Well, it's true I didn't ask them. I didn't notice any fingers missing or see any tattoos. But my powerful deductive reasoning tells me they were. Also, this story would be far less interesting if they were just some guys and Yoshi was the birthday boy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

J-Word Play #14 (Answer)

This month's special riddle was:



朱肉 or お金もち (red ink or money mochi)

I suppose this was a tricky one! The riddle can have two meanings depending on how you read it. ぎんこういん can be read as 銀行員(bank staff or banker) or 銀行印(bank stamp). If read the first way, bankers like お金もち, which is a pun that can be either money mochi or rich people. If read the second way, stamps need red ink in order to be of use. It just so happens that the kanji for red ink includes the kanji for meat. Ta-da!
Unfortunately there were no winners this time around. I'll carry the prize over 'til next time, so check back in!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New domain

Always wanted to own (or rent, as the case may be) one of these things. This blog can now also be accessed via [Fanfare]

Yup, today I'm toying with things a bit. this post wasn't a complete waste of your time, this just in: Japanese people love rice!

Interesting find

I was browsing this grocery-esque store the other day with a friend of mine, and we discovered quite a wide selection of alcohol in a corner of the store. I'm not exactly an alcohol fiend, but I do enjoy browsing the wares of liquor vendors. Anyhow, this place had some surprising products. Among which were:

Suntory rum. If you like ingesting poison and have spent a fair amount of time in Japan, you'll know that Japanese people are pretty big on whiskey, but not so much on rum. I've never seen or heard of a Japanese brand of rum before - didn't know the stuff existed.

Also this abomination. Has to be some kind of mistake. Pepperoni-flavored vodka? Blegh.

Speaking of firsts...

This is shaping up to be a month of firsts - theme of December's Blog Matsuri, first J-Word Play with a prize, first original keyboard composition...Yeah, yeah, so anything can be a first, really. Today was the first time I woke up on December 21st, 2010, har har. But I feel like we're making progress.

The other day I had kind of a strange experience. It was the first blatant, overt, and hostile display of racism I've encountered in Japan (or anywhere, I suppose), and it wasn't perpetrated by a Japanese person. Joe and I had just gotten some Indian food and were walking to the train station, when we noticed this guy crossing the street and walking towards us. His expression was...friendly? He looked like he recognized us. As soon as he got close, his face changed and he became really angry-looking. He walked right in front of us, gave us the finger, and said something in what I believe was Chinese. The only word I caught was "America." Then the angry dude continued past us in the opposite direction. He stopped and turned to watch him go. Near the end of the block he turned around and flipped us off again. Now I don't know how he "knew" we were Americans or what he has against America, but he's lucky the two of us aren't what he probably thinks most Americans are like. There were two of us and he wasn't a very big guy - we could have easily socked him in the face if we were violent men.

It was a very odd experience, and I felt more perplexed than angry.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Witching Hour: An original composition

I've always considered myself to be somewhat artistic - I used to love to draw, I write short stories from time to time, and I've played piano on and off for years. But I've never really dedicated myself to anything...perhaps that's why I'm capable at so many things but not really outstanding at any one thing (in my mind, anyway). Well, here's another dabblance: my first original song.

Some months ago I bought this keyboard and mentioned I may upload a video or two in the future to let you know how it's going. Pretty well, I think. This short piece is called "The Witching Hour" or "真夜中". I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

On my Christmas wishlist

I've seen some pretty cute (read: nerdy) novelty chopsticks in the past, but these, I would really use these. H/t to Daily Bento.
Yes, those are Harry Potter wand chopsticks.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Arigatou Gojaimasu

Saw this music video the other day, made by a couple of Korean guys singing "Arigatou Gozaimasu" with a Korean accent (that apparently turns "z" into "j"). Pretty catchy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

J-Word Play #14: With Prize!

It's been a while, but for December a special riddle with a special prize!

This is another original (kind of - got the inspiration from a friend's riddle, which I didn't think was very good). Here's how this'll work. I'm disabling comments, so send your answer(s) to You can send multiple answers, but I'll use my discretion in how many to accept - spamming me will get you nowhere.

The prize, unfortunately, is only good for people living in Japan, and it's worth 2000 yen. If you live outside of Japan you're still free to participate, but no prize for you (for this one, anyway). Sorry!

There's only one prize, so everyone who gets the correct answer will be entered into a lottery, from which a winner will be randomly chosen. I'll announce the answer and a winner on December 24th, Christmas Eve, so please submit your answers by then.

Finally, this one has two possible answers that I am aware of. You only need to give one. I will consider other answers that make sense. Here's the riddle it is:


Let's enjoy Japanese: Kind of

Here's an interesting grammar pattern that I've recently come across. So far as I can tell, it only works for い adjectives, and not all of them at that.

Take the adjective, drop the い and add め. And what does the resulting word mean? It means "Kind of~."
As in it's more than a little of something, but not that much. Someone I asked used the example of a skirt. If you said a skirt was 長い, maybe it would be down to a girl's calves. If you said it wasn't 長い, maybe it would be above her kneecaps. If you said it was 長め, maybe right below her kneecaps. Kind of long, but not that long.


For example:

長い - 長め - Kind of long
厚い - 厚め - Kind of thick
細い - 細め - Kind of thin
辛い - 辛め - Kind of spicy

Unfortunately, there are certain words that this pattern isn't used for. For example, 寒め (cold) and 暑め (hot) aren't commonly used. According to three teachers I consulted with, there aren't any set rules (at least not anymore), and certain words that don't use this pattern have begun to change in recent years. The example they cited was 難しめ, which isn't traditionally correct, but seems to have come into periodic used in recent years with younger people. 分かりにくめね。

This is the kind of grammar that I would recommend using cautiously if you want to be understood. If this one is new to you, I recommend listening for it now that you're equipped to understand what it means, and if you're so inclined to use it, do so with the words you're seen or heard used by those who are fluent or native.

If anyone has anything to add or knows some rule for this pattern, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Plight of North Korea

This isn't Japan-related, but North Korea is, uh...near Japan (a hop, skip, and a ballistic missile away, at any rate)? So I'm gonna stretch on this. I found this op-ed on the LA Times site to be very poignant: Save the North Koreans!

I can only speak for myself, but although I have felt some sympathy for the N. Korean people, mostly when I think of that country what comes to mind is an unstable regime with a crazy leader and a huge army. I'm not saying it would be a good idea for the U.S. to attack N. Korea and try to topple its government Iraq-style, but it did strike me that I have been rather thoughtless in discounting the suffering going on there. There are so many human rights violations going on there (and in China, too, for the record) that so many people are willing to dismiss or turn a blind eye to. This kind of thing is largely ignored, while Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere fill to the metaphorical brim with news and opinion about Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Oh, what a world.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The aftermath

So a few thoughts on the JLPT Level 2:

I went into this thing not expecting to pass, and not really killing myself over it. I haven't seriously studied in over two weeks. My main goal was basically to see how much I could understand and answer so that I can prepare well for the one in the summer. That said, I was still a little nervous. Test is a test.

I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, but about 95% of the people in my room were Asian, probably Chinese or Korean. For some reason I was expecting more white/black/hispanic people.

I think I need to work almost exclusively on reading. While there were a decent amount of vocabulary and kanji that I didn't understand, I felt like I had most of the grammar under control. That said, I think the reading section was the toughest part, and kanji/vocab comprehension are just an extension of being able to read.

Surprisingly, I found the listening section to be a lot easier than the reading part. Although I wouldn't say I owned it, I felt a lot more confident in most of my answers. Though I don't like how they try to trick or misdirect you - some of the questions will give you like 2 minutes of dialogue and place the answer either at the very beginning or add it quickly to the end. It was frustrating that there were one or two problems where I understood 95% of what was said, but then missed a quickly spoken sentence or phrase and found myself unable to answer the question.

Well, the results will be delivered in February. Not sure why it takes so long - the test is scantron. Oh well. I think I'll be happy with a score in the 40s or 50s. Plenty of room for improvement for the next test, but also plenty of room to breathe. We'll see.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's kind of funny

Although maybe not funny "ha-ha." Maybe my mind is just in a different place right now, still somewhere in America. But I was just in the local ramen shop and heard this, and was somewhat struck by it. This is an actual (perhaps mundane) interaction:

[Someone spills something on the table]
Father: Ah, sorry!
Assistant Cook: Oh, I'm sorry!
Father: No, no, it was my fault.
Assistant Cook: Sorry, sorry.
Waitress: Sorry!
Mother: Sorry about that.

Friday, December 3, 2010

December Japan Blog Matsuri!

It's December, and this month the pleasure of hosting our Japan Blog Matsuri falls to yours truly. First off, a special thanks to Ashley of Surviving in Japan, the gracious host of November's Matsuri. If you haven't checked that out yet, please feel free - many mouth-watering entries to behold.

So I just got back to Japan last night, as of this posting. I spent two weeks in America with my girlfriend, hanging out at home in Maryland, visiting the alma mater in Pennsylvania, and checking out my old backyard, the center of the universe, New York City. You know, I kind of didn't want to come back this time. It got me thinking about a lot of things, like how I felt the first time I came to Japan, and about that fact that this will be my first Christmas spent abroad without my family (they visited the previous two). A lot of stories came to mind. And that's the inspiration for this month's Matsuri Theme: Japan Firsts. The rules and guidelines for this month are the same as always, but let me break it down for any newcomers who may be interested, or those of you who just forgot (you gotta work on that memory!):

The Theme

Once again, this month's theme is Japan Firsts.
So for December, please share your memories and experiences about Japan-related first times. For example, your first time eating mochi, your first time visiting Japan, or maybe something a little more exciting, like your first time being arrested for international espionage (in or working for Japan, of course). I think this is a fairly broad topic, and I encourage anyone who's interested to make a submission. You don't even have to have ever been to Japan! You can write about the first time you met that creepy Japanese guy who lives across the hall from you. Damn you and your stinky natto, 1B!

No links back to your first J-blog post, please. That's really lame and I can't believe you even considered it. Shame on you!

The Rules

The official guidelines for the Japan Blog Matusri can be found here. In addition, please include at least one picture in your entry. The deadline for submission for this month is December 28th, so mark your calendars!


Anyone can submit an entry! All you need is a blog of some sort. There are three ways to submit your entry:

1) Post a link in the comments section of this post.
2) The handy Blog Carnival Submission widget.
3) Email me here.

At the end of the month, all the entries will be aggregated and showcased right here! Well, not right here, but on this blog. Anyhow, that's all there is to it! I'm looking forward to reading your submissions. Get to it, and have fun!

I Return!

Well, I just got back to Japan. Unfortunately, it seems my JLPT test voucher didn't arrive while I was away...the testing center doesn't accept emails and is closed on weekends. So guess I wasted my money on that registration.

I'll be back soon with an intro to this month's Blog Matsuri, and more!

Thanks for bearing with me.

Update: Found the voucher in the trash! Was mixed in with some junk mail.