Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Noodle baths and more

The other day I was watching this weekly roundup video on YouTube and it had a piece on an, uh, interesting bathhouse in Hakone.

Apparently customers can visit the novelty bathhouse to soak in giant ramen jacuzzi tubs. Don't worry, the noodles are fake.

My curiosity piqued, I did a search and then did some rummaging around on their website. The place is called  ユネッサン (Yunessan) and it's a kind of Spa/Bathhouse mini-resort. They have indoor and outdoor areas with all kinds of different baths. I don't see the ramen bath mentioned on their website, but there are a number of other weird ones - green tea, coffee, and wine for example. And then there are a number with just plain old boring water.

Back when I was a student in Japan I went to one of these-type places; a spa with bathes, games, restaurants, and lodgings all on the premises. Didn't get to dip into any out of the ordinary substances, but it was a fun experience that I'd recommend to others, especially during the more mild months.

If you'd like to check out Yunessan's site, here it is. They have an English version, too.

Out of curiosity, has anyone heard of this place or even better yet, been there? Would love to hear about it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Can you eat X?"

The other day I was talking to Yoshie and cleared up kind of a longstanding Japanese misunderstanding. We got onto the topic of "soba" for some reason and she wondered if I could eat 茶そば (cha soba), that is soba noodles flavored with green tea powder.

Now I didn't get irritated...and I had a suspicion that the English and Japanese kind of differ here. But the way she asked me was: ポールは茶そば食べれるの?Literally asking me if I can eat cha soba.

I've had foreign friends vent their frustration to me in regard to this line of questioning, and frankly I've been annoyed by it as well. Can we eat sushi? Can we eat tofu? One of my friends has said to me that when asked whether he "can eat natto" he replies "Well I can. I just don't like to." 

Yoshie has never been like that...I've never known her to assume that because I or any other foreigner is a foreigner that we're any different than Japanese people (cultural values and upbringing aside). So when she asked me this, something clicked and I asked her about it. 

When you ask if I can eat it, do you mean can I physically eat it, or do I like it? 

She seemed confused for just a moment and said she meant to ask whether or not I like it* (see edit below). I explained that in English, using a potential form like that asks about the possibility or capability of doing something (eating in this case), and that I and other Japanese learners I know had been kind of confused by this usage.

Uh...do I get some kind of reward at the end?

I think one of the problems with Japanese phrases like this one is that they're not always used literally. And asking whether someone who happens to be a foreigner literally "can eat" X comes across as being condescending and somewhat irrational. If we were all privy to (and could readily follow and understand) genuine, daily life conversations between Japanese people, I'm sure these kinds of misunderstandings would occur less often.

*Edit: Wanted to add a Twitter exchange with @jakeadelstein.

Jake:  I lived in Japan over two decades and never really articulated in my head that "Can you eat X" (X食べられますか)meant "Do you like X?"

Jake:  On the other hand, this might mean that some Japanese people like whales a lot. (I think most don't really care for the meat)

Me:  Well, "like" may be an oversimplification. It may be something more like "are you ok to eat" X?

I'm glad Jake said something, as this whole episode should have taught me to be more precise with my word choice.

And perhaps I should add the disclaimer that there may be some discriminatory assumptions on the part of some people who ask this way. Neither I nor my girlfriend can speak for all Japanese people, of course. But after that conversation it's my impression that at least in many cases, what's being asked is not whether someone can physically eat something.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A new Yo-ji

A new Bobby Judo post over at the Daily Yoji today. An interesting read, and I think it's true...many Japanese people don't recognize their attitudes and reactions towards foreigners as anything but natural and perfectly understandable. Parody is hard.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do you think in Japanese?

Some time ago, one of my cousins asked me if I still think in Japanese sometimes. I answered that most of the time it's not really an issue, as I tend to have "modes," and when I'm surrounded by and using English, that Japanese switch is generally off. Lately, though, I'm starting to reconsider that. Maybe it's because I am trying to expose myself more to Japanese these days, but there are definitely times when certain Japanese phrases come to mind, and I kind of cut off the impulse to vocalize them.

I think the most common ones are words/phrases like:

仕方ない/しょうがない (It can't be helped; oh well)
すみません (sorry; excuse me; thanks)
そうか/そうなんや (I see; Is that so?)
そうだ(that's right; yeah)
まぁ (well...; meh)

I don't really know what the deal is, but I'm guessing it's happening for me mostly with words that aren't strictly translatable into English and have different nuances or applications (or levels of naturalness) than what you might say in English.

Any thoughts from you expats who have returned home or moved on to another country? Has this happened to you?

Ace of Hearts

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A little bit mayou

Since coming back to the States, my blogging activity has fallen into decline. Though this has partially been due to a focusing of my energy onto other things (job hunting, my freelancing work, other hobbies) and also to a dwindling supply of Japan-related anecdotes (I still have some, but they're buried and not being replenished), in large part it's because I've been somewhat of a 迷う人。That is, I've been wavering on what I want to do with this blog.

I've had this problem for some time now - walking the line between culture blog, language blog, and diary-type blog, and I think it's been okay. But you know, sometimes it's hard to decide where to focus my efforts. Of course this is a personal blog, so I could just post whatever I feel like on any given day, and to some extent I do. But I've also been lucky enough to attract some regular and semi-regular readers, and it's important to me to post material that's interesting to you guys and potentially helpful for anyone going to live in or visit Japan. So there is that balance. Go too heavy on the Nihongo and I risk alienating those of you who don't really care about the language or who don't read blogs for that purpose. Too many posts about video games or Japanese food and my 日本語 folk may shy away. 

So although I will still post on a variety of topics, I may make some changes in the future. Still undecided about what exactly I want to do, but you have been forewarned!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning from Kikkoman: Ultimate Attack

This is a pretty old video, but I just revisited it the other day to check up on how much of it I can understand now. I came across a couple of words I was unfamiliar with that I thought were pretty cool (though I'm not sure how useful) and wanted to share them.

Early on in the video, the song proclaims 「外食なんてぶっ飛ばせ」.

ぶっ飛ぶ (ぶっとぶ) apparently means to "blow away." So here Kikkoman is friggin' blowing away eating out.

The next line adds 「必殺技だキッコーパンチ」. (Later on we get 「必殺技だキッコービーム」)

You may recognize the individual kanji here:

 「」as in かならず (certainly) or 必死 (ひっし, desperate)
」as in ころす (to kill)
」as in わざ (skill or technique)

Together they form 必殺技 (ひっさつわざ), which I'd say means "ultimate attack." Rikai-kun identifies 「必殺」as "certain kill."

You probably won't see these expressions used in many places (though if you read a lot of manga or play games, who knows), but I found them interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

ホーム, an epiphany

Last night I was playing that Japanese DS game that I got from Yoshie. One of the mini-games I've come across gives you a hint and some katakana characters, and you have to arrange them to form a word. I was playing that game and one of the hints was something like 「危ないですから、白い線を越えないでください。」And the katakana word turned out to be 「プラットホーム」。

I've discovered all kinds of new words with this game, but this one in particular shed light on the mystery of ホーム for me. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I always wondered why the train platforms were called "home." I never pieced together that it's because "fo" and "ho" are the same sound in Japanese and that ホーム is short for プラットホーム.

There's no place like fome.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A good DS game for advanced Japanese study

Yoshie and I sent each other some stuff for Christmas, and I really love what she sent me. In addition to some snacks and a nice-fitting hoodie (which I'd like to talk about another time), she sent me a DS game called 学研DS大人の学習金田一先生の日本語レッスン (DS Study, Lessons for Adults: Kindaichi Sensei's Japanese Lessons).

Although this is my first 学研DS game, I remember seeing them all the time in stores that carried DS software. They have quite a catalog of "games" (software might be a better term) that focus on language study or preparation for specific tests. There are a lot of these for foreign languages like English, Chinese, Korean, French, Spanish, etc., but I don't remember seeing many that focused on Japanese other than kanji study.

This particular title seems to be a few years old, but it also looks to have some really cool features.

The two main gameplay modes are some kind of travel mode, where I suppose you make your way across Japan and play mini games, and free play mode, where you can try games you have unlocked in an a la carte sort of fashion. I've only played a few games so far and only was able to successfully answer one question. While I'm not claiming to be a Japanese master, I will tell you, this is a difficult game. I guess that makes sense as it is intended to refine a native Japanese adult's language ability. For a much more in-depth review, check out this old blog post I found at the ruins of an old J-blog.

Anyhow, I have been aching to get back to my Japanese studies lately. I just need to find a way to cut through all the distractions (shiny new PC and games, Netflix, PS3, etc). Thankfully, games like this do up my motivation. It may take a number of short play sessions, but I'll work on it. I'm eager to see if I can make it to the retro-RPG-like mini game...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

American and Japanese college students

Ah, 2012, year of the dragon. I'm a bit late to the game...took a haitus for the holidays and have been a bit busy with work thus far this month.

Anyway, just wanted to link an interesting post I saw today over at Tokyo 5: two videos about American and Japanese college students

Although I had kind of heard from Yoshie that student loans in Japan are not so common, was surprising to see a stat. About 2/3 of college grads in Japan come out of university with no debt. いいなぁ。