Thursday, March 29, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

J-Word Play #24

This one may be a little tricky...curious to see how many responses it gets:


As usual, if you think you know the answer, shoot an email to blueshoe[at]

Friday, March 23, 2012

More all natural sushi

Looks like the last "all natural sushi" video I shared was taken down by YouTube. Unfortunate. But here's another one by our friends at Gin no Sara..

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Japanese as the villains

Lately I've been watching some Chinese movies on Netflix. More specifically, Ip Man (1&2), Fearless, The Chinese Connection, and the like. As someone who is sympathetic to Japan, for me it's kind of interesting and sad (though understandable) to see how so many Chinese movies portray Japanese (either as a group or individuals) as bad guys. I'm no apologist for the ruthless things the Japanese army did during World War II, but it's unfortunate that remembrance of those events seems to have become such a staple of Chinese movies.

One arch that seems to run through many or most of these films, especially if they are about war or martial arts, is that of the patriotic Chinese underdog beating overwhelming odds to defeat foreign powers who want to oppress and embarrass the Chinese, mostly just because the foreigners are assholes for some reason. This is based to some degree on historical fact, but I find it disheartening how rarely decent foreign characters appear in these movies. Often there are few foreigners in the films at all, but invariably there is always at least one Western guy who is a jerk and some Japanese guy who is a jerk. Sometimes it's a group of Japanese guys or the Japanese army.

I was actually surprised that in Fearless there is an honorable Japanese martial artist who actually is a pretty nice guy, as opposed to his counterpart, the spineless Japanese ambassador who only seems to care about money and shaming the Chinese.

Anyway, I was just thinking about this recently. It reminds me a lot of how some American movies about the Revolutionary War portray the British as cruel and barbaric, or how the stock accent for evil guys in Scifi movies is usually British. The main difference is that eventually the U.S. and Britain became pretty good allies. Maybe we need to give China another hundred years or two, but somehow I doubt they're going to go sweet on Japan any time soon.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Japanese Office Tactics?

For those of you familiar with with isometric tactics video games, a funny commercial from a few years back. This was a web commercial for Jeanne d'Arc for the PSP, and though it self-admittedly states near the end that it's unrelated to the actual game, it is kind of chuckle-inducing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kotowaza #1: The basics and a Buddha in hell

Kotowaza (諺) are another element of Japanese (along with puns) that I've taken a liking to, and so I thought I'd share some. If the word is new to you, kotowaza are proverbs or sayings. Like in English or in many languages, I'd imagine, some sayings are used more often than others and some are pretty obscure. So if you do take a fancy to some of these and decide to add them to your repertoire, just be warned that not all of them can be naturally employed in daily conversation. The few that I have down pat I don't use often, myself, but it is pretty fun to be able to understand them when I do hear or see them.

I'm going to start off with one that I came across recently:

読み: じごくでほとけにあったよう
略語: 地獄で仏


In English, this translates literally to something like "It's like I met a merciful person in hell" (though 仏 can also mean "Buddha").

I think this is a pretty good English version of the meaning behind it: "In my hour of true need I found a true friend."

Though I'm not exactly sure a "true friend" is what's meant here. What comes to mind for me is the story of the good Samaritan. The guy that had the crap beaten out of him was in his hour of need, and someone merciful came upon him and helped him. I think that situation would probably be an ideal use for this proverb.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Should you study how to write Japanese by hand?

Sure! Why not?

Oh, do you mean: "is it worth my time to study how to write Japanese by hand?" Then no, probably not. Unless your job is testing calligraphy brushes for quality assurance.

I didn't always feel this way.

I started to seriously study Kanji a little over a year ago when I did Heisig's RTK1. Ever since then, writing hundreds of characters a day has been a huge part of my studying routine. I didn't give this much thought before starting. It just seemed like what I was supposed to do if I would ever achieve my goal of being "good" at Japanese. I was always taught the importance of The Three R's in school: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic (my teacher wasn't a good speller). So then, doesn't reading and writing go together? Isn't that what literacy means: being able to read and write? The answer is yes because that's the definition. Someone might be able to read every book there is and still be illiterate according to a dictionary (which they could also read). Keeping this in mind I kept writing and writing and writing. Without realizing it I started to spend more time writing than I spent reading or studying new vocab and grammar.

After doing this for a year I became able to write pretty well. I can write 麒麟 and 憂鬱 without breaking a sweat; and I can even write 汗. Yet I knew I still had a long way to go since I still couldn't write every word that exists (it was a lofty goal). About a month ago I switched up my studying routine and put even more effort into writing and as a consequence even less into new grammar, vocabulary, and reviewing what I already knew. I even started a journal. It felt great since I was finally giving writing the amount of time it required (note: it requires all of time: all of time that has ever been and will be). That was until I happened upon this article on Tofugu the other day.

Koichi states that you shouldn't worry about learning how to write by hand since everyone uses cell phones and computers to communicate nowadays. The amount of time you need to study to become proficient is disproportional to how useful being proficient is. My first reaction was to push my computer away in anger as if it had gotten up in my grill. It somehow felt like a personal attack on how I had been studying for the past year. If he was right then I just wasted a lot of time. I spent the next half hour sitting in the dark, coming up with counter arguments in order to defend my year spent filling up notebooks with Kanji. I came up with two circumstances in which my study of Kanji proved undeniably useful: one time a Japanese coworker forgot how to write the Kanji for 'shoes' and asked me; the other time was when I wrote two New Year's cards in Japanese. I think I filled out a questionnaire in a restaurant once too. Hey, all that studying paid off!

So yeah, now I'm all but cutting out writing from my routine. I've put the emphasis on vocabulary and started reading a new book. I have so much more time now to focus on studying other aspects of Japanese that I haven't quite worked out where to allocate it all, but having too much time is one of those problems you want to have.

I am definitely not saying you should completely forgo learning how to write Japanese. You should know how to write Kanji correctly since you do actually have to write by hand from time to time, like for New Year's cards. I still swear by and highly recommend doing the Heisig system for many reasons beyond writing. After the four to six months it takes to get through RTK1 you will be as good at writing as you will probably need to be. Then if you ever need to fill out a form or something and you inevitably forget a Kanji compound, look it up on your phone and then write it. I go more into why I love Heisig so much here.

What do you guys think about writing by hand? Is it worth studying?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Birthday presents

Wow, has it really been so long since I posted? I guess things got away from me.

Last week I accepted a new job, which I want talk about in a little more detail in a post to come. That whole process was taking a lot of energy (and some time), so I suppose that's one reason why I've been dallying here.

I also got a package from Yoshie with belated Valentine's/birthday gifts. And she said she held some stuff back for when I visit in April. Yay for stuff! I haven't heard of either of the movies she sent me, but I will gladly watch them. Not so easy to find Japanese movies over here...

I have yet to actually read through a full Japanese book since completing Harry Potter two or three years ago, but this one stands a good chance of being devoured. Getting into Game Center CX has made given me quite a few wow, am I an adult child? moments. I mean, not only just liking video games, but liking watching a grown man play them in TV show format? Believe me, I am somewhat self aware. And I had another moment of self awareness upon opening this book and thinking "Thank God, pictures!" Not that it's a picture book, mind you. It has words, I assure you. Words a plenty. But reading through pages and pages and pages of straight text in a foreign language can be a tedious exercise for those who are not yet fully conditioned. I am still such a one.

But in conclusion, I have a wonderful girlfriend who not only accepts, but fuels my fascination with video games and with this TV show (so long as I don't become a hikimori). Life is good.