Tuesday, July 31, 2012

J-Word Play #28 (Answer)

First off, kudos to regular Cocomino for another riddle solved!

Last one was:


Monday, July 30, 2012

Toyota Doraemon

Here's a pretty sweet series of Toyota commercials. Doraemon is pretty much the most popular cartoon ever in Japan (a cartoon cat that even teenage high school dudes like) and seems to be a cultural element that everyone can share and enjoy. In these commercials, the gang talk about their dreams for adulthood and Nobita-kun doesn't seem to have any ambitions except for being able to drive. Fast forward to 20 years later (and decartoonification) and the characters have become adults. Give it a watch to see what's going on with everyone.

Also, the portrayal of Doraemon is...well, it's great. Just watch.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Boil Japan?

I do not think it means what they think it means...

Cultural shapes

One thing that caught me off guard one time while in the classroom was the different meanings of certain shapes across cultures. I was standing at the blackboard, the students having chalked some answers up there. As I read the first answer, I checked it off and nodded, and threw in a "Very good." The students looked puzzled, and several touched eraser to paper.

Apparently, check marks are not used in Japan to denote a correct answer. As I learned that day and would come to observe quite frequently in the future while watching teachers grade tests, correct answers get a circle beside them (○=まる) and incorrect ones get an X (ばつ) or often just a straight line (that sometimes resembles a check mark, I guess). 

Additionally, triangles (⊿=さんかくけい) are often used to denote partial credit or "debatable."

I've seen these symbols used at my current job, too. At our daily morning meetings, we each present some articles and talk a bit about them, and then my boss tentatively draws a circle, x, or triangle on his paper next to the article name to note whether or not the news will be sent to Tokyo (the triangles are "maybe").

And blue moons mean "%$^ you!"

In retrospect it makes perfect sense, but it just never occurred to me that different shapes and symbols take on different meanings depending on the culture.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

和製英語: Pinch

A Japanese friend of mine posted the following status update on Facebook some time ago:


There's kind of a lot going on in this construction, but I want to focus in on the use of 「ピンチ」 here. I'm not exactly sure what my friend was referring to here or why he was so happy, but it seems he was having battery issues with something. He's roughly saying something like:

"I'm in a great mood! Though I'm in trouble with my battery charger lol I don't suppose Willer has outlets?!"

I believe he's talking about Willer buses here - that's one of the bigger highway bus companies. 

Anyway, the Japanese use of 「ピンチ」looks to be derived from the English expression "in a pinch." It basically means trouble, a problem, or a tight spot. Not too far off from the English, I guess, except that as far as I can tell it only has that one meaning and isn't used in quite the same situations as we would use it in (i.e. I'm not sure how natural it sounds to say you're in a pinch with your battery charger or "in a battery charger pinch").

Edit 7/23/2012: As Jturningpin points out in the comments section, I really should have said "(Battery) charge" instead of charger. Charger would be 充電器 (じゅうでんき).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

J-Word Play #28

Here's another one for you:


Could be a little tricky, but think about it and email me if you have an answer: blueshoe[at]jadij.com.

Good luck!

Monday, July 16, 2012

J-Music and Me: Kintama Girls

Detroit Metal City is (as Wiki says) a vulgar, comedy manga, and one that has made it to anime and live movie form. Basically about a gentle, kind of metrosexual country boy who dreams of going to the city to make it big as a pop musician, he somehow winds up as the lead member of this heavy metal band called Detroit Metal City (DMC). I can't speak as to the manga and anime, but in the movie his identity is a secret as he is quite ashamed of his nasty alter ego.

I think the movie is pretty funny and have watched it a few times now. The music is pretty decent, and it's also a good way to study some Japanese that you won't learn in any textbook.

Though I may talk about some of DMC's songs sometime, my favorite track from this movie is actually by another fictional band called Kintama Girls (金玉ガールズ). In the film, Kintama Girls is only shown in one scene where they are playing against DMC (Battle of the Bands style) at some club. They are singing this ridiculous song called "Detarame Mothercon Cherryboy."

Just so you can get an idea of the colorfulness of the movie and the music in particular (the dialogue itself is pretty tame in most cases), let me explain a few key words here:

金玉 (kintama) - you can see that the kanji is "golden jewels" or "golden balls." Yes, it refers to specific male anatomy.

出鱈目 (detarame) - "bullshit," basically.

マザコン (mothercon) - the tamer meaning is "mama's boy," but it can also mean Oedipus complex.

チェリーボイー (cherry boy) - a male virgin.

去勢 (kyosei) - found in the main chorus (きょせい、きょせいせよ!) - castration.

Silly and crude but pretty fun, I think. Incidentally, the lead member of the Kintama Girls, Nina, is played by Minami Hirase, who also appeared in Battle Royale.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Playing with food

Yesterday I attended a Japan America Society of Washington DC event on bento making. More specifically, the focus was on trying to make キャラ弁 , which are bentos in which people shape and design food into popular characters or designs. More art than cooking, I guess.

Anyway, there was a table full of food, some arts and crafts-style supplies, and two helpful J-women to guide us (one of them is actually from near Itami). 

First I had this idea to make an Abraham Lincoln rice ball, but it just turned out looking like some kind of spook.  After that I was pretty much out of ideas, so I just started putting food in my boxes without any kind of plan or pattern.

A food riff. 
Then a Pac Man-like thing happened. 

The class was small; there were maybe 8 or 9 people. There was only one other dude aside from me. Cooking can be pretty masculine, but in retrospect, making bento food into cute little characters and designs can only be so manly. After I finished, I had to go outside and do 200 push-ups and then eat 5 lbs of steak to rejuvenate my testosterone levels.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

J-Word Play #27 (Answer)

Last week's riddle was:


Kudos go out to Lukas, Rufus, and Cocomino (who came up with a good alternate answer).

As a side note, keep an eye out for a score chart I am going to be placing somewhere on the right side of the page to keep tally for our riddle masters.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Just Another Manga Monday #9

Our featured manga this week is よつばと!, or Yotsuba&! in English. It's eleven volumes (so far). I own all of them but honestly I'm writing this before I've read the latest two. I'm taking a break since I read through the first nine too quickly and want to savor the last two.
But first! If you look a couple lines up you may notice that surprisingly this edition of "Just Another Manga Monday" is not written by Julz or Blue Shoe. In point of fact (you can never say "in point of fact" enough) this is my first time writing on the topic of manga. I haven't read many different manga but the ones I do like I read a ton of. Yotsuba&! is one of the chosen few.

The manga follows the misadventures of a strange, young Japanese (or is she?) girl named Yotsuba who recently moves to a new house with her father (or is he?). The stories are often laugh out loud hilarious. I don't like to read overly serious manga, and in the others I like there are always humorous parts, but I've never read one that caused me to burst out in a startle-my-wife level of laughter before. It's a manga unlike one I've seen. It's light hearted but never too goofy, it's thoughtful but never too serious. It's a manga that you can read any time and just feel better. This is all due to the eponymous character of Yotsuba.
Yotsuba is six years old, incredibly positive, and insatiably curious. All the stories center around her adventures and how they affect the people around her. The cast of characters is small and only consists of her father, her father's very few friends, and the family next door. It's drastically different than any other manga I read in that it has no overall plot. Each volume is broken up into stories. The first one has seven. And they actually are stories, not chapters. Each one is just a glimpse into the life of Yotsuba and the antics she gets up to. Sometimes one story will lead into another. For example, in one they plan to go camping and in the next they go camping, but just as often you'll go from eating ice cream to catching cicadas. For me, I crave continuity, but even though it sounds disjointed there is enough that connects the stories to prevent them from feeling too episodic.

Yotsuba&! isn't without it's flaws. Maybe flaws is an unfair word since the manga succeeds at what it sets out to do: share with you interesting stories from Yotsuba's life. That part is great but when I started the series I expected it to be more. In the first couple volumes you are presented with some mysteries: Where did Yotsuba come from? Where's her mother? Why does she randomly use English words? Hints are dropped which add to the mystery and my curiosity. Then those hints stop and that whole mystery is abandoned. Was it ever supposed to be a mystery? Is the author saying "it doesn't matter where she came from, just laugh at her going to the convenience store by herself."? Like I said before, I crave continuity, and I hoped this would turn into that overall plot that Yotsuba&! lacks. This probably only bothers me because I'm used to reading story driven manga. Even the episodic ones I read have an overarching story (Mushishi for example). I brought this up with my wife who is also a Yotsuba&! fan and she said this wasn't unusual for manga. I guess I don't read enough. Paul pointed out when I described this to him that it sounds like a newspaper comic. I guess it is in a way. I could draw a ton of parallels between this and Calvin and Hobbes. The benefit of Yotsuba&! being in manga format is that each story isn't limited to four panels. I'm digressing.

Many of our readers are studiers of Japanese or at least interested in Japanese culture. So am I, which is one of the main reasons I love Yotsuba&! so much and why I heartily recommend it to any likeminded people. Since I grew up in the northeastern US my childhood was pretty different to the kids of Japan. Even though I would never trade my summers of barbecuing with the neighbors or trick-or-treating on Halloween, I still wish I could somehow share in this collective childhood that it seems like a lot Japanese people have. There are the staples like catching cicada, or visiting the grandparents in the 田舎, or joining in a festival, or watching the fireworks in summer (well, I guess Americans have that one too). By reading Yotsuba&!, in a way I feel like I can get a sense of what it's like. Even if you don't care about any of that, at least Yotsuba is funny.

I rate Yotsuba&! four silver moons and one half star (my own personal rating system). It's good, I think you'd like it.

By the way, even if you've never heard of Yotsuba&! I'm sure you've seen one of the characters, ダンボー:

Originally from Yotsuba&!, someone from Amazon.com thought it was cool and made him their mascot. He's become quite famous from photographers taking artsy pictures of him.

Friday, July 6, 2012

和製英語: Miss

和製英語 (わせいえいご) refers to Japanese words that have been imported from English but with altered meaning. This is another topic that has been covered before, both by myself and others (Daniel, Orchid), and it can provide much frustration for native English speakers. パンツ and ジュース (which don't actually mean "pants" as Americans would understand the word, or "juice" as any English speaker would as far as I know) are big agitators for me personally.

Another one, that I just came across today, is 「ミス」. Most commonly, this is used to indicate an error or failure. I've heard it used in the context of typing ミス (yes, typing mistakes), and spotted it in this headline in a much sadder usage: 心臓手術ミス、4歳男児死亡. It says that a 4-year old boy died during heart surgery due to a 「手術ミス」. That is, a surgical error. What a depressing example of ミス, I know...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tips for dehumidifying your house

Today I came across an article about some "eco" ways to dehumidify your home (J), which is helpful advice should you be dealing with the oppressive Japanese summer.

This is a topic that's been covered before; I know Ashley has written up some tips for surviving the rainy season and using bamboo charcoal. So those links are worth checking out. For some additional ideas, here are the basics of what the Japanese article suggests:

1. Use newspapers, unglazed pottery, or washi (Japanese paper)

Newspaper is something I was aware of and have tried as a water-absorbing device. Scrunching up old newspaper and stuffing it into wet shoes is a surprisingly effective way to dry out damp footwear (Yoshie was skeptical about this one when she visited me once, but was pleasantly surprised when I turned out to be right). Apparently lining the floor of your closet or the bottom of your drawers with newspaper can aid in dehumidification of your home.

Using washi or shoji paper in a similar fashion also helps absorb humidity. This helps explain why they were used in older homes in Japan. Though they are pretty terrible for insolation, the papers serve to absorb humidity, which would have helped at a time when there were no air conditioners and ventilation and absorption were probably the most effective ways of dealing with the heat.

Unglazed pottery is something that wouldn't have occurred to me, but I guess it also absorbs moisture from the air, so having some pots around for decoration could serve a dual purpose.

2. Charcoal, and not just the "good stuff"

The "good" stuff.

If you search around, you can find activated charcoal or bamboo charcoal for sale. These work well not only as deodorizers, but as moisture absorbers, as well. If you ever use charcoal for camping or BBQing, you can recycle that as your own (non-store-bought!) activated charoal. Some people use these charcoal "remains" as fertilizer, but if you want to, you can rinse them off and redry them in the sun, and then use them to dehumidify your house. You'll probably want to keep the charcoal on a piece of cardboard or paper, or better yet in some kind of open container that you can cover with a paper "lid."

3. Baking soda isn't just for deodorizing

Another deodorizer that can be used as a dehumidifier, as well. As with the charcoal, having a large amount of baking soda makes this more effective. If you like, you can spread it around on a cloth or on some cardboard, but it's probably better to have the baking soda resting in a container with paper or non-woven cloth over it as a cover. Then place in a closet or in a corner somewhere.

If you want something a little more fancy (both in appearance and effectiveness), you can pour the baking soda into an unglazed pot. Fill it about halfway, and if you like you can even tie a bow or doily around it to be extra fancy. The accessory is not recommended for guys as it can compromise your maleness.

There you have it. If you have any other ways of dealing with the humidity, let us know. Doesn't even have to be "eco!"




Tuesday, July 3, 2012

4 superficial observations about Japanese people

Yesterday Orchid posted about how she won't miss guys in Japan with long fingernails. That got me thinking about some things I noticed over there.

1. Yes, guys with long fingernails

While I don't remember ever being scratched by anyone, I too did notice that a lot of dudes in Japan don't seem to trim their nails very often for some reason. Maybe they just don't care? It was kind of off-putting. One time when my mother and sister visited and came to my base school to meet some of my coworkers, my sister pointed out later that the principal had a really long pinky fingernail.

This is not, in fact, a hairy woman arm, but my own.
2. Girls who shave their arms

This is something I like about Japanese women. A lot of them shave their arms. I don't mean this to disparage any women who don't, but I personally find it attractive. I mean, a lot of women shave their legs in the West. This just seems to me like a natural extension of that practice.

3. Fake pigeon toe or bowleggedness

At least I think it's fake. It's been pointed out before, but a decent amount of Japanese girls tend to stand with their knees and feet facing inward towards each other, presumably because this is cute. I'm not exactly sure why this is considered cute, but I think it looks a bit dumb.

On a related note, I've actually been noticing the opposite here in the States. Recently I have been spotting people who point their feet outwards when walking (especially noticeable when wearing flip-flops, I think).

4. Old women with blue or purple hair

What's up with that?

J-Word Play #27

Here's one that I hope won't be too easy for you:


If you think you know the answer, shoot me an email at blueshoe [at] jadij.com

Monday, July 2, 2012

An apology, and diving back in

Last year I made a couple of posts about being a better blogger (part 1 and part 2). I got some very nice and encouraging responses, and I felt like around that time I was gaining some great momentum in terms of my goal: becoming a successful blogger.

Unfortunately, around the time my 3 years in Japan were coming to an end, I lost focus. My attention turned towards my relationship with my then girlfriend, reintegrating into life in the States, getting a job, getting a car, etc. In short: excuses. Sure, life happens and it's not uncommon for bloggers to go through dry spells or shift priorities. And honestly I was in doubt about what would happen here. No longer being in Japan, would JADJ shift focus or simply fade away into the digital abyss like so many other blogs have and do?

As I review what's been going on here, I realize that in the past year or so (holy crap, has it already been a year?) I've largely neglected some of the behaviors I so strongly espoused - namely participating in the blogging community! Sure, I was still reading some blogs here and there, but not as often. And I was engaging and dropping comments far less than I used to. Friendship Fridays and Just Another Week in Japan became too time-consuming and difficult to write, so I stopped posting them. So many things placed on the side burner...(I still need to get to Loco's book!).

Getting my head back in the game, I notice that our readership has about frozen or even dropped slightly from where it was at. Looking around at my favorite J-blogs, some have gained ground (good for you guys!) and some have kind of come to a standstill. Kind of sad to see, but it's the natural life cycle.

So for now I want to just offer my apologies to our readers and fellow bloggers. I didn't follow my own advice and I dropped the ball. But I can and will do better! Being a successful blogger is still an important goal of mine. Writing and reading comments is still a pleasure, and poring over blog stats and graphs still gets my blood pumping. It looks like two of our most viewed posts are about reading Japanese nutrition facts and how to use McDonalds wifi in Japan. That is telling, and I'm glad that some of our content has (hopefully) been helpful to someone out there.

In the meantime, I do have a request for anyone willing to comment. If you have blog (preferably Japan-related, but not necessarily) that you think I'm unaware of, let me know in the comments. This goes for your own blog(s) or those that you follow. The past two or three weeks I've been looking around for new J-blogs that may have sprouted up but have come up relatively empty handed.