Thursday, May 22, 2014

What to expect from Softbank

Last year Softbank, one of Japan's Big Three mobile carriers, acquired the US's Sprint Nextel. Since then, Softbank owner Masayoshi Son (the richest man in Japan) has been trying to shake things up. Those weird new Sprint commercials? Those are thanks to Softbank. Apparently Son got angry at Sprint's ineffective marketing agencies, "suggested" they be fired, and pushed for commercials imitating what has worked in Japan for Softbank. Unfortunately I'm not sure they're having much of a splash here; I think they may be a little too random and disjointed for Americans.

Most recently, Son has been in talks with both T-Mobile and the feds (both the FCC and the DoJ), trying to make a Sprint - T-Mobile deal happen. Consolidating the two would make them a match for Verizon and AT&T, the two behemoths of the US wireless market. Son has made the case that despite T-Mobile's relative success over the past couple of years, the market is effectively a duopoly right now, and the 3rd and 4th largest carriers are too comparatively small to effectively compete. Democratic officials in the government (especially FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler) have been signalling that they disagree, and that 4 is their preferred number of major competitors. Now, it seems, Sprint has lined up financing for the deal and is considering whether to move full speed ahead and damn the torpedos (!) or wait for more favorable circumstances, such as a new administration. While Republicans are generally more friendly to M&A, there's no guarantee that they will retake the White House in two years, and I'm not sure if Son will want to wait that long, potentially for little gain.

Meanwhile, it looks like Softbank has been making small moves to raise its own stock in the US, detatched from Sprint. For what purpose, I'm not sure. Lately I have seen these ads in the metro:

It looks like it's trying to make a pitch for itself and get its name out there, but..."Expect the unexpected," indeed. As someone who has lived in Japan, I am familiar with Softbank, but even I don't know what to expect from them here in the US. Though I must admit that I checked out the website and looked for a "careers" section. There was not one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kotowaza: Spare the rod

This morning I was driving to work and the Hazards of Love came up on my iPod. Sometimes I forget how much I love the Decemberists, and that was a fantastic album. Anyway, the track that started playing had this one lyric: "Spare the rod and spoil the child, but I prefer the lash." That got me wondering, for some reason, if there's a corresponding saying in Japanese for our "spare the rod and spoil the child."

Although "spare the rod" is more explicitly evocative of corporal punishment, literally "if you don't beat your children they will be spoiled," these days it's more liberally understood to mean that undisciplined children become spoiled.

In Japanese, the closest expression (or 諺) that I was able to find is 「可愛い子には旅をさせよ」(かわいいこにはたびをさせよ」. Literally, something like "send your precious child on a journey." The reasoning is that if you coddle your child and keep him safe at home, he will become spoiled. Rather you must send him out into the cold and unfriendly world to learn to take care of himself, and thus he will become a better person.

One thing I love about Japanese (and I'm sure this is the case with other languages, as well) is that these kinds of similar yet distinct sayings and proverbs abound.

Friday, May 9, 2014

和製英語:Chicken Race

Living in America, I naturally encounter less Japanese now. That doesn't keep me from learning new "Japanglish" - also known as 和製英語 (わせいえいご) - that is, English words that have been co-opted by the Japanese language, but usually differing in meaning either slightly or to a strange degree.

A while ago at work, during one of our daily meetings (which are held in Japanese), my colleagues were discussing the current conflict between AT&T and the FCC. Without throwing too much telecom technobabble at you, the Federal Communications Commission wants to limit the bigger players in an upcoming airwave license auction, meaning that AT&T and Verizon wouldn't be able to participate to the degree that they may want to. AT&T has threatened to boycott the auction, knowing that the government needs to raise as much money as they can, in the hopes of changing the FCC's mind. The FCC thinks AT&T is bluffing.

So my cohorts were referring to this showdown as a game of chicken. They were using the Japanese expression, however, which I was unfamiliar with at the time. I'm glad they said it a few times, because I couldn't pick up what they were saying right away.

Well, it turns out that "playing chicken" in Japanese is 「チキンレース」. "Chicken race."

Wikipedia indicates that it can also be called 「チキンゲーム」("chicken game"), but that in Japan it's typically called "chicken race."

Oh look - I have successfully injected politics into this informative article about Japanese!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

BABYMETAL goes global

Well, the "world" being three European countries and Japan. But at any rate, exciting news for anyone who's developed a soft spot for one of Japan's latest (only?) J-pop/heavy metal mash-up bands. According to Japanese website Netallica (which I guess I really should be leery of after they published "news" reported by the Onion), BABYMETAL will embark upon a world tour this summer, playing in France, Germany, England, and Japan. And hey, apparently they'll be appearing in London with Iron Maiden.

Rock out!

Update: No one knows what to think.


It's funny how things work out.

I've talked before about my friendship with my JET predecessor, Dylan, who stuck around in Japan after JET to attend grad school at Osaka University. He ultimately decided to focus his anthropological research on Thai culture. I think this must have been influenced by his dating a girl from Thailand while living in J-Land. He fell in love with her, then with the culture and language of her homeland. These days he's semi-permanently living in Thailand as he toils away at his PhD. 

Lo and behold, first I followed Dylan to Japan, and now I am dating a girl from Thailand (alas I haven't followed him in achieving JLPT N1 yet). I've been on both sides of the international relationship before; my first girlfriend was Japanese, but since my ability was crap back then and her English was decent, we spoke English. My most recent ex-girlfriend knew little English, so we spoke Japanese. Now I find myself back in English mode. It's a little weird this time, since I don't know any Thai at all aside from a couple random words she's taught me, but interesting nonetheless.

Still, I find myself at a crossroads of sorts now. I'm not going to abandon my Japanese study. I still want to get to N1, and a career in translation still sounds appealing to me. Before meeting Mint, I had been half-heartedly starting to study Korean. I do want to learn another language or two. But time is an issue these days - there are jobs to get, kanji to learn, exercises to be done, and Fields of Justice to stain with the blood of mine enemies!

Well, I like studying and languages, so よっし行こう, right? But man, I am kind of intimidated. When I started Japanese, I thought it was hard bollocks. I sometimes still do. Thai, though! I never thought I'd say Japanese is easier than another language, except maybe Chinese. Thai has a kind of large alphabet, like Japanese. Despite its letters looking like they require a calligraphy class to master, Thai doesn't use kanji, though, so that's one less thing (or several thousand!) to worry about. But what it lacks in writing difficulty, it makes up for in the speech department. Thai has tones - the one thing that was really dissuading me from Chinese! There are like 3 or 4 different ways to pronounce "ma" - each with a different meaning. I imagine that such nuance takes a lot of time and practice to get passably good at. And yet, I do want to learn more about my girlfriend's native culture. If I meet her parents someday, it would be nice to be able to exchange rudimentary pleasantries. And of course I'd love to know what she's saying on Facebook!

And so I press on.