Saturday, January 31, 2009

More anime-things in the news

Miyazaki was interviewed in Hong Kong a few weeks back, where he vented his thoughts on the state of modern animation (hint - he doesn't like it).

Anne of Green Gables (Akage no An) hit a milestone anniversary date recently, and the Japan Times ran an article on the Japanese translator of the series, with a mention of the anime version.

Galbraith ran another badly-written piece focused on the new year celebrations of various shrines that have real-world ties to different anime or manga, making it sound as if anime fans are the only ones geely enough to like visiting the settings of their favorite stories (hello, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter, anyone?)

Tamagochi Anime Web Theater (mentioned in Hiragana Times). Video game turns into animated series.

Hetalia (online manga mentioned in Metropolis. Will be made into an anime series this year, to be aired on the Kids Station satellite channel). Slapstick 4-panel strip set in WWI, with each character representing one country.

Japan Media Arts Festival (Feb. 4-15)
Judged art contest for a variety of media, with both Japanese and non-Japanese winners, for art, manga, anime and other. The museum website provides short movies of the film-level entries. This is a museum event that just started running ads in the papers. Some of the entries look interesting, but I'm not sure if I'll actually check it out. It does help that the event is free.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 39, Page 9

More of page 9.

心配するな。 困った時は相身互いさ。 警察方面 はできるだけほじくらないよ。死体を見せてくれ。

しんぱい する な。 こまったとき は あいみたがいさ。 けいさつ ほうめん は できる だけ ほじくらないよ。したい を みせてヴれ。

shinpai suru na - worry do not
komatta - problem
toki - time
aimitagai - mutual assistance
sa - sentence softener
keisatsu - police
houmen - towards
wa - topic marker
dekiru dake - as much as one can do
hojikuranai - not dig up
yo - sentence emphasizer
shitai - dead body
wo - object marker
misete kure - please let see

worry do not . eh
problem . time . mutual assistance . is
police . towards . (topic) . as much as one can . not dig up .ok?
dead body . please let see

"Eh, don't worry. In times of trouble, we help each other out. I'll do what I can to not dig up anything regarding us police, ok? Please show me the body."

Normally, if you just make a straight statement, like "it's cold", it sounds too abrupt, to the point of being rude. So, people will add softeners at the end of the sentence that act either as "I think so", "don't you agree", and "right?" "na", "sa" and "yo" are such softeners, and can be treated in English as "eh" and "ok?" in the above sentences.

"kure" is often used as a substitute for "kudasai", but still retains the meaning of "please", as in "please let me see the body".

I went with "Don't worry. We need to stick together during a crisis. I'll do what I
can to not dig into anything police related. Show me the body."



きょうき は?

kyouki - weapon
wa - is

"The weapon?"



みつかってない が ナイフ じょう の もの でしょう

mistukatte nai - not found
ga - in this case, used to mean "but"
naifu - knife
jou - shape
no - possessive
mono - thing
deshou - I think

not found . but . knife . shape's . thing . I think

"Haven't found it, but it looks like a knife."



じょう の もの?

jou - shape
no - possessive
mono - thing

"Looks like (a knife)?"


切れが甘いんですよ。 包丁や軍隊ナイフじゃあない。

きれ が あまいんです よ。 ほうちょう や ぐんたい ナイフ じゃあ ない。

kire - cut
ga - subject marker
amai - obvious
n desu yo - is
houchou - kitchen knife
ya - and
guntai naifu - Army knife
jaa nai - is not

cut . (subject) . obvious . is
kitchen knife . and . army knife . is not

"Obviously this is a cut, but not from a kitchen or Army knife."


遺留品 は?

いりゅうひん は?

iryuu hin - lost articles / trace evidence
wa - topic marker

"Trace evidence?"


細かい紙の切れ端がひとつ。 鑑識ロボ!

こまかいかみ の きれはしが ひとつ。 かんしきロボ!

koma kai - small
kami - paper
no - possessive
kire hashi - scrap
ga - subject marker
hitotsu - one
kanshiki - judgment
robo - robot

small . paper's . scrap . (subject) . one
judgment . robot!

"We found a small scrap of paper. Analysis robot!"



かいせき は かんりょう した か?

keiseki - analysis
wa - topic marker
kanryou shita - finished
ka - question marker

"Is the analysis done yet?"



soga - hum
monita - monitor
ni - towards
deshimasu - come out

"[humm] Coming up on the monitor."

To be continued.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dried Fish

I took this photo back in 1995, when I was working in Kudamatsu, Japan. This is a fish drying rack, set up along side the road in front of someone's house, along the coast near the town of Hikari. The fish are salted, and can be eaten like potato chips. A few days after taking this photo, I went to a bar for a company drinking party, and the bar set out a basket of this kind of dried fish for us to snack on. The taste isn't bad, but the smell's a little off and it's REALLY crunchy (it's almost nothing but salt, bones and cartiledge. A great source of calcium.)

There's an entire class of sun-dried seafood called "himono". I did a yahoo photo search on himono the other day, and mostly got hits on squid and cuttle fish. No photos like the one above. But, in an island country like Japan, you've got to expect that fish is going to show up in the diet in many weird and unexpected ways (not a big fan of eel, though...)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 38, Page 9

Here's the dialog for page 9.

けいさつ に とっちゃ スキャンダル だ。みうち だけ で かいけつ したいのはヤマ
ヤマだろう。かお にかいてある。

"ヤマヤマ" うっ!?

心配するな。 困った時は相身互いさ。 警察方面 はできるだけほじくらないよ。
しんぱいするな。 こまったとき は あいみたがいさ。 けいさつ ほうめん は で
きるだけほじくらないよ。したい を みせてヴれ。

きょうき は?

みつかってないが ナイフじょう のものでしょう


切れが甘いんですよ。 包丁や軍隊ナイフじゃあない。
きれがあまいんですよ。 ほうちょうやぐんたいナイフじゃあない。


細かい紙の切れ端がひとつ。 鑑識ロボ!
こまかいかみ の きれはしが ひとつ。 かんしきロボ!

かいせき はかんりょうしたか?



This is a short section, so I'll translate the first panel here.

keisatsu - police
ni - towards
totcha - contraction of "totte wa" meaning "for"
sukandaru - scandal
da - is
miuchi - friends / relatives
dake de - only
kaketsu - settle
shitai - want to do
no - nominalizer
wa - topic marker
yamayama - "really, really"
darou - right?
kao - face
ni - towards
kaite aru - is written exists

police . towards . for . scandal . is
friends . only . settle . want to do . really really . (topic) . right?
face . on . is written exists

"This is a scandal for the police. It should be handled internally, right? It's written on your face."

"yama yama" is onomatopoeia for the feeling of having mountains piled on you. Essentially. It translates as "really really wanting to".

Again, I messed up the original translation on Media Fire. I should have gone with, "This should be handled internally to avoid it turning into a big scandal for us. Right? It's written on your face."

To be continued.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Citizen Man Videos

Back about 1 year ago, I decided to create a pair of Flash animations featuring Orson Wells as a super hero. The basic idea being that as he's leaving the radio station following his famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast, one of the Mars space ships arrives and hits him with its heat ray. But, rather than turning to toast, Orson becomes a super hero. As a super hero, of course, he needs a secret identity, so on his off-days, he disguises himself as the Don from "The God Father" movie. He takes his character name from one of his movies, calling himself "Citizen Man". Anyway, I finally tried exporting the Flash .swf file into an .avi and uploading it to youtube. There's a blank bar that mysteriously shows up at the bottom of the player at the end of ep. 1, and I should have added a 5-second pause at the end of both eps. so it wouldn't cut out so abruptly. But otherwise it seems to have turned out ok.

Any comments on these videos would be welcome. I have ideas for 2 more, but not the free time to make them right now.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 37, Page 8

The last of page 8.


れいしょく シンジケート と ないつうしてるん じゃないかと いう ウワザ の あった おとこ だ

reishoku - frozen food
shinjikeeto - syndicate
to - and
naitsu - collude with
shiterun - to do
ja nai ka - isn't it?
to - is said
uwaza - rumor
no - possessive
atta - past form of "aru", exists
otoko - man
da - masculine form of "desu"

frozen food . syndicate . and . collude with . is said . rumor's . was . man . is

"This man was rumored to be colluding with the frozen food syndicate."

Actually, the normal usage of "naitsu" is to work as an informant.

I went with "There's a rumor that he's an informant for the frozen food syndicate."


もちろん。用心深い連中のことだ。警官を組織に深入りさせたりはしない。 大きな商売を見逃してもらうかわり末端ももいいところのチンケな密売の情報をたまにリークしてただけだろう被害者はそれを自分の手柄にしたり時には横取にしたり小遣いを稼いでたそこで俺か出場ってきたというわけさ

もちろん。ようじん ぶかいちゅう の こと だ。けいかん を そしき に ふかいり させたりはしない。 おおきな しょうばい を みのがして もらうかわり まったん も いいところ の チンケな みつばい の じょうほう を たま に リーク してた だけ だろう. ひがいしゃ は それ を じぶん のてがら に したり とき に は よこどり に したり こづかい を かせいでた そこ で おれ か でばって きた と いう わけ さ

mochiron - naturally
youjin bukai - watching
chuu - during
no - possessive
koto - thing
da - is
keikan - policeman
wo - object marker
soshiki - organization
ni - into
fukairi - deep into
sasetari - allow
wa - topic marker
shinai - not do
ookina - large quantity
shoubai - business / trade
wo - object marker
minogashite - overlooked
morau - to receive
kawari - to change
mattan mo - peripheral
ii tokoro - good thing / strong point
chike na - poor / worst
mitsubai - smuggling
no - possessive
jouhou - information
tamani - occasionally
riiku - leak
shiteta - did
dake - only
darou - possibly / right?
higaisha - victim
wa - topic marker
sore - that
wo - object marker
jibun - oneself
no - possessive
tegara - achievement
ni shitari - to do (as example)
toki ni wa - occasionally
yoko dori - confiscate
ni shitari - to do (as example)
kozukai - personal expenses
wo - object marker
kasei de ta - past tense of "to earn"
soko de - accordingly
ore ka - someone like me
debatte kita - to dispatch and came here
to iu wake - for this said reason
sa - confirmation marker, softening direct statement

watching . during's . thing . is
police . (object) . organization . in . deep into . allow . (topic) . can not do
large . trade . overlooked . to receive and change . peripheral
Good point . worst . smuggling's . information . occasionally . did . leak .only . right
victim . (topic) . that . himself's . personal gain . would do (as example) . occasionally . beside take . would do (as example) . personal expenses . earned
accordingly . someone like me . came here . for this said reason

"Naturally. We've been watching him. The organization wouldn't allow a policeman to learn too much. They'd occasionally leak word of minor smugglings to him and let him take credit for cracking the smuggling or to let him make a little money on the side. That's why someone like me has been dispatched here."

Ok, this looks like a mess. Mainly, that's because we have about 5 sentences all smushed into one panel. If we break each sentence out separately, and keep in mind that the subject is being implied in each case, things become a little easier to deal with.

"ni shitari" means - "to do, for example". That is "they'd let him do some things, like crack a small smuggling operation or take some food to sell on the side, as examples".

My original translation on Media Fire is wrong. I should have gone with something like "Naturally, we've had our eye on him for some time. The syndicate wouldn't let him know too much, usually just leaking word of smaller operations so he could take the credit for a raid, or for making a little money on the side. That's why I've been dispatched here."

To be continued.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Year of the Ox

The Chinese new year officially starts on the 26th.

Happy 2009, Year of the Ox to all of you.

I asked my Japanese expert if the Chinese lunar calendar animals had any special meaning in Japan (i.e. - if 2009 will have any special "ox" characteristics) and the answer was "not really". So, while the Chinese lunar calendar animal is featured on the nengajo postcards at the beginning of January (most Japanese celebrate the beginning of the year on Jan. 1) it's really just ornamental.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 36, Page 8

The rest of page 8.


あんた が たんとう なら はなし は はやい

anta - casual for of "you"
ga - subject marker
tantou - in charge
nara - as for / (conditional)
hanashi - speech
wa - topic marker
hayai - fast

you . (subject) . in charge . if . speech . (topic) . fast

"If it's talking about you being in charge, it's too fast."

"hayai" is often used in Japanese to indicate that someone is not prepared for some challenge, such as the typical line, "It's 100 years too fast for you to beat me", which translates to "It's 100 years too soon for you to be fighting me if you expect to beat me".

So, I used, "It's too early to be saying that you're in charge."


見くびって。もらっちゃ困るな。これは単なる殺人事件なんだ。農水省 の 出る 幕 じゃ

みくびって。もらっちゃ こまる な。これ は たんなる さつじん じけん なん だ。のう
すいしょう の でる まく じゃあない

mikubitte moratcha komaru na - A casual version of a set phrase that has no direct equivalent in English. The closest translation would be "Don't mess with our case"
kore wa - this is
tannaru - simple
satsujin jiken - murder case
nan da - can say with confidence
nousuishou - MAFF
no - possessive
deru - come out
maku - act
jaanai - is not (again, drawled out)

Don't mess with our case
this is . simple . murder case . can say with confidence
MAFF's . come out . act . is not

"Don't mess with our case . This is a simple murder case. No reason for MAFF to get involved."

I wanted to get a literal breakdown of "mikubitte moratcha komaru na", but my Japanese expert couldn't do it for me. In essence, "mikubitte" is used to express the feeling that someone is looking down on you. "Moratcha" is a contraction of "morau", the polite version of "to give", which elevates the relative standing of the other person. "komaru" is "trouble" and "na" is "ja nai". The overall sense is of someone swaggering and saying "you don't belong here."

My original translation was wrong. Because Balloon is trying to be a tough guy, what I should have used is: "You don't belong here. This is a simple murder case. Nothing here for the Ag Min."



たんなる じゃない だろう。ころされた の は けいかん だ そう じゃないか。しかも。。。

tannaru - simple
ja nai - is not
darou - rhetorical question for "isn't it?"
korosareta - killed
no - nominalizer
wa - topic marker
keikan - policeman
da - desu
sou - looks like
ja nai ka - rhetorical question again
shika mo - moreover
ite - ouch

simple . is not . right?
the killed . is . a policeman . is . looks like . right?

The "no" in "korosareta no" turns the past tense verb form of "koroseru" (passive form of "to kill") into a noun, giving us "the killed", or "the guy who was killed".

"Darou" is an expression meaning "I think" or "don't you agree". In Japanese it is used to soften a direct statement to avoid sounding too rude. (Japanese is big on trying to avoid direct statements.) Adding "ja nai" after "darou" turns it into a rhetorical question like "right?"

I went with "It's not so simple, right? The victim is a cop. Further.. [ouch]"

To be continued.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oya Neko

Back last Fall when I was visiting the various stations along the Odakyu line, I discovered this cat sunning itself on a wall in front of a house. He looks like he's been in a fight or two and is glowering at the world. Someone looking at this photo called it "oya neko", from "oyabun", (the title given to the local leader of a small band of gangsters) and "neko" (which is "cat"), saying that he's probably the leader of a cat mob.

The Japan Times runs 3-5 photos from its readers every Friday, so I submitted oya neko back in December, and a couple of weeks ago it got printed. Unfortunately, the JT doesn't pay anything for the photos it runs, or give anything other than the credit for taking the shot. They don't even let you know when/if a photo is going to be run, or put the photos on its website, which all look like a ploy to drive paper sales.

Anyway, here it is - the photo of oya neko that ran in the Japan Times.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 35, Page 8

Then on to translating the dialog on page 8.


のうりんすいさんしょう の れいしょく そうさかん だ。この げんば の せきに
んしゃ は?

nourin suisan shou - Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)
no - possessive
reishoku - frozen food
sousakan - agent
da - masculine form of "desu"
kono - here
genba - crime scene
no - possessive
seki nin sha - person responsible
wa - is

MAFF's . frozen food agent . am.
here . crime scene's . person responsible . is?

"I'm the MAFF's Frozen Food Agent. Who is responsible for these scene?"

Nothing really special here, outside of "wa dare ka? (is who/where question) being shortened to just "wa?"

To get the line to fit the word balloon, I went with "Ministry of Agriculture Frozen Food Agent. Who's in charge here?"


来る所をまちがってんじゃねえか? ツララ野郎

くる ところ を まちがってん じゃねえ か? ツララ やろう

kuru - to come
tokoro - place
wo - object marker
machigatten - shortened past form of "to mistake"
jaa nee - is not
ka - question marker
tsurara - icicle
yarou - you / guy

to come . place . to have made a mistake . is not . ?
icicle . guy

"Haven't you come to the wrong place? Icicle guy."

The "-gatten" ending is a contraction of "gatta dewa nai" or "to not do". In the above line, "ja nai" is a rhetorical question, drawn out and slurred to become "jaa nee". This works out as "Aren't you in the wrong place?"

One of the interesting things about Japanese is that tags (a person's name or title) are usually added to the end of a sentence to show who you are talking to or about. In English, these tags are usually the last part of the complete sentence. So, instead of having two separate sentences here, I combined them into one and moved the question mark to be after "Icicle Boy".

Now, "yarou" can just be a rude way of saying "you", or be treated as saying "that guy" or "that rascal". In this case, the Inspector is calling the agent a rude name along the lines of "you icicle guy". Many fan translators would use "bastard" here, but I consider it to be out of place. That is, "rascal" is too old-fashioned, and "bastard" is too-strongly worded. The inspector just wants to be demeaning without actually starting a fight.

This is why I went with "Aren't you in the wrong place, Icicle Boy?"


[くる ところ を] バルーン けいぶ!

kuru tokoro wo - a repeat of "to come . place . object"

baruun - balloon
keibu - inspector

balloon . keibu

"Inspector Balloon!"

Note that here Japanese appends the job title or management title to the end of the person's name. We have to flip this around to put it into English.

Also, the joke here is that Inspector Balloon is himself a word balloon. So, when he talks, the words are displayed on his face. In this panel, the words from the previous panel are scrolling off his face. To make this work in English, I chose to use the last couple of words from his sentence, rather than the first few, to make it look like the sentence is scrolling off from left to right.

I went with "[wrong place] Inspector Balloon!"

To be continued.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Build a Model Solar System

A few days ago, I wrote an entry on Gakken, and mentioned two of their "Adult Build-it-yourself" kits (the slow clock and the DC motor car).

Well, it turns out that Gakken is not the only producer of such kits present in Japan. The Italian publisher DeAgostini just recently released the first volume in their new weekly 52-volume series called "Build a Model Solar System". Each volume costs around 780 yen ($8), and contains a handful of parts for the full kit plus a mook. Each mook (magazine-book) includes color photos and articles on a different part of the solar system. Volume 1 contains the brass base plate, a brass outer ring and the plastic feet.

Not all volumes will cost the same, so there's a good chance that the completed model will run well over $500 USD. But, at an average of 780 yen each, it's still not that bad a deal just for the books (at Japanese prices. The kit sells in England for 1.99 pounds. At 1.4886 dollars per pound, and 90.945 yen per dollar, that's the equivalent of 270 yen to buy the kit from England, which is 2.8 times less than the Japanese selling price. Then again, shipping to Japan from England is probably more than the Japanese price of the kit. So, it's a wash either way.) So far, the only way to get the kit in the U.S. is to buy it from the UK website and have it shipped overseas.

Now, I have to ask myself, how badly do I want to build a brass model of the solar system...


Now, a couple of words about Gakken.

In the previous blog entry about Gakken I mentioned making the Slow Clock and the DC Motor Car. I'll take this chance here to follow up on those kits. First, they're not perfect and they're not practical. The clock is loud (no housing) and it only runs for 5 hours per winding. But again, the idea isn't to build a good clock - it's to learn how gear trains and clock mechanisms work. However, there is a slight flaw in the design. There's a ratchet pin that's used to disconnect the clock from the wind-up key that allows you to wind the weight back up to let the clock run another 5 hours. That pin presses against another pin, like a spring, when acting as a ratchet. Well, over time, the racket pin slides up and off the second pin and then jams against another gear, stopping the clock. It's easy enough to glue the ratchet pin in place (which doesn't affect the operations of the clock), but the designers should have notched the second pin to prevent this sliding in the first place.

Second, the DC motor car doesn't do a whole lot. Turn it on and let it run until it hits something, or let it run in a circle until the battery runs out. Again, the idea is to just teach you how to wind a coil, and how this kind of motor works. But, this type of kit is really just for display purposes. Build it, put it on a shelf, and let people look at it when they come over to visit. And I think that's a main key to all of the kits in this line from Gakken. You get them because you like learning the mechanics behind various concepts, and then you put them on a shelf to display them. There's little reason to use them after you've checked to make sure you built them right. Sort of like art you make yourself and hold on to so you can look at it when you so desire.

The DeAgostini brass model of the solar system probably also falls into this category. So, the question is, "is it worth spending $500 USD just to have 52 color books to look at, just so that you can build something that's going to sit on a shelf and gather dust? No matter how cool it is?" Personally, if I do buy this kit, it'll be because I want to have something I can build myself.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 34, Page 7

Here's the rest of the dialog from page 7.


Uuuun - Hmmm.

This is just a straight sound effect made by someone concentrating and can be used as-is.


にらんだ。 いつものことだ

げんば に つく と しょかつ の けいかん は まるで はすいぐち に たまった かみのけ を みる ような め で おれ を にらんだ。 いつものことだ

genba - scene of the crime
ni - at
tsuku - arrive at
to - and
shokatsu - jurisdiction
no - possessive
keikan - policeman
wa - topic marker
maru de - completely / as if
hasui guchi - drainage mouth
ni - towards
tamatta - past form of "to gather"
kami no ke - hair
wo - object marker
miru - to look
you na - such as
me - eye
de - of
ore - me
wo - object marker
niran da - past of "to look at"
itsumo no - usual
koto - thing
da - masculine form of "desu"

scene of the crime . at . arrives at . jurisdiction's . policeman . (topic) . as if . drainage mouth . towards . gather . hair . (object) . to look . such as . eye . of . me . (object) . to look at.
usual . thing . is

"The police working the scene of the crime make the look of their eyes at me as if I am the hair that gathers at the mouth of the drain. It is a usual thing."

Lots of object markers here, meaning that several actions are taking place. First that the "to look such as eye of" really means "to make their eye look like they are looking at". Then "police make this look looking at me" gives us "the police look at me with the look of 'hey, it's the hair at the bottom of the bathtub'".

"genba ni tsukuto shokatsu no" works as "of the arrived at crime scene's jurisdiction", followed by "keikan wa", or "policeman (topic)". In other words, the "policemen working the crime scene do some action". The action being that of looking at me as if I am the hair at the mouth of the drain.

I decided to use the more conventional form "When I get to the scene, the cops stare at me like I'm the slimy hair that gathers in a sink drain. Never fails."

To be continued.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Yushima Tenjin

(Main entrance to Yushima Tenjin)

Yushima Tenjin is another shrine located in the Kanda area, within walking distance of Akihabara train station, although it's not that far south of Ueno Park. While it does share the same name as Yushima Seido (the shrine dedicated to Confucius, located about a 10-minute walk south), the two are unrelated. "Yushima" is just the name for part of this neighborhood.

According to the official website, Yushima Tenmangu (the proper name of the shrine) was established in 435 AD. The shrine was rebuilt in 1478 AD by a Kanto-area warlord. The main building was "rebuilt in wood in 1995". There's still some construction work ongoing in another building. This is a Shinto shrine, dedicated to Ameno-tajikaraono-mikoto, and then later to the scholar Sugawara Michizane.

(A view into the main shrine building. You have to make a special request to the monks to be allowed in. I have no idea how this process works.)

It's traditional in Japan to visit a shrine during the first few days following New Year's Day, to pray for prosperity, success, and good health in the coming year. And to also pick up a few talismans for good luck, such as a single white wooden arrow (called "hamaya"). I visited this shrine on Jan. 10 and there were still a lot of people here for the New Year's pilgrimage

Takoyaki stall. Takoyaki (fried octopus) consists of a small chunk of octopus dipped in batter and then fried in a special grill with golf-ball sized indentations. The takoyaki are rotated until they're golden brown all over, and then served with a sweet sauce, and eaten using a toothpick. They're my favorite Japanese comfort food.

Daruma dolls. According to legend, Daruma was a priest that decided to sit in one place until he reached nirvana. The years passed and his arms and legs withered away until just his torso remained. Today, snowmen are referred to as "yuki daruma" (snow daruma). (A "yuki otoko", or "snow man" is a Yeti.) Daruma dolls are used to mark the beginning and end of a big task or quest, such as when entering a university. One eye is painted in at the beginning, and the other doesn't get painted in until the undertaking is completed. The colors of the dolls don't really mean anything, but red and white together are considered to be auspicious.

Ame dama. These are pieces of fruit (such as salted Japanese plums - umeboshi) wrapped in spun sugar. This stall is selling "one chance" for 200 yen ($2). The object on the far side of the table is a wooden pachinko machine. You play one turn at the machine, and your score determines how many ame dama your 200 yen will get you.

(A stand of wooden prayer cards put up by visitors)

(One of the many supporting side buildings)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 33, Page 7 and 8

Here's the dialog from pages 7 and 8 together, because page 7 is so short.

おれ には いかい できない


にらんだ。 いつものことだ
げんば につく と しょかつ のけいかん はまるで はすいぐち にたまった かみ
のけ をみるようなめ で おれ をにらんだ。 いつものことだ

--- Page 8 ---

のうりんすいさんしょう の れいしょく そうさかん だ。この げんば のせきにんしゃ は?

来る所をまちがってんじゃねえか? ツララ野郎
くる ところ をまちがってんじゃねえか? ツララやろう

[くる ところ を] バルーン けいぶ!

あんたがたんとう なら はなし は はやい

みくびって。もらっちゃこまるな。これはたんなるさつじんじけん なんだ。のうすいしょう の でる まく じゃあない

たんなるじゃないだろう。さされたのはけいかん だそうじゃないか。しかも。。。

れいしょく シンジケートと ないつしてるんじゃいかというウワザのあった おとこだ

もちろん。用心深い連中のことだ。警官を組織に深入りさせたりはしない。 大き
もちろん。ようじんぶかい のことだ。けいぶん をそしき にふかいり させたり
はしない。 おおきな しょうばい をみのがしてもらうかわりまったん ももいい
ところのチンケなみつばい のじょうほうをたまにリークしてただけだろうひがい
しゃ はそれをじぶん のてがら にしたりときにはよこどりにしたり こづかいを
かせいで たそこで おれ かでばって きたというわけさ

To be continued.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Love Hige Kiki Ippatsu Sweet

(The Love Hige Girls holding the game, from the Tomy site.)

There's a toy in Japan (it may also exist in the U.S., but if it does I don't know its name) that consists of a pirate doll in a barrel. You stick knives into openings in the barrel, and the person that causes the pirate to shoot out of the barrel loses. A new version of this toy, from Takara Tomy, just came out, called "Love Beard Crisis One-Shot Sweet". Here, the knives are replaced by pins with the word "sweet" printed on them. It's supposedly marketed to adults as a romantic game.

(Desktop wallpapers from the site)

As part of the advertising campaign, Tomy also introduced three women dressed up in devil costumes, called the "Love Hige Girls". You can download their desktop wallpaper from the Tomy site, as well as watch videos of the girls advertising the toy.

I saw the Love Hige Girls in Akihabara on Saturday. They were out on the road for a 2-day photo shoot in various spots around Tokyo. Unfortunately, only members of the press were allowed to take pictures.

In any event, the girls were cute. But their outfits weren't suited for the 40 degree weather of a January day outside.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 32, Page 6

This is the last of page 6.


おせんぶっしつ だらけ の せいぶつ の しがい の こおりづけ を きょがく のかね
と ち をとして まで くおう と する れんちゅう が あとをたたないにのだ

Osenbusshitsu darake - full of contamination
no - possessive
seibutsu - living thing
no - possessive
shigai - corpse
no - possessive
koori zuke - packed in ice
wo - object marker
kyogaku - great sum
no - possessive
kane - money
to - and
chi - blood
toshite - to gamble
made - until
kuou to suru - vulgar form of "try to eat"
renchuu - those guys
ga - subject marker
ato wo tatai nai - continuously / keep springing up
no - nominalizer
da - masculine form of desu

full of contamination's . living thing's . corpse's . packed in ice . (object) . great sum's . money . and . blood . to gamble . until . try to eat . those guys . (subject) . keep springing up . (turn into a phrase) . is

"These people keep springing up, that are willing to gamble large sums of money and blood in order to eat the contaminated corpses of previously living things packed in ice."

The kanji "生物" can be read as either "namamono" (raw food) or "seibutsu" (living things). In combination with "shigai" (corpse), it makes more sense to use the "seibutsu" reading.

"ato wo tatai nai" has the nuance of trying to suppress bugs. As soon as you eradicate one, two more show up. The sense here then is that while the AgMin is trying to arrest frozen food addicts and get them off the streets, it's an endless, futile task.

Instead of what I actually used in the manga, I should have gone with "These people, who are willing to gamble large sums of money and blood in order to eat the contaminated corpses of previously living things packed in ice, just keep springing up."


And I'll put the first panel from page 7 here, because it's short.


おれ には いかい できない

ore - me
niwa - in regard to
ikai - understanding
dekinai - negative of "able to do"

me . in regard to . understanding . can not do

"I can't understand it."

This is very straightforward. "ikai dekiru" would be "able to do the act of understanding". "ikai dekinai" is therefore "unable to do the act of understanding", or "unable to understand."

I went with the more conversational "I just don't get it."

To be continued.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Amano Yoshitaka's "Cosmos" Exhibit, Tokyo, 2009

There's an art gallery named "Art Vivant" in Japan that is currently working to promote and sell limited edition lithographs (and other media like paint on steel, and paint on plaster) from famed artist Amano Yoshitaka.

Amano may be best known as the concept designer for Vampire Hunter D, for his covers for Michael Moorcock's "Elric" books, and for the Final Fantasy video game series illustrations.

From Jan. 10 to the 12th, Art Vivant held its Tokyo show in the Akihabara UDX building on the 2nd floor. Basically, the rest area was turned into a short-term gallery with large framed prints lining the walls, and sitting areas for potential customers to inspect the works up close. A small stage was set up presumably for Amano to talk to the audience, but he wasn't there when I dropped by during my lunch break.

The artwork is all brilliant stuff, but it's expensive. Signed lithos with 300 or 400-copy print runs were priced anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000. There were about 20 people in the gallery when I was there, and few looked ready to buy anything. Still, it was a fun experience, and I got a free Amano poster out of the deal just for showing up. The show is set to visit other parts of Japan this month.

Some of the photos were taken by Titichu, who was able to at least bring her cell phone camera a little ways into the exhibit before all the guards showed up. I took the remaining photos from outside the rest area, hence the nasty light reflection problems. Even as it was, with my being outside early on Sunday morning with the exhibit still closed, I had a security guard walk up to presumably tell me that cameras aren't allowed. I'd finished shooting and had started walking away when I noticed him.

("World Map" poster)

Anyway, I scanned the poster they were giving away at the door. It's the picture that's used for the main advertising at the exhibit, called "World Map". E-mail me if you want a larger copy of the scanned jpeg.

("Cute" version of Vampire Hunter D)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 31, Page 6

More of page 6 of Frozen Food Agent.


だが き に いらない ヤツ も よ の なか に は そんざい する らしい

daga - but
ki - spirit
ni - towards
iranai - not need
yatsu - person
mo - also
yo no naka - in this world
ni - towards
wa - topic marker
sonzai - exist
suru - to do
rashi - it seems

But . spirit . towards . not need . person . also . in this world . towards . (topic) . exists . to do . it seems

"But it seems that there are people in the world that don't feel this way."

I wrote way back when that there are two ways of interpreting "ki ni iranai" - "people that don't like something" and "I don't like those kinds of people". Both nuances are embedded in the sentence here, but it's almost impossible to show that in an English phrase that is both readable and short. So, I decided to focus on the first nuance instead, which is the more important one, anyway.

Note the "sonzai suru" phrase, which says "to do sonzai" or "to do exist". This turns into "exists".

I went with "However, this world includes people that feel otherwise."

Note: There's a joke hidden in this panel. The Agent is coming out of a subway at the "Gemba station". "Gemba" means "spot, location or scene". Given what happens on the next page, we can assume that this station's name is "Crime Scene Station".



しょくりょう とうせい いぜんに ぞうられ ちか の ちょぞうこ に ねむっていた。
たいりょう の れいとうしょくひん が ブラックマーケットで とりひき されてい

shokuryou - food
tousei - regulation
izen ni - since
sourare - to make
chika - underground
no - possessive
chozouko - storehouse
ni - towards
nemutte - to sleep
ita - the state of having existed
tairyou - large quantity
no - possessive
reitoushokuhin - frozen food
ga - subject marker
burakkumaaketto - black market
de - from
torihiki - business
sareteiru - Passive form of "suru" - to do

food . regulation . since . to make . underground's . storehouse . towards . to sleep. was.
large quantity's . frozen food . (subject) . black market . from . business . did

"From before the passing of the food regulations, there's been an underground warehouse sleeping. A large quantity of food business has happened on the black market."

"Sareteiru" kind of doesn't fit here, since the hero has been fairly casual in his speech up to this point. Then all of a sudden he uses the passive voice. According to, passive form is the more common form for normal conversation, but there aren't that many examples of it in this manga that I've been able to pick up on.

Also, "nemutte" (to sleep) is kind of vague. Is it the storehouse that's "sleeping", or the frozen food that's inside it? Actually, the two sentences work together. Something is sleeping (not being used) in the storehouse. And, in the second sentence, we're told that that something is frozen food that's now making its way into the black market.

I went with "Since before the passing of the Food Laws, there's been something sleeping in the underground warehouses. A large quantity of frozen foods that have appeared on the black market." because it's a little more picturesque.

To be continued.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More articles that ran in the media recently

An Update on Heidi Club
Back in November, I ran an entry on the Heidi Club cafe and goods shop in Akihabara. I really liked the pastries they had, but it was a bit pricey so I'd only drop by every few weeks. Turns out that I should have gone in there more often. Heidi Club closed its doors around Dec. 26. The notice on the website is that they will reopen again in Akihabara at some point, in a new location, but apparently only as a goods shop and without the cafe. Sigh.

Article on animator Ryo Ono
A detailed article on politically-oriented Flash animator Ryo Ono and his award-winning "Eagle Talon" political satire anime. Problem is, his artwork's not all that great. The ink could have been spent on a different artist that was more worth reading.

Article on Takarazuka City and Tezuka Museum
An unnecessary piece of fluff that insults Takarazuka City for having nothing to do during the off-season, and insults Tezuka for having a big nose. No idea why the Japan Times wasted ink on this idiot writer.

Article on Shokotan (did theme song for Gurren Lagann)
A fairly even-handed puff piece on Shokotan, an attractive singer, manga artist and talent. Probably didn't need to mention the cat butt sniffing thing, though...

Abunai Sisters - Koko and Mika
Here's a waste of space if there ever was one, mentioned in the Metropolis magazine. The pole-dancing soft-porn magazine models Kyoko and Mika Kano now have their own anime. It features them as crime busters of a sort. Article ran in the Metropolis. An English version of the anime is available at the Kano sister's website.

Tintin Movie, 80th Anniversary, and Goods Shop
The Japan Times ran an abbreviated version of an article that appeared on yahoo news. The article's mostly interested in churning up old controversy at the expense of information about the 80th Anniversary celebrations starting on Jan. 14, and about news of Speilberg's upcoming Tintin movie. Anyway, the important thing is that I stumbled across a Tintin goods shop in Harajuku, just off Omotesando street. It's a small shop, but all it carries is Tintin products and is 1 of 4 such places in Japan.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 30, Page 6

More of page 6:

訂正しよう20 世紀だって味だけで勝負できる店はほとんどなかったのかもしれな

ていせいしよう 20 せいき だって あじ だけで しょうぶ できる みせ はほとんど なかった の かもしれない

teiseishiyou - correction to do
20seiki - 20th century
datte - even though
aji - taste
dake de - only
shoubu - compete
dekiru - able to
mise - shop
wa - topic marker
hotondo - almost all
nakatta - disappear
no - nominalizer
kamoshirenai - possibility

correction to do . 20th century . even though . taste . only . compete . able to . shop . (topic) . almost all . disappear . (is) . possibility

"Correction. It seemed that all 20th century shops that competed only on taste had disappeared."

I'm still weak on the "no" normalizer here, but my understanding is that it turns the entire preceding phrase into a noun. Further, the "wa" marker says that the portion "almost all disappeared" acts on the entire section of "20th century shops that competed only on taste".

The translated phrase here is pretty much usable as-is. To keep with the rest of the "voice" of the story, I decided to go with "Correction, almost all of the shops from the 20th century that competed only on taste went out of business."



ただ すくなくとも しょくざい は ほんもの だった そこ が おおきな ちがい だ

tada - But
sukunakutomo - at least
shokuzai - ingredient
wa - topic marker
honmono - real thing
datta - was
soko - there
ga - subject marker
ookina - big
chigai - difference
da - was

But . at least . ingredient . (topic) . real thing . was . there . (subject) . big . difference . was

"But, while the ingredients were real, the differences were huge."

I again modified this a little, to be: "Although their ingredients were real, the differences were huge."


あげた。 いわばレプリカだ

げんざい の レストラン で でされる メニュー は ごうせい しょくりょう を、むかし の りょうり に だけ にせてづくり あげた。 いわば レプリカ だ

genzai - Current
no - possessive
resutoran - restaurant
de - of
desareru - to show
menyuu - menu
wa - topic marker
gousei - synthetic
shoryou - food
wo - object marker
mukashi - former, old
no - of
ryouri - cooking
ni - towards
katachi dake - for form's sake only
nisete - to copy
zukuri - making
ageta - to give
iwaba - so to speak
repurika - replica
da - casual male form of desu, is

Current's . restaurant . of . to show . menu . (topic) synthetic . food . (object),
Long ago's . cooking . towards . form's sake . to copy . making . to give.
So to speak . replica . is

"Menus at today's restaurants just use synthetic foods as a copy of the form of long-ago's cooking. That is, it's a replica."

This is a fairly complex sentence, but the meaning is pretty clear: Today's menus just offer replicas of foods that used to be available. I simplified this to be: "Currently, the restaurant menus consist of synthetics that resemble actual old dishes. That is - replica foods."


生まれた時から安全な合成食料だけで育った俺は。 それを不満に思ったことわな

うまれた とき から あんぜんな ごうせい しょくりょう だけ で ぞだった おれ は。
それ を ふまん に おもった ことわない

umareta - Was born
toki - time
kara - from
anzen na - safe
gousei - synthetic
shoryou - food
dake - only
de - of
sodatta - was raised
ore - me
wa - topic marker
sore - that
wo - object marker
fuman - discontent
ni - towards
omotta - thought
koto - thing
wa - topic marker
nai - not

Was born . time . from . safe . synthetic . food . only . was raised. Me . (topic)
That (object) . discontent . towards . thought . thing . (topic) . not

"From when I was born, I was raised on safe synthetic foods. I've never been discontent with that."

"Umareta toki kara" follows a kind of pattern that is used to show the starting or ending point for something. I.e. - From when I was born, or from when I was a child, or until when I entered school. The pattern is "event" + toki + kara/made.

"Omotta koto wa nai" is another pattern. In this case, it is used to say "did not + verb". That is, I have never eaten apples (ringo wa tabetta koto wa nai), or I have never read manga (manga wa yonde koto wa nai). In the above sentence, fuman omotta koto wa nai gives us "never had a discontent thought".

For this paragraph, I used "I've been raised on only safe synthetic foods all my life. And I've never wanted anything else."

To be continued.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Film Review - Akuma no Temari-Uta

Akuma no Temari-Uta, based on the novel by Seishi Yokomizo, grade: C

Seishi Yokomizo (1902-1981) was a prolific early writer of Japanese detective mysteries. His primary hero was the amateur sleuth Kindaichi Kosuke, who appeared in 77 case file stories. The Kindaichi character was in turn used as the inspiration for Yozaburo Kanari and Seimaru Amagi's manga series "Kindaichi Case Files". (Yozaburo's character, Hajime Kindaichi, is Kosuke's grandson in the series, but the name was used without permission and isn't acknowledged by Seishi's estate). According to wikipedia, a profile of Kindaichi Kosuke is provided in volume 6 of "Meitantei Conan" (AKA: "Case Closed").

(Advertising image from DramaWiki.)

Earlier last week, Fuji TV aired "Akuma no Temari-Uta", which roughly translates to "Devil's Bouncing Ball Song". It looks like this is a new production (2009) by Fuji TV, the fourth in their series of Kindaichi Kosuke dramas, this one based on Seishi's 1959 novel of the same name.

The basic story is that Kosuke arrives at a small village inhabited by farmers, crafts people, a wine maker and some fans of old movies. The village elder has died from poisoning, and Kosuke is enlisted to help investigate. Also targeted are three young women. All of the murders, including one 23 years earlier, are related, and are tied together by the lyrics of a children' song, where the means of death are specified explicitly in the song. Another common thread is that several of the villagers were part of the live music and narration that accompanied silent movies in the theaters 23 years before, and that right now the village is being visited by a famous screen singer. It's Kosuke's job to save the singer from being the killer's next victim.

Bottom line is that this is a very campy production, set around the time the novel came out between 1957 and 1959. A few characters are rich enough to ride in cars, but Kindaichi arrives in the village by rickshaw and he and the police chief take turns carrying each other around by bicycle. In fact, one of the running gags is that the two characters are constantly riding across the screen to get from one side of the village to the other. The acting is very low-level, and the looks of shock or horror on people's faces borders on the silly. Inaki Goro plays Kindaichi as a wide-eyed pigeon, constantly bobbing his head and shoulders up and down as he scrutinizes the crime scenes in an overblown parody of early Sherlock Holmes actors. The rest of the cast is equally weak, although the actress that plays the girl with a wine red birthmark over half her body is pretty good.

The story itself is ok. The murders are seemingly unconnected, but eventually we learn that a children's song known by the villagers sets out at least the implements of the crimes, and is thus the inspiration of the movie's title (children sing this type of song while bouncing a small, brightly colored ball called a "temari", and the songs are called "temari uta"). The mystery unfolds slowly, but the attacks on the victims are kind of graphic and get replayed multiple times. There are no real clues as to the murderer's identity until the very end, but the revelation occurs slowly enough that we can guess who it is at the last moment.

Summary: "Akuma no Temari-Uta" is yet another example of why Japanese dramas have a hard time breaking into the export market to the west - the content is culture rich, but the acting isn't that great. If dubbed into English, this drama would quickly end up on MST 3000. But, the mystery itself is interesting, and Seishi Yokomizo is also one of those authors that helped make Japanese detective fiction what it is today. Recommended only if you like campy detectives, are a student of Japanese fiction writing or a fan of the "Cased Closed" and "Kindaichi Case Files" manga.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 29, Pages 5 & 6

I skipped a panel, so I need to go back. This is going to have the longest block of vocabulary, so please bear with me. It's made up of 3 sentences that I'm going to treat as a unit.

た。 しかもフレンチならまだしも合成食のアメリカンダイナーだ

フランス りゅうがく まで した のに。パリのバイト で おぼえた こっち の ほう が ほ
んしょく に なっちまった。 しかも フレンチ なら まだしも ごうせいしょく のア

furansu - France
ryuugaku - study abroad
made - from
shita - past form of "suru", "did"
no ni - in order to
pari - Paris
no - possessive
baito - part time work
de - of
oboeta - thought
kotchi - here
no - possessive
hou - direction
ga - topic marker
honshoku - professional
ni - towards
natchimatta - to become
shika mo - and yet
furenchi - French
nara - in the case
madashimo - rather, better
gousei - synthetic
shoku - food
amerikan dainaa - American diner
da - past form of desu

France . study abroad . from . did. in order to

Paris' part time work . of . thought . here's . direction . (topic) . professional . towards . to become

And yet . French . in the case . rather . synthetic food . American diner . was

"I went to France to study abroad. My thought was to get a part-time job in order to turn professional. Instead of France, I'm now in a synthetic food American-style diner."

Although this is one of the longer sections, it doesn't have any of the really tricky syntax of some of the other panels. Again though, I needed to trim things down to make it fit in the word balloons. So, I used:

"I went to Paris to study with the intent to make it professionally. Instead I ended up selling fake food in an American-style diner."


And, because this section was a little short, here's the dialog for page 6.

訂正しよう20 世紀だって味だけで勝負できる店はほとんどなかったのかもしれない
ていせいしよう20 せいき だって あじ だけで しょうぶ できる みせ はほとん

ただすくなくともしょくざい は ほんもの だったそこが おおきなちがいだ

りあげた。 いわばレプリカだ
げんざい のレストランで でされるメニューは ごうせい しょくりょう を、むか
し のりょうり に かたちだけ にせてづくりあげた。 いわばレプリカだ

生まれた時から安全な合成食料だけで育った俺は。 それを不満に思ったことわな

うまれた とき からあんぜんな ごうせいしょくりょう だけでぞだった おれ は。
それをふまん におもった ことわない

だが き にいらないヤツも よ の なか には そんざいする らしい

しょくりょう とうせい いぜんにぞうられ ちか のちょぞうこ にねむっていた。
たいりょう の れいとうしょくひん が ブラックマーケットで とりひきされてい

おせんぶっしつだらけの せいぶつ のしがい の ひょう つけをきょがく のかね
と ち をとしてまで くおうとするれんちゅう が あとをたたいにのだ

To be continued.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Gakken Build-it Kits for Adults

A long time ago, Edward Scientific was the company to go to if you wanted to experiment with science or electronics. You could get just about any kit on the market, as well as lasers and splitter lenses for holographic photography.

America's got nothing on Japan for teaching people science. Want a piece of gear to build your own telescope or whatever? Go to Akihabara. Want a DIY magazine to show you how to build your own class 1 laser or RC space shuttle? Go to any book store - it'll be right there on the shelves. Want to do something a little simpler but still learn a lot? Go to Gakken.

Gakken is a publisher of textbooks and DIY magazine books (AKA: mooks). There are currently 22 "Adult Kit Mooks" on the market, from simple synthesizers and vacuum tube radios, to theremins and a build-it-yourself film projector. Most mooks in this series are in the $15 to $25 range, and new ones come out once every few months. For Christmas, I received two of these mook kits.

(Slow clock)

First is the "slow clock". This is a simple 1-hand clock that teaches how timepieces work. The pieces are mostly good-quality plastic (meaning that they won't quickly break or deform) and the kit takes about 2 hours to assemble. The drive mechanism is a hanging weight, about 10 ounces (which is a 500 ml bottle filled with water). The clock measures in 1-hour increments, and the string is long enough to let the clock operate 5 hours without winding. There's no housing, so the ticking is a bit loud. It's not the greatest clock you could buy for the money, but that's not the point. You build the clock to learn how clocks work. Afterwards, the mook also shows you how to modify the clock to turn it into a chime.

(DC motor car)

Second is the DC motor car. Here, we have a DC motor that uses a coil to attract one of 6 magnets on the drive wheel. As a different magnet on the wheel approaches a reed switch, the switch opens and the coil turns off. Inertia causes the wheel to keep spinning so that the reed switch closes again and the coil turns on to attract the next magnet. Kind of like how the propulsion on maglev (magnetic levitation) trains work. The motor uses a single AA battery, and it goes through batteries fast, plus the gearing on the drive pulley results in the car moving fairy slowly forward (you can swivel the front axle to make the car go in a circle). But again, the point is to show you how to make such a motor. You even have to hand-wrap the wire on the coil yourself. This also took about 2 hours to build the full kit (not including the time for unwinding and rewinding the coil because I got it wrong the first time).

When you're done, you still have the mooks to read. The first part of the mook talks about the practical applications and long history of the subject (in Japanese of course). Then, the rest of the mook covers other DIY projects (like making a small wind generator, or a really complicated paper airplane).

There's a higher-end series of kits for building your own steam engine or dirigible, but they run well over $500 apiece. The steam engine outputs 3 watts at 12 volts, and costs roughly $1600.

I like this lower-end gakken series of kits, because they're fun, inexpensive and just a little challenging to build. I'm hoping to get my hands on the Edo-era spark generator next.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Learning Japanese - Part 28, Page 5

It's time to return to the on-going adventures of "Translating Frozen Food Agent Man". When we last left TFFA-man, he was still only on page 5 of Tori Miki's "Frozen Food Agent" manga (buy the manga! Feel the manga!).


それでこの え が かわりって わけ か

sore de - because of that
kono - this
e - painting
ga - subject marker
kawaritte - hung
wake - reason
ka - question particle

because of that . this . painting . (subject) . hung . reason . (?)

"That's why you put up this painting?"


大昔の若気の至りですよ。 これでも画家志望だったんです

おおむかし のわかげ の いたり です よ。 これでも がか しぼう だったんです

oomukashi - long ago
no - possessive
wakage no itari - youthful indiscretion
desu yo - is + emphasis
koredemo - even though things appear this way
kaga - painter
shibou - desire
datta - was
n desu - is the fact

long ago's . youthful indiscretion . is
Despite appearances . painter . desire . was . is the fact

"Even though I work here, the fact is that long ago, I irresponsibly wanted to be a painter."

To fit the word balloon, I shortened this to:

"Long ago, I had the childish wish to become an artist."


I'm going to skip down a bit.


jiken - a case, incident or accident

"A case. A case." Used as-is.



きた ばかり で すまんな

kita - came
bakari - just recently
de - short form of "desu", is
suman - short form of "sorry"
na - sentence softener

"Sorry, this just came in." Used as-is.



しゅっきん だ

shukkin - going to work
da - masculine form of desu

"I've got (to go) to work." Used as-is.



まいど ありがとうごいざます

maido arigatou gozaimasu

This last one is a set phrase that literally translates to "everytime, thank you", but is used to mean "thank you for your continuing patronage". I went with the shorter version of:

"Thanks for your business."

To be continued.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


There's a tradition in Japan of sending post cards to friends, family, co-workers and others such that the cards arrive at the recipient's home on New Year's Day. These post cards are called "nengajo". One of my students told me that he and his wife had spent an entire weekend last month handwriting 170 cards between them.

This is the one nengajo I received this year, from the fine people at Ekura Animal. Thank you!

The card reads "Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu" (roughly meaning "Happy New Year"), and features some of the Ekura Animal characters. I probably don't need to explain much more than to say that we're now starting the Year of the Ox in the Chinese lunar calendar. Just watch where you step.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January Katana Sale in Harajuku - Sokendo

Katana have a long and storied past. And, they are one of the truly Japanese weapons throughout the ages. A katana made by a master is both beautiful to look at, and to hold. So, it's not surprising that a good katana costs a lot of money, and is prized by collectors.

(Main building store front)

Sokendo is a dealer of Japanese swords and daggers, located in Harajuku, just a couple of blocks east from the Yamanote line, and south from "fashion street". It's actually a little tricky to find - the main show room is on a side street just west of Meiji Dori. I didn't visit the second shop (Sokendo Omotesando), which is a little farther east along Omotesando Dori running away from the Meiji Jingu shrine. The shop I did visit is small, at maybe 60 feet by 30 feet, and is divided into two show rooms. Each room has a set of couches and tables for sitting down and examining the blades closely. Around the walls are display cases and stands for holding the blades.

(Close-up of one of the katana in the front show window)

Apparently it's an annual tradition for Sokendo to run a New Year's sale and exhibition. This year, it's from Jan. 3 to the 12th. 100 blades are on display during this time, and all are available for purchase. Of course, cameras are not permitted inside (I assumed; I didn't even bother asking this time). All blades have descriptions in Japanese, but a few at least had Gregorian dates set in the mid-1700's, with one from the mid-1800's. I think that the cheapest blade was $1200. Several were around $25,000, and one was up there at $75,000. The total collection was a mix of ignorable and beautiful. A lot of the blades looked unremarkable, but several had really nice work along the edge.

(Same katana as above. Sorry about the reflection in the glass.)

I'm not an expert on katana, but I do like looking at them. And right now, Sokendo is a great place to go to do just that - you can even handle them if you ask politely.

(The other katana in the show window)

(Sokendo and Sokendo Omotesando are about 4 blocks apart, and the Japan Sword Museum is another 15-20 minute walk west from here, if you want to make this a day trip. On top of this, the Keio department store at the southwest side of Shinjuku train station, three minutes away by train on the Yamanote line, has a small collection of katana on display on (I think) the 5th floor. To make this a day trip, start out by taking the Yamanote line to Harajuku, then go out the south exit to Omotesando and walk east 4 long blocks to the Sokendo Omotesando store. Double back west up Omotesando about 2 blocks and south a block or so to the main Sokendo store. Get back on the Yamanote and go north 2 stops to Shinjuku and enter the Keio department store and go up a few floors (you want the northeast corner of the floor). Then return to the main train station, go to the south exit for the Odakyu train line, and take the Odakyu south a couple of stops to head for the Japan Sword Museum.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Futility of Exporting Japanese Intellectual Property

Granted that I'm writing this after only reading a few books, but I feel safe in drawing some broad conclusions here.

Back in October, the CoFesta event was held in part as an attempt to attract western entertainment distributors to buy up Japanese movies, music, TV shows and anime for distribution to their countries. The lament at the time was that Samurai dramas and variety game shows were not well understood by western audiences, and CoFesta was supposed to improve their visibility. The reactions of myself and my coworkers were that Samurai dramas and J-pop had a small western audience for a reason - the bulk of the product isn't very good, and definitely won't translate well, if at all.

So, a couple of weeks ago, the Japan Times newspaper decided to start running "The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi", by Okamoto Kido (which I reviewed yesterday). The serialization is about 1-2 pages per day, 4-5 days per week. As part of the introduction to the serialization, the writer commented on how Kido was so important to Japanese literature and yet that this book had remained untranslated for so long. That it was surprising that Kido hadn't gotten all that much exposure to western audiences.

I don't think it's all that surprising. With the exception of certain anime and manga, I don't think Japanese entertainment forms are ever going to catch on, in America anyway The first reason is that what constitutes "entertainment" is different between the two cultures. A good percentage of Japanese TV consists of TV celebrities sitting on a bleacher watching people eat various kinds of food, and then giving their opinions. Another percentage consists of the same group of celebrities watching western TV clips and going "oh, great, great", while another percentage has the same group of celebrities watching TV comics being humiliated Not a hallmark of western shows. And, Samurai dramas require that you know the background and history of the settings, which most Americans aren't willing to bother with (plus, the acting is really bad).

Most J-pop lyrics are vapid and the sugary music is often ripped off from western bands. Not much resale value there, either.

Which brings me to the question of why Japanese writers haven't gained more popularity in the west, or at least in the U.S. I think that it's nearly impossible for a translation to compete against a native work. This may not be true for literature or commentary. But for fiction along the lines of mysteries and SF, the three drawbacks to Japanese works are that the settings are in a place foreign to western readers; are written in a language with completely different grammar rules than English; and that so much depends on the translator's ability to write in the style of that that genre.

After reading "All She was Worth", I realized that while the book is set in a part of Tokyo that I've lived in for a couple of years, the only reason the story appealed to me was that I know this city a little bit. A reader that's never been here isn't going to know anything about Ueno or Shimbashi without having a lot of background notes appended to the end of the book. This is a problem for the casual western reader. Plus, the Japanese language leaves out a lot of information that English needs, so a literal translation is going to sound stiff and a loose interpretation isn't going to be "Japanese enough".

But, the main issue is the translator's ability to mimic a writing style from some genre. This becomes painfully obvious with the "Hanshichi" and "Black Lizard" books. A translator isn't a fiction writer. They can't compete against a professional writer that's been working in a specific genre for years. Therefore, a translator that tries to mimic Raymond Chandler or Arthur Conan Doyle when choosing their English phrasing is doomed to failure (because their imitations will be superficial at best), and the translated work is going to suffer as a result, thus turning off western readers.This is my main point - unless professional novelists turn translator and do the translations of Japanese novels themselves, those novels are never going to read as convincingly in English as do books written by native English speakers, and aren't going to appeal to western readers as much either. Which ultimately explains why Japanese fiction writers that are wildly popular in Japan rarely break out in a big way in the west - their translators aren't sufficiently grounded in the genre to do justice to the original works.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Novel Reviews - The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi

(Cover from Amazon, used for review purposes only.)

The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi, by Okamoto Kido, translated by Ian MacDonald (2007); Grade: B-

In the rolls of early Japanese detective story writers, we have Edogawa Rampo, and Okamoto Kido. Kido (1872-1939), according to wikipedia, is best known for his Kabuki play "Bancho Sarayashiki". But, he did create Inspector Hanshichi, a street detective working in Edo (now Tokyo) from 1840 to 1860. The stories were serialized in the newspapers from 1917 to 1934. Ian MacDonald just recently translated these stories into English, available from the University of Hawaii Press. The Japan Times paper began running the MacDonald version as a daily serialization a couple of months ago. The first chapter is available from the UHP website. The Japan Times finished printing the second chapter on Dec. 26.

The narrative gimmick here is that a nephew of Hanshichi's is asking his old uncle about his past, and Hanshichi tells the narrator one story at a time (one story = one chapter). Kido was influenced by Sherlock Holmes, but the Hanshichi character seems to be more like Columbo - asking a couple of questions and then immediately making a beeline to the culprit. In the first two chapters, there's very little real detective sleuthing. Instead, Hanshichi notices some small detail overlooked by everyone else, then uses information not available to the reader to jump to the proper conclusion.

MacDonald has done a decent job in developing a translation that's not too campy or stilted. But, there is a whiff of florid narrative that seeps through anyway.

In the first chapter, a ghost seems to be haunting the wife and daughter of a proud samurai (who doesn't believe in ghosts). Turns out that the "ghost" has a more earthly explanation. In the second chapter, the daughter of a friend goes missing and Hanshichi uses this case to cement his reputation as a sleuth, determining that the girl was taken by an acrobat working at one of the nearby circuses. The third chapter (currently ongoing) concerns the death of an ironmonger's son during a kabuki play; the son was one of the lead players, and had fatally stabbed himself on stage after a prop dagger had been replaced with a real one. Turns out that the son was illegitimate and his father's wife may have wanted to get rid of him for personal and business reasons.

Summary: Okamoto Kido, like Edogawa Rampo, helped set the foundations for modern Japanese detective fiction. As such, he's worth reading. But, the stories are a little too simple, and the reader isn't presented with enough information to solve the crimes on their own. In this sense, the series is disappointing. Then again, Kido wrote "Hanshichi" simply to be entertaining, and Ian MacDonald has succeeded in making the English translation readable, assuming that you just want some brain candy. (As a side note, Hanshichi "lived" and worked in Kanda, which is within walking distance of my office. He may even have regularly visited Kanda Myojin and Yushima.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Novel Reviews - All She Was Worth

This is the third and final book I received for Christmas.

(Cover from Amazon, used for review purposes)

All She Was Worth, by Miyuki Miyabe, translated by Alfred Birnbaum (1999); Grade: B+

Honma is a police detective, currently idled due to a bullet to the leg from a botched convenience store robbery. While killing time at home waiting for his leg to heal to the point where walking on it doesn't hurt as much, he is approached by Jun, a distant cousin on his wife's side. Jun, a successful banker, had been dating Shoko Sekine for several months and the two were preparing to get married. He'd convinced her to apply for a credit card, but when the card was denied for "reasons of past bankruptcy", Jun confronted his fiance to get the details. She promised to explain the following day, then vanished overnight. Jun pleads with Honma to track her down so they can talk it out.

Thus starts Honma's quest into a tale of overwhelming consumer credit and the ultimate form of identity theft. Turns out that the real Shoko, a mousy girl from the countryside that innocently slid into credit card debt hell and had to take on a part-time job at a Ginza hostess bar to make ends meet to the point of being hospitalized for poor health, suddenly turned into a beautiful, cultured, camera-shy diva a little less than 2 years ago. The book is then a detective procedural as Honma tries to discover what happened to the original Shoko, and who her current replacement is.

This is one of Miyuki Minabe's best-known detective novels. She's also the writer of "Brave Story". In "All She Was Worth", Miyuki has created a portrait of Tokyo as a modern-day city where banks, credit companies and loan sharks have combined to form a consumer debt trap that most normal people fall into by accident and then can't escape. Declaring bankruptcy is now an option, but many people still choose suicide at the end. The story is set in 1992, and the majority of the investigation takes place in the Ginza-Shinjuku areas; basically, within the Yamanote train line loop. Although, parts of it require a visit to Osaka, and to a Tokyo suburb. If you've never been here, Miyuki won't be helping you get a feel for the place - her location descriptions aren't overly detailed, making the assumption that she's never going to have a western audience. To me, the book feels familiar because I've actually been to many of the places she names within Tokyo.

The story is plodding and methodical. It takes 200 pages before Honma finally sees a photo of the original Shoko. After that, the quest veers into discovering how the two women crossed paths, before becoming a manhunt for the current "Shoko". But it's not boring, and it doesn't drag in the middle. Birnbaum did a good job at keeping the English narrative flowing, with only a few places where his inexperience at writing detective novels shows through with dialog that doesn't fit the characters. The book wraps up with a few loose ends intentionally left untied, presumably for the readers themselves to decide how they want the ending to go.

Summary: Overall, "All She Was Worth" is a good, solid detective procedural. Miyuki spends a lot of time describing how the Japanese credit lending system works, and she takes us to a variety of locations within Tokyo. She also gives a fair amount of information about what's needed to live here now, including the family register, health insurance and other daily paperwork. The story unfolds at a slow, but steady pace, and we learn as much about our hero, Honma, as we do about both "Shoko's", without being too wrapped up in an "alien" culture. This is a good book for introducing western readers to Japanese modern detective fiction. Recommended.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Influence of Edogawa Rampo and a new movie

After having criticized Edogawa Rampo's writing, I do have to say the following. His influence on Japanese mystery is inescapable. He founded the Japan Mystery Writer's Club (now the Mystery Writers of Japan, Inc.), nurtured promising writers, and left behind a large body of work that included his detective series, short mysteries and essays. Several of his books were turned into movies, including "Inju: The Beast in the Shadow", directed by Barbet Schroeder (2008).

In, "Meitantei Conan" (AKA: Cased Closed), the main character takes on the alias "Edogawa Conan", using the names of both of his favorite writers - Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Rampo. The father of the main character's best friend is named Kogoro Mori, after Edogawa Rampo's primary detective - Kogoro Akechi.

In some of his other novels, Rampo gives his detective an arch enemy - the Man with 20 Faces. This character is then the inspiration for Clamp's "20 Menso ni Onegai" (AKA: Man of Many Faces), and Shinji Ohara's "Nijuu Menso no Musume" (AKA: Daughter of 20 Faces).

(Ad for new K-20 movie, from Japan Times newspaper review)

And, Japan's fascination with Rampo's work still hasn't faded, even 33 years after his death. A new movie was just released, "K-20 - Kaijin 20 mensoden" (K-20 - The Fiend with 20 Faces), written and directed by Shimako Sato. The Japan Times ran a review of this movie 1 day after I started reading "The Human Chair", so it quickly caught my eye.

Building on what I wrote in the previous 2 Rampo reviews, reading Rampo's books is a requirement for any student of Japanese novels. Even if you're only interested in more modern works, you'll find that there's probably a hint of Rampo lurking in the shadows of the book now in your hands.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Novel Reviews - Edogawa Rampo (The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows)

This is a review of the second of the three translated Japanese novels I received for Christmas.

Edogawa Rampo: The Black Lizard, and Beast in the Shadows, translated by Ian Hughes (2006); Grade: C+

This is a collection of two of Rampo's short novels. They're unrelated to each other, being placed in two completely different universes.

Edogawa Rampo had a tendency to base his stories on the works of famous western writers of the time. In the case of "The Black Lizard" (1934), the two main influences seem to be Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), and Maurice LeBlanc (Arsene Lupin). The story revolves around a female thief and master of disguise, usually referred to simply as "The Black Lizard" because of the tattoo on her left shoulder. The Black Lizard is a collector of expensive jewelry and beautiful people (she keeps the people in cages before having them stuffed by a taxidermist). Her present targets are the daughter of an Osaka jewel merchant, and the Star of Egypt diamond possessed by the merchant. The only thing that stands between her and her goals is Rampo's continuing hero, amateur detective Akechi Kogoro.

Rampo uses a literary device that consists of an unknown author that talks to the readers during the course of the story. Conan Doyle used Watson as a narrator to relate to us Holmes' adventures. Rampo doesn't bother with creating a sidekick for Kogoro - he just talks to us directly, breaking down the fourth wall. Maybe this device works in Japanese to a Japanese audience, but in English it just seems to be a mark of bad writing.

Rampo also tends to be very self-referential. He has Kogoro discover that the kidnapping of the merchant's daughter was pulled off by someone that had read Rampo's own "The Human Chair". However, Rampo makes up for this by being convoluted. His tricks require serious unraveling to figure out how both the villain and the detective have succeeded in outsmarting each other.

Overall, this is a frustrating book, because it violates the rules of a good detective story (rules that were laid out in the introduction by Mark Schreiber at the front of the book). But, Rampo was one of Japan's first native mystery writers, and the founder of Japan's Mystery Writer's Club. "The Black Lizard" therefore is a must-read for anyone that wants to follow the evolution of Japanese mysteries.

The second short novel in the book is "Beast in the Shadows" (1928). This is a first-person narrative by an unnamed detective novelist who finds himself in a war of wits against a fellow writer intent on murder. "Beast" makes even more use of self-reference, such that the enemy is described as a twisted, evil creator of stories like "The Man in the Attic" and "Murder on B-Hill" (plays on stories that Rampo himself wrote). There are even more twists and turns here than in "Black Lizard". The tale concerns a woman with a masochistic streak that seeks out the narrator, asking for help. She's being tormented by death-threat letters from the "evil" novelist. Things get kinky when her husband gets murdered instead, and the new widow takes the narrator in an S&M relationship.

The writing is less florid than in "Beast", but the language still has a stilted feel to it. In part, we can blame the translator for his desire to retain a 1930's hard-boiled voice ala Raymond Chandler. It would have helped if the translator was skilled enough to successfully write in that style, but he's not. But again, this story is a must for anyone that wants to learn more about Japanese detective and mystery writers.

Summary: This book is a two-story collection containing two of Edogawa Rampo's more famous short novels, and may be representative of his body of work, both with and without his main hero, Kogoro. It's a more modern translation, having been published in 2006, so some of the dialog has been toned down, but a lot of the narration in The Black Lizard is still overblown. These stories don't stand up to the works of the well-known western writers of the time, and if you're just looking for a good detective mystery, I can't recommend this book. However, if you're a student of the genre and want to know how it started in Japan, The Black Lizard, and Beast in the Shadows are then required reading.