Journal

 

Friday
Nov252016

Inhaling Water

I am often asked why I came to Japan. I usually reply: “It’s a long story." Here's part of that story.

"Inhaling Water", a prequel to A Woman's Nails, offers a look into how one might forsake the Devil ye know for one ye don't.

Wednesday
Nov022016

Ishiganto

  Walking down a cobbled slope in the Kinjō-chō neighborhood just south of Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa, I spotted a sign usually overlooked by tourists who can't read kanji: 敢當

  Ishigantō are ornamental tablets or engravings placed near or in buildings and other structures to exorcise or ward off evil spirits. Shí gǎn dāng, as they are called in Mandarin Chinese, are, according to Mr. Wiki, "often associated with Mount Tai [north of the city of Tai'an in Shandong province] and are often placed on street intersections or three-way junctions, especiallyin the crossing."

  Ishigantō were introduced to the Ryūkyū Kingdom from China and can be found throughout Okinawa Prefecture, where they are called Ishigantō or Ishigandō and to some extent in Kagoshima Prefecture, where they are called Sekkantō.

Wednesday
Oct122016

My Darling

  This morning, I came across the results of a survey conducted by the Fujiya Company, maker of Milky, a kind of milk-based taffy which the company has been selling for over sixty-five years.
  According to Fujiya’s survey the most common ways that Japanese women without children call their husband are:

By their name with -kun added, 31%
By a nickname, 29%
By their name without -kun or -san added, 14%
Another 11% call their husbands “o-Tō-san” (father) or “Papa
The remaining 15% call their husbands in other ways
 
  Once children are born, things change considerably:
    

The most popular way by far to call one’s husband is “o-Tō-san” (father) or “Papa”, at 50%.
The next most common way is by their name with -kun added, 18%.
Another 9% call their husbands by their given name, but without -kun or -san.
 14% call their man by a nickname.
And the remaining 9% call him in other ways.
  I conducted a quick survey of my own on 16 first year students between the ages of 18 and 24. The results were as follows:
  I have written in the past about the different ways Japanese men refer to their wives. I will try to write about how they call their wives in the coming days and post it below. 
Now, how do men call their wives in Japan?


If they haven’t got kids, 46% call their wife by her first name.
19% by her name plus -chan.
Another 19% by her nickname.
6% of “men” call their wife o-kā-san or mama (Ew)
10% in another way.
  When children come into the picture, things change as we saw above.
39% now call their wife o-kā-san or mama
 22% by her first name alone
13% by her name plus -chan
 9% by a nickname
17% in another way
  One reason for the change is that once a child is born, everyone’s role in the family shifts, from wife to mother, from father to grandfather, and so on. People are often called by a name reflecting their relationship to the child. This is especially true the first or an older child is a boy. He will be called o-nī-chan or o-nī-san even by his parents. A wife will call her husband o-tō-san or papa, her own parents o-bā-chan (Grandma) and o-jī-chan (Grandpa).
  Although we use our first names in our family—my younger son seldom if ever calls his brother o-nī-chan (“big brother”)—my wife now calls her own mother Grandma.
  Cosmetics maker Pola looked into this phenomenon and its unexpected, and perhaps unwanted, consequences.

 

Sunday
Oct022016

Deciphering the Lanterns of Kyoto

  The red lanterns hanging from the eves of machiya in Gion and neighboring areas of Kyōto indicate the five hanamachi (花街, lit. “flower town”) or geiko communities containing o-kiya (置き屋, geisha houses) and o-chaya (お茶屋, teahouses).

   Centurally located Gion Kōbu, through which the main thoroughfare Hanami Kōji Dōri runs, has red lanterns with a white kushi dangō design, i.e. linked circles in a horizontal line around middle of the lantern. The lanterns of Kami-Shichiken (上七軒), the oldest of Kyōto’s hanamachi and located near Kitano Tenmangū shrine in the northwestern part of the city, are the inverse: linked red circles on a white background. Across the Kamo River in Pontochō, the lanterns feature two red birds, and so on.

Gion Kōbu 祇園甲部

Gion Higashi 祇園東

 

Miyakawa-chō 宮川町

Ponto-chō 先斗町

Kami-Shichiken 上七軒

 


Hanamachi Map

Wednesday
Aug312016

Losing myself in Translation

For the past several weeks I have been translating the university's website into English. It's a thankless task and I slowly losing my mind over it.

One thing people who don't understand or read Japanese probably can't appreciate is how different the syntax of the two languages is. Where English is, of course, Subject-Verb-Object (SVO), Japanese is SOV, but more often than not O-V, with the subject "understood" from context (though not always). Independent clauses or descriptive phrases usually come afterwards in English ("the house across the street", "the man I work with"). In Japanese, they come first ("the street across the house"; "I with work the man"). Cause or reason is usually given first in Japanese. ("Because it is going to rain, I'll take an umbrella.") In English, the result or consequence is emphasized. ("I'll take an umbrella because it's going to rain.")

Anyways, check the following out:

 

 

Sample of Original Japanese text

「子ども発達学科は、子ども学の学問体系の元、キリスト教の教えに基づく幅広い教養と心理学をベースとした子ども発達の理解・人間理解によって保育技術や教育技術を習得することによって、子どもと豊かに接し援助することのできる幼稚園教諭・保育士・小学校教諭の育成を目指します。」

 

 

 

English written in Japanese Word Order

 

The Childhood Development department the study of children learning system of learning of originating Christianity of teaching upon based a wide learning and psychology base as child development of understanding human understanding through nursery technique and or education technique the acquisition of which through children abundantly contact and support can kindergarten teachers daycare workers and elementary school teachers of cultivation (we) aim.

 

 

Rough, direct translation:

 

The Childhood Development department . . . we aim to train/cultivate/educate kindergarten, nursery school and elementary school teachers . . . who can come into contact with and support/assist/attend to/give abundant and loving care to children by/through the acquisition/mastery of nursery school and educational technique/skills/arts by understanding child development and understanding humans with a broad education originating in the system of learning of the study of children and based on the teachings of Christ/Christianity and psychology as its base.

 

 

Original Japanese text

 

「子ども発達学科は、子ども学の学問体系の元、キリスト教の教えに基づく幅広い教養と心理学をベースとした子ども発達の理解・人間理解によって保育技術や教育技術を習得することによって、子どもと豊かに接し援助することのできる幼稚園教諭・保育士・小学校教諭の育成を目指します。」

 

 

Japanese rewritten in English Word Order

 

子ども発達学科は . . . 目指します  . . . 育成を . . . 幼稚園教諭・保育士・小学校教諭 . . .  できる . . .  豊かに接し援助することの . . . 子どもと . . . によって . . .  習得すること . . .  保育技術や教育技術を . . . によって  . . .  理解 . . .

子ども発達の . . . 人間 . . . 幅広い教養 . . . に基づく . . . 元 . . . 体系 . . . の学問 . . . 子ども学 . . . に . . .  教え. . . の . . .キリスト教 . . . と . . . 心理学 . . . とした . . . ベース.

Friday
Jul082016

Officer Friendly

 

   I'm old enough to remember a time when cops really did look like the bumbling Deputy, Barney Fife, on The Andy Griffith Show. So, how the hell did we go from that ⤴︎ to this ⤵︎ ? Where did Officer Friendly go?

 

Wednesday
Jul062016

Once Upon a Time in Edo

From ancient times in Japan, time was expressed by the duodecimal system introduced from China. The hour from eleven p.m. to one a.m. was the Hour of the Rat (子の刻, ne no koku). From one a.m. to three a.m. was The Hour of the Ox (丑の刻の刻, ushi no koku); three a.m. to five in the morning was The Hour of the Tiger (虎の刻, tora no koku); and so on.

 

Moreover, in the Edo Period a bell was rung to announce the hour, so the hour of the day was also known by the number of times the bell was rung. At midnight and noon, the bell was rung nine times. The clock was struck every koku (刻), about once every two hours or so: nine times at noon (九つ, kokonotsu), eight times around two in the afternoon (八つ, yattsu), seven times around four-thirty in the afternoon (七つ, nanatsu), and six times at sunset (暮れ六つ, kuremutsu, lit. “twilight six”). An interesting vestige of this former system, snacks and snack time are still called o-yattsu (お八つ) and o-yattsu no jikan (お八つの時間) today. Around nine in the evening, the bell was rung five times (五つ, itsutsu); at about ten-thirty at night, it was rung four times (四つ, yottsu). And at midnight, the bell was run nine times again. In this way, the bell was rung every two hours or so, first nine times, then eight, seven, six, five, four, and then nine times again.

 

Another vestige of this the former system is the use of the kanji for “horse” in telling time today. Twelve noon is called shōgo (正午, lit. “exactly horse”) because eleven a.m. to 1 p.m. used to be the Hour of the Horse. Anti meridiem, or a.m., today is gozen (午前, lit. “before the horse”) and post meridiem, or p.m., is gogo (午後, “after the horse”).

 

Another peculiarity of the former time-telling system was that although night and day was divided into twelve koku or parts, with six always referring to the sunrise and sunset. The length of the koku or “hours” varied throughout the year, such that the daytime koku were longer in the summer months and shorter in the winter months.

 

Because one koku was on average two hours long, each koku was divided into quarters, lasting an average of thirty minutes (Ex.: 辰の一刻, tatsu no ikkoku; 丑の三つ, ushi no mitsu) or thirds (Ex.: 寅の上刻, tora no jōkoku; 卯の下刻, u no gekoku). Night and day was also divided into 100 koku. On the spring and autumn equinoxes, day and night were both 50 koku long. On the summer solstice, daytime measured 60 koku and night 40. On the winter solstice, the opposite was true.

 

One last interesting factoid: each domain kept its own time with noon being the time that the sun was highest in the sky. When trains were first introduced to Japan, it was not unusual for a train to leave a city in the east at say eight in the morning and arrive at a station in another prefecture in the west, say an hour later, but it was still eight in the morning. Trains not only helped industry spread throughout the nation of Japan, but also brought about the first standards in the way time was told.

Thursday
Jun232016

A month by any other name

Different names for the month of June:

水月 (Mina Zuki, lit. “water month”), the month during which rice fields are full of water.
水無月 (Mina Zuki, lit. “water without month”), the month during which rivers run dry because of the heat.
伏月 (Fuku Getsu) The month of sanpuku (三伏). There are three fukuShofuku (初伏) which is the third konoe (庚) after the summer solstice, Chūfuku, the fourth konoe (庚) following the solstice, and Mappuku, the first konoe (庚) after Risshū (立秋), the traditional start of Autumn which falls on about the eighth of August. These are all tied to the traditional Chinese calendar, which divided a year into 24 solar terms. 
青水無月 (Aomina Zuki, lit. “blue water without month”), the month in which trees grow thick and water becomes clean and healthy.
季月 (Ki getsu, lit. “season month”), the month the season ends.
鳴雷月 (Narukami Zuki, lit. “roll/strike thunder month), the month in which thunder increases. Also written 鳴神月 (lit. “Roaring gods month")
常夏月 (Tokonatsu Zuki, lit. “endless summer month”) Another name for kawaradenashiko (Dianthus chinensis or China pink) is tokonatsu, which blooms from spring to mid summer.
松風月 (Matsukaze Tsuki, lit. “pine wind month”), the month when a “comfortable pine wind” blows.
風待月 (Kazemachi Zuki, lit. “wind wait month”), the month one waits for a cool breeze.

 

Sunday
May082016

Little Boys' Dreams

   Japanese boys were asked what they wanted to become when they grew up. Their dreams have changed considerably over the years.

Whereas the most popular occupations in 1962 were salaryman, baseball player, driver, and salesman (yuck), in 2016, they were soccer player, doctor, YouTuber (God help us), and, ugh, civil servant. Engineer came in 6th, researcher in seventh, and game creator tied for ninth. 

Thursday
Mar312016

The Highs and Lows of Women's Expectations

   During the bubble years in Japan, women were said to be looking for the “Three Highs” in men (3高): Height (高身長), High income (高収入), and High education (高学歴). (It was also preferable if the man was not the first-born son due to all the incumbent responsibilities.)

  In the ‘90s, the “Three Cs” were sought after: Comfortable (annual income over ¥7m), Communicative, and Cooperative (i.e. someone who helped around the house).

  In the 2000s, the Four Lows were popular with women (3低): Low Posture (低姿勢, humble), Low Dependency (低依存), Low Risk (底リスク), and Low Maintenance (低燃費).

  Today, modern Japanese women are said to be looking for the “Three Warms” (3温): Kindness, Affection and Peace of Mind. As for the Three Highs of the bubble years, Height now ranks 7th, High Income ranks 10th, and Income is 19th.

  Your thoughts?

Monday
Feb222016

Hoops

Oh, the joy of being an American citizen!

I am finally getting around registering my second son as a Yank, three years after his birth. (Sorry, son.) For those American expats, who are soon to become parents this can be an exasperating, time-consuming process, which entails, in addition to a stiff drink for the patience you’ll find in it, completing the following forms:

DS-2029, Consular Report of Birth Application.

DS-11, Passport application.

SS-5, Social Security application.

The original birth certificate which requires a visit to the Ministry of Justice if the child is a “half”, something I learned only after getting into an altercation with a senior employee at the local Ward Office. (This is so unlike me, but those SOBs at the Ward Office have a way of bringing out the worst in a person.) This, of course, needs to be translated into the blessed Mother Tongue: ‘Murrican.

An affidavit of the child’s name. (Now, one thing nice about the U.S., is that they allow you to choose a name different than the one on the Japanese birth certificate if you like. Your daughter can, for example, be named Hanako Yamada in Japan and Bianca X. Witherspoon in the U.S.)

The original, plus one photocopy, of the parents’ marriage certificate, which in my case will require going back to the ward office, and apologizing for the misunderstanding the other day. (Sigh.) Oh, yes, this needs to be translated into English, too.

Original plus one photocopy of proof of termination of all prior marriages. (As if going through with the divorce wasn’t painful enough, now I have to beg the Ward Office to provide proof that I am a scoundrel. They’re on to me.)

Evidence of parents’ citizenship, original plus one photocopy.

Evidence of physical presence, such as high school and/or college transcripts (which I actually do have and like to whip out from time to time to prove what a marvelous student I was. No one believes me. The impudence!), wage statements (Wages? Y’gotta be kidding. Why do you think I came to Japan in the first place, silly?), credit card bills, former passports, etc.

Both parents’ IDs. Originals and copies, but of course.

The application fee. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Mug shots of the child for the passport.

One self-addressed, “LetterPack Plus” envelope.

Two days in and I’m just scratching the surface of paperwork. Fortunately, the Tokyo Embassy’s website (see Citizen’s services) does an outstanding job in walking you through the process. They also provide templates for translating the necessary Japanese documents.

Now, back to the paperwork. Better fortify myself with another gin and tonic before I take that next step. 

Thursday
Feb182016

My Oasis

  The day is coming to an end.

  The wind stills and the street below my balcony grows quiet.

  A week has come and gone. Time passes too quickly.

  One moment there is a phone call from a familiar voice and a visit by a woman I have come to love.

  But, the next moment, I am saying good-bye, and am alone again,

  My skin can feel it: time and love waits for no one.

  I sometimes think that the only reason we have memories is that we might recall in bad times those times when we were happier. And with those memories, we are accoutred for our journey on,

  Through the desert.

  Small drops of water on a parched tongue.

  I can get so thirsty at times.

  But all I can do is press on,

  One step at a time,

  Each step sinking in the sand as I,

  Search for the next oasis,

  That is you.

Thursday
Feb182016

Queerly Engendered

I came across this earlier today:

"Grants of up to $2,500 each are given twice yearly by the Leeway Foundation to women and transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, or otherwise gender-nonconforming poets, fiction writers, and . . ."

Now, I'm all for gender equality, but I must say the above poses something of a dilemma.

See, writers, by profession, are liars. They just make shit up. They cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

Take Gabriel García Márquez. The shameless liar, wrote in his Memoria de mis putas tristes about a beautiful fourteen-year-old virgin falling in love with a ninety-year-old man. Yeah, right, Gabo! In your dreams, you dirty old man!

So tell me, how are you supposed to take one of these lying bastards (or bastardettes) at his (or her) word, when he (or she) says that he (or she) is "genderqueer", whatever that means.

Wednesday
Jan132016

No Show Gatsu

   In recent years, I have been doing the following activity on the first class after the winter break.

   I split the class up into teams and, while listening to traditional music featuring the koto or shamisen, I have the students write on the blackboard as many words as they can in rōmaji related to the Japanese New Year. 

   In addition to being kind of fun--not barrels of fun, mind you, but fun enough--this activity can be rather instructive.

   For starters, you'll find that many Japanese students, not being proficient in the Hepburn romanization, will write things such as fukubukuro with an "h" rather than an "f" (hukubukuro) or nengajō with a "y" (nengajyo). The reason for this is that many Japanese learn simpler forms of romanization known as kunrei-shiki or Nihon-shiki. For more on this, go here. This is a good chance to briefly re-introduce the students to the Hepburn romanization and encourage them to use it in the future.

   My second year English Communication majors came up with the following words:

   One of the interesting things about this is that while many Japanese students will offer up words like hagoita, a decorative paddle used when playing a game resembling badminton called hanetsuki or even tako-agé (kite-flying), you shouldn't expect to see any of your neighbors playing hanetsuki or flying kites on New Year's Day. (In all my years in Japan, I have never once seen young women in kimono playing this game.)

   I then tell the students to ask one another if they had done any of the things on the board.

  "Did you eat o-sechi or nana-kusa gayu?"

   "Did you decorate your homes with shimenawa and kadomatsu?"

   "Did you send any nengajō?"

   Of the 23 students who attended that day, twenty had eaten o-sechi, four had shimenawa at the entrance of their homes, six had gone to the hatsu-uri New Year's sales, eleven had drunk o-toso, and so on. 

   Erasing those items which few or none of the students had partaken of, we came up with the following significantly pared down list:

   Where New Year's in Japan was once a very colorful, tradition-laden event, all that remains of it today, or so it seems, is the food, the shopping, and banal TV programs. Less than half of the students visited one Shintō shrine (hatsumōde), let alone three, during the holiday. It's kind of sad when you think about it. 

   Now, I'm not suggesting that we need to put the Shintō back in the Shinnen (new year), like some good Christians back home demand Christ be kept in that pagan celebration of the winter solstice also known as Christmas. But, I find it odd that the Japanese are so lackadaisical when it comes to their own heritage and culture.

 

Friday
Jan082016

Fufu Bessei

  If you are a foreign resident of Japan who is married to a Japanese national, please have a look at this short survey at Survey Monkey.
Thanks!