Friday, November 04, 2005

Japanese vs. American houses, and lots of fun with Japanese onomatopoeia sounds

(It looks like Wednesday's update had some trouble going out to everyone. If you missed it, please go to the J-List main page and scroll down to read it.)

There are many differences between my house in Japan and our home in San Diego. My Japanese house includes a large genkan (a lowered area by the front door to take your shoes off), a tatami room (for receiving guests, although it's usually cluttered with stuff), and a wide veranda (for hanging clothes out to dry, as Japanese don't usually use clothes dryers). There's no basement or attic, as these are difficult to build in Earthquake-prone Japan, and we lack central heating, too. Another big difference is the lighting in our house: while our San Diego home is lit with a variety of lamps and a few built-in spotlights here and there, almost every room in our Japanese house sports at least one oversized fluorescent light in the ceiling, which makes the room very bright. The Japanese are big fans of fluorescent lighting, due (I've heard) to the government promoting the use of low-energy lighting after an Earthquake in the 1970s caused gas and electrical fires. I prefer to have lots of light when I'm sitting in a room, and the Japanese have developed soft yellow fluorescent lights that are very pleasant.

It's fun to learn Japanese onomatopoeia, which come up in anime quite a lot and are very colorful. If someone guesses the correct answer to a question, you can say pin-pon! which is a verbal represenatation of the "correct answer" bell on game shows (it sounds like the English word Ping Pong, but is totally unrelated). The opposite of "pin-pon!" is a low-pitched buuu! buzzer sound. Animal sounds also have onomatopoeia assigned to them, and they sound different to Japanese ears than they might to us: nya nya, wan wan and "kero kero" correspond to "meow meow," "ruff ruff" and "ribbit ribbit." Instead of saying "moo moo," Japanese cows say moh moh, and one of the classic jokes in Japanese is to draw a cow saying something like moh yamete! ("please stop, already"), since the cow sound moh sounds like the word that means "already." I've seen quite a few political posters making use of this famous Japanese pun.

Similar to onomatopoeia, which are based on our perception of actual sounds, are gitaigo, words which sort of assign a sound to describe a state or action. If you go to the doctor because you've got a headache, he might ask you if it hurts gan gan (a pounding pain), jiito (a constant, slow pain) or perhaps zukin zukin (a throbbing). If you're very happy about something, you might use the word uki uki (OO-ki OO-ki) to describe yourself, but the feeling of frustration would be ira ira (EE-ra EE-ra). Japanese are very health conscious, and there are TV shows informing people what they should eat if they want their blood to be sara sara (smooth-flowing) instead of doro doro (thick and syrupy). These words often add information about how how an action is performed, for example, koso koso (sneaking around), kotsu kotsu (slowly, one step at a time) and giri giri (doing something in the nick of time). Don't worry, these won't be on the test.

J-List brings you our amazing Japanese T-shirts and hoodies, with cool messages printed in kanji. It's really cooled off, which means it's a great time for you to consider one of our high quality hoodies, soft cotton hooded sweatshirts that will provide plenty of warmth during the cooler months. By customer request, we've added a new hooded sweatshirt
to our lineup: sake-bito ("alcohol-person"), a parody of the famous Okinawan shima-bito ("island-person") shirt which could be translated as "I love alcohol" -- great for anyone who likes to throw one back now and again. Our hoodies are soft, warm and very well made.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All about dogs and dog names in Japan, and many way to say "I like you" in Japanese

Yesterday was November 1, designated as Inu no Hi (ee-NOO-no-HEE), or Dog Day, the official day for dog owners and their pets, because 11/1 sounds like wan wan wan or a dog's bark. People here really love canines of all types, and it's quite common to see shoppers walking around with their "brand dogs" (famous breeds like Shiba Inu, Akita Inu, and Chihuahuas). Products that help you pamper your dog abound in Japan, right down to the Louis Vuitton Pet Carriers. The ranking for dog names in Japan, if you happen to be curious, is as follows:

10. Mocha
9. Sora (meaning sky)
8. Nana (meaning nothing in particular)
7. Rin (ditto)
6. Koko (ditto, just sounds cute)
5. Hana (flower)
4. Sakura (cherry blossom)
3. Marron (French word for chestnut)
2. Momo (peach)
1. Choco

Suki desu ka? One of the first useful words a student of Japanese learns is how to say "like" (suki), which is pronounced quickly so that it sounds rather like "ski," leading all students to immediately say Sukii ga suki desu ka? (Do you like to ski?), since the words sound similar. The word suki is often a student's introduction to the concept that a word or idea in one language might have many possible meanings in another language, depending on the situation. Right off the bat, suki can mean "like" (in the context of your favorite food or hobby) or "love" (when said in reference to another person). Like all Japanese words, there can be some ambiguity involved, which is the subject of more than a few melodramatic misunderstandings in anime or television dramas. "(I) like (it)" is Suki desu, and "Do (you) like (it)?" is Suki desu ka? Often Japanese speakers will fill in who is liking what (e.g. Boku wa ninjin ga suki desu, "I like carrots"), but it's usually too cumbersome to add all those words and grammatical particles when the person you're speaking to will understand what you mean anyway. Other phrases you might encounter include suki na hito ("a person you're in love with") and dai-suki (meaning "big like," for when you really like something), although guys should be careful about over-using the latter, since it tends to be onna-kotoba (language used by females). A couple of years ago I saw a variety show in which former JAV actress-turned-novelist Ai Iijima walked around New York, asking Americans Kyonyu suki? which sounds like "Can you ski?" in English, but is really asking if they prefer women with, er, shapely figures. It was funny to see the Americans on the show nodding their heads for the camera. Try it on your friends!

Mars is very close to the Earth right now, so I'm taking off early today, packing the kids into our Mazda Bongo Friendee and heading up to the mountains to visit the Gunma Prefectural Telescope, where we can go gaze at the heavens. See you when we get back!

A picnic up in the mountains. Our car is a Mazda Bongo Friendee, which is a really cool sort of MPV which has a top that opens up.

Us having our lunch in our car.

My son eating his bento. You can buy bento at convenience stores, which is quite convenience.

Trying to photograph my wife through the "communication hole" between the top section and bottom.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween in Japan, some funny Japanese English words, and all about Daylight Savings Time

Happy Halloween from all of us at J-List. Yesterday was the big Halloween Party at my son's experimental elementary school, where 70% of the classes are taught in English although the school itself follows the standard Japanese curriculum. Despite the fact that all the students are Japanese and Halloween is a very foreign idea here (the Japanese love of cosplay notwithstanding), it was a big success, and all the kids had fun dressing up in various costumes. When my kids were younger, we made a special trip to the U.S. in October so they could experience an American-style Halloween, and they just loved it. Somehow the school managed to rustle up some orange pumpkins (which are usually hard to find in Japan, as the Japanese idea of a pumpkin is green and squash-shaped) and the kids got to carve them. My son smelled that oddly sweet smell of candle-burning- pumpkin-flesh and declared that this smelled like America to him (kind of like the smell of Mr. Bubble bubble bath). I'm happy to report that my son, who was dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi, won the award for best hand-made costume.

Language is a fluid thing, and every country makes use of words that suit its particular needs and sensibilities. Often I've encountered "English" words in Japan which didn't make any sense to me for one reason or another, and it took me a while to remap the words in my mind. A person's fanny will often be referred to as the hip in Japan, while a woman who is well-endowed is called glamor (guramaa), which always sounded like the word grammar to my ear (quite unrelated). Like the British, the Japanese use the word "muffler" to describe what you wear around your neck to keep warn in the winter, what I'd always called a scarf. If it's hot out, you turn on the cooler (also known as aircon), and if you need to dial a # key on your phone, be sure and hit the "sharp" button (as in musical notation). When reaching for a screwdriver, you can choose between minus (regular) or plus (Phillips), which is quite logical, really. If you park your car so that it blocks your neighbor's driveway, he might come over and claim (kureemu) -- somehow the English word claim shifted slightly in meaning, so that it now refers to verbally complain about something. A mansion is Japanese-English for an apartment or condominium that is owned, not rented. And if you practice dema you are spreading lies about someone (from the English word "demagogery").

If you're in North America you probably set your clock an hour back on Sunday. Most people grumble about having to remember to set their clocks forward and back in the spring and autumn, this isn't a problem in Japan, the only industrialized country that has not adopted the Daylight Savings Time system in one form or another. Instead, we have to deal with the other extreme -- if I stay up past 3 a.m. watching Japan's bizarre late-night TV, I often have to fall asleep while ignoring the sun lightening the sky outside, which isn't much fun.

Calendar season is in full swing at J-List, and we've currently got over 200 great 2006 Japanese anime, JPOP, bikini idol, sports, and other calendars on the site. As usual, this year the anime calendars lead the pack, with the always popular Studio Ghibli 2006 Calendar (which includes twelve fabulous *all original* illustrations from Hayao Miyazaki's films) again our top seller. Other hit anime calendars this year are Mahou Teacher Negima, Howl's Moving Castle, and all the Naruto calendars. On the JPOP scene, Gackt is in the top spot, followed by Aya Ueto, and the always-cute Morning Musume. For our "beautiful women of Japan" category, Idols in Kimono is the surprise hit, followed closely by Yuko Ogura, Reon Kadena and Misaki Itoh. Finally, our "impressions of Japan" calendar category are very popular this year -- top sellers are Japanese Heritage (traditional scenes of Japanese culture), Haruyo Morita's amazing contemporary kimono girls, and Garden of Four Seasons and Castles of Japan.

Remember, you can easily check the top J-List products using any RSS reader via our XML/RSS feed, which is a very handy way to watch your favorite websites to see when they've been updated. The links to the J-List/JBOX feeds are along the left side of the screen.

Son hanging out with his friends

Pretty pathetic haul by American standards. I told the kids there how I used to take a pillow cover and fill it with candy, since it was the only thing sturdy enough to avoid ripping.

Kazuki won the contest for best hand-made costume!

Wow, what a great costume, I thought, seeing this mother with a Thing 1 shirt on. I am a bit Seuss fan. Sadly, it was just a shirt she bought somewhere.

Sometimes a single TV commercial can make long-term waves in Japan's culture. These horses are a reference to a TV commercial for some product (I can't remember what it was) that showed back in 2001 or so. They look really good...