Friday, August 29, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
What kind of juice would you like, cola or tea? The Japanese sometimes take liberties with words when they import them from English, adjusting their meanings to suit their needs. In Japan the word "juice" （ジュース）is often casually used to mean any canned or bottled beverage, and it's common for the term be applied to things like a can of iced tea or a carbonated drink, although we wouldn't think of these things as juice in English. Some other words the Japanese use with slightly altered meanings include "rouge" for lipstick, "manicure" for nail polish, "hair manicure" for hair coloring, and "milk" for powdered creamer to put in your coffee. If your house gets cold in the winter, you can turn on a "stove" (a kerosene heater), and if you want to check your weight, just step onto the "health meter" in your bathroom. The large number of differences between the meanings of "English" words as the Japanese use them and what they mean to native speakers can certainly get confusing: I remember a conversation I was having with a student about a shortcut I'd found while exploring the city that day, but she thought I was complimenting her on a short haircut she'd recently gotten.
Mmm, look at all that delicious juice.
If you want to live in Japan, there are certain skills you'll need to acquire. For example, you should be okay with popping something in your mouth without stopping to ask what it is, as food that's placed in front of you won't always be something you can identify. ("That can't really be a baby octopus, can it? OM NOM NOM.") If you're taller than 5'9" (175 cm) or so, you'll probably need to learn to duck or else bang your head in doorways a lot. There might also come a time when you want to let your friend know he should check out the pretty Japanese girl standing nearby, but do it in a way that the girl can't understand. This is where speaking extremely difficult English comes in handy, since most Japanese won't be able to pick up on intentionally complex words, like, "Hey John, I recommend that you examine the specimen of the opposite gender standing off your starboard bow. A delightful and tantalizing example of the human form, wouldn't you say?" I've had extensive conversations in front of members of the opposite sex, cloaking my conversation in this way, although the longer you live in Japan, the harder it becomes to recall really difficult words. Another suggestion is to use Pig Latin, a great way to obfuscate anything you want to say, since Japanese people don't know what it is. "Ook-lay at-tay at-thay ueaituful-bay irl-gay!" You never know what skills you'll need in Japan.
Monday, August 25, 2008
It's known that the Japanese eat with chopsticks with almost every meal, deftly picking up even the tiniest morsels of food without a second thought. There are some important of chopstick manners that are practiced here, which you should be aware of if you ever find yourself eating with Japanese people. First, as you may know if you've seen our famous Japanese Manners T-shirt, you should never stick chopsticks standing up in rice, since this is done only at funerals as an offering of "last rice" for the dead. Similarly, don't hand food to someone else's chopsticks using your own -- always put the food down on a plate or something first for the other person to take. Finally, when sharing food with others, it's nice to turn your chopsticks around, using the back of your chopsticks to eat from a dish that others are also going to eat from, which keeps germs away from them. Using chopsticks isn't hard at all by the way, and J-List offers a wide range of authentic chopsticks from Japan with handy features for gaijin like us, such as rough patches at the tips to make it easier to grasp that last grain of rice, or training chopsticks that are great for starting out with. Why not browse J-List's chopstick, bento and other items now?
My wife is hooked on Kandora, short for Kankoku dorama or South Korean soap operas, and it seems every time I walk through the living room she's got another one on the TV. When I ask her what's so interesting about the shows, she gets very animated. "Oh, they're nothing like Japanese dramas," she says. "They're more intense, and the stories are much more involved and interesting. The characters really change and grow." It struck me that she sounded like me back in the 80s, describing why Japanese animation was so superior to whatever else was on TV back then for people to watch (I actually can't remember at this point). It seems to me that the human brain is wired to appreciate things that are fresh and new, and when a concept comes along that is totally unique, people are drawn to it irresistibly, which goes a long way towards explaining the revolution that Japanese animation has brought to the world over the past 20 years. My wife is finding that Korean series like Time Between Dog and Wolf, Spring Waltz and Something Happened in Bali are offering her a higher level of drama and depth, sometimes moving her to tears with their (often sad) stories. The Japanese soaps, with their lighter and more formulaic stories that you can usually guess ahead of time, don't seem to be doing it for her.
This is a magazine for fans of Korean dramas living in Japan. Yes, there are kandora otaku here too, mostly women in their 40s so it's kind of scary.