Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup in Japan

The World Cup is going on right now, and Japan is in getting in the spirit in a big way. It's part of Japan's komumin-sei (the "national personality" that I write about every so often) to want to be included in international events with the other countries of the world, and Japanese fans are really excited to join in. I caught a TV show the other day that pit two teams of soccer fans -- one made up of Japanese "talents" (a generic word for TV personalities) and a gaijin team of Japanese-bilingual foreigners -- in a battle of World Cup related trivia. The foreign team won the contest handily.

One of the questions put forth to the participants was especially interesting, I thought. A ship carrying people from different countries starts to take on water, and the captain needs to get each person to jump in the sea immediately. To the American he says, "If you jump in, you'll be seen as a hero," which makes the American man jump in right away. (From the Japanese point of view, Americans seem to have a hero complex.) To the British man the captain says, "If you jump in, you'll be seen as a gentleman." To the Italian: "If you jump in, you'll be popular with women." The German man is told, "You must jump in now, it's the rule," while the captain tells the French man, "Please do not jump in the water." (So Germans are responsive to following rules and French people will always do the opposite of what they're told?) The trivia question the two teams had to answer was, what did the captain say to the Japanese passenger to get him to jump in the water? To see the answer, highlight the following text with your mouse cursor.
The answer was, the captain told the Japanese man that "everyone else is jumping in the water," which made the Japanese passenger happy to do so, too.

Back in the USA

Hello again from J-List. This time, I've made the hop from Japan to San Diego and am enjoying the beautiful weather here (well, better than Japan anyway).

While passing through Narita some signs advertising the various shops located inside the airport caught my eye. "Watch out for your time! Sorry to make you so amazed!" one proclaimed, next to another that said, "This is the place where you can buy your 'DREAM.'" I had to snicker, picturing the poor translator who had to convert the original Japanese slogans into English, despite the reality that some phrases just can't be brought over in a way that makes them sound natural. I have a gaijin friend who works as a translator, and sometimes he gets jobs "editing" English translations that had been made by native Japanese speakers. Reading phrases like the above, I feel sorry for him.

Monday, June 07, 2010

You've Been in Japan Too Long If You "Teach" Someone Your Phone Number

You've been in Japan too long if you "teach" someone your phone number. In Japanese, you'd usually use the phrase oshiete kudasai (lit. "please teach me") when asking someone to communicate information to you rather than itte kudasai ("please say"), as we might in English. When learning Japanese, it can be difficult to figure out which words to use for everyday situations, above and beyond learning the words themselves. What's funny is, the rules of your new language can get in the way of your first language, a concept called "interference." In Japanese, the words for "splinter" (a tiny piece of wood) and "thorn" (the sharp protrusions on a rose stem) are the same, toge (toh-gay), which took me a while to get down in Japanese. Once while in the U.S., my daughter got a splinter in her finger, but silly gaijin that I am, I said, "Oh no, you got a thorn!" causing my mother to wonder how her son could make a mistake like that. I've also been temporarily confused by the words "mother-in-law" and "stepmother," which are both represented by the same word, gibo. This is what happens when you go nearly 20 years without recalling certain words.
Even more confusion: cactus needles are also called toge.

Of Train Station Bento and Tokyo Fashions

Over the weekend I took a trip down to Tokyo for a business meeting and to enjoy some quality shochu and yakitori with friends. I was leaving the house around lunchtime when my mother-in-law asked if I wanted some of the curry she was cooking before I left. I told her no thanks -- what I wanted for lunch was ekiben, the famous "train station bento" that you buy to eat on a train. The world of train station bento lunches is great -- each station makes it own unique type, which represents what that part of Japan is known for. If you visit Toyama along the Sea of Japan, buying masu-no-sushi bento (salmon sushi sold in a big wooden frame) is great, and when my son and I made our trip to Hokkaido, we knew we had to try Ikemeshi Bento. The nearby city of Takasaki is famous for daruma dolls, so naturally you can buy Daruma Bento at the train station there. If you are interested in Japan's ekiben, we've got a really nice guidebook about train station bento culture on the site today.

Walking around Tokyo is always fun. In my home prefecture of Gunma, located about 100 km northwest of Tokyo, most people drive their cars when they need to go somewhere, but in Tokyo it's more common to use the the extensive network of trains and subways instead. This means you've always got at least 50-100 people around you whenever you're out and about, which means plenty of opportunity for one of my favorite hobbies, people-watching. Yes, I love checking out out the random people I see on the trains and occasionally posting about what I see on my Twitter feed. As usual, I'm always amazed at the intensity of the fashion culture I see in Japan's capital, with extremely attractive Tokyo girls sporting interesting fashions that can sometimes make my eyes spin in their sockets. By which I mean they are so beautiful that foreigners in Gunma informally talk about to the "Wall of Omiya" (a city between Gunma and Tokyo) as the point where all the pretty, stylish girls get off the train. 

Remember, J-List always has interesting J-fashion items, from magazines to Goth-Loli outfits and accessories to those dreamy "Absolute Zone" over-knee socks, on our Japanese Fashion Page.
Tokyo is a very fashionable place; I'm a big fan of ekiben, Japan's train station bento culture.

2010, the Summer of Evangelion

It's the Summer of Evangelion in Japan this year, and J-List is working hard to find fun Eva-related products for the site. From the UCC Coffee + figures sets to those dreamy Evangelion car sun shades to the gorgeous Evangelion 2.22 movie Blu-Ray and DVD and various prepainted figures, we have something for every fan. Click here to browse all Evangelion related products, or here to see the top Evangelion anime products sorted by popularity.