Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A note or two on the Japanese language

Japanese has an amazing number of abbreviated terms and phrases. When words are taken from other languages and incorporated into Japanese, the words are almost always truncated in some way. I would conjecture that it's because the Japanese syllabry makes a lot of foreign words really long.

Take the term "plastic model". Four syllables, right? In Japanese, it's eight. "purasuchikku moderu". Small wonder that it becomes "puramoderu". Mobile Suit Gundam models have their own abbreviation, "gunpla".

They do this with their own language as well. There was a TV program on tonight, where they had a panel trying to guess what the original terms were. At first, they did a lot of "Gairaigo", foreign words rendered in Japanese, but then they started in on the native stuff, and the panel couldn't figure out about half of them.

One that everybody missed was "Konnichiwa," the standard Japanese greeting. When this one popped up, everyone was shocked that it was an abbreviation. However, if you think about it, こんにちは translates to "As for today," which makes no sense.

As it turns out, こんにちは is short for 今日はご機嫌いかがですか? (Konnichi ha gokigen ikaga desuka?) which translates to "How are you today, honored sir?" (Lit. "As for this day, how is your health, honored sir?") "Konban wa" (Good evening) is similar.

I have a few pet theories as to why there are so many abbreviated phrases in Japanese, but as they are pretty much W.A.Gs, I won't bore you with them here.

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Just thinking about thinking

The first time I met Jonny Rasmussen was in college. Although Jonny's an American, he spent a very large portion of his life in Japan, from elementary school all the way through high school. Thus, he's fluent in both English and Japanese. (People who spoke to him by phone in Japanese would often assume he was a native speaker, which would lead to some surprised reactions when he told them his name.)

Once, at lunch, one of us (it might have been me) asked him what at the time seemed to be a perfectly reasonable question. "What language do you think in?"

Now, having spent a decent chunk of time living in a foreign country and doing my best to learn the language, I realize how silly a question that is. One does not consciously choose to think in one language or another; it just happens.

I wonder why it took so long for me to figure that out?


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pearls Before Breakfast

Just read this, and even though it happened over 9 months ago, I think it's too cool to not share.

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question. What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world's great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?

"Let's assume," Slatkin said, "that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don't think that if he's really good, he's going to go unnoticed. He'd get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening."

So, a crowd would gather?

"Oh, yes."

And how much will he make?

"About $150."

Thanks, Maestro. As it happens, this is not hypothetical. It really happened.

"How'd I do?"

We'll tell you in a minute.

"Well, who was the musician?"

Joshua Bell.


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Gov't to consider Japanese language ability as requirement for long-stay foreigners - Mainichi Daily News


Sunday, January 13, 2008

A brief, commemorative message

As of this month, I've been blogging for five years. Of course, it took me at least four and a half years before I started updating on a regular basis...


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Apropos of nothing #4: Schoolteacher memories

So one day Wally the gym teacher and I were prepping to have two classes together in the gym. After repeating a question for no apparent reason, I shook my head and said that I was suffering from CRS.

Wally: "What's CRS?"
Me: "Can't remember s**t."

He laughed.

A few minutes later the kids came in (third grade, if I recall correctly). Early on in the class I made some sort of goofy error, and then said, "Don't worry, kids, I'm just suffering from CRS."

The kids started asking, "What's CRS?" Wally gave me one of those WTF?! looks.

Me: "Can't remember stuff." I then turned to Wally and said, "What did you THINK I was gonna say?"

Ya gotta take those comedy opportunities when you can, folks.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Words fail me

Scala is a Belgian girl's choir, specializing in cover versions of popular songs. Like this one, from the Divinyls.

This song is not the kind of thing you'd expect to hear from a choir.

(Yes, it's the song you think it is. Found it through the random page link on Wikipedia...)

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Craving of the moment

I could seriously go for a big bowl of hot spicy chili right about now.

With beans...

...and cheese...

...and crackers...

Time to check Costco's Japan website.


Hm. It seems that chili powder is readily available...do I want to learn how to make chili from scratch?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Apropos of nothing #3: Fraud

A while back on one of the many webfora I peruse, someone posted this question: "Have any of you fallen for a scam?"

This was my response.

I almost got scammed once, to the tune of about $500 US.

I used to live in Kagoshima, Japan, and since it's out in the hind end of nowhere, if I wanted to buy anything invented in the 20th century I had to go to Kagoshima City.

One of the places I used to frequent there was the Kagoshima City branch of Tower Records. I wouldn't buy much there, because CDs and DVDs are insanely overpriced in Japan ($30 for a new-release CD? yaright). One rare occasion when I did buy something, I decided to use my credit card, 'cause I was a bit low on cash at that point in the month. They tried to swipe it through twice, but it didn't work. This didn't cause me to be suspicious, because there are CC readers in Japan that can't read U.S. cards due to different formatting.

That night, when I got home, NHK news was showing a feature about how there was a ring of credit card thieves working in Japan, surreptitiously switching store's CC readers with ones that had hidden transmitters that would send card info to someone w. a laptop hiding in the stairwell (usually). Again, this did not set off any alarm bells.

A few days later, I get the frantic e-mails from Citibank, along with the frantic phone calls from my parents. "Call us NOW. This is not a sales issue. There has been suspicious activity..."

Apparently, the swipe machine at Tower Records sent my CC info to the scammers, who then promptly put it on a fake credit card and tried to buy 60,000 yen worth of clothes with it. In Tokyo.

I had to explain to the nice Citibank lady that I was nowhere near Tokyo, and my card was still in my posession. This confused her because the records showed that a card was physically swiped at the store in Tokyo.

The thing that saved me from having to deal w. chargebacks, etc. was that at that time I was always riding very close to my limit with that card. On that particular day, I only had $50 of credit before I hit the limit, so the $500 charge was denied.

When the Citibank lady said that the thieves had tried to buy clothes, I had to point out that, as an average (big&tall, oh hell FAT) American, there was no way in hell that I could actually buy clothes in Japan. We laughed, and she fed-exed me a new card.

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