Amazon Kindle Singles in Japanese

Japanese students living outside of Japan sometimes have trouble finding reading material. There are no BookOFFs or Kinokuniyas in, say, Omaha, Nebraska. And most of the ebook sales platforms are region locked.

You might counter with the fact that the Internet itself is a giant source of reading material, one that is ever-expanding thanks to its explosive nature. However, as with many explosive phenomena, it can be hard (and messy?) to sort through the results. What’s good reading material? What’s bad reading material?

This question gets less and less important the better you get at Japanese; it’s all practice, and you’ll quickly be able to sort out whether you’re enjoying it or not. Those at the lower- and middle-intermediate levels don’t have the chops it takes to sort through the expanse—they could, but it might exhaust the muscles that they should be saving for more “quality” exposure.

Amazon has a solution. A few months ago I learned that the Amazon Singles program has been offering Singles in Japanese in the U.S. and other Amazon stores. Singles are short stories, essays, novellas, etc. and they range in price from $0.99 to $7.00. Most are $0.99 to $3.99. You can download these and go at them on your phone or Kindle without ever leaving the country.

I picked up 天上の飲み物 (“Drink of the Heavens”) by Shion Miura to test drive the system, and I have to say it’s great:

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All these screenshots are from the iPhone interface. You can install dictionaries which pop up when you highlight text. The J-J dictionary is great for forcing reading practice:

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And there’s J-E if you’re struggling:

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Highly recommended. Get ye to the Amazon Singles store.

This is a good reminder that ease of access doesn’t mean you’ll be accessing quality material. The story itself was only okay. Shion Miura is well known for the Naoki Prize-winning まほろ駅前多田便利軒.

天上の飲み物 is about a wine-obsessed vampire, and it’s highly concept driven. It reminded me a lot of the Yoko Ogawa story 涙売り that was part of the JLPP Translation Contest. They both start with narrators introducing a magic realist premise that the author uses to explore an idea: in Ogawa’s case, she looks at sacrifice for art, more specifically sacrifice in support of an artist, and Miura looks at relationships and love for someone who lives forever, which she uses to reflect on the state of relations in Japan.

Neither story has much of a plot. It’s mostly the narrator rambling on, but Ogawa’s story feels more specific, and there’s a small bit of plot toward the end: a band goes to play a show outside. Miura is far more general and the only plot is the narrator and his love interest lying around. Snore. Still, it’s good practice.

A couple of language highlights:

I learned that 収集 has the alternate reading 蒐集:

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And I learned that ennui is written in katakana and can be used as an adverb (ennuifully?):

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I’m going to have to look through the rest of the Singles on offer. I’d seen Miura’s name all over covers of literary magazines while I was living in Japan but I never had a chance to read her stories, so that was nice. I hope Amazon is able to add to this program. Very valuable for students living abroad.

How to Incomplete Sentences in Japanese

I’m in the Japan Times this week with an article about incomplete sentences in Japanese: “To be a more complete Japanese speaker, leave your sentences incomplete.”

There are so many good examples, and I think I managed to include almost all of them in the piece (and even one they didn’t in 一体!). I found a great article in the chapter “Incomplete Utterance Ending in Japanese” from Developing Interactional Competence in a Japanese Study Abroad Context by Naoko Taguchi. It’s definitely worth a read. The chapter is easily summarized: “The pervasiveness of ellipsis and incomplete endings is a characteristic of Japanese communication” (25).

This is where I got the statistics toward the end of my article: Japanese leave their sentences incomplete 25-50% of the time! This is true even with formal situations, which were left incomplete 30-45% of the time.

One interesting point that I wasn’t able to touch upon in the article is that incomplete sentences also serve to “avoid an explicit marking of the polite or plain speech style” (26). So basically incomplete sentences can act as a hedge when you’re not sure how to address someone.

Another interesting point is that incomplete sentences “characterize the co-construction of an event.” Basically they encourage “collaborative turn completion,” which might explain why I felt like I was being interrupted by my coworker in this post. In actuality, she was just doing Japanese.

And finally, one statistic that I didn’t include in the article: L2 Japanese speakers only used incomplete sentences 4% of the time in one study or 12% of the time in another. This seems to suggest that you can make yourself sound much more native by using incomplete sentences strategically.

How to say “plumber butt” in Japanese, and other random Sunday thoughts

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The other day I suddenly remembered the phrase 半ケツ.

I’m not sure what prompted it. I mean, I have as many random sexual thoughts as your average red-blooded American male, but this was not sexual in nature…at least not completely. My boss at the translation company used the phrase often when we had morning meetings. We didn’t have enough chairs, so he would nod at a couple of the ladies that worked in the office and say something like 半ケツで座って. Then they’d share one of the chairs and, literally, “half ass” it.

I’m not sure why I was thinking about the company or about the seats, but I guess it could have had something to do with the visceral nature of the asses. Who knows. Initially I was going to have this post be something about the viral nature of language, about how memory is kind of magical, which is also reflected in the way that kanji shift from blocks made of bits and pieces to larger blurs that carve out space in your mind over the course of your studies, but it turns out 半ケツ is a pretty interesting phrase.

First, ケツ has two options for kanji: 穴 and 尻. You can read more on this Yahoo Chiebukuro post, but this does make for the possibility that ケツの穴 could be written as 穴の穴, which is pretty cool.

Second, 半ケツ also happens to mean “plumber butt” in Japanese. Read more on this blog post. Google Images confirms that this is indeed the case: follow this link at your own discretion (NSFW).

So I guess the real moral of this post is…you just never know.

How to Condolences

I’m in The Japan Times again this week with an article about how to offer your condolences: “Condolences: what to say when there’s nothing you can say.”

I’ve had this happen to me twice now. I detail the first one in the article. I managed to handle the situation with a little help from my friends.

But the second I’m not sure if I handled as adeptly. My host mother in Aizu lost her husband last year, and another friend in town let me know that he had died. I shot off an email in both Japanese and English. She’d been part of the English Conversation classes in town, and at one point her English had been quite good. I thought it was a fair balance, seeing as how my Japanese has deteriorated slightly from its peak. Looking back, I did manage to get some of the phrases in there, notably お悔やみを申し上げます, but I missed ご愁傷様.

When I visited this past December, I asked another family what I should say in these circumstances, and they told me about ご愁傷様.

In the process of writing the article for the JT, I came across the blog 考える葬儀屋さんのブログ. It’s been running since 2009, possibly inspired by the 2008 movie Departures, which I’ve still yet to see…just put in an order on the Chicago Public Library.

The topics vary quite widely from topics such as 日本の仏教は正しいのか (Is Japanese Buddhism correct?) to 男性のお葬式の服装はユニクロがお勧め (I recommend men’s funeral attire from Uniqlo).

The two most interesting articles for me were ご愁傷様の意味と正しい使い方 (The meaning and correct usage of goshūshōsama) and 「お悔やみ申し上げます」の意味と正しい使い方 (The meaning and correct usage of ‘okuyami mōshiagemasu’).

Highly recommended reading. His look at the difference between 「公」 and 「私」toward the end of the first article is especially interesting.

The two most useful bits for me (in addition to what I already included in the article) were the following:

1. ご愁傷様 can be used in non-funereal situations as lightly ironic/funny. The examples he gives are of offering “condolences” to a coworker who has to work on a weekend and of Prime Minister Kan’s wife, who apparently said the line 「おめでたいと言っていいのかどうか。逆に、ご愁傷さまかもしれませんよ」 when Kan was inaugurated.

2. Families who are grieving can respond to ご愁傷様 with the phrase お心遣(づか)いありがとうございます (Thank you for your consideration).

I hope not to find myself in the latter situation anytime soon, but it’s always good to be prepared to dig up phrases like these. Part of doing Japanese is performing the ritualistic parts of the language. These are signs to others, and as a foreigner, I’d argue that they take on heightened meaning when building relationships. Once you’ve gotten beyond these, you can go deeper.

別れてください – How to Break up in Japanese

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I’m on the Japan Times Bilingual Page today: “To furu or furareru: In any lingo, breaking up is hard to do.” Sadly the piece is inspired by a true story.

As is my MO these days, I dug deep in the Chiebukuro for inspiration. Whenever I read Chiebukuro articles, I get the feeling that I’m accessing some secret part of the Japanese soul. The Internet really is where humans pour their deepest anxieties.

This post provided a concise explanation of the different between 振る and 捨てる:

振られる場合ごめんねって言って謝罪のお断りが付く場合があるけれど、捨てられる場合悪かったという気持ちさえもないでしょう残酷ですね。

Furareru is sometimes used in kind of I’m-sorry, apologetic cases, but suterareru is harsh and used when there are only bad feelings.

Pretty interesting to note.

One other little Easter Egg: An editor initially wanted to change the translation of ダニエルをふるなんて、もったいないね from “It’s a shame that she broke up with you” to “It’s a shame that she broke up with Daniel.”

This is very tempting for both Japanese and foreigners alike, but a quick check of the context shows why “you” is more appropriate: My friend was messaging me directly.

The only natural way to get “you” in Japanese is often to use someone’s surname, and in the case of foreigners, it’s regular practice to go with the first name. あなたをふるなんて、もったいないね just isn’t a phrase that you’ll see in Japanese very often, especially between two friends who aren’t romantically involved.

Another side note: I also love checking out the comments when the JT shares the article on Facebook. Here are some good ones:

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After JET Conference 2016

Hello from Narita Airport! I spent the last two days at the After JET Conference as a career consultant.

The After JET Conference used to be called the Returner’s Conference, but it has since been adjusted because many JETs hope to stay in Japan. The themes have thus changed from readjusting to life back home to learning about different industries and job hunting techniques in Japan. They even have a small career forum with excellent companies represented.

My role was to meet with JETs one-on-one for 20-minute career counseling sessions. It was a great experience. I spoke with 21 JETs over two afternoons and spoke to a larger group at a one-hour networking session. I talked about translation project management, graduate school, creative writing, freelance translation, developing a writing portfolio, pitching an editor, and consulate work.

I put together a handout for the networking session, and we ran out of copies, so I thought I would make it available here. It’s just a set of quick links and ideas for all of my background working both in Japan and the U.S., but hopefully it’s helpful.

If you were at the After JET Conference (or if you’re on JET now…or even just in Japan and are struggling to figure out what comes next) and have questions, please feel free to get in touch. I’d also be glad to take a quick look at cover letters or resumes. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did!

Dropped Namedrops

Chapter 29 has some clear changes right from the beginning: The chapter title in the Complete Works edition is “Lake, Pantyhose” while in English translation and in the original paperback it is “Lake, Masatomi Kondo, Pantyhose.”

In this chapter, Watashi and the granddaughter swim across the lake, make their way through the subterranean INKling cave, and eventually get to the subway tunnels. This sounds like it could be a very short chapter, but this is Murakami we’re talking about, so we experience it through Watashi’s thoughts, which become ever more distracted as he descends into the End of the World.

Watashi thinks again of the woman wearing bracelets in the Skyline, and he turns the whole thing into an invented movie scene. The translation is really exceptional around this point, pages 305-306 in the English edition. When the granddaughter asks him what he’s thinking about, Murakami name drops some actors, which he cuts from the Complete Works edition. They remain in the English translation and look like this:

“What were you thinking about?”

“Movie people. Masatomi Kondo and Ryoko Nakano and Tsutomu Yamazaki.” (307)

This is the only place where the names are dropped in the chapter, so it’s not surprising it gets cut…unless they pop up somewhere in later chapters.

I had trouble finding Masatomi Kondo until I checked the Japanese version and realized that Birnbaum had mistaken Masaomi for Masatomi. Pretty funny mistake—shows you how important Google is. I’ve been meaning to write something about the new translations of Murakami’s first two novels because Birnbaum has a similar issue there—he makes mistakes with the names of books and movies, likely because they would have been difficult to track down back in the late 80s and early 90s without the Internet.

At any rate, here is Masaomi Kondo in some commercials that might have aired around this time. The car isn’t a Skyline, but I think this is almost exactly what Murakami was imagining. Some great shots of Kyoto back in the day as well in one of the CMs:

And there are no mistakes with Ryoko Nakano and Tsutomu Yamazaki, well known (at least abroad) for his work in Itami Juzo’s legendary Tampopo.

Birnbaum makes liberal cuts throughout the rest of the chapter as well, especially in a section where Watashi spends half a page trying to remember the last time he took a piss (gripping literature). This section is notable, however, for the first appearance of the “merry-go-round” image, which he would go on to use in the collection of stories Dead Heat on a Merry-go-roundNice little easter egg for extreme Harukists.

One of the most interesting translation techniques is with the following section. The granddaughter is explaining to Watashi about how corrupt the System is, about how the Factory and System are controlled by the same forces to play each off the other for profit. Here is the Japanese original and my translation, in which the granddaughter explains the whole thing in a long piece of dialogue:

「祖父は『組織』の中で研究を進めているうちにそのことに気づいたのよ。結局のところ『組織』は国家をまきこんだ私企業にすぎないのよ。私企業の目的は営利の追求よ。営利の追求のためにははんだってやるわ。『組織』は情報所有権の保護を表向きの看板にしているけれど、そんなのは口先だけのことよ。祖父はもし自分がこのまま研究をつづけたら事態はもっとひどいことになるだろうと予測したの。脳を好き放題に改造し改変する技術がどんどん進んでいったら、世界の状況や人間存在はむちゃくちゃになってしまうだろうってね。そこには抑制と歯止めがなくちゃいけないのよ。でも『組織』にも『工場』にもそれはないわ。だから祖父はプロジェクトを降りたの。あなたや他の計算士の人たちには気の毒だけど、それ以上研究を進めるわけにはいかなかったのよ。そうすれば先に行ってもっと沢山の犠牲者が出すはずよ」

“Grandfather realized that as he continued his research at the System. In the end, the System is nothing more than a private corporation that had enveloped the state. The goal of a private corporation is the pursuit of profit. And they’ll do anything to get those profits. The System advertised itself as a protector of informational property rights, but it’s just lip service. Grandfather guessed that if he continued his research, things would only get worse. He said that the state of the world and human existence would would go to crap if the technology to modify and change the brain however you wanted was continued to develop. Controls and restraints were critical, but there were none—not in the System or the Factory. So he left the project. This was too bad for you and other Calcutecs, but he couldn’t allow the research to continue any longer. If he had, there would have been even heavier consequences.” (432)

Birnbaum takes the second half of this dialogue (right when readers would start to get bored) and turns it into Watashi’s thoughts. He cuts here and there and embellishes a little toward the end to get the character in there, but I think it’s effective. Very interesting technique:

“That’s what struck Grandfather while he was in the System. After all, the System is really just private enterprise that enlisted state interests. And private enterprise is always after profit. Grandfather realized that if he went ahead with his research, he’d only make things worse.”

So the System hangs out a sign: In Business to Protect Information. But it’s all a front. If the old man hands over technologies to reconfigure the brain, he seals the fate of humanity. To save the world, he steps down. Too bad about the defunct Calcutecs—and me, who gets stuck in the End of the World. (300)

JETAA Chicago Japanese Reading Group

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I’m on the Japan Times Bilingual page this week with a piece about learning how to read in Japanese: “Look to ‘senpai’ to help take your Japanese reading to the next level.”

These are all true stories. Paul laughed at me a couple of times (being laughed at is good, remember), and Sakakibara-sensei sat with me and fielded questions about those novels week after week for a whole semester. By the end, she admitted that she was glad we had done the activity because it allowed her to go over the novels closely (which she might not otherwise have done…because they aren’t very good…although they are interesting, perhaps, when considered together).

I previously wrote that I was reading those novels at five pages a day, but I feel like it was much slower than that. Maybe even just two pages a day. Progress is progress. And having someone willing to explain things to you patiently is one of the greatest gifts for language learners. Recently Daniel Lau asked me how he might go about mixing up his Japanese conversation lessons which had gotten a little stale, and I think incorporating a text (a novel or a set of short stories) might be a good idea—it would give you a set discussion topic rather than leaving it up to the random topics your conversation partner does (or doesn’t) pick. Being forced to talk about it in Japanese would be even better.

As I mention at the end of the article, I finally set up a Japanese reading group for the JETAA Chicago chapter. (I had totally forgotten that I thought up the idea years ago in that blog post.) We’ve been going strong over the past year. I’ve started logging the readings we are doing on this page in case you are looking for good reading material. Some of them are accessible on the web. I’ve gone back to some published material after a string of web stuff, so I’ll have to make an effort to find websites again in the near future because that makes it easier to share with folks who don’t have easy access to Japan.

Cool Onomatopoeia – うだうだ

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I don’t really believe in microaggressions when it comes to Japan. I mean, I get it, there are definitely subconscious assumptions being made about foreigners, but I don’t think they are necessarily demeaning. Often annoying, but not always demeaning. (Conscious assumptions, however, do exist, and they are often demeaning.)

The one I’m thinking of at the moment I’m not even sure qualifies as a microaggression: having someone complete a sentence for you before you can finish it.

I was in Japan for the first time in four years over New Years, and I had the distinct displeasure of exercising rusty language skills. The first night there I was telling my former roommates that I’d lost a lot of vocabulary and had a hard time unearthing it in the middle of conversation. A few moments later we were talking about the U.S. presidential election, and I broke out 世論調査 (よろんちょうさ, public opinion poll); they all started laughing at the かたいness of the word and said I was doing fine.

I never found myself in that much trouble, nothing I couldn’t explain my way to understanding/a word, but I did find myself at a loss once I returned home and was speaking Japanese with coworkers.

I caught a cold at the end of my trip (one that seems to have relapsed) and was jetlagged upon my return. After work I was on the elevator with a woman who speaks quickly and often intermixes English and Japanese in conversation. She asked if I was still sick.

I explained that I was and that it was worse because I was also trying to get over jetlag. I said something like. 時差ぼけまだ大変で、今朝5時半起きてずっとベッドの中で

This is when she cut in and said うだうだしてたの? Which, I guessed, was exactly what I was trying to say. I just didn’t know the word in this case, so even if I had gone spelunking for it in my memory, I wouldn’t have found it.

A quick look at Japanese dictionaries (the 和英 aren’t so satisfying for this word), suggest that うだうだ has two meanings: 1) doing/saying meaninglessly stuff interminably, 2) spending time restlessly.

Being interrupted can do one of several things. It can limit the amount of unprompted/unassisted speaking practice (bad), it can dismiss whatever it is you are trying to say (neutral, depending on what it is you’re saying—who knows, maybe you’re a dumbass), or it can correct and assist in cases when you actually need the help (good). It’s up to your conversation partner to judge whether it’s appropriate to butt in, and it’s up to you to judge whether your conversation partner has been a jerk. Nothing is given.

Also, take a look at these animals performing うだうだ.

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I found them from a Google Images search, and you can see more/purchase them at this site apparently.

Abstract Instruments

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Chapter 28 “Musical Instruments” is a short End of the World chapter. Boku and the Librarian meet the Caretaker of the Power Station, a quiet young man with a collection of instruments he enjoys looking at. Boku peruses the instruments, tries out an accordion, and then receives it as a gift before leaving.

Just some minor cuts in this translation. Birnbaum avoids translating 煮込み as soup. He also eliminates a chess board as one of the Caretaker’s collection of beautiful objects.

The most interesting cut/revision is Birnbaum’s decision to abstract all the instruments rather than give their names. Here is Murakami’s description of the Caretaker’s room and my translation:

寝室の壁に沿って様々な種類の楽器が並んでいた。そのすべては骨董品といってもいいくらい古びたもので大部分は弦楽器だった。マンドリンやギターやチェロや小型のハープなんかだ。弦のおおかたは赤く錆びつき、切れ、あるいはまったく紛失していた。この街では代替品をみつけることはできないだろう。(421)

All sorts of musical instruments line the wall of the bedroom. They are all old enough to be considered antiques, and the majority are string instruments. There are things like a mandolin, a guitar, a cello, and a small harp. The strings are rusted, broken, or nonexistent. I’m unlikely to find replacements in the Town.

Birnbaum (or his editor) cuts the sentence with the names and the final sentence:

Arranged along the wall are various musical instruments. All are old. Most of them are string instruments, the strings hopelessly rusted, broken or missing. (293)

This happens elsewhere as well. バスーンに似た形の大型の管楽器 (a large wind instrument resembling a bassoon) becomes “a large tubular instrument, one obviously meant to be blown from the end.” ヴァイオリン (violin) becomes “…a wooden instrument. It is hollow and sandglass-shaped…” And last but not least 手風琴 (てふうきん, accordion) becomes “a box hinged with leather folds.”

This effectively extends Boku’s experience of living in the town to a greater degree than Murakami achieves in the original. Very nicely executed. Birnbaum buys into Murakami’s concept…and I’m tempted to say he translates like a fanboy would write fan fiction (and, oh yes, I’ve considered writing End of the World fan fiction). It’s a very nice touch to this chapter, one that increases the disconnection with a strange world that should be more familiar than it is.