Flesh

Kustodiev

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Chapter 31 “Fares, Police, Detergent” has many of Birnbaum’s (or his editor’s) usual cuts:

– Section- and chapter-ends are often pared down to end on a better line of dialogue, a more dramatic action, or a more wry tone.

– Parts that could be considered excess or unnecessary are cut back.

– Sexy and questionable bits are cut.

This chapter has a huge amount of this final cut, which we have seen a couple times previously.

In this chapter, Watashi and the Girl in Pink make their way back into the city through the subway, have a snack at a grocery store sandwich stand, and then clean up at his apartment. The sexy parts start when they are waiting for their food and they share an abandoned newspaper. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:

The girl claimed the back pages. Some seedy article which addressed the question “Is Swallowing Semen Good for the Complexion?”

“Do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl wanted to know. (323)

The original Japanese version goes on at greater length. My translation follows:

娘がいちばん手前のページを見たいと言ったので、私はそのページをとって渡した。彼女が読みたかったのは「精液を飲むとお肌の美容になる?」という記事らしかった。その下には「檻に入れられて犯された私」という読物記事が載っていた。檻に入れた女をどうやって犯すのか私には想像できなかった。きっとそれなりの上手いやり方があるのだろう。しかしいずれにしてもかなり面倒な作業に違いない。私にはとてもできない。

「ねえ、精液を飲まれるのって好き?」と娘が私に訊ねた。(469)

The girl said she wanted to read the back pages, so I took them out and handed them to her. She seemed to want to read an article titled “Does swallowing semen make your skin more beautiful?” Beneath it was an article titled “I was trapped in a cage and forced to have sex.” I had trouble imagining how exactly you would go about having sex with a woman in a cage. There must be some sort of clever way to go about it. But it would require a good bit of effort. Nothing I could ever manage.

“Hey, do you like having your semen swallowed?” the girl asked.

This cut seems understandable. Murakami is going for a joke, and I don’t think it’s all that successful. I guess it’s a little funny in a kind of Seinfeld-esque way? But the text isn’t diminished by its absence.

The subsequent sexy cut feels designed to make Watashi seem like less of a perv. After they make it to his apartment, Watashi draws a bath. Here is Birnbaum’s version:

I suggested that the chubby girl bathe first. While she was in the tub, I changed into some salvaged clothes and plopped down on what had been my bed.” (325)

Short and simple. There is a huge cut within this. The Japanese and my translation:

湯がたまると私は彼女に先に風呂に入るようにと言った。娘は本のページにしおりを入れてベッドから下り、台所でするすると服を脱いだ。服の脱ぎ方があまりにも自然だったので、私はベッドに腰をかけたまま彼女の裸をぼんやりと眺めた。彼女の体は子供のような大人のような妙な体つきだった。普通の人間の体にまんべんなくゼリーを塗ったように白いやわらかそうな肉がたっぷりと付着していた。それはとても均整のとれた太り方だったので、よく気をつけていないと彼女が太っているという事実をふと忘れてしまいそうなくらいだった。腕も太腿も首も腹のまわりも見事にふくらんでいて、鯨のようにつるつるとしていた。体の大きさに比べて乳房はそれほど大きくはなくほどほどにまとまりのある形をしていたし、お尻の肉もきちんと上にあがっていた。

「私の体、悪くないでしょう?」と台所から娘が私の方に向って言った。

「悪くないよ」と私は答えた。

「ここまで肉をつけるのは大変だったのよ。ごはんだっていっぱい食べなくちゃならないし、ケーキだとか油ものだとか」と彼女は言った。

私は黙って肯いた。

彼女が風呂に入っているあいだに私はシャツと濡れたズボンを脱いで残っていた服に着替え、ベッドに寝転んでこれから何をしようかと考えた。 (473-473)

As the tub filled, I told the girl to take the first bath. She put a bookmark in the pages of the book, got off the bed, and fluidly took off her clothes in the kitchen. The way she removed them was so natural that I remained there sitting on the bed, idly watching her nude figure. Her body had a strange build that seemed part child, part adult. There was a large amount of soft-looking white flesh stuck to her, as though someone had taken a normal person’s body and plastered it uniformly with some kind of jelly. It was all so incredibly balanced that unless you were paying close attention you would almost forget the fact that she was fat. The areas around her arms, thighs, and belly were also wonderfully full and taut like a whale. Her breasts were moderate bulges, not all that large compared with the rest of her body, and the flesh on her butt stuck out sharply.

“My body isn’t bad, right?” she said in my direction from the kitchen.

“Not bad,” I responded.

“It took a lot of work to put on this much flesh, you know,” she said. “I had to eat a ton of all sorts of food. Cake and fatty foods, all sorts.”

I nodded silently.

While she was in the bath, I took off the wet shirt and pants I was wearing, changed into my remaining clothes, lay down in the bed, and thought about what to do next.

It’s a little weird that Watashi is staring at this seventeen-year-old girl and enjoying it. But I guess it’s a little prudish to cut it. The girl does have a very erotic feel, even in translation, so it doesn’t lose too much, other than a small amount of direct explicitness. I wonder if editors demanded that it be cut or Birnbaum himself made the suggestion.

The final sexy cut, however, is the most extreme. Here is Birnbaum’s translation:

I popped open my eyes and rubbed my face between my hands. It was like rubbing someone else’s face. The spot on my neck where the leech had attached itself still stung.

“When are you going back for your grandfather?” I asked. (328)

You’d never notice anything without looking at the original. Here’s the Japanese and my version:

私は目をあけて、両手で顔をこすった。久しぶりに顔を洗って髭を剃ったせいで、顔の皮膚は乾燥した太鼓の皮のようにこわばっていた。まるで他人の顔をこすっているみたいだった。蛭に血を吸われた部分がひりひりと痛んだ。二匹の蛭はよほど沢山私の血を吸いとっていったようだった。

「ねえ」と娘が本をわきに置いて言った。「精液のことだけど、本当に飲んでほしくない?」

「今はね」と私は言った。

「そういう気分じゃないのね?」

「そう」

「私と寝たくもないのね?」

「今はね」

「私が太っているから嫌なの?」

「そんなことはない」と私は言った。「君の体はとても可愛いよ」

「じゃあどうして寝ないの?」

「わからない」と私は言った。「どうしてかはわからないけれど、今君とは寝るべきじゃないような気がするんだ」

「それは何か道徳上の理由によるのなの?あなたの生活倫理に反するとか?」

「生活倫理」と私は繰りかえした。不思議な響き方をすることばだった。私は天上を眺めながらそれについて少し考えてみた。

「いや、違うな、そういうものじゃない」と私は言った。「もっとべつのものだよ。本能とか直感とか、それに近いものだな。あるいは記憶の逆流に関係しているかもしれない。うまく説明することができない。僕自身は今すごく君と寝たいと思っているよ。でもその何かが僕を押しとどめてるんだ。今はその時期じゃないってね」

彼女は枕の上に肘をついて私の顔をじっと見ていた。

「嘘じゃなくて?」

「こういうことで嘘はつかない」

「本当にそう思うの?」

「そう感じるんだ」

「証明できる?」

「証明?」と私はびっくりして訊きかえあした。

「あなたが私と寝たがっているということについて、何か私が納得できるようなこと」

「勃起している」と私は言った。

「見せて」と娘は言った。

私は少し迷ったが、結局ズボンを下ろして見せてやることにした。これ以上の論争をするには私は疲れすぎていたし、それにどうせあと少ししかこの世界にはいないのだ。十七歳の女の子に勃起した健全なペニスを見せたからといって、それが重大な社会問題に発展するとも思えなかった。

「ふうん」と私の膨張したペニスを見ながら娘は言った。「それ触っていい?」

「駄目」と私は言った。「でもこれで証明になるんだろう?」

「そうね、まあいいわ」

私はズボンをあげてペニスをその中にしまった。窓の下を大型の貨物トラックがゆっくりと通りすぎていく音が聞こえた。

「君はいつおじいさんのところに戻るんだ?」と私は訊ねてみた。 (479-481)

I opened my eyes and rubbed my face with both hands. Because I’d shaved for the first time in so long, the skin on my face was dry and stiff like a drumhead. It felt like I was rubbing someone else’s face entirely. The areas where the leeches had gotten me still hurt. It seemed like those two leeches had taken a good bit of blood out of me.

“Hey,” the girl said and put the book by her side. “So, you really don’t want me to swallow your semen?”

“Not at the moment,” I said.

“You don’t feel like it?”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t want to sleep with me either?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Is it because I’m fat?”

“Not at all,” I said. “Your body is really nice.”

“Then why won’t you sleep with me?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know why, but I do feel like I shouldn’t sleep with you right now.”

“Is it for some moral reason? Does it go against your lifestyle ethics?”

“Lifestyle ethics,” I repeated. The words had a strange ring to them. I stared up at the ceiling and thought about them for a moment. “No, that’s not it,” I said. “It’s something else entirely. Instinct or intuition, something like that. Or maybe it has something to do with my memories receding. I can’t explain it well. I actually really want to sleep with you right now. But that something is preventing me. It’s telling me now’s not the time for that.”

She put her elbows on a pillow and stared at me.

“Are you lying to me?”

“I wouldn’t lie about this kind of thing.”

“That’s what you really think?”

“That’s what I feel.”

“Can you prove it?”

“Prove it?” I repeated, a little taken aback.

“Something that can convince me that you want to sleep with me.”

“I have a hard on,” I said.

“Show me,” she said.

I hesitated for a moment but in the end decided to drop my pants and show her. I was too tired to argue any further, and I didn’t have much much time left in this world; I didn’t think me showing a seventeen-year-old girl my healthy, erect penis would become some massive social issue.

“Hmm,” she said as she looked at my engorged penis. “Can I touch it?”

“Nope,” I said. “But this proves it, right?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s fine.”

I lifted my pants and stored my penis inside them. The sound of a large moving truck passing by slowly rumbled up from the window.

“When will you go back to your grandfather?” I asked.

Hey now! What a scene to cut. Nothing changes drastically without this scene, of course, but it does give the girl a good bit of sexual agency that isn’t present in the translation. And it’s funny! The dialogue is a great back and forth, very strong. Also, it’s just a massive piece of text to remove, but as we’ve seen, this is how Murakami was translated at first.

This was a very exciting cut to find. We see deeper into Murakami’s sense of humor, how these two characters feel about each other, and how Murakami constructs sexuality in his books. It also shows something about the translation/editorial process back in the early 90s. Compared to some of his more recent works, this would probably be considered very tame. But it was cut for one reason or another, whether taste or style.

I don’t think we have many chapters left with the Girl in Pink. Watashi ends by taking her wet clothes to the laundromat to dry them. I don’t remember exactly what happens when he returns, but I’ll be curious to see if and how their sexual denouement is handled.

Cool Tongue Twister – 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた

bozu

I’m in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Repetition and role-play are crucial for speaking success in Japanese.”

I was stunned to see that no one had previously written about 早口言葉 (はやくちことば, tongue twisters)…as long as the search engine on the JT can be trusted.

They seem silly at first, but they’re actually really good speaking practice. So is just randomly repeating Japanese phrases while you’re at home alone. Gotta keep those muscles trained, and it’s fine to sound like a clown when no one’s around.

I wasn’t able to include one of my favorite tongue twisters: 坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を描いた (Bōzu ga byōbu ni jōzu ni bōzu no e o kaita, A monk draws a picture of a monk on a folding screen well).

And of course there’s an excellent Yahoo Chiebukuro post where someone asks for the correct phrasing: Is the monk drawing a picture of a monk or ジョーズ (Jaws) or B’s (a band I think?). Someone mentions that only a monk would have existed pre-war. Another guy mentions that it could be regional and that near Universal Studios Japan (Osaka) they used Jaws…which sounds about right. Osaka is known for its sense of humor, but it could also very easily be just an elementary school thing. Those kids love jokes like that.

At any rate, an image search for a 上手坊主 led me to this amazing blog post that takes this absurd phrase to its logical conclusion: 坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に描いた坊主が屏風に坊主の絵を描いた.

I’ve taken the liberty of borrowing the image from the post (the blog appears to be deceased and originally intended to help old people retain their memory and eyesight?) and reproducing it above, but it’s an interesting read. Go check it out.

TJ(Too Japanese);DR: because of the way Japanese modifiers work, the language itself is easier to read silently rather than out loud. Modifiers (修飾) get stacked up upon a subject, and if you’re reading out loud you must sail only forward through unknown seas, while you may look back and forth if you’re reading silently and you are not slave to the unceasing plodding of your vision? Seems legit?

Y’all have any favorite 早口言葉?

Digging Holes

shovel

I read Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Chapter 30 “Hole” at least a month ago (perhaps even more…I can’t remember if I read it before or after I went to Japan in March) but didn’t write up a post about it, so I’m only now going through it again and trying to figure out my impressions.

Fortunately it’s a short End of the World chapter. Boku awakes in his room and the old men are shoveling outside, digging a hole purely to dig a hole, according to the Colonel. The Colonel tells Boku that his shadow is dying and that he should go visit, and Boku resolves to do so. It’s just a small chapter to move things along.

Birnbaum (or his editor) make a number of minor cuts here and there, compress a few passages, and rearrange small pieces of the text. I guess the biggest change is the treatment of the musical instrument. In the English translation, Birnbaum has Boku discover the name of the instrument:

The room is now warm. I sit at the table with the musical instrument in hand, slowly working the bellows. The leather folds are stiff, but not unmanageable; the keys are discolored. When was the last time anyone touched it? By what route had the heirloom traveled, through how many hands? It is a mystery to me.

I inspect the bellows box with care. It is a jewel. There is such precision in it. So very small, it compresses to fit into a pocket, yet seems to sacrifice no mechanical details.

The shellac on the wooden boards at either end has not flaked. They bear a filligreed decoration, the intricate green arabesques well preserved. I wipe the dust with my fingers and read the letters A-C-C-O-R-D-…

This is an accordion!

I work it, in and out, over and over again, learning the feel of it. The buttons vie for space on the miniature instrument. More suited to a child’s or woman’s hand, the accordion is exceedingly difficult for a grown man to finger. And then one is supposed to work the bellows in rhythm. (314-315)

Birnbaum did this in the previous chapter as well, but as you can see above it’s a bit more blatant. In the Japanese original, Murakami uses a complex kanji compound for accordion (手風琴) the entire time. He does switch to the katakana version of the word (アコーディオン) in this passage, but the effect is not the same. Here is the Japanese and my translation:

部屋があたたまると僕は椅子に腰を下ろしてテーブルの上の手風琴を手にとり、蛇腹をゆっくりと伸縮させてみた。自分の部屋に持ちかえって眺めてみると、それは最初に森で見たときの印象よりずっと精巧にしあげられていることがわかった。キイや蛇腹はすっかり古ぼけた色に変わっていたが、木のパネルに塗られた塗料は一カ所としてはげた部分がなく、緑に描かれた精緻な唐草模様も損なわれることなく残っていた。楽器というよりは美術工芸品として十分に通用しそうだった。蛇腹の動きはさすがにいくぶんこわばってぎこちなかったが、それでも使用にさしつかえるというほどではなかった。おそらくそれはかなり長いあいだ人の手に触れられることもなく放置されていたのに違いない。しかしそれがかつてどのような人の手によって奏され、そしてどのような経路を経てあの場所まで辿りつくことになったのかは僕にはわからなかった。すべては謎に包まれていた。
装飾の面だけではなく、楽器の機能性をとってみてもその手風琴はかなり凝ったものだった。だいいちに小さい。折り畳むとコートのポケットにすっぽりと入ってしまう。しかしだからといって、そのために楽器の機能が犠牲になっているわけではなく、手風琴が備えているべきものはそこには全部きちんと揃っていた。

老人たちが穴を掘りつづける音はまだつづいていた。彼らの四本のシャベルの先が土を噛む音が、とりとめのない不揃いなリズムとなって妙にはっきりと部屋の中に入りこんできていた。風が時折窓を揺らせた。窓の外にはところどころに雪が残った丘の斜面が見えた。手風琴の昔が老人たちの耳に届いているのかどうか、僕にはわからなかった。たぶん届きはしないだろう、と僕は思った。音も小さいし、風向きも逆になっている。

僕がアコーディオンを弾いたのはずいぶん昔のことだったし、それもキイボード式の新しい型のものだったから、その旧式の仕組とボタンの配列になれるにはかなりの手間がかかった。小型にまとめられているせいで、ボタンは小さく、おまけにひとつひとつがひどく接近していたから、子供や女性ならいざしらず手の大きな大人の男がそれを思うように弾きこなすのはかなり厄介な作業だった。そのうえにリズムをとりながら効果的に蛇腹を伸縮させなくてはならないのだ。 (456-457)

Once the room warms, I sit in a chair at the table, take the accordion in my hands, and slowly move the bellows in and out. Now that I’ve brought the instrument to my room and have a chance to look at it, I understand that that it is much more elaborately finished than I thought from my initial impression in the forest. The keys and bellows have colored with age, but the paint on the wood panels has not flaked at all, and the delicate arabesques painted in green remain unharmed. It could pass as a work of decorative art more than an instrument. The bellows have predictably stiffened somewhat and are awkward, but it isn’t enough to impede its usage. It must have been left untouched for quite a long time. However I don’t know what kind of people played it long ago nor how it made its way to that place. It’s wrapped in mysteries.

The instrument’s functionality, in addition to its decoration, is also quite refined. Most importantly, it’s small. Folded up, it could fit cleanly into a coat pocket. Which isn’t to say that that any functionality has been sacrificed; everything you would expect an accordion to have is there.

The sound of the old men digging the hole continues. The noise of four shovel tips biting into the earth turns into a ceaseless, irregular rhythm and echoes with a strange clarity throughout the room. The wind rattles the window every now and then. Outside the window I can see the slope of the hill, covered here and there with snow. I can’t tell whether the sound of the accordion reaches the old men. I imagine it doesn’t. The accordion is quiet, and the wind blows in the opposite direction.

It’s been a long time since I played the accordion, and it was one with a newer style of keyboard, so it takes some effort to get accustomed to the way the old style works and the layout of the buttons. The buttons are small because they’re fit into the compact form, and what’s more they’re extremely close together; I’m not sure about women and children, but it’s incredibly difficult work for a grown man with large hands to have a command of the instrument as he would like. And on top of that I have to make sure to move the bellows in rhythm.

As you can see, BOHE has compressed a good portion of the text, rearranged, and added his own creative touches. It covers most of the bases and the result is a very creative translation. He even treats the simplest sentences with total respect; I’m thinking in particular of “The buttons vie for space on the miniature instrument.” That strikes me as a very generous way to render Murakami in English without going over the line, as perhaps some of the other choices do.

Also notable in this chapter is the appearance of more lines from Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round! Here’s the passage in English:

“They dig holes from time to time,” the Colonel explains. “It is probably for them what chess is for me. It has no special meaning, does not transport them anywhere. All of us dig at our own pure holes. We have nothing to achieve by our activities, nowhere to get to. Is there not something marvelous about this? We hurt no one and no one gets hurt. No victory, no defeat.” (317)

And here is the Japanese followed by a rewritten version of Birnbaum’s translation with the deleted sections added in:

「彼らはときどき穴を掘るんだ」と老人は言った。「たぶん私がチェスに凝るのと原理的には同じようなものだろう。意味もないし、どこにも辿りつかない。しかしそんなことはどうでもいいのさ。誰も意味なんて必要としないし、どこかに辿りつきたいと思っているわけではないからね。我々はここでみんなそれぞれに純粋な穴を掘りつづけているんだ。目的のない行為、進歩のない努力、どこにも辿りつかない歩行、素晴らしいと思わんかね。誰も傷つかないし、誰も傷つけない。誰も追い越さないし、誰にも追い抜かれない。勝利もなく、敗北もない。」

“They dig holes from time to time,” the Colonel explains. “It is probably for them what chess is for me, in principle. It has no special meaning, does not transport them anywhere. But that doesn’t matter. No one needs meaning, and no one wants to be transported anywhere. All of us dig at our own pure holes. We have nothing to achieve by our activities, no progress to accomplish with our effort, nowhere to get to. Is there not something marvelous about this? We hurt no one and no one gets hurt. We overtake no one, and no one is overtaken. No victory, no defeat.” (317)

Pretty interesting. Birnbaum cuts the one sentence that really links it with Dead Heat, and that is the “overtake, overtaken” line.

We should be approaching another Dead Heat reference in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section of the novel as well. I’m looking forward to making some progress on this relatively meaningless exercise. I hope you enjoy following along as I dig my hole.

Cool Word – 刀狩

katanagari

It may be cliche to say it, but there’s nothing quite like your first trip to Japan. For me, it was not only exciting to visit somewhere so new and different, it was also liberating to be in a place with an almost total absence of fear of violence, notably of gun violence.

I grew up in New Orleans and was fortunate to never experience any violence directly, thanks in large part to extremely vigilant parents (whom I probably faulted at the time for being what is now termed “helicopter parents”). But I won’t ever forget when my mom was held up at gun point just as we were moving into a new house. I was a little too young to understand exactly how frightening it must have been for her. She broke down in tears and neither my dad nor my grandmother could do much to comfort her. As the years went by and I grew up through middle school and high school, I gradually took on the fear myself.

So it felt amazing to be free of it, wandering Okayama City in the summer of 2002. My last night in the city we drank at a bar, walked across the city, swam in the castle moat, and then stumbled back.

I wish I could share this feeling with everyone in the United States and then ask them how they felt about gun control laws. I’m sure not everyone would be convinced, but some would see how things could be different, and how appealing that could be.

I’m writing this during the Senate gun control filibuster because for the first time in a long time (perhaps ever), I feel like I have to do something, even if it’s just post on this blog about a cool Japanese phrase – 刀狩 (かたながり).

刀狩 translates easily as “sword hunt.” There were a number of sword hunts (good read in Japanese too) in Japanese history, the most famous of which was Hideyoshi’s in 1588. Obviously, they were initially used as a mechanism for those in power to secure that power and prevent the potential for uprisings, which is why gun rights advocates occasionally use it as an example of why the 2nd Amendment is an important check against tyranny, but I don’t think the sword hunts can be simplified for either side of the gun debate. However, I do think it did set a precedent for getting rid of weapons, which must have made it easy to enact strong gun laws once Japan modernized.

Australia’s equivalent “gun hunt” after the Port Arthur massacre has had success, even without a sword hunt precedent, showing that things can change. We just need to break the mythical, fictional barrier of “freedom” that’s been set up here and somehow entrenched in the past few decades.

So, please, if you’re American and you’ve ever enjoyed your time in Japan, please take a moment to write your elected representatives on all levels (federal, state, city), and tell them that you support the Senate filibuster and that you’d like to see them make as strong a stand.

We don’t need to outlaw guns, but we could do much better than where we are now.

Cool Phrase – 取れるところから取る

Belated notice, but I was in the Japan Times On Sunday this past week with an article about craft beer in Japan: “Beer Essentials: The craft beer boom in Japan shows no signs of running dry.”

This was a fun piece to research and write. I highly recommend checking out Jeffrey Alexander’s book “Brewed in Japan.” It’s an incredibly interesting read about the history of beer in Japan. I don’t recommend buying the Google Play version of the book, however. I was forced to read it in a very small font on my iPhone. I think I’ll probably get a physical copy of the book and give it another read at some point. There are so many interesting details, and I’d like to be able to enjoy it more leisurely without ruining my vision. Here’s a great passage from the book about Japan’s early encounters with American beer:

When the shogunate then agreed to sign the Convention of Kanagawa [in March 1854]…it held a celebratory reception to mark the occasion. At the event, the US delegation presented gifts to the Japanese officials of innovative American products, including a working telegraph, a one-quarter-scale steam locomotive, and three casks of beer. The beer was described by Japanese observers as being an earthen colour, with a large volume of bubbles on top, but review of its taste were mixed. Some called it “magic water,” while others labelled it “bitter horse-piss wine.”

Ha. Suffice it to say that they’ve warmed up to beer in the interval.

This was also a great excuse to catch up with a lot of old friends in Tokyo, which I was able to do thanks to the Japanese government. They flew me over to Japan the first week of March for a JET conference. I had a few days on the front half of my trip to myself, and I used it going around to bars I frequented when I lived in Tokyo. I got really lucky with the timing. The JT asked me to write the article just a couple weeks after I was invited to the conference. Special thanks to Aoki-san at Popeye in Ryogoku and Sato-san at Beer Brassiere Boulevard (formerly of Dry Dock).

One interesting phrase I heard from several sources in the beer industry was 取れるところから取る (“take [taxes] from where [taxes] can be taken”). A Google search shows that it gets used in reference to many different topics: 10,100 search results are pared down to 2,840 when the term ビール is added to the search. Still, that’s about 28%. A Japanese book I read titled ビールの教科書 suggests that it’s a combination of inertia and the fact that it’s a hard sell for the government to give money back to companies that make booze.

There’s been some small movement on an equalization (一本化) of the beer tax, which would set the tax for any type of alcoholic barley-based beverage at 55 yen/can, but it’s unlikely to happen any time soon, especially if the Japanese economy doesn’t pick up. It would be very interesting to see how that change would affect the beer market, since it would effectively eliminate any competitive advantage for happōshu. It would affect different companies in different ways since their portfolios are so varied. Asahi would likely benefit, since Super Dry is a true beer and already dominates the market. Suntory, on the other hand, sells a ton of Kinmugi, and it would be forced to raise prices.

Sadly the beer tax will likely be a semi-permanent impediment to the development of craft beer in Japan. As long as folks keep drinking, it will be an easy target for politicians.

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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