How to Japanese Podcast – S01E09 – Shaun McKenna – JET Program, Journalism in Japan, The Art of the Pitch

Shaun McKenna is the Deputy Manager of the Life & Culture Division of the Japan Times. He came on the How to Japanese Podcast to talk about his experience studying Japanese while teaching on JET and the transition to journalism. He also has some great recommendations on how to pitch an editor at a publication like the JT:

  • How has it been to edit the Bilingual page?
  • Did you study Japanese before you visited? And was JET the first time you visited the country?
  • Did you have success with Japanese for Busy People?
  • After you finished the textbook, what self-study techniques were helpful?
  • Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
  • Are a lot of Japan Times writers come to Japan without much training in the language?
  • What language milestones were important for you?
  • How did you find your Japanese teacher?
  • Where did you find free Japanese lessons in Yokohama?
  • After you returned to Canada, did you start job hunting in Japan?
  • Was journalism a long-term goal for you coming out of college?
  • What was your job hunting process in Japan?
  • How is the workplace culture at the Japan Times?
  • What naming conventions are used in Japanese workplaces?
  • Are you able to write for the Japan Times now that you’ve transitioned to editor?
  • Are you taking pitches from new writers?
  • Have you found new writers on Twitter?
  • What’s an ideal pitch? And what kind of web presence do you need?
  • Are you able to follow the music scene as much now that you’re not Music Editor?
  • Are there any venues you’d recommend in Japan?

At the top, I tell the story of crashing a car in Japan and discuss facing setbacks during language study.

How to Japanese Podcast – S01E08 – Kristi Fernandez – Translation Twitter, Light Novels and Manga, Translation Process

Kristi Fernandez has translated a number of light novels, manga, and drama. She’s also the creator of the group Japanese Translators of New York and a champion for translators on Twitter. We talked Japanese study and light novel translation for the eighth episode of the How to Japanese Podcast:

At the top, I talk briefly about some of the purchases I made on Amazon Japan during my time on JET and the strategy I used to make sure my package was delivered.

How to Japanese Podcast – S01E07 – Tamara Latham-Sprinkle – Professional Translation, Masters Programs, Translation Associations

Tamara Latham-Sprinkle has been a full-time Japanese-English freelance translator for a year. She talks about breaking into the world of translation, different translation associations, getting a masters in translation, and working as an interpreter at a manufacturing company in the latest episode of the How to Japanese Podcast:

At the top I talk about how Tamara and I first met (hint: over Twitter) and some of the organizations you can look to connect with if you’re interested in Japan-related events.

How to Japanese Podcast S01E06 – Brian Caster – Reading in Japanese, Self Study, Legal Work in Japan

Brian Caster is a practicing attorney in Japan working in compliance. He’s also one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever met (90+ English books so far in 2019 and counting!). He took some time to tell me about how he learned Japanese, job hunting, and how he brought the goodest dog from Chicago to Tokyo.

At the top I made some translation recommendations, including 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, The Spider Monkey Comes at Night) by Haruki Murakami. If you’re looking for public domain material you can publish online, here’s a list of some 随筆 (zuihitsu, miscellanea/essays) that look promising:

Title: 表現論随筆
Author: 豊島与志雄

Title: 押入れ随筆
Author: 吉川英治

Title: 物売りの声
Author: 寺田寅彦

Title: 備忘録
Author: 寺田寅彦

Title: 寺田先生と銀座
Author: 中谷宇吉郎

Title: 京都の朝市
Author: 柳宗悦

Title: 新茶
Author: 岡本かの子

Title: 小学生のとき与へられた教訓
Author: 岡本かの子

Also, I was in the Japan Times a couple weeks back with a look at the podcast and what I learned after talking with everyone: “A podcast that talks to bilingual people about studying Japanese and working in Japan.”

How to Japanese Podcast S01E05 – Arline Lyons – JET Program, Translation Memory, Specializing as a Translator

I met Arline Lyons in 2008-2010 when I was working as a translation project manager. I’ve always been really impressed with her professionalism as a translator, so I wanted to talk to her about her study experience and her translation practice. You can find her recent work on sake at Taste Translation and Discover Sake.

  • What was your overall path to fluency in Japanese?
  • The importance of immersion in learning Japanese
  • What kind of language study did you do while working on JET?
  • What does it take to keep your language skills “alive”?
  • When and how did you become literate in Japanese?
    • Go, Kaneshiro Kazuki
  • How did you decide to get your masters?
  • The world of patent translation
  • What is translation memory and how does it work?
  • Translation groups
  • How and how much time do freelance translators market themselves?
  • What do translators need to pay attention to when adding a new client?
  • What strategies should new translators take when looking for clients?
    • Chris Durbin?
  • Subcontracting, direct clients, and machine translation
  • When and how did you decide to become more specialized as a translator?
  • When you study specialized terminology, do you study the Japanese terms concurrently with the English?

And at the top I talked about some Google search strategies, which I wrote about for the Japan Times back in April 2018.

How to Japanese Podcast S01E04 – Paula Curtis – Graduate Studies, Medieval Japanese, and How to “Do” History

On the podcast this week I talk with Paula Curtis. I learned about Paula through her writing over at What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies? (aka 心配でしょう), which helped me find a Japan-adjacent job after grad school. We talked about language study, grad school, and how to “do” history:

And at the top of the pod I talked about how I learned the phrase なんかの縁. I blogged about way back in 2008.

Tetsuya Ishida – “Self-Portrait of Other”

Wrightwood 659 has a new exhibit of Tetsuya Ishida’s art: “Self-Portrait of Other.” This is the first retrospective exhibition of his work in the United States.

The exhibit comes to Wrightwood from the Reina Sofia in Madrid where curator Teresa Velazquez and organizers were surprised by attendance numbers—350,000 people visited the exhibit.

Once you see Ishida’s paintings, however, his draw isn’t a surprise at all: his images are striking.

Ishida works at the same time in hyperrealist and surrealist modes. His paintings incorporate the vocabulary of everyday Japanese life: textbooks, cardboard boxes, phone booths, lamps, trains, street-corner traffic mirrors, brands of food. As well as uniquely Japanese situations: school desks, school buildings, passed out drunks, generic apartment buildings, gyudon restaurants.

The hyperrealistic pieces make up very clearly surrealistic images, clearly inspired by artists such as Magritte.

There’s clearly a lot of pain in his work, and he seems to have picked out the parts of Japanese society that seem to be “unusual” to outsiders, which isn’t always easy to do as a native. Velasquez calls it his work “stunning testimony of a turbulent decade in Japan—the 90’s.”

In a way, Japan went through the financial crisis 20 years before the U.S. did, and Ishida seems to reflect that—he worked two jobs to stay afloat (security and work at a printmaker) and gained recognition after his death when his work was shown on an NHK program (based on his official site).

This is the fifth exhibit at the Tadao Ando-designed gallery space, which itself is beautiful. Velasquez noted that the simplicity of the gallery helps viewers focus: “the experience of the work [at Wrightwood] is unique, and much more interesting than in Spain. … You concentrate more on the work.”

They are showing 70 of Ishida’s paintings, sketches, and notebooks, a massive selection from the artist who died at age 31 and only produced around 180 works in total.

Wrightwood is also reprising pieces of a past exhibit in a new form on the level below the Ishida exhibit: “Ando: Museums + Galleries.” On display are models of some of Ando’s art museums as well as a scale model of Naoshima.

Wrightwood releases free tickets for the week each Monday, so I recommended getting on their email list. You can also purchase tickets for specific days, if you’re here for a trip. Tickets are for a specific window of time. Wrightwood will also be open for Open House Chicago, but reservations are required.

Based on what I’ve seen at Wrightwood 659 so far, its exhibits are quickly becoming an appointment viewing. They don’t have a permanent collection, so they partner with groups like Reina Sofia, Alphawood Exhibitions, and the Smart Museum to bring in artwork, which gives them great flexibility and division of labor, and the exhibits they have brought in occupy a space between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. They’ve had everyone from Ai Weiwei, Ando himself, Le Corbusier, contemporary LGBTQ artists, and now Ishida, who seems posed to become a singularly representative Japanese artist from the 1990s.


Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year Twelve: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss, Lack of Pretense

100 pages into the memoir, Murakami has settled into life on the island and takes a chapter to capture his daily routines titled “A Day in the Life of a Novelist on Spetses” (スペッツェス島における小説家の一日).

Here’s a section from the beginning:

Once I finish breakfast, I run. At least 40 minutes, and at most about 100 minutes. When I get back I take a shower and get to work. While I’m on this trip, I’m planning to work on two translations, a set of travel sketches (like what I’m writing here), and a new novel. So I don’t have much free time at all. I work on my manuscript for a bit, and when I get bored I move to the translation. When I get bored of the translation, I work on the manuscript again. It’s like going to a rotemburo on a rainy day. When I start to feel light headed, I get out of the water, and when I get cold I get back in. This goes on and on. (110-111)

朝食が済むと走る。短くて四十分、長くて百分ぐらい。帰ってきてシャワーを浴び、仕事にかかる。今回の旅行中に仕上げる予定でいるのは翻訳二冊ぶんと、旅行のスケッチ(今書いているような文章)と、それから新しい長編小説。だから決して暇ではない。自前の原稿をしばらく書いてそれに飽きると翻訳に移る。翻訳作業に飽きると今度はまた自前の原稿を書く。雨の日の露天風呂と同じである。のぼせると湯から出て、冷えると湯に入る。延々とつづけられる。 (110-111)

It’s interesting to read about his daily routines. I feel like I read a different account that was like this but separated fiction and translation more cleanly into morning and afternoon activities – translation was something he said he could do once he’d already been somewhat exhausted by the work of writing fiction. I can’t seem to track down that passage.

After running and writing, Murakami and his wife walk into town. He gives a narrative account of the walk, describing the buildings, shops, and sights. They stop at a cafe and read the paper. Murakami makes friends at the restaurants and small stores, including one well-captured profile of a shop owner who helps him with his Greek and gets very curious about the camera he has with him.

Murakami makes lunch, his wife makes dinner. He goes fishing in between using stale bread and feta cheese as bait, as taught by the friendly store owner. Sometimes they eat out. And then there’s a lovely little ending to the chapter:

When we finish dinner, it’s already pitch dark outside. I read and listen to music in the living room, and my wife adds an entry to her journal, writes letters to friends, does our budgeting, or makes bizarre complaints like, “Gahh, I can’t stand this. I’m sick of getting older.” On cold nights we light a fire in the fireplace. Time passes quietly and comfortably as we zone out and stare at the fire. The phone doesn’t ring, and there are no deadlines. There’s no TV, either. There’s nothing. Just the crackling of the fire as it pops and hisses in front of us. The silence is blissful. We empty a bottle of wine, and after a straight whiskey, I get a little tired. I look at the clock, and it’s nearly 10:00. And then I just drift into a pleasant sleep. The day feels like I did so much and yet also like I did nothing at all. (123)

夕食が終わると外はもう真暗になっている。僕は居間で音楽を聴きながら本を読み、女房は日記をつけたり友だちに手紙を書いたり、お金の計算をしたり、「あーやだやだ、歳をとりたくない」などとわけのわからない愚痴を言ったりしている。寒い夜は暖炉に火を入れる。暖炉の火を眺めつつぼんやりとしていると、時は静かに気持ち良く過ぎ去っていく。電話もかかってこないし、締切りもない、テレビもない。何もない。目の前でパチパチと火がはぜているだけである。沈黙がひどく心地好い。ワインを一本空にし、ウィスキーをグラスに一杯ストレートで飲んだところで、いささか眠くなる。時計を見るとそろそろ十時である。そしてそのまま気持ち良く眠ってしまう。いっぱい何かをしたような一日であり、まるで何もしなかったような一日である。 (123)

The mention of the phone and deadlines ties in nicely with the earlier sections of the memoir. The tone here reflects how much has changed. Short, clear sentences, as compared with the longer, breathless ones from the earlier sections that reflect the chaos of the move and of life in Tokyo.

That’s it for Murakami Fest 2019! Already looking forward to next year and taking another close look at Murakami’s travels.

How to Japanese Podcast S01E03 – Brian MacDuckston

You can find Brian MacDuckston of Ramen Adventures crushing bowls of ramen on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and now you can find him on the How to Japanese Podcast:

  • How was your trip to Hokkaido? How is Hokkaido different from the rest of Japan?
  • How long have you been in Japan and what have you done so far?
  • How much time are you doing ramen/journalism work versus English teaching?
  • What strategies would you recommend to diversify your income as an English conversation teacher?
  • What is it like teaching private students?
  • The Collabo-Ramen videos were great!
  • How has ramen changed in the last nine years? What trends are you seeing? Is ramen a trend-driven industry?
  • Why are Japanese so obsessed with/interested in food?
  • When did you start studying Japanese and what strategies have been helpful?
  • What ramen vocabulary has been helpful for you?
  • Mapple maps were amazing, and are sadly now not necessary because of smartphones
  • What has it been like being a creator in Japan?
  • When did you start to feel Ramen Adventures taking off?

At the top of the pod, I talk about set phrases used for condolences, which I wrote about in the Japan Times back in April 2016. Here is he set of telegram phrases I found, some usage recommendations for telegrams from a digital telegram service, and the cost breakdown for messages from NTT.

You can also subscribe to the How to Japanese Podcast on AppleGoogle, or Spotify.

Lack of Pretense

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats, The End of the World
Year Twelve: Distant Drums, Exhaustion, Kiss

Murakami arrives on Spetses in mid-October, right at the end of the high season while there are still people on the beach. The bars and restaurants are full, there are breasts being bared (and people ogling those breasts), but there is also a transition as some leave and others return to the island during the change in seasons. The island is so small that they take a horse-drawn wagon to the house from the port.

Murakami talks about his jogs and how he discovers the island and how it’s changing. He recounts a time when he forgot to cash traveler’s checks and he and his wife are forced to be frugal over a weekend when the banks are closed—he does this in a funny way, imagining Greek choruses singing the takeaways behind he and his wife. He also recounts a big chunk of history of the island in the form of shipbuilding and war.

He and his wife gradually settle into the rhythm of life on the small, isolated island, and Murakami does what he’s always loved to do during down time: go to the movies. This is another excellent opportunity for him to do some location as character work:

There are two movie theaters in town, one which closes in the fall, and another that’s open year round. The one that closes is named “Cine Marina,” and the one that’s open is named “Cine Titania.” Both are on the outskirts of town, and neither look very much like a movie theater. “So, what do they look like?” you might ask, and I’d be flummoxed. To be perfectly honest, this is due to the fact that they don’t look like anything at all. If I had to describe them, I’d say they have the feel of those stores, ubiquitous in every shopping arcade, that give no hint of what they sell. They are much too narrow to be movie theaters, and the doors look like the doors on a run-of-the-mill general goods shop. The reason you can tell they’re movie theaters is entirely because of the movie posters hung outside the entrance. There are two posters, one labeled “ΣΗΜΕΡΑ (simera, today)” and the other “ΑΥΡΙΟ (avrio, tomorrow).” By which they mean this one is being shown today, and the other tomorrow, but as with most Greek ΑΥΡΙΟs, they weren’t really applicable. Sometimes when we went they showed the same thing as the day before, and other times they showed an entirely different film from what was advertised. So I thought the best policy was to take these as a sort of “rough hypothesis.” However, whatever the case was, the entrances had a total lack of pretense.

This lack of pretense differed slightly in sensibility from that of the movie theaters in the small cities of rural Japan. No matter how small and run down and dirty and reeking of piss a Japanese theater may be, it at least announces itself as a movie theater. The building is a little different from the surrounding buildings, and there’s what might best be called a festive atmosphere to the place, to one degree or another. However, the movie theaters on this island have none of that appearance. There are two posters, one says ΣΗΜΕΡΑ, the other ΑΥΡΙΟ, and that’s the end of the story. It was such a small town on such a small island that there must not have been any need to put out a sign notifying everyone that it was a movie theater.



The section on the theater is quite long and a lot of fun. He and his wife go to see a Bruce Lee movie. The have a bizarre encounter with an old woman at the entrance who insists it isn’t Bruce Lee, but a man shoes them into the theater where they discover it’s someone else reenacting the life of Bruce Lee. A horde of young kids are monkeying around in the theater until some of the adults who stroll in late shout them all down. It sounds like a pretty funny experience, and unfortunately too long to translate in completion here.

And as for the theaters themselves, it looks like they still exist! The photo at the top seems to be Cine Marina from a Wikimedia Commons entry, and there are a number of pages for Cine Titania, which appears much more theater-like these days after a 2017 facelift. The photo above, however, looks much like Murakami describes – a random, rural grocery store somewhere in Japan.