Crying Time

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at some crying vocabulary: “When giving a public speech in Japanese, tears can be your trump card.”

This article was prompted by the opening anecdote, which cracked me up and I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I probably could have written another 2,000 words looking at graduation ceremonies (there’s some really awesome stuff online), but it would have been a bit rambly (although interesting rambly). Maybe I still will at some point. I think it was more effective for this piece to look more broadly at crying. It’s interesting how “simple” and performative the statements are that accompany tears in Japan. This is true across the spectrum of different emotions that result in tears.

One interesting grammatical side note is that the verb used most frequently with both the 送辞 (sōji, farewell address) and 答辞 (tōji, formal reply) speeches is 読む (yomu, read), despite the fact that they speak them aloud, likely because students read directly from a formal manuscript.

One of the most interesting things I discovered while working on this article was a transcript of Ryutaro Nonomura’s legendary 記者会見 (kishakaiken, press conference). Check it out here to see the whole thing.

What a poor, pathetic man. He clearly understands the press conference format and what can be accomplished at them, but he’s just a mess. Unprepared, unscripted, and it shows. When he’s not completely incoherent (報告ノォォー、ウェエ、折り合いをつけるっていうー、ことで、もう一生懸命ほんとに、少子化問題、高齢ェェエエ者ッハアアアァアーー!!), he’s stringing together ridiculous crap like this:

こうやって報道機関の皆さまにご指摘を受けるのが、本当にツラくって、情けなくって、子ども達に本当に申し訳ないんですわ。

Strong, strong work by the transcriber.

Since I submitted this piece, there’s been another press conference that drew some attention—a car accident ended up hitting a few preschoolers on the sidewalk and killing two. Based on what I saw on Twitter, there’s been some questioning about why they had one of the staff members go in front of cameras when she was clearly distressed. You can see the press conference here.

It’s hard not to feel for her. One useful phrase I was able to glean was すみません。何も言えないですみません (Sumimasen, nanimo ienaide sumimasen, I’m sorry. Forgive me, I’m unable to say anything.). Something to tuck away for potential “worst case scenario” type moments, although it’s another thing entirely to be able to recall a phrase like this in a moment like that.

Japanese Definitions and Twitter Sleuthing

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at some cool websites that help you define the differences in Japanese words: “使用? 利用? Make use of a dictionary to use your Japanese properly.”

It’s always good to start reading Japanese explanations of things as soon as you are able. The Wool vs. Cashmere explanation is a good example of something that’s pretty interesting, and perhaps not as dull as grammatical explanations.

But we need the dull grammatical explanations, too! This is always a good reminder that the 日本語文型辞典 is an awesome resource. Here’s the full quote from the section I cite about the difference between なければならない (nakereba naranai, must) and なければいけない (nakereba ikenai, must):

「なければならない」「なくてはならない」は社会常識やことがらの性質から見て、そのような義務・必要性があるという意味を表す。つまり誰にとってもそうする義務・必要性があるという一般的な判断を述べる場合に用いられることが多い。これに対して「なければいけない」「なくてはいけない」は個別の事情で義務や必要が生じた場合に用いられることが多い。「なければだめだ」「なくてはだめだ」も同様であるが、「なければいけない」「なくてはいけない」よりもさらに話しことば的。

「なければ」の代わりに「ねば」、「ならない」の代わりに「ならぬ」を使うさらに書きことば的な言い方もある。

However, it’s one thing to read these and another thing entirely to put them into practice. The best advice I can give there is to write out a few example sentences of your own, ideally based on some Google sleuthing, and then mindfully attempting to incorporate them into daily usage.

Lately I’ve noticed that Google sleuthing for native phrases isn’t as helpful as it used to be. The Google algorithm seems to be focusing on webpages explaining the phrases rather than random sites that use the phrases.

I’ve been relying far more on Twitter sleuthing, which has been providing excellent results. Let’s see what we can find with the examples above.

A search for なければならない, for examples, gives this example from the great Count Okuma of Waseda University fame:

A loose translation of his quote: The young must hold lofty ideals. And they must have the courage to put them into practice.

Definitely seems worthy of social obligation/necessity.

I found one result of this pattern from an account that seems to have gone private, but I left the tweet open in a tab for so long that I was able to screenshot it:

Coincidentally this is also university related—it’s the beginning of the term there, and the clubs are all out in force inviting frosh to join. One upperclassman has had enough:

Another good example of the fact that everyone has to suffer this 勧誘地獄 (kanyu jigoku, solicitation hell), which is one of my new favorite Japanese terms.

On the other hand, the user B太郎 has to have his morning fried chicken from Family Mart and expresses this individual necessity using なければいけない:

Another user desperately needs some sleep:

I think this shows that Twitter is a pretty reliable source for native phrases. Are there any other sites you use? Maybe blog sites? Anything else?

Cool Word – オブラート

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at a couple of websites that I’ve noticed popping up whenever I search for a polite way to phrase something: “When stumped in Japanese, go where the stumped Japanese go.”

The websites are Mayonez and Tap-biz. Mayonez seems like a more fleshed-out, coherent project, but they’re clearly very similar. I wondered how they were funded, but further investigation has shown that the articles are really just cover for the job hunting websites that likely fund the whole shebang.

Still, the articles are pretty interesting, and I think they offer pretty effective language tips.

In the course of reading through the Mayonez article about 希望しない alternatives, I saw the phrase オブラート包んでお断りすることがマナーです (Oburaato tsutsunde okotowari suru koto ga manaa desu, Saying no in a roundabout way).

オブラート (oburaato, oblaat) is a very interesting word I hadn’t heard before. Oblaat are those thin, transparent layers of rice starch that are used to wrap things like dagashi.

So the phrase オブラートに包む, then, means to kind of mediate a phrase in a way that makes it more palatable/handleable. Pretty cool.

And of course there’s a ridiculous Yahoo Chiebukuro site involving オブラート: “「死ね」 をオブラートに包んでください(“Shineo oburaato ni tsutsunde kudasai, Say “Go kill yourself” in a polite way). Some pretty funny answers.

And on a side note, next month is the four year anniversary (FORTY EIGHT consecutive months!) of the Japanese Reading Group that I’ve been running through the JET Alumni Association Chicago Chapter. We’ve been meeting on Google Hangouts for the past year or so, and it would be great if you’d join us! Check out the event details here.

Magnetic Lassos and Other Translation Thoughts

Wrangling a translation.

The last five months have flown by. In March I moved on from my job with the Japanese Consulate into a new position here in Chicago that still has me connected with Japan. My exit from the consulate position was comically awfully, due to no fault of my own (…well, not really). I’ll resist spilling the details here, but you should definitely buy me a drink sometime and force me to tell you about it.

During the week in between jobs, I was contacted about translating a Japanese light novel. I started a sample translation the same week I started the new job, and the offer for the project came two weeks after that.

And for the five months since, I’ve been translating at a pace of about two 文庫本 (bunkobon, paperback) pages a day. Some days I did significantly more, and I took off a few days here and there and about two weeks to travel to Japan for a conference in May.

I submitted the translation last Sunday and wanted to record my thoughts about the experience while they’re still fresh in case they’re of use to anyone (and so that I can remember what this felt like when I’m 95).

Logistics:

  • I submitted the translations in two halves with two invoices, minus a small advance that came immediately upon accepting the project (which was taken from the first half payment). I had about the same amount of time for each half.
  • I won’t discuss my rate other than to say that I tried to get close to what I request for most translations (a fairly reasonable rate, as far as I’m aware). I wish I’d kept track of the hours I spent on the project because I’m confident I spent more hours on this project than I do on most translation work. Not that I slack off on other projects, but fiction is an entirely different beast.

Translation:

  • Given everything I had going on in life (mostly: day job, brewing beer, attempting to have a social life), I set a pace and stuck to it. Two pages/day was the average mark I tried to hit, but this was easier for the first half. I had a convergence of obstacles that slowed the start of translating the second half and upped my page quota. But even during the first half I tried to do closer to 3-4 pages a day. I ended up with about a week to revise for both deliveries. The quota was a helpful way to keep track of how I was doing but also to give myself permission to take breaks.
  • Something I realized (that may be obvious) is that not every page of fiction is created equally. Some pages are dense with description and others are lean with dialogue. And then there were the two pages near the end of the novel that were, mercifully, verbatim copies of a section from the beginning of the novel. This is another important reason to set a pace quota. You’re basically page-time averaging, although it’s also good to be aware of what the terrain looks like as you progress.
  • I did not read the novel in advance. Thankfully, this didn’t screw me later on in the translation process…I don’t think. I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken for me to read the novel (maybe 10-14 days based on previous paces), but that would’ve cut into my translation and revision calendar. Over the course of the project, however, I did start to read ahead. I read a few pages ahead on my commutes, just to get an idea of what was coming up, or even just a page or two as I was translating. This was generally “skimming” rather than looking up every word, but it was important to get a feel for the text. If this project confirmed anything for me, it was that you have to translate on the paragraph and page level and not the sentence level.
  • Having both a Kindle and Paper version was helpful. I managed to get a full copy of the book right away with Kindle, so I was off to the races, but it was reassuring to see my progress through the paper copy. It also came handy during revision when I could have the book version open and use my phone for a dictionary app instead of the Kindle app.
  • I do have some major complaints about the Kindle app. The app limits the number of times you can copy and paste from the text. Once you’ve reached the limit, you’re out of luck. This can make it difficult to find the reading of words you don’t know because the Kindle dictionary will only find exact matches (i.e. no inflected verbs or adjectives). You can also use the “share” feature to export text to email and instant message, but this feature is also limited. I mean, I get why they’re doing this, but I also have a hard time imagining that someone would copy and paste an entire ebook. Although maybe I’m underestimating Japanese internet pirates.
  • A portion of what I made from this project paid for my Japanese teacher, and it was well worth it. During my week between jobs, I hired a Japanese teacher over Skype to brush up some of my business Japanese. This ended up being extremely convenient; once the translation project started, we just shifted to my questions about the book. I used the Kindle app to highlight the sections I had questions about and then took screenshots. I sent my teacher the screenshots, and we went over the questions an hour at a time. I found these sessions to be most helpful if I reviewed the sections of the text before the lesson. It was also important to take notes on her explanations and then to make the revisions necessary as soon as possible. And there were definitely revisions necessary. I’m not sure how I imagined translators when I first started studying Japanese and then translating myself, but I think there’s a certain sense that they are supposed to be flawless experts who know every word immediately. It’s safe to say that this isn’t true. It’s critical to have someone to bounce text off of when you don’t understand it. It doesn’t do any good to be too proud to admit you don’t understand something. My teacher helped me figure out some pop culture puns, countless grammar patterns, and general nuances for different sections. She also made fun of me when I asked questions that were too easy. “Just translate it however, it doesn’t matter,” she said a couple of time, ha. I don’t usually promote services, but I can safely recommend Linguage. I believe they have a physical school in Japan, but they also do introductions to online teachers. You can buy sets of 10 lessons, and they cost less than $30/lesson (although this varies with the exchange rate), which seems extremely fair. My teacher actually lives in Germany, which makes the time difference less of an issue.
  • Revise as you go. This is a mistake I made in the first half. I was doing all these Japanese lessons but also so concerned about keeping pace that I pressed forward rather than take a half hour after each lesson to fix what we’d just gone over. I adjusted my process for the second half of the novel. Not only did I make the revisions from the lesson immediately, I did a read through after each chapter and revised as much as I could so that the final revision wouldn’t take as long as it did during the first half. I think this probably made the final revisions easier as well.
  • For the final revision, I tried to read the translation and focus on the English as an entirely separate product. Does the language make sense? Are there any phrases that could be more natural, and would it be too much of a stretch to simplify or combine words/phrases? What exactly was the author trying to say with this section and has that been communicated? I looked at the Japanese as necessary, but it’s an important step to take the English on its own.
  • The metaphor that came to me as I was working was the Photoshop magnetic lasso feature. Translation doesn’t produce an identical product as the original, but it does resemble that original. I like to think that there’s some ideal English product, even though this isn’t true. I do think there are more ideal phrasings (or maybe more natural phrases) than others and that the translation should stick to the original loosely in the way that the magnetic lasso sticks to the outline of an object. If your language strays from the original, you’ll notice. If the language is too far off, the reader will notice as well, even without knowing the shape of the original. I have some examples of this from the revision process that I’ll be able to share when it comes out.

I’ll share more information when I can. It’s a relief to be done! I can adapt the adage and say that it feels better to have translated than to translate, but to be honest not by much! It’s fun to be in there with the text, wrestling with what the Japanese means and how to convey it in English. By my measure, translating fiction is far more pleasurable than writing fiction.

My Translation Desktop

Monday night in Kanda, May 2018. Apropos of nothing other than that I, too, am a hardworking person.

I only vaguely remember my first electronic dictionary. I know I had a very small one I bought in Akihabara in 2003 that deftly jumped around between kanji and compounds. But I left it in a classroom when I got back to the states and someone took it. I’d written my name on it, I think, but it smeared a little.

I bought a new one on Amazon Japan first thing when I moved into my JET apartment, but it was bigger and bulkier and didn’t do the same tasks, despite being the same brand. Should’ve stuck with old reliable.

This was 2005, and I didn’t end up using the dictionary all that much. I switched over to the Nintendo DS kanji dictionary, which made it a breeze to draw out kanji I didn’t recognize. Since I got a smartphone in 2012, I haven’t even used that all that much.

Some of my reading I do either “skimming,” without looking up each word, and the rest (which I’m likely doing for JT articles or translation work), I’m right next to the computer and have the internet at my fingertips.

Part of the reason I can find these characters is Jim Breen. I was in the Japan Times late last month with a profile of him and a look at his WWWJDIC and underlying EDICT dictionary files: “At 180,000 entries, Jim Breen’s freeware Japanese dictionary is still growing.”

Jisho.org has been my favorite EDICT-based resource. I know that WWWJDIC has the mult-radical method as well, and maybe I should give the website another chance, but I just find Jisho so easy to use and well designed.

It’s also not often that I have to look up characters. I’m working on a big translation project that I hope to share soon, and I’m reading the text through Kindle on my iPhone, which I’ve written about previously.

I do have major complaints with the dictionary feature. Unlike Jisho, you have to hit the exact word or else it won’t return any hits. Which basically means you can’t search for conjugated verbs or adjectives or you have to hope that the individual kanji has a separate meaning/reading that will then enable you to find it with other stuff.

And my most major complaint with the Kindle is the limit on your ability to copy and paste text. I mean, I get it. You don’t want people copying and pasting the entire text, but it was so damn easy to copy from the iPhone and then paste on my desktop through the MacOS/iOS integration. There must be a way to allow copying and pasting single phrases/words with no limit. We have software smart enough to do this.

So my basic translation desktop setup is this:

Kenkyushu Green Goddess (5th edition) app open on my iPhone (for deep dives into usages and meanings that aren’t easily summarized in a few words)

And the following browser tabs, in no particular order:
http://jisho.org (for basic word look up)
http://www.alc.co.jp (for usage and context clues)
http://thesaurus.com (to give a tired English brain some alternatives or inspiration)
https://ejje.weblio.jp/ (for more diverse and at times reliable context and usage clues)
https://kotobank.jp/ (for Japanese definitions in order to more fully understand a word)

What am I missing? I feel like there must be an easier way to look up individual kanji. Any suggestions?

PDF Quote-a-palooza

Greetings from Kumamoto! I’m here for work for the rest of this week and then I’ll have a few meetings in Tokyo. I’ll have a few days free at the end of the second week, so if you’re in Tokyo and are interested in getting a beer, get in touch and I’ll let you know what I’m up to.

I was in the Japan Times last week with some tips on deciphering dialogue in Japanese fiction. Big props to the editors for this headline: “Whose line is it anyway? Tips for deciphering dialogue in Japanese fiction.”

Thanks to the JT, this tweet got a bump:

Seems like it’s a topic of interest for many. It sparked a conversation about dialogue in light novels between a few folks on Twitter, which I have to admit I couldn’t really follow.

I’ve been reading a detective novel recently and had forgotten how difficult it can be to follow dialogue in Japanese fiction sometimes. I guess I’m so used to reading Murakami, who makes a point of marking his dialogue well…and, now that I think about it, rarely has more than two people talking on their own.

I don’t have too much to add other than what I wrote in the article, but I did find two interesting links worth looking at. The first is a paper on an Ekuni Kaori short story collection by Michiyo Goda: 江國香織『きらきらひかる』における会話の提示――英訳版と比較して (An Analysis of Speech Presentation in Kaori Ekuni’s Twinkle Twinkle: In Comparison with the English Translation).

Her statement at the top of the paper is similar to the point I make at the beginning of the Japan Times piece:

小説の会話の分析というと、キャラクター 造型との関わりから、発話「内容」に注目が 集まる傾向がある。もちろんこのこと自体に問題はないのだが、文体という観点から会話を扱うならば、その提示「方法」にも注視してしかるべきであろう。
In analysis of dialogue in fiction, there’s a tendency to focus on the “content” of speech in relation to the construction of character. Of course, there’s no problem with this in and of itself, but if we take dialogue as an aspect of literary style, it seems appropriate to place more emphasis on the “methods” of its presentation as well.

I haven’t finished reading this article thoroughly, but there are some really interesting examples, and some excellent points made. She notes for example that in Japanese 伝達部の省略は当たり前になされる (It’s natural to eliminate the communication tags), and then she goes on to explain why:

英語のように伝達部を発話ごとに繰り返すと、日本語では単調な印象を与えやすいのを避けるための措置と考えられる
When communication tags are repeated for each element of speech as in English, Japanese can quickly give a monotonous impression, and this can be considered a mechanism to avoid that.

I need to read this more fully. It has some really interesting thoughts for translators to consider as they work with Japanese. Any translators out there have strong feelings about dialogue work?

The other link is by Kazumi Tachikawa: 日本語教育における引用表現 (On Quotation in Teaching Japanese as a Second Language).

Another super interesting article. I need to read it more in depth, but I fast forwarded to the conclusion (as you do), and found myself nodding:

引用は理解レベルとしては十分であっても,表現レベルにまでは達していないことが分かる。一方,文章表現においては,引用表現は多く用いられていた。
Even when comprehension of quotations is sufficient, it is apparent that their level of verbal expression hasn’t developed. On the other hand, diverse methods of quotation are used in written expression.

Very interesting indeed. Especially in light of this observation:

まず,授業(音声言語)における引用表現では,学習者の発話はどうしても断片的なものが中心となってしまうこともあり,引用表現は観察されなかった。一方,指導者の側では,語句や文章内容の意味説明において引用を多用しており,「と(って)+引用動詞」という形のほかに,「と(って)。」で文末を切るなど様々な引用形式が用いられていた。
First, in classroom (spoken language) quotation expressions, student speech was mostly made up of fragmentary utterances and quoted expressions were not observed. On the other hand, instructors made use of a wide variety of quotations, in terms of phrases and speech content, and they also made use of many different sentence-ending speech constructions, not only using “と (to) + quotation verb” but also “と(って) [to (tte).”

I wonder if there’s a hesitation to drill casual forms of the language such as って. My own experience in the classroom was definitely a です・ます experience, and I can understand why, but I feel like this can be a disservice at times.

Adding these articles to the reading pile, and I hope you do too.

差し入れ Redux

Merry Christmas! I’m home in New Orleans and not scheduled to be back in the Japan Times until early in the New Year, so I wanted to be sure to get a December post in. I may be able to get to another chapter of Hard-boiled Wonderland during my New Year’s break, but I’m not sure, so…

There was a work holiday party that I was unfortunately unable to attend because I was flying out right after work on December 20. The really unfortunate part is that we sat on the tarmac on the plane, fully boarded, for 2.5 hours before leaving, so I probably would have been able to have a quick drink at least.

I was reminded, however, of the lesser-known Japanese tradition of 差し入れ (sashi-ire), which I wrote about over nine years ago now. Fortunately I was reminded of this tradition with enough foresight that I was able to put together a 差し入れ of my own:

I brewed a Dark Mild for my homebrew club’s advent calendar and had plenty to share with coworkers. I’ve heard that it went over well, which is nice. It’s one of the better brews I’ve been able to put together.

I’ve updated one of the links from the earlier post that had died and I also looked through Yahoo Chiebukuro for some more examples. I found this post about someone who was scolded (?) for bringing a 差し入れ. Sounds like it was a kind of bizarre situation, although the best answer does note that bringing them too frequently could be pooh-poohed and that they generally only use them in the case of travel (which is good for me this time).

However, this post shows an example of someone bringing them to バイト coworkers when they have tests and other obligations. The best answer provides an EXCELLENT example of text you can use when providing a 差し入れ. It’s so good I’m going to blockquote it here:

「私用で仕事に出られず申し訳ありません、普段から皆さんには大変お世話になっていますので気持ちだけですがお礼をしたいと思い差し入れを持って参りました。ぜひ皆さんで召し上がって下さい」

You’ll probably want to adjust the punctuation here slightly, adding a few commas and periods, but the language is solid and very polite. Lemme break down how the language works: Apology (申し訳ありません) for being unable to go in for reasons (私用) —> Expression of appreciation for coworkers (大変お世話になっています) —> Expression of humility for gift being brought (気持ちだけですが) —> Performative statement expressing action of bringing a gift (差し入れを持って参りました) —> Expression asking coworkers to enjoy gift (召し上がって下さい).

13/10 would use myself.

The real goal of 差し入れ is to provide consideration coverage. They are a way to demonstrate that you’re tuned in and considerate of your surroundings. They show you’re a part of a group, that you can participate. In 2018, we should all endeavor to bring a little more consideration and participation into the world.

Except for Donald Trump and the Republicans. Seriously, fuck those guys and anyone who stands with them because they are petty racists and we’re going to unseat them all in 2018. They deserve no consideration because they give none.

#HARUMPH

Dazai Osamu’s “Dispatch From Tokyo”

I was in the Japan Times this week with a curated look at Aozora Bunko, a great source for public domain literature in Japanese: “Blue Sky Books is a literary treasure trove.”

My encounters with Dazai Osamu on Aozora Bunko have been revelatory. I’d only ever read him in translation previously, and nothing ever really struck me (for which I’ll blame youthful ignorance), but I remember a friend at Waseda saying that she loved his sentences, and I can now say that I know what she was talking about.

To try to give you a good example of this, I’ve translated one of his shorter nonfiction pieces on Aozora titled 東京だより (Tokyo dayori, Dispatch from Tokyo). I don’t think I do him full justice, but it was a fun exercise:

Dispatch From Tokyo

Dazai Osamu

Tokyo is currently full of working girls. Morning and evening, on their way to and from the factories, the girls march through the streets of Tokyo in double-file columns singing the songs of industrial soldiers. They wear almost exactly the same clothing as boys. However, the straps of their geta are red, and this lone point leaves them with an aura of femininity. All of the girls have the same look on their faces. You can’t even tell clearly how old they are. When offered up to the Emperor, perhaps all humans are cleanly stripped of all facial features and age. This isn’t only when they march through the streets of Tokyo; when I see these girls laboring or working, each of their features lost and their so called “personal circumstances” also forgotten, it’s even easier for me to understand that they’re exerting themselves for their country.

Just the other day, a friend of mine who is an artist was drafted to work at a factory, and I had to see him about something, so I visited the factory three times. This something was that he is going to draw the cover for one of my fiction collections that should be published soon, but in truth I always make fun of his works, and in the past he asked several times to draw the cover of my collection, but I rejected him outright and said, if I let you draw the cover, even one of my books that wasn’t considered any good to begin with would get even worse and would never sell a single copy, so, yeah, I’ll pass. Actually, his drawings were really bad. But he got in touch with an incredibly solemn request and said he was going into the factory and now was precisely the moment to try to draw the cover for my collection with a fresh mindset, so I quickly set out for the factory to ask him to draw the cover. I didn’t care if it was crap. I didn’t care if the collection was reviewed poorly. None of those things mattered. If drawing the cover for my boring collection lifted his spirits at the factory, then nothing would make me happier. I received his touching correspondence and quickly set out for the factory where he works. He greeted me with great joy and told me about his various plans for the cover. Each and every one was unsatisfactory. It shocked me how cliched and sentimental they were, but, yet, given the situation, the quality of the drawing was not the problem. My next collection might be ruined due to his drawing, but, nevertheless, I couldn’t have cared less about it. Didn’t someone once say, do unto others? He excitedly told me about his boring ideas and then the next time he showed me even more boring drafts of the drawings, so I was frequently summoned and had to go to his factory.

I passed through the gate of the factory, showed the guard the letter from him, and entered the administrative office, where ten girls were quietly attending to administrative duties. I told one of the girls the reason for my visit and had her phone his guard room. He slept in one room of the factory, so he had made sure to inform me of his break times in his letter, and I was able to make a short visit during those break times. Until he got to the office, I sat in a small chair in one corner and stared off into space as I waited, but actually I wasn’t that spaced out. I was surreptitiously observing the ten girls who were working right in front of me. They had already, in almost beautiful fashion, cooly ignored my presence. I’ve been accustomed to being ignored by girls since my childhood, so I wasn’t particularly surprised, but the way they ignored me showed no trace of arrogance; they all simply looked downward and diligently attended to their duties without a shift in attitude revealed on any of their faces, and there was no sign of any change in the quiet atmosphere due to the coming and going of visitors—it was an incredibly pleasant scene; I could hear only the crisp sounds of the abacus and the turning of pages in the ledgers. There weren’t noticeable expressions on any of the girls faces, which made them seem like identically colored butterflies quietly lined up on the branch of a flower, but there was one who, for some reason, had an unforgettable impression. This is a rare phenomenon when it comes to working girls. I stated previously that there weren’t even slight distinguishing features between each of the working girls, but there was the one in the administrative office of that factory who had a completely different sense from the other girls. There was nothing all that different about her face. It was longish and tan. There was nothing different about her clothes either. She was wearing the same black work uniform as everyone. There was nothing different about her hairstyle either. There was nothing different about anything about her. Nevertheless, she was beautiful and vividly different from the others, as though a green butterfly was mixed in amongst black swallowtail butterflies. Yes. She was beautiful. She wasn’t wearing any makeup. Still, she was completely different and beautiful. I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I must confess that while I waited for the artist in that office, I was looking only at that mysterious girl’s face. I settled myself down and came to the most plausible conclusion that it was her bloodlines. Her father or mother had noble blood for many generations in the distant past, therefore she gave off this strange scent despite having no discernible features. I sat alone intrigued and sighed thinking of how important bloodlines are for humans, but I was wrong. My lone conclusion was completely off. The reason she was so prominently, mysteriously beautiful lay within a solemn—even sublime—urgent reality. One evening, when I was leaving through the front gate of the factory after completing my third visit, I happened to hear the girls singing behind me and turned around to see them come out from the factory courtyard in double-file lines, loudly singing the songs of industrial warriors. I stopped to watch the energetic group go by. And then I was astonished. The girl from the office came walking with crutches, slightly behind everyone else. As I watched, my eyes began to burn. The girl who should’ve been beautiful, her legs were deformed from birth. Her right leg right around her ankle—no, I can’t bring myself to say it. She passed by me silently on the crutches.

The piece is striking for its variety of sentences. Dazai has total control and jumps back and forth between shorter and longer phrases. There is some repetition of terminology (such as 事務所), but I think they can be chalked up to linguistic differences.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of 男子意気に感ぜざれば. I found a few instances of 人生意気に感ず, which has a few good explanations here and here, so I made up something that seems to fit. Let me know if you see any other blatant mistakes.

Dazai has a long list of shorter pieces on Aozora that are manageable reads in addition to longer works like 人間失格 (Ningen shikkaku, No Longer Human). There are also a number that are related to the war, which are interesting…I don’t think I’d read many primary texts about the war experience in Japan. I think this piece can be read as a subtle critique of the war effort and its effect on the populace.

Top 50 Bestselling Enka Songs Wrap-up

Wow, I can’t believe I got through that whole damn bestselling enka exercise. I’ve been prepping it for over a month, but I actually started drafting the original idea three years ago (made it through songs 1-9) after coming across the list of bestselling enka. I had dreams of writing something more substantial about karaoke or enka, but after finding Christine Yano’s book “Tears of Longing: Nostalgia and the Nation in Japanese Popular Song,” I realized it has already been done.

Here are some of my thoughts about enka in bullet point style:

– Yano’s book is great. I haven’t finished it, but I’ve read the introduction, the chapter on the history of enka, her analysis of the frequency of words, and parts on the gender roles in enka. My only beefs so far are that the book uses romaji instead of kanji (which is how academia does it, I get it, but always feels disrespectful of the original language) and that her look at frequency of words does not include verbs. The nouns she examines are useful on their own and provide some interesting analysis. Including verbs would adjust the rankings quite a bit, and I’d be curious to see how so. For a more detailed look at the book, be sure to check out Tokyo Damage Report’s detailed review.

– Here are some verbs I think would get included in the list: しみる (shimiru, penetrate, permeate), つのる (tsunoru, grow stronger), 許す (yurusu, permit, allow), 逢う (au, meet), 泣く (naku, cry), 飲む (nomu, drink), 降る (furu, fall), 枯れる (kareru, wither), すがる (sugaru, cling to, rely on), 滲む (nijimu, blur), 生きる (ikiru, live), 死ぬ (shinu, die), 帰る (kaeru, go home, return), 誓う (chikau, swear, pledge), 抱く (daku, embrace), 酔う (you, get drunk), 耐える (taeru, endure), 行く (iku, go), 捨てる (suteru, throw away, dump).

– Enka, as Yano notes, “has been reconstructed to invoke ‘tradition.’” This is a pretty wide tangent for the second bullet point, but here it goes: I think what enka has done for Japan is very comparable to what country music has done in the United States. Country music has been codified and formulated much in the same way that enka has, and I think it even has it’s own vocal stylings much in the same way that enka has kobushi.

In terms of nationalism, though, I’m thinking in particular of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” which has made me throw up in my mouth a little since I first heard it at summer camp in 1994, in particular the line “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.” Where to start with this line. First, “American” isn’t a place, so modifying it with “where” is just wrong. Second, the “at least” has always bothered me. At least you’re free? It’s always felt to me that this line sweeps anything knocked down in pursuit of freedom under the carpet. Sure, there’s a bunch of terrible shit, but at least we’re free.

One non-shitty country western thing before we return to enka: A classic example of country western kobushi (aka “twang”): Wayne Hancock’s “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs.”

I think this twang was probably first introduced (or at least perfected) by Hank Williams. It’s also interesting to note that this song came out in 1995! It sounds like it could be much older, and the sepia-toned album cover supports the idea that some country, like enka, is a modern music designed to seem much older and more traditional:

– Ok. Back to normal stuff. All enka songs begin with a 10-30 second instrumental section which allows the emcee to give a quick intro of the performer and describe the effect the song has had on the populace. This also gives singers a moment to greet the audience and fellow performers and to gracefully position themselves in preparation to sing.

– It’s interesting that the top five songs are from 1978 and earlier and that the top two are from the 1972-1973 period when enka as a genre was first getting defined. I think this is why you see Miya Shiro and Nagata Atsushi of the Tonosama Kings both make use of an almost painfully undulating kobushi: this is when the elements of the genre were put into place, and these two may have put kobushi right up at the top.

The best way to learn enka: Buy a couple “Best of” CDs for a handful of artists and then force yourself to listen to listen to them over and over. Keep them in your car or load them on your smart phone. You’ll be surprised how quickly you gather the subtleties of the songs.

Check out this very detailed Japanese write-up about how to get better at karaoke. It includes advice to get over any コンプレックス (complexes) you might have, humming along with songs to learn them, and practicing higher key songs so that you can train your vocal chords.

I was surprised by how much “I’d die for you!” there was in enka, and I was tempted to call it unique to enka, but it most definitely isn’t. The country western song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” for example:

This song seems to mirror the story behind Yamamoto Jōji’s song みちのくひとり旅 (Michinoku hitori tabi, Solo journey to Michinoku). A man longs for a dead lover and can only give up his love/reunite with the love in death.

I was also reminded of the song/movie “La Vida No Vale Nada,” a ranchero. I guess this is true in pop music as well (vague memories of some Ryan Adams song with the lyric “I’d die for you!”).

– I think that’s just about all I’ve got. Do you have any favorite enka songs? Share them in the comments here or on social media. I’ve got a list I’ve been keeping from karaoke sessions with coworkers. I’m not sure what if anything I’ll do with it, but it’s always nice to learn new songs you didn’t know about.

Cool Website – Yahoo Chiebukuro

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at Yahoo Chiebukuro: “Asking questions to the Japanese internet.”

Long-time readers will already be familiar with this site (I’ve mentioned it/linked to it a bunch of times before), but I think the article is still worth checking out. I found some fun new posts.

Yahoo Chiebukuro has become my go-to site whenever I have a question about Japanese language or culture. It may not always provide a perfect answer, but it’s generally worth a first look before deciding to dive deeper.

I recently filled in an eye on a Daruma a friend made for me, and I realized I didn’t know which eye to start with.

As you’d expect, there’s a page on Yahoo Chiebukuro for that. It’s a little rambling but seems to imply that there are many different ways to fill in Daruma eyes, depending on what kind of wish you’re making. Sometimes you even fill in both at the same time (to maintain a connection with someone, for example), although for general wishes you start with one eye and fill in the other when the wish has come true.

I wasn’t totally satisfied with the answer, so I did a little more searching and found ダルマの目はどちらから?(Daruma no me wa dochira kara? For Daruma’s eyes, which do you start with?), which seems to have most of the same information along with a history of Daruma and how they’re used. One funny line: Daruma are associated with Zen Buddhism but can be found at shrines and all types of Buddhist temples because, the author says, 日本人はそんな原理主義的な考え方をしません (Nihonjin wa sonna genrishugi-teki na kangaekata o shimasen, Japanese don’t really have that much of a fundamentalist way of thinking).

The author conveniently highlights the most important section in red:

どうも一般的には「最初は左、満願で右」、選挙では「最初は右、当選で左」が多いようです。間違いやすいのは、「右目」・「左目」というのがダルマにとってのことなので、「最初は向かって右、満願で向かって左」が憶えやすいと思います。

In general, “First left, right when it comes true” and for elections “First right, left when you’re elected” seems to be most common. It’s easy to mess up that it’s “right eye” and “left eye” from the Daruma’s point of view, so it’s easier to remember “First right as you face it, left as you face it when it comes true.”

And if you read to the bottom of the article, you’ll see another interesting point: It seems some political campaigns have stopped using Daruma after disability groups complained that filling in Daruma eyes after a victory discriminates against those with vision impairments by suggesting having two eyes is superior.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t round up all the times I linked to Yahoo Chiebukuro. Give these a skim—I’ve listed them with date and the topic of the Chiebukuro post:

2009.10.14 – Causative form of 見せる・見る (two posts)
2011.08.01 – Why Japanese uses ホワイト instead of ワイト
2012.01.11 – Origin and usage of お陰様
2015.01.05 – Usage of 借りができた
2015.03.02 – Difference between 愛し and 愛おしい and meaning of いとし
2015.05.12 – Pronunciation of 場合
2016.03.10 – Difference between 振られる and 捨てられる
2016.04.25 – How to write ケツ in kanji
2016.06.23 – Correct phrasing for the tongue twister about monks painting screens
2016.11.24 – How do you write ワイセツ in kanji?
2016.12.15 – Etymology of 邪魔 and ご無沙汰
2017.01.04 – Are 年男 and 年女 lucky?