Cool Resource – Well Said

The Japan Times has a bilingual page every Tuesday. (I think it’s Wednesday if you live in Tohoku or somewhere equally distant from the urban hubs.)

It’s a collection of language learning resources – cartoon idioms (which I wish they would provide the kanji for), a couple articles in both Japanese and English, and “Well Said,” a fantastic little column that helps build speaking skills.

They focus on one small pattern and provide several example dialogues. The running theme is “sounding natural in Japanese” – the hardest thing to do. Definitely worth checking out. Plus, you get the Tuesday crossword puzzle, which is just about the hardest puzzle I can ever complete.


With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small large piece pieces of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2.

On April 1, 1978, Murakami went to a baseball game. When he got home, he had a brand new fountain pen and fresh paper. He started writing.

For Murakami freaks the story is well known. At the game he saw Dave Hilton hit a double and had a sudden thought, I can write a novel. He wrote out Hear the Wind Sing over the next few months, submitted it to Gunzō, and the rest is history.

Murakami has recounted the tale himself several times, so I thought this week I’d show you three different versions, two of which I’ve translated.

The first comes from Walk, Don’t Run – Ryū versus Haruki (ウォーク・ドント・ラン 村上龍VS村上春樹), a lengthy transcript of two conversations between Haruki and Ryū Murakami.

The first conversation took place on July 29, 1980.

It had been over a year since Hear the Wind Sing. In that time he wrote Pinball 1973 and a “medium-length” novel called Machi to sono futashika na kabe (街とその不確かな壁, The Town and Its Uncertain Wall), which he later incorporated in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Here’s the part where Haruki describes the moment:

Haruki: Back then all sorts of people were agitated, right? Even the novelists were pretty agitated. If you asked them at that time, they were all really comfortable with that. But when it [the era] ended, there was nothing left. Right around 1970. I had an intense feeling that words had no meaning. I really did want to write something when I was in my twenties. Just scripts for movies, you know. But I just felt that a bunch of words, they’ve got no meaning. And so I couldn’t write anything for ten years. Ten years passed. I thought, Alright now, I should be able to write something, and I wrote it. I hardly wrote anything at all until I was 29, and this might be an exaggeration, but I felt like the reason I was able to write it was something like God’s grace. I feel like it would be terrible to waste that. I felt like I seriously couldn’t do anything, and then I turned 29 and all of a sudden…it was right when I was watching a Yakult [Swallows] game at Jingū Stadium. It was Opening Day of the season they won the championship, and Hilton hit a double to left-center his first at bat. Yasuda threw a complete game, giving up one homerun to Garrett. I saw that and thought, “Okay.” Dunno why, but I thought I’d write a novel. (laughs) I went straight to Shinjuku, bought a 5000-yen fountain pen at Kinokuniya, and when I started writing, I was able to write.
Ryū: And that was Hear the Wind Sing?
Haruki: Exactly. Matsuoka shut out [the] Chunichi [Dragons], and I finished writing right around when they won the championship. I brought it to the post office right in front of Jingū Stadium and submitted it [for the Gunzō Prize]. So before that, there was absolutely no necessity to write. Even if you don’t put that along the lines of receiving something from above, I do feel like the act of writing is itself something like that. (14-15)

I knew that he felt a sense of fate in that moment, but it surprised me to see him use the word God (神). I also hadn’t realized that he basically wrote through the baseball season.

Murakami described the moment again ten years later in supplementary commentary to the Complete Works 1979~1989.

Each of the eight volumes to the complete works contained a small pamphlet with the series title 自作を語る (じさくをかたる) – telling the stories of my works.

In the pamphlet included with the first volume he told the story again:

    The reason I started to write this novel is actually pretty easy to explain. All of a sudden I wanted to write something. That’s it. Honestly, I wanted to write on a whim. And so I went to the Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and bought a fountain pen and paper. Then I sat down at my desk. All of my time had gone into my work ever since I graduated from university, so other than taxes and the occasional letter, I had barely written even a single word. I’m not just saying that to sound cool. It’s actually true.
For a long time I had always felt like I wanted to make writing, although not necessarily being an author, my job. However, in university I tried writing scripts (I was in the Cinema and Theater department) but could never write them very well, so I thought, “I guess I don’t have that kind of ability.” Not that it was ever serious enough to make me lay down the pen forever; I just thought, If that’s the way things are, that’s okay, and gave up. After that I just kind of went on with the way life took me. Work was going relatively well, and I was too busy to do much else. So much so that I didn’t even realize that I didn’t own a fountain pen.
But one early afternoon when I was 29, I was laying out in the grassy outfield embankment section of Jingū Stadium (they still didn’t have seats back then), and I had a thought: whether or not I have talent or ability, I just want to write something for myself. There wasn’t any of the eagerness that I felt whenever I wanted to write something long ago. I was relieved even just to set the cheap pen and pad I’d just bought on my desk.
1978 was the year the Yakult Swallows won the championship. I started writing in the spring and finished right around the time they finally won. I was living nearby Jingū Stadium, so I went to see a lot of games. Yakult won its first championship in its 29th year in the league, and I, too, was 29. Of course Matsuoka and Wakamatsu were great. But that season guys like Funada, Ise and Hilton, guys past their prime, or maybe you could call them athletes who weren’t quite all-stars in the first place, were solid role players. I remember sitting at my desk and thinking, Everyone is trying hard, I’ve gotta try hard, too. Every day I worked late, and then all through the night I’d drink beer and write at the kitchen table. Every day I wrote a little more, cutting off enough to make me think, “That’s enough for today.” I think that’s the reason the chapters are so fragmentary. (II – III)

Pretty much the same story except he had the time to stylize it as it wasn’t part of an impromptu conversation. Note for now that he called the pen (and pad of paper) “cheap” but in 1980 mentioned that he spent 5000 yen on it, which even at the time was $20. He also left out Dave Hilton’s hit.

The final story comes from Philip Gabriel’s translation of Murakami’s 2007 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

This comes 17 years since the Complete Works supplement and 27 years since Murakami’s conversation with Ryū Murakami:

    I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first thought I could write a novel. It was around one thirty in the afternoon of April 1, 1978. I was at Jingū Stadium that day, alone in the outfield drinking beer and watching the game. Jingū Stadium was within walking distance of my apartment at the time, and I was a fairly big Yakult Swallows fan. It was a perfectly beautiful spring day, not a cloud in the sky, with a warm breeze blowing. There weren’t any benches in the outfield seating back then, just a grassy slope. I was lying on the grass, sipping cold beer, gazing up occasionally at the sky, and leisurely enjoying the game. As usual for the Swallows, the stadium wasn’t very crowded. It was the season opener, and they were taking on the Hiroshima Carp. I remember that Yasuda was pitching for the Swallows. He was a short, stocky sort of pitcher with a wicked curve. He easily retired the side in the top of the first inning, and in the bottom of the inning the leadoff batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left field line. The crack of the bat meeting ball right on the sweet spot echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at that exact moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel. I still can remember the wide open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat. Something flew down from the sky at that instant, and whatever it was, I accepted it.
I never had any ambitions to be a novelist. I just had this strong desire to write a novel. No concrete image of what I wanted to write about, just the conviction that if I wrote it now I could come up with something that I’d find convincing. When I thought about sitting down at my desk at home and setting out to write I realized I didn’t even own a decent fountain pen. So I went to the Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku and bought a sheaf of manuscript paper and a five-dollar Sailor fountain pen. A small investment on my part.
This was the spring of 1978, and by fall I’d finished a two-hundred-page work handwritten on Japanese manuscript paper. (27-28)

Again, the same story for the most part. The pen is even cheaper now. The location of Hilton’s hit is also different – left center vs. left field line. Besides small changes in the details, Murakami decided not to include his disenchantment with literature left over from the late-60s in the later two. My guess is that came up because he was talking with Ryū Murakami, kind of reminiscing about the era.

His main emphasis, clearly, is that external will he felt. He wasn’t even eager or excited to write. He was just relieved. Something in Dave Hilton’s hit, maybe the sound of it, knocked on Murakami’s subconscious and woke him up, called him to write a novel. Or so he says.

This page has a picture of Jingū Stadium as well as Murakami’s jazz bar, Peter Cat, his apartment, and a ramen shop he went to in Sendagaya, the area around the stadium.

So I guess this requires some Japanese study material, too, eh? Here are the baseball terms Murakami used:

優勝する (ゆうしょうする) – win a championship
野球 (やきゅう) – baseball
試合 (しあい) – game
開幕試合 (かいまくしあい) – Opening Day game
第一打席 (だいいちだせき) –  first at bat
左中間 (さちゅうかん) – left-center field
二塁打 (にるいだ) – a double
完投する (かんとうする) – throw a complete game
ホームラン – homerun
完封する (かんぷうする) – throw a shutout / shutout a team
外野席 (がいやせき) – outfield seats
球場 (きゅうじょう) – baseball stadium

Take it (for me)


I steadfastly refused to believe that phrase existed for a long time. I’m not sure why. I think there was a barrier somewhere in my head blocking the logic connection. Getting used to it helped remove that barrier, and now I’m cool.

取る (とる) is often used with “take” verb patterns. Take vacation, take time, etc. So I think that prevented me from realizing that while it does mean take something (in this case, whatever object you are pointing at / put before it with を), but it also means “and give it to me.” Altogether it means “pass.” It’s one of those patterns you learn your first year in class, but for some reason I never got used to it until now. Maybe it has something to do with sharing a small apartment between a large number of people – it’s easier to pass things than to forever shuffle around すみませんing.

With friends you can say the casual 〜を取って, but make sure to add the ください at the office or with people significantly older than you.

I logged this entry under passive. Get it?

Cool Compound – 波動拳

At work I came across the cool compound 必殺技 (ひっさつぎ) – special move / super move. Apparently it’s often used in video games. I sent it to a coworker and he sent me back this:


At first I had no clue what it meant, but after looking at it for a few seconds I figured out the meaning and then the pronunciation. Have you figured it out yet? Here’s a hint:


Yup, it’s the hadouken from the Street Fighter series. In Japanese literally wave-motion-fist. My first reaction was, damn, everyone’s pronunciation is way off in America. It’s not “ha-doo-ken” it’s “ha-doh-ken.” The shoryuken pronunciation back home, on the other hand, is a lot closer. The kanji for that, which I’m sure a lot of you already know, are 昇竜拳 – rising-dragon-fist.

There’s another compound for the hurricane kick thing, but it’s a pain in the ass to write out, so you can look it up on Wikipedia here.

The Wind

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1.

Well, if we’re going to be looking at Murakami, we might as well start at the beginning – the first page of his first novel. Technically it’s been published, but not in the States, so it still counts. I’ve read Birnbaum’s version, and the first line has always been kind of seared into my brain, so you’ll have to forgive me if mine is similar. Something just doesn’t sound right with “Perfect writing doesn’t exist.” I’ve taken this first page from Murakami’s Complete Works 1979~1989.

Listen to the Wind Sing


    “There’s no such thing as perfect writing. Just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”
    When I was in university, a writer I met kind of randomly said that to me. It wasn’t until long afterwards that I finally understood the true meaning of those words, but it was still possible for me to take some small bit of comfort in them. In the fact that there’s no such thing as perfect writing.
    Nevertheless, whenever I got to the point where I was about to write something, I was always attacked by a sense of despair. That’s because the scope of things that I am able to write about is too limited. For example, even if I could write something about an elephant, I might not be able to write anything at all about an elephant keeper. Something like that.
    For eight years I’ve wrestled with that dilemma – eight years. That’s a long period of time.
    Of course, as long as you keep trying to learn from everything around you, getting older isn’t too hard. That’s the commonly held belief.
    I’ve tried my best to live that way ever since around the time I entered my twenties. And thanks to that, I’ve been deeply hurt, deceived, and misunderstood countless times by other people, and at the same time I’ve had many strange experiences. Lots of different people have run in to me and told me their stories, passing over me almost as though they were making noise crossing a bridge, and they’ve never come back. That whole time I kept my mouth tightly closed and didn’t tell them anything. That’s how I welcomed in the final year of my twenties.   

It’s impressive how representative this one page is of Murakami’s writing. There’s an elephant in there, a sense of sadness but also curiosity in the strangeness of life, and a hint at the importance of being a listener or a storyteller.

Elephant is, of course, 像 (ぞう), and elephant keeper is 像使い (ぞうつかい). Interesting when you think of 魔法使い (まほうつかい) – magician.


How to 祭り


I spent the long weekend up in Nishiaizu taking part in the 野沢祭礼 – Nozawa Festival of Thanks, I guess. (As one elementary school teacher put it, “Thanks everyone very, very much.”) One of the new JETs asked what the name of the festival was, and no one seemed to know, but they collectively decided on 野沢祭礼, Nozawa being the area of town. It’s got something to do with the approaching fall harvest. One last festival before winter begins to tighten its grip.

We carried a mikoshi, which is a kind of portable shrine, I think. Most of the ones in town have a barrel of nihonshu on them. Unsure if they are full. They sure feel full.

Here’s the vocab you need to know:

担ぐ – かつぐ – to carry (a mikoshi)

わしょい! – the chant when moving forward with the mikoshi, kind of like a “heave ho” type noise

もめ! – imperative form of もむ, which means to toss about/up and down, used when rapidly lifting/throwing the mikoshi up and down (you can see this action in the beginning of the How to Japanese videos)

御台 – おんだい – not sure about the kanji, but the ondai are the two wooden supporters that hold up the mikoshi when everyone takes a break

Right on the effin shoulder.

How to Pasokon

Another quick Friday post. I found this link detailing how to access macrons in OSX. Pretty useful for writing things like “Chūō.”

OSX also makes it incredibly easy to input Japanese. Just go to the International menu under Preferences, select the Input Menu tab, and check Kotoeri. You’ll see a US flag up near your clock now. Click on it, and you’ll have the option to switch into Japanese input.

Here’s a list of shortcuts:

Once you are in the Japanese input:

Shift + Ctrl + J switches into hiragana input.

Shift + Ctrl + K switches into katakana input.

Shift + Ctrl + ; switches into romaji input.

Apple Command + Spacebar will toggle back and forth between the two most recently used inputs.

Note: All that was for Tiger. Anyone know if anything changed in Leopard?


With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement.


Murakami (Do I even need to tell you which one?) lived in Europe for three years between 1986 and 1989. In addition to novels and short stories, he also wrote a lengthy set of travel writings called Tōi taiko (遠い太鼓, A Distant Drum).

During his travels he spent some time on a small Greek island, and the tourists there often sunbathed nude. Apparently only the local Greek men (he calls them "Zorba Greeks") went to the trouble of checking out the boobs. This resulted in a three-page discussion of nude sunbathing and the following moment of complete linguistic genius:


(I was going to write the page number at the end of that line, but when I realized it was page 69, I thought I’d better explain what I was doing.)

The Japanese is so economical that translating it won’t be as great, but here it goes:

If it’s a person’s prerogative to reveal her boobs, then it’s also a person’s prerogative to look at revealed boobs

That kind of expresses what’s going on with the verb. 出す literally means “take out,” but I translated it as “reveal” in order to maintain the verb tenses and still have the sentence sound okay, although, now that I think about it, “taken-out boobs” is a pretty funny phrase.

The major difference between the English and the Japanese is that no people are explicitly involved in the Japanese sentence; all of the subjects are implied, and he uses the loaded word 勝手 (かって). "Prerogative" feels a little complicated, but I guess it does the job. 勝手 is often used as an adverb (勝手に〜) to mean "do ~ however I want" or "do ~ even though I’m thinking only of myself and not the Japanese collective spirit." One word that pops up in the dictionary is "arbitrary." So does "one’s own way" and "selfishness."

So yes, long story short, if you reveal your boobs, do not be surprised when people look at them.



I was fortunate to find a yoga teacher in the neighborhood where I live. She gives lessons out of an apartment just a five-minute walk from where I live – talk about convenient. Most of her students are older women, so the lessons aren’t that intense, but she does try and challenge us. Mostly it’s nice to sit and just focus for 90 minutes and also to meet some people in the neighborhood.

Like most instructors she does some of the pseudo-spiritual talk associated with yoga – prana, chakras, etc. Personally, I do believe in the power of the breath and breath control, but mostly as method of physical and mental fitness.

The best part of the lesson is corpse pose at the end. Just that total sense of relaxation, letting the body go into complete rest and having the brain focus on the breath. The teacher guides us into a nice meditative state by telling us to focus on different parts of the body starting with the toes and moving up the leg, the abdominal area, the chest and then the hands and arms. For some reason it’s super relaxing to lie completely still and move your concentration from body part to body part.

It’s also a useful vocabulary building exercise. I learned all the names for fingers and toes, so I thought I’d share them here:

親指(おやゆび)               thumb/big toe   
人差し指(ひとさしゆび)    index finger
中指(なかゆび)               middle finger
薬指(くすりゆび)            ring finger
小指(こゆび)                  pinky finger/little toe

Unlike English, those names are exactly the same for both fingers and toes, so there’s no difference between “big toe” and “thumb,” basically. Do the other toes even have names in English?

The most interestingly named finger is 薬指 – medicine finger. Wikipedia says this is because long ago, when medicines were all powdered, people used the ring finger to mix and apply different medicines. Apparently it also gets called 紅差し指 (because it is used to apply makeup?), 無名指 (finger with no name), 薬師指 (I guess the whole ‘mixing finger’ thing was institutionalized), and お姉さん指 (because girls don’t have wedding bands yet?).

TGIF, I guess

Sorry, everyone. I need a Friday.

TGIF doesn’t really exist in Japan, but I think the closest phrase is 「やっと金曜日なんだ!」 with the appropriate emphasis applied. I tried to teach TGIF to JHS kids for years but never got them to memorize it until I said that phrase somewhat dramatically…to the dismay of the Japanese teacher I was working with.