Game Lingo – タイミングよく

I have a column in The Japan Times today, “Take your taimingu when translating loan words.” The general idea and many of the examples should be familiar to long time readers, but I use a new example as my main piece of evidence: the video game term タイミングよく.

Here’s the build-up:

Japan has a long history of commandeering words from other languages and making them its own. Kobo Daishi, one of Japan’s first exchange students, allegedly brought back thousands of kanji from China in the eighth century. Words from Portugal and Holland arrived through Nagasaki roughly 1,000 years later. More recently, Japanese has borrowed from English and other languages, and hence there are now legions of words that require thought before you can convert them back into their source language.

Go buy a copy or check it out online.

号外 – Witch Girls

New post over on Japan Pulse about the “Witch Girl” phenomenon that briefly jumped up into the top of the keyword searches on Google and goo this past Thursday. I have to give props to my editor Mark who pointed out the phenomenon to me. When I sat down to write the post on Thursday night, I watched one of the Mixi groups double in size over the course of an hour. Buzzter, a Japanese Twitter amalgamator site, clearly shows the extent of the buzz on Thursday:

The Twitter-verse seemed nonplussed. I screen-grabbed a couple of the funniest tweets I could find:

Witch Girls hahahahaha Mountain Girls hahahahaha Swamp Girls hahahahaha

I pretty much understood Forest Girls, but what the heck are Witch Girls?! Ha, what?!

So Witch Girls come after Forest Girls? It's like the next new single, right? But who would want to be called a Witch Girl?

What the hell are Witch Girls? hahaha First time I've heard it hahahaha Girl witches are cute tho.

Unbreakable Rules – Never 様 Yourself

Quick, what’s the first thing you hear when you go into a restaurant in Japan?


I was taught to always respond with 一人, 二人, 三人, etc. My sensei told us to never say 一名様, 二名様, 三名様, etc., but she never told us why. I only learned why a few years back when I went to the Shibuya TGI Fridays with my friend Yoichi.

When greeted with the question above, Yoichi answered, 二名. Awesome, I thought, Yoichi’s badass enough to answer with the stuff the sensei told us not to use! Then I realized he had dropped the 様. なるほど. 様 is what makes the phrase honorific-polite and therefore strange if you use it on yourself – you’re only supposed to honor others higher than yourself. Get rid of the 様, however, and 一名, 二名, 三名, etc. becomes just another way to count people.

Which leads to the unbreakable rule: Never 様 yourself.

That is unless you have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!

Yokohama 開港 Great Beer Pub Crawl

I was totally overwhelmed by Yokohama the first time I visited. I was writing for a travel guide and had just spent three days reviewing Kamakura, a more manageable city in terms of transportation options, sites, and accommodation. When I got to Yokohama Station, the sheer number of train lines, hotels, department stores, and restaurants was a total shock – I had no idea what to cover and what to ignore, no ability to distinguish between the signal and the noise. At one point I walked out of the west side of the station and there was a homeless guy standing just under an awning, pissing freely out into the falling rain.

So let’s just say that Yokohama has been an acquired taste.

I’ve done most of the acquiring since I moved to Tokyo in 2008. When I discovered that Yokohama Station was only 15 minutes away by train (I miraculously live exactly halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama), I quickly opened Chuwy’s boozelist and found that Cheers and Thrash Zone were close by and that Thrash was serving Arrogant Bastard on tap. Since then the Yokohama Station scene has grown on me. I’ve always thought that the people in Yokohama Station have a slightly different demeanor and atmosphere than people in other places in Greater Kanto, and I think I’ve finally realized why: Yokohama Station is an enormous transportation hub on the same scale as Tokyo Station, but there aren’t as many tourists (both foreign and domestic). It’s a mass confusion of people, but almost everyone knows where they’re going – There is purpose in Yokohama.

I also love that you can prefix anything with 開港 and instantly evoke a Yokohama theme.

I’ve wanted to check out the rest of the Yokohama great beer scene for a while now, but I only got around to it this past weekend. I went to three new bars and two old ones and produced the following video:

Yokohama 開港 Great Beer Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Craft Beer Bar

Of the three new bars I went to for this crawl, Craft Beer was easily my favorite. The bar is down a narrow side street just a few blocks from Kannai Station. There are about 10 counter seats and two tables. It’s a small place, but extremely stylish: lots of dark hardwood around the bar, a stack of shibori in the bathroom instead of hand towels, and the super-thin Kimura “usu-hari” glassware makes it feel like you are drinking a pint of beer out of thin air. The guy who runs the place dresses formally, which adds to the atmosphere, and pours a very generous pint – if you’re looking for foam, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

This was also my first realization that there is a significant difference between Tokyo and Yokohama pricing. All pints at Craft Beer are 1000 yen, and glasses are 700 yen. I ordered a Swan Lake Belgian IPA, which I believe cost me over 1200 yen at the Bulldog last month.

All of the beer is from local Japanese craftbeer companies, and in addition to the 10 Japanese beers on tap, two of which are hand pumps, there is a ridiculous selection of scotch.

Final Answer: A very friendly little bar with lots of regular customers. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy some ji-biiru.

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Full Monty

Less than a block from Yokohama Stadium is Full Monty, a British-style pub with much more space than Craft Beer and more options on the food menu. There are couches, counters, and tables for seating, and the menu is filled with tasty food like fish and chips, steak and chips, meat pie and chips, spam egg sausage spam bacon and chips, etc. I only ordered a basket of chips myself – which was 500 yen yet generously filled with piping hot crinkly-cut chips – but the fish and chips looked seriously tasty as did the meat pie. I think my next venture to Yokohama will be dinner at Full Monty followed by beers at Craftbeer.

Full Monty has a half dozen beers with regulars like Guinness, Hobgoblin, Bass, and Super Dry, but there are also a few guest beers, which Saturday night were Rogue Yellow Snow IPA, Shakespeare Stout, and Fuller’s Jack Frost. The price point is very nice, as it was at Craftbeer. 1000 yen for an almost frighteningly large Imperial Pint of London Pride. Other regular beers were the same, with smaller sizes for 800 and 600 yen. Guest beers were slightly pricier, I believe, at 1000 yen for the medium size (which may be a US pint).

Final Answer: Great place to go with a group and definitely offers the best food of any of the beer bars in Yokohama.

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Pivovar may not feel like a bar at first, especially if there is a wedding reception taking place upstairs as there often is. Don’t be shy, though – go on in. The second floor is a large space for the restaurant Umaya no Shokutaku, which is also the name on the sign outside. The first floor is a very small bar with two counters. All the brewing equipment is viewable through the glass behind the bar.

Both of the times I have been to Pivovar there was a wedding second party taking place, so I can’t attest to the quality and cost of food, but the beer was excellent value. All of the beers are brewed on-site by Yokohama Brewing and served in three sizes – 950 yen for a giant 600+ mL mug, 700 yen for a smaller goblet, and 500 yen for a glass. Be a man, man – go for the big one.

They had a nice selection of beers including their pilsner, chocolate stout, chocolate stout rich (which they call スタリッチ), Dragon Splash India Pale Lager, Iron Claw IPA and more. All of the beers are the same price, which seems insane to me – it must cost so much more to make beers like the 9.5% ABV Scorpion Deathlock IPA (do you get the wrestling theme yet?).

Overall the ales run a little sweet, as do many Japanese ji-biiru, so go with a lager and don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t get me wrong. The stout was good, but not as the third of five on a night. Should’ve gone with the pilsner.

Final Answer: The best value for the serving size in Yokohama but a small space and slightly lower quality of beer overall. Not bad for a young brewery, though. Hopefully they’ll mature well.

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The first time I went to cheers I ordered the hummus, and the Israeli chef came out to congratulate me for making the correct choice. Unfortunately he no longer works there, but the hummus and baba ghanoush are both still on the menu. They also have a sausage plate for 850 yen – the cheapest I’ve seen in Japan, and the serving size isn’t bad either.

Due to time constraints, I took the train from Sakuragicho to Yokohama Station, from which Cheers is a quick walk. They have a reasonable amount of space – about a dozen counter seats and then tables sectioned off in different parts of the restaurant.

The beer selection is printed on a flashcard-style menu and can be a bit difficult to interpret, but they always have Belgians on tap rounded out with a ji-biiru or two. Of all the bars in Yokohama, this is the only one with Belgian beer on tap, so if you’re I went with the Shonan Weiss, which was good but a little sweet. I prefer my weissen drier and a bit more peppery.

By far the highlight of Cheers is it’s variety of events. They have anniversary parties, going away parties for staff, and more. Usually these events are 3000-5000 yen for all-you-can-drink. The third anniversary party was amazing – there were 12 beers total, and I have vague memories of passing around a 5L glass of Hoegaarden.

Final Answer: The nice variety of munchies alone makes this bar worth a visit, and generally there’s something interesting on tap. I just wish the menu was easier to read!

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Thrash Zone

Thrash Zone can be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. They maintain an impressive selection of only the hoppiest, most aggressive import and domestic craftbeers, and they sell them at very affordable prices. Relatively speaking, of course. Ballast Point’s acclaimed Sculpin IPA costs only 1100 yen, whereas in Tokyo it generally starts at 1200 yen. Many bars charge as much as 1500 yen.

All together there are 10 beers on tap, usually a murderer’s row of famous West Coast breweries like Green Flash, Ballast Point, Great Divide, and Stone in addition to the local interpretations on intense American styles.

Thrash Zone also has impressive events. They were the first bar in Japan to serve Bear Republic beers on tap, and to commemorate the occasion they gave away free pint glasses, provided snacks, and had a lottery for t-shirts, hats, and six-packs of Bear Republic beer. They regularly contract brew original recipes through Atsugi Beer. These are powerful concoctions, well deserving of names like “Simcoe, Bloody Simcoe” and “Hop Slave.”

As the name suggests, the theme of the bar is Heavy Metal, but the music is never too loud, and Katsuki-san is one of the nicest bartenders in the world. Don’t let his quiet and polite demeanor fool you, though – he is a hophead and metalhead at heart and has thrashed live on stage with some of the finest bands.

Final Answer: A great place to satisfy a hop craving, enjoy some wicked metal chops, and then return to the madness that is Yokohama Station.

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Collabo-Ramen – ひるがお

I went to the Yokohama Ramen Museum in the summer of 2003, and back then I didn’t know anything except that miso ramen was tasty as hell. I walked around the exhibits a bit, took a peek at the different restaurants that had set up shop in the museum, chose a Hokkaido shop that had miso ramen, and bought my ticket at the vending machine before sitting down at a table. When I looked down at the stub, it read 塩. My first reaction was Damn, that does not say miso. My second reaction was What the hell is that kanji? The staff answered my question with a はい、しおです and delivered my bowl just seconds later. I ate the ramen, but my heart wasn’t in it. I mean, salt ramen? What the hell is that? Ramen is already pretty salty, why would you want to make it even saltier?

Ever since then I’ve been biased against shio ramen. I never ordered it and never even bothered to figure out what the deal was. That is until last Friday, when Brian and I checked out ひるがお at Tokyo Ramen Street. Brian gave me the low down on what shio ramen is:

Collabo-Ramen ひるがお Hirugao from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

I think I am much better prepared to appreciate shio ramen now. Shio ramen isn’t necessarily saltier than shoyu ramen; it just uses salt rather than shoyu or miso to give the soup its punch. I still haven’t had a killer bowl of shio ramen, but hopefully I’ll be able to take a trip to Ganko in the relatively near future. Nate from Ramenate made their salt ramen sound extremely delicious. “Salt ramen topped with a layer of piping hot shrimp oil”? FUCK yeah.

Cool Compound – 相乗

Japanese companies love the concept of 相乗 (そうじょう) – different groups working together to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Toy divisions within a company making figurines of characters from the video games produced by a different division of the same company. Characters from one title making cameo appearances in another title. Collectible trading cards that appear in video games and anime television series.

This, my friends, is synergy, and basically it’s a way to draw consumers into loops of consumption that boost the company’s bottom line. In Japanese, synergy is 相乗 (そうじょう). I don’t have a feel for how often U.S. businesses use “synergy” in their consumer propaganda (advertising), but it is used quite frequently here. I first encountered 相乗 after I started working at my former company when I was checking the translation of some sort of annual report – year-end figures down, yada yada, still we have our best-selling series that always sell reliably, yada yada, if only we can get some synergy going, yada yada, repackage old content for a new platform or give it a couple new bells and whistles, ta da!

“Synergy” in English feels a little catch-phrasey to me, but I think 相乗 in translation should be kept simple; just find a way to translate it as “synergy” no matter how the Japanese is used and keep the English from sounding too weird. Never use weird forms like “synergistic” or “synergism.” This is probably one of those words you’ll only ever have to recognize: don’t plan on using 相乗 anytime soon.

While corporate synergy is nothing more than a catch phrase strategy to suck cash from bozos like us, Internet synergy is what makes the world go round. If you think about it, the Internet is nothing more that an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. There are big flashy patches of content out there, and things like Twitter, Facebook, and blogrolls are the little springs that whirl and tumble about helping make connections. Sometimes the links just sputter out like a decent one-liner tweet, but other times connections produce nice collaborations. It’s the Internet, stupid. And synergy is the way you play the game.

In addition to Collabo-Ramen, I’ve got a couple other mini-synergies in the works. The latest is Kotaku – they just syndicated my post on project management. Others coming soon.

Cool 方言 – よう知っとるな

As I’ve written before, I’m not a big believer in good pronunciation = fluency or excellent command of dialect = fluency, but I have come to realize that learning dialects gives you more variations to help reinforce your understanding of 標準語 patterns. And it’s also nice to know what people on TV are saying.

One of my favorites originates in Nagoya. My former roommate, Nagoya born and raised, used to say it all the time, often when I dropped some obscure Murakami fact that no one should ever know. (Murakami’s first use of the name “May Kasahara” wasn’t in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – it was in the 夜のくもざる series of super-shorts in the story “Eel”. Either that or the short story “The Twins and the Sunken Continent.” Can’t remember.)

よう知っとるな, when you convert it back into unslurred words, is よく知っておるな. And then further into 標準語, よく知っているね.

おる and おります are often used as humble keigo, and this article claims that it is also used to deprecate and insult (much like the phrase してやる rather than してあげる), but I think in this case it’s just dialect common in areas West of Tokyo. This phrase might actually be Kansai-ben. I always associate it with my roommate and assumed it was from Nagoya. Either way, a cool little phrase to bust out every now and then when somebody impresses with some wicked truth – “Damn yo, how you get so knowledgeable and shit?”