Ret’s Rink – Mixi, Free Rent, King’s Quest, Murakami

Time for another round-up of what I’ve been writing for Japan Pulse.

Mixi helps users socialize with new apps

It took Facebook a while to break into Japan, but when it did, Mixi was slow to react. It looks like they are starting to get the idea. Every time I log in (which has been somewhat infrequent), I see new features and designs. The good news is that it hasn’t changed too much – it’s still a great place to interact with real, live Nihonjin. I put up messages on a couple New Orleans communities and got a reply from a Japanese couple that will be moving from France to New Orleans in July. My brain thirsts for 会話.

Pulse Rate: ‘Free rent’ pricing aims to fill up empty apartments

When I moved back home, I was worried it would be tough to find material for Pulse. I shouldn’t have worried – if you give to the Internet, it will give back to you. I keep the Google Keywords feed in my RSS reader and try to take a look at them every now and then. I’m convinced that TV plays a huge part in driving the ebb and flow of keyword searches (and also trends in Japan), but this was the first time I was able to prove it. I found a website describing how the term “free rent” appeared on Gacchiri Academy. Several hours later, it was at the top of the keyword search. I was able to find the official site, which has the segment almost line by line, and figure out what the deal was. Perhaps the inflexibility with rent pricing will eventually lead to the abolishment of all key money. I’m sure everyone would appreciate that.

Big (Only) in Japan? ‘Greensleeves’

King’s Quest! I played this back in the day on my dad’s Amiga…or maybe it was the Commodore? I can’t remember. I do remember being frustrated by the game. My dad copied it from a friend, so we didn’t have any of the manuals or anything – I had no idea what to do. My brothers and I just walked the character around, pulling carrots out of the ground, leading the goat around and falling into wells. I also remember the music – Greensleeves is the name of the tune. It was a surprise to encounter it so often in Japan.

This post was a little weak to be honest – it was fun to highlight the phenomenon (which, surprisingly, no one on the blogosphere has done yet), but I wish I could have dug a little deeper and figured out exactly WHY Greensleeves gets used as hold music. There must be someone who knows.

Who will feed the Haruki Murakami fans online?

Man, someone at Random House needs to be fired. Who decided that their author websites need embedded music? First of all, check out Murakami’s official English site. Yeah, the music is kind of spooky and cool…for the first five minutes or so. In the words of Mitch Hedberg, it’s like pancakes – all exciting at first, but by the end you’re fuckin’ sick of ‘em. At least Cormac McCarthy’s site doesn’t autoload the music. But, yeah, it also has music. It’s easy to excuse these guys for being born outside of the Internet generation, but come on! Their editors or publishers clearly haven’t thought this through. Maybe the editors and publishers are all old dudes, too? Oh well. William Gibson gets it. Steven Hall (granted he’s young) gets it. Their blogs take a hit when they are writing, but it’s awesome to read their posts when they do write them. Gibson had a stretch earlier this year just after he finished his latest novel where he answered a ton of reader questions about the way he writes. Very interesting stuff. The lesson is this – learn how to own your identity on the Internet. You don’t have to be a Zuckerbergian and tweet what you had for breakfast, but you should know how you’re being represented

So, yeah, hire me to do the News section on the Murakami site? I know I could do better than what they currently have. The release of 1Q84 in Japanese deserved a mention as did all the announcements about the translation release schedule and whatnot. Random House is asleep at the wheel. Inexcusable.

I’m curious to know exactly how much Murakami has to do with the Japanese 1Q84 site. Some of the posts are focused only on the people in the publishing section. Strange that Murakami would be so controlling about keeping plot details under wraps and then let other folks post freely on the official site for his book.

This user-submitted illustration of the Little People walking into someone’s mouth was my favorite. Too bad that wasn’t the reason he called the book 1Q84.

Collabo-Ramen – Bassanova

Saying my goodbyes in Japan was tough, but being able to go out and celebrate with friends (along with the hope that I’ll be back there in the not too distant future) made it a lot easier. For one of the many finales, I went out for ramen with Brian. We checked out Bassanova, where Keizo Shimamoto, author over at Go Ramen!, works. They are well known for their Green Curry Soba, which is creamy and spicy – ramen perfection. I also appreciate that they serve it in reserved sizes – it would be easy to gorge on a massive bowl, but the size keeps people coming back for more (and prevents them from becoming total fatties). Check out Brian’s photos here. Here is the last episode of Collabo-Ramen for a while:

Collabo-Ramen – Bassanova from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

号外 – Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale

Style: Imperial Red Ale
ABV: 7.5%
Grade: A-

Poured this into my Yebisu Japanese-size beer glasses. They are designed so that when drinking with friends or coworkers you will have plenty of opportunities to pour for them. Japanese drinking parties always begin and end very orderly, but the in between is a chaos of changing seats as people walk around with beer bottles, looking to pour for people as a sign of respect. The glasses also work perfectly as sippers for stronger beers.

This beer is a nice amber color, and there is a lot of caramel malt in the nose, which overpowers the hops. The hops are definitely present in the beer, though – the bittering hops at the beginning of the taste rather than the aroma hops. The malt flavors are a rollercoaster. Very nice beer. Similar to the Stone 13th Anniversary beer, but I prefer the Lagunitas Imperial Red because it’s not as sweet as the Stone – it was almost nauseatingly malty when I had it on tap at Craftheads in Shibuya. (Actually, that was the beer that ended the “Stone Winter Storm” for me – I switched to the Fujizakura Rauch for the rest of the evening.) The Stone is 9.5%, which I think is a bit excessive. Yes, I realize it’s an “Imperial” beer, but I think 7 or 8% is plenty to get that point across.

I believe this was my first Lagunitas beer. Looking forward to more in the future, and at least one in the near future.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout

Underrated Phrase – そうですね

I have to thank my senior year Japanese teacher for this one. I can’t remember exactly what lesson she was teaching when she mentioned this phenomenon (perhaps it was job-hunting related since several of us were going to graduate soon), but I remember being very surprised at the way そうですね is used to respond to questions – even questions that don’t have a definitely yes or no answer. She said that whenever you are asked a question, the first thing out of your mouth should almost always be そうですね, with a slightly extended そう and ね, to imply that you are in deep thought and considering the question. It’s just the way they do things in Japan, so get used to it and start using it to your advantage. I love using it as a moment to gather my thoughts before I give an answer in Japanese. You can read more in the article I wrote for the Japan Times Bilingual Page earlier this week.

Regular readers may recognize 〜なんですが、 as a very basic エアバッグ表現, one of the most helpful ideas I ever learned in class. This そうですね thing may be the second most helpful.

号外 – Bell’s Hopslam Ale

Style: American Double/Imperial IPA
ABV: 10.0%
Grade: A+

Pours a brilliant golden color, much lighter than a lot of IPAs and even a lot of pale ales these days, notably the Three Floyds Pale Ale I reviewed previously. Not an overpowerful hop nose, but still there – understated just like the color. The bottle notes that it’s brewed with honey, and I think I can make out the flavor just slightly but not the aroma; the hops sort of make the honey addition a wash, so I’m not quite sure why they added it. It’d be really neat if they had a version with and without honey – that would be a great taste test. The bitterness has a great build and then crests nicely into the finish. Solid beer.

And wow, I just realized it’s 10% ABV, making it an Imperial IPA, something that is not readily apparent from the bottle alone – there’s actually no style listed. It disguises the alcohol very well and is surprisingly dry and crisp for an Imperial. I’ve definitely become somewhat curmudgeonly in my opinion of strong, sweet beers, but this one takes the category to a different level and makes it apparent why they used honey – to bump up the ABV without adding too much heaviness to the beer. I was leaning toward A- before I knew that this was an Imperial beer, but now it definitely gets the A+.

The only worrisome fact is that honey beers leave wicked hangovers. This is one to be careful with.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout

Project Management Lingo – 改行

Translation isn’t only about content: often presentation is just as important. One of the most important aspects of presentation is 改行 (かいぎょう) – line breaks. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that a lot of Japanese content comes formatted with line breaks after every sentence. This formatting is especially prevalent in Powerpoint presentations.

You should always format the paragraph yourself when translating or editing a translation.
Otherwise you’ll end up with text that is shaped very strangely.
This is an exaggeration, of course.
But in Japanese, this doesn’t look as strange.
Part of it is because Japanese sentences are so long.
And the other part is that it’s much more standard to add line breaks manually in Japanese.
Check out an email from a Japanese person.
I think most Japanese people rarely make it to the end of a line without a manual line break.
Do your best to format the text into coherent paragraphs.
Often the Japanese will have an extra line break between sections, which should give you a hint at appropriate paragraphing.

The other important aspect of line breaking has less to do with presentation and more to do with programming. Because video game text has to fit on a screen, generally there is a cap on the number of characters per line: a “character limit” – 文字制限 (もじせいげん). I don’t know much about the specifics of how this works, to be honest, other than that translators and project managers have to abide by the character limits provided by game companies. Some companies have automatic solutions, but others still input the line breaks manually.

Japanese fonts are all monospaced (each character occupies a uniform amount of space), so it’s relatively easy to break the lines. English fonts are not, at least not always. Certain fonts are monospaced, the classic example being Courier. With a monospaced font, you can set a rubric for yourself at the top of a document. Say that the limit is 32 characters. Type out “abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz” – that gives you 26 characters, and you can add numbers to fill it out: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz123456. 32 characters. In the words of Emeril, BAM. Remember that this just gives you a rough estimate. You should be counting the characters as you go. (And, no, a character limit is not a good excuse for a poor translation.)

Depending on which version of Microsoft Excel you have, you can also use macros to count the number of characters. I’m not very good with coding and the macro I was taught at work doesn’t appear to work on Open Office nor on Office Mac 2008 (my current platforms), so I won’t pass it on for fear of passing out poor info. Anyone know any cool macros to count characters?

Cool Compound – 未明

Still trying to get my feet under me back home. I’m not jetlagged anymore, but I’m still in the process of getting organized, so just a small cool compound this week.

This post, “Reading Strategies – Skimming and Kanji Compounds,” on how to break down different kanji compounds is probably one of the most important that I’ve written. Study Japanese long enough and eventually you make it to the point where kanji compounds don’t even look like two characters – they parse like a single word when you read them. But inevitably you’ll come across ones that you can’t remember or don’t recognize. In those cases knowing how the characters work together is invaluable.

One of the prefixes which I did not include in the prefix/suffix category is 未. It implies incompletion. You see compounds like 未払い (みばらい, unpaid), 未婚 (みこん, unmarried), etc. While reading 1Q84 I came across this compound 未明 (みめい), which I hadn’t seen before but figured out from context and the characters. 明 means dawn or to dawn, and when prefixed with 未  it takes on pre-dawn or early dawn connotations – I guess when it’s light out but the sun has not risen yet. Pretty cool. This Google Images image best expresses the idea.

号外 – Three Floyds Alpha King

At some point last year a friend sent me the link to 365 Days…365 Beers, a beer blog run by Drew, a guy who drinks great beer, takes great photos, and makes great websites. (And has a great mustache.) I sent him a bunch of beer from Japan to taste, and in exchange he sent me some bottles from his collection. They’ve been sitting in my refrigerator since April, awaiting my repatriation. I got in on Monday and promptly cracked one open. I’ll be reviewing them once a week over the next month.

Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.00%
Grade: B+

I spent this past weekend drinking almost exclusively Harpoon IPA, so I hope my pallete isn’t too skewed. Here goes nothing…

Of all the beers Drew sent, I was most excited to try this one. Three Floyds is notoriously hard to get a hold of and generally gets great reviews. It’s expensive in Japan and occasionally available at Craftheads and Sal’s, bottled and on tap. It’s completely unavailable in New Orleans and most of the U.S. outside of Indiana. I had the Gumballhead American pale wheat beer and Dreadnaught IPA at Sal’s on tap as well as a bottle of Popskull Imperial Brown Ale (a Dogfish Head collaboration) from a bottle at Craftheads. Dreadnaught was good, Popskull was great, and Gumballhead was superlative. I was excited to see the Three Floyds take on pale ale.

Poured the 12 oz bottle into my Dry Dock glass. The aroma is heavy on caramel, and it’s obvious from the copper color that this pushes the limits of the pale ale category toward amber. The hops are well-balanced and not overstated at all; I’m not getting much in terms of aroma (maybe it’s been toned down in the aging process), but there is a pleasant lingering bitterness – definitely worthy of “Alpha King” status. (Alpha acids are the acids in hops that create the bitterness we, or at least I, love.) The malt presence is very heavy. It wouldn’t have surprised me if this beer was called “Arrogant Bastard Lite,” although it tastes much drier than a Stone beer.

I gave this beer a B+ and consider it just as good as the Dreadnaught. I would like to try them again side by side – I don’t have any distinct memories of the Dreadnaught other than that it was good but not great.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout