The State of 文芸誌

The newsletter is online, which means so is the podcast:

This month I wrote about the 文壇 (bundan, literary world), which is most easily accessible in monthly literary journals. These journals have somehow survived in print, unlike just about every literary journal in the U.S. which are now mostly small-run projects other than the New Yorker. I looked but can’t seem to find any statistics about publishing numbers for 文芸誌 (bungeishi, literary journals). The eye test does suggest that if these magazines aren’t thriving, they at least aren’t going extinct; you can find massive volumes (several hundreds of pages each) with serious writers at every bookstore in the country, and volumes like the 120th anniversary edition of 新潮 (Shinchō) that I mention in the episode seem to be selling out online. I’d recommend running to a physical store if you’re still looking for a copy. (And it’s kind of a shame that these magazines aren’t digitized.)

This reminds me of when I was studying abroad in Tokyo. One night I was walking home from Shinjuku to the apartment where I was temporarily staying near Waseda. I came upon a stack of magazines illuminated by a street light. The one on top was a copy of 文藝春秋 (Bungeishunjū), the copy with the Akutagawa Prize-winning stories from Wataya Risa and Kanehara Hitomi that I’d just read that semester.

I took it home with me and eventually brought it back to the U.S., but sadly I threw it out while moving at some point between New Orleans, Chicago, Yokohama, and Osaka. It’s kind of nice to know that I could always get a new copy for 400 yen on Mercari if I wanted to, which seems to be the going rate.

The latest copies of Shinchō seem to be going for around 2,500 yen or so. Probably netting just a few hundred yen minus fees and shipping. I’m not sure why the 転売ヤー (tenbaiyaa, resellers) would even bother at that point. I imagine that prices will probably settle down at some point, so if you make it to a physical bookstore and they aren’t there, just give it a little time, and I’m sure you’ll get one for a reasonable price.

There are likely other magazines with 随筆 (zuihitsu, miscellaneous writing/essays) available, but even if you have to go to the library to peep some of these, it’s probably worth it.

Sentence Diagramming

I just sent out the newsletter for April. This month I focused on diagramming Japanese sentences. This is something I’ve been trying to do recently to get a better sense of Japanese sentences with the goal of improving my writing. The basic idea is this: Can you break down a Japanese sentence into its most fundamental structure so that you can understand it more easily? And once you’ve done that, could you compose your own sentence by filling in the blanks? Or could you reverse this process as a way to proofread and revise sentences you’ve written to test their seaworthiness?

The simplest example of this is this:

AはBです。

And the second simplest (and perhaps the most frequently analyzed in linguistic circles) is this:

XはYがZです。

These are pretty easy to make sentences from:

夏は暑いです。
Summer is hot.

京都は観光客が多いです。
Kyoto has a lot of tourists.

But just because the structures are simple doesn’t mean that we need to make simple sentences! These examples have the same structure:

冷凍した肉が腐っているときのサインは、以下の通りです。
Here are some of the signs that your frozen meat is rotten.

カフェインは、飲食物の成分として作用が非常に強いです。
Caffeine as an ingredient in food and drink has incredibly strong effects.

The first I found in this article about freezing meat. The second I adapted from this article about the health benefits of caffeine. (I excised it off from a slightly more complicated sentence.)

Both of these articles I discovered thanks to the Edge browser, as I mentioned in the newsletter. I really can’t recommend using its localized news features enough.

I know this stuff isn’t great literature, but I do think it makes excellent study material. It’s low stakes, simple sentences, with vocabulary that’s useful in everyday life about topics that you are already familiar with. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, here’s another perfectly good place: 適量のコーヒー (tekiryō no kōhī). An additional article about the health benefits of caffeine.

So consider this month a call to action. Both to myself and to you. Can you read more Japanese articles, and can you be more mindful of the sentence structure as you’re reading?

Go give the newsletter a read for more details. And check out the podcast where I go over the strategy and talk about the Murakami translation publication dates, which I forgot to mention last month (in the pod: I did mention it in the newsletter).

お湯割り

In the newsletter this month I wrote about 角ハイ (kakuhai). This is a combination of 角瓶 (kakubin), Suntory’s flagship whiskey, and ハイボール (highball), a mixed drink made from liquor and usually some kind of carbonated beverage, often soda water. Go give it a read. 角ハイ has a pretty interesting story.

I talked about it over on the podcast as well, and one thing I mention there that I left out of the newsletter is the Google Trends information I found for お湯割り (oyuwari, cutting alcohol with hot water):

Google Trends data for the word "oyuwari" showing a steady increase from the mid-2000s with distinct seasonal cycles.

The general trend is a gradual increase from the mid-2000s, although several Japanese websites note that お湯割り started to become more popular in the 1970s, well before Google was tracking data. What’s more interesting to me, however, is the fact that searches for お湯割りvary by season! There’s some variance within the ハイボール uptrend that I used in the newsletter, but it’s nowhere near as clearly defined as お湯割り. You can see very distinct peaks and troughs which resemble the graphs you see for the number of flu cases over the course of the year.

I guess this makes sense. When the weather gets cold, people get interested in drinking お湯割り, and when people get interested in drinking お湯割り, they start Googling to figure out how to make one.

I’ve done the hard work for you and can point you to this website, which has this interesting set of data:

Data showing preferences for pouring hot water or shochu first for oyuwari.

As you can see, most people in Kyushu pour the hot water in first. The site advises a temperature of 66 Celsius (150 Fahrenheit).

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 48 – The 1,000-yen Haircut and まとめる

On the podcast this month, I continued the conversation about value in Japan, specifically looking at the 1,000-yen men’s haircut, which I think is one of the worst values in Japan, and the 2,000-yen men’s haircut, which is one of the better values in Japan.

These are cuts that are available at what I call “value barbers” and “extreme value barbers.” I don’t have a good sense of anything outside these two establishments, other than that anything beyond these two seem to go up in price dramatically quite quickly; there doesn’t seem to be much in that 2,000-5,000 yen range, although I did have the my worst (non-self afflicted) haircut in Japan at what I might call a “value luxury barber” for around 4,000-5,000 yen.

Let me know what you think and whether I’ve missed anything. I was able to give some good advice for getting a men’s haircut in Japan, but I’m especially clueless about the salon experience for women. I’d be curious to know what the customs are like there.

The one kind of “set custom” that I may have forgotten to mention on the podcast is the kind of 義理マッサージ (obligatory massage) that barbers give customers: After applying hair tonic at the very end of a cut, the barber then will rub your shoulders, clamp your hands together, and then give you a quick bump on each side (and maybe the top of the head?). I sometimes feel a little awkward enjoying this.

And over on the newsletter I wrote about the verb まとめる (matomeru, bring things together). I talked about this at the end of the podcast as well. Give it a listen!

Thrifting, Retaining Value, and the New Translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Podcast Episode 47

I come from a family of thrifters and hoarders. It’s not fatal—we throw out our trash regularly and occasionally sort through the pantry—but we do accumulate stuff. And take pleasure in the hunt. After three big moves in the past 15 years, two of them across the Pacific, I’ve been better about resisting temptation. I managed not to purchase the pristine copy of Final Fantasy VI I came across in a Wakayama thrift store on sale for 1,000 yen on Christmas Day, 2022, but I still remember it vividly.

Recently the website Mercari has served as a sort of thrifting Methadone. I keep a few saved searches (保存した検索条件) but opt out of daily email notices. It’s a great way to fill empty time on the train, pretending to listen to podcasts when I’m really looking through used board games and books.

Browsing Mercari has also made me consider what retains value in Japan and what doesn’t. I have a podcast episode from Season 2 about 車検 (shaken, car inspection) and how that seems to distort the market, at least within the expat community here, depreciating the cost of used cars. And I’ve tweeted multiple times about how used DVDs and Blu-rays seem to retain their value here while used manga and books do not.

The two-volume Alfred Birnbaum translation of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood with red and green covers on a table.

But there are upsides to this, the most recent being that I managed to buy a first edition copy of the Alfred Birnbaum translation of Norwegian Wood on Mercari for just over 2,000 yen. Last fall, on a whim, I searched to see if any were available, and a copy had sold a month prior for just 2,800 yen, which was much less than the $100 I paid on eBay for the copy I have back in the U.S. So I saved the search. For whatever reason, a few copies have popped up on Mercari over the past week. One was up for 4,000 yen, and I tried negotiating it down to 3,000, only to see the first edition get posted for less than that, so I grabbed it. (It’s a mixed pair, actually; once it arrived, I found that Part II is a second edition.)

This is the last Murakami translation that’s difficult to acquire, ever since Kodansha started reprinting the Birnbaum translation of Pinball, 1973 at some point in the late 2000s. I’m not sure whether it’s still in print, but you can get used copies on Amazon Japan for 568 yen when they used to go for $500 on eBay.

As of later this year, Norwegian Wood, Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973 will no longer be the only Murakami novels with multiple translations. We finally have a date for the publication of the Jay Rubin translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: September 17, 2024.

A screenshot of the Amazon page for the new translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, announcing it's release date of September 17, 2024.

I can’t seem to find any announcement of this, or any information at all to be honest. In the course of looking, I did manage to track down this talk with Rubin at Wellesley, which is a fascinating look at Rubin’s thoughts on translation in general and in particular when it comes to Murakami. It deserves far more than the 900 odd views it had when I first encountered it.

We learn a lot of information about the new translation. First, we learn that Murakami approached Rubin about doing the new translation in 2018. Which leads to the question that David Marx’s Neojaponisme asked 10 years ago:

An @neojaponisme tweet asking: "What's up with Murakami Haruki erasing every last Alfred Birnbaum translation?"

We’ll find out more soon; Murakami wrote a foreword to the new translation. But judging from the afterword to his latest novel and how the publication process has worked for this and the translations of Norwegian Wood, Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973, I’d say he’s looking for another version that will coexist with the original. This new version is coming out via Everyman’s Library Contemporary Classics, not from Knopf or Vintage. And as far as I know, the original translation will remain in print. (Interestingly, the link on the Everyman’s website currently takes you to a page for the Birnbaum translation.)

Murakami didn’t seek the broad publication of Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 beyond Kodansha International because he wasn’t confident about those books. He didn’t think they were very good. I personally heard him say this at a talk with Rubin in 2003. David Karashima’s book also makes it clear that he had a break with Birnbaum at some point—I’m not sure I’d call it a falling out, but some sort of distancing when Birnbaum moved away from Japan—so it makes sense that he would go with the translator who handled his most recent bestseller (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 1997) when he decided to do a new, “official” Norwegian Wood translation in 2000. And perhaps he wanted a fresh look for Wind/Pinball when Ted Goosen did those translations in 2015.

This new translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland feels like a different exercise. Partly a nod to Rubin who’s always admitted Hard-boiled Wonderland was his favorite of Murakami’s novels and the singular reason he got so deep into studying and translating the writer for so long. And partly a nod to his own obsession with the novel/the lingering itch that he could never achieve what he wanted to when he first wrote it in 1985. Given that Murakami asked Rubin to do the translation before he started writing The City and Its Uncertain Walls, the two works seem to be linked, and I’ll be very curious to see when the translation of The City gets released. There’s still a chance that they are timed for simultaneous release, given that Rubin notes he submitted the translation 2-3 years ago. I do wonder what Knopf would think of that. From where I’m sitting, it feels like the ultimate marketing coup: Here, check out this new Murakami novel; oh, by the way, it’s based on the same original work as Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, so you should probably pick up a copy of that as well as its new translation so you can compare versions. But maybe publishing companies don’t think that way. Or maybe the translation of The City needs more time.

A couple other interesting notes from the talk:

– Rubin says he translated こころ as “heart” and not “mind”! This will create a very new look/feel for the work and immediately differentiate the two translations. Now we just need a version that uses “soul,” which maybe we can expect in 2065, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of publication?

– Rubin says that the use of “City” instead of “Town” in the title of Murakami’s new novel “took me totally by surprise” and made him wonder whether he should change “town” to “city” in the new translation. The talk went online in April 2023, and he says “I’m not really sure at this point.” There may have still been time for him to make those changes, but I’d be surprised if he did.

The whole talk is worth a watch. A couple of the students ask questions that obliquely hint at the question everyone seems to be asking online these days: Should good translation aim to be good English or to capture the Japanese well? (With the implication that good English misses something from the Japanese.) It’s interesting to hear Rubin’s responses.

There is a real loss here that’s important to acknowledge. Perhaps not an intentional erasure, but the result may be the same. The Birnbaum translations of Hear the Wing Sing, Pinball, 1973, and Norwegian Wood are true thrift store artifacts, so it would be a shame to see his translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World relegated to a similar status. He and Elmer Luke crafted such amazing voice as a translation team. I hope people hold on to them and share them with readers and students. It’s a shame that we’ll likely never see digital versions (at least not anytime soon?) that would more firmly preserve them. This is especially unfortunate given that Murakami recently put his complete catalog on the Kindle platform after a long, long wait. He seems to keep close control over how his works are distributed these days.

We will be getting access—what exactly that means, I’m not sure—to the unabridged version of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in 2026, as Rubin donated it to the Lily Library at Indiana University, but it doesn’t seem like a given that we’ll get a full publication of it…which is a missed opportunity. (This is noted in the Karashima book.)

In the Karashima book, however, Murakami does mention wanting new translations of those early publications. If there’s an updated version of A Wild Sheep Chase announced in the next few years, that would be the sign for Birnbaum and Luke to take these updates personally. For now, though, I’d recommend running—do not walk—to Mercari to thrift what you can while it’s still there and still affordable. If anyone in the U.S. wants me to mule a copy, get in touch and we can work out a trade. And I’ll make same offer for academic libraries. Every university library with a contemporary Japanese program should have a copy of these translations on the shelves for students.

The market can be fickle. It seems to have crashed for now, at least in Japan. But you never know what buyers will want in the future, especially when you occasionally find wildly overvalued items like this collection of Dazai Osamu writing, which left even Japanese commenters baffled:

A Mercari listing for Dazai Osamu's "Self Portraits" for 50,000 yen.

A Japanese commenter for the Dazai Mercari listing asking whether there's any mistake with the price, and the OP stating that there is no mistake.

For now, though, Mercari remains a reflection of market values in Japan, and the value of printed material doesn’t hold, except in extremely rare cases, so you’ll have no trouble getting a full set of Ōwara Sumito’s 映像研には手を出すな! (Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!) for just 3,000 yen, if not less.

Just make sure to keep control over your 積読 habits. You own the books; they don’t own you.

Check out the newsletter this month for some advice on buying appliances in Japan!

いろいろ December 2023

I ran out of space over at the newsletter this month, so I thought I’d share the いろいろ section on the blog instead. Podcast link at the bottom!

– The kanji of the year is 税 (zei, tax). Boring, but topical. Read more here. The only thing I could think of was Mizuki Ichiro yelling ゼーット! on Gaki no Tsukai’s 笑ってはいけない罰ゲーム. I believe his first appearance was the police-themed 2006 show, but he showed up in a number of seasons after that in increasingly unhinged situations. Check out the video on this tweet before it disappears.

– This is a solid article on the current state of homebrewing in the U.S. A lot of the details ring true based on my experience in Chicago participating in the odd club out in a city full of really well organized brewing clubs. You can make some really good friends through the hobby…which is one idea the article hints at but never really drives home. There’s a similar passion for craft beer here in Japan, but it seems to be dedication to a specific small brewery or bar, and I’m not sure it has the same level of community. I found a great little spot called Buckets in Musashi-Kosugi when I was studying there. It was small enough that when I asked the proprietors where I should go for beers in Osaka, I got a chorus of answers from the other customers. Still looking for the perfect spot in Osaka, but there are some good options.

– The numbers are in: I spent just over 600 hours playing video games this year. 25 whole days, which is a frightening thought to think. Almost an entire month. This is by far the biggest gaming year of my life. What memories stick with me? Spending 40 hours finally finishing the original Final Fantasy VII when I caught COVID in January, only to be disappointed by the remake when I finally got to it in October before my PS+ subscription expired. Floating down into the Depths for the first time in Tears of the Kingdom. Emerging from Stormveil Castle into the serenity of Liurnia of the Lakes. Spending an hour on the character creation screen in Baldur’s Gate 3. I think my gaming goal for 2024 will be to play more mindfully, but 2023 was an awfully good year for games. It’s difficult to hold it against anyone for playing a lot this year.

@howtojapanese

Week 23 in Osaka #japantok #osaka #osaka

♬ Oncle Jazz – Men I Trust

– What am I looking forward to cramming into the remaining two weeks? More Baldur’s Gate 3. Some co-op Elden Ring here and there, helping folks get by the big bads. Some time with Super Mario Wonder, which I haven’t really started yet, and working my way through Super Mario Brothers RPG. But I’m taking a train ride for New Year’s, and I’ve had this image of playing Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster on the ride. I’m looking forward to it.

– I have not had good 福袋 (fukubukuro, lucky bags) luck this season. I was not selected for Muji’s drawing, and I forgot to enter Kaldi’s. I may have to pick up one at Tully’s or Doutor, but for now I have entered the one at McDonald’s and will see how I fare on Christmas Day.

– I’m moving apartments in January, and I had to fax my contract cancelation notice to the property manager the other day. It cost a mere 50 yen at the closest convenience store. What an astounding deal. You could quadruple that price and I’d still think it was a good deal. I’m not sure where I’d send a fax in the U.S. or how much it would cost, but I’m sure it would be far less convenient than walking 50 meters and dropping a single coin into a machine. I was impressed. Although the other side of this story is that the property manager would not accept a scanned copy of the cancelation notice sent via email.

– I did a mediumish thread on preservation in Tokyo and New Orleans after David Marx shared the demolition of a Meiji-era brick warehouse that had been turned into a bar. Sad times for the preservation crowd in Japan.

– For the second year in a row, I visited Kiyomizu-dera on November 28 to see the fall leaves. It didn’t disappoint.

– This is a very funny TikTok.

@chedurena

Ichiro Suzuki was pitching gas!!!! Tour Dates: New York, NY 11/27 Springfield MA 12/8-9 New Brunswick, NJ 12/14-16 Bridgeport, CT 12/21-23 Boston, MA 1/12/24 tickets at chedurena.com Or link in bio #greenscreenvideo

♬ original sound – Che Durena

– The Thanksgiving 休日 alignment this year was incredible. I had to do it up. This is what my spread looked like. I don’t think I’d actively take a day off to celebrate, but when it comes around again I’ll be ready, and I can absolutely see putting some of these dishes together again for a special occasion.

– And don’t forget to check out this month’s podcast. I examined the phrase そうこうしているうちに by way of an examination of the state of social media in Japan and their usefulness as language corpora.

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 45 – コロケーション

I finally managed to see John Wick: Chapter 4. It only came out in Japan in September, six months after it’s initial release. In the newsletter this month, I give some impressions and analyze one specific subtitle that reminded me of the importance of collocations. Check out the newsletter for the definition of collocation in both English in Japanese and some good resources, although there is a spoiler warning because I spoil one major (minor?) aspect of the movie.

I have a spoiler warning on the podcast this month as well. But you can listen to the first part at least, which addresses other content. Including:

– The nerds have won. Congratulations.

– Was Sekiro inspired by Automatic Eve?

Send any questions for future episodes to howtojapanese at gmail dot com!

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 44 – スミマセン

In the newsletter this month, I took a look at 非外来語のカタカナ表記 (non-gairaigo katakana notation), which is a complicated way of saying “katakana used to write words that are normally written in kanji or hiragana.” I found a very interesting paper on the phenomenon that’s worth a read if you’re interested.

The main idea is that the visual aspect of katakana can be used to provide extra-linguistic nuance to a sentence. I looked specifically at スミマセン, which is usually written as すみません.

This reminded me that there’s an even more casual alternative: ずびばぜん (zubibazen). This is the way that すみません would be pronounced if you were sobbing profusely. Searching on Twitter is one of the best ways to find examples.

Like this mother who is apologizing for breaking a promise to not drink until after her son’s sports festival at school.

I spoke about this and more on the podcast this month. Give it a listen!

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 43 – それが

Ahoy! Here’s the podcast, kanjilubbers!

This month I’m talking about the message behind the message, inspired in part by my high school calculus teacher, Dr. Collins. Check out the newsletter for more detailed content about the excellent conjunction それが, which is a very efficient way to express the subversion of expectations.

And here are the tweets from Yuta that I mentioned in the podcast. Pretty interesting food for thought!

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 42 – のだ

I remember vividly learning how to use んだ in Japanese. My third year teacher did a section on storytelling/explaining, and she had us tell different stories over and over again using んだ as a sort of emphasis/explanation when we were setting up some of the details of the story.

This んだ is actually のだ and it has its own dictionary definition. I wrote about it in the newsletter this month and discussed it on the podcast. I found some examples from Murakami (more of which I’ll be looking at during Murakami Fest next month).

These aren’t the best examples. I need to track down some examples from more argumentative/formal writing where the のだ really helps clearly present a conclusion based on a set of reasoning, but I think these examples will help get you into using this pattern both in written and spoken Japanese.

If you’re not already using んだ in your spoken Japanese, I think it’s one of the easier ways to sound natural, but knowing exactly when to deploy it and what exactly does can be very subtle at times. Let me know if this helps!