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).

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!

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!

How to Japanese Podcast – Episode 41 – Kanji


I have such good memories of the Fourth of July 2021. It was a perfect day in Chicago. Clear and warm but not hot, and when the sun went down there was a crisp breeze off the lake. For dinner, I walked over to The Bar on Buena, a local restaurant with a mix of American food and Mexican food, a solid selection of local taps, and a surprisingly deep bourbon list for a neighborhood spot. I ordered a BLT and a Surly Helles, a seriously bitter Pilsner. Beer memories are always illusive, but for whatever reason I remember Surly Helles so clearly.

After the sun went down, I biked over to Montrose Harbor and then north along the lake, watching families grill and set off fireworks. I stopped around Foster, lay my bike in the grass, and sat down to watch the end of the big fireworks display someone was firing off.

Then I called it a day and biked home.

I didn’t really push it. I remember wanting to wake up refreshed the next day so I could start working on the new materials for the Japanese program I was starting. It was the start of the last school year I’ll ever have, and I had that same giddy excitement that I’ve had almost every year. So much potential. So much new. So much to learn.

This giddy energy is a helpful way to start projects like a new course of study, but they generally take more to sustain. Somehow I managed to keep this particular project going for nearly two years. I wrote about this in my newsletter this month, and talked about it on the podcast, which I’ll be trying to keep up monthly as an audio accompaniment (not a direct transcript of) that newsletter.

Give it a listen, like, and subscribe!

How to Japanese Podcast – S03E09 – Immediate Reactions to Murakami’s New Novel

Good God, that’s Murakami Haruki’s music!

街とその不確かな壁 (The City and Its Uncertain Walls/The Town and Its Uncertain Wall) launched today in Japan, and holy moly, it’s a wild one. I read the first two chapters and then rapped about it for 20 mins on the podcast in three sections: spoiler free, loose suggestions about content, and spoiler-palooza. Take a listen!