Thursday, July 8 2004

Apple’s Dashboard: sample gadget

I’m not really a programmer; I’ve been a Perl hacker since ’88, though, after discovering v1.010 and asking Larry Wall where the rest of the patches were (his reply: “wait a week for 2.0”). If I’m anything, I’m a toolsmith; I mostly write small programs to solve specific problems, and usually avoid touching large projects unless they’re horribly broken in a way that affects me, and no one else can be persuaded to fix them on my schedule.

So what does this have to do with learning Japanese? Everything. I’m in the early stages of a self-study course (the well-regarded Rosetta Stone software; “ask me how to defeat their must-insert-CD-to-run copy-protection”), and authorities agree that you must learn to read using the two phonetic alphabets, Hiragana (ひらがな, used for native Japanese words) and Katakana (カタカナ, used for foreign words). A course that’s taught using Rōmaji (phonetic transcriptions using roman characters) gives you habits that will have no value in real life; Rōmaji is not used for much in Japan.

So how do you learn two complete sets of 46 symbols plus their variations and combinations, as well as their correct pronunciations? Flashcards!

The best software I’ve found for this is a Classic-only Mac application called Kana Lab (link goes direct to download), which has a lot of options for introducing the character sets, and includes recordings of a native speaker pronouncing each one. I’ve also stumbled across a number of Java and JavaScript kana flashcards, but the only one that stood out was LanguageBug, which works on Java cellphones (including my new Motorola v600).

When the misconceptions about Apple’s upcoming Dashboard feature in OS X 10.4 were cleared up (sorry, Konfabulator, it will kill your product not by being a clone, but simply by being better), I acquired a copy of the beta (why, yes, I am a paid-up member of the Apple Developer Connection) and took a look, with the goal of building a functional, flexible flashcard gadget.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent the past few years stubbornly refusing to learn JavaScript and how it’s used to manipulate HTML using the DOM, so I had to go through a little remedial course. I stopped at a Barnes & Noble on Sunday afternoon and picked up the O’Reilly JavaScript Pocket Reference and started hacking out a DHTML flashcard set, using Safari 1.2 under Panther as the platform.

Note: TextEdit and Safari do not a great DHTML IDE make. It worked, but it wasn’t fast or pretty, especially for someone who was new to JavaScript and still making stupid coding errors.

I got it working Tuesday morning, finished off the configuration form Wednesday afternoon, and squashed a few annoying bugs Wednesday night. Somewhere in there I went to work. If you’re running Safari, you can try it out here; I’ve made no attempt to cater to non-W3C DOM models, so it won’t work in Explorer or Mozilla.

There’s a lot more it could do, but right now you can select which character sets to compare, which subsets of them to include in the quiz, and you can make your guesses either by clicking with the mouse or pressing the 1-4 keys on the keyboard. I’ve deliberately kept the visual design simple, not just because I’m not a graphic designer, but also to show how Apple’s use of DHTML as the basis for gadgets makes it possible for any experienced web designer to come in and supply the chrome.

So what does it take to turn my little DHTML web page into a Dashboard gadget?

(Continued on Page 2024)

Monday, July 19 2004

No wonder BabelFish has problems with Japanese…

I mentioned in a recent comment thread that I had developed some sympathy for BabelFish’s entertaining but mostly useless translations from Japanese to English.

It started with Mahoromatic, a manga and anime series that I’m generally quite fond of. The official web site for the anime includes a lot of merchandise, and I was interested in finding out more about some of the stuff that hasn’t been officially imported to the US market. So I asked BabelFish to translate the pages, expecting to be able to make at least a little sense of the results.

It was worse than I expected, and it took me a while to figure out why. At the time, the translation engine left intact everything it had been unable to convert to English, which gave me some important clues. It was also possible to paste Unicode text into the translation window and get direct translations, which helped me narrow down the problems. [Sadly, both of these features disappeared a few months ago, making BabelFish a lot less useful.]

The clues started with the name of the show and its main character, both of which are written in hiragana on the site. BabelFish reliably converted まほろまてぃっく (Mahoromatic) to “ま top wait the ぃっく” and まほろ (Mahoro) to “ま top”. The one that really got me, though, was the live concert DVD, whose title went from 「まほろまてぃっく らいぶ!&Music Clips」 to “ま top wait the ぃっく leprosy ぶ! & in the midst of Music Clips”.

With apologies to Vernor Vinge, it was a case of “leprosy as the key insight”. It was so absurd, so out of place, that it had to be important. Fortunately, the little kana “turds” that BabelFish left behind told me exactly which hiragana characters it had translated as leprosy: らい (rai).

But rai doesn’t mean leprosy. Raibyou (らいびょう or 癩病) does, but on its own, rai is one of “since”, “defeat”, or the English loanword “lie” (which should properly be written in katakana, as ライ). So where did it come from? Rai is the pronunciation of the kanji 癩, which means leprosy. Except that it doesn’t, quite.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Every kanji character has one or more meanings and pronunciations. Some came along for the ride when the character was borrowed from China (the ON-reading), others are native inventions (the KUN-reading), but neither is necessarily a Japanese word. There are plenty of words that consist of a single kanji, such as 犬 (inu, “dog”), but not all single kanji are words.

Our friend rai is one of the latter. It has only a single ON-reading, which means leprosy, but the Japanese word for leprosy is formed by appending another kanji, 病 (byou, “sick”). So while rai really does mean leprosy, it’s not the word for leprosy. BabelFish, convinced that anything written in hiragana must be a native Japanese word, is simply trying too hard.

So what was it supposed to be? That little leftover kana at the end (ぶ) was “bu”, making the complete word “raibu”. Say it out loud, remembering that the Japanese have trouble pronouncing “l” and “v”, and it becomes “live”. The correct translation of the title should be “Mahoromatic Live! & Music Clips”; neither of the words in hiragana should be translated, because they’re not Japanese words.

In fairness to BabelFish, the folks responsible for Mahoromatic have played a dirty trick on it. It’s actually a pretty good rule of thumb that something written in hiragana is Japanese and something written in katakana is not, and, sure enough, if you feed in ライブ instead of らいぶ, it will correctly come back as “live”.

I fell for this, too, when I tried to figure out the full title of the Mahoromatic adventure game 「まほろまてぃっく☆あどべんちゃ」. The part after the star (adobencha) is written in hiragana, so I tried to interpret it as Japanese. I knew I’d gotten it wrong when I came up with “conveniently leftover tea”, but I didn’t realize I’d been BabelFished until I said it out loud.

Isn’t Japanese fun? My latest surprise came when my Rosetta Stone self-study course threw up the word ビーだま (biidama, “marble” (the toy kind)). I thought it was a typo at first, this word that was half-katakana, half-hiragana, but switching the software over to the full kanji mode converted it to ビー玉, and, sure enough, that’s what it looked like in my dictionary.

A little digging with JEdict provided the answer. Back in the days when the Portuguese started trading with Japan, their word vidro (“windowpane”) was adopted as the generic word for glass, becoming biidoro (ビードロ). The native word for sphere is dama (だま or 玉). Mash them together, and you’ve got a “glass sphere”, or a marble. Don’t go looking for other words based on biidoro, though, because it fell out of fashion a few centuries back; modern loanwords are based on garasu.

Thursday, August 5 2004

One for the road

Under the influence of powerful pain-killers (going in for a root canal on Monday), I spent some time this morning preparing a new music mix for an upcoming trip. It consists entirely of songs from the opening and ending credits of anime series, mostly ripped directly from the DVDs with Audio Hijack Pro (with some minor touch-ups done in the free multi-platform audio editor Audacity).

It’s only 52 minutes so far, since I’m deliberately selecting the tv-edited versions that average around 90 seconds. There are a few songs I can’t include because those discs are out on loan, but otherwise it’s a fun mix. Fortunately the person who’ll be locked in the car with me for six hours likes anime. :-)

  • Agent Aika, Silent City (OP)
  • Agent Aika Special Missions Promo
  • All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku OVA, Happy Birthday To Me (OP)
  • Angelic Layer, Be My Angel (OP)
  • Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, Asu No Blue Wing (OP)
  • Dirty Pair OVA, By Yourself (OP), Summertime From Autumn (ED)
  • Dirty Pair TV, Ru-Ru-Ru-Russian Roulette (OP)
  • Excel Saga, Love (Loyalty) (OP)
  • Galaxy Angel, Galaxy Bang! Bang! (OP)
  • Green Green, Guri Guri (OP)
  • Hand Maid Mai, Hand Maid De Ne! (ED)
  • Hand Maid May, Jump—Hug Me As Tight As You Can (OP)
  • Happy Lesson, Telescope (OP), Yume no Miyako Tokyo Life (ED)
  • Happy Lesson OVA, (OP)
  • Hyper Police, That’s Hypertension!! (OP), Hey Hold Up! (ED)
  • Jubei-Chan, Forever (ED)
  • Kaleido Star, Take It, Shake It (OP)
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service, Lipstick Message (OP)
  • Magical Project S, Yume mireba yume mo yume ja nai (OP)
  • Mahoromatic Summer Special, Hiryu Musume Ha! Date Ondo (ED)
  • New Cutey Honey, Cutey Honey (OP)
  • Ninin ga Shinobuden OP & ED
  • Puni Puni Poemy, Puni Puni Densetsu Ppoi (OP)
  • Ranma 1/2 Season 1, Don’t Make Me Wild Like You (OP)
  • R.O.D OP
  • Rune Soldier, Twinkle Trick (OP)
  • Steel Angel Kurumi, KissからはじまるMiracle (OP)
  • Super GALS!, A-I-Tsu (OP)
  • Tenjou Tenge, Aishitene Motto (ED)

This is actually a secondary use for Audio Hijack Pro; I bought it primarily so I could record streaming audio from Japanese internet radio stations (such as Radio Japan, Morning Freeway, and MBS Broadband). Having a variety of native speakers discuss different subjects is very handy for language practice, especially since my primary source, anime, isn’t known for its realistic dialogue and proper grammar.

Update: Mostly successful, but I have to redo many of the audio captures, because of a little feature in Apple’s DVD Player that’s on by default: Dolby dynamic range compression. It’s hard to notice with laptop speakers, but with headphones or in the car, it’s quite annoying. Good thing I picked the short versions of the songs…

Update: Ah, that’s better. No more fluctuating volume. While I was at it, I added a few more:

  • Chobits, Let Me Be With You (OP)
  • Cosplay Complex OP
  • Galaxy Fraulein Yuna OP
  • New Cutey Honey, Circle Game (ED)
  • Those Who Hunt Elves, Angel Blue (OP)

Update: A few more.

  • Cosplay Complex, Cosplay Ondo (ED)
  • Re: Cutie Honey OP

Tuesday, October 12 2004

Skinship gone awry

“When I was your age, ‘blowing off school’ meant something entirely different.”

And so every evening Haruki’s studying was prefaced by a 15-minute maternal blow job. His concentration improved; his marks soared.
“Mothers do want their children to pass those exams…”

(via Peeve Farm)

Thursday, November 11 2004

Whom the gods would destroy, they first ask for directions

When I got up this morning, I realized that I was only two lessons away from the end of my first pass through Rosetta Stone’s Japanese Level I course. At a conservative estimate, that’s 120 hours that I’ve spent learning to recognize, comprehend, and read realistic Japanese phrases spoken by natives. I have a great deal left to learn, but I’ve made substantial progress, to the point that this morning’s lesson was merely daunting rather than discouraging.

It looked something like this: ガソリンスタンドにはどうやってきますか。ガソリンスタンドへの閉鎖されています。って右折します。ブロックって右折して、ブロックって右折します。ブロックって左折するとそこがガソリンスタンドです。

Forty variations on asking directions to a place and being told how many blocks to go and which way to turn. New vocabulary. New kanji. Long, detailed instructions, fortunately accompanied by clear pictures. And I understood most of them right away. I figure I’ve got another 80 hours of drilling as I go back through Level I’s different modes, and then it will be time for Level II, which really piles on the grammar and vocabulary.

Self-study software can’t replace a good face-to-face language course, but the best software is definitely better than a bad course, and there’s a lot to be said for having infinitely patient native speakers available anytime, anywhere. I’ve been quite impressed with Rosetta Stone, both their learning model (which feels oversimplified at first, but is in fact quite sophisticated) and their quality control (I have spotted exactly two errors in the transcription of several thousand phrases, and both were trivial).

Update: turns out this specific lesson is included in Rosetta Stone’s free online demo, which uses pretty much the exact same Flash code that the purchased product does. It’s Japanese Level I, Unit 8, Lesson 10, titled ~にはどうやって行きますか.

Sunday, February 20 2005

How I’m trying to learn Japanese

Between my long-standing interest in anime and my on-and-off interest in Japan, I eventually became motivated to acquire at least a working knowledge of the language. Unfortunately, I know from long experience that I don’t do well in a traditional classroom setting (last I checked, the buzzwords were “underachieving gifted”), and in any case my rather irregular work schedule would make it difficult to even try.

As a result, I started looking at the available software packages, to see if any of them had any real merit. After a few weeks, I settled on Rosetta Stone, occasionally available in stores, but mostly acquired either by mail-order, online purchase, or at one of their mall kiosks (new one just opened up at Valley Fair in San Jose, by the way). They have standalone, online, and classroom packages, a pretty good reputation, and a significantly higher price than most of the alternatives.

A lot of the other software uses romanized text instead of the real Japanese writing systems, which makes things easier for absolute beginners, but effectively cripples them in the long run. RS allows you to work with romanized text, but offers both kana and kanji as options, so that you can acquire reading skills that will actually be useful.

It does not, however, teach them. For learning the hiragana and katakana syllabaries, I used the commonly recommended Easy Kana Workbook, along with LanguageBug’s free Java flashcards for cellphones. I went through approximately half of the RS Level 1 course this way, with all dialog spelled out phonetically.

Meanwhile, I started working on kanji, using the appropriately-named A Guide to Writing Kanji and Kana. It’s slow going, due in large part to the hand cramping I developed from writing each character 100 times, but I’m making real progress, to the point where I can slowly, painfully read magazine and manga text with the help of The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary (not to be confused with The Learner’s Kanji Dictionary…).

A while back, I finished my first complete pass through the RS Level 1 software, and it’s done a lot for my comprehension and reading skills. I’ve gotten less out of the voice-training feature, largely because the feedback is unclear; it’s extremely finicky about intonation and cadence, but lacks the ability to highlight your mistakes in a way that you can correct. If you don’t have a good ear for language, you could sit there for hours without making it through the first lesson. Even if you do (and, thanks to a youth spent in my father’s office in the Language Department at UD, I generally do), it may still take a while for you to figure out what kind of mistake you’re making.

For instance, I had an early tendency to fail on any phrase that included the word otokonoko, and only that one word. Why? My cadence was off. I was making some syllables shorter than others, and the waveform display didn’t show it. It finally dawned on me that I got better results with my eyes closed. Shutting out the picture and the waveform display allowed me to focus on more precisely mimicking the sample phrase.

Was it worth the cash? Yes. I get a lot more out of spoken Japanese in anime and when I shop at Kinokuniya Books and Mitsuwa Market. Spending an hour a day listening to native speakers pronounce realistic phrases that I know the meaning of has done a lot for my understanding, and seeing them written out in kanji and kana at the same time has given me some basic reading skills.

What can’t I do right now? Carry on a conversation. Write an original paragraph without a reference book handy. Software won’t supply those skills, but it can give me a decent framework to build them on top of. The Level 2 software (which, sadly, has a completely different set of native speakers, one of whom speaks in an extremely annoying staccato) will contribute further to that framework.

Is Rosetta Stone the best language software out there? Is their learning model pedagogically sound? I can’t give definitive answers to these questions. I do know that, within the limits of the supplied vocabulary, their model produces comprehension without translation. This is dramatically better than the approach used in my high-school German and French classes twenty-plus years ago, which left me with some vague recognition skills and the ability to sing Du kannst nicht immer siebzehn sein.

Wednesday, April 6 2005

Is it Engrish if they just didn’t notice?

People familiar with Adobe PostScript will recognize the source of this label misprint.

Wednesday, April 20 2005

Reading and writing Japanese

The most obvious stumbling block for westerners learning Japanese (or Chinese, or Korean…) is the large number of seemingly indistinguishable symbols they’re written in. For Japanese, basic adult literacy requires 2,324. I’m about 10% of the way there, and have been for a while now.

I’m pretty good with the ones I know, enough to puzzle out many book titles and store signs, and I can read short blocks of text with the help of my dictionary, but the real pain was writing each new character out about 100 times. Many years of computer work has left me with both RSI and a lack of “pencil stamina”.

So I switched workbooks. Instead of the solid but strenuous A Guide to Writing Kanji and Kana, I’m now using the Basic Kanji Book. Con: less repetition might make for sloppier handwriting. Pros: less repetition makes my hands happier, it includes reading and writing exercises that put each character in context, and, perhaps most importantly, there’s almost no Rōmaji; it’s assumed from the start that you’ve mastered hiragana and katakana.

With this book, I very quickly learned that my ability to write the characters I had learned degraded rapidly. Even some kana required conscious effort to remember, despite my ability to read them. So, switching workbooks has helped me out even more than I originally expected.

For additional practice, I went back to Level I in my Rosetta Stone courseware and switched to the writing exercises. It doesn’t support a real Japanese Input Method, but it does have a very good sentence-assembly drill, sort of a Kanji Scrabble quiz (see a picture and hear a phrase that describes it, then select the right characters to transcribe the phrase from a set of tiles). It’s quite effective.

The only problem with it is that they don’t use your platform’s native font rendering, so you’re stuck with bitmapped fonts at specific sizes, and even at the largest size, it’s difficult to differentiate between 一 and ー on the tiles. Yes, they’re different, and yes, the software will beep haughtily at you if you pick the wrong one.

Wednesday, May 4 2005

Words to live by

I have a long way to go learning to read Japanese, but it’s nice to find the occasional phrase that my brain decodes automatically without stopping to translate:


The picture was cute, too.

Update: my, all of the online translation engines really make a hash of this one. I think BabelFish’s is the most glorious failure, though…

Friday, June 17 2005


Every time I include some Japanese text in a blog entry, I’m torn between adding furigana and, well, not. It’s extremely useful for people who don’t read kanji well, but it’s tedious to do by hand in HTML. At the same time, I find myself wishing that my Rosetta Stone courseware included furigana, so that I could hover the mouse over a word and see the pronunciation instead of switching from kanji to kana mode and back. I’d also like to see their example phrases in a better font, at higher resolution.

80 lines of Perl later:



[update: I tested this under IE on my Windows machine at work, and it correctly displayed the pop-up furigana, but ignored the CSS that highlighted the word it applied to; apparently my machine has extra magic installed, because the pop-up doesn’t use a Unicode font for some people. Sigh. Found! fixing tooltips in IE (about halfway down the page)]

(Continued on Page 2332)

Monday, June 20 2005

Things that climb trees

Update 7/9/2005: based on today’s RS lesson, I’ve decided that I misunderstood noboru-koto in this context. I’m mulling it over, and will correct and update when I’ve sorted out “koto” more thoroughly; the romanization point stands, but my first example is incorrectly analogized to karumono, and incorrectly translated as well.

Steven den Beste went looking for the meaning of 「エルフを狩るモノたち」, which is written oddly, and has been romanized several different ways. By coincidence, my Rosetta Stone lesson this morning included the following phrases:

(roughly, “This animal, it’s a thing-that-climbs in trees as well.”)

(roughly, “WhereWhich is the often-flying-animal?”)

You won’t find 登ること as a single word in a dictionary, but if I were romanizing it, I would write “noboru-koto” instead of “noboru koto”. If I were referring to a group of cats (登ること), I’d romanize it as “noboru-koto tachi”. I think that’s the clearest way to represent the meaning of the original.

You won’t find 飛ぶ動物 in a dictionary, either. This one definitely needs a hyphen, since “tobudoubutsu” is pretty unwieldy.

The anime title that started all this would ordinarily be written as 「エルフを狩る者」. I think the simplest explanation for how it ended up being written was “the logo designer thought it looked cooler this way”.

[as for the which/where typo in the translation, I actually wrote that correctly the first time, then “corrected” myself. Proof that I shouldn’t blog in languages that I don’t speak fluently before I’m completely awake in the morningafternoon.]

Tuesday, June 21 2005


Don’t ask me why…




泣きながら 歩く


  悲しみは のかげに
  悲しみは のかげに

泣きながら 歩く

…but if you must know. [update: changed the link to a site with better romanization and translation]

(Continued on Page 2336)

Thursday, July 7 2005

Practical Japanese Vocabulary

Today’s Rosetta Stone lesson could prove useful, in the right circumstances. Or perhaps it’s intended as a moral lesson…

perfectly innocent dialogue, innuendo inferred

Transcribed with pop-up furigana, the four sentences are:


Tuesday, August 2 2005

It does this and, it has and they are for ten thousand goodwill palpus う.

[Note the correction in red; see the update section for details on my mistake]

This is, of course, a bad translation of written Japanese, created by the SYSTRAN query tool supplied with Mac OS X Tiger. The original phrase was 「このはしは、もちのれんしゅうです。」, and it comes from the items shown below (the small white piece reads 「はしのおけいこ」, by the way, which is also the name of the complete product):

hashi no okeiko

The correct translation is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)

Update: the correct transcription would help. I goofed. If you click on the picture, you’ll see that the eighth character is actually 方, not 万. This makes the sentence so easy to translate that even SYSTRAN produces something mostly comprehensible. (or not. I forgot that I’d converted れんしゅう into the correct kanji; without that, SYSTRAN’s effort is still pretty bad)

The reason I wrote the wrong kanji is that, as printed on the chopstick, it looks like three strokes rather than four, and the three-stroke kanji it most closely resembles is extremely common. I noticed the visual difference, but disregarded it when I couldn’t find a better three-stroke match.

Update: to make up for my error, here’s another pair of training chopsticks, that teach a different skill…

Training chopsticks

Saturday, August 6 2005

Sake cheat card

After trying out a few types of sake and doing a little reading on the subject, I decided to gather up all of the useful information commonly printed on labels and menus, and arrange it on a double-sided 3x5 card. It was as much an excuse to play with the new version of Adobe Illustrator as anything else, but it should come in handy the next time I try to figure out what to buy at Mitsuwa.

Friday, August 12 2005

6Sense, podcast edition

A Japanese-language online radio show I like, 6Sense, is published in an annoying way. They keep more than a month’s worth of archives online in MP3 format, but each episode is split into 60+ audio files, accessed through a Flash interface.

Examining the Flash app told me very little. Examining my Privoxy logs gave me the regular-but-unpredictable naming convention for the audio files, and a little more digging turned up the URL that the Flash app calls to get the list for a specific day. After that, I simply used wget to download the complete show… as 60+ MP3 files.

Knowing that someone had to have written a Perl script to concatenate MP3 files, I googled and found mp3cat, part of Johan Vroman’s mp3cut package. Making the results into a podcast required the use of another Perl script, podcastamatic, and a web server to host the results. I just turned on web sharing on my Mac, moved the files into ~/Sites, and typed the appropriate URL into iTunes.

With the latest version, iTunes supports podcasts directly, but the integration is kind of peculiar, and carries over to the iPods. Both correctly track what you’ve listened to, and where you left off in the middle of an episode, but otherwise they’re not treated like regular audio tracks.

In iTunes, if you finish listening to one episode of a podcast, instead of moving on to the next episode, it skips to the current episode of the next podcast. On iPods, there’s no concept of “next” at all; when a podcast ends, it just stops playing. If you’ve set it to repeat, it repeats the episode you just heard. Unfortunately, not all podcasts are an hour long; some are quite short, such as ナナライフ, which averages about 90 seconds.

Ironically, the least sophisticated iPod handles podcasts the best right now. The iPod Shuffle just treats them as sound files, and syncs up the play count when you connect it to your computer. When you delete an episode from iTunes, it’s deleted from your Shuffle. Not perfect, but better for long drives (and I’m driving 150 miles a day right now, as I settle in to my new job…).

Saturday, August 27 2005

History is written by the winners moonbats

While in the book store last week, I picked up A History of Japan, by Conrad Totman. I didn’t make it past the preface before the bullshit was too deep to wade through. Quoting:

Today we find ourselves at a point where the level of human exploitation of the ecosystem appears to be throwing the entire global biome into crisis. The Earth is now home to well over six billion people, but in fact this small planet’s current biological production is not remotely capable of sustaining those people in the manner to which they are accustomed, much less the manner to which they aspire.

This, he says, is why he decided to write a book about Japanese history. Skimming ahead and checking the reviews, it appears his “ecological” approach to history taints the contents from cover to cover, coloring both which facts he chooses to include, and how he interprets them.

I have rarely felt the urge to return a book to the store based on its content, but a historian who so thoroughly injects his personal politics into the material simply isn’t worth reading.

Monday, August 29 2005

Foothill Follies

I’ve made a lot of progress learning Japanese with the Rosetta Stone software, but I decided that it’s time to work on the area that it helps least with: speaking. Since I’m working in Palo Alto again, taking a class seemed like a good idea, and Foothill College seems to have a good program, with flexible hours. Sort of.

Their first-year class is offered in evenings, which will work great for me. The second-year class appears to only be available at 8am, three days a week, which is not so good. Even without taking into consideration the fact that I live 75 miles from the campus, I’m not much of a morning learner.

Worse, the Intermediate Conversation class that can be taken alongside the second-year class starts at 8pm on the same days. If this isn’t an error in the online course catalog, it’s pretty stupid. They don’t have the schedules for Winter and Spring online yet, so I suspect I’ll have to talk to someone in the department to find out if this is typical. If I can continue their program in the evenings, or even later in the morning, I will; otherwise, I may have to drop it after the first year.

Thursday, September 29 2005

The cleansing power of Quartz

So my new Japanese class has started (lousy classroom, good teacher, reasonable textbook, nice group of students, unbelievably gorgeous teacher’s assistant (I will never skip class…)), and, as expected, the teacher is pushing us to master hiragana quickly. I did that quite a while ago, so while everyone else is trying to learn it from scratch, I can focus on improving my handwriting.

One thing she suggested was a set of flash cards. I had mine with me, and mentioned that they were available for a quite reasonable price at Kinokuniya. Her response was along the lines of “yes, I know, but nobody ever buys optional study materials; do you think you could photocopy them so I can make handouts?”

I could, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as making my own set. The first step was finding a decent kana font. Mac OS X ships with several Unicode fonts that include the full Japanese kana and kanji sets, but they didn’t meet my needs: looking good at display sizes, and clearly showing the boundaries between strokes. I found Adobe Ryo Display Standard. TextEdit seems to be a bit confused about its line-height, but I wasn’t planning to create the cards in that app anyway.

How to generate the card images? Perl, of course, with the PDF::API2::Lite module. I could have written a script that calculated the correct size of cards to fill the page, but I was feeling lazy, so I wrote a 12-line script to put one large character in the middle of a page, loaded the results into Preview, set the print format to 16-up with a page border, and printed to a new PDF file. Instant flash cards.

For many people, this would be sufficient, but one of the things sensei liked about the cards I had brought was the numbers and arrows that indicated the correct stroke order. There was no lazy way to do this, so I used Adobe Acrobat’s drawing and stamping tools. The stamping tool lets you quickly decorate a PDF file with images in many formats, so I just modified my previous script to create PDF files containing single numbers, and imported them into the stamp tool. The line-drawing tool let me make arrows, although I couldn’t figure out a simple way to set my own line-width and have it remembered (1pt was too thin after the 16-up, and 2pt had too-big arrowheads).

So why is this post titled “the cleansing power of Quartz”? Because the one-per-page annotated output from Acrobat was more than six times larger than the same file printed 16-up from Preview. Just printing the original file back to PDF shrank it by a factor of four, which, coincidentally, is almost exactly what you get when you run gzip on it…

The final results are here.

Tuesday, October 4 2005

Audio cleanup?

While my Japanese class is going well so far (the pace is a bit slow, due in part to the overhead of community-college drop/add handling), I’ve found one serious annoyance: the audio CDs are crap.

There’s nothing wrong with the content; the material is presented clearly by native speakers, and the original mastering was well-done. Unfortunately, it was mastered for cassette tape, and the CDs were apparently converted from that format. How well was this done? Here’s a thousand words on the subject:

Situational Functional Japanese Audio CDs

That’s what it looked like when I loaded a track into Audacity. I can crank up the gain, but then the hiss becomes objectionable, and Audacity’s noise filter introduces some rather obnoxious artifacts, even at its gentlest setting. I’ll be using these CDs until March, so it’s worth a little time and money to me to get them cleaned up. Any recommendations for a good tool?

Monday, November 7 2005

Flashcards revisited

A while back, I made quick and dirty hiragana flashcards, using the Mac OS X print dialog to print single-word pages 16-up. As my Japanese class moves along, though, there’s a need for something more sophisticated. Each lesson in our book includes a number of kanji words that will be on the test, and while my previous method will work, the hard-coded font sizes and word placement get messy to maintain.

If I’m going to write an honest-to-gosh flashcard generator, though, I might as well go whole-hog and make it capable of printing study words vertically, the way they’d be printed in a book or newspaper. Learning to recognize horizontal text might get me through the test, but it’s not enough for real Japanese literacy.

Here’s the Perl script (requires PDF::API2::Lite), a horizontal example, and vertical example. You’ll need to supply the name of your own TrueType/OpenType font that includes the kanji, unless you happen to have a copy of Kozuka Mincho Pro Regular around the house.

Note that the above PDF files have been significantly reduced in size (by an order of magnitude!) by using Mac OS X’s Preview app and saving them with the Quartz filter “Reduce File Size”. The words in the sample are from the review sheet for this week’s lesson…

Update: One problem with my vertical-printing solution quickly became obvious, and I don’t have a good solution for it. The short version is “Unicode is meaning, not appearance”, so variant glyphs can’t be easily selected, even if they’re present in your font. Specifically, the katakana prolonged-sound mark 「ー」 should be a vertical line when you’re writing vertically. Also, all of the small kana 「ぁぃぅぇぉっ」 should be offset up and to the right, and good fonts include correct variants, but I can cheat on that one; I just need to move the glyph, not change its shape.

No one seems to have figured out the necessary font-encoding tricks to pull this off with PDF::API2. At least, it’s not turning up in any google incantation I try, which leaves me with one conceptually disgusting workaround: rotate and flip. Calligraphers and type-weenies will cringe, but at text sizes it will pass. The correct character is on the left:

vertical kana hack

Now to write the code for both workarounds…

[side note: Adobe’s premier software suite is remarkably fragile; I just got it into a state where I couldn’t run Photoshop. How? I started Illustrator, which opened Adobe’s software-update tool in the background, then quit Illustrator. When I started Photoshop, it tried to open the update tool again, couldn’t, and crashed.]

Thursday, January 5 2006

Globalization is just peachy!

I needed to restock the pantry, so I made a late-night run to the local Safeway last night. I was passing through the canned-fruit section when something peculiar caught my eye:

デルモンテ イエローピーチ

These California peaches, canned by Kikkoman for a Japanese audience, somehow ended up on the shelves of a California grocery store that serves a largely Hispanic community.

Friday, February 10 2006

The Collected Poetry of Tamura Ryuichi

Yes, this is a bit outside my usual range, but my Japanese teacher did the translations, and everyone’s linking to an old, dead site. CCC Books is the new one. It includes some samples.

[Update: Sigh. A search for “Tamura Ryuichi” produces completely different results from a search for “Ryuichi Tamura”, complicating our efforts to replace the old, dead link with the new one…]

Tuesday, February 14 2006

Bargain Brushwork

Over the holidays, I visited with family, and my mother wanted to know the meaning of some of the Chinese/Japanese characters she’d hung on her walls. Most of them were in fact Chinese, but I was still able to give her the general meaning. Some were in a calligraphic style that made it difficult to count strokes, others simply weren’t in Japanese-oriented dictionaries, but one set of prints in particular stood out.

stroke art

When I showed this picture to my Japanese teacher, a Shodou artist, she almost fell off her chair laughing. Why? Because they mean “11¥, 12¥, 13¥, 14¥”. When I first saw them, I said, “Mom, you didn’t buy art, you bought the price tags!”

Wednesday, February 15 2006

Textbook-style Japanese font

While I was helping my teacher out with her computer (most recently using the terrific Linotype FontExplorer X to coerce Word’s font cache into recognizing her copy of Adobe Garamond), she mentioned that one of her friends had a very nice 教科書体 (literally “textbook-style”) kanji font. Much like western fonts, most kanji fonts don’t look like handwritten characters; Kyoukasho-tai fonts do.

While my teacher is off in Osaka this week, her friend took over the class, and I remembered to ask her what the font was and where she got it. As it turns out, it’s something that Microsoft included on the Office.X CD, as part of the Value Pack. DFPKyoKaSho-W3, or, thanks to the miracle of text-encoding mismatches, “ÇcÇeÇoã≥â»èëëÃW3” (the actual file name as it appears in the Finder).

Here’s how it compares to Adobe Kozuka Mincho:

Kyoukasho vs. Mincho

Update: people who don’t have a copy of Office.X and don’t use ebay can purchase DF Kyokasho from Linotype’s online store for the low, low price of $490. This is actually a pretty good deal; Microsoft’s bundled version is an old-fashioned Mac-only font suitcase, while Linotype’s is a cross-platform Unicode font in OpenType format. And they sell a slightly heavier weight as well, which I think looks better at larger sizes.

Thursday, March 2 2006

Idol worship in Japan

I always knew that American music agencies were rank amateurs at creating pop idols compared to the Japanese (c.f. Tiffany vs Hello! Project), but I hadn’t realized how much the fanbase contributes to this.

Case in point: last month, some paparazzi pictures were published of 18-year-old Kago Ai, an extremely popular idol singer, and they may have ended her career.

Now, if you’re used to Hollywood scandals and the all-too-common meltdown of former child stars, you’re probably thinking in terms of cocaine, public sex, car wrecks, shoplifting, armed robbery, drunken partying, and incredibly poor taste in boyfriends.

(Continued on Page 2488)

Saturday, April 1 2006

Things you never want to see in a recipe

This looked like a reasonable introduction to Japanese-style curry, until I hit this “basic tip”:

Scoop lye on the surface.

I guess I wasn’t paying attention during those school field trips to Mostly Faithful Recreation Of How People Used To Live Town, because the only things that come to mind when I hear the word lye are “harsh soap” and “drain cleaner”. As a way of finishing off your curry, it strikes me as a way of finishing off your guests.

Tuesday, April 4 2006

A disciplined mind

It’s looking like my Spring Quarter Japanese 3 class will be canceled. Actually, it’s all but certain at this point, and everyone who could has already switched their enrollment to the morning class.

This leaves me in an awkward position. The Rosetta Stone software remains useful as a supplement, but it’s been quite a while since it’s been able to really help me advance. I need interaction now, primarily conversation practice, but also occasional enlightenment when I get into trouble (have I mentioned that the Situational Functional Japanese series is crap? I haven’t? Well, it is. More on that another time).

While I wait for the class to be offered again in Summer Quarter, I need two things: someone to talk to (preferably someone familiar with the material I’ve studied), and a decent textbook to review. I’ll get some conversation practice in the Japanese Culture and Calligraphy course I’m taking, but the book is another story.

I could start on a new multi-volume series such as Japanese for Busy People or Genki (both of which I already own, actually), but our teacher suggested an alternative: a single book that covers all of the material usually presented in 4-6 books. They used it for many years at Foothill, and she stressed how much better it was at explaining things and presenting proper use of the language.

It is, of course, long out of print. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean what it used to, and I was able to acquire a copy of Japanese For Today within two days through Amazon.

While going through it and erasing the many penciled-in comments (and sighing over the few inked ones), I started to understand why she liked it, but it wasn’t until I read the “Organization” section that I fully appreciated the work they’d put into it: each of the 30 lessons is precisely 12 printed pages long, divided in exactly the same way each time, but there’s no gratuitous whitespace or obvious padding. The authors appear to have spent a great deal of time thinking about what to cover and how. I’m looking forward to reading it cover-to-cover.

Its only flaw is the extensive use of romanization, which is regrettable, but not surprising in a book written in 1973. The presentation section of each lesson does introduce the new material in proper written Japanese, with furigana, so it’s not all bad.

My other project for the Spring is kanji writing practice, but that’s another blog entry…

Wednesday, April 19 2006

Lost in translation: Russian Roulette

[Cross-posted in Pixy Misa’s Language Lab forum.]

Update: My original version is now below the fold. This is the update. I have some ideas on a version that reads better in English, but I wanted to get a reasonably precise version up before I attempt “creative adaptation”. My rationale for using “I” for all of the omitted pronouns is here.

This is a work-in-progress, mostly-literal translation of the opening song from the Dirty Pair TV series. I got the lyrics from here, corrected a few errors based on the original subtitles here, repeatedly listened to the full version of the song here, got a bit of grammar advice from my Japanese teacher (who, in true teacher form, made me do the work myself and come back for help later…), and here we go!

Love without risk is boring,
“kake no nai koi nado tsumaranai”

いつも ハラハラ・ドキドキさせてよ
I need excitement and thrills!
“itsumo harahara/dokidoki-sasete yo”

退屈な時には 誘われちゃうのよ
When I’m bored, I’m easily seduced.
“taikutsu-na toki ni wa sasowarechau no yo”

My wicked heart can’t stop.
“warui kokoro ga tomaranai”

Tonight, I’m going to a secret casino.
“kon’ya himitsu no kashino ni oide yo”

たまにゃ 無謀な遊びに 酔いしれ
Sometimes, reckless games intoxicate me.
“tamanya (tamani wa) mubou-na asobi ni yoi-shire”

落ちてゆくよな 気分は 慣れたら こわいよ
It’s scary that I’m getting used to losing control.
“ochite yuku-yo-na kibun wa naretara kowai yo” – ochite yuku (“to go falling”) + yo + na (variant of ne)

クセになりそな エクスタシー
Ecstasy is becoming a habit.
“kuse ni nariso-na ecstasy”

ロシアン ロシアン・ルーレット
Russian, Russian Roulette

今すぐ心に 白黒つけて
Right now I’ll settle my heart once and for all.
“imasugu kokoro ni shiro-kuro-tsukete”

鈍く光った マグナム持つたび
Every time I hold this cold-steel magnum,
“nibuku-hikatta magnum motsu-tabi”

a chill runs down my spine.
“hosoi line ni denki ga hashiru wa” – literally “electricity is running in a thin line”

イチかバチかで アナタを 虜にするまで
Risking it all to capture you,
“ichika-bachika de anata wo toriko ni suru made” – ichika-bachika = literally “one or eight”, apparently derived from an old gambling game, and commonly used to represent a 50/50 chance. Edict gives it as “sink-or-swim”, but in this context, the gambling interpretation makes more sense.

私 危険な ロシアン・ルーレット
for me, there’s only a dangerous Russian Roulette.
“atashi kiken-na Russian Roulette”

ハラハラ・ドキドキ Dance Dance
thrilling, heart-pounding – dance dance
“harahara-dokidoki – dance dance”

ウキウキ・ワクワク Chance Chance
light-hearted, trembling – chance chance
“ukiuki-wakuwaku – chance chance

ハラハラ・ドキドキ Dance Dance
thrilling, heart-pounding – dance dance

ウキウキ・ワクワク Chance Chance
light-hearted, trembling – chance chance

I’m resolute.
“kakugo wo kimete”

[repeat first box]

ロシアン ロシアン・ルーレット
Russian, Russian Roulette

ここまで来たら あとには引けない
I’ve gone too far, there’s no turning back.
“koko made kitara ato ni wa hikenai”

鈍く光った マグナム抱きしめ
Embracing this cold-steel magnum,
“nibuku-hikatta magnum dakishime”

少しおびえる 可愛いエルフィン
I’m a kind-of-frightened cute elf,
“sukoshi obieru kawaii elfin”

命を賭けて アナタを 虜にするまで
risking my life to capture you,
“inochi wo kakete anata wo toriko ni suru made”

私 危険な ロシアン・ルーレット
for me, there’s only a dangerous Russian Roulette.
“atashi kiken-na Russian Roulette”

[repeat second box]

[repeat fourth box]

[repeat third box]

I’m resolute.
“kakugo wo kimete”

[repeat third box]

(Continued on Page 2523)

Okay, now my brain hurts

It would be polite understatement to say that most of my friends do not understand my affection for such things as anime and Morning Musume. Yea, though I walk through the hallway in the shadow of Chacarron, I shall fear no evil, for kawaii art with me; Mini Strawberry Pie and fan-service comedies, they comfort me.

That said, I think this goes too far. Click on the streaming audio of track number 3.

(Continued on Page 2524)

Tuesday, April 25 2006

I, I, I!

Later, I’ll be making a major revision of my translation of the Dirty Pair theme song Russian Roulette, but there’s something I want to get in writing before I forget it.

When I started going through the lyrics, I felt very strongly that the omitted pronouns should be “I”. Discussing it last night with my teacher, we disagreed on a few of them, but I still believed that I was right.

While working out this morning, I realized why: the singer is speaking for Kei and Yuri; she’s a woman pursuing a man romantically, but the life she leads forces her to describe the chase in terms of a secret agent hunting an enemy. Everything in the song is about her; her life, her risk, her heart, expressed to him the only way she knows how.

He’s the listener, addressed directly – “anata” – but never the subject.

Thursday, April 27 2006


Hokusai -- The Big Wave

A common complaint among older generations is that the youth of today has no respect for culture and history. I’m pleased to see that this is not an issue in Japan.

(Continued on Page 2533)

Thursday, May 18 2006

PDF::API2,, kanji fonts, and me

I’d love to know why this PDF file displays its text correctly in Acrobat Reader, but not in (compare to this one, which does). Admittedly, the application generating it is including the entire font, not just the subset containing the characters used (which is why it’s so bloody huge), but it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do in PDF. A bit rude to the bandwidth-impaired, perhaps, but nothing more.

While I’m on the subject of flaws in, let me point out two more. One that first shipped with Tiger is the insistence on displaying and printing Aqua data-entry fields in PDF files containing Acrobat forms, even when no data has been entered. Compare and contrast with Acrobat, which only displays the field boundaries while that field has focus. Result? Any page element that overlaps a data-entry field is obscured, making it impossible to view or print the blank form. How bad could it be? This bad (I’ll have to make a screenshot for the users…).

The other problem is something I didn’t know about until yesterday (warning: long digression ahead). I’ve known for some time that only certain kanji fonts will appear in when I generate PDFs with PDF::API2 (specifically, Kozuka Mincho Pro and Ricoh Seikaisho), but for a while I was willing to work with that limitation. Yesterday, however, I broke down and bought a copy of the OpenType version of DynaFont’s Kyokasho, specifically to use it in my kanji writing practice. As I sort-of expected, it didn’t work.

[Why buy this font, which wasn’t cheap? Mincho is a Chinese style used in books, magazines, etc; it doesn’t show strokes the way you’d write them by hand. Kaisho is a woodblock style that shows strokes clearly, but they’re not always the same strokes. Kyoukasho is the official style used to teach kanji writing in primary-school textbooks in Japan. (I’d link to the nice page at sci.lang.japan FAQ that shows all of them at once, but it’s not there any more, and several of the new pages are just editing stubs; I’ll have to make a sample later)]

Anyway, what I discovered was that if you open the un-Preview-able PDF in the full version of Adobe Acrobat, save it as PostScript, and then let convert it back to PDF, not only does it work (see?), the file size has gone from 4.2 megabytes to 25 kilobytes. And it only takes a few seconds to perform this pair of conversions.

Wouldn’t it be great to automate this task using something like AppleScript? Yes, it would. Unfortunately, is not scriptable. Thanks, guys. Fortunately, Acrobat Distiller is scriptable and just as fast.

On the subject of “why I’m doing this in the first place,” I’ve decided that the only useful order to learn new kanji in is the order they’re used in the textbooks I’m stuck with for the next four quarters. The authors don’t seem to have any sensible reasons for the order they’ve chosen, but they average 37 new kanji per lesson, so at least they’re keeping track. Since no one else uses the same order, and the textbooks provide no support for actually learning kanji, I have to roll my own.

There are three Perl scripts involved, which I’ll clean up and post eventually: the first reads a bunch of vocabulary lists and figures out which kanji are new to each lesson, sorted by stroke count and dictionary order; the second prints out the practice PDF files; the third is for vocabulary flashcards, which I posted a while back. I’ve already gone through the first two lessons with the Kaisho font, but I’m switching to the Kyoukasho now that I’ve got it working.

Putting it all together, my study sessions look like this. For each new kanji, look it up in The Kanji Learner’s Dictionary to get the stroke order, readings, and meaning; trace the Kyoukasho sample several times while mumbling the readings; write it out 15 more times on standard grid paper; write out all the readings on the same grid paper, with on-yomi in katakana and kun-yomi in hiragana, so that I practice both. When I finish all the kanji in a lesson, I write out all of the vocabulary words as well as the lesson’s sample conversation. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My minimum goal is to catch up on everything we used in the previous two quarters (~300 kanji), and then keep up with each lesson as I go through them in class. My stretch goal is to get through all of the kanji in the textbooks by the end of the summer (~1000), giving me an irregular but reasonably large working set, and probably the clearest handwriting I’ve ever had. :-)

Tuesday, May 23 2006

Lost in translation: “bokeh”

Every once in a while, I suddenly remember that I’m studying Japanese, and that I have the resources to figure out what things really mean, not just what other people claim they mean. Usually, this involves song lyrics or anime dialog, but today I was reminded of the trendy photographic term bokeh, and decided to sort it out.

Googling the term will turn up dozens of sites that carefully explain that bokeh refers to the quality with which a photographic lens renders the out-of-focus area of images, with a mix of technical jargon and artistic handwaving, and tell you that “boke” is the Japanese word for blur.

There are objective, measurable differences in how lenses render blurred areas of the picture. Minolta even made a monster of a portrait lens specifically designed to produce glorious blur (I tried it out side-by-side with a conventional lens here). Once artists get hold of a word, though, there’s no telling what it might mean, and I’ve seen a number of pretentious explanations of the true meaning of bokeh.

So you’ll understand my amusement when I looked it up and discovered that boke actually means “out of touch with reality”. Less politely, “idiot” or “senile fool”.

The actual Japanese photographic term is ピンぼけ (for the kana-impaired, “pinboke”). It’s a compound word; pin from the Dutch brandpunt = “focus”, and boke from the verb 暈ける (“bokeru”) = “to fade”.

[update! a comment on the Wikipedia page led me to an alternate choice: ぼけ味 (“bokeaji”), which is a combination of ピンぼけ and 味 (“aji”), meaning “flavor”. Supporting evidence for that can be found on Japanese camera sites like this and this (second one mildly NSFW).]

Oh, and the real “Japanese word for blur”? 不鮮明 (“fusenmei”). A related word that might come in handy occasionally is ぶれ (“bure”), meaning “camera shake”.

Thursday, June 1 2006

Mai-HiME manga note

It doesn’t appear that the Mai-HiME manga has been licensed for the US market yet, despite the expected popularity of the anime. Pity, really, because I’m curious how the usual hack translators would deal with the last page of the first volume. A Strange Cute Girl (one of many) has just entered Our Hero’s dorm room, stripped off her panties, and pushed him to the ground. The volume ends with a full-page panel of her straddling him, speaking the line:


Our Hero seems more shocked than excited by this statement, but it’s understandable, since he’s still discovering just how peculiar his new school (and its girls) are. Unfortunately for him, I’ve seen enough spoilers from the (very different…) anime to know that neither shock nor excitement is the right response to a bold invitation from this girl. “Fleeing in terror with his manhood protected by a sturdy shield” just about covers it.

My other response to this scene was “hey, I just read that, and only had to stop and think about one of the kanji” (鍵, which I haven’t gotten to in my writing practice yet; I know the word, and they provided furigana that made it clear). Okay, the others are extremely common, basic kanji, but the point is that I was reading rather than deciphering.

Wednesday, June 7 2006

Brush calligraphy progress report, Bad Haiku Edition


Or, in equally fractured English:

Spring Term with the brush,
a ragged line on the page.
“That is not ichi!”

[I think most of the students are feeling the pain, but us southpaws suffer the additional indignity of being forced to confront our limited control over our right hands.]

Sunday, June 18 2006

How my mind works…

My struggle for Japanese literacy continues, as my kanji writing practice catches up to the new textbook we start on in July. I’ve now practiced 238 of the 302 kanji in the first volume of the text, writing out each one at least 20 times in correct stroke order, along with all of the standard readings (dictionary-style: on-yomi in katakana, kun-yomi in hiragana, to keep up my practice with both). These aren’t the only ones I know, but they’re now the ones I know best.

I’d wanted to be a lot further along by now, but between work and the demands of my other Japanese class (which involves the opaque writing of Daisetz T. Suzuki, the wretched haiku translation of Harold G. Henderson, and my ongoing struggle with brush calligraphy), not to mention the physical pain of writing lots of complex characters for the first time, progress has been slow.

[side note: the top review of Henderson’s book at Amazon says that his translations “push the envelope of what good translation of poetry of all kinds should be”. I agree, but not in a good way. Not only does he impose his interpretation on the work, but his need to make haiku rhyme adds words and concepts not present in the Japanese text (which he at least provides in romanized form with a usually-accurate literal translation as a footnote, unlike most English-language haiku books).]

One of the things that makes writing practice so important to kanji literacy is the relatively small number of elements that are combined to create thousands of distinct characters. The authors of our textbook assume that they can simply show you a bunch of vocabulary words repeatedly with furigana, and somehow you will learn to recognize them as something other than blob-blob, blob-blob-blob, blob.

Sorry to burst their bubble, but without any knowledge of structure, strings of kanji just look like an explosion in a serif factory, especially when printed small in a Mincho typeface, as opposed to the Kyōkasho fonts used in actual Japanese schools.

Not all of the graphical elements in a kanji encode meaning, or even pronunciation, but some do, and even false associations can be extremely useful for composing and decomposing a character. There are a number of books that actively encourage the student to create such associations.

I’m not using any of those. A while back, I gave up on learning kanji in any sensible order and extracted them from our textbook, lesson by lesson. Until I have at least a thousand under my belt, I can’t really read Japanese text that’s not artificially constructed for students, and I have to read our textbook anyway, so that’s the most useful order to learn them in.

I am creating mental associations, however, and today I caught myself making one that was downright silly, for : “it’s the grass-headed robot from kan, next to the bottom-right corner of ”. That is:


Oddly enough, this will improve my memory of all three.

Sunday, June 25 2006

World Cups

I just admire how thoroughly the photographer covered this little World Cup promotional tie-in. Two girls, two bikinis, two DVDs, seventy pictures. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Monday, July 31 2006

Reasons to learn Japanese #12: 後藤真希

Remember when Britney Spears was a really cute teenage girl? And then a few weeks later she was the sex kitten, a position from which she ruled the world until she was old enough to make her own career decisions and revealed that she’s about as bright and sophisticated as Tom Cruise is sane? I actually saw this magazine cover three times at stores without recognizing her.

It makes me (mostly) appreciate the Japanese idol system, where both the industry and the fans will cheerfully ostracize a star for even slightly tarnishing her image.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I expect Maki’s sex-kitten phase to last much longer than Britney’s, with no trailer-trash serial weddings to disrupt the fun.

Here’s her latest video. J like.

Maki Goto's "Glass Pumps"

Thursday, August 10 2006

は vs. が

The most coherent explanation I’ve found for understanding the difference between the “wa” and “ga” particles in Japanese comes from Jay Rubin’s book Making Sense of Japanese (originally titled “Gone Fishin’”). Namely, use “ga” when you want to emphasize the previous word, and “wa” when you want to emphasize the following words. Which to use depends on what kind of question you’re asking or answering.

For example, he gives the following answers:

  1. Ikimashita. “I went.”
  2. Watashi wa ikimashita. “Me? I went.”
  3. Watashi ga ikimashita.I went.”

And these matching questions:

  1. Dou shimashita ka. “What did you do?” Or: Ikimashita ka. “Did you go?”
  2. Soshite, Yamamura-san wa? Dou shimashita ka. “And now you, Mr. Yamamura. What did you do?”
  3. Dare ga ikimashita ka. “Who went?”

And that’s why 「私はケーキです。」 does not mean “I am the cake”, no matter what BabelFish says. Except when it does, of course, but for that, you’ll have to read the rest of the book.

Friday, August 18 2006

fun with tongues


Tuesday, August 22 2006

Random cuteness

[update: to no surprise, the rights-holders in Japan have finally caught up with Youtube, and forced the removal thousands of video clips. I’m not upset with them about it, particularly for things available on DVD (I own import copies of all of the concert and PV footage I linked below); I just wish it were possible to legitimately watch the ephemera.]

This is just a placeholder for links to random videos on Youtube:


Friday, September 1 2006

Shaken, not squeezed

Despite my lifelong admiration of the female breast, I can honestly say that this never occurred to me:

Other Japanese men engage in the all-too-common handshake scam, where a friendly man pretends to want to shake your hand Western-style, then fondles your breast at the same time.

This comes from the “Women Travellers” section of the Lonely Planet Japan guidebook. Their stuff is generally reliable, as long as you ignore their fondness for treating alternatives to Western medicine and logic as simple fact, and it’s no secret that groping is a significant problem in Japan, so this is probably an accurate and necessary warning.

By the way, their World Food Japan book is excellent. I have a slight preference for What’s What in Japanese Restaurants, but more for the presentation than for the content; more kanji, and they don’t keep using the phrase “traditional restaurant-cum-bar” to describe izakaya (their other Japan books just call them pubs, like everyone else does).

WWiJR is also slightly harder to lose than WFJ; I know I’ve got a copy of it around here somewhere, but it must be hidden under a CD or DVD. I had to use Amazon’s search-inside feature to look up its euphemism for pub. Which, by the way, appears to be censored on some pages, or else their scanning/viewing software has an odd glitch that accidentally deletes the “-cum-bar” part about half the time without affecting anything else on the page.

[and now I dread the search-engine referrals I’m going to get for having those two words in close proximity…]

Sunday, September 3 2006

A day’s worth of Japanese spam

[update: well, this one’s straightforward: 「女の子の足を開かせる」]

I figured I was getting more Japanese spam recently because there’s Japanese text on this blog, but no, that’s not it. Almost all of it goes to addresses harvested elsewhere, including one I that I can never remember the origin of (“j.nwo@…”). Only one in this batch was even sent to an address in the domain.

The subject lines make for fun reading. One thing to note is that the structure of the language seems to be keeping them comprehensible. Either Japanese spam-filtering is a lot more primitive, mangling it to evade spam filters and still be readable is a lot harder, or both. That might explain why my teacher has trouble sending email from a US Yahoo account to some ISPs in Japan; it’s easier to just refuse messages from specific domains and IP blocks tainted by spam.

  • おっぱいを素敵な男性にも吸われたい・
  • 迷惑メール届いてませんか?
  • 美咲よりjgreelyさんへ
  • 突然申し訳ございません
  • 火遊び?プリーズ!
  • 孤独に死んで行くおつもりですか?
  • 写真みてくれましたか?
  • 今日待ち合わせできますか?
  • ネット版ハプニングバーへようこそ!
  • サクラゼロの優良サイトから無料パート
  • サクッと軽く性欲解消
  • ご指名されました
  • H友100人できるかな♪
  • ☆逆援助相手、真剣交際相手☆
  • ☆☆確実な出逢いで今日から楽しい
  • ■目的別で交際相手を探してみませんか
  • ■即アポ確実■
  • 【淫らな人妻、派遣いたします】

Sunday, September 24 2006

Uplifting International News

September is ending, school is starting, my job is alternately tedious and annoying, and the world is filled with people desperate to pretend that everything will turn out all right if we just stop offending the delicate sensibilities of murderous savages.

And so, I spend my afternoon ogling pretty girls from Japan, modeling new bikinis and hawking gaming gear.

And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Ayaka teaching English to Morning Musume.

Tuesday, October 10 2006

No, they really can sing…

…just not in English, and not this song.

[link goes to full-length, heavily-compressed MP3; the resulting quality loss does not significantly alter the effect. The full album, which is mostly not at all like this, can be found here]

Thursday, October 12 2006

Maid Cafe, please

San Francisco is looking to invigorate its Japantown with an infusion of pop culture. I’ve been insisting for a while now that Otaku Tokyo is one of the few colorful themes left unlicensed for a major Las Vegas casino, so perhaps this will help show the money-men the power of kawaii.

Japantown, old and busted

Tuesday, October 17 2006

ClarisWorks 4 JP to Word

Given an old ClarisWorks 4 Japanese document and a working copy of ClarisWorks 4 Japanese Edition, in theory you can just export it to Word, and the Japanese text will be translated correctly. If you are running on an Intel-based Mac, this won’t work. Actually, unless you can do a clean reinstall of CW4JP under a copy of Classic that has the Japanese language kit installed, it might not work at all.

AppleWorks 6, however, which is still available in stores and runs nicely under Rosetta, will. At least, with a little help.

  1. Open the file myoldstuff in AppleWorks. Don’t worry if the kanji turns to garbage, and even if it looks okay, don’t bother trying to cut-and-paste into other documents. It won’t work. You can view and print, and that’s about it.
  2. Save as RTF in, let’s say, Desktop/myoldstuff.rtf.
  3. Open the Terminal, and run this command:
    textutil -inputencoding x-mac-japanese \
       -encoding UTF-8 -convert rtf Desktop/myoldstuff.rtf
  4. Open the file in Word, and save as a Word Document. Optionally, fix the fonts and margins, which are almost certainly wrong now.

If your AppleWorks install is damaged or incomplete, it won’t be able to open CW4JP docs; you’ll have to reinstall. The English version bundled with PowerPC-based Macs for a long time works just fine, so if you’ve got one, you don’t need to buy the retail package. I use the copy that came with my PowerBook, which was automatically transferred to my new MacBook.

Note that DataViz MacLinkPlus, for all its virtues, hasn’t the slightest idea what to do with Japanese editions of the software formats it supports.

Wednesday, November 1 2006

iTunes in Japanese, you say?

But Brian, isn’t it always?

iTunes in Japanese

Oh, you meant the online store. Apparently it’s sending people all over the world today, and not just those who took the 7.0.2 update. I’d guess that their region-guessing heuristic goes by netblocks, and the database got corrupted somehow.

[I was tempted to title this entry 「また会う日まで」, in response to Brian’s Mr. Roboto quote, but it doesn’t really work, even though it’s the refrain in one of the songs pictured]

Saturday, November 4 2006

I admire their review system

Pete linked to this Aya Matsuura fansite in my comments. It’s nicely laid out, and seems to cover her career quite comprehensively. My favorite part is the DVD review section, which includes a 評価グラフ that rates each release by:

  • あやや度 - how much Aya?
  • ウキウキ度 - how cheerful is it?
  • ニヤニヤ度 - are there lots of smiles?
  • 泣ける度 - how sad is it?
  • 芸術度 - how artistic is it?

Being a purely subjective scale, many of them go beyond 100%. This one’s Ayaya-do is off the charts. I can’t imagine why…

(Continued on Page 2626)

Tuesday, November 21 2006


The names given to Japanese bands are often peculiar. The folks at Hello!Project have a good track record in this regard, with their 2005 “shuffle” projects having the names セクシーオトナジャン, エレジーズ, and プリプリピンク.

Despite the use of katakana in the names, only one of these is a true loanword, “Elegies”. The other two translate to, respectively, “Sexy Grownups?” and either “Angry Pink” or “Stinky Pink”. They may not be angry, and they probably smell nice, but they’re definitely pink.

But that’s not the puripuri I’m writing about today. I tripped across a completely different use of the word this morning at Kinokuniya. PuriPuri – The Premature Priest:

PuriPuri: The Premature Priest

Five volumes (so far!) of Catholic-school fan service. I don’t see a catgirl, but there’s a meganekko witch on the cover of volume two, and volume three apparently features The Three MusketeersLust-a-teers.

The artist’s official web site includes this nice sample from the volume three cover.

Friday, November 24 2006

JMdict + XML::Twig + DBD::SQLite = ?

In theory, I’m still working at Digeo. In practice, not so much. As we wind our way closer to the layoff date, I have less and less actual work to do, and more and more “anticipating the future failures of our replacements”. On the bright side, I’ve had a lot of time to study Japanese and prepare for Level 3 of the JLPT, which is next weekend.

I’m easily sidetracked, though, and the latest side project is importing the freely-distributed JMdict/EDICT and KANJIDIC dictionaries into a database and wrapping it with Perl, so that I can more easily incorporate them into my PDF-generating scripts.

Unfortunately, all of the tree-based XML parsing libraries for Perl create massive memory structures (I killed the script after it got past a gig), and the stream-based ones don’t make a lot of sense to me. XML::Twig’s documentation is oriented toward transforming XML rather than importing it, but it’s capable of doing the right thing without writing ridiculously unPerly code:

my $twig = new XML::Twig(
        twig_handlers => { entry => \&parse_entry });
sub parse_entry {
        my $ref = $_[1]->simplify;
        print "Entry ID=",$ref->{ent_seq},"\n";

SQLite was the obvious choice for a back-end database. It’s fast, free, stable, serverless, and Apple’s supporting it as part of Core Data.

Putting it all together meant finally learning how to read XML DTDs, getting a crash course in SQL database design to lay out the tables in a sensible way, and writing useful and efficient queries. I’m still working on that last part, but I’ve gotten far enough that my lookup tool has basic functionality: given a complete or partial search term in kanji, kana, or English, it returns the key parts of the matching entries. Getting all of the available data assembled requires both joins and multiple queries, which is tedious to sort out.

I started with JMdict, which is a lot bigger and more complicated, so importing KANJIDIC2 is going to be easy when I get around to it. That won’t be this week, though, because the JLPT comes but once a year, and finals week comes right after.

[side note: turning off auto-commit and manually committing after every 500th entry cut the import time by 2/3]

Sunday, December 10 2006

Kanji cross-referencing

Jim Breen’s KANJIDIC includes cross-references for various printed kanji dictionaries, and KANJIDIC2 adds more. I’ve imported KANJIDIC into a SQLite database for use by my Perl scripts, and it’s quite handy (and much faster than repeatedly slurping in the original file and parsing it…).

However, it’s missing two cross-reference indexes that would be quite useful for me: JLPT level and White Rabbit Kanji Flashcards card number.

Most of the online JLPT references predate the 2002 test specifications, so the only reliable source I’ve found is The JLPT Study Page. The creator of that site is working from the latest edition of the test content specs, so apart from the occasional typo in the vocabulary, it’s solid data. It just wasn’t in a form directly useful to me, so I screen-scraped it and generated a simple text file, UTF-8 encoded.

The White Rabbit folks have an online lookup tool so you can generate your own cross-reference lists, but by the time I’d found it, I’d already read the forum article that explains their numbering scheme: Unicode sort order within JLPT level. A few seconds at the shell, and I had another simple text file (extended to include the planned Level 1 card set).

Friday, December 22 2006

The Guardian of my World

A while back, I mentioned that I was tinkering with jQuery for updating my pop-up furigana. This dovetails nicely with my attempts to improve my Japanese reading skills, which currently involve working my way through Breaking into Japanese Literature and ボクのセカイをまもるヒト.

The first one is a parallel text with all vocabulary translated on the same page. I wish he’d formatted it a bit differently, and my teacher isn’t pleased with some of the translation, but it’s a useful learning tool, and there’s a free companion audiobook on the web site.

The second is the first in a new light novel series from Nagaru Tanigawa, also responsible for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and it includes furigana for almost all of the kanji. My goal is to read it, not translate, but I have to look up an awful lot of vocabulary, and there’s not enough room on the page to annotate.

So I’m typing it in, and using a Perl script to add my shiny new pop-up furigana.

(and, yes, I’m deliberately over-annotating; I don’t actually need many of those annotations, but someone else might, and it’s not that much work)

[Update: I should mention that I’m using Jim Breen’s translation server to speed up the glossing process. The parser gets lost occasionally, but it’s still very helpful, often finding idiomatic phrases that cover several words.]

Oh, here’s the cover, courtesy of Amazon:

(Continued on Page 2658)

Tuesday, December 26 2006

The Idolm@ster

Just search for it on Google and Youtube. It’s terrifying, in a “do I really need a Japanese Xbox 360 right now” kind of way. If you find yourself downloading the 720p version of the trailer from that German torrent site, all hope is lost.

[Update: this site seems to have the best set of screenshots showing the gameplay. I like the dialogue in this one:

The Idolmaster


[Update: holy crap, that page is a giant cesspit of Javascript, weighing in at nearly 240K of code, and maybe 2K of actual HTML content. I was initially curious how much overhead the trendy-annoying JS image display code was adding (72K if it’s the only thing prototype.js is used for, 21K otherwise, plus the overhead of actually calling it, which makes the HTML basically unreadable), but now I’m wondering just how painful this site is for anyone with low bandwidth and an older browser.]

Saturday, February 3 2007

“No thanks, I’m good.”

I’m stumbling through a shodou class again, slowly learning to use my right hand to write kanji.

[Last time I spent an entire quarter producing a credible 友, this time it’s 和. I didn’t forget everything I learned in the spring, and I’d even practiced a bit, so I’ve already worked through the strokes for the left side, and next week I’ll start trying to add a nicely balanced right side to it.]

Two weeks ago, sensei was discussing nice-looking characters and compounds that some of the advanced students might want to attempt, and one of her examples was a Zen Buddhist saying commonly found at temples (Google image search will turn up lots of examples). It looks something like this:

吾唯足知 = Ware tada taru wo shiru

This is four characters, not five; the box in the center is shared by the ones around the edges, making the phrase 吾唯足知, or われただたるをしる, which can be loosely translated as “I’m content with what I have”. It’s pretty straightforward, as Zen sayings go, expressing an acceptance of the world as it is, and a lack of desire to acquire more material goods.

So where did this come from?

(Continued on Page 2678)

Google Seppuku

…where the only winning move is not to play. The game was invented in (not work-safe! not work-safe!) Ghastly’s Ghastly Comic, and goes like this:

“You use a Japanese text input tool and enter random Japanese characters into a Google Image Search. Then you count how many pages until you find an image so disturbing that you wish you’d never played the game.”

For “best” results, you should of course turn off Google’s SafeSearch. I think I made it all the way to page 19 with 吾 before I found something disturbing. Perhaps the most amusing result was the final one on page 39, which leads to the home page of a perfectly innocent sundries site with the unfortunate name of MENSKIN.

On the bright side, I did find some pretty girls to ogle (1, 2).

And what could be more wholesome than this?

(Continued on Page 2679)

Thursday, March 1 2007


Results for last December’s Japanese Language Proficiency Test are being mailed out now, and are available on the web site. I took Level 3, which is roughly “have finished two years of college Japanese” (something that will be true for me in July), and scored 80.5% (322/400). Lower than I expected, which means that I missed some questions I didn’t already know about, but still comfortably above the average for someone taking the test outside of Japan.

In particular, the listening comprehension section kills people who don’t hear Japanese every day, so I was quite pleased to get 78% on it. I think that’s largely due to the hundreds of hours I spent with the Rosetta Stone software a few years ago.

[Update: Here are the average scores in each section for the last three years for students outside Japan. Vocabulary (100): 64.7, 69.1, 63.7; Listening (100): 47, 45.2, 49.8; Grammar (200): 125.9, 118.6, 120.6. People who take the test in Japan average about 20 points higher on the listening section.]

Friday, March 9 2007

Dear Edward Trimnell,

In your book, Modern Japanese Vocabulary, the content seems to be quite reasonable. The layout and typography, however, sucks rocks through a straw.

There’s no index.

The handmade table of contents is set centered, with (usually) three periods separating the apparently-randomly-arranged section headings from their page numbers.

The actual content pages are covered in gratuitous horizontal rules (classic chartjunk), and set in a proportionally-spaced, slightly-condensed sans-serif kanji font.

Sub-section headers are honest-to-gosh sheep-stealing letterspaced lowercase. Also centered.

No running headers or footers to help the reader find a section in the book.

No obvious method for the arrangement of individual entries in each section.

The kanji column on the right-hand pages is hard to read due to the tiny margins and tight binding.

In short, you’ve self-published a reference book that’s hard to reference. Please hire an experienced book designer for any future products, including any revised editions of this book.

Tuesday, March 20 2007

Wednesday, March 21 2007

Dear Microsoft,

Contrary to your claim, most web sites do not in fact explicitly specify their language setting in a fashion compatible with your auto-detection.

For instance, my site is carefully specified as UTF-8, and occasionally contains some Japanese text. Once someone activates the Windows features that let them see Asian scripts at all, IE renders the kanji on my site in a Simplified Chinese font, and the kana in a Japanese font, unless the first font in the CSS font-family list contains all of the characters used on the page.

Most browsers will fail over to the alternative font-family you’ve specified, but not IE. It goes straight to the options set in the Font menu in Internet Options. And it looks like crap.

Unfortunately, the latin alphabets in most kanji fonts are significantly less readable online than Verdana and Georgia, and the Simplified Chinese fonts not only don’t look good alongside them, they might be the wrong character entirely. That’s why CSS is supposed to do this sort of thing for you in the first place.

Why start poking at this problem now? Two reasons: first, I have Vista running on my MacBook to test it out for corporate deployment. Second, Vista is finally capable of anti-aliasing (some) kanji fonts, and they supply a very screen-readable Japanese Gothic font called Meiryo (also available in Office 2007, apparently). I’d like to have Meiryo used to render kanji and kana on any machine that has it installed, but continue using Verdana and Georgia for everything else. Safari and Firefox, yes; IE, not a chance.

And here I was all set to say something nice about IE7 for a change, after I discovered that the new page zoom feature actually does The Right Thing, scaling the entire page layout up with high-quality font rendering. The wrong fonts, but nicely rendered!

[Firefox’s font rendering quality is crap, but it’s consistent cross-platform crap, so I suppose that’s okay]

Tuesday, April 3 2007


I’m always intrigued when a kanji study guide includes “unlikely” vocabulary choices, such as today’s surprise proverb, 弱肉強食. The four characters are common and important, and taught fairly early in most books, but the combination isn’t a phrase most students will use, and one hopes that they won’t be hearing it much, either.

Loosely translated, it’s “the strong eat the weak”.

Another one that jumped out at me was 帰国子女, “children who return to Japan after living abroad”. It’s a lot more useful, especially if, like me, you were trying to figure out the meaning of the title of the light novel 彼女は帰星子女.

Sunday, April 8 2007


Tonight’s amusing Japanese phrase is “66% no yuuwaku”, brought to my attention rather indirectly by my friend Dave’s recent wedding in Las Vegas. Translated literally, it comes out as “two-thirds of temptation”, which isn’t quite what the original songwriter had in mind.

One of the things Dave was working on before the wedding was assembling a collection of music for the reception, and my extensive Eighties collection filled in some gaps. I also had a few items from earlier decades that fit in as well. Along the way, though, I discovered that at least thirty CDs that I’ve owned for many years weren’t in my MP3 collection at all. This song comes from one of them, although it’s not the song that we actually used in the mix.

Once I had the album safely ripped, I found myself nostalgic for my college days, when I’d spend my nights delivering pizza with a well-worn cassette tape of it playing continuously. There have always been a few lines in one song (not this one) that I couldn’t make out clearly, so I went a-googling for lyrics. And after a little while, I found this:

(Continued on Page 2718)

Thursday, April 12 2007

Does it restart?

I needed to put a Mac Mini in someone’s house.

But it had to run Windows XP.


And restart automatically after losing power.

The headless part was handled by our master solderer, following the instructions from the nice folks at Mythic Beasts. They also explain the power-on problem, but don’t provide a direct Windows solution.

To make a long google short, download WPCRS120.EXE from Japan, run it, run the included installer, reboot, run wpcrset.exe, set {Bus 0, Device 31, Function 0, Register A4} to 0, and reboot again.

Before each of the required reboots, you’ll see this:

(Continued on Page 2721)

Saturday, April 14 2007

Buttons are jealous, kittens are terrified…

…dogs are howling in pain from the sound of her voice.

Kusumi Koharu

Kusumi Koharu can’t sing. Here’s proof. There’s plenty more where that came from, but it should be watched with the sound off, because while she’s a really, really cute teenage girl who can bounce around cheerfully with the other girls in Morning Musume, she’s painful to listen to.

It’s not that all of the other girls in the Hello!Project empire were chosen for their vocal talent; the majority will never “graduate” to a solo career, and you’ll only hear them solo individual lines in a group performance (sorry, Tsuji, but with Kago’s permanent departure from the organization, your career is screwed). It’s just that Koharu stands out for pushing the cute/voiceless trend to a new extreme.

Although from the audition video, at least one of the two Chinese girls who were just added to the group might actually be a worse singer…

[oh, and the ED from her anime is sung by another H!P group, °C-ute, some of whose members will eventually become teenagers…]

Thursday, April 26 2007

Poodle me once, shame on you…

Usually when you buy a luxury item for half the usual price, there’s a good chance it’s a knockoff or a scam. So, when someone starts selling large quantities of $3,000 poodles for half price, what are you really getting?

In Japan, you get sheep.

The sad thing is that thousands of buyers were fleeced before a celebrity brought her new dog on TV and wondered why it didn’t bark or eat dog food.

[update: hoax/joke/tabloid nonsense]

Sunday, May 6 2007

Harry’s Matrix

Harry Dresden is a rather unconventional wizard, in a rather decent set of urban fantasy/detective novels. He has no significant connection to Japan, and indeed his magic is very strongly Western in origin.

So where did the glowing runes on his staff come from?

Dresden's Staff -- マトリックス

The paperback edition of Dead Beat doesn’t seem to name the cover artist anywhere, but whoever it was decided that the English loanword マトリックス (“matrix”) made a dandy set of runes.

[oh, and I just noticed that Amazon has a new “Amapedia” site…]

Sunday, May 13 2007

Context is everything

The feature set of the Nintendo DS makes it very attractive for educational software that’s actually useful. The one drawback is that it’s all intended for local audiences, much like the Canon Wordtank and other portable electronic dictionaries.

A lot of it is intended for kids, so the language barrier isn’t too high, and over the past few weeks I’ve picked up three useful cartridges for my new DS Lite, all of which make excellent use of the touch-screen:

The first one is excellent for reviewing kanji you already know and can read and write quickly and reliably. If you’re relatively confident in your ability, you’ve been learning kanji in the standard school order, and you have a decent vocabulary, it’s quite useful. The one downside is that the kanji recognizer is very forgiving, allowing you to use both common abbreviations and incorrect stroke orders. In some cases, it’s a little too forgiving: I can’t write 言 correctly and have it accepted; I either have to write it on the left as if it were the radical, or abbreviate strokes two through four into a “Z”.

Kanji Sonomama has a less comprehensive dictionary than a WordTank, but the kanji recognizer is both good and patient, allowing you to look up unfamiliar words that you come across while reading. With a WordTank, I often can’t look up an unfamiliar word unless it has furigana. I know there are some high-end models that support direct kanji input now, but they cost a lot more than a DS and a copy of Kanji Sonomama.

The third one is the best kanji training software I’ve found so far. Reading and writing are in separate modules, so you don’t have the correct readings in front of you while you’re practicing shape and stroke order, but it has traceable sample characters and stroke-order animations,and will even animate your most recent attempt side-by-side with the correct version.

The only downside so far is that a few of the sample sentences require cultural context that stumps me. Here’s a simple example:

  五円玉   文字 九    

Since this was a first-grade drill, I knew what all of the characters had to be, but I couldn’t figure out what the sentence was supposed to mean. The grammar was simple, but what in the hell was a five-yen ball, and why would it have nine characters in it?

[pause for laughter]

This would have made a lot more sense if I’d ever been to Japan and seen a five-yen coin, which does in fact have nine kanji written on one side. If it weren’t for Google, I’d still be wondering about that one.

[note for people in the San Francisco Bay Area: all three of these cartridges are available at the San Jose User’s Side store.]

Sunday, May 20 2007

Rare, but common

More adventures in context. I was working through the 熟語 drills in Kakitorikun, grade by grade, and found a real stumper: 百出.

I knew the two characters well (“hundred” and “to leave”, respectively), and could guess the correct reading, but I’d never seen the compound, and my WordTank didn’t have a J-E entry for it. Neither did Kanji Sonomama. Neither did Kodansha’s Furigana Japanese Dictionary, nor several other printed dictionaries that usually gather dust at home. My WordTank had a J-J entry for it, but it read 「種々さまざまに数多く現れ出ること」, and my attempt to work through this word-by-word did not produce much enlightenment.

It certainly didn’t produce “arise in great numbers” (courtesy of The Compact Nelson, although Edict also has it). More significantly, I was still in the dark as to why a word that young kids are expected to know isn’t considered common enough to put into a variety of J-E dictionaries.

The answer seems to be 議論百出, which is a saying with the rough translation “diverse arguments arising in great numbers”. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I’m satisfied with its presence in the drills now. There are a lot of four-character compounds that would be well-known to someone growing up in Japan, but that wouldn’t come up often in translation.

Wednesday, May 30 2007

Technology put to use…

While browsing the newly-updated iTunes store, I stumbled across the following podcast: 女の子の写真スライドショー/Japanese Cute Girl Slide Show. It’s exactly what it sounds like.

Of course, you could download the same photos at higher resolution from someplace like Zorpia, and you wouldn’t be limited to this person’s taste in music and girls. But then it wouldn’t auto-download a new one to your iPod every week, which I guess counts as a feature.

Monday, June 11 2007

Evil Twin In A Box

Tokyo Times reports that facial hair is getting popular in Japan, leading wig companies to branch out:


If this catches on, perhaps they’ll add a line of merkins.

Sunday, July 8 2007

“This… is wrong tool. Never use this.”

Some dolt is spamming Japanese-study forums with a link to their online test site, emanabu (no link from me!). The sample tests are riddled with errors, and many of the sentences are just painful. I particularly liked the question where they thought “amari samuku arimasen” meant the same thing as “totemo atsui desu”.

Sunday, July 15 2007

Forget the answer, what’s the question?

I’m still plugging away at my kanji study, mostly using Kakitorikun for the DS. Since it’s intended for Japanese children, I’ve gotten used to looking up vocabulary related to baseball, school life, and traditional culture, but I still run into trouble occasionally. Sometimes I stop and figure these oddballs out right away, but this one sat on a post-it note for a week before I finally got back to it:


The answer is しらうお. I knew the answer had to be a kind of fish, and I knew it was a long, thin, small fish, but even if I had correctly parsed mushoku-hantoumei as “colorless, half-transparent”, I wouldn’t have known which fish, because I don’t know anything about Japanese fish. Not even the ones you find in sushi bars.

Friday, August 31 2007

Hey, wait, she’s actually good

Kei Yasuda, former member of Morning Musume:

[Update: Her talents are not suited to certain other genres. Oof.]

[Update: replaced the defunct youtube link]

Monday, September 3 2007

Head-hunter vocabulary

The word for the day is 頭皮. Why? Because that’s the stumper that Kakitorikun threw at me today. [yes, this means that I’m still working though the 3rd grade vocabulary drills; work, WoW, and other study methods have slowed down, but not eliminated, my progress…]

The hint was: 「あたまをおおうあたまのかわ」, which at least confirmed that it was a literal combination of the two characters meaning “head” and “skin”, unlike the same lesson’s 皮肉. I’m not sure how you get “sarcasm” out of skin+meat, but at least the word is in my dictionaries.

頭皮 is not. It’s not in my WordTank (not even in the J-J section), it’s not in my printed dictionaries (not even The Compact Nelson), nothing. Edict and its derivatives are the only things that list it. So, here we have a word that’s common enough to put into children’s training software, but too rare to be worth mentioning in an electronic dictionary intended for native speakers. I’m not surprised that my student J-E dictionaries don’t have it, but Nelson’s usually pretty good.

Oh, the other study method that’s taking up some of my time? I’m watching Sentou no Musume during my daily workout. Lots of rapid casual speech with no subtitles, but the story is straightforward, the comedy is largely visual, and the acting is, um, “accessible”.

[Update: while I was in Kinokuniya tonight, I looked up 頭皮 in several printed J-J dictionaries. It wasn’t in any of them, and while I did find it in a few E-J dictionaries, it wasn’t in the matching J-E section.]

[Update: Kanji Sonomama has it.]

Wednesday, September 5 2007

When guns are outlawed…

…they turn up in the oddest places.

(via Japundit)

Thursday, September 20 2007

The only girl group destroyed by Ultraman

At first glance, it sounds like a recipe for failure: take one of your idol singers whose career has been languishing since her partner was kicked out for being a bad girl, team her up with a bikini model and a professional eater, dress them all up in Gal styles, and have them do para-para moves as they sing their dance tunes.

Okay, maybe it was a recipe for failure, because in the middle of the hype leading up to their first single, lead singer Nozomi Tsuji abruptly dropped out. Why? She’d been knocked up by Ultraman (more precisely, the latest actor to take on the role).

The powers that be quickly replaced her with one of their best-known idol’s little sister, who’s certainly appealing, but lacks the desperately hungry fanbase that Tsuji provided. Result: the one-hit wonder Gyaruru.

Mildly amusing, but the real draw for me is that bikini idol Ami Tokito is a curvy meganekko…

(Continued on Page 2791)

Wednesday, September 26 2007

Morning pick-me-up

[Update: the title says it all, really]

I’ve been getting a little Youtube-happy around here recently, which slows down page-loading, but I can’t resist the megadol:

Friday, October 12 2007


So it turns out that the reason the Choco Party girl is making the hand gestures is that she’s playing janken:

choco = choki = scissors,
party = paa = paper,
goodgood = guu = rock.

(what, you somehow missed the video? NSFW, unless you stress-test lingerie for a living)

Monday, October 15 2007

Sony Reader 505

So I bought the second-generation Sony Reader. Thinner, faster, crisper screen, cleaned-up UI, USB2 mass storage for easy import, and some other improvements over the previous one. It still has serious limitations, and in a year or two it will be outclassed at half the price, but I actually have a real use for a book-sized e-ink reader right now: I’m finally going to Japan, and we’ll be playing tourist.

My plan is to dump any and all interesting information onto the Reader, and not have to keep track of travel books, maps, etc. It has native support for TXT, PDF, PNG, and JPG, and there are free tools for converting and resizing many other formats.

Letter and A4-sized PDFs are generally hard to read, but I have lots of experience creating my own custom-sized stuff with PDF::API2::Lite, so that’s no trouble at all. The PDF viewer has no zoom, but the picture viewer does, so I’ll be dusting off my GhostScript-based pdf2png script for maps and other one-page documents that need to be zoomed.

I’ll write up a detailed review soon, but so far there’s only one real annoyance: very limited kanji support. None at all in the book menus, which didn’t surprise me, and silent failure in the PDF viewer, which did. Basically, any embedded font in a PDF file is limited to 512 characters; if it has more, characters in that font simply won’t appear in the document at all.

The English Wikipedia and similar sites tend to work fine, because a single document will only have a few words in Japanese. That’s fine for the trip, but now that I’ve got the thing, I want to put some reference material on it. I have a script that pulls data from EDICT and KANJIDIC and generates a PDF kanji dictionary with useful vocabulary, but I can’t use it on the Reader.

…unless I embed multiple copies of the same font, and keep track of how many characters I’ve used from each one. This turns out to be trivial with PDF::API2::Lite, but it does significantly increase the size of the output file, and I can’t clean it up in Acrobat Distiller, because that application correctly collapses the duplicates down to one embedded font.

I haven’t checked to see if the native Librie format handles font-embedding properly. I’ll have to install the free Windows software at some point and give it a try.

[Update: I couldn’t persuade Distiller to leave the multiple copies of the font alone, because OpenType CID fonts apparently embed a unique ID in several places. FontForge was perfectly happy to convert it to a non-CID TrueType font, and then I only had to rename one string to create distinct fonts for embedding. My test PDF works fine on the Reader now.]

Thursday, November 1 2007

Forgive me, David, for I must sin…

As we were discussing preparations for our upcoming trip to Japan, friend Dave remarked, “of course, you’ll have to teach me a few things to say in Japanese”. He is a long-time anime fan, so he’s got some basics, but just in case, I’ve prepared a refresher course. Evil laugh.

[downsampled quite a bit and converted to mono, to compensate slightly for the fact that it’s copyrighted music. Artist: Minimoni]

Saturday, December 1 2007

I’ve seen worse…

(all vacation entries)

Monday, December 3 2007

Lessons Learned

(all vacation entries)

Culled from the blur of the last two weeks. Likely to be updated with pictures and additional commentary.

  • The reason there are frequent TV ads for Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun is because there’s a new release that includes all 1945 Jouyou kanji, including readings and meanings. Buy it if you have any interest in learning to read and write Japanese.
  • There’s surprisingly little anime on television.
  • Hotels don’t get the interesting TV channels.
  • Except for porn, with free previews. The first thing we saw on TV was a large-breasted woman squirting milk.
  • Much later, we found an iron-chef-style show best described as “real chefs with goofy assistants inventing novel dishes”.
  • 1-yen coins are indeed the correct tool for opening the battery compartment in older Japanese cameras.
  • Hello Kitty is everywhere. Everywhere.
  • So are schoolgirls in short skirts. Every day of the week. Mostly cute as buttons. Their legs looked cold.
  • Hello!Project isn’t quite everywhere, but random channel-surfing turned up Tsunku (hosting a catty-woman game show?), Tsuji (new mother announcement), Gal Sone (out-eating a sumo family), and a few others. And the abruptly-retired Maki Goto is still quite visible on a large Guess ad at the airport.
  • The downside of putting a lot of effort into learning to speak Japanese quickly and smoothly is that people respond at full speed. I really need a private conversation tutor.
  • Needing to use your Japanese dramatically improves your memory.
  • Haibane Renmei saved my friend from an allergic reaction.
  • When entering a comic book shop, the prominent sign reading “BL” means “wrong store”.
  • Any knowledge of Japanese helps. Being able to read hiragana and katakana helps a lot. Any ability with kanji is icing on the cake.
  • The easiest-to-understand person that I conversed with in Japanese was a little old lady in a Kyoto incense shop.
  • Strict censorship laws did not prevent me from finding an explicit hardcore Hanaukyou Maid Tai doujin collection. At a major retailer in Akihabara. Accidentally. Which had futanari Catholic school girls as the backup story.
  • Beautiful young women in kimonos are not everywhere. Except in Kyoto on weekends.
  • Opening a metal bottle of Pepsi Nex does not in fact summon a maiko, despite early evidence to the contrary. It only works when you’re using the vending machine outside of the Gion post office.
  • People in Kyoto are, on the whole, friendlier than those in Tokyo.
  • Shibuya may be home to Japan’s fashion victims, but the extensive public transportation network makes them visible everywhere.
  • A Suica or Pasmo card is the single most useful thing to have if you’re going to be in Tokyo for a few days.
  • Shinagawa has little to offer except the easy ability to go elsewhere. [update: that is, the area around Shinagawa Station, which isn’t really in Shinagawa-ku]
  • Tonki really does have great tonkatsu. And you want to get there when they open at 4pm.
  • Junsei has excellent kaiseki.
  • JALPAK does great work for a great price.
  • Habits acquired in a country where coins are chump change result in overstuffed pockets in a country with $5 coins.
  • The morning JAL flight from Osaka to Narita leaves you with an eight-hour layover before your flight home to San Francisco. This time is best spent around Narita-san, particularly Shinshou-ji.
  • On the way there, you’ll pass a small restaurant that serves fresh unagi, grilled over a wood fire. That’s fresh as in “they were still swimming a few minutes ago”.
  • I should have bought a second bag of Maiko-san no Ochobo-guchi. Now I’m going to have to hope they’re available somewhere in San Jose or San Francisco.
  • In addition to the popular maid cafes, Akihabara now has both nun cafes and little-sister cafes. [Update: Nun cafe, Little-sister cafe]
  • There’s a lot of used porn on the market. Used. Porn.
  • Aya Matsuura’s first DVD single collection does not include the most entertaining of her early videos, Momoiro no Kataomoi, so I didn’t buy it. [Update: Ah, there’s a different DVD that does include the song.]
  • The Hozugawa river trip is worth it. Sadly, I couldn’t keep up with the guide’s rapid-fire running commentary, but he was apparently hilarious. I did at least catch the joke about the 7-11 main office.
  • 富士山が見えたんです。

Kyoto Muzak

(all vacation entries)

There are some nice restaurants in the Kintetsu mall near Kyoto Station. While perusing the menu outside of one of them, the muzak system turned up a familiar-sounding tune. I just couldn’t place it. Dave didn’t recognize it at all, and then it hit the refrain, and was revealed to be this.

The next time we went by that place, they’d cranked the silliness higher, with a muzak version of this.

There’s a perfectly good reason why the Japanese cowboy is para-para dancing. If you were hanging out with these Shibuya gals, wouldn’t you?

Tuesday, December 4 2007

Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun

What’s different about the new version of Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun? First, instead of stopping at the 1,006 Kyouiku kanji, it includes the full 1,945 Jouyou set.

Next, the core writing module is considerably better. One frustration with the first edition was that it only taught shape and stroke order; if you didn’t remember what the character meant or sounded like, you had to look it up somewhere else. The new version doesn’t have the search capabilities of a real kanji dictionary, but does have readings, meanings, and vocabulary words. It also adds detailed critiques of your characters, graphically showing your errors.

They’ve also completely redone the drill and test modules, for the needs of a more sophisticated audience. This is the only place where it’s not as useful for a foreign student, because the previous edition broke up the jukugo drills by grade, and this one lumps all of the grade-school kanji into one set. The Kanji Kentei prep section is now more of a timed test than a drill, although it’s still divided by grade.

I’m currently ripping through the kyouiku kanji in the new one, so I can start on the junior-high section, but I’m going to continue working through the drills on the old one.

Wednesday, December 5 2007

Sake to me

(all vacation entries)

When purchasing sake in a Japanese grocery store, read the label carefully, if you have any ability to read Japanese at all. If, for instance, the English label on the shelf reads “nigori”, check the Japanese label to make sure that it isn’t actually namazake (生酒).

Why? Because while most good sake should be served slightly chilled, namazake must be kept in the fridge right up until the moment you’re ready to drink it. It’s not pasteurized, and if it gets warm for even a few hours, the live yeasts turn it into basically-undrinkable carbonated mush.

Sunday, December 9 2007


(all vacation entries)

[Update: link added for the back of the map]

One thing I couldn’t find online before the trip was a good map of places to go in Akihabara. The ones I did find were either inaccurate, incomplete, not to scale, required local knowledge, and/or were drawn with complete disregard for the Western notion that North should either be at the top or clearly marked.

The time I spent marking things up in Google Earth did help me find a few places, but it doesn’t produce useful printouts, so I couldn’t bring it with me as PDFs.

Fortunately, less than ten seconds after we stepped out of the station, a pretty girl in a maid costume handed me this (3MB JPEG). The back side of it has more ads and a sorted list of shops and their block numbers.

This is apparently produced by the folks at Akiba Guide.

[Update: Oh, yes, North is to the right, and in Google Maps the area looks like this.]

[Update: just for fun, I dropped this map into Google Earth, and it’s very well-scaled. There’s some distortion around the south edge, most likely to get everything to fit, but most of the map overlays so well that you can easily locate individual shops.

Also, someone has made a set of Google Maps pushpins that covers some of the highlights of Akihabara in English. There are also two decent ones (1, 2) if you can read some Japanese. The first one is a collection of maid cafes, the other is more general.]

Monday, December 10 2007

State of the Musume

One of the songs on my workout mix is Morning Musume’s I Wish. I hate Tsunku’s background vocals, but otherwise it’s a fun song, and a cute video (albeit a bit confusing to anyone who hasn’t seen their weekly television show…). The lyrics made it a popular concert-closer, especially for “graduation” concerts.

Last night, though, I suddenly realized that not only has the group turned over completely since this video was made, only two of them are still actively producing new singles and videos.

In order of appearance:

  1. Ai Kago: career suicide. Her smoking scandal benched her for a year, and just as they started the publicity campaign to bring her back into the family, she got caught returning from a hot springs resort with a notorious womanizer. Latest twist: her mom is now promising to pose nude for a photobook.
  2. Maki Gotou: abruptly retired at the peak of her solo career, allegedly due to burnout.
  3. Natsumi Abe: successful solo artist.
  4. Mari Yaguchi: kicked out of the group, still in the family. Popular television host and actress.
  5. Hitomi Yoshizawa: Retired for family reasons, then resumed a light performance schedule when Tsuji’s sudden ilness turned out to be…
  6. Nozomi Tsuji: retired, married, new mother.
  7. Rika Ishikawa: leader of spinoff group Biyuuden.
  8. Yuuko Nakazawa: actress and occasional solo artist.
  9. Kei Yasuda: recently resurfaced as an actress, still in the family.
  10. Kaori Iida: solo career on hiatus due to pregnancy and subsequent marriage.

Kago’s the only one who really burned her bridges with Hello!Project. Most of the rest still show up occasionally in a concert, a one-shot group, or a few episodes of Uta Doki.

Wednesday, December 12 2007

Don’t fear the Washlet

(all vacation entries)

…just be sure to check its aim.

Toto Washlet with expert mode

…and I do mean everywhere

(all vacation entries)

Okay, admittedly Oowakudani is a popular tourist destination for both natives and foreigners, but come on. What’s she doing here?

Hello Kitty

Thursday, December 13 2007

Mt. Fuji

(all vacation entries)

This late in the year, tour operators don’t make any promises about how high up Fuji you’ll be able to go, or how well you’ll be able to see it from a distance. Ice on the roads kept us from getting past the third station, but visibility was clear all day long.


Mt. Fuji from Oowakudani

Dear fansub “typesetters”,

The purpose of subtitles is communication. This is particularly true of song lyrics, where “karaoke animation” is intended to help people sing the words at the correct time. This means using crisp, high-contrast fonts, and visually indicating the current word in a way that makes it possible to read the entire line.

This does not mean setting them in a hot pink cheesy fat-face font and then exploding each word as it’s sung, leaving behind only a low-contrast pink-on-pink version that’s basically invisible. It also does not mean spinning words that are repeated more than once. It doesn’t matter if the song is called “peach-colored unrequited love” and the entire set of the video is pink. In fact, that just makes it worse.

You are not an artist. You are a tagger, and your work should be scrubbed from the video with the same vigor that a business owner scrubs bad graffiti from the side of her store.

Momoiro mojibake

[and I’ve ordered the DVD so I can watch a high-quality version of the video that doesn’t include your “contribution”. I’m doing this despite your efforts, not because of them; don’t pat yourself on the back and think you accomplished something for the artist]

Youtube version without fansub here. Street-legal Aya here.

I will live until I die

(all vacation entries)

Well, that’s what they said at Oowakudani: “eat one, and you’ll live an extra seven years; eat two, and you’ll live an extra fourteen years; eat three, and you’ll live until you die”. Perhaps I should have stopped at two.

Oowakudani Black Eggs

This little guy, on the other hand, won’t add anything to your lifespan.

…but it did have a nice view

(all vacation entries)

The Shinagawa Prince hotel is…okay, with short, stiff beds (one crunchy pillow each), extremely small rooms, and over-priced restaurants. It does have a decent convenience store, and the 24-hour pizza/pasta place is reasonably priced and turns into a breakfast shop in the morning. Its real virtue is location: a short walk from Shinagawa Station, from which you can go pretty much anywhere in the country.

And, if your room is on the north side, the view is worthwhile.

Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Tokyo

Purification and Refreshment

(all vacation entries)
drink vending machines next to Shinto ablution basin

Friday, December 14 2007

The perfect ginger candy

(all vacation entries)

We bought them in the Gion district in Kyoto. A little bag of ginger candies wrapped up in a label that read 「まいこさんのおちょぼ口」 (for the kana-impaired, that’s “Maiko-san no Ochobo-guchi”). It means “the maiko’s [apprentice geisha] tiny mouth”. They’re darn tasty, and the farther away we got from Gion, the more I wanted to go back and fill my suitcase with them. I didn’t.

But surely I can find them in Japantown in San Jose or San Francisco, or at least order them online! Or maybe not. It turns out that “Maiko-san no ochoboguchi” is a cliché, and 99% of the references you’ll find online are of the form “even a maiko’s tiny mouth could eat this”. Which is of course why they were called that in the first place.

This means that even explaining what I’m looking for will require visual aids. Better snap a photo of them before they’re all gone:

Maiko-san no ochobo-guchi

I’ll try to find them locally, but realistically, my best shot is finding someone who’ll be in Kyoto and giving them a copy of the photo and detailed instructions on how to find the shop. It looks like this, and it’s about a block and a half west of the main entrance to Yasaka Shrine, on the south side of the street [Google Maps].

What does autumn taste like?

(all vacation entries)

According to a stand at Kyoto Station, it tastes like this ekiben:


Saturday, December 15 2007

Did someone mention Kyoto Station?

(all vacation entries)
Kyoto Station stairway
(Continued on Page 2838)

Sunday, December 16 2007

What to do after two years of Japanese?

Unless your lifestyle allows you to get into a four-year college program, most available Japanese classes will dump you back into the world at the High Beginner level (JLPT level 4 would be easy, level 3 is quite possible with some study, but you’re in desperate need of real conversation practice, and functional literacy is waaaaaay out there in the distance).

One real frustration is the lack of good reading material. Things intended for Japanese kids will have the furigana you need, but assume a much larger working vocabulary, as well as cultural context that may turn a simple sentence into a half-hour Google search.

Late last year, Ask released a set of graded readers in four clearly-defined levels. I stumbled across them a few weeks before my trip to Japan, and picked up the level 3 edition. It was quite readable.

Cute girls in kimonos

(all vacation entries)

Okay, only one, and she’s a very little girl, but you have to start somewhere…

little girl in kimono at Meiji Shrine

Monday, December 17 2007

Retirement homes with style

(all vacation entries)

I’d want to add indoor plumbing, a good HVAC system, and do something to keep away the tourists, but yeah, I can see why one of the Ashikaga Shoguns thought that Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion would make a nice little retirement shack. Even 600+ years later, it’s got a nice view.

Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Mind you, it’s impossible to do something original with one of the most-photographed objects in Japan, but this wasn’t a serious-photography trip. I was a tourist, and I did what tourists do. :-)

The novelty of bread

(all vacation entries)

The Japanese still haven’t really figured out bread. They’re good at pastry, but rice is the grain that goes with meals, so breads tend to be snack foods, such as the ubiquitous melonpan, whose name comes from the melon-ish shape rather than the contents.

Speaking of shape, care to guess what kamelonpan looks like?

(Continued on Page 2842)

First thought that came to mind…

(all vacation entries)

“Hey, I can see Google Earth from here!”

Tokyo Tower

He ain’t so tough

(all vacation entries)
Laputa Robot Soldier at Studio Ghibli Museum, MitakaLaputa robot soldier at Studio Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

Tuesday, December 18 2007

Fake but accurate

(all vacation entries)
Tourist Maiko

These are “tourist maiko”, women dressed up as apprentice geisha to provide some local color. There was another pair walking around with a man who was holding up a multi-lingual sign reading “these are not real maiko”, and I believe they were members of a tour group who had paid for a makeover (among other things, they were a good fifteen years too old to be the real thing). These two were just strolling along the canal nearby.

The only real maiko we spotted was off-duty in a regular kimono, coming out of the Gion post office.

Wednesday, December 19 2007

Kawaii Tours, Inc.

(all vacation entries)

I don’t know what company operates this tour bus, but I think I’ll give them my business next time.

cute tour bus

Thursday, December 20 2007

Local color

(all vacation entries)
building detail, Shinshou-ji, Narita-san

Our 8-hour layover on the way home gave us time to take the train into Narita-san and see Shinshou-ji. Allegedly there was a temple fair going on, but it just looked like a few extra souvenir stands. The temple complex itself was much more interesting.

Hello, Buddha

(all vacation entries)

The world’s largest bronze buddha lives in the world’s largest wooden building, Toudai-ji. He’s an imposing fellow:


In modern Japan, though, you’ve got to be cute to survive:

(Continued on Page 2851)

Sunday, December 23 2007

Make a wish

(all vacation entries)

絵馬 (ema) are small wooden plaques purchased at shrines. You buy one, write down a wish (health, fame, fortune, romance, entry into a good school, etc), and hope that the gods will grant it. Eventually they all get burned up as offerings.

Ema (votive plaques) at Shinto shrine

Monday, December 24 2007

Tofu: you can run but you can’t hide

(all vacation entries)

I’m not sure why this little guy is trying to escape. The food at Junsei is excellent.

detail from a plate used at Junsei

Fast, Wide, Ninja

(all vacation entries)
Temple guardian, Toudai-ji

A big problem with temples and shrines is that they’re generally pretty dark inside. In many cases, even an up-to-the-minute digicam that has optical anti-shake and can shoot at the equivalent of ISO 1600 film speed isn’t good enough to get a sharp picture. And even when the picture’s sharp, there’s so much noise that it looks like crap. Flash is useless unless you brought along a pro rig that has an external battery pack, and tripods are usually forbidden. So, what to do?

I got a few decent indoor shots with my pocket digicam (a Canon IXY 2000IS purchased in Akihabara; domestically, it’s known as the PowerShot SD950 IS), but it was a crap shoot. If we hadn’t been with a group, I’d have taken several shots of everything and braced myself against something, but there wasn’t enough time.

Fortunately, I had my Sony a100 DSLR along, with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. It made the above shot easy, and the below shot possible:

World's largest bronze buddha, Toudai-ji

The first picture was shot at ISO 1600, 1/80th second, f/2. When zoomed to the equivalent focal length, the little Canon can shoot at f/4, which would have yielded a 1/20th second exposure. Not too bad, with anti-shake.

The second one was much harder: 1/8th second, f/1.4, right at the edge of the Sony’s anti-shake ability. The little Canon would have needed a full one-second exposure, which means a tripod. Even then, there were so many people walking around on the wooden floor that the vibration might have introduced some fuzziness. The Canon has an ISO 3200 mode that doubles the speed but cuts the resolution to 1600x1200, but half a second is still too long for hand-held, even with anti-shake.

You can extend your range by bracing the camera against a sturdy object, using a monopod, or finding someplace that you can set up a mini-tripod, but the most important things to have are fast exposures, wide-aperture lenses, and Noise Ninja; these pictures were a lot grainier before I turned NN loose on them.

I had brought a mini-tripod with me, but rarely had a chance to use it. Next trip, I’ll bring along my REI collapsible carbon fiber walking staff and a Bogen mini-ballhead, which makes a better monopod than most of the ones you’ll find in camera shops. It’s a bit shorter than I’d like, especially when used properly as the third leg of your human tripod, but it doesn’t scream “camera stand” when you’re entering a no-tripod zone.

And, to be honest, there are places where I wouldn’t mind having a walking staff…


(all vacation entries)
autumn colors at Arashiyama

For Will’s benefit, here’s where I was when I took the picture. Take the train from Kyoto to Arashiyama, then head south to the river. Or go a few more stops to Kameoka, and ask for directions to the Hozugawa Kudari boat ride, which drops you off at that spot in Arashiyama.

Christmas Wishes

(all vacation entries)
Malaysian tourists

It’s Christmas Eve, so as a present to myself, I’ve finally posted a “babe” picture from my trip to Japan. I didn’t take pictures of most of the good-looking women I saw, mostly because I saw them under circumstances where whipping out the camera would have been rude. As it is, my best shots are of the two Malaysian tourists who were with us on the trip to Fuji; they have pictures of me, too (shudder).

Tuesday, December 25 2007

“Rebuilding-fund donations accepted here”

(all vacation entries)

More or less. I had to infer the meaning of some of the words that aren’t in Edict or my other J-E dictionaries.

Donation sign at Kasuga Shrine, Nara

Here’s a transcription of the text:




I’ll do a full translation when my lingering cold stops lingering.

Wednesday, December 26 2007

Stairs at Shinshou-ji

(all vacation entries)
Stairs at Shinshou-ji, Narita-san


(all vacation entries)


schoolkids at Kasuga Shrine, Kyoto

Not everywhere:

Miko at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Just wanted to make that clear.

Thursday, December 27 2007

English Map of Akihabara

This could be useful.

(via Anime News Network)

Going up?

(all vacation entries)

When I took this picture, I was just trying to capture the cable cars that got us up to Oowakudani. Now I kind of wish they weren’t in the frame…

cable cars at Oowakudani

Friday, December 28 2007

Smoke gets in your eyes…

(all vacation entries)
Incense burner at Toudai-ji

Saturday, December 29 2007

Koi Pirates Deer

(all vacation entries)
Koi at Imperial Palace East Gardens, Tokyo
Lake Ashi Pirate Ship Cruise, Hakone
Nara Deer Park

Okay, I couldn’t really think of any way to tie these pictures together.

Tuesday, January 1 2008

Palace School Station

(all vacation entries)

Another set of random pictures from the trip.

Kyoto Imperial Palace
School trip to Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto
view from the tracks, Shinbashi Station, Tokyo

Wednesday, January 2 2008

Failsafe Fuji

(all vacation entries)

[Update: Just spotted an older version of the same scene on Google Earth. The pretty picture replaced real information.]

“Hello, and welcome to the third station. We know you all paid for the chance to see Mt. Fuji, but just in case the weather didn’t cooperate, here’s what you should be able to see from here. More pictures are available in the gift shop, along with snacks, film, and batteries.”

Fuji from Third Station

Thursday, January 3 2008

SNL Japanese game show

This is surprisingly well done, especially for live television. The actors worked hard at getting their phonetically-learned lines correct, when most of the audience would never have known the difference.

[update: the copyright gnomes have reclaimed it from youtube; this link might last a while…]

[update: blech, jibjab’s flash player is very poorly written, and absolutely kills my browser. I’ve moved it below the fold.]

(Continued on Page 2869)

Monday, January 7 2008

Avoiding confusion

(all vacation entries)
Men's Esute

One of the first pictures I took with the new camera was a view from the tracks at Shinbashi Station. Unfortunately, the context was sufficiently involved that nobody I showed it to got the joke. When I take the print to my Japanese conversation teacher tonight, though, she’ll get a good laugh out of it.

Why? Because a number of the younger Japanese women associated with the department are into Esute, which is a style of beauty parlor in Japan. They love to talk about this stuff, but students who Google “esute” in English will find a lot of sites that are about something very different: massage parlors for men.

It turns out that the sex trade was looking for another euphemism a while back, to compete with “soaplands”, “fashion massage”, “delivery health services”, and the rest, and since massage was one of the services offered at women’s esute parlors, they adopted the name.

As a result, potential customers have to make sure they know what kind of esute a particular shop offers. Both of them will have pictures of fashionable young women out front, and attractive young women working inside. So, when I looked up from the tracks and saw a big sign reading “Otoko no Esute”, I knew what Dandy House was offering.

Noise Ninja

(all vacation entries)

I finally got around to making a proper noise profile of my little Canon camera, so here’s a quick sample of how well Noise Ninja cleans up an ISO 1600 image. Note that this is just using the default settings; it’s capable of more aggressive noise reduction, but that can eliminate too much detail in some images.


the view from Decks, Odaiba


[noise-reduced] the view from Decks, Odaiba

Thursday, January 10 2008

Big Hell

(all vacation entries)

Oowakudani is the source of the sulfurous waters piped down to the Hakone hot springs resorts. It’s also a popular destination in its own right, due to the terrific views (1, 2, 3, 4 ) and novel cuisine.

The current name for the place translates as “great boiling valley” (大湧谷). This was an early example of tourist marketing, since until they heard that the Shogun was going to come up and take a look, the locals just called it “the big hell”.

Sunday, January 13 2008

Two-car garage, Kyoto-style

(all vacation entries)
private parking in Kyoto

Monday, January 14 2008

The Second Coming

…of Minimoni. Sort of. If they start turning into mini-skirted mini-hamsters, though, they’re going too far. Meanwhile, here’s Athena & Robikerottsu:

Their new video replaces the first one as the opening theme of the kid’s anime series Robby & Kerobby. Fear for the future.

Friday, January 18 2008

Google Vacation

(all vacation entries)

I didn’t geotag my vacation photos before importing them into Aperture, and it turns out that it treats those fields as read-only, so that the only way to add that data after the fact is by hacking the underlying SQLite database. What I’ll do is export a bunch of small thumbnail images, tag them with HoudahGeo, and then knock together a small script to insert the tags into Aperture’s database.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample (8MB KMZ file) containing most of the images I’ve posted so far, along with some new ones, exported for Google Earth. You can load KMZ files into Google Maps, but the built-in image links don’t work.

Sunday, January 20 2008

Tonari no Totoro no Kippu Uriba

(all vacation entries)

This is the entrance to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

False entrance to Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

The false entrance, that is. The real one’s over here:

Entrance to Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

Sadly, not only can’t you buy a ticket from Totoro, you can’t get one at the real entrance, either. Domestically, they’re only available at Lawsons convenience stores, and they sell out weeks or even months in advance. There’s a block reserved for foreign tourists, fortunately, but you have to order them through specific travel agencies.

Pennies For Heaven

(all vacation entries)

This is one of the doors leading into Meiji Jingu.

Main door leading into Meiji Jingu

When praying at a shrine, you throw a coin into the offering box and clap, to get the attention of the kami. On New Years Day, half of Tokyo comes to Meiji Shrine to pray, and the crowd is so thick that most people can’t reach the offering boxes. So they throw their coins towards the shrine.

Some throw with more enthusiasm than skill, so the surfaces facing the courtyard are pockmarked as high as you can see.

Monday, January 21 2008

Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto

(all vacation entries)

With a name like 二の丸, it deserves two pictures. Sadly, neither of them really show off the actual palace. I’m still sorting through the shots to find one I like. Meanwhile:

Garden at Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto
Building detail at Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto

[Note: the carving is completely different when viewed from the other side, but photography was forbidden inside, so I can’t show you.]

Tuesday, January 22 2008

Fine dining

(all vacation entries)

Junsei is a traditional resturant chain in Kyoto, with three locations. The main one (near Nanzen-ji) is built around a traditional garden that is listed as a historical site. Translation: show up well before your reservation so you have time to look around. You’ll have a decent view from your private dining room, but it’s worth a closer look.

Historical garden at Junsei

Thursday, January 24 2008

Attractive Nuisance

No, not this one, even if she is small enough to store conveniently:

Mari Yaguchi

No, I’m referring to this delicious sesame-covered rice cracker, sold under the name Tsubugoma (粒ごま):


(picture taken from the appropriately named Senbei Dai-Suki blog)

It’s the sort of snack where I have to ask myself, “will one bag last all the way home?”. Admittedly, the only store I’ve found them at is over an hour away from my house, but it takes a real effort of will for me to stop eating the damn things once I’ve opened the bag.

Petty Pewter Gods

(all vacation entries)
Statue at Shinshou-ji, Narita-san

Actually, I don’t know what this statue at Shinshou-ji is supposed to be, or what it’s made of. I like it, though, which is more than I can say for the Glen Cook novel I used as the title (or pretty much any of his novels since then).

Friday, January 25 2008

Oasis with a moat

(all vacation entries)

One way to keep a public park clean, safe, and beautiful in the middle of a major city with a homeless problem is to surround it with a moat and post armed guards at the entrances. The Imperial Palace East Garden is open to the public, but it’s not a commons, and therefore not subject to the tragedy thereof.

Moat outside Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Saturday, January 26 2008

Hozugawa Kudari

(all vacation entries)
Boats on the Hozu River

Apparently the only thing that’s better than being poled down the Hozu River in late autumn is being there when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Sunday, January 27 2008

Giving Light

(all vacation entries)
Lanterns donated to Kasuga Taisha, Nara

The heavily-wooded path leading up to the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha is lined with stone lanterns, each engraved with the name of the donor. Some of them have been there for centuries, but new ones keep arriving. I’d love to be there when they’re all lit.

Lanterns at Kasuga Taisha, Nara

Monday, January 28 2008

Aya, with Melons

There are several enjoyable performances on the Hello Pro Party 2005 DVD. This is probably the best:

Tuesday, January 29 2008

Gion Ishi

(all vacation entries)

Like the sign by the front door says, this interesting-looking building in the Gion District of Kyoto is all about rocks (石). The first floor sells crystals and polished stones at prices ranging from reasonable to insane. We never got upstairs, but apparently there’s another floor for custom-carved stones, an excellent tea shop, and an ishiyaki (stone grill) restaurant.

Gion Ishi Building

The single most expensive item I purchased during the trip came from here, and I’m not forgetting about the digital camera. Some time when I can set up my lights, I’ll try to get a decent picture of it.

Tonkatsu Tonki

(all vacation entries)

Most guidebooks will tell you that Tonki has the best tonkatsu in Tokyo. After eating there, I’m willing to believe them.

The trick is finding the place. These pictures are descriptive rather than scenic, so they go below the fold:

(Continued on Page 2900)

Backstreet Girls

(all vacation entries)

Just to be clear, the web site listed in this picture of a Gion nightclub is Not Safe For Work.

Sex-club sign in Gion, Kyoto, Japan

Thursday, January 31 2008

Cheese-stuffed cheese in a light cheese sauce, with a side order of cheesy bread, and for dessert a cheese-dipped cheesecake

Um, wow. Shin Cyborg Shibata, starring the members of Melon Kinenbi. I may have to buy both DVDs.

[Update: Warning! Do not exceed recommended dosage. Excessive viewing could prove fatal.]

Wednesday, February 6 2008

One from the Personals…

Japundit has a Personals site, which they run ads for in a sidebar on their home page. I’m not interested in joining, so all I get out of it is an occasional thumbnail headshot of a pretty girl.

This one jumped out at me in a different way. “Ai84” looks disturbingly familiar:

Japundit Personals -- Ai84

She has been out of sight for a while, and she certainly couldn’t do worse than her previous boyfriend. Probably not her, of course, but stranger things have happened.

Sunday, February 17 2008

Ume no hana

Ume no hana

The test last week in my Japanese conversation class covered some useful grammar, including “dou yattara” and “~ka dou ka” (also humble form, about which the less said the better). The structure of the test was that the tutors composed a number of questions in advance, and students were chosen to answer each one. Grading was subjective, but just understanding what you were being asked was as important as composing a grammatically correct answer. There’s no penalty for occasionally passing with “wakarimasen”.

One that stumped a few people was a very polite and grammatically annoying version of “where can I go to see plum blossoms blooming?”. After someone finally got it, I said “my back yard”. It’s not as fancy as a proper Japanese plum garden, but at least I’ve got some.

Tuesday, February 19 2008


Asus EEE PC Japanese SLogan

This is the Asus EEE PC slogan localized for Japan: “manabu hataraku asobu”, which copies half of the English slogan, leaving out the whole “easy” part. Then again, it ships with Windows XP instead of a dumbed-down Xandros derivative, which might make it less approachable for a complete novice, but definitely more familiar to the Windows-centric Japanese audience.

Now that there’s a working Fedora 8 distribution for the EEE (thanks to the new official kernel support and Philip Pemberton’s RPMs), I can really start using mine. The supplied Xandros-derivative was amusing, but much too limited. Among other things, WPA2 Enterprise wireless was messy to set up, the Juniper VPN software simply didn’t work, and I really, really like chkconfig.

The most important software I’ll use on it? Claws Mail, Perl, emacs, minicom, Firefox, and StarDict. StarDict isn’t as useful a Japanese dictionary as Jedict for the Mac, but at least it uses the same source data. I’d prefer the “Green Goddess” dictionary that’s being included in some of the recent handhelds, but the EEE is small enough for most occasions, and I’ve already got a WordTank and a DS Lite running Kanji sonomama.

Friday, February 29 2008

Downsides of joining Morning Musume, #1: Fashion Sense

(Continued on Page 2929)

Sunday, March 2 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

Please stop.

(Continued on Page 2931)

Amazon: more fun in Japanese

Today’s discoveries:

What’s the connection? “People who bought these items also bought the Queen’s Blade panty-fighter books”… :-)

Friday, March 7 2008

Furigana: just another crutch

If you start studying Japanese, one of the first —and best— pieces of advice you’ll see is “avoid romanization”. The stated reason is simple: almost everything you see written in the roman alphabet is intended for non-Japanese readers, so learning to read romaji saves you some frustration up front, but cuts you off from anything that wasn’t specifically converted for Westerners.

There’s more to it than that, though, but there are plenty of anti-romaji rants out there. Today, I’m going to whine about furigana, small-print phonetic spellings of kanji commonly used in print, and almost completely unsupported on the web. They look something like this (CSS replaced with a GIF, because IE 7 is still broken):

fuigana example

The advantage is obvious: if you can read hiragana, you don’t necessarily have to look up unfamiliar kanji, and even if you do, you don’t have to identify radicals and count strokes. They’re also “real Japanese”; books and comics meant for children and younger teens are full of them, and even adult-oriented material needs them occasionally, to deal with unusual readings and rare kanji. They also get used to add emphasis and subtext.

Some of the disadvantages are also obvious:

  • They have to be added by hand.
  • They increase the required whitespace between lines of text.
  • If multiple words on the same line have furigana, without careful placement they may overlap.
  • If the original text is small, the furigana have to be tiny. This is particularly bad with manga, which are reduced 50% or more when reprinted.

One less-obvious disadvantage that’s been biting me recently is that someone who is accustomed to reading furigana will look at them first, even when he knows the associated kanji. I’ve studied over 1,000 kanji (and written out over 2,000), and if I retained them all, I’d be able to puzzle out the vast majority of the Japanese text I see, and quickly build my vocabulary by reading.

In reality, on a good day I recognize about 800 of them, and often don’t remember all the common readings, because I read the furigana first. I’ve gotten very, very good at reading even fairly small furigana, and can skim through a fully-glossed text quite quickly. The Ask graded readers I mentioned a while back are excellent, and I’m enjoying levels 3 and 4, but I’m reading kanji-with-furigana, not kanji.

Some textbooks try to keep you from falling into this trap by only using furigana the first time a word is used in a page or section (it’s also a lot cheaper…). Unfortunately, this only works when you’re reading the text in order, and really sucks when the teacher asks a student to read something aloud. Better books will use furigana for all new kanji, but expect you to be able to read words from previous lessons. My class didn’t use one of those; ours basically assumed that kanji would magically imprint themselves into your brain without any work on their part.

So, I need to read to master more kanji, but I need furigana to read, which keeps me from mastering more kanji. The best option I’ve found for breaking out of this little catch-22 is the Unicom JLPT Level 2 prep book for the reading section, which includes 30 essays arranged by increasing difficulty, each one printed with and without furigana. I’m also planning to resume my old habit of writing out everything I read, which is tedious, but extremely helpful.

[the other three JLPT2 books in this series are also good, but I’m less interested in them right now. I’ll probably start using them around July.]

Tuesday, March 11 2008

Pop-up furigana test

When I first decided to hack furigana for the web, I simply used HTML tooltips, with a bit of CSS to highlight the glossed word. It mostly worked, but the presentation was iffy, and by default IE didn’t use a Unicode font for tooltips. I also knocked together a script to simplify the process of marking up a lot of text; that one needs some more work, still.

My second try used the popular jquery JavaScript library, which abstracted away most of the browser dependencies, and left the HTML clean. I liked the results, but I got sidetracked before I managed to clean up the code. Also, at the time I was reluctant to add the overhead of even a relatively compact JS library to every page.

After my recent discovery that IE7 is still hosed for basic CSS, I broke down and cleaned up my JS code, and I’m going to start using it. Here’s the first test: 漢字には全てふりがなが付いています

The big feature of this version is that if JavaScript is turned off in the browser, the pop-up furigana still display as tooltips. One known bug is that they appear in the wrong place if the window has been scrolled horizontally.

[Update: hmm, the offset function in the new version of the jquery dimensions plug-in isn’t calculating the correct bounding box for the base text in IE 6. I’ll have to look at that. However, the ifixpng plug-in does finally make my site logo work in IE6.]

[Update: I’m behind the times. offset() has been rolled into the core jquery library, and it’s fine; the problem was that IE6 doesn’t bother calculating changes to a hidden DIV. If I show it and then update its position, it works fine.]

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

Pretty girls are not summer-camp crafts projects.

(Continued on Page 2937)

Wednesday, March 12 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

Yuuko’s outfit is simple, and her hair is for once a color found in nature. Okay, she’s wearing a nightie, but that’s not a bad thing. But when I look at Nacchi, I just have to ask, DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?

(Continued on Page 2940)

Saturday, March 15 2008

The slender way to booze

A frequent annoyance for manga and anime fans is the inevitable loss of information in translation. Little things like the use of -san, -chan, -sama, -dono, et al can be simply left in or explained once, and if you’re watching the subtitled version, you can pick them out of the original dialogue.

Often, though, cultural context means that a single line of dialogue can’t be fully understood without half a page of explanation, but sometimes it can’t, or shouldn’t, be explained. One of the dumbest things I’ve seen a fansub group do was fill the entire screen with a detailed explanation of a very small joke that added almost nothing to the story.

What we see a lot of today, though, especially with the insane pace of manga translation, is information lost because the translators didn’t have the context themselves; either they’re not native speakers who grew up in Japan (as pointed out in this Amazon review), or they’re not reading an entire story before translating a chapter (too many to list…).

So, here’s my tiny joke of the day, courtesy of a manga volume I spotted in Kinokuniya: ほそ道. It’s the story of a salaryman who loves to drink; I can’t tell you any more about the story, because it’s entirely lacking in furigana, and I didn’t buy it anyway. It’s popular enough to have 22 volumes out, though.

Anyone familiar with classic Japanese literature will get the title immediately, and wonder just where the author is going to go with it. “Sake no hoso-michi” translates literally as “the narrow road of sake”, but it’s really a reference to “Oku no hoso-michi”, a very famous book written by the haiku poet Bashō.

“Cake or Death”, revisited

Another random discovery in Kinokuniya: 死神チョコレートパフェ. Three light novels, adapted into a manga series. I have no idea what it’s about, and yet, I do.

The first light novel looks like this.

Monday, March 17 2008

Dear Junjun,

Love the outfit, but… bananas?

(Continued on Page 2944)

This picture was really interesting…

(Continued on Page 2945)

Tuesday, March 18 2008

Free Kanji fonts!

Safari 3.1 has added CSS downloadable font support, so I went looking for some decent fonts with less ambiguous availability than the often-linked hgrskp.ttf. To my surprise and delight, I found that Epson hosts a free download of a nice collection of fonts, including a Kaisho, a Kyoukasho, a Gyosho, a Mincho, and a Maru.

The only thing wrong with them is that the embedded font names are not encoded in Unicode (probably Shift-JIS), so the names show up as garbage in font menus. Easy fix with a font editor.

[Note: kanji fonts are in the neighborhood of 50 times larger than a standard font, and you really, really don’t want to embed them into a web page except as a test. There’s a reason Adobe PDF uses font subsetting, and I suspect people will insist on similar tools for web fonts, even the standard ones. Also, Safari 3.1 doesn’t cache downloaded fonts at all…]

Saturday, March 22 2008

Dear Ai Suma,

You’re a fresh, pretty young girl, and I’m sure you have a bright career ahead of you in the idol business.

Ai Suma, Hello!Project Kansai

Seriously, if you weren’t still on the dangerous side of sixteen, you’d already be breaking my heart.

Ai Suma, Hello!Project Kansai

However, there’s something very important that you need to know about your career: you work for Hello!Project, and where other talent agencies are content with using up fresh, pretty young girls as if they were tissue paper, H!P takes a more comprehensive approach to destroying souls. Just ask fellow member Risa Niigaki:

(Continued on Page 2951)

Tuesday, March 25 2008

Autumn-colored canal in Kyoto

(all vacation entries)

I was playing with the new version of Aperture today, flipping through the pictures from my Japan trip, and noticed something unusual. See if you can spot it.

Autumn colors spreading across a canal in the Gion district, Kyoto, Japan

Merosu, Serinuntiusu, and Dionisu-ou in Shirakusu

I’ve now read all ten of the books in level 3 of Ask’s graded readers, and six of the ten books in level 4. I’ve also discovered (by reading the front cover…) that they didn’t just record audio for some of the stories; they did it for everything, but the ones that were too long were left off the CD and put online as MP3 files. That gives me a total of eight hours of professionally-recorded audio of stories that I’ve read and understood.

Mostly understood, anyway. I had a little trouble with the basic premise of 野菊の墓, which is that Our Hero’s first love can never be his, because she’s two years his senior. It’s possible Ask’s version has been over-simplified a tad, so I’m going to attempt to read the real thing at Aozora Bunko, a free online library of Japanese literature.

Another one I had some trouble with was called 走れメロス, not so much because of the story as the basic problem of figuring out who the heck these people are in this tale of ancient Girishia. Quite literally, it’s all Greek to me.

One thing I found interesting at Aozora Bunko was their method of encoding furigana in a text file. A string of kanji characters is glossed by following it with hiragana surrounded by double angle brackets. If the glossed word immediately follows another kanji that isn’t covered by the furigana, a vertical-bar character is added to separate it.

So, the title of the first story would be rendered as 「野菊《のぎく》の墓《はか》」, and if I only wanted to add furigana to a single word in an all-kanji phrase, it would look like this: 「東京|特許《とっきょ》許可局」. They also include annotations of the form [#whatever] (mostly for rare kanji and special formatting). All of the characters are full-width forms that line up neatly with kanji, but aren’t otherwise used in Japanese prose. I don’t know if this is a common standard, but it seems to be sufficient for most uses.

Wednesday, March 26 2008

I know what you’re thinking, Aya, …

… “why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?”.

(Continued on Page 2957)

Monday, March 31 2008

With little effort, one can manage to enumerate no less than three levels

In deference to Brian’s delicate sensibilities, I will not use the phrase “…on SO many levels”.

(Continued on Page 2958)

…and three weeks later, we celebrate my other birthday

When I was reading the star-crossed-puppy-love story 野菊の墓, I found myself wondering if the editors at Ask had over-simplified the main conflict, since it boiled down to “you two can never, ever marry, because she’s two years older”. Skimming through the original version (a much slower read, even though it’s easier to look up vocabulary with cut-and-paste), it looks like that really is the reason the whole village is upset about their budding romance, to the point that she’s forced into an unhappy marriage with someone else. Pause for mild culture shock.

One thing that caught my eye, though, was this passage:


Roughly: “Having just finished elementary school, I was 15, or if you counted months, 13 and some change; Tamiko was 17, but since she was born late, she had just turned 15.” [note the use of Aozora Bunko’s 《》 convention for furigana, in this case glossing the character for “evening” with the word for “late”]

The Ask version just gave their ages as 13 and 15, respectively, but clearly there was something going on in the original. I noted the multiple ages as something to look into later, and then spotted the answer by accident while flipping through my collection of reference books: 数え年. In the kazoedoshi system, you’re 1 at birth, and gain a year on New Year’s Day. These days, the most visible use of this system is probably the Shichi-Go-San festival.

Tuesday, April 1 2008

Context is everything, lesson #23

The word for the day is “fungai”. If you search a dictionary, you’ll find it written as 憤慨 = resent + lament = “indignation or resentment”. My shiny new copy of Kenkyusha’s Bilingual Dictionary of Japanese Cultural Terms has another: 糞害 = feces + harm = “problems with damage caused by bird droppings”.

In our parking lot at work, there are several spaces that Spring has rendered unusable due to fungai over fungai.

Saturday, April 5 2008

Random notes

  1. Pizza Hut’s new meat pasta is pretty good. I’ll be eating it for another two days, since they only deliver a family-size portion with breadsticks, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  2. I always thought the name “Rune Soldier” was an invention of the team who translated the anime for the US market, since “Magic Soldier Louie” sounded too similar to “Magic Knight Rayearth” and similar series. Nope, page six of the first novel glosses 魔法戦士 as ルーンソルジャー. Pity, really, since the change ruined a decent joke in episode 18.
  3. Constructs of the form AたるB, where both A and B are nouns, are a bit of grammar that’s hard to find a good explanation for in English. Historically, there were three different conjugations for adjectives, but for the most part only the -i and -na types still exist; there are only a handful of true -taru adjectives in modern Japanese. This does not stop people from occasionally attaching -taru to a noun to make an “A-looking B” or “A-like B” expression.
  4. Speaking of -taru adjectives, I find this one charming: 死屍累々. Shishiruirui, it’s like the “que sera sera” of carnage. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sing the correct lyrics to that song again.
  5. Speaking of songs we’ll never be able to sing correctly again…
  6. Nobody ever told me that Pixel Maritan had a webcomic.
  7. On a vaguely related note, the trading figures for Moe yo! Tank School are, um, interesting.
  8. And while we’re following dirty links at Amazon Japan, I can see where the artist was going with this covergirl from MC Akushizu (“the hyper bishoujo military magazine”), but, anatomically speaking, he made a wrong turn.

Monday, April 7 2008

Still got some life in her…

Ai Kago returns

After the second time she was caught behaving like a typical girl her age, Hello!Project broke Ai Kago’s contract, and she dropped out of sight. Apart from an alleged sighting in New York City and the claim that her mother would pose nude for a photobook, she’s managed to stay invisible for the past year.

…until yesterday, when a six-part interview started appearing on a Japanese news site, which was promptly pounded into the ground by the traffic. Her new publicist has also created a stub of a fan club site, promising real content soon.

Naturally, Hello!Online is all over this one.

Wednesday, April 9 2008

Konno’s Proudest Moment

Asami Konno joined Morning Musume as a baby-faced 14-year-old, and after five years, put her career on hold to go to college. She later decided that she could balance the two, performing occasionally while giving priority to her studies, but in the interim, she had the chance to do something that must have been the envy of all her friends:

(Continued on Page 2969)

Thursday, April 10 2008

Not Safe For Work Engrish

This quote comes from the cover of an adult magazine, so I’m not kidding about the lack of worksafeness.

(Continued on Page 2971)

Saturday, April 19 2008


I just finished chapter one of the first 魔法戦士リウイ novels, in Japanese.

[Pardon my shouting: I just read thirty pages of Japanese prose written for a native audience!! Ahem.]

The anime adaptation opened with the experienced adventuring team of Genie (amazon warrior), Melissa (priestess of the war god Mylee), and Merrill (thief) finding a magically-sealed door in a ruin. They headed to town to recruit a mage, preferably female, but the only one that seemed interested was Louie, a brawny goofball who had already “rescued” Genie from a fight and pantsed Merrill while being chased by a mob of angry women. Later, he accidentally blew up a bar trying to prove himself to them, and then while being chased by a mob of angry priestesses, destroyed the roof of Mylee’s temple with his magic, inadvertently revealing himself to the (naked) Melissa as the hero her god had chosen for her to serve. By the end of the first episode, Louie was firmly established as a drunk, a womanizer, a careless street brawler, and a terrible student, with no real interest in or aptitude for magic.

The novel starts out a bit differently. Louie is being congratulated by his classmates for finally mastering enough magic to earn his mage staff, making him the fifth to succeed out of the hundred apprentices that their class had started with ten years earlier. The next day, the others are all nursing a hangover from the party, but Louie cheerfully heads off to the entertainment district in pursuit of wine, women, and trouble. The sound of a tavern brawl draws him in from a distance, and he pushes through a crowd of onlookers to find two apprentice knights fighting three women (guess who?), and the women are wiping the floor with them.

(Continued on Page 2982)

Monday, April 28 2008


[Update: Ah, almost none of them (besides the obvious) are loanwords; the drawn-out vowels and -ra ending are apparently Edokko slang]

[Update: I feel a little better, after getting email back from my Japanese teacher that read, “I don’t know what they’re saying, either.”]

Lyrics to the b-side from the latest single release by Melon Kinenbi. I didn’t have much trouble with the Japanese part, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out half of the loanwords they’ve worked in.

顔がダメ 会話がダメ
タイプじゃない ピンと来ない



パスよ パス チェンジ あり得ない
ハスッパ ゲロンパ バレテーラ それが何?
パスよ パス チェンジ 聞こえたの?
ペロっと ガンターれ オンナザカリ

あれもダメ これもダメって



パスよ パス チェンジ 繰り返す
サラッと スリット しけテーラ 現実は
パスよ パス チェンジ ごめんなさい
チュチュッと バローレ オンナザカリ


パスよ パス チェンジ あり得ない
ハスッパ ゲロンパ バレテーラ それが何?
パスよ パス チェンジ 聞こえたの?
ペロっと ガンターれ オンナザカリ
ペロっと ガンターれ オンナザカリ

Thursday, May 15 2008

キノの旅:「わたしの国」 (excerpt)

[This quarter, I’m taking a class that’s focused on reading authentic Japanese text. Everyone finds something short to read, makes copies for the entire group, and prepares a vocabulary list. Well, we’re supposed to be making vocabulary lists, although so far I’m the only one to do so. Two of the pieces I’ve brought in have been from illustrated books, and it seemed wasteful to photocopy the whole things, so I typed them in and added some furigana.

The first one wasn’t really authentic Japanese, being from the ASK reader series, but the teacher really liked that author and wanted us to read it. The second is more contemporary, and I thought it might be of general interest. It’s the latest short story from the Kino’s Journey series. I’m just posting the first scene, since it’s both illegal and darn rude to reprint the whole thing. If you like the story, buy the book, which also includes a DVD of the second Kino movie.

I’ve added a lot more pop-up furigana (with English translations) than I need myself, to give more people a chance to work through it.]

(Continued on Page 2987)

Monday, May 19 2008

Importing furigana into Word

Aozora Bunko is, more or less, the Japanese version of Project Gutenberg. As I’ve mentioned before, they have a simple markup convention to handle phonetic guides and textual notes. The notes can get a bit complicated, referring to obsolete kanji and special formatting, but the phonetic part is simple to parse.

I can easily convert it to my pop-up furigana for online use (which I think is more useful than the real thing at screen resolution), but for my reading class, it would be nice to make real furigana to print out. A while back I started tinkering with using Word’s RTF import for this, but gave up because it was a pain in the ass. Among other problems, the RTF parser is very fragile, and syntax errors can send it off into oblivion.

Tonight, while I was working on something else, I remembered that Word has an allegedly reasonable HTML parser, and IE was the first browser to support the HTML tags for furigana. So I stripped the RTF code out of my script, generated simple HTML, and sent it to Word. Success! Also a spinning beach-ball for a really long time, but only for the first document; once Word loaded whatever cruft it needed, that session would convert subsequent HTML documents quickly. It even obeys simple CSS, so I could set the main font size and line spacing, as well as the furigana size.

Two short Perl scripts: shiftjis2utf8 and aozora-ruby.

[Note that Aozora Bunko actually supplies XHTML versions of their texts with properly-tagged furigana, but they also do some other things to the text that I don’t want to try to import into Word, like replacing references to obsolete kanji with PNG files.]

Tuesday, May 20 2008

I’m just saying…

There are several different ways to romanize Japanese. This is the wrong one.

(Continued on Page 2991)

Sunday, May 25 2008


[Update: Replaced the store link; I hadn’t realized that was now wholesale-only.]

One of my regrets from the trip to Japan was that I didn’t bring home more ginger-flavored crack(ers). I hoped I’d be able to find them in the US, but the only name I knew to call them by was a Kyoto cliché.

Today, I avoided the con crowd by heading up to SF Japantown, and while browsing through a grocery store, I found two different brands of Shouga Tsumami (“ginger pinch”). They’re a little thicker than the ones we bought in a Gion candy store, and not quite as fresh, but they’re still darn tasty, and they’re available online.

Wednesday, May 28 2008

Non-Flying Motorcycles

In the Kino’s Journey short story we’ve been reading in class, the following line appears as Hermes the talking motorcycle is introduced as a “Motorado”:


Translated: “Note: two-wheeled vehicle. Refers only to non-flying ones”.

The origin of the word appears to be German: “motorrad”, as in BMW Motorrad, makers of fine motorcycles. All the Japanese search engines I’ve checked turn up lots of links to Kino, followed by a few to generic motorcycle discussions.

So why does the author feel compelled to point out that Hermes can’t fly? I just spotted the exact same phrase while skimming through the first Kino novel, in every story. Where’s the ambiguity? If motorado isn’t in common use in Japanese outside of Kino and motorcycle fans, why stress the fact that Hermes is a non-flying two-wheeler, every time?

After eleven novels, two spinoff novels, an anime series, and two OVAs, isn’t someone who picks up a special-edition Kino book going to be pretty clear about at least the non-flying part? The novels are really short story collections, originally published individually in a magazine, so I can see the first half-dozen or so introducing unfamiliar katakana words like モトラド and パースエイダー, but doing it every time is either an editorial standard or a stylistic choice, and just calling it a “two-wheeled vehicle” is somehow insufficient.

Wednesday, June 4 2008

Classroom fun

One of the other students in my reading class brought in the first chapter of the One Piece manga, which we finished a few weeks ago. Towards the end, there’s a scene in the bar where the villain Higuma is laughing with his gang about how pathetic Shanks and his pirates seem to be. One line in particular is noteworthy.

To set the scene properly, the teacher is a rather attractive woman “somewhere past age 30” (coughcough), there are two male students in their early twenties who are big Japanese pop-culture fans, and a basically-bilingual female student who’s about 19. And me, the big hairy over-40 otaku. We were translating as we went, and I had just finished reading the following speech bubble:


This loosely translates as, “they didn’t even complain when I threw a drink in his face!”, but before I had a chance to say that, the teacher launched into an explanation of the verb, which she was sure we wouldn’t know: bukkakeru.

All three of us guys were trying hard not to say anything, or look at each other. We just let that one go quietly by…

Monday, June 16 2008

This is wrong tour

Never use this.

Step 1: Take the train to Akihabara on a Sunday.
Step 2: Pay an American cosplayer $50 for a tour.
Step 3: Profit?

At least they advertise it correctly: anyone on this tour will indeed be called “otaku” by the natives…

Thursday, June 19 2008

Useful information…

View from the wing provides a handy piece of information (via Marginal Revolution):

Regardless of what you pay and what fare class you’re booking in, your travel on United between San Francisco and Nagoya, Japan is going to have almost no effect whatsoever on United’s decision-making. They’ve got a very large contract with Toyota and they fill up their 747 with cargo and the flight goes out with very low load factors yet is still profitable for them to operate. That’s why the single easiest flight in the entire United system on which to score an international premium class award ticket on is San Francisco- Nagoya…

Friday, June 20 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

I know, I thought there really wasn’t anything left to say about the horrible outfits you daily inflict on the girls of Tsunku’s army, but this is different. It’s a safety issue.

(Continued on Page 3012)

Sunday, June 22 2008

Dear Maki Goto,

You’ve left Hello!Project behind. You’ve got a new manager, a contract with a real record label, and tens of thousands of fans had idolgasms just seeing cellphone camera pictures of your recent training trip to LA. You’re positioned to take over the world.

Could you at least pick up a decent dress on the way to the show?

(Continued on Page 3016)

Monday, June 23 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

I give up. You have destroyed my will to live. I know this, because the first thing I objected to in this picture was the boots.

(Continued on Page 3021)

Wednesday, June 25 2008

Go Fug H!P

Someone with a stronger stomach than I has taken on the task of documenting the worst abuses of the Hello!Project costume designers.

Thursday, June 26 2008

A simpler time…

The first two generations of Morning Musume, frolicking happily on the beach after making a movie about fighting back against stalkers. My, that’s a young Mari.

[Update: Oh, my, I’ve never seen this one before. It’s a short clip of a more recent edition of the group singing a song called “please don’t strip off my sailor suit”.]

Dear schoolgirl,

It’s cute that you like Morning Musume so much that you want to sing and dance like them in public, but may I offer you a bit of cautionary advice?

  1. Your performance was uploaded to Youtube with the title “Shock! 10-year-old lolita in a sailor suit”. You may not understand why this is a problem, but you should make sure you’ve got a trustworthy adult with you when you go out singing.
  2. Please, however much you admire Morning Musume and wish to emulate them, ignore their fashion sense. You’ll thank me later.

[Her role models perform the song here]

Friday, June 27 2008

“Please don’t pull off my school uniform”

[Update: added amusing machine translation of the lyrics, along with commentary]

Okay, so a link to a link to a link to a Youtube video got me started on this, and now I have six videos of the song セーラー服を脱がさないで.

Apparently, it all started back in 1985, when someone formed the idol group おニャン子クラブ (literally “kitten club”). The title of their debut single was “Please don’t strip off my sailor suit” (school uniform, that is), and their first album included songs like “Teacher, stop that!” and “Oh, no! Molester”. They lasted long enough to grow to over 50 members, and inspire future generations, including Morning Musume.

Videos and lyrics below the fold.

(Continued on Page 3030)

Sunday, June 29 2008

Little-sister cafe changes theme…

Apparently the competition was just too fierce in the adoring-little-sister cafe market, so Nagomi has gotten tough: it’s now a tsundere cafe.

(once the pretty-girl commercial is over, skip to about the 50-second mark)

Monday, June 30 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

You bastards.

You waited until the last possible moment, when Biyuuden is disbanded and two out of three members will likely never be seen again. For years, you’ve been dressing them in tinsel and tulle, mixing cowboy hats and bunny ears with taffeta and rhinestones, sparing them the ruffles only when they’re in lingerie, and now you let them get in front of a camera in actual clothing. You didn’t even dye their hair unnatural shades and staple bows to their heads!

Or is this why they seem happy to break up? Quick! Someone get word to Aya, before she gets eaten by tribbles!


(Continued on Page 3035)

Tuesday, July 1 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

The next time you have Hitomi Yoshizawa strapped down for a fitting, please feed her!

[no picture; more and more frequently these days, she’s just bones wrapped in gaudy fabric]

Wednesday, July 2 2008

Diablo III preview

Hell has a new overlord, and the torments of the damned tear at our ears.

Oh, wait, that’s just Koharu Kusumi’s new single. My bad. I always get her and Satan confused. It’s something about the eyes.

Thursday, July 3 2008

Stop crying, Aya, …

…I’m sure they’ll remove the staples soon.

(Continued on Page 3039)

Saturday, July 5 2008

Phantom meets Heroine

Our story begins with the Phantom Legion, a gang of armored (and, oddly enough, cat-tailed) villains, creating a huge explosion. Later, they gather in front of a vidscreen to receive the praise of their faceless master for bringing him the pleasure of human screams. Singled out for praise is the leader of the strike force, Volken, an armored devil in a trench-coat. The Legion is encouraged to keep up the good (aggressively destructive) work.

The next morning, perfectly ordinary high-school student Toichi Tenkawa listens quietly as his fellow students discuss the explosion, wondering if it was once again the work of the Phantom Legion. Foolish humans, he thinks, how terrified they’d be to discover that the Phantom Volken has taken human form and lives among them.

Lost in thought, he’s surprised when the other boys go wild at the sight of their new transfer student, Kokoro Maishima, a busty blonde who’s also loud, rude, and not the least bit interested in these pathetic boys. Naturally, she’s assigned to the empty seat next to Toichi. Despite her outburst, he politely greets his new classmate and offers to help her out if there’s anything she doesn’t understand. She rebuffs him with a blunt “omae, urusai zo”, shocking and angering him.

Later, Volken and his Phantoms lie in wait to begin their latest act of evil, hijacking a pre-school bus. As they move into position, they’re interrupted by a mysterious and quite curvy figure: The Angel of Judgement, Mighty Heart. Volken/Toichi is stunned to recognize his new classmate, and even more surprised as she leaps into the fray, and is instantly defeated by his minions.

Tied up, Our Heroine’s feminine charms are well-displayed in her skimpy costume, and one of the minions politely suggests a way to deal with their prisoner: they want her to join the gang. Surprised, Volken demands an explanation, and he explains that having a girl around would “enhance” their all-guy family. Volken nixes the plan, so the outspoken minion settles for a little fun, groping his way toward her breasts and commenting on how soft they’ll feel, and if she were to join the gang, she’d be vigorously groped like this all the time.

Our heroine is distressed, and to his surprise, Volken is also distressed, and moves to intervene, ordering them to act like professionals. Unfortunately, he trips on a rock, and catches himself with both hands on her ample breasts. The minions cheer (“Sasuga Volken-sama!”), but Volken is embarrassed, and tries to reassure the crying prisoner that it was an accident, and he was just trying to stop them from molesting her.

Too late. With a mighty explosion, Volken and his minions are defeated, and our sobbing heroine walks off into the sunset. Her true strength, it seems, is buried deep, and only moments of extreme shyness can allow her to call forth her Mighty Beam.

(end chapter one)

Coming from Shonen Champion Comics (publishers of Puri Puri, Zokusei, Hanaukyou Maid Tai, Mai-HiME, and Penguin Musume, among others), I expected Mighty Heart to live up to the “chotto ecchi” part of the back-cover blurb “chotto ecchi-na dokidoki kindan love comedy”. Certainly the cover art suggested as much:

(Continued on Page 3042)

Thursday, July 10 2008

Japundit hits bottom, digs

The quality of contributions to the group blog Japundit has been sliding for a while now, largely due to some marginal contributors, but now they’ve done something that puts me off my lunch: Boye Lafayette De Mente has joined the party.

As with his books, his turgid, self-important prose and “unique” view of Japan is enough to make me stop reading completely. Blech.

Friday, July 11 2008

Mighty Heart, volume 3

  • No sign of the emotionless killer loli. She must still be off arranging heads in her trophy room.
  • No Anekomimi backup story this time.
  • EcchiHentai rival phantom is in the first five chapters. He drugs schoolgirls, almost gets MH to trade herself to free them, publicly humiliates Toichi in a fight (not understanding why his opponent stayed in human form), lures MH out for another duel, then easily evades her attacks in her topless power-up form until Toichi shows up and she asks him for some hands-on assistance, the resulting emotions transforming her “divine wrath club” into its max-power (and NSFW) form.
  • Then, one of Volken’s minions gets his own two-chapter adventure, as the eyepatch-wearing nazi chickdominatrix returns. It’s a slightly skewed boyminion meets girldom story, with a happy ending.
  • Next, it’s Karol versus Mighty Heart in a fierce cooking battle, with Volken and his minions as judges. MH takes the lead with the first course, but Karol wins the rest, until the final course, the main dish: Karol’s Passion Banquet (juicy tropical fruits on a bed of fresh Karol) versus Mighty Heart’s Snowy Suspension Bridge (one large udon noodle stretched between her mountains, with a cup of dipping sauce in the valley below). MH is the winner by a nosebleed, leading a pissed-off Karol to yank away the noodle, triggering a Mighty Beam explosion.
  • Moving right along, Toichi and Kokoro accidentally ingest matching “Love Portion” candies, leading them to come this close to a real kiss, before a classmate breaks in and reveals the candy’s powers were just false advertising.
  • In a rare service-free chapter, Toichi/Volken uses his great power and the fearsome reputation of the Phantom Legion to save a playground from destruction.
  • Finally, the boss orders Volken to investigate Kokoro in order to learn Mighty Heart’s weaknesses. He follows her to her rather unusual home, sneaks in when she steps out, and naturally ends up trapped in her closet while she undresses. G-cup.

I’m skimming the story, and only translating dialogue occasionally, but it’s actually turning out to be pretty good, enough that I’m going to go back and read it properly. It doesn’t seem to have much of a fanbase, so I’ll have to pull out my scanner to get a few nice character pictures.

I’m also going to spend some time reading the wiki page and the author’s blog, because this really doesn’t look like someone’s first work. I’m suspecting a history of porn comics under another name or as part of a doujin circle.

Sunday, July 13 2008

Spam: マネーを貰ってタダSEXしませんか?

My Japanese spam is just more fun than my English spam. In this little missive, I’m promised that hot Japanese women are looking to pay men for sex!

Usually, it’s the other way around…


Thursday, July 17 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

I think Yuuko Nakazawa has a few issues with how you’re dressing her. If you see her approaching the wardrobe dungeon carrying some sort of long, vaguely cylindrical package, run.

Or, you know, don’t. I’m on her side.

(Continued on Page 3059)

Saturday, July 26 2008

Dear Maki Goto,

Hello!Project dressed you funny, and they were really pushing a slut look that didn’t flatter you. Avex’s wardrobe and makeup artists? Kill them. Kill them all. Make them suffer.

(Continued on Page 3070)

Tuesday, August 5 2008

Google Maps street view in Japan

The folks at Akihabara News pass on the good word.

Here, for instance, is the deer park in Nara. And here’s Togetsukyou, the bridge that crosses the river in Arashiyama. How about Kyoto Tower, and the much more interesting Tokyo Tower. This could be fun…

[it looks like they went through Akihabara before all the stores opened in the morning.]

Oh, yeah, I bought it.

I’m not a big fan of celebrity gossip rags, even though I’ve been published in one. Between not really caring who’s been caught with who and hating the whole paparazzi sleazebucket style of photography, I generally don’t give them a second look.

The Japanese weekly magazine Friday is known to me only as the folks who ran “image-betraying” (read: having a private life) pictures that derailed (and in one case, destroyed) the careers of several members of Hello!Project. I’d never seen an issue, and wasn’t aware that they leaned more towards the Celebrity Sleuth model, interested as much in publishing posed shots of wannabe starlets as in stalking big-name stars to ruin them.

I know this now, because I spotted an issue at Kinokuniya when I was up in San Francisco on Sunday, and found a magazine I could not not buy.

(Continued on Page 3077)

Tuesday, August 12 2008

Don’t try this at home, kids

Leave it to trained professionals…

…or, in this case, the idol group Idoling!!!, manufactured by Fuji TV for a weekly variety show. I think the wrestling matches were a fan request…

Warning: they do not lip-sync their songs on the show (live vs studio). You may have already figured this out if you watched the embedded clip…

Sunday, August 17 2008

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

A while back, I was watching an H!P concert video at Scott’s house, and I said, “ah, it’s time for the trashy outfits”. Scott eagerly came over to take a look, and then realized that he had misinterpreted what I’d meant by trashy. From a certain point of view, I suppose you deserve some praise for always seeking new innovations in costume design, but seriously, I’ve got to ask.

(Continued on Page 3081)

The least-essential kanji

JMdict combines the results of several research projects to determine whether or not a word should be counted as “common”. There are currently 15,572 words on this list that include at least one kanji character. Out of the 1,945 standard Jouyou kanji, 1,894 show up. The 51 rare ones are listed below:

舟 悦 抄 附 殉 禍 硝 酌 鋳 錬 剛 頒 芳 薫 尼 庸 廉 逝 遵 某 貞 滋 墾 蚕 侯 仙 孔 吏 嗣 謁 宵 丙 壱 弐 升 匁 勺 隻 脹 坑 痘 曹 恭 詔 朕 錘 銑 塑 虞 繭 璽

Of course, if you’ve mastered the other 1,894, it seems pretty silly to ignore these, especially when there are 576 non-Jouyou kanji on the list:

其 此 頃 惚 呆 呂 剥 袖 脇 拭 兎 儲 伊 鹿 馴 霞 雀 闇 蜜 蔑 苛 苑 胡 纏 繋 籤 瓜 爪 濡 潰 溜 洒 旦 掻 捻 戴 憧 宛 塵 吃 叩 凄 儘 俄 鱈 鬱 骸 馳 餅 頬 須 韓 雛 隙 阪 鍋 錆 迄 辻 輿 跨 賭 賑 貪 謎 誰 詫 蝶 蜂 藤 薩 薔 薇 蕎 葵 葛 萩 萎 艶 臆 股 耶 綻 綴 籠 箸 稽 禿 碌 眩 眉 痺 痕 痒 瓦 狙 犇 煽 烏 汲 汎 槌 椅 梯 柏 暢 暈 斐 擽 揉 揃 捲 挫 拳 拉 或 徨 彷 巾 屑 屏 尻 尤 妬 妖 塞 噛 噌 嘘 喧 喋 呪 吊 叶 只 匂 勿 剃 僻 俯 仄 亀 乍 乃 丼 齎 鼾 鼠 黴 黍 麺 麹 麟 麓 麒 鹸 鷹 鷲 鶴 鴨 鳩 鰻 鰯 鯵 鯛 鯉 鮪 鬘 髭 騙 駒 饉 饂 餡 餌 餃 飴 飩 颯 顎 頷 頓 頁 韆 鞦 鞄 靨 靡 雁 隼 隈 阿 阜 閾 閏 閃 鐵 鎌 鍵 錫 錨 錦 鋸 鋏 銚 釜 釘 醤 醒 酎 那 遽 遥 遡 遜 逞 這 迦 迚 辿 辰 轢 軈 躾 躓 躊 躇 蹴 蹲 蹌 踵 踉 跪 贔 贅 賂 貶 貰 貌 讐 謳 謂 諺 諦 諄 詣 訣 訛 覗 襖 襁 褪 褓 褄 裾 袴 蟻 蟹 螺 蝿 蝕 蝋 蝉 蜻 蜘 蜀 蛸 蛛 蛙 蛋 蛉 虹 虎 藍 藁 薐 蕾 蔭 蔓 蓮 蓙 蓋 蒙 蒔 葱 葡 萌 萄 菩 菠 莫 荻 茹 茸 茣 茄 苺 苔 芯 舵 舐 舅 臥 臍 膳 膝 腺 腫 腎 脛 脆 肘 聳 聊 耽 翔 羨 罹 罵 罠 罅 縺 縞 縋 縊 緞 絨 絆 紐 糺 糊 粥 簾 箪 箒 箋 筐 筈 笹 笥 笠 竿 窶 窄 稍 稀 秤 禄 祇 磯 瞼 瞳 瞭 瞑 睨 睦 皺 皰 癌 瘤 痩 痣 疹 畿 畏 甦 甥 璧 瑞 瑚 琶 琵 琲 琢 珊 珈 玩 獅 猪 狼 狡 狐 牙 牌 爽 爺 燵 燭 燕 熊 煎 煌 煉 焜 焚 焉 炬 炒 灘 灌 澱 漕 漑 滲 溺 溢 湧 渾 渚 淵 淀 涎 浚 沙 汰 氾 殆 歪 櫛 檻 檎 橙 橘 樽 樺 槍 楷 楯 楠 楕 楊 椿 椒 椀 棲 棘 梨 梁 桶 桐 桂 桁 栗 柿 柴 柑 枕 杜 杖 杏 李 曙 曖 晦 晒 昧 昏 旁 斡 斑 敲 撰 撫 撥 撒 摸 摯 揶 揄 掴 掬 掟 掏 捩 捧 捗 挽 挨 拶 拵 戚 愈 惧 惣 悉 恰 怯 忽 彦 彙 弥 弛 弄 庵 庇 幡 巽 巴 巳 嵐 嵌 崖 峙 屹 屡 屓 屁 尖 寅 宥 孰 孕 嬉 嫋 嫉 婉 娼 姪 姑 奢 夥 壕 堰 堆 埃 垢 囁 囀 嚏 噂 嘸 嘴 嘲 嘩 嘗 嗽 嗟 嗅 喩 喉 唾 唸 唄 哨 咳 咎 咄 呟 吠 叱 卿 匙 勾 剪 凭 凧 几 凌 凋 冴 兜 儚 僑 僅 偖 倶 俺 俣 俎 侶 佇 佃 伎 些 也 乞

What this little bit of late-night script-hacking really demonstrates (if anything) is that the Jouyou kanji selection is actually pretty good, with only a few “useless” characters, only one of which is taught as part of the 1,006 grade-school set (蚕 = silkworm). The Kanji In Context books also fare pretty well in this test; only one “useless” character is among the first 1,000 taught (舟, a variant of 船 = ship), and more than half are among the last 100.

Friday, August 29 2008

Dear Hello!Project,

Thank you for feeding Yossie. In the latest Ongaku Gatas video, she no longer looks a little too much like the other person in this picture:

Yossie and her skinny friend

[and if anyone is wondering about the group name, Ongaku Gatas (“musical pussycats”) is the singing spin-off of the H!P futsal team, Gatas Brilhantes (“shining pussycats”)]

Saturday, August 30 2008

The H!P-Files: I Want To Believe

Asami Konno is all grown up, but still baby-faced. Enough so that despite knowing her age, I always feel like a dirty old man when I see her in a bikini. I still look, because I am a dirty old man, but that pouty little-girl face really brings out those “she’s half your age!” feelings.

Ogling Konno is less disturbing than, say Risako Sugaya, whose grown-up face and figure can lead to thoughts of consensual felonies, but there’s a good chance both are heavily enhanced by her stylists.

With Konno, though, I look at that body, and I really, really want to believe that it’s all OEM.

(Continued on Page 3089)

Tuesday, September 2 2008

At least he has taste…

Danny Choo found someone who really, really wants to let people know that he’s a Mari Yaguchi fan. I confess, I didn’t even need to read her name on the armband or the “sekushii beemu” on his chest to recognize her instantly, so I can’t really criticize too much…

Mari Mania!

Monday, September 8 2008

Baseball + Fist = Strip!

I’m tinkering with a web front-end for my new dictionary lookup tool, and every once in a while I stumble across something entertaining. I’m using full-text indexing (Sphinx) to create a half-assed English-to-Japanese dictionary out of the JMdict data, and one of the words I typed in was “strip”. There were 36 matching records, and one of them caught my eye: 野球拳, “strip version of rock-paper-scissors forfeit game”.

Standard rock-paper-scissors is じゃん拳. 野球 means baseball in every other compound word, but in this one case, it ain’t. I have no idea how it got that way, but this isn’t a dictionary error, as can be seen from this promotional video for the PSP game YA-Q-KEN (warning: poorly-subbed dialogue, delivered by really cute AV actresses). It appears to offer a total of 9 girls willing to work with their hands.

Friday, September 12 2008

iTunes J-Pop

When I upgraded to iTunes 8.0 and turned on the new Genius feature, I discovered that the US iTunes Store has acquired a rather large catalog of J-Pop, including a significant subset of the various Hello!Project groups’ albums and singles. The iTunes Genius analyzed my collection and gleefully pointed out all of the songs that would be perfect for me.

All of which I already owned. In many cases, it was pointing to the exact same song, from the exact same album. Why? Because the purchased albums have metadata that’s written with kanji and kana, and the iTunes versions are all romanized. Er, mostly romanized. Okay, inconsistently romanized. Album and song titles are usually romanized, artist names are all over the map: kana-ized, Hepburn-romanized, Kunrei-romanized, last-name-first, first-name-first, capitalization and white-space optional; fortunately they seem to stick with the same version for multiple albums.

This makes searching entertaining, but this is a big deal, because all of this stuff is at standard iTunes pricing, which is a helluva lot cheaper than import CDs, and just over half the price of the same tracks in the Japanese iTunes Store.

The Japanese store is the source of the peculiar partial romanization, by the way, and in fact when you view it from the US, all of the navigation is translated as well. I remember that when the store first launched, everything was in Japanese, including song titles, so I’m wondering if they’re geographically localizing not just the menus, but also the song metadata. The search system seems to handle pretty much anything you throw at it, so I wonder if Apple was seeing so many American purchases from the Japanese store through gift cards that they went out of their way to accommodate them, first through romanizing the interface, then through importing popular content.

There are some indexing oddities. If you search for “nakazawa yuuko” in the US store, you’ll get her most recent EP and a stub link that should lead to her audiobooks, but that only works if you’re on the Japanese store. I’m guessing that the stores all talk to each other internally, sharing indexes and content, with flags to indicate what content is importable. Given the price difference, new releases are unlikely to show up for a while.

Sunday, September 21 2008

Dictionaries as toys

There are dozens of front-ends for Jim Breen’s Japanese-English and Kanji dictionaries, on and offline. Basically, if it’s a software-based dictionary that wasn’t published in Japan, the chance that it’s using some version of his data is somewhere above 99%.

Many of the tools, especially the older or free ones, use the original Edict format, which is compact and fairly easy to parse, but omits a lot of useful information. It has a lot of words you won’t find in affordable J-E dictionaries, but the definitions and usage information can be misleading. One of my Japanese teachers recommends avoiding it for anything non-trivial, because the definitions are extremely terse, context-free, and often “off”.

(Continued on Page 3125)

Tuesday, September 23 2008

More toying with dictionaries

[Update: the editing form is now hooked up to the database, in read-only mode. I’ve linked some sample entries on it. …and now there’s a link from the dictionary page; it’s still read-only, but you can load the results of any search into the form]

I feel really sorry for anyone who edits XML by hand. I feel slightly less sorry for people who use editing tools that can parse DTDs and XSDs and validate your work, but still, it just strikes me as a bad idea. XML is an excellent way to get structured data out of one piece of software and into a completely different one, but it’s toxic to humans.

JMdict is well-formed XML, maintained with some manner of validating editor (update: turns out there’s a simple text format based on the DTD that’s used to generate valid XML), but editing it is still a pretty manual job, and getting new submissions into a usable format can’t be fun. The JMdictDB project aims to help out with this, storing everything in a database and maintaining it with a web front-end.

Unfortunately, the JMdict schema is a poor match for standard HTML forms, containing a whole bunch of nested optional repeatable fields, many of them entity-encoded. So they punted, and relied on manually formatting a few TEXTAREA fields. Unless you’re new here, you’ll know that I can’t pass up a scripting problem that’s just begging to be solved, even if no one else in the world will ever use my solution.

So I wrote a jQuery plugin that lets you dynamically add, delete, and reorder groups of fields, and built a form that accurately represents the entire JMdict schema. It’s not hooked up to my database yet, and submitting it just dumps out the list of fields and values. It’s also ugly, with crude formatting and cryptic field names (taken from the schema), but the basic idea is sound. I was pleased that it only took one page of JavaScript to add the necessary functionality.

[hours to debug that script, but what can you do?]

Thursday, September 25 2008


The accompanying video made this one clear, but it did take me a moment:


Saturday, September 27 2008

Wanted Posters

No, this is not the cast of the live-action Negima series, although it might be amusing to map one onto the other. This is Tsunku’s Army, also known as Hello!Project, in their mid-2005 lineup. Yes, some of them really were as young as they look.

Hello Project 2005

Most of them are still associated with the organization, at least on paper. Six are gone for good (three quit, two switched agencies, one was kicked out), but at least a dozen only perform at concerts maybe twice a year, and are otherwise not well-supported by H!P. The two teen groups get most of the promotion, with Morning Musume now third on the priority list.

Tsunku’s attention seems to be focused on bringing in new talent before they need training bras, which may be very Japanese, but doesn’t do anything for me. The only over-25 member who gets any significant promotion is Natsumi Abe. She’s also one of the few who occasionally manages to go on stage in costumes that aren’t hideous or unflattering, so I think she must know where the bodies are buried.

Monday, October 6 2008

“Hello, my name is…”

“…Kanna Arihara, and on behalf of the Hello!Project costume designers, I’d like to ask you all a few questions.”

(Continued on Page 3132)

Tuesday, October 7 2008

Runway tip of the day

[Update: that wasn’t the worst costume; link below the fold, for your protection]

If you’re a fashion designer whose specialty is putting outrageous costumes onto models, things no one would ever possibly wear in real life, and you need women to wear the stuff, who ya gonna call?

(Continued on Page 3134)

Pretty Girls + TV Show - Voice Training = Idoling!!!

I’d like to support Fuji TV’s pet idol group Idoling!!!, and it’s true that with sufficient voice processing, their singles are pleasant to listen to, and quite catchy, but I could never watch their show. Never never.

This video explains why. Be sure to watch the high-quality version to get the most out of the eye candy, and keep your hand near the mute button to protect your ears. There’s no voice processing for the show, you see, so you hear what the girls really sound like. And most of them are awful, making the worst of Hello!Project sound good.

In their defense, the show is pitched as a boot camp for aspiring idols, and they spend more time getting hit in the face with pies than they do singing. None of them have solo CD releases, but several have DVDs and photobooks, and there are a few calendars as well. Unlike Hello!Project, the girls are from a number of different agencies, and most of their promotion isn’t tied directly to their presence in Idoling!!!.

In looks, they range from cute to stunning. Two of the first-season girls who stand out are the tall, Western-looking Rurika Yokoyama and the short, busty cutie Erika Yazawa (who must need an icepack after every performance; honey, if they won’t buy you a bra, bring your own. Then again, you’ve got three solo DVDs, two photobooks, and a calendar, so “never mind”).

Thursday, October 9 2008


Ah, the joy of random surfing. How else would I come to know that the novel published in English as “Life, The Universe, and Everything” was released in Japan under the title 「宇宙クリケット大戦争」, or “The Great Space Cricket War”.

Monday, October 13 2008

Loli Cute?

As I mentioned earlier, I think Erika Yazawa is very cute. She’s also rather stacked (34E-24-34, at only 4’11”), with an on-screen persona that’s as bouncy as her barely-restrained chest.

However, her latest photobook says, right on the cover, “loli-cute looks and 88 bust with G cups”. Sorry, but I’ve found a lot of pictures of her (coughcough), and even in her debut at 15 in Idoling!!!’s first video two years ago, she didn’t look particularly young (no higher-res streaming version available, but there’s a download link off of Acchi Muite Pie!!! (named after a common event in their tv show)).

Cute? Definitely. Loli-cute? Um, no. I’d be a lot less interested if she were working that end of the fetish aisle.

(Continued on Page 3141)

Dear Erika Umeda,

I respect your ability to work this outfit.

(Continued on Page 3142)

Tuesday, October 14 2008

Lol, cats

Sankaku Complex is a non-worksafe site that mostly posts pictures and stories related to anime and idols, with an affection for certain common Japanese fetishes that I do not share. That is, I visit for the adult models wearing bikinis and less, and run away screaming from their lolicon-bait.

Posting this little number makes up for all their sins:

Soft On Nyanko

Transcribed and roughly translated:

  1. ろり&ぷちNONSTOPやり放題24時間, “Rori & Puchi non-stop doing whatever they want for 24 hours”
  2. ちっちゃいたちががんばっちゃいました!, “These tiny kittens gave it their all!”
  3. ろりっ仔は好きですか?, “Does L’il Rori like it?”
  4. 甘く齧られて抱きしめて…!, (sweetly/lightly) (have something nibbled) + “hold me”

I’m not sure what to do with the passive te-form of the transitive verb kajiru “to chew/gnaw/nibble on something” in that last one. The kitten’s the one doing the gentle nibbling, but then she’s asking you to do the hugging. If the intent is “let me nibble”, I think it has to be causative “give me your causing me to nibble” rather than passive “give me your being nibbled”.

Friday, October 17 2008

The Invasion Begins

Hello!Project’s most active adult member, Natsumi Abe, turned up at the Hollywood premiere of High School Musical 3. After a three-hour high-speed chase that ended in a hail of gunfire, she managed to elude her stylists and dress herself as an elegant, lovely yamato nadeshiko.

(Continued on Page 3146)

Saturday, October 18 2008

Japanese text formatting in Mac Word

I’m once again transcribing written pieces for use in my reading class, and I keep coming across little nuggets of information that I thought I’d gather in one place.

  1. Mac Word has two completely separate editing modes, English and Japanese. You can use either language in both modes, but some behaviors differ, and documents originally created in Japanese mode will show their heritage on other, non-Japanese-enabled computers.
  2. Switching between them not only requires restarting Word, but locating the “Microsoft Language Register” application inside the Office folder. In Office 2004, you drag the Word icon onto the Register; in 2008, you run it like any other app.
  3. In Office 2004, it will always switch you into Kotoeri input mode when you launch Word. Also, installing updates will revert you to English mode.
  4. In both, it will change your default settings, including margins, preferred units, and paper size (A4). Once you override these, it doesn’t screw them up again.
  5. The two most obviously important features you get out of Japanese mode are vertical text (in the Format/Document and Format/Text Direction menus) and furigana (in the Format/Phonetic Guide menu).
  6. Do not attempt to type or edit in vertical-text mode; it’s like watching paint dry. You can switch back and forth with the convenient Change Text Direction button on the toolbar, or switch to Draft view to edit.
  7. Furigana isn’t on the standard toolbar. You can open the Extended Formatting toolbar, or bind a key to the FormatPhoneticGuide command (I use Control-Option-P).
  8. Don’t add furigana until you think you’re done with all other editing. The font and size of the furigana are set when they’re created (font used for base word, half its size), and words that have been glossed can’t be searched for. They’re now equations, you see.
  9. When you add furigana, Word often supplies the correct kana. If it doesn’t know the word, or can’t guess the correct reading when you’re glossing only the kanji, it will usually default to the first on-reading for each character, but will sometimes just give up. Keep an online dictionary handy, and cut-and-paste between the two windows.
  10. Particularly for vertical text, line and page breaks can be very tricky to control. There are two places to tinker: in the Format/Documents menu on the Document Grid panel, and in the Format/Paragraph menu on the “Indents and Spacing” and “Japanese Typography” panels (including the Options window). My usual settings:
    • On: No grid
    • Indentation, Special=First line,14pt (for normal paragraph indents)
    • Spacing, Before=0, After=0, Line spacing=At least,24pt
    • On: Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style
    • Off: Snap to grid when document grid is defined.
    • On: Allow hanging punctuation
    • Off: Allow punctuation at the start of the line to compress (I wish this also suppressed compression of kana at the start of the line…)
    • On: Compress punctuation and Japanese kana (that is, use proportional spacing)
  11. For stories, I set the top and bottom margins to 0.75in, and the left and right to 0.5in. That leaves room for headers and footers, which are always printed horizontally.
  12. Word’s default Japanese font is MS Mincho, which is actually quite nice, but I prefer Apple’s Hiragino Mincho at 14pt. I think it’s a bit easier for students to make out all of the strokes, and using 14pt sets the default furigana size to 7pt, which is also easier to read.
  13. Don’t manually select a heavier weight of a kanji font to get bold text; it might work, it might not, and it might appear to work until you print. Just hit the bold button.
  14. Always print to PDF, and always check the results out in Preview before really printing. Take particular note of things like vanishing bold text, unexpected compression of character spacing, and punctuation characters that didn’t rotate correctly for vertical layout.
  15. Specifically: “ ” … : ⁉ ‼ ⁈ ⁇ (and maybe a few others I haven’t found yet). For most of these, Word has simply used the Latin font, and you can just force it to use the kanji font. For the quotes, you need to switch from the usual Western style (“”) to the fullwidth straight style with the close at the bottom (〝〟). For the ques-bang combos, though, you can either give up, or insert a very small inline horizontal text box into the column that contains the correct character. Be sure to drag that text box off to your scrapbook for later reuse.
  16. Also, Word regularly hoses page numbering when printing; this seems to be tied to the “quick preview” in the print dialog, so wait for it to finish.

More as I’m reminded of them…

Sunday, October 19 2008

J, かく語りき

[Correction from the comments: “かく語りき is bungo forこう語った or こういうふうに語った”, where bungo = “literary language; formal (or archaic) written style based on Heian-period Japanese”. So, “thus spoke X” is actually probably the best English for it. Thanks, Thomas.]

Here’s today’s stumper, blogged for the benefit of anyone who runs across the phrase 「かく語りき」 (“kakukatariki”), usually in the form 「○○はかく語りき」. It’s not in your dictionary. It’s not in my dictionary. It’s not in the Tanaka Corpus. It’s all over Japanese web pages. Google for it with a variety of whitespace options, and 99% of what you find will be references to the game Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, where it’s used in the subtitle as the Japanese translation of “also sprach”.

This suggests that it means “thus spoke X”, a deliberately archaic way of saying “X said”. But can you trust the translation of a video-game title, in a country where “Life, The Universe, and Everything” becomes “The Great Space Cricket War”? After about two hours of digging, I can report that the answer is “yes”.

After more than a dozen false leads, I found the answer in Google Book Search. According to Hepburn’s 1886 Japanese-English dictionary:

Ki キ A contraction of keri, used as a pret. suffix to verbs, also to mark a pause or end of a sentence: katariki, said; …

Not being a true grammarian, I also had to look up “pret.” = preterite = “past tense”. かく is “to write” (see correction above), 語る is “to say”, and you put them together with a past-tense verb ending that was current 120 years ago, for “Here are written the words of X”.

Where did I find it? In the book ちっちゃい矢口真里のでっかいあなたに会いに行くのだ‼ (loosely “Incredibly Tiny Mari Yaguchi’s Giant Interviews!”, literally “It’s Super-chibi Mari Yaguchi’s going out to meet giant you!”). She’s chatting with veteran television actor Masatou Ibu, her co-star from the daily drama series Sentou no Musume!?, and the phrase appears as a section header when their conversation turns to his advice on acting.

Here’s a picture of them from the book:

Mari Yaguchi and Masatou Ibu, dressed as their characters from 'Sentou no Musume!?'

Free kittens to good home!

The hot news in the idol world is that Hello!Project has announced the “graduation” of every member over the age of 22. Some of them have outside careers that have been providing most of their work for a while (Yuuko Nakazawa, Mari Yaguchi, Mai Satoda, Miki Fujimoto), two of them were semi-retired into motherhood (Kaori Iida, Nozomi Tsuji), two of them were just spun off into their own, hideously-dressed (even by H!P standards) group that will be part of H!P’s parent agency (Rika Ishikawa, Hitomi Yoshizawa), and as I mentioned yesterday, the only one of the grown-ups they were actively promoting just turned up in Hollywood (Natsumi Abe).

The other fifteen or so? Pretty much doomed. Not only are most of them poorly-equipped for solo careers, but the agency owns their music, image, band names, and every picture taken of them since about age 14. No more fan club, no more merchandise, no more occasional appearances to remind fans that they exist, etc.

The oldest remaining member is just-turned-22 Ai Takahashi, who by a strange coincidence just got a lead role in a tv drama series. Good call, Ai-chan; this is not a good time to rest on your laurelsgiant pile of photobooks.

Wednesday, October 22 2008


All the J-E dictionaries I’ve checked either insist or at least imply that the suffix -darake (“full of ~; covered with ~”) always has a negative meaning. Certainly the vast majority of uses are negative, but the reason I looked it up in the first place was a clearly positive example, an illustrated guide to the Imperial Japanese Army called ドキッ乙女だらけの帝國陸軍入門 (literally, “exciting filled-with-maidens imperial army introduction”).

It came up in class this week in one of the standard examples, 血だらけ, “covered in blood”. Mud, idiots, lies, mistakes, demons, and holes are also very commonly used with this suffix, but a quick search of Amazon Japan turns up book titles featuring cats, dreams, cat stickers, angels, women, haiku, mysteries, riddles, and, in the adult DVD section, a variety of special-interest items.

So, usually negative, but can be positive in anything from children’s books to fetish porn.

Thursday, October 23 2008

Wishful thinking…

The only email spam I read is the stuff that arrives in Japanese. Every once in a while I’m tempted to print one out and take it into my reading class, but so far I’ve resisted. I’m trying to avoid the “creepy older guy on campus” image.

My English spam seems to focus around filter-evading euphemisms for chemically-induced potency and larger body parts, but the stuff I get in Japanese is about 90% “come to our site if you want to meet women”. The pitch varies from week to week, and the current one is hilarious: 逆援助.

Literally, gyaku-enjo would be “reverse support”, but enjo means something special in the minds of Japanese men: enjo-kousai, which can be translated as either “subsidized dating” or “schoolgirl prostitution”, depending on your mood.

Reverse enjo, then, is every struggling salaryman’s dream: beautiful younger women who’ll pay you for sex. Keep the dream alive, guys.

Wednesday, October 29 2008


Makoto’s t-shirt says 「先生‼男子がポン酢をかけてきます」. All I can tell you is that the design came from Mari Yaguchi’s old radio show, and a bunch of H!P girls have been spotted in it. Apparently they get a bit goofy sometimes, if that wasn’t obvious from her expression.

Makoto Ogawa says, 'Sensei! Danshi ga ponzu o kakete kimasu'

Monday, November 3 2008

I’m tired of election “news”, so here’s Tokyo

Tokyo Tower from the Shinagawa Prince Hotel

For quite a while now, I’ve been meaning to go back and do some cleanup work on the small number of photos I shot out of our hotel room window. The one I originally posted just never looked right to me. This one is the result of some careful Levels work, combined with the updated version of Noise Ninja that works as an Aperture plug-in.

Tuesday, November 4 2008

Not dodging the issues…

Ai Kago was suspended from Hello!Project for underage smoking, then kicked out completely for getting caught at a hot-springs resort with a notorious womanizer. She’s been slowly coming back into the business with a new agency, with small acting roles, an essay book, and a blog, but her first high-visibility product is a DVD: Kago Chan-neru.

Unlike modern politicians, she’s not afraid to confront her past…

(Continued on Page 3161)

Wednesday, November 5 2008

Offerings to Heaven

Coincidence, really. I just liked this picture.

Prayer plaques at Meiji Shrine

“Help Wanted”

“Long hours, unsafe working conditions, no benefits. Must supply own uniform.”

Tokyo construction worker

“Batteries not included. Not a union job.”

Wednesday, November 12 2008

A little Ghibli to start the day

Rooftop view at the Studio Ghibli Museum

If you like anime, and you plan to visit Tokyo, you’d be a fool not to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum. Just make sure to buy your ticket before you get to Japan, to avoid the weeks-to-months waiting list.

Wednesday, November 19 2008

Smoked visitor

Smoked Visitor

The sign reads:

 〜 喫煙されるお客様へ 〜

Literally translated, it says: “To respected customers who (honorably) smoke tobacco: the premises have humbly become non-smoking, we request (you do it) at the outside smoking corner”.

The English translation is broken in a number of ways, but the most interesting part is “smoked visitor”, because it demonstrates that the translator wasn’t fluent in Japanese. The verb conjugation sareru is the passive form of suru, “to do”, so the first line really does say, “to visitors who are smoked”, but no one who speaks Japanese would interpret it that way. The context makes it painfully clear that this is the passive honorific form, and the honored visitor is the smoker, not the smokee.

So, we have a translation done by someone who doesn’t speak English or Japanese, better known as a computer. Without knowing how long ago the sign was made, it’s impossible to determine which software, but here are some modern attempts.

Babelfish (and anything else based on SYSTRAN, including Apple’s translation widget) produces something that’s almost English:

- To the customer who smokes -
the enclosure we have become prohibition of smoking,
we ask with the smoking corner outside.

Google’s attempt is poetic, but incomprehensible:

Smoking to be one of your
Smoking is on the premises,
In the smoking area outside.

Reverso, one I’d never heard of before, gives something that looks quite familiar:

I ask a smoked visitor for the yard at the outside smoking corner that smoking is prohibited in.

Paralink’s translator offers a nice contradiction:

Customers will be smoking on campus is a non-smoking, smoking outside corner.

Windows Live thinks different:

and smoking that is customer to premises smoking and: on the outside smoking corner in.

The Japanese site OCN has an interesting answer:

Premises at the outside smoking
area which becomes no smoking
to the customer who smokes, please.

Another Japanese site, @Nifty, gives this:

- Visitor smoked -
please give me premises in the outer smoking corner which is giving up smoking.

I won’t dignify Animelab’s web form with the term “translator”, but they give a link to Excite, which produced this:

?To the customer from whom it smokes?
I hope premises in the smoking corner of the outside that is no

Wednesday, December 10 2008

Hopefully not the last we hear from her…

Hello!Project is kicking out the grown-ups to make room for younger idols. Among those being cut loose is solo singer Aya Matsuura, known for the goofiness of her early work and a recent shift to a more adult-contemporary style.

Her latest release?

Tuesday, December 16 2008

A line in the sand…

This is sad. The people on Hello!Online are surely well-versed in the ways of fashion disasters, but this is the picture where they finally decide to complain about the outfits? Is it because there aren’t enough colors? Is it the lack of feathers?

(Continued on Page 3190)

Friday, December 19 2008

Milk: the cure for the common asshole

Random moment on Google Earth: I clicked on a photo of Takeshita-doori (major teen shopping street), and found the following banner:


More or less:

If you’re getting hassled by an irritating person,
try making them drink milk.

I’m thinking that’s not going to help much. I can’t quite make out the kanji in their smaller banner in the background, but if it’s the same quality of advice, I think I’ll stick to pepper spray.

Who do you hire?

You are Sony. You are having an event to celebrate a cool new Playstation 3 game. Its name? Little Big Planet. Which celebrities do you hire to emcee the event?

The littlest woman and biggest man you can find, actress/singer Mari Yaguchi (4’9”) and kickboxer Hong-man Choi (7’2”).

Little, Big

Saturday, January 3 2009

Phony Japan-blogging

There exists a blog called “Japan for the uninvited”. I found one of its articles linked from a fairly reliable group blog. That particular entry was a rehash of claims from other English-language sites about Japan, and was relatively accurate.

The next three entries that I read were complete nonsense. This short-lived blog was created by someone looking for ad impressions, who didn’t pay any attention to accuracy.

[note for the blogger: when the members of a band range in age from 14 to 24, describing them all as “pre-pubescent” is a slight categorization error. Also, when the high point of your site is the unintentional hilarity of the phrase “discrete sex”, find a new hobby.]

Just for Pete…

Fedora 10 correctly handles FA19 in various applications, including OpenOffice.

(Continued on Page 3210)

Monday, January 5 2009

The patience of Japanese stories

Something that I’ve noticed repeatedly over the years is a tendency for Japanese entertainment products to require a great deal of patience on the part of the consumer.

An obvious example is games with lengthy intros and cut-scenes that can’t be skipped. This sometimes happens in non-Japanese games, but not to the same degree. For instance, the one and only time I attempted to play a hentai “dating sim” game, I gave up before even reaching a nude scene, worn out by more than twenty minutes of introductory dialogue that offered the player no interaction whatsoever. And it’s not like it was relevant background material: “I am the main character in a porn game. I have banged many women under circumstances you will not believe. I will do so again, if your multiple-choice input is acceptable. Be sure to take notes.”

Anime is often like this as well. It’s not unusual for a series to spend most of a season meandering towards the plot, with a sudden burst of (usually rushed, over-compressed) activity towards the end. In many cases, there’s an obvious production or financial reason, but my point is that the target audience doesn’t seem to mind.

There are plenty of others I could bring up (I’m amazed The Prince hasn’t gagged his father with a katamari), but the specific example that brought this to mind was the novel I’m reading, 魔女館へようこそ, “Welcome To The Witch’s Mansion”.

(Continued on Page 3212)

Sunday, January 11 2009

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

I think I know how this outfit came about:

[recklessly navigating past the pallets of feathers and tulle in the H!P wardrobe dungeon, two Apprentice Bedazzler Technicians collide]

A: “You got your cheerleader outfit in my candy-striper uniform!”

B: “No, you got your candy-striper uniform in my cheerleader outfit.”

Together: “Heeeeeeeey!”

(Continued on Page 3219)

Tuesday, January 13 2009

Cheernurse: The Revenge

Horrified by the sight of an under-Bedazzled idol, a Senior Fashion Eliminator rushes to the scene, determined to show these two yokels How It’s Done.

(Continued on Page 3222)

Wednesday, January 14 2009

The Deserted Seaside

[note: the song is depressing, but this is not an indication of my life or mood, simply the fact that I liked the song enough to prep it for my reading class. I have a DVD with an excellent live performance, but this one has escaped collection on the various video sites. I suppose there’s a torrent out there of the Folk Songs 3 concert, but it’s probably unseeded, and I wouldn’t link to it anyway. Here is the only performance youtube has, which is probably closer to the original arrangement than the one I like.]

[I’ll add pop-up furigana for the kanji later.]


作詞:山口洋子 作曲:内藤法美

今はもう秋 誰もいない海
知らん顔して 人がゆきすぎても
つらくても つらくても

It’s already autumn, at the deserted seaside.
Although he walks past like I’m not there,
I will not forget,
because I made a promise to the sea,
“Even if it’s heart-breaking, even if it’s heart-breaking,
I will not die.”

今はもう秋 誰もいない海
たった一つの 夢が破れても
淋しくても 淋しくても

It’s already autumn, at the deserted seaside.
Although my only dream is torn apart,
I will not forget,
because I made a promise to the sand,
“Even if I’m lonely, even if I’m lonely,
I will not die.”

今はもう秋 誰もいない海
いとしい面影 帰らなくても
ひとりでも ひとりでも

It’s already autumn, at the deserted seaside.
Although that beloved face will not return,
I will not forget,
because I made a promise to the sky,
“Even if I’m alone, even if I’m alone,
I will not die.”

ひとりでも ひとりでも

“Even if I’m alone, even if I’m alone,
I will not die.”

J-Spam: no thanks, I’m good

For once, my Japanese spam isn’t about how to find beautiful younger women who’ll pay you for sex:


[update: oh, good grief:




[Update: …and two more today, with completely different subject lines. The thing I find interesting is that this is all of the Japanese spam I’m getting right now. Nothing about getting laid, finding women, male enhancement, just “improve your English”. It’s a worrying economic sign when the bottom-feeders of the ad world think that Japanese men are more likely to spend money on career skills than on mercenary schoolgirls and horny housewives.]

[Update: Ah, that’s better; it took a few days, but now I’m getting things that start off with phrases like 「女をマインドコントロールして自由に…」. I guess there’s hope for the Japanese economy after all.]

Wednesday, January 21 2009

Don’t Throw Me Away

[Another depressing song, this time performed by Yuuko Nakazawa on her debut album. It wasn’t released as a single, so there’s no complete performance on video, but a trimmed version can be found here. The translation is mostly literal, and I’ve tried to preserve the original line breaks rather than rewrite it as smooth English.]


“Don’t throw me away”

作詞:つんく 作曲:つんく 編曲:川口 真

(lyrics and music by Tsunku, arrangement by Makoto Kawaguchi)

知らないふり いつもしてる

I’m always pretending I don’t know
about your other women.

ダメな女 苦しいのに

I’m a hopeless woman. Even though it’s painful,
I’m forgiving you again.

今日は帰るの 明日は来るの
ねぇ ひとこと 「ごめん」と

Are you going home tonight? Will you come back tomorrow?
Oh, one single thing, “I’m sorry”,
I wish I could make you say it, but…

でも 待ってるばかり
でも 泣いてるの見せない
でも 待ってるばかり
でも 愚痴なんて言わない

Instead, I’m just waiting.
Instead, I won’t show you that I’m crying.
Instead, I’m just waiting.
Instead, I won’t even grumble.

いつかはあなた 好きな女性できても

Even if someday you fall in love with someone else,
don’t throw me away.

知らないふり いつもしてる

I’m always pretending I don’t know,
even with the lingering scent of their perfume.

いい女よ 全てそうよ

I’m a good woman, I won’t intrude on everything you do.

明日は来ない 電話もかけない
ねぇ ひとこと「好きだ」と

You won’t come over tomorrow, and you won’t call.
Oh, one single thing, “I love you”,
is all I try to make you say.

でも 待ってるばかり
でも 淋しいと言わない
でも 待ってるばかり
でも 待ってると淋しい

Instead, I’m just waiting.
Instead, I won’t say I’m lonely.
Instead, I’m just waiting.
Instead, when I’m waiting, I’m lonely.

いつかはあなた 好きな女性できても

Even if someday you fall in love with someone else,
don’t throw me away.

でも 待ってるばかり
でも 泣いてるの見せない
でも 待ってるばかり
でも 愚痴なんて言わない

Instead, I’m just waiting.
Instead, I won’t show you that I’m crying.
Instead, I’m just waiting.
Instead, I won’t even grumble.

いつかはあなた 好きな女性できても

Even if someday you fall in love with someone else,
don’t throw me away.
Don’t throw me away.

Thursday, January 22 2009

“Don’t bend your belly-button!”

Tuesday night, I managed to scrape together enough time to finish the novel I’ve been reading in Japanese. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, not so much in how the kids defeated the evil witch as in why it worked. But that’s a blog entry for another day.

Tonight, I’m going back through it, looking for the words and phrases that I didn’t find in my pocket dictionary (aka, “DS Lite running Kanji Sonomama”). Some of it I still can’t find (particularly mimetic expressions), but there are some fun ones.

First up, 「へそを曲げる」, which JMdict translates as “to get angry; to become perverse”, but it literally means “to bend your belly-button”. The impudent young warlock who says “heso o mageru na yo, baachan” to the cranky old witch clearly means “calm down, granny”, but since the thing she’s upset about is his lack of respect, it doesn’t really work.

Friday, January 23 2009

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

I realize that Ayumi Shibata and the rest of Melon Kinenbi are being kicked out of the agency along with all of the other adults, but do you really think this is a viable option for her post-H!P career, or did you do it to satisfy certain personal needs?

(Continued on Page 3231)

Honestly, I think it’s some of their best work…

Oh, sure, I make fun of the people who design stage costumes for Hello!Project. It’s the least I can do, given the insane amount of effort they expend to overdecorate their helpless victims.

So when they do something simple, with just two colors and no feathers or tulle or ruffles or rhinestones, I think it’s only fair to say something nice. I mean, it’s even age-appropriate!

(Continued on Page 3232)

Saturday, January 24 2009

Fun with loanwords

In the children’s novel 魔女へようこそ (“Welcome to the Witch’s Mansion”), casting spells involves cooking. There’s a particular recipe that’s very important to the story, and is printed in full at the end of the book. It took me forty minutes to figure out what it was called.


For the kanji/kana-challenged, that’s “Warui Mahou o Fuuji-komeru U A Ra Neeju”. The first half is a straightforward prenominal phrase, “…which confines evil magic”, but what is it?

First clue: it’s a dessert recipe.

Second clue: the ingredient list consists of eggs, sugar, cornstarch, milk, and vanilla extract.

Third clue: the recipe requires separating the eggs to make メリンゲ (Meringe) and カスタードソース (Casutaadosoosu).

Fourth clue: the end result involves placing the poached meringe on top of the casutaadosoosu.

Answer below the fold…

(Continued on Page 3233)

Monday, January 26 2009

Dear Japan Airlines,

Do you really think that this is the right time to send out a mailing for a 7-night, $3,375 (plus $90 misc fees, plus $580 extra if you’re not sharing a room with someone) vacation tour package?

Wednesday, January 28 2009

No Sympathy For The Devil

Sorry, Satan, you earned this one.

(Continued on Page 3236)

Friday, January 30 2009

Fun with loanwords

Another fun one from the “Snow Eggs” recipe in 魔女館へようこそ:


For the kana-challenged, that’s “arumi no batto”. The context is retrieving the poached meringue from the water with a skimmer, and placing it either onto a plate or an “arumi no batto”.

Answer below the fold…

(Continued on Page 3242)

Wednesday, February 4 2009

Cultural notes: another helping

The opening song on the Aya The Witch concert dvd is pretty darn good. It’s the sort of rock song that Aya Matsuura wasn’t really capable of when she recorded it at age 16 (iTunes preview), but pulls off very nicely at 21 (Youtube, skip the first minute).

But what the hell does it mean? It’s one of the many that’s missing a translation at the Project Hello lyrics site, and their quick attempt to translate the title was obviously wrong.

From That Sky~替え玉メンで~

“From That Sky – The Substitute Is Rigid”

Romanized, the subtitle is “kaedama wa kata-men de”, where most dictionaries will tell you that kaedama means “substitute, stand-in”, kata means “hard”, and the most plausible choices for the phonetically written “men” are either 面 = “face; mask; surface” or, well, “men”. Someone associated with the site gave it their best shot and gave up.

JMdict has an obscure second meaning for kaedama, though, and when I saw it, I understood:

second serving (ball) of noodles (to add to previously purchased ramen)

While ramen is often thought of as typical Japanese food, it’s a Chinese import, and the name is always spelled phonetically as ラーメン. And as any poor college student knows, the noodles are often sold dried. Hard, that is. Shortened to four syllables in the usual way, 硬いラーメン becomes 硬メン.

So does it really mean “a second helping of dried ramen”, or is that just as nonsensical as the original attempt? The answer lies in the rest of the song, which starts off with the singer’s phone ringing with an invitation to go out for baikingu (one of my favorite loanwords), and later mentions standing in line for… famous ramen. Ta-da.

Do a Google Image Search for 硬メン, and you’ll find two things: bowls of ramen, and the cover of Aya’s second album.

Friday, February 6 2009

Love & Ramen

Now that I know what the title means, it’s time to take a stab at translating the lyrics. There’s at least one line I have little faith in, and four that simply can’t be translated in a way that preserves the line breaks from the original. And, of course, there’s the subtitle.

From That Sky ~替え玉は硬メンで~

From that sky – “Hey ramen vendor, put some more noodles in this!”



When I went shopping the store was closed.
I was feeling down-hearted, when
I got a phone call.
Dating is a big decision.

あらま どうしましょう

The skirt button that won’t stay put
was breaking my heart, when
I got a phone call,
inviting me out for smorgasbord.
Oh, no, what shall I do?


The 21st Century is somehow different than I’d imagined.
Hey! If we can’t have flying cars,
at least there’s kissing, right?

From That Sky 羽ばたけ

From that sky, flap your wings
with the idea of freedom!

From That Sky 彼方へ

From that sky, to beyond,
the goddess of victory!
I’m the goddess!

眉毛 描かなくちゃ

When I went to the sauna, I caught a cold.
When I had the chills,
he came to see me.
Awful! I wasn’t wearing makeup.
My eyebrows weren’t drawn!


The 21st Century is more easy-going than I’d imagined.
Famous ramen that I want to eat, even though there’s a line.

From That Sky 轟け

From that sky, roar [like thunder]
toward a future lover!

From That Sky 恋する

From that sky, the goddess of romantic victory!
I’m the goddess!

From That Sky 羽ばたけ

From that sky, flap your wings
with the idea of freedom!

From That Sky 彼方へ

From that sky, to beyond,
the goddess of victory!

From That Sky 轟け

From that sky, roar [like thunder]
toward a future lover.

From That Sky 恋する

From that sky, the goddess of romantic victory!

From That Sky 轟け

From that sky, roar [like thunder]
toward a future lover!

From That Sky 恋する

From that sky, the goddess of romantic victory!
I’m the goddess!

Sunday, March 15 2009

Hello!Project Telepathy Project

Reading Sayumi’s mind, I hear: Mommy, please let me come home. I don’t like it here any more. I promise I’ll finish school and clean up after my pets and marry a nice salaryman, just pleasepleaseplease get me out of this contract.

(Continued on Page 3291)

Sunday, March 29 2009

Hello!Project Telepathy Project

Reina says, “You can call yourself an artist all you want, shutterbug; the bikini stays on.”

(Continued on Page 3296)

Tuesday, March 31 2009

Pop Quiz

Q: What do the following sentences have in common?

  • Dinner is ready.
  • This cloth will make me a coat.
  • A pool forms.
  • A son was born to them.
  • Mushrooms grow well in damp places.
  • Watermelons are produced here.
  • Some business turned up and prevented me from going there.
  • His income enables him to live a decent life.
  • He is good for nothing.
  • A tender understanding seems to have been formed between the two.
(Continued on Page 3300)

Sunday, April 5 2009

Just for H!P fans…

Someone had a top-ten poll online for Hello!Project members. Since all the cool kids are doing it, I quickly clicked my way through and picked a set. The auto-generated pictures are ordered 1-10, but I didn’t obsess over the order, I just tried to pick a group. Most of the ones who fell just outside the top ten were in the “too darn young no matter how pretty they are” category.

It’s no coincidence that 9 of my 10 were “graduated” during the recent agency house-cleaning; star-pimp Tsunku is focusing his efforts on catching them (very) young and refreshing the brand. I, on the other hand, find women more interesting than girls, and appreciate fully-developed personalities and talents as well as bodies. His most spectacular meltdown to date (still quite mellow by US child-star standards) was a girl who started at 12; the new kids are a lot younger.

So, the list:

(Continued on Page 3303)

Monday, April 6 2009

Hello!Project Telepathy Project

Koharu says, “I’m only fifteen, so maybe I’m missing something here. Why does the photographer keep leaving the room ‘for some me time’?”

(Continued on Page 3304)

Wednesday, April 8 2009

Dear Aya Matsuura,

This is how you enter your new post-H!P career?

(Continued on Page 3305)

Friday, April 10 2009

Hello!Project Telepathy Project

Reina asks, “God, why can’t I get that Duran Duran song out of my head?”

(Continued on Page 3310)

Sunday, April 12 2009

Hello!Project Telepathy Project

Ai says, “OMGWTFBBQ! ROFLMAO! Can you believe this? They forgot to put feathers on my hat!

(Continued on Page 3311)

Tuesday, April 14 2009

Hello!Project Sing-along Project

Koharu: “Stop right there!”

(Continued on Page 3315)

Thursday, April 16 2009

Mt. Fuji from Misaki Port, Miura Peninsula, Kanagawa, Japan

Indirectly, this picture comes from my sister:

Mt. Fuji from Misaki Port, Miura Peninsula, Kanagawa, Japan

(from Panoramio user とも21, who has a site devoted to taking pictures of Fuji)

How I found it:

  1. Nellie called me a while back to get reacquainted.
  2. I flew out to Chicago to spend some time with her.
  3. She took me to a used book store.
  4. In the basement, I found a Japanese paperback book with an interesting title, も一つパイプのけむり (Another ‘Pipe Smoke’).
  5. It was written by famous composer Ikuma Dan, and contained a number of short essays.
  6. Many of them looked too challenging to take to my reading class, but since I missed class this week, I’m emailing the teacher a written translation.
  7. The fourth essay is titled 霧 (Fog). He writes about moving to a new house on the Miura Peninsula, along the Misaki Highway, and mentions that one of the things he can see is Mt. Fuji.
  8. I looked the area up in Google Earth and clicked on some pictures. This was the fourth picture I clicked.

Saturday, April 18 2009

Queen of the Undead

[update: I don’t know why I read 魔装 as 魔法; I guess I just assumed it was 魔法少女, and didn’t realize that it’s a created word, masou, with a meaning like “dressed as a witch” (from 和装 “dressed Japanese-style” and similar)]

A little something recommended by Amazon: 「これはゾンビですか?」 volume 1, 「はい、魔装少女です」.

Is this a Zombie?

Monday, April 20 2009

The limits of Kanji Sonomama

For the first time in a long time, I had to pull out my other electronic dictionary. Why? Because the short essay I was trying to read was filled with place-names. On the DS, I had to write one character at a time, hope it was used at the start of some word (Kanji Sonomama doesn’t have a true kanji dictionary), and then type each one in on my Mac and look them up in Enamdict.

My other dictionary, a Sharp Papyrus, has clumsier stylus input and a generally less useful interface, but a much wider variety of dictionaries, including names and places.

Even with both handhelds and my JMdict search tools, it’s still a tough slog, because Ikuma Dan writes in colorful, literary language, using pre-war orthography. For instance, 眼 for “me”, 筈 for “hazu”, 儘 for “mama”, 未だ for “mada”, 又 for “mata”, and my favorite, 何處 for “doko” (處 being an obsolete variant of 処).

It’s been an interesting experience, but one I won’t repeat any time soon; in the time it takes me to decipher two pages of his writing, I could read thirty pages of a children’s or young-adult book.

Tuesday, April 21 2009

Tenso reshipping service, preliminary report

I’ve heard mixed reports about the various companies that act as reshipping agents in Japan, allowing you to order from companies who only ship domestically. Danny Choo recently had a prominent link to Tenso, along with a contest where the prize included shopping and shipping. There were relatively few comments about the service, but they were positive. I haven’t found many other comments about them, either, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

Several times a year, I place large orders with Amazon Japan. They only ship by air, so the order needs to be large to bring the shipping cost down to a less heartbreaking percentage of the price. They won’t ship software or consumer electronics internationally, and the marketplace vendors won’t ship anything overseas, so it’s been a limited-but-useful way to get stuff.

Tenso ships EMS, charging by weight, and in some cases this may end up being higher than Amazon’s air shipping; now that I have a few invoices to compare, I’ll have to figure out when it makes sense to use them for new goods, figuring in the cost of Amazon Prime to get free domestic shipping to their warehouse. For this test, I took advantage of Amazon’s free one-month trial of Prime. [Update: found Amazon’s rate page again; ¥1700-2700 shipping depending on the contents, plus a fixed ¥300 handling per item]

For used goods? No contest. A lot of marketplace dealers charge a nominal ¥1 + handling for used books and CDs that aren’t in high demand, and I found a single dealer who had three items that I wanted, -azb-アマゾン店. Their handling charge added ¥1020, and Tenso charged ¥2350 for shipping and handling, for a grand total of ¥3373. The original retail cost of the three items? ¥4819. Speed? I ordered on the 12th, Tenso received it on the 16th, shipped it on the 17th, and it was waiting for me at the office today, the 21st. It may actually have arrived yesterday; I was out.

Setting up my account with Tenso was easy, except for the credit card. Neither my Visa nor my Mastercard were accepted, despite having used both with Amazon, but my American Express card worked fine. The error page for this was the only place I noticed where their mostly-competent English was replaced by Japanese, and some of Danny Choo’s commenters reported the same difficulty, and ended up using Paypal. They give clear instructions on how to enter your personal address on online stores, and promptly notify you when you need to approve a shipment.

Will I use them again? Definitely for used goods through Amazon, likely for software/games that Amazon won’t ship directly, possibly for other stores if I find something I really want.

Were the three used items worth it? Hell, yeah.

(Continued on Page 3325)

Friday, April 24 2009

Hello!Project Sing-along Project

Kusumi: “…and I’m too sexy for my hat, Too sexy for my hat, what do you think about that?”

(Continued on Page 3329)

Friday, June 5 2009

Engrish Pop Quiz

I saw something at Daiso a while back that I thought would make an amusing gift for my sister. On the back was found this label:

Caution: Engrish In Use

Now, what’s the product?

(Continued on Page 3355)

Sunday, June 14 2009

Abbyy FineReader Pro 9.0, quick tests

I’ve gotten pretty good at transcribing Japanese stories and articles, using my DS Lite and Kanji sonomama to figure out unfamiliar kanji words, but it’s still a slow, error-prone process that can send me on half-hour detours to figure out a name or obsolete character. So, after googling around for a while, I downloaded the free 15-day demo of FineReader Pro and took it for a spin. Sadly, this is Windows software, so I had to run it in a VMware session; the only product that claims to have a kanji-capable Mac product has terrible reviews and shows no sign of recent updates.

First test: I picked up a book (Nishimura’s murder mystery collection Ame no naka ni shinu), scanned a two-page spread at 600-dpi grayscale, and imported it into FineReader. I had to shut off the auto-analysis features, turn on page-splitting, and tell it the text was Japanese. It then correctly located the two vertically-written pages and the horizontally-written header, deskewed the columns (neither page was straight), recognized the text, and exported to Word. Then I found the option to have it mark suspect characters in the output, and exported to Word again. :-)

Results? Out of 901 total characters, there were 10 errors: 6 cases of っ as つ, one あ as ぁ, one 「 as ー, one 呟 as 眩, and one 駆 recognized as 蚯. There were also two extra “.” inserted due to marks on the page, and a few places where text was randomly interpreted as boldface. Both of the actual kanji errors were flagged as suspect, so they were easy to find, and the small-tsu error is so common that you might as well check all large-tsu in the text (in this case, the correct count should have been 28 っ and 4 つ). It also managed to locate and correctly recognize 3 of the 9 instances of furigana in the scan, ignoring the others.

I’d already typed in that particular section, so I diffed mine against theirs until I had found every error. In addition to FineReader’s ten errors, I found two of mine, where I’d accepted the wrong kanji conversion for words. They were valid kanji for those words, but not the correct ones, and multiple proofreadings hadn’t caught them.

The second test was a PDF containing scanned pages from another book, whose title might be loosely translated as “My Youth with Ultraman”, by the actress who played the female team member in the original series. I’d started with 600-dpi scans, carefully tweaked the contrast until they printed cleanly, then used Mac OS X Preview to convert them to a PDF. It apparently downsampled them to something like 243 dpi, but FineReader was still able to successfully recognize the text, with similar accuracy. Once again, the most common error was small-tsu, the kanji errors were flagged as suspect, and the others were easy to find.

For amusement, I tried Adobe Acrobat Pro 9.1’s language-aware OCR on the same PDF. It claimed success and looked good on-screen, but every attempt to export the results produced complete garbage.

Both tests were nearly best-case scenarios, with clean scans, simple layouts, and modern fonts at a reasonable size. I intend to throw some more difficult material at it before the trial expires, but I’m pretty impressed. Overall, the accuracy was 98.9%, but when you exclude the small-tsu error, it rises to 99.6%, and approaches 99.9% when you just count actual kanji errors.

List price is $400, but there’s a competitive upgrade available for customers with a valid license for any OCR software for $180. Since basically every scanner sold comes with low-quality OCR software, there’s no reason for most people to spend the extra $220. They use an activation scheme to prevent multiple installs, but it works flawlessly in a VMware session, so even if I didn’t own a Mac, that’s how I’d install it.

[updates after the jump]

(Continued on Page 3362)

Friday, June 19 2009

Using Abbyy FineReader Pro for Japanese OCR

[Update: if you save your work in the Finereader-specific format, then changes you make after that point will automatically be saved when you exit the application; this is not clear from the documentation, and while it’s usually what you want, it may lead to unpleasant surprises if you decide to abandon changes made during that session.]

After several days with the free demo, in which I tested it with sources of varying quality and tinkered with the options, I bought a license for FineReader Pro 9.0 (at the competitive upgrade price for anyone who owns any OCR product). I then spent a merry evening working through an album where the liner notes were printed at various angles on a colored, patterned background. Comments follow:

  • Turn off all the auto features when working with Japanese text.
  • In the advanced options, disable all target fonts for font-matching except MS Mincho and Times New Roman. Don’t let it export as MS Gothic; you’ll never find all of the ー/一 errors.
  • Get the cleanest 600-dpi scan you can. This is sufficient for furigana-sized text on a white background.
  • Set the target language to Japanese-only if your source is noisy or you’re sure there’s no random English in the text. Otherwise, it’s safe to leave English turned on.
  • Manually split and deskew pages if the separation isn’t clean in the scan.
  • Adjust the apparent resolution of scans to set the output font size, before you tell it to recognize the text.
  • Manually draw recognition areas if there’s anything unusual about your layout.
  • Rearrange the windows to put the scan and the recognized text side-by-side.
  • Don’t bother with the spell-checker; it offers plausible alternative characters based on shape, but if the correct choice isn’t there, you have to correct it in the main window anyway. Just right-click as you work through the document to see the same data in context.
  • You can explicitly save in a FineReader-specific format that preserves the entire state of your work, but it creates a new bundle each time, and it won’t overwrite an existing one with the same name. This makes it very annoying when you want to simply save your progress as you work through a long document; each new save includes a complete copy of the scans, which adds up fast.
  • If you figure out how to get it stop deleting every full-width kanji whitespace character, let me know; it’s damned annoying when you’re trying to preserve the layout of a song.
  • Once you’ve told it to recognize the text, search the entire document for these common errors:
    • っ interpreted as つ and vice-versa
    • ー interpreted as 一 and vice-versa; check all other nearby katakana for “small-x as x” errrors while you’re at it
    • 日 interpreted as 曰
    • Any English-style punctuation other than “!”, “:”, “…”, or “?”; most likely, they should be the katakana center-dot, but it might have torn a character apart into random fragments (rare, unless your background is noisy).
    • The digits 0-9; if your source is noisy, random kanji and kana can be interpreted as digits, even when English recognition is disabled.
  • Delete any furigana it happens to recognize, unless you’re exporting to PDF; it just makes a mess in Word.
  • In general, export to Word as Formatted Text, with the “Keep line breaks” and “Highlight uncertain characters” options turned on.
  • If your text is on a halftoned background and you’re getting a lot of errors, load up the scan in Photoshop, use the Strong Contrast setting in Curves, then try out the various settings under Black & White until you find one that gets rid of most of the remaining halftone dots (I had good luck with Neutral Density). After that, you can Despeckle to get rid of most of the remaining noise, and use Curves again to force the text to a solid black.

Tuesday, June 23 2009

Words of Wisdom…

…sort of. So speaks Izumi Kojima, in the song “Ah ~ yokatta”:

There is nothing for us to lose.
Sure, I can say. I can say.
Nobody knows what it means,
“Hung in there!”
But I’ll be right beside you from now on.
So on…

Wednesday, July 22 2009

Something in the water, perhaps…

There are times when the only joy I can extract from the work of the Hello!Project costume designers is the thought that they’re an aberration, and that outside of Harajuku, most people involved in costume design in Japan at least try to achieve some sort of tasteful enhancement.

Yeah, well, not so much.

(Continued on Page 3380)

Monday, August 3 2009

Dear Japan,

Stop, you’re killing me.

Titled “Koisuru Hello Kitty,” the play is described as a “school love comedy” that deals with romance and friendship. The main character is a Hello Kitty doll that turns into a human…

Tuesday, August 4 2009

Dear Japan,

No comment:

“We wanted to do something that would market augmented reality in a way that’s… meaningful. We were like, wouldn’t it be awesome if you could look up her skirt, or take off her clothes?”

(via BBG)

Monday, August 17 2009

Dear Ai Kago,

No, honey; just… no.


(Continued on Page 3396)

Tuesday, August 18 2009

Memory grass and naughty wives

I started out on an innocent quest: find something short and interesting to prep for the upcoming quarter’s Japanese reading class. I still have some leftovers from Spring (a song and the preface to a biography), but I wanted to try something different. I thought a short travel piece would be nice, and when I was visiting my sister in Chicago, I found a 30-year-old tourist guide in a used-book store. It’s a guide to Kyoto, and judging from the ads, it’s aimed primarily at female travelers.

It’s full of short blurbs about neighborhoods, temples, and shrines, and I picked the section on Arashiyama to scan in and prepare a vocabulary list for. At the bottom of the last page, in small, blue print, I found the following footnote:


Vaguely translated, “At Jikishian Temple, girls stay quiet, look at ‘omoidegusa’, and remain seated for many hours. Dreadful!”

Omoidegusa (想出草) does not appear in any of my dictionaries. Literally translated, it would be “memory grass”, but the third kanji is also used to refer to handwritten notes. Using the Japanese search engine, I found a few pages that mentioned it in the context of letters written by women, with a hint of confession.

So I searched Amazon Japan, to see where it might turn up. First thing on the list:

(Continued on Page 3397)

Friday, August 28 2009

Super bad!

Today’s Japanese slang word is 激ヤバ (“gekiyaba”). 激 means violent or intense, and ヤバ comes from やばい, slang for dangerous, terrible, cool, etc. So, “really bad” or “really good”, depending on the context.

The specific context I found it in was the phrase “激ヤバ援交”, with 援交 (“enkou”) abbreviated from the well-known 援助交際 “enjo kousai” (paid dating, also known as “schoolgirl prostitution”). A quick search on Amazon Japan suggests that in sexual contexts, gekiyaba means “extreme”. So, either the young lady in question was willing to do more than usual, or the resulting video had little or no censorship, or perhaps both.

Sunday, August 30 2009

Shift-JIS versus CP932

If you’re on a Unicode-based OS, and you’re trying to read something encoded in Shift-JIS, and you’re getting errors about a small number of illegal characters that can’t be converted to Unicode in an otherwise perfectly-reasonable file, it’s not Shift-JIS, it’s CP932.

Windows Code Page 932 includes mappings for characters like 〝 and 〟, which do not exist in S-JIS.

…and that’s another hour of my life that I want back.

[Update: the luit conversion tool in X11 supports Shift-JIS only, and silently discards CP932 extensions. I’m not sure what else is available for Linux users; I just do it with a Perl one-liner.]

[oh, and there’s yet another name for this encoding: Windows-31J. And there are several other incompatible variants of Shift-JIS that require guesswork on the part of the decoder, making the continued resistance to Unicode frankly baffling. (except for not-very-smartphones, where hardware and software limits have made support for multiple encodings tricky)]

Monday, September 7 2009


Decpihering loanwords in Japanese can be a bit of a challenge. Today’s example is アン・ドゥ・トロワ, an-du-torowa. I don’t think I’d have gotten it if I hadn’t found a video clip of a song by that name.

Friday, September 18 2009

No reading class this quarter

Given the state of California’s finances, I had my fingers crossed that my usually-small Japanese reading class would survive the inevitable cuts, but it turns out it was canceled for an unexpected reason: high enrollment in other classes in the department. There’s a contractual limit in how much one instructor can support, and my class was taught by the only salaried professor. Her time is already paid for, but each part-time instructor is a new cost.

Not sure what’s going to happen next quarter. Enrollment typically drops significantly in Winter and Spring quarters, as students discover that Japanese is the wrong language to study if you’re just trying to meet the language requirement to transfer into a four-year school, but that may not be enough to reinstate the class. She’s going to try to restructure it as an online class, but I’m not sure how it would work out. The group dynamics are a large part of what made it work, with people bringing in a wide variety of material and working together to understand it, with her guidance and cultural insight.

And I had some really fun stuff prepped for this quarter, too…

Tuesday, September 22 2009

My new favorite holidays

Over at Celestia’s place, she commented that she had the day off and not even her Japanese co-workers knew precisely what the holiday was. This led to the discovery of two rather intriguing clauses in the law governing national holidays:

Kokumin no Kyuujitsu, “national holiday”, defined as a weekday between two holidays. (this year, the day between Respect The Elderly Day and the Fall Equinox)
Furikae Kyuujitsu, “transfer holiday”, defined as the first non-holiday weekday following a holiday that fell on a Sunday. (this year, Constitution Memorial Day was a Sunday, but the next two days were already holidays (Green Day and Children’s Day), so Wednesday became a holiday)

Sunday, December 13 2009

Thought for the day…

I’m quite fond of the work of South Korean singer Younha. My interest started when someone brought one of her songs in for our Japanese reading class, but I eventually went on to pick up her Korean albums as well (which were much cheaper than their Japanese equivalents). This morning, I was listening to some tracks from Peace Love & Ice Cream, and found myself thinking:

“I can’t wait until she releases these in Japanese, so I can understand the lyrics.”

(amusingly, the title track is a cover of a song recorded in English by Dutch artist Sandy Dane; I think they even used the same backing track (Sandy Dane, Younha), although the lyrics are apparently quite different)

Tuesday, December 15 2009

Hello!Project Telepathy Project

Risako: “I made it quite clear that we were wearing black tonight. Your disobedience is most disappointing.”

Momoko: “Please allow me to punish her next, Mistress.”

Saki: “That cow would never have caught me if this drapery wasn’t so heavy.”

(Continued on Page 3458)

Thursday, December 17 2009

Idiomatic translation

After some of my earlier searches, I’m not surprised that Amazon Japan occasionally recommends porn novels to me. Today’s top dirty book has an interesting title, 一発やりがい.

Ippatsu Yarigai

一発 means “one shot”, either literally, like one (1) bullet, or more generally, like a knockout punch; やりがい means “(s.t.) is worth doing”. In context, the phrase would seem to map cleanly to:

“I’d hit that”

Wednesday, January 6 2010

Otoko-tachi no Yamato

Much thanks to the Duck for his review of this film, which led me to include the DVD in my latest order from Amazon Japan. I was able to find a set of soft-subs for it that seem to be reasonably accurate (and were apparently used to subtitle the bootleg DVDs that people were selling on Amazon US for a while). It’s a gorgeous, ugly, moving, and quite sad film, and Joe Hisiashi’s score suits the material perfectly.

The few non-Duck English reviews I’ve found come at it with an axe to grind, making them basically useless for evaluating the film. Oddly, they all seem to think that no one outside of Japan would be interested, which says more about them than it does about the film.

It’s not available on BluRay, but the image quality is still superb (Handbrake ripped it at 850x364). Sample screengrab below, from late in the film.

(Continued on Page 3470)

Monday, February 8 2010

Japanese I can’t translate

未だ筈は筈の儘 = “mada hazu wa hazu no mama”.

I came across this one quite a while ago, and all my teacher could say about it at the time was that she couldn’t think of a way to explain it in English.

Tuesday, February 16 2010

Crossing the streams

I’ve been following Mari Yaguchi for some time, starting with her debut in Morning Musume, and I’ve been impressed at how well she’s diversified her career, enough that being kicked out of the band was only a minor setback to her plans for world domination. She’s well-established as an actress, writer, spokesmodel, tv host, and all-purpose talent, and she even still sings occasionally.

Yasutaka Tsutsui is a famous writer and actor, probably best-known in the US for his science fiction novella 時をかける少女 (“The girl who leapt through time”), the basis for the anime film of the same name. Pete and I have been trading notes on his work for a while, starting when he went looking for a short story he’d originally read in Russian. We eventually found the original Japanese version, and last week he sent me a copy, which I finished reading last night.

So what do I find this morning?

(Continued on Page 3511)

Sunday, February 21 2010

Dear Amazon,

Please don’t pollute the well. Search results for the writer Masako Bandou return a link to an Amazon US product page for the title “13 of Pornographic Chica Japanese Language Book”. No details, no availability, no hint that the book has ever actually existed. Because it doesn’t.

The actual book sold by Amazon Japan is called “13のエロチカ”, which should properly be translated as “13 Erotic Stories”. The loanword used is “erochika”, which is not the nonexistent hybrid English-Spanish loanword “ero-chica”, but the perfectly ordinary “erotica”. The book even includes French on the title, “13 Histoires Erotiques”, just in case the casual viewer is confused.

The two possibilities are a lazy “self-publisher” using machine translation (of at least the titles) or a used book store that was trying to unload a bunch of used Japanese books, and was ambitious enough to hire someone who had taken a year of Japanese and could mangle the titles into Engrish, but didn’t bother including the ISBNs.

The only good thing I got out of this little adventure was the discovery that a Google image search for the acronym “asin” returns something far more interesting than publishing data.

Sunday, February 28 2010

Definitions that don’t help…

I was looking up a Japanese word. I knew what it meant. I knew how it had been formed from the parent word. I knew the writer had used it correctly. It just wasn’t in my usual dictionaries, and I wanted to see if there was some nuance to the usage that wasn’t obvious from the construction.

The word was 偉大さ (“idaisa”). Idai by itself is in most dictionaries. As a noun, it means greatness, mightiness, grandeur; as a -na adjective, great, mighty, grand. The -sa ending converts adjectives to nouns, so idaisa should end up with exactly the same meanings as the noun form of idai, but it could emphasize one in particular, or it could simply be more formal. In this case, I think it’s a bit of both; formal, because it’s the foreword to a book about her youth, and emphasizing mighty, because her story is about Ultraman.

But the reason I’m writing is to mention the one dictionary entry that did list idaisa, and included among its meanings a word forged from the purest Scrabbleite:


Yeah, that helped, thanks.

Tuesday, March 23 2010

Japanese in email

Just some random info:

  • If the email doesn’t use MIME headers at all, it’s almost certainly encoded in Shift-JIS (or, more likely, the Microsoft variant CP-932, also known as Windows-31J).
  • If it has a proper Content-Type header with RFC 2047 encoding for the header lines, it’s almost certainly encoded in ISO-2022-JP, and your mailer should figure this out correctly.
  • …unless their software encoded the header in Shift-JIS but claimed it was ISO-2022-JP, which I’ve seen a few times. In one case, the Subject and body were right, but the From header was in Shift-JIS.
  • Unicode is still quite rare in Japan, and cellphones in particular will ignore the headers and simply decode the message as if it were ISO-2022-JP. If someone tells you that your email is mojibake (文字化け, literally “character corruption”), force your mailer to set the right encoding. For Apple’s, the command is:
       defaults write NSPreferredMailCharset ISO-2022-JP
  • Oddly enough, most phones will apparently handle raw Shift-JIS; at least, spammers feel comfortable using it.
  • If the body encoding is specified, but the headers are not RFC 2047 encoded, then the headers usually are encoded the same, but not always. reliably guesses wrong for these.
  • Messages are generally formatted for a fixed-width font where most characters are double-width, not just the kanji and kana. Graphics characters and emoticons are quite common, and many messages will look like crap in the wrong sort of font. This also applies to blog entries.
  • The EUC-JP encoding basically doesn’t exist outside of legacy Unix code and old data files.
  • Japanese spam tends to be polite, grammatically correct, and riddled with loanwords.

Friday, April 30 2010

ポイ捨て & ポイントメーク

Found in the voting page on

Tabako no poisute kinshi

It was posted there because of the odd English translation, of course, but I was more interested in the Japanese: タバコのポイ捨て禁止!, or, for the kana-impaired, “Tabako no poisute kinshi!”.

The interesting bit is poisute, ポイ捨て = “littering”, for a literal translation of “cigarette littering prohibited”. The first half comes from the mimetic adverb poito = “carelessly”; the second half from the verb suteru = “to throw away”. Hadn’t run across poito before.

While looking it up, I came across an amusing loanword: ポイントメーク, pointomeiku. Care to guess the meaning?

(Continued on Page 3552)

Tuesday, May 4 2010

Melon Notes

Yesterday was Melon Kinenbi’s final concert. Nothing left but the farewell concert DVD in July. I’ve held off on my review of their final album, MELON’S NOT DEAD, largely because the label just released a B-side collection called URA MELON that included a new song and a concert DVD. Given that most of their concert DVDs have been fan-club-only, this was worth picking up, and I timed my Amazon Japan order to include it. So, double review coming soon. [Update! there’s also a new music video on the DVD!]

Pictures from the final concert show a certain still crazy after all these years aesthetic, not surprising after having spent so many years chained in the Hello!Project wardrobe dungeon. They did manage to get out of the goofywear at some point in the show, it looks like.

In memoriam, a fansub group has released performance and interview clips from Utaban, as well as a subbed PV for their 12th single. Amusing, although I do wish the folks at ProjectHello would fix their translation of Saa! Koibito ni narou (“sukima mite” (隙間見て)= “when someone gets the chance to do something”, literally “see an opening”; yes, I’ve told them several times, and Hana even admitted she wasn’t sure about that line, and yet…).

Amusing note from the Utaban videos: they label the girls Sexy (Saitou), Fairy-tale (Murata), Boyish (Ootani), and Natural (Shibata). Personally, I’ll always think of them as Smoky, Quirky, Psycho, and Bambi.

Thursday, May 6 2010

Mai Pudding

[Update: turns out she was in the Negima! live-action drama, as the ghost student Sayo. I knew his students would grow up cute.]

Amazon Japan recommended this DVD to me a while back:

Mai Pudding DVD

Her name is Mai Nishida, and she seems like a nice girl. The Mai/My pun is an old one in Japan, and as for pudding, well, Biyuuden made that one clear in the video for their song Ice Cream & My Pudding (warning: bunny girls!). That one has another pun, writing “ice” as 愛す = “to love”; putting it before a noun makes it an adjective modifying cream…

Back to Mai. The circled text on the front reads 可愛くて柔らかい = “cute and soft”. Not visible is the back-cover blurb, which reads, in part, 大胆ビキニから溢れちゃうぷるぷる揺れるGカップ! = “completely overflowing from daring bikini, jiggling, swaying G-cups!”.

As I said, she seems like a nice girl. Oh, and she was 19 when this was filmed. Five-foot-two. 35-23-32. Type O. Aries. From Kyoto. Details matter.

Friday, May 14 2010

Morning Tentacles

Natsumi Abe, last seen here looking good in Hollywood, has finally brought together the two things that make Japan great: J-pop idols and tentacle monsters.

(Continued on Page 3562)

Saturday, May 29 2010

For the record

I wish to state that I am intensely jealous of my sister at the moment:

From: Nellie Greely
Date: May 24, 2010
Subject: Tokyo…..

Found out today that I have to go there on Saturday for work…

I sent her a pop-out map, the excellent (and out-of-print) Little Tokyo Subway Guidebook, Not Just a Good Food Guide: Tokyo, Fodor’s Tokyo, a Japanese phrasebook, a Suica card (the penguin on the card was a nice bonus), and some pocket change.

It’s a short trip, and mostly business, but she’s got two free days, so I made sure she was loaded for bear.

I also emailed her the following picture to print out and carry into grocery and convenience stores:

(Continued on Page 3566)

Sunday, May 30 2010

Kimono Day

Happened to wander through San Francisco’s Japantown today, and found something nice in the mall. Not for sale.

SF Japantown Mall Kimono Day

Tuesday, June 1 2010

Wrong Dancer

SF Japantown traditional dancer, and friend

“No offense, ma’am, but when does the pretty girl in the kimono come back on stage?”

Wednesday, June 2 2010

Apparently she supports Ogg Vorbis…

Ubuntu Magazine in Japan has decided that penguins are the wrong mascot for the market, and replaced them with junior idols. This month’s centerfold is 12.

Haruka Fukuhara, Ubuntu-tan

[and, yes, I’m using “centerfold” loosely; the photos themselves are wholesome and innocent (more so than you’d expect from the generally quite creepy U-15 market), it’s just the placement that’s new. They’ve launched a new bi-monthly Linux magazine where one of the main attractions is pictures of young girls.]

Tuesday, June 8 2010

Taking the Hello!Project out of the girl

Perhaps the greatest sin of the Hello!Project costume designers is that their young victims graduate with no awareness of their handicap. This has led to many post-H!P fashion disasters, of which this is not atypical.

Maki Goto, despite cutting all ties with H!P and signing with a much better record company, remains scarred by her long association with the agency. Take, for instance, the recent promo pic for her web site:

Maki Goto, WTF?

I am delighted to report, however, that she seems to have found at least a partial solution to the problem, now that it has come to her attention (NSFW):

(Continued on Page 3573)

Monday, July 12 2010

Urban planning

When life hands you scattered plots of land…

(Continued on Page 3590)

Tuesday, July 13 2010

Mystery Object

Something I found on Google Earth:


Usually, if none of the informational layers in GE has something, you can find a nearby picture in the Panoramio layer that will give you a clue, but there’s nothing nearby. A Street View camera on a nearby highway caught it, though, so I knew what sort of thing it had to be.

Not that I really had to work that hard. Opening the area in Google Maps revealed a clear label on a nearby building, for anyone who can read Japanese…

(Continued on Page 3591)

Tuesday, August 3 2010

The continuing adventures of Smoky, Quirky, Psycho, and Bambi

Melon Kinenbi managed to go out with a decent bang, with two final albums and a concert DVD, and three of the four members quickly started off on new careers. Quirky re-signed with Up-Front, Psycho picked up some decent acting jobs, and Bambi signed with a new record company and is working with a vocal coach.

All Smoky said was that she was retiring from show business, but now the news is out: marriage.

[Update: Psycho has a new single as well, currently available for cellphone streaming in Japan. Title is “Kill my caddy”, so she’s keeping the WTF alive and well]

Monday, August 16 2010

The thing which the chief does not have

Sign at Nijo Castle, by Flickr user cathou_cathare

This entertaining picture was recently posted to As is often the case, the uploader pretended that he took the picture, conveniently failing to link to the Flickr user who posted it two years ago. (TinEye to the rescue!)

Please do not see it while drinking drink.
The PET bottle caps it and put it in a bag, and please carry it.
Please see the thing which the chief does not have after finishing drinking.

The first half of the translation is almost comprehensible, although it inexplicably leaves out the opening clause in the first line, “Inside the castle”. The third sentence is supposed to say “finish drinks that can’t be capped before viewing (the castle interior)”, but as any Ultraman fan knows, “kyappu” is not only phonetic for a bottle cap, but also for “captain”…

[Update: The Flickr user thanked me for adding a quick translation as a comment. English isn’t her native language, which made the Engrish particularly baffling.]

Monday, September 6 2010

More promotion than they’ve had in years…

…and it’s for a coffee commercial. Seven former members of Morning Musume are the new kimono-clad coffee cuties for Georgia Coffee (only five featured in this ad), Afternoon Musume:

Afternoon Musume

Surprising that someone didn’t think of it earlier, given that their first single was called Morning Coffee.

[Update: the actual commercial is up now]

In other promotional news, Yuko Nakazawa (front and center in this picture) has another campaign running at the moment, for a weight-loss product. 37 looks good on her.

(Continued on Page 3617)

Friday, September 24 2010

I’m just guessing here…

…but “not a native English speaker” seems likely:

“…and has made a freeware available on a language-learning software.”

Oddly enough, the person being referred to has lived in the US for decades, and the book it appears in was printed in the US by a Boston-based publisher.

(what the credit in her bio appears to actually mean is “she produced a free Japanese pronunciation module for an expensive commercial language-lab system”)

Sunday, October 3 2010

eXtreme Calligraphy

Featuring the star of Bushido Sixteen , it’s Shodou Girls!!.

Shodou Girls DVD cover

Popular young actress Riko Narumi often goes for a serious, intense look; fortunately her face hasn’t frozen that way, and she often looks quite cuddly. Working hard this year, too, with two TV dramas, three movies, a photobook, and several ad campaigns. According to her official site, she’s also still involved with the School of Lock! (not a typo or Engrish) radio show.

(no idea if she’s any good; Amazon Japan just recommended her to me because I bought the most recent Sukeban Deka film)

Tuesday, October 12 2010

Not Engrish

Sometimes, funny-looking English in a sign isn’t. This is a perfectly reasonable translation of the Japanese text on the sign, and I’m sure it makes perfect sense to everyone who sees it.


Wednesday, October 13 2010

Dear Kei Yasuda,

More, please. Preferably without the bizarro zombie/mutant/drag-king who mars two of these shots.

Kei Yasuda

No, seriously, Kemeko, you’ve found people who know how to do your hair, makeup, and clothing, and who recognize that your talent is accompanied by severe hotness. The only thing missing is a long-overdue solo album.

(Continued on Page 3643)

Thursday, October 14 2010

Dear Erika Yazawa,

Again? Seriously? Dogu-chan herself wasn’t wacky enough, now she needs to be backed up by the Doguun 5 bikini combat team?

I suppose the bright side is that this keeps you visible enough for your agency to justify making more DVDs…

Friday, December 17 2010

Dear Hello!Project costume designers

Just because I haven’t complained recently, don’t think you’ve stopped sucking at your jobs. I mean, when even Ai-chan is having a what-the-fuck moment, you know it can’t be good.

(Continued on Page 3670)

Sunday, January 2 2011

Idol age gap

Average age of the members of Morning Musume yesterday: 21.

Today: 17.

Distribution: 24, 22, 21, 21, 17, 14, 13, 12, 12.

This does not look like a recipe for success to me. The four oldest girls have been in the group for more than seven years, and will have to bend over backwards to not crush the little girls on stage and in public appearances. They know all their lines and dance steps by heart, they have legions of devoted fans who will not be happy if they get less spotlight time, and the competition is much fiercer than it was even a few years ago. It was bad enough when AKB48 and Idoling were poaching their fans, but Girls Generation has been a massive success in Japan recently, making the local talent look like, well, terrible dancers in funny-looking outfits.

Wednesday, January 12 2011

You can keep your tsuns and your yans…

…I like the sound of this one better: Ero-dere.

A look at the “customers who bought this item also bought” list turns up titles like Cool masochist, My maid is a classmate, My little sister is a bikini model, My S big sister and my M little sister, Dangerous sisters, School-swimsuit-maid at your service!, Milk academy, My big sister, My little sister, My maid, My princess, My doll, etc.

I think it’s safe to conclude that the main character lives up to her description. Often. With illustrations.

[Yes, all of the “My X” ones are by the same author. I imagine she got some crossover sales from fans of the Mai HiME manga/anime series when she got up to princesses and released My Hime. Interestingly, they also hired her for a To LOVEる book called Dangerous Girls Talk; sounds like someone qualified to work in that universe!]

Sunday, January 16 2011


While reading the comments over at Chizumatic (yes, dream-eating is the correct way to interpret yumekui, given that hitokui = cannibalism), I belatedly realized another bit of kanji wordplay in my expanding collection of naughty-novel cover art: 蜜楽.

I didn’t think much of it the first time I saw it, on the cover of Welcome to Honeyfun Island, but then I saw it again on Honeyfun-hunting and made a mental note to see if it was a common genre term. When I saw the comments on Yumekui, it snapped into place.

The word on the covers is mitsuraku. Compare these two characters:

蜜 密

The first one means honey, the second one means secret, and they’re both read as mitsu. There’s also a word itsuraku that means pleasure. So, adding an initial consonant sound and substituting a suggestive kanji converts simple “pleasure” into “secret honey pleasure”, which certainly sounds like something you’d look for in a naughty novel.

I found a less wholesome example on another cover, 蠢(うごめく), whose main title is a rarely-used character for the verb “to squirm; to crawl like a worm”. The subtitle is 姦獄美姉妹, which is read as kangoku bi-shimai, “prison beautiful sisters”. Or, rather, the first word would mean prison if it were written 監獄, but the first kanji has been replaced with another one that is also read as kan, but has various meanings including “wicked” and “boisterous”. And, unfortunately, “rape”, which is probably the intended meaning in this context. (supported by the people-also-bought list including a number of books with prison bars and tied-up women)

Note to self: do not browse for cover art in a session where you have confirmed to Amazon Japan that you’re over 18. This opens up the search results to include material that’s been flagged adults-only in their database, such as bondage, rape, and lolicon. These really don’t fit my cheesecake-pin-up theme, and the cover art on the lolicon novels is seriously creepy.

Monday, February 21 2011

Visit Beautiful Sidzd!

I have recently developed some sympathy for 19th-Century cartographers. In 1815, Japan was a rather mysterious place, and making a detailed map with romanized placenames can’t have been easy.

Japan in 1815

Sidzd was apparently Settsu Province.

Map detail extracted from this item at the Library of Congress’ American Memory site. (you’ll need JPEG2000 and MrSID decoders to work with the largest available images; yes, they chose encumbered, poorly-supported formats to store everything…)

Thursday, February 24 2011

Duck Tours

No, seriously. I suspect we may have to try out the Osaka version.

Friday, March 11 2011

Ouch! Massive quake and tsunami hit Japan

Magnitude 8.9 off the coast near Sendai, with many significant aftershocks. USGS reports that there was a 7.2 magnitude quake in the same area two days ago, which had three 6+ magnitude aftershocks.

[Update: Brickmuppet has some disturbing details; coastal trains just “missing”, a city of 77,000 wiped off the map, etc. So far the best news I’ve seen is that the nuclear power plant that didn’t have enough coolant for a safe shutdown has been resupplied by air by the US Air Force (no, Hillary was talking out of her ass again).]

[Update: The American Red Cross doesn’t have a targeted donation page up yet for this disaster, but as reported by Reuters and elsewhere, they’ve set up an instant text-message donation system, and of course their standard international donation fund will be used to help out in Japan and elsewhere. I don’t see a way to contribute directly to the Japanese Red Cross on their site, but I’m sure we’ll find something when we arrive in Kyoto in two weeks.]

[Update: Wikipedia, Google Crisis Response pages]

[Update: Amazon is processing Red Cross payments through a prominently-displayed button on their home page. Amazon Japan has a letter on their home page redirecting to the Japan Red Cross donation site, which is currently a bit flaky.]

Friday, April 15 2011

(former) Hello!Project Telepathy Project

In order, I’d say they’re thinking:

  • Yuko: On your knees, slave!
  • Kaori: Let’s see… yup, still got it.
  • Natsumi: The Bambi look gets them every time.
  • Mari: I’m the only one who doesn’t actually need this gig.
  • Kei: Pardon me while I set fire to your pants.
  • Rika: I will kill you slowly.
  • Yossi: I will eat the body when she’s done.
  • Makoto: …and this is why I need a new photobook!
  • Miki: I am not a frumpy old housewife, you’re just trying to make me cry.
  • Satan: Wow, this Ritalin stuff is great!

Thursday, June 2 2011

Readers Guide to Intermediate Japanese

Ignore the wretched cover design, with its physically painful use of letterspaced Lithos Bold. Readers Guide to Intermediate Japanese is not the cheesy self-published unedited piece of crap it appears to be. (honestly, if it hadn’t been from University of Hawai’i Press, I wouldn’t have bought it on a bet)

This is an excellent reference to written Japanese, filled with clear explanations of the things you start running into when you step outside of prepared student texts. It neatly supplements the three volumes of Makino/Tsutsui’s grammar, filling in some important gaps. It also provides some useful cross-references to similar phrases and standard forms, for the student who isn’t sure if he should be looking up chigai nai or ni chigai nai, etc.

Perhaps most immediately useful is the 19-page section listing common variations of ki ga/ni/o X and 9 pages of mi ga/ni/o X. You pick up some of this in textbooks, but it’s very nice to have it all in one place.

Sadly, as usual there is no ebook edition. Someday, you’ll be able to carry around thirty pounds of reference books on an 8-ounce reader, but not today.

Monday, July 18 2011

Oddest thing I’ve heard on TV Japan

Now that the TV is capable of something more than movies and games, I’ve been leaving TV Japan on in the background to improve my ear. This works well enough that I occasionally have the urge to walk into the family room to see the images associated with something I think I just understood (such as the interview with Donald Richie, the continuing news about Fukushima, or the gradually-lengthening promos for Deka Wanko).

[Best so far was hearing a young woman walk in and tell her mother she had something serious to discuss, and then saying “I’m pregnant and he doesn’t want to marry me”; I understood the whole scene, and followed along fairly well when the mother tracked down the offending boyfriend and he confessed that while he loved her, he was an orphan with no family to offer her. Mom said, “just like me”]

But sometimes it’s just goofy. The kid’s shows are painful, most of the daytime stuff is aimed at housewives, and I swear that almost all female announcers and narrators drink the same kool-aid that powers Nina on The Good Night Show.

And then, Sunday afternoon, I heard a hoarse, heavily-accented voice shout, in English:

“I…. Can…. Speak…. Dutch!”

Thursday, August 4 2011

TV Japan, good and bad

On the whole, I’m glad that I hooked back up with Disk Network and subscribed to TV Japan, but only because my box has DVR functionality. If I were limited to what’s on when I’m home, it wouldn’t be worth the $25/month.

My goal was to listen to a lot more Japanese, and more importantly, to unexpected Japanese, delivered in a variety of ways. Because I’m incapable of ignoring human voices (which really sucks when you work in a cubicle…), I expected the constant exposure to tug at my brain a little, as I tried to understand it, and that’s what I’m getting.

In particular, because I’m generally not actively watching, I can’t anticipate the general category of phrases I’m going to hear. Maybe it’s a period drama with formal speech, maybe it’s a surly teenager griping, maybe it’s a detective grilling a suspect, etc. This has done a lot to break me of the habit of trying to analyze or translate sentences; either I understand it or I don’t. If I got it, I don’t have time to set up for the possible responses; all I can do is keep going until I end up baffled. This is the same approach that gets me through light novels, where if I stop too long to reason something out, I’m no longer reading. I’ve built myself a much stronger support system for the novels, but then, it’s simply harder to read the languange than it is to listen to it.

Things I skip:

  • children’s shows
  • anything with English, especially Japanese dubbed over still-audible English
  • any show where they frequently talk over music that has vocals (travel, soft news, talk shows, etc)
  • health, beauty, and exercise shows; they can be fun to look at, but the speech is deadly dull
  • large chunks of shows like Music Station; too much rap and hip-hop influence
  • most non-pop music shows, especially amateur singing
  • anime; they simply don’t run anything interesting
  • angsty teen school drama
  • stand-up comedy

Saturday, September 3 2011

Loanword of the day: Rippubaajin

Amazon Japan has a very different image of me as a customer. While I’ve overtrained Amazon US to the point that it uses the most tenuous and obscure connections to come up with recommendations, the Japanese site has no such difficulty. I get the occasional curveball after I’ve used it as a search engine for obscure words, but for the most part, recommendations are plausibly based on things I’ve actually bought.

In this case, because I once tossed a few random light novels (mostly still-unread) into an order, including one called School Succubus Panic (in which the titular succubi are available in maid, catgirl, vampire, meganekko teacher, and other flavors; why, yes, it is porn), Amazon Japan just sent me a recommendation for Imouto no Rippubaajin wa Onii-chan no Mono. I had to click through just to see if I’d parsed it correctly…

(Continued on Page 3874)

Monday, September 5 2011

Nick Holmes on Japan

Truth in captioning.

Cosplay note

If you’re going to dress up as a samurai stormtrooper at conventions, try not to confuse every Japanese person who reads your banner. The nicest comment you’ll get is “it’s like the [bad] English t-shirts junior-high students wear”.

Monday, October 31 2011

Found on a map of Osaka…

I respect this maid cafe’s name. Quick review by Danny Choo (as the first destination on a whistle-stop tour of an otaku-centric corner of Denden Town).

Tuesday, December 6 2011

One common place you’ll hear -sama used outside of set expressions

At the airport, when airline employees are calling customers up to the counter for checkins and upgrades.

Monday, April 9 2012

News you can use

An online cosmetics shop in Japan has published the results of their survey of “where the boobs are” in Japan. Failure to publish their methodology and sample size has not interfered with their primary goal of attracting hits to their site.

Those interested in converting the claimed cup sizes into their local measurement system may use this helpful calculator.

(via the never-safe-for-work Sankaku Complex)

Tuesday, April 10 2012

The Hakama…

…was invented by unionized seamstresses who wanted to ensure there would always be hemming work.

Also, I’m short for my height.

[Update: Put on your gi jacket and obi normally. Measure from top of obi to ankle-bone. If inches, divide by 1.49; if centimeters, divide by 3.79. If you’re buying cotton, round up; if tetron (polyester/rayon), round down (half-sizes are sometimes available). This is your hakama size. If a store sizes them 0-6 or S,M,L,XL,etc, leave. Try E-Bogu instead.]

Monday, April 16 2012

“…just helping them get their start.”

Latest Japanese spam email. This week’s pitch is for a BBS where runaway girls gather; that’s the from line. The subject is “Please become the God of needy girls” (lit: Kami-sama). They promise a community of 50,000 hungry, homeless, poor runaways all over Japan, and wouldn’t you like to help a cute runaway girl? Safe, easy to use (the site, that is), and free (until you actually find one to “help”, of course…).

From: 家出中の女性が集まる掲示板です。 
Subject: 貧しい少女達の神様となってください。
(C) 家出中のかわいい女子を助けてあげてくれませんか?

[Update: and another one today, this one specifically identifying their runaways as high-school girls; it’s officially the new thing]

Wednesday, April 18 2012

Clove underwear

There are three ways to write the word for cloves in Japanese: クローブ (phonetic loanword), 丁子 (common kanji), and 丁字 (which can also be read as “teiji”, where it means the letter “T”). In JMdict, these are completely separate entries, and I just submitted a request to have the first two merged, with 丁子 as the primary. Arguably, they should all be consolidated, but I just did the one; I wouldn’t be surprised if the editors merge the other on their own after looking at my suggestion.

And the underwear? A Google image search for 丁字 is all about the T-backs

Sunday, May 27 2012

Master of the Marital Arts

I believe I’ve finally found a case where the above weak English pun on “martial arts” actually works in Japanese. Staff fighting in Japan and Okinawa is known as boujutsu, written 棒術 (pole + technique). Identical pronunciation with different kanji, however, yields 房術 (room + technique), meaning “the art of lovemaking”.

This appears to be a deliberate pun, with the more usual words for lovemaking being bouchuujutsu 房中術 (“within a room” + technique) or keiboujutsu 閨房術 (bedroom + technique). A bit of casual wiki-surfing suggests that the pun comes from the popular Naughty Ninja Girl genre of novels and movies (much the way that the words ninja and kunoichi are basically post-WWII creations, along with the scary-black-pajamas look).

Wednesday, July 4 2012

Latest spam slang: sapoari (サポ有り)

My Japanese spam email has shifted tone again. The eager runaways have apparently all been rescued from their Internet cafés, and now we’ve moved on to lonely wives who’d like to run away. She thinks her husband doesn’t want her any more and she’s lonely. Sure, he’s busy at work, but her body just aches… She wouldn’t mind making a clean break with him, so will I play with her? Of course this obasan will be quite grateful for a partner. If I’m interested, please send her mail from this (thoroughly-randomized) site.

But, what exactly does “sapo-ari” mean? The only common use of the katakana サポ is as an abbreviation of サポート, “support”. And 有り means “existence”. Which means that this lonely wife’s gratitude doesn’t come for free…

Subject: サポ有りで私と遊びませんか?

(url deleted)

Thursday, August 23 2012

I doubt anyone noticed, but…

In Frank Sinatra’s 1985 Tokyo concert at Budokan, the very first time he sings the title line of “Luck Be A Lady”, he clearly sings it as “ruck be a rady”.

Tuesday, October 9 2012

A Clockwork Idol

Dear Hello!Project, I regret to inform you that the MomokoBot went a bit Westworld last night, carving a bloody path across Tokyo. She was last seen entering the H!P Wardrobe Dungeon, where we can only hope that she slaughtered every stylist in possession of a rhinestone or feather.

(Continued on Page 4094)

Wednesday, October 31 2012

Got whipped cream?

[Update: For those wishing to google, that’s Shizuka Nakamura 中村静香, Mai Nishida 西田麻衣, Manami Marutaka 丸高愛実, Chika Toono 遠野千夏, and Konona Shiba 柴小聖.]

Monday, November 26 2012

Most popular Japanese spam subject line

I tend to toss my Japanese spam into a folder and then try to read it when I’m feeling bored. I’ve commented in the past about trends where 90% of the stuff all falls into the same category for a while, but I recently noticed one particular subject line that’s been showing up at least twice a month for the past six months:


The SYSTRANS-based Apple translation widget’s English is amusing, but quite wrong: “The human wife and secret isn’t relation made?”. Google and Bing produce the exact same slightly-wrong translation: “You do not make a secret relationship with married woman?”

The thing that G&B missed is that this sort of negative question means “wouldn’t you like to”, and neither one of them lets me flag the error. Google has a very clever UI for suggesting corrections, but it’s quite shallow, limited to rearranging and selecting alternate interpretations for individual words; you can’t select between different grammar patterns. Worse, you can only flag the translation as good, bad, or inappropriate; there’s no “right words, wrong meaning” button, suggesting that literal conversion is valued over accuracy.

Anyway, back to the spam. The sender and contents that go with this subject line aren’t always identical, but being spam, there are only a few variations. Because G&B got so close on the subject line, I decided to see what one of them could do with the rest, and the results were so entertaining I think I’ll leave them as-is.

(Continued on Page 4122)

Monday, December 3 2012

Essential iPhone apps…

Makoto Ogawa’s Bagel Navigator.

Monday, December 31 2012

Amazon Japan ships booze (domestically)

After our fruitless search for Habu-shu on the last trip, my sister and I were seriously contemplating a short jaunt to Okinawa to buy the stuff (and see a bit of Okinawa for a day or two, but really, snake-booze run). Yesterday morning, as we were chatting about the other major change to our trip, I whimsically searched Amazon Japan for ハブ酒.

By golly, you can get all sorts of the stuff shipped anywhere in the country, from tiny 50ml bottles up to 5-liter jugs (with a correspondingly large snake inside). We could still choose to take a jaunt to Okinawa, but it’s no longer the least-frustration method of acquiring the goods.

The reason we may not go is the other change to the trip: Interplanet Janet has flown so much on United that she’s graduated to an even higher class of membership, which granted her free business-class tickets for our parents. Now we are four; fear our shopping prowess!

To ice the cake, a few hours after we conferenced with them and went over the basics, we discovered that a new room block had opened up in the hotel we liked so much last trip, the Citadines Kyoto. The place we originally booked was only three blocks away, so we knew the area, but everything about the Citadines worked for us: quality service, comfortable room with free internet and a kitchenette, major subway line 50 feet away, dry cleaners and grocery store a block away, 7-11 across the street, all sorts of shopping, food, temples, and shrines within walking distance, etc, etc. Also less expensive than the other hotel.

I think the first night we’re there, we’ll take the folks down to the House of Grilled Meat. One of the nice things about learning to read kanji is that when you see a large neon sign reading 焼肉屋, you know that you need to investigate. An all-you-can-eat yakiniku joint with touchscreen ordering and a grill in the middle of the table is a Very Good Thing to find.

Friday, January 4 2013

Japanese spam that gets right to the point

Most of my Japanese spam email is of the form “join our web site to meet women for sex”, with the details of the pitch varying between lonely housewives, runaway schoolgirls, and independent young women whose strict upbringing has left them hungry for affection. This one stood out in the crowd:

Subject: おまんこ写メ&メアド送信♪丸見えだから閲覧注意かも(笑)

Bluntly translated, it says “I’m sending you my email address and a picture of my pussy; everything is visible, so be careful where you view it (lol)”.

(the email does not, in fact, contain any pictures, just an invitation from “Hitomi, a 31-year-old office-lady” to click on a carefully-anonymized link (, which no doubt goes to one of the usual members-only sites)

Tuesday, January 15 2013

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

I…, I…, I have no words.

(below the fold, to protect the weak of heart)

(Continued on Page 4148)

Wednesday, January 23 2013


Hunting for interesting excursions in the general vicinity of Kyoto, a small marker on Google Maps caught my eye: ポンポン山. Now why, I thought, would a mountain, even a small one, have a katakana name? The Japanese Wikipedia entry says that the sound of footsteps is generally accepted as the answer, but also that the name only dates back to the Meiji era, and before that it had the more prosaic name Kamoseyama.

Note that searching for ポンポン山 will find many pictures of the sign at the summit announcing its height of 678.9 meters, but also pictures of large-breasted women (“pom-pom mountains”). Honestly, these days I’d be disappointed if a search in Japanese didn’t include pictures of large-breasted women, because Japan.

Thursday, February 28 2013

Dear Hello!Project photo editor,

Dude, she’s 13; could you hold off on the “abducted into the sex trade” photos for a few years?

Haruka Kudo, fearing the pimp hand

Saturday, March 23 2013

Amazon Convenience

For future reference, when you have a bunch of stuff shipped from Amazon Japan to the nearest Lawson convenience store, you need to enter two numbers at the kiosk, the 12-digit delivery confirmation number and the last 7 digits of the order number. The error page was a little kanji-heavy for me, and the girl at the counter didn’t know, either, so I had to make an extra trip.

Fortunately, convenience store locations are… convenient, and it was only a block from the hotel, across Karasuma. With a 30-day free trial of Prime (and business-class tickets that allow multiple heavy suitcases for free on the trip home), it was definitely worth doing. In fact, I just placed another order.

Sadly, it only works for items sold directly by Amazon, so the Marketplace dealer we ordered the snake booze from is shipping to the hotel, and I had to carefully parse their address and paste it into Amazon’s form. In a few days, we’ll see if it worked.

(by the way, blogging is painful because I’m running a VNC session over a VPN to my Mac at home, but I thought one sakura picture needed to be posted)

Thursday, April 11 2013

Specialized vocabulary

This is a hakama, most commonly seen today on martial artists and miko:

(Continued on Page 4201)

Friday, May 17 2013

Hanko braindump

Short version: information gathered from a variety of hanko shops (particularly Inkan Honpo, Hankoman, Hobundo, Hanko2510, and Shoyu-net calligraphy shop).

I’m quite happy with the quality of the seals I ordered from Inkan Honpo’s site, and their online preview not only gives you a pretty good idea how things will look in the different fonts, but also lets you set your own line breaks to improve the layout a bit. Their Illustrator templates for custom rubber seals are also simple and clear.

Long version:

(Continued on Page 4240)

Wednesday, June 5 2013

Debito Arudou in a nutshell

“The recipe to an unhappy life in Japan is to want to be Japanese if you are not.”

(Pico Iyer in WSJ, via Japan Intercultural Twitter feed)

Thursday, June 6 2013

What’s up with the yen?

And by “up”, I mean going from 103 to the dollar to 96.5 in a bit over a week. I was kinda liking the trend before Memorial Day…

Thursday, August 1 2013


(via the NSFW BC Ikusani)

Sunday, November 10 2013

Pop Quiz

Q: How do you say “pop quiz” in Japanese?

A: 抜き打ちテスト, “nukiuchi test”

The literal meaning of nukiuchi is to draw your sword and attack in one motion, but over time it’s come to mean “doing something suddenly, without warning”.

These days I’m more likely to draw swords than take quizzes, so I was briefly surprised when I found it used in a discussion of Marika’s performance at school.

Monday, February 10 2014

Cheek Enhancers

Wandering through San Francisco Japantown on Sunday, we came across a large display of the following item in a shop:

Up Kettsu rump-enhancer

Simply put, Japanese women tend to have flat asses, and this bit of padded gear is designed to mask that little genetic quirk. The product name is literally “Ass Up”, and the box promises a beautiful hip line through increased volume. Interestingly, the pictures at Amazon include a fully translated box, with the name “Up Shape”; I guess they thought the English-speaking market wouldn’t be as receptive to the blunt approach.

Nude photographers tend to deal with the flat-ass problem by using wide-angle lenses up close to create perspective distortion. This tends to produce images ranging from the goofy to the grotesque, but they do it so often that it’s clear that Japanese men want cheek.

Friday, June 27 2014

Dear AKB48 Costume Designers,

Kinda tame, but I can see that you were raised in the same hell dimension as the Hello!Project designers. The Legos are a nice touch, though.

Sayaka Yamamoto

Tuesday, July 15 2014

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

Apparently you’ve been replaced.

S/mileage, all dotted up

Monday, August 18 2014

I sort-of miss my Japanese spam

For a long time, I’ve been getting email spam in Japanese. I let it pile up in the spam folder and went through it occasionally for laughs, but I haven’t had any since the end of July. Even before that, it had been gradually tapering off, mostly coming from a single source that for some reason always included “LINE” somewhere in the subject.

I still get plenty of Chinese spam containing infected Excel spreadsheets (or, very rarely, infected Word documents), phony warnings from random banks and courts that contain infected zip files, whatever the latest domestic scam is (mostly weight-loss for the past few weeks), and the usual assortment of get-it-up or make-it-bigger medications, which mostly come from Russian domains.

But nothing in Japanese any more. My spam folder has 5-10 per day up to July 24th, and nothing after. The last amusing one was all the way back in December, when one of them dragged out the gyaku-enjo ad again.

The closest I’ve gotten to actual fun spam recently was the Spanish-language one offering a how-to class on making sushi, from a cooking school in Buenos Aires.

Saturday, November 15 2014

Missing: glasses and cat ears

Found on Amazon Japan. I can’t imagine why they recommend these things to me…

Twintail and Machine Gun

Sunday, January 18 2015

Dear Hello!Project costume designers,

The new interns are fitting right in, I see.

Hello project internship

Monday, January 19 2015

Stress relief

[It’s been one of those Mondays. Never mind the now-deleted package drama; that was just the warmup for the work day. First came the co-worker who still doesn’t understand the urgent request he made, then my Mac’s video card went out (saved, at least for now, by an SMC reset), and then… forget it, here’s Fuji, from The Kimono Gallery on Tumblr.]

Mt. Fuji

Monday, February 2 2015

Stairway to heaven…


Monday, May 25 2015

Swim with your dinner!

Real or “wacky Japan”? A town known for its annual dolphin hunt is building a theme park where you can swim with dolphins, then eat whale and dolphin meat. Take that, PETA.

Sensible Japan: free wifi for tourists. In the Kanto region, anyway.

The Pork Princess of Taiwan. Nothing to do with Japan, but I’m sure there are a few Sushi Queens willing to take her on.

Thursday, June 25 2015

Sailor Venus

Sailor Venus

(by Marc Riboud; not all pictures safe for work)

Monday, June 29 2015

Great Boiling Valley spits ash

I had TV Japan running in the background, and heard mention of Ōwakudani, the steam vents above the hot-springs resort town of Hakone. The accompanying videos looked considerably steamier than when I was there.

Sure enough, Mt. Hakone just erupted a little (ash only, no reported injuries), after an increase in steam and small earthquakes since mid-April. It’s about 20 miles southeast of Mt. Fuji, and I have no idea what it means for regional activity.

Friday, July 24 2015

Dear Japan,

Stop that.

Tumblr nqsgq4xBip1rzi5quo1 500


Monday, August 3 2015

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,

I know we haven’t spoken recently, but that’s mostly because Idolpimp has been pasturing out the grownups and spending his time on spin-off groups (again). Still, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve got my eye on you. If only because I have to look away from how you’re dressing Reina…

Tanaka Reina, there can be only one

Thursday, August 6 2015


Never do this again. (Not Safe For Shoggoths)

Tuesday, August 11 2015

Dear AKB48 Costume Designers,

Quit your day job.

Tumblr nsvjbvCVvR1qhhizzo1 400


Friday, August 21 2015

Stop. Fuji Time.

19672565509 264b5eef3c k


Tuesday, September 1 2015

Butter rationing in modern Japan

Reading the JustHungry food blog, I discovered that there’s a serious shortage of butter in Japan. The author and commenters speculate on reasons why, but fail to mention the one I thought was obvious: import tariffs. After all, New Zealand is practically made of butter, and it’s a major trading partner.

Sure enough, dairy is a protected industry, and there’s a 35% tariff on imported butter.

Saturday, September 5 2015

Presented without comment…

Tumblr ntff351NPj1sp4ql3o1 1280

Thursday, September 10 2015

Lovin’ Japan

Somebody asked me the difference between ai, koi, and suki/daisuki, words commonly rendered as “love” in English, especially in anime and manga contexts. Here’s the short version I came up with:

You can suki pizza, you can ai your mom, but unless you’re willing to stick your tongue in their mouth, don’t say koi.

The more detailed explanation is that suki is simply typical Japanese cultural reserve and indirection. Suki: “X is liked (by me)”, daisuki: “X is liked a lot (by me)”. The difference between ai and koi is an instance of a general rule: if you have two words that appear to mean the same thing, where one of them is a Chinese-derived on-reading and the other is a native Japanese kun-reading, then the Chinese term is more objective, formal, and/or polite; the Japanese term is more subjective, personal, and/or casual, often describing feelings rather than reality. The historical basis for this is that the Chinese terms were imported and used by the upper classes and the government.

It’s easy to find a lot of examples where the two share the same kanji, but even when they’re different, like ai and koi, the rule holds up pretty well. Ai is your loving relationship to a living being, koi is your passionate feeling about someone.

Sunday, September 27 2015

A changing market…

Same book, new edition:

Tumblr nq5e2x3oh31qzezhmo1 1280


Update: a link to Ian Livingstone’s twitter feed, with more revised covers, and a sample of the interior art.

Friday, November 6 2015

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,


Ayumi Ishida nekomimi and more


Yuu Kikkawa nekomimi madness

Wednesday, November 11 2015

Naked Venus

Whenever a “wacky Japan” story appears, people will pop up who swear that it’s not really like that over there, and that you could live there for months without seeing anything weird, creepy, fetishistic, or batshit insane.

(Continued on Page 4740)

Wednesday, December 16 2015

Dear SJWs of the world,

Japan says “bite me”.

(NSFW after the jump…)

(Continued on Page 4762)

Tuesday, December 22 2015

Dream versus Reality

stripping out of a kimono, dream versus reality


Monday, January 4 2016

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun, The Movie

Coming soon, to a shooting range near you.

Sailor Suit and Machine Gun

(official site)

Sunday, January 17 2016

No comment needed…



Tuesday, January 19 2016

When he’s not dressed as Santa…

…the Colonel takes on other roles.

Kentucky Fried Dragonball

Sunday, January 31 2016

This will not end well…

Schoolgirl versus sacred deer


Tuesday, February 2 2016

Snowball’s chance in…

First snowfall in Okinawa in recorded history.

Anyone know if Al Gore was in the area?

Tuesday, February 23 2016

Someone to watch over me…

I’ve had a Jiji plush in my cube for years, but last week I decided I needed a more powerful presence to protect me from evil…

MoaMetal Pop! Rocks figure

($11 on Amazon)

Friday, April 29 2016

Fear The Cute Ones!

'Karate girl, by Vincent Ricco

(source, via The Kimono Gallery)

Thursday, June 2 2016

Say it with Hitler…

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that this 1970 pop single by Rumi Koyama was not about the Third Reich. In fact I’m sure of it, given the lyrics.

Rumi Koyama plus Hitler

(via Sono-Burogu, which collects vintage cheesecake of Japanese singers)

Saturday, June 4 2016

The Average Girl

More precisely, the average fashion-conscious young Japanese woman who reads CanCam and responds to surveys with some degree of honesty, from a sample of 1,000 selected by an undisclosed method.

average CanCam girl

To save time for the Katakana-challenged, the key numbers are 78.4cm-60.6cm-85.6cm (31-24-34), with an average height of 158.2cm (5’2”). This is not the same as their stable of models, of course, who tend to be several inches taller and a bit curvier (based on some inadequate but visually appealing sampling I just did, which included the popular and delicious Ikumi Hisamatsu).

Incidentally, while browsing their stable, I noticed that CanCam’s numbers for 22-year-old Rikako Sakata (88-57-85) differed substantially from Wikipedia’s (80-58-80). Turns out nobody’s updated that part of her Wikipedia page since she was 16, which is surprising given how detail-oriented Japanese fans tend to be. Then again, maybe she’s simply too old for them now; they cared when she was 13 (65-54-70) and 15 (78-55-76), but not so much now. Amusing intermediate data point: a 2014 video date (83-58-79) I came across in my “research”.

Thursday, June 30 2016

Baseball is different in Japan

Godzilla baseball


Tuesday, July 12 2016

Defying Stereotypes

Japan, for kids

Or was that defining stereotypes?

Wednesday, July 20 2016

Dear Hello!Project,

These promotional concert pictures of new ANGERME member Momona Kasahara make her look a shapely 16-17. Unfortunately, she’s 12, which is why I’m linking the pictures rather than embedding them. Now, it’s true that many of her other pictures clearly show her youth, but someone squeezed her into that outfit and enhanced/highlighted her figure, which means you’re already making plans for solo photobooks and bikini DVDs.

I won’t be buying those, but just out of curiosity I’ll set a reminder for her 18th birthday, to see if she still has a career, or if you’ve used her up and thrown her away.

Monday, July 25 2016

Horrific mass-murder in Japan

I’m linking to the Asahi Shinbun’s coverage rather than the more “excitable” story I first saw from The Daily Mail. Short version: a former employee at a home for the disabled went in with a knife and killed at least 19 patients, wounding many more. There’s already a Wikipedia page linking to random news stories about it, which strikes me as rather voyeuristic.

[Update: five months ago, he sent a polite letter to the government announcing his detailed plans and asking for official support. It’s not clear from the stories whether he wrote the letter and then got fired when the police investigated, or got fired first.]

Tuesday, August 9 2016

Dear Hello!Project Choreographers,

I’m not sure this qualifies as a dance move, but it’s definitely a performance.

Masaki Sato

Masaki Sato

Thursday, September 1 2016

Wait, what?

Okay, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest to see former Morning Musume member Asami Konno leading a parade of Pikachus, wearing a sash celebrating the success of the new Pokemon movie. Even if she weren’t an announcer for TV Tokyo, it’s the sort of thing you expect to find former idol singers at.

Asami Konno, with Pikachus

But what are she and her partner Moeko doing with their hands?

Asami Konno, channeling Babymetal

It’s not a one-time thing, either; there are half a dozen shots where they’re doing Babymetal’s signature fox-head gesture with one or both hands. I can only assume that Pikachu fans use it too. Which helps to explain this.

But nothing can explain this.

Then again, “kon-kon” is the sound a fox makes, although this Konkon usually makes more of a “boin” sound…

(Continued on Page 4928)

Monday, September 19 2016

Where The Boys Aren’t

This sign spells out in detail the gender-based restrictions on eating at ConTERRAZZA in Shinjuku, claimed to be Japan’s first women’s restaurant. I suspect they’re not hip to the whole “57 varieties” self-labeling system(s).

Conterrazza: Italian restaurant for women


Friday, September 23 2016

The only winning move…

…is not to play:

Lolicon Monopoly