火曜日, 6月 26, 2007

A grim reality?

Why don't we listen to our inner voice? This week I told myself "buy that and your love of Japan will suffer." I did, and it has....

The Rogue "gave me" a Borders book voucher for Father's Day last week. I love book vouchers. I got one because Kazue complains that I always give people the same thing, which is largely true. I see book vouchers, particularly for Borders here in Bristol, as the gift that gives twice - on one level you get a few quids worth of books, but you also get the fun of looking for a book to buy. Borders rocks for me as I can stroll about on an evening (open till 10pm), browsing books on Japanese (nice Kodansha dictionary), IT, businessey stuff, new fiction, Iain Banks and so on.

I wondered about buying some GTOs (nearly half way) or perhaps a guide to Samurai warfare techniques but I was attracted to Dogs and Demons by Alex Kerr. I'd heard about this book when it was released, but hadn't ever had a chance to buy it. But as I'm thinking about returning again I thought a browse might be in order. I kinda wish I hadn't.

Kerr's hypothesis, not unique, is that Japan is eating itself. It is country that has never really gotten to grips with the fact it is an advanced nation and it going hell for leather along the same path that it set for itself in 1940 (even 1853) without ever really adjusting for the reality of modern living. This, he argues, explains the inability to reform the banking sector, the obsession with building huge roads way over-engineered (the road on stilts to Nikko is one I remember), the "messy" appearance of streets and so forth.

It makes for very grim reading - the never ending march of progress to a goal that Japan achieved in the 1980s. The chapter on buried pollution in particular is depressing - especially if you are thinking of living there. It seems from Kerr's reporting that you are taking your life in to your own hands if you do!

I think it is an important book, and worth reading by every potential long term NJ resident, even more so by Japanese themselves, but only if you are willing to face the inevitable moments of loathing it will induce.

日曜日, 6月 17, 2007

We -illas stick together

A few months ago I posted something with Godzilla on the grounds that our names are similar, despite it not really being in any way, even tenuously, language related.

Well, much as I hate to post too frequently, here's another one: Fumakilla - a Japanese roach spray. Frankly, it's another "only in Japan" moment, and of course, my little boy LOVED it.

月曜日, 6月 11, 2007

What are they on about? J-League Names

If ever you've stopped to think about the names of Japan's sports teams, and thousands haven't, one odd feature is that almost exclusively they are rendered in Romaji and are intelligible to foreigners without assistance.

In the case of soccer, or as it is known correctly, footy, it starts at the top with the national squad being Team Japan and the league even being called the J-League (Japan's name for itself, in case you didn't realise, is not Japan, but Nihon).

The names of Japan's soccer teams are high profile examples of brilliantly combined Japanese and Gaikokugo; more than just Japlish though, but Japlian (Japanese-Italian), Japanish (Japanse-Spanish) and so on. But far from being the usual rubbish there has usually been a degree of thought behind the titles. Let's have a look at them:

Kashiwa Reysol: Hailing from Chiba, Kashiwa were once the team of Hitachi, still their prime sponsor. The hi of Hitachi is sun, hence we get sol. Rey is a reference to king, in Spanish - think Rex or roi (not sure if this is related to tachi). So Kashiwa are the sun kings (as well as the best team in the league*).

Urawa Red Diamonds: Ever coveted an Evo (that's a fast car for those that haven't). If so, you've seen the red diamonds in question splashed across the front grill - Urawa have their origins in the factory team of Mitsubishi, whose name means three diamonds.

JEF United: WTF? A team called Jeff? Hmm, not quite. Chiba Ichihara JEF United, to give them their full (and redundant) title are the former team of Furukawa Electric (the F), later merged with the team of Japan Rail East (the J and E). Not so clever, but an amusing quirk, ne?

Ventforet Kofu: The "plucky" minnows of J1, Kofu have a name inspired by a great warlord, Takeda Shingen. The name is comes from a quote he in turn took from Sun Tzu's Art of War. And then it's been translated loosely in to French, coming across as "Windy Forest". Brilliant!

Vissel Kobe: The best thing I can do here is refer to the brilliant analysis from Rising Sun News:
"What the heck is a vissel?" Perhaps the team was choosing a yiddish word to describe what fans do after the opposing team scores a goal? No, the team explained, "Vissel" is a combination of the words "victory" and "vessel". This was a ship that was going to carry Kobe to victory.
Ha ha ha. Losers.

Jubilo Iwata: The former company team of uber-vehiclists Toyota, Jubilo take their name from the Spanish for "delight". Straightforward enough.

Nagoya Grampus Eight: Grampus are arguably the most well known Japanese team in the UK, thanks to their signing Living National Treasure Gary "Gary" Lineker (heck, even my brother considers them his Japanese team of choice and he's got nothing but contempt for the Japanese game). What's less well known is the meaning of their name - even in Nagoya.
The Grampus part is documented as being an English name for some dolphin-like figures atop Nagoya Castle. The mystery bit is the "Eight", which is probably why it is ignored in everyday use. Curiously, it is spelt "eight" on their logo, i.e. in English.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima: This team get their name in a spectacular example of Japlian, combining as it does san, Japanese for three, and frecce, allegedly an Italian word meaning arrow. The three arrows motif is a powerful symbol in and around Hiroshima, referring to wisdom from an ancient warlord to his sons.

Albirex Niigata: The team at the end of the most expensive bit of bullet train track in the country take inspiration from the stars. Albireo is the third brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, so no overly ambitious symbol then. Cygnus is, of course, the Swan; the swan being a local symbol apparently. Since the name Albireo was already taken by someone else (my sources can't say who), the club were forced to append the word king to the title, this time in the form rex. Sure enough, the club mascot is a fat-assed swan in a crown.
Interestingly, the club have a spin off team in a league in Singapore(?!), usefully entitled Albirex Niigata FC (Singapore). Perhaps ManU or Chelsea should look in to this.

Oita Trinita: Way down in Kyushu, the southern most of the four main islands of Japan, is where Christianity has its firmest evil roots. In recognition of this, the most prominent club on the island are named after the Holy Trinity, the sickening religiosity tempered slightly by clever use of the the -ta ending of the city's name.

Yokohama F. Marinos: Okay, so the former club team of motoring also-rans Nissan are based in the town that has one of the biggest ports in a country full of big ports. Marines was out thanks to the local presence of the rather less pleasant USMC; Mariners is out as they are a (Japanese-owned) baseball team in the States; so we get the quasi-Latinate sounding Marinos, presumably named after the greatest quarterback in the history of the Miami Dolphins.
Rather more interesting is the F. There used to be two teams in Yokohama: Marinos and the Flugels (WTF?). One day, without warning, the two clubs were "merged". Just how much of a merger this was is evident from the reduction of one half of the new team being reduced to an initial. All the Flugels fans turned their backs on the new team (haha) and instead supported an alternative team, Yokohama FC, who his year were promoted to J1 themselves. Hurrah!

Shimizu S-Pulse: These guys see themselves as the Pulse of Shizuoka-ken. Obvious really; though this claim is contested annually by the rather more successful Jubilo, also from Shizuoka-ken.

Kashima Antlers: Deer have a long tradition of links with football - see White Hart Lane, home of Spurs, and, er, {ahem} oh, and Gary "Gary" Lineker played there too [neat distraction work - Ed]. The eastern coastal city of Kashima has deer as a local symbol, so that's obvious enough. Functional, though hardly imaginative, it's the best one can expect from a team in Ibaraki-ken.

Omiya Ardija: A word in Spanish for squirrels. I mean, why? Where is the thinking behind that? Still, they're from Saitama-ken, so it's hardly surprising.

It's not all exciting, mysterious names though: thank heavens for the rather more prosaic FCs Tokyo and Yokohama, and the bold move taken by Gamba Osaka to actually take a name based in Japanese (roughly translated for the terraces, Gamba means "Go on!").

*Okay, so Reysol aren't the best team in the sense that they are the most successful (Antlers), currently top of the league (Gamba), title holders (Reds), or even best in the face of obvious adversity (Ventforet are waay smaller than the other clubs, but still do okay) or the best supported (take your pick). But in another, very real sense, they are without question, the best.

Advice on dating, from an expert

I'm a cautious man by nature - I like to stick with what I know - so it's no real surprise to see that the author of this very good overview on finding a language exchange partner is none other than Tae Kim, who is second only to Tony for name checking here.

For all my interest in it, I really struggle to get the time to pursue this. However, I can vouch for the value of Mixxer that gets a shout. I signed up there and got half a dozen offers of exchange in the first couple of weeks. It tailed off one I stopped frequenting the site, afraid of how I would explain sitting up late at night chatting to teenage Japanese girls (well, some of the women were a bit older, but there certainly weren't any blokes) to the wife. That may not be a problem for you, in fact it may be something of a draw...