Picture typhc.png The signs are unmistakable: the End of Days is approaching.

Not only has my garden turned into a lovely little pond outpouring into a nearby river that, upon closer examination, would seem to be the road…
But simultaneously — and despite the distance I haven’t ruled out any correlation — Duran Duran has just noisily resurfaced: crushing ten years of dwindling hope that they might never be heard ever again outside of late night VH1 and supermarket PA.

There is only one thing on which I really stock up while in Europe: Books.

Everything else, albeit at ludicrous prices, can be found in Tokyo.

All right, maybe not exactly everything else, but I keep a wild ferret and two gerbils on crack sitting by my computer, specially trained to go straight for the groin and bite off my nuts in a split second, were I ever to stoop low enough to make a single joke on the size of Japanese prophylactics on this blog, so we’ll leave it at that.

In fact, even foreign languages books are easy to come by in Tokyo. Some for less that Japanese ones; as German, French, Italian and Spanish books can all be borrowed freely at their respective cultural embassies. Ironically, most of the books I buy here are by Japanese authors.

If you think about it, it’s easy to see why: my current level of written Japanese barely allows me to decrypt my emails (painfully so, when the witch sending them has drawn some evil glee from purposely using utterly rare kanji forms wherever english katakanas would have done just fine). On the other hand, attempting to read Mishima and his astronomical kanji vocabulary would be as entertaining as taking on the dictionary in alphabetical order.

Yet another classic illustration of why even my mildest efforts to blend in, or at least not stick out like a sore thumb waiting to be hammered in (something’s not quite working with that metaphor, but I’m not sure what) are irremediably doomed.

So, I’m in the train with a friend discussing our common love for the music of Fela Kuti and other seminal Afro-beat acts of the 70’s.

At one point, the discussion is hovering over the respective merits of Fela and his son, Femi, who has quite successfully taken where his father left and does a great job nowadays of blending classic afro-jazz with newer house beats and modern electro experimentations.

And that’s when I suddenly become aware that our car has not only fallen dead silent (Japanese hardly ever talk on the train anyway) but also that more than a few people are eyeing us sideways with strange looks on their face. The disruption in the wa is so major that even a dirty gaijin like me can feel something is fucked up.

We have been talking in Japanese, probably loud enough to be heard around the car. And, judging by the look on certain faces, we might as well have been talking about raping baby seals with hello kitty vibrators…

  • Revenge of the obāchans

    It is pretty much Dawn of the Dead‘s aftermath out there (after the zombies have won). I guess only 70 year old grandmas and sleep-dephased gaijins go shop on a tuesday afternoon.

  • Sid, if you only knew what they did to you…

    There is no such thing as a music track unfit for supermarket PA in Japan. Of course, it needs undergoing a heavy process of musical mutilation first.
    I am puzzled at the mere thought of that guy out there with a cheap Casio synthesizer who spends his days re-recording any song he can put his hands on, ensuring it is first emptied of anything that could even remotely be called “musical essence”. Apparently that guy thinks that Mozart’s K. 219, Staying Alive and Anarchy in the UK all have the same potential for easy-listening adaptation.
    I might one day beg the supermarket manager to let me make a copy of their CD… unless there is some radio station that broadcast that. Need to find out.

  • Do We really need to have the fresh octopi tentacles on display, next to yoghurts and beer?

    Not that they don’t look appetizing or anything.

Yesterday, Jus and I ended up stopping for drinks at Sports Café for a little while. She kinda wanted to check out the All Blacks game and we were also to meet a few friends there.

The night was an interesting one to be in a sports bar, since, along with the important rugby game, Judo finals were on in Athens. Judo being one of Japan’s stronger discipline in the olympics, one half of the place was packed with Japanese fans (many of them still wearing yukatas and jimbeis from their evening watching fireworks) cheering for the Japanese competitors, while the other half was occupied by mostly-gaijin rugby fans rooting for the All Blacks (the place was definitely big enough to fit everybody happily).

Since both girls’ Tani Ryoko and guys’ Nomura Tadahiro brought this year’s first crop of gold medals to Japan, the mood was definitely upbeat. And while I usually loathe most sports on TV, Judo can be really entertaining to watch: especially if you compare a mere 5 minutes of intense fighting and people flying all over the place to, say, three full hours of painfully boring commercial-laden graceless ball-pushing by slices of 10 seconds.

Watching Judo here made me realize something really interesting that had completely slipped my mind up to that point: when I first arrived to Japan, I actually spoke much more Japanese than I thought.

My level of Japanese back then was a resounding zero. nada. nil. If you were to exclude the three weeks of rushed crash course readings and the few notions Yutaka had been kind enough to try and impart on me, I had absolutely no knowledge of Japanese whatsoever until I set a foot in Narita for the first time in my life in October 2002. At least that’s what I thought. But yesterday, I realized that, without knowing it, or more exactly, without remembering it, I had known a whole bunch of Japanese ever since childhood.

See, as a kid, I could not be bothered much with sports… particularly the kind that required you to build some form of “team spirit” and where smashing your opponent’s head in the concrete was not considered the principal objective… if said sport involved the use of a ball, then I downright hated it. Don’t ask me why, I just couldn’t stand soccer, basketball, handball, to say nothing of hell-spawn cricket.

My parents, instead of spotting an obvious display of what would later bloom into my current fully asocial psychotic personality, decided I just needed to have some kind of regular physical activity that didn’t involve being nice to my fellow schoolmates and gave me to choose between judo or ballet dancing…

Well, we all know how parents are: just pick one thing and they’ll give you the other. bastards.

[lang_jp]昨日は日本が柔道で二つ金牌を勝った。
日本に来た時、日本語を全然喋れなかったと思った。でも子供時、ヨロッパで日本語を勉強したの!
フランスで柔道をしながらいっぱい日本語の言葉使った:”初め”や ”それまで”、”待って”、”技あり”、”一本”。これは全部柔道の競技で使う。[/lang_jp]

We all know about the contagious power of yawns…

One only needs to start yawning in the middle of a crowd to get everybody else yawning in return. This can actually be quite fun if you suddenly decide to fuck with people’s head and discreetly yawn at people during some large meeting (I know, it sounds really stupid – it is – but try it one day, you’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll get the whole room yawning).

In Japan, though, there’s a much more interesting variation on that theme: Cell Phone fidgeting.

Anybody who’s lived in Tokyo will have no doubt told you about the principal characteristic of the average Japanese commuter: an uncanny ability to instantaneously fall asleep as soon as they hit a train seat, doubled with an instinctive knowledge of when to wake up, the very second their train hits their stop home.

Most of the time, though, they are not really sleeping: merely building that legendary Japanese force shield of indifference around them. Western people tend to do the same, but they need a book or a cd-player to help them fake complete absorption in their own world… Japanese do not… they just seat, half-close their eyes and doing so, ostensibly tell everyone they do not care what happens in the car until their destination. Guy next to them wanking on his tentacle porn manga, leecherous salaryman gawking at them from across the car, passenger falling asleep and drooling on their shoulder: nothing will wake up the Japanese commuter.

Except for one thing…

いつでも電車でケイタイを使ってメールを書けって始めったらみんなさんもケイタイを使って始める。この前に何もしなかったでも、忽ち真似でケイタイをするの。とりわけ女の子。
どうしたの?

Ouch.

While I was precisely in the middle of recording a new track, the property manager called and left a message on my cellphone: seems my neighbours are not all dead after all… and some of them are apparently not happy with the level of noise coming from our place.

To be honest, there have been a few early night sessions lately and I might even have left the bay window open, which obviously would not help at all. So first thing I did was drop the level on the amp by about 90% and close every window in the apartment…

Then, there was the delicate problem of figuring what to do with the call, and more importantly with the caller. See, in most any other cases, I would have either called back and apologized or turned the volume down and forget about it, but here, the situation was a tad more complicated than that. Among the many factors worth considering, were the fact that:

So… I was still racking my brain about that whole interesting content concept I’ve mentioned a while back… when I had another stroke of Genius:
why not do a series of posts on the Japanese language! be useful, teach something to the hords of morons who land on this page by typing “furry pokemon porn” in their search engine, appeal to my US otaku readership, who would die rather than read translated versions of their favorite manga, as well as the more serious japanophiles who have had a fascination for all things Japanese since at least “Karate Kid” or “Kill Bill”.
That kind of useful.

Now, before I go any further, just so you know: I do not speak Japanese.

I mean, sometimes I utter words in Japanese. When hunger gets the best of me, for example, or when I need to share my utter displeasure with the shitty quality of the hardware that was sold to me 6 months ago by some innocent salesman from Apple Japan. I would even tend to communicate in this language with friends and significant other whose practice of my native idiom is somewhat even less desirable than my butchering of theirs. With usual reactions ranging from “Dave-san, your Japanese is getting pretty good for somebody who just arrived in Japan last month… oh wait… you’ve been here nearly two years… err… [hides face in shame, looks for diversion] oh! look, here is some natto… I bet you’ve never eaten natto!” to a more direct approach, such as Eriko’s, who usually soberly punctuated most of my sentences with a semi-discreet laugh and a half-hearted attempt to convince me she was not laughing at my Japanese, but with my Japanese.

But anyway, these are exceptions. Most of the time, I just speak in fast pig-latin while making expressive hand-movements and hoping nobody will notice the difference. And it works.

Which is why I am perfectly qualified for this slightly unordinary Japanese course.

See, I won’t be teaching you any fundamental grammar rules or pronunciation tips or even useful phrases: that’s what Google is for, there must be at least 3 billions websites dedicated to teaching you rudimentary Japanese (whether they are all written by people who have more knowledge of Japanese than me is actually quite debatable, but that’s another issue). I will be focussing on something more realistic and therefore, much more useful. I will be teaching you how to fake your way into Japanese!

Why bother trying to learn a language that you will never be able to speak properly when it is so much easier to draw appreciation and praise through a few correctly used tricks. Your average ability to communicate won’t be affected much either way, but with this method, every encounter will be an incredibly more enjoyable experience, with none of that awkward “what? you want to buy an electric suitcase for your beaver?” kind of stuff that you would get by otherwise attempting to speak Japanese for real.

So, now that we are done with this introduction and clear on our goals and expectations (pretty low, I hope). Let’s start!

Today, we will review the single most useful expression in all of Fake Japanese (FJ). If you only must learn one, let it be this one:

そうですね
Romaji: sou desu ne
Pron.: “soh des’neh”

Some people will tell you that Sou Desu-ne means something along the line of “isn’t it” or “really”… But the truth is that it absolutely doesn’t mean squat.
People just use it when they don’t want to express an opinion, or when they don’t have one, or when they just feel like moving their lips without fear of consequences. The fact that it doesn’t mean anything, in a classical illustration of Zen philosophy, implies that it also means everything. It is therefore adapted to every situation. Let me illustrate with this little conversation sample:

Neighbour: 今日はいい天気ですね
    kyou-ha ii tenki desu-ne
    “Nice day, isn’t it”
FJ Student: そうですね
    sou desu-ne
    “Indeed” (alt. meanings: 1) “Really?” 2) “If you say so.” 3) “You call that sweltering heat a nice weather???” etc.)

Neighbour: 日本が好きじゃあない?
    Nihon-ga suki jaa-nai?
    “So you dig Japan, huh?”
FJ Student: そうですね
    sou desu-ne
    “Indeed” (alt. meanings: 1) “yea, kinda” 2) “I’m only here because there’s a warrant on my name in 25 US states” 3) “you bet: where else would I be receiving money to teach my substandard level of English to unsuspecting students? if only my third-grade teacher could see me” etc.)

Neighbour: 日本はぺらぺらです!
    Nihongo-ha pera-pera desu!
    “Oh my, you speak Japanese fluently, honorable western friend!”
FJ Student: そうですね
    sou desu-ne
    “Indeed” (alt. meanings: 1) “yea, kinda” 2) “Ha, sucker.” 3) “Is the conversation over? ’cause there’s a rerun of Gundam vs. Doraemon on the telly, and I would hate to miss it.” etc.)

And so on, and so forth: there is not a single statement or question in the Japanese language that cannot be answered by sou desu-ne. Don’t be afraid to overuse it. I mean, you might need to vary your delivery a little, just to ensure a natural train of speech. Especially when your interlocutor seems perplexed by your latest answer: nothing like laughing a bit or nodding knowingly to remove any ambiguity from your “sou desu-ne”.

Of course, you won’t know much more at the end of the conversation, but at least, you will have made one more solid believer in your incredible Japanese skills. And if anything, you’ll be able to end the conversation and go back to watching Gundam vs. Doraemon quicker.

See you next week for another episode of Fake Your Way Into Japanese.

Anybody knows if there’s any specific Japanese law prohibiting the destruction of crows en masse by way of firearms? I was thinking along the line of .44, AK-47 or rocket launcher… but I am willing to submit to local customs and use nunchakus or katana if that’s a requirement.

Actually I think if they keep squawking away like that, I’m gonna go bare hand on these fuckers.

The single thing I hate most about Japan is the omnipresence of these carrion-eating pests. Blame Edgar Allan Poe, blame centuries of unfounded prejudices: I just don’t like crows.
Not content to look like they could probably eat their british mates for breakfast, the Japanese versions are also renowned for thriving absolutely everywhere: countryside and cities alike.

It is not without legitimate fear that the average Hitchcock spectator will cross one of those deserted city parks at sundown, surrounded by hundred of ominous black shadows only waiting for the first sign of weakness to plunge and gouge out eyes with their razor-sharp beak and claws. God, do I miss the shit-dropping, cackling, unhygienic, peace-loving European pigeon. Good old inoffensive flying rats of our Western cities…
Just try to picture yourself in the middle of Piazza San Marco in Venice, except instead of the usual thousands of annoying little pigeons, the whole square is covered by a huge flock of mean-looking crows (incidentally, is it even my fault if you are not supposed to say a “flock of crows”, but a “murder of crows”? isn’t that proof enough that these things are just a public menace that ought to be exterminated?). Now how do you think that would affect Italian tourism?

Well, Tokyo is just like that, wherever you could decently expect to see a small cutie-birdie or some funny seagull, there is one of those large vicious black bird.

Anyway, I usually consider it sufficient to display a cold disdain toward these feathered bastards and I make a point of ignoring their presence when going around, save for a subtle but severe look of reprobation in their general direction, to make it clear that I disapprove the ways of their species.

But this morning, the war is declared.

IF they think their numeric superiority entitles them to exercise their pitifully discordant vocal organs at 4:30 in the morning, right the second I finally managed to laboriously put myself to sleep, they are in for a surprise. They just wait til I find that old baseball bat I got somewhere in my closet, we’ll see if they can shriek as proudly with their neck at a right angle with their body.

Man, I hate crows…