Archive for April, 2009

Epic video of the day!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

We didn’t start the flame war!

On Japanese

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

One question everyone is asking me since I got back from Japan is “How well did you do with your two semesters of Japanese? Were you able to get by?”

The answer is yes and no… I have the vocabulary of your average three-year-old child, and grammatical structures to match. In English, I would be able to say “I would like to buy a ticket on the Shinkansen to Toyko,” in Japanese I could get the point across with “ときょに しんかんせんで いきます おねがいします”, which literally means “To Toyko using Shinkansen Go Please.”

In fact, “___ please” turned out to be quite a useful little phrase. Ordering in restaurants became a matter of looking around, seeing someone eating something that looked good, and saying “that please.” Of course, it didn’t always work out – Theoretically, if nobody was eating anything that I wanted to eat, I would have to leave, hang around outside for 10 minutes, then go back in and try again.

Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was all the kanji. You see, Japanese is written in a combination of two alphabets and thousands of Chinese characters called kanji. And my courses don’t teach any kanji.

Because of this, you find yourself left in situations such as arriving at the train station and wondering when the next train to your destination is leaving…


Then you have to find the station on a map and figure out how much the ticket will cost…


And, of course, once you figure it out and buy a ticket, you have to try and discover (a) which track the train is departing from, (b) which car you should be in (because sometimes the trains end up splitting and going in two directions), and (c) which seat you have to sit in.


By the way, awesome bokeh in the background on that picture!

Sometimes it didn’t matter that I couldn’t read kanji, because the meaning was completely obvious:


And other times, my lack of kanji-ability didn’t matter, because I doubt it would have helped me figure out what some things were:


The English on the box says “Flash Over: Here is the thing I have been longing for. Transformation of extra quality is now completed. Experience yourself with this satisfaction.” Given that this was on a shelf near the boob cream, my theory is that it’s either a herbal anti-depressant or a vibrator.

I had brought my Japanese textbook with me, and I decided to go back to the beginning and start looking up all the Kanji for words that I didn’t know. Of course, studying isn’t exactly barrels of fun while you’re on vacation, so I decided to force myself to learn – I decided I would only order things in restaurants if I could read the name of it (with the help of a dictionary, of course) off the menu. Of course, I was buying most of my meals at convenience or grocery stores – this was to save money, not an unintended consequence of not ordering food I couldn’t read. (yeah right, says the peanut gallery.)

I had some success and some failures. For example, I decided to have coffee and cake in Shibuya, and managed to figure out how to say the name of the one at the bottom right of this picture:


Of course, when the waitress came and asked for my order, I opened the menu and immediately mental-blocked on whether the ショート at the end was pronounced “shouto” or “tsuuto”, so I just said the first part. Which, of course, is the name of the dessert at the top of the menu. Incidently, it’s “shouto” for “shortcake.”

I also discovered that riding the train or bus became a free game of kanji-flash-cards, as they both would display on a screen the same of the next stop in both kanji and english. Sometimes I had no clue – Sometimes I had almost one part. And this was my great triumph; three weeks in, I successfully read the name of this bus stop.


Obviously, I’m easy to please – “His great transformation occurred when he read the name of the bus stop.” If my life was a novel and that was the back-cover copy, I don’t think I’d buy it.


Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

I am in Kanazawa right now – the Wikitravel article says to “remember your umbrella, because it rains a lot.” Of course, I left my $5 umbrella in Osaka.

My first two days here, the weather was pretty nice and warm – I thought “wow, I don’t see why they say it rains all the time.”

You guessed it – whistling at the wind. It rained all day today.

Tomorrow I leave here for Tokyo, and my last full day in Japan. Then a nice (sarcasm) 14 hour plane ride, and I return to my normal life of sitting in a cubicle for 10-12 hours a day instead of exploring temples and shrines. Oh well, the vacation was nice while it lasted, and work is what enables me to take a month off for travelling.


Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Incidently, I know the photos from my trip that I’m putting up right now look like crap – they’re the low-resolution JPEG versions of the RAW files that my camera generates, and I’m “editing” them in Picnik instead of photoshop.

Once I get home, I’ll start photoshopping pictures and replace them with half decent ones.

Manga Cafe

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Tonight, I had nowhere to stay. I couldn’t extend my stay at the hostel in Kyoto because they were full, and I couldn’t show up in Kanazawa a day early because they don’t have a room for me tonight. After much deliberation, I decided to just take an easy day, then spend the night in a manga cafe.

I took the bus from the hostel to the JR train station and put my bags into lockers (600 yen, about $6) and took only my Japanese textbook, dictionary, notebook, pens, and my camera with the 50mm/1.8 lens with me.

I spent most of the day hopping around between different coffee shops; studying for a few hours, then moving to try a different chain. Got a lot of studying done!

At 10:00 pm, I headed over to the Manga cafe, and between my basic Japanese and their broken English, managed to get everything arranged.

So here’s what I get for 2750 yen, or about $27 (350 yen membership + 2400 for 12 hours):

I get all the bizzare Japanese soft drinks and soft ice cream I can handle. I’m drinking a pepsi float I made right now – tastes pretty good, but could use some rum. Perhaps I’ll run down to the convenience store and pick up a $3 mickey of Captain Morgan’s rum; yes, booze is incredibly cheap here.

All the bizarre brands of Japanese Soda you can drink

More Manga (japanese comic books) than I could read in a dozen lifetimes, especially since my rate is about 15 minutes a page, what with having to look up all the kanji. Note this is just one of the rows of bookshelves.

Row of Manga

An eerie walk down the row of dimly lit cubicles with zen sand sculptures under the transparent floor and “relaxation” music quietly playing.

Row of cubicles

In my cubicle, I have a PC, a Playstation 2, a 24″ television (not shown) and a small safe for my valuables that I managed to lock without setting the combination – Did I mention about having to look up lots of kanji?

In my cube

I also have a sofa that’s long enough to lie down on, but not quite long enough to fully stretch out. Still, it’s far better than airplane seating.

the sofa

Not shown – washrooms, showers, beer vending machine, row of slot machines, &c.

Now, granted, there’s other people moving around, making noise, &c, but that was true at the hostel. I just wish I’d thought to bring my earplugs with me for tonight…