Japan



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Almost a year since my last blog post. Very bad of me. The last one was a report that I’d finished Kiki’s Delivery Service Book 2. It’s taken me ten months to finish books 3 and 4, but I’ve now done so. I’m just over half-way through Book 5 (which I’m racing through, having read the first 150 pages of 280 in just over two weeks). I’ve also now seen the recent live action Kiki movie. This is definitely derived from the first book, rather than from the Ghibli animation. In some ways it sticks closer to the book. For instance Kiki cannot accept money in return for her magic services. It’s never quite explicit in the book, and the “economics” of this are somewhat glossed over in terms of how she manages daily existence if she can’t earn money (or possibly can’t even deal with money directly). There’s something of an implication of receiving services in “barter” for her own and she can certainly accept gifts in kind in exchange for her services. Although this bit is closer to the book, and some of the scenes/sequences in the movie are heavily inspired by chapters in the book, it’s still quite a departure from the book in many terms. In the book there’s a sequence with a girl asking her to deliver a black envelope to another girl, which it turns out is an old tale of witches cursing people. In the book this is dealt with on the small scale of the girls involved only, whereas in the movie it’s part of the plot whereby after this incident people start distrusting Kiki and even returning things she’s delivered to them, back to Kiki instead of back to the sender.

I watched the movie in Japanese (no choice – there doesn’t seem to be an English subtitle version available – but I wanted to do that anyway). Since I know the story pretty well and it’s a kids/teen movie, I was able to follow much of the dialogue well enough, but I certainly wasn’t understanding every sentence in detail. Harder than the book, of course, since spoken word is harder to follow because of speed and difficulty to re-tread (I was watching it with $DAUGHTER so could hardly stop every thirty seconds and re-play to get the dialogue, though I may do some of this later to try to improve my Japanese listening).

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished

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As I noted in March, I had the second book of the Kiki’s Delivery Service series on order having finished the first book. I didn’t makea precise note of the day it arrived, but it wasn’t long after the 9th of March when that post was made. Tonight I finished book 2. I made much more of an effort to read at least six pages a day of this one, and to catch up if I missed a day. The book is 380 pages, although that seems longer in some ways than it is since it’s got a number of illustrations, some of which are full page or half the page. Japanese literary typesetting is also quite different to English in that it’s set vertically. Just as with English texts, this means much of the dialogue only takes up part of a line. However, since japanese books, like English ones, are taller than they are wide, the resulting white space in Japanese is a larger proportion of the page. For dialogue-heavy sequences with  lot of short statements, this can mean a page using less than half the space.

I have book three on the shelf, so it’s on to that, tomorrow.

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: None

As I wrote last July, I started trying to Read Japanese (Teen) Literature. Well, I’m nowhere near as fast reading Japanese as the person I was sniffy about who took a month to read a Pratchett. However, eight months later and I finally reached page 259 of Majou no Takkyubin this evening. Book 2 is on order and should be delivered soon (for Y1 plusY250 P&P). Plus there’s a live-action movie due out soon. It’s almost impossible to find English-subtitled Japanese movies in Japan, of course, but as with the book I will try this out to see how well I can follow the movie. In particular I’ll be interested to see how much they follow the book, whether they draw anything from the Ghibli movie (that one was as close to the book as Howl’s Moving Castle was, by the way, i.e. it was clearly inspired by it but not in any way even an attempt to do any kind of semi-faithful translation to the screen) or whether they do their own thing with the concept.

It took me a long time, but I’m still pleased with being able to do this.


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I signed up today for a conference in Spain. They are using PayPal for taking registration. I’m trying to avoid PayPal, but as the only alternative (bank transfer) is a real pain to do from Japan, I bite the bullet when the other party only offers PayPal as a sensible option. So, I was directed to a PayPal site to process the payment, having given them all the registration details they demanded (including them requiring a landline phone number! I just re-entered my mobile number, which they had already also required). The initial PayPal page was all in Spanish. There was no visible button for changing the language. An understandable (to me) bit asked for my country, so I selected Japan and the page renewed into English. Odd, but useful to me. So, I gave them my credit card details including the billing address and submitted them. The “review and confirm payment” page then came up in Japanese. These days I know enough Japanese to have been able to figure this one out.

So, PayPal displayed itself in three different languages during one transaction, with at no point that I could see a visible button to select a language I can definitely use, and with some apparently random selections of which language to display a particular page in. This is not good internationalisation.

Current Mood: (irritated) irritated
Current Music: Battlestar Galactica Season 4 Soundtrack

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2013 Typhoon No. 26 will make move through Tokyo area in the next 12-18 hours. It is not seriously dangerous, though will disrupt transport. Luckily for me I have no appointments tomorrow so will just work at home. $WIFE has to go to the office (but has rearranged a meeting outside since her interviewee is not sure of being able to make it in) but she uses the subway to get there, so should be fine.

Current Mood: (crushed) crushed
Current Music: None

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Many may know of Studio Ghibli’s movie “Kiki’s delivery service”. What many may not know is that this is based on a series of books by a Japanese author (although set in a fictional Eastern European country [one with a coastline]). The books are really sets of short stories rather than novels per se, or so $WIFE tells me. Having watched Kiki (in Japanese 魔女の宅急便 or Witch’s Home Delivery Service) too many times lately due to $DAUGHTER, and having had $WIFE explain that the author had finally finished the series of books of tales with a finale in which Kiki’s daughter (by Tombo) heads off for her “year away” at 13, I asked $WIFE to get the books for me. It seemed to me that I should be up to reading teen literature in Japanese. She picked up the first book earlier this week and I’ve now started reading it, which is quite hard going but so far just about feasible for me. I’m reminded of an experience in the mid-90s though. A friend of mine was a nurse in London at the time and I used to visit her whenever I was there. At first she was staying in the nurses’ accommodation – multiple occupancy apartments owned by the hospital, and quite nearby (in this case right next door). She had a roommate who was a fairly nice guy but not really the intellectual type. My friend is an SF reader, though not an active fan. She told me on one visit that her flatmate had borrowed one of the early Terry Pratchett Discworld books from her and finally returned it a month later saying he’d really enjoyed it. it wasn’t that he’d taken a month to get around to reading it. He’d taken a month to read it. Being both heavy readers my friend and I found this rather alien. We figured he must be having to read every word as an individual word and then figure out the meaning of each sentence before moving on to the next. I’m feeling a bit like this with starting to try to read Japanese for “pleasure”, though of course part of the purpose is to improve my Japanese, but I’m also reading it because I want to know the story. I think I may be already ahead of friend’s flatmate’s English reading ability, though.

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: Mononoke Hime OST

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So, for once I’m moved to do a non-book review blog.

The week before last I cut my finger. About a 1cm long shallow slash just below the last joint of my right index finger. So, this kind of things happens all the time, and why am I blogging it? Well, because I gut it on some cheese. Wow, that was some sharp cheese!

I made soup last night with some kabocha (Japanes squash variety with inside flesh pretty much like a pumpkin but with a green skin) and with some satoimo (also called taro, under which name you might have seen it outside Japan in restaurants, particularly in slices for tempura). This is a relatively common dish for me these days. The recipe is based on a leek and potato base (which can be used for all sorts of other flavourings like asparagus). I just substitute some kabocha and satoimo for the  potato. The particular satoimo I had in is one with a purple flesh as well as purple skin (most of the ones available in Japan are purple-skinned but have pale yellow flesh). Combined with the orange kabocha flesh this usually makes for a yellow/orange soup. However, the purple flesh meant that, like mixing all the colours of plasticine together, the result was pretty much brown. A slight purple-tinged brown in this case, but definitely brown. Very tasty, though.

I’m now mostly back to my normal diet now. At least I’m able to eat high residue foods like Weetabix and brown bread again. I’m still being quite careful with spices, working my way back up to chili, via increaing amounts of pepper and ginger in things. I’m still avoiding Indian (I had an Indian the evening before my colitis attack and while I’m fairly sure it wasn’t the direct cause, I am pretty sure the spices did not help) and Thai so far, and only using tiny amounts of (fake)wasabi in soba dipping sauce and sashimi soy dipping sauce.

I had one of those odd coincidences last night. I bumped my little side table with my leg as I sat down and spilled some coffee. A very small amount got onto the TV remote controller, though I was fairly sure it was only on the surface and didnt get inside at all. We were watching an episode of Once Upon a Time at that point, so I didn ‘t need the TV controller, only the media player controller, until after the episode. It didn’t work. So, figuring it was a coincidence I swapped out the batteries for a pair in my laptop bag, as they were the closest to hand. Still no joy. I left it until this morning to see if it was moisture inside, but still no joy. Before trying to replace the unit, I tried with a fresh set of batteries from the cupboard and it worked. The batteries in my latop bag must have been there too long or were used ones I’d put in there while travelling at some point and not taken out. Ho hum, at least I didn’t find this out after buying a replacement controller.

Current Mood: (numb) numb
Current Music: None

Japanese has a lot of homophones. This is at least partly due to their importing of Chinese characters and their pronunciation. Japanese has a much more limited set of phonemes than Chinese and so symbols which have different sounds in Chinese get imported into the same sound in Japanese. These collisions or near collisions make Japanese a great language for puns, as are Chinese and English for both related and different reasons. My flashcard system Anki is set to give me 15 new cards a day from (currently) the JLPT 1 set of vocabulary, which some kind other user have entered (I alter them to my needs and preferences as they come up). Today, the word 幹部 pronounced “kanbu” meaning executive, senior manager or officer came up. I often double-check words for extra meanings (and particularly for use as adjectives – many Japanese nouns can be used as adjectives with the particle な or the adjectival phrase 的な added). The electronic dictionary I use does lookup by phonetic entry (using roman letters though it has a kana entry option as well, though most Japanese people seem to use the roman letters, too). The first entry for “kanbu” is not the word I was looking for, but the homophone 患部 meaning “diseased part”. Great fun for puns, methinks.

Apologies if the Japanese characters don’t get transferred to LJ properly.

There’s a typhoon comng through Tokyo just now. It’s 23:30 and the wind is really picking up. It’s going to be tough to get to sleep with this noise which is a shame because I wanted to get an earlier night than before. Oh well, coming through overnight means les disruption to things like trains. I just hope it sticks to timetable and is really gone by tomorrow morning. I have an early flight out to Germany on Thursday and if there’s significant disruption to schedules on Wednesday there may be knock-on effects on Thursday. I got delayed by 16 hours (luckily at home nt at the airport) last year due to a typhoon and have twice been caught on Shinkansen trains (each time for about 5 hours) by them.

The people I fel sorriest for are those in the Tohoku area still in temporary accomodations from last year’s earthquake. Yes, there are still significant numbers in that kind of situation. While not as bad as last year’s season when a couple made direct landfall in Tohoku (this one mad landfall just south of Nagoya so will have spent the worst of its Fury on Shizuoka, Tokyo and Chiba before hitting Tohoku) it must still be adding more misery on top of a hard life up there.

Current Mood: Hiccoughing
Current Music: Dr Who Season 6 Soundtrack, plus Typhoon WInd Accompaniment

I’ve been meaning to post this quick one for a while. $WIFE was reading a biography of Agatha Christie last year and found one comment on Christie’s habits a bit odd. The translator had reported that her favourite drink was half-cream half-milk. $WIFE thought this sounded incredibly rich. Half’n”half may be fine as a whitener in coffee but it would be a bit rich. After thinking about it for a while, I realised that the translator must have mis-translated “half-cream milk” (an older term I remember from my childhood for what’s now in the UK called semi-skimmed milk). The translation was fairly recent, though I’m not sure when the original was written, so this may well be a case of an earlier term confusing the translator who know the usual current terms of whole, semi-skimmed and skimmed instead of the old “full cream”, “half cream” and “no cream” terms.

Current Mood: fragile
Current Music: Mononoke Hime Soundtrack

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