Saturday, May 1, 2010

Genius! Pt. 1 - Hot Water Pot

Boiling water in a kettle is for Luddites, suckers and lazy Americans who don't work insane hours and have the luxury of waiting around for water to reach adequate temperatures for tea. In Japan, such inefficiency is an insult to your hard-working ancestors who used to build entire train-lines just as a warm-up exercise before breakfast. To remedy this dishonorable inactivity, there exists the hot water pot, or denki-potto (電気ポット).

Commonly they look as such:

As you can see, there are many features which make this more than just some Thermos with a plug. It has timers, temperature controls (some even have a baby-formula temperature setting), and the all-important "lock" (Also known to unwitting foreigners as the "What the føk?" button after the most commonly uttered phrase while pounding the circuits out of the promising-looking large silver button in the middle and getting nothing but cold electronic indifference).

Still, it is pretty sweet when you want green tea and you want it now. Also good for instant coffee, instant ramen, instant corn soup, instant miso soup, and instant reasons to go to the hospital when you decide you can fill a teapot while watching the TV at the same time.

(BTW, You can't.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Playing with English

Ok, so maybe the last post was a bit harsh on the Japanese use of foreign languages in their signage, so as a counterbalance, I will make the point that they can actually be very creative when borrowing English words (and other languages I imagine, though I don't speak any well enough to know)

This is a sign in front of the local Mr. Donuts (which was apparently once a US chain that moved and survived overseas)

These cute little sugar-laden face-adorned snacks are called (and here is where we get clever) Hole Things, or Whole Things. Since it is written in Japanese, there is no phonetic difference between Hole and Whole. So are they "Hole" things since they have a hole in the middle, or "Whole" Things as you can eat the whole thing?

It's like the Schroedinger's Cat experiment of snacks

What is in a name?

A recent constitutional around the neighborhood inspired me to snap some shots of local apartment buildings, or more precisely, the signs adorning local buildings. With addresses providing something short of a precise location, many apartment buildings have adopted names. While you might expect to find lots of "Nakanishi" or "Yamada" names, nothing shows what a classy and modern person you are like having an address with a bit of French or English thrown in for good measure. One building I lived in changed its name to "Orb du Mer", and another building I lived in dubbed itself "Sejeur Nangu" (although once run through the Japanese alphabet they were 'Oubu du Meru' and 'Seijyuru Nangu' respectively).

As in the states, the names can have precious little to do with what is actually around. The US is lousy with developments whose names are inspired by whatever natural surroundings were plowed under in order to litter the landscape with identical housing units. Thus "Beechwood Grove" has likely leveled out the grove and replaced the beechwood trees with those anorexic maple trees that never seem to grow and are buttressed by more supports than your average cathedral.

Let's take a look at some, starting with the obscure:

Rokko is clearly the area to those who have been reading the blog - EXA is...not in the dictionary

Definite points for succinctness, but minus points for total lack of imagination.

"Hill" is a popular word in these names. Forget that this isn't on any discernible hill, and what a box sought by Nazis has to do with anything is beyond me.

Let's move on to the French inspired:

Phonetically this is "Monarie Rokko" though no French-English dictionary could provide a clue as to what Monarie means (remember, this is from French, mashed into the limited phonetics of the Japanese syllabary, and reproduced into English so the spelling could be light-years off)

However, the place seemed reasonably full of tenants so this is clearly not of great concern.

moving on...

The tower of Rokko - nice! (it is rather taller than the surrounding buildings, so bonus points for accuracy)

This is "Taisei LaFoure Rokko". Taisei means successful life in Japanese
I tried a variety of spellings for "Foure" and the only thing that returned any result was "foirer" which means to go (and here I quote the dictionary ) "tits-up" (i.e. belly-up). I am sure this isn't correct, but I love to think that the translation of this is "Successful life the tits-up Rokko"

On second thought, this could be a mistake of the English "Foray" for a French word and given a "la" which would render it the only slightly-less inane "Successful life the incursion Rokko"

Clearly these people had a dictionary...Beautiful Life Rokko.

The architects of Japan don't rely only on the French, they do love them some Spanish as seen here:

Pretty House. Simple...and boring so let's keep moving into the realm of English, where the figurative wheels come flying off the bus.

Nothing says good living like pleasant English words crammed meaninglessly together.

"Kou-nan Veru Shiti Rokko" or more likely (but we are entering the realm of conjecture...oh hell, we are already deep in the backwoods of conjecture by this point) "Kou-nan Veil City Rokko" which does nothing for clarification on second thought.

Town Court Rokko - though given the lack of clarity in the pronunciation this could also be "Town Coat Rokko" (phonetically this is Taun Couto Rokko)

Here we have the optimistically named "New Sun Life Rokko"

This you can read, so I will simply explain that "Mansion" refers to apartments in Japan (and leave you to ponder why)

I can not explain the Lions, nor the lack of a possessive apostrophe, though perhaps it's best for the human occupants to not have Lions for landlords.

Again, you can read, so I will clarify that the "ekimae" at the end signifies that this is close to the train station - perhaps the source of prestige. Also, since prestige implies distinction, there is a grain of irony in this being prestige number 2.

And around the corner is a separate "prestige" titled apartment further diluting the meaning of prestige, although at least this one provides some "assurance"

you know, in case you were worried.

And last but not least

The WeLv buildings, so named because (and I quote from signage around the 4-building complex) "We Love, We Live". It looks like they just couldn't commit to that second vowel. (The Japanese pronunciation is "werubu"

This is just withing a four block radius of my house - more fantastic names abound and I will naturally post them as I came across them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Insecurity - It's not just for the US financial system

So as an insecure and self-conscious person, I installed Google Analytics on this site - and would like to give a shout out to Dallas and Allentown PA, and the greater San Diego area for being my greatest (albeit surprising) reading population. Since folks reading on Facebook aren't registering here, I have a few small requests - think of this post as a registry page - if you are reading, leave a comment (tell me what you want to know about, and no, I can't do an entry on pantie bars unless I can show my wife that it is of dire and urgent concern to all). If you are on facebook - get your butt over to the actual site and leave a comment. If you are enjoying, become a follower (Japanalog Zombie) or subscribe via RSS.

Arigato my friends

Monday, April 26, 2010

That's a LOT of zeros!

I have added an intrusive and ugly currency converter to the bottom of the page.

I am often asked - "Is Japan really that expensive" to which I always say "No, of course not" which is completely untrue. It CAN be massively more expensive, but you are getting paid better, and if you know where to look, you can certainly find bargains. I will hopefully be doing a more in depth post about prices in and around Kobe - Everything from the daily, to the extravagant, to the completely mundane. The converter may be helpful as exchange rates fluctuate and in the off chance that you are reading this after the Yen / Dollar / Euro / Pound has bottomed out and is being used as toilet paper, you can see what was and what is without busting out the Wall Street Journal, or FT and crunching some serious numbers.


Mr. Slim

(Sung to whatever tune you want)

Mr. Slim he keeps us warm
His efficiency? Above the norm
And when the summer heat arrives
Of coolness he does not deprive

Mr. Slim! Mr. Slim! Mr. Slim! Mr. Slim! (x2)

His controls are most remote controlled
From yonder wall his orders told
And spring to life to warm or cool
A most honorable climate controlling tool

Mr. Slim! Mr. Slim! Mr. Slim! Mr. Slim! (x2)

further verses may be suggested in the comments section - good ones will be added to "The Ballad of Mr. Slim"

Editor's note - Music Coming Soon!!

Mario the card sharp

We all know (and many love) Nintendo - the creators of such lovable stereotypes as Mario and Luigi - but few know the origins of this global behemoth of digital distraction.

Nintendo has been around for over 100 years, originally as makers of card games. To this day, you can still find Nintendo-made playing cards at most convenience stores:

This is a man's world....

Just in case their was any doubt about it - this sign from a restaurant toilet should tell you who is in charge here:

It reads "To our female customers, a request: after using the toilet, please leave the toilet seat in an upright position" (or words to that effect, a more literal translation would be "To women, please: after use, absolutely leave the toilet seat up please.")

Any excuse for a picnic

As anyone from the DC area knows, April is cherry blossom season, when the metro area looses its collective minds as the tidal basin erupts in a blaze of pink and white. Now imaging an entire country reacting in the same manner - and you have "Hanami" (花見)- lit. flower viewing.

News stations begin the nightly countdown charting the progress of the blooming as it encroachs on reason like an army of irrationality from the south. As each prefecture falls to their sway, the citizens decamp en massé for the local parks and rivers to set up a (always blue) tarp and break out bentos and booze, passing an entire day having a picnic under the hypnotic spell of the cherry blossoms in full bloom. In any given year, you get about two good weeks of full bloom before wind and rain strip the petals from the branches and the trees return to their normal state of snooze.

By now, the season is well passed, but I did get a few shots of the CBs in all their glory -

This is Cherry Blossom Tunnel (桜トンネル)a street in Kobe up near the mountains.

For two weeks out of the year, residents must deeply rue their choice to live here as it is non-stop parade of camera-toting cherry blossom viewers on foot and in cars streaming past at all hours of the day (including myself).

Another riverbank lined with "sakura" - or cherry blossoms

Who cares what that posted speed limit sign says - it's freakin' cherry blossoms!

OK - so I admit, they are pretty damn beautiful.

Many honoroable apologies for delayed written time

Sorry for the absence - but actual work took a temporary precedence over writing inaccurate articles about Japan. Should be back to normal for a while now...