French teachers give Ishihara homework

The Japan Times has a cute followup to the Ishihara/French teachers incident I translated an article about recently.

French teachers give Ishihara homework

French-language instructors at Meiji University on Tuesday gave French textbooks and a dictionary to Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who has been targeted in a lawsuit for allegedly remarking that the French language “cannot count numbers.”

A group of 13 instructors from Meiji University presented the gifts to an official of the metropolitan government’s office for accepting citizens’ views. Ishihara is on vacation.

The gifts were accompanied with a letter saying, “Please learn this as homework during the summer vacation so you can count numbers in French.”

According to the lawsuit, filed July 13 with the Tokyo District Court by a French-language school principal and other people, Ishihara said last Oct. 19, “I have to say that it should be no surprise that French is disqualified as an international language because French is a language which cannot count numbers.”

The Japan Times: July 27, 2005

Ritsumeikan to Open Confucius Institute

As I reported before, the Chinese government is set to open Chinese language schools called “Confucius Institutes” around the world. This just in from Xinhua tells us that the first such Institute to open in Japan will be at my alma mater, Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto:

Confucian Academy to have 1st branch in Japan

BEIJING, June 29 — China and Japan have agreed to establish the first branch of Confucian Academy in Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto.

The Chinese ambassador to Japan, Wang Yi, hopes the academy will help improve understanding and friendship between Chinese and Japanese people.

Confucian Academy is a non-profit institution, which is devoted to teaching Chinese language and culture.

Calling it a non-profit institution is a little misleading, since it is, after all, funded and created by the Chinese government!

Adamu’s attempt at the TOEFL essay

The assignment: Write an essay answering the given question within 30 minutes.

The Question: Think of the most important class you’ve ever taken. Why did you enjoy the class so much? Use specific reasons and details to explain your answer.

My time as an undergrad at American University was at first unengaging. I’ve always been the type of person who feels like they’re above the material and already knows what they need to know. Nevermind the fact that my grades weren’t all that great — the teachers just didn’t like me. That was until I took Individual Freedom vs. Authority, the most meaningful class I took in college and without which I may have even dropped out of college.

My first step toward an attitude change was found in the mountain of reading I had to do for this class. Before coming to AU, I went from being a top student in the honors program in high school to a community college where the classes were light on both reading and depth. As a result, I first often didn’t come to class prepared even though the teacher assigned Plato, Voltaire, and other difficult philosophical works on government. But when the teacher called on me to explain the significance of the Allegory of the Ring, I was stumped. The embarrassment of not knowing was a new feeling and I was determined not to have to do it again. From then on, I did the reading and took notes to make sure I understood it.

Harder still was the group work. Our professor split us up into groups and assigned each a chapter in The Republic to analyze and present to the class. While I had worked with groups before in high school, it wasn’t until I met the other group members that I realized that my classmates were not only more prepared than I, they understood the material better! I knew I had to get my act together.

It took a few weeks of chagrin, chiding from the professor, and low quiz scores before I realized my attitude problem was a real danger to my chances of succeeding in college. Thanks to the teacher and my classmates, who consistently set the bar higher than I did for myself, I eventually was able to keep up with the material and manage an A- for the course. The skills I acquired there came with me for the rest of my time in college and I will never forget the lessons learned.

Afterthoughts: Mrs. Adamu said that the structure was all wrong (Topic sentences first!) and that they weren’t asking for a personal story (though I insist they were). Comments?

Why I Write

Last night in making my regular check of my apartment building’s laundry room, which also serves as an occasional repository for tenant’s used and unwanted books, I picked up an aging copy of The Orwell Reader. In thumbing through it this morning, I happened across a short essay written in 1947 and titled, “Why I Write.”

As many of our readers host their own web-based literary enterprises, I felt sharing Mr. Blair’s motives for writing, and his insights in the mind of a writer to be an appropriate impetus for reflection upon our own efforts. (My comments follow.)

Putting aside the need to earn a living, think that there are four great motives for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(1) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition – in many cases, indeed, they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(2) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or a writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(3) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(4) Political purpose – using the word “political” in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s ideas of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is a political attitude.

Now, about those motives.

I don’t imagine there is a soul among us in the blogosphere who does not deeply feel a desire to be perceived as clever. Mr. Blair is correct in perceiving it to be humbug to say otherwise. Even those of us who blog anonymously cannot escape it.

As for aesthetic enthusiasm, I must agree with Mr. Blair that this is at best a feeble motive, and doubly so for most bloggers. The very nature of the blog – short, timely, and regularly posted – necessitates for all but the most skillful wordsmiths among us that corners be cut. And where better to cut them than here. Our medium is such that we cannot expect readers, save for the occasional Ulysses fan, to stick around for more than a page or so. No, the focus must be on making the point, and making it quickly.

Certainly, each of us has our own style, even if our writings are posted after only a single draft. But I most often find myself sacrificing, “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, [and] in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story,” for something that I can bang out during my lunch hour or between returning home for the evening and falling asleep.

Of course, I am rarely satisfied with the outcome, and more often than not feel as though I have left some vital part of myself exposed every time I click on the “publish” button. But the gift of the information age is that most is soon forgotten, and I move on to yet another half-assed attempt at prose. I am not a good writer, so I suppose it is just as well that I can reassure myself by labeling these efforts half-assed and be done with it.

I recall once reading in the introduction to Brave New World Revisited how displeased Aldous Huxley became in rereading the manuscript of BNW several decades after publication. And at the very least I can take comfort in knowing that much greater writers than myself struggle with the same.

I won’t deny, at least in the authors of the blogs I regularly read, a strong historical impulse. Whether or not any of our ones and zeros will be around for posterity’s sake, I cannot say. But I admire their desire to see things as they are and to find out true facts, even if I disagree with those facts.

Finally, little needs to be said about political motives I think. While some may not admit to a “desire to push the world in a certain direction,” few can deny a desire, “to alter other people’s ideas of the kind of society that they should strive after.”

I have left much unsaid, about how one’s childhood experiences shape one’s writing for example, so I encourage anyone interested to go read the entire essay before commenting.

Japanese Semantics as seen in Media coverage

Japan is infamous for the careful attention it pays to its national image. As a result, some interesting semantic situations can arise. For example, the Japanese media will often try and introduce a Japanese word into the English language in order to put a Japanese spin on a certain issue. Case in point: in February the Kenyan Deputy Minister of Environment’s official visit to Japan held a surprise for PM Koizumi (found via FG):

Last Friday, I met with Professor Wangari Maathai, Kenya’s Deputy Minister of Environment…Prof. Maathai told me how during her visit to Japan she had learned the word “mottainai,” which could be literally translated as “don’t waste what is valuable.” I completely agree with Prof. Maathai on the importance of this concept of “mottainai.” I had thought that it was a concept that foreigners would not fully be able to grasp, but as I listened to Prof. Maathai I realized that I too should do my best to spread this “mottainai” spirit around the world.

However, one poster to the FG forum had something interesting to say about the incident:

This “mottainai” caper has me baffled.
I was at the interview with Maathai hours after she first arrived here. Earlier in the day, I had been asked about “mottainai.” When it came up in the interview, the interpreter used the word “wasteful” (correctly), even though the interviewer had strongly pressed Maathai to use “mottainai.” When Maathai replied, she used “wasteful.” She was then whisked away to another room and I returned to my office to write the story. I received a message that I had to use the word “mottainai” in the lead, even though what she’d had to say about waste was among the least interesting parts of the interview.
I notice every environment story Kyodo is putting out on the environment features the word “mottainai.”
Apparently, the Environment Agency is putting pressure to have the word become widely used in English. It’s not a particularly effective replacement for “waste,” which I think does a fine job in English. My personal opinion is the Environment Agency should worry more about protecting the environment than try to force a new word into the language, which will probably include more pressure on ODA recipients.

It seems the government was putting words in the Deputy Minister’s mouth! I read this and thought little of it until I read an interview with famous Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and HE USED IT TOO!

For his part, Ban says: “I always thought architecture had to be respected. We have the power and the skill.”

Ban worries about waste.

“Mottainai,” he said suddenly, grabbing a reporter’s notebook to write the word. The Japanese expression means something is too good to waste. It is as close as he would come in an hour of conversation to explaining what motivates his work.

He was giving the reporter a tour of the 45,000-square-foot Nomadic Museum on a frigid day last month. Jet-lagged after a flight from Tokyo, he nevertheless was eager to explain his Nomadic design.

Despite being less than talkative at the interview he at least knew the right buzzword to say.

Now let’s look at this Al-Jazeera report which expresses sour grapes over the positive portrayal slain mercenary Akihiko Saito got from the Japanese media:

Japanese media glorifies Iraq hostage

The abduction of Akihiko Saito in Iraq after an ambush on 5 May has sparked an entirely different reaction to the one that greeted the three Japanese who were taken hostage there one year ago.

While Saito, an armed private security officer, has been treated with respect and admiration at home, the two humanitarian workers and a photojournalist were subjected to a sustained attack on their actions, motives and personal lives.

When Noriaki Imai, Nahoko Takato and Soichiro Koriyama returned to Japan this time last year after their hostage ordeal, there were no celebrations and certainly no hero’s welcome.

They were criticised for their stupidity for being in Iraq, the wasting of government money on efforts to secure their release, and dirt was dug up on their families and backgrounds.

True enough. But what’s interesting is their analysis of the language gap in covering the story:

There has been much talk of the large salaries paid for this kind of work as well as the high level of skill and experience required.

The Japanese media has been happy to use the term “youhei”, which translates as “mercenary” or “hired soldier’, to describe Saito, although the image conveyed has been of an exciting and glamorous world.

Interestingly, in the English-language Japanese media, the word “mercenary”, with its negative connotations, has been avoided.

There is a belief in some quarters that the presence of Saito in Iraq helps to legitimise the activities of the Self-Defence Force (SDF), whose members are engaged mainly in guard duties in the most active deployment of Japanese troops since the pacifist constitution was imposed by the US after WWII.

Doshisha University’s professor Watanabe says the Japanese government has been keen to show Saito in a positive light as if he has been working for the security of Japan itself.

Not exactly an easy message to swallow coming from al-Jazeera (I’m sure they’d support mercenaries for the other side), but I’m always fascinated with the subtleties of characterizations like this.

Classic Jappanica: Chinese Language Schools to Open Worldwide

Here’s a blog post from my old Adamu’s Jappanica (now continuing as DC Honyaku) that takes us back to the good old days of December 2004:

Nihao, everybody! I’m back from Thanksgiving break and don’t want to do any work, so I’m back blogging. This right here is the last sign I need to prove to me that the Chinese are taking over. We might as well just sign up for these classes now before it becomes mandatory. Here’s part of a Japanese report on it:

“Confucius Institute” aims to open 100 schools

China has embarked on a project to spread the Chinese language around the world. In cooperation with universities in various countries, they plan to open 100 “Confucius Institutes” specializing in Chinese education.

Increased interest in learning Chinese as a result of China’s rapid development may behind this effort, but it is likely that far-reaching nationalist strategies to strengthen China’s global influence and presence may be afoot.

Before the opening, a National Chinese Language Guidance Group signed a pact with Washington, DC-area University of Maryland to open America’s first Confucius Institute in an effort to promote the Chinese language in America’s legal, financial, and government centers.

A representative of the Group, Vice Chairman Chang, said “Japan’s educational institutions are also cooperating on opening an Institute.” It has been reported that Sweden, Uzbekistan and other countries have also signed pacts to open schools. The Institutes work by the hosting institution providing the land and facilities for the schools while the Chinese government provides teachers and materials.

Why the choice of “Confucius” for the name of the front-line headquarters for Chinese language propagation? Experts say it’s because it’s not only well known but also easy to understand, making it perfect as China’s “unified brand.”

Chang pointed out that “there is a strong demand for the development of Chinese language guides in Africa and Egypt due to the rise in overseas tourism by Chinese people.”

And here’s an excerpt of Xinwha‘s report:

Zhou Ji, Chinese minister of Education and Li Bin, Chinese ambassador to Republic of Korea attended the opening ceremony, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Zhou said the Confucius Institute, as the school is called, is the first of its kind in a foreign country. He said his administration will spare no effort in promoting Chinese learning in the Republic of Korea by supporting the institute’s operations.

Students from the Republic of Korea are the largest overseas student source in China and vice versa.

The institute is seen as an effort to expand Chinese language in foreign countries, said Zhang Guoqiang, deputy director of National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL), sponsor of the institute.

A rising number of international students are showing a keen desire to learn Chinese, he added.

Confucius institutes, which have been globally approved, will be established in Asia, Africa and Europe.

A search for “Confucius Institute” at Google News these days reveals that the University of Maryland is about to open its Institute in the near future.


Hito Nomi Sugu Yase

February 30 2004.

I spotted this advertisement for 助助身茶(help-help-body-tea) in the Hong Kong subway system. What caught my eye was the Japanese text written alongside the larger Chinese slogan. Before reading the explanation of this picture you might want to refer to This earlier post.

The Chinese phrase of these characters 一飲就痩(at least as I understand the characters from the way they are used in Japanese) translates word by word to ‘one-drink-become-thin.’ Chinese literature has a long history of what are called in Japanese 四字熟語 (pronounced as yo-ji-juku-go), or four character idioms, and I presume that writing an advertising slogan in 4 characters is intended to convey a feeling of classicism reminiscent of these traditional phrases. The woman dressed in a Japanese Kimono in a Japanese style setting also adds to the old-fashioned feeling, but transposes it to Japan.

Alongside the Chinese slogan is a small line of text written in Japanese characters, which I have enlarged in the photo. Now, Japanese is written largely with Chinese characters (called kanji , but they also use natively developed phonetic characters (called kana), which is what these are. Japanese vocabulary is generally divided into the categories of ‘native’ Japanese words, Chinese words (whether actually imported from China or created in Japan by combining Chinese words), and ‘foreign words,’ mostly words imported from European languages (these days mostly English, but going back as far as the 17th century contact with Porteguese.)

I don’t want to get deep into explaining the Japanese language, but the point is that the words written in kana are native Japanese words and not the Chinese derived Japanese words which correspond to those characters. The Japanese words are read as ‘Hito Nomi Sugu Yase,‘ which translates to ‘One sip, soon lose weight.’ Now, kanji can be used to write either native Japanese words or words borrowed from Chinese. Like kanji, tea is something borrowed by Japan from China. The advertiser uses the image of Japan and the refinement of the Japanese tea ceremony to suggest that their tea, while superficially similar to the teas commonly drunk in Hong Kong has some quality of superiority, of a higher level of refinment. By showing the Japanese readings of the Chinese phrase, (the kana is incidentally is not readable for the vast majority of Hong Kong residents that have not studied Japanese), they are showing something else which was borrowed by Japan and changed, and reinforcing the suggestion that this tea with a completely Chinese name is somehow foreign.

Aji Ichiban

Aji Ichiban
Japan is one of the dominant exporters of pop culture in the world, possibly the only country that even comes close to rivaling the United States in this field. While the English speaking parts of the world are oddly resistant to foreign language films, popular music and so on, most other countries have no trouble with it. As seems natural, Japan’s close neighbors (particularly Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, where the standard of living and consumer culture are most similar to Japan) have the biggest culture exchange.

Young woman carrying Aji Ichiban shopping bags around is a common sight in Hong Kong. Notice that she is standing in front of an American style bar entirely sans-Chinese.

This store is an example of the popularity Japanese pop culture has in Hong Kong. This candy store, despite being a completely Hong Kong owned and operated business, has a Japanese name and bases a lot of their appeal on the Japanese image. While it does have Japanese candy, it’s hardly a specialist shop and puts the stuff in bins right next to mini Nestle bars or more local style sweets. The name is also peculiar. The name written in the Roman alphabet is ‘Aji Ichiban,’ which is Japanese for ‘Taste Number 1’ and is written as ‘味一番.’ In Chinese/Japanese characters, the name is written 優の良品、which in Japanese would be pronounced as ‘Yuu no Ryouhin’ and translates to ‘Quality Goods of Excellence.’ The first, third and fourth characters are Chinese characters, which are also used in Japan, and are normally read with the local pronounciation anywhere in China or Japan, and generally with the same meaning. The second character(の), however, is the phonetic Japanese character for the syllable ‘no‘ and as a merely phonetic character does not have any intrinsic meaning. However, in this case it is being used to represent the possessive particle in Japanese grammar (hence the ‘of’ when translated). The phonetic syllabary of Japanese (hiragana or katakana, depending on style. In this case the hiragana form of the character is being used) does not exist in Chinese and has no meaning whatsoever to a typical Chinese person, so the presence of this character in the name is what gives the name a particularly Japanese feeling.

Now, this may seem like mere trivia, but there is a point. While not coming directly from Chinese, the Japanese hiragana characters did evolve from them, specifically from the cursive style calligraphic forms of the Chinese characters. In the case of the character の(no), it was derived from the character 的(pronounced teki in Japanese). The really interesting thing is that the meaning of 的 (pronounced de in Mandarin Chinese) in Chinese is as a possessive marker – the same function that の(no), which was derived from it, serves in this store’s name. I imagine this is in fact why that character was chosen as the basis for this particular symbol- because the grammatical particle written with this particular syllablic character has the same meaning as the original Chinese character. To return from a mild tangent: the important thing is that while の is used for its value as a symbol of Japanness, it is also recognizable to most Hong Kong citizens for its meaning.

の has actually become popular in advertising in Hong Kong, and not just in cases that have any particular Japan feeling to them. For example, here is an ordinary flyer for some kind of social activity.

This flyer says ‘Haru no Yuu‘ or ‘Fun in the Spring.’ Interestingly, the の looks like it might have been a piece of clip art, which would be appropriate for the way in which it has been adopted as a symbol in Hong Kong.