New blog in Japanese

I love MFT for what it is–a vehicle for international people interested in Japan to bounce ideas, rants and anecdotes off each other. That said, MFT has its limitations. In particular, not many Japanese people are involved here, which is understandable given that (a) we blog in rather colloquial English much of the time, and (b) many of our topics are simply not that interesting to locals.

Yet we cover many topics that could use more attention and counter-voices from Japanese people, and have even carried a couple of Japanese-language posts in the past for that purpose. I also personally want to improve my Japanese writing skills, which don’t get as much exercise as they should.

So I decided to start a completely separate personal blog, in Japanese and as Japanese-blog-like as I can stomach. (I will use my real name and avoid emoji, in case you’re worried.) This new blog is not really intended as a “Japanese version” of MFT, though material may be cross-posted or cross-referenced from time to time. It is basically a separate project with separate purposes in mind.

Here’s the link, and here’s a direct link to the first post, about how I “fell into Japan.”

The Google zeitgeist on Japanese marriage

There are some interesting posts floating around the blogs about what Google’s “auto-suggest” feature auto-suggests regarding love and marriage, summarized in this post which indicates that women overwhelmingly want to be loved, while men overwhelmingly want to get kinky.

I just read these today, but the near-future Mrs. Jones was telling me this weekend about a similar phenomenon she had heard of with the Japanese auto-suggest feature, so I decided to try it myself.

Here are the top suggestions for “wife” (妻):

  1. wife hysteria
  2. wife birthday gift ranking
  3. wife birthday gift
  4. wife shochu
  5. what to call wife
  6. wife gift
  7. wife honorifics
  8. wife depressed
  9. wife gift ranking
  10. wife not registered (i.e., the Japanese equivalent of common law marriage)

And here are the top suggestions for “husband” (夫):

  1. hate husband (most hits by a long shot)
  2. average husband allowance
  3. husband violent language
  4. dead husband procedures
  5. what to call husband
  6. husband depressed
  7. husband unemployed
  8. husband allowance
  9. husband space
  10. dead husband pension

Admiring Shoichi Nakagawa

I happened to be listening to a speech by Shoichi Nakagawa from August 2005, addressing the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ), just after Koizumi dissolved the cabinet and just before the LDP went on to win a crushing victory against the LDP rebels and the DPJ. The background to this is that, I recently started listening to the speechs of the big names from that tumultuous year, such as Watanuki and Kamei (who went on to start the Kokumin Shinto, with Kamei now being a powerful force in the new government), Okada and Kan (as they floundered trying to find a theme on which to run their campaigns, little did anyone guess they would be leading powerful figures in a new government in a few years), Koizumi and his former cabinet minister Hiranuma (perhaps the key battle between two politicians that year, as they were locked in mortal combat); and Abe (who at the time was the favored heir to the Koizumi throne, yet we all know that didn’t last).

Nakagawa was at the bottom of my list of people to listen to, because he wasn’t particularly important that year, and his career thereafter fizzled and failed. Less than a year ago, he resigned after appearing drunk at a speech in Italy — particularly reckless as it was as he signed an agreement with the IMF to lend them $100 billion in the largest single loan ever in history. He went on to lose reelection in 2009 in what was previously deemed a very safe seat, and dying under peculiar circumstances several weeks later. Many people in Nagatacho and in political circles that I associate appeared devastated, thinking it was a big loss, but I never understood the attraction of the man — my only memories of him from the past few years were of him looking exhausted and bleary. I thought he was another entitled hereditary politician, overrated and unimpressive — and it had been clear to all Nagatacho watchers for years that the man had a serious alcohol problem.

Yet listening to his speech from the campaign of 2005, I had a real change of heart. Nakagawa spoke clearly and concisely, showing the best side of a politician speech and a policy wonk. He loosened up the foreign press audience with a little English, an apology (how Japanese) and a joke (how American), then launched into politics and policy, speaking clearly and carefully on very complicated topics. Having just listened to the speeches of a handful of other politicians from that year, he definitely came across as the best, far more concise, intelligent and persuasive than all the other big names noted above. (Koizumi is, of course, always brilliant — but his collected speeches from that election campaign are just a collection of him sounding pissed off regarding the rejection of postal privatization.)

Note also his joke on neckties and longevity, which in retrospect, is grim. You can download and listen to the speech here, should you be so inclined.


Jade Mountain, or Yushan (玉山), is the tallest mountain in Taiwan at 3,952 metres (12,966 ft) above sea level. It had previously been known as Mount Morrison in English, after an American sea captain in the mid-19th century, it was given a new name after Taiwan’s annexation by Japan. As Yushan is taller than Japan’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji at 3,776 m (12,388 ft), it was renamed Niitakayama (新高山), which translates to “New Tall Mountain.”




富士の高根は / 日の本の

国のかためと / あふぎ来ぬ。

新高山も / 高砂の

島のしづめと / あふぐべし。

我が大君の / かしこくも

みこころ深く / えらばして、

おほせたまひし / 山の名は

高くたふとし / 山よりも。

富士にならべる / 新高の

山よりたかき / 大君の、

みいつを仰げ / 国民よ。

みかげを仰げ / 島人よ。

Apologies for the lack of English but I don’t have time to try and translate the little poem right now, but wanted to post it anyway.

Update: Commenter Sublight reminds us that “Climb Mount Niitaka” was the secret codephrase transmitted by the Japanese Navy to signal the attack on Pearl Harbor. I found a Japanese page that has some nice info on the message, including the original text on the Japanese side, and the intercept analysis on the American side.

『新高山登レ一二○八』 was the message, and it was analyzed as follow:

Combined Fleet Serial #10.
Climb NIITAKAYAMA 1208, repeat 1208
Comments; Interpreted freely, above means “Attack on 8 December”
Explanation; This was undoubtedly the prearranged signal for specifying the date for opening hostilities.
However, the significance of the phrase is interesting in that it is so appropriately used in this connection.
NIITAKAYAMA is the highest mountain in the Japanese Empire.
To climb NIITAKAYAMA is to accomplish one of the greatest feats.
In other words undertake the task (of carrying out assigned opertations).
1208 signifies twelfth month, 8th day, Item time.

It is often said that had the intercepted message been decoded before the attack, Pearl Harbor would have managed to defend themselves, but I wonder if anybody would have actually correctly interpreted “Climb Mount Niitaka” as an assault on US forces.

The JLPT goes otaku

I finally got around to taking Level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験) last weekend. Roy, Adamu and Curzon all took it while they were in diapers, but I never saw much need to do so myself. It’s hardly a good benchmark of ability; one can pass Level 1 with poor Japanese skills, or fail it with good Japanese skills, depending solely on how one’s skills match the material covered on the test. Level 1 essentially tests for the following:

  1. Basic conversational and reading comprehension ability
  2. Correct pronunciation of words written in kanji
  3. Ability to distinguish between similar kanji
  4. Ability to distinguish between grammatical forms that nobody uses
  5. Ability to understand science fiction anime

Point 5 is apparently a new addition to the December 2009 examination, and showed up in the last question on the listening section, helpfully uploaded to YouTube so I can prove to everyone that it is real. (Hat tip to these guys, and to Roy for tipping me off through Facebook.)

Another question on the listening test was based on a role-playing video game similar to Final Fantasy; the recording played an explanation of the various steps required to beat the game (with an accompanying 8-bit-style map in the test booklet), and the test taker was asked to give the correct order of places to visit. It’s nice to know that Level 1 has some practical uses.

Super useful web tool – auto convert between modern and traditional kanji

Since both traditional and simplified characters are still in active use in the Chinese world not only IME software, but also software to automatically convert between the two is readily available, for example as a feature in Openoffice (and MS Word?), and as part of the Chinese language edition of Wikipedia. In the case of Japanese, however, traditional characters are for the most part archaic, and almost nobody ever has any reason to input more than a couple of 繁体字 (for example, to input an unusual or old name) at a time. Except of course for academics dealing with old documents that are not readily available in digital form. Well, I just did a quick search and came across such a tool for Japanese. The web form lets you input either modern Japanese into the top field and have it converted to 舊字體, or post old Japanese into the bottom form and click to convert it into modern kanji. Note that it does not change the kana portion, so if you need to enter a bunch of archaic Japanese text you will still have to make those alterations oneself, but for kanji at least this looks like it good save a fair amount of time compared with either searching the dictionaries one by one or even using the Pinyin/繁体字 IME.

For comparison, here’s a random passage I had open, before:


And after:


The page also includes a handy reference chart. Note that it only seems to convert relatively common characters, i.e. those that are simplified forms of the same character. It won’t actually help at all for all those times you have to enter kanji that are either variants (異体字) or just plain archaic.

Ayase crime update: Possible foreigner robs sushi restaurant… across the street from my apartment

While making breakfast this morning, I noticed a couple of news trucks around the sushi restaurant across the street, which is the first thing I see when leaving my apartment in the morning. I figured that Gal Sone was probably eating a metric ton of kohada or something, but the truth was far darker. Kyodo reports:

Robbery at Choshimaru kaitenzushi: 720,000 yen seized

Around 6:30 AM on the 13th, a man entered from the back door of the Ayase Sushi Choshimaru kaitenzushi restaurant in Yanaka 1-chome, Adachi-ku, Tokyo, held a knife to the clerk (26) opening the restaurant, said “Give me your money,” seized 720,000 yen in sale receipts from the safe and fled. The clerk was unharmed.

The Metropolitan Police Ayase Station are searching for the man as a robbery suspect.

According to the Ayase Station, the man is around 30 and about 160-170 cm tall. He was wearing sunglasses, a black short-sleeved shirt and jeans. The clerk claims that “he threatened me in broken Japanese.” (Kyodo)

The Jiji report uses a fascinating phrase to describe the perp: “アジア系外国人風,” which means something like “looks Asian, seems foreign.” Fortunately, I only fit half of those criteria.

The history of Japanese text direction

Most of our readers are aware that, when written horizontally, Japanese is generally read left to right. When written vertically, as was the traditional method, paragraphs start on the right and each line is read down the page in order from right to left. Traditionally, though, Japanese and Chinese were both read right to left at all times, even when written horizontally.

The history behind this is kind of interesting. Here’s a timeline culled from the Japanese Wikipedia article on the subject.

* Traditionally, Japanese was written vertically, and lines were read from right to left. Horizontal writing only appeared on signs, and in those cases it was also read from right to left.
* Horizontal writing first appeared in print in the late 1700s as Dutch books were reprinted. (Dutch traders in Nagasaki were the only Europeans allowed in Japan at that time.) In 1806, a Japanese book was published in Japanese hiragana characters skewed to look like Latin characters and printed from left to right.
* In the first foreign language dictionaries printed in Japan, foreign words were written horizontally from left to right, while the Japanese words were written vertically from top to bottom. The first dictionary to have both foreign and Japanese words written horizontally came out in 1885, and both were written left to right.
* Japan’s first printed newspapers and advertisements had headlines and call-outs written horizontally from right to left.
* In July 1942, at the height of World War II, the Education Ministry proposed that horizontal writing be from left to right rather than from right to left. Although the left-to-right standard was showing up in some publications at the time, switching over entirely was a controversial idea which didn’t make it past Cabinet approval.
* The military also tried adopting left-to-right as an official standard during the war, but many people viewed this as too Anglo-American and refused to switch.
* Because of the patriotic zeal surrounding text direction during the war, there were cases of stores being pressed to switch text direction on their signage, and cases of newspapers refusing to print advertising with left-to-right text.
* After the war, Douglas MacArthur’s occupation team pushed for left-to-right text as an education modernization reform measure, along with the abolition of Chinese characters and other more extreme ideas.
* Yomiuri Shimbun was the first newspaper to switch text direction in its headlines, making the changeover on January 1, 1946. The Nikkei switched over by 1948.
* Japanese currency was first printed with left-to-right text in March 1948; before that, it had been printed right-to-left.
* Asahi Shimbun conducted some internal design experiments around 1950 to switch its front page to an all-horizontal, left-to-right format, but this never made it past the drawing board.
* In April 1952, the Chief Cabinet Secretary adopted a guideline that all ministry documents be written from left to right using horizontal text. Despite this, the courts kept vertical writing until January 1, 2001–the bar exam was also written vertically until that time–and the Diet itself continues to use vertical writing when publishing draft bills.

Right-to-left writing is still found in certain contexts. Sometimes it is used simply to appear more “traditional”: Wikipedia cites soba shops as a common culprit in this category. Another common context is vehicles such as trucks and ships; there, Japanese is often written from front to back, so on the right side of the vehicle it is written from right to left. Here’s an example which I spotted on a right-wing sound truck outside Odakyu in Shinjuku during my first trip to Tokyo, way back in 2000. Note that the text 愛国党, or “Patriot Party,” is written right-to-left on the side of the truck, but left-to-right on the back.

"Kick some Communist ass!"

(Thanks to our commenter Peter for suggesting this topic.)

緊急提言:報道機関による裁判傍聴制度の乗っ取りを許さない Media stealing people’s right to observe trials due to ridiculous court rules

(Today’s post about how my chance to observe the lay judge trial was stolen is in Japanese only. For an overview of my experience in English, please check my photo album here. Feel free to leave comments in English!)
















1984 in Japanese pop: “Careless Whisper” gone horribly wrong

Our frequent commenter Peter alerted me to the following travesty to 80’s music, which appeared in the 1984 Kohaku (“Red Versus White” New Year’s Eve song battle on NHK).

The translated title, Dakishimete Jiruba, is a bit cryptic at first. “Dakishimete” means something like “Hold me tight,” and jiruba is the Japanese transliteration of “jitterbug.”

I do not know what was wrong with Japan in 1984. But as it turns out, the only way to screw up this classic song even more is to have Hide from L’Arc~en~Ciel sing it in English. You might as well ask a random drunk in a karaoke box to try it.