Thursday, May 30, 2013

Linguistic Revivals

Recently, purely by chance, I came across a blog which has ever since been shooting thunderbolts across my brain. Sadly, as the author writes exclusively in Italian, I fear her work may be inaccessible to most of you who kindly read my ramblings.

My relationship with Italy and the Italian language has been filled with twists. Although bilingual and educated (for the most part) in Italian, since waving goodbye to my odd little highschool I have not used it much. At university I tutored those learning, and naturally sang  arias in it, but it was no longer the language of conversation or education. Italian literature, which had once filled my shelves and summers, was no longer a staple of my printed diet. Eco, Buzzati, Salgari, Levi fell by the wayside to make room for all the American literary pop culture I needed to catch up on.

My relationship to the country itself has also been problematic, especially since experiencing Japanese society. While Italy is a land of unspeakable beauty and other delights, it can also be loud, confrontational and aggressive. Thinking of those around you is not as common as it is in Tokyo. Being an introvert in Italy can be absolutely exhausting, as I feel I must be on my guard. In a way I turned away from my own country.

Then upon my virtual doorstep arrives Giappone Mon Amour, and shocks me into remembering how absolutely beautiful Italian writing can be.  A language replete with adjectives, highly specific verbs and turns of phrase, it is a delight to the reader. With the  exception of the occasional Benni book it has been years since I have surrounded myself with such a rush of latinate words. 
Italian writing, like speaking, has an unmistakable torrential cadence, as you can often read for half a page before finding a period. Like all deluges, a lengthily  elaborated  thought will break off sharply and go into another, tenuously related direction. It feels like being wrapped in the wafting smell of deeply roasted coffee and lashings of sugar.

After so many years of spending each day pushing at my ignorance of Japanese, reading her work and fully understanding the references, quotes and literary tradition she links to is like sinking into a warm onsen.

So here I am, sitting in a Tokyo train, falling in love again with Italian, thanks to a woman I have never met (although I hope to, as she has a really adorable corgi) and her impressions of Japan.

The universe works in mysterious ways.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Interesting choice of words...

One of the small pleasures of living in Japan is the chance of coming across strange bits of both English and other languages I speak, and have a bit of a laugh.

My Japanese is certainly not perfect, and I still make mistakes daily, occasionally getting my sharemates very confused, so this is not done out of a desire to be mean, but all in good fun.Knowing various languages, I can usually tell what they wanted to convey, and why word for word translation is always a bad life choice.
Our first contestant is an oddly named building near Daikanyama station. 'Cosa Nostra' for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is one of the branches of the mafia in Italy. I assume the owner wanted to convey the meaning of 'our place', but kiiinda missed.

Contestant number two is a wonderful misspelling of the beloved romanization 'puchi' (small), from the French 'petit'. I must admit, the mental image of a petty bazaar is pretty hilarious.
This little bag was being sold in Shibuya station. I don't think it qualifies as Engrish, but I am sure there are a few people walking around Tokyo with this bag, with no clue about what is written on it.

Fortune cookies are, sadly, very rare at Chinese restaurants in Japan. I for one am disappointed, as I had lots of fun during college attaching 'in bed' to the end of fortunes. On the bright side, the one fortune cookie I have gotten was hilarious.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Amaeru (to depend on the kindness of others, or in a sense to be spoilt) is a concept I run across far too often. It often commingles with male privilege as well.

'Because I am Japanese, I am not good at learning languages'. Nope, sorry. Where there is a will there is a way. I know tons of non-native speakers who have excellent English skills. Have you ever heard 'oh, I'm Swedish so I am bad at languages'? Seriously, you should expect more of yourself.

'Hey, there is this networking group where Japanese salarymen chat with foreign women in English'
*sputters in disbelief*
'No Ms.Godzilla, it isn't weird at all'
Nope, sorry. I am not up to being exoticised, fetishized or viewed as some kind of cheap thrill. Frankly, as this discussion came up with a really good friend, I was left kind of sad by his placid acceptance of it, although after explaining it in reverse (a bunch of international guys all meeting up with exclusively Japanese women) he seemed to get my point.

Amai, amai.

'I want my husband to support me, so I don't have to work ever again.'
Whoa, majorly unfair. Why should he pay for everything while you lounge about and play tennis?

'I want to work in Japan, in a regular job, but I only know conversational Japanese. English should totally be enough.'
Wrong, so wrong. Some people, who usually have worked hard in a very specialized, useful field (aka science) can do so. If not, work your butt off.

Or my particular favorite from the last weeks: 'Comfort women were necessary, so that the soldiers could 'satify their urges'. Oh ho ho, Mayor Hashimoto, what an a** you are. Women were not put on this earth just to satisfy men's desire for sex. Also, how is rape ever an acceptable thing?

And yet other politicians, including female politicians, just say: 'Oh, well that is just his opinion'.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mini Trip: Kamakura

Seeking to combine some sight-seeing with a bit of hiking, I found a short hiking course in Kamakura, starting at Kita Kamakura Station and ending up near the Daibutsu. We then extended the walk until the sea shore.
The trail starts right next to Jochiji temple, and winds right up into the hills. I thought it would most likely be a very tame hike, but was pleasantly surprised by lots of nice knotty rises and boulders to clamber on. If you want there are smaller trails branching off, that go to other parts of Kamakura as well. The air is wonderfully fragrant and fresh, a very nice change after a couple of weeks in the urbanity that is Tokyo.
Eventually you will get to Genjiyama Park, and Kuzuharaoka Shrine (which specializes in marraige/love, as you can see from the heart-shaped ema). Since this year I forgot to get an omikuji on New Years, I finally got my fortune for the year (5 months late...oh well).
There are lots of extremely friendly kitties around the park, and I found two in particular who were happy to let me pet them (always a plus). Heading out of the park we popped into Zeniarai Benzaiten, which is the famous temple where you wash your money in the sacred spring, in hopes that it will multiply. Needless to say, all our change is now spotlessly clean.
The last bit of the trail was a bit urban, as we passed through a tunnel and residential area to get to the Daibutsu. If you like looking at expensive houses it is a great chance to see some excellent examples of the 'faux-cottage' architecture much beloved by wealthy Japanese home owners.

The Daibutsu is serene as always, calm against the bright blue sky. The Kamakura Buddha is probably my favorite amongst the famous giant Buddha statues, as he seems particularly chill and friendly... although I guess that is the point.

On the way down to the beach we stopped at Hasedera, although the hydrangeas are not yet in bloom, to go into the Benzaiten cave, which is filled with tiny little figures of the goddess. We also found that they had vegetarian dumplings (like nikuman, without the meat) which were really delicious!

To round out the trail we walked past Hase Station (which is truly adorable, with its tiny little tracks and tiny little train), past a very distinctive pink and white torii and down to the sea shore. I can never resist wading in water, and this was no exception. A very nice way to reward my feet for their efforts.

I really recommend this trail, it is not very hard but you still get some nature time, without having to worry about not finding a train to get you home.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hama Life

Most of my friends had 10 days off for Golden Week, but sadly that was not my case. I decided to use the 4 day weekend to get started on pre-training for a marathon ( like the training to be able to do the actual marathon training... very convoluted). Since the first week of doing 24 km is the toughest, being able to take naps in the middle of the day is very helpful.

However, one cannot live exclusively in running gear, so a few visits to Yokohama were a good excuse to get dressed in actual clothes and wander about.

I had an amazing gorgonzola and honey pizza at Lu's Cafe, while leafing through a book about interesting hikes and (of course) little restaurants hidden in the mountains. There seem to be a bunch in Nagano, another good excuse to visit the region.

Near the station I also came across a classy store called Papilloner, which has some really neat bags. One particular Furla-esque bag caught my eye, so now I finally have a summer purse. It can be worn 4 different ways, so awesome!

Since it is spring the ramen chain Kagetsu once again is purveying their green, 100% vegetarian Nana ramen. Great stuff, and the fact that a whole bowl is only 411 calories is just icing on the cake (bowl?).

Also, how adorable is the poster for the Yokohama Triathlon? Love it, very clever.

Up by Yamate, I finally got the chance to stop by one of the fancy cafes located in the old ijinkan. The Yokohama Jyubankan is a beautifully kept Showa building, with a menu to match ( they do not have cappuccinos, only cafe' au lait). The Baiser cake (chocolate and raspberry deliciousness) is also classically French, one of those perfectly balanced cakes. I totally recommend checking out the rose gardens nearby, for a very British feel.

Round out the weekend with a special Cinco de Mayo Sumo Hash run (including a piñata!), dinner with friends and a koto lesson, and all in all it has been a nice Golden Week.