Monthly Archives: January 2017

Japanese novel translation: “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” Chapter 3: Lonesome Pop Star (Part 1)

This is Chapter 3 of the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog.

The story’s original table of contents and summary can be seen in Japanese here. You can see the original Chapter 3 in Japanese here.

As usual, if you like this story please like and/or comment on this post to help me decide whether to translate more of this or to move on. You can also see this survey where you can vote for this story, or others for me translate.

Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for helping to proofread this chapter.

(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which contains links to other chapters and the summary here)


Welcome to the Raindance Cafe     by      Yama Yamasaki

Chapter 3: Lonesome Pop Star (Part 1)

For the next two weeks–technically only 8 working days–I had devoted myself to learning the ropes at the cafe and finally got into a good routine that began when I entered the front door and ended when my shift was over.

I’d already become an important part of the cafe’s operation. But it’s all thanks to Rei. If she hadn’t been kind enough to train me so thoroughly, I don’t think I ever would have become this productive. She was my superior in the real sense of the word, and I was happy to learn all of her knowledge and skills.

However, the feelings I felt towards her neither blossomed nor wilted, remaining frozen in some strange deadlock. Maybe it would be better to say that it was only our relationship as superior and subordinate that developed, and in the absence of any other changes between us my emotions simply spun in an endless loop. But all is as it should be. These two weeks I was focused entirely on getting accustomed to the job, and my shifts were much shorter than Rei’s, who was there all day. And yet, I had to admit I was still in love. That’s why taking some action towards the target of my affection was the key to success–or at least that’s what I read on a news site yesterday. I wanted to get closer to Rei; after all, she was the reason I applied to this job in the first place. But even though I knew I had to do something sooner or later, I hadn’t yet taken any definite action towards that goal, which only served to preserve the neutral distance between us. This annoyed me to no end, and yet I couldn’t for the life of me think of any plan to close this distance. I was completely clueless about what to do. Even though fewer than ten days had passed since we first met, I was painfully aware of my life’s regretful lack of romantic experience.

“Jun, would you mind bringing that over here?”

“Of course not.”

So, as a baby step, I tried to get involved in work where I would be physically close to her. It may have only helped me make progress toward my goal a tiny bit, but even an ocean begins with a single drop of water. Putting up the decorations for upcoming Halloween was one of such tasks.

It just so happens that the manager had a tendency to dramatize things, and for Halloween he replaced all the cafe’s curtains. Apparently this cafe’s original gloomy decor was also due to his tastes, but here they went as far as completely changing the menu for each and every holiday, an effort that outdid even the local train-station cafes. But there was no denying they were just trying to enjoy themselves, with no concern for actually attracting customers.

“Alright, that’s it for the curtains. Thanks for your help, Jun.”

“No problem.”

Rei climbed down from the stepladder with a look of satisfaction in a job well done.

We had replaced simple, white curtains with thick, dark burgundy ones befitting of Halloween, taking the usual gloomy atmosphere to a new, disturbing level. But I guess as long as Rei liked these, I wasn’t likely to do anything impolite like oppose them.

Of course it wasn’t just the curtains–nearly everything about the cafe had been changed for Halloween. The place’s entire atmosphere was transformed in a mere two weeks since I was hired, though it’s true that it was mostly Rei and I who did the transforming.

“OK, good job with the Halloween decorations guys. You can take a break now if you like.”

“Sure, we’ll do that.”

The manager appeared from the kitchen and placed our lunches and coffee on the counter in front of us. It seemed that any task, if given enough attention, made me lose track of time–even something like putting up these decorations, something we did to kill time when there was no customers around. The hour hand of the clock, having reaching its peak, began to edge slowly downwards.

Rei faced the counter, eyes glittering as they always did around this time. One thing I learned during these two weeks was that she loved eating more than anything else. Whatever was served, she enjoyed every bite. This conjured up images of the manager feeding a pet animal. I hoped that there was no truth to this fantasy of mine.

As always I sat down next to Rei. Naturally, I made sure to avoid getting too close.

“Wow! This food looks great!”

“Yeah, sure does.”

Rei and I put our hands together in prayer for a moment, giving thanks to the ingredients used in the meal and the manager who prepared it.

Today’s lunch was paninis, Italian style sandwiches. Sometimes you’ll see chain restaurants near the train stations that serve these, but ours were much larger. In any case, size didn’t matter much to Rei as long as she could jam the food into her mouth and chew; she would just hold the sandwich with both hands, tear a piece off with her teeth and munch on it happily. From Rei’s appearance, you’d never guess she’d eat in such a barbaric way. But that is what really made her great–though I feel a little crazy saying this.

I followed Rei’s lead and, holding it in both hands, took a big bite out of my panini. Oh yeah, this was delicious. Unquestionably delicious. It was delicious enough to make me think we might get some more customers just on account of this sandwich.

“Don’t you guys think this place looks wonderful? We’re finally ready for Halloween.”

Putting aside the matter of whether this was “wonderful”, the manager was ecstatic for having redecorated the cafe to his heart’s content.

As he didn’t show much appreciation for all our hard work decorating, I decided to rock his self-complacent boat and hit him with a question I had.

“By ‘ready’, do you mean that there’s some event you hold here each year?”

“Darling, you see, the crowd always picks up on Halloween, whether we have an event or not. Everyone comes to see you-know-who.”

The manager pointed to Rei, who was finishing her last bite next to me.

“M-me?”

“That’s right honey. Everyone comes to see the special halloween version of Rei.”

“Oh yeah, of course…That’s why right around this time in autumn it gets a little busier…”

Having just finished her sandwich, Rei nodded indifferently several times. This girl hadn’t even figured out that she was being complimented.

Indeed, Rei’s uniform was a bit different than the typical maid uniform. There was orange splashed around a few places like the cuff of her sleeves and the hem of her skirt, matching well with black to make ideal halloween colors. The headband she wore with small, black horns made her the epitome of the “little devil”. I thought her outfit was pretty unique, but I guess I can understand what the manager meant by her special halloween version.

“Ok guys, pretty soon things are going to get a little busy, so I’ll be relying on you.”

“No problem, sir.”

The manager disappeared into the kitchen, his last remark sounding like a general ordering soldiers to the battlefield.

While we might get a few more customers thanks to Rei, to be honest, it was hard to believe this would be much of a significant change to the place. The stagnant atmosphere here made that painfully clear.

Trying to avoid disturbing her as much as possible, I casually posed a question to Rei as she happily drank her coffee.

“The manager didn’t force you to wear that outfit, right?”

“I wouldn’t say he exactly threatened me, but he did request I wear something Halloween-ish.”

“I see. So why did you pick a maid costume?”

“It’s just something I liked and really wanted to wear. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have wanted you to try it on.”

I shuddered. That incident the other day was truly a bona-fide crisis.

“On the day I got hired, I asked the manager what I should wear. He said anything was fine, so I thought I might as well wear a maid outfit.”

I had no idea what she meant by ‘might as well’, but the only thing I could infer from this is that the manager was putting Rei into a special category apart from all the other employees, girl or guy alike. I had trouble believing that he had even entrusted her with the cafe’s wardrobe. Was this guy actually the manager? Maybe Rei was the real reason everyone had quit. May those nameless, maid outfit-wearing victims rest in peace.

“There’s nothing more functional, cute, and well-suited to this job than a maid outfit. And yet, nobody wants to put it on! Can you believe it? I’m sad, so terribly sad…”

Rei began sobbing, wiping her tears with her apron. But–for the sake of future hires crying themselves to sleep–I’d better let her know it’s not that easy for some people to hop over the fence of gender.

“Don’t you think that everyone should try wearing a maid costume at least once? I really just want people to know what’s so great about them. I think anyone who tries one on will discover a new, amazing world they’d never even dreamed of!”

Actually no, I think that world is truly not meant to be discovered.

But if this conversation escalated any further, I think my health would be at risk. So I tried to diffuse things with a mild rebuttal, as if gently pushing in her protruded lips.

“Yes, that maybe true, but everyone has a different taste in clothes. And if you force your taste on others, it might backfire, don’t you think?”

“Uh…Yeah that’s true but…”

“If you really want others to understand what’s great about maid costumes, I think a little give-and-take is important. Now is the time to back down and give them some space. When the time comes, I bet everyone will probably realize that you were right about this.”

“Oh, that makes sense…”

While I was saying this, I felt like I was somehow condemning myself instead of Rei. I not only had trouble with the “giving” side of things, but I was completely unable to “take” as well.

However, Rei nodded to herself quietly in acquiescence; my lame attempt at a counter-argument seemed to actually strike a chord in her. I could just imagine her being persuaded by some salesman to buy a million-dollar piece of useless pottery. I made a mental note to warn her about this someday. Living alone truly has its dangers.

While all this was happening I had polished off my panini. Just as I thought, the massive sandwich was quite filling and the coffee thoroughly delighted my tongue and full belly–though I would not expect any less from the manager’s coffee. For a little while Rei and I wallowed together in feelings of utter satisfaction. At this rate, my stomach would become a slave of the manager, though I was pretty much a slave of Rei already.

With both our minds and bodies captivated by the manager’s culinary prowess, a familiar high-pitched sound suddenly rang throughout the cafe. It was the new doorbell we’d just installed on the front door. Even during our break the cafe was still technically in business, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise for a customer to drop by. Though for this place, I guess it was sort of a surprise.

Taking advantage of this perfect chance to return to work, we immediately put our plates on the other side of the counter and headed towards the sound. After all, every customer counted. And so with a wide smile I’d learned from Rei, I said,

“Welco–”

But I faltered partway through, uncertain of whether to continue or not.

Standing in the doorway was a little girl, donning a beret, ink black sunglasses like you see in classic detective shows, and a mask that concealed most of her face. I could tell this customer was a girl thanks to the red checkered skirt that peeked out under her white coat and light brown pigtails dangling under her beret. Unlike Rei, my sense of fashion didn’t blur the gender boundary, so I could tell someone’s gender just from a glance at their clothes, and the pigtails removed any doubts I had. But if I was wrong and this was actually a guy, I’d really be concerned about our country’s sexual norms.

The girl gave us a quick glance and took a seat in the rear of the cafe, below where we had been putting up curtains only moments earlier. She leisurely opened her menu and began to flip through it.

Rei and I still hadn’t moved an inch. I couldn’t see her expression from where I was, but I was in the grip of some indescribable fear. The temperature in the room seemed to suddenly have risen two degrees, but when I realized this was an illusion caused by my nerves, an uncomfortable sweat broke out on my forehead. Judging from her appearance, if there was ever a suspicious person, it was her. In my entire life, I’d never seen someone this blatantly suspicious, nor did I imagine such a person would actually come visit where I worked.

While I was deeply regretting not taking a self-defense class, she looked up from the menu and towards our general direction. I could feel her gaze from behind those inorganic-looking lenses. It seems she was ready to order.

I held my breath. I knew I had to take her order, but no matter how hard I tried, my legs wouldn’t budge. That’s when I heard Rei speak.

“I’ll take her order.”

She announced this casually, as if it was the easiest thing in the world, and walked over to the girl’s table.

The customer gestured what she wanted on the menu while Rei took her order like she always did. But was something more sinister going on here? I also got the impression they were deep in some important conversation. The young girl’s expression didn’t reveal anything, but Rei had a genuine smile as if she was talking to an old friend.

As I stood helpless, still frozen in shock, Rei returned to the kitchen with her usual jolly gait, apparently having finished taking the customer’s order.

“Manager! I’ve got an order for a bolognese cheese toast, pastrami panini, cheesecake, and a cafe au lait.”

Wow, that was a mouthful. How hungry was this girl?

After energetically announcing the order to the kitchen, Rei turned towards me with a hint of a smile.

“Hey Jun. I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind serving the food for this customer when it is ready?”

“Huh? Oh, of course…”

Rei didn’t seem the least bit fazed by the situation. It dawned on me that if Rei was going to be this calm, there was probably no reason for me to be concerned either. But one can’t be too careful. I’m sure Rei, an experienced waitress, is doing her best to maintain a smile in front of customers, and the presence of a suspicious-looking customer doesn’t change that.

A little while later, the manager called me to come pick up the bolognese and panini from the kitchen. Oddly enough, even he had a big smile on his face. Perhaps he was in cahoots with this customer. Maybe they were planning to play a prank on the new kid.

Turning my back on Rei and the manager–their foreboding smiles showing no signs of receding–I put the two plates onto a tray and reluctantly headed for the unsavory customer’s table. It was then that I finally realized how strange it was for Rei to have taken the order, but leave the serving up to me. But having already picked up the plates, failing to complete the job would likely arouse her suspicion. My stomach was starting to hurt.

“I’m terribly sorry for the wait. This is the bolognese and panini, and–”

Seeing her staring at me, I suddenly forgot what I was saying.

Her expression wasn’t visible. Some sort of inorganic terror came over me, as if a robot was glaring at me. My instincts had been right about this girl. She took being suspicious to a whole new level. I had to serve the food and get out of here pronto.

I managed to force an awkward smile and tried to return to the kitchen, but she thrust the palm of her hand out towards me. The meaning of this gesture was apparently “Wait!”. I just wanted to go home. But if I ignored her request, there was no telling what she would do to me, so I simply froze in place.

“Can you keep a secret?”

She asked me skeptically. There was something about her voice…I’d heard it somewhere before. Somewhere deep in my memory I could hear the same voice played back.

“Hey, are you listening? I said ‘Can you keep a secret?’ ”

When she urged me to answer I felt the spinning sense of deja vu in my head evaporate into nothingness.

“No…it’s just that I’m too young to ruin my life, so…”

“What? Ruin your life how?”

“Huh? But I thought you were here to sell drugs…”

“Who said I was a drug dealer?! I simply asked if you could keep a secret!”

“I’m so sorry, but I’m still a young guy. Can you please pretend this never happened.”

“Who is–aggh! This is hopeless! You aren’t even listening to me…Rei!”

My desperate attempt to resist her did the trick. Rei responded to the customer’s call, bringing the rest of the food (except the cheesecake) and the cafe au lait to the table. Knowing Rei’s first name and addressing her so impolitely–this girl was probably a regular customer here.

“Rei! You better not let this guy get away with insulting me like this! Why? Why does someone like me who just exudes celebrity have to be treated like an outlaw?!”

“I don’t know what is going on here, but I think you should start by showing us your face.”

Rei placed everything on the tray in front of the girl, the waitress making no attempt to hide her frustration.

Did asking her to show her face mean she was a wanted criminal? If so, then perhaps I should call the police immediately. Even Rei is acting like she knows something now. There very well may be something terrible happening here, unbeknownst to me.

“Ok, I guess I have no choice.”

The girl gave a deep sigh, glanced at me and then sighed once more. She looked carefully around the cafe, then opened the curtains slightly and peeked outside. Once all that was done, she placed her hand on her sunglasses and mask and slowly removed them.

“…Uh, wha…?”

When I saw her face, I couldn’t help but blurt out something idiotic. This was neither a drug dealer neither a wanted criminal. It was someone that even I was familiar with, not to mention Rei.

Having said that, I’d never actually seen this girl before in person. I simply felt like her face was floating around in some corner of the collective zeitgeist. But when I saw it, I finally understood the reason that she was trying to hide her identity, and why she was so paranoid about her surroundings.

Several years ago, there was a performer who–like a shooting star–had suddenly become popular, and then shortly after (again like a shooting star) disappeared completely. The legendary pop star who shook Japan.

“–It’s Mekuru Kira!”

“No, actually that’s Momoko Sawai.”

“Hey, that’s my real name! It was never released to the public!”

Mekuru Kira.

In those days she was at the top of the charts, but the tempestuous entertainment world ate and spit out this unlucky girl out. However to this day, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t remember her, a performer with real talent who had been popular with all ages.

But why was someone who had rocked the world back then here in this cafe? And why did Rei address her on a first name basis and speak so casually like they were friends?

In the midst of a storm of doubts, a single thought dominated my average Joe-mind.

This girl, unlike me, had been a shining star on screen in those days. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine seeing her in a place like this. But this unbelievable thing was happening now, before my very eyes.

I felt hopelessly engulfed by the swirling currents of fate.

Event Review: Mochitsuki 2017: 21st Annual Japanese American New Year Celebration (もちつき)

Around May last year, my family and I moved to Portland, Oregon from South Florida. One of the reasons was it’s active Japanese culture, and I recently attended an event which truly personified this culture:  Mochitsuki 2017, held in Downtown Portland today (Jan 29).

Mochitsuki (餅つき or もちつき) is a tradition in Japan which involves pounding glutinous rice to make rice cakes (called “mochi”) in preparation for the new year. This tradition has been around for several centuries, being said to have occurred since the Japanese Heian period (794-1185).

The actual process of mochitsuki involved getting in a large line, and then when it was our turn our son was allowed to pound the rice inside of a mortar (臼, usu) with a large wooden mallet (杵, kine). The rice had been pre-pounded by a group of  four people right before the event started, so it was already somewhat gooey, and each person was only allowed five hits with the mallet. (I heard that four people pounding rice at the same time isn’t too common in Japan, but that’s a minor point)

As you might imagine, the act of pounding itself isn’t breathtakingly exciting, but it’s the tradition that matters, and the fact you are doing it with friends and/or Japanese people (or those with Japanese heritage).

Fortunately, the Mochitsuki 2017 festival is packed with many more things to do in addition to the actual rice pounding. There was a koto performance which was quite beautiful, a storyteller telling some interesting tales, ikebana (traditional flower arrangement) mini-class, cooking classes, things for sale, kendo demonstration (Japanese fencing), attendance of a go club (you know the one with the white and black stones on a large grid), and yutaka/kimono try on and photoshoot for children. Of course, no Japanese event is complete with a taiko performance. (This actually isn’t a complete list, there was even more than I mentioned here).

There was also some good Japanese food, including a selection of bentos and omochi (by Nichiren Buddhist Temple of Portland), ramen tasting, and one of my favorites, curry by Kalé restaurant. All of these where a little pricey, for example a small tray of beef curry with rice for $8, but it was still worth it.

The event lasted from 11am-4pm, though after around 3 hours we had our share of activities and food. (One suggestion for next year: please have some coffee available). It was held on several floors of a Portland State University building, and there was a big enough crowd to fill up many of the rooms and hallways.

But more than anything else, there was a very large number of Japanese people. We met several friends there (some planned, some by chance) as well as some Japanese teachers. There was also a good number of international couples (by this I mean one parent is Japanese and one isn’t), and of course many bilingual children running around.

Whether you want to experience some (mostly) authentic Japanese culture, make some Japanese friends, or just catch some native Japanese speech in passing, this is a great experience for all people interested in Japan and the Japanese language. The main reason I said “mostly authentic” was because during the storytelling portion, I asked someone what you call a storyteller in Japanese, and was told there isn’t really people like that in Japan. (The storyteller did do a good job however)

At this event, there was a few times where I said something in Japanese to a Japanese person, and was responded to in English. To be fair, I acknowledge that communication is more important than using a specific language, so it’s just something I have to get used to. I think those people I had this experience with either were stronger in English (they all appeared to be fluent in English), assumed I would know English better (technically true) or both. But when I try to ask a question in Japanese to get some extra conversation practice and hear English coming back, it’s hard not to be disappointed a little bit (:

Tickets were $4/$7/$10 depending on your age (being free for 4 and below and 88 and above), and the price was well worth it. We bought tickets ahead of time online, and just in case it gets sold out I recommend buying them in advance if you go next year. Much of the event was run by volunteers, so if you are interested in volunteering you can contact them.

For more information see the event site here.

Japanese children’s book review: 「にほんのマナー えほん” (Japanese Manners Illustrated Book)

Studying Japanese using Japanese books written for children is always something I suggest to leaners who are in the beginner or intermediate levels. As long as you pick a book that isn’t too difficult (you can start with baby books to be safe) you will some good reading practice, and also the satisfaction of actually reading a real Japanese book. Also, many children’s books have aspects of Japanese culture and customs embedded in them in some form of another.

Lately I came across a Japanese children’s book which explicitly tackles Japanese culture and customs. It is a book on learning traditional Japanese manners titled「にほんのマナー  えほん” (Japanese Manners Illustrated Book), illustrated by Miyuki Sakura (さくらみゆき). I guess the content itself isn’t anything special (since most people of a certain age should know it already) so there is no mention of the author. The book was published in 2014 by Shogakukan (小学館)and you can see more details here.

Instead of giving my own summary of content, I’ll make a quick translation exercise out of this and just translate the first part of the content at the above link.

===

最低限知っておきたいマナーを知る絵本
日本人として、知っておきたいこと。
子どものうちに教えておきたい、たしなみ。

たとえば
★和室では、畳の縁は踏まないといった、きまりごと
★お箸やお茶碗の正しい持ち方,使い方
★ものをもらったときの挨拶の仕方
★初詣の参拝の基本

This illustrated book teaches basic Japanese manners.
Things that every Japanese person should know.
Matters of etiquette that children should learn while they are young.

For example,
* Customs related to Japanese-style rooms (washitsu). For example, the edge of the tatami area should not be stepped on.
* The proper way to hold and use chopsticks and rice bowls
* How to express gratitude when receiving a gift
* The basics of Hatsumode, the first visit to a Shinto shrine of the new year

===

While this is a children’s book, a majority of the manners described apply to both children and adults. So whether you are studying Japanese in or outside of Japan, I think there is much valuable information here.

Many of these were unfamiliar to me and it was quite interesting to learn more about this side of Japan. There is even some information about the reasons behind these traditions, like why it is said one should not walk on the very middle of roads in Shinto shrines (anyone want to guess?).

The pictures, while simple, are cute and really help explain the various topics.

Pretty much all the kanji characters have furigana reading hints in hiragana (except for the sections that are meant to be read by adults), so this book is great even for learners who know little or know kanji. This book takes an approach of not only providing furigana, but also not using Kanji that are above a certain level, so 場所 (place) is written as 場しょ, with a “ば” over the first character. This isn’t ideal for those studying kanji, but if you know only a handful of characters you may be able to try and get by without using the reading hints, which is cool.

The book is relatively short, at around 50 pages, but it is quite information dense so the length wasn’t a problem for me.

There is even a few sections talking about Japanese phrases and their appropriate use, and a 2-page section in the page about 「ことばの マナー」 describing both the less and more polite forms of common expressions, like ありがとう vs ありがとうございます。I was a little surprised to find the less-polite form of どういたしまして (you’re welcome) was  うん.  This section was a little surreal since it almost felt like a basic Japanese textbook, except it is actually targeting native children.

I found this in the Kinokuniya bookstore (inside Uwajimaya grocery store) in Beaverton, Oregon not too far from Portland.

 

Japanese novel translation: “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” Chapter 2: Waging War (Part 2)

This is Chapter 2 of the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog.

The story’s original table of contents and summary can be seen in Japanese here. You can see the original Chapter 2 in Japanese here.

As usual, if you like this story please like and/or comment on this post to help me decide whether to translate more of this or to move on. You can also see this survey where you can vote for this story, or others for me translate.

Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for doing a proofread of this chapter.

(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which contains links to other chapters and the summary here)


Welcome to the Raindance Cafe     by      Yama Yamasaki

Chapter 2: Waging War (Part 2)

Rei was right. Working at the Raindance Cafe wasn’t going to be easy.

To begin with, I had to do something about the gloomy, desolate atmosphere of this place. As my shift began, Rei was wiping the sweat from her forehead during a quick break. Apparently due to its convenient location–reasonably close to both the nearest train station and the college I was attending–in the mornings a good number of people stopped in on their way to work or school. I don’t think the seats were ever full, but considering that Rei was the sole member of the waitstaff, it was clear this was no easy job. The manager, probably taking this into account, seemed to be hesitant to start a newbie like me in the morning and scheduled my shift to begin around noon when the main crowd died down and there was time to focus on my training. How considerate of him. The tough guy was really something.

Once the clock past 1 p.m, the flow of customers stopped, but in their place I had to deal with a daunting amount of information from Rei.

She went over a bunch of things in quick succession too numerous to count, from mixing simple drinks to cleaning. Since Rei had managed all of these tasks herself every day, I can really understand why the manager valued her so highly. By the way, coffee and food preparation was all done exclusively by the manager; the cafe revolved around a complete division of labor. Rei was just a part-timer after all, and it would be a waste to have someone with her looks hiding in the kitchen.

In addition to doing all these things since early morning with almost no break, today she was also training me, and I felt terribly guilty about this. Furthermore, each piece of my uniform–apron, white dress shirt, and black slacks–had been embroidered with my name in English characters. I was really happy to have escaped a maid costume, but since this had been prepared in under 24 hours she had probably been up until late at night, carefully doing the stitching herself. Even the size was perfect, though I don’t know how she managed that. If she is going to do this much for me, I’ll wear whatever she wants, even a maid outfit. Actually, scratch that last part.

“And when you press this button, the receipt gets printed out…”

There I was, learning how to use the register next to Rei, pulse racing as I wore clothes woven with her kindness and warmth.

To put it bluntly, her way of teaching was extremely easy to understand. She went to great pains so even someone like me–a newbie with no experience working in the service industry, let alone in a restaurant–could understand things systematically, piece by piece. If she could distill this teaching style in a manual and distribute it to a struggling chain restaurant, its employees’ skills would surely skyrocket overnight, along with their profits. I don’t think that is going to happen for this cafe, though she could just sell such a book to make some money. There was a massive amount of information to learn, but it was all being burned into my memory before I knew it. At this rate, I’ll become an expert in no time.

Anyway, enough about that.

More importantly, there was the closeness.

Rei didn’t seem to be bothered by it at all, but I had the feeling that proper understanding and retention of her clear instructions were being hindered by a sense of closeness–a feeling our bodies were constantly on the verge of touching. No matter how simple, straightforward, or easy-to-understand her teaching was, I couldn’t ignore the fact that her own body was an obstruction to my learning. Under this pretext, I wanted to get some distance from her. Thanks to her faint citrus scent, I couldn’t concentrate one bit. Nevertheless, her skillful way of teaching really did save me. Had she been bad at this, I’d have inevitably been marked with the stigma of “another hopeless newbie”, and my miserable self would have had no choice but to quit amidst looks of contempt. It probably would have given me a heart attack.

“J-Jun?”

Rei’s subtle change in intonation caught my attention.

“What is it?”

“Are you OK? If you aren’t feeling well, you can take a–”

“No, there is absolutely no problem.”

“Oh…Then could you please stop pounding on the register’s receipt button?”

Rei was staring at something near my hands. When I followed her gaze downward, I saw a slip of paper gently falling through the air. Around the register lay scattered a myriad of receipts.

“Oh…I’m so sorry!!”

“It’s all right. It’s really all right, so please don’t make a face like the world is going to end.”

She smiled bitterly and began to pick up the receipts strewn across the floor.

“Oh, Rei! Don’t worry about those, I’ll take care of them!”

Each time I saw her reaching for a receipt, I rushed to pick it up before she could. I continued picking them up one after another so that she wouldn’t dirty her hands with them.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

The roll of receipt paper was one of the cafe’s expenses. I was well aware that wasting anything was to be avoided no matter what. They were struggling with barely enough income to keep the cafe in business, and I couldn’t waste their precious money like this. Even when asked about my resume yesterday, in her presence I was utterly useless. Without a doubt, it was all because of my lack of focus. Now things were made even worse by the scent of her hair each time I bent over to pick up a receipt, and I couldn’t even look her in the eyes.

“Jun, please don’t worry about those.”

Her fine hand, skin nearly transparent, reached out to grab one of the receipts I was going for.

“You’re new around here, so just leave that up to me–someone with a little more experience.”

When I raised my head, I was suddenly, hopelessly blinded.

It was her smile. It illuminated everything, like the autumn sun filtering through the leaves. Once more there was the sensation of floating on air. The emotions I had felt yesterday for the first time were back in force today, begging for me to indulge in them again.

Barely able to look directly at her face, I did my best to calm my racing heart and continue cleaning up quietly.

“Th-thank you so much. I’m really sorry about this…”

“No worries. As your superior, it is only natural for me to help out. By the way, your face is bright red. Are you alright?”

“Yes, everything is great. I am completely fine.”

With her assistance, the receipt collection speed doubled.

Having picked up nearly all of the scattered receipts, Rei said, “all right…” and stood up.

“This completes your register training. We’re right on schedule, so let’s take a short break now.”

“Oh, sure.”

I took the massive wad of receipts in each hand and hesitantly shoved them into the trash can, then followed behind Rei who was heading for the kitchen.

“Manager! We’re taking a break now!”

“Sure thing.”

After hearing the acknowledgement of the manager who was preparing something in another room, Rei washed her hands at the faucet next to the kitchen and then turned to face the counter. I did the same.

“We can take our breaks at this counter when things are slow. Though I guess around this time there usually aren’t many customers anyway.”

Rei removed her apron and sat at the counter, pointing her finger at the nearby stool. Apparently, she was asking for me to sit there. I hesitated for a moment, but knowing it was impossible to refuse her kindness now, I removed my apron and sat there, doing my best to appear calm. As you would expect at a counter like this, the stools were round, black, and (also as you would expect) able to swivel, so I had to take care to not accidentally spin around and get too close to her. I did this–of course–to avoid freaking out, although keeping calm while sitting next to her like this was pretty difficult to begin with.

“So, what do you think? Was the training easy to follow so far?”

As soon as I sat down, Rei asked me in a slightly subdued voice.

“It was perfect! I didn’t have even a single question. It was so easy to remember everything, and by tomorrow I think I’ll be ready to work at full capacity. Thanks again for everything, especially help with the receipts.”

“Wow, I’m so glad to hear that! I must admit that the receipt thing sort of surprised me, but in the beginning, everyone is bound to make mistakes. In fact, the more mistakes you make, the faster you learn. The faster you learn, the easier it is for me as well, and since you seemed to like my teaching style, I guess you can consider yourself fortunate to be paired with such a great teacher…”

Rei was suddenly the ultimate embodiment of a girl, giggling as she poked her cheek with her finger. With this pose, she didn’t look qualified to be teaching anyone.

And yet, she was clearly enjoying what I said about her, so–even though it might be inappropriate, given all the trouble I caused her–I decided to take advantage of this situation and make a valiant attempt to shower her with compliments. Everybody needs a change now and then.

“But Rei, you’re really amazing, always doing so much all by yourself. I think it’s so easy to learn from you because you’re such a natural at this stuff.”

“Really?! No way, I don’t think I am a…actually, maybe you are onto something there…”

“What you talking about?! Rei being a natural? Darling, you sure got bad taste in jokes…”

The manager appeared in the kitchen window, his remark wiping the expression of utter satisfaction clean off Rei’s face.

An appetizing, meaty aroma filled the room. Turning towards the manager in anticipation, I realized he was carrying two familiar-looking steel plates, one in each hand. A glance at what was on those plates had my mouth watering; I remembered we hadn’t eaten anything since morning.

“Here you go! Today’s lunch is Raindance Cafe’s signature hamburger steak, on the house.”

Plates with sizzling meat, knives, and forks were placed before us. This meal was my ticket to beef-induced bliss. Rei likewise ogled the juicy steak as if she’d just gotten her hands on a 100-carat diamond.

“M-manager, what is with you today?!”

“Just a little celebration for Sweety-J getting hired. Rei, I’ll also let you participate since you did the hiring.”

“Wow! What a perfect way to show how great of a manager you are! Thank you so much!”

“T-thank you very much sir.”

“Oh, it’s no big deal. You guys want some coffee?”

When Rei and I answered “Yes” in unison, the Manager grinned and disappeared into the kitchen, where he began pouring coffee from a syphon near the kitchen window.

“Your coffee is the best! I love it! I’m sure Jun will love it too!”

Already beginning to dig into her steak, Rei complemented the manager’s barista skills with a cheerful, infectious smile. It was almost as if his coffee was the only thing she truly loved.

To tell the truth, I’d actually never thought about the difference between various types of coffee. Normally I drank tea sold in plastic bottles, but I couldn’t tell subtle variations in flavor between brands, so there was no way I’d be able to do the same for coffee, which I rarely drank. While I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to truly agree with Rei’s evaluation of the manager’s coffee, having received this special meal I decided that I would clean the plate without complaint.

For now, I simply followed Rei’s example, using my knife and fork to cut the steak into large bite-sized pieces, which I proceeded to savor one at a time. Wow. This was some great steak. It tasted even better than I expected, even for a steak that just came off the grill. The demi-glaze–probably homemade–was a perfect match for the medium-cooked chunk of meat. You may be thinking that demi-glaze isn’t anything particularly unique, but keep in mind a college student’s wallet is generally not too thick. The enjoyment of eating something for the first time in ages is that much more intense.

“You know, even Rei was horrible when she first started here. She was really pitiful. Sweety-J, you’re actually way better than she was in those days.”

“M-manager!”

The manager’s offhand comment about Rei’s past made her instantly blush in embarrassment.

“It was so long ago that you’d never believe it, but back then she made mistakes taking orders, using the register, and at her worst, spilling coffee onto customers at least three times a day…”

“Hey! Cut it out!!”

Face turning an even more extreme shade of red, Rei tried to stop her manager on the other side of the counter with a force like she intended to jump over it. But he paid her no mind. His smug expression was most definitely a sign he’d achieved his goal–provoking this reaction from Rei.

To be honest, I had sort of predicted that Rei’s early days hadn’t been easy. Even as an experienced waitress, she tends to bite off more than she can chew, and anyone who saw Rei working yesterday would probably feel the same. No offense to her, but when I’m watching Rei I just get this acute sense of…danger, or something like that. But, to become what she is now, she must have really struggled a great deal. When I thought about it that way, what she had said took on an altogether new significance. In my entire life, I’ve never met someone who embodies the phrase “The road to success is paved with failure” more than her.

“But anyway, now she’s doing a great job. Once in a while she still makes a blunder, though.”

“Right, it’s really once in a great while. Or should I say almost never. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have kept me this long.”

“Ok, Ok, you’re so right, honey. Just slow down a bit tomorrow when you are carrying coffee, kay?”

“Hey!!”

Placing our coffee cups on the counter, the manager laughed off Rei’s protest and disappeared again into the kitchen.

“…But it was just really bad luck today…bad luck that I happened to trip and spill coffee on a customer…”

Rei mumbled this excuse over and over as she feverishly wolfed down the remainder of her steak. I guess she wanted to avoid sullying her image as an experienced waitress at all costs, but it was a little late for that, and more importantly I didn’t care about that sort of thing to begin with.

Rei, having emptied her plate, now drank coffee with a satisfied expression that was a drastic change from only a moment ago. This girl just couldn’t hide her emotions.

“You two really are close, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, after all we’ve been together for so long…”

Judging from her tone of voice and facial expression, she seemed to be absorbed in a post-steak euphoria. I couldn’t bring myself to bother her, and I don’t think she’d come back to Earth no matter what I said, so I just decided to let her be.

And yet, putting aside the fact that the manager was so close to her, Rei herself didn’t seem upset at all about what had happened. It was only natural for her to become attached to a boss who treated her so well. Even so, this degree of reliance on him was probably due in part to his trustworthy character. Everything about this man was huge–his physical build, his broad sexuality, even his humanity. Given all this, did I really have had a chance in hell to compete with this guy? I don’t mean compete as a rival lover, but rather as a member of the human race. With someone like that in her vicinity, a normal guy like me is nothing but another face in the crowd.

I picked up my cup of freshly-made, fragrant coffee. It looked and smelled just as I had imagined it would. Black with a splash of brown. The rising steam seemed to be urging me to drink it.

I took a sip. Something was different. It had a rich flavor, with an aroma far surpassing my expectations, and yet surprisingly refreshing. Truly delicious.

Unable to resist, I took sip after sip. Each time, I tried to feel the difference between my expectations and the actual flavor I tasted in my mouth. I felt betrayed; the flavor was nothing like the coffee’s appearance suggested. Of course, I mean this in a good way.

Feeling almost possessed, I savored the coffee until the bottom of the cup was visible. It dawned on me that what Rei had said about the manager’s coffee was right. But I couldn’t decide whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.

 

Japanese expression “〜するも” (~suru mo) and vagueness of the が (ga) particle

Recently I read the very enjoyable short story “麦本三歩は今日が好き” by 住野よる in the literary magazine 小説幻冬 (Dec 2016 edition). I even translated a short excerpt of it into English here.

There was one line of the story whose grammar I just couldn’t figure out, and I thought that it was either some strange pattern I had never seen before, or just a typo. While I could have used something like Japanese Language StackExchange to get some help, I decided to write the publisher directly (in Japanese).

Here is the line, from page 44:

も、熱さに一度指を放してしまってから一度フォークにひっかけてティーバッグをお茶の中で上下させ、成分を十分に溶け込ませてからフォークごと流し台に置いておく。

The sentence is a bit long and complex, but you may have picked up on the weird part–the “も” at the very beginning. I double checked and the character before this was a period. My first guess was that this was a typo for  “もう”.

Here is the answer from their editorial department:

→普通に書けば、「指でつまむも、熱さに一度放した」ですね。
つまり「指でつまんだけれども、熱いので、一度放した」という意味です。
「つまむ」と「も」の間に、「。」を入れることで、
作者独自の言葉のリズムを産み出しています。

The summary of this is that the も is usually connected to the previous sentence, rendering the pattern “〜するも” which translates to something like “〜したけれも”.  However, the author apparently added a period before the も in order to create a unique sense of rhythm.

Looking at the previous sentence before the “も” we see  “。。。フークで持ち上げてから指でつまむ。”, which means that this:

。。。フークで持ち上げてから指でつまむ。も熱さに一度指を放してしまって。。。

effectively means this:

。。。フークで持ち上げてから指でつまんだけれども熱さに一度指を放してしまって。。。

For beginner, or even intermediate students of Japanese this can be quite confusing, because a non-past verb tense (つまむ) is effectively being interpreted as a past verb tense (つまんだ). However, once you consider that Japanese verb tenses are generally a little more fluid than in English, this is a bit easier to accept. One manifestation of this how you may find a mix of past and non-past tenses in literature (even in the same paragraph) much more often than in English.  (The phrase “ちょっとまった!” is another example, can you guess what it means?)

Now that I knew this was a variation of the ~するも (~suru mo) pattern, I searched for that and found this educational post in Japanese. (Note that you shouldn’t confuse this with “〜するのも” (~ suru no mo) where the verb is being treated as a noun. This would have a different, more straightforward meaning (ex: “日本に行くのもいい”, “It would also be good to go to Japan”)).

As is typical with posts asking about grammar explanations, there are some differing opinions, but overall I think there is some agreement that this is a literary expression that is used less frequently (if at all) in spoken speech. Also, as I talked about above,  the 〜するも pattern can mean 〜したけれも, and the post also mentions meanings 〜したのに and 〜しても.

The topmost answer (No. 5) mentions something really interesting that I thought I would touch on here, which is that there are some people who advocate avoiding the use of “が” as a connecting particle (this is supposedly one of the reasons why 〜するも is preferred over が). The below examples were given:

・安いが、まずい
・安いが、うまい

In the first sentence, が has more of a connecting meaning, as in “It’s cheap and tastes bad.”

However, in the second sentence, it has more of a contrasting meaning, as in “It’s cheap, but tastes good.”

So, in summary, we see that the が particle can be used for two very different meanings (not to mention other common ones such as a subject marker which I am not addressing here). The poster of that answer mentions that this can “put a burden on the reader” and expresses his/her annoyance regarding its usage.

I vaguely remember learning that が had these double meanings a long time ago, but it’s good to know that some native speakers also struggle with the vagueness of this usage. Fortunately, I think most cases you can tell the purpose of が from the context, as in the above examples about cheap food.

Japanese Short Story Translation Excerpt: “A Perfect Day For Miho Mugimoto” (麦本三歩は今日が好き) By Yoru Sumino (住野よる)

Recently I’ve been reading a few stories from the magazine “小説幻冬” (December 2016 edition), and I came across one that was particularly entertaining.

This story is told in monologue-style, and though little happens in terms of action, I really like how the main character’s personality is portrayed and could really empathize with her.

I couldn’t help but translate a few paragraphs, just to see if I could convey the same tone and feeling in English. I think it turned out pretty well, but let me know what you think.

Just to be clear this is an unofficial translation, in no way endorsed by the author or publisher.

I think it would be fun to translate the whole thing, but as this is from a published work I’ll refrain from that. But if you would like to read more let me know, and if enough people are interested who knows, we might get an official full translation someday.

Enjoy!

 


“A Perfect Day For Miho Mugimoto” (麦本三歩は今日が好き)

By Yoru Sumino (住野よる)

(Short Excerpt)

 

When Miho Mugimoto isn’t asleep, she’s awake. This may seem like an obvious statement, but Miho isn’t awake because she wants to be. That’s why she would like to point out that being awake now is by no means desirable from her point of view. If you were to ask who she wants to point this out to, she would probably answer to someone who’ll compliment her for being awake. She was terribly perturbed above having to part ways with her warm comforter early in the morning once again to go to work. The honest truth is that she’d love to sleep until 10 am.

In her bedroom with curtains shut tight, Miho shut off the alarm which had been set for a few minutes early and fiddled with her cell phone from within her comforter. Email, Twitter, news on Natalie–having checked all of her usual web sites, it was about time to get moving, but her mind and body felt sluggish. She was quite healthy and in good spirits. It’s just that leaving bed was simply annoying. Just too much of a hassle. She only wished to stay with her soft comforter forever. Half-seriously pondering why she couldn’t just spend time with the things she loved, Miho rubbed her cheek against the comforter. Snuggle snuggle.

Things were great when she was in college. As long as she avoided picking any first period classes, in the morning she could wake up naturally, play around with her cell phone, and read any books within reach, all with time to spare. So what, you ask? Once she graduated and got a full time job, both her early schedule and the alarm’s ear-piercing sound returned, as if things had regressed back to her high school days. It made her feel like life ended at college, folding back upon itself.

But this was no time to mull over the past. The time to leave for work was fast approaching. Miho gathered all her strength and tore her body away from the seductive comforter. Not physically, but mentally. Focusing all of her attention, she visualized this with great effort. In fact, last night she had heard from a coworker that this morning would be terribly chilly, so she predicted waking up would be even more painful than usual. Therefore, she had a countermeasure in place to handle this. Miho had prepared her favorite steamed cheese bread for breakfast. It was an exchange of one of her favorite things for another – swapping her comforter for steamed cheese bread. This was her inexpensive, yet effective secret strategy for making it through the day.

 

Translator notes:

1) The original title in English literally means “Miho Mugimoto likes today“, but I used some artistic license to make what I felt was a better title that reflected the mood of the story. By the way, the title makes more sense when you read the entire story.

2) “Natalie” referred to the story is a Japanese news site that focuses on popular culture (http://natalie.mu)

Japanese novel translation: “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” Chapter 1: Waging War (Part 1)

This is Chapter 1 of the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog.

The story’s original table of contents and summary can be seen in Japanese here. You can see the original Chapter 1 in Japanese here.

As usual, if you like this story please like and/or comment on this post to help me decide whether to translate more of this or to move on. You can also see this survey where you can vote for this story, or others for me translate.

Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for doing a proofread of this chapter.

(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which contains links to other chapters and the summary here)

Welcome to the Raindance Cafe     by      Yama Yamasaki

Chapter 1: Waging War (Part 1)

“Come on dude, isn’t there somebody you like?”

In my 21 years of life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question.

I just couldn’t comprehend what it meant to like someone that way. Or I guess it would be more accurate to say I had no idea what that even felt like.

Of course, I had some awareness of compatibility with others and could say this person was easy to talk to, or that person was not, but I never felt what is commonly referred to as “romantic attraction” towards a specific girl. Actually, maybe I had, but it hadn’t mattered since I didn’t understand what I was feeling.

That’s why me having a girlfriend was totally out of the question. Even if you cornered me and said, “You know when something about a girl turns you on or excites you? I’m sure that’s happened to you before, right? Right?!” it wouldn’t mean a thing to me. Sorry.

But now I finally understood.

At this moment, I was feeling the very emotions that I’d heard about countless times, yet never understood.

And they were directed at the girl right in front of me in a maid uniform.

“I’m so sorry for being rude. I didn’t expect you to be here for the job opening…”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s my fault for coming up to you so suddenly…”

The girl pushed back her chair a little and bowed her head until it nearly touched the edge of the table.

I can’t believe how she can bow so respectfully to someone she’s just met. Maybe that’s just her personality. But wow, she looks so cute doing that! Sure, she’s wearing a maid outfit, but it perfectly fits her appearance and demeanour.

Nevertheless, I can’t just let her continue bowing to me like this.

“Can you please raise your head? If anyone is at fault it’s me for scaring–”

“I’d like to thank you very, very much!”

“What?”

As she raised her head, I could see eyes overflowing with tears as if she’d just been through hell. This sudden change totally caught me off guard.

“Actually, I’m the only waitress here. Everyone else has quit right after starting and there hasn’t been a new person in half a year, and I don’t know what to do…”

“J…Just hold on a minute…”

At last, the girl began sobbing violently.

“Someone finally came for me!”

“Hey, can you calm down? Please don’t cry, come on now…”

I offered my handkerchief to the girl, still absorbed in her crying. A tough-looking man standing at the counter who appeared to be the manager looked at me with an angry expression. Did I do something wrong? Come to think of it, I guess technically it was me who started all this.

Realizing that in the moment I’d said something pretty stupid, I decided to take stock of the situation.

At the time, I knew it was now or never. The road I took on the way home I never normally used, and I thought that if I just kept going I’d never return here again, so when I saw the job posting on the wall I made a snap decision. I even surprised myself that I had the courage to do this, and everything happened in a flash, so by the time I had understood what was happening I was already being led into the cafe.

While the girl was drying her tears, I casually looked around the inside of the cafe.

Words like vintage and classic have a nice ring to them, but this place’s dust-covered interior was just plain old and explained why there were so few customers. Actually, at the moment the only people in the building were the manger-looking guy, the waitress, and myself. The curtain on the south side was closed and let in almost no sunlight. The cafe wasn’t very big to begin with, but the sense of loneliness that pervaded the place was deeper than you’d expect from the size. Even considering the sole waitress was an attractive girl, with an atmosphere this dismal I wasn’t surprised in the least bit that everyone else had quit. Young kids nowadays had a particular dislike of gloomy places like this.

“…Don’t you think it’s a little gloomy in here?”

Apparently catching on to what I was getting at, the girl–her eyes still a little damp–opened her mouth to speak.

“I know what you mean. But I actually like the atmosphere here. Some customers, and employees that have quit said we should clean up the place…But neither the cafe manager nor I have any intention of doing that.”

Shocked, I suddenly caught my breath.

It was beautiful.

Her smile shined on the cafe’s interior, which was anything but bright. It was a dazzling smile that made me feel like I was walking on air. Even had I not fallen for her already, I’m sure one look at that smile would have attracted me in the same way. I couldn’t look away. I stared at her as if entranced by some strong magnetic force. Then I suddenly had the sensation of something grabbing hold of my chest, my heart, with great force.

“Oh, thank you for the handkerchief. I’ll wash it and return it later.”

“Huh? Yeah…Oh…Ok.”

“…Is something wrong?”

“No, not really…”

“Oh, I get it…”

Tears appeared in her eyes again.

“I….I knew it…You were lying about wanting the job…”

“No, of course I want it! I really want to work here, so please don’t cry!”

This girl has some serious mood swings. But to me, even this was a good thing.

Someone watching me might think that I was getting too carried away, having only met this girl less than an hour ago. But that didn’t really matter to me; my heart wasn’t a mechanical thing that would fluctuate with the passage of time.

I had confidence that no matter what she did, I could accept that as a part of what made her attractive. A fresh, pure emotion had begun to grow within me. I realized intuitively that this was called love. These feelings touched something deep in me, and I felt like a very lucky man. Once more, I had the sensation of levitating in mid-air.

I didn’t know anything about this girl who’d been working here for quite a while, but I dearly wanted to work at this old cafe for her sake. She was here, and that made it the right thing. That simple.

“…I promise I’ll do my best. Please hire me!”

“Oh, are you serious?!”

Her eyes sparkled with hope.

There was something extremely genuine about her. I guess rather than saying she lacked any pretense, it was like her face reflected what she was thinking without being filtered by reason. Being naive to this extent was a little concerning, but at the same time there was something reassuring about the fact that her expression perfectly projected her state of mind.

In any case, I was prepared to put my stake in the ground here–although this was just a part-time job. I don’t mean that literally, but rather in the sense of ambition, of trying hard to find happiness. I guess it sounds a bit extreme, but I really wanted to take advantage of meeting this girl and take my life in a new, positive direction.

“Thank you so much! Sorry, I don’t think I introduced myself properly before. I’m Rei Ochikibe! And that scary, macho guy is my manager Mr. Manaka!”

“Hi, I’m Jun Momose. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too Jun! Alright, I guess I might as well take your resume now.”

“Huh?!”

“Huh?!”

When I started to panic, she instinctively did the same.

“J…Jun?”

“…”

“Jun?”

“Yes?

“You don’t look too well. Are you OK?”

“Rei?”

“Yes?”

“Since you are asking if I am OK…No, I’m really not OK at all.”

“You aren’t OK?!”

My hands were sweating like crazy, or rather, my entire body was sweating profusely.

I hadn’t considered this at all. I had applied for a job on the spur of the moment; of course I didn’t have anything like a resume prepared. To be exact, I literally had nothing prepared. I also just remembered that the job paid only minimum wage. It was now painfully clear to me that my rash behavior had put me in a seriously bad situation.

I had to do something. If I didn’t make a good excuse, I’d have to withdraw from the race for which I now stood at the starting line.

“Just joking! Of course I have what you need. Please don’t be alarmed. And by the way, Rei,”

“Yes?”

“What I have on me…is only about 40 bucks. Is that going to be enough?”

“Huh?”

Unconsciously, part of me had decided to try to bribe her. I caught myself just in time. I was so desperate that I was willing to do anything. But, if I don’t say so myself, this was a dirty, political tactic. I think now I really understood what it was like to be a politician.

“So… I guess you don’t have the resume with you?”

Rei asked me with a suspicious look, like a police officer questioning a suspect.

Being honest here just wasn’t going to work. Because of who she is, she’d just see right through me. I had no choice but to use a cheesy excuse to get through this.

“I’m really sorry. I was in a hurry, and left it at my house.”

“You mean your resume?”

“Yes….”

“Um…Ok…”

“So…I guess without it, you won’t hire me, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. The manager has instructed me to not hire anyone who doesn’t have a resume I can verify…”

Rei frowned and nodded to herself with her hand posed on her chin, like a detective.

I felt pitiful for having not thought things through. I guess this is what they mean by ‘love is blind’. Actually, maybe that doesn’t quite fit.

For a moment, I considered writing out my resume on a sheet of paper and handing it to her. But I didn’t have a picture of myself, and I didn’t want her thinking I was the type of person who would do such a thing.

I continued to sweat like crazy while the wrinkles on her forehead got progressively deeper.

“But this time honey, I’ll make an exception.”

I heard a deep–yet somehow feminine voice from above me.

“This place is nearly bankrupt, and you’ve come this far so I’ve got no choice. Rei, I appreciate you being the serious type, but don’t just blindly listen to everything you are told, OK darling? I also told you to act according to the situation, right?”

“Manager…”

Rei looked up towards the tough, muscular man standing there.

Manager…Oh, this is the guy she had just introduced as Mr. Manaka. He’s even bulkier than I had originally thought. And I could immediately tell he was… well, you know.

“Sweety-J?”

“Y…Yes.”

“For now, just give us your name and address, and also your phone number. Since you’re right here, I already know what you look like and don’t need a photograph. All I care about is whether you do a good job, so I’ll just leave it up to Rei to decide whether she’ll get along with you, and we don’t need a formal interview. If she doesn’t have any complaints, honey you’re hired! Rei, what do you think?”

“Of course I don’t have any complaints! I think everything is perfect!”

“All right then, it’s decided. Sweety-J, I’ll see you tomorrow, kay?”

Mr. Manaka gave me an exaggerated wink and went back behind the counter. I felt a chill run down my spine, as if someone was running their fingers down my back.

“So, I guess that covers it for today. Now, can you please give us your information, Jun!”

“Oh, Sure. I’ll give you it…now.”

As I stared in a daze at Rei, her bright smile made my eyes sting.

The whole thing had happened so fast. I wasn’t given much of a chance to speak, and with only a few words Mr. Manaka managed to eliminate all my uncertainty and sweat–along with Rei’s forehead wrinkles. He wasn’t just pretending to act like a manager. I sensed a deeper type of strength, altogether different from his physical toughness.

And he also had said something quite thought provoking, too.

“Sure, like the manager said, I’ll just…umm…I’m sure there is a memo pad around here somewhere…”

Rei took a ballpoint pen and memo pad from her apron pocket and handed it to me.

“Here you go!”

I thought it was a little strange that the manager in charge of everything didn’t help out, but perhaps leaving all the HR work up to his only waitress, a part-time worker, was some indication of his abilities as a manager…or something like that. It’s even more surprising if he was putting her in charge just to make her happy. I bet he really appreciated having her around.

Having said that, I think maybe the reason new hires never stayed around is because of his preferential treatment of this part-time waitress. He seemed to look protectively at her as a parent would a child.

While thinking about all this I wrote down the information he’d asked for.

“Oh, it looks you live close to me.”

Rei mumbled, apparently watching what I wrote.

“Do you live by yourself?”

“Yes, I’m currently attending college.”

“Wow, oh really?! You know, I also live alone. In that area, there sure is a lot of apartments, and a few colleges nearby too. Is college life tough?”

“It’s tougher than when I was living with my parents. But in exchange, I get more freedom.”
“Really?”

“Also, the college I am going to is near this cafe, so I commute via train.”

“Oh really?”

To my delight, Rei showed me her amazing smile each time I spoke.

This girl is unbelievably cheerful and kind. Unable to look at her straight in the face after I realized the pen and memo pad I was using was hers, the more she smiled at me the harder I felt the need to look away and avoid eye contact.

I did learn something important here though. I’d never imagined she lived in my neighborhood. It would be really bad if she happened to find me walking around half-asleep in a convenience store on a day off. I’d be too ashamed to face her.

Judging from the way she spoke, she didn’t seem like a student. I had estimated her age to be around the same as mine, but apparently this was a faulty assumption.

“Ok, I’m done. Here is my information.”

“Thank you very much.”

I closed the memo pad and made a great effort to somehow avoid touching her hand as I returned it along with the pen.

“All right, this completes the paperwork. I’m sorry for giving you so little time, but would you be able to start tomorrow?”

“Yes, I don’t have any lectures tomorrow, so that will be fine.”

“Really? In that case, I’ll see you around noon here tomorrow! I’ll prepare your work clothes, so you don’t need to wear anything special!”

With a look of utter enjoyment, she raised the hem of her apron and swayed it back and forth in front of me. Along with the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, a doubt came to mind which I voiced to her.

“I’m sure I’m wrong about this, but there’s no way you are going to make me wear a maid outfit, right?”

“Of…Of course not. It won’t be a maid outfit.”

“Did I happen to just avert a major crisis?”

Judging from the way she was covering her face with her apron and looking away, it appears I did in fact just avert a major gender crisis. Oh, I get it–Maybe she simply has modern beliefs on sexuality. Her original intention to recommend a maid outfit for me was most likely an effort to break down the wall between the sexes. At least for the time being I’ll go with that interpretation.

“A…Anyway, I’ll prepare your clothes by tomorrow, so just bring your smile with you. Although I am not saying the work is going to be easy…”

“I know that. I’ll keep it in mind.”

“…I greatly appreciate your prompt understanding.”

I detected a hint of annoyance in her response. Seeing this sudden change of attitude I couldn’t help but break out laughing, which caused her smile to return. I knew it – she looked best with a smile. In my entire life, I’ve never met a single person for whom any expression but a smile just doesn’t seem right. Her smile is the heart of her charm, attracting others as it did me.

After talking a little more, I left the cafe, sent off by her smile. To be honest, leaving her was the last thing I wanted to do, but when I thought about how I’d be seeing her frequently, I realized it wasn’t a big deal–at least that is what I told myself as I walked to the station. The image of her cheerfully waving goodbye with an expression of longing was burned in my memory, raising my pulse every time I recalled it.

I boarded a moderately crowded uptown train and was lucky enough to get an end seat. As I basked in the rays of the autumn sunset I finally understood the implications of my course correction which had led me to the cafe.

Without much trouble – or should I say without much thought – I had taken a big step. This was a step in both the course of my life and in my growth as a human being. The extraordinary experience I had just moments ago would, starting tomorrow, become a usual part of my daily life. When I thought about that, I couldn’t help but grin to myself. I quickly buried my face in my backpack.

I’m going to make this work.

I realized that whenever I thought this, her smile always came to mind.

Japanese Children’s Book Review: 「言葉図鑑」(Visual Word Encyclopedia) by Taro Gomi (五味 太郎)

Sometime back, I mentioned that I recommend reading children’s books in a foreign language as a good way to experience native-level content that isn’t too difficult. For Japanese, this is especially useful since you will have very little, if any, kanji to worry about, which is one stumbling block when reading Japanese books.

I’ve read a great many books to my son in Japanese, and they’ve been a great help (as well as great fun) to both of us. But recently I came upon a series of books that I felt was extra special because of how it taught difficult concepts in a cute way.

The 10 book series is called 「言葉図鑑」(Visual Word Encyclopedia) and is written by Taro Gomi (五味 太郎). You can see a link to the entire series here, but I have spent most of my time with the third book (on adjectives) which you can see here, and this review reflects that. We actually rented this book in a public library in Portland, Oregon (isn’t Portland great!).

The premise of this series is simple. Each of them is basically a visual encyclopedia of words, with a descriptive picture above each word that written in hiragana. These are introduced in groups which span two pages at a time, each of which focuses on  a specific person or object.

For example, page 20 is about “どんな  はこ” (What type of box?) and has examples like “おもい はこ” (heavy box), “すくない はこ” (few boxes), and ”つまらない はこ” (boaring box).

While I am sure there are many good visual encyclopedias out there, there are a few great things about these books:

1) The author’s art style is simple, yet really cute and funny.

2) The pictures are done very creatively, and made as simple possible to illustrate a variety of concepts.

3) Regardless of your level, you will likely come across of words you haven’t seen frequently, if ever. Examples: けたたましい、そそっかしい、ものものしい、むごい、いかめしい、きぜわしい、むつまじい, etc.

Having said that, the drawback to these books is that in a few cases, if you don’t know the word at all you may have trouble picking up the exact meaning (at least in book 3). Some of this depends on how familiar you are with various techniques to express motion in a still pictures, though many of these are arguably common sense.

In some cases, there are subtle differences between words, like ”おそい じどうしゃ” and “のろい じどうしゃ”, where both have a car going slow, but in the latter case there is someone behind the car, looking frustrated.

I think the best way to read this book is go through it once without a dictionary, thinking about what the pictures are trying to show. Then, you can go through a second time and look up words you are unfamiliar with, which should shed some light on the picture’s intent. As I already knew many of the words (though not as many as I’d liked), I was biased and cannot say how many of these pictures will be confusing to others.

But in a sense, many of these words really don’t have a perfect equivalent in English, despite what the dictionary says. (Interestingly, this is one of the only books I have read that I really enjoyed, but I didn’t feel a need to translate it.) That is why sometimes through the pictures can you discover new nuances to these words. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words (:

To be honest, I am curious if the average modern Japanese child would know all of the words in these book, since many are terms I wouldn’t expect a child to know, or at least not use in their own speech. Part of it may be because this book is over 30 years old, and some of these words are used a little less frequently nowadays. Also, I’m sure the author purposefully choose some difficult words, because otherwise the book would appear to a much smaller audience.

In any case, I’m sure you’ll learn something from it.

Japanese novel translation: “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” Summary and Prologue

I’ve decided to start translating the novel “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” (original title “パーセント・エイジ 〜カフェ、レインダンスへようこそ!〜”)  by Yama Yamasaki (山崎山). I’ve talked to the author and gotten his permission to translate and put it on my blog. This post will cover the summary and the prologue.

The story’s original table of contents and summary can be seen in Japanese here. You can see the prologue in Japanese here.

As usual, if you like this story please like and/or comment on this post to help me decide whether to translate more of this or to move on. You can also see this survey where you can vote for this story, or others for me translate.

I hope you like it!

(Note: you can see a link to this story’s table of contents which will contain links to other chapters here)

Welcome to the Raindance Cafe     by      Yama Yamasaki

Summary

Life. It’s all about probabilities―and miracles.

Jun Momose is a college student who’s been quite fortunate in his life so far, except that he’s never fallen in love.

One day, on a whim Jun decides to take a different way home and stumbles on the antiquated Raindance Cafe, where he falls head over heels for the waitress Rei Ochikibe.

Heart racing with unfamiliar feelings, he ends up working at the cafe, only to discover it is frequented by a dangerous crowd and on the verge of going out of business.

Pushed around by these unsavory customers, Jun begins to learn about a world very different than the one he knew. In this world, everything he thought to be true disappears in a puff of smoke.

In the process, he begins to discover certain things about Rei’s past.

What should he say? How should he act? Jun is faced with more and more difficult decisions.

Because life is determined by probabilities

 

Prologue

I read once somewhere in a book that the probability of getting hit by a meteorite falling from the sky is greater than the chances of winning a million dollars in the lottery.

When I first heard this I was genuinely surprised. Or I guess I should say that since there are actually people who have become billionaires by winning the lottery, it logically follows there is a greater number of people who have actually been killed by falling meteorites, and I cursed the fact I had been born on this planet. Just a little.

While we are exposed to such dangers as we live here, I guess to be honest the matter of whether we will be hit by a falling meteorite or not is completely irrelevant, at least to our actual everyday life. There is no point in thinking about something that leads nowhere. And there’s bound to be an enormous number of other things which have the low probability of a meteor falling on your head.

That’s right–this includes even the chances of you being born from your parents. That’s apparently a one in two billion chance. The odds alone of your parents meeting are amazingly low, which makes the odds of you being conceived by them astronomically unlikely. If you consider that this type of thing happens every day around the world, being human isn’t that bad after all. Our world is built on such fortunate events.

The fact I have lived a healthy live without any major injuries and am now able to attend college is also a result of passing through nearly countless probabilities. Depending on how you look at it, you might say I am one of the “lucky ones”, or have lived a rich, adventurous life. A fulfilling life of only 21 years.

At least that is what I thought–until a moment ago.

“Excuse me…”

The girl asked with a frown.

What beautiful blond hair. It didn’t appear to be dyed, and framed a face with well-defined features. I bet she’s only half Japanese. Judging from the bamboo broom in her hand, she was probably in the middle of cleaning.

I’ve really lived a rich, adventurous life.

At the elementary school athletic meet relay race I made a miracle comeback for the win, and in middle school I helped the track team make it to the regional tournament. In high school, I won first prize in the cultural festival, and even now I’m doing great in college. Raised in a family you could say was well-to-do, I was able to do whatever I wanted. My parents were a little strict, but it’s thanks to my great cook of a mother and my hardworking father that I have become what I am today.

Whether you can call my life “rich and adventurous” surely depends on the person, but personally I feel like it’s an apt description.

And yet, so far there has been something sorely lacking in my life. One experience that is typically considered an important part of any adventurous adolescent life.

I’ve never fallen in love.

“Is there something you need…?”

This was something completely new to me. An emotion I’d never felt before.

To come this far, I’ve made it through nearly countless probabilities. My third period lecture was cancelled, so I left for home earlier than usual, only to discover the road I usually took was closed due to construction. Since I had to make a detour anyway, I decided to try a route I’d never taken before, and as luck had it, she happened to be cleaning outside the cafe.

It was something like a miracle. No, it was a miracle–I couldn’t see it as anything else.

A paper posted on the wall happened to catch my eye. In an instant, I made up my mind. At the same time, I gave thanks to this overwhelming probability.

What is this feeling? It’s…It’s…

“Oh, hello…I’d like to apply to your job opening.”

This is…love at first sight!

Japanese web novel translation: “Japan: A New Age” by Tasogarenin (黄昏人) [Chapter 7: Development stage one complete]

This is the 7th chapter of a Japanese Science Fiction web novel about a genius boy who helps develop amazing technologies that change Japan’s society drastically, eventually resulting in the colonization of outer space.

You can find the original text for this chapter here.

You can see the table of contents for the translated chapters here which includes a synopsis.

I’d like to thank Nijima Melodiam for doing a quick look over of this chapter before I posted it in order to check for any mistakes I missed.

Note: If you want to see more chapters of this work translated, please consider voting for it on this survey where I ask what I should translate more of. Or you can use that survey to vote for something else for me to translate (including adding your own suggestion).

Ch7
japananewagechapter7-finalb