Author Archives: locksleyu

“I am” (A linguistic essay)

I am formidable.
Perhaps one of the toughest of my kind.
Expect years, a decade, or longer.
Come, live in my land, and you may learn my ways.
But there are no guarantees.

I am kind.
Less sound, less tense.
Less picky about pitch than some others.
Just watch for tiny, flying particles.

I am characters.
Thousands, nearly uncountable.
Pictographic, enigmatic.
Alphabets? I got a few, including this one.

I am history.
Relive centuries through me.
But beware–
I am not the same as I once was.

I am expression.
Be a woman, man, boy, or girl.
Be rude, be polite.
Be casual, be formal.
Be yourself.

I am flexible.
Shave the unneeded–
Subject, object, verb.
Tone can speak louder than words.

I am your doorway to culture.
Maid cafes, walking bots.
Space probes, cool cartoons.
Plumber and the princess.
The choice is yours.

I require effort.
I’ll return what you give, manyfold.
If you become weary, rest as long as you wish.
But I will always be waiting.

I am changing.
Words die, are born.
In the end, the young will have their way.
But please never forget the past.

I am a language, in wait of you.
Just be prepared–
To persevere, or quit.
Those who stay the course will be rewarded abundantly.

I am Japanese.

Translation Piracy: goes with the territory

Several months ago,  a reader of my blog was nice enough to take a few of my translations and post them to the site Novel Updates. Overall, it’s been a good thing for my blog, getting me more readers, more feedback, and helped me meet a few new people.

But one day when I was looking through my referrer statistics, I saw a site name I didn’t recognize, and when I checked out the site I discovered they had basically cut and paste several chapters of one of the stories I was translating. To make matters worse, both my name and the name of the original author were omitted, and when I sent an email requesting they link to my site instead of cutting and pasting, there was no response. Ironically, at the end of each chapter was a link to my original article, but after reading the entire thing why would anyone want to click on that anyway? (Well, at least a few people did, which is how I discovered the site in my referrers.)

Of course, the reason the site and others like it are doing this are to make money from ads on their sites, and putting a link instead of the entire content would drastically reduce the time spent on their site, therefore the amount of people who click on adds and their income. Why would they not list the original author and translator, but still put a link to the original site? This does seem strange, it may be either simply a lack of thought, or some mechanism used to counter claims that credit wasn’t given.

So far I’ve been focusing mostly on a specific site, but there are others which may give less or more credit, and I found at least one that gives no link at all back to my site.

Interestingly, this phenomenon doesn’t seem to occur for all my stories. The odds of it getting pirated seem related to how popular the story is, or potentially how ‘good’ the pirate thinks it is, such that it has the potential to keep users reading, and hence keep clicking on ads.

I’ll admit when I first discovered one of my translated works was being pirated I got pretty upset, and did some research and experimentation about how to prevent it. I found a mechanism which seemed to work pretty well, though it caused me a little extra work and also there was at least one user who had a usability issue with it. I also think that some of the mechanisms used to reduce piracy may reduce the searchability of the works.

By the way, as part of my research effort, I tried to simply add a copyright in several places throughout the text. But of course the person who copied it managed to read through the whole thing, removing all the copyright statements. Somehow this actually made me feel a little better to know someone was reading through the entire thing, as opposed to just a script cutting and pasting it.

It isn’t my intention to go over the techniques I’ve researched and tried myself, as that might actually help them out. But, it seems that the more work you require for them to pirate something, the less likely it will be pirated. Surely, with a little extra work they could find ways around many of the tricks out there. I’ve read about some other techniques that are more advanced and would cause the pirate even more woes, and while they are technically interesting I’ve decided to not escalate things to that level, at least for now.

After calming down for a few weeks, now I see the whole piracy thing as actually a compliment, that I was able to do a good enough translation of good enough works so it catches their attention. By no means am I saying it is OK, and it still upsets me to no end that they would purposefully remove a copyright, and give little to no credit. But the works involved here are actually available totally free in their original Japanese, and someone could copy those if they wanted as well.

While I have had ads on my blog before and have considered putting them back someday, even if I do that the amount of money I would expect to get is pretty small. Even if a work were to be pirated, while that would frustratingly allow someone to make money for the work of the original author and myself, at the same time it doesn’t directly take any users or money from my pockets. It also increases the readership of my translations, though if my name is not quoted the effect is much less. But if a user liked one of the works enough, he or she could easily find my blog out.

In summary, while I fully understand the feelings of other translators (or authors) who take active measures to prevent piracy, for the time being I’ll probably be less aggressive on this front. I may do it on some of my selected stories, but I surely will not do it on all of them.

A final way to reduce piracy would be to stop allowing my posts to be linked on friendly sites like Novel Updates, since I have a feeling this is where the pirates do some of their fishing. But then I would loose the extra traffic and readership gained, something I am not willing to give up now.

Japanese novel translation: “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe” Chapter 4: Lonesome Pop Star (Part 2)

This is Chapter 4 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 4 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.

There is a translator’s note at the end of the chapter, check it out if you are interested.

UPDATE: originally the chapter was posted as one big quote, which rendered it in italics. This has been fixed. Sorry for the inconvenience.

(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 4: Lonesome Pop Star (Part 2)

A celebrity was, in short, someone who appeared on TV and in magazines, a fantasy being that existed in a completely different dimension. At least that was my preconceived notion about them.

But now I’d actually encountered someone outside of my dimension. Of course, all this is nothing more than the subjective impression of an everyday guy. However, it was clear enough that this encounter was going to be nothing at all like meeting with a close friend, and this was enough to convince me that my impression was correct.

“Haven’t seen you in a while! How long has it been?”

“Some time in April. After that, I finally got another big job and haven’t been able to stop by
since.”

“So, I guess that’s finished with, right?”

“Yeah. Today I had something smaller going on nearby, so I dropped by on my way home.”

“Uh, excuse me…”

Before I knew it, I had interrupted the two girls’ casual conversation–I’d been pretty much ignored–as if two old friends were catching up after a long time apart.

“You are…Mekuru Kira, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow Jun, I’m surprised you actually know about Momoko since she’s been out of the limelight for so long.”

“Well, wasn’t that an unnecessary detail? And stop calling me by my real name!”

“Of course I know about her! Mekuru Kira…She was such a celebrity back then–there was practically never a day she wasn’t on TV. Any album she released always jumped to the top of the charts. I even owned a few myself.”

“Oh really…”

When I started getting a little over-enthusiastic about Mekuru Kira, she looked at me with an expression that was not altogether displeased.

To tell the truth, I’m one of those guys who’s totally obsessed with pop stars. Having a celebrity like this suddenly appear before me–especially one who had been so famous–made me restless with excitement. I was having a hard time comprehending that the girl across from me had once taken the entire country by storm.

Mekuru Kira looked up at me proudly.

“You know boy, you got some potential. So I guess you’re one of my fans, right?”

“Um, I guess you could say that, but I’m actually–”

“Sure, just be honest with me. While it’s true that I’m not as big as I used to be, I think I’ve built up a pretty good track record since then.”

“I’m actually not a fan.”

“Do you have to be so direct? You’re a real asshole, you know!”

This is what I get right after she tells me to be honest.

But I was indeed having trouble expressing myself properly. I had no choice but to blurt out whatever came to mind without carefully considering things first.

“Ok now, let’s just take a deep breath. Jun isn’t saying he dislikes you.”

With an awkward expression that was somehow both angry and sad, Rei tried to stop Mekuru Kira’s verbal attack on me. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect lifeboat coming to my rescue. May it always be there for me.

Mekuru Kira laughed at me scornfully; Rei’s attempt to placate her had apparently worked.

“Oh…I get it. You’re one of those guys who is obsessed with all celebrity girls, regardless of who they are.”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly put it that way…”

“But I’m right, you agree?”

“I guess so…”

She was completely right. I doled my love out little by little, spread it far and wide. My shock upon seeing her was only because of her celebrity past.

For an instant, a concern flashed through my mind. Even in this day and age of dog-eat-dog and global culture, those addicted to celebrities were easy targets of persecution. I can’t tell you how many “Top turnoffs for girls” articles I saw where “obsession with celebrities” was in the top ranks. If Rei found out I was one of those guys, our already stagnating relationship would definitely take a turn for the worse.

“Oh, you’re into celebrities, Jun?”

“Huh? Uh, yeah. I guess. It’s nothing serious though…”

But when I heard Rei’s question, I’d realized my fears were all for nothing. Not only did she not show any signs of disapproval, she even seemed strangely interested. I had been on the verge of becoming discouraged, but on second thought her close friend was a celebrity, so there was probably no reason for me to be worried about her having any biases or dislike of them.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of people like you in your generation. Totally different than mine, though.”

“Are you trying to insult yourself?”

“I can see how it would sound like I am, but by no means was that my intention.”

Seeing Rei make a merciless stab at the arrogant Mekuru Kira–a real rarity for her–made me smile.

There was something strangely thought-provoking about Rei playing the opposite of her usual role, plus the fact she was interacting with someone like Mekuru Kira who was clearly above my level. As I watched all this take place I felt my world shift drastically. The sight of someone I knew chatting casually with a person from another dimension invoked feelings of elation in me. I think when humanity makes first contact with an alien species, this is exactly how we will feel.

“Would I be right in assuming that Mekuru Kira is a frequent customer of this cafe?”

In my excitement, I posed this question to the girls.

“Rather than a frequent customer, I’d say she’s practically an employee. Back in the day, she used to often find time in her busy schedule to come and see me.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, this place doesn’t have too many customers, and it felt good to visit a friend like Rei. I definitely know more about this place than a newbie like you.”

“Hold on, did you just slip in jabs at both me and this cafe?”

“I think you’re getting off topic here.”

Mekuru Kira slowly slipped her cafe au lait through a straw.

“Anyway…”

She cleared her throat loudly and crossed her arms with an arrogance at odds with her cute face.

“Anyway, you better keep quiet about me visiting this place. I’m here incognito, OK? Since you’re an employee here, it’s your responsibility to hide my identity.”

Her amber eyes stared me down coldly.

Compelled by the force of her stare, I nodded in agreement. Actually, hold on a minute. Even though I felt this girl was being a bit overly self-conscious in her attempt to act like a big shot, if we play our cards right we can use her to take this cafe out of the red and into major profitability. But I quickly realized this crude, self-serving idea was the wrong way to go. Slow, deep breaths. I’m not so attached to money that I’d sacrifice someone’s personal life just for a quick buck, and even if I was, I don’t think Rei and the manager would appreciate me doing this sort of thing. So nobody would benefit. I now realized that my impulsive nod was for the best.

“Hey Jun, let’s get back to work.”

Urged on by Rei, I bowed politely to Mekuru Kira who had already begun to eat and followed after the waitress. Mekuru Kira raised her hand briefly in acknowledgement.

However, without any other customers around, I couldn’t think of anything particular that needed to be done at the moment. So I called out to Rei, already at the counter.

“What kind of relationship do you have with Mekuru Kira?”

“Hmm…I could say we’ve been friends for a long time, or maybe more than friends.”

Rei answered without skipping a beat as she began to clean the dishes. I went behind the counter and took a pile of dishes from her. While Rei’s answer was frustratingly vague, it seemed like the truth. After seeing them so chummy, there was no denying they were friends.

“Does ‘more than friends’ mean you’ve known her from childhood?”

“Well…You’re not wrong about that.”

“Wow! That’s amazing! I’m kind of jealous of you, being so close with a celebrity and all.”

“Yeah, Momoko is pretty awesome.”

Rei grinned at me as she wiped the counter. The slight vibe of indifference I was getting from her was probably because I was only speaking generally, and because she was describing her own personal relationship without giving much thought to it.

When I happened to glance at Mekuru Kira, I noticed she was wolfing down her food just like Rei does. In my mind, I could visualize their images overlapping. Suddenly, something clicked and I understood how deeply these girls were connected–to the point that I suspected even their blood type was the same. They were sisters, Rei probably the older of the two.

“But more importantly, I had no idea that you were into pop stars!”

From behind the counter, Rei suddenly leaned towards me with glittering eyes.

To me, this was by no means “more important” than what we were just talking about.

“I just follow them in the news and such. I’m not one of those people who spends every cent of income on celebrity goods.”

“I agree, money isn’t what’s important. It’s just about having fun! By the way, it’s not a serious hobby to me either.”

“Um, yeah…”

“Take these clothes for example. I thought it would be nice to try wearing a maid outfit like some of the popular girls do, so I made a few outfits myself–five, to be exact!”

“Five!?”

Rei bragged about her costumes while fingering the frilly lace of her apron.

She was more into this stuff than I had imagined. I felt more and more like an idiot for being worried about my own obsession. Rei’s passion burned much hotter than mine; it might even burn itself out.

“So Jun, who do you like? By the way, I’m into some of the niche cult stuff! I even have a few magazine subscriptions.”

“Uh…It’s kind of embarrassing, but what Mekuru Kira said was true. I like pretty much everyone…”

“Oh, so I guess that means you aren’t picky. Although Mekuru Kira didn’t seem to be happy about that, I’m actually the same as you. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. It’s actually better this way. You know, people like us help expand the market’s diversity. Isn’t that awesome!”

As I watched Rei get more and more excited, I realized she was acting totally different compared to when we spoke yesterday. I felt a spark of jealousy ignite within me, but who was I jealous of? It took me a few seconds to realize I was the target of my own jealousy. Still new to thing called love, what had I really learned about Rei in these two weeks?

But what was important was not the past, but the fact that at this moment, I had discovered something Rei liked. Not matter what anyone said, this was a part of her. And yet, she had been able to act normally around Mekuru Kira–surely the celebrity she was on closest terms with. Regardless of whether this was due to Rei’s usual professional attitude towards her job, or because she was simply used to interacting with this celebrity, thanks to Mekuru Kira I learned something important today.

This was a great stroke of luck. Quite fortunate. But for some reason, something felt wrong.

Rei was quickly becoming the central point of my life. Neither myself nor, of course ,anyone else. Just Rei.

My love for Rei had begun to consume me. And boy did it feel great.

 

Mekuru Kira stopped by Raindance cafe again the next day.

Right around the time of the cafe’s early afternoon lull, she sat in the same seat as yesterday and ordered the same amount of food, along with the cafe au lait. But there was a change in her attire. She had a fur jacket instead of the white coat and gray shorts, although the mask and sunglasses which covered her face and her light brown pigtails were still there. I felt that her pigtails seemed hopelessly out of place, but since she had the same hairstyle as when she was popular a few years ago, I decided to avoid going through the trouble of pointing this out to her.

I wiped the counter while Rei organized things around the cafe. Right now she was checking the state of the remaining supplies underneath the counter. I was still no match for Rei, so out of necessity she had a much larger share of the work. I was incredibly eager to bid my amateur days goodbye and reach her level. That would make her life much easier, and we could use the extra time for getting to know each other better–a win-win situation. Part of me called into question whether it was OK to act on such an impure motive, but I rationalized this away with the corrupt doctrine that ends justify the means. Nothing wrong going on here. It wasn’t like I was directly causing anyone trouble anyway.

I looked over at Mekura Kira. She seemed like the type of person to keep secrets to protect her personal interests. Even I, a person with no connections to the world of show business, knew that it was no bed of roses. There, appearance was everything, and there was no telling what happened behind closed doors. And yet–though this was nothing but another unfounded impression–I somehow felt that she prefered to stay out of that type of trouble. As a pop star, she may have had a defensive instinct to keep me from learning the truth about her and becoming disillusioned. Or perhaps she had simply made up her mind that me being a friend of Rei’s made everything OK. Even so, I couldn’t help feeling that, at heart, she was a forgiving person who wasn’t driven by personal interest. Even favoritism has its limits.

“Rei! Reeeiii!”

Her voice reverberated clearly throughout the cafe, easily reaching where I stood. While it was true that there was no other customers around, this girl had a serious lack of common sense.

“Hey Rei, she’s calling you…Rei?”

I turned towards the counter, only to find Rei–who had been working busily until just a moment ago–had disappeared without a trace. Also, it might just be my imagination, but I thought I heard a dull pounding sound.

When I looked behind the counter, I saw Rei sitting there, hugging her knees tightly.

“Are–are you alright?”

“…Jun…it’s…all over for me…please finish my…”

“I really don’t think it’s that heavy…”

Voice and body trembling, Rei was all bruised up, her face wet with tears and sweat.

Behind the counter was a glass shelf. It was sticking out slightly, as if from a slipshod install job, and I deduced that in haste she’d banged her knee against it. But my deduction didn’t do her a bit of good, so I hurriedly took some ice from a small refrigerator next to the drink machine, put it in a plastic bag, then wrapped it in a towel and placed it gently on her knee.

“Th–thank you so much…”

“No big deal. Just don’t move and it’ll feel better soon.”

For a few moments, I calmed Rei–thanking me on the verge of tears–and then returned to Mekuru Kira’s table as requested. Of course, by no means did I abandon Rei. I wanted nothing more than to stay with her until the pain subsided, but I had to attend to Mekuru Kira. I hope Rei would be strong in my absence.

Mekuru Kira looked terribly confused when she realized the person coming to help her didn’t match her expectations.

“Where is Rei?”

“While her heart isn’t broken, she is hurt, so please give her a break.”

“What in the world happened…well, whatever. I just happen to have some business with you anyway.”

“With me?”

“That’s right. Take a seat there.”

Mekuru Kira sipped her cafe au lait from a straw as she pointed to the chair at the front of the table. I quickly stole a glance at the counter and then sat down as indicated.

The massive amount of food that had been served to her was nowhere to be found and the empty plates lay in a pile before her. It was insane for someone to finish that much food, that quickly, but suddenly Rei came to mind and for some reason things made sense. These girls could probably become competitive eaters.

Mekuru Kira placed her cafe au lait on the table and looked at me with a frown.

“Hey kid, your last name was ‘momo’ something or other, right?”

“It’s Jun Momose.”

“It sounds a lot like my name. That’s been bugging me since yesterday.”

“What’s wrong with ‘Mekuru Kira’? I think it’s a great name.”

“That’s only my stage name, it’s not the real me. Anyway, if you call me that in public things would get pretty crazy.”

“Maybe that might have been the case three years ago.”

“…I guess you’re one of those people that never learned tact.”

“But I thought you told Rei to not use your real name.”

“That was, you know, because you were there and knew who I was, and that information was never released to the public. Rei isn’t the smartest girl anyway.”

Mekura Kira gave a deep sigh which might have signalled defeat. I decided to not spend any time thinking about what had put one of her breaths to waste like that, but it seemed clear that she didn’t altogether dislike her real name.

“Whatever. How long have you been working here?”

“Around two weeks.”

“Only half a month?!”

“Yeah, Rei is such a great teacher…”

“No, that wasn’t a compliment. If nothing else, you do seem a bit more able than her when she first started…But I guess there’s not much reason comparing you to her…”

Rather than being upset about how her every word was a dagger, I was more curious to see how bad Rei had been back then, having left such an impression on not only the manager but even Mekuru Kira.

“Guess what?”

“What?”

Mekuru Kira flashed me an evil smile.

“I know you like her…”

“Huh?”

Out of nowhere came this devastatingly large bomb.

“No matter what you say, I know you like her.”

“You don’t have to repeat yourself…But, um, why do you think so?”

“It’s just so obvious.”

“Obv…”

“Since yesterday, you’ve been constantly giving her these looks. What? Am I wrong?”

With her large, sparkling brown eyes, Mekuru Kira stared at me, hoping I would confess.

“…No–no, that’s not true. I don’t feel that way at all about…”

“Oh really…”

The instant I heard her words, I realized how the massive gap between reality and what I’d said.

Oddly enough, my denial had slipped out before I could stop it. My face was starting to burn. This response to her comment that had come out reflexively, before I had a chance to think, seemed to be completely opposite to my real feelings. Or maybe there was some logic behind it? Could some part of me be saying that I didn’t want anyone to discover my feelings for Rei?

As I struggled with how to respond, Mekuru Kira glared at me disapprovingly.

“Oh well, I guess I was wrong. I get it. Not much I can do about it. Had I been right, I would have helped you and Rei become a little closer [*1]. But if I’m wrong, I’ll just have to forget about it.”

“Wh–what exactly does that mean?”

“Exactly what it sounds like. I think she treats you more like an employee than a friend, so I thought I would help change that. But since I’m wrong about you liking her, scratch this plan. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Mekuru Kira laughed a cute little ‘tee hee’, as if she’d just won a game between us.

I’d made the completely wrong decision. Had I answered honestly, I might have been one step closer to achieving success.

“Anyway, I guess no matter how you feel about her, it has nothing to do with me.”

Then why did she even ask me to begin with?

But before I had a chance to voice this, I detected a glimmer of sorrow in Mekuru Kira’s eyes. She began to stir her cafe au lait with a straw as to ward off the silence that had just descended on us. The sound of the ice cubes clanking against one another was absorbed by the cafe’s red curtains. Mekuru Kira was used to being on TV and interacting with her fans, so I assumed she’d be more skilled at hiding her emotions, but what I just saw now was anything but hidden. Her sudden change in mood signalled something important.

“So, how much has the manager told you about Rei?”

“Not much.”

“…Looks like that macho guy is at it again.”

She frowned and quietly clicked her tongue, as if something unpleasant had just happened.

It was true that the manager hadn’t told me a single thing about Rei’s personal life. After all, there was no reason for him to.

“Is there…something I should know about Rei?”

Since Mekuru Kira, who is clearly close with Rei, had asked me about her with such a grave expression, I couldn’t help but return the question.

“If you promise not to quit, I’ll tell you.”

“I promise not to quit until I graduate college.”

My response was immediate, without even a moment’s hesitation.

“…I mentioned it before around here so I know what will happen, and even though the manager didn’t tell you, he’s being careful to avoid it too. Rei is very sensitive about a certain word and anything related to it. I’d like you to avoid using this word, at least anywhere within earshot of her.”

“Sensitive?”

This was quite an unexpected turn in the conversation. Strictly speaking, I was totally clueless to begin with, unable to have anything lofty like an expectation. But nevertheless, this development was not a possibility I could ever have conceivably thought of.

To imagine there was some taboo word for Rei, a girl so bursting with life…It would be blunt to say I knew nothing about the real Rei, but who would have ever guessed there was a forbidden word lurking behind that bright smile?

Mekuru Kira started to say something, but hesitated. She put her cafe au lait on the table, flashed a look at the kitchen counter then once more at me.

“ ‘Family.’ ”

“What?”

“ ‘Family’, and anything related to it.”

When she finished speaking, her gaze was directed not at me but on the middle of the table. Her voice was indifferent now, despite her initial hesitation. It was almost as if it was safe to speak this taboo word just this once.

I was stupefied–not only was it such an unbelievably familiar word, but for whatever reason this word was incompatible with her bright smile.

“B–but why…?”

“It’s because–”

Just as Mekuru Kira began to answer my candid question, a high-pitched noise sounded from the entrance of the cafe.

“W……Welcome to Raindance…”

Despite nearly fainting from agony, Rei gave her best effort to greet the newly arrived customer. I followed her example by standing up and heading to the entrance.

“Welcome to Raindance Cafe!”

It was a woman. She was wearing the suit of a businesswoman with long, slender legs. Her youth was balanced by a dignified atmosphere, with black-rimmed glasses that gave the impression she was no dummy.

The woman approached the counter without hesitation and sat at the same place where Rei had eaten lunch yesterday.

“I’m sorry, but can we continue this conversation tomorrow…?”

With Rei out of commission, I had to do something. I turned to face Mekuru Kira and confirm she was in agreement with this, but when I saw an expression completely different from just a moment ago the words didn’t come out well.

Mekuru Kira, her sweaty face plastered with a look of wonder, stared fixedly at the new customer who was sitting with her back to us.

“What’s wrong?”

“……That’s Miyako……”

“Huh?”

“Miyako…It’s Miyako. That customer’s name.”

“Who is that? A friend of yours?”

I’d never heard of a celebrity with that name, which means maybe it’s just a friend after all.

Mekuru Kira swallowed hard and exhaled a dry breath from her parted lips.

“…She’s my manager.”

Her words, hushed into barely a whisper by some strong emotion, seeped out from between thin lips in place of a sigh.

For some reason, I felt like I was suffocating. Something was painfully constricting my chest.

I was not the only one here being drawn into a whirlpool of probability; these things always seem to come when you least expect them. By the time you realize what is happening, it’s already too late. I got the feeling that the result of a life’s worth of uncountable, irreversible choices would be played out in this cafe soon enough.

 

Translator’s Notes:

[*1] In the part where Mekuru Kira says “I would have helped you and Rei become a little closer”, the actual literal translation there is something like “I would have tried to get her to call you by your first name”. The reason I didn’t use this is because in the entire story I have the characters call each other by first names as would be appropriate in these situations in English, whereas in Japan it would be more common to call them by their last names. (In Mekuru Kira’s case there is no change since as a celebrity, both her first name and last name are used.)

Mekuru Kira’s (supposed) reason to get Rei to call Jun by his first name is because, as discussed earlier in this chapter, Jun’s last name (Momose) is very similar to Mekuru Kira’s real first name (Momoko). Since Rei is on good terms with Mekuru she calls her sometimes by her (real) first name.

While the specific lines of dialog are a little different, I feel the resultant meaning in both the original Japanese and my English translation is the same: Because of Jun’s choices he has lost another opportunity to get closer to Rei.

Another way for me to have handled this section is to have translated the relevant dialogue lines more literally, however the disadvantage of that is that readers who do not read this note would probably be confused, whereas for the translation I decided on, they don’t have to read the note.

Japanese drama review “心がポキっとね” (“Crazy for me”)

As I have discussed before, I’ve seen so many Japanese anime and TV drama series that I’ve learned many of the stereotypes, and as a result it’s pretty easy for me to get bored and give up after an episode or two, despite the extra vocabulary and listening practice opportunity it offers.

The drama “心がポキっとね” (English title “Crazy for me”) is one of the few I’ve seen in the last few years that was very entertaining and I was actually able to watch it to the end. While the first few episodes were better in my opinion, there was some good moments even in the last episode worth watching.

Before I go on, I wanted to mention that the English title isn’t quite a literal translation, or even the best translation of the Japanese title. The original title is pronounced “kokoro ga pokitto ne” and literally means something like “my heart/mind goes *snap*”, where “snap” is the sound of something breaking, and the indication is that someone is or will be going insane.

“Crazy for me” is not a horrible translation, since it captures both the “insane” part as well as the love nuance which is a key part of the story (hence the ‘heart’), but to me the overall nuance is quite different. One title that I feel may be a little more appropriate is “Insanity is Catching”.

Anyway, this drama is about a handful of people who are connected various ways (lovers, a divorced couple, etc.) and end up living and/or working together under the same roof. It’s a pretty cheesy, unrealistic premise, but for a love comedy I am not really looking for realism.

Each of the characters has either gone crazy or at least has some mental issues. Most of the characters attend the same psychotherapist, which leads to funny monologues where the characters express their woes until their allotted time runs out. While it is basically a comedy, there are some deep issues touched on like over-attachment, anger (or the lack of), and the real reason you are with someone.

Besides alot of really witty dialogue, I really loved the cast, and three of the main characters I had seen in one or more dramas before. In particular, Tomoko Yamaguchi was one of the main characters of one of my favorite classic dramas Long Vacation (she stars with Kimutaku). For better or worse, the character that she plays in “Crazy for me”, and even parts of the story itself are similar to Long Vacation, but for me this was actually a good thing. She had a few good monologues where she goes crazy, and overall I just felt her role would have been really fun to do.

Language wise, though some of the characters speak pretty fast, there was almost no dialect exposure, and many of the words and phrases could be useful for people learning to converse in Japanese. There wasn’t many technical terms, like you would hear in medical dramas.

Overall, for a love comedy this was really well done, and I highly recommend watching it. You can see the full series on CrunchyRoll (I think you have to be member though) here.

 

 

How does Godzilla unpeel a banana in Japan?

Language and Culture are inextricably connected, and to master a language of any country surely requires a strong grasp of its traditions, manners, beliefs, and other aspects of culture.

Getting a proper fill of culture is one of the most difficult things about studying a foreign language self-taught when not in a country where that language is primarily spoken. Fortunately, you can use study resources like books to help you get partway there.

“Culture” itself is such a vague topic without much of a clear definition, except it’s something that people of a country typically do (official definitions in the dictionary aside). Take, for example, the children’s joke “pull my finger”, which is probably familiar to most children of a certain generation in the U.S., and yet I doubt it gets too much exposure overseas. Of course, this isn’t a terribly meaningful tradition, but it is a part of history and culture nonetheless. If you talk to enough people from a certain country or culture, you can start to pick these up over time.

It can be fun to learn to learn the word games (another piece of culture) of children in other countries, and it’s even more educational if they have some connection to language. One example is saying “glove” backwards in Japanese, which I wrote on sometime back.

In this post I wanted to discuss a random children’s saying I learned recently, which is how to describe who someone is based on how they peel a banana, specifically how many pieces the skin opens up into (like the opening of a flower).

Here is the list I was told:

  • Two pieces:  a person
  • Three pieces:  a monkey
  • Four pieces:  a dead person
  • Five pieces:  Godzilla

Despite how they may look at first, these are not randomly assigned. The connections to each number are conveyed at all in English. Here is it in Japanese with comments on each

  • Two pieces: 人間 (ningen):  a person   [ningen, the ‘ni’ is from the number two (ni)]
  • Three pieces: お猿 (osaru): a monkey [osaru, the ‘sa’ comes from number three (san)]
  • Four pieces: 死んだ人: a dead person [The number four is ‘shi’, which also means death (死)]
  • Five pieces: ゴジラ: Godzilla                [Godzilla, the ‘go’ comes from the number five (go)]

So you may be wondering what is the point of all this? I think the idea is that when you open a banana, you are not planning on how many flaps it will open up into, so there is an element of luck. So when your friend opens up a banana and it happens to split into three, you can say “ha ha, you’re a monkey!”.

Keep in mind this is just an anecdote I heard, and I can’t say whether it was shared by just a handful of people, or an entire generation.

There may be more after the ones I listed, if you know what six is let me know (:

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.