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I finally got around to reading Nihonjin no shiranai Nihongo. The title means "The Japanese that Japanese people don't know," and there are some interesting tidbits here about things like word origins and dialects, but what really makes the book are Umino Nagiko's hilarious comic-essays about her experiences teaching Japanese as a second language in Japan, full of misinterpretations and culture clashes.

Much of the humor is sadly not amenable to translation, but there's a part where Nagiko-sensei is having her class celebrate Tanabata, which you celebrate by writing your wishes on pieces of paper and hanging them up on bamboo.

So the students write their wishes on pieces of paper and they hang them up.

May my family back home stay healthy
(This is the one that's actually the kind of thing you're supposed to write...)

May I quickly find another part-time job

Nagiko-sensei, please tell me what is going to be on the next test!

I want a PSP. A silver one.

Please, help me out here!

I keep remembering all the cringe-worthy moments of my own past Japanese classes. Ford-sensei, I'm so sorry!

Apparently there is a drama based on this that just started airing recently. I'll have to look into that.
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Another round of thinking about my desultory efforts to improve my Japanese -- I've actually done pretty well this year so far, finishing one long novel and one short one and getting halfway through another long one --

I know the research on the affective aspects of language learning. There's a kind of vicious circle that can happen where you're not good at reading, so you read slowly and don't understand much of what you're reading, so you don't enjoy reading, so you don't read, so you don't get better at reading. But in my head I had never connected my problems with reading older literature with my Bad Semester that ended with me as academically anxious as I have ever been, racing through the last third of the English translation of Norwegian Wood at a noodle shop so that I could go home and write a make-up essay and not completely fail my modern literature class.

I have been bearing a grudge against Mori Ogai for a long time.

If I could see it as something I could enjoy, maybe I would be able to loosen up and enjoy it.

(And the other part of my brain says, You can't fool me, I remember how Kokoro ended! -- I would have better luck if I could recalibrate my sense of enjoyment to include books with grim endings about the impossibility of human connection and understanding.)
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I picked up an issue of Bungei Shunju a couple of weeks ago out of a vague but recurring sense that I should have more vocabulary for current events and politics and stuff. I am still sad that Ronza is no longer being published; Sekai is a bit too staid for my tastes; all of the other current events opinion magazines at Kinokuniya have a reputation for being right-wing, Bungei Shunju included, but I thought because of its good reputation (it's the magazine in which the Akutagawa prize is announced every year), and because it's not exclusively a political magazine, it wouldn't be so rightwingy.

...So obviously "To The People of Japan" was the wrong article to read (日本国民に告ぐ, by 藤原正彦. Who is a retired math professor. OBVIOUSLY he knows more about Japanese history than a historian does). But I'm pretty fascinated by rightwingy Japanese nationalism, and if I actually knew enough to write a post about it than maybe I would, but I don't.

I'm making a post about it because today I came upon an idea that utterly gobsmacked me.

One of the things that occurred in the wake of the American occupation of Japan was the official writing reform, which declared that newspapers, magazines, and official legal and governmental documents had to restrict themselves to an official list of 1850 kanji. I'm not sure how many were in use before then -- prewar literature is notably more difficult to read, but for any number of reasons, not just the higher number of kanji. At any rate, the author declared that the writing reform was an American plot to destroy Japanese culture and make Japanese people stupid.


Per Wikipedia, he's hardly the first person to think so, and I am trying to be empathetic and think about how I would feel if, for example, the government suddenly said that I had to spell "through" as "thru" and "knight" as "nite." That's not a very good analogy, but I can't think of a better one for English. And, to be sure, I don't want to discount the effects of cultural imperialism. But I try to picture a bunch of bureaucrats sitting around a table and rubbing their hands evilly together. "I know! We'll crush their culture by making them spell 倦む as あぐむ!"

...I guess I'm biased because my linguistics classes always emphasized that the true form of a language is the spoken language, not whatever system you use to write it down with. On the other hand, if you had a fantasy world where writing was literally mystical power, you've got a story there.
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How is it that my Japanese listening comprehension is bad enough that I know myself to be absolutely unqualified for doing fansubs (at least without a script -- I know that captions have gotten more available on Japanese broadcast TV, but I have no idea if fansubbers are working off captioned files. I assume not), and yet, I get all indignant over fansubs having mistakes in them? It is illogical.

But still, a translator ought to know the difference between 'akireru' and 'akirameru,' right?
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The new Kindle supports Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean fonts.


Now it just remains to be seen whether the Japanese publishers will get on the bandwagon and whether books are going to be region-locked if they do.

Get on it, people. This is the future I have been waiting for! That and really fast trains, but on the other hand if I get really fast trains where will I find time to read my ebooks?


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