Posts Tagged ‘japanese’

This is a modern English language translation of Kajii Motojirō’s short story “Lemon” that I undertook. It is a story about a man who has fallen on hard times, but despite it all he retains his ability to find beauty in the most unusual places. In particular, he chances to find a lemon which is indescribably perfect, and the very act of holding it soothes him inexplicably. The protagonist’s final action of leaving this lemon on a pile of books in Maruzen (a high-quality book and stationary store) was so unusual and inspiring that it triggered a series of similar incidents amongst students who read this short story and wanted to replicate this subversive act of defiance. This story is a classic and is widely used in school textbooks in Japan.

It was quite a challenge to translate as it does not lend itself to the English language particularly easily. His style is poetic, and highly impressionistic, leaving much to the readers’ interpretation. I have done my best to keep it as faithful to the original as possible, and convey the highly sensory aspects of it as concisely as possible.

「檸檬」 梶井基次郎。小説のオンラインバージョンはこちらへ:  LINK TO JAPANESE VERSION OF THE TEXT ONLINE (opens in a new window)
This took me many hours to translate; please respect the time and energy I spent in translating this by NOT posting this on your site OR messageboard WITHOUT A LINK AND CREDIT. Thanks!



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A common question I get asked is, “Where can I get good ramen in London?”

Well, I’ve been trying to do some research (results below). Unfortunately the short answer is that nowhere and noone does ramen like they do in Japan. There are places which do serve “ramen” but inevitably the stock or ingredients are different and I am yet to find somewhere which gets it spot on.

The main problem with Japanese food outside of Japan, particularly in London is the structure of the menus and the belief that restaurants should and can work in the same way ours do – a menu filled with variety, something for everyone. Whilst this may work with Izakaya style eateries, one thing I noted in Japan is how most restaurants specialise in a particular area. Apart from standard side dishes like miso soup, sushi-ya’s serve sushi and nothing else.  Yakitori places serve nothing but variations on yakitori.

Naturally it follows that if you want to eat good ramen, you go to the place where they have perfected the stock, make nothing but ramen, and make so many batches everyday that they have the art of noodles down to a T. Unfortunately, ramen in the UK all-too-often amounts to little more than instant noodles with some sad-looking spinach on top.

I have been gradually trying out places and asking Japanese friends in the hunt for the best ramen around, and here are a few suggestions. (Please note that  the ♥ rating is purely on the quality of the ramen and not on other dishes!)

♥♥♥♥♥ Okawari, China Town (Leicester Sq.) – the Char-shui ramen is really tasty here. The soup was made with chicken stock, so its not 100% authentic, but its not too salty, comes with bamboo shoots, beansprouts and sea weed and a very generous portion of delicious char-shui (barbeque-style) pork. At only £4.50 off the lunchtime menu this is one of the cheapest and best places to go. I like the atmosphere here too; you get unlimited free green tea and generally I have always had satisfactory service. The rest of the menu has many other good dishes on it including bento boxes, tempura, gyoza, sushi etc.  As somewhere which hits the spot in between super-cheap and fine dining, this place comes recommended.

♥♥♥♥ Asa Kusa, Eversholt St. (Mornington Crescent) – As would be expected of my favourite Japanese restaurant in London, this place has vastly superior noodles. Udon comes with a soft poached egg, and is absolutely delicious. Don’t be fooled by the dingy interior and unlikely location, this place serves the best cheap Japanese food around (proved by the vast majority of Japanese patrons), and also gives fantastic service. It only opens in the evening and it is always packed out to the brim so booking is essential.

Ryo, Brewer Street (Piccadilly Cirus) – This was recommended to me as one of the better places to get ramen in London but I was pretty disappointed with their Miso Ramen. It consisted of the cheapest kind of soggy, overcooked instant noodles, and a broth which left much to be desired. Sure, it’s a  no frills kind of place, but considering how cheap ramen is to make, and how badly it was done here, I felt like I had wasted my money.

Ten Ten Tei, Brewer Street (Piccadilly Cirus) – Terrible food, terrible atmosphere, terrible service. Definitely one to avoid.

♥♥♥ Murasaki, Seven Dials (BRIGHTON) – Fabulous little restaurant, always had fantastic food here. Reasonably priced, friendly service, and if the food took a little longer than most other places it was only in the name of taste and presentation. All the chefs are Japanese, and they make the food as authentic as they can with the limitations of certain ingredients. The seafood miso ramen here is really rather good and hits the spot, although I am slightly disapproving of the use of sweetcorn as one of the toppings.

Other places that have ramen on the menu:

Eat Tokyo, Fitzrovia (Holborn)

Taro, Brewer Street (Piccadilly Cirus) – I would give this one a miss since I’ve had other food here and it wasn’t very good.

Ramen Seto, Kingly Street (Oxford Circus)

Misato, (Leicester Sq.) – Again, I haven’t ever eaten ramen here, but the rest of the menu was fairly mediocre (although they compensated by giving huge portions). so I wouldn’t hold out too much hope.

Tokyo Diner, China Town (Leicester Sq.)

If you know anywhere better or disagree, please feel free to comment!

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Utada Hikaru at the O2 Academy in Angel, 11th-12th Feb 2010 ★★★

The other day I was fortunate enough to see Utada Hikaru live at the O2 academy in Angel. Just how fortunate depends on your perspective of course, so for those who have never heard of her, a little background. She is a very famous Japanese singer who holds the title of best-selling single and album of all time in Japan with the ballad ‘First Love’. Three of her Japanese studio albums in the list of Top 10 best-selling albums ever in Japan (#1, #4, #8) and six overall of her albums (two English-language and one compilation) charting within the 275 Best-Selling Japanese albums list. Utada has had fourteen number-one singles on the Oricon Singles chart, with two notable record achievements for a female solo or group artist: five million-sellers and four in the Top 100 All-Time Best-selling Singles. Although she is relatively unknown here in the UK, with over 50 million albums sold worldwide, she is the equal of Britney Spears in popularity there; the kind of household name that even Mums and Dads would know. So, kind of a big deal really.

This was her first ever UK concert, and I suppose the organisers, not realising the amount of fans she actually has here, decided to play it safe by booking one night at the Angel O2 academy which has a capacity of around 800. The show sold out in hours. They later added an extra date on thursday, again, a sell out.

Seeing such a well-known star in such a small venue was a real privilege, although I’m sure it was a step down for someone who could easily fill the biggest stadiums on her home turf. The intimacy of the gig was definitely one of the strengths of the concert, and after opening with “On and On” there was some good banter between Utada and the crowd. She joked about how she would like to move to London and her penchant for rainy weather.

The point of this tour was to promote her new album “This is the One”, the third English Language album she has produced (the other five are all in Japanese) and I respect that, but most of the people who were there seemed to be Japanese, or at least Japanese speakers. Unless you have some sort of interest in J-Pop then there is no way you would know about her. (That should tell you about the demographics of the crowd. With so many nerds and weebos there, I thought I was in Akihabara all over again…)

There seemed to be a clash of interests – on the one hand, people like me who know and love her older stuff like, “Final Distance”, and “Colours”, or even songs off her most recent Japanese album with songs like “Prisoner of Love” and “Flavour of Life” were to be disappointed with a set constructed almost entirely around her new album “This is the one” and her other, less well-known and less promoted, English language recordings. On the other hand, she needed to promote her new record. The problem was that there was an mis-assumption that people in Britain and America would prefer to hear her English stuff and not Japanese songs.

Of course the aforementioned “First Love”, “Automatic”, and “Sakura Drops” all made appearances to my great relief, but for me there seemed to too many forgettable tracks as filler and not so much killer.

On the up-side, she really does have a beautiful voice, and the soulfullness really came through on the Bjork-esque “Passion”, and the heartfelt “Stay Gold” and “Come Back to me”. “You make me want to be a man” and “Poppin'” sounded ten times better live than on record even as a couple of my least favourite tracks.  “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” was another highlight,

Over the 10 years she has been around, she has developed her own unique style and her ability to pull off different styles such as the funked up “Automatic” and she even managed to hold her own while doing a rather unexpected cover of Placebo’s “The Bitter End”. What I had expected to come off as tinny-electronically engineered pop really came alive with the aid of the backing band.

Overall, it was a very slick production, even if Utada did seem a little tired from all the touring. I would have given it 5 stars if she had paid homage to her Japanese records a little more, but that is just personal preference, it was never advertised as a “Greatest Hits tour”. She really was a good performer and it was great to see and hear her talent in the flesh. I, for one, really hope she comes back to London in the future.

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These days it is becoming more and more common for talent to be sourced on the internet from sites like YouTube, and so hearing about a young girl making it “big in Japan” from her video fame online is not really surprising at all. In fact, it is almost natural when you consider who she is, what she looks like, the demographics of her audience, and the fact that this is Japan – a legendary country where fame is achievable by almost anyone.

So along comes Beckii Cruel (ベッキ・クルーエル)also known as Rebecca Flint, a 14-year-old from the Isle of Man. You may have read about her in The Guardian, or seen one of her videos online.

It’s really hard for me to restrain myself and not go on a rant here – there are so many things wrong with her and her fame that I find it rather upsetting. Mainly that her videos make me want to stab myself in the eye out of rage: does she not realise WHO is watching her or WHY she is famous?

Take a look at the demographics. It is a video watched mainly by men in the 25-40 age groups as you can see from it being shown at a Conference in Akihabara (the Mecca for Geeks and Nerds around the world). She is 14 both in age and appearance. Unfortunately jailbait sells, and that is exactly what she is.

She is just one of hundreds of girls who do para-para dancing and upload it to YouTube. That is all she is: a girl dancing around her bedroom. It helps that she is slim, slightly awkward, young and has slight anime features. I say “slight” because in reality, that’s all they are – especially compared to someone like the genuinely cute (and ridiculously annoying) Magibon, pronounced “Maggie-bon”, another star of the tube whose silent videos and cute features became a meme in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong – being talentless is not a crime, and in fact it has probably provided just as much entertainment pound for pound than from the professionals. In fact, isn’t that the reason that shows like the X-factor or Britain’s got talent are so popular? Something in our human nature loves failure – its like watching a car crash; you know you shouldn’t stare, but you do because, well, it’s there. The difference is that Beckii Cruel is not extraordinarily beautiful or talented, and in reality she isn’t even that entertaining, unless of course you are a middle-aged pervert who wishes he could get a girlfriend who looked even slightly like her. There is nothing starwars-kid-embarrasingly-hilarious about her, nor is she doing anything that hasn’t been done a million times before.

Putting my prejudice to one side however, her new found fame is undeniable. So I will let her have her moment of glory, because that is all it will be. I just find it strange that out of all the wierd and wonderful videos online, hers got picked out as something special. I am certain in 10 years time she will reflect on her rise to fame as something a little bit shameful. Warming the hearts of paedophiles and perverts is really nothing to be proud of.

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Q: What is Para-Para?

A: It is a style of dancing which is very popular amongst young people in Japan.



I went to my first para-para club the other day and it was interesting to see such a cult part of Japanese culture live and kicking. If I compare it to line-dancing, then it I’m sure it would give you completely the wrong idea about what it is – there are no badly dressed, cowboy hat wearing middle-aged folk here, this is where the young and the stylish come to show off their arm-waving skills in strict routines set to euro-beat/trance/techno music.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of geeks here too. Para-para is not something you can just rock up to a club and “do”; you have to study hard and learn the moves. As a result there are a large proportion of “otaku” who study daily (probably) to perfect routines, and once they know them they go to a para-para club to show what they can do. Normally “Gyaru” (the really girly girls with tonnes of makeup, short skirts and perfectly curled hair) and “otaku” (geeks with no dress-sense, bowl haircuts and a curry based diet) never mix together under any circumstances, but this is perhaps the main exception to that rule!

My friend Mina took me. She is actually an instructor back in Texas, and its because of this style of dancing that she came to like Japan in the first place! She knows a good 300 or so routines, no mean feat if you ask me. Although the moves all look kind of similar, and there is a lot of repetition, naturally every song is different.

At the club itself, everyone dances in lines and the most experienced dance on the stage to remind everyone of the moves. Occasionally the DJ pulls out a record from the early 90’s which nobody knows and at that moment, there is usually one geek who will know it, and that is their moment to shine!

After a while the music really got to me though so I don’t think I will be trying to pick it up anytime soon, but then again its always fun to try things out so who knows! Let me know what you think of the two videos!

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The last couple of weeks has been a mixed bag of emotions. I’ve had some real highs  – like seeing my Cousin Hazel in Kyoto with Toddles in tow; great fun now he is running around everywhere! And he has grown SO big since I saw him last! – but its brought about a lot of low points too. Saying good bye to a lot of people on my course I’ve made friends with over the last few months was sad enough, but a couple of my really good friends were leaving too which is a bit of a blow. Luckily we are living in the age of Skype! The other thing was that this year was my first ever Christmas away from home and while I was expecting it to be hard, it was even harder than I imagined. I kept myself as busy as possible to keep my mind off the fact that I wasn’t with family, firstly on Christmas eve by going to one of my good Japanese friends’ house.

Since I live in halls, I really appreciate getting this kind of home-stay experience! After paying respects to the family shrine we entered Haruna’s grandparents house – enormous and incredibly Japanese in every single way with tatami flooring, sliding doors, with an outer corridor surrounding the inner rooms. We had a real feast for lunch and although I though I had tried almost everything before they still found things to surprise me! Remarkably, they have a small amount of land and grow all their own rice, vegetables and fruit, as well as making their own plum-wine liqueur, pickles and other things! Naturally it was all delicious – there’s nothing like home cooked food!! I enjoyed talking to them – even if they spoke with a really thick dialect accent that made it hard to understand! Her grandma is an inspiration – at 70 she still does Japanese archery and competes at a national level – I saw the trophies! They were so kind and very generously gave me a whole bag of goodies to take home with me – home grown clementines, pickles, sweet potatoes and dried persimmons.

Afterwards we went on to her family home and I got to meet her mum and dad. We made nabe which is kind of like clear soup with meat and vegetables or whatever you have lying around – for that very reason its becoming a favourite of mine! I got to try out her koto which I suppose is a cross between a guitar and a piano – very strange – and heard all about her dad entering the famously hardcore Iron Man competition for a second time!

We then had drinks at My Bar and after a long long walk from Sakae all the way to Don Quixote in Kanayama/Nagoya Eki decided to crash out at a Manga Cafe till the first train home. Christmas day itself was also very very different to what I’m used to; replace the roast with raw octopus, soy beans and radish salad, the wine with beer, and instead of carols at church think of carols at karaoke and you’ve got a pretty good approximation! I actually had a pretty fun day in the end but I’m really glad its over now so I can enjoy the rest of my holiday.

Here are some pics…

I’m going off to Tokyo for New Years Eve and to see a bit more what I missed last time, like Akihabara, a bit more Harajuku and maybe we will try and catch a glimpse of the first sunrise of the new year from the vantage point of the Roppongi Hills Hotel…

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After being held a Sing Star* hostage for an hour by two of my rather drunk friends, I decided to escape and pack for Tokyo. I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon for a 5 day mini-break with 2 of my girlfriends over the University Festival weekend. Its going to be my first time on Shinkansen and in Tokyo so I am rather like a kid a Christmas, still wide awake at 3am, except with last minute homework, and revision for a test on causative-passive verb conjugation and transitive/intransitive verbs. Obviously writing my blog is preferable to that!

The only slight problem is that all of my shoes are broken! Well not ALL of them, but all my favourite everyday ones. A rather sorry state of affairs! One might call me thrifty, skint, creative or my new favourite word: a Recessionista, but whatever word you want to use, I just saved a lot of money by repairing not one, not two but FOUR pairs of shoes with a tube of superglue. Flats, heels, boots and flip-flops. One of my pairs of trainers is being held together with yellow electrical tape and one other pair of heels is beyond repair even by the most skilled cheap-skate. Its rather pitiful but it can’t be helped.

Shoes can be very cheap in Japan, but they are also made for the doll sized feet of wannabe geisha and barbie-like Harajuku princesses. As I have feet the size of Russia, I am yet to find anything other than 100yen (50p) beige plastic unisex “massager” slipper-shoes which are even worse than they sound, and more painful than you could ever expect; if by massage they mean “cause severe numbness and de-sensitization in feet” then objective achieved!

Enough about shoes anyway.

I will write about Tokyo when I get some free time, but until then I will leave you with my (slightly blurry) photo of the day:

Mmm… Platinum Aroma…

*Karaoke style game for the PlayStation.

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The strange thing about living in Japan is that you can simultaneously feel very at home but also like a fish out of water. I know the language (enough to get by comfortably!), how to get around Nagoya, all the do’s and dont’s of Japanese culture. I know a fair bit of Japanese history. I even know how to say “your pants are showing” in comical sign language. But I am still a foreigner. Now, this does have its advantages – if I make faux pas linguistically or otherwise, Japanese people very generously give me the benefit of doubt! However, I am getting slightly tired of always being treated as an outsider. (If I had 100 yen for every time someone asked me if I can eat raw fish…)

We were trying to get into a members club the other night and my half-Japanese friend George rang ahead to see if we could get without being members. The lady told him that it was no problem, that membership was not required. We then went up to the 9th floor and entered reception, where we were told that George could indeed get in without membership as he is fluent in Japanese and looks Japanese. The rest of us (foreigners) would not be able to enter, since we were not members. As it turned out, Japanese people do not have to be members but gaijin do. And to become a member you have to obtain three letters of recommendation from Japanese friends, proof of valid visa status, an Alien Registration Card, and a completed application form. I could of course join, but would I want to join a club which essentially resents my presence? I wouldn’t mind so much if everyone had to apply for membership but such blatant double standards are something I am not used to.

Anyway, it didn’t really matter. We still went on to have a hilarious evening out! It just goes to show that it is the company you hold and not the places you go which define an fun time.

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Today I was volunteered into doing a presentation about my seminar class to 200 junior high school students. They came from one of the local school and it was a chance for them to see what university is like and what goes on. Essentially, seminar classes are very different to lecture classes not only in size but in the way they are conducted, so three of the Japanese girls did a fantastic presentation on the kind of topics we cover and the way in which we learn. Towards the end, another exchange student Alvin and I spoke for a couple of minutes about what we liked about the class etc. On hearing us speak Japanese there was a loud chorus of 「かわいい!」”So cute!” and girlish giggles which amused us both! It really makes you feel like you are famous or special. (Apparently life back home is very dry when you are brutally made to remember that in fact you are neither famous or special.)

It was slightly scary speaking Japanese in front of so many people – this was a far cry from our speeches and self-introductions in class! For one thing, there were about ten teachers at the back, three who were videoing the whole thing/taking pictures! We got asked questions at the end, and although the questions were fairly straightforward it felt really good that I could freestyle the answers without any preparation, in fact it was quite a rush!

Whilst we were waiting outside after it had finished, I overheard a couple of the girls ask their teacher if they were allowed to ask us for photographs on their mobile phones! I wouldn’t have minded at all but the teacher shooed them away saying something like, “lets not bother the nice foreigners now, shall we?”.

The great thing about Japan is that on the one hand you do get coerced into doing things like this (with the phrase “we would like it if you would….”) but you ALWAYS get rewarded with mugs, stationary, umbrellas or something else, and today was no exception. Not only did we get a goody bag of Nanzan Stationary, but our Professor Mr. Fujimoto took us out for a slap up lunch at a rather fancy Chinese restaurant!

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One of my favorite things about studying Japanese is the subtlety of this language. A lot is left unsaid, words ommitted or abbreviated, and so one has to rely on context to understand the overall meaning. There is also a lot of variety that we dont have in English, such the different first person pronouns you can use in Japanese. By choosing a particular first person pronoun you can instantly make yourself seem more masculine, feminine, humble, superior or a combination of the above. Choosing the most appropriate word out of a selection of five or six is slightly tricky. But what is more interesting is trying to understand what someone is saying when they use a particular word which has three or four different meanings!!  Japanese has so many homophones that misunderstandings easily occur. “Kami” can mean 紙 “paper” 髪 “hair” or 神 ”god”. Japanese people argue that the pronounciation is different, and whilst this may be the case I still have to rely on context to know which one they mean!

Luckily I am allowed to make mistakes as I am not a native speaker, and when I do it is cause for laughter rather than offence. Since the last few days have been peppered with examples, I want to share two which stood out.

On Saturday I went to Nagoya Port and to see the aquarium which was a lovely day out. As soon as we got there my Japanese friend said to me 「さかなみたい」. Now, depending on the context and how it is written or pronounced, this could either mean 「魚見たい」 ”I want to see the fish” or 「魚みたい」 ” (something) looks like a fish”, but the difference is very minimal to the untrained ear. Since we were at an aquarium, it really wasn’t very clear which she meant. To add to the confusion, another friend said 「魚食べてみたい」, which means “I want to taste the fish”. Whether they meant the ones swimming around in the tanks in front of us or ones fresh from the port was unclear, although I hope they meant the latter!

On Thursday evening I decided to get my hair coloured at a place nearby, and on my return to the dorms I met a couple of people I hadn’t seen in a few days. When they asked about my new look I replied “I just got back from the Beauty Parlour”. Unfortunately, the word for Beauty Parlour/Hairdressers is very very similar to the word for Hospital and my friend looked at me half shocked and worried until we both realised my mispronunciation, at which we burst out laughing!

So whilst learning a new language can be a minefield, it is also incredibly funny if you take a step back and laugh at your own mistakes.

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