BookOff New York

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Did you know there’s a BookOff in New York?! YES, everyone’s favourite Japanese discount bookstore has a shop in New York and it is awesome!

On my first day in New York I made sure it was the first thing I did. After walking around for ages trying to find it (it’s really tucked away!), I finally made it there. First stop – Japanese video games. Look at those DS games!!

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I really wanted to buy something but sadly none of them caught my eye and the ones I really wanted wasn’t there.

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On to DVDs! Hana Yori Dango is my favourite Japanese drama. It’s a story of a poor girl who goes to a private school and angers the school’s douchiest guy.

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Who knew 90′s teeny bopper girl group Mini Moni had a manga?!

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Finally, my purchases. This is my FAVOURITE manga of all time – Tenshi nanka jyanai (I’m not an Angel). It was in the bargain bin!!!! I got this bumper edition for just one dollar. I also got a couple of other manga that really shouldn’t have been in there with Tenshi.

Find BookOff New York at 49 W 45th St, New York.

The Joys of Translation

I watched this video this morning and it really spoke to me. This girl is awesome, she’s a Dutch girl who reviews books and has studied translation, and she loves translation as much as I do. You should check her out. I am very lucky in that I have a frickin’ awesome job translating really amazing things that I feel passionate about – and what’s more I can be creative. I thought that I’d write a little bit about what it’s like to be a translator.

So people quite often say to me “you’re a translator! I guess your job will be taken over by computers in the near future!”

…Yeah, because we all know how great google translate is, right?

Translation of things that are creative – literature, poems, songs, video games – need a real human brain. One that has a very deep understanding of both the original culture and the target culture.

For example – when I was in a film subtitle workshop last year we had to write a translation for a Japanese movie clip where a woman was on a date with a guy. They are both Japanese. The guy has his hair bleached blond. She says “oh wow, I’ve never been on a date with someone who has dyed their hair before”.

What would you translate that as? Exactly as it stands, with the blonde hair? People who know Japanese culture well will know that dying your hair in Japan is not just dying your hair. It’s a sign that you are a rebel – that you don’t give a flying monkey about society and its rules. Being on a date with a guy like this could end up with you lying in a ditch covered in your own blood. THIS is what she’s really saying. But how do you say that, in English words, to people who might not understand Japanese culture?

There are very different approaches when it comes to creative translation. Some people like to fit every. single. detail. of the original in their translation. Some people (I fall more into this category) look at the original, take its meaning and then create new text. Depending on what you’re doing, who the author is and who your target audience is, you may need to switch between the two.

One extra challenge we have in video game translation is that you need to fit your translations into the limitations. So, for example, you are in the desert and a talking camel gives you some water. This water needs a special, catchy name and it needs to be no longer than 10 letters long.

I came to my job having never properly translated anything beyond homework at uni. I’ve learnt everything I know about it from failing and trying again. One thing as a translator that you need to have is the ability to have your work ripped apart right in front of you. When you write something creative, you often put your heart and soul into it – that genius pun you made, that cultural insight you put in – and then someone validates you and just doesn’t get it and changes it. The truth is that language and culture are different from person to person, even when you’re from the same place. What you consider to be the way to phrase something might not be the most natural thing to the next person. And we have to accept that, because at the end of the day we want as many people as possible to enjoy the thing that we’re translating. It’s better to have a more normal sentence which everyone thinks is mildly amusing than to have a really obscure reference to something hilarious that only 1 in 10 people would get.

But the downside to being a translator is that you become critical about loads of things. Subtitles in movies. The way people use your native language in media. I went to the cinema last night and I had to keep pointing out all the plot holes, and where the scene was cut too late and it was just awkward and ugly.

I understand that I’m lucky to be in the job that I have, so if anyone would like to ask any *translation* (read: NOT Nintendo…) questions then I’d love to answer them! Fire away!

Yoshi Didn’t…

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So a little while ago, the totally awesome Yoshi Obayashi of the podcast Yoshi Didn’t contacted me and asked if I’d let him interview me. Of course I said yes!

It’s a very long podcast (almost 3 hours!!) but if you’d like to listen here is the link. We talk about Japan a lot, so if you’re interested in Japan then I’m sure you’d find it interesting!

Also, my voice doesn’t suck as much as I thought it did. WIN.

Gratitude in Japan

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For some reason, I happened to be reading through an old blog of mine that I used to write when I was in Japan. I started to read a few posts from there and couldn’t even remember writing them, but they were like portals back to my Japanese life.

I’ve found one post that I particularly liked. After almost 2.5 years out of Japan, this is a particularly nice post to look back upon and think about the cultural differences I encountered.

Here is my post, from 10th March 2011 (the day before the tsunami):

In the past week, I’ve had two events that have made me understand Japanese culture just that little bit more than I did before. The first was graduation. Of course, I had graduation last year too, but as it was my first, I was in awe of everything and so wasn’t able to catch a few things. The second, was the wedding of two Japanese friends.

As with any formal event in the Japanese school calendar, such as sports day or the culture festival, the students spent a long long time practicing for the graduation ceremony. Looking back to last year, I wonder why on earth they would want to spend so much time on what is, actually, standing then sitting then standing and singing, then sitting, then standing, then walking, getting some papers, taking them with two hands then tucking them under your left arm, then walking, standing, sitting, standing and listening to enough speeches to make your ears bleed. Some time in the week before graduation, I was stood in a classroom of graduating students, with about 10 minutes before class started. I like to try to speak to the kids in this time; just by being there with nothing to do gives the kids some free time when they can- and often do- talk to me about whatever they like. I saw that the class before was science, and so asked a girl what she had studied in it. “Oh, we didn’t do much science”, she said. “We were writing letters.” Letters? In a science lesson? I asked if it was some kind of project to save rain-forests or – heaven forbid- stop whaling. But she told me that they had been writing letters of thanks to their parents, for helping them and pushing them throughout their junior high school life.

What an interesting custom. In a country where parents (read: mothers) spend hours every day planning their child’s schedule with evening classes to get them ahead, make sure they do homework, buy them piles of books to help them.. it would be common place to take a step back and thank the parents. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever thanked my mum and dad.. well, of course things are different in England. Education is much more left to teachers. There is no cram school, though I did take (at the expense of my parents) extra French class to make sure I actually passed the A Level. But they did work hard to make sure I did my homework, and mum used to read over my essays (she is very good with words, is my mum). In days before wikipedia, dad was always getting me to use his wonderful collection of encyclopedias to help. But I never said thank you. I think even after graduating university, when the key speaker (Brain May wooo!) had told us that we needed to thank our parents for their funding and support, did I not thank them. So I thought it was wonderful that my kids were made to sit down and think about how they had come be where they are today.

And then the weekend before the graduation ceremony, at my friends’ wedding, I saw another custom of expressing gratitude.. but I have mixed feelings about this one. I’m sure I’ll do a separate post about it, but basically it was the wedding of my friend Mi-chan, a guy who I met a year ago. It was a mock Western wedding (I’ll explain why it’s “mock” in the wedding post…) but there were still a lot of things that were very Japanese. One of those things was, during the lunch (the days events were: wedding ceremony, lunch with speeches, after party that was pretty much exactly like the lunch but with more people and no posh food) the bride stood up next to the groom, who was holding a microphone and some tissues near her face, and read out a letter to her dad. As far as I can see, the sole purpose of this was to make everyone in the room cry. The parents (all 4 of them) had to stand in a line at the back and cry, but not before the bride herself started crying. So most of the speech was her sobbing things like “I’m sorry …. mrrrhhhhh…. for always …. mhhhrrrrrr… being … mrrrrhhhhhh… so … selfish .. mrrrhhhhhhhhhhhh!” into the microphone while the groom mopped her damp face.

Now, I don’t disagree that the father should be thanked and congratulated for bringing up a girl who is able to snag a good husband. A lot of his hard earned yen probably went to paying for the wedding too. But.. in front of everyone, and using something that should be a private little act of gratitude to manipulate the emotions of all the guests… I guess I don’t see the point of it. What’s more, it’s always the father. I’m pretty sure the mother worked just as hard, if not harder since it her job to bring up the children in Japanese society.

I think it’s really great that gratitude is a big part of Japanese culture. I wish we took the time out to say thank you to people too. Though we have the culture of sending thank you cards, people of my generation usually only use them to say thank you for a gift (even now I only get round to them when I have my mum breathing down my neck and nagging me endlessly about them.) Perhaps I should take notice and make the effort more often.

Home Ramen – Japanese Restaurant

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When I saw on a friend’s facebook feed that she’s been to a new Japanese ramen restaurant, I was pretty excited. I was even willing to risk eating gluten to get that Japanese taste I love so much. The name of the restaurant is Home Ramen, a small place in front of the zoo. Inside, there were a couple of other Japanese people but it was mainly German people. This isn’t always a good sign.

As usual in these situations, I had a weird half Japanese/half German conversation when I ordered my food, but I wasn’t sure if the waitress actually spoke Japanese or not.

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Well, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy at all with the food. The starters (gyoza, croquettes and steamed buns) were all obviously cheap frozen versions that I can pick up at the Chinese supermarket. The croquettes were perfectly round – they should be flat like a crab cake. I was very sad.

The ramen was pretty bad, too. The soup was greasy and yet thin. It had none of the satisfying thickness of a ramen dish you’d find in Japan. My friends ordered pork, and chicken on rice, and they seemed to be more satisfied than I was, but still not entirely happy with their food. We all agreed we wouldn’t want to go back there.

I think there is still room in the Frankfurt restaurant market for a good, well priced, Japanese restaurant. Mangetsu is too pricey and most of the others have really don’t have good enough food. Maybe someone will come up with one soon.

Find Home Ramen at Pfingstweidstr. 12, 60316, Frankfurt.

Common Mistakes in Beginner Japanese

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A few days ago I was sat in a cafe with a friend, when a group young people (gah I’m so old) sat at the table behind us. The group consisted of 3 Japanese junior high school girls, and 3 German people. My friend and I were studying but as soon as we could overhear Japanese, our concentration was broken.

It was then that one of the German kids started speaking in quite low level Japanese.

“とても高いです!” [It's really expensive]

What stood out about this was that…you very rarely hear a native speaker use とても [really]. Only when you’re really emphasising something, I think. But people learning Japanese love to use it.

[EDIT: I posted about this on Facebook and a Japanese friend said she'd use it with her boss. Perhaps it's too polite for normal usage? I'm no native speaker, I don't have the answer!]

It got me thinking about all the things that foreigners say a lot that aren’t exactly incorrect Japanese, they just aren’t what a Japanese person would normally use.

And before I continue I’d like to say that I am by no means an expert on Japanese. If anyone would like to correct me on anything here, or add something, please do so!

So, instead of とても, what should one say? Well, here are what I consider to be slightly more natural ways to express the same;

If you’re with friends, and are a girl, like the group in the coffee shop, you might use [cyou]. It’s used by young women a lot, and is pretty informal. It has the nuance of being ‘overly’ as opposed to ‘really’ like with とても. メッチャ can be used in the same way, but has a nuance like ‘totally’ in English, as opposed to ‘overly’ like 超.

I’d say that the most general, natural ways to say “it’s really expensive” would either be “けっこう高い” or ”かなり高い”. A google search says that けっこう高い gets 139,000,000 hits whereas かなりたかい gets a little less at 137,000,000. Neither of these mean flat out “really expensive”, both mean more “quite/fairly expensive”. I think in Japanese it’s better to imply something rather than saying it directly, and so maybe this is why things are said this way.

Another rookie mistake is the use of することができる [are able to do ___]. There’s a magazine stand near where I live that is owned by a French guy who loves Japan. I sometimes go in there and speak with him in Japanese since he likes the practice (and I could do with the practice these days too!!) When I first met him, I remember, he was so happy to find another Japanese speaker, he bellowed at me “OOh! 日本語を話す事ができますか?” [You're able to speak Japanese?]

Now, I know why we non-native speakers use 〜事ができる. It’s because you don’t have to think about changing the end of the words, right? Well, the thing is, I’ve never heard a native speaker use this phrase before – they use the harder, verb changing grammar. So, instead of 日本語を話す事が出来る they’d say 日本語を話せる. Yep, changing that second to last hiragana. It’s a pain, I know.

I have one last example of common mistake. And it’s one I know all too well. When we all start out with Japanese, we all like to translate literally from our mother tongues, and so we translate all the words. The word “you” is あなた and so, perfect! You can ask something like “what’s your name?” – “あなたの名前は何ですか?” Just typing this into google brings up mainly direct translations of “genki English songs”, or websites for Japanese – English translation. It’s just not used so much. If you don’t know a person yet, you’d be polite and shove an お, the honorific prefix, onto the name – お名前は何ですか?

Even when you get to know a person, you don’t use あなた. When I went to study in Japan I didn’t know how to cope with this lack of ‘you’ and so when I learnt the word きみ, which also means you, I used it a lot. Although it’s the kind of thing a boyfriend would use for his girlfriend, it’s not a cute way of saying “you”, it is mainly used where a superior person is speaking to an inferior person – like a boss to the secretary. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well with my Japanese friends. The truth is, you don’t need to use anything at all – most of the time Japanese doesn’t even need a subject anyway! They just make it that way to make translators like us cry. It’s like a great mystery in Japanese conversation, just leave it up to the listeners to figure out who you are talking to!

If anyone has any other examples like this, I’d love to hear them! Things like this really interest me – differences in languages are the interesting parts of learning! Especially because I have a lot of people following my blog who have a much higher level of Japanese than myself – I’d love to hear your views on this!

The Sexing Up of Japanese Culture

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I loved Japanese culture even before I knew I loved it. Every month I’d save up my pocket money and buy the 5 pound Playstation Magazine, with a demo disk in it. The demo disks were usually awesome and I feel so nostalgic thinking about them, but it was also the thick magazine full of articles that kept me going back each month. My mum was very strict on me playing video games (I could only play for 30 mins a day… haha who is laughing now – I HAVE to play for hour and hours a day at work now!!) and we didn’t have a lot of money so most of the games in the articles meant very little to me, but I loved the art. I’d cut out little pictures of Croc or Lara Croft and sit and draw them for hours. I also used to cut out little cartoon characters – now I know them to be manga/anime style characters – and also draw them, sticking my pictures on my school folder. Of course, these Japanese images were probably not what a 12 year old girl should have had on her school folder – pictures of anime girls with huge eyes and even bigger boobs, but to me they weren’t sexual, they were just cool and funky and I loved the style. It wasn’t til years later that I found that these were Japanese, and that the style has so much sexual content linked to it. It’s one of Japan’s biggest exports, if not just in manga and anime form, but the style of the art is shipped out to make anything sexual and cool.

If you ask any non-Japan-related person what they think of when they think of Japan and after the geisha and samurai will undoubtably come the vending machines that sell used underwear. Newsflash – this is not a thing. People who say they have seen one probably didn’t read the kanji correctly or something, I don’t know. When I was studying in Japan, I had a friend who worked in an adult store and while there were many many things that would have (and probably have) scarred me for life, used underwear was not a thing that was on sale, even there.

And it makes me sad and angry that when people think of Japan, one of the first things they think of is sex. “But in Japan there is so much fucked up porn and stuff, Charlotte!” Yeah? The rest of the world is so pure and innocent, and didn’t come up with the likes of 2 girls on cup, or goatsee? I think the world uses this equation of Japan = weird sexy things to cover up the fact that, actually when it comes down to it, no one actually knows a thing about Japan. “Oh, I know something! There’s that eye licking thing! I saw it on the news!” Yeah, I asked my friends in Japan about that and they said that they had heard little to no news on that from inside Japan. My guess would be it was a very small thing with a couple of kids that got picked up by The Daily Mail and escalating into another OMG JAPAN IS CRAZY article.

A few weeks ago there was a Japanese film festival in Frankfurt. Last year the event was really great – including the posters. When the posters for this year were announced, I thought that they were cute at first, but then I noticed that they were all kinda sexual. Cute animals in skirts, lifting them up to show their heart groins. Bears in little panties with pubic hair poking out the top. It’s just my option but I think that these images of cute and colourful animals would have still been “Japanese” even without the sexual element added to them. It made me really sad that an event called “Nippon Connection” – what I take to mean that they are trying to reach out to bring Japanese culture to regular people – had to bring sex to the table in order to sell it. I only got to watch one film this year since the tickets were mostly sold out by the time I got there. I thought it was going to be a nice tale of a Princess called Sakura, but it turned out to be a soft porn film. Little Sakura was raped within the first few mins of the film and then, because of course she loved it, she turned to be a prostitute in order to find the man who attacked her. The audience was full of middle aged men, and the one next to me made really gross noises every time there was nakedness on screen (this was a lot of the film).

I once saw a photoshopped picture on the net (from a JET Programme forum) that said “Welcome to Japan” with a background of 100s of naked Japanese women. I used this in a diary in Lang-8 and asked the Japanese people what they thought about their country having this kind of image and most just shrugged and said there was nothing they could do about it.

I think Japanese people don’t realise that this is often how the West sees them, so I’m sure this won’t change for a long time. It just makes me so angry because there is so much more to Japan than sex.

What do you guys think? I’d love to hear all your opinions in the comments!

Thoughts about Bravery

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Me, as a 20 year old girl ready to take on Japan without fear. 

I’ve been having problems with my confidence recently. People who know me will see me as outgoing and someone who is everywhere at once, doing all the meetups and friends with everyone. But I used to be so much more. I think there’s a better word for it, but I used to be brave when I was younger. I used to do a lot of drama, I loved to be on stage and when I went to Japan to study I didn’t care if my Japanese was good or not, I just used it.

But I have found that I’m not that person anymore, I seem to have lost that side of me. My German friends constantly ask me to speak in German with them… I guess I could and it would be ok but there’s an element of “losing face” involved that’s just too risky… or scary for me. Every German I know speaks amazing English. It would just be embarrassing to let them see just how little German I speak. And also when we speak in English we can have amazing conversations but if we spoke in German we’d be reduced to boring, simple stuff. But I can’t ever remember feeling this way with Japanese. Maybe it’s because I was a cocky little shit, but this time round I just can’t get the German out, even though I know my friends won’t judge me and I know it’ll only make my German better.

I finished the advanced improv course a few weeks ago and I noticed in that area too I’d become a lot more withdrawn. I love improv – I love being on stage. When I was younger I used to do SO much theatre; regular stuff, improv contests, I was a dame in the village panto (meaning I was 16 year old girl pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman…) and I even entered a solo theatre contest in a division 2 years older than my age (and still won). I was this girl, but now I am not, and I think it’s holding me back.

When you’re an expat or just a regular language learner, I think you need to be super outgoing to be able to get the most out of your life in your adoptive country. Langauge-wise it’s pretty straight forward – you need to be brave enough to just go for it and you’ll get the hang of the language. As an expat it’s best if you just throw yourself into various situations and go to random meetups because you never know what will happen. Of course, it’s also ok to not be outgoing and an expat, but you won’t have as many crazy stories to tell your grandchildren ;)

I guess this lack of bravery has been bugging me for a while. I guess various things happened and I lost the drive I used to have to be like this, but I’m taking steps to get it back. Improv helps me a lot, but I’m *thinking* of maybe dabbling in stand-up comedy. A comedian friend of mine who I admire very much came over the other week so I could road test my routine on him but I just clammed up. I’d like to work myself to the stage where I’m able to do this – even if I’m not funny I think the experience will be good for me.

During the first week of April I’m going to do a German homestay. It’ll be in Frankfurt so I’m not going far at all, but I’m actually really nervous about it. I have no idea where the 16 year old who went off to Japan to do homestays is, but she’s not here right now. I feel nervous about speaking German to someone other than the few people I share my terrible skills with and I feel nervous that it’ll be a whole week of me and the teacher – her teaching me in intensive lessons during the day and cooking and hanging out together in the evenings. This all seems very daunting to me.

But I think once I’ve taken these steps I’ll feel a lot better about myself, so I need to take them. Do you take steps to put yourself in different and daunting situations?

OCS Japanese Store Frankfurt – Closing

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I have the day off today because we get an extra day when we move house. Apparently this is just a Nintendo thing and isn’t universal in Germany.

As I was biking round town trying to get official things done for my move (like registering my change of address, taking my name off of the bills for my old apartment..) I went past the Japanese store OCS. The has been a hit with the Japanese speaking population in Frankfurt since it sells Japanese books, magazines, snacks and other cool things.

But apparently it wasn’t popular enough since it’ll be closing at the end of March. The online shop will still remain, so there’s not much of a sale (right now it’s 30% off). Just like when I was in Paris, I didn’t feel the need to splash out on a 20 euro Japanese book, so I left empty handed in the hope that that 30% will grow a little in the next few weeks.

Anyway, if you are in Frankfurt then check this place out before it closes down! Find it at Große Gallusstraße 1-7.

Why You Shouldn’t Speak Your Learning Language With Anyone Other Than Native Speakers

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As I’ve mentioned previously, I am giving myself the challenge of being able to have a proper conversation in German before the summer. In order to boost myself in this, I go to German Facebook meetup every week. Forcing myself to speak German with these people (or, more often than not, forcing people to suffer my German) helps me get the chance to use the language I learn whilst studying. I am ridiculously bad at German. I can barely string a sentence together. But it helps.

However, there is one guy there who is not German. He’s a very nice guy, very welcoming and friendly. But he stands in the way of my German learning, and here is why. When you are pretty good at a language, and you meet someone else also studying that language, then you feel the need to take them under your wing. When I speak with him he’ll use a range of expressions to try to stretch my learning experience. At my level, this isn’t really helpful. With a native speaker, their aim would not be to nurture you, but to have a conversation with you and to be understood by you. Helpful Non-Native’s aim is to show you just how much they know, and try to pave the path of your linguistic learning. But all it ends up doing (to me, at least) is frustrate me as it’s not natural, it’s not helping me and it’s a little off-putting since they are showing off so much I feel lost in my own abysmal level.

If you are a learner who is pretty good at the language, Helpful Non-Native turns into Competitive Non-Native. I find this happens A LOT with Japanese. When you meet someone new in Japan, people like to size you up and see where you are on the scale, to see if you are better or worse than them at Japanese. When I was at uni, I was ridiculously competitive, to the point that I turned into a not very nice person. But once I got into JET, I chilled out a bit. But I noticed the competitive streak in other people I met… they’d mention some Japanese just to test out how much I knew, or even worse, just come out and speak Japanese to me straight off. I don’t know about other languages but it is a real faux pas to speak in Japanese to non-Japanese people unless there is a good reason, ie it’s at a language event or if there’s a Japanese person who can’t speak English there.

So for someone who is learning a language, having someone who is trying to push you along, show how much they know, someone who is trying to show their superiority is not going to be helpful in your quest to learn a language – whether they mean it or not. A native speaker has no hidden agenda, and won’t throw you linguistic blue shells to try and trip you up, either. You’re not distracted by their level because they’re a native speaker and you’re not aiming to be like them any time soon, either.

Does anyone else feel this too? In other languages is there a competitive feeling when meeting a new person?

This is a “write thoughts down” kind of blog post so let’s see if we can get some kind of discussion going!