Monthly Archives: July 2014

I think I love my experiences with Japanese kissaten so much more than American coffee shops. I’m also very happy to say that I found one where I can both passably read the menu and understand everything that the waitress said to me! The most amusing thing to me was the gender divide. Non smoking seats were occupied by women while the smoking section was filled by men.

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日本の喫茶店のほうが、アメリカンのコーヒーショップより好きだと思う。やっと、ほかの良い所を見つけました。メニューが読めるとかウェイトレスの話しが分かれました!面白いことは男女格差でした。例えば、女性は禁煙席に座ったと共に男性は喫煙席に座った。

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Naminori – Wave riding

The sky is an infinite grey, rain plodding down into the gentle surf of the pacific ocean. And here I am less than 60 kilometers north of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, contemplating becoming a thing which is thrown by the ocean.  Three years ago, I would never have expected this. Yesterday morning, I never would have expected this, but life has a lovely way of unfolding. Not more than a few hundred meters from me, there is still evidence of damage to infrastructure from the Tsunami and Quake.

Last Saturday, I had a dream that I was on the Oceanside, when off in the distance a great storm reared up. Cumulonimbus clouds, like panthers padding across the sky. Some people were running to the ocean, but I chose to run towards shore, except now I was on a sandbar between two bodies of water, and as I crossed large waves were rising. I get across somehow, but I was being presented with pictures of the shoes that were on children’s feet who drowned attempting to cross that very body of water.

With that image in mind, I am suited up in a red wet suit clinging to a surf board, and I don’t feel a bit of the rain. That is, I don’t mind, it’s one in the same with the waves, one in the same with me. Except for the fact that I am small and though I am mostly made of water, my consciousness tends only to truly occupy the hydrophobic skin sack I call body. I have never surfed before, and I haven’t been in the ocean in years. To put it in Aikido words, I am Uke -the reciever- (受け) and the ocean is Nage -the thrower- (投げ). How I loved what spirit and energy my partners would place into their throws, and the fluidity in which I could fall, roll out and stand up and have another go. I contemplate the idea that one might never be Nage because though we might seem centered the forces that come at us are always incredibly powerful and we must learn the best way to be thrown by them.

After I’ve gulped down torrents of seawater and faced a number of waves, My friend turns my board around and pushes me into a wave. As the wave throws my board, I stand up and ride the white water back towards shore.

Not too far up the Magic Mountain

“And what is the cause of enervation and apathy that arise when the rules of life are not abrogated from time to time?” – The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

Enervation and apathy seems to describe my constant state to be honest…

So far this book has had perhaps just three days pass in roughly 100 pages, and perhaps I’ve been with it for a week or so. It’s perhaps as if I feel someone is pedantically plodding through and dusting off the the bookshelves in my brain. There is nothing particularly exciting or noteworthy, it seems an exacting representation of life. Everything I don’t look for in a book is here, (lengthy descriptions of meal time, etc) and gentle revelations and contemplations of things that I may not particularly make much headway on when I approach on my own. For example, “Why do I always seem to move as soon as I’ve settled into a place? Why do I try to settle in if the intention is to move on in just a short while?”

The main character entirely identifiable: not quite average, not particularly brilliant or interesting either. Mostly drunk and somewhat out of place.

I believe that there are 600 more pages to witness. I feel like overall there is a lot locked in here, but I might ground myself down if I spend all my free time on it, when already my day is fairly routinized and uneventful. Work, home, take a rest due to heat, walk around town, go to sleep. All this added to the fact that my town’s big festival is coming along. Everyday from 7-10PM the children beat a driving taiko rythm, and Japanese flutes ring through the air. When I walk I can go from community center to community center and see my students practicing! It’s the most lively I’ve seen my town to be honest, but it all lends to this odd grinding feeling.

“Into the Heart of Darkness,” made me paranoid. “Venus in Furs,” had all the gentlemen in within my vicinity wincing. I think “The Magic Mountain,” is something of a private revolution that one might not talk of too often.

I might put it aside for a good adventure book, something to drag me out of the sleepy haze of my current existence.  Something that stimulates my active imagination rather than fluttering around the quasi-philosophical..though I have to admit, the pastime of reading this book is doing marvels for my vocabulary, and I have this deep feeling that my sophomore year high school teacher would have assigned this book to me if he thought he could get me to sit through the whole thing. And that is actually the reason he had given me “Death in Venice,” for one of my last assignments…a gateway. I can honestly say that his class is one of the few I’ve been able to, for one remember, and two, go back to the old texts of and say, “Wow, I’m glad someone guided me through this material once.”

Rice Paddies in Autumn: A note on faking translation

I really don’t know why it makes me feel happy and stimulated to sit and  look up words in 5 different types of dictionaries while trying to formulate a composition. There is something soothing in the precision I can attain in attempting to balance the rhetoric. Being fastidious like this, of course can be frustrating in it’s own right. It’s an odd feeling to say, “I just want to write one paragraph,” and then when I am almost satisfied,  see that one hour had just passed by. (I don’t do this with all of my work of course. You would not even see one blog a month from me if that were the case.)

Onwards, I went to a 100 yen shop the other day, and a particular poem card game caught my eye. The box claimed to have “romaji with commentary” of the classic poem collection “Hyakunin Isshu.” I foolishly figured that meant the poems were translated or there would at least be some cultural notes since the game directions were translated. I was wrong. I should have taken a note from the warning which included, “Do not place this product close to naked flames.” (a poetic act on it’s own.) and the rockier “The thing which collected one poem of each 100…” (Really?)

Needless to say, I was a little bit disappointed to find that the translations would not be quite so readily available. I thought for a moment, with my limited language and cultural knowledge, what kind of translation can I come to? Can I do a similar service to the Engrish I see in Japan every day?

I took all the words I didn’t know, and looked them up. I took the grammar and discarded it. (Like I do with English, but more so.) How did the collection of pure words make me feel? What images did it bring to mind? It turns out they were dramatically different from what anybody who knows what they are talking about would probably translate the poem as.

The first poem in the collection is by Emperor Tenji:

秋の田の
かりほの庵の
苫をあらみ
我が衣手は
露にぬれつつ

This is my translation:

In the autumn field-
amongst the hermitage of harvested rice
chaff carpets the ground wildly
while my sleeves become soaked with dew

A literal translation by people who probably know what they are talking about involves a house with thatched roofing. Well, you can look that up if you want.

Of course the next thing on the translation agenda comes to the cultural and grammatical interpretation of the poem rather than an artistic spin on vocabulary and my liberal addition of inferred vocabulary. It’ll probably take me a “few” months to come to level with the grammar. The culture will be even more challenging. There is a process of disillusionment that I must now walk through, allowing the poem to return to what the author may have intended it to be. This is the most frustrating thing about learning a language for me. Interpreting what someone is saying as they meant it, not in the way I want them to mean it.

I keep on thinking of a particular bilingual edition of Basho’s Oku no hosomichi (The narrow roads through the back country) which illustrated 5 different translator’s versions of one poem. All are accurate to a capacity, but no one translation can carry all the nuances and weight that the poem had in it’s original language.