Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Contributions to the Japanese Language

Foreigners living in Japan make invaluable cultural contributions all the time. From Hungarian sumo wrestlers to ceaseless TV appearances by Marty Friedman to David Aldwinckle's belabored efforts to popularize frivolous litigation, creative gaijin bring welcome variety to what has historically been a very uniform nation. As a relatively long-term resident, therefore, it's natural for me to examine my own cultural footprint and determine whether it's worth the price of the shoe that left it.

One of the most fascinating ways in which foreign residents of any country can affect their host is through the host's language. About three years ago I met an American teacher in Tokyo who had taken to prefixing Japanese adjectives with ero- (a Japanese-English loan word meaning "erotic" or "eroticism"). This teacher used ero- to amplify the subsequent adjective, the same way native Japanese speakers use chô- (super) or metcha- (seriously). So really good food is not just oishii (delicious), but ero-oishii (sexy-delicious).

Over the years, I've coined a few of my own Japanese words, all of which are a source of pride (not to mention newfound linguistic convenience) for me. Here are some examples:

クソい (kusoi) - This is an i-stem adjective built on the noun kuso, which is slang for excrement. Just as English has taken "shit" and morphed it into an adjective as "shitty," I felt Japanese should afford speakers the same privilege with its expletives. Usage would go something like this:

Asa no kibun wa yokatta kedo, ima wa nanka kusoi.
(I felt good this morning, but now I feel kinda shitty.)

邪魔邪魔しい (jamajamashii) - As you can see from the cumbersome kanji characters required to write it, "jamajamashii" is a word better suited to spoken Japanese than written Japanese. This shii-stem adjective is built out of a doubling of the noun jama, which means "obstruction" or "something in the way." It's similar to the (real) word bakabakashii ("foolish") which is similarly built, doubling the noun baka ("idiot") and adding an adjective suffix. I have to admit, this word was not born out of necessity so much as my own personal amusement. It's usually sufficient to say that something is jama and leave it at that, but I found myself muttering the made-up word jamajamashii when pushing through a crowd of slow-moving shoppers one Sunday in Kichijôji.

クレージく (kurêjiku) - Unfortunately, 99 percent of all loan words from English are treated like nouns in Japanese, regardless of their original part of speech. For example, the English adjective "crazy" is appropriated by Japanese as kurêjî, but its adverb form becomes the unwieldy kurêjî ni. Well, no more. Since kurêjî has the i ending characteristic of so many Japanese adjectives, I'm going to treat it like a Japanese adjective. As such, changing the last i to the syllable ku should make it an adverb, "crazily." By the way, if you found this paragraph interesting, you must be kurêjî.

ティッ者 (tissha) - This is a contraction of the loan word tisshu (tissue) and sha, which means "one who..." or "...person." Together, they describe a person handing out little packages of tissues stuffed with ad fliers; the "Tissue Person." Tissue distribution is a preferred method of advertising for a wide range of Japanese businesses, including loan brokers, English conversation schools, adult video shops, host(-ess) clubs and cell phone service providers. Usually the tissue distributor is described as tisshukubari-san, but I find tissha far more convenient.

モーニング息子 (morning musuko) - You may have heard of Morning Musume, the Japanese pop group composed of an annually-updated gaggle of giggly junior high school girls. The musume in their name means "daughter" or "little girl." Remove musume and substitute musuko (which means "son," but is also slang for "penis"), and you've got a handy Japanese word for nocturnal penile tumescence. Fiancee told me that she'd never heard this word used before (hence my willingness to take credit for coining it), but that she immediately understood its meaning.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

PSP Equals Monster Hunter

When I ride the train and see someone playing a PSP or DS, I get very nosy. It's in my nature to crane my neck and try to see which game the person is playing, out of sheer curiosity. I guess part of me believes that there's insight about one's personality that can be gleaned from observing what portable games they play on their daily commute.

What I've observed, however, is confounding: Every single person I've observed playing PSP on the train in the past six months has been playing Monster Hunter. This is not just a blogger's exaggeration. Since January 2008, every time I peeked at another person's PSP on the train, that person was playing one of the three Monster Hunter games currently available for Sony's handheld game system. I guess whoever said Japan was homogeneous was onto something.

If you've been reading Chorus, Isolate, Confirm for long enough, you know that I went through a couple of Monster Hunter phases myself. First I got hooked on Monster Hunter Portable in the spring of 2006. Then I worked my PS2 to death playing Monster Hunter 2 a couple months later. After that I found myself hamatta on Monster Hunter Portable 2nd in the spring of 2007.

Currently the series's popularity is kept afloat by the release of Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G, which I'm sure is delightful. I can't say for certain, however, as I have purposely steered clear of the franchise for almost a year now. Why? Because it's a huge, dinosaur-shaped black hole from which nothing -- especially not time and money -- can escape.

Consider the wink-nudge moneymaking relationship between Capcom, who develops and publishes the series, and strategy guide publishers like Dengeki and Famitsuu, who capitalize bigtime on the complexity of games like Monster Hunter. If you're Famitsuu and you get the chance to publish a guide the size of a desktop atlas (and price it accordingly), you leap at that chance like a Velociprey with 'roid rage. Combine that with Capcom's repeated re-release of what is basically the same game with very few changes made each time, and you've got yourself a perfect storm of hand-over-fist profit.

That laughing sound you just heard was Capcom and Famitsuu, on their way to the bank together.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Open Letter to the Girl I Saw Yesterday

Dear High School Girl,

You don't know me, but I now know a little more about you than you should probably allow any stranger to know. I was walking near Ô-gâdo in west Shinjuku just after 5:00 PM, and you were walking about five paces in front of me. A rare gust of wind came along at such an altitude as to lift your skirt for the briefest of moments.

But it wasn't exactly the "briefest" of moments, was it? Because you weren't wearing any briefs.

Believe me when I say that, by walking through central Tokyo in your school uniform minus your skivvies, you put yourself in danger. And, considering the prospect of being arrested for seeing you in such a state, you are also putting grown men around you in danger (to say nothing of your contribution to the already unhealthy level of sexual repression that dominates Japan).

If you really must engage in such dangerous behavior, might I suggest that you wait until you're a legal adult? Our present day society has laws regarding you and your "going commando" in public, and age is definitely a factor. If you want to wander around Tokyo with no panties on after your 18th birthday, then more power to you.

I'll stand behind you 100%.


Jesse Jace
Chorus, Isolate, Confirm

Thursday, July 03, 2008

With Supporters Like These: Part III

McCain backer's firm pleaded guilty to funding Columbian terrorists

Not only has Chiquita funded terrorist groups, they've funded terrorist groups that oppose each other. Talk about buttering one's banana (republic) on both sides.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Let's Learn Japanese: Mai Buumu

Mai buumu ("my boom") is a corrupt English phrase used by Japanese people to express something that one has started doing a lot recently, usually for recreation. If you have been spending an uncharacteristic amount of time at karaoke as of late, then you can say, "Saikin (recently), karaoke wa mai buumu desu." The only trouble with this phrase is that Japanese people often misuse the English word "my" to mean "one's own," which leads to all sorts of noun-pronoun disagreement:


Kare wa, mai kaa ga arimasu.

He has a "my car" (He has his own car).

As a result of this misunderstanding of the word "my," my students sometimes ask me strange questions like, "What is your 'my boom?'"

These days, my "my boom" is Taiko no Tatsujin, Namco's festive drum rhythm game. I've been banging the taiko on a casual basis since I moved to Japan, but this spring saw a marked increase in my efforts to become a tatsujin (master). I have been playing the arcade version of the game at various locations on a weekly basis for the past few months, enjoying its therapeutic effects on my mind and body. Pounding a big drum feels good, it turns out.

Two weeks ago I arrived early for a work shift in Gakugeidaigaku (try saying that five times fast...or just one time fast) and decided to kill some time by going to the arcade and playing my favorite Tatsujin song: the Difficult setting of "Super Mario Bros. Medley." I got through the whole thing without any mistakes -- in the industry, we call this a "full combo" -- and was told to enter my name, which I did most proudly.

Today I found myself with time to kill in the same neighborhood, so I decided to play the same song again. (There are only a few songs I can play on Difficult Mode without embarrassing myself...others include the "Mojipittan Medley" and "Polyrhythm" by Perfume.) I had to smile when I saw that my score from two weeks prior was still in the #1 spot for that song. Either I'm really good at that song, or I'm the only person who ever plays it at that particular arcade. Either premise is readily believable.