Odori Park, by Chris Watkins Odori Park - A webcomic comedy of culture shock in love, life, and family, by Chris Watkins
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To all who have found their way here to read this, the inagural blog post at OdoriPark.com: doumo arigatou. (Please note: Those making “Mr. Roboto” references will be glared at sternly. For that matter, so will anyone mentioning The Vapors.)

My natural inclination for a first post would be to say “welcome,” to describe the comic, and maybe to tell a little about myself. That, however, is the function of the About page, and I wouldn’t want said About page to feel unloved. Further, it bears noting that, after a few posts, this one will drop off the front page, and cease to be a reasonable welcome message.

That really doesn’t leave me with much to discuss. It’s probably best to let the comic do the talking, anyway. You did notice that up at the top of the home page, there, right? The webcomic about an American guy and a Japanese gal married, with a baby, and running a used bookstore? (See how discreetly I snuck those search terms in there?)

I will say that I’ve got a big bag of these strips drawn and rarin’ to be posted, so even if I drop off the face of the earth tomorrow, you should have some fun stuff to look at for a while. (Not that I’m planning on doing a virtual face plant, mind you.)

Now ready for take off…

Quick! Name a U.S. superstar pop artist of Asian descent. Blanking? (Contrary to my wife’s only guess, I don’t think the guy who sang “Sukiyaki” counts anymore. Nor does Pink Lady.) My list, off the top of my head, consists of the guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins, and a fraction of the lead singer of Hoobastank.

A couple weeks back, I iTuned (any chance that works as a verb now, like Google, or am I just fooling myself?) an album called “This is the One,” by Utada Hikaru. (Technically, in the States, it’s just Utada. I guess she or her U.S. label fear her full name is too many syllables of incongruity for American tongues to handle, so they’re taking her the one name route, like Madonna, or Pink, or Carrot Top.) This is “Utada’s” second attempt at a U.S. debut album. (Her last pass, “Exodus,” in 2004, grew on me, but evidently not many others, otherwise, I wouldn’t need all this introduction.)

I’ve been enjoying it. Sometimes her lyrics require effort to digest (as a graphics guy, I’d like to give kudos for using “Photoshop” in a song lyric, and yet, “I wish that I could Photoshop/all our bad memories” is… a stretch) but the tunes have the same catchiness that hooked me (and the rest of Japan) with her first break-out single, “Automatic,” back when I was living in Japan in 1998. It’s a much more mainstream album than her last attempt.

Lest I start sounding like a music reviewer, let me get to the point:

I was sharing the album with my wife, who owns all the Utada Hikaru albums I don’t (which is to say, most of them), and I was surprised to find her reaction was a resounding “meh.” She thinks Utada–who, if you didn’t know, is a mega superstar (holds the #1, #4, and #8 top selling records of all time) in Japan–has a snowball’s chance of breaking the American music market. She thinks Utada lacks the glamor and novelty to become a star on U.S. terms.

To an extent, I share the sentiment. Utada has not adopted any destitute foreign children, shaved her head, or (to my knowledge) been arrested. I do recognize, however, that for an American audience, the simple fact that she’s Japanese is probably novelty enough to pass the gate. I think the bigger obstacle may be a question of whether the mainstream U.S. pop-listening public is ready to accept an Asian music star. (See point one, at the top of the post.)

That said, though, if she’s going to make it, my feeling is that now may be her best chance. To whit: A while back, when I was working full-time at a Web design firm, I asked the company president–who had formerly been general manager of several local radio stations–about which new musicians he thought could only have made it big with the power of the Internet. John Mayer was his first reponse (yes, it was six years ago). He cited that, although John (we’re on first name terms) also lacked “glamor and novelty,” the direct fan-to-music access of the Web allowed someone who’s greatest strength was simply strong musical talent to bypass the radio and record label game.

So, as someone who’s also hoping for success riding the long tail on the Internet (webcomic about an international couple who own a small business, anyone?), I think I’d rather hold my tongue on Utada’s chances, and just hope the best for everyone…

Anyway, good album.

(This has become a very long post. I think it’s because this is my first attempt at a real “bloggy” blog post. Was I too verbose? Did I overdo the hyperlink thing? Feedback and advice are welcome!)

Really. What was going through the mind of the first guy to eat natto, or anything fermented, for that matter?

“Boy, this sure looks old and putrid. Think I’ll put it in my mouth!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually find natto quite tasty. It’s great with a light soy sauce and some nori, over rice. (Although I would caution all to steer clear of dry roasted natto, which I assume is intended as a snack food akin to dry roasted peanuts, but which left me with the distinct impression of having been dutch ovened in the mouth.)

There’s just something about eating old, moldy, and rotten things that smacks of pure desperation. Or insanity. (Notice, also, how often these things become delicacies for the fine and fancy crowd. Wine and cheese, anyone?)

These are the extents to which the “food rule,” mentioned in today’s comic, can lead:

Anna the Red’s Bento Art

I have, to date, personally seen little more than carrots shaped like flowers, apple slices shaped like bunnies, and sausages shaped like octopi. I feel like I’m missing out.

(Note: This may not actually turn out to be a weekly feature, but if it does, as far as the title goes, I’m covered.)

Monday’s strip calls to attention the ancient Japanese literary craft of haiku, practiced for generations by high school English classes around the world. As part of this strip, Arisa mentions the words moji and kigo. I think context clues provide sufficient understanding for the gag (specifically, that you don’t need to understand them), but for the curious:

A kigo is a word that evokes the image of a particular season. Cherry blossom (sakura), for example, is evocative of Spring. The moon (tsuki) is often considered representative of Autumn. Images of winter might be summoned by the sounds of a man whose car just slid into a ditch (kuso!).

Moji means “syllable.” I don’t have any jokes for that.

2009/5/7

Before I lived in Japan, I was not a religious coffee drinker.

I had a cup from time to time, but it was the mid-day post-class cup of instant joe every day during my stint as an English teacher there that cemented the habit.
Odd that it was instant coffee. In fact, instant coffee seems to be the coffee of choice for most Japanese I’ve met. Probably because it’s more space-efficient than dedicating limited counter space to a coffee maker.

And (cue old man voice) they didn’t have Starbucks in Japan back in my day. If you went out for coffee, it was a sit-down chat-with-friends at the cafe experience. Guldarnit.

This was also the first time I ever had iced coffee. It seemed very novel. A few years later, back in the states, MacDonald’s started to sell iced coffee. But for me, it was a discovery. (And let me tell you: granular sugar is not designed for iced coffee. In Japan, order an iced coffee and you’ll get a little container of sugar syrup for your sweetening needs. Why haven’t we groked this concept yet?)

Milk tea was a similar revelation. I still enjoy a glass of milk tea from time to time, but just after I returned to the States, it was nearly a staple for me. A staple that, for some reason, totally freaked out my mother and sister, who couldn’t stomach the idea of pouring milk into a glass of iced tea (which is all milk tea is). I mean, loads of folks drink their hot tea with milk or cream. What magic property did the lower temperature have that caused such gut-churn? I still don’t know, but it was funny.

Point is: same drink, very different habits.

How does the rest of the world drink coffee?
How do you take your coffee?

So, I’m giving this Twitter thing a go, although I confess, I haven’t entirely figured out what to tweet on any given day… I’ll certainly be tweeting about interesting developments in the comic or the site, but I’m all ears to suggestions!

You can follow me at: www.twitter.com/odoripark

Tweet!

Anyone who watches anime is deeply familiar with the word baka, and all its delightfully insulting connotations. Sometimes translated as the overly eloquent “fool,” baka, to me, is more appropriately interpreted as “idiot,” or, my personal fave, “dumba$$.” Why bring this up today? Let me explain via example:

Japanese: Jikko de dehtabehsu no pahsuwahdo wo kawatte, jibun no saito wo kawaru hito ha kitto baka da.

English: Any person who breaks his own site by accidentally changing the database password is clearly a dumba$$.

Bad Japanese words were among the first things I learned in that language (primarily a vulgar phrase which shall go unrepeated here). There’s some sort of fascination folks seem to have with foul language in foreign tongues–like knowing it gives you the secret key to getting away with something naughty. I, for example, can say “poop” in languages for which I know precious little useful vocabulary. (Granted, cursing in foreignese may be exceedingly useful if you’re a street-brawling sailor, or Yosemite Sam). My wife has, at times, exhibited an unhealthy interest in proper pronunciation and usage of English curses. (Could be she’s saving up for a future fall-down drag-out marital spat.) My friends (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark) have not helped matters much.

But the real kicker is that, to my experience, bad words in Japanese aren’t really all that bad. I would regularly hear phrases from my elementary school students (back when I was teaching English) that, if translated, would curl the hair of folks back home to hear from a mouth still attached to short pants, but my Japanese co-instructors wouldn’t bat an eye. And the kids learned a lot of it from pre-teen anime. In Japanese, it seems, it’s far worse to address someone using the incorrect politeness level than to discuss with them what comes out of a bull’s rear end.

Which, all in all, left me feeling cheated. I mean, I studied hard to learn that kuso!

Speaking of words good and bad, Odori Park got a few very nice words from the Digital Strips blog this week. Thanks for the kind mention!

2009/5/21

In relation to yesterday’s strip, I offer the following: There is a theory, posed years ago in a Zero Gravity strip in the Japan Times (by Roger Dahl), that straight out of the package, udon “noodles” are actually comprised of one single mega-noodle. The same may be true of pre-packaged instant ramen, but whereas this phenomenon with regard to the “Student’s Helper” is potentially verifiable, the inherent slickeriness of udon noodles could mean that–like the number of licks to the center of a Tootsie Pop–the world may never know.

Just FYI.

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