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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:: Posts Tagged ‘culture’ ::

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!

2009/7/14

Like the drunkest of high school gym teachers (or maybe it was just mine), I totally slept through an opportunity to teach you something interesting. A week ago, on July 7th, Japan celebrated Tanabata, aka, the Star Festival.

This is the Internet, so there’s not much need to rehash information that someone else has already hashed, so I’ll just point you to a Tanabata writeup at David in Japan. (There, you can also check out a video of a girl peeling an orange while she juggles. Which has nothing to do with Tanabata.)

I think the neatest thing about Tanabata is the practice of writing your wishes on paper, and tying those papers to a tree. I think this must be connected to Shinto tradition, which seems to involve a fair amount of tying things to other things. Most specifically, shimenawa, specially braided ropes with strips of folded white paper tied to them. The biggest of these I’ve seen (was I told it’s the longest in Japan?) is in Hokkaido, near the town of Shizunai, which we saw while visiting a good friend the last time we were in Japan as a family. Enjoy the photo.

The giant shimenawa near Shizunai, Hokkaido. Or: How to keep an island from floating away.
The giant shimenawa near Shizunai, Hokkaido.
Or: How to keep an island from floating away.

(If it makes you feel any better, we also neglected to do anything Tanabata related with our son. We’re attentive parents. Later this year, we plan to forget Christmas.)

Fixed the incorrect link code on that David in Japan link, above. Whoops!

2009/8/25

About a week and some change ago, in most parts of Japan, the country celebrated the season of O-bon, a Buddhist observance that honors departed ancestors. Even though Halloween has started to pick up a little bit in popularity around Japan, O-bon is the traditional scary time of the year, probably because all those dead souls are believed to come back for a visit during the holiday period.

I have plans for a fun and scary storyline that I’m holding in store for the Halloween season, but I didn’t want to let O-bon pass without so much as a nod. So, in fact, I’ll give two:

  • The Obakemono Project is one of my favorite creepy sites. It’s a beautifully illustrated encyclopedia of all kinds of Japanese ghoulies. I really dig it.
  • A blast from my own past: Zombies Around the World, a Halloween strip I did as part of Peter Delgado Jr.’s annual Zombie-a-Go-Go event, back in 2004. Points to folks who recognize the obscure pop culture references in the Japan panel.

Boo!
Zombies Around the World

2009/12/3

Wednesday’s comic mentions the Ainu. For the unfamiliar (which I presume will be most folks), the Ainu are the indigenous people of northern Japan. I don’t get the impression that their existence plays any kind of role for the majority of modern Japanese–as a minority indigenous people, they’ve been fairly well marginalized–but for my experience living in Japan, the Ainu and their culture had a sizable impact. I’ve wanted for a while to include some portion of that experience in Odori Park, and hopefully in a respectful, but not heavy-handed way, while still keeping the funny (because, after all, this is a comedy).

For folks who’d like to know more about the Ainu, the Web site of the Ainu Museum, which is based in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, Japan, is a good start, as is good ol’ Wikipedia. (Also interesting is the 2007 opening of a dedicated department within the Hokkaido University.) Feel free to post questions if you have them, and I’ll do my best to answer, though I don’t profess to be any kind of expert.

2010/4/15

A few weeks ago, I got into a tiff with my sister’s Wii Fit. I took the time to enter some personal data, and follow its instructions, and it had the nerve to call me fat. And that I have the body of someone six years older than me. What an insult to see my unsuspecting little Mii suddenly balloon around the middle and teeter desperately around like a struggling Weeble. Harumph, indeed!

So, on a totally unrelated, but conveniently timed note, my wife encouraged me to give a go to the local community judo club. (Judo being Japanese for “The Way of Self-Inflicted Pain and Humiliation.”) She thought it would be a fun way for me to get some much-needed exercise, perhaps some confidence (it flags, you know), and to get a head start on a program she intends to put our son in when he hits five (so that it’ll prolong his flinging of me onto the mats by a few months). I’ve attended two sessions so far, and I will say, it’s been fun. (Also, that after two classes, I feel like lumbering Imhotep.)

As interesting damage is done to my body, I’ll make periodic posts and tweets. I intend to stick with this, as awkward as it feels. Aside from the fact that we paid for it, and the Scrooge in me intends to milk every penny out of the experience, I also need to get to a skill level where I can adeptly put a choke-hold on my sister’s Wii and hurl it across the room.

Question is, how many classes will it be before they teach us to shoot fireballs?

I haven’t made any promised updates since my original post on the topic, so I wanted to fill you all in how things are going in Judoville.

I can sum it up pretty easily. When I started out, at the end of each class, I felt basically like this:
Judo: Before

Now, after a month of Judo, I end my classes feeling like this:
Judo: After

Somehow, after multiple throws, tackles, pins, chokes, and armbars, this weird endorphin starts to kick in that makes me like the sensation. Well, maybe like is a strong word. Maybe not want to curl up and whimper.

Really, I think it’s the community feeling at the Judo club (Bushido Kai Judo Club, for the curious) I’ve joined that makes the difference. There’s such a kind, thoughtful and respectful bunch of sensei, senpai, and fellow white belts that I can’t help but feel welcome. (Sort of like going to visit your grandma, and after kissing you on the cheek, she puts you in a full nelson. It hurts, but hey, it’s still gran, right?) Those people have me feeling like I’m really starting to learn some of this stuff.

I’m also enjoying the effects of the physical exertion. I feel stronger (if more tired), and my stomach, which used to resemble an inflated balloon, now looks more like a group of smaller inflated balloons. Sexy! Also attractive are the bruises and friction burns that adorn my body. I had to show off a doozy of a bruise at the office last week. The testosterone compelled me. I’m giddy as a middle school jock.

My wife (who, I should remind you, signed me up for this) is shocked that I have such a desire to continue. She figured the physical abuse would have turned me off already, but I’m raring to keep this up. In fact, that surprise in her voice spurs me on. It’s pure machismo! This is a slippery slope. Please stop me if you see me pounding on third graders at the bike racks.

More to come!

2010/5/22

I’m in Japan this week for day job business travel. In fact, I’m writing this to the future, from the past, in a tense that makes it sound as if I’m actually blogging while on the plane. Time travel is cool.

I’m loaded up with business meetings for the week, and expect to indulge in no sightseeing this trip, but, I will have a camera on me pretty much all the time, so:
If there’s something from daily life in Japan (vending machines, trains, conbini, etcetera) you’d like to see in a snapshot, write a comment or Tweet to let me know, and I’ll endeavor to oblige. Should make things interesting :)

Tonight I had dinner at a place that features an Osaka area specialty: kushi-age. Roughly translated: deep-fried stuff on sticks. The stuff ranged from shiitake mushrooms, to pork and chicken, to tiny boiled eggs and miniature green peppers. Delicious! Also had some veggies. Note the “salad” made of grated Japanese radish (daikon) topped with tiny dried fish and a drizzle of soy sauce. Excellent, I promise! Last night’s dinner was okonomiyaki (translated: grilled stuff you like). No pictures, but photos surely abound on the Internet for the curious. :)

kushi-age yasai 

I managed to get in my morning stroll every day I was in Osaka this week. The streets are fairly clear at 6am, and Osaka is full of really interesting architecture. Industrial art.

Osaka - Chapel with Umeda Sky Building Osaka - Sewer Cover Osaka - Street View

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