Monthly Archives: April 2017

Cool things: the Japanese language

“Ah, we soon get old.”

Moeagare, moeagare, moeagare Gandamu!

The intelligentsia among you will, of course, know that I’m not expressing a midlife crisis (I’ll be in my twenties forever, dammit!): it’s a mnemonic to remember the five Japanese vowel sounds, aa ee oo eh oh, which (thanks to Hepburn romanisation) we represent in the Roman alphabet as a i u e o.

This, of course, is why the classic video game Ninja Gaiden is “ninja guy den”, not “ninja gay den”, so stop sniggering at the back, baka!

(Leaving aside, of course, the fact that the game is supposed to be called Ninja Ryukenden, “legend of the ninja dragon sword”; gaiden means “side-story”, and thus has no business being in an original game’s title!)

After a long time, I seem to have rekindled my enthusiasm for translating Japanese text, and helping Japanese people with their English — just when my brain was about to atrophy from lack of use outside work (where it’s moulded by the stress of having people rely on me), I’m back enjoying Nihongo.  I guess it’s a bit like how I stopped watching Doctor Who almost entirely in the early 2000s, but then got my own DVD player, and disposable income…

It was back in 2003 that I got hold of the original, unedited version of Space Battleship Yamato (as opposed to Space Cruiser or Star Blazers) and in a weird way, it made me feel like I might actually be able to learn Japanese if I put my mind to it (perhaps hearing phrases like senkan sentou haiji! and hadou hou hassha yoi! repeatedly); my Japanophile mother (sorry, hahaue) was also inspirational in this, as she was the one who taught me some basic Japanese words she’d picked up when I had a Japanese friend at school (imagine my delight at hearing warakimashita in one episode!).

I made fledgling attempts to study the language myself around twelve years ago, as well as getting hold, by (ahem) any means necessary, of subtitled Japanese-audio versions of animes I liked (Macross, ChobitsEvangelionX and the classic Science Ninja Team Gatchaman), as I wanted to enjoy them in their original form: not just to hear the language being spoken so as to familiarise myself with it, but also because I can hear American voice artists any time (Family Guy etc. etc.), and have no interest in “dumbing down”.

However, it wasn’t until 2008 that I finally began taking proper Japanese evening classes, and meeting actual Japanese people here in London, which meant I formalised my existing knowledge and built upon it.  Our sensei recognised that I wasn’t an “absolute beginner”, despite starting at level 1… and although real life later interfered, for the first couple of levels I was so enthusiastic that I used to do my homework during the last couple of minutes at the end of the lesson in which it was issued!

(By an astonishing coincidence, “best mate” joined one of her classes as well, at a different time to me, and thus was her Facebook friend as well — chiisai sekai, ne?)

One thing that’s really helped me get used to Japanese has been to translate Japanese text, including that in children’s books that hahaue bought for me on her many visits to Japan, or that I bought from sensei when she was having a house sale.  Obviously I need translation tools to assist with this (I highly recommend the Firefox add-on Rikaichan), but more to translate the words individually, and then figure out the grammar and context on my own, sometimes using the Inter-thingy to look up weird phrases and verb endings.  My Japanese friends over the years have also helped me with this, which is only fair as I try to help them with their English!

Getting the Japanese text off the paper and into a computer document in the first place is another matter: I used to have to copy and paste the characters, one by one, doing my best to figure out which kanji I was looking at by estimating the number of strokes, but Microsoft helped out here with the Language Bar, enabling me to type out the kana, and either hand-draw the kanji (something my Japanese teacher taught me), or type out any available furigana and cycle through the possible forms.  Boy, did this ever speed up the process — though I can’t help but miss those evenings when I’d copy out characters laboriously, while Star Trek: Voyager played on TV…

(And by an astonishing coincidence, Voyager came on TV this morning, as I translated a Japanese story… Sutaa Torekku to honyaku ga issho ni omoshiroi!)

At one point in 2008 or 2009, I was telling my boss that I was thinking of becoming a Japanese interpreter as a career change from local government admin; obviously I’ve never been quite that good, and one aspect I still find difficult is hearing Japanese when real people speak it.  I know enough to be able to tell when anime subtitles are being dumbed down (this is why I couldn’t finish Bleach — the subtitlers weren’t even consistent!), but I can hear that because Japanese seiyuu, like American voice artists, speak clearly into microphones; understanding Japanese people speaking to me in normal life is definitely an area where I need to improve.  I do try going to Japanese meetup events, but they become so crowded and urasai so quickly that I can only stay a short time before giving up — so it’s all the more essential that I make Japanese friends and engage in “language exchange” regularly.

And on that topic, my original Japanese female friend from 2008-9 (when I was just starting out) is coming back to visit London in May, and I’ve recently made a new Japanese female friend (should I say atarashii Nihonjin onna no tomodachi?) — I’m helping her with her English, and I’ve even taken her climbing at the Castle!  Don’t worry, I’ve had male Japanese friends too, including one who was working as an unpaid intern in my first proper IT job, in September 2014.  However, I do prefer female company as a rule, which is why my knowledge of Japanese is something I mention in my dating profiles!

Finally, yes, I’m still watching anime, as you know from my previous posts — Gatchaman and Chobits on my morning commutes recently, not to mention Yamato many, many times in the past; at the moment I’m revisiting the original Mobile Suit Gundam, with a view to possibly moving on to Armored Trooper VOTOMS after that (a show I discovered after hahaue got me a T-shirt with the protagonist, whom she reckons I resemble)… or perhaps I’ll even rewatch the gigantic, 110-episode epic Legend of the Galactic Heroes.  Hey, I’ll be in a public place, so I won’t watch anything involving magical schoolgirls in ludicrously-short miniskirts, or dutifully-amorous maids… or indeed the hideously gruesome Elfen Lied, which starts with a naked woman literally tearing security guards limb from limb with her invisible arms!

I could always go back to doing what I did when I was in local government admin, and watch anime while taking comfort breaks… okay, too much information, mo ii!

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Pain in the neck

“Huh huh, I’m not gonna help you — Otis Urungus would want it that way!”

No, it’s not another post about my former-drummer housemate (though the stress he caused me recently may have been a contributing factor), but rather, what I think to be the cause of my recent bouts of “brain fuzz”: good old-fashioned pain, specifically in my neck and shoulders, either restricting blood flow to the brain or flooding my system with adrenaline (or both).

Stress can certainly lead to me hunching my shoulders, but the cold can also contribute to this, and it’s not exactly impossible that I’ve been sitting with bad posture lately.  I’ve noticed that I get these bursts of dizziness when moving my head around, especially suddenly; it might take an hour or two for the necessary “build-up”, but there’s no other obvious trigger, seeing as they’ve happened under completely disparate circumstances (noisy, quiet, energetic, sedate, crowded, alone, sitting in front of a computer or exercising at the Castle).

While caffeine may exacerbate the situation, I was getting them even when avoiding espresso entirely for days at a time — and having decided to “live dangerously” and drink loads of caffeine this week, I’ve not noticed any worsening of the situation.  Indeed, after getting a different chair at work (with better back support), and regularly rolling my head around on my neck as an exercise, I’ve actually found that the dizzy spells are less severe, with no real strength to overpower my thoughts with quasi-memories, and no helpless feelings of unreality.  I need to do more, such as replacing the ancient mattresses in my room (they’re blatantly over eight years old — hey, I’ve been here five, and they weren’t exactly new when I arrived!) to ensure I sleep well and don’t get a bad back, but it’s a good start.

So there you go: it’s not deliriousness brought on by an illness, or petits mals caused by incipient epilepsy, or a brain tumour, or cancer caused by wireless signals, or a concussion sustained from a cupboard door… or telepathic attacks, glitches in the Matrix, repressed memories of Jimmy Saville, future predictions warning me of my grisly death while listening to Gwar, signs that I’m turning into a Deep One… they’re also not an indication of dehydration (if anything, I drink too much water these days), and while I probably don’t get enough sleep, I get more than I did when I used to stay up until 1am, and I’m being sensible and turning this contraption off well before midnight these days!

I just need to un-hunch my shoulders (which will be easier when the weather warms up), sit up straight, exercise my neck more, and calm down — because despite what I said last time, I do still find my day-to-day life stressful, especially travelling on the London Underground (and if I get a seat, I’m hunched over my phone or a book).  Caffeine probably doesn’t help, but hey, I drank plenty over Christmas, when I had no bouts of weirdness (aside from Christmas Day, when I was recovering from a headache caused by a cold wind) — so I’ll cut down to sensible levels, but not quit entirely.  After all, a sign of alcoholism is giving up booze entirely, just to prove you can do it…

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What’s that?  You want to see the Beavis and Butt-head music video review from which I obtained the above screengrab?  You are never satisfied, are you?  Oh, go on then: