Welcome to The club of EXCELLENT in Kobe:

Excellent grammar? Excellent use of capitalisation? Excellent use of gilt lettering? Whichever one it is, at least you know it’s going to be good. Excellent, even.


Stormy with a chance of swears

“But… it’s Arashi! How could you not know Arashi!”

This is the likely response in Japan if you make the grave mistake of not knowing who Arashi (tr: storm) are.  They are by far and away the boy band with the most momentum in Japan, and there are plenty vying for that mantle.  In Japan, they’re bigger than the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and Take That put together at their respective peaks.  Incidentally, feel free to replace my examples with bands that are actually popular now.  What I’d like you to take away is that they’re really quite big.

To only call them a boy band really wouldn’t be doing them justice, though.  “Pop culture factory” would perhaps be more fitting.  As well as putting out music, each of the band members are also capable actors, doing various solo projects.  Most likely to be familiar to Westerners is Nino (in the purple below), who appeared in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima as one of the main Japanese soldiers.  So, you can think of Arashi as ‘N Sync where every member is Justin Timberlake.

As well as singing and acting, the group pimps out just about every product under the sun, from beer to ecologically-friendly appliances to tissues to women’s beauty products.  Their latest pitch has been for Wii Party (recommended, by the way).

With all their acquired loot, their prodigious output suggests they’ve bought an extra day in the week.  Along with all of the above, they also have a weekly TV show called Arashi Shiagare (which I’m going to take a stab at translating as “Let’s do it, Arashi!”). Every week the group tries their hand at a new skill as instructed by a visiting expert.  A few weeks ago was attempting to beat the world record for table cloths whipped out from under a place setting, and before that, sumo wrestling.

Their universal appeal is that they’re squeaky-clean-cut.  Everyone from the kids to grandma can enjoy the non-offensive, clean fun of it all.

So imagine the shock of the admittedly few foreigners watching the nationally-broadcast Arashi Shiagare a few weeks ago:

Vulgarity aside, we have to at least entertain the high likelihood that it’s an accurate t-shirt.

Drunk in space

This is the water cooler at my work.  The label reads:

“Daiohs ‘Pure Water’ is produced by the reverse osmosis process, the same technology used by NASA of the United States.  You will enjoy the clear taste as chilled water, or as hot water for coffee and tea.”

There’s two things I like about this label:

1. There’s something charming about “NASA of the United States”.
2. I’m fascinated by marketing that uses loose associations to build respect.  You have to admit that attempting to connect your filtered water to NASA is a lot punchier than “We use the reverse osmosis system: the same as everyone else.”

I one day hope to see: “Eat cheese, as infallibly consumed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI”.

Take fifty of these and call me in the morning

As promised a while back, a medical story.

For well over a year, I’ve been experiencing fatigue.  “Fatigue” is a irritating problem: it’s hard to describe precisely, unpredictable, and there are lots of possible causes including sleep problems, diet, stress, lack of exercise, emotional issues, licking lead paint walls, or any combination of the above.  The toughest thing of all is that you can still basically function, it’s just that something’s “off”.  In my experience, this is hard to explain to healthcare professionals.

So to my perverse relief, the problem intensified a few weeks ago to the point I was unstable on my feet, unable to stay alert or concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds.  Great, symptoms I could actually describe!  Off to the doctor I went.

Now, while my Japanese has improved to a point where I could probably battle through a medical consultation, when it comes to health matters, I didn’t really want to experiment with it as a language-learning opportunity.  So, I shopped around for an English-speaking doctor in Tokyo.  I found a Japanese doctor near my house who was listed as speaking English “fluently”.

Ah, “fluently”, my favourite hazily-defined word.  It means lots of things to lots of people.  Obviously, it meant something different to this doctor than it did for me.

“Konnichiwa… ah, hello,” he said as I entered the room, projecting my powerful aura of foreign-ness.
“Hello”, I said, wanting to keep proceedings in one language, at least.
“Where from?”
“Ah! Many times I have been there. It’s my favourite place!  I… uh…”

He dived into his draw, plunking a hefty English-Japanese dictionary on to his desk.

“… oh, traveled! to there in eight years ago.  I like it very much.  I had a car crash there.”

I started to get a little nervous now.  I was relying on the English language as my conduit for acquiring ingestible chemical substances.   Although sure that we could have proceeded at least a little more effectively in Japanese, I decided to persevere and plough on in English.  As a language learner myself, I know I would have been a little gutted had my efforts been brushed aside had the tables been turned.  He was certainly giving it a red hot go.  I’m realising in retrospect that it was a foolish decision.

I described my symptoms to the doctor – the dizziness and fatigue and what not – and explained that I worked in a Japanese environment.  Without the need for any tests, his diagnosis was decisive.

“It’s all….. (how do you say it in English)… about your head… (how do you say “psychological”)…”
“Ah yes!  Psy-cho-logical.”
“I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think it’s psychological.”
“Yes!  It’s psy-cho-logical.  I’m sure of it.  You should eat antidepressants.  I’ll give to you.”
“Look, I’m not sure if that will help…”
“And these are for your stomach.”
“For my stomach?”
“Yes, the antidepressants will make your stomach painful.”
“Oh, and try this on your muscles, it might do something.”

He passed a roller over my shoulders with some kind of watered-down version of Deep Heat.  It had the net effect of feeling somewhat wet before evaporating.

“You feel better, yes?”
“Uh… yes?”

In my enfeebled state, I decided to go with the flow at this point.  I naively thought that Eastern medicine was about energy and balance and chakras and whatnot, but apparently here at least it was about stuffing me with mind-altering substances and seeing if anything interesting happened.  I would have even preferred to be fobbed off with the “Try getting some more exercise and call me if things don’t improve” classic that I just love to paying $60 in a 5 minute consultation for in Australia.

With that, my time was up.  I received my gift bag of medicinal candy:

From front to back, anti-clockwise: stomach-ache powder, aspirin (maybe?), strange rubbing alcohol, a variety of anti-depressants.  They were given loose, just like this, with some hand-written instructions in Japanese that I couldn’t really make out.

At the very least, thanks to the wonders of Japanese socialised medicine, both the consultation and medicines only cost me a grand total of about $30.  He gave me a range of three different antidepressants to see which one I liked.  I didn’t try any of them.

Post-script: I went to an actual native-speaking English doctor on the far side of Tokyo a couple of days later.  He gave me a thorough check up and a blood test, and I’m on my way to getting on the mend, fingers crossed.

Lesson learned: go to a “native”-level English-speaking doctor.  If you can’t do that, perhaps it’s better to go to one who can’t speak any English at all.

I get all my news from luggage

Do you like cats?

Do you REALLY like cats?

Do you enjoy reading English that is absolutely, charmingly quirky?

Do you need a new bag?

If you haven’t said no yet, I suggest you go to Mt. Rokko in Kobe and buy this.

Once I have run out of quirky English material, I will start making insightful comments about Japanese culture, I promise.

It’s not all good at all

Quick, what’s the opposite of “OK”?

Uh…”not OK”?

That’s pretty lame.

Well, the Japanese have the answer to our linguistic problems, and you can see it on this electronic card reader:

NG. Can you guess what it means?

“No good”.  The opposite of “OK”.

Furthermore, if you were to, say, suggest that it might lighten the mood in the office if you ironically hum “Whistle while you work”  for the duration of the working day, the answer you get might look like this:

(Source: the Internet)

This is a common gesture to indicate that something is forbidden or that you’re doing something wrong, often used with a spoken “NG” or “No goodo”.  I have to admit, I’m on the end of more than my fair share of these.

Do you see what’s happening?  A new strain of English has emerged, and we’re falling behind.  While we’re snoozing on the pool deck of the good ship Native English, everyone else is zipping past us in their robot speed boats, the wind flicking their hair in an alluring way as they invent and extend English as they please.

Come on team, let’s get with the program.  I want to new word (or acronym using re-purposed words) from each of you on my desk by 9am tomorrow.