gung-ho godzilla groupie 

East meets West; complains about the food

The Guardian has an interesting piece on Asian footballers playing in Europe, and some of the difficulties they face when adapting to western cultures. Hidetoshi Nakata, probably the most high-profile Japanese player outside of Asia at the moment, has some interesting things to say about the linguistic differences:

Nakata has had plenty of time for cultural reflection, having spent seven years in Italy. He thinks back to his arrival, in 1999, when he signed a £2 million deal with Perugia. 'The most difficult part of communicating was having to put your own opinion forward, not hold everything back as we do in Japan. Self-assertion is very important in Italy. Everyone is, "Me! Me! Hi!" So I had to change. I think now I am more Italian than Japanese, you can see that when I talk - now I use my hands to be more expressive. That is very un-Japanese.'

But Nakata expresses his frustration at the western way of communicating, especially in a formal encounter. 'So, it's hot today...?' he says, waiting for a response. 'You see how difficult it is to answer? I get this kind of question all the time in football, like 'So, you drew 2-2 today...?' We ask these questions in Japan, but only between people who know each other very well. How am I supposed to know what you are talking about when I have only just met you?

[emphasis mine]

It's an interesting point; context is all-important in Japanese, in no small part because the bare language itself is often so unspecific (few verbs have explicit subjects, no articles, etc.) and so much is implied instead of directly stated. So if you find yourself having to communicate in an unfamiliar language, and with strangers, to boot, deprived of the contextual and linguistic cues that you usually expect to pick up... well, it doesn't make things any easier.

As a non-native Japanese speaker, I'm always trying very hard to listen out for these cues, because they're sure as hell not in the spoken language half the time. Presentations given by colleagues in Japanese can quickly become impenetrable if you're not following them absolutely from the outset; I often find it much harder to come in halfway through a Japanese conversation than I would an English one. But

One slight pickup in the article: tatemae (建前) and honne (本音) aren't quite "inside" and "outside"; those would be uchi (内) and soto (外). The tatemae/honne distinction, which is what Nakata is talking about, is more about the discrepancy between your private, true feelings (honne), which in Japan are typically kept strictly to yourself or only shared with very close acquaintances, and the public face that you present to the outside world (tatemae, literally "facade"). As Nakata notes, this exists to some extent in probably all cultures; the Japanese just seem to be famous for it.

But uchi/soto is certainly a closely related topic. Jeremy Antipixel has an interesting explanation of uchi/soto here, and I guarantee that it's one of the few times you'll see Japanese cultural values referenced by way of a John Ford western.

Here's a brief Wikipedia page on tatemae/honne, and another on uchi/soto.

Oh - and I liked the bit in the article about the Korean player who mistakenly became captain of Manchester United for seven minutes. Although I'm a little puzzled how anyone can say "I'm a good cook - especially miso soup...", which is surely a little like saying you make a mean instant coffee?

[many thanks to Dave for the link]

Posted by chris at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Katana in katakana is カタナ

I mentioned earlier that my brother bought a four-foot-long katana while he was here. Imitation, of course. A genuine one, even of average quality, will set you back thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pounds. We knew there was no way he'd get it on his flight home as hand-luggage, imitation or no, but the BA lady I spoke to on the phone said there would be no problem with checking it in as hold luggage.

Wrong. Apparently, no fewer than six policemen were summoned to the check-in desk; one stern-looking man in a suit was also required to verify that it was, indeed, a blunt, fake sword. According to Andrew, they all wanted a go with it. I've never had such interest shown in my PDA, which I think is much more entertaining, not to mention more likely to contain explosives, but there's no accounting for taste.

I couldn't find much info on katana on the net - until I happened across this page, which is long, detailed and rambling in much the same way that outer space is big, dark and difficult to breath in. Wading through it brought up a number of interesting nuggets, however. For example, pieces such as the one that Andrew bought are fine for export, but if you try to bring one into Japan, it will be confiscated - even if you're not trying to pass it off as genuine - because of its inferior quality.

I wonder if the UK should do the same for some of its cultural exports - like the pop music. "I'm sorry, sir, but there's no way you're bringing that Alice DeeJay album into the country. I don't care if you bought it here originally - why do you think we let you leave with it in the first place?"

Posted by chris at 07:57 PM | Permalink

Sakura drops

Sunday - I didn't make it all the way to Yoyogi park, though it would have been nice to see the freaks out in force next to Harajuku Station. But I did make it as far as wandering into Higashi Nakano to get lunch / breakfast. It's never easy to know what to call the first meal of the day when it happens at 2pm. Brunch is already taken... how about lekfast? Aaanyway.

A quick word about cherry blossoms - sakura, in Japanese. As mentioned below, they have special significance for the Japanese, who see in them a reminder of the transient nature of life. We are born, bloom, and then fall off trees and get trampled on by drunken salarymen on their office hanami (cherry-blossom-viewing) outing.... or something.

In the weeks before and during the sakura season, the TV weather bulletins slavishly forecast and report on the sakura's progression across and up the country - sometimes even to the extent of not bothering to report the actual weather. Look at the pretty pink flowers! They bloom first in Okinawa and the warmer southern prefectures, and then spread across and up the length of the country over the next few weeks, typically hitting Tokyo in late March each year.

These days I live in Shinjuku, which is pretty much the centre of urban Tokyo. Luckily, my flat is in a quiet little neighbourhood next to the Kanda River, the length of which has been planted with cherry trees. So for the last week or so I've been able to walk along the river on my way to the station, underneath a canopy of gentle pink and white, watching falling blossoms borne on the pleasantly-cooling breeze and marvelling at the transient nature of life... when I'm not thinking about sex, of course.

Posted by chris at 12:56 PM | Permalink

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