Friday, January 23, 2015

The Minimal Pair

A minimal pair

English can be a tricky business for second language learners and a lot of it has to do with the "art of perception."  

I met a Japanese guy the other day who said he worked at an “ass fart” company. “You make ass farts for a living?!” I cried out in disbelief (it sounded like easy work for which I was well qualified). “For the street,” he said. Then it hit me. He worked for an asphalt company. He made asphalt!

Here in Temple Valley and across Japan the difference between an ass fart and asphalt is minimal at best. In the end, the thing that separates an "ass fart" from "asphalt" all boils down to a matter of perception. That is what Japanese second language learners make of the English "r" and "l" sounds and how native speakers perceive those folks when they hit the streets and it all gets mixed up. 

Related post: Watch Your A's

Friday, January 9, 2015

Imagination Building

[This compilation of Twitter tweets about a story appearing in the other Times comes via the Times Mistaken blog ]


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Looks a Little Like Xmas

[Editors note: This photo was taken well before Christmas. These little guys were all long gone by December 26th.]

Happy Little Christmas!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Let's All Get Along

 Among Japan's favorite New Year's Eve pastimes, including eating, overeating, drinking, drinking more, and praying, there is  something called Kohaku Uta Gassen ("The Red and White Song Battle"). The annually televised singing competition, featuring some of the country's top performers, has taken center stage at many a family's New Year's Eve celebration for the last sixty five years. 

This year viewers tuning into the NHK (that's Japanese for public television) special got a glimpse of something rare on a TV station believed by many to be in bed with the nation's current administration. They witnessed criticism of the government. 

In a pre-midnight attack, Southern All Stars singer/song writer, Keisuke Kuwata, took the battle to Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Microphone in hand, the group's front man belted out a dynamic rendition of his song dubbed "Peace and Hi-lite," a composition inspired by a Tokyo anti-hate group's fight against local ultranationalist xenophobes. It was a definite swipe at the conservative leader's attempt to shift the country further to the right and revive age old battles with its international neighbors. 

While the Red and White Song Battle has subsided, the echoes of dissidence continue to reverberate. It's a catchy tune. Let's hope Abe finds a new groove and hums along so we can all get along in perfect harmony.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Racism in Black and White

My letter to the editor of the Japan Times published in the paper on December 31, 2014 (misspellings corrected here):

In a recent Japan Times article entitled “Kick out the touts who rule Roppongi” (Foreign Agenda, Dec. 3), Gregory Clark pens a tale of his experience walking through Tokyo’s untamed Roppongi district. In the second paragraph Clark bemoans the fact that “little has been done about the blight of the mostly African touts that infest the area.” Now if that line alone doesn’t send up red flags signaling ethical problems ahead, just read on (and don’t miss the part about his disappointment over the fact that the police, “armed with pistols and handcuffs,” fail to heed his suggestion about checking the immigration status of these men of color committing no crime, just for good measure). 

The headline for this basically racist rant could have just as easily read “White man vexed Japanese cops won’t follow his orders to harass black man.” Then, of course, I might not have read it and discovered the lesson in civility these Japanese police officers could offer law enforcement in New York City and other places where a gun-toting constabulary might be all too willing to follow Clark’s charge against unarmed black men not doing anything illegal. 

While a number of readers have voiced their objections to Clark’s commentary on similar grounds, The Japan Times lacks any specific official channel for addressing their concerns. If anyone needs policing here, it’s the paper itself and there would be no one better to do that than a public editor armed with a pen, paper and the ability to make a sound ethical judgment.

In retrospect: I was beginning to think that The Japan Times was kind of a crappy paper. Now that the editor has printed my letter, I don't know what to think.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Shepherding in the New Year

I like this New Year's e-card (from my niece) heralding 2015, the year of the lamb. It's the perfect fusion of the Chinese zodiac symbol with Christian nativity set figures(mine)used to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

For the Birds

Ah, the smell of Christmas in Temple Valley! It's the smell of chicken, mostly fried, sometimes roasted. Cut up into eighths, quarters, or served nearly whole, the poultry is consumed wholeheartedly on this day by practically every living soul in this valley and the rest of the country beyond. 

Who do the poor birds have to thank for this "fowl" holiday? None other than their arch-nemesis, Colonel Sanders of Kentucky, a.k.a. "Sanders Claus." 

Wonder how "Colonel Sanders became Father Christmas in Japan"? Head on over to Talking Points Memo and have your fill of some food for thought. It's definitely not a story for the birds though.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Not Going Postal

The Japan Post's winter stamps make a perfect 
Christmas sweater design.

It's Christmas Eve and none of my Xmas greeting cards have made it to friends and family across the seas despite the fact that I mailed them nearly a month ago. I may be in part to blame though. What seemed like an ideal spot to affix the stamp may not have been so easy for the postal service to spot. Anyway they say "tis the season to be jolly" so how could I get mad at these couriers for failing to complete their appointed rounds. 

Season's greetings to everyone and remember the card is in the mail.

Related post: The Art of Bill Collecting

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Standing in the Twilight

Would make a nice new home for
Yokohama's Silk Museum
One of the first places in nineteenth century Japan opened to trade with the West, the port city of Yokohama has long been famed for its unique examples of Western architecture from that period and onward. 

Built in 1910 to serve as a silk warehouse this storied structure (pictured above) is one of a handful of such buildings to have survived a devastating earthquake that rocked the region in 1923 as well as the ravages of WWII. After withstanding the firestorms of Mother Nature and war, in the end it's perhaps no match for human greed. Unable to turn a profit from this touchstone with the past, the current owner plans to turn it into rubble very soon.  

As of yesterday the building was still
Nov. 15 - Scaffolding goes up for
slated pull down. The office building
to the right, owned by the same
realtor, dates to 1911.
standing and as of today a petition to save it is still up on Change(dot)org for anyone interested in taking their own stand for this historic landmark before it falls to the wrecking ball.

Visit the Save [the] Silk Warehouse site and The Japan Times  to read more about the building and the architect who has tried to save it from demolition.

Related stories: 

Building Character
Shock to the System

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hitting the Mark

There I was standing on the northbound platform just minding my own business when I spied him out of the corner of my eye, calling out from the other side of the train tracks. He was hard to miss with his eight foot bow and arrows in tow, an amateur archer I supposed. From his platform perch he motioned in my direction, but he seemed to be beckoning to anybody but me and oddly enough, or not, I was the only one paying him any attention.

Then luckily, or not, his cries managed to penetrate the cool veneer of a young hipster (he wore sunglasses) who had just joined the ranks of the northbound traveling band. The young man picked up the piece of paper that pops across the way had been desperately pointing to all this time. "It's nothing," he screamed with a look of utter disdain as he flung the small scrap of certainly something to the south corner of the earth. When the wind returned it to whence it came I could just make out that that something really was just about nothing, simply somebody’s discarded receipt from the nearby Mos Burger fast food joint.

Looking a little sheepish the old archer did exactly what I would have done if I had been in his shoes - shift the blame on somebody else. So he saw an easy target and took his best shot, saying, "Sorry! I thought the foreign gentleman dropped it and that perhaps it was something important."

Suddenly the same crowd who had ignored this voice from the other side for the better part of five minutes were all ears, and all eyes for me. Their cold stares pierced my core like poison-tipped arrows. Never one to litter, “No it’s not mine,” I protested, but I cried out in vane. They had all turned away to board the just-arrived train, leaving me with all the blame. Feeling nothing but shame I acted a little insane and kicked that receipt as if I were kicking a field goal in a football game. Then as I watched it float to the ground below, my gaze fell upon the sharp eyes of my southbound foe with the bow and in them I saw the sense of supreme satisfaction. He had hit the mark and the mark was me.

 Note: These drawings are just temporary placeholders. I'm going to do them over in oils on canvas. In the meantime just imagine them in all their future glory!