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 ]






P.S.

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.