The Problem with Everyone’s Faces

DSC01551BELLA. We made a pumpkin pie with whipped cream and an apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
BEN. Those look great! Good job, Bella.
BELLA. Thanks! I love baking. I like seeing everyone’s happy faces.
…………………………………………………………..(NHK Kiso Eigo 2, Lesson 112)

 The problem with “everyone’s happy faces” is that, unless you’re friends with a bunch of Buddhas with multiple faces, the implication is pretty bizarre. And yet, this was exactly what I heard, together with my kid, when listening in on NHK Radio’s English Learning Course broadcast.

I had one heck of a hard time trying to convince my kid that the expression was actually grammatically skewed. After all, it was my word against theirs–NHK’s team of experts comprised of a university professor with years of teaching experience, a bilingual actor, and an American university graduate who studied creative writing in her mother tongue. And it wasn’t just my son who couldn’t believe that they had made a mistake. A friend of mine, an English teacher at school, was fooled too: “Well, since ‘everyone’ does refer to all people, it conveys the right meaning within this context, doesn’t it?”

Yeah, right. They’re people hired by NHK; how could they possibly screw up like you and me.

But you know what? I have the supreme authority at hand to back me up: Fowler’s Modern English Usage. So nyah!

I wish that NHK would make corrections when they find mistakes in their own English courses, because the ramifications are far from negligible. Thousands of Japanese junior-high-school kids have now been imprinted with the wrong notion that the word “everyone” acts as a plural pronoun. When they realize later on that this is in fact not so, they are going to be stupefied.

In our language, words do not carry the sense of quantity in the same way that the English words do. Getting to grips with the notion of quantity in nouns and verbs and then constructing sentences with the correct subject-verb agreement is a thing of a nightmare for the many of us. If the kids encounter too many unexplained anomalies that abrogate perfectly sensible grammar during their course of learning, then some will turn their back entirely on tedious grammar and instead resort to hassle-free rote learning. I mean seriously, does the world really need yet more of our gift-wielding “parrot people”?

But hey, perhaps I am being too captious. NHK has a long history of providing its listeners with well-thought-out language programs that are filled with wit and charm. A few boo-boos here and there would not set off a catastrophe. Sure, I’m just a disgruntled Babel fish on a zero-hours contract, intent on venting her frustration through this petty act of nit-picking. Even so, I doubt if any one of you will deny the fact that had the program’s team acknowledged this daft mistake, they would have sent out the best message possible for the listeners to get to hear.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. See? Native speakers get it wrong all the time!

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We all know who’s going to win

Ohwaku-dani Hot Spring, Hakone

Seasons’ senseless game:
A tug of war. O relent!
You foolish summer.

Summer is obstinate and I feel nauseous from the aestival heat–thirty degrees centigrade to be exact. Look! Even the earth is fuming. What a punishing regime the elements delight in putting us through.

Posted in Holidays, Seasons | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

How to live frugally in the world’s most expensive city

SardinesAccording to the Economist, Tokyo has yet again reclaimed its place as the world’s most expensive city this year. Shame on you Zurich, for your self-effacing act of foisting this prestige upon us when our economy is on the brink of imploding! We have already seen an exodus of foreign residents immediately following the Fukushima disaster; why give those few happy souls remaining sound reason to leave? What we need is a good PR, aka public reassurance, that despite the hiking energy prices and the soon-to-be-sky-rocketing consumer tax, you don’t have to survive on mist to live in Tokyo. All you have to do, dear foreign residents, is learn how to survive on dregs.

okara Living frugally in any part of Japan is pretty much a doddle, if you only know how. We have a variety of authentic waste products that can be cooked up to bowl over the most ruthless of connoisseurs. Take okara for example. If you go visit your local tofu shop, the chances are you will get a bagful of it for free. Okara, the humble remains of soybeans after the milk is wrung out, gets produced in heaps when making tofu, and is considered as something of a nuisance by tofu makers. But don’t be fooled by its bland, mushy appearance. With its rich content of insoluble nutrients, this low fat, high fibre mash can actually be regarded as a superfood. The most popular recipe for okara is this. Sauté the okara with diced chicken and julienned veggies, then pour in a generous quantity of dried-mushroom stock, and let the mixture simmer for a while. And there you have it, unohana, a dish our forebears called, bouquet of deutzia flowers. It is a hearty, savoury side dish that you can tuck into to your heart’s content and still feel your body lighten the day after.

Prepared sea breamThere are plenty more of budget foods like this available in Japan. Let me give you another example. Go to the corner of the fish section at your local supermarket, and you will find a range of ara, the remains of various types of fish which have been filleted. The heads and bones of fish make an ideal stock full of umami flavour, and cooking the head of, say, sea bream with Japanese radish will make a refined side dish that is fit to be served at Nobu Restaurant. Did you know that the now famous shottsuru hotpotCooked sea bream with Japanese radish of Akita was originally a pauper’s feast? Because the people of Akita could not afford soy sauce, they made a sauce out of fermenting fish heads and used that to season the pots. Go travel around this archipelago, and you are certain to find a rich array of time-honoured budget recipes that has been refined to perfection.

So please, don’t grieve if you can’t afford to munch away sushi every day of your life. You can still survive quite happily by feasting over our plebeian cuisine, so rich in flavour, and so abound with untold stories of our forebears’ culinary endeavour.

fried tofuJapanese hotpotyakitori - ready for eating

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Mount Takao on Children’s Day

The day-to-day living in the passively pungent suburbia had worn me down so much that I felt like crying. I needed an escape, to a place where the air was unsullied, where the terrain was overwhelmed by giant cedars, and where the sound was clear but for the trill of birds.
So what did I do? Go mountain hiking!

However, when I got to the cable car station at the base of Mount Takao, this was what I found.

Takao Cable Car Station

Never mind, we intended to walk from the base anyway.
But even though we chose to go by the most treacherous trail, I still found it jammed with an irksome boodle of amateur hikers, just like me.

the one with the red bag pack is my son, the other with the green bag pack is my dad.

Naturally, the summit too was chaotic.

the summit

Mount Takao, being so accessible from Tokyo, has always been a popular hiking spot for the Tokyoites, but ever since it was introduced by the Michelin, the congestion has soared so ridiculously to render what was once a freshening experience into one that is utterly worthless.

It’s a beautiful mountain with a lovely shrine close to the summit, but with the way it is now, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Here are some more pictures. Do enjoy!DSC01400DSC01402DSC01401DSC01406grilled rice cake, skewed.grilled fish, skewed.

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Vernal Rain

SN3V0014 - コピー

I love the way the vernal rain
makes dim the distant landscape
into unfocused freckles of pastel hues;
I love the way it radiates forth
the succulent brilliance of objects beside me
by soaking up in entirety
those that are pale and doubtful.

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Road to Adulthood

my son's room

Okay, I admit it. This morning, I did hover around my kid just a wee too much. Until my interruption, he was happily telling me how a farewell party was going to be held for the graduating seniors at his table tennis club. The school club opted for a relatively modest event, he said, with a few beverages and biscuits as accompaniment. He said he was glad of this decision, because if it were to be a feasting with barbecue and cakes like some other clubs, he wouldn’t be able to join in the fun. He has, after all, food allergies, and it still hurts to see others merry-make over food that he cannot eat.

I should simply have listened to what he had to say and left it at that. But no, when a topic about food arises, I can’t help but go haywire. My unrestrained mind started bobbing out tin fish full of worries by the dozens, prompting me to blast out admonitions on how he must not eat any of the biscuits served, and how he must keep strictly to drinking tea. As if that weren’t enough I then remarked, “Will you be all right with that?” With a sullen and reserved tone my son told me to “Stop yapping, please,” and assured me that he was quite capable of handling the situation by himself.

I know I sound like a detrimental helicopter parent, but I have my reasons too! Only two days ago did I find this kid return home from school all teary-eyed after a row with his archenemy, asking for my help to sort the matter out. He still so often acts like a baby to me!

Now, concerning this row that my son had with this particular boy from the same school club, there were also a few previous incidents that I found rather disturbing. In particular, once during a walk home from school, a war of words between the two ended with my son getting hammered on the head with an umbrella from behind. I contacted his mother immediately to tell her what had happened, which led to her apologizing to me with an utmost courtesy, but I was left with an impression that the culprit in question remained utterly unrepentant. My advice to my own son to steer clear of the boy proved futile, for the bugbear seemed evermore determined not to be shaken off.

With the situation exacerbating, it was time for me to inform the school, and trust an experienced teacher who knew them both to arbitrate on the feud. The teacher worked wonders. Yesterday, both my son and his foe were called in together to a conference room to talk out the situation, with the teacher providing an objective and analytic voice throughout the meeting. Despite receiving a few stern words from the pedagogue for his own actions too, I saw my son come home all cheerful and relieved. Thank goodness for that. Or was it, because I sensed in him a buried reserve toward me that questioned my actions of delegating the matter to an uncommitted teacher without prior notice. To him, it might have looked as if I had broken yet another strand of mutual trust, a mother and child collusive bond that ties us firmly together from the time of birth.

I guess this is just the way children and mothers grow up: toing and froing and fretting and shoving between the entrancing interdependence we have with each other and the liberating breakaway as individuals to act as we please. If my son is indeed ready to take more and more steps away from me, then I must learn to trust in him and leave him to make decisions of his own. And in that case, he can start by taking care of the state of his own room too!

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Japan Times – Paraphrasing or Metaphrasing


The Japan Times newspaper has a feature column on Japanese to English translation in which an old newspaper article is presented together with a translated, English text version. I thought I’d try my hand at J>E translation too. The text below is my rendition, which probably doesn’t mean much to my readers who have no access to the newspaper column in question here, but never mind.

I was actually pretty smug about this translation, that is until I compared it to the model answer that was given in the column. My version looks NOTHING like the translation done by an expert, darn!

The problem isn’t that I’m totally hopeless at translation, but that I seem to put too much weight on the profluence of the finished product (don’t snigger, I’m serious). What I find with Japanese J>E translators is that, they seem overly dedicated to reflecting the original text, phrase to phrase. I don’t like doing that. And that is a problem, because if metaphrasing is the norm, wouldn’t my liberal way of paraphrasing look too dangerously unorthodox?

Here is my translation. I have also added a snippet of the model answer that was given in the column. I must admit in advance that I did go overboard with paraphrasing at one point, but then again, I did think it necessary for non-native readers to receive an added insight.

(Translation for an article given in the ‘Communication Cues’ column from the 14th January edition of the Japan Times.)
“An urgent inquiry into bullying found a total of 144,000 cases in schools across the country. In response to the findings, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology issued a notice urging prefectural boards of education to give credit to teachers who, instead of disavowing, take positive measures against bullying that occur in their classrooms.

 The ministry called for schools and boards of education to revise the teacher appraisal method whereby the ability of a teacher is assessed simply on the number of reported cases of bullying in class, as this might impair their willingness to tackle the situation. The notice requested for additional criteria to be included so that teachers are given credit on their efforts to take preventative action against bullying, catch early warning signs, and also on their ability to take swift action when problems do arise. Additionally, the notice requested that further surveys be conducted at all schools, and also cooperation be given to local police when necessary.”

(Part of a model translation that was given in the column)
In the notice, the ministry requested that when evaluating teachers, boards of education and schools should not only focus on whether bullying is happening, or the number of bullying cases, as the target of evaluation, but try to evaluate their efforts in preventing bullying or discovering it at an early stage, and for reacting promptly.”

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