August 17, 2013: The Japanese have a word for it!

It never fails.  We’ll be out walking the dogs or preparing dinner or working out when Akemi will turn to me and ask: “What’s the English world for…”.  And then proceed to lay out the most ridiculously detailed scenario like “What’s the English for when you’re trying to lose weight and keep at it for a while but, eventually, you give up and have, say, a piece of cake ?” or “What’s the English world for when you’re not hungry but you have something to eat because your mouth feels lonely?”.  I’ll inform her there is no English equivalent, word or phrase, that perfectly encapsulates such a comprehensive definition and she is, as always, surprised and disappointed.  Because, you see, the Japanese seem to have a word FOR EVERYTHING!

For example…

Age-otori: The state of looking far worse following a haircut.

Arigata-meiwaku: When somebody does you a favor you didn’t want them to do but they went ahead and did it anyway and, as a result, caused you a huge inconvenience but social convention requires you to thank them anyway.

Aware: The bittersweetness of fading moment.

Bakku-shan: A woman that looks far better from behind than from the front.

Boketto: The act of staring blankly out into space, devoid of any thoughts.

Happou bijin: The act of being ungenuinely nice to everyone out of fear of being disliked.

Karoshi: Death from overwork.

Kenjataimu: Period directly after the sexual act when a man is free of desire and can think clearly.

Kintsugi: The act of repairing broken pottery with gold.

Koi no yokan: The feeling, upon first meeting someone, that you will eventually fall in love.

Kuchi zamishi:  When you’re not hungry but you eat because your mouth is “lonely”.

Kyoikumama: A mother who relentlessly pushes her child to study.

Shrinrin-yoku: “Forest bathing” – visiting a forest for some R&R.

Tsujigiri: The act of trying out a new sword on some random stranger.

Tsundoku: The act of buying  a book and never getting around to reading it.

Wabi-sabi: A world view that accepts the transcendent and imperfect nature of life.

Yoko meshi: The stress experienced speaking a foreign language.

Familiar with any words in other languages that lack an English equivalent.  List away!

August 16, 2012: Blue! Green! Fists of Fury! Days of Stargate Atlantis Past! Irresponsible!

“Blue!”announces Akemi the second the traffic light turns green.

“Green!”I correct her.

“Blue!”she chimes as if she didn’t hear.

“What color is that?”I ask, pointing up at the traffic light.

“Green,”she concedes.

“But they’re blue in Japan?”

“No, they’re green in Japan.”  Beat.  “But they call it blue.”

“Why do they call it blue if it isn’t blue?”

“I don’t know.  Why do they call them blueberries?”

I hesitate, wondering if this is some sort of trick question.  Eventually, I go with the obvious: “Because they’re blue.”

Outrage.  “No they’re not! They’re purple!”

I was going to argue the point but then remembered a Food Network piece on the famed blue plate special that revealed blueberries are, in fact, closer to purple.  Hey, they look blue to me but who am I to argue with science?

“Why do they call them strawberries?”wonders Akemi aloud.  “They’re not straw.”

“Why do they call them goose berries?”

She starts as if I suddenly showed her the remnants of a spider I’d squashed in the bathroom.  “That’s so gross,”she says.

She then proceeds to tell me that, according to one of her teachers at the English school she attends, the Japanese refer to green as blue because, back in the day (samurai times?) green and blue were effectively considered the same color.


“What do you call a red light?”I ask.  “Orange?”

“No,”she says, seemingly weighing my sanity with a dubious sideways look.  “Red.”  She makes a face, then brightens.  “In Japan, when you say something is blue, it means the thing is immature or not ripe.”

“In North America,”I inform her, “when we you say something is green, it means the thing is immature or not ripe.  Blue usually means depressed…or ecchi (Japanese slang for naughty or dirty).”

She incensed by the assertion.  “No!  Blue isn’t ecchi.”  And then, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world: “Purple is ecchi color.”

“It is?”

“Yes.  In Japan, when someone wears a lot of purple, it’s because they are yokyu fuman (Japanese for sexually frustrated).”


Photos of Akemi training for the big fight:

Fists of fury!

Continuing our trip down SGA memory lane…


To be honest, this one didn’t really pan out.  For several reasons.  One was the location.  The episode was supposed to shoot in a place that approximated the look of an Old West town, but it was only after the script had been written that it was decided that location we had been scouting was unusable. Director Martin Wood wasn’t happy with what it offered from a visual standpoint and there was also the fact that several of the buildings were in such a state of disrepair that the production feared they were downright dangerous.  And so, out of options, we ended up shooting our version of high noon in Fantasy Gardens, a bizarre theme park location that is mishmash of various architectural styles.

The location was one of many compromises that had to be made in prep.

In the showdown between Sheppard and Kolya, the two face-off – and the rest of the Atlantis gang is standing right behind Sheppard.  I found it odd that anyone would stand directly behind someone in a potential shoot-out, but the cast was adamant that their characters would “back Sheppard” up.  While I appreciated the sentiment, I would have argued that, in this particular instant, one would back someone up without, literally, standing behind them.

Guest stars Richard Kind and Robert Davi were, however, brilliant.

Richard Kind improvises his dialogue in the scene where Lucius walks off with Sheppard and starts pitching him ideas.  We loved it so much we ended up keeping it in the script.

After the episode was shot, Robert assured me he had come up with a way to bring his character back.  “Hey,”I told him.  “This is science fiction.  Nobody stays dead in scifi.” True enough.  Although the character Kolya made a reappearance in Atlantis’s fifth season (sort of), there were plans to bring him back in the real – but, alas, that story never materialized.

April 12, 2012: Garvige Day! Things Japanese! Mailbag!

“Garvige day?”I asked.  “What’s garvige day?”

“Gar-vige,”Akemi enunciated for me.  “Garvige day.”

“You mean garbage day,”I said.

“Yes,”she confirmed as if that’s what she’d been saying all along.  “Garvige day.  Why?  How do you spell it?”

“G-A-R-B-A-G-E”.  I said the letters aloud as I wrote them in big block letters on the piece of paper.

She gave the word a quizzical stare and then, brow furrowed: “Gar-ba-ge-jy.”

“No.  Garbage.”

She threw me a suspicious sideways look as though I was trying to pull one over on her: “That’s not gar-bage.  That’s gar-ba-jy.”

I assured her: “No.  That’s garbage.”

She gave an exasperated sigh.  “I don’t know.  English so mysterious for me.”

And yet, even though she’s continually frustrated in her attempts to master the language, she’s come a long way from our first date when she could barely speak it at all.  Today, she can converse freely and is easily understood.  Sure, she makes the occasional mistakes and is baffled by the intricacies of the grammar – but, in all fairness, so am I (as I immediately discovered when she asked me to explain the rules of my mother tongue).  All this in contrast to me whose Japanese hasn’t progressed past the verbal skills of a polite Japanese three year old boy.  On the bright side, my hiragana and katakana has improved, meaning I can now read most of a Japanese menu – although it would admittedly take me the better part of the day to do it.

Still, we’re both trying.  Every day, I drop her off downtown where she takes one or two classes (conversation, listening, idiom), then head back home to study a chapter from my Japanese language book and translate two pages of manga.  I’m about to finish my first book (Baby, Please Kill Me) so Akemi surprised me with two new mangas –

Gintama on the left and, on the right, strangely, some girl's Japanese baseball series.

Speaking of Gintama, we cap off every night by watching an episode of one of the most outrageously entertaining anime out there.  The nightly screenings help me improve my listening skills while also educating me to the nuances of Japanese culture…

We’re a mere 95 episodes in with another 150+ to go.  I take the occasional break to check out other anime shows as well.  We watched the horror-themed, Another.  While effectively creepy, suspenseful and engaging, I felt it ultimately collapsed under the weight of its own overly-complicated internal logic.

Mighty visceral and quite gory.  It reminded me of Gantz and Elfen Lied, two other titles I greatly enjoyed.  I’m also halfway through another reputedly graphic series, Deadman Wonderland, but have been disappointed with the heavy censorship.  Some scenes are so dark it’s impossible to make out what’s happening.  Disappointing.

Thanks to everyone who has weighed in with their book recommendations.  Keep ’em coming!


BoltBait writes: “Joe, what do you think of a story like this?  Is traveling to Japan to have real Kobe beef worth the trip?”

Answer: Thanks for the link.  A great read.  I look forward to the next installment.  Yes, I’ve noticed a discernible difference between the “kobe beef” they serve in North America and the real kobe beef.  Is the real stuff work the trip?  Well, let’s put it this way.  After tasting kobe beef for the first time in Tokyo, I was unable to eat regular North American steak for years.

jerem writes: “1) It is possible to see one day, Dark Matter in France?

2) Any revelation planned by Robert Cooper or Brad Wright, concerning the end of the arc story of SGU? How it should be end?”

Answer: 1) I believe you can get a digital copy here: Store | Dark Horse Digital Comics

2) Not that I know of.  Given the opportunity, however, I’m sure they would love to deliver their big reveal.  All they need is the green light from MGM.

Kathode writes: “Have you done a carrot ice cream?”

Answer: Not yet.  Great idea though.

cwilmanbunge writes: “Not that this isn’t cool, but is there at least a graphic novel for what the Atlantis movie would have been about, and SGU as well?”

Answer: In my upcoming visit with MGM, I’ll make it a point to ask them about the script for the Atlantis movie.

SISI writes: “Did you ever read Ready Player One?”

Answer: No but it is on my pick-up list.

Lewis writes: “Do any of them prefer any of the superhero flicks that Cookie has been watching?”

Answer: So far, no.  I have high hopes for Dark Man.

March 29, 2012: In Japan, the dogs go “waan waan”, the cats go “nyan nyan”, and the sheep go “meeeeeeeeh”!

1) bi shyo bi shyo, 2) ku te'n ku te'n, and 3) gu su ri - Or, in English: 1) being wet, 2) drunken sway, and 3) deep sleep.

Since returning from Tokyo in early February, I’ve set aside about an hour every day to study hiragana and katakana, two of Japan’s syllable-based writing systems.  Each contain about 48 characters, some frustratingly similar in appearance (like many of you, I occasionally have trouble distinguishing between シ and ッ,or ザ and せ), others so downright bizarre you would think they were created with the express purpose of annoying you (Yes, を, I’m talking about you).  Still, in the long run they’re a lot easier to master than kanji, the system of Chinese-based pictograms that number anywhere between 5000 to 10 000.  I have to wonder what a kanji keyboard would look like. Incredibly confusing is my guess.

Anyway, all things considered, 96 or so symbols isn’t too tall a task (although I much prefer the relatively simply 26 alphabet system I’ve been operating under for most of my life) and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of learning them.  But learning to spell and sound out the words is only half the battle.  Actually figuring out what the words mean is another matter entirely, one that has proven fairly daunting – especially when it comes to sound effects.

ga ra ga ra (gargling, as opposed to gu chu gu chu which is swishing the water around in your mouth before spitting - which is pe by the way).
bo - oooo (staring out vacantly)
bu tsu bu tsu (sound of a pimple)
ko'n ko'n (clearing one's throat)

The other day, I was reading my study manga when I stopped to sound out a word.  I was stymied.  Akemi informed me it wasn’t a word but a sound effect – in this case, the sound made when one picks up something very light.  Yep, there’s a specific sound for that in Japanese.  There’s also a specific sound someone makes to convey the sense of anxious/impatient waiting (so wa so wa), the sound of billowing smoke (mo ku mo ku), the sound of someone napping (su ya su ya) and the sound of paper being torn (bi ri bi ri bi ri).

The Japanese have about 2000 of these mimetic words (known as gitaigo and giongo), but you can apparently get by only knowing between 400-500.

Let me help get you started:

bi shi: the sound made when you stand up straight.

hiri hiri: the sound made by a painful burn.

chiku chiku: the sound made when someone jabs you lightly with something sharp like the corner of a piece of paper.

buooooon: the sound of a hair dryer.

ji ri ji ri: the sound of the sun’s rays beating down on you on a hot summer’s day.

pa ta pa ta: the sound made when you fan yourself or a bird flaps its wings.

gu cha: the sound made when you crush and empty beer/soda can.

pi ka pi ka: the sound made when you achieve some sort of enlightenment that results in a light from the heaven’s shining down upon you.

gai ya gai ya: the sound of a lot of people talking.

bura bura: the sound made when someone wanders about.

ba sa: the sound made when you drop a stack of papers down on something.

shi yu: the sound made when a screen door slides open easily.

ga ra ga ra: the sound made when a screen door slides open with effort.

ko so ri: the sound made by someone sneaking about.

bo ki: the sound of a bone or chopstick breaking.

be shi: the sound of a slap.

bo ri bo ri: the sound made when you’re eating a hard snack like a rice cracker.

And, by the way, in Japan, dogs don’t woof or arf, they waan waan, cats don’t meow they nyan nyan, sheep don’t baaaa they meeeeeh, horses don’t neigh they hi hiin, pigs don’t oink they buu buu buu, and cows don’t moooo they moooooow.  And snakes?  They sssssss of course.  What did you expect?

Finally – heto heto: in my case, the sound of being thoroughly exhausted after researching this blog entry.