the novanet

Posts Tagged ‘Japanese

What’s in a Name

Saturday I attended a gathering at the famed watering hole “Waterr”, where everyone was suppose to be fashioned in red. I say this as an explanation for the lousy amounts of it you can see in the photo below the next paragraph.

I had invited my 後輩 from the lab, that is, another study abroad guy who joined Inui-ken with the new semester. He’s sporting a name that seems to be fairly common within our generation: another Matt. Note that when I write his name in English, there’s nothing to be done about it but to write it exactly the same as mine. We’ve only got the one script, after all.

In Japanese, we have a few more options.

Matt and Matt

On Japanese Syllabaries

When Matt and I both signed up to go to a fare-well party our lab was holding on, the event’s list of participants had both our names written on it, but each written in a different script. One was written in Katakana, and the other, Hiragana.

Katakana and Hiragana are symbols standing for the exact same sounds – that is, there is a one-to-one correspondence between Hiragana and Katakana characters. The difference lies only in shape and usages, and from those differences comes a sort of… gut feeling, if you will; some sort of subconscious association between the characters and something in the back of your mind. Thus the same word will have a different impact written in both of the syllabaries.

Katakana was traditionally established and used by men. It is characterized by simple figures, sharp angles and straight edges. Nowadays it is used to transliterate foreign words like “rock climbing” into the closest thing Japanese can get: ロッククライミング (rokku ku-rai-mingu), as well as as a sort of italics for Japanese words. This is the script I’m use to seeing my own name in, as foreigners’ names are written in it.
Hiragana was developed after Katakana by aristocratic women looking to get into the world of early Japanese literature but who found themselves forbidden to use the manly Katakana script. So, they created their own. Compared to Katakana, Hiragana are far more fluid, flowing, and soft. They often have loops and bends, features completely lacking from Katakana. If I tell you both of the following characters are for the same syllable, one written in Katakana and the other in Hiragana, it should be obvious to you which is which.


Hiragana is now the standard way of inscribing the sounds of the Japanese language itself. It is used as a reading guide above difficult or rare Kanji words (this is called “furigana”). It is also the script used for the grammatical particles and affixes that appear in standard Japanese.

Your typical written sentence in Japanese will consist mainly of Kanji and Hiragana, with Katakana appearing only when an imported foreign word needs to be used.

With all that background laid out, perhaps you’ll have a glimmer of why Matt and I goodnaturedly started arguing about whose name had been written in Hiragana – まっと – and whose had been written in Katakana – マット. We both wanted to be the the original and manly マット, because Hiragana is girly and its not okay for men to be feminine. We set up our arguments and eventually took it to the courts.

I presented a rather strong case. I had been at the lab for a longer period of time, and was also the elder Matt. You have may heard that seniority is a Big Deal in Japanese culture. Furthermore, I’m just more manly, dangit. Look at all my adventures! Just look! With those details in the clear, it should be obvious that my face was in mind when the sender wrote マット.

We eventually took the argument up to the top, and the gent who sent off the letter bowed to my side of the case. Go me.

Go マット!

Written by Matt

2012/06/26 at 3:30 pm

八甲田 – Hakkouda

Like I said, this last weekend was an overnight backcountry trip up in Aomori-ken, the northernmost prefecture on 本州 (honshyu), the main island of Japan. I’m going to relate the story of the weekend to you a little differently than I normally would. I was beat to posting about the week by Kazumi-san, and I’ve decided to tell the story just the way she did.

That is, I’m just going to translate her post so we can see the adventure from another person’s view. My write-ups have gotten less and less wordy as I’ve gotten accustomed to awesome, but Kazumi still seems to have a lot to say.

Make no mistake, this’ll be a very liberal translation, so plenty of Matt tones will shine through. I’ll also be putting notes inside of [] brackets and throwing in pictures I took along the way. With that in mind, everything outside of the brackets/captions is told in first person, but that person isn’t me. I would never let my board slide down a mountain in a whiteout!

Without further ado…


Hakkouda – Day 1

By Kazumi, Translated by Moi

The group at the end of the weekend. "Hakkouda!"

With the success of the last trip out that way [the gang hit Hakkouda when I was playing in Kyoto], we headed off to Hakkouda a second time with high spirits.

Members: [Kazumi, of course!], K-field(K田), Hickey [best transliteration ever], Hata-baldy(ハタ坊), Kanji, Matt, Gobel [A French gentlemen who's been living in Japan for some ten years, professor at Tohoku Uni]

At Kuroishi (黒石) [a town about an hour from the resort] the sky was blue and expectations rose!

But! From the bottom of the ropeway the top of the mountain was a bit hazy. They had a screen down there with information on the conditions at the top of the ropeway: windspeeds of eight meters per second, visibility limited to 30 or 40 meters. Since we were using the top of the ropeway as our starting point and only going higher from there, I was worried about how things were going to turn out, especially as we got to significantly higher elevations and particularly on the unprotected mountain ridges. Well…

A lift in the whiteout let me know I was going up the mountain with five other people, at least

It. Was. Windy. The visibility was also completely horrible, and things weren’t going to get better.

K-field and Haka-baldy working their way up a slope

We finally groped our way along from the ropeway all the way to Mt. Akakura (赤倉), and visibility dropped to zero. The entire world had turned completely white; it was so bad you couldn’t even see the slant of the snow at your feet. [I remember a narrow ridge where I was using my ski poles like a blind man, feeling to the sides and ahead to avoid the steep drops on either side of my slender, all but invisible snow bridge. No, I did not take any pictures of the true whiteout. Think about it.]

Kanji, Kasumi, Hikichi

It took us a bit to realize it, but we had arrived at the slope. We skinned down a little bit in a futile effort to get out of the whiteout, but eventually just stopped and started to switch modes. I took my snowboard off my pack and stuck it in the snow, took off my snowshoes, and in the middle of putting them on the pack a sudden gust of wind came up. My board was pulled up by the wind and went sliding down the mountain. Before I could even gasp it had disappeared into the dense haze of the whiteout… [I can't not copy her emoticon here: がく~(落胆した顔)]

Snow monsters in the haze...

Akakura’s was a consistently steep, open slope seemingly free from anything to catch my board. With the weather’s complete lack of visibility there was a good chance I’d never see my board again. Starting with my GoPro last week, this time it’s my board?! Feeling like I was about to break down, I trudged down the slope, my boots punching holes along the way.
I went down…
and down…

And there it was! I have no idea how or why, but it had just stopped right in the middle of the slope. I had seriously already given in to the fact that I wouldn’t find it, so I was super freaking happy.

From there, I was able to put on my board and we all slid down the mountain in all its whiteout majesty, tiny bit by tiny bit, [sending one rider out ahead to gingerly discover the terrain, stopping when he started to lose visibility of the group]. Still, the snow felt great, even with the tiny lines we were doing. It was just enough to make me itchy for more.

A photo I took years ago at Vedauwoo (Wyoming). Why would I ever put it in here? Read on buckaroo

According to my memory of last time, there was a dangerous passage somewhere off to the right, but once we avoided it we’d get to a safe place without trees or shukabura! [Okay, translation fail. This is a word the Japanese stole from Norwegian (seriously? Norwegian?) "skovla". I had to look it up in a Japanese-Japanese dictionary. The definition: 「冬期に高山の山稜で雪面に見られる風紋。強風と低温によりクラストした雪面に様々な波状の紋様ができる。」 Got it?]

[Fine, fine, in English. "Wind-wrought surface snow that appears on high alpine mountain ridges in the winter. The crust is formed by strong wind and low temperatures into various wave-like patterns." Of course, I figured a faster way to find out what the word meant would be to google images it. A google image search is worth a thousand words (or at least two paragraphs of explanation). It's something anyone who's spent time on mountains will recognize, but I don't think English has a single word for it. Someone let me know if I'm wrong! There's a good chance we also stole a word from some Northern European language.]

Whoops, starting to really stray off topic now. Ein chasing Decker at Vedauwoo

Having thought that, I couldn’t restrain myself and, having no idea what the angle of the slope was or even the features it had, I threw myself down the slope. The powder, in a word, was… epic! Finally making our way off the mountain ridge the whiteout abated and we were actually able to properly ski down. It was absolutely terrific.

"absolutely terrific"

Except for one thing… the hike out was pretty much fail. [I stayed back with Kanji and Kazumi, who couldn't walk out as fast as people with skis since they were stuck in snow shoes. By the time we made it out the moon was lighting the way.] It was tiring as hell, but we made it.

We stayed at the same lodge as last time, 八甲田山荘 [Hakkouda Mountain Villa]. The buffet this time around was italian, and with all the different colors of food I unintentionally ended up taking (and then eating) too much food.  [I'm not making this up, she seriously blames the pretty colors for her over-eating. Awesome. My excuse was, I'm American!]

Kazumi's take from the lodge. That's mine on the far side of the table

[I have to just mention briefly the night at the lodge. All seven of us stayed in the same large tatami room on futons, but before we went to sleep the room turned into a giant massage fest after Kanji asked me to work his shoulder a bit. It wasn't long before everyone was mashing someone's legs or shoulders or stretching out hands or what have you. Pretty funny, but also, totally awesome. At the same time, this makes me think about how all of the physical affection I've been receiving lately has been from men.  Hmm...]

Hakkouda – Day 2

The next day the weather on the approach was the same as the first, but the weather got better once we hit the top of the slope[, and had completely cleared up by the time we were about halfway down]. This time around though, the snow was unexpectedly heavy, even though it had snowed the night before and all the snow that fell during the approach was nice and soft and light.

Author change! Matt from here on

So, Kazumi-san just stops there, which is shocking to me. As far as a good mountaineering adventure, the first day was great, but for boarding, the second was the money day. My only guess is she wore herself out writing so much about the first day (and it may have been exhausting just to remember the near-loss of her snowboard). So, Kazumi-sanへ, お疲れ様でした! これから、僕にお任せください!I’ll be taking it from here.

So, if you’re wandering how we were getting around in the wilderness with no visibility, two of our members had fancy GPS devices, everyone had compasses, everyone but me had maps. Mostly, GPS and compass are what got us through the weekend.

Gobel fiddles with his gloves while Kazumi consults her map in the whiteout

So, day two huh? Like Kazumi-san was saying, the approach was mainly the same weather, but towards the end we could see fairly well, and actually by the top of the slope we were seeing the sky break through in places.

Things clearing up at the top of the second day's run

The start of the ride down was pretty different. The snow was sticky and heavy and left me wishing I had waxed my board the night before. On top of that, the snow had been accumulating in miniature hills, so that every ten feet or so there would be another ridge, even though the general inclination of the slope was downwards. This meant lots of jumps, but ended up more awkward than anything else.

After our first three lengths we ended up waiting quite a while on Gobel to fix a problem with his bindings. Speaking of, he had a Voile dove-tail from ten years ago coming in at 195cm, with bindings made for ski boots. Original G! Once he finished freezing his hand off playing with screws on a mountainside the run got a lot better.

When we came to a consistently moderate run through a forest we were finally able to really let ourselves go. K-field had been leading every run and usually stopped just before the run got really enjoyable, but now that we were in a completely safe place with no worries of losing anyone I was surprised to see him just go and go and go. From there, well, hooooooboy was it awesome! It brought me back to Seven Utes in Colorado, but the trees were a little more generous.

I ended up relying on the spacing a bit too much though, and was putting down a toe-edge a little too weakly and smacked my pack on a tree downslope. It was a solid wallup and evoked a good whelp from me, but I kept going fine enough. Once I met up with K-field at the bottom I noticed that it had done something strange to my pack, as it had gotten really uncomfortable on my back. As it turns out, I had brought part of the tree down with me, sandwiched between shell and pack. It was a damn sturdy little bugger too. Fearing for my pack, I asked K-field to check out my right side. His response?

“I see purple.”

That took me a second, and then got a bit of an “oh-noes” out of me when I realized what that must mean. I wear a purple puff under my shell when coming down mountains.

Sad face

Tragedy. Hopefully I’ll be able to patch this baby up with some iron-on goretex repair. Until then, I’ll be glad I brought two shells to Japan.

Drawings in the snow

We skied out to the highway (and this time I mean it, no hiking), rappelled down the snowbanks the snowplows had built up, and spent time waiting for K-field to show up with the car by drawing in the snow.

Backcountry gear lined up against the wall of snow on the highway after the second day

Writing in the snow. Everyone's a kid after a good day in the backcountry

A face drawn only using Japanese characters.へのへのもへじ

Kazumi and Kanji again, my running crew, standing by the Hakkouda graffiti

Before we got headed home we stopped at a place that specifialized in tsukemen yakisoba, which, pretty much, blew my mind. Say what?! Fried noodles that you dip into a soup before you eat them. Never heard of it before, but whoa.

Finally, driving home, I successfully coded up an essential part in the next step of my research. Maybe I should talk about that again at some point in the future…

The end of an adventure

There was a weekend

When I was asked about my weekend on Monday, it was not readily apparent to me that one had occurred. This reminded me why I have a blog – a very, very poor memory. So, here’s a memory post, which is another way of saying long, rambly, and lacking pictures. If that sentence wasn’t clear enough, I shall say it directly: You don’t want to read this post unless your life is wracked with an unfathomable banality. You have been warned.

金 – Friday

Kerpow on the bike

I have the feeling I worked from home on Friday, as I was coming from the dorms when I had a splendid wreck on the way to the climbing gym. Luckily for me, there definitely wasn’t any sort of festival going on, definitely not, no sir, so my wreck wasn’t witness by a huge number of people.

How’d it happen: I was hauling along on a big street, somewhere around 30km/h, when I decided to switch from street to sidewalk at a spot where they met. Well, the sidewalk here doesn’t blend with the street completely so there’s still a one or two inch ledge at the lowest point. I threw my front tire up and over just fine, but was going fast enough that my more-or-less parallel path change made my rear tire snag on the ledge. Moral of the story, it dragged, I lost it. A splendid fall, but I was prepped for it and came out just fine. I did however pull off a nice amount of skin on my knee and turn my hip nice and purple.

Before I got a chance to look at too many of the faces gawking at me, I hopped back on the bike and got rolling, turned at the next block, and heard a gunshot. That was the 100PSI rear-tire blowing. The hump of the left shifter/brake handle was also a bit bent out of whack, but nothing bad-looking. It’s currently in the shop, waiting for the owner to come back from playing in San Francisco and fix it. Back to a bikeless lifestyle for me – ’til the end of the week, anyways. At least I have those lovely pictures from before the crash to remember it by.


I go there a lot. I got a nice tape + tissue bandage from Takeuchi san, one of the shop’s runners, and told Mike, Disa, and anyone who’d listen about my flight from just before. I was riding high on adrenaline and not feeling a thing, but had a nice crash when I came off it, and ended up not actually climbing much.

That, however, worked out well for meeting some other friends at a jazz club show in the evening. I walked to the venue, saw a friend outside, and found out the place was filled with smoke. That rather put a damper on my plans for going inside, but I did listen to some good stuff through the door.

A date!

I walked back to B’nuts in time to meet people as the place was closing, and managed to secure myself a date with Kanji san, a regular at the gym that I’ve been crushing on for awhile. He took me to a fun little izakaya where we enjoyed some interesting potatoes (they looked like eye-stalks — see below) along with a variety of other dishes, including sashimi.  Yay sashimi!


At one point Kanji walked off to the restroom and I was accosted by three fellows to the right of us. We got to talking, and it turns out one of them studied at the same campus as I did in Kyoto. Somehow we’re now facebook friends. Little weird.

Anyhoo, since Kanji took me to a nice place of his, I returned the favor and took him to get some abura soba at hifumi. Kanji was a fun conversationalist, and pretty funny guy on the side. When we were walking home (turns out he lives not-so-far from me) he mentioned that he’d never gone out with a foreigner before and would have to brag about his evening to his work buddies. True story.

All-in-all it was a terrific day, and I summed up my feelings for it the next day like so:

stains on my pants: grass, blood, bike grease, climbing chalk, oil from 一二三油そば(soba!). Proof of a day well spent :D

土 – Saturday

Saturday was somewhat covered in the bicycle and hikari post, which I’ve sneakily already linked to twice and so will not do so again. I gave up on the rain ever stopping and went out fully outfitted for it just in time to have it stop.

外人 パーティー

Before I launch into this section, let me warn you I use the word gaijin quite a bit. Technically it is indeed Japanese, but it becomes English for anyone who spends time in Japan. It is written so: 「外人」, where the first character means “outside” and the second “person”; aka, foreigner.

It’s used a bit differently though. For instance, while searching for the jazz club on Friday night, I asked a passing fellow if he knew where it was. He went to the effort of calling a friend and saying “Hey, so anyways, do you know where this place is? It’s crazy, but this gaijin totally came up and asked me about it”. There’s lots that can be said about this fun phrase, but we’ll continue with our story.


I met two other gaijin at b’nuts that I had first met at a thanksgiving party and had them try out top-roping for the first time. Sadly, I had taken my time getting there and they had already burned out pretty well on the bouldering wall. I climbed a few routes and took a fall big enough to scare myself after losing my strength in the crux of a problem and failing to clip the next bolt.

After I finished falling we went to a burger shop across the street for dinner. I’d been eyeing it for awhile but was intimidated by the idea of Japanese burgers, and ultimately had an avocado salad. The other two gaijin (whose names I realize I haven’t mentioned yet – Maura from the states and Ryan from the other end of the Atlantic) and I were joined by a third for dinner, and the four of us went to a nice pub, Simon’s Bar (where I got my Moscow Mule).

Time passed, more foreigners magically appeared, and at some point we were over at Middle Mix, a nice middle-eastern place I’ll write about sooner or later. Suffice it to say, the owner is a hoot. At middle mix I was accosted by another newcomer to the Sendai area who decided to ignore his date and instead ask me about how awesome I was.

I assured him that I was, indeed, quite awesome.

カラオケ Karaoke!

For the first time in awhile I found myself at karaoke with a group that included none of the earlier folk but Ryan. There was much singing success. Only a few of the songs we sang are staying in my mind, as my memory stops functioning properly once you cross the 2am boundaries of a night. I managed to convince Ryan and two others to join me at hifumi for another round of abura soba (consecutive abura soba days, yay!) and then walked home, getting to bed sometime around 5 in the morning.

Now you see why I had trouble remember the weekend – sleep was not my forte.

日 – Sunday

I’m sure something happened, just not what. Give me a second to think on this.

Ah! Found it. I had meant to go volunteer on the nearby coastline, but a broken bicycle had shot down that plan, so…

I slept in as late as I could, which meant I was up at a half past ten in the morning. Damn you you weak bedroom shades you. At some point I walked over to the bike shop to drop it off for repairs, then walked from there to the heart of the downtown to meet up with a group of people and plan a ski trip to the nearby Zao ski / hot springs resort. Should be a great time.

On my way home from that, I accidentally walked by and then entered b’nuts. Going back-to-back for a week and skimping on sleep for three days left me somewhat weak at the wall, and I took my biggest fall to date on it, and may or may not have leaked a little fear into my pants. I was so tired and dazed that I then opened the changing-room curtain while it was occupied by one of the girls.


It’s especially fun that someone said “Don’t, Matt!” right before I went to open it, but I was so cut off that the Japanese just didn’t get connected to the right part of my brain.

And that, with nearly 1700 words, is the story of a weekend.

Unless you can count Monday into a weekend?

When Monday has a milk party, Monday is part of the weekend.

月 – Monday

Milk Party

I went to a milk party. What is a milk party, you ask? Ask the Germans who threw it. I only know that it happened, that I was there, and, and, MILK PARTY!

Written by Matt

2011/12/06 at 5:37 pm

This Month in Android Shots

And that’s how I start a post made of just pictures from my android phone. As you’ll remember, my good camera was quite tragically broken, and given that my old camera runs out of juice very quickly, I find myself using my phone more and more.

Anyhoo, the above is a picture of the trees outside the bookstore up on Aobayama campus a month ago, and next up is a lovely tent I sent up in the hallway as soon as I received it from backcountry.

It’s a two person tent, which means a Matt and half of another person. Well, that’s what it usually means, but this guy is actually roomy enough two will definitely fit. Very happy with the purchase.

Next up, a few weeks back during a night on the town I noticed copper cups at the bar we were at. I asked the ‘tender if he’d use it to make a mule for me, and he delivered. It tasted like home, spot on.

The two gold bowls are used to hold the currency of the bar, those two coins up at the top. Essentially it’s like an arcade, where you turn your money into tokens, then drinks and food cost so-many tokens. Obnoxious but workable.

After a night on the town, nothing quite like a

abura sobaBowl of oiled soba from 一二三油そば (one two three! abura soba). Very very tasty stuff, fun little place to hit up for the traditional after-bar 二次会, the second party. Normally soba comes in a whole lot of broth of whatever variety, whereas this is just the noodles and accouterments, sans broth.

This last image is a bit random, but I’m putting it up for my friend Mike, who once asked me why he was given weird looks when he used a word that mean “this store” (当店) with the staff. Well, turns out that’s only a word for the store to refer to itself, and as proof, here it is written on a toilet paper note. Yes, this is just an excuse to put a picture of toilet paper on my blog. Very low quality, sorry about that.


At this store, we’re using recycled toilet paper that is friendly to the Earth.

Funny how that sentence is almost opposite word order from the Japanese after the first clause.

当店は(this store)、地球に(to the earth)やさしい(friendly)再生紙(recycled paper)トイレットロール(toilet roll)を使用してます(using)

Anyways, gotta get back to work on the research. Presentation next week, and no real progress to speak of yet…



An event that happened in the car-ride on the way to Yamadera with Mike, Disa, and Suzuki-san:

I was working away as interpreter for the two parties, and trying to help the foreigners with their listening skills at the same time, pointing out “did you hear such-and-such a word in that sentence?” whenever there was a word scattered in they might know.

After translating one sentence I found myself staring at two glowering sets of eyes.  “We know,” said Disa, looking at me as if I had insulted them for translating something they obviously should understand.

That’s a feeling I can empathize with, but I was somewhat taken aback just the same.  “You guys understood that?”

“Yeah,” Mike replied.

“Way to go!” I said. I was actually quite proud of them for picking it up; as far as I was concerned, it hadn’t been that simple of a sentence.

However, my honest enthusiasm and praise for their success in Japanese was greeted with only skepticism and, frankly, rather negative looks.  I was mystified as to whether I was reading the situation correctly, or if I had really insulted the two so deeply.

Looking at Suzuki-san, whose sentence I had just repeated in what I felt was a very accurate, if not verbatim, translation, I noticed that he was also looking at me strangely.  Yep, I’m definitely missing something here, I thought. Fortunately, it wasn’t a terribly foreign sensation.

“He said it in English, Matt.”


Written by Matt

2011/11/10 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Tohoku Journal

Tagged with , ,

Fun with Japanese

Japanese has a lot of words that stand very near each other in a phonetic sense. If you write these words with their kanji (Chinese ideographs) they might not look much alike  (巨大<>兄弟) but if we write them in the phonetics you’re use to we get kyodai (gigantic) and kyoudai (siblings).  This is the part where I make a gigantic siblings joke, but instead I move boldly forward.  Another example: kawaii (cute) and kowai (scary).

Usually people give you the benefit of the doubt or make the connection, but other times…

If only I could link this post as explanation to the woman I asked for permission to sit on her dog, then she’d see it was all just a silly misunderstanding.
座る<>触る suwaru (to sit) and sawaru (to touch)

Similarly, perhaps this post could help put my lab-mate more at ease when he’s around me. He’s seemed on edge ever since I asked him if he minded if I got naked in the lab, when all I wanted was to remove a flash-drive from a PC.
抜く<>脱ぐ   nuku (pull out) and nugu (take off clothes)

Written by Matt

2011/10/25 at 8:36 am