Archive for September, 2007

Japnese sentence building 101

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

So far there have been a couple of happy announcements regarding the japanese language.

  • There’s no punctuation
  • The sentence order is pretty random, as long as you end it with a verb
  • You can leave out obvious stuff: Don’t have to keep stating watashi wa

No punctuation; Let me explain that, they have a “.” But you don’t need to use it. There’s also a “,” but it’s facing the other way and I’ve never seen it used.

 There’s no ” ”

You see anything between those quote signs?

it’s a space

There’s NO spaces in the Japanese language


Double Crap


I’ll give you one guess to the flaw in this

That’s right. I’m learning Japanese so I get to know the words.

There’s a bright side . . . . . There’s particles

Particles which denote the function of the last word (couple of words). So “は” would indicate the subject and “に” would indicate the location.

There’s a drawback to this aswell. は and に are letters. They are used in the words you are seperating. And then there’s the fact that “は” is is really the letter “ha” if used in a word but “wa” when used as a particle. The way you write it however . . . . is exactly the same. And considering there’s no space behind は no matter if it’s in a word or used as an ending particle . . . . .how the hell am I supposed to see that.

Have I cheered at being given the oppertunity to learn this fabulous language lately. Let’s do it now

All together






Of all the things I’ve lost

I miss my mind the most

– Mark Twain

Europeans think like individuals, Japanese think in groups

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

While it is true that this is one big holiday for me. This holiday keeps getting interrupted by 4-5 days of school.

I am here, for the first 4 months at least, to learn about Japan. Its language, its people, its customs etc etc etc.

One of the most noticable differences is that the Japanese have a group (say: hive) mind. You can’t directly compare them with the borg, but there’s some overlaps in their view of the world. The do EVERYTHING in groups.

And because I’m learning about the Japanese . . . . .

So do I.

I say “I” because I’m not Japanese and I will keep thinking of myself as “I”. I will keep thinking of myself as “I” because I loathe big groups. I don’t mind smaller ones. Groups made up of individuals, but with bigger groups the individual has an increasingly smaller role. And with the movements of the vulcanus group you can only make out “The Italians” and “The Spanish”. There is no “The Wally” in the vulcanus group. Although I’m sure me, Doc and Chris are the closest things to that we have in that group.

So we practiced the group thing. Last week we went to the Bosaikan (emergency centre), and we proved that moving a group of 25 is a long and arduous task. Having an individual brain and knowing the itineraire I moved there in a smaller group of 2 after passing the presence check.

Thrusday we went to the Sumo, proving that moving a group of 40 is an even more strenuous task. The sumo was nice btw, but the continued presence of 39 loud people in a small room (the restaurabnt before-hand) was quite tiring. There’s a Sumo wrestler taller than me. There’s plenty of em that weigh more than me . . . . pretty much all of em actually. The Sumo wrestler taller than me was . . . . . . a Bulgarian. go figure

Friday was the International Friends Centre party. Once again many many people in a small place for extended periods of time. While it was nice it was also very tiring.

When there was bar-hopping afterwards I went my own way half-way through, I like good cheer as much as the next guy. But 35 people bar-hopping through Tokyo . . . ..

So the weekend came and the chance of individuality presented itself. Unfortunately, the chance of the Tokyo Game Show 2007 (read: Asian E3) presented itself aswell. So much for feeling like an individual. While the show was wicked, and the booth babes can only be described as babes, with the feeling of lost-individuality I had from the last couple of days it did cast a gloom over it. Luckily there was enough cleavage to help me forget that. I’ll post pictures of that for sure.

Sunday I withdrew into my smaller group as we went sight-seeing in Kamakura with a group of 4. We would’ve been 5 but one of our group chose to conjugate verbs over walking through the hills and seeing Buddhist-/ Shinto Temples and the one of the biggest buddhas in the world. The return of feelings of individualism together with being able to walk for 5 minutes without seeing anyone else (it’s still Japan you know) was refreshing. The beech was rather dissapointing, but all in all, it was a day spent well. The purple natural ice cream was a nice closer for Kamakura. We spent the evening walking through the Biggest China-town in Japan (Yokohama) and listening to an acrobat/comedian on the waterfront. . . . . obviously only the first bit was usefull to us.

It’s hard to explain the way having to deal with such big groups can be draining and I suppose that if you don’t know, I won’t be able to explain it to you anyway. But I thought I’d post this anyway. The Sheer Football-supporter mentality of big groups. The inverse group-size/intelligence curve. It just makes things so . . . . . . annoying.
On a different note: I’ve found out why I can’t buy a proper laptop here. The market is divided into 2. There’s the home market and the work market. Obviously if it’s for work you need to be able to work in english, Globalisation and all. But the gaming laptops . . . . well, that’s the home market isn’t it. And we don’t make those in english. CRAP.

So now I have to figure out if the Vista Ultimate OS translator function has any draw-backs. Apperantly a lot of software won’t recognise this and install Japanese anyway. And while you may think: “But it usually asks which language you want to install it in” . . . . apperantly . . .. it doesn’t . . . . or smthg. I’m not too clear on that juncture. But then again: I didn’t even know the option existed before saturday.

Still: When faced with stupid people behind counters: Locate the BIG guy and make him fix things for you. He won’t speak english himself, but he has the rank to go get someone that can 😀 And now, I’m one step closer to knowing if I can get a laptop here or if I’ll be buying Gateway.


Quote of the day:

To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself

– A. Einstein

Mount Fuji, Part deux

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

After first having gotten used to typing with english layout on a japanese keyboard I am typing this on a French Azerty keyboard. Oh Joy.

This weekend the plan was, again, to climb mount Fuji (or Fuji-san as they call it here). And with the extra long weekend we were bound to succeed this time. You know, in the interest of cultural discovery I should really find out why monday was a national holiday.

Saturday however, we would not depart as Robin planned to make us Belgium Waffles. Rich cultural experience . . . . . Belgium Waffles . . . .  tough one.

So, sunday the grand adventure would commence. After having thoroughly checked stuff we were confident we would make it work this time. We showed up a day early to make sure we had bus tickets but fate could not be as accomodating as all that, now could it. The office had closed 5 minutes earlier (seriously, 5 minutes on the dot). But, all was well, coz we had checked stuff.

There being a finite amount of busses and this being a national holiday I figured it would pay off to show up on time to buy some of the equally finite amount of tickets. This proved to be a most intelligent thing to do, as we arrived just in time to buy the last two tickets. A quick headcount however, revealed we needed 3.

Something something careful plan never survives first contact with the enemy. Some wise guy said that once.

So we bought tickets for the next bus (insert 2 hour delay of plan here). We took the bus to mount Fuji and seeing the weather after having reached the base we decided to stay on the bus ’till the fifth station and climb on from above the clouds. That version is very nicely worded I think.

This bus was the same bus as the one we’d missed and ergo it would fit into our plans nicely. The information provided to me by the Lake Kawaguchi Tourist information couln’t be wrong. And likely, it wasn’t. It was just that the bus we’d discussed wasn’t the one we’d bought tickets for. That would’ve been too perfect.

So we reached our destination . . . . . and passed it. Our initial plan was to climb the entire route. Seeing the weather in combination with our, now pressing, time problem we weren’t too sad about having to abandon this option though.

Most climbers start at the half-way point at the so called 5th station now. It is the end of the tree line and I suspect we missed quite a pleasant walk up there. The first half goes through nice wooded areas at a gentle slope, it provides the hiker with a pleasant warm up . . . . or in case of last weekend, a nice oppertunity to drench oneself. Perspective is important 😀

The actual climb commenced. Let me be the first to inform you (if you’ve never heard this before, that is) climbing Fuji-san isn’t for everyone. Don’t let the fact that 80-year olds and 8-year olds climb this fool you. It is a HARD climb. If there weren’t 1000+ people climbing it every day I would seriously advise against climbing it without a decent amount of experience. It is a hard climb, bringing oxygen is advised, much of the path is on shifting volcanuc rock/pebble. People fall often and sometimes hard. As it stands, there’s always people about to pick you up, but if this was any other mountain: Don’t just go up and climb it. Chapeau to the 80-year olds though.

This is probably a good point to upset the chronological order of this story and tell of the imperial garden I’d visited Saturday. While the gardens don’t bring that much relevance to this tale the enormous sunburn/heatstroke I got does.

So, heatstroke and probably altitude sickness. While the climb itself is over 1,4 km on the vertical, this adds neatly to the 2.3 km you get earlier that day on the bus form Tokyo. But, I’ll keep stories of my throwing up and feeling generally miserable off ’till later in this story . . . Though I suppose this spoils much of the ending.

On the mountain one will find all sorts of people. As stated before, we have young and old. But we also have Nihonjin and Gaijin, jolly and grumpy, sane and otherwise. There is a fair share of what can only be: Stag-night activity.

On the mountain we met:

l        A man in shorts and a hoody

l        People in suit

l        More people in suit

l        People with business suitcases

l        People with flip-flops

l        People with kitty-ears

l        Karaoke singers (oh wait, that was us)

l        Non selected Vulcanus applicants

l        A man in a suit with getas on

The actual climb isn’t all that interesting, it’s a lot of putting one foot in front of the other. In that respect it’s a lot like walking really, just a bit harder on the legs and lungs. But the view is quite spectacular. As said, we started above the treeline, which means you can always see as far as the next cloud. This cloud will limit visibility to anywhere between 20 cm and 400 km. The first one is more fun though.

Climbing mount Fuji, even in the off season (which started 2 weeks ago and means DRASTIC reduction of populace) means you will be climbing in a crowd. The Japanese do everything in groups and this is no different. It felt at times like early morning traffic though at first it’s a welcome chance to slow your pace down for a second and catch your breath, and it’s just dead funny to see the « Follow the umbrella » mentality here. Though umbrellas here are brightly lit canes.

We made our way to a station on the 8th level, which was at 3300 metres and were welcomed by shouts of « Hi Karaoke » One of the best parts of a grueling climb, for me, has always been that the food tastes so damn good afterwards. Of course Japan is different in so many ways, and this is no exception 🙁 We hit the sack at 8.

The reason you climb Fuji-san isn’t to climb Fuji-san, it’s to see the sunrise. A most noble pursuit . . . . .  sooooooo  . . .  . 2:15 the alarm clock rang. Wheeeeeeee, I can tell you, rarely have I been more of a joyfull springy duracell bunny as I was at that moment. It’s 2:15, I haven’t slept, I feel sick to my stomach, have a headache and the world spins noticably more then normal. Let’s climb!

Pitch black, lamp on my head I join . . . a queue?

It’s 2:15, I’m on the side of a vulcano and there are enough people on the track to have a Rush-hour-Tokyo-subway feel to it. WTF. We soon overtake them though and join the ranks of faster climbers in front. A noticable achievement on my part as the trail is actively bucking and rearing to get me to fall off (I have since been told this was most likely due to some hallucination I was experiencing at the time. This even seemed like a definite possibility at the time and some part of my brain even noted that a wise man would probably have turned back at that point. Not wanting to upset your understanding of me: I didn’t turn back). Long story short: We reached the summit: Yeah us. It’s now 04:00, the sun will rise in 30 minutes, it’s several degrees below zero and the wind is murder. Also: It’s the top, so there isn’t a great deal of cover. We knew we should’ve brought gloves, we just hadn’t been able to find any in our size. We should’ve looked harder.

The sun rose, whoopie, I’ll post pictures later (Again, I’ll get my hands on a laptop sometime or other). Saw the caldera, threw up, got my ass down the slope where I prompty fell asleep in the arms of a fair maiden. All is well in the world.

Oh right, I’m still 1100 metres above where my bus leaves from . . . .  crap.

Between the three participants that made up our little group we’ve had maybe 14 hours of sleep between us and we’ve covered 2km pure vertical difference. We’re good. Some hours, amusing anecdotes and themesongs later we stride (read:stumble) into the 5th station. Now, the loyal readers amongst you may feel some anticipation as to how our return trip got fucked up

And who am I to shatter your hopes. The Bus that took us here will run only on Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays. Today is the last one in the list and according to the people here it will probably run. Oh, for tickets: You call this number. It’s remarkable that for all its differences I was able to pick out the Japanese dead telephone sound in half a second.

Luckily there’s local busses that leave for Lake Kawaguchi and that’s a fairly big town that will no doubt have some connection to Tokyo. This was true, and the connection was ideal to get a bit of lunch in between, and another 2 hours of sleep. The only bus with any spaces left would be leaving at 4.

When preparing to come to Japan, someone made the joke that I would at least be in a country where the trains run on schedule. I’ve had little cause to complain on topic of trains, busses however . . . . are defenitely run by some branch of the NS (Dutch railways) . . . or maybe just this one.

It also took a tad longer reaching Tokyo then it had to get to Fuji-san. 3.5 hours on 100 kilometres is a  . . . . good thing?

I’ll leave you with the same words I left my friends in Tokyo with: That was great fun, good sport and a lovely experience. Now fuck off: I’m going to sleep.

Quote of the day:

A Wise man climbs Fuji-san once in his life

A fool climbs Fuji-san twice


Japanese Language (Numbers)

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

We continue to study the Japanese language and today we covered numbers

Now, within european languages counting has been done in different orders. Whera-as the english will pronounce the 8 in 83 before the 3, the dutch will pronounce the 3 first and then add 80. Having grown up in this system we take it for granted, but our system isn’t actually that easy.

So while I was warned I thought I would probably be able to swing it. At first glance, the Japanese system differs on 2 points. First, it’s a perfect decimal system. That is to say: They have words for 0-9, 10, 100, 1000 etc. and they just combine these to good effect. 2-10 means 20 and 4-10 means 40 . . . fairly simple. However, while we have names for 1-9 . . . .  they have several

  • 0 = zero / reko
  • 1 = ichi
  • 2 = ni
  • 3 = san
  • 4 = yon / shi
  • 5 = go
  • 6 = roku
  • 7 = nana/shichi
  • 8 = hachi
  • 9 = queue / ku

And you use the different names for the different numbers at different times which . . . .  don’t seem to be governed by rules. It looks like there were 2 different systems and the first system to discover a use for the number would incorporate it in the system . . . .  or something.

 Aaaaaaand, that’s just the beginning of things. Because after lunch we moved on from simple numbers (under 100) to bigger numbers. Because it would just be too easy to allow us to keep using 3-100. 300, 600 and 800 are exceptions in the X00 scale. 3000 and 6000 are exceptions in the X000 scale. And they don’t work in multitudes of 1000 . . .but 10000. A thousand ten-thousand is 10 million and a thousand 100-million is etc etc etc. Very confusing for those working in the SI system where everyting leaps by 3.

That I can handle though. It’s when applying the numbers where things start to get interresting. Because while the Japanese language has no casus as we understand them . . .  they have them in counting.

  • 1 flat thing = ichimai
  • 2 flat things = nimai 
  • 1 round thing = hitotsu
  • 2 round things = futatsu

There are this many catagories in which someone can count things and note the fact that the round counting words don’t have anything to do with the ichi, ni, san, yon list I gave earlier of normal counting words. The amount of exceptions in counting is about 1/3 or 1/4 of the total available number of words. How on earth am I going to learn that.

And than there’s normal japanese.

  • They have words
  • They have a negative addition
  • They have a Formal addition
  • They have a formal negative addition
  • They have a past-tenst formal negative addition.

The last one is quite a bit longer than most first ones.

Oh goody, I get to learn Japanese.

Weekend plan: Climb Fuji-san

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Ah, the first weekend in Japan.

Hardly one to waste such free time we’d made plans.

  1. Friday, we dance
  2. Saturday, we rest
  3. Sunday, we climb Fuji-san

About going out in Japan I can, so far,  be brief: I’ve only gone to the wrong places so far. The music was poor, the girls were poor and the only thing that made it quite an enjoyable evening was that I was out with my friends. Now, as for the second point on that list, let me explain: They don’t speak enough english (or I don’t speak enough Japanese) to get a nice flirtation going and the girls that go out in the places I’ve visited dress up like an exagerated version of the wests’ 14 year old innocent sluts. They are in fact 20+ (or so I assume) but they dress and act like they’ve bought their first make-up box last week. From the street, the centre and 1 girl at the club I am now fairly certain that it was indeed the venue and there are interresting girls to be found here (and if I’m lucky they’ll wear about the same amount of clothing ;)). But, I had a good time and I wasn’t the one carted away in an ambulance with alcohol poisoning, so I guess I didn’t have too good a time.

While saturday was a day for rest, this could only start at around 3 as I had plans before. 10″30 at akihabara station. I thought I was feeling rather well for having 3 hours sleep. Oh, I should note that I was up at friday from 5 a.m. to watch the typhoon (which was wicked I may add) and saw my bed again 25 hours later. So after 3’ish hours sleep I thought I did rather well. We browsed for a laptop and a translator. I’ve made my pick on the translator but I need some more time on the laptop. Being in a foreign country I’m not getting info at a pace I’m used to and one shouldn’t rush these things. We also made our final preparations for Fuji-san. That is to say: we went to the place to buy bus tickets and we thought that would be preparation enough.

It was, as we found out that in the off-season the first bus leaves at 8 (depositing us at the start of the hike at 11:30) and the last bus back leaves at 4. With an average time spent reaching the top and returning of 7.5 hours this compicated things. So, we decided to suspend the adventure till next week when we would make a weekend of it, and we would be able to properly do it as EVERY guidebook only mentions going there for the sunrise, which requires 2 days anyway. Thought it is entirely possible to ascend and descend in the same day it wasn’t described anywhere. Oh well, that’s for next week then. Let’s see if the weather clears shall we.

Sunday we went to Nikko (like the radio controlled cars, yes). I’ll leave it to the wikipedia link to explain what goes on there and I’ll tell my story as soon as I get a laptop and upload the pictures. As I can now rabble on on how nice the temples were and that a sleeping kitty gets a disproportinate amount of attention. But without direct references to what I’m talking about that’s rather a weak story. Suffice to say that we had a lot of fun, were introduced in the principles of buddhism, shinto buddhism to be exact. Made picturtes, had our shoes stolen and returned (damn you, evil monkey spirits), walked and walked, paid respect to our ancestors (or recently deceased dogs), ate well, got on the wrong train back, ate remarkably well and did other stuff which is probably important to mention. But I won’t for reasons I will keep entirely to myself.

On the food” I had my first sashumi, and it is delicious. It’s a shame it’s so expensive or I would be eating it every day. Raw fish delicious . . . . go figure. And I’m not talking about sushi either. One should be ashamed of wrapping such succulent goodness in rice.


Quote of the day:

Before god we are all equally wise, and equally Foolish

A. Einstein

The Second real post from Japan

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Because I have no more fitting title than that.

So, still in Japan. Haven’t been deported yet.

Another aspects of Japan worth mentioning is the culinary one. People that know me know that I am not a very diverse eater. I like my food simple. And as most dutchies: “Wat een boer niet kent, dat eet ‘ie niet” or “If I don’t know it, it won’t get past my lips”. I have to say that 60+% of food I’ve consumed here is not immediately recognisable. And only 15% of that can be identified afterwards. Right now I’m munching on a bakery product made up of . . .bread’ish stuff with . . . seeds and green transluscent stuff. Some of this stuff is nice . . . others aren’t. Within beverages I’ve found that the Japanese have a coffee fixation offering even Ice Tea with Coffee flavour, which next to the dozens and dozens of iced Coffees seems rather odd. I’ve eaten noodles, and rice and vegetables and meat and fish and . . . stuff I’m pretty sure doesn’t fit in any of those catagories.

Now, I know that it sounds like an odd thing to describe. I ate meat and fish . . . whoopie. But the thing is, I’ve eaten meat’ish substances of which I was pretty sure it was meat. But I’ve also eaten other stuff which turned out to be meat later. And a slurpi’ish substance which turned out to be raw krab (also available in belgium I’ve been told). There have still been 4 meals so far which were nice but I wouldn’t be able to describe it beyond noodles, vegetables and fish/meat/tofu . . . and I’m not always sure which one to cross out. Ohhhhh, seaweed looks a lot like spinach . . . just so you know.

On another point: The Japanese lessons have started. I’ll write more about this later as it will take more then the 10 minutes left in this lunch break to describe it. Suffice to say that it will be hard . . very very hard. For convenience they will make Kanjis out of smaller Kanjis. “Rock” and “Head” will combine to mean “stubborn”, “moon” equals “month”, “sun” equals “day” AND “sun” equals “Nippon”(japan) though both suns are different. And moon and sun (month and day) don’t combine to make calender . . . .but “bright”. Mouth and Bird means “to Cackle” and “person” and “tree” means “rest”. So far I know 3 different meanings of “ki” and all are pronounced the same but are written differently . . . Just to keep things clear. The Japanese keep assuring me though that it’s all quite logical. But from a country that produced the Quote of the day . . . . I’m not so sure


Quote of the day:

Yes = Maybe

Maybe = It’s Difficult

It’s Difficult = No

No = I don’t like you, please go away