Episode 06: Let's Quake
Y'know, for quite some time I've been meaning to write an episode
about all the things that are less than ultra-spiffy in this
country, but you know what?  I've been having too much fun to get
around to it.  Tuesday to Sunshine City (Tokyo's tallest building)
and a convivial banquet at Tengu for a mere 1400 yen/head, Friday
to Jigoku Ramen Hyottoko for Tokyo's spiciest ramen (of the
10 or so foolhardy people who tried the Hell Ramen, I was the only
one to finish it, and the three times spicier Red Lake of Hell Ramen
proved too much even for our Pakistani Tabasco-junkie), Saturday to
Akihabara and the Ikebukuro Amlux (complete with free smell-o-rama
cinema -- even though the coffee effect smelled just like nattoo),
Sunday to Sengakuji (resting place of the 47 Ronin) and the wonderful
hands-on Drum Museum in Nishi-Asakusa...  and, get ready for this,
at the end of next month I'll be going to...  drums, please...
SAIPAN for a week!  Saipan, for those of you who don't know (I certainly
didn't) is a small tropical island located in the Northern Mariana
Islands, smack dab in the middle of the Pacific (read: nowhere).
A territory of the U.S., Saipan features high living standards, low
prices, great beaches, better scuba-diving and an optimal climate (mean
temperature 30 deg C and sunny).  The only minor problem is that we're
leaving at the beginning of the 6-month rainy season, but at 78,000 yen
(~3000 FIM) for the flight there and back plus 5 nights in a good hotel,
I ain't complaining.  A weekend trip to Kyoto would probably cost more...

And an address listing so you can track down some of those:

Jigoku Ramen Hyottoko: 1-8-4 Minami Ebisu, Shibuya-ku
Taikokan/Drum Museum: Miyamoto Unosuke Biru, 4F, 2-1-1 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku
Sunshine City and Amlux are in Ikebukuro (can't miss them...), Sengakuji is,
oddly enough, right near the Sengakuji stop on the Toei Asakusa line.

I did have a bit of rude awakening this morning though.  Early
in the morning, I woke up to find the bed shaking.  My first thought:
"Honey, stop that..." and lo, she(?) complied.  But soon the shaking
started again, and as the operating system was bootstrapped into my
brain I realized that a) I was alone in bed, b) I was alone in the
room, c) I was in Tokyo and d) that means the shaking was caused by an
earthquake!  By the time I got to step D the tremor was already over
and it was too late to panic.  Just the same, it was the first
earthquake I'm absolutely sure I felt.  The feeling was strange
because of its normality: I had been expecting violent jolting or
something different, but no, the building just swayed gently and
the bed along with it.  There has actually been a spate of small
earthquakes lately, 3 in the last 2 days, and some of my Japanese
acquaintances are getting distinctly jittery.  Is it finally time for
the long-overdue Big One?

My Japanese comprehension is still increasing, I can now understand the
entire arriving-train announcement!  In fact, I know it so well, I can
recite it by heart:

  Mamonaku, ichibansen ni, Inzai-Makinohara yuki densha desu.
  Hachibyoo de mairimasu.  Hakusen no uchigawa de o-machi kudasai.

And the translation:

  Not long from now, on platform 1, an Inzai-Makinohara going train 
  will be.  An eight-wagoned train it humbly is.  White line inside of
  honorable waiting please condescend to.

You think that's funny?  Wait till you hear Japanese advertising jingles.
In English, that is.

  Let's make ready it in your basket.  YAMAZAKI's Table Roll presents
  you with a kind consideration in the morning and afternoon, or the
  dinner at home.

One of the greater mysteries of Japan is the ubiquitous advertising
slogan in pseudo-English, found adorning every single product you can
think of (and quite a few that you can't).  While usually grammatically
correct, contentwise the sentences are often entirely incoherent.

  HALF-TIME: a delicious drink born from a blend of know-how acquired
  over many years and advanced production technology.

The obvious solution would be that the sentences are translated from
Japanese, but this is not the case: similar phrases are never
written in Japanese on the product, and they would sound equally
ridiculous if translated back.

  My Mother's Day.  We have supported for your gentle heart.

I suspect that the analysis of a friend of mine is correct: romaji are
used in advertising solely as a graphical element.  Most Japanese
cannot comprehend the meaning of the entire sentence, at best only
a few select popular words, but even if they don't understand a word
the important thing is that the romaji make it look cool and popular.
Ultra-trendy (read: expensive) packaging even tends to use French,
the more elaborately the better ("L'année de France au Japon d'EIDAN",
said a recent subway ad headline -- took me a couple of rounds through
the parser to get that one straight), even though practically no
Japanese people speak even a word of French.  Occasionally the French
is even spelled out in katakana, spotting "aarunuuvoo" on a Matsuzakaya
ad threw me the first time (hint: art nouveau).

  Let's Note! Let's Kiosk! Let's Together! Let's Wedding!

Of course, the words used in advertising Japanglish also tend to
differ.  The venerable "Let's" is as popular as ever, as the brief
listing above shows.  It is also good for a product to be "mild",
this magical adjective describing everything from curries to
milk chocolate.  Everything from toilet slippers to soft drinks is
designed to be "enjoyed" and they all aim "for your [adjective] life".

  Jacques Rouge -- enjoy proposal time for your comfortable life.

I rest my case.

And about product names then?  Well, that depends on the latest trend.
A few years ago, the trendy prefixes were "Oh!" and "Dyna-",
culminating in the inevitable "Oh! Dyna" candy.  "Oh! Chips" and
the Toyota Dyna still live on, but nowadays any chip worth its salt
ends in "-y."  Thus, you can now spray some Bolty in your hair,
deodorize your armpit with Nudy, drink some Blendy coffee in the morning
while reading your Classy magazine, and in the evening go to an izakaya
to swig some Drafty beer from its patented Steiny bottle.

However, one product shines above them all.  I'm not talking about Pocari
Sweat, Creap, Asse, Collon, or any of the old guard, this product is
new and it's hot.  Known to liquid prune yogurt connoisseurs worldwide,
the euphonious, downright onomatopoeic name of this revolutionary
concept is...  Prughurt.

Prughurt.  Savor the sound.  Prughurt.  Can you feel the chunks of prune
lolling about in sweet milky liquid?  Prughurt.  Suitable for tasty
omiyage, give the gift that keeps on giving and will even remind you
of its own name, long after consumption.  Prughurt.

Needless to say, such a nectar of the gods doesn't come cheap: a 1-liter
bottle of Prughurt will set you back no less than 650 yen.  So far, I
have managed to resist the carnal urge to chug back a liter of this
glorious stuff, but it remains to be seen how long I can hold out.

Today's Insane Price: 130g of raw beef for 15,000 JPY (5770 mk/kg),
spotted in the Ikebukuro Seibu (where else?).  Meatballs, anyone?


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