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Showing posts from October, 2014

The monument to dead insects at Kan'ei-ji

I'm suffering from a Calvinist guilt complex, which, I contend, is exponentially worse than a Jewish guilt complex or a Catholic guilt complex.
The cause of my religious angst is a heathen country called Japan. You see, I've been ranting a bit – about English as she is spoke and mosquitoes as they are feared on these fair safety isles – and I feel some penance is required. Or abject groveling. Or at least a post about …
Well, how about death and insects? That's cheerful enough, isn't it?, and if you think neither creepy-crawliesnor biting the dust, hopping the twig, counting worms and pushing up daisies can be cute, oh, you really don't know Japan very well, do you?
Saying bye-bye to bugs can be both charming and heart-warming.
Japanese insects don't just join the choir invisible or shuffle off the mortal coil or go gentle into that good night. Oh no. They go out in style, with their very own monument.

It's called the Mushizuka, and it was erected in 1821 to co…

Rant 2: The attack of the monster mosquitoes

I was going to turn this into another rant – I'm on a roll! – but decided to go for funpokery instead, i.e. let's apply a razor rather than necklacing, but can I use a blunt razor, please?
Please note that I'm not saying this has anything to do with the current dengue fever scare in Tokyo [x] [x]. The signs themselves remain coy and chastely mute. I would like to confirm, however, that it's the first time I've seen these signs during my shitamachi walks, and, as you well know, I resemble a certain Scotch whisky.See video below.
It's not quite as bad as the American media's panic about Ebola, but admittedly the latter is a slightly different kettle of fish Petri dish of virological taxons. Or taxa. Once a copy-editor, always a copy-editor.


This African – veteran observer and in some cases victim of malaria, AIDS, guns, South Africa's national sport, the Hôtel des Mille Collinesblack mambas, matatusminibus taxi driversMurtala Muhammed International…

Rant 1: Buy yourself a virgin

This is a rant. It's a rant about sex and the marketing of virginity. NB, female virginity. It’s mostly a rant about one of the stupidest ads I've seen in my life, and Amaterasu help me, I've seen many.
What's going on here? What's the unspoken – or should that be unpoked? – message?

You can have your very own virgin to love, but you have to buy her virginity with a diamond. Once you've proved your devotion, she'll garb herself in a white frock and marry you at Disneyland, whereupon you may break the shell of innocence. You'll be allowed, hallelujah, to penetrate, infiltrate and fertilize. Lovely scrambled eggs shall ensue.
Not sure what the feathers imply. Feather bed? Fox in hen house and flying feathers? Could be ugly virgin duckling to beautiful married swan, but I think it's supposed to be the other way around: beautiful virgin swan princess to marabou stork (NB reference to babies duly delivered).
You, the buyer, are of course male, and you …

When Engrish isn't Engrish but Rocklish

I almost made a fool of myself.

Not that that's anything new. I almost make a fool of myself at least 21 times per day, and at least 11 of my attempts succeed in eliminating the "almost". I can be remarkably efficient when I put my mind to it, despite hailing from the chaos that is the dark continent.
This time I almost became a victim of Engrish myself. That is, I ascribed a phrase to Engrish when, in fact, it exists in the real world, whatever your definition of that may be, but let's not get sidetracked into ontology and epistemology. Ornithology, however, might be appropriate.

Most of my Engrish adventures take place at my eikaiwa, since my university students are generally speaking more proficient.
Breathe/teach/observe life from the sidelines long enough, and you learn to assess a student within a few seconds. This particular young man walked in with artfully tousled hair, neatly trimmed eyebrows and a T-shirt that read "we sell you tits and glory".

How to reschedule a meeting with a corpse

Sometimes I try to explain to students that the Japanese way is neither the only way nor – heresy, blasphemy and high treason! – the best way, and some other times I simply go "aw fuggit" and make it work for me.
Earlier this week I was doing an eikaiwa lesson about making, rescheduling and cancelling appointments: pretty basic fare in any textbook. The book asks the students to list reasons why they would cancel or reschedule a business meeting. After a decade on these fair isles, this instruction fills me with depthless ennui and boundless cynicism. I've yet to encounter a student who can think of any reason except "train delay".
Quake? You walk. Family emergency? Irrelevant. The sun goes supernova? You ganbare.
My group consisted of a doctor, a sales manager and a university admin person. They're reasonably fluent, and I'm from Africa, and that's a combination that allows … well … somewhat unusual role-playing.

Thus we proceeded:
"I don'…

Meet Akiyama, the god of haemorrhoids

"Hello! Can I help you?" the Buddhist priest asked in flawless English.

"Err," I responded intelligently.
"Are you lost?" He sounded perplexed. A reasonable reaction, given that I was in the depths of one of the poorest areas in Taitō, where blue-eyed barbarians are a scarce commodity.
"Umm," I muttered at my brilliant best. How do you tell a priest that you're hunting haemorrhoids? That, as a matter of fact, you've come to meet the god of haemorrhoids?
Yes, gentle reader, of course there's a god of haemorrhoids!
Because Japan.

Where wôs I? How do you tell a priest that you're pursuing piles without sounding decidedly weird? Never mind the fact that he's the priest at the temple that's supposed to cure the affliction. There are certain things you just don't discuss with strangers, and I'd put any anal anecdotes pretty near the top of my list.
"Your English is very good," I continued wittily. He looked as di…