The Joys of Japanese English (AKA Engrish)

you know…

the door of your heart silently closed…

I, looking at you without a breezing sound…

you know…

my endless wait desiring the door of your heart

would open…

Have I decided to start publishing my poetry on this blog? Nope, not quite. I just thought I’d write a post in honor of Japanese English, or Engrish.

The poem above, which I actually really, really love, came from the front of a photo album I purchased in Japan.

English takes on a life of its own in Japan (and of course this phenomenon is not limited to Japan, but this is where the majority of my experience lies, so I’m sticking to Japanese English for this post). If you’ve never seen it, I’d highly recommend checking out the Engrish.com website for a comprehensive guide to worldwide Engrish.

Before writing too much more, I want to say that my appreciation of Japanese English is not meant to be derogatory or mean-spirited—I genuinely appreciate some of the unexpected humor and beauty that arises when people write in a language that is not their own.

I wanted to share a few examples of Japanese English that I’ve collected throughout the years.

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The text on the packaging reads: “Try our ‘Naive Lady’ toilet tissue soft and of good quality. Choosing recycled paper is the first step to keep the earth full of greens for your own children.”

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“Please defend following when you make the dog stroll in Yoyogi-koen.

  1. Dog owners – for the consideration of others, please ensure that your dog is on a lead while inside the park grounds.
  2. It bears it in mind sanitary in the park ..use… Moreover, please take home to home without throwing it away to the rest room and the garbage box in the park and dispose of Fn.
  3. The park is a public domain place that everyone can use. Let’s bear it in mind so that the use manners are defended, and the trouble should not hang to the other.
  4. Please follow the instruction of the park ranger etc. in the park.”

I believe that Japanese English falls into a few distinct categories, and this is a great example of text that was probably just put into Google translate (or something similar). I love the redundancies “please take home to home” and unusual turns of phrase such as “trouble should not hang to the other.”

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Is it just me, or is there something really funny about an automatic toilet flushing system named “BT-Crab”?

IMG_4066I remember speaking with a fellow English teacher during my first year in Japan and he was wondering if there had been one Japanese/English dictionary that had some bad translations in it, which had then doomed the entire population to make the same mistakes.

One example is the widespread use of the term “woody” where “woodsy” would be more appropriate.

IMG_4075Stay away from the Bigot-mobile!

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“Emargency Exit

If anything should occur, 

please destroy the cover doornob and open the door.”

That seems like an awfully severe reaction to anything that should occur! I also wonder how you can open the door after you’ve destroyed the doorknob.

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Hmm… for some reason I don’t think I want to pay someone to perform any service provided by a company called “Coopoo”…

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First, I have to say that I love the fact that there’s a car called a “Rasheen.”

I’ll end this post with the smaller text on Rasheen’s tire cover:

Listen to the murmuring of a stream.

Run after wild birds. Rest in the bosom of the woods.

Indeed.

 

 

The San Francisco J-Pop Summit 2015

When I first heard of the J-Pop Summit, I wasn’t sure if it would be my thing. I’ve never really gotten into the J-Pop genre of music (for whatever reason I find K-Pop to be much more enjoyable—maybe because it’s so similar to American pop).

But it turns out that the J-Pop Summit was about much more than just music. This weekend-long event (which took place August 8 and 9 in San Francisco) celebrated several aspects of Japanese pop culture, including food, fashion, and anime.

The events took place at two main locations: Fort Mason and Union Square. Fort Mason featured a half a dozen food trucks and a large hall with musicians, dance performances, and booths promoting various aspects of Japanese culture.

The main draw at Union Square was a sake tasting area. (Fun fact: In Japanese, “sake” is a general term that means “alcohol.” The specific type of alcohol that we call “sake” in English is actually called “nihonshu” in Japanese.) There were also a handful of vendors selling food and a few vendors whose food and drinks featured matcha (green tea powder).

Here are a few of the highlights from my visit to the Fort Mason event. Many thanks to the talented Eva Vargas for the photos!hello kitty cafe foodtruck

When we arrived at Fort Mason on Saturday afternoon, I was thrilled to see the Hello Kitty Café. This adorable pink food truck sells donuts, cakes, macarons, and other confections that are adorned with Hello Kitty-inspired decorations.

I had tried to visit the Hello Kitty Café when they were stationed at a festival in Japantown a few months ago, but after seeing how many people were waiting in line, I decided to skip it. Luckily the line was short at the J-Pop Summit, so we got our treats right away!

hello kitty donutsA close-up of the Hello Kitty donuts. So kawaii!! 

One of the parts I was really looking forward to was the recreated ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) where we could watch videos about different regions in Japan. It turned out to be a not-so-subtle commercial for each of the ryokan, so it was a little disappointing in that respect.

But they did have yukata (light cotton kimono) that we got to put on—they even had several staff members on hand to make sure we were wearing them properly. Wearing a yukata and going to a matsuri (festival) is a typical summertime activity in Japan, so it was fun to get to experience that here in San Francisco!

eva and melissa in yukata

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We also had the opportunity to meet two Japanese pop stars, Yana and Kiku, whose celebrity was unfortunately a little lost on us. They were really cute, though!

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Wandering around the large hall in Fort Mason was a bit disorienting. There were all sorts of unusual sights and sounds, like this giant head, a woman in a bathtub with a lot of cash, and various people doing cosplay.

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It was a colorful, fun way to spend the day, and I look forward to attending again next year!

Essential Social Media Resources

Here are some super useful resources for learning how to use social media effectively.

Facts & Figures

Tips & Tricks

Useful Tools

  • Storify (for compiling social media from different sources on a common topic)
  • Bitly (for shortening links and tracking clicks)
  • Hootsuite or Buffer (for scheduling posts and monitoring social media activity)

Have any other resources you’d like to add to the list? Feel free to drop me a line in the comments section to let me know!

Content Marketing World vs. HubSpot’s Inbound: A Content Marketer’s Dilemma

I recently found myself embroiled in a HUGE content marketer’s dilemma: Should I go to Content Marketing World or HubSpot’s Inbound conference?

Both events will take place over September 8–11, 2015, and both have an impressive lineup of speakers, presenters, and fun events.

When I realized that both events would take place over the same few days, I decided to put it out there in the Twittersphere to see if anyone else could help me make my decision.

cmworld or inbound tweet

As I expected, the folks at HubSpot responded almost immediately. (They tend to know what they’re doing on social media.)

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I have to admit that they tempted me with the offer of both Amy Schumer and the cake.

But of course the folks at CMI didn’t leave me hanging, either.

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Also, note the fact that the folks at HubSpot favorited this tweet. Very sweet of them!

In a very tiny nutshell, this is how I distinguished between the two events:

Content Marketing World

Inbound

  • Held in Boston
  • I’ve never been, so I don’t know exactly what to expect (both a plus and minus)
  • Not just content focused, and in fact not even just marketing focused—includes sessions on sales, design, and other topics
  • Some sessions are very HubSpot focused, and I was not using HubSpot at the time
  • Seems to be a really fun, cool event (yes, I totally bought into their marketing materials)

Ultimately, I decided to attend Content Marketing World, even though no one promised me cake if I decided to do so. However, just a few days ago, look what showed up in my Twitter feed:

joe pulizzi

So that confirms it—I must’ve chosen well… right?

Have you attended Content Marketing World and/or Inbound? How would you characterize each one? If you had to choose only one to attend, which one would you choose?

And finally, what’s your favorite flavor of cake? I’m partial to funfetti myself.

Planning Your Visit to Tokyo by Season

One big factor to consider when planning a trip to Tokyo is the time of year when you’ll be visiting.

It’s not just the weather that changes—there are specific activities and even particular types of food that you can only find in different seasons.

Here is just a very brief overview of Tokyo by season.

Tokyo is at its best in spring (March–May) and autumn (late September–early November).

Summer can be oppressively hot and humid, and winter can be bitterly cold and unpleasant to spend much time outside.

Rainy season (known as tsuyu in Japanese) falls between June and July, and is wet and humid. I would recommend avoiding a visit during this time if you can help it. Why do I say this? Well, there are times where the humidity hangs in the air and you think you can’t bear it anymore, and then, finally, it rains, which is a momentary relief. Unfortunately, it’s a hot rain, which means that it’s very difficult to wear a raincoat without sweating profusely underneath it. And it’s not the hot, tropical rain of a place like Hawaii. This rain leaves everything damp and primed to grow mold—in other words, not too pleasant.

I’m staying true to the Japanese calendar and starting  my little tour with the spring. (Quick cultural note: Even though the Japanese follow the Western calendar and celebrate the New Year on December 31st/January 1st, springtime is often considered the true beginning of the year. The new school year begins in spring and office employees start their new jobs at this time of year as well.) If you’re visiting during the spring (March to April), you’ll definitely want to check out cherry blossoms.

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A few of my favorite cherry blossom spots in Tokyo include:

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  • Shinjuku-gyoen (this is especially good for the double cherry blossoms that bloom a little later)
  • Aoyama-bochi (it feels a little strange to get all tipsy and merry in a graveyard, but because cherry blossoms have such a short lifespan, there’s already something very bittersweet about them anyway)

If your visit is during the summer (July–September), you may be able to catch one of the incredible hanabi taikai (fireworks displays). I have wonderful memories of both the Sumidagawa festival and the Edogawa festival.

Going to see fireworks in Japan is a whole event—women dress up in yukata (light summer kimono), often in vibrant colors and summery patterns. Men often wear hakama, or “man kimono” as I like to call them. There’s a Japanese word, shibui, which can be translated as “sober” or “refined,” and I think this perfectly encapsulates the essence of a man wearing a hakama. 

Vendors set up stalls selling yakitori, corn on the cob, cold beer and chu-hi, and other street fare.

If you’re going to one of the big fireworks displays, prepare to get swept up into a crowd of thousands of people. It can be seriously insane and impossible to find your friends since phone networks are often spotty with so many people concentrated in one area. But it’s all worth it once you find a place to perch and watch the elaborate production.

I’ve never done this, but I remember reading that you could see fireflies in the garden at Chinzanso Hotel.

If you’re visiting Tokyo in the autumn, you may need to head a little out of town in order to enjoy koyo or autumn foliage. You can take a day trip to Kamakura, Hakone, or Nikko to visit the temples and shrines and get a little closer to nature.

Within the city, you can visit Ueno Park, Meiji Jingu and Senso-ji in Asakusa.

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I also love visiting Hamarikyu Detached Gardens in late summer/early autumn when the field of cosmos flowers is in bloom.

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Although I don’t care for the bitter cold of the winter, I LOVE the nighttime “light-ups,” where different parts of town like Omotesando, Roppongi Hills, and Tokyo Midtown are adorned with sparkly lights to help beat the winter blahs. These usually run from November to February-ish.

And there you have it—a quick guide to Tokyo by season. What time of year would you most like to visit?

One of My Favorite Tokyo Neighborhoods: Nakameguro

When you think of Tokyo, it’s easy to imagine the neon lights, the skyscrapers, and the insanely busy intersections of areas like Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara.

But like any massive metropolis, Tokyo is much more than its busy downtown-like districts. One of my favorite Tokyo neighborhoods is Nakameguro. It’s a hub of hip aesthetics with many architecture and design studios as well as boutiques and cafés that exude an aura of understated chic.

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The lazy stream of the Meguro canal sets the perfect pace for a stroll and provides an excellent landmark since it runs parallel to the main street.

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And you wouldn’t know it unless you timed your visit perfectly to coincide with the two weeks a year when sakura or cherry blossoms are in bloom, but the trees that line both sides of the canal transform the entire neighborhood into a party and bring droves of visitors from all over the city.

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I was lucky to work in this neighborhood for nearly two years, so I had time to observe it quietly, to stroll along the canal and briefly peek into the shops on my lunch break, as well as to visit when the cherry blossoms unfurled and spring fever hit in a big way.

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The streets on both sides of the canal transform into a carnival as businesses set up stalls selling cold beer, hot amazake, delightfully chewy sakura mochi, and other festival favorites. And it’s nearly impossible to walk since the streets and sidewalks are packed with thousands of revelers who have come to eat, drink, and admire the cherry blossoms.

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At nighttime, lanterns and lights illuminate the area, which means the revelry doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down.

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I love this contrast of regular, everyday life, and the excitement and frenzy that come with the springtime and the cherry blossoms.

Getting to Nakameguro is easy! You can take the Hibiya line on the subway or the Tokyu line from Shibuya. You can also take the JR Yamanote line to Ebisu station and walk to Nakameguro in about 15 minutes.

A few cool places to check out: 

Have any stories you’d like to share or favorite spots in Nakameguro? Feel free to drop me a line in the comments section and let me know!

How Easy Is It to Get Around Tokyo If You Don’t Speak Japanese?

Planning a visit to Tokyo? Lucky you! It’s one of the most exciting, bustling, non-stop cities I’ve had the pleasure of living in. It’s also astounding that for such a large city (about 12 million people in Tokyo proper), it’s so easy to navigate, clean, and super safe.

People often wonder about what it will be like to get around Tokyo if you don’t speak Japanese. In some ways, it can be a challenge. I mean, have you SEEN the Tokyo subway map?

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But seriously, the public transportation system is great (once you get used to it).

I highly recommend using a site like Jorudan to help you plan your routes. There are often multiple ways to get from point A to point B, but not all routes are created equal. Some stations are HUGE and you’d be much better off taking the train another stop or two and transferring at a smaller station instead.

Most stations have signs in English, and many of the major lines also provide verbal and visual announcements in English, too.

The only slight problem you might encounter is that sometimes the station maps are only in Japanese. (Especially at smaller stations on non-major lines.) This can make it a challenge if you don’t know the kanji (Chinese characters) for the station you’re trying to get to. Luckily you can usually find small paper maps that have the station names in English. Once you find one of those, I highly recommend treating it like a prized possession and guarding it with your life!

Another issue that I encountered in my early days in Tokyo was wrapping my head around all the different transportation lines. In addition to the Tokyo Metro (subway) and the JR lines, there are private lines like the Tokyu line, Odakyu line, and the Keio line (to name just a few!).

The good news is that if you’re staying in a central neighborhood and visiting well-known tourist destinations, you probably won’t need to worry about this too much. And if you get a Suica or Pasmo card, you can just load it with money and go between most of the lines without buying a separate ticket.

I’ve talked a lot about transportation so far, but what if you’re walking around and trying to find a particular restaurant, shop, or museum?

In my experience, this is one of the most challenging aspects of finding your way around Tokyo. Written addresses are really not that helpful, mainly because most streets don’t have names and the numbers don’t follow a sequential pattern. So you might see building 2 next to building 101 next to building 58—all on a street with no name!

Why is everything so confusing? My favorite theory is that this is done intentionally.

Japan is a notoriously crowded country, and people’s personal space is constantly invaded on the train, in elevators, and in public. So people find whatever ways they can to create solace and privacy.

This is why, for example, many people conceal whatever book they’re reading with a paper cover, place reflective stickers over their cell phone screens, and use the “otohime” (sound princess) feature in public toilets (I’ll definitely need to come back to that in a future post!).

Basically, the only way you can find a Japanese residence is if someone escorts you there. Many businesses have detailed maps which they’ll send to customers once they make an appointment.

One of my first memories of Tokyo was when I was attempting to find the Cyberdog store in Harajuku (which has since closed). I wandered around those back streets in Harajuku for hours trying to find the store. I had the address, which I’d show to anyone I could find, and none of the other shoppers had any idea where it was. Finally, one of the shop assistants at another store called them for me and was able to point me most of the way there. When I finally found the store, it was SUCH an accomplishment!

I learned that the best way to find things in Tokyo is to just wander around and make spontaneous discoveries (rather than to try to find specific places).

When I left Japan in 2011, Google Maps was not really prevalent (or comprehensive) but in the years since then, it’s become much more common. This means that the days of wandering around forever and relying on detailed maps from your host may be coming to a close.

I hope that you won’t rely exclusively on Google maps, though. Let yourself wander around a bit and get lost. You never know what you’ll discover.

So will you be able to get around Tokyo if you don’t speak Japanese? Yes. And you will most likely find much more than you ever imagined.

Nitobe Memorial Japanese Garden in Vancouver, BC

I LOVE Japanese gardens. Even before the time that I spent living in Kyoto and Tokyo, I admired the beauty and serenity of the Japanese gardens I visited in San Francisco, Portland, and wherever else I happened to find one.

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The last time I visited Nitobe Memorial Garden   in Vancouver was many moons ago, before I had lived in Japan. I remember thinking it was beautiful, but not really knowing much about what made a Japanese garden authentic or significant.

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On this visit, one thing that really stood out to me was that at eye level, everything looked very Japanese. The plants, flowers, and moss all seemed like things I had seen in Japan.

However, if I happened to look up, I realized that I was definitely not in Japan, since the large pine trees that were towering above us were unlike anything I’d seen in Japan. You can get a sense of that in the photo below.IMAG5966

As my friend and I wandered around, we encountered a Canadian woman, who we asked to take a photo of us. She mentioned that she had lived in Kyoto and always visited this garden when she wanted to be transported back.

I told her I completely understood how she felt because I had ALSO lived in Kyoto and ALSO love to visit the Japanese garden in San Francisco whenever I’m feeling homesick for Japan.

There’s a Japanese word, natsukashii, which basically translates to “nostalgia,” but it also evokes this feeling of intense longing, of wanting to revel in the bittersweet memories of the past. Walking around a Japanese garden with an old friend from Japan in Canada definitely made me feel natsukashii.

Next time I visit a Japanese garden, I wonder how many other visitors will be experiencing that longing along with me.

A Few Thoughts on Amy Poehler’s Yes Please

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I’m not a die-hard Parks & Rec fan (though that may be changing now). I didn’t really know anything about her performances on SNL or with Upright Citizens Brigade. I’ve never seen Baby Mama or watched the Golden Globes award ceremony. But despite my general lack of exposure to Amy Poehler, I’m so glad that I read her book, Yes Please (2014, HarperCollins).

Some sections didn’t make a ton of sense to me because I have only seen a handful of episodes of Parks & Rec, but overall she has some important, funny, and well-written things to say about motherhood, marriage and divorce, Hollywood, relationships, and life in general.

I love how Yes Please alternates between hilarious and heartfelt—maybe that’s due to Poehler’s own belief that going from laughing to crying to laughing helps extend your life. There were so many parts where I found myself smiling, nodding along in agreement, or swelling with admiration for Poehler and her relationship with both her work and her colleagues.

One of my favorite chapters, entitled “Plain Girl vs. The Demon,” covers the thorny issue of self-confidence, especially how it relates to appearance. She starts by introducing this concept of the voice you hear that tells you negative things about yourself: “This voice that talks badly to you is a demon voice. This very patient and determined demon shows up in your bedroom one day and refuses to leave.”

She explains how this demon voice has crept into and out of her life at various stages, and how one of her best methods for dealing with it is through improv and acting, and another technique she recommends is standing up for yourself and talking back to the demon: “Other times, I take a more direct approach. When the demon starts to slither my way and say bad shit about me I turn around and say, ‘Hey. Cool it. Amy is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.’ Sticking up for ourselves is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works. Even demons gotta sleep.”

I love this chapter because it feels so authentic to me. Us regular people spend a lot of time scrutinizing ourselves for our various “flaws,” but it made me realize how that pressure is so much greater on the women who are in the public eye.  It’s so helpful to reframe that self-criticism as an evil force to be ignored and try to build up the part of you that is a friend.

Another chapter that really stood out to me was “Time Travel,” where Poehler shares her thoughts on this concept (which is not so much about time travel as it is about being present in every moment): “You can control time. You can stop it or stretch it or loop it around. You can travel back and forth by living in the moment and paying attention. Time can be your bitch if you just let go of the ‘next’ and the before.’

And I especially appreciated this part because it certainly resonates with some of my own experience: “People help you time-travel. People work around you and next to you and the universe waits for the perfect time to whisper in your ear, ‘Look this way.’ There is someone in your life right now who may end up being your enemy, your wife, or your boss. Lift up your head and you may notice.”

You might think that a book by a famous comedienne would be full of jokes and witty one-liners, and Yes Please certainly is, but these brief poignant moments throughout the book are like little buried treasures.

And I barely held it together on the train when I read through the list of rejected names for Leslie Knope’s character on Parks & Rec. So if you’re looking for comedy, don’t worry—you won’t have to search too hard.

To Amy Poehler and Yes Please, I say Thank You Very Much.

Copy Crush: Cards Against Humanity

CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY

Let’s get something out of the way: when something bills itself as “a party game for horrible people,” you know it’s going to appeal to the wicked part of you. There will also be some NSFW language contained within this post, FYI.

If you’re not familiar with Cards Against Humanity, here’s a quick summary: You have a pile of black cards that work as prompts (e.g. “War. What is it good for?” or “What did Vin Diesel eat for dinner?”) and a pile of white cards that are responses to those prompts (e.g. “Passive-aggressive Post-it notes” or “Vigorous jazz hands”).

One player draws a prompt card and reads it out loud, while the rest of the players choose response cards and submit them anonymously. The player who drew the prompt reads off all the responses and chooses a favorite. Hilarity ensues.

If you’ve ever played the game, you know that the prompts and responses on the cards themselves range from benign to awkward to downright despicable. But I recently purchased the game for myself and the entire experience was so enjoyable (and the copy so consistently irreverent and hilarious) that I wanted to take a moment to celebrate Cards Against Humanity as my latest copy crush.

When you first click on the “Buy now for $25” button, you get taken to the store, where a little pop-up window at the top says “Our drones tell us that you live in the United States. Are we wrong?” Suddenly geographic targeting seems slightly more entertaining than ever before!

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The bullet points for each of the items on offer combine factual, useful information with random humorous tidbits, like “0% of proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation” (a great way to ensure people keep scrolling to find out what silly thing they’ll find next).

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But for a company that seems to appeal to the deepest, darkest parts of us, Cards Against Humanity also appears to have a conscience (or at least believe the people buying it will), because the proceeds from holiday expansion packs really do go to a good cause (The Wikimedia Foundation and DonorsChoose.org). A few days after I made my purchase, I received a nice email from a teacher at a nearby elementary school (see, those drones who identified my exact geographic location are good for something!).

When I finished my purchase, a button appeared at the bottom of the screen that read “Go outside.” Of course I had to click on it to see what happened. It brought up Google Maps and showed me all the parks in the area. (Again with those drones!)

The fun and games don’t end as soon as you pay, either. My confirmation email began: “Dearest customer, Thank you for spending your money all over our website.” It hits all the high notes—poking fun at the bland, automated emails we’re inundated with; describing the nature of our transaction with deadpan delivery; conveying sincerity AND somehow mocking it at the same time.

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But my favorite line of all: “You can reply to this email if you have any questions.” Say what??? I can actually respond to this email and a human will answer it.  Somehow this just seems pretty darn humane, doesn’t it?

And keeping in line with that same irreverent yet genuine voice, the letter that came in my package read: “Dear consumer, Thank you for buying Cards Against Humanity bullshit from our store. We’ve worked hard to keep Cards Against Humanity independent so that no publishers, distributors, or viceroys of the British empire can tell us what we can or can’t do with our game. We really like having a one-on-one relationship with our customers, and we hope we didn’t fuck it up. If we did fuck it up, please let us know.” And a bit further down the page: “The Cards Against Humanity store is new, and we’re still working out the bugs. Some customers report having received a burlap sack of broken Soviet appliances instead of their order. If this happens to you, please let us know.”

What a perfect way to complete the transaction and make me feel good about my purchase. Not only do I feel relieved that my money is in no way supporting viceroys of the British empire, but I know that if there had been a problem with my order, someone would be around to help me sort it out (and they would probably have a pretty good sense of humor about it as well).

So to my latest copy crush, Cards Against Humanity, I say: Well played, my friends. Well played.