Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Losto in translationo (Part 1)

(Am onsite in Tokyo for some time..Here are some reflections from the first few days of being here. Typing this down from my PVC pipe sized Apt)

Even if I was twice as good as Sherlock Holmes himself who figured out the "Mystery of the Dancing figures" in a jiffy ; it is going to take me at least a decade in deciphering these weird little wiggly figures which they call "Japanese". Ok, I’m talking about the language here and not the people. Everyone seems to confuse the two. Like a friend who was asked "Did you try to pick up any Japanese?" He answered, "No way, I'm happily married” And added indignantly " btw neither did I try to pick up any Indians here!"

Well, it’s not just the humans; even the machines talk only Japanese here. The washing machine, the Microwave, TV, DVD Player, the Vending Machine and the recorded voice in the telephone line. A couple of times I managed to horrify people on my lack of manners by slamming shut the elevator doors on their noses coz I pushed the shut button instead of open. The squiggly figures for "Open" and "Shut" looked similar anyway.

Good news is you can make some Japanese words by adding an "u/o" sound after a familiar Engish word. Hence spoon becomes spoonu, glass is garassu, passport becomes passporto, and Bangalore becomes Bengalooru... (ok, the last one is not a particularly good example for Japanese translation)

Unfazed, I'm building my Japanese vocabulary here though some words are outright weird. For eg: can you imagine a language where you call your mom “Haha”? Just remember any sentimental Hindi movie scene and replace "Maa" with "Haha" then you might see the problem! You’ll be clutching your tummy and laughing! And for Dad? Its Chichi !!(ouch! Reminds me of yellow pants, multicolored shirt and awful David Dhawan movies) But I was somehow comforted by the word for 100,000 - it is something like "Jomon (Jumen)" and it sounded familiar enough to my mallu ears ;-)

The ubiquitous Indian techie is now in every city in the world and Tokyo is no exception. In the floor where I work, the Indians actually outnumber the Japanese 4 to 1. Even in the Serviced Apt Bldg where I stay, half the occupants are Indian techies. In fact in office the more serious language problem I face here is with Kannada rather than Japanese. The vegetarians amongst us have one mantra taught by those who came before them. Any place where it involves food say “ Sakana nashi, niku nashi” (no fish, no meat) even if you are ordering ice cream!! At the office cafeteria, now I find it difficult to order anything with fish or meat coz they automatically assume that a person with an Indian face can’t have any Sakana however much he begs and pleads for it.

People here work long. And long is an understatement. Some of them return from work only the next day. They even have a term “Karoshi” to describe death due to overwork. (Thank God we don’t have such problems in Kerala as any remote chances of these are countered using a local custom called "Hartals". Dunno the Japanese equivalent of that anyway. nobody seems to know :-)) And maybe because they do not know when they return from office , all seem to carry toothbrushes wherever they go. To the extent that, at 10:30 pm at night in an upscale lounge pub I saw a guy brushing his teeth!

People are generally helpful if you ask them for directions and will try their best with the limited English. Also it is a safe country with an extremely low crime rate. You see technology in action anywhere. The Electronic gadget supermarkets at Akihabara have shelves and shelves of ingenious gadgets. A USB vacuum cleaner for your Laptop? They have it. And quality is taken for granted so much that, even if you are buying an expensive gadget –say a laptop or camera – all you have to do is point at it and they just pack it. I hear that they get so insulted if you actually insist on testing something before buying that they may commit harakiri.

And then there are the local customs. Long ago when I was a kid I had taken a resolution that I wont bow to anyone’s pressure and would stand up to the right thing. But here I had to discard that resolution because bowing itself is the right thing!! The normal custom of bowing involves the pectoral muscles, and can be considered exercise equivalent to one-ab-crunch at the gym. So if you meet about 20 people a day, you will be reasonably fit. The hands posture taken while bowing is sometimes rather similar to that a defender takes while a free kick is being taken, but your head position should be like Zidane about to butt Materazzi.

People are friendly here but you should not over-estimate it. Like the time we were in a train, and at a station an old couple got in and sat on the opposite seat….They smiled and bowed deep. Touched by their friendliness towards such a ragtag group of Indians, I bowed too! They bowed again and I bowed even deeper. After the third bow, my friend nudged me and pointed to the platform behind me. There was another old couple bowing deep too. Unfortunately, they were bowing to the couple in the train and I just had been in the way!

I have gone back to my resolution of not bowing to anyone.

Check out this sample of Japanese TV fare -( not what the kids watch) and you may appreciate the Saas Bahu Serials a bit more . If you are in office better keep the volume low ;-)

(await more stories from here..this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Check out my latest post on my Tokyo life here


Kurur said...

Good one! I was reminded of the Japanese character (was his name Taro?) in the BBC series Mind Your Language. He used to end every uttered word with an "O". Japanese are quite sombre looking people. Ever seen any of them cracking a joke or laughing??

Sriravi said...

Konnichiwa....... ( a teeny lil boy in Mumbai airport taught me that when we were stranded for 3 days)

Had a good laugh. What is 'harakiri'? Just in case I am surprised by a samurai sword! Have plans to go to Japan sometime in the far future.

Jiby said...

superb man...good to see the flaash of old, back in style! i laughed so much and u taught me more in these few paras abt jap culture than lonely planet guides cud in a whole book! hope u wont take another few months to follow up this great post!

and i think i blogged it somewhere...at narita they kept calling me kattakama...thats as far as my brush with the japanese go... but after reading your blog wud love to visit sometime.

barbi said...

heh dat was a good post,

i am able to understand that japanese are smart enough to design great gadgets but install japanese voices in them? thanks my camera does not talk. i don want it to say "clicku"..

picking up - no comments!!!!

D said...

haha chichi

silverine said...

hehehehe am cracking up thinking of you bowing down rofl
Imagine a Hindi movie's emotion charged scene:

Ma: beta!!
Beta: haha!!

lol wokay enough of PJ's. Good one... and there are so many funny stuff in here that I can't wait to read the next instalment. Bring 'em on.

p.s I am trying to pick up Japanese but it is extremely difficult as there arent many six footers amongst them ;)

silverine said...

p.s as Jiby said, this post had better insights on the Japanese than Lonely Planet or those cliched travelogues!!

flaashgordon said...

@Sandeep: :-)) Hehe i remember Taro in Mind ur Language..Was too funny. Usually they are sombre but they have comedy shows etc which only they understand. Check the Youtube link at the end of the post

@ Sriravi: Konnichiwa to u too. Harakiri is ritual suicide with a sword if ur honour is hurt..let me know if u r here in japan

@kattakama: hehe , now thats one real japanese name !!So on ur way back from LA next time , u take this route ...we can catch up over a bottle of saki. thanx for ur compliments

flaashgordon said...

@ barbi: the voices in the train, in the lift, vending machines, phone recharge machines all speak japanese here !

@silverine: good pj lol. Yes there are a lot of things yet to write about such as food, places, attractions and so on ;-) ..So stay tuned..ps: will Lonely Planet pay those who contribute

sriravi said...

Umm.....I was dangerously close in guessing harakiri. Never been to Japan but close to it. I'm in Western Canada-if you can call that close enough.
(...that reminds,
American boasting: We have discovered the core of the earth.
Indian: Really?
A: Not exactly.… almost close to it.
A continues: We have reached the sun.
I: Really?
A…. almost close to it.
Indian: I eat with my nose....
Not exactly….almost close to it!)

shivaranjan said...

hey flassh...nice one as usual.. always read your blogs when need a break badly.. w8ing for your next post.. :) ..

mathew said...

flaash..it was worth the wait..loved it..

seems like japanese is quite similar to kannada..

and heard a story somewhere that Japanese(i couldnt help it) strike by working more than their usual hours..

but sure they are a people to be admired for what they have achieved..!!!

that near-the-train sequence was too good!!!

day-dreamer said...

ha ha ha... you made my day again!

been too long since your last post man!!... but now that you're back, in p.g. wodehouse's words "God is in his heaven and everything is alright with the world"

was checking out your japanese videos on you tube and the "japanese cowboy" had me in splits!!.

Sunny said...

Flaash....Konnichiwa!....Hope u are doing well!....I still remember the Japanese numbers from my karate classes!

Nice post, as alwayz!.....U really could give the Lonely Planet guyz (or babes, to be politically correct!) a run for their money!...Waiting to read more!

Take care....Konbanwa from my part of the world!

Geo said...

flash back in action ;)

Nice one as usual...

better remember that you are "happily married" now before u disclose too much on the blog ;)

they automatically assume that a person with an Indian face can’t have any Sakana however much he begs and pleads for it.

agree to that... same in US of A as well... :)

naveen said...

Hey...Nice Post. And the video of tht TV show...It made me realise the Importance of "Sthree" and "Kyonki saas Bhi..."

flaashgordon said...

@sriravi: hehe i remember that one :-)

@ Mathew: thanx man !up u really have to admire them. Compare with any asian country and u know wot i mean..Actually he long workin hrs are attributed to the rebuilding of their country which they undertook aftr the ww2

@daydreamer: Thnk u !! U flatter m e !!deep bow - hehe havent given it up completely

@Shivranjan: thanks pal !!

@ Sunny: SO u know Karate eh? I know more Japanese words ;-)

@geo : Maashe, happily married will be applied to u too soon..Letz see how u blog then :-) Yeah man, too many veggie software engineers around - So Sakana nichi if u are indian

@ naveen: Hehe... was wondering how they would handle ksbkbt or sthree if they telecast it there :-))

junoesque said...

really enjoyed this one...brought back memories of tokyo..

the PVC pipe sized rooms, the vending machines, the machines that talk in jap..the lack of veggie grub..all too familar !!

wrote a faction piece ...from the perspective of a colourful but mythical character who exists on a writers community that i am part of.
but its interwoven with my tokyo experiences and pix till i can get round to wirting my actual travelogue...

do keep posting...

Twilight Fairy said...

Ohio Gozaimas! (sung in the typical japanese salesgirl pitch)

This got back so many memories of my 2 mth onsite trip in Tokyo 4 years back.. gosh it's been LONG! but the experiences seem the same. I wrote a couple of posts too.. esp on the toilets and my experiences in Roppongi (do visit it - pretty cosmo). Which company are you working for?

The japanese are such a crazy lot, I seriously miss that place :).

adzaqua said...

haha...that was very interesting! Living in Japan for 4 years has actually kinda made me oblivious to the funniness in words like haha and chichi!
And yes...I totally relate with being a carnivore while the rest of the Indians are vegetarians! I very embarrassingly have to confess everytime that I am a bad Indian who eats anything that is served...(well almost!)

flaashgordon said...

@junoesque:was the really interesting the seeing travelogue from the eyes of Yamashita-san....:-)) The travelogue was unlike anything ive ever read

@twilight fairy: ohio gozaimashita ma'am !Went to ur blog and found the first 2 of ur posts ..Was great reading it as i could relate to everything ..much of it was similar to what i'd kept for writing in my next post... but couldnt find the ones u've mentioned on roppongi etc- could u send the link at flaashgordon@gmail.com?

@adzaqua: So u r in Japan too eh? Japanese language expert i presume

Mishmash ! said...

Hi Flaash! Had a good laugh reading ur experience in the elevator (I know it wasn't all that funny for u ;) and that train incident, I guess u should take copyright before some advertisement agency brings out a funny ad of that :))) Waiting for more of ur Japanese anecdotes .


Pranav said...

dont you just love this city?

flaashgordon said...

@ mishmash..thanx !!yeah sounds a good idea for an HSBC ad mebbe

@ pranav: yeah man !! loving it here ..every weekend , exploring the city

Nariyal Chutney said...

LOL . This Post should be renamed as "Travails of an Indian Techie in Sushi Land" . Hilarious :)