Sunday, December 13, 2009

Which do you prefer?

Last night, we went to see Johnny Depp woo Marion Cotillard in Public Enemies. At the theater, we found out that even though Depp may be the most attractive American movie star of his generation, he's no match for Monkey D. Luffy.

The new One Piece movie opened the same day as Depp's movie. At the Ibaraki Warner-Mycal multiplex, all tickets to the weekend's One Piece showings were sold out. We were there on Saturday night -- so it meant that all the showings for the next day had been gobbled up. Some people in front of us wanted to see it and ended up buying tickets for next Friday's show. What the?!

This is not a new development, according to the Japan Times' Mark Schilling. Japanese films have become dominant again in their home market. One advantage they enjoy is they can be cross-promoted via different media. One Piece is a manga and an anime. I'm sure there are card games and video games. And its appeal isn't just limited to teens; the people going to the last show on Saturday were in their 20s and 30s. The people in front of us who bought tickets for next week were our age.

And what about the hot hot Depp?* He was fine. The film is a bit boring but shows off its lead actor to maximum effect. Dillinger is given a very romantic treatment in the film -- he's a man of honor, a straight talker, a formidable criminal, a silver tongue and he's faithful to his friends and his woman.

Plus, the FBI agents act like a bunch of criminals.


* I think the funniest quote from the article is the last one -- he hasn't even seen the finished film yet. Didn't it come out in the States during the summer?


An update on the monster debut of One Piece.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Looks Strange, Tastes Good

It's been getting chilly here, so we've been eating lots of hot pot dinners. For the past two nights, we've had hot pot with chicken meatballs, oysters and the special fish of the night. Last night, we had:

This kissing fish is called kawahagi (かわはぎ) in Japanese. It's a kind of filefish. Not bad, but we weren't blown away. The meat of the fish is kinda flaky.

Tonight, we tried:

This beauty is called kajika (かじか). Its English code-name is the sculpin. It reminds me of a smaller version of the monkfish. You may not want to kiss it but it sure was tasty. The fins have a gelatinous texture that was especially yummy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coming Soon!

You can see lots of American films in Japan, especially if you live in a big city such as Osaka. But often, films get released a few months later here. For example, I get to see the following in the next few weeks:

Up opens this weekend

Public Enemies arrives a week after

Where the Wild Things Are comes in January

So what makes James Cameron so special?

Avatar will open here around Christmas,
nearly the same time as in the U.S.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Is it safe?

Max: I should go to bed. I have to wake wake up early to get to the airport by eight tomorrow morning.
Naomi: Don't worry, Max. I'll drive you.
Emi: Uh-oh.
Max: Uh-oh?!
Naomi: Don't listen to her, Max. I am a safety driver.
Max: Okay...but I hope you are a safe driver.

Lots of Japanese people say they're safety drivers. I am sure they are but actually, they mean they are safe drivers. Drivers is a noun so you need an adjective -- safe.

When can you use safety? Well, this familiar sign uses "safety":

Can you translate it? Right, it says "Safety first."

Of course, I always think in terms of movies. Here is the scariest use of the word "safe" you will ever hear. "Is it safe?" You tell me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Who Had a Better Year?

Let's see.

This guy delivered the game-winning hit in the championship game of the WBC. Then he broke an MLB record by collecting at least 200 hits for the ninth consecutive season.

And this guy came back from an injury-shortened season in 2008 to hit 28 homeruns this year. On Wednesday night, he helped the Yankees win their 27th championship by driving in six runs.
Yup, that's a record for a World Series game. So of course he became the World Series MVP.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

English Lesson "Pick Up vs. Pick Out"

"Pick up" has many uses:

My friend's son picked me up at the airport.

Harvey Milk picked up Scott Smith in the subway
in the beginning of "Milk."

Oh, no! The baby made a mess.
Can you pick up the clothes on the floor?

Please pick up some milk on your way home.

• • •

But be careful! "Pick up" doesn't work here:

Ken: Can you help me?
Naomi: What's the matter?
Ken: I can't decide. Help me pick up a tie.
Naomi: ???
Ken: Which tie should I wear?
Naomi: Oh...pick out a tie! That one.

"Pick out" = choose

Friday, October 30, 2009

A win without a win

poor Joe

What is the right choice?

Your "Philosophy Question of the Day" is sponsored by The World Series.

The Yankees won Game 2 just a few hours ago, 3-1. So I guess Yankee manager Joe Girardi should have a good sleep tonight before leaving for Philadelphia.

Not so fast. For Game 2, Girardi used a line-up with two weaker hitters (Jose Molina and Jerry Hairston, Jr.) in place of two very good hitters (Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher). Why? He used Molina instead of Posada at catcher because the starting pitcher seems to pitch better to Molina than to Posada. And Girardi decided to bench Swisher because he has been terrible in the post season.

Baseball fans who carefully study the numbers didn't think these decision make sense. My favorite line is:

If it works, that doesn't make it the right move.

Wait a minute. If it works, then it is right. Right? Or does the philosophically correct choice matter more than the result? Are we counting strategically-sensible wins over real wins?

I can understand making an argument against Joe's decision. But how can you say he didn't make the right move when he got the result he wanted? Girardi's job is to win games. And his decision helped to win the game -- Molina picked off a runner and Hairston got a hit that led to a run. Cut Joe a break. Give him a pat on the back and let's resume in Philly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

English Lesson: Tastes Great! Less Filling!!

Max: How is your ice cream?
Naomi: It has good taste.
I love green tea ice cream. Wanna try it?
Max: Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer chocolate.
Naomi: You only like chocolate?
Max: Yup. By the way, you should say, "It tastes good."
Naomi: Why?

It is a matter of style. Americans most often use "taste" as a verb when we talk about food:
Your spaghetti sauce tastes great!
This bread tastes stale.

I don't like tofu because it tastes bland.

We do this with the other four senses:
You look great in your new jacket!
The popcorn
smells so good.
My voice
sounded raspy after five hours of karaoke.
feel so tired every day after work.

How about "good taste"?

One situation where people do say "good taste" is when someone agrees with your choice in something -- fashion, movies, cuisine -- and that choice shows you have an appreciation for sophisticated things. Of course, it also means you have have "bad taste."

For example --

Hugh Jackman has good taste when it comes to picking suits. Of course, when you look like Jackman, just about anything you wear is going to look good. (I don't know about that pose, though. Where was this picture taken? Japan?)

Cher, on the other hand, had bad taste the year she decided to pick this dress. But of course, if she hadn't dressed like that, we would have had nothing to talk about when watching the Academy Awards.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

English Lesson: comparatives

Most students have no trouble making a sentence such as this one:

My dog is bigger than your dog.

But then, they make mistakes with sentences such as this one:

At McDonald's, US sizes are much bigger than Japan.

Huh? What are you comparing? In the first sentence, you are comparing your dog with my dog. In the second sentence, you are comparing US sizes with Japanese sizes. So, you need to use "Japanese sizes" at the end of the sentence. Or you can do this:

At McDonald's, US sizes are bigger than Japanese ones.


Do you know how to use these?

• mine
• yours
• his
• hers
• ours
• theirs

His voice is louder than mine.

Where are you going to stay, at my house or his?

Our team practices more often than theirs.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just Like National Geographic

The big news item of the summer in Japan has been the saga of Noriko Sakai, the former pop idol who disappeared for a week when her husband was arrested on drug charges, and then later was herself arrested for the same crime.

After she was jailed, the newspapers and TV stations gave us at least one report a day about her plight -- places where she bought drugs, people she partied with...blah, blah, blah.

The only thing newsworthy enough to knock her off the front page was the Democratic Party's historic victory in the Lower House elections.

Anyway, I got to thinking that maybe I could make some cash selling "Free Sakai/Let Her Go!" t-shirts. Well, the authorities beat me to it. I don't mean they are gonna sell t-shirts. I mean she made bail* and they freed her.

In the States, just just deny, deny, deny. And when you get in legal trouble, you let Jacoby & Meyers do all the talking. Here in Japan, you gotta make a tearful public apology once you've screwed up. Her award-winning performance was captured by what seemed like all the photographers from the last Super Bowl. They all had their good cameras with them:


Outside of nature magazines, I've never seen such a crystal clear representation of motion frozen in a frame.

* Is it just me or does she sound like she's still using the stuff from those awful quotes? Some things just don't translate well.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What if...?

A short man makes for a long story.

Of course this one only takes seven minutes.

Watch Napoleon Bunny-Part - Bugs Bunny in ���� | View More Free Videos Online at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

English Lesson: Learning English with Google

Recently, I looked at how Japanese people use English words differently from Americans -- specifically, I talked about the word "challenge." In fact, there are many words that fit this category. Today, let's look at "renewal" and "reform."

In Japan, these two words are often used to talk about fixing a building, a business or a home.

renewal -- Here is a site about improving Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture, home of the annual Summer HS Baseball Tournament.

reform -- Take a look at this site for a company (with an impressive-sounding name) that will fix up your home.*

(from here)

Well, Americans use "reform" and "renewal" very differently. We don't use these words to talk about homes or stadiums. How do we use them? OK. Try this. Go to Google News and do a search for "reform."

What did you find? Lots and lots of stories about healthcare reform. It's the hot topic of the year. And it makes some people in the US very emotional.

So, reform is a word we use to talk about improving or changing political processes and government programs. And there are lots of programs and processes that need change: Social Security reform, immigration reform...

How about renewal? Did you check Google News? Did you find anything about buildings or stores or stadiums? Nope. Renewal has to do with licenses:

Every few years, I have to renew my driver's license.

Some married couples renew their wedding vows on their wedding anniversary.

So, what should you use when you talk about buildings? Try "renovate," or "refurbish."

• • •

* I started to notice the word "reform" in Japan while watching a show called "Before/After," which is similar to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" except without all the excessive emotional manipulation.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

English Lesson: "Have you seen 'The Last of the Mohicans'?"

We use "the" in noun phrases with the word "of." This often appears in titles. For example, have you seen the Indiana Jones movie where he goes to India? It's called Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

It's not my favorite one but the dinner scene is fantastic.

Book titles also commonly use "the" and "of":
"The Count of Monte Cristo" is discussed in a funny moment from The Shawshank Redemption. It happens around the 5-minute mark of this clip:

I tried to think of song titles too but I couldn't come up with any. Can you think of one?

Let's finish with the title of this blog entry. Michael Mann's remake of "The Last of the Mohicans" tells an old-fashioned love story but with such beautiful images and well-chosen music that the movie feels fresh and new. I can watch the final sequence of the movie over and over.

I think the secret to its power is that there are so few lines of dialogue in the end. Here, actions speak. And the pace of it, measured by the music, is slower than most action sequences. The Mohicans do a lot of running at the end, and as they run, anticipation builds and builds.

Excuse me. I'm gonna watch it again.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

English Lesson: "Let's try it!"

Have you ever played darts?

No, never.

Me neither. There's a British pub in my neighborhood. It has a dart board. Do you want to play?

Sure! Let's challenge!


The Japanese language uses a lot of English words. But Japanese often uses these words in ways different from their original meaning. One example is "challenge." In the case of Kelly and Naomi, "challenge" doesn't make sense. Naomi should have said:

Sure! Let's try it!

We use "challenge" for starting a contest or a battle:

I challenge you to a game of darts.
The contender challenged the champion but lost.

"Challenge" is often used as a noun for a task or goal that will require a lot of hard work and luck:

Getting astronauts to the moon is a big challenge for NASA.

You can also use "challenging" as an adjective:

The most challenging part of this exam is the vocabulary section.

You got it? Okay. I challenge you to make three sentences using "challenge."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ooohs and Aaahs by the Lake

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖), the biggest lake in Japan, is just a short train ride from Kyoto. At the beginning of August, Otsu, the biggest city on the shores of the lake, has a fireworks show that's worth seeing. So we decided to take a look. Plus it was a chance to check out the lake, which we had never done.

The initial plan was to go early, rent bikes and ride around the lake and then, in the late afternoon, grab a spot for the fireworks. Well, the problems is, there is no bike path or even foot path along the lake in Otsu. On the closest road to the lake, you can barely see the water most of the time. It felt like we were biking in any old urban area in Japan, so the ride lost its appeal pretty quickly. I didn't even bother to stop and take pictures of the lake.

We were gonna eat lunch by the lake but ended up at Omi Shrine (近江神宮) instead:

Squint real hard and you'll see that I'm wearing my "Hiroshima Loves Peace" t-shirt. Unfortunately, it was August 8; I was two days late.

After lunch, we cycled around town and found some streets near the JR station that reminded Yuki of side streets in Kyoto. Many of the buildings looked old school:

By 4 p.m., the main street from the station to the lake was closed to cars and food stalls were beginning to open. Lots of people were making their way down to the show. Crowd control was very impressive. Also impressive was the statue of the exhibitionist near the station:





We realized we didn't have a picnic blanket or a plastic sheet to put on the ground so we ended up spending a good chunk of time hunting one down. Back by the lake, we found a spot to our liking, laid out the plastic sheet and held it down with rocks and pins and went back to the station to return our bikes. It's great that you can just leave your plastic sheet on the ground and no one would mess with it. When we picked out our spot, our part of the lakeside park was already covered with (mostly) blue sheets.

The walk back to the park was jumble of people:

We grabbed some food and sat down on our sheet for a two-hour wait until the show. At dusk, I spotted the riverboat Michigan:

I wonder how much it costs to watch the fireworks from the boat. Finally, showtime arrived. The first few rockets were weak. I started to think that we had waited for two hours for a shitty show. And that's when the sky lit up with bursts:

I tried to get some good snaps of the show but ended up failing about 90 percent of the time. That's a horrible batting average.

The fireworks show I can compare it to is the Niigata City fireworks show over the Shinano River. I used to think that one was the most impressive. Biwako's leaves a lasting impression, too. It's worth a trip back to the lake next year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

English Lesson: "What a rally!"

Did you watch the final game of the Summer High School Baseball Tournament?

Here are the highlights:

Of course I was rooting for the team from Niigata. Which team were you cheering for?

The game was really exciting in the 9th inning. The team from Niigata was behind, 10-4. They needed a big rally -- six runs! -- to tie the game. They almost made it but lost 10-9. It was an impressive effort.

Sometimes, when a team is behind and needs a rally, the players wear rally caps:

I wonder how often that strategy works.

Do you have a favorite baseball player? Which star do you root for?
I follow Major League Baseball so I'll introduce a few Major League stars to you.

Joe Mauer plays for the Minnesota Twins. He is one of the best hitters in baseball. This year, his batting average is even higher than Ichiro's. Plus, he has 25 home runs and 78 runs batted in (RBI) so far. The most amazing thig is, he is a catcher. Usually, catchers are not great hitters so Mauer is an exceptional player.

Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball. He plays first base for the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols hits over .300 every year with lots of home runs and RBIs. This year, he's leading the National League in home runs, but it's a slim lead. If he stays healthy for his career, he can break a lot of records. Take your vitamins, Albert!

My favorite player is Mariano Rivera, the closer for the New York Yankees. In November, he will become 40 years old. That's not so old, except when you're a baseball player. No matter. Rivera is still the best closer in baseball.

When he enters the game at Yankee Stadium, it feels like this:

Rivera and Metallica's "Enter Sandman" are a perfect match.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Gifts

We received a couple of seasonal care packages recently. Yuki's Mom sent us some udon (稲庭うどん) and soumen. (小豆島そうめん) They're usually eaten cold in the summer; you boil and wash the noodles then eat them by dipping them in a soy-based sauce.

Speaking of summer foods, our friend Aya sent us edamame and a watermelon.
Take a look:

This kind of edamame, which is from Niigata, is called chamame (茶豆).
If you read Chinese characters, you'll notice the first character means tea.
That character also stands for the color brown.
Chamame gets its name from the brownish tint of the skin of the edamame bean.

This beauty was born and raised in Uonuma, Niigata,
which is famous for super-expensive rice
(Uonuma rice is a brand name in Japan,
the Louis Vuitton of rice)
and the noted actor Ken Watanabe,
perhaps the only rice farmer ever to get an Academy Award nomination. ; )

An even more beautiful view.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

English Lesson: "The de Young Museum is in Golden Gate Park."

Articles drive students of English crazy. How can you learn to use them correctly?
Practice, my grasshopper, practice.

Learn the rules. Here's one:

Museums use "the":
I've been to the de Young Museum many times.

It was great living just ten minutes away from one of the best museums in San Francisco. Yuki and I went to a bunch of terrific exhibits, including the Gilbert and George exhibition and the Chihuly exhibition:

The tower of the de Young also has a great view of the western part of San Francisco. If it's a foggy day, you can admire the photo mural instead:

Nope, this photo wasn't taken on a foggy day.

My favorite museum in Japan is the Hakone Open-Air Museum. It's a bit out of the way, which makes it an even more worthwhile trip. I've only been there once, and I would love to go again.

Museums with nicknames also use "the." For example, the Met is the biggest museum in New York City. Just about every time I go there, I start in the cluster of rooms that contains Masterpieces of Western Art and I get exhausted making my way through them.

A nickname that doesn't use "the" is MoMA. It stands for the Museum of Modern Art. New York has a MoMA. So does San Francisco. Do you know of any other MoMAs?

Parks don't use "the":
Golden Gate Park is the biggest park in San Francisco.

Did you know that buffaloes live in Golden Gate Park? Or that you can play golf there...

Yuki's mom is approaching the tee!

...and a get a good BBQ sandwich? Right, Phil? Next time, let's try the BBQ ribs.

The U.S. has a bunch of great national parks. I've been to a number of them. Yuki and I saw Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park. Joe and I hiked in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Which one do you like better, Yuki?

Yuki in action in front of El Capitan in Yosemite.

Do you have a favorite park or museum?