Saturday, September 14, 2013

Random musings in Kyoto

Deb and I have spent the last week in Kyoto, Japan, where she and her colleague Jon Yoshioka were invited by Bukkyo University to speak at a conference on education.

I could really get used to the politeness, the order, the neatness. OTOH, I'm here at a hotel being treated as a paying guest -- if I lived here as a citizen or foreign resident, I can see how I might find the bureaucracy and endless rules frustrating, I don't know...


Jon is a kick -- he's a Hawaii boy, born and raised, but his parents speak Japanese, and he understands quite a lot. His running joke is that when we run into something we find odd or silly or frustrating, Jon says something like "What's wrong with these people? Don't they know [whatever]?"
But whenever we see or experience something positive -- which is usually -- he's all "My people are very talented/orderly/polite/etc."  :-)


Last night we had dinner at a great little hole in the wall place. I ordered tuna carpaccio, which is basically sashimi. I had had a hankering for sashimi with wasabi and shoyu (soy sauce), so even though this dish came with a sweet chili sauce, I asked the waiter for shoyu and wasabi.  The waiter, a young man named Daike who knew a few words of English, pointed to the shoyu container. Then we had this conversation:

Bryan: Do you have wasabi?
Daike: It...not...come...with wasabi.
Bryan: Well, do you have it?  Can I have some wasabi anyway?
Daike: You...don't...need wasabi.

Which made all of use burst out laughing, and Daike look nonplussed.

I understand the thing about Americans drowning their food in soy sauce, like someone pouring ketchup over their chicken cordon bleu, or putting ice in their Malbec -- I get it, I really do.  But I had tasted the sweet chili sauce, and while it was lovely, I decided I still wanted the fish with wasabi -- and after days of obsequiousness and unctousness, all the bowing and "gozai mas" etc, when Daike, who was maybe 20 yrs old, told me in no uncertain terms that I didn't need wasabi, it was so unexpected and delightful, that I couldn't help but laugh. :-)


Kyoto, Japan

Everybody makes fun of signs written in English -- or sort of English -- in non-English-speaking countries.  There are entire websites devoted to it.  But I have to say I'm kind of liking a lot of the signs I've seen here in Kyoto. We have some specific language that we use when writing public announcements, and after being here a few days our "Official English for Signs" now feels kind of stultified, unnecessarily formal and restrictive, as well as being just a bit unfriendly.
I saw a sign today outside a door full of fire equipment. Instead of "Keep doorway clear" or whatever, the sign said "Please don't put anything around here."  Perfectly grammatical, gets the point across. I liked it.

OTOH, there are a lot of signs -- and even more T-shirts -- with messages that seem a bit random. Examples from this week include:
Cheerfulness Athletic
Meet stuck to float
Sail gracefully an advantage
Be smile finedays
Hide with spread beaver appear*

Many of the shirts have a sense of encouraging a positive outlook and/or seem to be an exhortation to kind, cheerful behaviour. I surmise that some might be literal translations of Kanji characters that just don't quite bring their connotation with them when converted character-by-character.

Anyway, it's been a fun read over the last few days...

*That last one might almost make sense if "Hide" and "Spread Beaver" are bands that are appearing together...