Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Ridiculous Foreign Language Learning in Japan

This afternoon, interpretation. Only for a few hours, but I had to follow speakers who never stopped for me.

And tonight, I finished Kaiko Takeshi’s autobiography, Torn Cocoon (破れた繭). The book covers many of the same things I’ve read about in Blue Monday, but there are several differences. For example, a maid working at a US military dormitory (Blue Monday), who asked about the pronunciation of “water,” becomes an “airline stewardess” (Torn Cocoon), who asked if he had been to Korea, the questions he had to handle at an English conversation school he was working. And the man who asked for private lessons for his upcoming trip to the US. In Blue Monday, he is the company president of a pharmacy chain in Osaka and in Torn Cocoon he is the company president of a confectionary manufacturer.

進駐軍宿舎のメイド「ワラでもウオーラーでも通じますけれど、どちらがきれいな英語かお聞きしたい」(青い月曜日)
航空会社のスチュワーデス「韓国へ行ったことがありますか」(破れた繭 耳の物語1)
「大阪の目抜きの町のあちらこちらに薬局をだしているチェーン・ストアの社長」(青い月曜日)
「菓子会社の社長」(破れた繭 耳の物語1)

But, a passage in Torn Cocoon, where my eyes stopped flowing, roughly says, “I was made to feel the pleasure of a sailor who is approaching a desert island by deconstructing long, complicated English sentences and reconstructing them in Japanese.”

「長くて複雑な英語の文章を分解したり日本文に組立てなおしたりする仕事には無人島に近づいていく水夫の愉しみをおぼえさせられた」 (開高健:破れた繭 耳の物語1)

Later, Kaiko laments his own lack of understanding of English in The Cross of Saigon. That’s not surprising at all. He tried to learn English by deconstructing English sentences and reconstructing them in Japanese. That is how it still is in Japan, I guess. Understanding English as and in Japanese… It doesn’t work. It never will. Deconstructing and reconstructing is just like adding numbers and symbols to Chinese texts to make them appear Japanese sentences! That’s not the way to learn Chinese, though I know those “Chinese” classes are not intended to teach students to learn the Chinese language. But what a waste… People still don’t seem to understand it, and teachers only follow the way given by the Ministry of Education that probably knows nothing about language learning. The maid’s question about the “water” pronunciation is stupid, and the teacher, Kaiko, didn’t know how to handle it.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Against the Flood by Ma Van Khang and Kaiko Takeshi

Now I remember on August 2 at CC, I said, “I can be very irritable when I’m busy and depressed when I have no business.” He said, “Then, you’re alive.” True, but tough.

On Saturday (21st), I woke up early. And I even thought about having bak ku the as breakfast in the neighborhood, but moved to the sofa and, lying down on it, began reading the remaining pages of Against the Flood by Ma Van Khang and, after the last page of it, started to read Aoi Getsuyobi (Blue Monday) by Kaiko. Against the Flood had an unexpected turn, with the beautiful “Hoan,” dealing with opium trade to get rich to shame those cowards and schemers who had acted against a man, “Khiem,” she so loved, being put in prison and mysteriously being freed by her “Network.” We don’t know if Hoan and Khiem ever met again. And it seems to me the story is rather forced, leaving me to think, “Oh no. Don’t stop there.” I wish I could read Vietnamese.

Reading Aoi Getsuyobi explains, and helps me understand, parts of Kaiko’s later works that I’ve read, Into a Black Sun and Darkness in Summer.

I still have Mai Elliot’s The Sacred Willow to read, whom I’ve met in PBS’s The Vietnamese War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and Kaiko’s two volumes of his autobiography.

Surprisingly, Kaiko Takeshi describes in Blue Monday most of the countless “English conversation schools” sprouted up right after the war’s end “indecent.” “Indecent” is the adjective I always use for the “English conversation industry” where I had worked from the late 1980s to the early 1990.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Harsh Criticism of Japanese by "Her" in Darkness in Summer

In Darkness of Summer (夏の闇), “she,” who is Japanese and hates Japanese, harshly and mercilessly criticizes them (ヤマト) for their:

Gait, which is graceless;
Look in the eyes, especially of intellectuals, which is both fearful and arrogant;
Anxiety for being alone and inability of being independent (sitting against the wall at restaurants, sitting together with other Japanese, and eating with Japanese correspondents and academics every day at the same restaurant);
Incapability of being original (similarity of overseas reports from Japanese newspapers because correspondents exchange information among themselves and rehashes of articles of overseas newspapers);
Mutual soothing of correspondents, academics and businessmen by cussing which can be understood only among themselves;
Mutual cussing among correspondents, academics and businessmen as soon as they parted;
Sly behavior of academics who quickly translate academic articles published overseas (“horizontal to vertical”) to become popular if they are consistent with the wave of Japanese media;
Inability of academics of reaching conclusions as a result of serious discussion with overseas peers;
Hopeless attitude of academics who launch overbearing debates with decisive conclusions once back home; and
Wrong, funny and bad translations by academics;

After these, “she” describes a “God-like” Japanese scholar in Kyoto, whose speech in Chinese was not understood at all by Chinese and a very prestigious Japanese scholar of English in Tokyo, whose speech in English at a Shakespeare Association in “London or somewhere” was not comprehended at all. Then, “she” wonders if a Shakespeare scholar should write his diary in the language of Shakespeare.

Her criticism continues.

Members of agricultural associations who walk in hotel corridors wearing only “steteko,” underpants for men that go below the knees, saying that if they have enough money to travel overseas, they should set things in order inside their families and surroundings;
Attitude of trading houses, who with overseas allowances that make them feel bigger than they are, for indulging in shallow luxuries;
Hitchhiking girls who get pregnant by falling to foreign men only with their making a little pass;
Attitude of gentlemen, who begin sex talks with drinks, whose cocks shrinks as soon as they see the naked bodies of White prostitutes and, nonetheless, boast about their experience;
Tourists who give “ukiyoe” postal stamps and “kokeshi” dolls to anybody from hotel porters to tobacco-peddling girls at cabarets;
Cameo sellers in Italy who hawk to Japanese with wide grins, singing an old Japanese song for kids;
Embassy officials who cuss the smell of Limberger cheese while spreading that of pickled white radish and “kusaya” dried fish;
Tokyo with more than 100,000 people and enthusiastic about building highways and skyscrapers for dumping shit of 60-70% of its population into sea by ship;
Reporters, academics and critics who cuss Japan and the Japanese; and
Translators who are also literati, publishing companies, newspapers, right-wingers, left-wingers and everything “she” can think about Japan and the Japanese

I don’t hate Japanese. Nor do I hate being Japanese. And I’m not arrogant being Japanese. Nor am I ashamed of being one. However, I absolutely understand what “she” says here. I think these comments reflect the author’s own experiences and his own inability to be otherwise.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Tough Japanese Sentences to Read and This Sinking Feeling


In Shining Darkness too, there is a scene in Gia Định, where a Buddhist monk wearing a yellow robe recites an open letter addressed to André Malraux. I have no idea if Kaiko really heard such a recitation by such a monk or if this is purely his own creation. Oh, so tough to read.


My feeling keeps sinking. Where is this coming from? I feel people leaving me, moving away from me. A familiar feeling, but I’ve never felt it as strongly as now. I know I have nothing to blame me for. I know I’m not looking for someone. This may be only a backlash of Saigon because I was so excited there. Just like how I often feel after an interpretation job. This week, I have a 3-day interpretation job (Wednesday to Friday) and four days next week (Monday to Thursday). During the days of interpretation, I feel tense and nervous, sometimes extremely, but never down. I hope the people I’ll see this week are nice. (I’ve met and worked before with those who I’ll see next week.)

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Always Fishy: Conversations in Non-Japanese Languages Depircted by Japanese Authors

Yesterday, I received another book by Kaiko, 輝ける闇 (Into a Black Sun).

These days, Vpost is more reliable though using its service costs more. Courier services Amazon uses to send stuff directly to my address is so unreliable and frustrating that I am now fed up with them completely.

The story of the book, set in Việt Nam, is about the experience of a novelist assigned as a temporary newspaper reporter, stationed in the war-torn country. About himself, in short.

In Crucifix of Saigon, he admits that his poor knowledge of foreign languages. But in his works, he still uses French and English words. His translation of interviews of Lieutenant Colonel “Tran Van Duc (チャン・ヴァン・ダック),” who was a political officer of the regular force of the North and defected to the South, is tough to read. It is as if done by a Japanese university kid who knows something about English.

Reading books by Japanese authors about those days during the war, I often encounter scenes where they converse with non-Japanese in a language which is not Japanese. They seem to flow flawlessly. I must wonder how they could have been possible. Even today, this may not be possible, thinking about people I’ve met here for the past almost 20 years.