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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nines and Rays?

Changes on the horizon for the YouTube channel, and for us in general.

Back to Japan, back to work, and back to the kind of focus on building something that I haven't had the need for in about a year.

So in that spirit, I'm stubbornly persisting in my "America's Best Japanese Teacher" series, in the hopes that one day it'll pay off. I upped the editing ante for the bulk of this one. Trying to get a handle on Final Cut Pro. Advice always appreciated.

Here's what's up with teh jokes this time around:

It's a Q and A session (Get it? Cause "nine" is "kyuu" and "rays" are "eis?" GET IT?????)

and the questions are all invented. The first one asks why Japanese people use the expression "18-ban" to talk about either something they've cooked, or a song that they sing. It actually means that the dish or the song is their specialty, and there's a really interesting origin for this that we posted about a long long time ago. Check the excerpt, and if you want to, the full original post.

The predominant theory is that this expression comes from kabuki theater, way back in the day (early 1800s) when kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro VII selected the 18 kabuki plays that he believed to be the best representations of the aragoto style of kabuki. The kabuki plays that are still performed today are taken from these 18. It took me a while to figure out why, of the 18, the 18th was considered the best. But then I realized that the phrase doesn't have to translate as "the eighteenth." It might just be "the eighteen." So when you say your 十八番、 you're not neccesarily identifying the 18th in a series, you're just referencing the idea of the best selection.

In the video, I'm being an idiot and taking it upon myself to decide that this means they're ranking themselves out of 100, and Japanese people, being big into humility ("Allow me to introduce my homely wife and my dumb-ass son.") would never dare to rank themselves any higher than 18.

The biggest joke here is suggesting that you respond to this by saying "It's not actually bad," which would be okay to say if someone WAS really being humble. If you said that to someone who was offering you their "specialty," on the other hand, they would probably NOT きっと喜ぶ*.

In Question #2, I'm asked to explain the word "幼なじみ" (osananajimi) in relation to a picture of two older gentlemen. The word means "a long time friend." Someone you were close with since you were 幼い (osanai)、which means "very young." However, since both gentleman in this picture could be identified, unflatteringly, as "おっさん" (ossan; rude for "old man"), Bobby-Sensei explains that the asker is mistaken the word is actually "おっさんの馴染み," (ossan no najimi) closeness between old men.

And finally a question perfectly matched to this brand of Japanese teaching: It asks about how "Japanese people often use the expression "その場だけの関係 (sono ba dake no kankei)." This refers to a romantic/sexual relationship that is limited to a certain place or time. Like... summer camp. You met someone, you had a thing, but it was never going to be anything outside of the environment it was born in. But since the Japanese expression relies on geography "only at that place," the questioner has assumed that there is actually a place he can go to for such a relationship.

And instead of explaining his mistake, Bobby-Sensei tells him plainly: That place is Roppongi. Off you go."

The end.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on places I could take this series, and what, if anything, you get from it. How do you think Japanese people will take it? Would it be insulting, or funny, or not even enough of a joke?

*definitely be pleased.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jokes, Explained : Trying to be Funny in Japanese

TV work gives me lots and lots of chances to think about how to be funny in Japanese.

Chances to try to be funny, on the other hand...

Let's just say I was more comfortable cracking a joke at my part time yakitori job, with a beer in my hand and two in my blood. Trying to get a laugh on TVis an incredibly nerve-wracking experience.

Of course, being the silly foreigner who says something dumb and amusing is incredibly easy. Saying something intentionally funny, not.

I always felt that in general, whenever I opened my mouth on any Japanese TV show, the other on-camera talent got a little apprehensive: "Is he gonna say something that makes sense? Is this going somewhere good?"

They worry first that I'm adequately understanding the conversation, THEN they worry that I might not be expressing what I want to contribute adequately, so when I come out with a joke, there's always a pause where they have to figure out if I said what I said on purpose.

Once, on a KBC morning show, I was doing a live 5-minute cooking segment, which is already stressful enough, but on that particular morning, my segment was preceded by something pretty hard to follow: A DIVORCE ATTORNEY came on to give advice about what you should know to protect yourself in your divorce. Pretty dark shit for an "over breakfast" talk show.

So when they finished with the divorce segment, they cut to me and the host asked "What are you cooking today, Bobby?"  I took a chance and said "Today, I'll be showing you some great recipes to know in case you get divorced."

The 3 seconds of silence that followed felt like the longest of my life. I really didn't know whether or not anyone would laugh. They finally did though, and the host jumped in to make it even funnier, but afterwards my Japanese counterparts confirmed my suspicions: they didn't expect that from me, and didn't know how to take it.

So, now that I'm getting ready to head back to Japan and to try to get back into the TV world, I've been thinking a lot about how to use, and to gain a reputation as someone who can use humor.

TIHSFS has a great write-up about comedy in Japan that I completely agree with. I'm not big on manzai, but I have some ideas for how I could use it to my advantage, but there are all these fine lines to walk.

Can I make something that Japanese people find funny, without turning myself into the gaijin stereotype? I really don't know.

Can I use it as an angle, and make jokes about Japanese that I can only get away with because I'm a foreigner? Yeah, for sure.

If I'm smart enough to make Japanese language jokes, BUT those jokes hinge on me pretending that I don't understand Japanese, do I cancel out the points I earn by coming up with the jokes, because I sold out in the delivery? It kind of makes my head hurt.

But the long and short of this is, I made something to try it out:

The reactions to it have been mixed. Of the people who realize that it's intended as a joke, most seem to like it so far.

For some others, it's gone completely over their heads, and they're trying to correct my "mistakes" in the comments. I kind of feel bad for them.

One person actually wrote "Your Japanese is kind of incorrect, but it was still very interesting."
Ha! What, pray tell, other than the "incorrectness" was interesting about this?

But because the ostensible premise (I'm introducing Japanese words to gaikokujin students) is a believable one, I'm also disappointing my foreign viewers who aren't getting the jokes: you'd have to know an awful lot of Japanese already to get them.

So for easy reference, I'll be offering the explanations for the jokes below. I know that'll make them less funny... but maybe people will get some vocab benefit out of them, and maybe once you know how they work, you'll be able to use some of them, or try making your own.

And, if you have any thoughts on my "comedy" predicament, please let me hear them in the comments.

Jokes from the video:
体編 karada hen : meaning "the body" and "compilation," but I've mispronounced it as "taihen," 大変.  The joke gets repeated at the end, when I say "Taihen otsukare sama desu,"which my character thinks means "We've finished the body compilation," but could actually mean more like "You've had a terribly hard time with this."

でこ deko   : meaning forehead. 
デコでこ deco deko  : using the homonym for "bedazzled," or "bejeweled" plus forehead. 
でこ凹 deko boko  : means "concave and convex" on its own, but I've conflated it with "forehead."

顎   ago  :  chin. 
憧れの顎    akogare no ago: the chin we wish we all had 
穴子の顎 anago no ago: the freshwater eel's  chin.

首  kubi :  neck 
首長族 kubinagazoku  :   long-necked tribes. I've used a picture of the Japanese obake, rokurokubi, with rings around its neck. This is NOT the right usage of the word. 
乳首 chikubi  :   nipple 
乳首長族 chikubinagazoku  :  long-nippled tribe

人刺し指 hitosashi yubi  :   means "index finger" but I've used the wrong kanji for "sashi" so that it means "to stab." "person stabbing finger." 
長指 naga yubi :    should be 中指 naka yubi, meaning middle finger, but I've misunderstood it as "long finger." 
薬指 kusuri yubi  :  ring finger, which the Japanese call "the medicine finger." My picture interprets the word very literally. 
子指   ko yubi   :   little finger, though I should've used the kanji for small "小." I used the one for child to set up the next joke... 
孫指 mago yubi   :  6th, grandchild finger.

ヤクザ指 yakuza yubi   :   hopefully evident...

太もも futomomo  :  the Japanese word for "thigh," which makes use of the kanji for "fat," or "thick."  Sets up the next joke... 
細もも hosomomo  :    not a really word, but replaces the "fat" kanji with the kanji for "skinny"

袋はぎ  fukurohagi  :    misunderstanding of the real word for "calf," fuku-RA- hagi. Extra silly because "fukuro" means bag.

下半身タイガーズ kahanshin tigers  :    literally "lower body tigers," but also references the Hanshin Tigers baseball team.

And the proverb: I'm misrepresenting it as :
秋と夏は嫁に食わすな。Aki to Natsu ha yome ni kuwasuna.
(Don't let your wife eat during Fall or Summer.) 
The actual proverb is : 
秋なすは嫁に食わすな。Akinasu ha yome ni kuwasuna.
(Don't let your wife eat the fall eggplant.) 
It means don't spoil your new wife, not "starve her." 

That's it! If I missed something, let me know.