Three Amazing Cantonese Learning Resources

Stuck at home during the pandemic, I haven’t been reading as many Japanese books because I’ve been spending some extra time learning my family’s heritage language, Cantonese. You can read about how I got started here. There are not near as many resources available for learning Cantonese as there are for Japanese or English, so it takes a bit of extra effort. I hope to get back to writing about Japanese books eventually, but today I would like to introduce three resources that I find especially valuable.

Cantonese With Brittany

Brittany is a Canadian Youtuber who has been creating high quality videos, completely in Cantonese, that are targeted to both beginner and intermediate learners. Each video includes clear audio with jyutping, written Cantonese, and English Subtitles.

Continue reading “Three Amazing Cantonese Learning Resources”

A Man by Hirano Keiichiro

I just finished listening to my first novel by Hirano from Audiobook.jp. The story mostly follows Kido, a lawyer looking into a strange case where a woman finds, upon his unexpected death, that her husband wasn’t using his real name.

This story explores several themes. One is the dilemma facing Kido as he tries to find a balance between caring about ideals and focusing on his family. He is at odds with his wife for his decision to volunteer to give legal counsel for victims of the Tohoku Earthquake and his attitudes underlying that decision.

Another theme is racial discrimination. Kido is a naturalized third-generation Korean. He was raised Japanese, but discrimination subtly shows up at different times in his life. As a Japanese citizen, he is caught between identifying as both the perpetrator and victim of discrimination, raising challenging questions about his identity.

The third theme in this novel was whether when you love someone, do you love them from the moment you meet them, or do you also love their past. If that past turns out to be fictional do you still love them? I liked the character Misuzu’s reply to Kido when he was getting too caught up in this theoretical dilemma. “If you fall in love with someone once, that’s not all there is to it. Over time, you just have to fall in love over and over again.”

With the variety of themes covered in this novel, I’m not sure how they are all connected, and I would have to listen to it again to get a better idea. Overall I think the themes may be loosely tied together by the question, “what is happiness?”

After listening to the novel, I found that an English translation is available. Also, I realized that the translator, Eli K. P. William actually writes English novels as well and has been interviewed recently by my friend and fellow blogger at Self Taught Japanese.

初めての平野啓一郎、『ある男』のオーディオブックを聴きました。主人公の弁護士である城戸は異常な依頼を受けました。ある未亡人の夫が生前、本名を使っていなかったことが発見されて、城戸は夫の正体を突き止めることになりました。

この作品はいくつかのテーマを取り上げます。一つは城戸の世界への関心と家族への関心とのバランスの取り方です。東大震災後ボランティアとして被災者のリーガルカウンセルを提供したこととその選択の背景にある城戸の考え方で、夫婦間のわだかまりが生じています。

他に、人種差別のテーマを取り上げています。城戸は帰化した在日三世の人だけど、普通の日本人として育てられて韓国との繋がり一つもないです。それでも人生の中で人種差別の件は時々発します。日本国籍を持っている人として、人種差別の被害者でもあり、加害者でもあるから、自分はどの立場でいるという疑問が浮かびます。

第3個のテーマは愛の仕方です。他人を愛するとその人の過去も愛する?その過去が嘘だったら、その愛は生き残る?この質問に対する美涼という登場人物の答えが個人的に好きでした。「一回、愛したら終わりじゃなくて、長い時間の間に、何度も愛し直すでしょう?」

このいくつかのテーマの繋がり方ははっきりわかると言えないです。多分もう一回聴いた方がいいですね。でも大体「幸福とは何か?」という質問がこの作品の真ん中にある概念でしょう。

聴き終わったら、この作品はすでに英語に翻訳されていると気づきました。翻訳家のEli K. P. Williamは作家でもあります。それに去年、友達のブログにインタビューが載せていると気づきました。英語のみですけど、面白いですから読んでください。

Run, Melos! by Morimi Tomihiko

Morimi has re-written five Japanese modern-classic short stories with his own twist. He recreates the stories with his specialty, college students in Kyoto, bringing in references from his earlier works such as The Night Is Short Walk on Girl.

I was thrilled to see that one of Morimi’s works is available on Audiobook.jp. This one is more challenging to understand than other audiobooks I have listened to because of some of the decorative phrasing used in descriptions, but even without 100% knowledge of some of the advanced vocabulary used, the stories are still understandable.

The Moon Over the Mountain

This first story of the collection one was my favorite. Not just for the story itself but for where it led me. This story was written by Nakajima Atsushi. I found that he wrote short stories in the early 20th century that are set in ancient China. I have been working on learning Chinese lately, and I have found learning about China from Japanese sources is quite rewarding. The original story is, although short, quite difficult to read, so I haven’t worked through it yet. Once I get to it, I’ll share my thoughts in another post.

Another neat aspect of this story is the incorporation of Daimonji Mountain, which shows up in many of Morimi’s works including The Tropics

In a Grove

This story is about a student in a university film-making club who creates a film featuring his girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend rekindling their love. It takes the perspective of several different characters describing the same situation.

The final narrator uses a lazy way of speaking, possibly with Kansai intonation—it’s hard for me to pick out accents in Japanese. It was difficult for me to understand, but with the many other descriptions of the same situation, I was better able to parse what he is saying. I have a very hard time understanding conversation, as opposed to something like an audiobook, which is relatively slow and deliberate. I think listening to the final narrator a few more times will be helpful for my listening comprehension of conversations, where you need to be able to understand a wide variety of speaking styles, which are not always clear and deliberate.

Run, Melos!

This feature story is also the most humorous and ridiculous. While the original, by Dazai, based on a Greek myth was probably not so humorous, peach-colored briefs play a prominent role in this updated version.

Under The Full-bloom Sakura Forest

This one had the least humor and seemed more serious to me. Quite possibly I’m missing humor if it is there though. I really liked the structure of this story, but I can’t give away the details.

One Hundred Ghost Stories

This is a great story to tie everything together. A mysterious character organizes an event where one hundred ghost stories are told, with one of 100 candles blown out after each story. When it becomes pitch dark, the real ghost is said to appear!

Final Thoughts

This work will probably be most enjoyable if you have read Morimi’s other older works that are based on university students in Kyoto, such as Walk on Girl The Night Is Young, Tatami Galaxy, and Tower of the Sun. I haven’t read the latter two, but I have a feeling I’m missing references from those works. Overall, this compilation of short stories is an enjoyable way to get some exposure to modern-classic short stories, all while never leaving Morimi-world, which has been fleshed out in his other works.

Image of Daimonji used under Creative Commons License 

この短編集は5冊の古典文学作品をパロディーした物語にできています。森見先生のよくあるパターンで京大の大学生を通して物語を語れています。当作品中、夜は短し歩けよ乙女などの以前の森見作品のこともよく触れています。

当作家の作品はAudiobook.jpに一冊出ていると見て大変喜びました。たまに独特な言い回しが使われているので僕が聞いた他の作品よりやや聞き取りにくかったですが、語彙を100%わからなくても、なんとなくあらすじをついていけたと思います。

山月記

この短編集の中でこれは一番好きでした。作品そのもののためだけじゃなくて、導かれた道もその理由のひとつでした。原作の作家である中島敦を調べたところで、中国の古典を素材にして小説を書いていたと気づきました。僕は最近広東語を学んでいてその文化も学びたいと思っていますが、日本語の材料を使って中国のことを学ぶことは英語の材料を使うより深みがあると気づきました。日本語では地名や人命の漢字はそのまま使われていますし、中国のことを表現するには日本語の方がふさわしいという気がします。ちなみに、原作は漢語風な書き方で非常に読みにくいのでまだ読んでいないですが、読んだら感想をブログに投稿しようと思います。

他に面白いと思ったことは大文字山の登場でした。熱帯を含んで、森見先生の多くの作品に出ている名所で面白かったです。

藪の中

こちらは大学の映画サークル所属の学生の映画製作の事情についてです。監督と登場する男女の複雑な関係がいろいろな人の観点から語られています。

最後に出てくる語り手は少し早口で、もしかして関西のイントネーションで喋っているかもしれない—外国人の僕には訛りを見分けるのは難しいです。でもこの物語の形のかげで、最後の語り手が出てくる際、あらすじはすでに大体把握していましたから、言っていることもほとんど全部わかりました。

日本語の会話はオーディオブックに比べると僕にとって聞き取りにくいです。オーディオブックははっかり、ゆっくり語れていますが会話はそうでもないです。会話で使われているような日本語を慣れるため、この短編の最後の語り手を何回か聞いておきたいと思います。

走れメロス

これは表題作で一番おかしくて、笑わせられます。原作は太宰治の作品でその原作はギリシアの神話です。その二つの原作はこんなに軽くないと思います。森見先生版では桃色ブリーフは物語の中心にありますし。

桜の森の満開の下

これは一番真面目な短編でした。多分笑ってもいい部分がありましたが読み逃したかもしれないです。この話の形が好きでしたがネタバレしたくないですからこのへんにしておきましょう。

百物語

この短編は全部をまとめるには最適でした。謎の人物は独特なイベントを催します。幽霊話を100本語りながら、蝋燭を一本ずつ消していきます。最後の蝋燭が消されて真っ暗になったとき、本物の幽霊は現われるそうです。

最後に

この短編集を読む前に森見先生の他に京大生が出ている作品を読んだ方がいいと思います。例えば夜は短し歩けよ乙女や四畳半神話体系や太陽の塔。後者の二冊はまだ読んだことがないですが、読んでいないから見逃してる部分はないと思えないです。結局、これを読んで、森見ワルドを一歩も出ずに楽しく近代文学の名作に紹介してもらいました。

大文字山の写真はクリエイティブ・コモンズ・ライセンス

Scientific Taskforce – Murder in Moscow by Konno Bin

黒いモスクワ – 今野敏

Audiobook.jp has added two novels featuring the team of eccentric crime solvers called ST. I listened to Case File: Blue when it was the only one available and appreciated it as a straight forward mystery for listening practice, but I wasn’t too into the story as it centered around a ghost. It turns out a ghost comes into play in this one as well—I guess Konno likes ghosts—but I found this one had more to offer.

First, most of the book was set in Moscow. The Japanese investigators interacting with the FSB, former KGB, officers was an interesting dynamic. It raised the question of how much the organization has been influenced by its history versus how it has changed with Russia’s evolving political landscape.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Russian scenery, customs, and food. I have no idea if they were accurate, but I like having a window into another culture from a third culture. Even if there are stereotypes, they are likely subtly different from the stereotypes I would be exposed to in my own culture. Hopefully, this kind of interaction can slowly paint a more accurate picture.

The other reason I preferred this novel to Case File: Blue is the references to martial arts. ST member Kurosaki, is featured in this book as seen by the use of “black” in the Japanese title, which is one of the characters in Kurosaki’s name (they all happen to have colors in their names). Kurosaki is at an advanced level in several schools of martial arts. In this novel, he is a rising star in a fictional school. I couldn’t understand the details of the martial arts descriptions, but the part I could pick up was something fresh to listen to. If you are deep into martial arts maybe you would enjoy this aspect of the book, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

There is nothing else like Konno’s novels on Audiobook.jp, so I highly recommend them if you searching for a light and fun mystery story. Although the title is quite intense, I look forward to listening to the remaining book, Murder by Poison.

この頃Audiobook.jpで今野敏のSTシリーズのオーディオブックが二冊発売されました。今まで今野先生の作品の中で青の調査ファイルしか売られていなかったですから、それを楽しく聞きました。面白い推理小説として、それに日本語の聴解練習として、かなり好きでした。だが内容は幽霊の話を中心としていた点にはあまり気に入らなかったです。今回の作品にも幽霊が出ます。もしかして今野先生は幽霊が好きかもしれないですね。だが幽霊は別にして、今回の作品の方がよほど面白い点が多かったです。

一つ目の面白い点はモスクワの設定でした。日本人の捜査員とロシアの旧KGBであるFSBとの交流を見るのが好きでした。外からの見方を通して、FSBという組織が歴史や政治的の進化にどのように影響されているということは注目されてます。

ロシアの景色、伝統、や食べ物の描写は面白かったです。どのくらい本物のロシアを描かれているかわからないですが、それでも第三者の文化の見方からロシアの文化を見るのが好きでした。ロシアはどのような国と言えば、アメリカ人としての先入観があります。日本人なら微妙に違う先入観があるでしょう。そういう違う先入観を比べたりすると、脳内のロシアのイメージは少しずつ真実に近寄るかもしれないと思います。

青の調査ファイルより好きだった他の理由といえば、それは武術が出ているからです。タイトルは「黒いモスクワ」ですから、やはり黒崎というSTメンバーは注目されています。彼はいくつかの流派の武道に高い地位を持っているらしいです。この小説では、空想の流派の中伝免許を誰よりも早くとってうわさと嫉妬の対象になっていました。僕は武術に詳しくないですが、それにしても武術を説明している部分は面白かったです。何かの武道の経験を持ちの方はこういう要素を気に入るでしょう。ただ、軽く読んでいただければいいと思います。

Audiobook.jpで今野先生の書いているような作品は今野先生のもの以外はないです。軽くて楽しい推理小説を探しているなら、当作品を推薦します。これから、タイトルは少し怖くても、もう一冊の「毒物殺人」を聴くのを楽しみにしています。

Does Learning Chinese Help Your Japanese?

After finding that my efforts to go deeper into Japanese were providing diminishing returns, I decided to start something new and began learning Chinese (Cantonese). I was thinking that I would have to be prepared to accept a decline in my ability to use and understand Japanese, and to some extent that has been true. I haven’t been able to read as many Japanese books as usual lately. However, to my surprise, I find that there are some instances where learning Chinese has actually improved my Japanese ability. I ran into a sentence today where I found two specific instances of the benefits of learning Chinese for my Japanese ability. For those of you that may have fears and concerns that starting another language is the simple tradeoff of giving up depth in your L2 for gaining breadth with a new language, I would like to introduce this discovery.

The sentence I ran into was part of the creed for a Japanese company:

一、虚飾を排し和衷協力誠実事に當る

I didn’t know the word 和衷 (harmony – but not like musical harmony) and I had never seen the character in Japanese before. But fortunately, I had just learned the word 折衷, in Chinese, which means, “to compromise”. I can’t say this completely solved the unknown for me, as I still didn’t know the exact meaning of the word or how to read it. It did, however, allow me to be more familiar with the characters than I would have been if I had not begun studying Chinese. I think that is a subjective benefit, which is very valuable. A more objective benefit was that I could type the word with Cantonese input and copy it into a Japanese dictionary to discover the meaning.

The second benefit was with the word 當る. In this case, a more traditional form of the character 当 had been chosen for the creed, probably to make it look better. This was easy to recognize as it is used in many common words in Chinese that have a direct correspondence in Japanese. One example would be 當日, which corresponds with 当日. If that isn’t enough, my Chinese dictionary, Pleco, shows the simplified version of characters next to the main entry, and I can see that 当 is the simplified version of 當 every time I look up a word including that character.

These are two concrete examples, but I think that a lot of the benefits are too vague to articulate. In conclusion, I think that the breadth you gain from learning Chinese will actually help you gain more depth in Japanese.

Finally, I also want to note that I recently saw a video from famous polyglot Steve Kaufman stating a similar observation. Now we can go on and learn that shiny new language and be sure that, assuming we are still actively using them, our other languages are not only safe from decline but may stand to benefit as well.

Japanese Audiobook Review: I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by Sumino Yoru

(君の膵臓を食べたい – 住野 よる)

This story starts with the funeral of a high school girl, so you know it’s going to be depressing from the beginning. However, preparing the reader at the beginning in some way makes it more light-hearted than if Sumino decided to spring it at the end.

Sakura, a buoyant and outgoing high school girl who is terminally ill, meets an introverted boy, who prefers to live out his life engrossed in novels rather than dealing with the world. They form a deep bond over their shared secret about her illness.

I like that the story involves a lot of daily life activities, such as school, eating, and travel. Not living in Japan myself, it is always fun to read about daily life. Also, the story’s focus on normal activities means there is a lot of every day back and forth conversation, which I enjoy even if it’s just because it’s in Japanese.

The best part of the book was the evolution of the relationship between Sakura and the main character, as well as their individual development. He’s not actually a true hikikomori, as Sakura calls him, although he may be on the path to becoming one. While she, on the other hand, is the kind of person that needs to have others around to realize she’s alive. They begin to learn from one another in a relationship that would have never happened under normal circumstances.

On the audiobook side, there were a couple of things about the recording I want to mention. Sakura calls the narrator nakayoshi-kun, meaning something like, “person I’m close to,” and there is always a pause before the kun. It seems like during the first reading an incorrect name was used, then they went and overlayed the correct name. It makes me wonder what they said before. Also, Sakura’s laugh is quite annoying, but maybe it’s supposed to be that way.

The language is simple, with lots of dialogue, and the story is filled with everyday interactions. This is a great candidate if you are looking to get into your first fiction audiobook in Japanese.

Japanese Nonfiction Review: A Rolling Hong Kong Gathers No Moss

(転がる香港に苔は生えない – 星野 博美)

Usually, I write about fiction books, but I’m making an exception for this nonfiction work by Hoshino Hiromi for three reasons. First, I’m beginning to learn Cantonese so I want to read books in Japanese that help me get a better understanding of the culture associated with the language. Second, I took a vacation to Hong Kong in the early 2000s and was fascinated by the lifestyle—Hoshino decided to actually live the lifestyle. Finally, I think it is an interesting and unique book and want to share it.

Hoshino’s goal was to live in Hong Kong surrounding the handover from England to China. She goes there on a student visa—though not particularly interested in the school part—and lives in a modest apartment. She meets all kinds of people, less of the elite bankers and cosmopolitan Hongkongers that Hong Kong may bring to mind, but the everyday middle-class or working-class people as well as new immigrants. Much of the book is her conversations and interactions with these people, shedding light on different aspects of the local culture.

Continue reading “Japanese Nonfiction Review: A Rolling Hong Kong Gathers No Moss”

Japanese Book Review: The Tropics by Morimi Tomihiko

(熱帯 森見 登美彦)

I don’t normally write in-depth summaries of the books I read, but this one had an intricate enough plot that I wanted to do it for myself, and hopefully, someone else will come across this and find it helpful. This book has the most complicated plot I have read. Early on, we learn that one of the characters carries around a notebook to keep track everything that happens, a lesson he learned after his copy of The Tropics, a mysterious book that no one has ever finished, disappeared.

I took this as a hint and began writing down what happened as I read. If you plan to read this book I would suggest doing the same, or to save time, you can use my summary as a map.

Obviously, this includes spoilers, so if you plan on reading the book come back when you’re finished. Here goes:

Continue reading “Japanese Book Review: The Tropics by Morimi Tomihiko”

Japanese Audiobook Review: Snow In the Desert

Snow In the Desert by Isaka Kotaro (砂漠 – 伊坂幸太郎) is a coming of age story spanning the four college years of five friends. Surprisingly, it never showed up on any of the lists of recommended books on Audiobook.jp—I was only able to find it by searching for Isaka Kotaro directly—so I would like to recommend it here for anyone searching for fiction on the site. I’m guessing it is not a great seller as an audiobook or they would be promoting it more heavily, but on Amazon.co.jp the reviews were decent. I wasn’t too excited about the book, as the synopsis didn’t draw me in, but from the very beginning, I found it enjoyable to listen to because of the narrator, the characters, the relaxing tone. Also, it reminded me of what it was like to have plenty of free time.

Continue reading “Japanese Audiobook Review: Snow In the Desert”

Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part II b]

“Edgelands”(さいはての地 ), a short story by Haruka Asahi (朝陽遥) is part of a fantasy/adventure series, which includes “Rainlands“, of which a translation is published at SelfTaughtJapanese.com. I have the author’s permission to publish the translation of this two-part story. This is the second half of the second part, the end of the story. The beginning of the story is posted here. I would like to thank Locksleyu from SelfTaughtJapanese.com for help with translation checking and proofreading.

Synopsis

They call this place Edgetown—a small mountain village overlooking a vast, blazing wasteland. They say that no one can survive beyond this point, but young Noi can see the faint outline of a mountain in the distance. 

Does anyone really know what is on the other side, or is it just that no one has ever dared the perilous journey? 

Noi, refusing to accept baseless rumors, waits for nightfall to begin his journey…

“Edgelands”, set in the same universe as “Rainlands”, is a testament to the yearning of a human soul.

Continue reading “Short Story Translation: “Edgelands” by Haruka Asahi [Part II b]”