Goldfish Salvation

My friend Matt recently linked me to a blog post introducing “Goldfish Salvation”, an exhibit in London by Japanese artist Fukahori Riusuke. That one link sent me off on a web surfing expedition, culminating in a read through Fukahori’s own words on his original inspiration.

A Cup of Flower, Riusuke Fukahori - Goldfish Salvation
A Cup of Flower, Riusuke Fukahori - Goldfish Salvation (Photo by Dominic Alves)

Fukahori paints acrylic pictures of goldfish in containers between layers of resin, creating a lifelike 3D effect. His work is beautiful and powerful. Here’s a blog post detailing the setup of the exhibition, and here is a wonderful collection of photos of the various works. The exhibit’s official site unfortunately tells me that it’s over as of tomorrow. (Will Fukahori show his work elsewhere? Atlanta maybe, hint hint?)

I was interested to see if I could find out whether or not “Goldfish Salvation” was a translation of 金魚救い (kingyo sukui), the Japanese festival tradition of plucking goldfish out of a tank with a circular paper scoop. You have to swoop down just right in order to avoid the scoop getting too wet and breaking, letting the fish fall through it. 救い literally means “help; aid; relief; salvation”, so it’s like you’re saving the goldfish when you manage to do it right and take one home.

On Fukahori’s official page, I discovered that “Goldfish Salvation” does indeed make that direct reference…but it has a double meaning.

Fukahori had been thinking of giving up on art. Try as he might, he couldn’t find inspiration. He slumped across his bed in defeat, and as he lay there, he happened to see his pet goldfish Kinpin. He’d scooped her at a festival seven years prior. Staring down at her from above her tank, he thought about all she’d endured, and yet she’d kept going, kept living, growing to 20 centimeters in length. At that moment she was beautiful and strange to him.

He started painting, using her as a model. And when he was done he’d painted so many goldfish. “This is it,” he thought.


The answer I’d been searching for wasn’t in Europe. It wasn’t in America. It was right here in this room.

Since then, I’ve held precious the events of this day, calling them 金魚救い.

The goldfish he’d “saved” seven years ago at the festival had now saved him.

Goldfish Salvation.

I have so much I want to say…

…yet I never seem to find the time or energy to write.

Every day I think of something cool or interesting or important to me that I want to share, and every day that thought gets lost in my little gray cells. Sometimes it doesn’t even make it to Twitter.

So while I have a few free seconds, I’ll mention some of the things on my mind.

Grandma’s funeral and burial and the lunch much of the family had at Cracker Barrel afterwards were all so cathartic for me. I’m so glad I was able to be there for all of it, and so glad Sean came with me. I was able to celebrate Grandma’s life and mourn her death, and now I remember her and what she meant to me all the time, and with a smile.

My first niece will be born at the end of this month, and I am so thrilled. As a feminist and a tomboy, I’m shocked at how much I’m finding myself wanting to buy Daphne cute things and have tea parties with her. I guess all I can do is resolve not to treat her differently when it counts, when it’s a matter of fairness.

My best friend has moved back to Augusta after three years abroad. It is so nice to have her here, so nice to be able to call her up and have lunch or drop by and see her after work like I used to. It’s not exactly the same, of course; she’s married now, and living in a house rather than an apartment. But it’s pretty damn close, and I love it.

Back in September, my host sister from when I lived in Yatsushiro, Japan for three weeks in 2001 came to visit me! Yoko stayed an altogether too short three days; we went to Savannah, enjoyed Augusta’s Arts in the Heart, and went out for Indian food in Atlanta. We got along famously; she’s a huge fan of Arashi, and when I realized who that was and said “Matsumoto Jun!” we immediately bonded ;>

Not too long ago Sean and I went to a family dinner with Sean’s mom and dad, grandmother, grandmother’s sister (great aunt?), and grandmother’s sister’s daughter (second cousin?). It was really nice. I love family dinners. We had great food and looked at family pictures and just had a lovely time.

Sean has a new job teaching IT, which is just what he wanted, so we’re ecstatic. He starts soon, and more details about that will be forthcoming. Things will stay the same for me for awhile, though.

However, I have really ramped up my Japanese study. I study a little every day, with Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) called Anki, the myriad iPhone apps I’ve purchased, and/or James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji. I also listen to Japanese-language podcasts about humor, pop culture, and cooking and watch Japanese-language media like anime, dramas, music videos, news, and documentaries. But the biggest thing I’ve done is join the Online Speaking Exchange and befriended/followed dozens of Japanese people on Twitter. Reading and responding to their tweets has really helped me overcome shyness and get a good feel for the flow of the language. Plus, I’ve made some really good friends.

As I’ve been looking into various language-learning resources, I ran across Benny the Irish Polyglot’s Fluent in 3 Months, wherein he speaks a lot about Couchsurfing. I am fascinated by the idea of letting people from around the world stay at our home; it sounds like a great way to make friends, practice language skills and learn about different cultures. I may try to talk Sean into it at some point in the future.

To motivate myself a little to become functionally fluent in Japanese, I’ve signed up to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) at level N3 (there are 5 levels). The test is in December and I’m really excited to see how well I’ll do.

That’s probably not even the half of everything I want to share–I haven’t even mentioned the running!–but it’s all I have time for now.  Till next time…

Browser woes

I don’t have time for a proper post. I just wanted to share my frustration at the browser choices currently available.

Firefox is bloated. It eats up all my computer’s resources and hangs like crazy.

IE is slow. It doesn’t take as many resources as Firefox, but it’s not a huge improvement. Plus, I click something, hear the click, and then wait several long seconds for anything to actually happen.

I’ve switched to Google Chrome recently, looking for relief, but a plague of unresponsive tabs has made me wonder if it’s truly any better than the above. Plus, Chrome renders Japanese text horribly. To wit:

Hard-to-read Japanese textSigh.

Meeting goals by having fun

I used to believe that to accomplish anything, I had to create an elaborate system, planning for every contingency in advance, and then strictly hold myself to that system, meeting a long string of minigoals on my way to the main goal.

Trouble is, that method has never worked for me.

I’ve never been able to create and stick to a menu plan. I’ve never charted out long-term projects for school or work and then adhered to a granular schedule.

What works for me is doing what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it. This goes for anything. Some days I feel like being creative; other days I feel like doing mindless “it has to be done” tasks. If I try to do creative tasks on days I’m feeling mindless, or I try to do mindless tasks on days I feel creative, I usually end up in a sour mood.

Sometimes, of course, it can’t be helped; there’s a project that has to be done now, no matter what mood I’m in. I have built up enough maturity since college to force myself through such blocks and get the work done. But when it comes to my interests outside work, things I don’t have to do, I find that the second it starts getting tiresome, I quit.

For example, my Japanese self-study progressed very slowly once I was out of college. And even when I was in college, I barely studied. At the time I thought something was wrong with me, that I was just lazy, that everyone else was working hard and I wasn’t, and that those were the reasons they excelled and I didn’t.

I purchased Japanese textbooks but stopped short of using them; I amassed flash cards but never took them out of their boxes. I bought a workbook and only filled out a few pages.

However, I also continued watching anime; I purchased Japanese-language editions of my favorite manga, and muddled through at least parts of them; I followed translators and other Japanese-speaking native English speakers on Twitter; I installed a Japanese dictionary browser plug-in; I listened to Kyou Kara Maou radio dramas. I kept in contact with the language.

And then, through my Twitter/blog friend Harvey, I discovered AJATT.

AJATT stands for “All Japanese All the Time”. It’s a language-learning philosophy created by a guy calling himself Khatzumoto, who taught himself Japanese in 18 months without attending any classes. The idea is that keeping in contact with your target language is enough to continue your language learning…and the best way to stay in contact is through fun things you’d already be doing.

It took weeks, maybe even months, for me to truly grasp the power of this approach. During that time I followed Khatzumoto (@ajatt) on Twitter and just let myself absorb his mindset. His tweets vary from inspirational quotes to his own observations on language learning to links to various interesting readings and videos in Japanese. Some samples:

“西暦1491年―先コロンブス期アメリカ大陸をめぐる新発見” (original tweet)

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” | Nelson Mandela (original tweet)

サイロン・レイダー – Wikipedia “宇宙空母ギャラクティカ” (original tweet)

Where is your ownage? Still below the surface, where it’s supposed to be. Now shut up get back to watching cartoons! :P (original tweet)

You’ll often find that it’s more important to get things started than to get them right. (original tweet)

That first link is to a Japanese-language book on Amazon about new discoveries about pre-Columbus America. This would be a great tool for a history buff to practice reading Japanese while enjoying an interesting historical topic.

The Nelson Mandela quote is pretty self-explanatory.

The third tweet links to a Japanese-language Wikipedia article about the attack craft used by the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. Yes!

The last two are examples of Khatzumoto’s thoughts on language-learning, which are great motivators to keep yourself in contact with your target language.

He’s constantly posting stuff like this, such that I’m inundated with plenty of fun things to do in Japanese. For a time, while I was letting the AJATT philosophy sink in, that was enough…but then I started wanting more contact.

Eventually, someone somewhere linked to a blog post that recommended five iPhone applications for learning kanji. Based on that review, I ended up getting iKanji Touch and Kanji Flip. I had previously purchased several of Harvey’s iPhone apps. Khatzumoto linked to some live streams of Japanese television, so I ended up adding the MoSS app, a free live stream player. And Harvey linked to a couple more apps: one that lets you practice inputting Japanese without using romaji on the iPhone, and one that has Japanese-language news headlines in comic book format. Now I have one screen almost completely filled with Japanese apps:

iPhone screenshot

I’ve actually found myself using Kanji Flip the most. It uses the Spaced Repetition System, or SRS, which I had never heard of before I started following Harvey and Khatzumoto and Bret. With Kanji Flip, I very quickly learned to recognize about 100 kanji–by very quickly, I mean about one week. And this was just using Kanji Flip during any down time, such as waiting for food at a restaurant.

Using Kanji Flip gave me a sense of accomplishment–I could see how well I was doing at all times–while still being fun. I started recognizing those 100 kanji in Twitter posts, and relying less on my plug-in to read Japanese text.

I also changed my iPhone and my Facebook account’s default language to Japanese. This puts me in constant contact with my target language. I’ve started to recognize words I never knew the kanji for before, like 自分 (-self), which is used in Facebook Notifications such as “Heather commented on her own status” (or, “Heatherさんが自分の近 況についてコメントしました。”).

The bottom line is I’m having fun, using Japanese in my daily life and making sure to come in contact with it a lot.

It occurred to me the other day that this sort of mindset should be able to work for pretty much any goal. If I want to be a runner, for example, I should run as much as possible. If I want to be in shape, I should engage in physical activity as much as possible. If I want to eat healthily, I need to keep healthy foods around me as much as possible. If I want to save money, I need to make smart financial choices and think about how to cut out costs as much as possible.

It seems like a no-brainer writing it out like this. But what I’m coming to realize is none of that’s going to work if it’s not fun. If I don’t have fun with these things, I’m not going to keep in contact with them enough to have any impact on my life. In other words, I’ll know what I should do, and I’ll force myself to do it for awhile, and then I’ll start to think of it as a chore, and soon enough I’ll quit. That has been the story of my life. Literally, where my extracurricular activities are concerned.

I don’t have it all figured out yet. I don’t know how I’m going to make everything I want to accomplish fun. But I do know I can’t approach this the way I’ve approached pretty much everything else. I can’t put off getting started while I try to figure out how to create a “system”. What I need to do is just jump in, see what works, see what doesn’t, and, ultimately, enjoy myself.

I’m feeling a lot more hopeful about accomplishing things now.

Fun with phrases

In Japanese, you can string phrase upon phrase upon phrase, and then at the very end have everything you just said modify a noun. For example, here’s a line from Detective Conan:

watashi wa jishu wo susumetai no…goshujin wo kousatsu shita Yuuko-san, anata ni ne

[I] [(topic particle)] [surrender (n.)] [(object-identifying postposition)] [advise*] … [husband] [(object-identifying postposition)] [strangled] [Yuuko] [you] [to]

This has the dramatic effect of hiding the true subject of everything you’re saying until the very last moment. It’s often used in Detective Conan to make the unveiling of the murderer a surprise.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to do this in English. Here’s the most literal translation I could think of:

I’d advise surrender…husband-strangling Yuuko, to you.

Of course, no one talks like that. So maybe:

I’d advise surrender to the one who strangled her husband…you, Yuuko.

* Susumetai has an ending, –tai, that indicates the desire to do something. I could have translated it as “like to advise”, but for the sake of simplicity I did not.

Japanese used in my karate class

A fair amount of Japanese is used in the karate class I recently joined. Here are the terms I’ve heard so far.

End of class

First the teacher says “line up” in English. The students get in line in front of the mirror in order of rank, with white belts to the left and brown belts to the right. Students stand with feet shoulder width apart and hands in fists held out down and to the front. The teachers stand along the left wall.

The teacher says the name of the highest-ranking student, who is of course standing on the opposite side of the room. The highest-ranking student says:

気を付け! 【きをつけ】 (ki wo tsuke) – Attention!

Students slide their feet together and swing their hands to clap the backs of their hips.

礼! 【れい】 (rei) – Bow!

先生に礼! 【せんせいにれい】 (sensei ni rei) – Bow to the teacher(s)!

先輩に礼! 【せんぱいにれい】 (senpai ni rei) – Bow to your senior(s)!

The first bow is to the mirrors. Students turn left to bow to the teachers and spin around to bow to the higher-ranking students.


In karate, forms are called

型 【かた】 (kata)

The one kata I’ve learned so far is called taikyoku 1. I believe the Chinese characters for taikyoku are 太極, but I’m not positive. Here’s some information about the taikyoku kata.

Sensei Beall’s school has a traditional way of opening and closing a form. To begin a form, you stand with your left foot held lightly in front, similar to kung fu’s cat stance. Your hands are held flat in front of you and down, left hand on top of right.

This position has a name. At first I thought the senseis were saying

娘 【むすめ】 (musume)

which means “girl” or “daughter”. However, it’s apparently something like issume. Since I don’t know the exact pronunciation, I haven’t been able to find the actual word or what it means.

After this position you 気を付け (ki wo tsuke) and 礼 (rei) as described above. Then you bring your left hand up about a foot in front of your face, palm facing inward and fingers held at a height just below your eyes, so you can see over them. Simultaneously and silently, your right fist slides up behind your flat left hand, palm facing you. The senseis seem to be calling this position “ready” in English. You then lower your hands, keeping them together so that your left hand rotates on top of your right, until your arms are straight down in front, hands still together. This is also called “ready”.

From there you go right into your form.

Once you’re finished with your form, you go out by stepping your feet together, slapping your fist into your left hand for the first “ready” position (you can make noise with your fist this time because you’ve defeated all your opponents), and shifting into the second “ready”. Then you 気を付け (ki wo tsuke), 礼 (rei), and step into the “line up” stance.


During forms or drills, any time you’ve done a series of the same maneuver, you shout on the last one. The word traditionally said is

気合 【きあい】 (kiai)

which literally means scream or yell, and also means fighting spirit. Sensei Beall says the point is not to say 気合 (kiai) perfectly, but to let out air rapidly so that if you get punched, your opponent can’t knock the wind out of you. The yell should come from your gut, not your throat.

I have to tell you, being in a situation in which Japanese is used regularly makes me want to speak Japanese! I’m afraid one night I’ll slip and say はい (hai) instead of “Yes, sir!” :)

Translation Exercise: "Analog Blog"

I was catching up on a few RSS feeds, and I happened to read an interesting entry on Digital Camera Sketch (デジカメスケッチ), “a report on the ordinary using a digital camera”. Normally I use the Rikaichan Firefox plugin to get the gist of these posts and then move on, but today I felt like trying to write up a translation of this post, titled “Analog Blog”.

Here’s my translation:

Awhile back, this project was going on in the Nipponbashi area of Osaka. Pictures were taken with digital cameras, brought here, printed on the spot and pasted up together with comments. Incidentally, mine is the one on the right, the photo of the streetcar in the Nipponbashi shopping district.

Click here to see the original post and a photo. The “analog blog” in question has the title “Den-Den Town Bit by Bit Blog”. The post refers to a place in Osaka called Nipponbashi; click here for more information on that area.

Please note: I am not a professional translator, nor am I fluent in Japanese! This was just for practice. If you see any problems, let me know. I was unclear, for example, if he meant he took two photos or just one. Also, it seems like he used the wrong kanji in 商店会; I assumed he meant 商店街.

In other news…

I thought it was impossible, but someone has figured out how to write maru-ma in text!

Really, I figured there should be a way–it’s common to put a circle (maru) around a character. But all the KKM websites had it as a graphic, so that led me to believe it was impossible. Glad to know it’s not; I can now write Kyou Kara Maou properly in Japanese.

Edit: Unfortunately I can’t do it here, since it seems the maru is in UTF-8 and I foolishly set this blog to Shift-JIS back in the day. Someday I want to change it to UTF-8…but when I do I will have to edit all posts that have Japanese text in them >_< Edit, almost a year later: My blog is now UTF-8, and the Japanese text seems to have transferred perfectly! Yay! Unfortunately the site that used to have the maru-ma on it now does not

Japanese(?) in Smallville

In episode 18 of season 5, Lex and Lana are coming back from their first date, if you can call researching various and sundry classified documents about space aliens over Japanese food a date. Lana tells Lex he could have warned her about the squid brains.

Lex responds, “Oh-EE-SHEE kara DAY SHOW”, which I am guessing was supposed to be おいしいからでしょう, though I’m not sure. A quick Google search reveals that that is in fact a phrase. I’ve never heard anyone say it, but I’m guessing it could mean something like, “Because it was good, right?”

(おいしい = delicious, から = because, でしょう = kind of a copula with an opinion connotation, I guess. Jim Breen sez “(I) think; (I) hope; (I) guess; don’t you agree?; I thought you’d say that!”)

Lex’s next line is “Come on, you can’t fool me. You loved it,” which is sorta-kinda a translation.

It occurred to me that he might have been saying 塩辛, but I definitely hear an “o” at the beginning of the phrase. Besides, what would 塩辛でしょう mean, anyway? “It was totally entrails, man”?

Anyway, I’m not knocking Michael Rosenbaum, who is a fabulous actor (not to mention totally hot). It’s hard to get the pitch inflection of Japanese down right. You have to work to overcome the natural tendency in English to put stress on the penultimate syllable.

I just always find it interesting when people speak a language I’m somewhat familiar with :)