Even a Pen Can Speak with an Accent

As anyone who has tried to master a second language can tell you, one of the biggest challenges is to lose your accent and sound like a native speaker — arguably, native-like pronunciation does even more to provide a first impression of proficiency than fluency of expressing ideas, fairly or not. Indeed, the word “shibboleth” — meaning an explicit indicator of in-group status — comes from a Hebrew word used to identify belonging by simple virtue of being difficult to pronounce. Historically, these shibboleths and other demonstrations of in-group status have varied significantly in importance: the results can be anything from not being automatically offered the foreign-language menu at a restaurant to, in some cases, literal survival.

Obviously, in my lifestyle, the former is the much more common variety encountered, and much of it is more a matter of simply learning ways to sound less “foreign,” in order to reduce cognitive burden on others and to avoid simply sticking out as being “unusual,” even in subtle ways.

Interestingly, my first exposure to the idea of having an “accent” that would out one’s status as a non-native speaker of a language came at the age of thirteen or so, during a middle school German class. We learned that, if we were to write our ones and sevens the standard English way, they would look, at a bare minimum, “odd” to native speakers:

I think we can all agree that the difference between ‘one’ and ‘seven’ is overstated anyway.

While a German speaker seeing an English-style “1” might find it a little unusual-looking, but would probably figure out what was intended, the English-style “7” would almost certainly be misread in isolation as a “1” written hastily at a bit of an angle. You may think the German “1” here looks a bit exaggerated, but if anything, I’ve demonstrated restraint — I’ve seen cases where the diagonal bit extends basically all the way down to the baseline. It is presumably due to the influence of German (especially in the US, and especially in my home state of Pennsylvania, which is full of road signs with German and Dutch last names on them) that the German-style “7” is also used in English at least semi-commonly.

On the other hand, Japan has its own way of making sevens a bit more visually distinct: a long serif is ordinarily added, making it look a lot like how ク is ordinarily handwritten. In this case, there’s no real ambiguity being resolved; the English-style “7” would be readily understood, even if, in practice, virtually everybody in Japan writes it with that serif.

Interestingly, your pen can give you away as a non-native speaker in Japanese, even without writing a single word.

Even this example looks like the Arrested Development logo. Or maybe a coupon.

It’s subtle, yes, but somehow, the English-speaking world learns at some point that you circle things by starting at 12:00 or 1:00 and going around counter-clockwise (almost certainly because that’s how the letter “o” is written, at least prescriptively in things like Palmer Method cursive), whereas Japan learns that you circle things by starting at 4:00 or 5:00 and going around clockwise, possibly due to the cultural influence of the enso.

Once you’re aware of this, it’s hard to miss in popular culture: an entire generation of western gamers has no doubt grown up wondering why video games depict things circled in a “handwritten” manner look kind of like a 9. Or perhaps that was just me. On the other hand, you have stuff like the logo for the TV show Arrested Development, which is admittedly not particularly well known in Japan, possibly because any attempt to translate or localize a comedy so heavily dependent on multi-layered English wordplay would be so self-evidently hopeless as to inspire little more than a bleak, mirthless cackle.

Incidentally, at least as of some time ago, when I worked in a Japanese middle school, this “non-native writing” phenomenon worked both ways. Japanese students starting English are taught the alphabet, but presumably due to the influence of kanji and the fact that they each have a proper stroke order, as well as the fact that these strokes are, almost without exception, downward or to the right, students are often taught what would be, to many native English speakers, relatively “unnatural” looking ways to write certain letters.

Yes, I am aware that some native speakers write these letters differently. We’re talking about the big part of the bell curve, mainly.

The biggest and most obvious difference is the fact that, in English, there is more willingness to move the pen upward, either while writing (as in “A” and “N”) or as a general trending direction (as in “E” above). Obviously, the examples shown aren’t entirely universal, since there’s some variation in how English speakers write — the written language is, generally, not taught in as formally regimented a manner as Japanese traditionally is — but by no means do the “native” examples above look unusual or out of place.

Ultimately, these sorts of things aren’t too important in terms of everyday practicality, to be honest; in very few cases will you find yourself expressing yourself inaccurately or imprecisely because you circled something the wrong way. On the other hand, as with any other form of work to minimize your accent in a second language spoken or otherwise, there is a certain satisfaction that can come from attention to detail, adding a level of polish to go beyond merely “good enough” — even if the ultimate goal is to not be noticed.

スポーツツーリズム

FIFAワールドカップがいよいよ6月から始まりますね!

さて、石川県には 、ツエーゲン金沢というJ2のクラブチームがあります。
https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%84%E3%82%A8%E3%83%BC%E3%82%B2%E3%83%B3%E9%87%91%E6%B2%A2

現在はホームスタジアムを西部緑地公園陸上競技場に置いていますが、
2022年には金沢市民サッカー場が改修され、そちらがホームスタジアムになるようです。

JR東金沢駅から徒歩圏内のスタジアムとなり、全国から観光客が観戦に訪れるでしょう!
そのころまでに「J1」に昇格していれば、効果絶大です。

現在11位に付けていますが、がんばってもらいたいですね!
https://www.jleague.jp/standings/j2/

*ところで初めてこの”ツエーゲン”というチーム名を聞いたとき、優れたネーミングだなと思いました。ドイツ語の力強い音の響きと、金沢の方言が見事にマッチしています。

 

だんだん暖かくなってきましたね!

本日の富山(朝 6時)の桜の写真

中には五分咲くらいのものもありますが、ほぼ満開です!

こちらはいたち川の桜。

富山の桜は松川が有名ですが、いたち川の方がひっそりした中にも情緒があって、個人的にはおすすめです^^

新規事業 「民泊施設の運営と管理」

当社の新事業として民泊の運営・管理業務を開始しました。

現在運営・管理している施設は兼六園ちかくにある一軒家で、空き家だった建物の内装をリノベーションし、宿泊施設として運営しています。

その施設をいくつかの写真とともにご紹介します。

2階建ての日本家屋です。
1階にリビング、浴室、トイレ、台所があり、2階にある二部屋を寝室にしています。

リビング。畳は張替えて、清潔感を打ち出しました。

2階に続く階段。照明にこだわりを。

トイレは改修しました。

お布団を楽しんでいただくスタイルです。

外国人の方々の利用がほとんどで、英語圏(アメリカ、オーストラリア)と中華圏(中国、台湾、香港)が多いです。
6名まで宿泊可能で、ご家族や仲良しのグループでの利用がオススメです。ホテルとは違った味わい、過ごし方ができます。

石川県で民泊をお考えの方がいらしたらぜひ当社までご連絡ください。
今後、1軒ずつ運営する施設を増やしていく計画です。

 

どうして民泊を?と言われるのですが、いくつか理由があります。

・外国人旅行者の方々に喜ばれるサービスを作ることは地域の国際化に繋がり自社の目的とも合致する

・外国語を使えるスタッフが揃っていて、強みを活かせる分野である

・民泊業務で得た知見やノウハウが翻訳・通訳業務にシナジーを起こす可能性が高い

・空き家を民泊として再活用することは、金沢の景観を残し地域への貢献につながる。

会社として新しい分野・新しいお客様に向けてサービスを作っていくチャレンジをする機会を探っていたという背景もありますし、今後伸びていくことが予想される観光分野での事業であることも決断する気持ちを後押ししてくれました。

今年の6月に民泊新法が施行され、今後も状況が目まぐるしく変わっていくことが予想されますが、金沢に訪れる方々の忘れえぬ思い出の一助となるよう、より良いサービスを目指してまいります。

On Car Shopping in Japan

Given that my wife and I have no real intention of buying a house or having a kid, last weekend’s trip to the Honda dealership to buy a car is easily the most “adult” thing we’ve done in quite some time.

Perhaps I should start a little earlier in the story. Our previous1 car, a 2003 Fit Aria, was absolutely starting to get a bit long in the tooth — leaving aside its generally unfortunate-looking condition after a number of harsh Hokuriku winters, the radiator was cracked and in need of outright replacement, and between the price of that and the fact that we’d be looking at a substantial outlay this June for the shaken car inspection (easily ¥200,000 or more, because there is a minimum fee of something like ¥60,000 or ¥70,000 simply for the two years of compulsory insurance, plus a huge amount to get that car up to code), we figured, hey, it sounds like time to consider simply replacing our car.

It actually looked even worse on the inside.

The car-buying experience in Japan is, as has no doubt been written about countless times on the internet, rather alien to Americans.2 While there is certainly a degree of upselling of optional luxuries,3 there is a refreshing straightforwardness about a lot of the process: there are certain packages that include certain features, and you simply pick one of them as a baseline to work from.4

The interesting thing, from an American perspective, is how much paperwork there is involved: the dealership will generally require official proof of a parking space (to be obtained from one’s landlord), an officially registered seal and a certification of its validity from the local government office, etc. The payment, if going with a single lump-sum payment rather than credit, is also quintessentially Japanese: the buyer simply transfers the money from their own bank account to the bank account of the dealership, and the dealership looks at the name on the transfer to confirm who it came from.5

And then, if absolutely everything goes right, you may have your new car in as little as a week.

That’s right: unlike in the US, where it is largely safe to assume that you will drive your new car home that very same day, in Japan, your new car won’t be delivered to the dealer for you to drive home for a week or longer, depending on the configuration you’ve requested, because of the fact that they more or less build the car to order. If nothing else, hey, that’s actually pretty neat that the car companies still operate that way. It was certainly a novel surprise to us, at least.

Incidentally, for the curious, the car we went with is another Honda: the N-Box.6

Hot New Squareness

It falls into a legal category known as kei cars, a special type of small, light vehicles with restrictions on engine displacement and wheel size. The upsides include significant tax breaks, absurdly good gas mileage (the official mileage estimates are something like 28 km/l, or well over 68 MPG, which is good but by no means breathtaking among kei cars), and ready availability of some parts (given that the wheel size is standardized, everyone has the right tires available), but with minor downsides like being too narrow to seat five. To be perfectly honest, I’d love to see kei cars make it big overseas, but odds are that there’d be some pretty significant hurdles to that actually happening.7 Still, though, it’s not hard to imagine that there’d likely be a market for a small, efficient car that gets 60+ MPG, with a price tag in the mid $10,000s.

In the meanwhile, we’ll have to simply enjoy our new car here, in the market it was designed for. With any luck, this one will hopefully last another fifteen years, like the one it replaced.


  1. Or technically, at the time of this writing (but not posting), current. Feel free to allow this to recontextualize everything written above, as technically being in the future tense. Alternately, feel free to ignore this fact. 
  2. With the interesting exception of Saturn, a GM brand based on how car sales work in Japan. 
  3. Such as floor mats. 
  4. Though the initial price estimate included a whole bunch of optional features added in, which we then had to ask to remove, one by one. It says a lot about car sales, universally, that this came as a surprise to neither of us. 
  5. A fun thing I learned when trying to pay for our car: unless you tell the Japan Post bank folks otherwise, there is a limit of ¥500,000 per day that you can send as bank account transfers in a single day from an ATM, which is not enough to purchase a brand new car. Obviously, it makes sense that there are safeguards against transferring frankly enormous amounts of money without prior notice, but it’s still inconvenient when I know I’m good for it and that I’m doing it on purpose. 
  6. I don’t have anywhere else to add this, so I’ll just put it in here: when we later went to pick up the car, a week after purchasing it, the manager of the dealership came out to thank us personally, and gave us a little pot of flowers. It was a really nice little gesture, even if he does it for every customer. 
  7. For one, the mere fact that these are cars built specifically to meet guidelines for a single specific country, for reduced tax purposes, is a major benefit domestically that obviously wouldn’t apply overseas. On the other hand, given that they generally get mileage in the same realm as hybrids, perhaps a few countries would be willing to give them a chance. There’s also a major built-in first mover disadvantage — the standardized wheel size in Japan is great, because there’s a whole industry of vehicles that use the comparatively tiny tires that kei cars call for, but if you were to try to sell one overseas, the exact opposite would apply: you’d have a new model of car that would need a size of tire that would be small enough to be vanishingly rare in, say, the US. This is presumably part of why kei cars haven’t really made it overseas, though it feels like they have a lot of potential in urban markets, where being compact but with lots of interior space would be key. Incidentally, speaking of small cars meant for urban markets, only a single foreign-made car has ever achieved kei status in Japan, and not even fully across the board: certain versions of the Smart Fortwo happen to be meet these legal restrictions.