Saturday, January 30, 2010

From Fanlation to Failed Biometric Security Measures

Saturday, January 30th Link Post

Last Sunday I reviewed Andrew's simple kanji index, QuickKanji which provoked some interesting discussion about the accuracy of crowd-sourced translations. This is something that might be worth exploring further. It seems to be working for some people. There is a good definition of terms here including 'fanlation' which is a relatively new term for crowdsourcing free translations through a fanbase. (Follow @l_andrew_l on Twitter).

Most of you already know that it takes no less than 100% comittment to learn a language. Take a few tips from 19th century renaissance man Sir Richard Francis Burton who mastered 29 languages in an age without television or the internet. (Hat tip to Alex on Victory Manual).

Or how about these insights into the Japanese sense of honour at the Japan Subculture Reasearch Center? Author Jake Adelstein learned everything he needed to know from the yakuza or the cops, and still has five fingers on each hand. Follow @jakeadelstein on Twitter, or check out his book about his experience as a reporter on the police beat in Tokyo. (Secret handshake to Our Man in Abiko).

Jamaipanese got into the festive spirit with the Japanese Culture and Calendar Exhibition 2010, including more plastic sushi than you can poke a chopstick at. Earlier this year Jamaipanese launched Operation Visit Japan, something that he has been planning for over a year. Now you can ChipIn to help him meet his savings targets and experience the real thing. I first blogged about Kirk in this post from June last year about seven J-bloggers far from Japan. (Follow @Jamaipanese on Twitter).

I really appreciate getting mentions on other peoples blogs, especially when it leads me to great content like this post on using Twitter to improve your Japanese by @zonjineko or more on Manga translation by @Alpharalpha. Posts like this motivate me to dust off my other twitter account @jrfiction and get tweeting in Japanese. (よろしくね @dandanbatakeさん)

DSC00114And finally, Joe Jones over at Mutantfrog Travelogue has some interesting ideas on what to do with Itami Airport. If they did away with Osaka's third airport, perhaps they could save some money on their expensive and ineffective biometric immigration screening systems.

Image: DSC00114 by muzina_shanghai, on Flickr

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Quick Review of the Simple Kanji Index - QuickKanji

What is QuickKanji?

QuickKanji is a simple, usable kanji index for learners of Japanese. I was immediately impressed by its speed and ease of use, especially when it comes to looking up kanji. On the downside there doesn't seem to be much community, yet it has the potential for expansion through community tools like chat, and user generated content.

A simple, usable, community based kanji dictionary

I would never have know about QuickKanji were it not for this tweet by Andrew (@l_andrew_l on Twitter), the site's creator.

There are detailed instructions about using QuickKanji on the site itself, so I won't attempt to replicate them here. Instead, let's have a look at some pros and cons.


  1. Minimalistic interface. On the home page you have all the interface elements you need to start drilling down to the kanji you want and nothing more. There is a Kanji of the Day in the info panel to get you started. There is also no need to login, no partial results, no blinding ads.

  2. Very fast for look-ups. On the top of the screen are six ways to list kanji; All, Radical, Strokes, Level, On, Kun plus Search and a cookie based Vocab List. Use any of these methods to narrow your search and select the kanji you want to bring up in the info panel.

  3. Native indexing. You won't find any old JLPT lists here to distract you from the task of discovering more kanji. Search for kanji based on radical, stroke number, educational level as defined by the Japanese Ministry of Education, on and kun readings - simple.

  4. Simple discovery of new kanji and compounds. Wherever you are, scanning the lists or drilling down into to the info area, you find opportunties to step off and investigate new kanji and related compounds.

  5. Collaborative tools. Anyone can contribute new kanji and compounds directly from the info panel. Examples sentences can be added to compounds in the list area. Any time you see a kanji compound or example sentence you can vote on that entry's usefullness. Voting affects the order of the lists in which they appear. Useless entries are eventually deleted. There is also a chat feature which allows you to chat with anyone using the site.


  1. Not very well known. I'm not sure how comfortable Andrew is with shameless self promotion but it seems his creation is lacking a little link love. I asked him how long QuickKanji had been live and was surprised to hear over a year.

  2. Very light on compounds and translations. It seems that the handful of translations that have been added have been added by Andrew himself for the purpose of demonstration. Some kanji have plenty of compounds and others none. I wonder if there is some incentive for users to create compounds and translations?

  3. Crowd sourced translation may lead to a reliability problems. Especially when the number of crowd contributions is so small, there aren't enough people to guarantee the quality of entries.

  4. QuickKanji uses only one reference coding system. And it's not even a dictionary reference! Shift_JIS is a ASCII character encoding for Japanese, handy for programmers working with Japanese but not learners. I would have liked to have seen at least one or two dictionary indices so you could at least grab a dictionary when there were no compounds or translations available. It might even encourage people to add entries and compounds.
I'll be looking more closely at how you might be able to use when learning to read Japanese through manga. How would you use it?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Chocolate Beer and Fast Food Rodents in Japan

Friday, January 22nd Link Post

I've put this together for no other reason than it's good to look back and see what got clicked over the week. Even if I don't get enough time as I'd like to comment on blogs, I do make a habit of scrolling through my feeds for Japan related content. Stuff I find interesting then gets thrown out to Twitter, where you guys vote with your mice. No not those mice.

I only learnt about @lloydvincent and his blog Nihon Shock in the last couple of weeks but he has some good posts. There are many ways to say 'I' in Japanese, and each one paints you in a slightly different light. Not satisfied with watashi (わたし) or boku (ぼく) when referring to yourself? Why not try uchi (うち) or ore (おれ) for a slightly harder edge?

Michael Werneburg discusses the troubles he has living with a foreign name in Japan. on @reesan's loneleeplanet blog. An interesting discussion of bureaucratic blindness and a rigid syllabary ensue. There are also some helpful tips for making sure you don't get trapped with something that is unworkable.

When we got married my wife took her name (はせがわ) and mine (ファイフィールド) to ensure the kids could use either. We haven't had too much trouble. After reading this post about Google's "auto-suggest" feature and Japanese marriage I'm glad I don't have search history turned on.

You've just got to love urban myths, the best ones gain traction because they have an element of truth, they are slightly believable and are easily transmitted. They also rely on irrational fears and suspicions. Exploring this quirky side of human nature as they do so well, Edo @PinkTentacle is blogging weekly on Japanese urban legends. The ‘Ririkan’ may be fast-food mystery meat, but there is no mystery about the hard labour at McDonald's in Japan. I suppose it's not too much too ask for a dignified discussion of the issues on LetsJapan?

On a slightly lighter note, we've come back full circle to Nihon Shock, where Llyod has some flavor success with chocolate soda. At last! It was difficult to watch him pour Sapporo's chocolate beer down the sink. Probably not more difficult than drinking it however.

That's me closing out this post! If you want all this linky goodness feed to you intermittently through the day follow me on twitter, it's fun!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Influence of Mas Oyama on This Boy's Karate

Japan Blog Matsuri - Famous Japanese People - Mas Oyama

On the theme of Famous Japanese People a Korean born man by the name of Choi Yeong-eui may not seem like a logical choice. After getting the nod from @reesan I couldn't resist posting about a man who shaped my concept of Japanese culture. If Japan is to survive the next 100 years it will certainly need to embrace more outsiders like Mas Oyama.

When I started training in the martial arts at the tender age of 5, my father gave my brother and I a book called "Boys' Karate". The book was similar to a boy's annual, with lots of illustrations to accompany the stories it told. The exploits of boys our age seemed similar, yet were told upon the backdrop of a strange and exotic land of rice fields and bamboo groves.

The tales were in keeping with a much deeper philosophy of martial arts that I was only to recognise much later in my development. The book was written by Mas Oyama, a Zainichi Korean that was the founder of Kyokushin kaikan, a martial art that for many would come to define Full Contact Karate. His teachings and my life long practise of martial arts would ultimately lead me to visit Japan.

As a boy I was raised on Bushido and tales of Samurai and Shogun. My father taught lessons in a traditional style of martial art popular with bikies and bouncers. Every day there was some form of physcial training and some violence. It was a pretty tough way to grow up.

"Keep your head low,
eyes high and mouth shut;
base yourself on filial piety
and benefit others."

I imagine that for a Korean born during a brutal Japanese occupation my childhood would have been nothing compared to the hardship Oyama endured. At the age of 9 his parents sent him to Manchuria to live on his sisters farm, where he began learning martial arts from a seasonal worker named Lee.

One of the earliest stories I was told, during practice for a high jumping contest no less, was that Lee gave the young Oyama a seed to plant. When the seed sprouted Lee gave him the instruction to leap over it a hundred times a day. As it grew into a plant Oyama continued his practice and later said, "I was able to leap back and forth between walls easily."

As a young man he joined the Japanese Airforce and saw many of his friends sacrifice their lives as kamikaze. When the war ended he grew disaffected at being denied a place among Japanese society. He was pursued by the Japanese Police as a member of a political organisation for the reunification of Korea. He trained in Shotokan and Gojuryu styles of Karate and gained a reputation as a loner and a brawler for his street fights with US Military Police.

Eventually the constant harrassment took its toll, following the suggestion of a friend, he retreated to the mountains to perfect his fighting style. He eventually founded Kyokushin years later in 1953.

"The heart of our karate is real fighting.
There can be no proof without real fighting.
Without proof there is no trust.
Without trust there is no respect.
This is a definition in the world of Martial Arts."

During the foundation of his martial art Oyama would invite people to fight him in public demonstrations. Legend has it that in one three day kumite he fought 300 men. He earnt the nickname 'god-hand' for his practice of killing bulls with a single punch. Even today Kyokushin bears the mark of its founder, as global tournaments are full contact and open to all-comers. Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge his followers no longer travel around fighting and killing bulls with their bare hands.

I admire him though not for his immense physical power, but for his contribution to the spiritual way of the warrior, Bushido.

"Although it is important to study and train for skill in techniques, for the man who wishes to truly accomplish the way of Budo, it is more important to make his whole life in training and therefore not aiming for skill and strength alone, but also for spiritual attainment."

This philosophy echoes that of Miyamoto Musashi the author of the Book of Five Rings, who according to Oyama;

"said that he had no regrets about what he did. If you have confidence in your own words, aspirations, thoughts, and actions and do your very best, you will have no need to regret the outcome of what you do. Fear and trembling are the lot of a person who, while stinting effort, hopes that everything will come out precisely as he wants it to."

Mas Oyama spent most of his life in Japan and chose to become a Japanese citizen in 1964. He is the focus of my post for the January 2010 Japan Blog Matsuri hosted thanks to Lee (@reesan on Twitter) at loneleeplanet. You can find out more at the Japan Blog Matsuri FAQ page.

Boys' Karate by Masutatsu Oyama is now a sought after collectors item. I asked a former flatmate if he'd seen it and this was his response.

Photograph: Masutatsu Oyama! by KEMPO!