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[icon] 今日本にいます! - Jamey Sharp
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Current Location:Tokyo, Japan
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Subject:今日本にいます!
Time:11:56 am
Current Mood:excitedexcited
やった! Sarah and I made it to Japan last night. Also it seems that my Japanese skills are almost good enough to be useful. *phew*

After boarding our plane in Portland, we were stuck on the ground for about two hours because a seat broke. (Sarah says it was one of the flight attendants' chairs.) A Chinese fellow by the name of Tom Chen chatted with us quite a bit while we all waited; I gather he lives in the Portland area but was on a trip to visit China. Eventually the FAA paperwork went through to allow the plane to "fly in its current configuration" (that is, the "broken" configuration) and we were on our way.

Ten hours later... (In the meantime I drained one battery on my Neo Freerunner reading the first part of a sci-fi book I downloaded before leaving; watched a fun and humorous Japanese action movie with social commentary undertones called "K-20: Legend of the Mask"; explored the in-flight entertainment system that provided that movie and a fair selection of others as well as other stuff like real-time flight maps and info; discovered that said entertainment system was Linux-based when it rebooted in the middle of my movie and showed the single-CPU framebuffer Tux logo; ate a tolerable airline dinner around 5pm PST, an airline-provided ice cream bar a few hours later, and the airline's "breakfast" around 6pm JST... oh and chatted with Sarah sometimes when she wasn't sleeping.)

Once we landed at the Narita airport there was a further delay. People in Japan are pretty concerned about the swine flu right now, so nobody was allowed off the plane until government health inspectors had come through with what I'm betting were infrared video cameras, though they called them "thermographs". I hope Sarah's pictures of this bit come out well because it's quite dramatic to have your plane overrun by a half-dozen people in taped-shut blue hospital gowns, face masks, and eye protection. We were underwhelmed by their disorganized approach, though; I believe they counted the passengers on the plane at least four times, for instance.

Once off the plane we were into the land of signs we mostly can't read, so the most noticeable ones are, for instance, stylized depictions of butts identifying the presence of bidets in the bathrooms. Again I'll have to defer to Sarah's pictures for this.

I had to ask directions quite a few times but aside from going to the wrong Four Seasons hotel first (there are two, on opposite sides of Tokyo, but the first is on the way to the second when coming from the airport, so no loss there) we had no outright mishaps getting to the hotel last night. I tried to mostly ask questions in Japanese, and people usually understood my questions! Sometimes I even understood their answers...

I've often heard that Japanese people are very friendly and helpful. I'm relieved to report that this seems to be true. :-) Random strangers on the subway answered questions for me and helped us make sure we got off at the right stops, which was important as we had to transfer twice between the Narita airport and our hotel. The subway stations we passed through were rather large, even sprawling, too, so it was good that there the signs were pretty well-labeled in English. (I did have to notice that one sign labeled only in Kanji matched the characters I'd seen for the Chuo line though, and I had to ask for help to buy our train tickets from the vending machines.)

On finally reaching our hotel, one of the staff asked if we were the Sharps, because they'd been waiting for us. I said "おまたせいたしました" (idiomatically, a humble "sorry we kept you waiting") which I think surprised him. I don't know if the surprise was because I used Japanese at all or because a guest wouldn't be expected to apologize for that, and I was too sleepy to find out.

Sleep was nice.

This morning Sarah went down to her conference, which is in the hotel we're staying at, so she hopefully can't get lost someplace without me to translate for her. :-) She'll be busy with that until about 9pm this evening, so I'm on my own for exploring Tokyo.

I asked (in English, oops) at the concierge desk where I might walk to for breakfast, and the woman at the desk gave me a map and recommended "the bakery shops". I guess she got a little mixed up about English plural conjugation because she directed me to Sekiguchi-pan, a lone French bakery that I bet I will be taking Sarah to later. It didn't look like what I wanted for breakfast though so I kept walking, after studying the map carefully.

I think the map is wrong.

Still, I had no trouble keeping track of where I'd come from. I think I would have been hosed if I tried to explore at night, but in full daylight my sense of direction was fine. Spoiler: I'm writing this from the hotel, which I got back to without incident.

I passed a number of restaurants that I could probably have gotten breakfast at, and probably a number of restaurants that I didn't notice at all because so many things are marked differently than I expect here. I settled on what turned out to be a ramen shop, and more importantly at the time turned out to be a ramen shop that hadn't opened yet. So I kept exploring for another half-hour.

There are bicyclists everywhere in Tokyo, at least here in the Mejiro and Sekiguchi areas. Quite a few of them whizzed past me on the sidewalk, at distances a bit closer than I was entirely comfortable with. At street corners, the sidewalks are labeled with a spot for pedestrians to stop, and another spot for the bicyclists. I saw a number of mothers biking with a child in an extra seat on the back, which was neat. There are bikes leaning against walls and handrails everywhere, and very few of them seem to be locked or anything. I'm looking forward to renting a bike when we're away from Tokyo's busy streets.

I am happy to note that Tokyo's streets and sidewalks are not super-humanly spotless. They're merely really really clean. I walked past a shop-keeper spraying some spots on the sidewalk with something that smelled like a cleaner of some kind, and I saw someone near the hotel using a street-sweeper the size of a riding lawnmower. The effect is quite pleasant. The city air smells fine to me too, in contrast with what I've heard of the larger Chinese cities, or American ones for that matter.

I've probably forgotten to include important details, but I want to get back out exploring the city now, instead of writing about it. More later, given reasonable Internet access. じゃ、ね!

Edit: Just because it doesn't look like a bike lock I recognize, doesn't mean it isn't locked. On closer inspection it seems pretty common to lock one of the bike's wheels with a small ring permanently mounted at an edge of the wheel. Although there are some bikes around that I still can't see any lock on.
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winterkoninkje
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Time:2009-05-20 08:43 am (UTC)
I said "おまたせいたしました" (idiomatically, a humble "sorry we kept you waiting") which I think surprised him. I don't know if the surprise was because I used Japanese at all or because a guest wouldn't be expected to apologize for that, and I was too sleepy to find out.

On the one hand, she may have been surprised that you spoke Japanese (and 敬語 no less), on the other hand 「お待たせ致しました」 is 謙譲語 which isn't really proper in that situation (they are serving you, so they should use humble speech; you should be polite (distal) but plain). Like many asians, the Japanese will often feign surprise or confusion at faux pas of any variety (so as not to cause insult, as laughing or questioning might). I think it's much nicer than the way we Americans go about things, though it can take a while to separate actual surprise/confusion from politeness.

In case you don't remember me, we met at PSU during Bart's FOSS/GSoC class. Congrats on going to Japan. It's great fun there.
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solair
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Time:2009-05-20 11:40 am (UTC)
Hi Wren! Either I remember you or I'm mixing you up with somebody else. Either way I've just had a good time catching up on your LiveJournal posts. :-) (Hooray for fellow fans of Haskell, Japanese, and principled analysis rather than pure statistics!)

Thanks for the explanation! Despite studying plain, distal, humble, honorific, etc., I've never felt comfortable that I understood when to use each one. So お待たせしました would have been better?

I've been trying to assemble a phrase to ask "How should I eat this?" because at lunch I wasn't sure what's expected when eating ramen, and at dinner my meal had a bowl of something that looked like it might have been a sauce, but turned out to be soup instead. Perhaps you can help me out? My attempt at dinner was pathetic; I strung これは and 食べる and どう together with some jumbled connecting words and eventually got the point across.

I'd also like to know how to ask for recommendations or suggestions, except that I need to quit asking the concierge for recommendations as they keep directing me to the 4000 yen and up kind of places instead of the 1000 yen or less kinds. Fortunately I had lots of time to explore today and got two meals at roughly $7 each.
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winterkoninkje
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Time:2009-05-20 07:11 pm (UTC)
It's probably me :) Tall guy; I was using Perl for the web development framework. I didn't know of Haskell at the time, but your 802.11 project intrigued me (and Mark Jones' FP class clinched it). I see Bart is also a big fan of Haskell these days.

Re Japanese politeness, there are actually two different axes (and a collection of details):

The easy one is distal vs direct, which is ~ます/~ました vs ~る/~った (and ~つ/~った, ~く/~いた, etc). The difference here is about how far or how close/familiar you are to someone. With strangers or when being generally polite you'd use the distal. With friends you'd use direct. With friends who aren't quite friends yet, you'd waffle back and forth based on their reactions. (Contrary to popular suspicion, you can combine the direct with the 敬語 below, but this is uncommon (for obvious reasons) and tends to only be done by women (for unfortunate reasons).) In the direct style there's also a distinction between rough vs soft, which has some correlation with masculine vs feminine speech.

The harder one is honorific, humble, and (er) polite, vs plain. The honorific (尊敬語「そんけいご」) uses the お◯◯になる pattern. It "lifts up" the person talked to, so it should be used when talking to your boss, CEO, feudal lord, etc. Especially when talking about their deeds or the deeds of anyone in their in-group. (And is quite arrogant to use when talking about yourself or anyone in your in-group). The humble (謙譲語「けんじょうご」) uses the お◯◯する pattern and "demotes" the person talked about (thereby honoring the person talked to). It should be used to talk about your own deeds (or deeds of those in your in-group) when talking to your boss, CEO, etc. (And is quite rude to use when talking about the deeds of anyone not in your in-group, both because it belittles them and because it insinuates you have intimate knowledge about them.) Plain is, well, plain; it's what you use when both parties are "on the same level" like when in public. It's also what you use when being polite to subordinates. (It can be acceptable for a boss, CEO, etc to use direct plain style when talking to subordinates. But they shouldn't do the same back!) The "polite" (丁寧語「ていねいご」) forms are 敬語, and more polite than just plain, but neither honorific nor humble. Examples are the special-polite ~ある verbs including ござる (vs plain ある), and some other verbs like 居る「おる」 (vs plain いる) and 頂く「いただく」 (vs plain 食べる and 飲む; N.B. 頂く is also humble for もらう).

Complicating matters, many common verbs have irregular 尊敬語/謙譲語 forms that don't follow the patterns above. For instance 致す「いたす」 is the humble form of する, and なさる is the honorific (Wikipedia has a decent chart of these suppletive forms). Also complicating matters, because of verbs like 致す/なさる, you can make "doubly humble" and "doubly honorific" forms :) So, 「お待たせ致しました」 is 待たせる plus humble (お◯◯する), plus humble (致す), plus distal (ます), plus perfect (た). Stepping it down a notch is 「お待たせしました」, which is technically humble though it's a stock phrase so people won't usually think of it as such. Stepping it down again by being direct is 「お待たせ」 (or 「お待たせした」).

As for "how should I eat this?" I think that's「どうやって食べますか」, but I'm not certain. You could try asking in japanese or searching through the archives.
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winterkoninkje
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Time:2009-05-20 07:58 pm (UTC)
You could also try 「どうやって食べられますか」which is more of a "how can I eat this?" or "how is this edible?" I have a vague inkling that that might sound kinda rude, but I'm not sure if that's coming from the Japanese or (more likely) my Englishification of it. The ~られる (capability) and ~させる (passive) forms are ones I haven't entirely figured out yet; I know what they mean, but not how to use them nor what implications using them has.
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winterkoninkje
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Time:2009-05-20 07:33 pm (UTC)
For suggestions I'm not really sure how to say. When I was there I had a fair idea of the places I wanted to go, so I didn't ask around too much. I'd expect the concierge to suggest those kinds of places though (only the best for our clients!).

My personal suggestion would be to head over to Shibuya 渋谷 (or Shinjuku 新宿 for a more staid affair) in the west and just wander around. There are a number of good shops and restaurants there which are reasonably priced (and a bunch that are not :), and it's my favorite part of Tokyo. If you're interested in museums and historical things, then you may want to explore around Ueno 上野, Asakusa 浅草, and Akihabara 秋葉原 up in northeast. Ueno park (上野公園) is directly out the main gates from the Ueno JR station (上野駅), and is nice to walk around with a couple of museums. I have an old post talking about some of the places I went when I was there.
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[icon] 今日本にいます! - Jamey Sharp
View:Recent Entries.
View:Archive.
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View:Website (minilop.net).
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