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All last week I was in Tokyo to attend ICFP and associated workshops. It was nice to finally meet a bunch of people I've been talking with online for the last few years. And I met up with Ken Shan and Oleg Kiselyov again, which is always a pleasure. Unlike last time I was in Japan, I didn't get too much time to explore and go sightseeing. I got to explore Chiyoda, which I missed last time around, and I made sure to do two of the most important things: (1) eat some okonomiyaki, (2) visit Akihabara to buy some new manga.

My newest acquisition is 銃姫 ("Gun Princess") Phantom Pain, which I'm rather enjoying so far. Anything that starts off with an execution, spell-casting based on Buddhist mantras, and a prolonged diatribe on why one of the characters is a good-for-nothing incompetent layabout, can't be half bad :) Unfortunately, I only got the first two volumes, so I'll finish them all too soon. So far it's proving easier to read than my previous acquisition (Peace Maker 鐵), though I'm not sure if that's due to getting better at Japanese or because 鐵 is written in a particular style. I definitely noticed my deterioration in fluency since five years ago; grammar's fine, but my vocab is abysmal. I need to find a decent way to work on that.

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Remembering the Kanji, Volume I
(1977; 4th ed. 2004)
James W. Heisig

Heisig presents a simple but anti-traditional method for remembering the meanings and writing of kanji. He takes the simple idea that many students already try —taking the meaning of radicals and telling a story that gives the meaning of the kanji— but refines it into a proper method. First, rather than radicals, he refers to "primitives" which can be either radicals or other kanji, which allows building up of meanings in a better way by giving 'syllables' in addition to the 'letters'. Second, the simplest part of the method is reordering the presentation so that simpler kanji are presented before and alongside kanji which use them as primitives (e.g. 日、月、冒、朋、明、唱、晶、、). This is a consequence of the method being to teach all the 常用漢字 together, as opposed to the traditional method which teaches them in a way that you can test your knowledge incrementally. Third he focuses, not on the gist of a primitive, but instead chooses a specific "keyword" to help distinguish primitives with similar meanings (e.g. 如 vs 肖). This symbolism gives hooks for the stories to hang off of without them becoming a vague blur that's unhelpful for constructing the kanji from its keyword. Fourth, the focus is on studying from keywords to kanji, instead of the other way. Focusing on writing/recall rather than reading/recognition strengthens our associations since the latter comes for free from the former, but not the other way around.

Learning kanji is often named the hardest part of learning Japanese, and many voice skepticism at Heisig's claim that the method can teach the most common 2000 kanji in a few months. A quick web search will bring up many diatribes both for and against Heisig; if nothing else, it's certainly polarizing. Personally, I'm a big fan of it. I have never liked memorization, and the traditional approach of just writing the 常用漢字 over and over simply doesn't work (hence the notoriety of learning kanji). One of the things I like most about the book is the ways in which it formalizes the simple technique of telling stories. In the modern era we have lost our oral traditions for memory and many have lost their creative ability to tell stories. Heisig gives techniques to rekindle the oral and creative traditions of memory. It's alien to the modern era, which is no doubt why so many dislike it, but it feels like home to me.

Another piece of the controversy is that Heisig does not teach the readings of the kanji in this volume. At first I too was very skeptical. The separatist approach of teaching speaking vs reading in JSL is my principal complaint against JSL. After giving Heisig a try, however, I think that his approach is valid. The big thing to remember is that he is teaching kanji, not words. To the new learner of Japanese this distinction may seem baroque, but it is mirrored in the vast differences between kanji dictionaries vs word dictionaries (cf. etymological dictionaries vs 'real' dictionaries). Because of the nature of Japanese writing, it's not very helpful to learn the readings of kanji without learning specific words and compounds since a kanji's pronunciation is based in large part on the word it's in (e.g. 今日 is read 「きょう」 which is not built from the readings of 今「コン・いま」 and 日「ニチ・び、か」). Heisig's second volume deals with the (音読み) readings of kanji, for those interested in pursuing them.

The only complaint I'll level against the book is that the author's background in Christianity and Freudianism can be quite overt in some of the stories. This lends a distasteful missionary flavor in parts, and I find the Christian stories disruptive to my memory (both because of my distaste for them, and because they are not as familiar to me as they are to him). Those without anti-Christian tendencies probably won't notice nor care. In counterpoint to this singular complaint, the primary goal of Heisig is to teach the technique, not the stories. The major part of the book provides only the kanji and keywords for them, leaving the reader to formulate the story to bind them together. For as infrequent as they are, in the portion where stories are provided it can be helpful to have a few which are disruptive (so long as they are illustrative) since this can drive the reader into coming up with their own stories earlier. Ultimately, as Heisig says, none of the stories will be helpful unless they click for the learner.

I'm a big fan of the book and the technique, and I highly recommend it. For those who want to get polarized before shelling out for the whole thing, the introduction and first (of three) parts (125 pages) is available for free online. For those interested in the rhetorical technique of mnemotechnics or general issues of pedagogy, here is an interesting paper about Heisig's approach to L2 learning.

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My trip to Seattle this weekend was excellent. It was good to see [livejournal.com profile] konomaigo again, though I should like his health not to pick on him so. I also saw K-san for the first time in quite some while. I was up there for the two of their housewarming and saw many other familiar faces too though long absent. I also got to renew ties in an old friendship and perhaps initiate a new one. All good things. Their house, for the record, is fabulous— it's been a long time since I've fallen in love with a place so, if even I hit my head on their basement's ceiling more in two days than in two weeks of Japan.

I'm discovering that I derive great joy from buildings constructed in such a way as to draw ambiguity between the "inside" and the "out". Their house had many such points, like the crumbling-brick wall in the dining space, the mud room off the kitchen where the birds lived, and at the base of the stairs into that fateful basement. I also noticed this when I visited another new friend's house where they have a breakfast nook that extends like a peninsula from the kitchen and a doorway out into the side yard (from the hallway leading into the kitchen) through which you can look back into the windows of the breakfast nook. And again in an underground cafe in Kyoto that gave the feel of some darkly veranda with green vines battling mortar to hold the walls.

The night afore we headed up, there was a game night which was also great fun. So on the whole I deem the weekend a success. Though is has been painfully long since me and the alluded to object of my desires have talked. Without alluding further, I'm plotting times on the morrow to remedy this. Now, alas, my throat is become sore. I hope it will be nothing lasting.

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Just a small collections of things... Today I went to Geek Fair, had a decent time, got to walk around and talk with Z-san afterwards and found an old fountain I'd mislaid.

A few days back I had a most excellent beer. Now I'm not much of one for beer in general, though I can certainly respect a good one. There's this beer down at the grocery store I'd thought looked interesting for a while, but the price always seemed a bit too high for me. Last time I went shopping it was on sale, not much of a sale — one dollar off is all — but enough to bring it within cost for trying, and so I got the four pack. I had one not so long ago and oh man it was tasty, a good thick dark beer. A bit pricey for something to drink regularly but Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout is well worth the cost when you just want to sit down with a top of the line drink and enjoy life.

Work has been interesting. I'll be starting up some rambling about LDAP over on my f/oss blog this week to document my travails. That is afterall what the f/oss blog is for, much as it is frequently defunct.

Courtesy of nekketsu I've fallen madly for YUKI, a former member of JAM. Her videos are utterly bizarre. And gorgeous. And her voice is so unique and lovely. I'll have to see if I can't get my hands on some cds by her. Some choice PVs are: JOY (Live), メランコリニスタ, End of Shite (some surreality may not be work safe), ふがいないや, ドラマチック, ヘローグッバイ, 長い夢, スタンドアップ!シスター, 喜びの種, Home Sweet Home. ::sigh::

In searching around for Yuki I also discovered Lolita23q (少女ーロリヰター23区). Ah sweet sweet visual kei. This too I must come to possess. Siren Blue, 888 ~Kohaku tou no Shoujo~, Usagi ni Geru Hanazono, Ishoku Othello. (Hey Pretty. Fan tribute, different band does the song.)

And if you're still not convinced yet this is part of why I love Japanese. And this. And this. And this. And this.

In other news [livejournal.com profile] theweaselking wins at the internet. That had me cackling for an hour at least. And if that's not enough this only makes it better. ::chortle::

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(This is part three of a series on my trip to Japan. Be sure to go back and read the first and second parts.)

Neil Young - Comes a Time plays in vinyl on the turntables as I settle in to my avant-garde couch at the Stumptown on 3rd: a somewhat lesser known coffeeshop off the main thoroughfare in a nearly more urban area of downtown. They make a mean mocha. Nothing special, nothing outrageous, just a solid straight up mocha. Part of a local chain that roasts their own beans, this Stumptown is but one of many.

The first I discovered was on Belmont— the soul of Southeast waiting to be undiscovered like the once heart of Hawthorne, bought up by big spenders. I'd walked past it countless times on my way to other nooks, until one day, no destination in mind, I decided to brave a trip inside. Smaller than this one, the front of the shop has wide pane glass windows where you can watch as kids too cool for you stare out at passers by with indifference as they suck down their cigs. But in the back, separated by an awkward aisle that serves as queue and pathway both, is where the magic happens. It has an unfinished brick wall with too small windows fighting the too harsh light from too high ceilings. A paradise of abrasive surroundings that can do nothing but inspire the disjointed prose and broken couplets of would-be writers and beatniks trying to eke out a life of stifling misunderstanding.

Still my favorite of the chain, it's a bit out of the way and so I don't go there nearly enough anymore. It was one of the first spirited kissaten I'd found once the cybernetic hole in a wall, Heaven, closed down its promises of retrotechnical elegance, of 1980s underground movements of hacker-elites resisting the crumbling of society. But it was in 京都 that I found my love again.

03. 京都 (Kyouto): Arrival )
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(This is the second part of my series on my trip to Japan. Be sure to go back and read the first one.)

02. Traveling around 東京 (Toukyou): 上野、秋葉原、浅草、渋谷、お台場 )
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A month ago when I returned from Japan I promised to write a tale of my trip. And so far I have shirked that promise. Not because I've been meaning to, just... I had no reason at the time, I just didn't feel like writing, the spirit didn't move in me. Looking back on that month now, I suppose I just wasn't ready. Wasn't ready to put those two weeks behind me, wasn't ready to let go so soon. Not that my time there will ever really be behind me, but I think, now, that I've taken enough time to make it a part of me, a part of my history, and distance enough to finally let go.

I'm sitting now in the Fireside Lodge, a city night to finish a lazy end of summer day, in just under an hour a jazz band is coming in to play. But when I first drafted this letter—the rest of it—I was sitting in the Red+Black Cafe, a wednesday morning— before 11:00 if you'd believe it. I'd just biked down for an early morning drink/exercise and hammered it all out on Elsamelys, my new zaurus I picked up in 秋葉原 (Akihabara, Tôkyô) on the second pass since I never managed to find the one I wanted in でんでんタウン (DenDen Town, Ôsaka). While there, other than coffee, I had the "free greek"— a bagel with cucumbers, feta, hummous, and kalamatha olive spread— and by the gods it was good. I'll have to remember to get it again sometime.

Even then in the R+B I was sort of reluctant to start writing a recollection of my trip. I wished I could say it was out of "not wanting it to end", but—to be honest—that's not true. At the time I couldn't entirely say why it was that I'd been putting it off. I had some ideas and—to be fair—part of it was not wanting it to end. But part of it was something else, and part of it—I realized the night before—was that I've rediscovered that I really do prefer writing by hand than typing. It took me a long time to switch over to typing things, influenced largely by having gone to college where hand-writing essays is absolutely not an option.

When I was in Japan I kept my tale in my journal: 42 pages all together. I'm not going to type them all out here. That wasn't the point of keeping it, and much of it has more personal significance than it would have to you. No, but there are portions I feel I should share. Even editing, the tale is quite long, so I'll be breaking it up into sections. I'll be writing place names in their Japanese, glossing them as they're first introduced. If/when I get around to it, all references will be linked to a translation index, possibly with some basic maps of Japan to show where they are.

01. Arrival in 東京 (Toukyou) )
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I got back in earlier today, thought I'd drop a line. Still hella jetlagged, will write more in the next few days.
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Well, I'm about to shove off. Before I go, these've been on my stack for a while, some of them you've prolly heard about by now, but I figured I'd share them anyways. No time for synopsis writing, but you know how it goes. So without further adieu, Link Roundup:

Super-fast broadband coming via cable

The Canadian Senate has approved a bill legalising same-sex marriages, following a similar decision by the lower house of parliament last month.

Nanotech cure for cancer

Is there a tenth planet afterall? and update

"Because cats can't taste sweets, they're cranky," joked Joseph Brand

Human flesh flavoured tofu?

Japanese develop even more realistic female 'android'

Spammer beaten to death, Russians celebrate

Uplifting, so soon? Ethics: Moral Issues of Human-Non-Human Primate Neural Grafting and more

And, I seem to have misplaced the link but, China and Malaysia have floated their currencies, uncoupling them from the US Dollar. Hypothesizes one Matthew Harris at Free Geek:

This could be very relevant to Free Geek soon.
As we are all aware from looking inside computers, many electronic components are manufactered in East Asia, including in China and Malaysia. For years, they have kept their currencies low, meaning it was cheaper than it should have been to import from them. That is one reason why the price of new electronics can be kept so low. Now that the currency will be more valuable, the price of imports will go up. This means that people will not be able to buy electronics quite so recklessly, and that they may be less inclined to discard the old ones.
On the other hand, it may lead to more inflation in the American economy, which will mean Free Geek will be able to sell items better, since we will probably be able to maintain our super low prices even as retail outlets have to raise theirs.
Also, this will make manufactring jobs, which have been fleeing this country, less relatively expensive, so their should be more jobs for workers.

And now I am well and truly off. I'll try to keep in some measure of touch, and once I return I shall give some posts on the trip. さようなら。

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Yet another itinerary update for any who care )
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The following links can be of great use to anyone traveling to Japan:

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Tuesday, 9 August 2005 — ポートランド
PDX (13:00 PDT) to SEA[1] (13:52 PDT)
SEA (14:45 PDT) to NRT[2] (10 August 17:05 JST)
10~13 August — 東京
14~17 August — 京都
18~22 August — 大阪と神戸
21~23 August — 広島?名古屋?マレーシア?
Wednesday, 24 August — 東京
NRT (15:30 JST) to SEA (8:15 PDT)
SEA (10:30 PDT) to PDX (11:19 PDT)

This is a rough outline. Feel free to comment.

[1] Seattle/Tacoma Intl

[2] Tokyo Narita

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