Well, we’re here at Otakon in Baltimore, and we’re having a great time, surrounded by America’s most vibrant young people, all filled with love of Japan and most decked out in amazing anime costumes. If you’re at the show, we hope you’ll come by booth 509 and say hello to us! (If you are planning on coming to the show but haven’t registered yet, do check the convention website here, as at-the-door registration is probably closed already.)
You’ve been in Japan too long when you walk through your neighborhood, and a house that was there yesterday is gone without a trace, and you don’t blink. Yes, among the things the Japanese are especially good at, making buildings disappear almost overnight seems to be one of them. The other day I was driving by our favorite sento (public bath), which had unfortunately gone out of business a couple of months before. The building had disappeared, as if it had never stood, replaced by a perfectly flat empty lot that will hopefully not become yet another pachinko parlor (we’ve got plenty of those in our city already). Another time a Seven Eleven that had been located up against a large road was suddenly moved back 40 feet or so. The company had apparently bought the parcel of land behind their store and somehow moved the entire convenience store back to leave more room for parking in the front — it was kind of scary, actually.
When you are fluent in two languages, there are some interesting things that happen to your speech. First, bilinguals will generally engage in what’s called code-switching when speaking to other bilingual people, mixing both languages sometimes randomly, or sometimes using words from whichever language seem to fit that situation better. This can lead to another phenomenon, linguistically known as interference, when grammar or pronunciation from one language interfere with the operation of the other. My wife often peppers her Japanese with English words, throwing in terms like arrange and organize and situation instead of the corresponding Japanese words, which causes confusion by her Japanese friends, who aren’t always sure what she’s trying to say. Her English vocabulary invades the Japanese side of her brain, creating minor confusion.
The Japanese have an interesting sense of things sometimes, which never fails to impress me. A balding man with a comb-over and lines of hair on the top of his said is said to have “bar code hair,” which is certainly an interesting way to look at things. On one Japanese TV show I caught, they touched a bar code reader to men’s hair to see what amount came up on the register, then they gave that amount of money to each man.