We wanted to do something fun with the kids over the weekend, so we shinked (gaijin-speak for “took the Shinkansen,” e.g. the Bullet Train) down to Tokyo to check out the special exhibition on the mysterious lines and geoglyphs in Nazca, Peru at the National Museum of Science. The strange shapes, which form images of a spider, a hummingbird, a condor and so on, were made 1500-2000 years ago, and are a big mystery. It was quite an interesting display — we looked at many pieces of well preserved pottery with beautiful designs, and even a real mummy they’d brought over. I’ve always been amazed at the special interest the Japanese seem to take in Nazca, which is featured in some television show or another just about every month here. Maybe it has something to do with the twin connection Japan has with the region, due to the little diaspora of Japanese to South America at the start of the 20th Century, and in prehistoric times, since the same Mongolian stock that colonized Japan also made it to South America. Any trip to Tokyo with kids in tow is a potential stress-fest considering the sheer number of people around you, but it was so crowded at the museum we were all beside ourselves with claustrophobia. As always, going to Tokyo makes me appreciate living in a smaller, slower-paced part of Japan.
As a card-carrying Star Wars fan, I’ve heard my share of alien languages from all corners of the Lucasverse. I remember watching Return of the Jedi back in 1983 and wondering at a line of Jabba the Hutt’s dialogue, “You weak-minded fool! He’s using an old Jedi mind trick.” The line was spoken in Huttese, an invented language, but the phrase “Jedi mind trick” was in English, and I believe it’s the only instance of mixing of languages in Star Wars. Language mixing is known in linguistic terms as “code switching” and if you have two bilingual individuals it’s quite natural for them to jump back and forth between the two languages, depending on the ideas they want to express, the environment they’re in, and so on. I’ve got a American friend who recently got his doctorate in Cultural Studies from a Japanese university, and whenever we hit the onsen together, we naturally mix quite a lot of Japanese in with our English conversation, usually to the amazement of Japanese in the bath, who try not to be too obvious as they eavesdrop on us. Of course, part of learning a foreign language is separating the two languages in your mind, easy for adults but a challenge to bilingual children — my son and daughter got confused when neighborhood kids in America didn’t understand their Japanese. There’s a great deal of experimentation that goes on in the mind of a child during the separatation process, and it can be fascinating to observe. When he was two or so, I went to a bath with my son, and he commented to me that the cold bath (which you go in after you get heated up in the sauna) sure was “cold-katta.” This amused me, since he was mixing the English word cold with the Japanese past tense ending katta.
Homeless man…check. Yes, we’re in Ueno alright.