Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday Weirdness: Otousan

Nana and I are obsessed with Otousan.

"Otousan" (お父さん) is a big white dog who serves as the mascot for Softbank, our mobile phone company and proud sponsors of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks baseball team.

Seriously, if you go to the Yahoo! Dome (the exclamation point is obligatory), from the rafters above each baseline hangs a three-story-tall portrait of Otousan in a Softbank hat.

As I'm sure you could tell from the above picture, Otousan is a freakishly cute Hokkaido dog. Otousan, it turns out, is played by a particular dog in Tokyo named Kaikun, who is a bit of a celebrity in his own right.

Now, the sharp-eyed Japanese linguists among are audience may have noticed that Otousan's name is also the Japanese word for "father." You see, Otousan is the noble father of the Softbank White Family, featured in the short clip below.

Obviously, like any self-respecting Japanese man, Otousan rules his family with an iron fist.

Notice the symbolic distance between father and son.
I should note now that, in typical Japanese fashion, this whole ludicrous situation is played out with a completely straight face. At no point is there any explanation given for:
  1. Why the Softbank mascot is a cute, white dog.
  2. Why the aforementioned dog can talk.
  3. Why said dog has a human family.
  4. Why the dog's son, um, doesn't take after his father.
(Edit by Nana: Are you suggesting that the daughter DOES take after the father?)

There is no way to play this thing out in your head that isn't supremely bizarre, even when the family is doing something completely innocuous, like cheering on the local baseball team . . .
. . . or posing for an awkward family photo.
But just when you think you've started to wrap your head around this thing, they go and do something like, I don't know, don some head-to-toe leather, get up on stage, and play Queen.

It was around the time that we saw this Nana and I decided this "Oniisan" (brother - seriously, that's the character's name) must be one of the coolest people on the face of the planet.
Yes, Otousan is done up like Paul Stanley from KISS.
Turns out Oniisan, aka Dante Carver, is actually pretty big in Japan as an actor, tarento (professional celebrity), and blogger. Mr. Carver, if you're reading, and you ever find yourself with a couple hours to kill in Fukuoka, you have two amused expats here who would love to express our appreciation with a nice, cold beer.

Today's Lesson:



older brother

little sister

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why Expats Need Smartphones

Until recently, the smartphone craze had largely passed us by. We were too poor for an Android in the UK and too foreign for an iPhone in Korea. (Sadly, I'm not joking on either count.) Before that, the last time we were in the US was in 2007, right around when the first iPhone came out, and we were struggling to pay our exorbitant DC rent.

To make a long story short when we got to Japan a smartphone just seemed like an unnecessary expense. Plus, we all know I can't be trusted with losable, breakable, valuable things. So without really thinking about it, we grabbed the cheapest phones we could find and got on with our lives.

Now, I don't often get to admit to being wrong, so when the rare chance comes along, I really like to savor it. So here goes: I was absolutely, categorically wrong about my ability to live without an iPhone. I can say this without any exaggeration whatsoever: having an iPhone has significantly increased our quality of life in Japan.

Here's why.

1) Maps.

Getting lost isn't a big deal when you know the language: all you need to do is ask for directions. When you don't know the language, getting lost is pretty scary - so scary that it's easy to fall into a very narrow routine just for fear of getting lost.

With a smartphone, though, you don't have to worry - as long as you have a signal, you can find your way home.

2)  Flashcards.

The hardest thing about learning a language is building vocabulary, and the hardest thing about building vocabulary is finding time to practice. Now, with all my flashcards stored on my phone (there are flashcard apps out there for just about every major language), I can use any spare minute for practicing new words.

4) Dictionaries.

For a while, when I first got to Japan, I carried a little dictionary around with me everywhere I went. I barely used it: Japanese, with its multiple scripts, conjugated everythings, and difficult-to-spot stems, is not a great fit for paper dictionaries. With a smartphone, though, I can keep multiple Japanese dictionaries with me at all times - at least one of which has a fairly idiot-proof approach to searching, which is exactly what I need.

5) Google Translate.

This is the biggest game changer: with a smartphone, whenever in the course of a transaction my meager Japanese runs out (usually within the first thirty or forty seconds), I can turn to Google to do the talking for me. On the one hand, this removes a strong incentive to learn how to say stuff before leaving the house. On the other hand, now I can go placed and do things without hours of prior study.

So for all these reasons, I stand humbly corrected: the iPhone is a great machine, and a near-necessity for anyone trying to make it in a foreign tongue.