Ticket Giveaway: Mask Exhibit at the Teien Museum

Masks of the world in a beautiful Art Deco residence, and a guided tour in English by yours truly: what’s not to like? To help publicize my gallery talk on Friday June 5 at 3 pm, I’m giving away a pair of tickets to Masks – Beauty of the Spirits at one of my favorite museums, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.


Enter by sending me your name, email address and mailing address via the contact form on this blog. And tell me whether you want one ticket or two.

The masks are exhibited in the former Prince Asaka Residence, a beauty of Art Deco architecture and design built in 1933, located in a lush park-like setting near Shirokanedai and Meguro stations. If you’ve never been there, now’s your chance.


Let’s limit to this to residents of Japan, and to be fair to others, please enter only if you’ve got a reasonable chance of using the tickets. Since my guided tour is on Friday June 5, and the exhibit closes on June 30, I’m going to make this one snappy: I’ll select the winner on Monday June 1 and mail them out the same day.

I do giveaways periodically so check back often, or register to be notified by email of updates (which don’t happen so often that you’ll be inundated with mail).

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Change trays | The Japan Times

Ever wonder why it is that in Japan your change always comes on a tray?

Change trays | The Japan Times.

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Famous lines from history — in Japanese

Marie-Antoinette Japanese

Don’t ask why but the other day I found myself trying to discuss the French revolution with a Japanese friend and colleague. In Japanese. This topic falls way outside my usual vocabulary set, and not knowing how to say “absolutist monarchy,” I brought up that famous line attributed to King Louis XIV: “I am the state.” (In French, L’État, c’est moi.”)

I had no idea how that could possibly be expressed in Japanese, but fortunately my friend did: 「朕は国家なり」 (chin wa kokka nari). Whoa — never would have guessed that. My friend explained that “chin,” is an archaic male pronoun once used only by emperors and high-ranking nobility. When emperor Hirohito made his famous radio address to the Japanese people on Aug. 15, 1945 to announce Japan’s unconditional surrender, for example, he used the pronoun “chin.” (As an aside, that speech is called the 玉音放送 (gyokuon-hōsō), which literally means”Jewel Voice Broadcast.”)

Anyway, this got me wondering how other famous lines from history are expressed in Japanese. While we’re on the French Revolution, how about that infamous quote supposedly uttered by Marie Antoinette when she heard her people were starving for lack of bread: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” (“Let them eat cake.”) I looked it up, and in Japanese that gets rendered as 「ケーキを食べればいいじゃない」 (Kēki o tabereba ii jyanai).

Next, let’s try that oft quoted line from Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” (In the original German, “Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes.“). Seems that one got translated as 「宗教は民衆のアヘンである」(shūkyō wa minshū no ahen de aru.)

I’ve always liked “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which comes from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. In Japanese, that’s 「恐れるべき唯一のものは、“恐怖” そのものである。」(osoreru beki yuiitsu no mono wa kyōfu sono mono de aru.)

And of course there’s that famous line (lie) by former U.S. president Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” That got translated as 「あの女とは、性的な関係を持たなかった。」(Ano onna to wa, seiteki na kankei o motanakatta.) In Japan, Monica Lewinsky (モニカ・ルインスキー, monika ruinsukii) will go down in history as ano onna (“that woman”).

Feel free to add your own contributions in the comments sections below. I’m sure other readers will appreciate them. And for the record, “absolutist monarchy” is 絶対君主制 (zettai kunshusei).

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Japanese police: don’t they have something better to do?


You’ve seen them in front of police stations.


And outside neighborhood police boxes.


Maybe you’ve seen them in busy train stations up on a box looking fierce. Don’t you wonder why Japanese police always seem to be standing around?

That was the question posed to me by one of my readers in The Japan Times.  There is, of course, a reason. Read about it in my March 21 column.

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Feb. 8 Event in Tokyo, in English: “Amputee Venus”

English_cover (temporary)

Translating this book was one of the projects that kept me way too busy last year. Now, please join me on Sunday Feb. 8 in Tokyo for a special “talk” event about it: “Amputee Venus,” the English version of a fascinating and moving collection of photographs of 11 Japanese women who have lost a leg and are moving forward positively.


We will meet one of the women featured in the book, and hear from Fumio Usui, who made all the legs the women use, about how high-function prosthetic legs can and do empower amputees to go out and pursue their dreams, whatever they may be — sports, leisure, art, community and so much more.


Photographer Takao Ochi will share insightful stories from the shoots and explain why he wants people all over the world to see this positive message from Japan about people with disabilities. I’m providing interpretation into English, so it’s a great opportunity for foreign residents of Japan.

Date and time: Sunday Feb. 8, 2015 from 3 pm
Place: Al’s Cafe, 3-13-1 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
(6-minutes walk from the Waseda Exit of JR Takadanobaba Station)
Tel: 03-5937-1905 www.als-cafe.com
1,000 yen including one free drink (beer, wine, tea or soft drink):
Space is limited. Reserve a seat by email to tokumiya@jungetsusha.com 

“Amputee Venus” will be available for purchase at the event, and can be ordered anytime online through the publisher’s website.

各紙メディアで好評、義足女性たちの写真集『切断ヴィーナス』に、英語ジャケット版ができました。義肢装具士臼井氏、写真家越智氏、11人のモデルたち、それぞれの興味深いエピソードやプロフィールが英訳されいます。刊行を記念して、来る2月8日、高田馬場にあるハンドメイドのチューダースタイル の素敵なカフェにてトークイベントを開催します。

日時:2015年2月8日(日) 15:00
場所 :アルズカフェ(AL’S CAFÉ)
   東京都新宿区高田馬場3-13-1 ノークビル1F
   Tel: 03-5937-1905  www.als-cafe.com
参加費 :1,000円 おつまみ・1ドリンク付

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Why is coffee in Japan served with the handle on the left?


In my Jan. 17 column in The Japan Times, I addressed one of those little mysteries about life in Japan, which is why coffee is so often served with the cup handle turned to the left. This seems counter-intuitive when you consider that most coffee-drinkers are right-handed and will have to turn the cup around to pick it up.

As I explained in my column, there is a reason, which has to do with how people drink their coffee. (Follow the link to find out.) But as an aside, there seems to be the impression that serving coffee with the handle on the left is “English style” (イギリス式), as expressed in the chart below, or as I found in other Japanese-language websites, “European style” (ヨーロッパ式).


Yet the German reader who posed the original question reported that in Germany coffee is always served with the handle to the right. (And the spoon in back, whereas in Japan the spoon is usually in the front.)

Orienting the handle on the right, these same sources will tell you, is “American-style” (アメリカ式), which comes as news to this Yankee Doodle Dandy.

So what say you, readers? Do you buy any of this? Is there a particular way to serve coffee in your country?

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Coming up, Dec. 19: Art Deco Tour in Tokyo, in English!

Japan’s cultural offerings are hard to access if you don’t know Japanese. Few museums provide more than cursory signage in English, and tours and audio guides are generally only in Japanese. Foreign visitors understandably feel frustrated with the experience they get in most of Japan’s museums — it’s like paying full fare but having to hang outside the train window as everything rushes past you!


Believe me, museums are aware of the problem and would love to provide a better experience for international visitors. But few curators have the language skills to prepare captions or conduct a gallery talk in English. They do hire professional translators when budgets allow, but adding one foreign language jacks up the cost of an exhibition by at least 30%. So what’s the solution?

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (June 2014)

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (June 2014)

I’ve been testing out an idea. When I do a major translation job for a museum, which involves learning all about the exhibits anyway, I offer to do a gallery talk in English. My first opportunity to do this was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, where I gave two tours of the Shimooka Renjo exhibition I worked on. Now I’m at it again — at the newly reopened Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.

I translated a weighty booklet about the main building of the museum, a gem of Art Deco design and architecture built in 1933 for a member of the Imperial family. I also produced the English text and audio for a free self-guide app about the museum. I gave one tour for foreigners last month, right after the reopening, and have another coming up. Naturally, a curator comes along to field any questions I can’t answer. What I bring to the table is enthusiasm for the subject matter and a demonstrated ability to communicate about Japan in English. That’s been my professional specialty for the last 15 years.

Consider yourself invited on my next and final tour of 2014. On Friday Dec. 19 at 4 pm. I’ll lead a tour of about an hour focusing on the history and highlights of that grand Art Deco palace, the former Prince Asaka Residence. The tour is free with regular admission, and as a special bonus, I’m offering one pair of tickets by lottery for blog readers. If you’d like to enter, drop me a line through the contact form on this blog with your name and address and whether you’d like one ticket or two. Here’s how to get to the museum.

To enjoy more of Thomas Gittel’s photographs of the Prince Asaka Residence, please visit his blog.

Update Dec. 12: The drawing is now closed. Congratulations to L.F. and S.K. — I’ve sent you emails letting you know your tickets are on the way.

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