Friday, February 25, 2011

Say Yes, Yes and Yes

In view that I am going on my long-awaited trip to my beloved Japan in FOURTEEN days (oh the agony! the wait!), and that I have been so tardy in writing of late, I think it wise to log in another post before March comes around. Really, Fat Geisha's social life has been so packed, and her fat presence is in such demand, that sigh, I have been neglecting my darling web admirers. I promise I will not desert you, my dears, even if I have to lose my precious beauty sleep to write!

The last time the Japan wave swept Southeast Asia like a plague (maybe wrong choice of words but you get my meaning) was in the 1980s and early 90s, when I was still in my innocent salad days (er-hem). In addition to J-Pop invading our airwaves, we were all watching numerous Chinese-dubbed J-dramas on TV. In those days, the J-dramas were the K-dramas of today, with such wonderful plots and many cute Japanese actors. Does anyone still remember the 1980s mega classic OSHIN?

The one J-drama that was ALL the rage in the early 1990s was "101 Kaime no Proposal" or "101 Proposals"). A charming story on a down and out middle aged man who just could not find a marriage partner, fell in love with an elegant and beautiful cellist and pursued her like a dog on a bone that verged on borderline stalker-ish. Obviously his dogged perseverance won the fair lady's heart in the end, and his journey was accompanied by the MOST INCREDIBLE title song "Say Yes", sung by famous J-Pop duo, Chage and Aska.

In all honesty, the song was far greater than the drama such that 20 years later, we are still belting it out with gusto at karaoke sessions but I couldn't quite remember the faces of the drama's leads (until I checked out Youtube). Even my mother hums to the tune when the song pops up now and then. It remains one of the top selling singles in Japan even today. Those wonderful, harmonious tenor voices of Chage and Aska which soared to such great heights asking the lady to just "Say Yes". Just say yes, dammit!

(A random question: Did anyone find it incredibly romantic that the male lead proposed at the end to his lady love with a nut bolt and she accepted? But not Fat Geisha, certainly not! Diamonds are the most romantic! The bigger they are, the more romantic! And thank GOD Samurai T had the sense to propose with a fairly big blinking stone, although I also have to give credit to our mutual gay friend who went ring-shopping with him.)

One of my favourite memories of the "Say Yes" song was during my visit to Kyoto 2 years ago, when we walked past this gigantic Christmas tree at the massive Kyoto Station and it was playing the instrumental version of the song. The simple tinkling piano music immediately sent me into a trance, and I just stopped under the tree and listened till the end. It was supposed to be a wedding song, instead of a Christmas one, and yet it fitted the mood so well then, I was immediately transported into a winter wonderland. At that point in time, I felt so incredibly blessed - I was in my favourite country, during my favourite season, with my favourite person and listening to one of my all-time favourite songs.

Let us all reminisce the good old days with a clip of the wonderful, iconic song "Say Yes" - a slightly different rendition (but equally good) sung by the talented Chage and Aska at their concert.

This is the moving final scene of the 1991 "101 Proposals". Although the man is not Takuya, I cannot help but be teary that Love Conquers All, in spite of the huge gulf (in looks, talent, etc.) between the two lovers. Weird that I couldn't remember most of the drama, but I remembered this scene very clearly. The title song captured the mood perfectly.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zoom Around Japan With Hyperdia

One of my fellow crazy-about-Japan girlfriends just gave me the Most awesome tip on planning train travel in Japan. For the first time, I will be taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Sendai (Yipee!), and will be traveling around extensively to Yamagata, Matsushima and Ibaraki over the span of one week. Getting from Point A to Point B can be a headache, despite Japan's highly extensive and efficient rail system. It is important to know one's routes and train schedules to effectively plan trips and ensure there is sufficient time for your visits and that you don't waste time over bad connections.

The brilliant solution can be found on this incredible website Invented by Hitachi Systems, you can just key in your starting point and destination anywhere in Japan, and voila! The site generates a few different routes with train times and connection points. You will know exactly how long the journey will take, and when you will arrive at your final destination. It even gives you the total fare you would have to pay for the whole trip!! Freaking fantastic tool, and a must have for all Japan travellers!

I am not so concerned about fares at this point in time since I have just purchased my 7-day Japan Rail Pass, but Hyperdia is truly god sent. Now I am even more prepared for my upcoming trip and am busy counting down. Eighteen More Days!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Complexities and Perplexities of Katakana

Meh....The Fat Geisha is getting lazier by the day which explains the lack of blog posts this month. Also there is nothing much in recent times to get me excited, for example, a naked Takuya Kimura rising out of nowhere like my personal Japanese muse, or private sex slave. The current weather in Singapore has also not been conducive for blogging because it is just sooooo freaking hot I feel like melting all the time. If I am still alive by the time I travel to the Zao Mountains in March, I will physically bury myself under tonnes of snow!

Ok, I have written more than a hundred words of nonsense, but that is not my main topic for the day. I am right now into my third semester of Japanese classes and it is getting more strenuous by the week. For those not in the know, the Japanese have three systems of writing script: the Hiragana for native Japanese words, the Katakana for foreign words and Kanji (Chinese characters) to differentiate the meanings of words. In truth, compared to the 60,000 characters in the Chinese script of which I probably know less than 5%, there are only about 100+ Hiragana and Katakana letters (these are actually phonetic letters, not pictograms like Chinese) that I have to memorize, and yet I am having trouble remembering in particular the Katakana letters. I don't actually know if I should be disgusted with myself for my inability to remember the letters as a result of diminished brain power, or be frightened that my brain powers are Actually diminishing. Nevertheless my girlfriends and I choose to conveniently blame the Japanese for coming up with what we feel is a redundant Katakana system to cope with foreign words/ideas which forces us learn an additional 50++ pathetic letters. (Sigh, yes, we should be ashamed of ourselves.)

But seriously, our reasoning is quite sound. Both Hiragana and Katakana script reproduce the EXACT same sounds (aa, i, u, e, o, sa shi, su, se, so.....) so it seems quite inefficient to create another set of letters JUST to represent foreign names and objects or new concepts. In addition, the Japanese sounds do not directly correlate to English sounds for example they do not have "v" or "r" sounds, nor the final "t". So besides struggling to remember the script, after managing to form the sounds 5 minutes later, we have to decipher what foreign word it is trying to say. "Soccer" becomes "Sak-ka", "Beer" is "Bi-Ru", "Building" is also "Biru" but without dragging out the first syllable, "Toilet" is "To-i-le" and so on and so forth. It is like a guessing game 90% of the time. Best of all, not all foreign words are translated from English, like "Bread" which is "Pa-n" in Katakana. Don't ask me why.

Not that I can change anything by whining, and I know I am whining, because I failed to get full marks in my dictation test this week. Yes, sore loser, I know. At another time, I would appreciate the intricacies and eccentricities of the language, because after all why study a language if they are all the same?! Deep down in my heart, somewhere, I love the Japanese language, really. Just until I start learning Kanji proper, I guess. Did I ever mention how much I hated learning Chinese in school? Samurai despairs frequently over my abysmal knowledge of my mother tongue, but that is another story for another day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to Snag a Japanese Man (During Valentine's Day)

To be honest, I don't know how. I just thought the title was quite sensational. And much as I wake up everyday in the morning hoping that my Samurai T will turn into a real Japanese Samurai a la Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryoma Sakamoto, it has not happened YET (so I did NOT successfully snag a Japanese man). And for as long as we have been married (sometime during the Bronze Age, I think), the both of us have never celebrated V-Day, deriding it as kiddy, cheesy and way too commercial. (Don't be suckers!)

My dream Samurai.... Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.......

But, while we may not celebrate Valentine's Day, we cannot avoid it. Unless we choose not to step out of the house on 14 February, one will be confronted by lovey-dovey teenagers holding bouquets of roses and soft toys, with stars replacing their eyeballs and drool coming out from their mouths (I kid!). Here in Singapore, you actually see more men (or boys) heaping presents on their girlfriends (or if you are lucky - wives) but surprise, surprise, it is actually THE OTHER WAY AROUND in Japan!

This topic would have never come up on my blog but for the fact that my Sensei and classmates were discussing about it animatedly during my weekly language lessons. According to Sensei, Valentine's Day in Japan is when the GIRLS give presents (mostly chocolates) to the boys. Shocked, I did some research on the Internet afterwards and found this to be completely true. Apparently, Japanese girls are supposedly quite shy (Hontoni??) and hence V-Day is the day when they can express their love, admiration, gratitude, yadda, yadda to the opposite sex. In fact, they do not just give chocolates to their loved ones (or those they have crushes on), they also give "giri-chocolates" ("obligation" chocolates) to their bosses and colleagues.

At this point you may think, like me, that "WHAT?!?!?! Why so unfair? Don't the females get anything?!" In Japan, there is apparently a WHITE DAY on 14 March, when it is time for the males to reciprocate. White Day is specific to the Japanese culture - we don't get that elsewhere in the world. 

Back to V-Day then. It is said that to the male you are interested in, you must buy the BEST and most expensive chocolates (can you hear the ka-ching from the retailers?!) to express the depth of your emotion. Kit-Kats would suffice if you are giving giri-chocolates, I believe. But if price is a factor on how much you love/like a guy, it is quite a problem for female students with little income. So the chocolates (beautifully wrapped) will also be accompanied by a flowery love letter, stuffed in the boy's locker or under his desk. Or better still, bake some heart shape cookies for the man. Popular boys in school will naturally have lockers and desks overflowing with chocolates (like can you imagine the CALORIES?!), while the not-so-popular ones will completely dread Valentine's Day (poor souls).

And what would a post on Japanese men be, without our all-time favourite Japanese male - the delectable Kimura-san?! I am positive that he drowns under a mountain of chocolates come every V-Day. I don't think I would give Kimura-san chocolates though. I prefer to throw my underwear at him.

Kiss me, Baby....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Looking for Snow Monsters at Zao Mountains

I am so super efficient. Within two days of booking the air tickets, I have about completed my entire one week itinerary, and booked my hotels too. Besides my planning brilliance, some credit goes to Japan for being such an amazing country with never-ending things to see and do.

Eager tourists amidst the Snow Monsters on Mount Zao.

On my list of "Top To-Dos" is to make a day trip from Sendai to Yamagata Prefecture to visit the famous Zao Mountain Snow Monsters. These are white gigantic monoliths in various shapes and sizes that are found perched on top of the Zao Mountain come every winter. The giant "Snow Monsters" are in actual fact snow-covered trees which are formed when the powerful Siberian winds blow snow and ice onto them, and they quickly froze in situ, thus creating a spectacular sight for visitors. I have seen them on television on Japan Hour, and they looked absolutely amazing (and menacing at night). The best part is that this natural phenomenon lasts until the end of March, which means I would be in time to check out these glacial beasts. According to an Internet article I have come across during research, this sight is not expected to last more than another 40 years due to global warming, so we have got to catch it while we still can! 

On my part, I have only seen week-old snow ONCE (which had already turned into ice) on a mountain in Tasmania during my honeymoon eons ago. Being the pathetic and deprived tropical dweller that I am, I simply cannot wait to be surrounded by a snow scape. It would be freezingly AWESOME!

And after our amazing sojourn (of that I am sure), I figure the best way to cure our cold is to hunker down and find ourselves a good restaurant selling the famous Yonezawa beef of Yamagata. I am still researching for the best place to eat this delicacy at the moment and my stomach is already growling in anticipation as I write. Do wait for my review then.

In the meantime, I would like to wish all my beloved Chinese readers a very Bunny New Year! (And I am off to binge and celebrate this whole week - the Fat Geisha needs to maintain her weight you see.)