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Tokyo Story

Every ten years since 1952, the British Film Institute (BFI) has polled film directors and critics to determine the greatest film of all time. In the recently published results of the 2012 survey, a Japanese film topped the directors’ poll, and ranked third in the critics’ poll. Tokyo Story (Tōkyō monogatari; 東京物語) was directed by Yasujirō Ozu (小津安二郎) in 1953. It features an elderly couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children, but find them too preoccupied with their own lives to care for their parents. However, they are treated more warmly by their widowed daughter-in-law. Shot in Ozu’s characteristic style (low camera viewpoint, little or no camera movement), the film presents a thought-provoking and rather sad portrait of changing family values in post-war Japan. It is widely regarded as Ozu’s masterpiece. Do watch it if you get the chance. A  subtitled version of the film has been uploaded to YouTube, but I won’t embed it here as I’m not sure it’s all above board in terms of copyright (although the film would definitely be in the public domain by now had it been released in [More…]

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Tsugi wa … OMAE DA!

This made me laugh: It’s a photo of an electronic display inside a train that provides passengers with information such as the name of the next stop. Here it says 次は オマエダ (tsugi wa Omaeda) to indicate that the next stop will be at Omaeda station (小前田駅) in Saitama prefecture. However, since the place name is written in katakana instead of kanji, it can be read in two different ways. The intended meaning: 次は 小前田 = tsugi wa Omaeda = “Next: Omaeda” And the unintended threat: 次は お前だ = tsugi wa OMAE DA = “Next: YOU!” Omae is a rather disrespectful way of saying “you” in Japanese. (Check Wikipedia for the meaning of da, if you’re interested). Furthermore, katakana is often used as a means of emphasis, similar to the use of italics or block capitals in English. So the sign could perhaps be translated as “YOU’RE NEXT, PAL!”.

Posted in Humour, Photos, Translation | Tagged | 1 Comment

The world’s most difficult sudoku puzzle

Finnish mathematician Arto Inkala recently claimed to have created the world’s hardest Sudoku puzzle. Based on the number of deductions that need to be made to fill in a single cell, this puzzle achieves a difficulty rating of 11 stars, compared with five stars for the average newspaper sudoku. Can you crack it? Have a go. If you get stuck — or rather, when you get stuck — just paste the following grid into Bill DuPree’s sudoku solver, which will solve it for you in a fraction of a second. Thanks, Bill! 8 . . . . . . . . . . 3 6 . . . . . . 7 . . 9 . 2 . . . 5 . . . 7 . . . . . . . 4 5 7 . . . . . 1 . . . 3 . . . 1 . . . . 6 8 . . 8 5 . . . 1 . . 9 . . . . 4 . . Incidentally, if you install Bill’s software on your [More…]

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A robot that cheats

Think you’re good at rock-paper-scissors? You won’t beat this robot. That’s because it’s cheating: It’s still quite impressive though. Equipped with a high-speed video camera, it takes just one millisecond to recognise its opponent’s hand gesture without the need for special gloves or other such aids. This video was produced by the Ishikawa Oku Laboratory at Tokyo University. YouTube has plenty of other videos of robots playing rock-paper-scissors, or janken (じゃんけん), as the game is known in Japan.

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Big Brother is… oh wait, never mind

The Daily Mail got the nation’s teacups rattling yesterday by reporting on a new CCTV camera that can supposedly scan 36 million faces per second. Although the rest of their article gets the facts a little bit straighter, their headline is totally misleading. How on earth would any camera be able to take a picture of 36 million people in one second, let alone recognise every single one of them? That’s more than the population of Canada. Here’s the original video from which the Mail published (uncredited) screenshots: First of all, they got the name of the company behind this technology wrong. It’s Hitachi Kokusai Electric (日立国際電気), not Hitachi Hokusai Electric. For the record, Kokusai (国際) means “international”. Hokusai (北斎) is the name of a Japanese artist who died in 1849. His most famous work was probably The Great Wave. What Hitachi have actually developed is a system that looks for and analyses human faces in the video pictures it receives, and then stores the resulting biometric records along with the CCTV footage. Operators can then search for a particular [More…]

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Converting zenkaku to hankaku

For historical reasons, Chinese, Japanese and Korean word processors allow certain characters (including the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals) to be entered using wide variants called fullwidth (zenkaku; 全角) characters instead of — or rather, in addition to — the ordinary halfwidth (hankaku; 半角) characters used by everyone else. When preparing Japanese text for translation in CAT tools like OmegaT, it often helps to convert zenkaku characters to their hankaku equivalents. The Japanese version of Microsoft Word has a built-in feature that will do this, but it’s a little bit annoying because it also converts katakana characters. All I really want to do is convert the non-Japanese characters. Here’s a Perl script I’ve been using to do this inside TextWrangler: #!/usr/bin/perl -w # File: ZtoH.pl # Author: Phil Ronan, japanesetranslator.co.uk # Convert zenkaku to hankaku # Prepare Japanese UTF-8 plain-text files for translation by # converting full-width (zenkaku) characters to their half-width # (hankaku) counterparts. Katakana characters are not converted. # This script was written for use as a TextWrangler plugin, but # can also be used as a command line tool — [More…]

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Son et lumière

Here’s a cool idea from NEC Lighting — a ceiling light with a built-in Bluetooth speaker that can be operated via an Android app. They’re not on sale yet, but should be available later this year (in Japan, at least).

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Sukiyaki

The song Ue o muite arukō (上を向いて歩こう) by Kyū Sakamoto (坂本 九) was given the rather cheerful title of “Sukiyaki” when released in the West back in the early 1960s. The title actually means “I’ll look up as I walk”, and the song explains that this is because the singer doesn’t want to let his tears of sorrow fall to the ground. This stoical attitude to misfortune resonated strongly with the Japanese as they came to terms with last year’s disastrous earthquake and the events that followed. For example, in April the drinks manufacturer Suntory bought up advertising time on TV to lift people’s spirits with recordings of two Sakamoto songs sung by various celebrities who had appeared in Suntory adverts in the past. A rendering of Ue o muite arukō by artists including Tommy Lee Jones can still be seen on YouTube. But here’s the original version: Japanese Pronunciation Translation 上を向いて歩こう Ue o muite arukō I’ll look up as I walk 涙がこぼれないように Namida ga koborenai yō ni So the tears won’t fall 思い出す春の日 Omoidasu haru no hi As I remember those days in spring [More…]

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Header image: Maple leaves and bamboo stems in autumn at Tenryū-ji garden (天龍寺庭園) in Kyoto. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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