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False fingers for ex-Yakuza

Yubi-tsume (指詰め) — the practice of chopping off a little finger as an act of penitence — has been going on in the Japanese underworld for many years.

Recent anti-gang laws have persuaded many of Japan’s Yakuza that life would be easier on the straight and narrow. However, it can be difficult for them to find an honest job. Their trademark tattoos (irezumi; 入れ墨) are widely frowned upon, and many establishments will refuse to serve — let alone employ — anyone bearing them. But at least tattoos are easy to cover up. Missing fingers are more of a problem.

This has resulted in a flourishing prosthetics business.

Video by ABC News

Here’s another news item on the same subject by the Australian ABC. You’ll have to click through for the video as they don’t allow off-site embedding. But here’s a nice screenshot:

Prosthetic pinkies for digitally deficient delinquents

A selection of prosthetic pinkies

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Kim Jong-Il’s sushi chef

Kenji Fujimoto (藤本 健二) spent eleven years living in North Korea, eventually becoming Kim Jong-Il’s personal sushi chef and confidant. GQ magazine recently interviewed him back in Japan. Here’s his extraordinary story.

At a lavish Wonsan guesthouse, Fujimoto prepared sushi for a group of executives who would be arriving on a yacht. Executive is Fujimoto’s euphemism for generals, party officials, or high-level bureaucrats. In other words, Kim Jong-il’s personal entourage. And guesthouse is code for a series of palaces decorated with cold marble, silver-braided bedspreads, ice purple paintings of kimilsungia blossoms, and ceilings airbrushed with the cran-apple mist of sunset, as if Liberace’s jet had crashed into Lenin’s tomb.

At two in the morning, the boat finally docked. Fujimoto began serving sushi for men who obviously had been through a long party already. He would come to realize these parties tended to be stacked one atop another, sometimes four in a row, spreading out over days.

All the men wore military uniforms except for one imperious fellow in a casual sports tracksuit. This man was curious about the fish. He asked Fujimoto about the marbled, fleshy cuts he was preparing.

“That’s toro,” Fujimoto told him.

For the rest of the night, this man kept calling out, “Toro, one more!”

The next day, Fujimoto was talking to the mamasan of his hotel. She was holding a newspaper, the official Rodong Sinmun, and on the front page was a photo of the man in the tracksuit. Fujimoto told her this was the man he’d just served dinner.

“She started trembling,” Fujimoto said of the moment he realized the man’s true identity. “Then I started trembling.”

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Domain registration scam

I just received an email from someone called Winni Du at picweb.net regarding the registration of “japanesetranslator” as a brand name. This seemed a bit strange — why should it be any of my business if someone else wants to translate Japanese for a living? And what is this “Asian Domain Registration Service in China”? Isn’t that the responsibility of CNNIC?

A quick search for picweb.net confirmed  my suspicion that this is a scam of some sort. Presumably they want me to cough up “processing fees” to protect this web domain from some imaginary threat. Or perhaps they just want me to visit their website and get my computer infected with the latest virus.

If you receive any similar emails, you can delete them straight away. And don’t visit their website, just in case.

Sorry Winni, but you’re going into the spam filter. Here’s the message in full:

Spam from picweb.biz

Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged | 1 Comment

Two years later

About 160,000 people were evacuated from the region surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the meltdown two years ago. There is still no clear indication of when it might be safe for them to move back home, and elderly evacuees are now having to face the possibility that they may never get the chance.

Meanwhile, it seems like the Japanese government will soon have to bow to economic necessity and restart the reactors that were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Engineers now have a much clearer idea of how to prepare for the next major earthquake. Hopefully this time they will get it right.

This TV news report from inside the Fukushima exclusion zone is interesting, but in some places it tends towards blatant scaremongering rather than balanced journalism.

In other news, The Atlantic has published a series of photos showing how Japanese towns and cities have recovered since the tsunami two years ago. It’s clear that there’s still an awful lot of rebuilding still to be done.

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Six months in Kyoto

Flickr user franksvalli has uploaded a lovely set of photos taken in Japan (mostly in and around Kyoto) over the last 6 months.

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2013: Year of the Snake

As you may know, 2013 is the Year of the Snake (hebi-doshi; 巳年). The Chinese new year isn’t until February, but the Japanese always celebrate the new year on January 1st. This year is also year 25 of the Heisei era (平成25年) in the older calendar system (still used today) where years are numbered from the accession of the current emperor

Someone has uploaded a video to YouTube showing how to draw a snake with a single brush stroke. It’s really quite impressive. Take a look at this:

And here’s a great video from last year where the same technique is used to draw a dragon’s tail:

Posted in Miscellaneous, Movies | Tagged | 1 Comment

Icon font


A Japanese designer called Yūgo Kajiwara (梶原勇吾) of Creative Studio Condense has just released an icon font called CONDENSEicon that looks like it would be quite useful for web application developers and web designers. The font is available in TrueType, OpenType, WOFF and EOT formats, so it can easily be embedded in web pages.

Best of all, it’s freeware. Here’s the licence text:


And here’s an English translation:

This font is free for personal and commercial use, but may not be redistributed. There is absolutely no warranty that use of this font will be error-free.

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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 1952). Besides, I think this film would be best enjoyed from the comfort of your sofa rather than sitting at the computer.

Instead, here’s the film’s trailer. It’s in Japanese only, I’m afraid, but I just had to put it here because it’s now possible for YouTube to automatically transcribe Japanese audio and convert it into English by machine translation. The results are hilarious (and complete gibberish). To enable them in the video below, click the “CC” button and choose “Japanese (transcribed)”. Then click it again and choose “Translate Captions”.

For posterity, I’ve reproduced the machine-generated captions below.

0:03 Wind
0:11 Two
0:12 For that to be a problem in
0:14 I think Figure 4 wine glasses
0:17 Such long
0:18 All of the fans want
0:21 2304's. Of high
0:24 I have not bought a number of
0:33 After the
0:34 Draft management
0:46 Freedom of speech is
0:48 Defense Minister effortlessly bdf
0:51 Law of one price in the evening
0:54 Country were entrusted the damage
0:59 Ali was
1:01 Severe
1:03 Tokyo Gas is often ecb-liter container
1:07 Rapidly
1:09 than etc
1:11 Canned coffee
1:13 Was held in Tokyo
1:15 Important friends is not easy
1:17 That this
1:20 Rather than a day too early
1:26 Proposals come as professional baseball park girls
1:30 I get no cut from getting
1:32 Do not give up
1:35 That a series in Tokyo
1:37 Then
1:38 I've been doing since
1:39 How much has been made
1:41 This only moved
1:46 At this rate was not
1:54 Lol
2:00 Paper
2:07 Recently
2:09 Now it
2:10 On the other hand eye
2:13 Page transition has been made
2:19 Since the
2:21 Avalanche
2:23 A point a point
2:33 Bitter experience
2:35 ...
2:37 And criticism, such as thank you
2:39 Co-
2:41 I found the complete human
2:44 pl academy
2:46 Became a high-stage
2:47 Was found
2:52 2005
2:55 This
2:56 What
3:00 -
3:01 Eye 4 in this prefecture
3:03 It is said that until such a thing
3:07 0 home runs
3:12 Heavy upside
3:17 On the other hand was
3:25 Yeah
3:30 Co-
3:31 doga.l
3:34 Yeah
3:39 Yeah
3:47 Yeah
3:47 I will be able to use
3:51 To 4
3:53 f1
3:58 Perform the operation
4:01 Sentence
4:10 Yeah
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Tsugi wa … OMAE DA!

This made me laugh:

次は オマエダ

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 own computer, you’ll notice that it includes an option for calculating the difficulty of a sudoku puzzle. Typical values range from 80 or less for easy puzzles, up to 761 and above for “diabolical” puzzles. Arto’s puzzle achieves a thoroughly impressive score of 187,090.

(via telegraph.co.uk)

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Header image: Close-up of a lotus (ハス) leaf and petal. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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