積ん読

I stumbled across the Japanese word tsundoku some time ago on Buzzfeed.  It was one among several Japanese words included in a list (listicle?) of “untranslatable” words from foreign languages.

First things first: This is a cool word.  I feel particularly attached to it because it describes an act that I commit with alarming frequency.  For various reasons,  have an issue with calling this and any word “untranslatable” – but that aside, it’s still interesting to consider its etymology.

tsundoku (Found in Translation by Anjana Iyer)

 

First off, 積ん読 [つんどく] is a compound of two words 積む + 読.  Breaking that down, we have:

  • 積む [つむ]: to pile up
  •  読 [どく – note the on’yomi reading]:  to read

Now the interesting thing is that the whole word is actually a pun on the word 積んどく[つんどく] which is a contraction of 積んでおく [つんでおく].  The latter verb ending – VERB STEM +ておく – indicates doing something and leaving it that way for a while.  (Think 아/어 두다 in Korean).  So,

  • 積んでおく = to leave piled up for a long time

The “books” part of the word comes in when you substitute the contraction of でおく (which becomesどく) with 読.  So clever!  And so very Japanese.  It sort of reminds me of the humor in 花より男子 with all the jokes around Domyouji’s misuse and misinterpretation of Kanji.  It’s so hard to get the humor or cleverness behind Japanese wordplay when you… uh… aren’t that good at Kanji or vocabulary in general.  Looking up the parts that make up this particular word was enlightening though.  And it sort of made me want to pick up one of those several unread books I have lying around!

Mandarake – (Used) Manga Paradise in Japan

Okay, so imagine you’re in Japan.

For lovers of Japanese fiction/non-fiction, there’s Kinokuniya.  For lovers of manga, light novels, and anime merch, there’s Animate.  And then, my friendsthere is a store for those of us who like all of the above but are on a budget.  That’s Mandarake.

Image courtesy of Lisa Pinehill (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ginkgraph/8093211245)
Image courtesy of Lisa Pinehill (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ginkgraph/8093211245)

Mandarake (まんだらけ) is a multi-story anime/manga media store found in a number of locations throughout Japan.  The store is chock-full of anime CDs, DVDs, even VHS tapes (it’s true!), collectible figurines, cosplay gear, toys and cell phone charms, fan-made doujinshi and, best of all, a jaw-dropping quantity of used manga.

I went to two different Mandarake’s when I visited Japan: one in Akihabara (Tokyo) and one in Namba (Osaka).  The photo above isn’t mine, but that’s the Namba branch of the store.  And no, your eyes do not deceive you:  Those are shelves of used manga literally chilling outside the building.

I very often delude myself into thinking I know Japanese better than I actually do, especially when it comes to reading.  I’m horrible at reading Japanese.  You’d be amazed how undeterred I am by that fact when I am in store such as Mandarake.  One of the most difficult things about this store was actually navigating around and trying to find a specific title.  The manga seemed to be classified by genre first, and then by the magazine it was serialized in, and then by author.  So basically, I was wandering like a lost sheep most of the time, under the guise of “browsing” casually.

I did spot some familiar titles.

Throwback to early high school.  You will not believe how emotionally invested in Marmalade Boy I was.  Funnily enough, it’s one of Theo’s most memorable mangas too.  We don’t overlap a ton in terms of what we’ve read or watched so that was pretty interesting to find out!

Believe it or not, it wasn’t too difficult to walk away empty-handed from normal bookstores like Kinokuniya.  One tankoubon at Kinokuniya is $6.20 in the U.S. and roughly the same price in Japan; I wouldn’t save money by buying manga or novels in Japan.  But used manga in Mandarake run as cheap as ¥200 (1.60 USD) and are in practically new condition.  That was true temptation.

In the spirit of bonding over manga that we’ve both read, I picked up volume 1 of a couple of Theo’s favorites.  Orange in particular was quite popular, probably because the final chapter release a few months ago.  There’s apparently going to be a live action movie too, releasing in Japan this December.

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Slowly, but surely, my Japanese bookshelf grows.  One of these days I’ll actually finish something on it.  My first ever Japanese novel was 告白 by Minato Kanae, the novel which gave rise to one of my all-time favorite movies.  A friend gave me the novel… oh, three or so years ago.  And I still can’t make it past the third sentence without stumbling across kanji that I can’t read.

One of these days!

World Connections

Yes, yes, I know – and you do too if you been following me on Twitter or Instagram – I got back from Japan a whole week ago so where be all the Japan posts?!?  All in good time, friends.  I’m not even done writing about Korea from a whole year ago.  Spoiler alert:  I only slightly fail at writing travelogues.

Anyway, a few days ago, I was at a job interview for a position that is heavily focused on writing and communication (EDIT:  I GOT THE JOB).  One question I got was “Why writing?” – aside from the fact that I must be a fairly good writer, being an ex-PhD student and all (not universally true, by the way), why was I choosing to make writing the focal point of my career path now?

I hadn’t thought about that question at all, really.  The duh answer is that I’ve always loved writing and language.  And writing about language.  Naturally, I brought up this blog.  This blog is the perfect marriage of my two greatest passions and being able to do both in one space gives me boundless satisfaction and joy.  I’ve said it over and over again: I don’t think I would’ve ever entertained the idea of blogging had it not been for the other language bloggers I had silently followed before starting my own.

Blogging hasn’t just brought me personal joy, it’s brought me connections to people all over the world.

Real talk:  By Internet stats, I’m not a popular blogger by any means.  My daily page views are practically negligible and I only have a few hundred followers.  That being said, I’m incredibly lucky.  I have come to know many of my followers through my blog and social media and through language learning itself.  The majority of us may not have met in person, but these are still true, meaningful connections.  Last year, I met my wifey Jeannie for the first time in Seoul after years and years of getting to know her online.  This year, I stopped in Nagoya to meet another online friend in person.

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I first met Haruna through Theo’s Japanese-American friend, who had met her through a language-exchange site.  We Skyped a few times after that, talked for a bit on Facebook (she introduced me to Sakanaction hehe) and Line and when I mentioned that I was coming to Japan and would love to meet up with her, she agreed!  Haruna commuted something like 2 hours from her hometown to meet Theo and me at Nagoya station where she took us to eat donburi.

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, but it was incredibly touching to know that through my language learning endeavors, I had made a friend in Japan – and we were both really excited to see each other!  She may have plans to come to California next year so hopefully we see each other again.

It just feels really awesome that I have friends that I’ve made through language learning and blogging in all these different pockets of the world.  I feel kinda like a global citizen.

I love writing, but in all honesty, I never thought to make it a part of my career.  I’ve been “writing a novel” since seventh grade or so, and it’s always been on the side.  It never felt like I was doing enough.  Now I know exactly what is so satisfying about writing and why I want to make it the center of my career:  I love that my words can reach other people.  And that we can inspire each other as a result!  That’s pretty damn powerful.