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    Fuh heaven’s saake

    This, via Amritas, is great. There are few things more annoying than the view among many Westerners that spraying kanji all over something immediately lifts it from its actual mass-production banality into a realm of cosmic spiritual Significance.

    The potential mistakes can be every bit as hilarious as the more-famous fractured English one sees here in Asia. One of the guys in my department, who started out in China studies, notes that the implicit message of the T-shirt in this post is “I have a rack.”

    A slightly different example, in that it dealt with concepts and not kanji, was on this week’s episode of CSI. (I mean, they showed it this week on AXN here in Japan–it was probably filmed in 2000 or so.) Sara, the tough chick, was working overtime on some case that had struck a nerve, and Grissom, the handsome department head, leaned forward and said to her, with a comical air of profundity, “You know, Sara, if you chase two rabbits, you won’t even get one.” Maybe those weren’t the exact words, but (as the subtitle writers knew) he was definitely citing the Japanese proverb ニ兎を追うものは一兎も得ず (nito wo ou mono ha itto mo ezu: “the man who chases two rabbits fails to catch either,” or, if you insist on attaching a tone of Charlie Chan/Mr. Moto/Suzie Wong wisdom to all things East Asian, “he who pahsue two bahnny not obtain even won”). I half-expected a gong to sound during the ensuing pregnant pause, though I myself was rolling around on the sofa laughing.

    Actually, before Friends declined into a self-referential snore, there was an episode that beautifully satirized this tendency. Ross talked about taking a self-defense class and learning to achieve “a state of total awareness” that he grandly announced was called “unagi.” Rachel (“Isn’t that a kind of sushi?”) and Phoebe (“Yeah, it’s…it’s freshwater eel!”) knew better, though.

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