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Book review: 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA

About the book

Title: 『首折り男のための協奏曲』(くびおり おとこ の ための きょうそうきょく)
Author: Kotaro ISAKA 伊坂幸太郎
Published by 新潮文庫

『首折り男のための協奏曲』is a collection of short stories that Kotaro ISAKA wrote for different magazines. But even though the stories were written as independent stories, put together in the same book, they resonate with one another and create a “謎の工芸品” (mysterious craftwork), as the author says himself (p.429).

Review

The author writes at the end of the book that all the stories of 『首折り男のための協奏曲』were written independently for different magazines. He said he had to answer to prompts like “恋愛ものを” or “怪談話を” which explains why the stories are so different in structure. While he hadn’t thought of putting all these stories together in the same book at first, he was surprised to see how strangely well they resonate together once the project of『首折り男のための協奏曲』was settled.

I think that this is exactly how the reader must read this book: these are short stories, but put together, they gain an additional dimension.

The problem is that nothing on the book indicates that they are short stories, and the summary on the back cover even makes you think that you are reading a novel and that everything will come together in the end.

Because of that, I was looking for clues that could not be there. I was trying to understand how this could be the same story, and given that some characters return from story to story, it took me some time before I realise that I was not reading a novel.

When I realised it, I was a little disappointed, but I could also fully appreciate what I was reading without constantly thinking “but this does not make sense”.

As for the stories in themselves, they were all very good, some were particularly engrossing (首折り男の周辺、合コンの話), some I found really brilliant (漏れ衣の話、人間らしく).

Not all, but almost all of them have a hidden trick in them. As a result, there is always this moment when, understanding that hidden mechanism, I was baffled by the author’s talent. But on the other hand, this made the stories a little difficult to read in Japanese! My favourite story is 月曜日から逃げろ but it took me some time before I understood the hidden trick. I was re-reading several times the same passages because something didn’t make sense, and I was thinking that my Japanese level was at fault.

This is the first book I read by Kotaro ISAKA, and I am now wondering if all his books are so inventive. I am a little irritated at the publisher who makes you think that it is a novel and that everything will come together at the end in a surprising way. I feel that it spoiled my reading and appreciation of this book with useless expectations. If I had read these stories as independent short stories from the beginning, I would have enjoyed them better.

Language Learning diary: December 2019

We are December 1st, so I am sitting the JLPT right now! But I wrote this post in advance and scheduled it so I will give you my impressions about the JLPT in my next JLPT Journal entry on the 15th!

This post will be only about books:

  • The books that I gave up on this year
  • New books from Japan!
  • Just finished and currently reading

At the end of December, I will also write about the books I have read in 2019, and I will set my new reading challenges for 2020 in my next language learning diary post on January 1st!

Books I give up on (for now)

I thought it would be the most interesting book of my challenge, so I am very sad to admit that I gave up on it… This is the novel 『小説王』by Kazumasa HAYAMI (早見和真).

I have reached page 254 (out of 365)… I certainly could have made an effort and finish it, but the thing is that I did not enjoy reading it, and it felt like a chore.

The book is about a writer, Toyotaka YOSHIDA, who made a brilliant debut but whose books don’t sell anymore, and an editor, Shuntaro KOYANAGI, who works in the small and marginal literature department of Kagurasha publishers. Toyotaka and Shuntaro were classmates at school, and they meet again as adults. Shuntaro believes in Toyotaka’s potential and wants to work with him.

First of all, I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Japanese publishing industry. I have learned a lot of things through Shuntaro’s character and job. I had no idea, for example, how much the editor can participate in the creation process of the novel, and how difficult this job can be. I found that parts focusing on Shuntaro were very interesting but sometimes also depressing. We tend to take for granted that bookshops are filled with new publications every month, but publishing is not as easy as it sounds and this novel shows the frustrations, obstacles and hard work that lie behind. I always considered that writing a book was difficult, not publishing it, but this novel showed me what really happens behind the scenes.

The main reason why I gave up on this book is, no surprise, the level difficulty. I found this book difficult to read in Japanese, especially the dialogues. I usually consider dialogues to be the easiest part to read in novels (compared to descriptions for example), but in this novel, dialogues were hard to follow. My guess is that the characters use a lot of professional jargon, or simply that the author really gave them a personality through their way of speaking. It certainly adds to the quality of the novel, but it was frustrating to read to me.

Secondly, I didn’t like the character of the writer, Toyotaka. When I don’t feel sympathy for the characters of a novel, I find it very hard to be engaged in their destiny.

I finally decided to give up on this novel for now. I will maybe re-read it later and try to understand the passages that were too difficult today.

There is a drama adaptation of this novel. At some point, I thought that I could watch the drama and then re-read the novel. I watched the first episode but didn’t quite feel engrossed in it so I gave up this too.

Finally, we have these two books from the series “その可能性はすでに考えた” by Magi INOUE.

I am not really giving up on these novels because I haven’t properly started them yet. I have read the beginning of the first one, and I was completely lost. It opens on a dialogue and it was so opaque… Of course, my Japanese level is at fault here, but I was also annoyed about the way it was written. It is hard to describe exactly, but I just couldn’t get into this book (or maybe I was just frustrated by my Japanese level!).

I will keep them for later!

Remaining books from my 2019 reading challenge

I would still have 5 books to read if I wanted to complete my reading challenge of 2019 (I have excluded the 3 above). I am certain that I cannot read 5 books in Japanese in one month time though.

  • 『七色の毒』(Poison of the Seven Colors) by Shichiri NAKAYAMA (中山七里)
  • 『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOSUGI (小杉健治) – just started.
  • 『盤上に死を描く』(The Killing Diagram) by Neko INOUE (井上ねこ)
  • 『コンビニ・ララバイ』by Yo IKENAGA (池永陽) – currently reading.
  • 『赤レンガの御定番』by Shoko MIKI (三木笙子)

New books from Japan!

As mentioned above, I still have several books waiting to be read on my shelf, but I could not resist the temptation to buy new books 🙄

I will write my new reading challenges for 2020 at the beginning of January, but I can already say that I will try to be more diversified and read more genres. When I walk into a bookshop or browse titles on online store, I just grab everything that has “殺人” in its title… and I would like to read other things than crime fiction in 2020. Another goal will be to read more non-fiction. With this in mind, I have chosen my first titles for 2020:

First of all, we have 『マチネの終わりに』by Keiichiro HIRANO (平野啓一郎). This book seems to be everywhere, it is a bestseller on Amazon and has a lot of positive reviews, and there is a film adaptation that came out on November, 1st.

The obi advertises the book as a “long seller romance novel”. I don’t usually read contemporary romance or love stories, so I am very excited to read this one!

I also saw that there is the audio version of this book on audiobook.jp. It is expensive, but I will maybe buy it to read and listen at the same time.

Then we have 『罪の声』by Takeshi SHIOTA (塩田武士). This looks more like what I am used to reading. Apparently, the author wrote about a real extortion case that took place in the 80s and is still unsolved today: the Glico Morinaga case (グリコ・森永事件). I don’t know if it is written as a fiction or a reportage, but it sounds intriguing. I hope it will not be too difficult to read!

The book I am the most anticipating is 『帰郷』by Jiro ASADA (浅田次郎). It is a collection of short stories on people whose life has been turned upside down by the war. I except it to be difficult to read in Japanese, but it is also exactly the kind of books that I would like to read more. The stories seem to be around 40 pages each, so I will make the effort to study the passages that I don’t understand and look up words.

Finally, I don’t really know what to expect with 『老後の資金がありません』by Miu KAKIYA (垣谷美雨), but it looks interesting! I don’t know if it will be a realistic depiction or more on the light/comic side, but it will be different from what I usually read.

Just finished and currently reading

November has been a great month for mystery fiction. After reading 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI which I loved (see review here), I finished two other suspenseful mystery books:

Both reviews will come in December! 『首折り男のための協奏曲』by Kotaro ISAKA is a collection of short stories and I found some of them simply brilliant. 『殺人鬼にまつわる備忘録』by Yasumi KOBAYASHI is a psychological thriller and was a real page turner!

I have just started 『父からの手紙』by Kenji KOZUMI. I like it so far, it feels like reading a book by Keigo HIGASHINO.

Conclusion

That’s it for November! I will spend most of December reading and planning 2020. Here are my goals for the end of the year:

Inhae reads the news: November 2019

Welcome to the second article of the series Inhae reads the news (in Japanese)!

I still don’t know what format this series will take. What I did this month was to:

  • pick topics that interest me
  • give some context to understand the issue
  • pick one or two articles relative to these topics and study some passages of these articles
  • For each studied passage:
    • I give some vocabulary (only the words that I thought were the most difficult – it is hard to judge though…)
    • I (have tried to) translate in English the passages (staying as close as possible to the Japanese version). This is part of my Japanese study, so I may have made mistakes.
    • The underlined parts are the things that I found hard to understand or translate.

In the future, I will maybe focus more on context, guidelines and vocabulary and less on translation. For now, I have only picked articles on the news portal that I read, Mainichi, but I would love to make comparisons between different journals in the future. Instead of studying passages, I will maybe link to articles and just give reading guidelines and vocabulary in my post.

This article ended up being very long, but you can jump to the topic that interests you:

Cherry blossom party

Context

The Cherry blossom Party is an event held by the Prime Minister and organised on public funds. It is held once a year since 1952. It aims at honouring people (I am not sure, but I think mainly from the public sector) for their achievements:「各界において功績、功労のあった方々を招き日頃の労苦を慰労するため」. The persons invited don’t have to pay. (Wikipedia)

In 2019, the opposition accused Abe of using the Cherry Blossom Party to entertain his supporters. The opposition said that most of the participants were members of the LDP and supporters of Abe.

Mainichi published a lot of articles on this topic, and it was hard to keep up with this affair… Our first article deals with the Cherry Blossom Party of this year (2019) and we will see why some people found it problematic. Our second article shows that invitations were circulating among the supporters of Abe.

Articles

Article 1: 桜を見る会、参加者は「共に政権を奪還した皆さん」? 首相あいさつに疑問の声

This article recalls why this year’s Cherry Blossom Party has been problematic:

この一言に、すべてが凝縮しているのではないか。「皆さんと共に政権を奪還して、7回目の『桜を見る会』であります」。騒動の渦中にある毎年恒例の「桜を見る会」、今年の安倍晋三首相のあいさつである。私たちの税金で開かれるこの会、実は首相と共に政権の奪還運動をした人たちの集まりだったのか?

  • 凝縮する・ぎょうしゅく: condense
  • 奪還する・だっかん: recapture, recover, win back, regain
  • 騒動・そうどう: disturbance, agitation, stir
  • 渦中・かちゅう: a maelstrom, a whirlpool
  • 恒例の・こうれい: regular, customary, traditional, usual

“Isn’t everything condensed in this sentence? ‘This is the seventh Cherry Blossom Party since I regained the political power together with you all.’ In the midst of the turmoil of the Cherry Blossom Party customary held every year, these were the words of greeting from Shinzo Abe this year.” This party, which is held with our taxes, was actually a gathering of the people who campaigned for the return of Abe in power?”

I am not sure about the underlined part. I translated with “turmoil”, I don’t see why the journalist would have used this word. My guess in that the cherry blossom party arouses criticism every year (for instance, I know that the number of participants has kept increasing since 2012)? Or maybe this only means that organising such an event causes a lot of hustle and bustle?

This greeting by Abe is problematic because it gives the impression that the party is held for those who helped him regain political power in 2012:

なるほど、「桜を見る会」は首相が「各界において功績・功労のあった方々を各省庁からの意見等を踏まえ幅広く招待」(8日、参院予算委)し、慰労するのが趣旨である。思想・信条や支持政党は関係ないはずだが、あいさつを聞く限り、まるで安倍後援会や自民党の集会のようである。

  • 功績・こうせき: a great achievement
  • 功労・こうろう: distinguished services
  • 省庁・しょうちょう: government offices
  • 踏まえる・ふまえる: be based on
  • 幅広い・はばひろい: wide, broad
  • 慰労・いろう: recognition of sb’s services
  • 趣旨・しゅし: the point, the aim
  • 後援・こうえん: support, backing

“The Prime Minister ‘widely invites to the Cherry Blossom Party the persons who made great achievements and services in every field, based on the recommendations of government offices’. The aim [of the event] is to honour them. While it should not be related to beliefs, thoughts or supported party, just by hearing the greeting [speech made by Abe], it looks like it is exactly a gathering of LDP members and supporters of Abe.”

Article 2: 桜見る会、下関市議枠 安倍事務所から申込書 招待人数、上限なし

We now know that the Cherry Blossom Party was supposed to honour people who made great achievements. But this article shows that LDP members could easily invite their own supporters by copying the invitation.

市議らによると、申込書は何枚でもコピーでき安倍事務所から上限は示されていなかった。非自民の複数の市議に用紙は渡っておらず、各界の功労者らを招く公的行事が、地方議員の支援者を優遇する形で自民の支持固めに政治利用されていた実態が浮かんだ。

  • 市議・しぎ: abbreviation for 市会議員・しかいぎいん: a member of the municipal assembly
  • 優遇・ゆうぐう: preferential treatment

“According to members of the municipal assembly, it was possible to make several copies of the invitation [because] the Prime Minister’s office did not mention any upper limit. [The Cherry Blossom Party] is an official event where are invited people of all fields who rendered great services, but several non-LDP members were not handed the invitation form, and we find ourselves in a situation where [the Cherry Blossom Party] is used politically to solidify the support to the LDP with this tendency to favour supporters among local assemblies.”

ある自民系市議によると用紙は市議会の安倍首相に近い会派を通して入手でき何枚でもコピーできた。人数の上限は示されず「書き込んで事務所に持って行けばいい」と話した。今年を含めて数年前からのことという。別の自民系市議は実際に自身の支援者を複数回招待したと明かした。安倍事務所が申込書をどう取りまとめたかは不明だが、この市議は「断られたことはない」と話した。

  • 会派・かいは: a parliamentary faction, group.
  • 取りまとめる・とりまとめる: collect, gather all together

“According to one member of the municipal assembly, it was possible to get the invitation form through [a member] of the municipal assembly who belonged to a faction close to Abe, and then it was possible to make several copies. He said that no upper limit was given and that ‘we just had to fill in the form and bring it to the [Prime Minister’s] office’. This year included, this has been going on for several years. Another member of the municipal assembly who belongs to the LDP revealed that they had, indeed, invited several times their own supporters. It is not clear how Abe’s office collected the invitation forms, but this member said ‘we’ve never been refused'”.

I think that this is the heart of the problem. The event is held on public funds, but the number of participants kept increasing since Abe regain his position as Prime Minister in 2012. According to Mainichi’s investigation, LDP members were tacitly allowed to hand the invitation from to their own supporters.

Are people getting used to political scandals?

Context

There has been some turmoil in Abe’s cabinet towards the end of October. First, Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara 菅原一秀 has been accused of offering money and gifts to constituents, thus violating Japan election law. He resigned on the 25th because he didn’t want to affect the administration of the Diet (by slowing down or paralysing the deliberations), but he didn’t acknowledge these accusations.

Just some days later, Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda 萩生田光一 had to apologise for making a statement that seemed to acknowledge and accept discrimination. From 2020 on, a private English test will be added to the university entrance exam. These tests can be expensive and hard to take in rural areas. Asked about this, minister Hagiuda said that students should “compete within their means/status”.

Finally, on the 31st, Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai 河井克行 resigned, following allegations that his wife violated election laws when she campaigned for her seat at the House of Counselors.

Articles

Article 1: 慣れっこになる怖さ=与良正男

In this article, journalist Masao YORA deplores that people tend to get used to political scandals.

菅原氏は有権者に金品を配った疑惑を認めたわけではない。辞任の理由に挙げたのは国会審議や行政の停滞である。これもいつもながらのパターンだ。

  • 有権者・ゆうけんしゃ: elector, voter, constituent.
  • 疑惑・ぎわく: suspicion
  • 審議・しんぎ: deliberation, consideration
  • 停滞・ていたい: stagnation, congestion, paralysis.

“Sugawara didn’t acknowledge the suspicion that he distributed money and valuable goods to constituents. The reason he gave for his resignation is [that he wanted to avoid] the stagnation of the administration and the deliberations of the Diet. This too is the usual pattern.”

心配するのは、こんな大失態も国民は「またか」と慣れっこになって怒りもわいてこなくなっているのではないかということだ。

  • 失態・しつたい: a fault, a blunder

“What is worrying, is the fact that citizens might become used to it, thinking ‘again?’ and don’t even get cross at such big blunders from the government.”

We are not translating it here, but Masao YORA also adds that a survey made by Mainichi after the resignation of Sugawara shows that the support rate of Abe didn’t drop. People are so “used to” political scandals, that it does not affect their support to the government.

大学入学共通テストに導入される英語の民間試験は、家庭の収入や住んでいる地域により不公平が生じる懸念がある。この指摘に対し、萩生田光一文部科学相は「自分の身の丈に合わせて勝負してもらえれば」と語った。

  • 民間・みんかん: private, nongovernmental
  • 懸念・けねん: fear, anxiety, concern
  • 萩生田光一文: Koichi HAGIUDA (Education Minister)
  • 身の丈・みのたけ: means, status

“Concerning the introduction of a private English test to the standard university entrance exam, there have been concerns that inequalities might appear relative to the family’s incomes and the place where one lives. Responding to this concern, Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda said ‘Everyone should compete in accordance with their status’.”

I am translating the part “もらえれば” by “they should”, but it might be too strong… I understand the もらえれば like this: “if students would (make the favour to) compete within their means (for the sake of the system?), there would be no problem”… But maybe I am over-interpreting.

批判を受け結局撤回したが、実は格差の容認は本音ではないかと感じたのは私だけではないだろう。こうした、あまりにも思慮に欠ける発言も日常茶飯だ。

  • 撤回する・てっかい: withdraw, retract
  • 格差・かくさ: gap, disparity
  • 容認・ようにん: admission, approval, acceptance, toleration
  • 思慮・しりょ: thought, consideration

“After receiving criticism, he retracted [this statement], but I guess that I am not the only one who feels that the acceptance of disparities was [the minister]’s real intention. This kind of statements that are lacking consideration are an everyday occurrence.”

 もちろん最も慣れっこになってはいけないのは私たち新聞やテレビだ。ただし、その時々の世論調査は政権に警告を与える効果は間違いなくある。仮に内閣支持率が5ポイント程度でも下がれば、首相もあわてて、少しは反省してもらえるはずだ。

  • 警告・けいこく: warning

“Of course, we, newspapers and televisions, are the ones who, more than anyone, must not get used to it. (ただし), the surveys conducted at those times are without a doubt giving a warning to the government. If the support rate of the cabinet were to decrease by only 5 points, the Prime Minister would lose his composure and would certainly reconsider things a little.”

This paragraph was difficult to translate, and I am not sure whether I understood it correctly or not. I don’t understand, for instance, how the ただし is supposed to make sense here. To me, it looks like the journalist is praying people to show their discontentment in the surveys in order to bring changes in the government. People tend to maintain the same support rate to Abe, in spite of the multiples scandals, because they say that there is no other politician that would be a better choice (than Abe) at the moment. My interpretation of this article is that the journalist deplores that attitude because it gives the ruling party the impression that scandals can go on and that it does not matter. If only people would express their dissatisfaction during the surveys, the ruling party would at least, perhaps, change its attitude a little.

Article 2: 「責任は私に」49回 なぜ安倍首相の「任命」は失敗続きなのか

In this article, journalist Yoshii interviews politician Seiichiro MURAKAMI 村上誠一郎 (LDP). This is what Seiichiro MURAKAMI says about the current cabinet:

「いずれにせよ能力や見識で閣僚が選ばれているとはいえない状況だ。辞任に至らずとも、最近の閣僚の発言はどうだ」

  • 見識・けんしき: good judgement, discernment, wisdom, insight
  • 官僚・かんりょう: a government official

“Anyway, as things stand, we cannot say that the government officials are selected according to their abilities and discernment. Even without speaking of the resignations, what about the recent statements made by government officials?”

The verb 至る・いたる means “lead to”, so in this phrase, it could mean “without leading to a resignation”. The sentence could then be interpreted as “even if they didn’t lead to resignations, what about the recent statements made by government officials?” I don’t know why, but I have the feeling that – 至らずとも can mean “without speaking of (without going as far as to mention…)”, maybe I saw it somewhere during my preparation for the JLPT N1? I hope it is correct.

And the journalist continues:

例の「身の丈発言」が今なお波紋を広げている萩生田文科相や、外国メディアに温室効果ガスの排出削減策を問われ、答えられなかった小泉環境相らの言動を見ていると、確かに「適材適所」なのか、首をひねる人も多かろう。

  • 波紋・はもん: a ripple, a stir, a sensation
  • 萩生田: HAGIUDA: Education Minister Koichi HAGIUDA
  • 温室効果ガス・おんしつこうかガス: greenhouse gas
  • 排出・はいしゅつ: emission
  • 小泉: KOIZUMI: Minister of the Environment Shinjiro KOIZUMI
  • 適材適所・てきざいてきしょ: the right person in the right place
  • 首をひねる・くびをひねる: be dubious, sceptical about.

“When seeing Education Minister Haguida whose [statement] ‘within their means’ still has repercussions until now, or Minister of the Environment Koizumi who could not respond when asked by foreign media what were his measures to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas, there must be indeed a lot of people who are sceptical about whether we got the right person in the right place.”

Apropos of Shinjiro KOIZUMI, he has been selected by the TIME to join the new list TIME 100 Next “that spotlights 100 rising stars who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, science, health and more.”

English test and political turmoil

Context

Japan’s Education Ministry has been preparing a plan to reform the standardised University entrance exam by adding an English test from the private sector. The plan was due to be effective from April 2020 but the Ministry announced on November 1st that it has been postponed.

This plan attracted much criticism. First, several English tests were to be accepted, but they all allot scores on different criteria, and it would have been difficult for universities to fairly judge the students. There were also concerns about regional and economic disparities between the test takers. Taking those English tests and getting good preparation for them is expensive, and students living in rural areas would have to make an expensive journey to take the test.

As a result, many organisations in the education sector have asked for a postponement of the plan. In spite of the many demands, the Ministry seemed resolute to carry out things as planned and concrete measures were already being taken. Then, suddenly, on November 1st, they announced the postponement of the plan… why? This is the question Mainichi is asking in several articles.

Articles

Article 1: 英語民間試験の延期 遅すぎた判断の罪は重い

While Mainichi’s position is critical of the new plan, they don’t welcome its postponement only with enthusiasm. They criticise the government for having postponed it at the last minute, at a time where organisations and students were taking concrete steps to face the upcoming test.

They also say that the Ministry didn’t postpone the plan out of concern for the students, but because they feared political turmoil:

今回の延期は、教育の機会均等や受験生に配慮した措置というより、政権への批判や世論の逆風をかわす思惑からだろう。

  • 逆風・ぎゃくふう: an adverse wind, an unfavourable wind

“Rather than saying that this adjournment is a measure taken out of consideration for test-takers or [in order to maintain] equality in education opportunities, let’s say that [it was decided because] they wanted to avoid criticism of the government or opposition from general opinion.”

I don’t know how to translate the かわす here. My first thought was that it was the verb “交わす” which means “exchange”, but it didn’t make sense. I would have understood if the verb were “to change toward”, meaning that they anticipated the deterioration of the public opinion, but “exchange” made no sense. After looking up in the dictionary, I realised that it could be the verb 躱す which means “avoid”, “evade”, “dodge”. But then, I didn’t understand how it made sense with 思惑・おもわく because I only knew it for its meaning “expectation”, “anticipation”. Apparently, it can also mean “purpose”, “motive”, which would make sense here… I hope I am not mistaken!

「身の丈」発言により、教育の機会均等に対する無理解を露呈した萩生田氏の担当閣僚としての適性にも疑問がある。

  • 露呈する・ろてい: expose, disclose, reveal

“There are doubts concerning the aptitude of HAGIUDA for his current office (Minister of Education), as he revealed his nonunderstanding of equal opportunities in education with his statement ‘within your means’.”

Article 2: 英語民間試験見直し 「萩生田氏守るため」官邸が主導

Our second article is an in-depth analyse of the Ministry’s choice. It shows the steps that led to the postponement of the plan.

萩生田氏も29日の記者会見で「足らざるところを補いながら、ぜひ、予定通り実施させていただきたい」と述べていた。

  • 足らざる・たらざる: This is the old negative form ざる of the old form 足る of the verb 足りる…?? It sounds like a smart way to say “足りない”. Maybe you need to have high standards when you work at the Ministry of Education… 🤔 (read more)

“On the 29th [of October], HAGIUDA said in a press conference: ‘I absolutely want to proceed as planned, while making up for insufficient points’.”

 だが、31日になって事情が変わった。その日の早朝、河井克行前法相が妻の案里参院議員の「公職選挙法違反疑惑」を巡り辞表を提出した。菅原一秀前経済産業相に続き、1週間で2人の閣僚が辞任するという深刻な事態を招き、さらに火の手が萩生田氏に及べば政権運営が行き詰まりかねない。

  • 河井克行: Katsuyuki KAWAI, former Minister of Justice.
  • 安里: Anri KAWAI, wife of Katsuyuki KAWAI
  • 菅原一秀: Isshu SUGAWARA, former Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry

“But on the 31st the situation changed. On the early morning of this day, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki KAWAI presented his resignation in relation to the ‘suspicions of illegal elections for public office’ of his wife Anri, member of the House of Councillors. Just after former Trade Minister Isshu SUGAWARA, we fell in the critical situation where two government officials had resigned in one week. If the flames were to reach HAGIUDA, it could mean a stalemate for the government.”

官邸内では「3人目の辞任が出たらどうするんだ」(幹部)との声が上がり、与党からも「英語民間試験で強行突破すれば政権の支持率にも響く。謙虚に方針転換すべきだ」(自民党幹部)との見直し論が広がった。

  • 官邸・かんてい: the Official Residence of the Prime Minister
  • 幹部・かんぶ: a senior member, a key officer
  • 突破・とっぱ: with 強行: force one’s way through
  • 響く・ひびく: affect, have an effect on
  • 謙虚な・けんきょ: modest, humble

“Someone close to the Prime Minister said, ‘what will we do if a third [official] resigns?’ (senior officer). Inside the ruling party too, opinions [in favour of] a revision [of the plan] are spreading: ‘pushing through with the private English tests will affect the support rate of the government. We must humbly switch policies.'”

The article goes on saying that Hagiuda is a close ally of Abe and that the decision concerning the English test was taken to protect him.

カスハラ: Harassment by customers

Context

カスハラ is a shortcut for カスタマーハラスメント, Customer Harassment.

Harassment by customers is a social problem in Japan. According to The Japan Times, a labour union survey conducted at the end of 2018 showed that “73.8 per cent of Japan workers in the service sector have faced harassment from customers”.

Articles

Article1: 増える「カスハラ」 現場任せにしていないか

厚生労働省のデータによると、顧客や取引先からのクレーム対応で精神障害の労災認定を受けた人が過去10年間で78人に上り、うち24人が自殺していた。見過ごせない事態だ。

  • 精神障害の労災認定: Recognition of work-related mental disorder
    • 精神障害・せいしんしょうがい: mental disability, mental disorder
    • 労災・ろうさい: abbreviation for 労働災害・ろうどうさいがい: a work-related accident
    • 認定・にんてい: recognition

“According to the data of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the number of people who suffered from work-related mental disorders while responding to claims issued by customers or clients is up to 78 persons in the past 10 years. Among them, 24 persons committed suicide. We cannot overlook this situation.”

I couldn’t find a good way to translate “people who received the recognition of work-related mental disorder”, so I simplified. If you are interested in this topic, I found some thorough documentation on the website of the Ministry of Health, Labour of Welfare. I wanted to read more about it myself, but I must admit that this document seems long and difficult…

厚労省の企業ヒアリングでは、暴力的な行為や金品のゆすり、執拗(しつよう)な叱責や営業時間後にも退去しない行為などが、カスハラの例として挙げられた。過去には、コンビニの店長を土下座させ、恐喝罪で有罪になった事例がある。

  • 恐喝罪・きょうかつざい: a charge of extortion (or blackmail).

“In the interviews of companies conducted by the Ministry, examples of customer harassment were given, such as violent acts or extortion of goods and money, tenacious reprimands or [harassing] behaviour that would continue even after the end of the business hours. In the past, there has been a case of conviction for extortion crime against someone who had forced the director of a convenience store to get down on their knees.”

I’m not sure I see the relation between extortion and forcing someone down on their knees… Maybe I misunderstood something, or maybe the article does not mention everything…

The article goes on saying that companies should not let employees deal with these situations on their own but create organisations to protect them. The journalist concludes:

厚労省も、パワーハラスメント防止のための企業向け指針を策定している。だが、素案は、カスハラ対策について相談体制の整備などが望ましいと指摘するにとどまっている。企業任せにするのではなく、カスハラへの具体的な対応の判断基準を指針で示すべきだ。

  • 指針・ししん: a guiding principle, a guideline for…
  • 策定する・さくてい: decide on a plan, settle on a policy
  • 素案・そあん: a draft, a rough plan

“The Ministry too has established guidelines for companies in order to prevent power harassment. But when it comes to the measures against customer harassment, the draft only indicates that [companies] should keep a consultation system. [The Ministry] must not leave the companies deal [with the problem of customers harassment] on their own, and it must indicate how to respond to concrete cases of customer harassment in the form of guidelines.”

The underlined part is hard to translate. This is how I understand it: “the draft should indicate (示す) through guidelines (指針で) the criteria for judging 判断基準 [the correct and] concrete (具体的な) answer (対応)”. In other words, the draft should indicate concrete criteria in order to evaluate how one should respond to concrete cases of customer harassment?

Conclusion

I have written this article throughout the month of November, and I really enjoyed doing it. I am glad that I renewed with the “Japanese news” category of my blog (it started in 2018 but only lasted a few months). I more or less managed to read the news regularly in November thanks to this post. However, I wonder if studying passages is the best way to do it. As I said in the introduction, I will certainly change the format of this series in the upcoming months. After the JLPT on December 1st, I will have plenty of time to think about it!

Book Review: 『天啓の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI

About the book

Title 『天啓の殺意』(てんけいのさつい) – The Apocalyptic Fugue
Author: Sin NAKAMACHI 中町信 (1935-2009)
Published by 創元推理文庫

『天啓の殺意』has been first published by Tokuma (徳間書店) in 1982 under the title 『散歩する死者』. It was re-published by Tsogen publisher in 2005.

It is the 6th novel written by Sin NAKAMACHI.

Book Review

If you like mystery and detective novels, I heartily recommend 『天啓の殺意』!

I purposely skip the “setting” part of this review because I think that it is best to read this book without having any previous knowledge of the story and the setting.

I was just thinking the other day how relatively calm 2019 has been in terms of reading. I liked all the books I have read this year, but apart from 『新参者』by Keigo HIGASHINO, I haven’t felt really excited about what I was reading. Of course, this was until I read『天啓の殺意』: it was easy to read and engrossing, and it is without a doubt one of my favourite reads of 2019.

I had already read a book by Sin NAKAMACHI earlier in 2019 so I knew what to expect: Sin NAKAMACHI plays with the reader and invites us to actively participate in the mystery. As a consequence, I was determined to read closely, to pay attention to every detail and to not let myself be fooled this time. But still, I was staring at the book with amazement when I reached the end!

It is the kind of murder story that makes you cry “I knew it!” or “what???”, and reading it was so much fun and so exciting! I finished it in 5 days, which is extremely rare when it comes to novels written in Japanese. I usually become tired of reading in a foreign language after 20 or 30 pages, but this book was so engrossing that I couldn’t put it down.

JLPT: Practise reading and listening!

Only two weeks left before the JLPT of December! It might be too late to digest tons of vocabulary and grammar, but it is not too late to practise listening and reading.

Practise to improve your concentration

Contrary to the “language knowledge” section, there is something you need in order to beat the reading and listening section: the capacity to stay concentrated in Japanese during more than one hour for each section.

Strangely enough, this is something that is often overlooked during the preparation for the JLPT. We tend to focus on being able to understand written or spoken Japanese, but what is also difficult is to understand Japanese for one hour long.

I have taken enough real tests and practice tests to know that my concentration will not stay on top during the whole listening and reading section. When I  reach half of each of these sections, I begin to feel tired and not only does my comprehension weaken, but I am also tempted to pick an answer randomly and be done with it.

Comprehension and concentration are two different things

I could spend the whole day reading detective novels in my mother tongue, but not in Japanese. I can read around 30 pages in a row, but then I start feeling tired. This has nothing to do with my capacity to understand Japanese because I can understand what I read without problems. But I feel exhausted. The story might be suspenseful, and yes I want to know what will happen next, but after 30 pages I disconnect, and I don’t want to read anymore.

This proves that the capacity to understand a text in a foreign language and the capacity to read in this language for long periods of time are two separate things. As a consequence, you need to work on both. Being able to understand what you read or hear does not guarantee that you will be able to do so for one hour. Reading in a foreign language or listening to something in a foreign language is exhausting. If you don’t work on your stamina, you will be so tired and fed up during the JLPT that everything will seem harder than it really is.

To sum up: 1) Keep learning new words and grammar points to be able to tackle difficult texts/audio. 2) Practise reading to improve your reading speed: if you read a lot, you will be able to read quicker and to make up for unknown words by guessing the meaning from the context. Practise listening to improve your capacity to recognise the words you learned and to be able to process information quicker. 3) Practise reading and listening for long periods of time to be able to go through the 12 texts (N1) and numerous audio of the JLPT. Concentration is a skill on its own, don’t neglect it!

How to practise?

To me, the best way to practise for the JLPT is to combine two different exercises:

  • Short but intense practice: study a short passage of a text or audio to improve your comprehension.
  • Train your concentration by reading or listening to Japanese for a fixed period of time.

The first exercise will improve your capacity to understand difficult texts or audio. Take any short text or audio and study it in depth. For example, you can:

  • Written text: read it several times and try to understand, look up unknown words and check difficult grammar patterns, translate the text in your mother tongue.
  • Audio: listen several times until you understand as much as you can without checking the script, then look up words with the script, listen again to the audio until you can identify every part of it. I would even go as far as to say: listen to it until you know it almost by heart.

If you don’t know where to find audio with scripts, I recommend checking the NHK Radio News website or podcasts. I am sure that a lot of Japanese learners know this podcast, but what you might not know is that journalists are often simply reading articles that you can find on NHK. They will sometimes omit a sentence or rephrase something, but most of what they say is the article unchanged (at least for the 7am broadcast, the only one I listen to). The easiest way to find matching articles is certainly to check the website in the morning. Listen to the first broadcast at 7am and check the website. You should find the articles read in the audio on the homepage or the section 新着ニュース一覧. If you check later in the day, the articles will be harder to find, and you will have to search for them using keywords.

To give you an example:

Another thing that you can do if you can afford it is to buy a book and its audiobook. You can find audiobooks on the website audiobook.jp. I recommend looking at non-fiction because it will be closer to what you will encounter during the JLPT. It might be expensive, but once you have the audio and the physical (or digital) versions of a book, you will be able to get a lot of practice out of it.

The second exercise that I mentioned above is here to train your stamina. The idea is to read or listen to Japanese for a fixed period of time. Start with a short period of time like 20 minutes and slowly increase the time you spend reading or listening. Aim at 1 hour.

You don’t need to study what you read or listen to, but you should definitely try to understand it. It is different from passive immersion. It will not do if you listen to Japanese for one hour while doing other tasks: what you want to train is your concentration, not your Japanese. Even if you are bored or want to stop before the time is out, force yourself to keep going until the end.

To sum up, make intense study sessions with short texts and audio to improve your reading and listening abilities in Japanese. The more you practise, the easier it will become to tackle difficult texts. At the same time, be sure that you can read or listen to Japanese for around one hour by training your concentration. The JLPT does not test you on your capacity to understand Japanese only, it also tests you on your ability to deal with Japanese material for a long time. Not only that, but you also have to answer questions and deal with time and stress during the test. All of this will be exhausting, so improve your concentration and focus before the test!

Practice with Korean mock tests (even if you don’t read Korean)

I live in Korea, which might be the best place in the world to buy JLPT textbooks!

This whole shelf is devoted to JLPT textbooks. Kyobo bookstore, Gangnam, Seoul.

The big majority of JLPT test takers are in Japan and China, but South Korea comes third, with 54,611 inscriptions and 41,972 actual test takers for the JLPT of December 2018. (source) As a result, publishers regularly come out with new textbooks.

You can use some of these Korean textbooks even if you don’t read Korean. Reading and listening textbooks especially are often collections of practice tests, so you can definitely use them without any knowledge of Korean.

I know that it is not easy to buy Korean books from other countries, but I found that some JLPT textbooks are available on the Google Play store as e-books.

I already mentioned them in a previous post, but I really think that these two textbooks are worth getting if you want to practice listening and reading with JLPT materials:

  • To practice listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해
  • To practice reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해

In the Google Play store, just copy-paste the title you are interested in (with the level you want). N4 and N5 are together in the same textbook. 청해 means “listening comprehension” and 독해 means “reading comprehension”. It is the only word that changes in the title of the textbook.

I have the physical copy of both for N1 and studied them entirely. These books are composed of practice tests only. They are very different from Japanese textbooks like Shin Kanzen or So-matome that have lessons and exercises.

This is the composition of each book:

Listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해

  • Task-based comprehension = 9 tracks
  • Comprehension of key points = 9 tracks
  • Comprehension of general outline = 9 tracks
  • Quick response = 29 tracks
  • Integrated comprehension = 9 tracks
  • Final test = 3 tests

Reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해

  • Comprehension (short passages) = 12 texts
  • Comprehension (mid-size passages) = 10 texts
  • Comprehension (long passages) = 7 texts
  • Integrated comprehension = 7 texts
  • Thematic comprehension (long passages) = 6 texts
  • Information retrieval = 7 texts
  • Final test = 2 tests

“Final test” is the reading or listening section as it would appear in the real test.

In the reading book, the text and the questions are translated in Korean. There is also Japanese-Korean vocabulary. In the listening one, you will find the script of the audio in Japanese with furigana, its translation in Korean and again, some vocabulary Japanese-Korean.

I recommend checking the free sample of the reading textbook as it gives you access to a generous portion of the book (you can actually practise the whole 12 texts of the “Comprehension (short passages)” section and the 5 first texts of the “Comprehension (mid-size passages)” section).

As for the listening books, you can download the audio for free on the website. The only issue is that you will have to create an account to be able to download or listen to the mp3 from your computer, and this can be a hassle if you don’t read Korean. However, the good news is that you can listen to the mp3 files on the website without login in if you access them via your phone (at least, this is how it works with me). Just copy-paste the title you want on the website http://www.darakwon.co.kr/ and look for the “mp3” button. You could also just listen to the audio to practice your listening skills with JLPT material, without answering the questions (if you don’t have the textbook).

Conclusion

While I find that the language knowledge section (vocabulary and grammar) is very straightforward (either you know the answer or you don’t), I think that a lot of factors can lower your score at the reading and listening sections: have you slept enough the previous night? are you tired? are you focusing too much on the clock? Even if your Japanese level is high enough to pass the test, you could lose precious points just because you cannot stay concentrated until the end… Practice is key!

Book review:『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』by Yugo AOSAKI

About the book:

Title:『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』
English title: Knockin’on Locked Door
Author: Yugo AOSAKI 青崎有吾
Published by 徳間文庫

『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』is a collection of 7 short stories. A second season is announced.

The publisher made a mini site for this novel that presents the story and the characters. There is also a special comic by Aco ARISAKA 有坂あこ.

Setting

Hisame KATANASHI and Tori GOTENBA are two detectives who work in the same agency: Knockin’on Locked Door. Hisame is specialised on the “why” the crime was committed (what is the motive?) while Tori is specialised in solving “how” the crime was committed (what trick was used?). While they both excel in their speciality, they are lost when it comes to the other one’s area.

Review

There are several things that I loved in this book and it was a refreshing, light and entertaining read!

First of all, I love the idea of having two detectives, each specialised in one aspect of what it takes to solve a murder. It feels so new! It is also interesting to see how Hisame and Tori complement each other: asking suspects, inspecting the crime scenes, looking for out of place details… each detective focuses on his speciality and leave the rest to the other.

I also liked the structure of the book. There are 7 stories (7 cases) and each is around 40 pages. I like the consistency of this structure. For each story, we jump in the case right from the beginning (either a client comes to the agency or the police asks for the detectives’ help), and they were all engrossing.

Another touch that I liked very much is how the narrator changes. Some stories are told from the point of view of Tori and some from the point of view of Hisame. It is interesting to see what each detective thinks of the other! And again, it feels refreshing and new.

Finally, I liked the humour and the general tone of the book.

If you like mystery novels, solving puzzle, and are looking for a light, entertaining read, you will certainly like 『ノッキンオン・ロックドドア』 !

Book review: 『図書館の殺人』by Yugo AOSAKI

About the book

Title: 『図書館の殺人』(としょかんのさつじん)
English Title: The Red Letter Mystery
Author: Yugo AOSAKI 青崎有吾
Published by 創元推理文庫 (Tokyo Sogensha)

Yugo AOSAKI is an author of mystery novels. His debut novel is 『体育館の殺人』which is also the first novel of the series Tenma URAZOME (裏染天馬シリーズ). After that, he published 『水族館の殺人』and 『風ヶ丘五十円玉祭りの謎』in the same series.

The book I am reviewing here is the fourth and most recent book of the same series: 『図書館の殺人』.

Note: the publisher has added a list of characters (their name with furigana and who they are) in the inside cover and at the beginning of the book. This is a brilliant idea that makes things much easier for us language learners!

Setting

When a body is found on the second floor of the local library, police officers ask Tenma URAZOME, a highschool student with remarquable observation and deduction skills, to help them with the case.

Review

When it comes to detective novels, I prefer a serious and realistic investigation by police officers than an unconventional one conducted by a highschool prodigy. I would not mind seeing highschool students trying to solve the case by their own means, but when I saw that the police officers themselves asked for Tenma’s help, and that they discussed details of the case freely with the students, I was a little taken aback.

But although 『図書館の殺人』 is not quite the genre of detective novel that I like, I was engrossed in it from beginning to end. Behind the light tone of the novel, Tenma’s investigation and deductions are very solid. All the details of the case are explained at the end, everything makes sense, and if you are able to put all the pieces together you should be able to reach the same conclusion as Tenma. The author even challenges the reader to do so in a short chapter called 読者への挑戦 just before the solution is revealed. As for me, I was not even close…

I love reading whodunnits, but it is rare to find one where the reader can actually find the culprit by themselves. Even though I am not quite satisfied with『図書館の殺人』(I feel that it lacks a deeper insight into the characters’ psychology, to better grasp their intentions and motives), I enjoyed reading it, and I will certainly read the other books of the series too.

If you are interested in reading 『図書館の殺人』, I highly recommend you to start with 『体育館の殺人』instead and read the books of the series in order.

『図書館の殺人』does have an independant case not connected to the previous books of the series, so it is not such a big problem to start with『図書館の殺人』like I did. However, I think that all the books of the series feature the same characters (a group of highschool students), and if you don’t read the books in order, it will be difficult to fully appreciate how their personality or common past affect their relationship.

『図書館の殺人』being the fourth book of the series, the reader is supposed to know who is who. Even though the author introduces each character, I always felt that I had missed something (and indeed, I have!) and it was hard to feel involved in their discussions when they were not related to the case.