Rats.

Over the summer I read a book that took place in England in the 14th century, just after the Black Death (also called the Black Plague, and in Japanese it’s called ペスト, which comes from the English word pestilence and can cause some confusion because “pesto” in English is a delicious pasta sauce made of basil, oil, nuts, and cheese… ), which killed about 50 million people, or about 60% of Europe’s population (according to this article, though statistics vary) and was spread mostly by infected rats.

So reading about people *eating* rats was a bit more jarring than it might normally be.

“How to join the rat race” (from 1843)

ILLUSTRATION MICHEL STREICH


This article implies that rat is probably an acquired taste (a food you don’t like right away but can become more enjoyable over time, like oysters). Write about some things you didn’t like at first (food or drink) but you do like now. Like natto, for example? I disliked 麦茶 the first time I tried it, but love it now..


Focus on language

Try guessing what these mean from context, and then check dictionaries (both E and J) and ask native or near-native speakers for confirmation, then try “recycling” the language in your own original sentences and stories.

  • “(something) has a pull on me” (first paragraph)
  • “no getting round the fact that…” (second paragraph), in American English I think most people say “around” rather than “round”, but ask as many native speakers as you can and see what they say
  • “Rats.” (from the title of this post) — This doesn’t just mean more than one rat. It’s a phrase (an interjection) used by American English speakers (and maybe others, but you should ask around and find out). What do you think it means?

Other things you could do related to this topic:

  • Learn something about Sulawesi.
  • Write about unusual foods you’ve eaten or would like to try, and find some photos.
  • FInd some information about overfishing or other cases of the “supply and demand” of food becoming unbalanced.
  • Find out if Japan, or another country you’re studying, had horrible pandemics in the past.
  • The Black Death took place in about 1346-53. What was happening in Japan at that time?
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Flying through the world of van Gogh

Something to enjoy, to ease us back and into the autumn semester. If you’re ready to start, try doing a little research on van Gogh, or one of his contemporaries. Or you could try finding something about him in the news, like these two pieces: “Does Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night feature the Milky, Milky Way?” (from The Art Newspaper), and this, which is a bit darker, more somber: “Van Gogh’s ‘terrifying environment’ of French asylum revealed” (from The Guardian).

“If the singing stops, so does the engine.”🎵

“Carpool Karaoke” made singing in cars a thing. For a few days in one city in Finland, you could sing in taxis instead of paying, says this short article from Japan Times Alpha (a good place to get some reading practice in English, this site has Japanese translations of the articles to help you understand and improve vocabulary). This article is labeled in the “easy” to read category. Read it to find out why the company did it.

 

The English: “Finnish karaoke taxi lets passengers pay for their rides by singing”

The Japanese: 「フィンランドの音楽フェス、シャトル運賃の支払いは「歌」で」

A different kind of translation

This topic may seem a little far from the lives of Japanese college students, but it’s a chance to learn a little more about an important part of world history.

Zora Neale Hurston was a famous American author (students: talk to me if you want to learn more about her, or try researching her on your own) and in the early 20th century, she interviewed a man named Cudjo Lewis in order to write a book about him. Why? Because he was the last survivor of the last slave ship that arrived in America. Lewis’ birth name was Oluale Kossula, and he was born in Benin and kidnapped and sold into slavery when he was 19 years old. Hurston spent 3 months interviewing him.

The book was never published in her lifetime (she died in 1960). She wrote most of the book using Kossula’s dialect, and publishers didn’t think the book would sell well. But it has recently been published and I’m excited to read it. It’s also available on audio, and for a book like this, I’ll probably do both.

Here’s an article about this from Vulture. And it includes an excerpt from the book. A translation challenge for you is to see if you can intepret the dialect. It may help to try reading aloud.

Here’s an example:

Original:

“De war commences but we doan know ’bout it when it start. Den somebody tell me de folkses way up in de North make de war so dey free us. I lak hear dat. But we wait and wait, we heard de guns shootee sometime but nobody don’t come tell us we free. So we think maybe dey fight ’bout something else.”

Translation:

The war (the Civil War) started but we didn’t know about it. Then somebody told me that people in the North started the war to free us (the slaves). I was happy to hear that. But we waited and waited, and we heard gunshots sometimes. But nobody came to tell us that we were free. So we though they were probably fighting about something else.”